Parenting Advisor - A Fourth Phase of Co-Parenting Programming: Multidimensional Family Systems

Parenting Advisor

  1. Parenting Advisor
  2. A Fourth Phase of Co-Parenting Programming: Multidimensional Family Systems

A Fourth Phase of Co-Parenting Programming: Multidimensional Family Systems

In Brief

  • Three Phases in the development of Co-Parenting Programs can be identified.  
  • The current Fourth Phase must consider the individuality and special circumstances of each family in programming to be effective.  
  • The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the necessity of this Fourth Phase and the need for continued research and development of multidimensional topics.  

According the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of children living with two parents has declined from 85% in 1968 to 70% in 2020. As of 2008, 46 states had mandated the attendance of co-parenting programs for parents who were separating/divorcing (Pollet & Lombreglia, 2008). The increase of children living in single parent homes is alarming for many reasons. Studies have shown numerous detrimental effects of divorce on many children. These effects are most serious if children witness damaging conflict between parents during and after divorce/separation. Studies have shown that children who witness their parents’ divorce/separation (especially if it is conflictual), may struggle to maintain positive relationships with their parents and can exhibit both internalizing behaviors and externalizing behaviors that can have a lifelong negative effect (Adamson & Pasley, 2006). Therefore, with the increase of the need of parenting programs any programming needs to reflect the current needs of society.   

The First Three Phases

Favez (2017) developed and summarized what he called the First Three Phases of co-parenting programs. This article not only expounds on the First Three Phases, but also suggests co-parenting programs are currently in a Fourth Phase that could be called Customized Programming. I predict this new phase will continue to expand and evolve especially because of what we have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and its lasting effects. 

The First Phase began in the 1970’s. At this point in time, programming was offered to parents who were getting divorced/separated. (Braver, Salem, Pearson, & DeLuse, 1996; Nunes et al., 2021). 

The development and use of programs for parents who were separated or divorcing increased rapidly in the 1980’s and 90’s, signaling the Second Phase (Braver, Salem, Pearson, & DeLuse, 1996; Favez, 2017). During this time period, courts and programs realized the need for content for non-married parents as well. 

During the Third Phase, an increasing number of states realized that family violence needed to be addressed in curricula as well (Pollett et al., 2008). Along with the continued development of topics, new ways to engage parents were also employed (Braver et al., 1996). 

A Fourth Phase

Along with the passage of time, society and the family climate continued to advance to a Fourth Phase which began during the 2000’s. This is a period of time where studies were conducted which further informed programs about the negative effects conflict on children such as increased adjustment problems. During this Phase, online programming was developed which included information about resources, used motivational videotaped vignettes describing how conflict affects children, and taught problem-solving and communication skills to help parents resolve the conflict (Pollet et al., 2008).

As the use of in-person and online classes increased, it became apparent that standardization of programs, further examination of the link between theory, empirical research, practice, teaching strategies, and a broader range of topics needed to be included (Bowers et al., 2011). One of the topics which was included was searching for the effects of conflict on the parent-child relationship (Pedro, Ribeiro, and Shelton, 2012). Co-parenting today is more of a multidimensional concept than ever, with both positive and negative dimensions (Nunes et al, 2021). It has been found to be either a protective or risk factor for the family well-being. The idea that divorce could be positive had never been considered before. Some authors have stressed the importance of promoting the active investment of both parents (Pilkington et al., 2015). Others have addressed the impact of conflict on co-parenting outcomes of divorce education programs (Cronin et al., 2017). There can be varying degrees of conflict during and after divorce and its effects on children such as internalizing and externalizing symptoms, looking for evidence of programs’ effectiveness (Nunez et al., 2021), the longitudinal effects of parenting stress, parenting efficacy, parental anger, and co-parental quality (Wang et al., 2021).  

Customization Approach

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, coparenting programs explored how to engage parents and make their programs more effective (Tomlinson et al., 2022). Face-to-face programs had previously labored to overcome obstacles such as transportation to program locations and the need to care for children while parents were in classes. For many, the use of online programming was more convenient, not only because it can be accessed from many various devices but also because most online programming can be completed at the parent’s time and location discretion (Tomlinson, 2022). 

Tomlinson et al., (2022) found that while some barriers were addressed with the development of online programs, there continue to be issues with childcare, completion of the program, busy schedules, the length of the programs, technological problems, access and understanding of technology, and the cost of the program. Some ideas to support parent’s needs were to provide engaging programming by offering online tools such as group forums or online chat with privacy protections, discussion boards, an avatar for parents, and a facilitator to respond to posts, answer questions, share work and monitor the site. 

The acceptance of alternative family systems encouraged some programs to begin to tailor their classes to their parent’s individual needs (e.g., LGBTQIA+ or never married situations). By presenting information in class which raises parents’ awareness, it may assist in parental engagement (Tomlinson et al., 2022).  

COVID-19 Contributions

The pandemic increased the need for parents to find a way to take co-parenting classes without the added health risk (Tomlinson et al., 2022). Programs had already been addressing barriers for parents such as accessibility, convenience, and childcare. The pandemic not only increased the need for parent programs but also highlighted the barriers which were already in place such as accessibility, economic concerns, the influence of the pandemic and loss of education and socialization on their children’s mental health.

