Co-Parenting Boundaries: List of Rules

You may be surprised at how straightforward co-parenting is with a clear set of boundaries. Believe me, co-parenting becomes easier over time. To help everyone get to a good place quicker, we’ve created a list of rules to follow for peaceful and effective co-parenting.

The unwritten rule here is to keep it simple. You and your ex are not in a romantic relationship anymore and you don’t have to be especially friendly. Each of you has a parenting job to do. Co-parenting boundaries help sharpen your focus on to what matters most: your own parenting tasks and the kids in general.

This list of rules works for almost every situation. You could have the issue of a new relationship a narcissistic or toxic ex, high conflict or inappropriate behavior. Whatever the case, follow the rules consistently until you get into a nice routine that works for everyone.

1. Use a Custody Schedule

Timtab Co-Parenting Schedules and Plans
Image credit: Timtab Co-Parenting Schedules and Plans

The first boundary rule is to keep your child or children only as allowed by the visitation or custody schedule.

As with everything else in life, you need a plan to succeed in the co-parenting game. You should have a parenting plan that comes with a (usually fortnightly) custody schedule. Some parents start with a custody schedule and build a parenting plan from that base.

Each parent needs to know exactly when it’s their time to be with the kids. The schedule must be followed, with both parents being punctual and reliable with changeovers. Precision is important. A few minutes here or there is OK but children and parents shouldn’t be put out due to a lack of punctuality.

I recommend for developing the best custody schedule for your situation. The app generates an optimal schedule based on case factors, such as child age and how far each parent lives from school.

Ideally, you can sit down with your ex to agree on a schedule (or modify an existing one). If your relationship is so bad that you can’t sit down for a talk, have a mediator or lawyers in the meeting to discuss and write down the schedule. Once everyone is comfortable, ensure everybody has a copy of what has been negotiated.

2. Follow the Parenting Plan

Parenting Plan

Rule number 2 is to follow the parenting plan.

One of the most problematic issues in co-parenting is when one or both parents don’t follow the parenting plan. I’m assuming you have a plan since it’s an essential co-parenting tool. Chaos, confusion, anger and disappointment can quickly ensue when a plan is lacking or not fully respected.

It’ is perfectly okay to request an adjustment to a parenting plan every once in a while. But making a habit of departing from the plan can cause your co-parenting relationship to unravel. The remedy for persistently deviant behavior starts with mediation but could end up with both of you in court.

When it comes to healthy co-parenting, especially when you have shared custody, the plan is the law and should be followed to the letter unless there is an emergency. If you must, vary the parenting plan by agreement. You can occasionally make reasonable requests and should accept reasonable requests from your co-parent. But the default position is to stick to what has been agreed in writing.

3. Ignore a Toxic, Narcissistic or High-Conflict Ex

Father and son smiling

The beauty of your ex being an ex is that you can ignore them. Once you have a parenting plan in place, you don’t have to deal with them. Any day-to-day issues can usually be handled with just a quick text message.

If you aren’t one of the lucky people with an emotionally mature ex, you might expect accusations and drama. That doesn’t mean you have to take it though. You have the option of walking away quietly when they raise their voice, dropping the call when it gets argumentative, and choosing not to reply.

Whatever their problem, whether it’s narcissism, another personality disorder or just a messed up relationship with you, they can’t inflict their problems directly on you if you never give them a chance to do so.

You always have the choice to be non-reactive and to keep your peace. The secret is knowing that miserable people thrive on making others miserable. You are free to not get involved with your ex and any negative interactions they try to initiate. If they create a real problem for your child, mediators, lawyers, the court and child protective services can potentially intervene on your behalf.

4. Communicate in a Business-like Manner

Professional communication

Rule 4 is to communicate in a business-like manner. Do this always, every time if there is any problem with conflict in your co-parenting relationship.

Don’t cross the line and start making judgements about the other parent or using emotions to try and get what you want. Breaking through these sorts of boundaries takes your communication into areas where you don’t want to go.

Having to share children with your ex can easily brings some raw emotions, at least for a time. Unfortunately, many people have been caught in the trap of fighting their co-parent verbally and unleashing all manner of insults. However, this only makes things worse. To avoid any issues:

  • Keep all your communication business-like and professional.
  • Treat your ex the way you do your boss, with the utmost respect, few words, and professionalism. This will ensure you don’t say too much and end up allowing your emotions to take over.
  • If this is not possible, communicate only in writing or through mediators until you master the art of business-like communication.

