Parallel Parenting

Parallel Parenting

In a contentious divorce that involves underage children, the divorcing parents may consider a parallel parenting child custody arrangement. When a child custody agreement is modeled upon principles of parallel parenting, divorced parents are able to maintain an independent relationship with their children and have little need to interact with each other.

If you expect that it will be a challenge to establish a child custody agreement that meets the needs of you and your children, the child custody attorneys at Charles R. Ullman & Associates may be able to help you. Attorney Charles Ullman is a North Carolina State Bar-certified Family Law Specialist who understands the complexities of divorce and what is required to develop a workable child custody agreement. He has helped many parents from throughout Raleigh and Wake County resolve child custody issues with creative child custody agreements.

The legal team at Charles R. Ullman & Associates has the skill, experience, and compassion to protect your and your children’s interests. Call us today or use our online contact form to schedule a consultation at our office in the historic Wyatt House in downtown Raleigh. We serve clients throughout Wake County.

What Is Parallel Parenting?

Under a parallel parenting child custody arrangement, each parent maintains an independent relationship with their child while interacting with the other parent as little as possible. Each parent is able to exercise their own parental judgment when their child is with them instead of obtaining the other parent’s consent.

A parallel parenting arrangement may be a good approach to shared custody for parents who are unable to communicate with one another or who have too much conflict to work together as a co-parenting team. The agreement for a parallel parenting plan may even specify how the parents communicate and relegate most matters to texts, email, or a co-parenting app.

While the primary objective of parallel parenting is to minimize contact between the parents, they are expected to come to an agreement when serious situations arise or on issues such as the child’s education, health, and safety.

Co-Parenting vs. Parallel Parenting

A co-parenting agreement is based on the idea that the divorced parents will work together to raise their child. It requires regular communication, discussions, and compromise as they make decisions about how their child will live.

Parents in a co-parenting arrangement act as a team to provide the upbringing and education that they have agreed is best for their child.

Parents in a parallel parenting arrangement are on separate parenting paths that proceed in the same direction but do not come together.

Benefits of Parallel Parenting

Because a parallel parenting plan allows each parent to have an independent relationship with their child, it should reduce conflict between the former spouses. For example, if one parent has a last-minute idea for a trip during their weekend with their child, there’s no need to get permission from the other parent. The weekend unfolds without a fight.

A conflict-free joint custody arrangement also benefits the child. With less conflict, there is more stability in the child’s life. Children who are not stressed by parental conflict have fewer emotional problems and higher self-esteem and do better in school.

Over time, some divorced couples’ animosity lessens, and communication becomes easier. A parallel parenting plan can become more like co-parenting in practice, and a custody agreement can be amended as views change.

Should You Consider Parallel Parenting?

Parallel parenting involves joint custody. Your first decision when considering parallel parenting is whether your child would be better off if you had sole physical and legal custody.

Sole custody means the child lives with one parent who has the right to make decisions about the child’s daily care and upbringing without consulting the other parent. The other parent will likely have visitation rights but will be required to get permission from the custodial parent for anything that deviates from a routine established in the custody agreement.

A judge may grant sole custody if the judge determines that a parent is not fit because of the following:

  • A history of abusing or neglecting their child
  • A history of abusing their spouse
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Inability to provide a safe, stable environment
  • Debilitating physical or mental health problems

Courts in North Carolina award child custody to the person who is most fit to care for and protect the best interests of the underage child. In many cases, one parent is awarded physical custody, and the parents share legal custody (the right to make major decisions about the child’s life).

Divorcing parents may come to an agreement on child custody arrangements on their own or with the assistance of attorneys representing and protecting the interests of each adult party. Such an agreement may be filed with the court, where a judge will ratify it as a consent order that is binding and enforceable on both parties.

Parallel parenting arrangements are most appropriate in divorces where lingering resentment is the primary cause of conflict. Parallel parenting may be for you if:

  • You agree on major issues, but every discussion with your ex seems to end in a fight.
  • Your child is regularly exposed to fighting or to your anger toward your ex.
  • You find yourself withholding time with your child to punish your ex.
  • One parent is unable to allow their child to spend time with their ex without frequently calling or texting to find out how or what they are doing.

Creating a Successful Parallel Parenting Plan

The basic joint custody plan should include the following:

  • Formal schedule for shared physical custody
  • Allocation of legal custody to make major decisions regarding education, medical care, and religious teaching)
  • Holiday/vacation schedules
  • Details regarding transportation and pick-up/drop-off sites
  • The decision-making process regarding the child’s schooling and extracurricular activities
  • Medical care contingencies and decision-making process
  • Communication expectations regarding events such as accidents or delays

The parallel parenting portion of a child custody plan might have such provisions as:

  • Acceptable ways and reasons to contact one another.
  • Acceptable “check-in” times when the child is with the other parent or stipulations that the parent spending time with their child has no obligation to respond to additional calls or texts.
  • Appointment of a parenting coordinator to help the parents comply with the custody agreement/order, resolve disputes not covered in the custody agreement/order, and to minimize conflict.
  • Agreement to submit to mediation for disputes that are not settled within a specified amount of time.
  • Terms to address any additional issues between you.

As time goes by, either parent can request a modification to a court-ordered child custody agreement. If the parents agree to the modification, their attorneys can write it up and submit it to a judge for approval.

Potential Disadvantages of Parallel Parenting

Sharing physical custody of your child with your ex in a parallel parenting arrangement will ultimately mean that there are portions of your child’s life that you will not share. Inevitably, there will be big events that your ex and your child will share without you.

If your ex’s parenting style is very different from yours, the inconsistencies – different bedtimes, diet, TV habits – may become an issue as your child pushes back against the less lenient parent. However, most children of divorce learn to cope with having two homes.

Your parallel parenting arrangement will also force you to explain and enforce boundaries with your child’s teachers, doctors, coaches, and friends’ parents. You are not – and cannot be – a messenger for your ex. You’ll need them to contact each of you when they have information you need to know about your child.

Contact Our Child Custody Attorneys for Help

The compassionate child custody lawyers at Charles R. Ullman & Associates in Raleigh, NC, are dedicated to helping divorcing parents negotiate workable child custody agreements. We don’t believe in one-size-fits-all solutions. If you and your estranged spouse have trouble communicating, we can help you devise a parallel parenting arrangement that minimizes conflict with your ex and that North Carolina courts should find acceptable.

Our legal team, led by certified family law specialist Charles R. Ullman, knows the rights and protections that are built into our state’s child custody laws and the creative approaches to divorced parenting that are gaining favor among child psychologists. Call us at (919) 829-1006 or use our online contact form to set up a confidential consultation about your needs and desires today.


Charles Ullman & Associates provides you respected, experienced and knowledgeable divorce and family law attorneys. You can trust us to help you through the legal process efficiently and effectively so you can transition to the next phase of your life. Our community involvement reaches beyond charitable support of important causes. We launched our own movement in Fraternities4Family and provide scholarships to able students in need.