Myth #18: Divorced or separated parents cannot successfully co-parent their children. 

So your relationship has fizzled, soured or exploded. What happens with the children? A common view is that after the parents’ relationship ends, especially after a bitter divorce, the parents will be unable to successfully co-parent their children in a cooperative fashion. While it can be difficult for emotionally fraught parents to overcome their painful history and built-up resentment, co-parenting, in the best interests of the children, can be achieved. 

While the idea of seeing your ex-partner again, let alone the idea of remaining in contact and being civil enough to make scheduling arrangements and shared decisions, may cause you anger or distress,  co-parenting is the best way to ensure that a child is able to retain a close relationship with both parents while having their needs met.

So what happens after parents decide to separate or divorce? One of the first things they have to consider is the arrangements regarding custody, care and control and access of their child or children. Ultimately, if parents are unable to agree these arrangements, they will have to involve lawyers and bring the matter before the Court. 

The starting point is that all parents have joint parental responsibility for their children, they are joint guardians of their children and they are equally entitled to custody. Joint parental responsibility or joint custody means that each parent has the right and responsibility to direct major decisions related to upbringing, health, education and welfare of their children. More often than not, parents continue to share joint custody after the breakdown of a relationship unless one parent is unable to make decisions in the best interest of the child.  

Only the Court can deprive a parent of joint custody of their children. 

Where parents often have difficulty is resolving issues of care and control and access.  Care and control defines which parent the children will primarily reside with. If both parents play an equal role in the child’s daily life, there may be good reason for a joint care and control arrangement with the children residing with both parents. If one parent has care and control, the other parent will enjoy such reasonable access as is appropriate in the circumstances.  

These arrangements vary from family to family and should be based on what is best for the child or children.  

It is important to remember that the right of access is the child’s right and not the parent’s right. The type of care and control or access arrangements can be determined by agreement of the parents or alternatively by the Court.  There are no hard and fast rules or formulas, and having joint care and control does not necessarily mean that the children will spend equal time with each parent.  

But how are decisions, whether minor or major, to be made moving forward? This may have been less complicated when parents were living together, but now separated parents must seek to establish a co-parenting environment. To aid successful co-parenting, parents can enter into a co-parenting agreement. These agreements outline the responsibilities of each parent and outline any agreements they have reached in relation to the child. 

Ultimately, they are designed to help resolve conflicts between the parents by setting up a framework of how decisions will be made moving forward. As part of the separation or divorce process, your lawyer can assist with developing and negotiating such an agreement.  

This process requires that anger, hurt and resentment be put aside, allowing the needs of the children to be met.  Admittedly, the good old proverb “time heals all wounds” rings true and it may take time for parents to replace negative emotions with cooperation, communication, compromise, and consistency. In some cases, mediation can aid in resolving issues of conflict. Mediation is an informal and non-adversarial process whereby a neutral third person (the mediator) acts to encourage and facilitate a resolution. It is a process with the objective of helping the disputing parties reach a mutually acceptable and voluntary agreement. 

So, ‘co-parenting’ may not have featured in your grand life plan but what is the alternative? Whether it be traditional parenting or not, it is ‘good parenting’ that matters and that involves setting aside personal feelings and focusing on the well-being and best interests of the children. 

While divorce may end a marriage and separation ends a relationship, it does not need to end successful co-parenting that meets the best interests of your children.  

A matrimonial and family lawyer can play an important role in assisting parents in navigating the landscape of parenting after the breakdown of a relationship. 

Alma Dismount is an associate in the Matrimonial and Family Team at Marshall Diel & Myers Limited. She may be contacted at Alma.dismont@law.bm or via phone at 1 441 295-7105 

A copy of this article can be found at the firm’s website at www.law.bm. This column is for general guidance only and does not constitute legal advice.