5. Only Communicate About Your Child

Happy boy in car

Yon only have one topic of communication with the other parent: the welfare of the child or children. Make this a rule of thumb, especially early in the co-parenting relationship.

The truth is, in most cases, it’s impossible to be friends with your ex immediately after the relationship ends. This is because the two of you are still going through the grieving period – with anger, bargaining, and regret among other possible feelings.

So, for the time being, until maybe when you reach acceptance and get over each other, keep your communication strictly child-based. You should avoid talking about your days, feelings, plans, or anything else that isn’t directly about the welfare of your child or children.

6. Your Ex’s New Relationship is Not Your Concern

Ex dating

An important boundary to respect is that your ex’s personal life, including any new relationships, are not your business. You don’t really need to know what they’re doing and you probably have little control over the situation anyway.

When a relationship ends, it’s normal to want to know who your ex is dating. And co-parenting could be seen as a valid reason why you should know what’s going on. New relationships can significantly affect your child after all.

But, the reality is that your ex-partner’s relationships are no longer your business. Trying to control their relationships is only likely to cause problems.

Generally speaking, you should refrain from asking your ex about personal matters, making comments, stalking on social media, or asking the kids for information. If you feel tempted to do any of these things, techniques are available to help you deal with your ex being with some one else.

In the same breath, you should be discreet about your own relationships. Don’t stir your ex by revealing much about what, if anything, is going on in your life.

What if a new partner is abusive or dangerous?

Some caveats to the “mind your own business” rule do apply of course. Sometimes, a new partner can adversely impact a child, such as when there is possible abuse of some kind or dangerous practices around the child such as drug use.

You can’t break a custody order because of a new partner unless the child is in danger. In this case, you need to contact the authorities or child protection services.

In extreme circumstances, especially if you have evidence of harm, you could start mediation or custody proceedings. The aim might be to increase your custody share or put harm minimization measures into the parenting plan. For example, there could be a rule that a parent is not allowed to have overnight guests when the child is present.

7. Be Concerned with Your Own Parenting Only

Mother parenting her young child

The next rule is to concern yourself with your own parenting more than the other parent’s methods. With co-parenting, you can only change what’s within your control and the other parent’s style is not one of these things.

A common pitfall experienced by co-parents is being overly concerned about the other person’s parenting style. As much as you would like to parent the same way, every person has their own style, and it’s difficult to change it.

If your co-parent is a permissive parent while you are more of a disciplinarian for example, stick to your parenting style – within reason. Don’t worry too much about what happens when your child is in the other house. You may need to adapt somewhat, by loosening the strings a little so you don’t disenfranchise your child, but don’t try to fix what the other parent is doing. 

Fortunately, children are bright and know how to adjust their behavior from one situation to another. Having a middle ground on certain issues can definitely be beneficial however. For instance, when bed training your little one, you could agree on the bedtime so your child has it easier. You should also try to agree on curfews if you have teens. This way, while there may be some variation, there is also continuity between households.

8. Refrain from Bad Mouthing the Co-parent

Father talking to son

Mind what you say about your ex to his or her child. Boundaries don’t relate only to your ex-partner. It’s also about how you relate with the children concerning their mother or father.

Some parents bad-mouth their ex in front of the kids or use the children as weapons against the other party. Parental alienation is one of the worst things you can do as a co-parent, both morally and because of the psychological and relationship damage to your child.

While there may be raw feelings towards your ex, it’s important to remember that children are innocent in all of that. Play your part to ensure they have a healthy view of both parents and always talk highly of them in front of the kids. In case of any issues, address them directly with your ex instead of involving the children.

9. Default to Parallel Parenting

Soccer mom

Parallel parenting, meaning co-parenting with limited interaction between parents, is what you should default to unless you somehow develop a more friendly approach. It is entirely possible to succeed as co-parents without ever going beyond the parallel parenting style.

The ideal situation is that you get to raise your kids together, celebrate birthdays together and attend their school functions together. However, that is not likely to work well during the first years after separating or perhaps ever.

When you aren’t great friends with your ex, parallel parenting is okay. Here are some tips on how to do it.

  • Complete changeovers without stopping to talk with your ex.
  • Have a birthday? Let the child have two parties, one in mom’s house and one in dad’s.
  • Agree on arrangements for who will attend football games, who will do recitals, and all manner of things.

Until it’s possible to sit in the same room without any negative feelings towards each other, stick to parallel parenting. Remember that the important relationship is the one with your child, not your ex.

