Inappropriate Co-Parenting: What You Should Know

Posted on December 16, 2022.

Inappropriate co-parenting can be summarized as a co-parenting relationship that is high conflict.

Let’s be clear: in this article, we are not talking about abuse or other situations that can affect the safety of the children and may require the intervention of a court or other measures to keep the children safe.

Inappropriate co-parenting is a situation where parents experience so much conflict and resentment that they are unable to make decisions, make schedule changes when they are required, or address the major cruxes of parenting (like making healthcare decisions, education decisions, or religious decisions) without major conflict.

Divorce or separation is a time when parents often set the tone of what their co-parenting relationship will be. During your divorce or separation, you’ll need to create a parenting plan that outlines how major decisions will be made.

A parenting plan will include details about where the children will live, how visitation will be planned, and how major decisions for the children will be made. The decisions you make during your divorce or separation can have a major impact on your life and the lives of your children for years to come.

While many couples hire traditional divorce attorneys who may prepare them to battle these issues in court, they may not realize that there is another way.

The collaborative divorce process allows both parents to negotiate the terms of their parenting plan outside of court, often with the help of counselors and therapists, who can help them set a sound foundation for a strong co-parenting relationship.

Divorce or separation is never easy, but the collaborative divorce process gives you and your former spouse the opportunity to craft a parenting plan that works for your changing family, without taking your disagreements to a judge who might end up making a decision neither of you want.

The collaborative divorce lawyers in Seattle, Washington at Truce Law can help you create a parenting plan that can help you avoid some common co-parenting mistakes.

What is Co-Parenting?

Co-parenting is when two parents who are separated or divorced share parental responsibilities and decision-making.

When a couple with children divorces or separates, they need to make decisions about where the children will live, how visitation schedules will be arranged, and how decisions about the children’s education, healthcare, religion, after-school activities, and social activities will be made.

Co-parenting can come with unique challenges, but when divorced or separated parents are able to co-parent successfully, children can thrive.

What is inappropriate co-parenting?

Appropriate co-parenting will be different for different families. How you define appropriate co-parenting will depend upon your unique values, principles, goals, and schedules.

The people who are best able to determine whether your co-parenting is appropriate are you and your former partner.

A question to ask yourself if you aren’t sure whether your co-parenting relationship is appropriate or inappropriate is whether your co-parenting relationship is supportive or non-supportive.

According to Utah State University, “supportive co-parenting includes respect, forgiveness about the past, and compromise.” Non-supportive co-parenting is a situation where both parents are unable to resolve co-parenting conflicts. Conflicts surrounding co-parenting can include questions about:

  • Where the children will live.
  • How holidays will be celebrated and how schedules around the holidays will be arranged.
  • How the children will be disciplined.
  • What medical decisions for the children will be made.
  • How the children will be educated.
  • What recreational activities the children will be permitted or encouraged to participate in.

The best time to address inappropriate co-parenting is before it becomes an issue. A well-crafted parenting plan can address these concerns and help parents create schedules, routines, and boundaries that work for their families.

The collaborative divorce lawyers in Seattle, Washington at Truce Law can help you and your former partner craft a parenting plan that can lead to more supportive co-parenting.

How Bad Co-Parenting Can Negatively Affect Child Custody

Under Washington law, the courts want to support custodial decisions that promote a child’s relationship with both parents. Only in cases where an ongoing relationship or physical contact with a parent might result in a child’s physical, mental, or emotional harm will the courts consider a parenting plan that limits contact.

In most situations, the courts will want to see a parenting plan that clearly allows time for both parents to support their children’s physical care, emotional growth, and health.

Parental alienation is a general term used to describe a situation where one parent’s actions damage the child’s relationship with the other parent.

According to the National Center for State Courts, parental alienation can be seen as a form of emotional abuse where one parent intentionally intends to damage the child’s relationship with the other parent.

It is very important to differentiate between intentional parental alienation and situations like sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, abandonment, alcoholism, or narcissism that can result in a child being alienated from a parent.

If a parent bad-mouths the other, makes false accusations of abuse or neglect, or influences the child to the point where the child doesn’t want a relationship with the other parent in the absence of abuse or neglect, then parental alienation may be a factor.

In this situation, parental alienation may influence custody decisions, including limiting contact with the parent alienating the children from the other.

