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Parallel Parenting vs Co-Parenting—What’s the Difference

By Sarah Jacobs, Esq.

When it comes to child custody arrangements in New Jersey, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Every family is different, and the way you choose to navigate child custody will need to be informed by your family’s unique situation, needs, and goals. 

With that said, it’s important to understand that in New Jersey, courts tend to prefer joint legal custody and parenting agreements that offer regular, ongoing contact with both parents. This approach is grounded in the belief that children benefit from having a relationship with both of their parents.

When it comes to sharing parenting time, the two frequently used options for child custody are co-parenting and parallel parenting

As distinct approaches to shared custody, both co-parenting and parallel parenting should prioritize your child’s best interest—but how do they actually work? Here’s a breakdown of these two approaches to parenting, as well as their pros and cons, so that you can make the right decision for your family moving forward.

What is co-parenting?

Co-parenting is when both parents assume joint (and ideally equal) responsibility for their children’s health, welfare, and education. In a co-parenting arrangement, both parties communicate with each other and typically make joint decisions regarding their parenting approach and issues like activity enrollment, schooling, religious training, etc. 

As with all parenting approaches, your child’s best interests are the top priority. With this in mind, co-parenting is helpful when parents can interact amicably and minimize tension to provide a stable, united parenting experience for your family. 

Successful co-parenting arrangements often have several strategies in place to minimize stress, where practicable, such as:

  • Both households maintain the same general rules, limits, freedoms, and discipline methods, so no parent becomes the “fun” parent while one is the “responsibilities” parent.
  • Both parents agree to a day-to-day routine (or to allow each of them to have flexibility in the different homes), as well as any reasonable modifications to the plan as life changes.
  • Both parents are honest with their child regarding their divorce but eliminate negative talk about the other parent. They encourage communication between the child and the other parent and also facilitate the relationship. 
  • Both parents model healthy behavior when dealing with conflict, helping their children build good problem-solving skills.

When it comes to co-parenting, the more detailed the plan, the better. A mediator can be a helpful third party while you develop a parenting plan and can help resolve any outstanding issues. However, if tensions are high and amicable co-parenting doesn’t seem possible, then parallel parenting might be the right choice for your family. 

What is parallel parenting?

Sometimes, the parenting approaches of both parties differ so significantly that it’s hard to find common ground. The lack of decision-making can be challenging and complex for your child if a conclusion can’t be reached. If you find it difficult to co-parent with your former spouse or partner, then parallel parenting may be a better solution for your child’s welfare. 

Parallel parenting is an arrangement in which parents limit direct contact with each other, which may be necessary if they cannot communicate with each other respectfully. While parents may share joint decision-making on schooling or their child’s extracurricular activities, day-to-day care and logistics decisions are made independently for both parties, and communication is limited to specific circumstances. 

Because your child custody and parenting time agreements will most likely determine the parenting parameters for your family for years to come (barring a child custody modification), your agreement must be drafted with the utmost care and detail.

Parents in a parallel parenting arrangement can use several strategies to promote a healthy environment for their families:

  • Communication should be business-like and non-personal, relaying only information relevant to your children’s well-being.
  • Unplanned communication is discouraged except in the case of an emergency.
  • Cultivate a healthy support system of family, friends, and fellow parents. 

While parallel parenting can be challenging to navigate at first, it can help reduce conflict and minimize stress for children. Research suggests that the quality of the relationship between co-parents can also strongly influence children’s mental and emotional well-being. In high-conflict situations, parallel parenting can benefit children through a greater sense of self-esteem, fewer long-term trust issues, and healthier models for positive, respectful relationships. 

Find the best solution for your family with an experienced child custody attorney

At Jacobs Berger, LLC, our attorneys have extensive experience drafting, modifying, and enforcing all kinds of child custody and parenting time agreements throughout New Jersey. 

We seek to ensure that your individual needs, interests, and rights are properly taken into account in any parenting agreement and guide you through the process to make the right choices for yourself and your children.

Contact our firm today to discuss your child custody and parenting time needs and concerns in a confidential case assessment.

Contact Our Morristown Attorneys Today

At Jacobs Berger, our attorneys are experienced in protecting our clients across Madison, Randolph, Tewksbury, Morristown, and the greater Morris County area in all family law-related issues.

To schedule a strategic planning session with one of our experienced team members regarding your particular case, please contact us online or through our Morristown, NJ office at (973) 354-4506.