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Parallel parenting: is it for you?


When divorce and separation happens the impact on children’s lives can be considerable. This can be the case even where the parents maintain a reasonable relationship. However, this is multiplied where conflict is on-going between the parents. In these cases co-parenting can prove particularly difficult. Parallel parenting offers an alternative way to support the children’s well-being when co-parenting is not working or a practical proposition.

What is parallel parenting?

Parallel parenting is a strategy where separated parents have limited direct contact with each other. The parents make their own parenting decision whilst avoiding potentially stressful contact with each other. It is a way that allows parents who find it difficult or impossible to cooperate or communicate effectively to continue parenting their children separately.

Parallel parenting allows each parent to have their own parenting styles. This means that each parent can operate independently making their own decisions regarding children’s schedules, activities, discipline and other aspects of parenting.

Although it has its own challenges, as the family situation develops, parallel parenting enables both parents to have close relationships with their children while avoiding the direct contact that can bring about conflict. With planning and support it can also minimise stress and disruption for children.

 How does parallel parenting differ from co-parenting?

Co-parenting is another common method of parenting after separation or divorce. It is a collaborative process that focuses on providing a stable, supportive and reliable environment for the children. However, it will only work for parents who have remained sufficiently amicable to be able to effectively communicate and both parents are reliable in terms of keeping to what has been agreed.

Advantages and disadvantages of parallel parenting

Parallel parenting can be essential for those couples who had a high conflict relationship and divorce or where there is a history of domestic abuse. It might also be useful for separated parents who simply cannot agree on what is best for their child. Benefits include:

-minimal communication is required;

- the level of cooperation required is reduced where cooperation is particularly difficult such as co-parenting with a narcissist;

- there is minimal opportunities for the parents to use the children as bargaining tools;

- the children are largely removed from adult conflict; and

- the children will hopefully come to understand that the rules are different in each parent’s home and will not try to play each parent off against each other.

The drawbacks include:

-the lack of communication can sometimes cause confusion for the children if the households have different rules or expectations around, for example, screen time and bedtimes;

- important decisions may be more difficult without collaboration;

- it may need reliance on third parties like lawyers or mediators to exchange information;

- it does not resolve underlying issues that have lead to conflict.

Creating a parallel parenting plan

Creating a parallel parenting plan can set clear expectations and boundaries to make this type of arrangement as successful as can be.

A parallel plan can include:

- communication protocols, formalising how you will maintain contact with each other such as email;

- agreeing dates and times for each parent to have contact with the child;

- establishing who attends child doctors’ appointments or other events such as birthday parties;

- agreeing who will drop the children off and pick them up;

- setting out who the child will spend birthdays, half-term, holidays etc;

- financial matters such as setting out each parties’ responsibilities.

What can help make a parallel parenting plan work?

Making a parallel parenting plan work can be challenging particularly at first. In order to make it more manageable suggestions include:

- be brief and polite in all exchanges avoiding criticism of the other parent;

- follow the plan and not making last minute unilateral decisions;

- seek support when needed;

-  agree on attending separate school events and appointments;

- be flexible when possible if the other parent’s request is reasonable for the children; and

-  focus on meeting the children’s needs not ‘winning’ against the other parent.

It is worth noting that parallel parenting does not mean completely cutting off communication between parents. There will be instances when direct communication is necessary such as emergencies or important decisions that require both parent’s input. However, the goal is to limit the frequency and intensity of these interactions.

A parental parenting may not be right for all separated parents. However, it is an approach that can protect parents and most importantly the children from conflict. A plan can sometimes be the best long-term approach but in other cases implementing one may give everyone the time they need to work towards improving relations for a more cooperative approach in the future.

A common pitfall can be where the parenting plan is not specific enough to avoid disputes. At Szabo & Associates Solicitors we can assist and advise in negotiating such agreements with the children’s best interests paramount.

Case Study: Palmerin & Parcell (2020) FCCA 1287

If possible it is always preferable to come to a conclusion between the parties rather than progressing to court proceedings. However, this may not always be possible. In this case the parents found communication difficult. They had differing parenting styles causing distress to their children and animosity between them. The judge ordered the parents to follow a parallel parenting style arrangement, involving only communicating through email or letter, not entering each other’s homes, ceasing any discussions regarding  long-term decision making in respect of their children unless both have agreed in writing, and allowing the children to commence communication with non-resident parent.

Contact our Family Lawyers based in Sydney, NSW

Parallel parenting can be an effective way to reduce family conflict in situations where direct co-parenting is not considered feasible. The change to parallel parenting requires sometimes difficult adjustments and support can be an important element in a successful transition. This may include legal advice on creating a parallel parenting plan or advising on reduced contact strategies.  If you are interested in learning more about parallel parenting, parental responsibility disputes or indeed any family law matter, please contact us on 02 9281 5088 or complete the online contact form.

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