Co-Parenting vs. Parallel Parenting – When it is healthier to disengage from the other parent…
Do parents need to get along in order to have equal time with their child? No. Should co-parenting be the standard for deciding whether or not the child gets equal time with each parent? No. 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? Take the steps here to protect your rights and time with your child and end the madness in the family courts.
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 in child custody laws! They are getting a divorce for a reason, and one of those reasons is probably that they don’t agree about parenting decisions and just flat out don’t get along any longer. And many people are separating 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. 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.
What is the difference between parallel parenting and co-parenting?
Co-parenting requires the parents to get along. You will see an element of a co-parenting requirement in many joint custody orders regarding the legal rights. If you and the other parent have legal joint custody, then the legal decisions are dependent on the other’s agreement, unless your order specifies that one of you is a tie breaker or has primary decision making authority. Generally, the court will make these clarifications involving specific rights like who decides whether a child does a certain activity or who decides what kind of doctor and what kinds of non-emergency treatment the child will receive. In order to try and avoid the need for more court involvement, many times the court will just designate who makes certain decisions so that it is known how a dispute will be resolved before it happens, avoiding the dispute over who has the power in a dispute. Parallel parenting does not affect the legal rights as much as it does the physical rights to the child. Many times a court will not award equal parenting or maximum parenting time when the two parents are high conflict. Parallel parenting just requires a little different parenting time guidelines. The parents would not look to the other parent for approvals or agreements on what the child does during their parenting time or custodial time, other than those items that fall in the legal decision making category that might be defined under the legal joint custody section of their parenting plan order or final decree of divorce.
For parallel parenting to work you would want to eliminate any areas in the parenting plan that might require you and the other parent communicate with each other. You would not want right of first refusal. A first right of refusal clause only encourages a narcissist to be hyper-vigilant and in your business, and even stalk you. They need to know your every minutes so that they know when you are violating the order, basically not turning the child over to them when you are not available for the amount of time your Right of first refusal clause specified. There are some right of first refusal clauses that say you have to turn your child over to the other parent if you will not be available for four hours, and some that say you cannot have anyone else watch your child unless the other parent is not available. Basically, these clauses are crafted by you or the other parent or both, and the court either approves and orders it or they don’t. If your state requires it you will want to put the maximum time in there so that you are not subject to the constant badgering from the other parent wanting to know your private business, travel plans, and so on. They will claim this is all in the spirit of the order. You can tell we do not like these clauses, even though you might think that they are a good idea at first. You might think that it is best for the child to be cared for by a biological parent whenever one of them is available and might not be thinking about how this might impact your life, your family life, and your child. You might not be thinking about when or if you get involved with a new partner, that child will develop a relationship with that person and that person might be more supportive of your relationship with your child so your child being with that person of your choosing whenever you are not personally or physically available to be with your child directly, might be more beneficial for your parent-child bond. You wouldn’t be taking anything away from the other parent because if you were available the child would be with you anyway. You might think, but you would rather have your child rather than your child get to know a new partner the other parent involves in their life. You might be thinking and feeling this out of jealousy and trying to prevent the child from forming familial bonds with any other adults or step-parents. But when two parents are high-conflict and frequently disagree with the other, or when you are dealing with another parent who is trying to alienate you from the child and you might be subject to parental alienation, right of first refusal is not something you want in your parenting plan.
You might be asking how to coparent with a narcissist. It is difficult and sometimes outright impossible to coparent with a narcissist. The right of first refusal will just fuel the narcissist. One tip for coparenting with a narcissist is simply don’t do it. Instead, consider parallel parenting with the narcissist instead of coparenting.
Your right NOT to get along with your narcissistic ex is protected by the First Amendment. Make sure your attorney challenges any order requiring you to get along with the narcissist as an unlawful order.
So one might see where a narcissist or a competing parent might create stress and more conflict where a state requires that the parents co-parent in order to have equal custody time. The narcissistic, vindictive, controlling parent might try to place conditions on their agreement with you. You might be forced into making agreements you are not comfortable with or otherwise wouldn’t make, but do because you 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.
