When the parents of minor children get divorced in Minnesota, they are not spouses anymore, but they are still parents to one or more children who need them. Legally, those responsibilities will continue at least until that child turns 18 years old. As any parent will tell you, though, parenthood continues far beyond that point in time. This means that ex-spouses who are also parents must continue to interact for a very long time. Luckily, modern technology offers tools to help them manage these responsibilities.
A divorce involving children must include a parenting plan. Minnesota’s family laws require courts to consider the “best interest of the child” above almost everything else. A final judgment of divorce in Minnesota must include details about child custody, visitation with both parents, and other issues affecting the child. If the parents cannot agree to matters like visitation schedules, the court will decide for them after a trial. Either way, once the divorce is over, they will have a plan.
“Co-parenting” is not a legal term. That is to say that, unlike terms like “breach of contract” or “assault and battery,” “co-parenting” does not have a specific definition with the force of law. Instead, “co-parenting” is a useful shorthand for all the rights and responsibilities of parents who are separated, but are both participating in raising a child. In most situations, the more parents can do this cooperatively, the better for everybody involved.
Based on principles set forth in Minnesota law, parents’ goals in co-parenting should include the following:
Minnesota courts presume that a child’s best interests include having “safe, stable, nurturing relationships” with both parents. Absent compelling evidence to the contrary, they will treat both parents as having equal ability to provide this kind of relationship. In terms of actual parenting time, state law presumes that a parent should have at least one-fourth of the available time with the child.
The purpose of all of these presumptions is to provide as much stability for a child as possible after their parents separate. Consistency in a child’s relationship with both parents helps them develop skills they will need as adults. Stability and consistency help a child’s “emotional and developmental growth” to proceed at a similar rate to other children their age, hence the term “normalcy.” Parents engaged in co-parenting can provide consistency and stability by involving one another in decision-making processes, and by maintaining clear lines of communication.
In a final judgment of divorce, all orders affecting a minor child must be in the child’s best interests. Minnesota law also requires parents to put the needs of the child first in custody, support, parenting time, and other matters. Parents should keep their focus on the child(ren) at all times when engaging in co-parenting.
That said, putting the children first does not mean putting them in the middle. Parents should not vent their frustrations about the other parent to the children. They should not have the children deliver messages to the other parent so they do not have to. Co-parenting tools can help parents communicate without unnecessarily involving the children.
Divorce can be painful and difficult. Interacting with one’s ex can bring up all sorts of trauma and bad memories. At the same time, however, children see how their parents act, and often model their own behavior accordingly. Parents cannot shield their children from every negative aspect of a divorce, but they can make every effort to minimize its impact. This includes modeling healthy behaviors in communicating and making decisions about the children.
Children are not the only ones affected by a divorce. It is devastating for the parents, too. Parents cannot help their kids if they do not take care of themselves. Self-care is therefore an obligation parents owe not only to themselves, but to their children. This includes not only physical care. It also includes the negative emotions left over from the divorce. Finding a way to acknowledge their hurt is a critical part of parenting and co-parenting.
Now that we have defined some goals for co-parenting, how can you put all of this into practice? You might have noticed a trend that appeared throughout all of the goals described above: communication. The key to successful co-parenting is the ability to communicate and share information quickly and productively.
A good online co-parenting tool should therefore help parents — and sometimes their children — communicate with one another. This might include:
An additional benefit of an online co-parenting service is the preservation of evidence. Should a dispute arise between parents, the service may have stored data that can help one or both parents build a case.
A wide variety of online tools are available. Some are available to use free of charge, while others offer a free trial version followed by a paid subscription. Most can be accessed via a smartphone app, as well as in a web browser.
This is among the most extensive and versatile co-parenting tools in existence today. We recommend it for many of our clients. It allows families to share important documents, access shared calendars, and send messages securely. It preserves communications in the event they are needed as evidence in legal proceedings. A service known as “ToneMeter” promotes amicable communication by notifying a person if they are drafting a message with a “negative” tone. It can suggest friendlier language.
Parents can purchase memberships for an annual fee. Children can open an account free of charge.
This app focuses on calendaring and scheduling, but also provides secure messaging, expense tracking, and storage of contact information and important documents. The calendar color-codes each parent’s visitation time, showing the balance of parenting time at a glance.
Monthly subscriptions are available after a free trial. Limited-access children’s accounts are also available.
Parents can securely exchange messages with this service. It also offers shared scheduling, document storage, and access to mediators. Memberships are available for a monthly fee.
This also provides a color-coded calendar feature, allowing parents to organize everything from vacations to school drop-offs and pickups.
This service provides secure messaging for parents, and keeps a record of all correspondence sent through the app. Parents can use it for free, but must pay to download data if they need it as evidence. They have the option of paying for each download, or paying a monthly fee.
The free-to-use online calendar lets parents share to-do lists, shopping lists, information on homework assignments, etc. Parents can share the children’s major milestones with one another through the “family journal” feature. A premium subscription allows ad-free use of the app.
Parents who prefer not to spend extra money on apps, who want more DIY options, might consider free tools offered by companies like Google, Apple, or Microsoft. Google Calendar allows users to create and provide shared access to multiple separate calendars. A parent could create a calendar specifically for a child’s activities, and invite the other parent to access and edit it. Other tools, such as Google Drive, allow document sharing and other features found in co-parenting tools.
That said, these tools come with a very important caveat: Unlike services that are specifically designed for co-parenting, free online tools do not necessarily keep track of all changes and edits, nor do they necessarily notify all users when someone makes changes. Parents who choose this type of online tool should take care to ensure that changes are communicated to one another.
Anthony Toepfer is a family law attorney in St. Cloud, Minnesota who represents people during particularly difficult times in their lives, such as divorces and child custody disputes. As a client at Toepfer at Law, you will always have access to up-to-date information about your case. We will advocate for your rights and interests both in the courtroom and at the negotiating table, and we are always available to discuss your case and answer your questions. Please contact us through our website, or give us a call today at (320) 497-4416 to schedule a confidential consultation to see how we can assist you.
Attorney Anthony (Tony) Toepfer began his legal career in the area of business and technology law. While successful in that field, he felt there was something missing. He turned down opportunities, because, as he says, “I wanted to see the faces of the people I was helping.” He transitioned into family law practice, and found what he was looking for.About Tony Toepfer