Today, most divorced couples end up with joint child custody, but this does not necessarily look the same family to family. Many divorced parents with joint custody opt for a co-parenting situation because it can be a good way for a child to remain close with both parents and it allows both parents to share equally in parenting responsibilities.
However, those who opt to co-parent must interact with each other often to maintain consistent rules for the child and to ensure there is equal participation in decision making. Co-parenting requires cooperation and effective communication between parents, which can be difficult for many divorced couples. When cooperation and communication fail, the resulting conflict is often hurtful to the child, who is often caught in the middle. Although some parents may not be able to successfully co-parent together, they may still be able to successfully share parenting responsibilities and remain equally close with their child through a parallel parenting situation.
Parallel parenting involves more guidelines for parents than basic co-parenting does, but is otherwise the same concept. The added structure helps facilitate the communication needed to share parenting responsibilities, while maintaining distance between the parents. In this way, parallel parenting helps parents avoid high conflict situations that are harmful to their child.
Some of the guidelines that parents may consider setting in a parallel parenting situation involve:
- Keeping communication non-personal and business-like
- Communicating only the information relevant to the child’s well-being
- Never using the child as a messenger
- Sharing schedules electronically or in writing
- Only changing the schedule when there is a written agreement
With parallel parenting, parents often agree to make together the important decisions about their child’s life, such as decisions regarding the child’s education or non-emergency medical care. However, parents will often set their own rules and make their own day-to-day parenting decisions.
Traditional co-parenting will only be beneficial for a child if the divorced parents can cooperate and communicate effectively. High conflict parents may consider a parallel parenting situation instead because parallel parenting offers many of the benefits of traditional co-parenting with less direct contact between parents.