What is Parallel Parenting and the Parallel Parenting Rules in BC?

What is parallel parenting and how does co-parenting work in British Columbia? In BC, the default view of the legislation and our courts is that co-parenting is always the goal. A co-parenting agreement, where parents cooperate and discuss matters affecting the best interests of their children, is better for kids. That is, it is better for kids if feasible and effectively implemented because the parents are able to agree on most issues.

Most of the time, co parenting after divorce is much better than a parallel parenting plan. 

However! Co-parenting is not suitable for every family. This is particularly true when the parents engage in a high-conflict co-parenting dynamic. Take a look at our detailed explanation of how does co parenting work for more information.

A judge in BC might order parallel parenting instead of a co-parenting court order, in cases with a high level of conflict between the parents. Sometimes that conflict is so high that co parenting after divorce is totally unworkable and detrimental to the kids involved.

If you end up in court because you don’t agree as to your parenting plan, make sure you know how to file for custody.

For example, at Pathway Legal, we have seen cases where the parents are so at odds with one another that the children could not be enrolled in any extra-curricular activities. This is because the parents would have differing views on which extra-curricular activities were suitable for their kids. Other times, the parent who did not choose the activity would refuse to participate in the activity by not supporting the child in doing the activity during their parenting time. 

When parents refuse to agree upon which activities their children should be involved in, which shows they should watch, which games they should play, and which friends they should hang out with, it can end up in the parents being involved in a never-ending conflict. When this happens, kids lose out.

Mother and daughter holding hands walking together

Let’s talk about Donald and Shelly.

For their child, Madeleine, co-parenting does not work and, in fact, makes Madeleine lose out. Shelly and Donald do not get along at all. They tried co-parenting but couldn't do it well at all. This is because Donald does not like or support anything that Shelly suggests. One of the many examples of their disagreements is that Shelly loves playing the piano and believes Madeleine should take piano lessons. Shelly enrolled Madeleine in piano lessons and, to facilitate Madeleine’s progress, dropped off an electric piano keyboard at Donald’s home so that Madeleine could practice piano during her weeks while in Donald’s care. The problem was that Darren refused to take Madeleine to her lessons and refused to let Madeleine play piano in his home. He also returned the keyboard to Shelly, saying he did not want it in his home. The sole reason is that he knows piano lessons are something Shelly believes in.  

So, in cases like Darren’s and Shelly’s, the courts find that co-parenting arrangements can be unworkable and detrimental to the best interests of kids like Madeleine. In such circumstances, the court (or arbitrator) will award a parallel parenting arrangement. Parallel parenting might be the best option as a last resort when co-parenting doesn’t work.

Parallel parenting definition in BC

So, what is parallel parenting then, you ask? 

Parallel parenting is a co-parenting approach that happens when parents cannot effectively communicate and cooperate regarding the upbringing of their kids.

With parallel parenting, the focus is on minimizing the contact between the parents and as a result, reducing conflict.

Parallel parenting requires a highly detailed and structured parenting schedule, along with specific rules and guidelines as to when the parties have to make joint decisions. So, instead of parents discussing and agreeing upon significant decisions (and knowing they will never agree), the parties make decisions during their parenting time, such as bedtimes, what food the kids eat, when to do homework, etc. 

Then, they have a very structured system for joint decisions (such as what school a child will be attending). 

In such cases, as part of their parallel parenting plan, parents might use a parenting app such as We Parent or Our Family Wizard when communicating. When there is parallel parenting, the parties rarely interact in person or on the phone. If they don’t agree on joint decisions (and it is not likely that they will agree), there will be a structure in place that will assist them if they are at a stalemate regarding a decision. That decision will be referred to a third party, like a parenting coordinator, med/arbiter or arbitrator. The idea is to provide stability for the kids and reduce the ongoing negative effects of the ongoing conflict between the parents.

Parallel parenting rules - setting parallel parenting boundaries

As stated above, in cases where parallel parenting is necessary, there needs to be rules setting out the parallel parenting plan. The rules act like parallel parenting boundaries and so the Rules must be clear and not open for interpretation. They apply to the parents who cannot get along as normal co-parents.

Here are examples of some of the rules that apply to a parallel parenting plan:

  1. Communication protocols. How often and by what method are the parties to communicate if they do have to communicate regarding an issue,for example.
  2. Verbal rules:  No verbal discussions at all. 
  3. Only use written communications via email or an app. 
  4. Parenting time is specified, often to the hour.
  5. Holidays and special occasions are clearly defined, and we mean very clearly defined to the hour. 
  6. There is a drop-off and pick-up protocol, including the time, what, if anything, may be said to the other parent, etc.
  7. No disparaging remarks about the other parent in front of the kids. 
  8. Sharing of information:  Protocols regarding how information is shared and how often. 
  9. Extra-curricular activities:  How many activities should the children be involved in and specifics about which parent chooses the activity and whether the other parent supports the activity. 
  10. Medical appointments:  Who takes the children to the medical appointments, and how information is shared with the other parent, for example. 
  11. Parenting plan reviews: Specified reviews of parenting plans, often with the assistance of mediators, med/arbiters, or parenting coordinators. 
  12. Each parent provides emergency contact information. 
  13. When child support payments are to be made, and the way they are sent? Are the payments to be e-transferred by cheque, or will the parties use the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program to assist with collection and recording payments, for example. 
  14. A clear plan for what to do when a conflict arises. Do the parties go straight to mediation? Do they engage a parenting coordinator? Do they go to mediation/arbitration? Do they appear in court before a particular judge?
  15. Travel:  When a party travels, what information do they provide, and if they are taking the children, how long can they travel for, and whether or not the other parent gets to approve or deny the travel plans. 
  16. Privacy rules. For example, there might be an agreement or order that neither party attend the other party’s residence unless specifically invited to do so in writing or text.

