Deeper Dive into Co-parenting vs Parallel Parenting


Deeper Dive into Co-parenting vs Parallel Parenting

Are you wondering if co-parenting or parallel parenting is right for you? In this episode, we'll be diving deeper into the differences between co-parenting and parallel parenting to help you decide which is right for you.

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[00:00] Erin Birt: Welcome to the Restorative Divorce podcast, where we focus on all things divorce and parenting related. To help you find clarity, stay informed, and stay out of family court. With 20 plus years of family law experience, our attorney and mediator, Erin Birt, has seen too many times how family court will negatively impact your health, your relationship with your kids, and your wallet. This podcast aims to turn that around and empower our listeners to take back control of their family law process and their lives by working with divorced professionals that seek to help and not hurt. Our goal is to provide you with expert tips that you can implement today to restore your finances, emotional well being and coparenting skills. Of course, our team at is always here to customize a restorative divorce plan for you, but for now, listen to this episode to get help tooday.

Co-parenting vs Parallel Parenting

[01:02] Erin Birt: We wanted to talk more in depth about an interesting topic: co parenting versus parallel parenting. What do those terms mean? What are some factors that would have a family be more of a co parenting family versus a parallel parenting family? And maybe some case examples that we've seen and how both, while different, can be successful parenting styles for unique families. And so we actually have a blog that we recently posted about this topic at, so you can go there to get a great intro into this topic. But we thought we'd spend some time today doing a bit of a deeper dive into what is coparenting, what is parallel parenting, and how might those different types of parenting styles be introduced and used by families that are separating or divorcing? Tyler, have you ever heard of co parenting and parallel parenting?

[02:12] Tyler Birt: Not until recently, after having posted the blog and kind of doing some research on it. When we typically talk about separation, family separating and parenting, co parenting or working together, I haven't heard of parallel parenting before until recently because we generally deal with there's two parties and a child or children involved and you need to both parent. So it never really seemed to be discussed that much, the terms of it, but it's very interesting.

[02:56] Erin Birt: I agree that it hasn't been talked that much, that it's a popular phrase. I know it just because I deal with parenting styles and recommendations for parenting styles all of the time, but I would say the general public probably hasn't heard too much about parallel parenting. And I notice it when I just talk to families at events that they might not know what I do, but they're talking about their relationship with the other parent. And I have heard comments that I'm frustrated. Illinois just focuses on co parenting and they think that parents after divorce should be able to talk and discuss and decide and that this is in the best interest of the children. And so sometimes I hear a very negative reaction to the term co parenting, but I don't hear people talking about another style, parallel parenting. Yeah, parallel parenting might take some of the frustration out of co parenting.

[04:04] Tyler Birt: I think it will and could. And I know you're going to talk about it just a bit more and you can help explain parallel parenting, but I can understand the frustration because the divorce separation process, the legal aspect of it, right, as we always talk about, is very life changing and there's a lot of emotions going on. And so when people hear the term co parenting, when they very much in the moment dislike the other parent for whatever reasons, it can lead to negative reinforced emotions regarding the subject. Even though we all know that both parents, they're always going to be parents and one way or another they have to handle raising the child or in children throughout the years, right.

Coparenting Styles

[05:08] Erin Birt: And we are here as professionals to help them determine what is a good parenting style for keeping the children in a safe environment, observing their parents, either interactions being positive or if we have to limit those interactions to again, keep the children in a safe environment, not seeing negative behaviors or high conflict behaviors. There are many different styles that we will recommend and it is always for the best interest of the child. So co parenting, that's a heavy word. It has many different meanings to people that are either in the divorce process or thinking about divorce. But co parenting can actually encompass many different things. And co parenting doesn't necessarily mean we are sitting together, holding hands, saying we're no longer married, but we're happy parents. No, it's a different type of relationship. You are co parents. You need to communicate about your children primarily and that's really all you have to communicate about. And we help parents determine how best to communicate and then parallel parenting without getting into the differences too much. Yet parallel parenting is something that we're just talking about a little bit more now, but it's just another style of essentially being co parents, but you might have some clear cut decision making responsibilities so that the child benefits from that parenting style. So at the end of the day, we're not trying to push everybody into a positive co parenting relationship that is aspirational that is what we all want. But if it just can't happen know there's other parenting styles such as parallel parenting that might work better and be more in the best interest for the child than forcing reluctant parents into a positive coparenting relationship. So looks like you maybe wanted to say something, Tyler?

[07:24] Tyler Birt: Well, I was just going to say I think maybe most people kind of understand the co parent formula. I thought maybe you could give a brief description of parallel parenting.

