Which is Right for your Family?

Divorce transforms the spousal relationship into one based on the joint enterprise of parenting, governed by custody schedules and decision-making arrangements. There are two basic approaches to this new relationship, cooperative and parallel parenting. The appropriate model depends on the parents’ ability to contain their conflict. Where they can, cooperative parenting, or “co-parenting,” preferred, but parallel parenting may be necessary to avoid potential for conflict.

Cooperative Parenting

Co-parenting requires a greater degree of direct communication between parents. So, this approach depends upon a respectful relationship and effective conflict management. It allows for the benefit of shared decision-making and flexibility in scheduling.

When co-parenting is safe, possible, and successfully executed, it can provide greater benefits for children. Higher levels of cooperation tend to result in more time and better relationships with fathers. A cooperative relationship between parents adds a bridge of support on which children can freely move back and forth between their parents and their homes.

Parallel Parenting

Parallel parenting is needed to protect children from the risk of conflict. Where conflict cannot be contained, clear boundaries eliminate points of contact that create potential for conflict. Scheduling and decision-making arrangements are strictly adhered to with no expectation of flexibility or negotiation. Parenting is done independently at each home, and each parent has total responsibility for the children while in that parent’s care. Though there is little contact between parents, children remain able to benefit from having both parents remain an active part of their lives.

Over time, parents may adjust parenting strategies as their relationship adjusts. Some parents are able to move from parallel parenting toward co-parenting over time as their emotions become less intense and they develop the skills to manage anger and conflict.

Tips for Successful Joint Parenting

  • Contain Conflict. Work to disengage emotionally from the other parent, and work toward a more positive relationship. Expecting appreciation, praise, or emotional support from the other parent may be unrealistic. Attributing bad motives to behavior may be unfair. Realize the pain of separation from the children extends to the other parent too. Never allow conflict to spill over in front of the children.
  • Create a Businesslike Relationship. Treat the other parent as a respected colleague based on a relationship of collaboration, courtesy, and mutual respect. Use courteous business practices, and keep communications respectful, clear, and brief. Stay away from personal issues and focus on the business of the children. Co-parents may want to schedule a short call at a regular time each week focused on the children’s needs, information sharing, schedule changes, or plans for future activities.
  • Use a Problem-Solving Approach. Address concerns without blame, but work toward creating effective, durable solutions in the children’s best interests using a collaborative approach.
  • Focus on the Children. Keep adult emotions in check so that children’s feelings can be heard and their needs can be met. Children can feel caught between parents when used as a messenger, spy, or delivery person. These are adult responsibilities better handled directly between parents.
  • Support the Other Parent’s Relationship. Encourage the children’s healthy relationship with the other parent. Maintain an attitude of noninterference. Do not plan activities for the children on the other parent’s time with them, and any request to do so should be made well in advance.

By providing for minimal conflict, either approach lays the basis for responsible parenting that well-adjusted children need. As long as children experience relative cooperation with little conflict, their foundational relationship with each parent is also likely to be more relaxed, secure, and positive. With the proper attitude, children will have the added security of knowing that it is acceptable and important to have positive relationships with both parents.

About the Author: Katie Berry, a collaboratively trained lawyer, chose to change her specialty after collaborative divorce helped stabilize the snowballing effects of her family crisis. Katie has her own legal practice in Dallas, TX and successfully co-parents her two adopted sons, aged 12 and 19, with her former husband since their divorce in 2013. 

Source: Putting Children First: Proven Parenting Strategies for Helping Children Thrive Through Divorce, by JoAnne Pedro-Carroll, Ph.D. (2010).

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