I’m going to tell you three things that every divorced parent should know:
- When a mom and dad are able to effectively co-parent following a divorce, their children have an excellent chance of growing up to be healthy and well-adjusted adults;
- On the other hand, children who grow up with parents who are openly angry and hostile toward each other can develop long-term emotional problems that will plague them throughout their lives and could adversely affect their own relationships.
- But the good news is that parents who find it difficult or impossible to co-parent cooperatively can still raise happy, emotionally healthy children by effectively using a technique known as “Parallel Parenting.”
If you are divorced, it’s likely that you and your former spouse didn’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of things while you were married. Communication is a difficult matter to begin with, and it doesn’t always get easier when a couple separates or divorces. In a high-conflict parenting situation – where every phone call or text message can become a spark that ignites an angry explosion – communication after a separation or divorce often becomes worse rather than improving.
So how can a mother and father in a high-conflict relationship learn to effectively communicate after their marriage has ended and they are living apart? Obviously, there is no easy answer. The road might continue to be rocky in the days ahead, and you may never be able to communicate as well as you’d like -- but by employing a concept known as “Parallel Parenting” you can learn how to communicate better, and co-parent more effectively.
WHAT IS PARALLEL PARENTING?
Parallel Parenting is a form of co-parenting where a mother and father learn how to reduce the level of conflict by disengaging from each other. They actually communicate less, and the communication takes place in a more structured manner, such as by email. Often, in a high-conflict child custody litigation, the Court will step in and order the mom and dad to abide by a parallel parenting arrangement. But parents are also free to employ this method on their own, without a court order. Typically, a parallel parenting arrangement includes some or all of the following:
- Communication between parents must be by email, rather than by phone, text message, or in person. This allows the parents to think first and avoid making a knee-jerk comment that may be hurtful or angry -- which is wise, because any remark you put in an email could later be read by a judge, and it might come back to bite you.
- The parenting-time schedule must be in writing and strictly enforced. No flexibility. No trading days or weekends. No negotiation. Just stick to the schedule. Since both parents know that they must stick to the schedule there is less opportunity for conflict and hostility.
- The parents may keep a log of the children’s activities and/or medical issues during their scheduled time. Then the parent who has the children will then give the updated log to the other parent at the end of his or her parenting time, when the children are exchanged. Sending a log back and forth is a good way for the parents to keep each other informed about how the children are doing, while at the same time minimizing personal contact. But the hard-and-fast rule for writing a log is this: No editorializing. No sarcastic comments. No put-downs. Just stick to the facts.
- Each parent is responsible for obtaining information from the children’s school, including report cards, schedules, etc. The parents should attend parent-teacher conference, performances, and events separately and have as little contact with each other as possible.
- The parents should take turns having the children for birthdays; or split the day so that each parent has his/her separate time with the birthday boy or girl. Parents should not attend birthday parties together if they cannot get along -- and if they do they should remain cordial and have as little contact with each other as possible, so as to reduce conflict and spare the children the disappointment of having their special day ruined by their parents fighting.
- Each parent must come to terms with the fact that during the time the children are in the care of the other parent they may be on a different schedule, have different bedtimes, eat different foods, participate in different activities, and be disciplined in a different manner. Obviously, neglect or abuse by a parent cannot be tolerated. But, short of a dangerous situation, you may have to accept that your “ex” has a much different parenting style than your own, and that it’s OK. If you parent consistently, then the children will know what to expect when in your home.
- It can be helpful for the parents to meet on a regular basis (monthly, quarterly, or every six months) with a counselor, a child psychologist, or a Parenting Coordinator to discuss problem issues and/or to learn how to stay on the same page in parenting their mutual children. An expert can provide useful information and ideas, while helping the parents learn to communicate better and reduce the level of conflict
- Above all, the parents should not place the children in the middle of their marital or post-marital problems. Parents should not argue in the presence of the children. They should not badmouth the other parent to the children. They should not talk to them inappropriately about their legal case or show them court documents. And they should not use the children as messengers or go-betweens to communicate with the other parent. Remember, you are the parent. Your job is to protect the children. So, let the kids be kids, and keep them out of your adult disputes.
Parallel Parenting is often the best and sometimes the only way for high-conflict couples to co-parent. It is not uncommon that, with the passage of time, the conflict between the parties will calm and the situation will improve to the point where they are able to communicate without anger and begin to co-parent cooperatively.
If you are caught up in a high-conflict situation and want to increase the odds that your children will grow up to be happy, healthy, and well-adjusted adults then you should consider learning the technique of “Parallel Parenting.”
Gary J. Frank is a Family Law Attorney and Mediator with over thirty years of experience in dealing in divorce, custody, legal decision-making, and parenting-time issues. For many years he acted as a Judge Pro Tempore in the Maricopa County Superior Court, which gave him an insight into the inner workings of the courts that many attorneys lack. In addition to representing Family Law clients in litigation, we are also willing to help people by working with them on a Limited-Scope or Consultation-Only basis. Our office is located in the Biltmore area of central Phoenix, with satellite offices in Scottsdale and Paradise Valley, Arizona. We can be reached by telephone (602-383-3610); or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also reach us through our website at www.garyfranklaw.com. If you are in need of a consultation regarding any area of Family Law, contact us today. We’d be happy to help.