Parallel Parenting Plans

by Annette Burns on May 15, 2012

In 2008, Matthew Sullivan[1] wrote what is just a fantastic article in the Journal of Child Custody.[2]   Titled Coparenting and the Parenting Coordination Process, it pulls together the essence of parenting coordination, its purpose and reason for being, and the parenting structures and characteristics that are best addressed through parenting coordination.    (Note that the article must be purchased by non-subscribers to the JCC.)     The article stresses parallel parenting as the most logical and practical alternative to high-conflict, high engagement coparenting.   Sullivan’s article goes into great detail about the levels of engagement and conflict and how those levels can be adjusted with the help of an effective Parenting Coordinator.

Relating to parallel parenting, parents are often relieved to hear the findings of Joan Kelly’s research to the effect that children whose parents engage in low conflict parallel parenting also appear to thrive, as long as they have adequate parenting in both homes and well articulated parenting agreements . . .[3] (Emphasis added)

Parents’ expectations for post-divorce coparenting are often too high, with one or both parents feeling like failures if they are not engaged in amicable parenting banter with the other parent with great frequency and enthusiasm.   Part of the job of the Parenting Coordinator is to help adjust the parents’ expectations and help them realize that high (frequent) engagement with each other may be the problem, not the solution.   Parallel parenting supports low engagement between the parents, to the benefit of the children.    Good parenting may not mean daily or weekly contact with the other parent; good parenting can mean staying away from the other parent as much as possible.   See Dr. Philip Stahl’s article on parallel parenting here for more specifics and information about that process.

To me, the most important part of Kelly’s statement above is the need for “well articulated parenting agreements”.   As a PC, I am constantly lamenting that parents I work with were doomed from the start by a “horrible”, “pathetic”, “miserable” Parenting Plan (or whatever other derogatory adjectives I come up with on occasion).   (See my previous post’s rant on vague and useless JCA provisions.)

Rather than continuing to complain about Doomsday Parenting Plans, I set myself a goal:   to create a Parenting Plan that I don’t consider lacking and that already includes many of the Recommendations I am forced to make in many/ most PC cases as soon as I’m appointed.   If I already know what holes generally need to be plugged in a “lacking” Parenting Plan, I want to plug those holes up front, and then see what other leaks spring up.

To that end, I told myself that a good Parenting Plan:

  • Is specific as to days and TIMES of day;
  • Doesn’t require a lot of communication between the parents to figure out who has the children and when;
  • Uses the word “reasonable” as little as possible, because high-conflict parents don’t agree on its definition;
  • Does not use the word “flexible”, for the same reason as above;
  • Sets expectations for the autonomy of each parent, without undue influence from the other;
  • Covers most of the complaints and disagreements I hear about vacation scheduling with the children;
  • Recognizes the assumption that each parent will exercise good parental judgment when caring for the children, without interference from the other; and
  • Both allows and requires each parent to keep himself and herself aware of the children’s school work, activities, schedules, medical care and other important information, so that one parent is not the gatekeeper for all information.
Wish me luck.

 



[1] Matthew Sullivan, Ph.D.    See www.CaliforniaParentingCoordinator.com

[2] Journal of Child Custody, Vol. 5 (1/2), 2008; Matthew J. Sullivan, Ph.D.

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