Parallel Parenting Style

[07:43] Erin Birt: Definitely. And sometimes you have to compare and contrast the two in order to understand them better. But when we're looking at coparenting versus parallel parenting, sometimes an easy way to understand it is low conflict families might have a better chance of success with Coparenting responsibilities and high conflict parents might have a better chance of success of parenting their shared children with parallel parenting. And so a description of parallel parenting would be that we have clear cut responsibilities for decision making and for parenting time or your visitation schedule with your child. And in parallel parenting, a lot of times families are high conflict. They struggle with direct communication, they might struggle with incorporating extended family into activities for the child, school activities for the child, doctor's appointments for the child. And they also might have a hard time attending events together for the child. Not only just making decisions about activities, events, medical things, but they might also have a hard time just being with one another either at activities or pickup or drop off. And so parallel parenting has been developed to help the child not be exposed to those interactions between the parents that have been problematic in the past and that we haven't been able to improve upon. And it's causing more harm to the child to see these high conflict interactions, whether they're communications, whether they're doing drop off and pickup, whether they're at joint activities. And so with parallel parenting we come up with a specific plan and the schedule is going to be determined based upon everybody's activities, based upon the parent schedules. But there will be clear cut times, just like in Coparenting, of when the child will be with each parent. The difference is that when you have the child in a parallel parenting agreement, you make those day to day decisions for the child. If you've been allocated decision making responsibilities for medical care on the days you have that child, you're making appointments to take that child to the pediatrician or to the doctor, to the dentist. And you get to make those decisions. You do it on your time. You make the decisions in real time when the doctor asks you or the professional asks you what do we want to do for next steps? And you will still have a responsibility to notify the other parent, but you probably would do that through a parenting app rather than picking up the phone and calling the other parent because that just invites high conflict communication. And so parallel parenting truly is having specific time and specific decision making responsibilities for a child to minimize or communication or interactions between the parents and not exposing the child to that. So some resources that we have available that you can even read more about on our website, those parenting apps become extremely important in a parallel community. Excuse me, a parallel parenting situation and the two that you see most frequently in Illinois will be our family wizard and talking parents in a parallel.

[11:35] Tyler Birt: We've discussed those on other podcasts I believe we have.

[11:40] Erin Birt: They're great tools for both co parenting and parallel parenting. But parallel parenting you probably will have a court order that says all communication needs to be through those two apps. Whereas maybe in co parenting, where we have lower conflict families, families that can talk to one another, that can pick up the phone and just discuss the child or something new that's happened for the child, and you're able to talk or text and there's not problematic communication, but maybe they rely on those tools, those apps, for scheduling purposes, just to keep everybody organized, but in parallel. You will see that they have to have all communication through those apps. And again, it's to protect the child from seeing those communications. Because the apps are password protected, the child should not have access to those communications. They hopefully aren't hearing you mutter or respond to any communications. The parent should just be typing what needs to be communicated and leave it at that. And so that's just a broad summary about parallel parenting, but it's very specific. Everybody knows their time with the child, everybody knows their responsibilities for making decisions for the child and there is minimal interaction between the two parents. Now co parenting, we've discussed many times it is what everybody hopes to be able to do post separation, that you can have good communication, that you can be present at joint events for the child, that if and when other family members come into the child's life, that that person can be accepted and included in all of these events as well. And co parenting, you might have joint decision making responsibilities, you still need to check in with the other parent, discuss and decide next steps. But we see co parenting more in lower conflict families. And Tyler, I think you asked earlier can somebody transition from parallel parenting to co parenting?

[13:57] Tyler Birt: Yeah.

Can you transition from parallel parenting to co-parenting?

[14:03] Erin Birt: It depends if parents can put the work into truly focusing on themselves. Why? They might react in a manner that can be high conflict with the other parent if they're able to improve the focus of their communication. And that focus should only be on child related matters after time. Yes, parents can transition from parallel parenting to co parenting. It takes time, it takes effort. People might rely on a parenting coach or a parenting coordinator to help them improve their co parenting skills. And so yes, they can transition from parallel parenting to co parenting. And hopefully that is how we transition. Now sometimes people transition from co parenting to parallel parenting. Sure, at the start you might not know how your parenting relationship is going to go. Maybe the child was too young to have any type of history or predictors of how that parenting relationship would be. And so you might have a co parenting agreement that after years or months you realize it isn't working. And then you might transition to a parallel parenting. So these parenting styles are fluid, but you should have a parenting plan, specify exactly what you're doing so everybody knows what they're supposed to be doing well.