There were many added stressors brought on by the pandemic. Allen et al., (2022) learned that many parents had to live in limbo and put their lives on hold. Parents felt as though there was a lack of societal response (Allen et al., 2022) which constrained parents to cohabitating.  This added a lot of strain, worry, and stress about children’s mental health and potential learning loss during lockdown (Allen et al., 2022).

Additionally, there were added economic concerns especially for people of color, essential workers, and parents who could not afford to stay at home, may not have help with childcare, or pay for a co-parenting class (Allen et al., 2022). Also, parents were worried about their children’s mental health for various reasons.  Not only were they being homeschooled but in some cases visitation with the non-custodial parent was interrupted and there was concern regarding the possible effects on that parent/child relationship.  

The inception of online programs was made a necessity by COVID.  But now that COVID is beginning to wane, what can we learn from this health crisis?  It is important to see what changes are permanent. We need to identify what worked and what did not.  


Considering that the families we work with have needs which are dynamic and ever evolving (Schramm, & Becher, 2020), so should our programming be, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic (Allen & Goldberg, 2021) when the needs of families have grown so much during this time period. Ongoing development of programming was being assessed (Bowers et al., 2011) before the pandemic and has shown the need to address many more areas such as special circumstances, accessibility, and the credibility/authority of the programs.  

There is a continued need to address issues which arise due to the ever-changing landscape of our society. While programming was already responding to society’s increase of the use of technology, COVID-19 placed a spot-light on the need for more online programming due to the concerns about public health, parent’s need for support with the program, and the continued development of online tools used to engage parents as well as the need to formally evaluate online parenting programs. While research has shown that these programs can help divorcing/separating parents, there continue to be areas of program content and instructional strategies that can be improved (Bowers, et al., 2011).


Due to the multidimensional nature of family dynamics, parenting programs must reflect the current needs of society. There were three previous phases in the development of parenting programs. We are currently in the Fourth Phase of customizing parenting program curricula to the individual needs of the co-parents. COVID-19 only exacerbated what we already knew and thrust upon us the absolute need of online programming. As the pandemic wanes, we must take what we have learned from this difficult time and decide what worked and what we need to continue to advance.  

Selected References 

Favez, N. (2017). Psychology of co-parenting: Concepts, models, and assessment tools. Paris, France: Dunod.

Nunes, E.,  Roten, Y., El Ghaziri, N., Favez, N., & Darwiche, J. (2021). Co‐Parenting Programs: A Systematic Review and Meta‐Analysis. Family Relations70(3), 759–776.

Tomlinson, C.S., Rudd, B.N., Applegate, A.G., Diaz, A., Holtzworth-Munroe, A., (2022). Lessons for a COVID-19 era: Barriers and facilitators to court ordered online parenting programs for divorcing and separating parents. Family Court Review 60,303-321. 

Complete References 

Adamson, K., & Pasley, K. (2006). Coparenting following divorce and relationship dissolution. In M. A. Fine & J. H. Harvey (Eds.), Handbook of divorce and relationship dissolution (pp. 241–261). Mahway, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Allen, & Goldberg, A. E. (2022). Apart, but still together: Separated parents living in limbo during COVID‐19. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy48(3), 845–860.

Bowers, Mitchell, E. T., Hardesty, J. L., & Hughes, J. (2011). A Review of Online Divorce Education Programs. Family Court Review49(4), 776–787.

Braver, S., Salem, P., Pearson, J., & DeLuse, S. (1996). The content of divorce education programs: Results of a survey. Family and Conciliation Courts Review, 34, 41–59.

Cronin, S., Becher, E.H., McCann, E., McGuire, J., & Powell, S. (2017). Relationship conflict and outcomes from an online divorce education program.  Evaluation and Program Planning 62, 49-55.  

Favez, N. (2017). Psychology of co-parenting: Concepts, models, and assessment tools. Paris, France: Dunod.

Nunes, E.,  Roten, Y., El Ghaziri, N., Favez, N., & Darwiche, J. (2021). Co‐Parenting Programs: A Systematic Review and Meta‐Analysis. Family Relations70(3), 759–776.

Pilkington, P., Whelan, T. A., & Milne, L. C. (2015). A review of partner-inclusive interventions for pre-venting postnatal depression and anxiety. Clinical Psychologist,19, 63–75.

Pollet, S. & Lombreglia, M., (2008). A Nationwide Survey of Mandatory Parent Education. Family Law Review. (46) 375-394.

Schramm, & Becher, E. H. (2020). Common Practices for Divorce Education. Family Relations69(3), 543–558.

Tomlinson, C.S., Rudd, B.N., Applegate, A.G., Diaz, A., Holtzworth-Munroe, A., (2022). Lessons for a COVID-19 era: Barriers and facilitators to court ordered online parenting programs for divorcing and separating parents. Family Court Review 60,303-321. 

Wang, D., Choi, J-K., Shin, J., & Reddish, L. (2021). Longitudinal Effects of Co-Parenting for Successful Kids: Using Mixed-Effects Models.  Journal of Child and Family Studies. 30:220–229.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Protect Yourself and Your Children From Domestic Violence.
CALL 911 for immediate assistance,
or your local emergency service.