Let’s Talk About… Parallel Parenting: 3 Tips
March 3, 2020
BY: Lesnevich, Marzano-Lesnevich, O'Cathain & O'Cathain
Edward Kruk, Ph.D., writing for Psychology Today, defines parallel parenting as “an arrangement in which divorced parents are able to co-parent by means of disengaging from each other, and having limited direct contact, in situations where they have demonstrated that they are unable to communicate with each other in a respectful manner.”
The primary goal of parallel parenting is not just to avoid your former spouse entirely, but rather, to minimize the instances in which your child may be exposed to parenting conflicts which ultimately may cause significant psychological and emotional issues for the child.
In parallel parenting, children are less frequently put “in the middle” of two quarreling parents because they are not used as messengers or forced to take sides because each parent operates independently of the other.
As an alternative to traditional co-parenting, parallel parenting is most often utilized in high-conflict situations. These circumstances may also arise simply as a product of a contentious custody battle during which your trust has been broken in your former partner. Just because you no longer get along with your former spouse, that does not necessarily mean that he or she is a bad parent. However, being unable to communicate with your former spouse can make co-parenting impossible and could have a negative impact on the custody determination of a court deciding your case.
In New Jersey, courts are required to evaluate the following factors when determining custody:
- The parents’ ability to agree, communicate and cooperate regarding the child
- The parents’ willingness to accept custody and any history of unjustified withholding
- The interaction and relationship of the child with the parents and other siblings
- History of domestic violence
- Safety of the child and/or either parent from physical abuse by another parent
- Preference of child of sufficient age and capacity
- Needs of the child
- Stability of home environment
- Quality and continuity of the child’s education
- Fitness of parents
- The geographical proximity of parents’ homes
- Extent and quality of time spent with the child both before and after separation
- Parents’ employment responsibilities
- Age and number of children.
Typically, parallel parenting is suggested for families in which there is joint legal custody and equal (or very close to equal) residential custody and parenting time. For parallel parenting to work, you must have a baseline level of respect for the other parent and allow them to act autonomously without input from you (and vice versa). You must believe that the other parent can make day-to-day decisions without your input and that your child(ren) will not be harmed in any way.
In most traditional co-parenting arrangements, each parent is usually required to keep the other informed about the goings-on in their child’s life: medical appointments, homework assignments, or the like. Additionally, each parent may also be required to share information about his or her own personal life such as travel arrangements and work schedules.
However, in a parallel parenting plan, you will both have to give up some of that control and just focus on yourself and your time with your children without involving the other parent.
Here are some things to think about if you are considering a parallel parenting plan:
1. Craft a clear plan
A parallel parenting plan will only be effective if it is incredibly specific with very little or no room for deviation or alternative interpretations. By taking away the possibility of changing the agreed-upon plan, you minimize controlling or manipulating behavior by your former spouse.
For example, concepts such as the “right of first refusal” are not ideal in parallel parenting because it would require the disclosure of your personal schedule and allow the other parent to pass judgment. Instead, opting that each parent has the authority to arrange for alternative childcare without input from the other parent would be more preferable.
Similarly, you will want everything to be spelled out in your agreement. For example, you will want the agreement to clearly state the time and location for picks ups and drop-offs on each day, and who will be responsible for the child’s transportation. In crafting a parallel parenting plan, start with the most specific plan possible.
2. Utilize specific communication tools
If you think that a parallel parenting plan is right for your family, it is highly unlikely that you want to spend time chatting on the phone with your former spouse. Making sure that your communications with your former spouse are unemotional and brief is very important. Depending on the age of your child(ren), consider using a shared calendar to log important events or appointments.
The Our Family Wizard application helps parents by streamlining the process of logging events, expenses, and limit communication by moving away from texting and emailing which feel less formal. If you have an infant, consider the Spout application which allows you to log everything from sleep, feedings, and diaper changes without directly communicating with your former spouse.
3. Retain a parent coordinator
In the event conflicts do arise in a parallel parenting plan, it is wise to have a contingency plan. One very effective alternative is to retain a parent coordinator to make final determinations about contested issues. This neutral third party can listen to both of your concerns and allows for both parents to feel heard, and ultimately takes the pressure off of both parents to discuss and agree on their own.
Instead, this qualified parent coordinator will be able to neutralize the conflict and render a decision free from the emotional tensions that you and your former spouse have for each other. Keep in mind that parallel parenting need not be the final chapter for you and your former spouse with regard to parenting time.
If the parallel parenting plan works, it may even foster your confidence in your former spouse’s parenting skills and render the parallel parenting plan too restrictive. As you and your former partner heal from the wounds of your custody battle, you may grow to be able to trust each other once again and resume more substantial communication and exposure to one another.