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Should you co-parent or parallel parent post-divorce?

In many states, including here in Illinois, there is a growing consensus that kids often do better after divorce if they can maintain frequent contact with both parents. Sometimes, this means awarding joint custody. Sometimes, it means giving the non-custodial parent significant visitation rights.

In either case, the two parents need to find a way to put differences aside in order to continue parenting their child or children after divorce. This is not easy to do, nor is it always possible (it takes commitment on both sides). In today's post, we'll discuss two similar but distinct methods of parenting after divorce: co-parenting and parallel parenting.

Co-parenting is a scenario in which a divorced couple is able to work together peacefully in order to continue raising their children in a cohesive manner. It involves frequent communication, a detailed parenting plan, flexibility and a commitment to put the children's needs above any personal differences the couple may have with one another. As you might expect, co-parenting can be very difficult, and not all couples are able to work together peacefully and collaboratively.

That brings us to "parallel parenting." The goal with this arrangement is to allow a child to maintain relationships with both parents (who don't get along with each other) while minimizing the child's exposure to conflict or hostility.

Like co-parenting, parallel parenting involves a situation in which both parents have frequent access to the children and must make parenting decisions on behalf of the kids. The main difference, however, is that parallel parenting severely limits communication between parents to only what is absolutely necessary. It also focuses on using modes of communication (such as email) that are likely to result in the fewest conflicts or misunderstandings.

Parallel parenting requires a very detailed custody agreement so that each parent fully understands the terms and can follow them without needing to regularly communicate with the other. It is also a good idea to write provisions for how any future disputes should be settled. Often, the help of a neutral third party is necessary.

If your pending custody agreement calls for some version of shared custody, please discuss co-parenting and parallel parenting with your family law attorney. 

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