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Often suggested as an alternative to “co-parenting”, parallel parenting is a style of parenting where each parent makes their own decisions and parents the children in their own way during their own time with the children and does not need to consult the other parent or find a consensus about parenting decisions. Parents might decide to opt for a parallel parenting approach to minimise conflict and to resolve differences of opinion in day-to-day parenting approaches.  

However, for children habitually resident in England and Wales, the law says that major parenting decisions must be exercised jointly by all parents with parental responsibility.   Whilst parallel parenting means generally parenting without consultation, consensus must still be reached on those major decisions, or court permission obtained. These include taking the child out of the country (unless there is an existing order that permits this); changing a child’s name; the child’s religion; the child’s schooling and major medical decisions. 

What are the advantages of parallel parenting? 

The advantages of parallel parenting can include: 

  • Minimal communication required 
  • Minimal cooperation is required in circumstances where cooperation might be impossible such as co-parenting with a narcissist 
  • Minimal opportunities for the parents to use the children as bargaining tools 
  • The children are removed from adult conflict 
  • The children know that the rules are different in each parent’s home; they don’t try to play each parent off against each other.  

Parallel parenting vs Co-parenting: key differences 

The below table sets out some key differences between parallel and co-parenting

Co-parentingParallel Parenting
CommunicationEffective communication is the goal.Minimal communication is the goal. 
What do the children see? The children see a joint approach, as far as possible.  Many “rules” apply during their time with both parents. The children see that different rules apply during their time with both parents. 
What decisions are made jointly, and what about major decisions? Parents try to make most decisions jointly wherever possible.   Major decisions are always made jointly.   Parents try to make most decisions independently wherever possible, although major decisions must always be made jointly, such as education, schooling, and travel abroad unless permitted by law. 
Most appropriate for? Most appropriate for parents who are amicable and willing to compromise in their children’s best interests.  May be appropriate where there is a background of abuse from one parent to another (providing that the contact is taking place safely for the children) and issues such as a parent with narcissistic personality traits.

How can you create a parallel parenting plan?  

In creating a parallel parenting plan, the goal is to minimise disputes within communications. The plan therefore needs to be very specific and rigid to avoid arguments about interpretation, in contrast to a co-parenting plan, as per the examples below.  

Co-parenting planParallel Parenting plan
Handover Flexibility in handover times and places e.g. either parent will collect on Sunday afternoon, precise time and location to be agreed. Specified times and dates for handover with no ambiguity e.g. 4 pm outside the father’s home every Sunday. 
HolidaysDivision of time may be broad-brush with specific dates to be agreed nearer the time.   e.g. the children will spend up to 2 weeks with the father every summer. A precise mechanism is required to set specific dates e.g. the children will spend up to 2 weeks every summer with Parent A.  In odd-numbered years, Parent A will choose the dates at least six months in advance. In even-numbered years, Parent B shall choose the dates at least six months in advance. 
Special occasions such as Christmas, birthdays, and Father’s Day / Mother’s DayThe parents may simply agree to this at the time or have broad principles  e.g. we will alternate Christmases every year Precise details shall be needed for each special occasion, with a mechanism to set dates and handover times in advance.
e.g. this year the child shall spend Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with  Parent A and Parent B shall collect the child at noon.  The child shall be returned to Parent A 48 hours later.  This shall be reversed in alternate years.  

Challenges and common pitfalls 

Challenges and common pitfalls with parallel parenting plans are usually where the plan is not specific enough to avoid dispute and the challenge of coming to a specific enough agreement in the first instance. Rayden Solicitors can assist and advise in negotiating such agreements. It is also important to ensure that any parallel parenting plan is in the children’s best interests. Safety concerns mustn’t be dismissed in a parallel parenting plan so that all time spent with both parents remains safe, welfare concerns are adequately addressed, and children are properly safeguarded. 

In conclusion, a parallel parenting plan may not be right for all separated parents however, it is an approach that can protect parents and most importantly the children from conflict. A parallel parenting plan can sometimes be the best long-term approach, but in other cases implementing a parallel parenting plan can give everyone the space and time they need to work towards improving relations for a more cooperative approach in the future.  

If you would like to receive further advice about parental responsibility disputes, contact us at Rayden Solicitors.

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