Divorce is never easy, but it can be even more complicated when you have children in the mix. If you have divorced from your spouse, but wish to co-parent with them, parallel parenting may be an option for you.

Are you unable to co-parent peacefully? If so, you are not alone. Many couples find that they cannot amicably co-parent with their ex, but there is a solution.

When you choose to co-parent with your ex-wife or ex-husband, you are choosing to put your children first and allow them the benefit of both parents being in their lives. But when you need space from your ex, you can try parallel parenting.

What Is Parallel Parenting?

Parallel parenting is a situation when divorced parents co-parent by having limited direct contact with one another. This type of parenting is best when parents have shown they are unable to communicate with each other in a calm, respectful manner.

Parallel parenting is best for children whose parents are abusive to one another, either physically, mentally, or emotionally, because it allows them to have both parents in their lives while not being put in the middle of their parents arguments.

The best situations for children in the case of divorce, of course, is for parents to get along and co-parent together. This isn’t always possible, though, and when it isn’t, parallel parenting can be a great option. In this type of parenting, the ex-spouses will disengage from one another as much as possible and keeps conversations to a minimum and only about the basics of the child’s needs.

It is important to note that experts agree that a disengaged style of parenting is the most damaging to children because these parents are neglectful, failing to provide structure and rules, or show love or build an emotional connection.

If you choose to disengage from your ex in order to parallel parent, be sure that this does not translate to your parenting style. If you have trouble switching to an engaged parent after being disengaged with your ex, you may need to seek counseling to develop techniques to help you transition into engaged parenting.

Difference Between Co-Parenting and Parallel Parenting

One of the biggest differences between co-parenting and parallel parenting is that you maintain a relationship with your ex in a co-parenting situation. You can be friends, or you may just be civil, but you still talk and see one another. This does not happen with parallel parenting.

In co-parenting, you have more:

  • Consistency
  • Feelings of being a family
  • Stability

You also have more flexibility on your parenting plan. For example, you may not be very strict on your schedules, and you may have lax rules on how and when your ex can contact you. Experts agree that after divorce, a co-parenting situation- one where the children can see their parents getting along- is better for the kids, but that is not always an option. In those cases, parallel parenting is a good alternative.

Is Parallel Parenting Right For Me?

If you and your spouse cannot get along, or if you feel threatened by your spouse, parallel parenting may be an option. You need to have the ability to work with your ex in order to create a plan, and you need to have an ex that will follow the plan. You also need to both be focused on your children, and not one another. If all of that applies, then parallel parenting could be a perfect fit for you and your child.

How Does Parallel Parenting Work

In order for a parallel parenting plan to work properly, you must have a solid parenting plan on paper, legally binding, and an ex that will follow that plan. You must also have rules in place that you and your ex-spouse follow to make this as easy as possible, on everyone.

These plans work best when you have limited communication with your ex and back up plans in place in the event that you must stray from your plan. Of course, you want to limit flexibility in your main plan, but also be prepared for special circumstances and emergencies with alternate plans.

You will also need to be able to run your household independently from your ex and keep the focus on your children. This will keep communication between you and your spouse limited and cordial.

Parallel Parenting Plan

Parallel parenting plans require you to be extremely specific in your initial parenting plan. This means that you will need to work with your ex to create the plan, and the two of you will need to agree to always following the plan, except in times of emergency. The more conflict you have with your ex, the more structure your parallel parenting plan will need.

Communication With Your Ex

No matter what type of plan you have, you will need to communicate with your ex at some point, about the wellbeing of your child. In your parenting plan, specify how you would like to communicate. The best parallel parenting plans include email or text communication, and they specify that the communication should be brief and on topic.

You can also choose a “parenting notebook” to pass between the parents. This will include information about child or children’s health, school-related issues, routines, and more. This allows parents to convey information without ever having to directly speak to one another.

If you would prefer, you can also use a parenting app. This allows you to communicate with one app and keep everything in one place. You and your ex sync your apps and communicate within the apps limited capabilities.

Another option is to hold a “parenting meeting” with a neutral third party there to intervene or run the meeting. This can help the parents discuss issues, like what school to send their children to, religious teachings, medical care, and more, without feeling like they are going to be attacked for their thoughts.

What To List In Your Plan

When you do a parallel parenting plan, you will want to list out details for the following:

  • Visitations
  • How to divide holidays
  • Drop off and pick up times
  • Where to drop off and pick up
  • Schedules
  • Finances(who pays what)
  • Rules and regulations for the homes to follow
  • Introduction of new love interests in the child’s life
  • Who is and is not allowed around the child
  • Doctor and medical information and plans
  • School information

This can be modified to include any other issues you think need to have a set plan for. It is all about what you and your child needs.

