What Is Parallel Parenting?

After a high-conflict divorce or separation, it can be hard for parents to get along with each other enough to co-parent their children. But research has shown that children do best when their divorced parents share custody. It's important for both parents to be involved in their children's lives, even if they don't want to be involved with each other. 

One way to do this is through parallel parenting. Parallel parenting is a method of shared parenting in which parents interact as little as possible with each other while maintaining their relationships with their children. 

This can be an effective method when you and your ex have trouble with a civil relationship. Parallel parenting may be a long-term solution, or it may be a temporary strategy until you and your ex can put aside your differences and work together more directly.  

How Is Parallel Parenting Different From Co-parenting?

Co-parenting is a type of shared parenting in which you and your ex work together to raise your children. The rules are similar at both homes, and you have a united front for the benefit of the children. In co-parenting, you discuss issues that arise with the children and agree on a solution together. 

You may both attend their school events and extracurricular activities. This method of shared parenting involves a lot of communication and working together with your ex. 

In parallel parenting, each parent has certain responsibilities, and they carry out day-to-day duties without involving the other parent. The exact details will depend on your parenting plan.

Some parents agree on the major decisions regarding their children, such as religion, school, and extracurriculars, and leave the logistics up to the person exercising their parenting time.  Other people assign a particular area to each parent, and that parent is responsible for making those decisions. In parallel parenting, parents switch out attending their children's appointments and events. This reduces the time they have to spend with each other. 

What Are the Benefits of Parallel Parenting?

Parallel parenting allows both parents to stay involved in their children's lives, even in a high-conflict separation or divorce. Studies have shown that children have the best outcomes when they spend at least 35% of their time with each parent. This is true even if one parent opposes joint custody or the parents are in a difficult situation. 

The benefits of joint custody for children include: 

  • Fewer behavior problems
  • Fewer emotional problems
  • Higher self-esteem
  • Better school performance
  • Better family relationships

Continued

How Can I Create a Parallel Parenting Plan?

Parallel parenting plans should be as specific and detailed as possible. The goal is to limit communication and contact between parents. Parallel parenting plans should include: 

  • The start and end of each person’s parenting time
  • A specific exchange time and place
  • Responsibility for transportation
  • What happens in the event of cancellation or make-up times
  • Specific days of visits
  • When each parent has decision-making power

In addition to a parenting plan that outlines when and where the children will be at all times, many parallel parents use a communication book to keep each other up to date about the children's lives when they are with their other parent.

This book should travel with the child to each parent's house.  At the handoff, the parent who has had the children should give the book to the parent who is taking the children. The parent who is taking the children should date and initial it. For babies and toddlers, this book should include things like: 

  • Sleeping and feeding times
  • Accidents and injuries
  • Successful soothing methods
  • Potty training updates
  • Medical appointments, illnesses, and medicines
  • Developmental milestones 

For older children, it may include: 

  • School, religious, and extracurricular activities
  • Social activities with friends
  • School progress and reports
  • Behavior issues
  • Bed, bath, and meal routines 

Tips for Successful Parallel Parenting

Successful parallel parenting depends on keeping interactions with your ex to a minimum. Here are some things you can do to make parallel parenting work for your family: 

  • Communicate as little as possible. When you need to talk, do so by email or text. Keep records of all communication.
  • Don't respond to harassing or intimidating communication. All communication should concern the logistics of caring for your children. 
  • Avoid attending your children's functions together. Your parenting plan should be clear about who goes to what. 
  • Let go of what happens during your ex's parenting time. Children adapt to different rules at different houses. 
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on June 28, 2021

Sources

SOURCES: 

American Psychological Association: "Children Likely to Be Better Adjusted in Joint Vs Sole Custody Arrangements in Most Cases, According to Review of Research."

Arizona Chapter of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts: "Co-Parenting Communication Guide." 

Farzad and Ochoa, Family Law Attorneys: "Parallel Parenting Plan in High Conflict Child Custody Cases."

Journal of Divorce and Remarriage: "Shared Physical Custody: Summary of 40 Studies on Outcomes for Children."

Psychology, Public Policy, and Law: "Re-examining the research on parental conflict, coparenting, and custody arrangements."

Psychology Today: "The Do's and Don'ts of Co-Parenting Well," "Parallel Parenting After Divorce."

West County Psychological Associates: "What to Do When Co-Parenting Doesn’t Work."

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