Co-Parenting vs. Parallel Parenting: What to do When a Judge Orders Equal Parenting Time

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Co-Parenting vs. Parallel Parenting: What to do When a Judge Orders Equal Parenting Time

Studies show that children need both their mother and father for positive development and courts are taking notice. More likely than not, the other parent is going to have some parenting time with the child and the time can be substantial. But what happens when parents can’t parent together? We often hear the word “co-parenting” but what does it really mean? Is there an alternative when parents cannot co-parent in the traditional way?

Parents that co-parent typically support the other parent and respect that other parent’s relationship with the child. The mutual respect typically leads parents to communicate and cooperate with each other. While the parents in this arrangement tend to keep things impersonal, the parents still communicate to solve problems together regarding the child. These parents will often attend school functions and activities at the same time and keep each other updated on the child’s status. Parents make medical and educational decisions together. This type of parenting requires a high level of civility and cooperation.

The benefits of co-parenting are obvious but there are many reasons why this type of parenting is not for everyone. So what happens if it’s not for you? The answer may be parallel parenting.

Parents in a parallel parenting arrangement usually remain 100% connected to the child while being 100% disengaged from the other parent. This type of parenting generally reduces conflict within the family dynamic. Parallel parenting is similar to a business transaction. All communication is in regard to the child and impersonal. The communication will typically be through email and calendar sharing. Usually parents in this arrangement agree on major decisions such as medical decisions and education but separately handle day-to-day decisions such as house rules and activities. Parents will often split decision-making responsibility such as mom making medical decisions and dad deciding education.

What are the benefits of this? In high-conflict parenting relationships, the children suffer. When parents parallel parent, the opportunity for conflict is low. This parenting method can protect the child’s relationship with both parents. Children will often feel more secure without the hostility and conflict. Each parent will have their own method of parenting and children learn what to expect from each parent.

Parallel parenting has its downside. For instance, most parents in this arrangement do not communicate directly with each other. This means parents must have a very well laid parenting plan establishing who, how and when something is to be done and the method for doing so.

In the end, deciding what method is best will depend on the needs of the child and the parents ability to work with each other to meet the child’s needs.

Fabricius, William V., Sanford L. Braver, Priscila Diaz, and Clorinda E. Velez. 2010. “Custody and Parenting Time: Links to Family Relationships and Well-being after Divorce.” In The Role of the Father in Child Development, 5th ed., edited by Michael E. Lamb, 201–240. Cambridge: Wiley.

Psychology Today, Parallel Parenting After Divorce: Making Co-parenting Work in High Conflict Families,

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