What is the Difference Between Co-Parenting and Parallel Parenting?

What is the Difference Between Co-Parenting and Parallel Parenting? By Susan Ingram

{3:12 minutes to read}

There are two basic concepts that describe the way in which parents raise their children following a divorce. These approaches are significantly different, and in fact, are at opposite ends of the parenting spectrum. One approach is referred to as Cooperative Parenting and the other as Parallel Parenting.

The determination of which approach will work best for a couple is based upon the specific personalities and circumstances of each family. As a basic guideline, the first thing that needs to be assessed is how well the parents are able to get along and communicate with each other.

Cooperative Parenting (also referred to as Co-Parenting)

This approach is best for parents who basically are able to get along with each other and have a consistent view of how they want to raise their children. Often these parents will already have similar parenting styles and routines. This doesn’t mean they have to be on the same page with everything. It just means that, overall, they cooperate with each other.

The communication between these parents generally flows well. They’re able to have conversations about their children and not become overly heated about them. They can also be flexible and accommodate a change to the schedule that might be requested by the other parent. They “work together” for the benefit of their children.

Parallel Parenting

This approach is best for high conflict couples. These parents find it difficult to speak with each other without becoming engulfed in antagonistic and non-productive conversations. Yet they each want to have an ongoing relationship with their children.

Because of the continuing high level of conflict between them, these parents need to have less direct contact with each other. Their parenting plans need to be structured so as to be even more specific and detail-oriented than the plans for co-parenting couples.

Thus, the goal of parallel parenting is to support the disengagement of the parents so that there is less opportunity for conflict (and ultimately less harm to the children). Rules may need to be established as to permissible modes of communication between the parents—for example, email communications will be allowed, but no in-person or phone contact will be permitted.

In Summary

Both types of parenting plans can work for couples. In an ideal world, all couples would take the approach of cooperative parenting, but in the real world things don’t always work out ideally. Parallel parenting provides a mechanism whereby both parents remain involved with their children while the level of confrontation between the two of them is, hopefully, lessened.

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