Parenting after Divorce: More than 1 Model!
Co-parenting is all the rage. Conceptually, it is awesome. It requires two well-adjusted, divorced adults who are committed and able to put their personal hurt and emotions aside in the interest of working jointly in their child’s best interest. Co-parenting demands ongoing communication between the parents and regular interaction. It seeks to unify the parenting styles across the two households, and through consensus, to establish consistent, common routines and expectations in both homes.
Does this sound like a nightmare to you? You’re not alone. In my world, as a divorce attorney who deals with many high conflict situations, the co- parenting model is an untenable pipe dream. In a high conflict relationship, parents are unable to effectively communicate productively at all. They definitely cannot set aside their own adult emotions and needs for the benefit of a child. Control is wielded as a tool of power, and even little compromises are unfathomable. Not even when a judge is involved. To minimize high-intensity interactions, some courts have ordered a very different parenting model, whereby the divorced couple each parent unilaterally during his or her respective parenting time with the primary benefit of minimizing interactions.
Enter Parallel Parenting:
First and foremost, parallel parenting is only employed when both parents are safe, mentally stable, sober, and healthy. If a child’s well-being is ever in question, contact a lawyer immediately to seek a temporary order. Safety first!
Parallel parenting encourages minimal interaction or communication. Information is still shared, but almost all communications are via email (or some form of writing) to document the communication and eliminate live improvisation. Parallel parenting recognizes that there will be no consensus between the two estranged parents, and that each is capable of establishing healthy and reasonable routines, in their respective homes, with very little interaction.
5+1 Parallel Parenting Must-Dos!
Reduce Interactions: This is critical. Less is more. The cornerstone of parallel parenting is minimal interactions...because they open the door to unnecessary conflict.
Interact in WRITING ONLY: The only communication in the parallel parenting model should be made via email. In fact, many high-conflict clients find a monitored email account helpful and necessary in keeping the interactions civil and limited. Obviously, rare exceptions can be made in an emergency for a phone call. However, if non-emergencies are used to create phone contact, this should be addressed early and extinguished entirely. If it continues to be violated, seek the court’s assistance.
Location. Location. Location. All exchanges, whenever possible, should be done at a neutral location where other adults are supervising, like school or childcare. This helps in that only the parent picking up need be there. No face-time! At times when this is not possible, the child should walk independently from one parent to the other (rather than the parent bringing the child over to the other parent). Some clients find it helpful to maintain at 20 foot zone to avoid the temptation to engage or invite interaction with the other parent.
Shut It. During exchanges of the children, the parents should not communicate outside of basic pleasantries. If any information about the child needs to be shared, it should be done via email to create a written record and reinforce Rule #1.
Cellvival: If the child is not old enough to have his/her own cell phone, the non-custodial parent should not attempt phone contact via the custodial parent’s device. However, it is acceptable for the child to call the parent. In that case, the call should be limited to some minimal time (like no more than 5 minutes) and never occur during a family event, outing, or meal.
+1 More Thing…
Let go of the guilt. All marriages and divorces are unique...and 10% of divorces are
high-conflict. In most high-conflict divorces, one party is the antagonist due to mental
illnesses and/or substance abuse. If you’re reading this, odds are you’re not the cause of
the conflict. Parallel parenting is not a lesser-than strategy. It’s not a give-up. Gwenyth
Paltrow is not going to show up at your house to parent-shame you and discuss
conscious uncoupling (ugh). Parallel parenting is a conscious and strategic technique to
minimize unnecessary conflict with an antagonistic ex so you can save money and build a
future with peace for yourself and your children.
This article is not intended to determine which method is better, but to recognize that more than one option is available. Each family needs to avail themselves of the model that best fits their situation and needs. In many of my cases, co-parenting is NOT a viable option; in fact, it can be damaging to try. Parallel parenting is something that works for many families, and ultimately, can be in the best interest of the child.
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