What’s the Difference Between Co-Parenting and Parallel Parenting?

Enjoying some family time

One of the biggest challenges in a divorce is the process of determining child custody. While both parents may want to be involved in their children’s lives to the fullest extent possible, finding a way to achieve this isn’t always easy. Co-parenting and parallel parenting are two options that might be considered to allow both parents the opportunity to bond with their children and take an equal part in raising them.

What are the Benefits of Co-Parenting?

Co-parenting is an arrangement in which the child’s two parents work together and maintain equal responsibility for the child after a divorce or separation. This situation works best when parents are amicable and can communicate in a healthy manner. Successful co-parenting requires cooperation between parents which helps to minimize the stress a child might feel in the aftermath of divorce.

Co-parenting can come with many advantages for the parents and the child. The benefits can include the following:

  • Maintaining stability for the child
  • Allow the parents to continue raising the child jointly
  • Providing a child with security
  • Reducing a child’s stress
  • Balancing the responsibilities of parenting
  • The child is less likely to feel torn between their parents
  • Children can observe effective problem-solving

Mental health experts agree that the negative emotional impact of divorce on children mainly stems from the conflict they observe between their parents, rather than the fact that their parents have separated. Psychologists support effective co-parenting since the outcome for a child is demonstrably better when the child is able to continue maintaining the emotional bond they shared with each parent.

When is Parallel Parenting a Good Option?

While co-parenting is only possible when a couple can put aside their adversarial feelings toward each other and put the best interests of their children first, this isn’t possible in every situation. In highly contentious cases where co-parenting is too difficult, parallel parenting may be a better option. Although major decisions would still need to be agreed upon, parallel parenting allows parents the ability to make day-to-day decisions separately during their respective parenting time.

Parallel parenting limits the contact between parents in situations where tensions run high. However, it still allows each parent to maintain a relationship with the child. To minimize direct contact and communication, parents can utilize websites and apps that allow them to share calendars, schedules, school records, and doctor’s notes — this can ensure both parents are kept in the loop. Parents can also discuss matters related to the child’s education, health, and upbringing through electronic correspondence that can never be deleted from the app. These communications are usually admissible in North Carolina court proceedings in the event of a custody dispute.

In parallel parenting situations, parents do not work together — rather, they work “parallel” to each other. In other words, each parent has their own independent parenting style and set of rules for each household. This arrangement can often lay the groundwork for interactive co-parenting in the future after the initial conflict subsides. Even if the parents’ relationship does not progress to one where effective co-parenting would be possible, parallel parenting is much more beneficial for the children than being deprived the opportunity to spend time with one of their parents. Critically, research shows that children who spend equal time with both parents develop higher self-esteem.

Is Co-Parenting or Parallel Parenting Right for Your Situation?

Every family dynamic is different and determining whether co-parenting or parallel parenting is right for your situation can depend on the specific facts and circumstances of your case. But co-parenting requires flexibility, open lines of communication, and the willingness to compromise. After going through a divorce, this can sometimes be challenging.

When parents can get along, co-parenting can be ideal since it increases stability through shared routines in both households. However, parallel parenting can be just as effective a parenting method in cases where parents are not on good terms. Importantly, by taking the time to weigh your options and determine which parenting style is best for your children following a divorce, you are putting their needs first.

Neither parenting arrangement is better than the other — both have advantages and disadvantages based on the specific circumstances. Significantly, if the custody arrangement or parenting plan that you put into place isn’t working, it may be necessary to modify it at a later time. It’s essential to understand that even if the parties agree, any changes must be made in writing and submitted to the court to be legally enforceable.

Contact an Experienced North Carolina Family Law Attorney

If you and your child’s other parent are parting ways, it's crucial to have a knowledgeable family law attorney by your side who can advise you regarding the different types of custody arrangements — and ensure your rights are protected. With offices located in Moyock and Elizabeth City, The Twiford Law Firm, P.C. provides compassionate counsel for family law matters throughout Northeastern North Carolina and the Outer Banks. Contact us today to schedule a consultation to learn how we can help.