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Co-Parenting When Your Child Goes Away to College

Are you preparing for your child to go off to college for the first time? As summer approaches, many young adults are making the exciting decision of which university they will attend, and families are helping their children prepare to go out on their own for the first time. Whether your kid is going to a local college or traveling across the country or beyond, this is an exciting time for many people. However, if you and your child’s other parent are separated or divorced, it can also be a difficult time to navigate.

In addition to the emotions associated with seeing your child strike out on their own, you may also be dealing with the difficulties related to splitting time and expenses with your co-parent. These challenges can be exacerbated by the increased pressures of preparing your child for college. Below we offer some tips on effectively co-parenting when your child goes off to college to help you through this time and beyond.

Co-Parenting Doesn’t End When Your Child Turns 18

Just as you don’t stop being a parent when your child turns 18, your co-parenting relationship also doesn’t abruptly end. It is important to remember that while you and your co-parent will likely not have to see or speak to each other as much as you did while your child was young, you will likely continue to interact with your co-parent in some capacity as your child continues to reach important milestones like graduations and marriages. However, your co-parenting relationship will probably change significantly.

As your child transitions to adulthood and goes away to college, you and your child’s other parent may still have shared responsibilities, especially when it comes to financial obligations. It is not uncommon for parents to help children with their college expenses, including their living expenses. Consequently, it is very common for college planning to be part of your parenting plan with your former spouse. If you and your child’s other parent share the financial responsibility of your child’s college education, you will have to stay in contact with them to ensure that this process goes smoothly.

Review our blog to learn more about how divorced parents pay for their child’s college education.

You Will Have to Continue Sharing Time with Your Co-Parent

While your child is still a minor and at home, you and your co-parent likely had a regular visitation schedule. Once your child goes off to college, their time at home is greatly reduced, and they are in control of how they split their time between their parents. This can be very difficult for parents as it likely means you will see your child a lot less than you once did.

You want to see your child as much as possible but try to remember that they are also working to balance their free time between you and their other parent. This new responsibility can be stressful and emotionally difficult for children dealing with the stress of being out on their own for the first time. It’s also important to remember that your college-age children have a lot less free time than they once did. They may even have a part-time job on top of attending classes

Try not to put too much pressure on your child, and instead focus on letting them know that they are always welcome to visit you whenever they want. When they do make plans to see their other parent, try to remain as neutral and judgment-free as possible.

Consider How You & Your Co-Parent Will Communicate with Each Other

As you prepare your child for college, you and your co-parent will need to continue communicating with each other, especially if you are both involved in helping your child pay for their tuition and living expenses. Consider how you have been communicating thus far and assess whether it is still the best method for this new situation. You may find that you need to speak less, but that you want communication to become more formal. For example, you may wish to have financial conversations in writing to ensure that you have a clear record of who is responsible for what.

Work with Your Co-Parent to Empower Your Child

Because your child is now an adult, they are responsible for making their own decisions. Where you and their other parent once decided where they went to school, how their medical care was handled, and what their religious upbringing would be like, your child is now in control. However, this doesn’t mean that they will not come to their parents for guidance and advice. Consider how you can work with your co-parent to empower your child and help them through this transition. Though you and your former spouse may have very different opinions on what your child should do, try not to put your child in the middle.

Get Help When You Need It

If you are struggling with this major transition in you and your child’s life, do not be afraid to reach out for help. A child going off to college represents a major change for the whole family, and it can cause a lot of old feelings to resurface. This can be surprising and disruptive, and you may not know how to deal with this. A family counselor or therapist can be an invaluable resource, and many people find speaking with someone outside the family helpful when it comes to processing their emotions.

Your lawyer is another important resource if you are dealing with co-parenting issues. Because college planning is often part of the divorce and custody process, you may find that you need the help of an attorney to ensure that those original plans are enforced. Furthermore, depending on how long ago you developed your college plans with your ex, circumstances may have changed. When this happens, it may be necessary to seek a legal modification to your original plan. An experienced lawyer, like ours at Hope Law Firm, can help you with this process.