Parallel Parenting Rules

In order for parallel parenting to work, there need to be rules in place. Those rules include:

  • No abuse-verbal, mental, emotional, or physical
  • Do not go against the plan unless there is an extreme emergency
  • No outside communication with the ex, other than what is specified in the plan
  • Keep communication brief and about the child
  • Communication must be kept unemotional
  • Do not speak poorly about the other parent to your child

The rules can and will vary based on your individual plan. For example, some parenting couples are not able to communicate at all, and therefore will need to designate someone to communicate for them and set that as a rule for the plan. Others can communicate, but it may only be via email and will need to assign someone to handle drop-off or pick-up of the child from the other parent. That is a rule that can be implemented, too. No matter your rules, though, the ones listed above should always be included in a parallel parenting plan.

Parallel Parenting Tips

If you have rules in place, you may not need to do much more, but to get the most out of your parallel parenting plan, you will need to go into the plan with your eyes open. Here are some additional tips to help you with parallel parenting plan:

Let Go Of Your Ex

It is going to happen- there will be something your ex does that you don’t like. Maybe they are too harsh with punishment, or they don’t have your children do chores. Maybe they buy the kids a puppy or they buy junk food for dinner. Whatever the case may be- you cannot control your ex and what happens in their home. You are not living there or paying bills there, and as long as your kids are safe, fed, and taken care of, you can’t expect anything else. You will need to learn to let go and focus on your own home.

Don’t Interact When Your Kids Are Present

This may be hard and it may seem like it makes things weird, but if you are not in a good place with your ex, you may not be able to speak to one another without fighting. It is best to avoid communication rather than arguing in front of your children. Try separate birthday parties, different parent teacher conferences, and follow up phone calls with doctors instead of being in the room with your ex. It takes more work, but it shields your kids from animosity.

Don’t Put Your Kids In The Middle

Don’t ask them about their other parent. Don’t ask them about their time with their other parent, unless there are signs of a problem or abuse. Don’t try to get them to take your side. This is all very stressful for children and harms your relationship with them, and it can harm their relationship with their other parent.

Benefits of Parallel Parenting

In parallel parenting, you have less conflict with your ex and more peaceful environment for parents and kids. You also get to implement your own parenting style in your home without interference from your ex spouse.

This style of parenting also allows the child access to both parents, assures them their parents are still equally important and love them, and it sets clear expectations for both parents, making the transition from being married to divorce easier on everyone.

This is all beneficial to your kids, as it keeps them away from conflict, but it also beneficial to you. You get to move on from your divorce and heal with little conflict.

When Parallel Parenting Doesn’t Work

There are times when parallel parenting won’t work. If you have an ex that will not cooperate, or if you need more protection from them for both you and your children, you may need to seek alternative parenting options.

For example, you may need to be the sole provider and the other parent can have defined visitations. Or you may need to seek help from a third-party in creating and implementing a parenting plan. For any of these options, it is best to hire a lawyer and seek help through the legal system.

Moving to Co-Parenting 

There may come a time when you and your ex spouse can begin to get along and will want to move to a more flexible parenting plan. There is no rule saying that you cannot work with your ex to create a new plan that benefits everyone.

As children grow and change, and your life changes, you will want to revisit your parenting plan to ensure that it is still a good for for everyone. In fact, it is recommended that you recheck your plan before the beginning of a new school year. Getting an update will depend on your child’s other parent and how much they will cooperate, but as the years go on, you should form a stronger and better relationship with them to do what is best for your children.

In the event your relationship with your ex does not improve, or if it gets worse, co-parenting may be off the table, but that does not mean you cannot revisit the parallel parenting plan with your ex and the help of a third-party (preferably a co-parenting counselor). If you feel the rules need to change, present your reasoning and new plan at a meeting and work it through with someone to help.

Related Questions

Do I have to file my parenting plan with the court? The short answer to this is “no.” You don’t have to file your plan if you do not wish to do so, but you should. This protects you and your ex, as well as your children, so that the plan is legally binding.

When should I seek help with my parenting plan? If your ex is not willing to work with you or if your spouse becomes abusive or violent, you need to seek help via a lawyer to get a judge to create a legally binding plan.

What do I do if my ex won’t follow the plan? If your ex isn’t following a legally binding parallel parenting plan, you should seek help from a lawyer to take your ex to court.

Do I have to communicate with my ex? No. You can have a family member, therapist, or friend assist with any communication that needs to take place with your ex. You do not have to directly speak to them.

Amber Harrison

Amber Harrison

Inside the mind and life of a first time stay at home mom–recipes, DIY and adventures!