Co-parenting is the term given to the situation where two (or more) people take on the role of parenting a child, but those people are not in a marriage or similar relationship. This situation may arise when, after a divorce, parents agree to have equal responsibility for the child’s upbringing. Alternatively, two people who want to have a child but not to be in a relationship may set out to have a child on the agreement that they will co-parent.
In 1989 the Convention on the Rights of the Child set out the principle that a child has the right to maintain a strong relationship with both parents and since then this has become more of a recognised right. These days more and more people are opting to co-parent. However bitter a divorce or separation may be, the rights of the child are more at the forefront of people’s minds than ever before, and there are more and more cases where people fight to put their differences aside in order to maintain good contact for the child. Similarly, in the modern age where having a child “out of wedlock” is not so frowned upon, many people are choosing the option of elective co-parenting, perhaps with a lifelong friend who has similar life goals and philosophy, but is not a romantic match.
Co-parenting is a term that was virtually unheard of even ten years ago, but is slowly becoming more mainstream - both as a term and a lifestyle. The 1980s sitcom My Two Dads was a perfect example, but was never referred to as such because the name was not widely used for such a situation.
Although share parenting can help to ease the pain a child will feel from the parents’ relationship breakdown, and help to provide stability in a time of change, it is not always easy. Similarly, as well as the usual every day parenting disagreements, you have the added tension of being two separate units, rather than one family unit.
When a relationship breaks down, it is hard for all involved. When there are children, whatever age they are, it makes things a lot more fraught. Fighting for custody, and abiding by joint custody arrangements, can be exhausting and traumatic for all concerned. If both parents are able to put their differences behind them and agree to work together for the good of the child, share parenting can be a really great way for both parents to continue having hands-on involvement in the child’s life. It is important to remember that although the relationship has broken down, the family that exists as a result of that relationship is still there.
Co-parenting seems to be the parenting choice of forward-thinking, mature parents who are wise enough to realise that it doesn’t matter what their ex partner has or hasn’t done; the child is the innocent party and as such as a right to have a full and loving relationship with both parents. This approach helps the child to transition through the relationship breakdown with less upheaval. They will benefit from the consistency of their relationship with both parents and feel secure, but also the co-parents are setting a good example of how to handle a difficult situation and how to solve problems. By deciding to co-parent rather than fight for custody, speaking only through lawyers, parents are modelling a valuable lesson to their child about the mature, responsible way to deal with a situation.
Arguably the key to co-parenting is for both parents to focus on the child, rather than each other. The concept of separating feelings from behaviour plays an important role here - one or both parents may feel hurt, angry or upset - but that should not dictate their behaviour. In order for co-parenting to be successful, it’s important that issues between the ex-partners not be dealt with in front of, or through, the child. Simple techniques such as agreeing to only ever speak about matters involving the child, or making an extra effort to listen and show restraint, can make a big difference in the early days of co-parenting, until feelings and tempers have settled down.
Over time, as wounds heal, it is most probable that the relationship between the two parents will become that of friends, or at least amiable acquaintances. The situation can work well for both parents in terms of sharing child care, school runs, weekends, holidays - and is a lot more flexible than a custody arrangement dictating specific days and times.
The important thing about co-parenting is to remain consistent between the two parents. Things like bed times, curfews and homework should be agreed between the parents rather than having the child bounce between the two parents with two sets of rules: “at Mum’s I go to bed at 9, but at Dad’s it’s 10” can be confusing for a child of any age and shows a lack of dependability and consistency between the two parents. If the parents do not work to ensure they are presenting a unified front, they may find that the child ends up confused and just as insecure as if there had been a lengthy and acrimonious court battle. The child may also learn to play parents off against each other, or to wait until they are with a particular parent before making a certain request.
Homosexual parentingHomosexual, or homoparentality, refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (or LGBT) parenting. This can include children raised by a same-sex couple, or by an opposite-sex couple where one or both parents are LGBT.
This situation can arise where people begin a relationship where they already have a child or children from a previous relationship, or with an opposite-sex couple they may have a child together. In some cases a homosexual couple may decide to find a surrogate or sperm donor to enable them to have a child together.
For homosexual people, becoming a parent can be much more of a struggle than for heterosexual couples. As well as any “normal” issues regarding fertility or suitability, there is the added stigma and prejudice involved.
