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Parallel Parenting: The Best Parallel Parenting for Your Kids

Is parallel parenting right for your family? Learn parallel parenting strategies and how to make a parallel parenting plan with a difficult co-parent.
Parallel Parenting
Updated: October 2, 2023
Table of contents

When a marriage ends, an amicable divorce and conflict-free co-parenting is the ideal. But that’s not always possible. A parallel parenting plan can help a family to navigate decision-making in a high-conflict situation. Is parallel parenting right for your family?

What is Parallel Parenting?

Parallel parenting is a parenting style that can help families work together within their child custody arrangement, even in situations of extreme conflict. In this parenting situation, parents collaborate in parenting their children, while communicating with one another as little as possible.

Parents in a parallel parenting situation agree to divide up parenting responsibilities and areas of decisionmaking, in order to minimize the potential for conflict.

For example, one parent may undertake the child’s education, while the other makes decisions regarding the child’s extracurricular activities. One parent may have the children for birthdays, while the other has them for some holidays. Or one parent may do the school drop-off, while the child’s other parent will pick up the children from school. And so forth.

Parents may also choose to communicate only through text messages or a third-party parenting app such as OurFamilyWizard or WeParent.

In some cases, a court-ordered parenting coordinator may help to negotiate and formalize a parallel parenting agreement. This can be particularly helpful if the parents are unable to communicate or work together in a respectful and productive way.

The parallel parenting arrangement may be short-term, while the parents work out their interpersonal issues, or, if the parents’ differences are irreconcilable, the arrangement may become permanent.

The goal of the parallel parenting approach is to ensure that post-divorce, parents are active in their children’s lives while preserving the self-esteem and mental health of all family members.

Parallel Parenting vs. Co-Parenting 

A co-parenting relationship is an arrangement where divorced parents participate together in parenting decisions. But this requires the parents to be able to work together in a civil and respectful fashion. That’s not always possible.

In a co-parenting situation, communication is key. Parallel parenting works through limited communication.

Who is Parallel Parenting For? 

Parallel parenting is for families where parental conflict prevents parents from communicating respectfully and working together amicably.

When parents are unable or unwilling to cooperate, even for the sake of their child’s well-being, a formal parallel parenting arrangement can ensure that both parents have equal parenting time and responsibilities.

How Parallel Parenting Works

The two pillars of successful parallel parenting are a formal agreement and minimal (or no) contact between the parents.

A formal agreement provides structure and boundaries that parents agree to, but which are non-negotiable. Some things that this type of agreement may cover include the following.

Co-Parent Communication Rules

Even when minimal or no contact is the best option, sometimes parents will need to discuss things with one another. What are the boundaries for communicating? Some parents agree to communicate only through a texting app that leaves a record of communication with a third party, in case such a record is needed in the future.

Contingency Plans

Sometimes plans change, are delayed, or there’s an emergency. Having a formal agreement about what is to happen on these occasions means that these can’t be used to manipulate the other parent.

Bronze statue of Themis holds scales of justice. In unfocused background, couple divorce. Young parents argue about one who will take guardianship of little daughter in lawyer's office.
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Formal Child Custody Arrangements

This leaves no wiggle room for one parent or the other to claim that they weren’t aware of the details of the arrangements.

Official Co-Parenting Schedules

Formalizing schedules for school, holidays, visitation, extracurricular activities, and so forth, sets clear, non-negotiable boundaries for both parents.

Joint Legal Custody Decisionmaking Processes 

A parallel parenting agreement should contain a formal process for making joint legal custody decisions about large issues such as education, where the child will live when, and so forth. This will protect families from sudden one-sided decisions that affect everyone.

Divided Expenses

Deciding which parent will be responsible for which expenses, and how expenses will be tracked, will go far toward eliminating conflict over financial matters.

Medical Care Plans

Medical decisions, especially in the case of emergencies, can be fraught with opportunities for conflict. Hammering out an agreement on medical issues ahead of time can help both parents stick to the plan for the benefit of their children.

Other Parenting Decisions

A parallel parenting agreement can contain agreements on other issues that may affect both households, such as dating, internet and cell phone usage, and so forth.

