What different types of parenting relationships are there following separation, and why does it matter?

Numerous commentators have categorised types of parenting relationships that form following a family’s separation. One of the most popular categorisations is to describe separated parents as parenting co-operatively, parenting in parallel or parenting at distance. In reality, of course, there will be degrees of overlap between these three broad categories, but what does each mean, and why can it be helpful to consider which category your family might fall into?

Cooperative parents are those who can generally speak freely, communicate regularly, enjoy at least an amount of flexibility between them and who have transitioned relatively easily from their romantic relationship to a new relationship as separated parents. They might be able to attend school parents’ evenings together, sit next to each other at school assemblies, speak via telephone and reach broad agreements on boundaries and routines for their children in each home. Overall, they are characterised by having low conflict (not necessarily perfect communication, but are generally able to work together to overcome areas of disagreement), and their children generally feel comfortable to talk to one parent about their other parent and move comfortably from one home to another.

Parallel parents tend to find communication more difficult, and it may trigger negative responses in them as individuals, and in turn cause conflict between them. Often, parallel parenting involves trying to limit communication so that children are shielded from unnecessary conflict. Typically, parallel parenting might involve arrangements that see one parent drop children to school on a Friday morning, and the other return them to school on a Monday, such that the actual contact between parents is kept to a minimum. Parents with this type of arrangement might manage some indirect communication effectively, such as communication via email, but generally it tends to be limited to changing arrangements (for example, swapping a weekend that the children are due to be with one parent), and not necessarily being able to easily talk about rules and regulations in each household.

Distant parents tends to find it hard to communicate at all, and any communication can lead to strong negative emotional responses and exchanges. There may be a very rigid court order in place, or one parent may not in fact see the children regularly at all. Children in these types of families generally tend to have two completely different experiences in two different homes and accept that there is little, if any, cross-over. Any encounters distant parents have are likely to trigger difficult exchanges. Children will often have been caught up in considerable conflict, and feel tension in a parent’s household concerning anything relating to their other parent, even if their parents do not communicate.

When separating, it is helpful to think about what type of parenting relationship you’d like to have, what is realistically achievable and then to frame and plan accordingly, wherever possible with appropriate professional support. Just by understanding these different relationships, and what is going to help you as parents minimise conflict and parent as your best selves, you can contribute more consciously to creating a parenting relationship that is protective for children, and to understand and contextualise your decision-making for the future.

At Mills & Reeve LLP, we are committed to helping parents build a future that is positive for everyone, supporting parents at all times to make decisions they feel will be in their children’s very best interests. If you would like to discuss anything mentioned in this blog, please contact Amy Starnes.

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