Ending a relationship or marriage is difficult, especially when children are involved. Unlike couples without kids, those with children are connected to their ex for the foreseeable future.
Establishing a clear set of co-parenting boundaries can help you avoid the pitfalls a broken romantic relationship presents when parenting and help create your family’s new normal.
Healthy co-parenting boundaries are a clear, concise set of rules, expectations, and personal limits that each parent adheres to when collaborating to ensure their children receive the best possible care. This ensures that each parent’s time, energy, and privacy are respected.
This guide provides a concise overview of co-parenting boundaries, their importance, and how to implement them. Read on to discover how to co-parent like a pro!
Just as personal boundaries are important for living well-balanced lives, so co-parenting boundaries enable parents to parent in a manner free from anger, bitterness, and resentment.
Importance of Boundaries in Co-Parenting
Setting boundaries ensures that each parent’s time, energy, and privacy are respected.
Boundaries also set realistic expectations enabling each parent to play an active role in providing a harmonious and balanced environment in which to raise their kids.
Furthermore, if the co-parenting boundaries are respected, noncoupled parents are more likely to get along and positively parent their children than those without established guidelines in place.
What Boundaries Should Cover
Establishing positive co-parenting boundaries doesn’t need to be challenging. Below are some common boundaries that can help to reduce stress and promote consistency in your children’s lives.
- Have a detailed parenting plan.
- Decide on your communication style and frequency (text, email, parenting app, etc.).
- Don’t disagree in front of the kids.
- Share information about the children, even the trivial stuff.
- Have ground rules for introducing new partners to your kids.
- Have a set routine for visits, collections, and drop-offs.
Examples of Co-Parenting Boundaries
Below are a few examples of co-parenting boundaries:
- Agree that communication is strictly about the kids.
- Regularly share updates on the children.
- No negative talk about your ex (in front of the children).
- Adhere to agreed timings and locations for drop-offs/collections.
Critical Boundaries To Establish
Two of the most critical boundaries to establish when co-parenting relate to the custody schedule and the parenting plan.
Stick to the Custody Schedule
The first boundary should be that both parents stick to the custody schedule, whether weekly or every other week.
Each parent must know when it’s their turn to have the kids. In addition, timings and changeovers (drop-offs/pick-ups) should be punctual and reliable.
Adhere to the Parenting Plan
The parenting plan is an agreement that should be followed unless there is an emergency.
Should the plan consistently be disrespected, your parenting plan won’t work, resulting in possible court proceedings if it has been filed with the court.
Of course, reasonable requests should occasionally be considered, but the default stance should be to stick to what was agreed to in writing.
Boundaries To Consider
Boundaries for co-parents differ from family to family because each is unique and requires an almost tailor-made approach. Some boundaries to consider when co-parenting include:
- What behavior you are willing to tolerate.
- How each of you will respond to situations where boundaries are crossed.
- Keep the children out of the conflict.
- Avoid criticism of either parent.
- Keep your co-parent relationship professional and friendly.
- Remain child-focused.
- Keep intimate information about yourself private.
- Use effective communication methods (parenting apps) and be flexible.
- Be supportive of each other.
- Be considerate of each other’s time.
How Boundaries May Need To Be Adjusted Over Time
Being consistent is important, but sometimes boundaries may need to be adjusted should the other parents’ needs change.
For instance, if you re-partner, you might need to reassess your boundaries with your co-parent.
While your co-parent might be used to coming in for a coffee when dropping the kids off, your new partner might prefer it if they didn’t.
How To Set Co-Parenting Boundaries
Setting up co-parenting boundaries is easier than you think; use the below steps to get the proverbial ball rolling:
Identify Your Personal Boundaries
Before you set boundaries with your co-parent, you need to understand what healthy boundaries look like for you.
For example, you may feel punctuality is important or prefer people to call rather than drop by unannounced.
Ask the Right Questions
Raise questions about how you plan to communicate, whether you are welcome in each other’s home, or if you will attend your child’s school or sports events together, etc.
