When Co-Parenting Fails, What’s the Next Step?

If you are no longer able to amicably make decisions about your child with your former spouse/partner, it might be time to try out “parallel parenting.” Instead of each parent sharing the decision-making for their child in every respect as in a traditional joint custody arrangement, in a parallel parenting regime, parents assume full decision-making responsibility for different domains. For example, one parent will be solely responsible for all medical and religious decisions concerning the child, while the other parent is solely responsible for all decisions concerning the child’s education and extra-curricular activities.

Courts have awarded parallel parenting in high conflict relationships where it is too conflicted for them to share decision-making with one another, but not so conflicted that the parents are unable to make the right decisions concerning major issues for their child.

Through allocating clear areas of decision-making between the parents, parallel parenting can give the child the benefit of maintaining each parent’s involvement in decisions in his or her life. For this arrangement to be successful both parents must be equally competent and their lack of cooperation must not affect their child’s best interests.

The Ontario Court of Appeal has held that parallel parenting should only be ordered where there is evidence that the parents can communicate effectively with each other. In the absence of evidence of the ability to co-parent, one parent may be awarded sole custody. However, the Ontario Court of Appeal has also upheld orders for parallel parenting where the parents have had serious difficulties dealing with each other. Notwithstanding these difficulties, the parents in these cases were caring, competent, and beneficially involved in their child’s life.

A parallel parenting regime may therefore be suitable even where both parents have difficulty communicating and reaching a consensus regarding their child’s upbringing, yet both parents love their child equally and it would be in the child’s best interests for each parent to play an equally active role in the child’s life. Parallel parenting should also be considered where it is likely that an order for sole custody will be abused.

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