10. Allow Free Child-Parent Communication

Mother retrieving phone from daughter

The last boundary is that you must allow free communication between children and parents. In practical terms, this means allowing your child, when old enough, to have a phone so they can contact the other parent without going through you. For younger children, you can support communication in other ways – such as by lending your phone or using Skype, Zoom, etc.

Separated parents are often tempted to think of their time with their child as their special one-on-one time. But you have to respect that a child’s life extends beyond that. They may have good reasons, both practical and personal, for getting in touch with the other parent while with you.

16 thoughts on “Co-Parenting Boundaries: List of Rules

  1. So much suffering! Reading through, one’s gender or role doesn’t seem to matter— if there’s an unhinged and vindictive person on the other end… or even just an extremely shallow one, they will throw the child under the bus just to try to be in complete control/ & or cause suffering to a loving parent & family. I feel for each of you.

    I’m here because we’re actually trying to enact parallel parenting but have no idea how to formalize if the other party won’t agree to it.

  2. My son is 9 and my ex has been impossibly difficult throughout his life. Having been military, I have been called away many times. This has been used to manipulate my son into thinking I do not love him. She has even said these words repetitively to him enough that when he was finally with me, he repeats this. She never lets communication happen without being present on even phone calls not letting him speak, but instead coaching every word and response. She continuously oversteps and intrudes on my personal relationship with my wife and newborn. She makes threats and keeps him away from me, defying the court order for visitation. All with a sole mission to increase the amount of money she takes from me. She refuses to allow me to have time and uses military and other means as a way of perpetuating this control and I return, the child support calculation is impossible to fluctuate, since in Florida it is entirely dependent upon number of overnights. How can a father protect against this kind of financial manipulation and abuse when the state law is so corrupt as to not allow investigation into this clearly bias and unfair rule? How can a father even have a healthy relationship with a child when these atavistic laws grant one single party control based solely on old-fashioned “mother-bias”? We are in the day and age where gender doesn’t constitute wage or eligibility for work. It is a gross violation of humanity to allow for such bias in such an intimate area of law. To make things worse, my ex continuously harasses me, my spouse and family and friends. When I do have my son, she is constantly calling and starting arguments to make him upset and want to come home. She attempts to breed unrest when he is here so to further manipulate even during my limited time with my son. My hope is little considering that my country, even having sacrificed my life and time to defend her, continues to turn its back on me and so many other fathers and most important, this negatively affects children in the worst way. Any advice is greatly appreciated.

  3. I’ve come into a new relationship and found it difficult to adjust with the amount of communication in co-parenting between my new partner and his ex. I currently co-parent my child on a parallel parenting basis.
    There are FaceTimes every night in which the child is not interested in having and text messages nearly every day over small things that don’t always need to be communicated over.
    It’s nice that they can communicate so well but when is it too much? How do you distinguish whether it’s a necessary conversation about the child or just used as an excuse to communicate using the child as the topic

    1. I’m in the same situation. He thinks it’s great that they communicate so well now after some previous challenges but for me it’s too cosy and spending time every week on changeovers at each other’s places doing things with the kids, sometimes having dinner or a cup of tea has me feeling really uncomfortable. Any suggestions on this would be amazing. He says it’s great parenting.

      1. So just to follow up with the too much communication post. Did you bring it up with your partner or?
        I’m in the same boat and it’s starting to emotionally hit a nerve and I’m confused as to why? If I really don’t mind it that she calls but I do, when we’re in the midst of dinner or I’m having a family event and he’s on the speaker phone with her!? I guess it’s how’s he’s going about it too.

  4. Is it ok for two parents to take the child on a outing together if one of the parents in a relationship?

  5. There is plenty of good common-sense advice here like sticking to your parenting plan and communicating in a business-like manner. For me though, there’s also a real hidden gem—the advice to avoid the toxic ex. I’ve seen friends perplexed and mired in unnecessary battles with an ex that just can’t let go and tries to inject themselves into their ex-partner’s life via the custodial arrangement. This should be avoided at all costs.

