Co-Parenting vs. Parallel Parenting: Which Is More Effective?

There are many different parenting styles that divorced parents can adapt to, so children feel supported and can build relationships with both parental figures. Though co-parenting and parallel parenting have many similarities, they can also differ regarding how the parents interact post-divorce. Divorce affects both the children and parents, making it a pivotal detail for parents to explore the various parenting styles and decide based on the child’s best interest and their relationship.

What Is Co-Parenting?

The term co-parenting refers to an agreement reached by two parents following a divorce when the parents are no longer married, cohabitating, or romantically involved with one another. The two parents have agreed to both be equally involved in the parenting of their child(ren). Co-parenting allows each parent to jointly participate in a child’s upbringing and activities and problem-solve together in the child’s best interest. Parents that choose co-parenting will have regular interaction with the ex-spouse through school functions, comparing notes, decision-making, and more. Children thrive on having the opportunity to spend time with both parents, especially following a divorce. However, co-parenting isn’t for every couple, as regular conversation and planning must occur. If the ex-spouses have trouble agreeing upon decisions or are unable to maintain a stable parenting relationship, co-parenting likely isn’t a practical option and could  lead to more stress and tension.

What Is Parallel Parenting?

At times, divorced couples may experience regular conflict, or they are unable to communicate effectively. This could result from a divorce ending poorly or part of the reason a couple chose to divorce in the first place. Regardless of the situation, the parallel parenting arrangement allows each parent to spend time with the child(ren) independently, so a difficult relationship between the parents doesn’t negatively impact or influence their children. Often, parents will attempt co-parenting, believing that this style is in the best interest of the child. Still, if it’s not manageable, parallel parenting is an effective way to minimize the need for interaction between the parents. Parallel parenting requires a lot of planning at the start due to the lack of communication and joint involvement. Below are a few examples of how parallel parenting differs from co-parenting:

  • Communication: The parents partake in minimal conversation, and if any occurs, it’s non-personal and business-like. Any discussion usually takes place in writing, such as through email, but no personal information is shared – only that regarding the child’s well-being, medical emergencies, and other pertinent topics.
  • Extracurricular functions: Unlike co-parenting, both parents do not attend a school or extracurricular event or parent/teacher conferences. Instead, parents will attend individually to minimize tension and conflict. It’s recommended to determine important dates at the start of each year so that schedules can be planned accordingly well in advance.
  • Child pick-up and drop-off: Rather than parents interacting during pick-up and drop-off, any physical or verbal interaction is avoided to minimize stress for the child. Commonly, parents remain in cars or on opposite sides of a meeting place while the child travels between with supervision.
  • Awareness: Because minimal conversation occurs between the two parents, it’s more common for each parent to be in touch with a child’s teachers, doctors, therapist, and other important figures to stay informed. These key individuals can provide information for parents regarding the child’s mental and physical well-being, so each parent remains informed.

Putting It Into Perspective

Each of these parenting styles are effective methods for divorced parents to utilize as both can benefit children in a variety of ways if parents consider the child’s best interest. However, the key to having either of these parenting methods work is by focusing on the child and working to maintain a cordial relationship between ex-spouses. Part of a child’s well-being relies on seeing parents work together and getting along, making it vital that parents don’t utilize children as a messenger or conduit for any communication or task. . A few ways each parenting style will benefit children are as follows:

  • Increased sense of security and self-esteem
  • Better psychological adjustment towards growth and aging
  • Better communication skills
  • Effective problem-solving skills
  • Willingness to cooperate

Parenting Time and Visitation

Co-parenting and parallel parenting styles are both excellent options for divorced parents to utilize. However, it may be more useful for all involved to structure a more-traditional parenting time and visitation schedule. Both co-parenting and parallel parenting require some involvement and relationship from each party. More times than not, divorced spouses are willing to put a child’s best interests first but aren’t drawn to maintaining a functional relationship with each other. A disconnect such as this points to the need to establish parenting time and visitation rights through a judge. . Once a decision has been made, both parents will go to court, where a judge will determine further details regarding involvement with a child.

  • Parenting Time: This term refers to the time children spend with the parent who hasn’t been granted primary child custody. The judge and parents will work together to determine an effective schedule based on the child’s needs and each parent’s daily responsibilities. If parents communicate easily and civilly, it’s likely a parent time schedule won’t be prepared. Rather, parenting time will be flexible and arranged between each parent outside of court and the judge’s discretion.
  • Visitation: A child will reside with one parent following a divorce, while the other will be granted visitation rights with consideration to various factors. There are different types of visitation rights a judge may give, from scheduled and reasonable visitation to supervised visitation or none at all. Before granting visitation rights, a judge will evaluate each parent’s lifestyle and well-being and decide with the child’s safety and best interest in mind.

Final Thoughts

Going through a divorce is already stressful enough, and when children are involved, it can be even more difficult. Every divorce case is different as everyone’s situation is unique. If a couple has decided to follow through with a divorce, it’s recommended to explore different parenting styles and evaluate the current relationship between ex-spouses. Coming to terms with the civility between ex-spouses is the key to choosing the best parenting style as any turmoil and negativity may show that co-parenting isn’t the best option. Regardless of the parenting style selected by divorced spouses, the child’s best interest must be kept in mind every step of the way.

This article contains general legal information and does not provide legal advice. For legal advice, please contact M. Sue Wilson Law Offices directly.