When you share parenting responsibilities with a former partner but your collaboration efforts fall short, parallel parenting may be an option that works.

The end of a relationship often brings hurt feelings that can interfere with cooperative parenting. You might find yourself worrying about the effects these conflicts may have on your child.

If the thought of peacefully co-parenting with your ex seems unlikely, you may be wondering if filing for sole custody is the answer.

Parallel parenting is an option that many divorced couples choose to allow for shared custody while minimizing parenting conflict.

Parallel parenting is a way for divorced parents to share custody of their children even when they don’t get along well enough to co-parent.

Parallel parenting involves minimal interaction between parents. A parenting plan outlines details such as:

  • school
  • custody schedules
  • extracurricular activities

Both parents follow the plan and contact each other only when necessary, usually electronically.

Examples of parallel parenting

A parallel parenting plan may include arrangements such as:

  • Only one parent attends each event in the child’s life.
  • Parents alternate event appearances or assign certain areas such as school, sports, or medical to a particular parent.
  • Each parent sets their own house rules for the child.
  • Each parent performs daily parenting duties without consulting the other parent.

Parallel parenting may be a permanent arrangement. I can also be a temporary solution until post-divorce animosity eases and parents are comfortable co-parenting.

Co-parentingParallel parenting
Co-parenting is collaborative.Parallel parenting is individualistic.
Problem-solving efforts may result in conflict.Parents experience hostility toward each other, which affects communication about child care.
Parents can problem-solve together.Parents experience hostility toward each other, which affects communication about child care.
Parents can attend child activities, doctor’s appointments, or school meetings together without conflict.Only one parent attends child activities, doctor’s appointments, or school meetings.
Parents adopt a united front, agree or compromise on rules, and strive for consistency between households.Parents apply their own household rules without consulting or otherwise involving the other parent.
Communication is civil or friendly and occurs regularly or as needed.Communication occurs infrequently and only when necessary.

Parallel parenting can reduce or even eliminate the number of interparental conflicts your child witnesses.

Research from 2017 shows that interparental conflict has a negative impact on child and adolescent development. When parents argue, their kids may experience issues like negative mood and diminished positive well-being.

Parallel parenting also enables a child to maintain a relationship with both parents.

Research suggests that, compared to those living with one parent who has sole custody, children raised in joint custody arrangements often have better outcomes in the following areas of well-being:

  • emotional
  • behavioral
  • physical
  • academic

Parallel parenting allows parents to share custody even if they don’t get along well enough to parent collaboratively.

Parallel parenting may even ease the tension between you and your ex since your contact is limited, and there are fewer opportunities for disagreements.

Potential disadvantages of parallel parenting

Because of the minimal communication between parents, children may find themselves switching back and forth between vastly different home environments.

Some might adapt well to different house rules and expectations, but for others, this inconsistency might be a source of stress that results in emotional or behavioral problems.

It’s also possible that children in parallel parenting arrangements might feel pressured to take sides over issues like conflicting household rules. This may be because they see their parents as being in opposition rather than as a parenting team.

Agreeing with an acrimonious ex to follow a set of parenting rules may seem daunting, but it’s possible to make parallel parenting work.

Creating a plan may be easier with the help of a third party, such as a child custody lawyer, who can help you decide on details such as:

  • how to manage child-related expenses
  • times, dates, and locations for pick up and drop off
  • appointing a mediator who can help you resolve disputes
  • acceptable forms of interparental communication to manage schedule changes or other issues
  • your child’s custody schedule, including special dates like holidays, birthdays, and vacation time

Electronic communication with your ex provides a written record of your conversations, making the details easy to remember. It also allows you both to think before responding, rather than become entangled in an escalating verbal disagreement. You may consider communicating via texting, a designated email address, or through an app.

While communication is kept to a minimum, it’s helpful for parents to exchange relevant child-related information, such as school news or health issues.

Establishing familiar routines in your home may offset any disruption your child might experience in their dual-household life.

A 2023 meta-analysis listed ways that household routines benefit children and adolescents, some of which include:

  • improved nutrition
  • less substance use
  • increased emotional regulation
  • improved executive function
  • reduced risk of obesity or lower BMI (or both)
  • increased positive values
  • reduced conduct problems and delinquency
  • improved attention
  • more prosocial behavior and social competence
  • better sleep
  • increased school readiness and engagement
  • higher academic achievement
  • improved math and literacy skills
  • higher rates of college enrollment
  • less potentially unsafe sexual activity
  • fewer, shorter, and less severe respiratory illnesses

Even if you have little or no input regarding your child’s schedule while they’re with your ex, you can still work toward a consistent routine in your own home.

Other strategies to help your child include:

  • not criticizing your ex in front of your child
  • not using your child to communicate with your ex
  • not parenting competitively and trying to “win” against your ex

Parallel parenting is a solution for parents who share custody but have difficulty with civil interactions. Because this type of parenting involves minimal contact between parents, children are protected from witnessing disruptive conflict.

Parallel parenting also enables parents to share custody even when co-parenting doesn’t seem viable.

A child custody lawyer can help you establish a parallel parenting plan with your ex. A therapist may also help both you and your child adjust to your new family structure and suggest strategies for coping and conflict resolution.