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Parallel Parenting: What’s best for the children when the parents are hostile to one another?

By S. Dean Michaux, JD

When a marriage ends, many former couples carry hurt, anger, grief, resentment, and hostility towards each other. Some former spouses cannot let go of these feelings even after the divorce. What happens to the children of these marriages when those feelings carry over into their post-separation lives?

During custody exchanges, school functions, or social events, parents need to interact and share what is going on with their minor children. When these interactions devolve into yelling, shouting, or even physical confrontations, the ones to suffer the most are quite often the children.

Parallel parenting can be a solution to contentious relationships that persist after the dissolution of a marriage. Parallel parenting allows each parent to choose for themselves how they will parent the children during their custodial time. Unlike co-parenting, where the parties work together to raise the children in a less contentious setting, parallel parenting keeps the parties separate as much as possible. With parallel parenting, the parties do not attend social events, extracurricular activities, school functions, or even medical appointments together. The goal of parallel parenting is to limit communication and interaction between the parents as much as possible.

While co-parenting is likely the best scenario for children of divorce, parallel parenting has some benefits. Reducing stress between the parents, limiting confrontations, and creating a safer environment for former victims of domestic violence or emotional abuse are a few of the benefits of parallel parenting. For victims of physical or emotional abuse, limiting exposure to their former abuser can reduce stress, anxiety, and fear in both the victim and the children during custodial exchanges.

In many co-parenting situations, parties reach agreements on custody issues in mediation. In a contentious custody case, the court must decide what custody arrangements would be in the best interest of the children. The custody order will often include the following:

– Designate what days the children will be with which parent;

– Designate a holiday schedule for the parents to spend time with the children;

– Designate how far a custodial parent may or may not travel with the children;

– Designate what time the visitation with each parent will start and end;

– Designate a specific place to drop off and pick up the minor children;

– Place limitations on the parties’ interaction at custody exchanges;

– Designate how the other parent will communicate with the children during their non-custodial time;

– Designate how the parties will share critical information regarding the children;

– Designate how the parties will deal with changes in schedules; and

– Designate how the parties will be required to handle disputes.

If you are in a contentious relationship or are a victim of physical or emotional abuse, parallel parenting can create a safe, less stressful, and comfortable environment not only for the children but for the parents during custody exchanges by limiting interactions between contentious parties.