Agree on the Boundaries
Once you have the answers to your questions, you can establish an agreed set of boundaries with your co-parent.
Consequences for missed visits or overstepping the boundaries should also be discussed to ensure each parent is aware of the other’s expectations.
You’re more likely to achieve a positive result if you are willing to hear the other parent out, consider their counter requests, and speak respectfully.
If a face-to-face conversation is too difficult, communicate your requests via email or text or meet in a public (neutral) space.
How To Document Boundaries
You can keep a paper trail of your agreed boundaries and any changes to them by sending an email (paper trail evidence) or text message.
Remember to keep evidence of all communication should your co-parenting agreement turn sour.
When To Seek Help Establishing Boundaries
Immediately! If you and your co-parent are finding it challenging to reach an agreement on reasonable boundaries, talk to your attorney about enlisting the help of a neutral third party.
This might involve speaking to a mediation counselor or joining a self-help program to help both parties find common ground.
How To Set Boundaries With a Toxic Co-Parent
Toxic co-parents bent on causing chaos are not an ideal choice for a co-parenting strategy.
Instead, a parenting order and parallel-parenting strategy with a structured set of rules and guidelines would be more beneficial.
When co-parenting using a parallel-parenting plan endorsed by the court, boundaries are set in stone.
This means communication is often in written format (email/text) and limited to specific criteria regarding your child’s health, well-being, and safety.
Co-Parenting Boundaries While in a New Relationship
While a new relationship is exciting, introducing your new partner to your ex and your children should not happen immediately.
Instead, if possible, discuss with your co-parent when would be appropriate to introduce your new partner to the children and what their role will be regarding the parenting of your children.
Note that it’s important your new relationship doesn’t impact the custody schedule or the parenting plan.
What To Do if Ex Doesn’t Abide by the Set Boundaries
Some co-parents aren’t receptive to boundaries and may ignore them completely.
Keep your cool and calmly reaffirm what your boundaries are and the subsequent consequences for overstepping. Ideally, this should be done by text or email so you have a record.
If your ex is consistently in breach of a court-ordered parenting plan, advise your lawyer, who will take the appropriate steps.
Co-Parenting Communication Guidelines
Working as a team is imperative if communication between co-parents is to be effective; update each other regularly, and keep each other involved.
Be prepared to compromise a little, keep things professional, and at all times, aim to put your kids first and your emotions last!
Co-Parenting Apps To Consider
If your co-parent ignores your boundaries or if you simply want to keep things running like clockwork; the use of a parent app is the best plan of action.
These apps use integrated accountability and record keeping such as accountable calling (recorded calls), time-stamped messaging, and shared calendars for coordinating events.
Top parenting apps to consider include:
This app is great for amicable co-parents or those stuck in conflict who need to share calendars, store files, and keep track of their shared expenses.
The “accountable calling” feature allows for recordable video or phone calls without disclosing your phone number.
With this app, parents have their own accounts and can add additional users (therapists, children, or caregivers).
This app logs communication, stores accurate records for court proceedings, and has a “Tone Meter” to help identify any inadvertent negativity.
Is a Parenting Plan Legally Binding?
Parenting plans, unlike parenting orders, are not legally binding. These are voluntary written agreements that detail the childcare arrangements and parental responsibilities of each parent.
What Makes a Document Legally Binding?
For a document to be legally binding, it must be filed with the court. Any breach of the rules set out in the document can result in serious court-enforceable consequences.
Even the best parents struggle with the challenges of co-parenting at first. Unfortunately, it can take a long time to settle and be “okay” with each other.
However, by taking small steps, having appropriate boundaries in place, and accepting that the process takes time to get right, you can eventually move forward and be the top-notch parents you always wanted to be!
Jayme is a professional writer, vegan nutritionist, and relationship & communications counselor. As an avid reader, researcher, and writer, she is constantly expanding her interests and looking into new avenues of mental health awareness and self-care. She lives with her two rescue dachshunds in Hampshire in the United Kingdom.