Custodial interference in the first degree is another situation that can affect child custody. If one parent denies the other parent access to the child, intends to keep the child permanently away from the other parent when the other parent has lawful custody, removes the child from the state without following proper procedures, or puts the child at risk of physical harm, the parent can face charges of custodial interference in the first degree. Custodial interference is a class C felony.

Seven Ways to Avoid Inappropriate Co-Parenting While in a Relationship

Non-supportive co-parenting can take many forms, but it ultimately comes down to a lack of communication. Here are seven ways non-supportive and inappropriate co-parenting situations can arise:

1. Parental alienation.

As mentioned earlier, one parent attempting to interfere with the child’s relationship with the other parent can be incredibly damaging to the child’s self-esteem, emotional health, and can even impact custody decisions.

2. Custodial Interference in the First Degree.

Both parents after a separation or divorce will have the right to see their children and make decisions. When one parent intends to remove a child from the other parent permanently without approval from the courts, the parent could face criminal charges.

3. Lack of communication.

Good co-parenting comes down to good communication. Good communication often requires respect and good boundaries. If boundaries aren’t clear, communication can break down.

4. Boundaries aren’t clear.

The boundaries you and your former spouse will have with one another as co-parents will depend on your relationship.

In a high conflict divorce, for example, co-parents may agree to communicate primarily through co-parenting scheduling applications and arrange drop-off and meet-up times in advance to minimize interaction with one another.

With a high-conflict divorce, it may also be necessary to very clearly specify how decisions about education, religion, holidays, after-school activities, and healthcare will be made, and specify what legal processes will be used if a conflict arises.

 Other co-parents may have a stronger relationship, one where parents and their former spouses are able to celebrate holidays together, and even share a home with the children, a practice known as “nesting.” Most parents will be somewhere in the middle of these two spectrums.

 Most healthy co-parenting arrangements will involve both parents living apart and adhering to a pre-set schedule for visitation and parenting time, but with the ability to admit some flexibility when the unexpected occurs.

 Most co-parents will also develop a routine and set their own benchmark for what constitutes healthy communication, including times when it is appropriate and inappropriate to discuss issues about the children, and pre-set plans for how disagreements will be handled when they arise.

 Even in low-conflict divorce, co-parents may not always agree about major parenting decisions, like healthcare, education, after-school activities, and religion, which is why a strong parenting plan will outline general guidelines for how these decisions will be made and, in some cases, the decisions will be outlined in the parenting plan itself.

The parenting plan you and your former spouse craft during your divorce and separation can address boundaries, communication, drop-offs, and how conflicts will be resolved.

 A collaborative divorce lawyer in Seattle, Washington at Truce Law can help you craft a parenting plan that helps you and your former partner establish the boundaries in your co-parenting relationship that are right for you—without the need for a child custody battle in court.

Even couples in high-conflict divorce can benefit from the collaborative divorce process because the process can also include the input of experts like counselors and psychologists, who can help guide you as you make crucial decisions and set the tone for your co-parenting relationship.

5. One parent wants control over the other parent’s parenting.

It is important to understand that while it is ideal to have consistency of rules and expectations between both homes, you ultimately cannot control what happens in your former partner’s home.

 Unless you think your child is in danger or is being abused, your spouse has a right to set his or her own rules for his or her own home, set expectations as he or she sees fit, and introduce your children to friends and new partners as he or she wishes.

 If you are concerned about consistency in discipline, rules, expectations, and your children being introduced to new people, these issues are best addressed when you write your parenting plan. When it comes to disagreements about what happens in your former partner’s home during parenting time, these issues are best addressed collaboratively, with respect, clear communication, and understanding.

6. Talking poorly about the other parent.

Even when it doesn’t reach the level of parental alienation, anything you say in anger about your former spouse to your child can negatively affect your child. Children know that they are the product of both their parents.

 When one parent badmouths the other parent, this can lead to low self-esteem because children may internalize the criticism as being directed toward them, too. The simple rule is this: if you would never say it about your child, don’t say it about your ex.

7. Withholding information.

Even if your parenting plan includes clear guidelines for how educational and healthcare decisions will be made, withholding information from the other parent when things arise on your watch can be very damaging to the co-parenting relationship.

