co-parenting

Co-parenting: separate parents sharing parental responsibility

Co-parenting is no longer a thing of the western world. It is now common to find two adults parenting a child or children who live with either parent or both parents.

Samantha is very beautiful girl. When she met Samuel, he could not help it but was smitten on the spot. Sometime back, Samuel used to say that it was love at first sight! Together, they enjoyed the sights and sounds of the city and started thinking of a life together. It was no surprise when in less than 3 months, Samantha moved into Samuel’s apartment uptown. By the time they were six months old in their relationship, Samantha conceived. They were excited! Together, they had made a baby together, a fruit of their love.

But alas! Six months after Sammy had been born; Samuel and Samantha could not bear each other. Sadly, they parted and had to go their separate ways. They have decided to co-parent Sammy.

For an arrangement of co-parenting to work, it is paramount that the parents involves enter into a co-parenting agreement. Agreements present the consensus of parties on a given subject, and in this case, a co-parenting agreement states the terms agreed upon by the parents in raising the child(ren).

There are terms which must be included in every co-parenting agreement and they are:

Hereunder, co-parents agree to co-operate with one another in establishing a standard that is acceptable to them both for the well-being, in terms of education, health care, discipline, morality and the general welfare of the child. You also agree to share in making major decisions regarding the child’s life which may include but not limited to medical, dental and psychological treatment, special program placement, change of schools, and any legal issues which may arise, concerning the child.

Most importantly, you agree both respect the differences there may be in each other’s’ parenting techniques by making an attempt to reconcile any differences there may be, in the best interest of the child.

  1. Custody:

You agree on how many days the child will live with each parent. You agree on how you will deal with special circumstances which may demand a re-schedule of the agreed upon days. You can also agree on babysitting arrangements and other living arrangements in case one parent is not available to fulfill their custody duties.

The arrangement can be one which is sustainable for a year or more or less, depending on your agreement.

  1. Access & Communications

Hereunder, you agree not to deny access to the child to each other. Why? Because every parent has the right to spend with the child(ren) and the child(ren) too has/have the right to spend time with both and either of their parents.

You also agree that neither of you will schedule activities with the child which conflict with the others time to be with the child, and make provision for sufficient notice to be given where such activities are scheduled.

You can also agree that you will allow the child to spend time with their maternal and paternal grandparents and other extended family. You can restrict this to the period when such parent is responsible for their custody and care.

Agreement should also be reached to allow access to the child through phone calls, emails, postal deliveries, and other conventional forms of communication. However, such access should be liberal and should be restricted to the convenience of both the child and the parent with custody at any time.

With respect to non-physical communication, you can both agree that neither parent will spy on the other parent during their non-physical communication with the child. It should be acknowledged that you both have the right to privacy and that the child too, has the right to privacy.

Under this clause, you should make provision for renegotiation and review in good faith and for changes to be made to accommodate the child’s age, either parent’s work or travel schedule and other important circumstances that may arise.

  1. Holidays

You can agree on how and where the child(ren) will spend their holidays. Most parents agree to alternate in spending holidays and vacations and the child’s birthdays with him. For example, if the child spends Christmas of this year, 2017 with the father, Christmas of 2018 will be with the mother.

You can also agree on how holidays that may be out of the country and make provision for the parent sponsoring the trip to inform the other parent and also give emergency contact information to the other parent before departure.

Most importantly, and to avoid conflict, it should be agreed that holiday activities be the sole responsibility and expense of the parent who has custody, unless otherwise agreed upon in writing by you, both parents.

  1. Records and Information

Regarding records and information on the child, you should both agree that each parent shall be accorded equal access to the child’s records regarding their health and education; and also make provision for giving written authorization of full access as may be required by the other parent for presentment to an institution or agency which may require that authorization.

You can also agree to communicate to each other any information concerning the child’s minor medical or emergency medical procedures as soon as possible.

On education, agree to share information regarding the child’s extra-curricular activities; and that all information regarding the child’s school data such as report cards, progress reports, school programs in which the child is to participate, parent-teacher/school activities, etc.  and that such information be transmitted to you , both his parents.

In the exercise of your responsibilities as parents, you should agree to meet jointly any medical personnel, teachers, law enforcers and other professionals when it is on a matter regarding the child. However, provision should be made for when one parent meets separately with such professionals and require that such parent informs the other of such meetings and what was discussed. Also, you should agree that you will both inform each other of meetings with professionals in advance, as soon as they are scheduled in order to make allowance for the other parent to attend them.

Parental Support

Hereunder, you should agree to contribute to an appropriate amount of time towards the child’s well-being. In sharing parental support, you must both strive to minimize the emotional and psychological distress your break-up may have had on the child. In dealing with the child, you should endeavor to apply compassion and be responsible for the choices and consequences of those choices on the child.

You should agree that your child has the right to a real home with each parent and that the child will not be limited to being with the parent on the days they have custody.  You should consider creating homes where the child will have their favourite furniture, clothes, games, books and other things that they may need for their well-being.

An agreement that the child be appropriately fed, cleaned and dressed and to also keep him emotionally prepared to spend time with the other parent at the time should be reached.

