How to Co-Parent Successfully When Your Relationship Is Over

Relationship experts offers tips for making it work.

July 1, 2010 — -- Sandra Bullock and Jesse James are doing it, and so are Elizabeth and John Edwards.

These celebrity couples are raising their children together, even though their own relationships are on the rocks. So can people raise kids together after a breakup?

Family therapist Terry Real appeared on "Good Morning America" to talk about the concept of co-parenting.

He answered some questions and offered advice for parents who are experiencing -- or who have experienced --a bad breakup.

Terry Real's Co-Parenting Tips

Think of divorce from a child's perspective. What's the worst thing about a parent moving away, aside from the hurt that causes? For a child, that is having to constantly move his or her things to one parent's house or the other, Real said. To effectively co-parent, both parents need to live near to each other so children don't have to travel too much or too far.

Establish a routine for the children. The children are already traumatized by the breakup of the family, so they need stability in their lives. Have the same rules in both houses, Real said. That means if a child can't watch TV in one parent's house after 9 p.m., that rule should apply in the other house.

Minimize differences in wealth. In a divorce situation, the spouse with the most money needs to be generous and ensure that the living arrangements in both houses are similar. It's not an act of generosity to your ex, but to your children, Real said. Large discrepancies in lifestyle create bad dynamics, because children may flock to the wealthier household, or they may feel guilty about the less wealthy one.

Don't be too friendly. Be clear that you are divorced. If you both show up at the kids' events, that's to be expected. But there is a difference between showing up at the same soccer game and getting together for dinner -- or sleeping over. Don't send mixed messages to your children, Real said.

If you truly dislike your ex, you have to get over it. Even if you had a terrible marital relationship, you can still rise to the occasion as co-parents, Real said. He urged parents not to overshare about their ex-spouse's faults to the children. Co-parents should treat each other as business partners.

Don't Vent in From of the Kids

If parents are worried about issues of abuse or mistreatment, they should take those concerns directly to the other parent first, and go to the lawyers afterward.

Don't expect the relationship to improve after the divorce, he said. The issues that led to the split may still be there.

Don't vent your anger in front of the children. Save it for a friend or your therapist. Recognize that the co-parenting relationship is a marathon and not a sprint, and that you remain bonded for life through your children.

Web-extra tips:

Be restrained. Let your child have his or her own relationship with your ex. This is very difficult.

Let bygones be bygones, and help each other out if you can. If your ex needs a break on the schedule this week, you may need a break next week, so be a team.

Always be respectful. Remember, your ex-spouse has your child hostage. If you get your ex riled up, your child may pay the consequences, Real said.

Make the distinction between you two as a couple and as co-parents.

Click here to return to the "Good Morning America" Web site.