In some cases, two homosexual couples may decide between them to bring up a child together. In this case a child is either conceived between two of the four people, or adopted by those two. Their partners are not officially recognised as parents. Society is still very uncomfortable with anything outside of “the norm” and adoption in this situation can be very difficult and emotional for all concerned.
Unlike with heterosexual co-parenting, which usually arises as the result of a relationship breakdown, between heterosexuals is often more elective. A couple or couples will actively choose to have a child and co-parent it as their preferred method of parenting. Unfortunately, certain areas of society still favour the old fashioned family model, and do not agree with this new way of raising children; however, as the Italian Supreme Court ruled in 2013, there is no scientific evidence to say that a homosexual couple would not be as capable as a heterosexual couple of raising a child. At the time, Flavio Romani, the president of the Italian LGBT organisation Arcigay, said, “it is love which raises a son or daughter, not the sexual orientation of the parents.”
As time goes on, gay parenting is likely to become more commonplace, as homosexual couples that might in previous generations have abandoned hopes of having a child, now decide to have a child. Society is breaking away from the “white picket fence” ideal of fifty years ago, and more differing ways of parenting are becoming more mainstream.
Joint Co-parentingThe breakdown of a family unit can be incredibly traumatic for a child. It has been said that in a successful divorce, the parents can divorce each other, but the child is not required to divorce one of the parents. It's helps to bridge the gap between a cohabiting family and divorced parents.
With heterosexual couples, is often chosen as the best way to put the child first after the breakdown of the marriage or relationship. It is widely proclaimed as the best way to ensure children remain secure after the breakup of their parents’ relationship, and the surest way to minimise damage. It is generally accepted that a child of divorcing parents will be better able to accept the change if the parents are able to get along.
It's can be hard for both parents, especially when the reasons for the divorce are still at the forefront of both minds. Unfortunately, when there is a child involved, leaving it a couple of months for the dust to settle is not a viable option; the child still wants - and has the right - to see both parents on a regular basis. It is important for both parents to practice self-restraint and control in this situation. It can be helpful to establish a few simple ground rules, such as agreeing not to say negative things about each other to the child, and agreeing not to air grievances or disagreements when the child is present.
At its best, share parenting is characterised by cooperation, consistence, communication and compromise. It is important for parents to remember these in order to be successful; if the situation deteriorates, and they are not able to cooperate, to be consistent, to communicate or to compromise, this can make things more traumatic for the child than they ever were in the beginning.
If parents are struggling to maintain effective share parenting, family mediation may be a more agreeable option than court proceedings. Family mediation encourages all parties to sit together and make their own joint decisions about how to move forward. The aim is not to decide whose fault something is, or who is to blame, but to find a solution that will be as agreeable as possible for all concerned.
Current LegislationIn the UK the law regarding share parenting is somewhat ambiguous and can often change from case to case.With separating or divorcing couples, the issue of share parenting in legislation often does not arise - as the whole point of share parenting is to keep the issue away from the courts and come to an amicable agreement between the two parties.
If a gay man donates sperm to any woman (heterosexual or homosexual) and intends to co-parent the child, he can be treated as the child’s legal father. If his name is recorded on the birth certificate, he will also have parental responsibility. In some cases, the gay man’s partner may also be able to gain parental responsibility of the child, If the two men are in a civil partnership, the partner can gain parental responsibility, and so be involved in any key decisions made about the child’s upbringing - but in terms of inheritance etc., he will not be considered a parent.
Where male homosexual couples both wishes to be co-parents of a child, adoption is not usually an option. This is because adoption only allows for two parents to be named; so by naming the father and his partner, this will remove the rights of the birth mother.
Interestingly, the same rules do not apply if a man (heterosexual or homosexual) donates sperm to a lesbian couple. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act of 2008 made changes so that with any child conceived after 6 April 2009, lesbian couples conceiving with donated sperm may both be treated as parents of the child; this effectively removes the rights of the sperm donor. In this situation, the father will have no legal recognition as a parent; any contact or co-parenting arrangement is done informally. Obviously this is still new legislation, and there are a lot of changes and conditions so anyone in this sort of situation should seek legal advice as soon as possible.