Parallel parenting

Parallel parenting

As family lawyers, we often use the term co-parenting but what about those high conflict cases when this is just not possible?

This is where parallel parenting comes in.

Why not simply co-parent?

Particularly in high conflict intractable parental disputes, there may be a desire for either the father or the mother to oust the other from the child’s life, especially in terms of decision making.  This will usually not be in the children’s best interests, nor will it be permissible when both parents hold parental responsibility.

It may be that one or other parents has suffered domestic abuse at the hands of the other and cannot countenance having communication going forward and worries that the expectation to co-parent will simply enable an extension of the abuse to continue past separation and even for the duration of the child’s minority.

It may be that one of the parents displays signs of narcissism, making it extremely difficult, if not impossible to co-parent.

Sometimes, the parents, try as they might, simply cannot communicate effectively. They may have tried mediation, co-parenting therapy, parenting courses and so on but the communication is still challenging.

How can parallel parenting help?

Engaging in an agreement to parent in parallel will give the parents space to continue with their parental duties and rights but with an agreement to limit contact and interaction with one another. Effectively, the parents would disengage with each other as much as possible, thereby reducing the chance for conflict and sometimes also ensuring the safety of one or both the parents and minimising distress for the children.

It may be that parallel parenting is a stepping stone to a more workable co-parenting situation in due course, when the parents have healed from the emotional trauma of the separation. However, in the meantime parallel parenting gives the parents space and acceptance to carry on being a parent, despite separation.

How does it work?

The intricacies of the agreement should be recorded in a parenting plan, which should cover as many eventualities as can be envisaged. Ensuring that every base is covered will serve to minimise the stress not only for the parents but also for the children.

The agreement should be straightforward and precise. The detail should cover everything from when the parents will each spend time with the children, how pick up and drop off  will be dealt with, how doctor’s  and dentist appointments are handled,  how the financial arrangements for the children’s activities are shared, how communications are dealt with and what the restrictions are on communications, whether the communications should be by text, Whatsapp or e-mail or whether it is best to communicate via a parenting app, such as My Family Wizard. The list is non-exhaustive and as much detail as possible should be agreed and recorded so that there is no room left for any doubt.

It may be that the parents would benefit from the services of a mediator to agree the terms together in a safe space, but with the benefits of a trained professional who can then set out the agreements in a Memorandum of Understanding that each can refer to going forward.

What else may assist?

The feelings of anger, guilt, shame and disappointment stemming from the relationship breakdown and perhaps the impact of the abuse suffered in the course of the relationship may necessitate external help by way of therapy for the individual parent. Struggling with negative emotions may hamper the ability of the parents to work together in any guise, whether as a co-parent or as a parallel parent and additional support from a family psychologist may be required.

It is always hoped that eventually the parents can work together effectively and amicably but we should all as family lawyers be cognisant that every separation and every client is different and sometimes an alternative to co-parenting is required. The physical and emotional safety of our clients, and their children, must come first.

Grainne Fahy, Partner and Head of Family Law at law firm BLM

Grainne Fahy, Partner and Head of Family Law at BLM

Grainne Fahy is a Partner and Head of Family Law team in London and the South of England at law firm BLM, a top 50 law firm in the City of London. She has practised family law exclusively since 2005 and now specialises in all aspects of private family law, including divorce and dissolution, financial remedies, private children matters, trust of land matters, cohabitation agreements, separation agreements, nuptial agreements and enforcements. Her client base is medium to ultra-high net worth and her cases often include international aspects. Grainne’s focus is on matrimonial and non-matrimonial finances and she has a wealth of experience in cases with extensive assets, both in value and quantity. She also acts in Children Act matters and currently has an exceptionally high success rate in international relocation cases. Grainne is accredited by Resolution as a specialist family lawyer with particular specialisms in Private Law Children and Advanced Financial Provision 1. She is also a fellow of the prestigious International Association of Family Lawyers.

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