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What is Parallel Parenting and is it Right for You?

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We’ve written numerous articles about establishing a healthy co-parenting relationship, and we’ve given plenty of advice on how to succeed at co-parenting, but such advice doesn’t apply to everyone.

It doesn’t necessarily apply to co-parents who simply cannot and do not get along. Because no matter how much good parenting advice there is circulating in books and on the internet, there will always be a percentage of parents who have very different parenting styles and who don’t meet eye to eye, and yet, they still have no choice but to co-parent.

If you do not get along with your ex and don’t see a healthy co-parenting relationship in the near future, parallel parenting may be the answer. What is parallel parenting? Will it possibly work for you?

“Parallel parenting is an arrangement in which divorced parents are able to co-parent by means of disengaging from each other, and having limited direct contact, in situations where they have demonstrated that they are unable to communicate with each other in a respectful manner,” wrote Edward Kruk Ph.D. in Psychology Today.

A Parenting Solution for High-Conflict Families

For the high-conflict co-parents, parallel parenting lets them co-parent with the least amount of direct contact. While the parents do remain unengaged from each other for the most part, they remain engaged with and highly-connected to their children. In such situations, the parents will have joint legal custody, but one parent may make decisions in one area where the other parent makes decisions in another.

For example, one parent may decide on the child’s schooling, while the other parent decides on the child’s religious upbringing. Usually, though, the parents will agree on major decisions but they’ll let one parent decide on the day-to-day logistics of how such a decision will play out.

In many divorce cases, emotions are raw, especially when there has been infidelity or a major disagreement about how one parent is making life choices. When high-conflict families opt for parallel parenting, the passage of time can facilitate the healing process between parents and eventually, they can establish a healthy co-parenting relationship based on mutual respect, open communication, and cooperation.

Sticking to the Parenting Plan

While flexibility can be critical to healthy co-parenting, it is not usually feasible in high-conflict families. For this reason, it’s important for parents to create a parallel parenting plan, one where both parents are diligent about sticking to their end of the agreement.

If the parents can accomplish this, trust is slowly and gradually restored until one day, the parents are willing to set aside their hostilities toward each other and adopt a more friendly and collaborative parenting approach.

The benefits of parallel parenting include:

  • It protects the child’s relationship with both parents.
  • It shields the children from the parents’ conflicts.
  • It prevents children from getting caught in the middle of their parents’ disputes.
  • It facilitates co-parenting in situations that are typically high-conflict.
  • It reduces children’s exposure to parental conflict.
  • It makes it clear to the child that he or she is very important to both of their parents regardless of the resentment and hostility they have for each other.

So, how do you figure out the logistics in a parallel relationship? Our advice is to be very specific in your parenting plan. You want to avoid having to communicate directly with your ex, so you want to take strategic steps to prevent that from happening. The higher the conflict between you and your ex, the greater the need for clear and specific language in your parenting plan.

One way to describe parallel parenting is as “disengaged parenting.” While the smallest degree of communication may be necessary for the child’s health and welfare, it’s more likely that such communication will not involve a phone call, but a text message or an email.

One tool that was recommended by Dr. Kruk is a “parent communication notebook.” In this notebook, each parent jots down a brief description or summary of their child’s emotions and behaviors while they were staying with them. This notebook would pass between the parents as the child is transferred between homes.

Types of issues addressed in the parent communication notebook:

  • Feeding schedules
  • Sleep schedules
  • Discipline issues
  • Homework
  • Activities the child participated in
  • Things the child enjoyed
  • Upsets the child had
  • Issues raised by the child
  • The child’s moods
  • Things the child said
  • School-related issues
  • Health-related issues
  • What upsets or soothes the child
  • The daily routine
  • And anything else the parents deem relevant

As parents write in this notebook, it’s important that they avoid criticism toward each other. Everything written down should be done in a respectful manner and without any instructions on how the other parent should be parenting their children.

“Yet another option is a ‘parenting meeting’ with a neutral third party present, during which parents’ stockpiled concerns are discussed in more detail. The latter may also be used in regard to negotiating important issues such as choosing a school, religious upbringing, and medical care,” wrote Dr. Kruk.

To read some research about shared parenting, we recommend reading “10 Surprising Findings on Shared Parenting After Divorce or Separation” published by the Institute for Family Studies, authored by Linda Nielsen. In the study, Ms. Nielsen found that “...when children are exposed to high, ongoing conflict between their parents, including physical conflict, they do not have any worse outcomes” in joint physical custody than sole physical custody families. According to the findings, having a high, ongoing conflict is not more harmful to children in joint custody situations than it is in sole custody ones.

If you’re in a high-conflict situation, parallel parenting may be the best answer. To learn more about this approach, contact Claery & Hammond, LLP today.

Next: Do I Have to Pay Child Support if I Have 50/50 Custody?

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