What is Parallel Parenting?

4 Jun 2024 | Simone McGrath
child reading the bible

Table of Contents

Parallel parenting  is a child arrangement where each parent has equal rights and responsibilities for their children, but they do things their own way and have minimal amounts of contact with each other. It is often suggested as an alternative to co-parenting,

For example, they might attend an equal number of doctor’s appointments, school meetings and sports competitions, but they do so separately.

Parallel parenting is best suited for high-conflict families or cases involving domestic abuse. It may be recommended by lawyers, mediators or the court to minimise tension in the family and provide an alternative to drawn-out court battles over child arrangements.

Why choose parallel parenting?

There are several reasons why parents may choose parallel parenting over traditional co-parenting:

  • Parents operate independently of each other, making their own decisions regarding the children’s activities, schedules, discipline and other aspects of parenting without interference or influence from the other parent.
  • Minimal communication is required, which can be less stressful and emotionally draining for everyone if the parents have a tumultuous relationship.
  • The children know that the rules are different in each parent’s home, which can provide a sense of stability in their separate homes and prevent a situation where the children feel like they have to choose sides.
  • It is a structured approach that clearly defines the rights and responsibilities of each parent, reducing the potential for conflict and confusion.
  • Both parents are able to stay involved in their children’s lives without having to interact with each other regularly.
  • It emphasises on the importance of putting the children’s well-being first, rather than focusing on parental conflicts and disagreements.

Who makes decisions in parallel parenting?

While parallel parents do their own thing for day-to-day parenting duties, the law says that major parenting decisions must be exercised jointly by all parents with parental responsibility. This may include major medical, religious or educational decisions, such as where the children go to school, as well as decisions to travel abroad or changing a child’s name.

The parents must still agree on those major decisions, or seek the court’s intervention if they cannot agree. In these cases, parallel parents can choose to use a third party mediator or seek legal assistance to help facilitate decision-making.

Does parallel parenting need a legal agreement?

Parallel parenting does not necessarily require a legal parenting plan, but it is highly recommended to have one in place. Unlike co-parenting where the relationship between the adults is co-operative and amicable, the goal of parallel parenting is to minimise interactions and disputes between the parents. A detailed plan ensures that all expectations and boundaries are laid out on the table.

The parenting plan therefore needs to be drawn up carefully and specifically so there is no room for ambiguity. It may include quite rigid details on:

  • Communication protocols
    • The method, frequency and purpose for communicating about the children.
    • Using email, text or an app instead of phone calls to avoid conflict.
    • How you will share important information about the children’s needs.
  • Contactand handover
    • The schedule for when the children will be with each parent, including holidays, school breaks and special occasions.
    • Start and end times of contact.
    • Specific dates, times and locations for exchanges.
    • How cancellation of contact will be handled.
  • Decision making
    • Procedures for consulting on major decisions (e.g. school places).
    • How to resolve conflicts if they arise.
  • Household rules
    • Guidelines for routines, discipline and daily care of the children.
    • Who will attend school events, medical appointments etc.
    • Arrangements for visiting wider family members.
  • Financial Matters
    • Child maintenance and other financial obligations.
    • Paying for child-related expenses such as school uniforms and phones.
    • Limits on big-ticket expenses (e.g. school trips, expensive presents)
    • How financial decisions will be made together.

When parallel parenting plans fall down, it’s often because they are not specific enough to avoid one parent wriggling out of their responsibilities. An experienced family solicitor can help ensure that all the bases are covered and that the plan is compatible with the best interests of the children.

Getting support for parallel parenting

Parallel parenting can be an effective way to reduce family conflict when direct co-parenting is not feasible. But the transition and new dynamics may require adjustment. Useful support may include:

  • Legal advice on creating an initial parallel parenting plan.
  • Parenting classes for dealing with high-conflict situations.
  • Family therapy or mediation to improve communication and cooperation between parents.
  • Tools like Whatsapp to structure and record communications.
  • Talking to other single parents for practical advice and moral support.

A parallel parenting plan can be the best long-term approach for some families, but other times it’s only needed for a short period while you get through an especially difficult stage. Parallel parenting can give everyone the time and space they need to work towards a more cooperative co-parenting relationship in the future.

To speak with one of our family solicitors, contact us by:

  • Filling in our online enquiry form; or
  • Calling us on 020 7485 8811

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