How to Co-Parent When You Were Never Married

Co-parenting creates a safer, healthier environment for children after a breakup. When both parents keep their focus on successfully co-parenting, despite the end of their personal relationship, kids are able to better navigate the changes in their family structure. Although you were never married, it’s still possible for you and your ex-partner to work together to co-parent your children.

Start with the basics

There are a lot of decisions that need to be made about parenting your children after a breakup. Typically, unmarried parents will have similar custody decisions to make as divorcing parents. Although things may be amicable in the breakup, it’s important to take the time to get a legal custody and parenting plan in place. 

There are many decisions you’ll need to make so that you can co-parent your children when you were never married. These decisions will impact:

  • Custody and parenting schedules
  • Decision-making authority
  • Access to critical records
  • Communication and access to the children

Set some ground rules

As you begin to figure out how to co-parent when you were never married, you’ll need to set some ground rules about:

  • Custody: Setting up custody is one of the first decisions you’ll need to make so that you can keep your kids’ schedules and lives as uninterrupted as possible. You should focus on keeping routines as consistent as possible for the kids, and your plans can always adjust in the future as circumstances change. 
  • Communication: It’s essential for children to have access to both their parents, regardless of who has physical custody of them. Set some initial guidelines for when you can speak with your children when you don’t have physical custody. 

Continue to work on your relationship

Although your romantic relationship is over, as co-parents you will be in each other’s lives for quite awhile. It’s important for co-parents who were never married to continue to work on their relationship. 

On a recent episode of the podcast, Ben shared how important taking some time away to process was for his relationship with his ex, Nikki. This time away allowed him to check in with himself and work through some of his personal issues. By doing so, he was able to reconnect with Nikki afterwards as a better co-parent.

It’s also important for your new relationship with your co-parent to take accountability. Acknowledge the role you played in the breakup and avoid placing blame on your partner. 

How to keep it positive moving forward

Co-parenting is more effective when you create a positive relationship with your ex. You can do this by: 

  • Leaving your ego at the door. When you accept your ex for who they are, it’s easier to work together as co-parents. Focus on the qualities that make your ex a great parent to your children. 
  • Practicing forgiveness. Forgiveness is critical for co-parents who were never married. In addition to forgiving each other for your parts in the breakup, continue to forgive each other as you co-parent. Co-parenting is new to each of you and there will be missteps along the way. Forgive your ex and forgive yourself so that you can both focus on doing what’s best for the kids. 
  • Setting boundaries. Your relationship with your ex will be different now that you are co-parents and not partners. It’s okay to set healthy boundaries for what you share and don’t share with your ex. Focus on communicating about what’s best for the children and keep your personal personal. 

Tips to make it easier to co-parent when you never married

It’s common for co-parents to have different parenting styles. This can make it hard to see eye to eye on raising children, especially when you are no longer living in the same household. Here’s what you can do to make co-parenting easier, even if you were never married:

  • Put the kids first. This is the most important thing you and your ex can do when co-parenting. Keep the focus on what’s best for the kids in all the decisions you make.
  • Find easy ways to communicate. Co-parenting requires a high level of communication. Find an app that makes it easy to plan schedules, communicate throughout the week and track important documents. When possible, chat face-to-face to avoid miscommunications that can occur over text messaging. 
  • Accept your ex for who they are. Co-parenting with your ex, especially when you were never married, is easier when you focus on your shared goal – raising happy, healthy kids. Accept the things you can’t change and focus on working together as co-parents. 

When you and your ex decide to end your relationship, your focus will shift to co-parenting your children. While it’s not always easy, it’s possible to form a productive co-parenting relationship with your ex. Co-parenting when you were never married requires communication and collaboration. When you are intentional about forgiving your ex and yourself, it becomes even easier to keep the focus on successfully co-parenting the children you share.  

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