Co-Parenting: The Basics
Co-parenting is defined as any sort of relationship where two adults who consider themselves to be parents (or guardians) interact and make important decisions together regarding their children. A co-parenting relationship can exist in non-traditional ways, such as between two mothers, two fathers, and/or a surrogate parent. Ultimately, it is a cooperative parenting situation between adults for the benefit of children.
Legal Rules Of Shared Custody
In Minnesota, withholding a child against a parenting plan that’s filed with the court is a crime. A parent can contact the police and show them the parenting plan in order to retrieve a child from the parent who is withholding the child. However, I don’t generally encourage parents to call the police over a breach of an agreement because it can be traumatic for the child and the other parent, and is a high-conflict course of action in general.
Once parents get the court involved, parenting time schedules are set up for the parents and their children.
In Minnesota, legal custody is separate from physical custody. Legal custody designates how or by whom certain decisions will be made, such as where the child will go to school, what religion the child will practice, medical decisions and what extracurricular activities they will participate in. If legal custody is joint, the parent who has parenting time will have the final word on these types of decisions, or the “deal-breaking” decision when there’s a disagreement between the two parents. This can be is tough, because people feel very deeply about these issues.
Legally and practically speaking, court orders are more like fallbacks in the event that the parents do not agree otherwise and/or put their children first. At any time, the parents can agree to change the schedule. Ideally, parents should be able to reach agreements that benefit the child and that don’t necessarily hurt either parent.
Integrating Both Sides Of The Family
Co-parenting doesn’t always require a custody arrangement. Some people can decide between themselves what type of schedule will work, such as to have the child with a certain side of the family for certain holidays or vacations.
Families who can work out these decisions between themselves are able to put aside whatever issues may exist, and actually work to integrate both sides of the family for the benefit of everyone, including the children. This allows for families to participate in events that are not just about the children, but about the family as a whole getting along and spending time together.
When willingness to integrate both sides of the family does not exist, children can be left feeling divided or as though they are favoring one side of the family. Children benefit from being able to wholeheartedly trust, love, and respect both sides of their family. This is why I encourage extended families to accept the other parent and cooperate for the purposes of bringing both sides of the child’s family together.
The truth is that until the child turns 18 years old, the parents are going to have to cooperate with each other. When the parents and extended family are accepting of everyone else, this becomes much easier.
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