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Parallel Parenting: Strategies for High-Conflict Co-Parenting

photo of man and woman parallel parenting a child from PLC blog post about parallel parenting

Are you struggling to co-parent with an uncooperative or high-conflict partner? You’re not alone. Many parents face the challenge of raising their children in a difficult co-parenting situation. Thankfully, there’s an alternative: parallel parenting. Parallel parenting is in some ways the opposite of co-parenting. This solution allows you to fulfill your parenting responsibilities while minimizing interaction with the other parent. Parallel parenting involves two separate parenting styles and minimal contact between parents, while traditional co-parenting requires both parents to work together in raising their children and usually includes shared physical and legal custody. Read on to learn more about how to create a functional plan, and the support systems available to help you navigate this new journey.

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Understanding Parallel Parenting

Parallel parenting is a unique approach designed for high-conflict situations where traditional co-parenting is not workable. It allows both parents to fulfill their parenting responsibilities independently, with minimal interaction and separate decision-making. This alternative method can reduce parental conflict, enabling the child to maintain a healthy relationship with each parent.

Implementing this style of parenting effectively requires a detailed plan. This plan should include clear guidelines and expectations, reducing the need for constant communication between the separated parents. Although parallel parenting may have some drawbacks, such as reduced flexibility, it can be a safer and more effective option for families with a history of domestic violence or high conflict.

The Essence of Parallel Parenting

Parallel parenting generally involves a division of decision-making between parents. Decisions are made separately that apply to each parents’ household while the children are with that parent. Joint decisions are reserved for only emergency situations. This setup enables both parties to uphold their distinctive parenting styles and formulate guidelines while caring for their children. This differs from traditional co-parenting, where parents work together to raise their children and often share physical and legal custody.

Through limited interaction and creating a nurturing environment for the child, it can effectively resolve issues in high-conflict families. As a parallel parent, you focus on maintaining a healthy relationship with your child while minimizing direct contact with the other parent.

When to Consider Parallel Parenting

Consider parallel parenting when co-parenting becomes unworkable due to intense conflict, personality disorders, or other elements that prevent effective communication. Signs that co-parenting is not working and a new method should be considered include frequent interruptions of the child’s designated time with the other parent, inability to co-parent, and ongoing conflict and animosity.

In cases where co-parenting is negatively impacted by a personality disorder, transitioning to parallel parenting may be necessary.

Designing a Functional Parallel Parenting Plan

The creation of a functional parenting plan necessitates clear guidelines and expectations from both parents. A well-designed plan should include a comprehensive parenting schedule, a method for resolving disputes, and specific details outlining each parent’s respective responsibilities.

Incorporation of flexibility within the plan’s structure provides room for necessary adjustments, while preserving a clear decision-making framework.

Key Elements of a Parallel Parenting Agreement

A parenting agreement should encompass vital elements like:

Establishing a custody schedule is crucial for providing clear start and end times, minimizing direct communication, and setting expectations for attending appointments and events independently.

In a parallel parenting agreement, decision-making authority is generally divided between the parents, with each being responsible for specific areas such as:

It’s also important to include expenses, such as childcare costs and medical expenses, which can be outlined in the parenting plan or specified in a separate financial court order.

Finally, establishing clear communication boundaries and methods, including email, text, and phone calls, can help prevent or minimize potential conflict. Each party’s ability and methods to communicate with the children during the other parent’s visitation time should also be specified.

Communication Strategies for Parallel Parents

Parallel parenting, particularly in high-conflict situations, demands effective communication. Utilizing co-parenting apps and tools, such as Our Family Wizard, Talking Parents, or Custody X Change, can help facilitate communication, scheduling, and documentation, thus reducing the likelihood of misunderstandings and conflicts.

Establishing boundaries in communication is also vital for parallel parents. By establishing clear boundaries and expectations for communication, parents can focus on essential child-related matters and avoid unnecessary disputes. Boundaries also create a sense of security, allowing both parents to interact in a manner that is most beneficial for the child.

There are several co-parenting apps available to assist parallel parents in managing communication and scheduling. Our Family Wizard, Talking Parents, and Custody X Change are examples of such apps, which offer features such as messaging, shared calendars, expense tracking, and document sharing.

Such tools enable parallel parents to establish a structured and organized communication system, simplifying being on the same page with the other parent and effective co-parenting, despite their high-conflict relationship.

Setting Boundaries in Communication

Establishing communication boundaries can help maintain a respectful and focused approach, avoiding unnecessary conflict and emotional exchanges. Some strategies for setting boundaries include:

Navigating Challenges in Parallel Parenting

Parallel parenting presents a set of challenges, including addressing disagreements over parenting decisions and managing special occasions and holidays. By seeking support systems and resources, parents can navigate these challenges and ensure that the focus remains on their children’s well-being.

