Do parents need to get along in order to have equal time with their child? Should co-parenting be the standard for deciding whether or not the child gets equal time with each parent? What happens when one parent is a narcissist, controlling, a bully, or just competes all of the time and makes every interaction as stressful as possible? Can the stress be ended but still maintain equal time and rights with the child?
Practically every statute we have seen requires co-parenting in order to have equal time with the child. In fact, we have seen many statutes that require co-parenting even when the judge orders unequal time. Take for instance a family code statute that states that the parent who is found to encourage the relationship of the child with the other parent should be considered for being designated primary custodian even in joint custody. One parent will be made a primary joint custodian and the other a possessory joint custodian. The judge is to take into consideration the parent who encourages the relationship with the other parent as a factor for awarding custody to one parent and visitation to the other.
We need to stop requiring parents to get along! They are getting a divorce for a reason, and one of those reasons is probably that they don’t agree or don’t get along any longer. And many people are getting divorced from a narcissist and need to disengage from that other parent. This does not mean that the child should be punished and lose equal time with each of their parents.
There is another kind of parenting other than co-parenting that doesn’t require parents to get along and that is parallel parenting. So what is the difference between parallel parenting and co-parenting?
Co-parenting requires the parents to get along and get an okay from the other parent on decisions regarding the child. So one might see where a narcissist or a competing parent might create stress and more conflict here. They might try to place conditions on their agreement with the other parent. The other parent might be forced into making agreements they are not comfortable with or otherwise wouldn’t make, but they do because they don’t want to end up back in court and be seen as not being able to work things out with the other parent and then risk losing time and rights with the child to the controlling parent.
1. Parallel parenting reduces stress. Parallel parenting does not require that the parents get along. In fact, parallel parenting allows the parents to disengage from each other. The parents make separate decisions without the requirement of getting the agreement of the other parent. Psychology today defines this as “an arrangement in which divorced parents are able to co-parent by means of disengaging from each other.” This does not mean that one parent gets to make decisions that bleed over into the other parent’s time. The decisions have to be ones that do not interfere with the other parent’s time.
2. Parallel parenting reduces conflict by reducing the amount of interaction and the reasons the parents need to interact. This allows a parent to get away from a competing parent, a narcissistic parent, a judgmental parent. Parallel parenting allows a parent who felt bullied or abused by the other parent to no longer have to engage or interact with that parent. And the courts might find that the parents don’t return to court as often and actually might start getting along better when one parent is not required to be better than the other.
3. Parallel parenting allows a parent to be themselves again and to live their life the way they choose without constantly having to answer to the other parent. Neither parent is dependent on the other parent to respect their right to have the kind of relationship they want to have with the child.
4. Parallel parenting reduces parental alienation. Parallel parenting allows a child to love and be with each parent without having to report to the other parent because the parents are no longer competing. It won’t matter how the other parent parents and what the rules are at the other parent’s house. Parallel parenting encourages the parents to stop trying to control each other and their parenting styles. It allows parents to be themselves again and continue their own individual parenting style.
5. Parallel parenting is healthier for the child. The child will have less stress not worrying about losing a parent. The parents will not have to play tug of war with the child. The child can be comforted and assured by both parents. The child will not have to be interviewed by the courts or any third parties. The child will not be placed in the middle. The child will not live with a lifetime of guilt because the child will not be asked to choose one parent over the other. The child can have equal time with the parents regardless of the shortcomings of the parents. The child will also not have to worry about being placed in one parent’s care more than the other and being exposed more than necessary to one parent’s parenting style more than the other.
6. Parallel parenting is healthier for the parents. Parallel parenting allows parents to break the co-dependency cycle. The parents can break their anger addiction and their addiction to wanting to invalidate the other parent. “High-conflict exes are on a mission to invalidate the other parent. No therapist, mediator, parenting class, or Gandhi-esque channeling will make an anger-addicted ex take off the gloves and agree to co-parent.”*
It’s time for the courts to do a comparison on whether two parents getting along is more important than protecting the child’s right to be raised and influenced equally by each parent.*
Keep in mind that when a child is dealing with a parent that might have a more demanding and difficult personality, making sure that they have equal time with each parent, as opposed to having to spend the majority of their time with the controlling and narcissistic behaving parent also gives the child a break and a balance of parental influence.
While it is nice to want the parents to get along and co-parent forcing parents to co-parent who are dealing with the personalities and behaviors that we described above can actually be unhealthy and not desireable. However, punishing a child and making the time that they spend with each parent dependent on punishing a parent for the behaviors the court finds less desirable, is actually harmful.
Newer studies have come out that show that unequal time with the parents can actually be harmful to children. And our research from a parental rights and child’s rights perspective has shown that the courts need to use different metrics before restricting a child from one of the parents.
What if you just cannot co-parent with the other parent? What if they are constantly competing with you and refuse to cooperate on things that you think would be better for your child? Does this give you grounds to take more time away from the other parent? We say no. Most state laws however say yes.
There are things that you can do to try and persuade the court to use the parallel parenting model.
1. Present to the court that requiring the two parents to get along is going to create more conflict not less.
2. Present to the court that not getting along is only harmful to your child if the court is going to reduce your time and rights with your child. (See our blog for studies and statistics on this.) Not getting along is not grounds for the court to reduce your time with you and your child. (See our webinar page if you need to learn more about your rights and how they protect you and your child.)
