Parallel Parenting: Making a Plan and Getting Started
Keeping tensions to a minimum is in the best interest of your child. This may prove difficult if you have a contentious relationship with the other parent.
Parallel parenting allows feuding parents to have significant roles in their child's life without interacting much with each other. Parents choose how to raise their child within their household and only collaborate on major decisions like the child's health care.
The goal is to prevent conflict, allowing the child to have a positive relationship with each parent, and discourage harmful behaviors like counterparenting.
Before going this route, consider what parallel parenting entails, how it compares to co-parenting and ways you can make it work.
Visualize your schedule. Get a written parenting plan. Calculate your parenting time.
What is parallel parenting?
Parallel parenting is when parents have limited interaction with each other and institute their own parenting methods.
Though each runs their household as they see fit, they usually share joint legal custody, dividing duties for smaller decisions and collaborating on major decisions (e.g., their child's schooling and medical care).
A parallel arrangement suits high-conflict cases where neither parent presents a threat to the safety of the other parent or the child. In rare cases, the court may approve parallel parenting in cases involving domestic violence; this usually only happens once the violence has stopped. Then the court creates a safety plan to keep the victim safe.
Parallel parenting versus co-parenting
When choosing a parenting arrangement, focus on what will benefit your child and suit the dynamic between parents.
Co-parenting is for parents who are on amicable terms. It emphasizes cooperation and the idea that parents are a team working together to raise their child in a similar fashion. You don't have to like the other parent, but you must be willing to talk through disagreements and compromise.
Parallel parenting works for parents who can't communicate respectfully or productively. If your conversations commonly turn into screaming matches, parallel parenting is the better option for you.
Regardless of the arrangement you choose, your primary focus should always be your child. Go with the setup that will most benefit their well-being and their relationships with both parents.
Pros and cons of parallel parenting
Pro: No exposure to spats
Hearing arguments between parents can negatively impact a child's mental and emotional well-being. Since parents are rarely (if ever) around each other when they use a parallel arrangement, there are fewer chances for the child to witness these conflicts.
Con: Varying rules
Since each household has its own set of rules, the child may feel confused about what is and isn't allowed. The child may challenge a parent who doesn't permit something the other parent does.
Pro: Adaptability for a range of circumstances
Parallel parenting can work for many levels of conflict — from dissipating tension over a divorce to long-standing damage resulting from an abusive relationship. Detailed parallel parenting plans allow you to specify terms that protect everyone involved.
Con: Possible pressure on kids to take sides
The child will rarely have the opportunity to see parents in the same room together, so they may view the two as opposing forces. When this happens, the child may choose sides or feel pressured to.
Pro: Less risk of a parent withholding visits
Though it breaks their court order, parents commonly deny each other time with the child during disagreements. Because parents have fewer interactions in a parallel setup, the risk of a flare-up and consequent parenting time dispute isn't as great.
Con: Less flexibility
When parents have limited communication, unexpected changes can be hard to deal with. It may be tougher for a parallel parent to get permission for a last-minute trip with the child than it would be for a co-parent.
Pro: Eased tension (potentially)
While you shouldn't feel pressured to make amends, parallel parenting helps some people realize that they can co-parent as ill feelings dissipate over time.
Con: Exacerbated differences (potentially)
Conversely, as you develop your own parenting styles, you may become too set in your ways to ever want to compromise.
How to start parallel parenting
First, file a case for divorce, separation, paternity or custody on its own with your local family court.
If you're able to negotiate a parallel parenting plan, you can file it with the court together. (If you need help negotiating, hire a lawyer or use an alternative dispute resolution method.) With a judge's approval, the plan becomes the final order both parents must follow.
If you can't agree, the court decides the details of your parenting arrangement. Some courts require or allow each parent to propose a parenting plan, in which you can suggest a parallel model.
Once you have a court order, begin following it immediately. Your parenting plan should spell out everything you need to know so you don't have to do much coordinating with the other parent.
Parallel parenting plans
Successful parallel parenting requires a highly-detailed parenting plan. The terms are either decided by a judge or agreed upon parents.
What to include in your parallel parenting plan
Custody schedule: Choose a visitation schedule that limits your interaction with the other parent. For instance, you won't have to see them if one of you handles daycare drop-off and the other handles pickup. If your child is old enough, you might simply use a schedule with infrequent exchanges — e.g., have your child spend a week with each parent.
Decision-making: It's common for parents to divide decision-making duties. Explain which decisions each parent can make alone and in which areas they should both have input.
Expenses: Spell out who is responsible for expenses like child support and medical bills not covered by insurance. Keep track of child-related expenses so you can be reimbursed or demonstrate your spending to the court if need be.
Exchanges and transportation: You may choose to have a third party drive the child to and from visits, or you may exchange the child yourselves in a public location. If things are especially contentious, you could have supervised exchanges.
Communication: State the acceptable ways to contact one another. It's best to use an indirect method like email or a parallel parenting app. The Custody X Change messaging tool has a hostility monitor that alerts you whenever you're using combative language.
Dispute resolution: Lay out what happens when you have a major disagreement on something that you're required to agree on. For instance, you can state that you'll consult a mutual friend or try an alternative dispute resolution method. In some states, parenting coordinators can make decisions for parents.
One-time changes: Stipulate how you'll handle late arrivals and missed visits. Specify how much advance notice parents must give and how you'll schedule makeup visits (if you'll allow them). You can track deviations from the schedule using a parallel parenting app.
Tips for parallel parenting
- Don't speak ill of the other parent in front of your child: The point of parallel parenting is to shield children from parental conflicts. Don't air out your grievances with the other parent when the child can hear you.
- Don't treat parenting like a competition: You may feel the need to be the "fun" parent if the other is strict or to compete in other ways. Don't compare yourself to the other parent. Parent the way you believe is best for your child.
- Don't use the child to communicate with the other parent: It can be tempting to ask your child to deliver a message to their other parent something. But this can put stress on the child. Instead, email or use a parallel parenting app to message the parent.
- Keep a parenting journal: Keep a journal documenting the child's behavior, sleeping patterns, eating habits, etc. You can keep it private or print and share with the other parent. Don't insert criticisms about the other parent. Just focus on what's going on with the child.
- Have periodic check-ins: While you may be on different wavelengths, you're still parenting the same child. Consider scheduling times to catch up on what's happening. This could be as simple as exchanging an email every other month about the child's grades, for example.
- Have parenting meetings with a neutral third party: You could have in-person meetings moderated by a third party when you need to discuss major decisions. This could help you reach a consensus more quickly while improving communication. Start slow with just a single meeting to see how it goes before committing to more.
- Use a parallel parenting app: An app like Custody X Change is key to helping you stay organized. You can make changes the custody calendar, keep track of your child's activities, record their expenses and more, all from your phone or computer.
Ensuring calm communication
If you have a strained relationship with your child's other parent, a tool to facilitate communication is crucial.
The Custody X Change app has a messaging center that allows you to save and print every conversation. The built-in hostility detector alerts you to any word that may increase tension. Plus, you can share the messages with your lawyer instantly.
Custody X Change keeps parallel parenting as harmonious as possible.
Visualize your schedule. Get a written parenting plan. Calculate your parenting time.