Handling Disagreements Over Parenting Decisions

Resolving disagreements in parenting may necessitate mediation, the services of a parenting coordinator, or revisiting the parenting plan. By using these strategies, parents can work together to resolve conflicts and maintain a healthy parenting relationship for the benefit of their children.

Dealing with Special Occasions and Holidays

In parallel parenting, planning for special occasions and holidays should be included in the parenting plan, with clear guidelines for scheduling and decision-making. By communicating openly and agreeing on a schedule, parents can ensure that their children enjoy celebrations in both households, fostering a sense of fairness and stability.

The Impact of Parallel Parenting on Children

Parallel parenting can positively influence children by shielding them from parental conflict while ensuring consistency and stability in their lives. By shielding children from the negative effects of parental conflict, this style can promote a healthier emotional environment and contribute to the overall well-being of the child.

Protecting Children from Parental Conflict

A key benefit of parallel parenting is the mitigation of children’s exposure to conflict. It achieves this by:

By implementing these strategies, the benefits can provide a healthier emotional environment for children.

Consistency and Stability in Children’s Lives

Providing consistency and stability is essential for children’s well-being. Parallel parenting can offer this through clear guidelines and expectations, allowing children to feel secure and supported.

By maintaining a stable environment and routine, children can thrive and develop healthily throughout their upbringing.

The legal aspects of parallel parenting involve the family court’s role in enforcing parenting plans and understanding joint legal custody within this context. By working with the legal system and sticking to the agreed-upon plan, parents can ensure a successful parenting arrangement.

The Role of Family Court in Enforcing Parallel Parenting

Family courts have a significant part in enforcing parenting plans. They can appoint mediators, parenting coordinators, guardians ad litem, or custody evaluators to identify and resolve conflicts and create a structured parenting plan. Family courts also expect that both parents comply with the stipulations and provisions set out in the plan. In the event of any disputes, the family court can step in and enforce the agreed-upon arrangements, such as issuing court orders or adjusting the parenting plan. Family law attorneys can provide valuable assistance in navigating these complex situations.

In Illinois, a well-written parenting plan allows both parents to maintain decision-making authority while assigning specific responsibilities to each parent. Both parents can make decisions regarding their child’s upbringing, such as education, healthcare, religion, and extracurricular activities, or each category can be the responsibility of a specific parent.

Transitioning to Parallel Parenting

The transition to this new method of parenting can pose challenges and requires the following steps:

  1. Initiate the shift towards parallel parenting.
  2. Formulate a detailed plan for co-parenting responsibilities and schedules.
  3. Take advantage of support systems and resources for navigating the new arrangement. By working together and focusing on their children’s well-being, parents can successfully transition to a new style.

Initiating the Shift to Parallel Parenting

To initiate the shift to parallel parenting, parents must follow these steps:

  1. File a case for divorce, separation, paternity, or custody with the local family court.
  2. Negotiate a parenting plan.
  3. Submit the plan to the court and obtain a judge’s approval.
  4. Once the plan is approved, both parents must follow it immediately.

Support Systems and Resources

A variety of support systems and resources are on hand to assist parents in overcoming the challenges of parallel parenting. These include therapy, legal assistance, and online forums, which can provide guidance and emotional support throughout the process.

By using these resources and maintaining a focus on their children’s well-being, parents can successfully transition to this style of parenting and create a healthier environment for their families.


In summary, parallel parenting is an effective alternative for high-conflict situations where traditional co-parenting is not feasible. By creating a detailed plan, maintaining clear communication, and seeking support systems and resources, parallel parenting can provide a stable and nurturing environment for children. Remember, the ultimate goal is to protect your children from conflict and ensure their well-being. Embrace this alternative approach, and watch your children thrive despite the challenges.

Consult with Family Law Attorney Zachary Townsend

Call or text today – (815) 200-8802

During your consultation, Attorney Townsend will go over the history of your legal matter, ascertain your goals, and help you develop a new path forward for you and your family.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does parallel parenting affect a child?

Parallel parenting allows children to have both parents in their lives despite any disagreements between them, and studies show that joint custody can lead to the best outcomes. However, this arrangement may lead to confusion for the child regarding different parenting styles and disruptions to their routine.

What is parallel parenting with a narcissist?

Parallel parenting with a narcissist involves minimizing contact and avoiding confrontation, ultimately creating a calmer environment for co-parenting.

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