3. Present to the court an alternative to restricting rights of either parent or child. This would be to reduce the requirement for each parent to engage in communication or agreement. Reducing the requirement to engage with each other reduces the opportunity for conflict.
Use these MOTIONS to protect yours and you child’s fundamental rights first.
Set up Family Wizard for communicating schedules and pick ups and drop offs.
Get your order registered on Custody Calculations to eliminate negotiations about what the order says or doesn’t say.
4. Present to the court parallel parenting as opposed to co-parenting.
5. Present to the court the benefits for your child when the child gets to maintain equal relationships with both parents and the benefits of the child not having to worry about the parents agreeing or getting along.
6. Present to the court that this will allow the parents to let go of the anger and attempts to control each other. That is healthier than trying to force the parents to co-parent and force them into lengthy and expensive court litigation. It is less likely that the parents will be back in court as often with parallel parenting.
Here are some additional tips for framing your case from a parental rights and child’s rights perspective:
If you are going to present a different kind of argument, like your right and your child’s right to be together equally, you need to try and get some of that in front of your judge prior to the trial. Many times that is in your pleadings and sometimes you can also ask opposing counsel to agree to meet with the judge in chambers prior to the hearing to brief him on what you want to present that is novel or new to him.
Then once you have established that you will be presenting the family parental rights argument, you shouldn’t get stopped or yelled at during the hearing. This is especially important if your court is going to limit the time that you have to present. If your judge says that you don’t get to present your parental rights argument and show him how this actually protects the child, then ask the judge to put that denial on the record. This shows that you were not allowed to present your argument.
Okay let’s get back to the co-parenting versus parallel parenting models. If you are not co-parenting with the other parent be prepared for the other side to use that as ammunition to inflame the judge. They might try to show that you are stressing the child out with the decisions that you are making. You must be prepared to have testimony that will convince the judge that parallel parenting is going to resolve the disputes that are coming up in court.
Parallel parenting is where two parents have the least interaction possible. The two parents do not co-parent and only communicate as-needed. This allows the child to spend equal time with each parent while each parent can avoid unnecessary interaction with each other.
All of the decisions that you have been making up to the time of the trial are going to be scrutinized. If you are presenting a solution that is different than the judge usually uses, then the judge is going to look for indications that what you are proposing will truly solve the problem. And if the two of you are seen as competing for the child’s activities, time, etc., this will be a much harder sell.
Most of the time the alienated parent is very stressed and protective over their time with the child and over splitting activities, etc. and this gets used against the alienated parent and the alienator gets more time with the child. It is difficult not to react during the pendency of the trial especially when the other parent is attempting to cut the child out to use for their benefit. Since the alienated parent has usually already been made a second-class parent whether by a court final order previously or through temporary orders, when one parent has the lion share of the time with the child during school time and everyone is looking to the other parent as the decision maker, it gets very difficult to make the decisions that are less likely to disadvantage you. Or to know how to defend the decisions that you made and not have them still used against you.
We’ve seen judges view the purchase of two computers, one by each parent, as the parents further competing. You better hope that you have been posturing yourself properly so that the judge can quickly shift off of this issue.
So the best thing to do in some situations where you feel alienated or are being alienated is to attempt to be involved and if the other parent fights you over a project or tries to keep you out of being involved, then show that in court as best you can, and if it was something that was clearly supposed to be during your time, you can lead the judge to the proper conclusion.
Show the court as best you can that you are not able to exercise the rights that you were given Do not let the other parent put you in the position where you are making panic decisions or controlling you throughout the entire trial. Yes, you may lose some time and some involvement with your child short term, but then you can show that the current order and the arrangement is not working because the other parent has too much power to interfere. Let the other parent look like the bad guy. (This is not the right strategy for all parents. It depends on the structure of your current order and other factors. Some of the main factors is how the other side is presenting the case to the judge. There are times when the other side has control over the presentation to the court because they go first and they present witnesses first.)
Essentially the less you give the other side to use against you the better off you will be. The other parent will try to use their interference with your time against you as you are not cooperating with them on the children’s schedules. Many times it does not matter what you try to get along with the other parent when they are set on cutting you out of the child’s life or set on making your life miserable, so co-parenting is not an option and you don’t want the court to use that against you. Do everything you can to regain control of your hearing as best you can. Most importantly, get the protection of your decisions and your rights and time on the record.
While it is true that you should not have to sell to any court that your equal parenting rights and time with your child should be protected, it is what you have to do right now. While this should be automatic, this unfortunately is not reality right now, so you have to be prepared to convince the judge that this model works if your statutes still do not reflect this as the default. (We have motions to help you with this now. Click here: TAKE ME TO THE MOTION PAGE.)
Check out Catherine MacWillie’s blog with Custody Calculations for more resources on this topic.
(Remember that these posts can be suggestions only and are not the only options available. These posts are provided to give you some alternative perspectives.)
*These are unenumerated rights. The constitution does not say that the child has a right to be with each parent equally. Technically what it says is that the child and the parents have the right to equal protection of the laws. This means that before the court can reduce the child’s time with each parent equally the court must show a compelling state interest and then must use the least restrictive means to achieve a legitimate state objective.