Inappropriate co-parenting often comes down to a lack of communication. A solid parenting plan can help address some of the “hot topics” that can lead to a breakdown of communication when parents’ divorce or separate and begin their co-parenting journey.

The collaborative divorce lawyers in Seattle, Washington at Truce Law can help you create a parenting plan that works for your family.

Ten Signs of a Healthy Co-Parenting Relationship

  1. You respect one another, even when you disagree.
  2. You communicate openly and honestly.
  3. You listen to what your former partner has to say.
  4. You value the role the other parent has in your child’s life.
  5. You honor your co-parenting schedule but are flexible and accommodating when needed and appropriate.
  6. You feel safe calling the other parent when you need a babysitter before hiring someone.
  7. You respect your child’s time with the other parent and respect your former partner’s right to set his or her own rules, expectations, and to introduce your child to important people in his or her life.
  8. You communicate non-defensively, using “I” statements.
  9. You avoid criticizing each other’s parenting.
  10. You can attend important events in your child’s life without conflict or tension.

How Good Co-Parenting Can Help You in Child Custody

Good co-parenting is often the result of a well-crafted child custody agreement, not the other way around. Many parenting decisions are hard. Truce Law is a collaborative divorce law firm in Seattle, Washington that can help you craft a child custody agreement that can lead to good co-parenting.

Even with Provisions in Place Don’t Some Parents Break the Rules?

If a parent violates a custody order, you can file a motion for contempt and take your former partner to court. In serious cases, like custodial interference in the first degree, your former partner could even face criminal charges. Most parenting plans allow for some flexibility.

If changes to a pre-set schedule must be made, most parenting plans will include guidelines for how these changes can be negotiated and communicated.

What if You’re Struggling to Co-Parent Under Existing Custody Orders?

You can always petition the court to modify your existing parenting plan. While it is generally difficult to change a parenting plan through litigation (courts don’t like to make changes in children’s lives), it may be possible to change a custody order through the collaborative process.

The collaborative divorce lawyers in Seattle, Washington at Truce Law may be able to help you if you and your former partner need to find better co-parenting solutions. Our collaborative approach can bring in therapists, counselors, parenting coaches, and other experts who can help you find a parenting plan that works.

How to Create a Successful Co-Parenting Plan

The best parenting plan is one that both you and your former partner agree to and can live with. Research has shown that when parents can agree about co-parenting, children also do better emotionally and psychologically.

One of the best ways to arrive at this goal is to utilize the collaborative divorce process. Truce Law is a collaborative divorce law firm in Seattle, Washington that can help you work together with your former spouse to craft a co-parenting plan that works. 

When to Seek Co-Parenting Advice from an Attorney or Counselor

If you are getting divorced or separated, now is the time to seek co-parenting advice from a lawyer.

Co-Parenting Isn’t Easy, We Can Help You Take Legal Steps

Truce Law is a collaborative divorce law firm in Seattle, Washington that can help you begin your co-parenting journey on the right foot. Reach out to our collaborative divorce lawyers today to begin.


1. What is inappropriate co-parenting ?

There is no one single definition of inappropriate co-parenting. Parenting will reflect each couple’s values, goals, and principles. A better way to think about inappropriate co-parenting is to think of it as non-supportive co-parenting.

Supportive co-parenting is characterized as a relationship where there is respect, honest communication, and where both parents take time to listen to each other’s concerns. Supportive co-parents value each other’s role in their children’s lives and work together to foster a healthy relationship between their children and both parents.

2. How do you deal with a nasty co-parent ?

The best way to deal with a nasty co-parent is to lead with kindness. Keep communication open but be sure to protect your children from fights. Pick your battles and a place and time to have them when the children aren’t present. If needed, consider speaking to a Seattle, Washington mediator at Truce Law, who may be able to help you address challenges and issues you cannot resolve on your own.

3. Can you block a co-parent ?

You cannot block a parent who has custody from seeing or communicating with his or her child. It is a class C felony, known as custodial interference in the first degree. However, if you want to limit your own communication with your former spouse, there are wonderful co-parenting applications that can help you manage many of your scheduling issues and needs.

Finding ways to arrange pick-ups and drop-offs to minimize contact and being very precise about when and how your former partner can contact you about parenting decisions is also something you can outline in your parenting plan.

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