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5 Tips for Parallel Parenting

Making parenting arrangements after a high-conflict separation or divorce can be difficult. When it comes to parenting after divorce, there is no ‘correct’ answer, and each family dynamic will benefit from its own unique approach.

Parallel parenting is a post-separation parenting method used by parents who want to keep contact with each other to a minimum, while ensuring their children have equal interaction with both parents.

This technique is particularly helpful in divorces that involve domestic abuse, high-conflict, narcissistic partners, or where communication is extremely difficult.

What is parallel parenting?

Parallel parenting is an arrangement in which joint custody parents both have limited, usually formal, contact with one another.

Both parents will spend time with the children, but they will remain separate in all forms of contact, including medical appointments, school meetings, and family occasions.

How is it different to co-parenting?

Unlike co-parenting, the parallel parenting approach intentionally minimises communication and collaboration between separated parents. This reduces opportunity for further conflict, helping to create a family dynamic that prioritises the needs of the children.

How parallel parenting works

While major decisions should be agreed upon together, each parent adopts their own parenting style when the child is in their care. It allows former couples to create distance from each other, without depriving children of a parent and sets clear boundaries that prevent further abuse or conflict.

Before you begin parallel parenting, consider the arrangements and boundaries you want to set. Draw up a realistic and detailed plan, so that your expectations are clear.

If you’re unable to reach a mutual agreement with your ex about parallel parenting, our family lawyers and mediation specialists can help with negotiations.

Luisa Williams from My Family Psychologist shares 5 tips for parallel parenting.

1. Create a parallel parenting plan 

It’s best to plan ahead to avoid disagreements. The more prepared you are and the more detailed the plan is, the less you’re likely to argue with your ex and the more minimal the contact is.

Minimise stress for your child and ensure your safety by agreeing as much as you can in advance, including:

  • Agreeing timing of visits, including dates and start and end times, in writing
  • Establish how to handle cancellations, and when and how they should be communicated
  • Consider how often the child will see each parent
  • Who will attend your child’s functions or doctor visits
  • Agree who will drop them off and pick them up
  • Plan ahead to decide where your child will spend their holidays and birthdays
  • Choose a neutral location or even ask a family member or a trusted friend to pick your child for you
  • Set out financial responsibilities, and dos and don’ts
  • You can figure out logistics using email or another form of communication that doesn’t involve meeting face to face
  • Consider using a parenting app to facilitate communication and streamline schedules.

2. Let yourself heal

Ideally, after separating from a difficult ex-partner, you’d cut contact and never see them again. But when there are children involved, this is not always possible to eliminate them from your life completely.

When some form of contact must remain, aim to fulfil your needs as well as supporting your child. When you’re ready to, concentrate on your long-term goals. Focus on building resilience and reintroducing happiness to your life.

3. Accept the current situation

Making child arrangements after separation or divorce can be challenging, especially if there was a lot of tension between you and your ex.

You may find it hard to accept that your ex is still a parent to your child. All you can do is make the best out of the situation. If co-parenting isn’t possible, parallel parenting is a good option and with a clear plan, you can focus your energy on parenting your children and providing them with all the love and support they need.

4. Keep communication to a minimum

Step back from communication and follow these parallel parenting communication tips:

  • Only communicate with your ex when it’s necessary
  • Agree to contact them via email or use a parenting app
  • Document every interaction
  • Keep your communication impersonal and matter of fact
  • Discuss only topics that relate to your child
  • Do not share personal information or details
  • Try not to let your ex provoke you
  • Never use your child as a messenger.

It can be difficult not to stew over the past when an email pops up or whenever your child is spending time with them. Try to distance yourself and treat interaction with your ex as a business that’s necessary to keep your child happy.

5. Appoint a mediator

If you cannot reach an agreement, or your safety is compromised, it’s a good idea to appoint a professional mediator. Mediation helps divorced parents to align their intentions and focus on their children as their shared priority.

With the help of mediation, divorced parents can make well-informed decisions, reduce conflict, and set out an effective and mutually agreed plan.

If you need help and support with parallel parenting you can contact My Family Psychologist, who offer specialised counselling services for adults, couples, and children as well as mediation services.

Family Law Advice

It is important to get advice from a family lawyer before making significant changes to child arrangements.

Although not all couples can agree on parental arrangements, our specialist solicitors can explain all options and assist you in developing a parallel parenting plan that works for you and your children.

Useful links

Stowe talks: How to parent alongside a toxic or abusive ex-partner

Can you change a child arrangements order?

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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