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Parallel Parenting

Updated on
November 24, 2020
Article written by
Attorney Christine Hunt

In this article we will explore the concept of parallel parenting time including:

  • What is parallel parenting?
  • What is the goal of parallel parenting?
  • What does it mean to be a high conflict couple?
  • Is parallel parenting effective for couples with a history of domestic violence?
  • Is parallel parenting wise in child abuse cases?
  • Why is written communication necessary in parallel parenting?
  • What can we do if there is still conflict using parallel parenting?
  • How does parallel parenting differ from co-parenting?

This article will explain what is parallel parenting, the goals of parallel parenting, and how it differs from co-parenting to help parents understand whether parallel parenting might the right option for their family.

What is parallel parenting?

Parallel parenting is an arrangement where separated couples co-parent by having limited direct contact with each other. This arrangement can be helpful for high conflict couples or couples with a history of domestic violence. You may be wondering how co-parenting is possible if there is limited direct contact with the parents. For couples exercising parallel parenting, a very detailed parenting plan will be executed that explicitly details how the parenting time will operate. Parallel parenting allows the parents to detach from each other and not engage in frequent discussions about day-to-day issues. The parents will often separately decide the logistics of routine, day-to-day parenting in accordance with the agreed upon terms in the parenting plan. Communication between the parents is limited and is typically limited to communication in writing. It should be noted that parallel parenting does not mean “no contact” between the parents. The parents will need to communicate about emergencies and other serious issues.

Because parents who are using a parallel parenting framework do not rely on regular, frequent communication between the parents, the parenting plan must eliminate as much need for communication as is reasonably possible. A traditional allocation judgment and parenting plan may set holidays and vacation schedules for a certain duration and leave much of its details to the parents' agreement. For example, the pick-up and drop off place and time may be determined on an annual basis by the agreement of the parents. For a parallel parenting plan to be effective, it must include:

  • The specific days each parent has parenting time
  • The start and end time of each parenting time segment
  • The specific location of exchange (ideally at a place that will eliminate parental contact including at school or a day care)
  • Specific provisions about parenting time cancellations, exchanges, and make up time
  • Responsibility and cost of transportation
  • “Rules” that must be followed in each household (i.e.- prescription medical to be taken in accordance with a doctor’s orders, no drinking alcohol to excess or taking illegal drugs while caring for a child, no disparaging remarks to be made about the other parent, and perhaps things like bedtimes, permitted ranges of punishments, permitted/ restricted foods, when homework must be completed, etc.)
  • How decisions are made if parents have a dispute

Parallel parenting won’t have an impact on how often either parent sees the child; it will have an impact on how often the parents communicate.

What is the goal of parallel parenting?

The primary purpose of parallel parenting is to avoid conflict, particularly conflict in front of the child. Studies have shown that children who witness high conflict between their parents suffer from psychological and behavioral problems in their own lives at a higher rate than children who did not witness high conflict between their parents. The goal is to avoid conflict in front of the child.

What does it mean to be a high conflict couple?

High conflict couples are couples who often lock into oppositional stances. High conflict can also refer to the intensity of anger expressed in disagreements. Certain situations tend to produce high conflict couples including where:

  • one or both parents still harbor resentment toward the another due to the breakup
  • one or both parents do not respect the other parent's role
  • one or both parents refuse to work with the other
  • one or both parents have emotional upheaval that doesn't allow for effective communication.

Is parallel parenting effective for couples with a history of domestic violence?

The short answer as to whether parallel parenting is effective for couples with a history of domestic violence is: it depends. In order for parallel parenting to be successful, it requires adherence to fairly strict guidelines. If the violence was caused by situational conflict, parallel parenting will probably work well to allow the couple to co-parent without having to closely engage. If the violence was caused by power and control, there is a likelihood that parallel parenting may not work. 

The coercive abusive partner may refuse to follow the instructions in the parenting plan as a way of further controlling and further abusing the other party. In other cases, even with a power and control dynamic, a parallel parenting time scheme can be very effective because it severely limits the contact between the parents and will limit the control one party can try to exert over the other parent’s day to day parenting. Each family’s situation is different and you’ll need a parenting plan tailored to your family’s situation. It is essential to consider whether the abuse was directed at one parent or whether the abuse was also directed at the child. It is also important to consider the cause of domestic violence. If the violence is caused by lack of impulse control, anger management issues, substance abuse, or mental illness, parallel parenting may not protect the child from abuse. The child's safety and well-being should be paramount and parallel parenting may not be sufficient to protect the child.

Is parallel parenting wise in child abuse cases?

The purpose of a parallel parenting plan is not to keep the parents away from the child but to keep the parents away from each other and to keep conflict away from the child. In cases with abuse, parallel parenting may keep the parents separate, but it will not protect the child from abuse. In cases involving abuse, the child being alone and in the care of the abusing parent could be very harmful to the child's best interest. Therapeutic parenting time, counseling, and/or

supervised parenting time may be better choices. A parent who has abused their child needs to be held accountable and the child needs to be protected. With parallel parenting, there is little accountability to the other parent, which inhibits the other parent’s ability to protect their child while in the care of the abusive parent.

Why is written communication necessary in parallel parenting?

The goal is to utilize the least emotion provoking method of communication and to avoid “shouting matches” in front of the child. Rather than telephone or face-to-face communication where hearing the other parent's voice could cause the high conflict parents to react, an alternative mode of communication is used. That alternative mode of communication is typically a written form of communication. Using a written format of communication reduces unnecessary opinions or editorial comments. Our Family Wizard, Talking Parents, or if necessary, text and email are all popular options. An additional benefit of written communication over verbal communication is there is a written record of exactly what was said by each parent.

What can we do if there is still conflict using parallel parenting?

In the highest of conflict cases, the court may appoint a parenting coordinator. Such parenting coordinators receive certain duties and responsibilities in overseeing the parenting and helping resolve conflicts. See article on parenting coordinators to learn more about this person and their role.

How does parallel parenting differ from co-parenting?

In determining whether parents should utilize a co-parenting framework or a parallel parting time framework, parents should not rely on an unrealistic level of mutual cooperation. With co-parenting, the parents communicate regularly about the needs of the child. Co-parenting will only work if the parents are friendly with each other or at least have an outward appearance of being friendly. In a co-parenting situation, the parents need to be able to set aside their differences, their ill feelings, and their past history to co-parent and create a healthy environment for their child. 

They must be able to problem solve together and absolutely must be able to be in the same room together without fighting or otherwise causing a scene. Parents who co-parent might attend joint doctor’s appointments, school meetings, and extracurricular activities. They might even jointly host a child’s birthday or celebrate holidays together. These types of joint activities would not occur with a parallel parenting arrangement. 

With parallel parenting, each parent will attend separate doctor’s appointments, schedule separate parent/ teacher meetings, separately attend extracurricular activities, and separately host holidays and parties. With parallel parenting, communication is kept to a bare minimum and occurs only when necessary. It is important to keep in mind that parents can start with parallel parenting and that arrangement can morph over time into co-parenting if and when the anger between the parents lessens and the parents are able to amicably speak with one another to effectively work together for their child’s best interest. It’s also important to keep in mind that if a parent thinks co-parenting will not work and interactions between the parents will devolve into conflict in front of the child, it’s easier to start with a framework of parallel parenting and then ease those parameters later on than it is to start with a loose framework and then try to later change to the stricter structure of parallel parenting.


Parallel Parenting
Author

Attorney Christine Hunt

Christine has experience in family law including divorce, parentage, parenting time, parental allocation, child support, domestic violence, and post decree matters as well as estate planning and business law.

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