- 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. If your child wants to do an activity this might mean that your child can only choose activities that only take place during your time. Or you can ask the court from the beginning to alternate years that each parent choose the activities that the child does. So odd years you might get to choose the activities and even years the other parent. If your child is a potential Olympic athlete and the child has a rigorous sport schedule that was already taking place before your separation with the other parent that is something that you should take into consideration when deciding what type of parenting guidelines you might need to put in your final parenting plan order.
- 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, and abusive 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 neither parent is under the other parent’s control and when they are no longer required to be better than the other parent. This means that your parenting plan should choose the pick up and drop off plan that requires the least interaction between the two parents. If your child is school age, during the school year you should make the pick ups and drop offs at the school. One parent would drop off before school and the other parent would pick up when school lets out at the end of the school day on their days. When the child is not in school, have your parenting plan reflect minimum exchanges. So if you and the other parent were exercising an alternating every other day equal parenting time schedule, perhaps over the summertime you might want to increase the time the child spends with each parent to an alternating every other week schedule and exchange. This way there is one pick up and drop off during the week in the summer. 50 50 custody can and has worked under many different types of custody calendars using parallel parenting.
- 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. Parallel parenting eliminates the requirement for you to communicate everything to the other parent about the child’s activities. As long as both parents have joint legal custody with the rights to get information and be informed by coaches, teachers, doctors, and such, the other parent can get the information as they please without you having to inform them and then get caught in a web of you either didn’t inform them on time or didn’t get something to them at all. If the other parent misses a banquet or a gymnastic tournament or a soccer event, it is on the other parent. Parents under parallel parenting plans do not find themselves in court arguing that the other parent violated their orders where they had a duty to inform the other parent. You will find many of these parents have been ordered to use My Family Wizard for their communications. You might still be ordered to use that or a similar program like Talking Parent; even if you are parallel parenting since there will still be times the parents need to communicate an exchange or something else. But these interactions should be fewer and fewer requirements, as this means fewer reasons you can be dragged back into court. We all know that competitive personalities, personality disorders like narcissists, or mental health like those with bipolar disorder, or just downright controlling parachute parents, thrive on keeping you under their finger and dragging you back into court for any perceived slight. And if they feel they have less power than you then they will be vying to take that power back constantly. Parallel parenting removes that dynamic. If there is no option for shifting the balance of power then there is no reason to continuing any attacks on your parent-child relationship. Remove the benefits of going back to court and you just might eliminate the high-conflict behavior, or at the least the other parent might find another target that doesn’t involve you.
- 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. This works best if you know how to shut a parent down trying to use the incentives in your state’s family code. If you are worried that the other parent will never stop until they take your child from you, you will want to learn your rights, how they work, and how they might protect you if the time comes that you are faced with the other parent trying to use the courts to strip you of your child. Many parents have successfully alienated the targeted parent this way and children have been forced to spend the majority of their time with an abuser or a parent with an abusive personality. Your rights are all you have to challenge this type of abuse of power in the courts. You can check out membership here.
- 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.
- 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.”* Joint custody works better this way too.
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 desirable. 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.
Studies Show that Equal Parenting is Better for Children Even with High Conflict Parents.
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. (The court might never have heard of parallel parenting before so you will have to educate the judge.)
- Present to the court that requiring the two parents to get along is going to create more conflict not less. Modifications are on the rise and clog the court calendars. You can avoid the necessity for modifications with parallel parenting. It really is a type of co-parenting that just doesn’t require cooperative parenting. You are each parenting separately and individually. It’s sort of like when your child goes to their aunt’s or grandma’s house they have a different set of rules and they adjust to each house accordingly. Grandma doesn’t ask permission of Aunt and vice versa, they have their own preferences and their own ways. The child learns to respect their individual rules and knows that they are a part of that household when they are there. That is how parallel parenting works.
