Coparenting typically refers to the relationship between primary caregivers of a child (often parents), but can expand to include any adult figure with legal, financial, and emotional responsibility for child-rearing. Coparenting may look differently given different family circumstances and can span a range from extremely engaged and collaborative, to more distant and businesslike relationships.
The research in this area has grown extensively over the past 20 years. What we now know is that the coparenting relationship is a unique and powerful contributor to child and family well-being. One important point to note, however, is that while healthy coparenting is clearly a positive for children, it is important to only encourage such relationships when it is safe for parents and caregivers to have an ongoing relationship with each other. In family contexts of domestic violence, coparenting should not be encouraged until it is clear that it is safe and recommended for everyone involved.
Following are some examples of research on the effects of coparenting relationships on child and family well-being.
Positive coparenting is a protective factor for parents and families
Type of study: Divorcing parents in Portugal (n=314; (Lamela, Figueiredo, Bastos, & Feinberg, 2015)
Results: Parents with higher conflict in their coparenting relationship also had lower life satisfaction, decreased family functioning, and more negative feelings following divorce.
Cooperative and supportive coparenting predicts non-residential fathers paying more child support
Type of study: Data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (n=1,752; Goldberg, 2015).
Results: Mothers who reported more positive coparenting also reported increased financial child support payments from fathers. While the authors found that this was a reciprocal relationship and that increased child support payments also predicted improved coparenting, this was a much smaller influence than coparenting had on payment.
Parents who are able to let go of divorce anger and “pick their battles” are more successful at post-divorce coparenting
Type of study: Interviews with 47 divorced parents (Jamison, Coleman, Ganong, & Feistman, 2014).
Results: Parents with successful coparenting relationships were able to take several positive actions that benefited their children.
- Each adjusted their thinking and feeling about their ex-spouse in order to be more neutral and focused on their child or children, instead of focusing on their former intimate relationship.
- More successful parents adjusted their behavior to reduce conflict and increase flexibility.
- These parents continually made small changes in how they related to each other, depending on evolving circumstances.
Goldberg, A. E., & Garcia, R. (2015). Predictors of Relationship Dissolution in Lesbian, Gay, and Heterosexual Adoptive Parents. Journal of Family Psychology, 29(3), 394–404.
Jamison, T. B., Coleman, M., Ganong, L. H., & Feistman, R. E. (2014). Transitioning to Postdivorce Family Life: A Grounded Theory Investigation of Resilience in Coparenting. Family Relations, 63(3), 411–423.
Lamela, D., Figueiredo, B., Bastos, A., & Feinberg, M. (2015). Typologies of Post-divorce Coparenting and Parental well-being, Parenting Quality and Children’s Psychological Adjustment. Child Psychiatry & Human Development, 1–13.
Parent-child relationships — Review how divorce, separation, and custody change can affect the relationships parents have with their children.
Parental well-being — Explore how divorce, separation, or custody change effects parent well-being.