Is Parallel Parenting The Best Choice For My Family?

Updated January 14, 2020

Reviewer Karen Devlin, LPC

Divorce is life-changing;it can be emotionally and physically draining. The routine is changed, everyday life is different, and some couples cope better than others. It can be difficult to adjust to a new way of doing things,picking up the kids, cooking dinner, and cleaning the house are now responsibilities that need planning.

Sometimes everything falls into place, two households instead of one, and an organized schedule for sharing parenting responsibilities. This is not always the case, conflict, resentment, and stress can throw well thought out plans into chaos. Divorce counseling is always a good start; it can help ease the transition from married to divorced and provide solutions for dealing with conflict and anger.

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Dealing with divorce is stressful,andwhen tempers flare, children suffer. Arguing, avoiding, and blaming are common, and sometimes children are the focus of the fighting. Sharing custody is the biggest decision a couple must make when going through a divorce, and if a divorce is particularly nasty, sharing is not an easy thing to negotiate.

The choice for any family going through a divorce is the choice that provides the most amicable solution. The best choice for your family is the one that makes the most sense and reduces conflict. While parallel parenting may be perfect for one family, it may not be the best fit for every family.There are positive and negative sides to parallel parenting, but sometimes it is the only option, and in some cases, it is court ordered.

What Is Parallel Parenting?

Parallel parenting is all about maintaining separate households, sharing custody, and parenting with the least amount of contact between the parents. In most cases, this means a parenting coordinator/mediator/court-appointed third party, will help to set the ground rules and negotiate between the couple if problems arise. Each parent maintains their household, separate and distinct from the other parent, and while this may seem like a perfect set up for the parents, it may not be the best outcome for the child/children.

Parallel parenting can be difficult, but in cases where amicable behavior is not an option, this may be the only way to move forward. This type of parenting works when both parties stick to the rules, pick up and drop off according to pre-determined times, and meet with the parenting coordinator to settle disputes. Parallel parenting gives each parent control over how the child is raised while they are in their care.

How Parallel Parenting Works


Parallel parenting is all about maintaining the peace, almost all contact between the parents is done through email or the mediator with little to no face to face contact. Pick up and drop off times are negotiated and once the times are set both parties must stick to them. Each parent will have control over what the child eats, wears, and does while they are with that parent. Special events and any other activities that both parents may want to have to say over must be negotiated through the mediator.

Rules for behavior are set individually, although it would be best if these rules were agreed to mutually. Parallel parenting can be tailored and custom fit for each family, the parenting coordinator,will do their best to assure fair and rational outcomes. Some couples insist on no face-to-face contact; other couples are more flexible, all of this is discussed with the coordinator.

It's All About The Child

The main concern of parents and courts is the mental well-being of the child. Parallel parenting is designed to ensure every child of divorcecan have a healthy relationship with each parent. Here is a list of reasons a couple may opt for parallel parenting:

  • The child is caught in the middle of parental conflict.
  • Parental conflict is making it impossible for each parent to have a meaningful, parental relationship with the child due to interference from the other parent.
  • To eliminate a child's exposure to parental conflict
  • Parents cannot get along with each other
  • One parent or both have a protection order in place
  • To limit or eliminate parents meeting face to face to control conflict
  • Parents cannot get along and make decisions together on major areas of parenting

Expected Behavior From Parents During Parallel Parenting

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This may seem like an unnecessary topic, but for many, a divorce situation and shared parenting creates explosive emotions that are detrimental to the child; even if the child is not involved in the fighting. This list is a common list of expected behavior for parallel parenting plans; it is meant to help parents control their impulses and stick to the plan.

  • Parents agree to disengage and limit face to face contact
  • A schedule for parenting developed by a mediator with input from both parents is created,and both parents agree to stick to the schedule and assume there will be no flexibility in scheduling to avoid conflict.
  • No part of the schedule is left to chance, every detail is worked out and agreed to so there is no room for conflict.
  • If a conflict does arise, both parents should go to the mediator to work through the conflict, no face to face interaction on either part is acceptable, no angry phone calls, and no complaining in front of the child for any reason.
  • Both parents agree to parent independently, each parent is responsible for finding out about special events, school grades, and any other important events from the school or the child, neither parent is responsible for informing the other.
  • Parents agree to divide important care decisions before they arise, for example, one parent should be responsible for health-related decisions,and the other may be responsible for education decisions. Both agree to keep the other informed of emergency situations.
  • When a face to face situation arises, both parents should interact in a businesslike way, no arguing.
  • If a face to face meeting is required it should be done during working hours, not after, and it should only last for 30 minutes.
  • Do not share personal life with each other, maintain a wall of separation to avoid conflict or hurt feelings.
  • Parents agree that all interaction should be done through email, not through messaging,and no phone calls, and no face to face interaction. There will be times when parents need to communicate, and email is the best way to avoid conflict.
  • Drop offs and pickups should be done in a public place to avoid conflict.
  • Both parents agree not to tell each other how to parent, stick to the decisions that are assigned and do not worry about the decisions of the other parent.
  • If serious issues arise and it becomes next to impossible to remain neutral from the other parent's decisions, negotiate through the mediator to resolve the issue.

No one is perfect, problems will occur, but sticking to the plan and using the proper channels to address the problem will help keep conflict to a minimum and this is what your child needs. It is never easy to share parenting responsibilities and remain separate from decisions made by the other parent. Caring parents worry about their children, but remember, the conflict will hurt your child more than any perceived bad parenting decisions ever could.

Parallel Parenting Vs. Co-Parenting


Parallel parenting and co-parenting are two very different things. Co-parenting is done together; parents get along, their relationship during and after the divorce is amicable. Parallel parenting is done separately without input or contact from the other parent. Most parents want to co-parent, it is the healthiest way to raise a child after a divorce, but not all parents can be co-parents.

Counseling - Therapy - Making The Best Choice

All parents want what is best for their child, and co-parenting is the best, this can make it difficult for parents to admit that they cannot co-parent. During a bitter divorce, both parents should seek marriage/divorce counseling; it can help both parties recognize exactly where they are at emotionally. Family divorce counseling is another option, this type of counseling may go more in depth about how divorce affects the children.

Sessions with a trained therapist can help all parties deal with divorce less destructively. Explosive emotions are part of many divorces,and it can be difficult to make the best decisions for the children, counseling with a trained family therapist can help put the relationship in perspective. Therapy is great for any couple going through a divorce, but it is extremely helpful and constructive when there are children involved.

Listen to the counselor and try to be honest about how divorce is affecting the family dynamic. In some cases, one or the other parent is not used to parenting alone; sometimes one parent leaves all the major decisions up to the other parent. This type of situation can create a lot of conflicts and emotional upheaval, the best thing to do in any divorce that involves children is to find a great therapist and let them help.

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