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As a young woman in my 20s, I became the de-facto godmother to a 3-year old girl. Her mother, a childhood friend of mine, was involved in a bitter divorce and she thought (since I was beginning PhD studies in Early Childhood Development) that I would be a good support system for her daughter while she was battling her ex-husband.

Unfortunately, at that time I did not have enough life experience, nor was I trained as a family therapist. But, I was able to offer this little girl an island of calm between two high-conflict households.

Seeing her pain and how she subsequently struggled throughout her life has had a profound effect on me. So much, in fact, that it has influenced the trajectory of my career. My work each day is to protect other children from being caught in the middle of their parents’ war. After all, a child does not choose to divorce, parents do. And, it then follows that the responsibility of parents is to shield their children from the misjudgments and the conflicts that they created.

Despite a divorce, parents have the power to create a less stressful childhood experience for their children. In fact, many couples parent more effectively without the stress of a bad marriage. Research shows that children of divorce can and do thrive when there is effective collaborative parenting.

Here are 5 tools to begin the collaborative parenting process:

1) Separate the financials from the parenting. Compartmentalizing the two can often be difficult but knowing your children will be best served is a powerful motivation.

2) Find a neutral professional to help guide you to clarify your parenting values and mediate any differences you and your ex-spouse have regarding the children.

3) Allow for flexibility. Children often change dramatically in the developmental process. This reality must be taken into consideration when you’re creating a parenting plan and access schedule.

4) If possible, plan family celebrations that are inclusive, i.e. birthdays, holidays, etc. Develop these rituals consistently. Put on a united front for all school/camp events.

5) Continue to work with a professional who knows you and your family. Life happens and creates occasions that you are not prepared for. You will need a professional in place to help guide you through any crisis.