Consequences for Violating the  Plan

Unfortunately, in some cases, consequences are necessary to make sure that everyone sticks to the plan.

Benefits of Parallel Parenting

Parallel parenting can help to ensure that both parents can have an active role in their child’s life, even if they’re incapable of communicating with one another.

It can be frightening for children to see their parents fight. If parents are unable to communicate without hostility, parallel parenting protects children from witnessing arguments.

This arrangement also allows parents to focus on being the best parents they can, and on building relationships with their children, without worrying about conflicting with the other parent. Parallel parenting also allows children to maintain relationships with both parents, even if those parents can’t get along.

Importantly, a formal parallel parenting agreement establishes firm boundaries set by a third party and agreed to by both parents. These boundaries provide security for both parents and children.

The arrangement reduces stress for everyone and gives everyone space to heal from the conflicts that led to the family breakup.

Disadvantages of Parallel Parenting

This parenting style does have some drawbacks.

Because parents in a parallel parenting arrangement limit communication, there may be significant differences in the way the different households operate. Some parents may find it difficult to accept these differences, and difficult to accept that they are not in control of their child’s experience when the child is with the other parent.

Children may also find the arrangement difficult at first, especially if they experience different rules, routines, and lifestyles when visiting each parent. They may become confused about which behaviors are acceptable if parenting styles are different enough in the two households.

Both parents and children may find a parallel parenting arrangement strange and confusing at first, but when amicable co-parenting is impossible, parallel parenting may be the best option.

When Families Might Choose Parallel Parenting

Parents, fighting and sad girl in living room with teddy bear for support or comfort. Family, divorce and husband in argument with wife and scared kid sitting in fear, stress or depression on carpet
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Is parallel parenting right for your situation? Maybe.

Parallel parenting works best for families where there is continuing high conflict or abuse between parents, or if one of the parents has narcissistic personality traits (Better Help, 2023).

However, parallel parenting is not the answer if there has been abuse against the children.

Parallel Parenting with a Narcissist

Some experts believe that parallel parenting is the best model for raising children with a narcissistic ex-partner. This is because parallel parenting relies on minimal, or even zero contact between the divorced parents.

According to Linda Esposito, LCSW, the first step toward healing from a relationship with a narcissist is to cut off all contact (Esposito, 2015). This is because high-conflict people seek out psychological battles, and those battles thrive on contact.

Cutting off contact with an ex can be difficult if there are children involved. However, a formal parallel parenting agreement allows both parents to take an active role in raising their children, while keeping contact between themselves to a minimum. It also eliminates the need for negotiation and discussion by formally codifying duties, agreements, and processes.

The safe, secure boundaries and structure set with a formal parallel parenting agreement can help to protect children from the emotional volatility of a relationship with a narcissist.

Tips for a Successful Parallel Parenting Plan 

You don’t have to like, or even respect the other person in order to have a successful parallel parenting experience. But you both have to respect and agree to the process.

Use Parallel Parenting Tools/Apps 

If you and your ex are able to work together to formulate a plan, you can do it yourself with the help of tools such as:

  • Calendars and schedules
  • Parenting time tracking tools
  • A parallel parenting app like CustodyXChange
  • Expenses tracking

If you and your ex are unable to work together in this way, you may need a lawyer, mediator, or arbitrator to help you hammer out the details and set the parameters.

Some states like California and Minnesota, have forms, procedures, and personnel to help parents formulate parallel parenting agreements. Check with your state to see which resources are available to you.

File Your Plan with Family Court

When your plan is complete, submit it to the family court in your jurisdiction for final approval. The court will look over your plan with an eye to the best interests of the children (Yeban, 2023).

Once a judge approves your plan, it will become the final order, which both parents are legally bound to follow.

For more custody and co-parenting resources, check out our downloadable Child Custody Schedule and Calendar

Sources +

Esposito, L. (2015, February 6). Forget Co-Parenting With a Narcissist. Do This Instead. Psychology Today.

Better Help. (2023, July 3). Parallel Parenting: Definition, Pros And Cons, And Tips.

Yeban, J. (2023, June 22). The Parenting Agreement. Findlaw.

Jess Faraday

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