Child custody policies and practices have changed significantly over the years. It was once thought that, after divorce, mothers were “always” awarded child custody. Then, many people observed that even in cases where fathers were awarded custody, courts still focused on sole/primary custody being awarded to one parent.
The extent to which these generalizations were true is debatable. But courts are bound to make child custody decisions in the best interests of children. And these days, that increasingly means keeping both parents in a child’s life whenever possible. Therefore, joint custody and co-parenting are now common.
Kids usually benefit from maintaining relationships with both parents, with one important caveat: they need to get along. Divorced parents who continue to have a high-conflict relationship with one another can cause serious and long-term harm to their children.
So is there a middle ground between sole custody and blissful co-parenting? Some experts believe that there is. Instead of co-parenting, exes may be able to develop a “parallel parenting” relationship. This arrangement relies on two factors: detailed planning and strategically limited communication.
A detailed parenting time plan is important even after an amicable divorce, but especially so when parents have a difficult time getting along. Taking the time and focus to negotiate details now will likely reduce the risk of serious disagreements later.
Parallel parenting also recognizes that communication between parents is necessary but should be limited to only what is productive. If you and your ex cannot peacefully talk face to face, perhaps emailing and texting should be the default methods of communication. Scheduling phone conversations may also be better than having them “on the fly,” as each of you can take time to emotionally prepare.
Finally, as with all co-parenting relationships, it’s important to never put your child or children in the middle of an argument or use them as communication liaisons. They have the right to enjoy a peaceful relationship with both parents without the responsibilities of co-managing.
Parallel parenting is not easy. But then again, neither is any other type of parenting. If you are getting divorced and worry that custody and parenting time are going to be issues with your ex-spouse, please share these concerns with your attorney early in the process.