[15:39] Tyler Birt: And I think you mentioned it earlier, or at least you mentioned it to me. Kind of the high view difference is high conflict families and low conflict families. Right. It seems like co parenting, the parents don't have to like each other, but there's low conflict. They can get along enough to make joint decisions, decide when and where this and that for the child. Whereas high conflict families, the parents, just for whatever reason there's a lot of reasons, but just for whatever reason, the thought of the other party makes them mad, and they can't just put it aside at any time. And it's concerning because the high conflict families that bleeds into the children being aware and we've always said the children shouldn't be part of the separation process. It's hard enough for the children to have to change their lives around from what they've only known depending on their age and these two styles. And the parallel parenting can really help the children understand the boundaries.

[17:12] Erin Birt: Right. And there's going to be boundaries and rules for one parent's house, and there might be different boundaries and rules for the other parent's house, but the child will understand the consistency in the household. Instead of I'm hearing my parents fight about the differences between the households or what's going on at one household shouldn't be going on at the other household, and it invites problems. Parallel parenting, the two households essentially work as two entities, but they do have to update each other about what's going on with the child so that when the child transitions to the other house, the parent's aware if there's any medical changes, academic changes, any behavioral changes. So the parent can then understand what's going on. But again, that communication comes through a written parenting app, notify the parent. Let the other parent get that message, and then they can address those issues on their parenting time.

[18:19] Tyler Birt: Yeah. And just the last couple of minutes here, do you have any kind of examples that you could share kind of about the two at least parallel parenting? I mean, I have an example of a co parenting situation that I see, and I see it from afar, so I can just kind of broadly talk about it.

Examples of Parallel Parenting

[18:48] Erin Birt: I think that's a great idea because then our listeners or viewers, it might resonate with them, or they might find that they're in a similar situation. And so by talking about maybe some case examples of things that we've seen or experienced, if you find yourself or that resonates with you, then you can weigh is co parenting appropriate for you, or would parallel parenting be appropriate for you and the other parent? And so, Tyler, if you're going to speak to co parenting, an example that you have witnessed, I'll talk a little bit about high conflict families that are moving towards parallel parenting. Okay. Recently, I have worked with families and one particular family that the two parents are just opposites. They both love their child, but they're opposites. And so when they talk to one another, it's very difficult to see past how different the other parent is. Their communication styles are different. The way they analyze a question or a need of the child is different. How quickly or not so quickly they respond to requests for information or questions are different. And so it's extremely challenging for those parents to communicate and it spills over a lot in front of the child. The child has known for a very long time that the parents cannot easily talk to one another on the phone or through text. And the child, from the child's perspective will say, my parents hate each other, my parents cannot talk to one another, they hate each other. I don't want them to come to my school event because they hate each other. And that's from the child's perspective, just through seeing two very different parents unable to communicate. And that's just one example. This particular family also allows their differences to spill over into doctors appointments. Now COVID has really made the importance of both parents trying to be involved in medical decisions or medical appointments. And this particular family would try to attend when the provider would allow both parents to be there and the parents would start to fight in the doctor's appointment. Now, from the parents perspective, they're trying to be advocates for their child, but they're also disagreeing strongly with the other parents and there's no resolution. And to put the doctor in the position of a mediator is not the doctor's role. And if a child is sitting there already uncomfortable in a doctor's appointment and now witnessing their parents fighting again, this is not in the best interest of the child. The child's care is going to be delayed. The child will be reluctant to go to appointments. The parents will be reluctant to set appointments because they don't want to fight. And so those are just two examples where parents are unable to move forward and perhaps we need to come up with a very specific plan. And so in this particular case, they will work with a parenting coordinator. And you can learn more about parenting coordination at our website. Again, there's a lot of details there. We've done, I believe, other podcasts as well about parenting coordination. But parenting coordinators are a temporary solution to families. So they try to work with parents for three months, six months, nine months, twelve months. They're not a long term solution, but they're like training wheels. Parenting coordinators are teaching you how to communicate, teaching you how to focus on the child. And so the solution for this family that I'm talking about, they will start working with a parenting coordinator. And they have also divided some of their co parenting responsibilities, where dad's going to be taking over education decision making responsibilities, and mom is going to be taking over medical decision making responsibilities. They will update one another on their parenting app, but they actually don't have to talk to one another at all about what this particular child needs for school or for medical decision making. And we have a very specific schedule set up for the child. And while you would think with parallel parenting, maybe one parent has all of the time with the child because of the high conflict family dynamic, that's not necessarily true in this particular family, the child is actually going to be frequently seeing both parents. What just happens is that the drop offs and pickups are structured where neither parent is going to be leaving their vehicle, the child will just be going up to the other parent's house. So we have to be very specific about interactions so that the child doesn't observe those interactions. But the child has frequent time with both parents and the child knows that he does certain activities and certain things with his dad and he knows that he does certain activities and certain things with his mom. And my understanding is he's very happy that he's not seeing the parents fight. Right, I bet.