  6. It’s really difficult for a child to have a broken family and it really takes a lot of effort for 2 partners to make it work. If you need to seek advice with your dating and love life please reach out to me and I can definitely help out!
    – Pete (Men’s Dating Coach)

  7. i feel as if my rights have been took away due to the father getting custody 1600 miles away the judge decided because he paid for private school come to find out he didnt pay for the school and it is open to the public. i took him to court to let the judge know he lied and my relationship with my 7 and 5 year old continue to vanish and i dont know what to do at this point

    1. YEP. Join the MILLIONS OF WOMEN (PROTECTIVE MOMS) that are going through GENDER BIAS IN FAMILY COURT! Men want to make it seem like it’s all about them AS USUAL that poor fathers have lost their children to a ‘vindictive’ ex protective mom, judge sides with the father ALWAYS NOW. Even if the mother didnt do ANYTHING unhealthy and just chose to remove her and said child from a toxic abusive household that HE created!! WE ARE CALLED STAND UP TO ABUSE (WOMEN ONLY).

      1. I think what we can do is be firm in our boundaries and do everything needed to protect our children. Doing a CPS case in good faith to make sure the child is good w/ the other parent. Bringing in a behaviorist and therapist so everything is documented and literally try not to engage much and built a case and take them back to court. Also we need more woman in politics and in family court who have gone through this because a lot of judges can care less for the children

      2. Watching my daughter go through this currently. The father is Inconsistent narcissistic mentally, emotionally, verbally and some physical abuse she has suffered for 7 years and verbally and emotionally abusive to their boys. They were never married and he has abandoned them many many times over the years. He hasn’t been involved in their lives except for events and holidays from 2021 to current he has seen the boys 10 times and mostly for just a few hours because they were family events or holidays spent at extended family members houses. He hasn’t seen the boys since April 9th 2022 but blames her for keeping them from him…he says he misses them but doesn’t make an effort to see then. He will message to make plans but then blow them off and blame her for not letting him see them. She gave him 2 months advance notice of days for him to visit he didn’t show up and told her those days didn’t work for him but turns around and offers the same thing she had offered but because it him suggesting it, it gives him.control or something. That was the issues we all noticed in theor relationship was he was very controlling and tried to isolate her from her family and friends. She refused to move out with him because of financial reasons which he did his best to convince her he could cover it all. Thankfully she and her boys remained with her father and I. I honestly believe if she and the boys moved out with him they wouldnt be alive today. His threats to burn our house down, ram a roll back into her car, had her in a headlock, grabbed her wrists to keep her from calling me when out one evening. There are many things that have me worried for my grandbabies should he get them alone. He doesn’t ask about them or see them or even support them. He just wants to hurt my daughter because she won’t go back to him and he knows the only way to do that is through the boys. I pray the attorneys and GAL and the Judge will see him for what he is and rule in her favor. It isn’t healthy for any child to have to be in this situation or be with an inconsistent uncaring emotionally and verbally abusive parent. I don’t understand how any therapist can say differently. I have many friends who suffer still because of being forced to see an abusive parent because the court says so. As adults they still deal with the effects of forced visitation. What’s in the child’s best interest is a safe healthy stable environment. Not an inconsistent abusive narcissistic parent. The victims get victimized all over again in the courts. Its time the courts wake up and the stupid therapists and realize that the only one looking out for the children is the sane, healthy, consistent parent that has been there since day one doing it all. Children don’t need 2 parents they need ONE mentally and emotionally healthy, stable, supportive, loving, caring, nurturing parent. I know many single parents that have raised very well rounded successful loving caring stable children and I know many married couples whose children aren’t doing so well or many other broken families where the kids go back and forth and they hate it and struggle to feel secure in who they are or find stability in theor lives and they turn to alcohol and drugs to find some kind of comfort from the disfunction of their lives. Each case is different and there shouldn’t be a one size fits all kind of law in place. Family law and courts need help and need to stop protecting the abusers and protect the victims and the children. GALS don’t know the situations they make an educated guess…how does a stranger know what is best for your child? They don’t. They only see a brief moment into your life and claim to know what is best for a child? My heart breaks for anyone dealing with family law and our court system…I fear for my daughter and my grandbabies but feel helpless in helping them.
        God I pray she wins her case. I pray for all of you going through this.

        1. Oh Nina
          So many of these things apply to me right now with my ex babydaddy … he’s a drug addict & mentally unstable.. he has threatened to ruin my life for leaving … trying to get me fired and tell Centrelink we were in a defacto relationship for 5 years , even though he has never supported us , and never been with me for my 3 pregnancy’s or births or newborns … our relationship has been on & off constantly.
          He’s now threatening to have kids 50/50 which I know he couldn’t even handle 3 who are still really little & actually threatens to take them away from me with court orders on me..
          I hope things turned out okay with your daughter , he sounds awful.

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