Financial Support

Since parental responsibility is an equal and joint responsibility, an agreement on how much each parent will contribute to the wellbeing of the child should also be reached.

An agreement on an amount to be contributed should not restrict any parent to contribute that amount but either parent may additionally contribute more money on behalf of the child for medical, education, savings or other special account or investment without requiring the consent of the other parent.

You can also agree to meet regularly to review the expenses of the child and to make reasonable projections of what his expenses for the next one year shall be.

Medical

There are many ways of catering for the child’s medical fees. The most reliable though is by both parents taking out an insurance policy where the child is a beneficiary. Provision should also be made for medical costs that may not be covered by the insurance policies.

Childcare

Standards for child care should be set. They may be that:

  • Corporal punishment shall not be administered
  • Unreasonable punishments shall not be imposed
  • Good behavior shall be proportionally rewarded
  • In administering discipline, no parent should create an unfair or competitive circumstance against the other parent
  • In the event that the child is held responsible for a legal violation to a person or property, both parents should be responsible for the conduct of the child
  • Encourage the child to speak the truth at all times, to be open and not to use deception, secretive or dishonest acts in his relationship with both parent
  • Not to use abusive language when disciplining the child
  • Not to strike the child
  • Not to make promises we cannot keep

Basic and Higher Education

Costs pertaining to the child’s education should be shared by both parents. Depending on the earning capacities of either parent, contribution to the child’s education may not be equal.

Alternatively, both parents can take out education insurance policies for the child’s education.

An agreement to attend parent teacher meetings on a rotational basis, to be active in the child’s school events and to share information regarding the child’s progress at school should be reached. It should also be agreed upon that it is both parent’s responsibility to provide educational and career guidance (when the time is right) to the child(ren) and also encourage their educational pursuits as may be in the child’s/children’s best interest.

It can be agreed that either parent may enter the child into an educational activity he or she considers safe and age appropriate. The activity should occur during the parent’s time of custody and should not involve the other parent’s time or money. However, where an activity may involve the other parent’s resources, it should be agreed that other parent will be consulted and his/her consent obtained before entering the child into such an activity.

Where the child is to be enrolled in activities with an inherent risk of injury such as motor sporting, boxing, skydiving, etc., or where a license to operate dangerous equipment and machinery such as guns is sought, the consent of the other/both parents should be given before the child enrolls in such activities.

Domestic and Foreign Travel

Agree

Domestic Travel:

That whenever a parent is travelling out of the city with the child, he or she shall notify the other parent of such travel plans consisting of arrival and departure dates, destinations and purpose of travel and also provide a contact number in case of an emergency.

That whenever the child is travelling unaccompanied, the parent with custody shall share with the other parent information regarding to the arrival and departure dates, details of lodging and meal plans, and emergency contacts.

Foreign Travel:

That no parent shall travel with the child out of the country without the express and written consent of the other parent. Such consent shall not be unreasonably withheld. Such travels may be extended for 2-3 weeks. The parent with whom the child is travelling shall provide travel information including but not limited to the arrival and departure dates, travel documents and visas, emergency contacts and such information shall be given at least seven (7) days before departure

Also agree that when you have travelled with the child, none of you (the parents) shall be in possession of illegal drugs or contraband, that none of you will be under the influence of alcohol, drugs or medication which may cause you to make an impaired decision.

Catastrophic Events

Agree that in the event of death of one parent, the surviving parent immediately assumes responsibility of the child’s sole custody.

In the unfortunate instance that both you the parents pass away, agree on who will have custody of the child

Make provision for what will happen to the child if one of you, the parents suffers a long term injury or illness that renders him or her incapable of living with the child

Also agree on what will happen in circumstances such as the loss of a home, employment, or other means of providing an appropriate home environment; or exposure to abusive, dangerous, or hazardous situations and circumstances which may be considered as acceptable reasons for the other parent to assume temporary care, until such time both parents are able to provide an adequate, safe home environment.

Standards of  Parental  Conduct:  

Agree that

  • You both work towards developing and maintaining a friendly relationship putting in consideration each other’s feelings and concerns
  • You both create a healthy environment for the child to be free to live, love and interact with the other parent by nourishing their affection for the other parent
  • You both constantly meet to discuss the well-being of the child
  • You both honour and respect the other’s parenting style
  • You honour each other’s privacy and not to use the child as a spy against the other parent
  • You discuss your grievances against each other respectfully and openly
  • You invest in the child’s happiness and healthy development by not using them to communicate abusive messages to the other parent
  • You both refrain from discussing personal faults and shortcomings in the presence of the child.
  • You both make no attempt to estrange the child from the other parent or his extended family

Dispute resolution and renegotiation

Hereunder, agree to negotiate and find common ground in case a dispute arises out of your co-parenting agreement.

Now you know how to deal with an issue of co-parenting. For a very good agreement, please consult your lawyer for proper advice.

BY SAMALI BITALA

This article appears in our digital law newsletter, The Deuteronomy Vol 5, Issue 4 of May 26th, 2017

To receive The Deuteronomy in real time, click HERE

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