Often, the most difficult part of the divorce process involves child custody. In many cases, both parents want to stay involved in their children’s lives. Finding a way to accomplish that can be a challenge. Co-parenting and parallel parenting after divorce are two slightly different options for accomplishing the goal. Is one of those arrangements right for your circumstances?
The term co-parenting describes a situation in which a child’s two parents maintain equal or equivalent responsibility for the child following divorce or separation. The parents continue to raise the child jointly by communicating congenially about the details relating to the child’s welfare and upbringing. The goal of co-parenting is to enable the child to maintain a stable relationship with each parent, regardless of the fact that the parents no longer reside together.
When couples separate and divorce, experts agree that significant negative impacts on children most often arise from conflict between the parents, rather than from the fact that the parents have physically separated. Co-parenting requires communication and co-operation between the parents, which minimizes the conflict that the child feels.
Psychologists support successful co-parenting, since the outcome for a child is demonstrably better when the child is able to continue positive bonds with both parents. However, co-parenting requires significant commitment and recognition of the rights and responsibilities that arise in a co-parenting arrangement. It also requires having respect for the other parent’s relationship with the child and refraining from interfering with that relationship.
Generally, co-parenting is possible only when a couple is able to resolve their adversarial feelings toward each other and put the child’s best interests first. In co-parenting, each parent must refrain from creating a loyalty conflict for the child. That means avoiding putting the child in the middle of disagreements between the parents or using the child as a messenger to relay personal information between the parents.
Effective, congenial communication is critical in a successful co-parenting agreement. The two parents must work together to make arrangements and set up schedules for the child. The parents’ relationship functions as a non-personal, almost business-like arrangement that enables each parent to lead a separate life, while maintaining a close relationship with the child.
Co-parenting is difficult and is not a good option for all divorcing parents. When the parents' relationship continues to be adversarial and full of conflict, successful co-parenting likely won’t be possible. However, a type of co-parenting referred to a parallel parenting may be possible.
When divorcing parents have continuing conflict, co-parenting will be extremely difficult. In those cases, parents still may be able to parallel parent, an arrangement in which the parents disengage from each other and have very limited direct contact, but both maintain relationships with the child.
To minimize communication and conflict in parallel parenting, technology can play a major role. There are websites and apps, like Our Family Wizard, 2houses, and AppClose, that enable the parents to avoid communicating directly with each other. For example, schedules may be shared using a joint in-app calendar; school records and doctor's notes may be shared through a simple upload; and significant decisions, such as where the child will attend school or what medical treatment the child will receive, may be discussed through electronic correspondence that will never be edited or deleted from the app. Such communication is generally admissible in North Carolina court proceedings, which provides safeguards to both parents.
Parallel parenting does require discipline, respect for each other, and respect for the arrangement. While significant decisions are agreed to by both parents by the arranged method, each parent can make day-to-day decisions separately during his or her respective parenting time. Parents need to avoid putting the child in the middle when disagreements arise and using the child to share personal information.
Parallel parenting often can lay the groundwork for a more interactive co-parenting relationship in the future, after the dust and conflict of the divorce subsides. Even if the parents’ relationship does not progress to that point, parallel parenting is considerably more beneficial for the child than being deprived of the love and affection of a parent.
When parents are able to agree to co-parenting or parallel parenting, everyone benefits, especially the children. When a child can maintain healthy relationships with both parents, the child will feel loved and secure. Conflict for the child is minimized when a co-parenting or parallel parenting arrangement is successful.
While co-parenting or parallel parenting is not possible in every case, research demonstrates that children who have equal or nearly equal time with both parents grow up with higher self-esteem. Seeing parents cooperate in making decisions about them provides children with a healthy example of how people are able to resolve issues by cooperating with each other, which is a valuable life lesson.
Professional support and encouragement for co-parenting and parallel parenting are available from a wide range of sources. In deciding whether one of the arrangements will work for you, it’s advisable to explore the opportunities and options. Your child will benefit if you can find a workable solution that both parents will be able to implement.
Certainly, there are times when co-parenting and parallel parenting simply are not possible, because of conflict or circumstances. However, making that determination should be a thoughtful, informed process.
When you are contemplating separation or divorce and children are involved, one of the most important steps to take is talking with a knowledgeable attorney. You want an attorney who fully understands the different types of custody arrangements that can be made and who can provide support and resources for implementing the decision that you make, which may include choosing technology that works for your circumstances.
At The Twiford Law Firm, our family and domestic law attorneys are experienced in helping clients determine the best solution for their individual circumstances and goals. We know how to develop successful co-parenting and parallel parenting agreements. We always work closely with each client every step of the way to ensure that each child’s best interests are served.
With offices in Elizabeth City and Moyock, The Twiford Law Firm serves clients throughout northeastern North Carolina. Call us at 252-338-4151 (Elizabeth City) or 252-435-2811 (Moyock) or complete our online form to schedule an initial consultation.