[24:37] Tyler Birt: Yeah.

[24:38] Erin Birt: So it's an ongoing process. They need a bit of extra resources: The app, not all families can use Parenting Coordinators but this family is. But having specifics in your parenting plan for parallel parenting is a necessity.

Example of Co-Parenting

[24:54] Tyler Birt: Yeah. Well, to give you an example of a co parenting situation that I've recently witnessed and it was interesting to see it. I don't know the details of how it's all structured or whatnot, but I was recently at a meeting, a kids meeting, and the one child in this particular case was there with three people there's, two women and a man. Right. And so the meeting went on and then we kind of introduced everybody afterwards and they introduced themselves as this child's mom and dad and dad's significant other. To look at them together, you would just think it was one family. So it was very interesting. And the way they talked about the child, it was very child focused. I learned they live in different towns and have different schedules. However, there was no conflict to bring it back to our conversation, at least on the outward appearance of being very little conflict, putting the child first, putting the child in the best position to succeed, all those kind of attributes with co parenting, you would hope to see, and I think what the courts hope to see all the time. Right. Like I said, we always hear about co parenting and separated parents and divorced parents, things like that, and how the dynamics work together. And this was just a very interesting case that I witnessed and that I noticed being in our field, that it was very surprising how well everybody got along. And I just think I've seen the child again and he doesn't seem to show any signs of high conflict at home or anything. So it's, you know, it's very interesting to see.

[27:29] Erin Birt: And that's great to hear. I mean, the fact that they've they've hit all of those kind of telltale signs of a successful co parenting relationship, that they're putting their child first, that they're able to go jointly to activities and that they have brought into the child's life other supportive people and included that person in some of these joint meetings. Those are signs that co parenting is going well, not only for the parents, but for the child. And it is great to hear. That is really great to hear. I just want to point out that parallel parenting is not less than it is not less than a successful coparenting relationship. It's really just trying to custom tailor a parenting style to the dynamics of a family. Marriages end and relationships end for many different reasons. It might be that in my example, I used opposites attract for a small amount of time, and then they realize they're not compatible at all. But there are relationships that just come to a natural end, but the parents can be amicable or they can be at least respectful to one another. And so one is not necessarily parallel, doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad thing. It just means we understand the circumstances of your relationship and your family. And maybe, perhaps there have to be some different guidelines. But parallel parenting can be just as successful. You can have a well adjusted child. And that's the point of all of this, is to have a well adjusted child. And I think in both of our scenarios today, Tyler, the child in my illustration might have had a bit of a bumpy road, but he's learning that his parents are correcting some of those problems and that you can overcome those problems and hopefully he becomes more well adjusted. Go ahead.

[29:38] Tyler Birt: Yeah, I agree. I think the parallel parenting, I think it's actually a great tool and a very useful asset for the high conflict families because we want to put the child's best interest first. And if two parents can't get along for whatever reason, that can lead to not putting the child's best interest first. So I think it's a great tool, and I think the high conflict families, when they understand the tool and kind of understand the boundaries that you've talked about, then I think it can be a great tool for families to move forward.

[30:26] Erin Birt: I agree. And if anybody's listening that is contemplating or going through a separation and divorce and they would like more information or to hear an assessment as to whether a co parenting relationship or a parallel parenting relationship is appropriate for your family and your children, please contact us. We offer a free introductory telephone call and we would be more than happy to speak with you about what you can do to serve the best interests of your child.

[31:02] Erin Birt: Thanks for listening to the Restorative Divorce podcast with your hosts. Attorney and mediator Erin Birt and our paralegal, Tyler Birt. A special thanks to our contributors and to the authors of the many articles that inspire us and keep our clients informed. We hope you enjoyed our deep dive into the separation, divorce or parenting tips covered today that you can use now to help restore yourself. If you strive to improve your life or the lives of your children after a separation or divorce, join us next week when we will cover more restorative divorce topics. You can head over to to get the podcast transcripts, follow us on social media and even find more valuable family law information, all for your benefit. Get help today and work with us one on one. Contact us to set up a consultation or planning session to start rebuilding your life today. Enjoy this day and we'll see you next time.

Next steps if you need coparenting or parallel parenting?

Contact our coparenting and parallel parenting specialists at (630) 891-2478 or via our contact form on our website. We offer a free 15 minute introduction call to help give you tips for how best to get started. 

Our Attorneys

  • Erin Birt

    Since 2003, Erin N. Birt, J.D., CADC has focused her practice on pa...

  • Tyler Birt

    Since 2007, Tyler Birt has been a legal assistant and bookkeeper fo...

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