Parallel parenting plan

Parallel parenting examples

There are many examples of parallel parenting agreements and court orders. There needs to be highly structured guidelines and rules that ensure that each parent is absolutely clear regarding what they can and cannot do. So, some examples of parallel parenting include the following: 

1. For communication protocols, here are some parallel-parenting examples:

  • No verbal interaction in front of the kids. 
  • At pick up and drop offs, only exchanges of brief “hellos” but no discussions. 
  • All communications to be done strictly by the use of software such as We Parent or Our Family Wizard.
  • All communications to be done by email, but never by text, phone calls or instant messaging unless there is an emergency. 

2. For parenting time protocols, here are some parallel-parenting examples:

  • The children will be dropped off at school at the end of one parent’s parenting time, and the other parent will pick up from school at the beginning of their parenting time. 
  • If the transition day is a non-instructional day, the parent who is transitioning out of their parenting time will drop the children off at 9 am on the transition day. 
  • Because parents will often disagree as to schedule changes there will be protocols around that too. For example, there might be wording in the agreement like this:  The schedule will be adhered to at all times unless the parties otherwise agree in writing. If the parties are unable to agree to a scheduling change in writing, the regular parenting time schedule will prevail. 

3. For parenting time protocols relating to holidays or special occasions, here is a common example of language surrounding Christmas Day (high-conflict parents agonize a lot about Christmas Day, but kids are often happy to celebrate Christmas on an extra day which is in addition to December 25 – parents are often so hung up about the December 25 celebration, that they lose sight of the fact that their kids are less concerned. Here is an example of a “Christmas” clause: 

The usual parenting time schedule will be amended on the following occasions: 

  • In odd-numbered years the Children will be with Parent A from December 24 at 12 pm until December 26 at 12 p.m. They will be with parent B from December 26 at 12 pm until December 28 at 12 pm, at which point the regular parenting time schedule will resume. 
  • In even-numbered years the Children will be with Parent B from December 24 at 12 pm until December 26 at 12 p.m. They will be with parent A from December 26 at 12 pm until December 28 at 12 pm, at which point the regular parenting time schedule will resume. 

4. Parallel parenting examples relating to extracurricular activities

  • This is another area that parents with a parallel parenting arrangement must adhere to. For example, there might be highly structured rules around a child’s involvement in extracurricular activities. Perhaps a child is to be enrolled in no more than two activities at one time, and in other cases, that the child be involved in at least two activities at all times.
  • In such cases, the parallel parenting plan will have guidelines as to how the activities are to be chosen as well as the requirement that each parent ensure their child attends all scheduled extracurricular activities during their respective parenting time regardless of whether or not they chose that particular activity.  

5. The biggest parallel parenting example relates to when parents disagree regarding a significant decision.

  • If parties are engaged in high conflict co parenting, a mechanism for resolving disputes needs to be in place. This can be a requirement that the parties attend mediation, mediation/arbitration, or that they hire a parenting coordinator. The BC Parenting Coordinator Roster lists the qualified parenting coordinators in BC. 

Parallel parenting examples demonstrate that there has to be highly structured arrangements to avoid conflict and misinterpretation whenever possible between parents who are engaged in high conflict co parenting.

Narcissist parallel parenting

Young boy with a sad facial expression in the foreground, with his parents arguing behind him

Of course, in high conflict co parenting situations, a lot of time, parents breach the rules under which they are expected to behave. That is one of the many problems with high-conflict cases, particularly if you are doing parallel parenting with a narcissist. 

In one case we dealt with at Pathway Legal, a father was so high-conflict and severely narcissistic that he was determined to destroy the child’s relationship with the mother. Because the father had a history of maligning the mother and attempting to turn the child against her, the court ordered that the parties not discuss the other parent in any way in front of the child. Despite the court order, the father would not refrain from embroiling the child in his campaign against the mother. The court gave the father many chances, finally stating that the father could have no further contact with the child. This was an extreme example of parental alienation and of a high-conflict parenting situation that was first a parallel parenting plan. 

Rarely are cases this severe, however, co-parenting with a narcissist can be exhausting and it will put your kids into an never-ending cycle of turmoil. When co-parenting with a narcissist, sometimes the only way to parent effectively and give your child any peace is to enter into a parallel parenting plan. However, in this particular case the situation was so severe that it was against the child’s best interest to continue any kind of relationship with the father. Hopefully that won’t be your case.

Summary of co-parenting vs parallel parenting

When kids have two parents, as most do, it is always preferred that parents, despite their separation, are able to get along well enough to engage in co-parenting. This means that when they have to make decisions, they put the needs of their child first so that their child can thrive. 

Although a parental co parenting agreement is preferred, there are cases when co-parenting after divorce doesn’t work. It is in these cases that a parallel parenting plan is necessary.

When parents are comparing what is parallel parenting vs co parenting, they will want to understand the structure and mechanism of how these parenting plans work and how they will serve them, but most importantly serve their kids.