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. (Get a membership if you need to learn more about your rights and how they protect you and your child.) If your court is justifying restricting you to less time or violating your civil rights with your child and denying that the 14th amendment protects you or that the 1st amendment protects you and your parental rights, you definitely need to know how to argue your rights and how to guide your attorney to do the same. Do not let the attorneys take over control of your case. You guide them. If you let them control your case without guidance you could lose more than just lose your child to the other parent, you could lose control over your time with your child, you could lose your parent-child bond, you could be under the constant scrutiny and control of the court and the court could take everything from you, your money through child support, alimony / spousal maintenance, and more. You could eventually lose your freedom after the family court process drives you into bankruptcy. Divorce child custody disputes are the third reason for bankruptcy.
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.
Get a membership so you can learn how to use the motions and how to protect yourself and your child from the other parent and the court from stripping you and stealing your child and violating your legal rights. Separated parents have fundamental parental rights. Your parent-child bond is a protected constitutional association, and your freedom to form a new family unit are all protected under the 14th amendment. Your parenting style and your preferences and the money you use to influence and develop your child are all protected rights. These important rights do not receive the protections they should in today’s custody agreements.
Set up Family Wizard for communicating schedules and pick ups and drop offs.
Create your parenting time calendar using CustodyXChange.
Get your order registered on Custody Calculations to eliminate negotiations about what the order says or doesn’t say.
- Present to the court parallel parenting as opposed to co-parenting. Get creative so that if you and the other parent do not live close together you don’t lose rights.
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. You can find charts you can print that have studies showing equal parenting is better for children here.
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 to modify child custody as often with parallel parenting. And less fighting means less crime. Increased stress can trigger domestic violence and some of the mass murders were committed by a person going through a custody battle.
- Parallel parenting facilitated equal parenting nicely. Each parent can leave the court process with dignity. By removing the need for the court to reduce one parent to less than the other because of high conflict, the court is also eliminating the fear that could be driving the conflict. Try to strip any parent of their child and watch their defenses and protective behaviors kick in. Put them into a court process that is unjust and unfair and watch these kick into overdrive. Parallel equal parenting allows each of the parents to re-establish their homes separate from each other more quickly, the children have assurance they are not losing one of their parents due to the dispute of the legal rights of separated parents, and the parents will have more time to pursue improving their education and to work. Parents will be spending less time on preparing for court and more time on developing their children and themselves. This is good for the children, good for the parents, and good for society too!
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. We have a pre-trial motion for this purpose in our motions package that you can get here.
Then once you have established that you will be re-framing your case with your civil rights, fundamental legal rights arguments to protect your parental rights, 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 and preserves the record if you end up needing to appeal your divorce decree or your final order.
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. If you do not, then the court will resolve the dispute usually by taking even more time and rights away from you and strip you of your child. You will feel like the court just helped the other parent steal your child. It’s not going to feel much different than having your child kidnapped. The difference will be that when a stranger kidnaps your child you usually have someone you can report it too and get their sympathies and they will help you get them back. Not in family court and not in this process. You usually won’t find any sympathetic ears no matter how wonderful your parenting skills were or how dedicated you were, not even if the entire school loved you. Parental alienation is probably one of the most painful things you will ever experience and the courts empowering it is one of the most confusing and difficult to understand. And the only explanation that I have for it is that the court has incentives to choose one parent over the other too, and the family court process is designed to reward a fight.
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, it gets very difficult to overcome the barriers they placed in front of 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 to have in each home, 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. Then always provide a solution to the judge. In this scenario, you would ask the judge to clarify in your order that the parent who has the custodial time is the decision maker on that school project or activity or event. So if both of the parents attend a sport’s event and the child is on break and wants a snack during the interim and comes over to you but it is not your time, you should defer to the other parent. Even though you have a right to be at that activity, you should be respectful to the other parent. It is unlikely that an alienating parent will do the same for you without getting that put into your order. If you come across as the more reasonable person and are providing solutions to the court, you are more likely to get your way. However, remember it is your rights that allow you to challenge or argue an injustice, unfair decisions, bias, and prejudice. So I am not suggesting that reasonable means that you concede your rights, or waive them, or give in. The suggestions we are offering fall in line with your rights.
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. No matter where you are in the process you do not need a court order to begin using parallel parenting. You can implement parallel parenting on your own. Listen to the interview on parallel parenting with attorney Vincent W. Davis and Catherine MacWillie here:
(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.