If you're trying to navigate an amicable divorce with children, you're not the only one. In 2018, almost 6 million children in the United States, from infants to 17-year-olds, lived with a divorced parent. With shared custody agreements being common, more people are learning how to effectively co-parent their kids without conflict.
The key to a stress-free situation is a co-parenting schedule designed to fit you and your child's life. To develop your strategy, follow the seven tips below.
1. Listen to Your Children
As an adult, you've dealt with changes and challenging situations throughout life. Children, on the other hand, are used to norms and routines. Significant changes, like Mom and Dad splitting up, can take time to digest. Let your children express their feelings, especially confusion, and ask them for input during the process. No matter how old they are, listening to a child's opinions can give them a sense of control over the situation. A child who has input in the schedule is likely to be more agreeable when the time comes to follow it.
2. Use a Parenting Calculator
One easy way to divide up time among amicably divorced parents is with a parenting time calculator. An online tool like this can create a customized schedule to fit all your needs based on the information you enter. To start, you'll need to choose a schedule type. The 4-3-3-4 plan is a smart strategy for those with school-aged children, as it provides consistency and predictability. Every other week is best for older children who are more independent and like to spend time with friends.
3. Be Realistic About Schedules
When deciding when you should have custody of your child, it's best to be realistic about your schedule. If you work 50-hour work weeks, for example, it would be unfair to fight for full custody and leave your children with a sitter. And remember, holidays are special for everyone, so it's unrealistic to expect custody on each one. Divide time fairly and think about what's best for your children.
4. Figure out Expenses
Kids are expensive. Don't wait until the last minute to discuss bills. In 2015, the cost to raise a child through the age of 17 was $233,510, a 3% increase from the previous year. Should you and your former spouse split child-rearing expenses 50/50? You might want a different arrangement. Should child support payments factor into costs? What about food, medical expenses, clothing and school supplies? By having an agreement ahead of time — preferably one typed and signed — you can avoid disagreements down the road.
5. Choose Your Battles
Parenting has its challenges, even when you're married. Co-parenting adds a new challenge, meaning it's crucial to avoid as many conflicts as possible. Communicate openly with your ex to prevent avoidable disagreements and choose which battles are worth fighting. Education, parenting times and health are worth taking a stand. But save your energy on smaller discrepancies like non-allergy-related food choices and vacation timing.
6. Find Ways to Communicate
Even happy couples can argue when it comes to raising a child. To survive disagreements, create a schedule based on open, clear and regular communication. Luckily, with today's technology, you can communicate with your ex without having to meet in person or talk on the phone. Reach each other quickly with texts and emails. Or use mobile apps like Cozi, Google Calendar and Our Family Wizard to stay up to date. Cloud-based storage is also ideal for sharing school report cards, sports schedules, medical records and other vital documents.
7. Revisit the Arrangement
It's smart to put a co-parenting schedule in place. But keep in mind life brings along changes, and it's necessary to revisit your agreement to ensure it's still meeting your needs. Perhaps you took on a new job and you need to spend more time in the office? Or maybe your child got into a prestigious school in a new town? It can be helpful to review your schedule every year as your children grow and circumstances change.
If you're going through an amicable divorce, don't forget to iron out the co-parenting schedule. Talk to your kids, no matter their age, and ask for input. You don't have to abide by what they say — it's just good to know how they feel. Consider your child's needs and use an online calculator to create a customized schedule.And remember, an effective co-parenting schedule is a modern one you should revisit each year to take changes into account — both with you and your ex-spouse, as well as your children.