Co-Parenting After Divorce

The divorce rate in America has been as high as 50%. The number of children experiencing divorce with their parents is more than one million each year.   With so many marriages ending in divorce and so many children having to adjust to living as a member of a broken family, how should parents come together after divorce to co-parent their children?

After the divorce. there are so many factors that impact the children of divorced parents.  The parents start dating.  The parents may show negative feelings towards each other which force children to feel uncomfortable showing positive emotions for one or both of their parents.  The children may miss the family being together.  Parental conflict can cause stress, anxiety, or depression in children.  Research suggests that children of divorce exhibit more conduct problems, more emotional problems, obtain lower academic test scores and grades, and have more social problems than those from intact two-parent families (Amato, 2014; Barth 2013). Children whose parents’ divorce also have twice the risk of having a mental health disorder (Zill, Morrison, & Coiro, 1993) and are more likely to experience physical health problems than individuals in intact families (Anderson, 2014; Barth 2013). The impact of divorce is not just limited to parents.  A BMC study found that parental separation is likely to have long-term implications for psychological health in adulthood which is consistent with previous studies (Lacey, Bartley, Pikhart, Stafford, & Cable, 2014).  The long-term implications include anxiety, depression, mental illness, suicide, addiction, homicide and physical illnesses (Amato, 2014; Barth 2013). 

With negative variables impacting children and divorcing adults how can parents see through the divorce itself to come together to be co-parents.  I recommend that parents seek counseling.   Many court systems offer post-divorce programs.  The overall findings suggest that the participants improved their knowledge of cooperative co-parenting and reported being able to use cooperative co-parenting behaviors after participating in the program. In examining group differences, Choi and his team found that parents of infants and toddlers benefited the most from this program in terms of knowledge gain and ability to perform cooperative co-parenting behaviors, (Choi, Hatton-Bowers, Brand, Poppe, & Foged, 2017).  Just like any other challenge in life, learning about research-based practices can help newly divorced parents come together for the purpose of raising their children.  The more parents know about the upcoming challenges of post-divorce and plan for them the easier the situation will be for both parents and children.  In the absence of endangerment, the goal is to meet the needs of the children.  I think the thing to point out is that it is sometimes difficult to determine what is best for children.  Low conflict seems to be a good starting point for building the right co-parenting environment for children.  Emery (2014) believes that: “The best research supports this conclusion… In high conflict divorces, children do worse in joint physical custody than in other arrangements,” (Nielsen, 2017).

Research is not clear about joint-custody being better than sole-custody arrangements.  The research is clear that joint-custody can be more demanding physically and mentally for the children of divorcees.  The reason is that the children have more time with both parents and have greater opportunity to experience arguments between their parents and other negative exchanges.  Especially at the beginning, before the conflict between the newly divorced parents has a chance to subside (Nielsen, 2017). 

Things to think about:

  • Fathers that have minimum contact with children tend to drop out of their children’s lives
  • Among social scientists, these opinions about conflict and Joint Physical Custody have also been voiced.  For example, Emery (2014) believes that: “The best research supports this conclusion… In high conflict divorces, children do worse in joint physical custody than in other arrangements. 
  • Further explaining their data in context, Amato concludes: “Contact is a necessary condition for a high-quality relationship to develop and be maintained. And the more recent studies showed a positive link between contact and child wellbeing” (P. Amato, personal communication, April 20, 2016) (Nielsen, 2017).
  • Attend a counseling program
  • Work to minimize displays of overly aggressive conflicts in front of children
  • Limit disparagement, animosity, abusive language, violence, and coercive interactions
  • Be aware of, as parents, if you are reacting to the divorce or the needs of the children
  • Keep in mind that the reason, as married parents you filed for divorce, is that for some reason there was a conflict that prevented the two of you from remaining married.  Don’t duplicate the same problem when co-parenting. 
  • Continue to be great parents.  Do not raise your children with guilt because of the divorce, but with values and expectations.

A wealth of information about divorce is available at



Choi, J.-k., Hatton-Bowers, H., Brand, G., Poppe, L., & Foged, J. (2017, December). Co-Parenting for Successful Kids: Impacts and Implications. Retrieved from Journal of Extension:

Lacey, R., Bartley, m., Pikhart, H., Stafford, M., & Cable, a. N. (2014, March 23). Parental separation and adult psychological distress: an investigation of material and relational mechanisms. Retrieved from NCBI:

Nielsen, L. (2017). Re-examining the Research on Parental Conflict, Coparenting, and Custody Arrangements. American Psychological Association, Vol. 23, No. 2, 211–231. Retrieved from

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