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What Is Parallel Parenting in Illinois?

boy suffering from parents conflict at home in living room and holding picture. What Is Parallel Parenting concept

Parallel parenting in Illinois is a practical option when co-parenting is not workable or has failed. In parallel parenting arrangements, the parents have minimal or no interaction with each other. They follow a detailed parenting plan and use third parties to help facilitate communication when necessary. A judge in Oakbrook Terrace, IL, may determine that a parallel setup is best in your situation, or you and the other parent can decide that yourselves.

boy suffering from parents conflict at home in living room and holding picture. What Is Parallel Parenting concept

What Is Parallel Parenting?

Divorce is rarely easy, but many parents find a way to co-parent to some extent. Effective co-parenting usually requires a great deal of communication, collaboration, and even trust.

Parallel arrangements may come into play when the circumstances of the divorce or the emotions involved are such that one parent or both parents are unable to keep conflict out of their parenting. They then parent in parallel with individually allocated decision-making and responsibilities. The parents rarely touch base with each other directly, but may do so with a parenting coordinator, other third parties, or an app. The key principles of parallel parenting include:

  • Limited communication
  • Detailed parenting agreement
  • Clear boundaries
  • Third parties such as friends, relatives, counselors, or family law professionals who facilitate communication and manage conflict

The benefits of parallel arrangements include less conflict all around, a more stable environment for the children, and a conscious, aware parenting approach that prioritizes the well-being of the children.

Parallel configurations do have downsides, though. One is that the parents may give up power. For example, Illinois divorce courts may grant one parent a lot of sole authority or do the opposite and give the other parent most of the power. It can leave a parent feeling helpless. Parents should get the assistance of a family law attorney to navigate parallel parenting considerations, since it is such a complex topic with long-lasting ramifications.

Parallel parenting does not have to be permanent. Over time, the parents may be able to move to co-parenting.

Co-Parenting vs. Parallel in Oakbrook Terrace, IL

Each co-parenting situation is different. However, in many scenarios, the parents are able to make pickup and dropoff arrangements between themselves and discuss changes to parenting schedules with each other. They can talk with each other about where the child goes to school and what sports the child might play. They can make major medical, legal, and religious decisions together. They may not always agree in every way, which is normal. Even blissfully married parents are unlikely to agree on every parenting decision, but the bottom line is that the co-parents have ongoing communication and decision-making with each other.

In parallel setups, the parents may have tried co-parenting but discovered that it is bad for themselves or the children. Perhaps they put the children in the middle too much, tried to alienate the children from the other parent, or were too emotional. Parallel arrangements can stem from any range of situations, including domestic violence, manipulation, lying, substance abuse, infidelity, surprise divorce papers, and more.

Each parallel parenting situation is unique, but it is common for pickups and dropoffs to occur at locations other than the parents’ homes or to be done by third parties. If the parents pick up and drop off the children, they typically do not see or talk to each other. The parents often do not go to children’s events at the same time, even if they would not be sitting together.

How Does a Court Order Parallel Parenting in Illinois?

Illinois divorce courts can order parallel parenting in Oakbrook Terrace, IL, in cases of contested divorce where it is clear that co-parenting has failed or will not work. Often, a judge wants the parents to try co-parenting first. Over time, the parents may acknowledge they cannot co-parent, while a judge recognizes it for them at other times.

When the parents are unable to agree on the specifics themselves, the judge typically orders or allocates individual decision-making responsibilities to each parent. Illinois parenting plans cover four main areas: education, health, religion, and extracurricular activities. A judge may get specific as to who makes what decisions. Perhaps the judge orders that one parent makes all education-related decisions, while the other parent makes all decisions related to the child’s extracurriculars.

Illinois divorce judges don’t make these decisions in a vacuum, though. They typically receive advice from a guardian ad litem (GAL) or child representative, who is an attorney appointed to represent the children’s best interests. The GAL interviews the parents, children, and other relevant people to ensure that parallel is the best option. The GAL also makes recommendations for which areas each parent should be responsible. Judges almost universally adopt GAL recommendations.

What Are the Alternatives to Parallel Parenting?

Parallel parenting resources can be invaluable and include information on alternatives, such as cooperative co-parenting, online co-parenting tools, nesting, mediation, and counseling. Sole custody can be an option if the situation is toxic or one of the parents is determined to make the parallel attempt fail through deliberate sabotage.

Cooperative Co-Parenting

Cooperative co-parenting is a sort of middle ground between co-parenting and parallel parenting. It entails a minimal line of communication and interaction between the parents that is respectful. For example, perhaps the parents’ only interaction with each other is through seeing each other at kids’ sports events and through online co-parenting tools and counseling sessions once a month. In many parallel situations, one or both parents do not have the bandwidth to be in the same space with each other at kids’ events.

Online Co-Parenting

Online co-parenting tools can help parents track schedules and activities more efficiently. They let parents interact without relying on direct communication or the help of a friend or counselor. Parents can upload medical files, expense receipts, coded custody calendars, and other important documents to the app for the other parent to see and use.


In nesting, the kids reside in one home while the parents rotate living arrangements. The adults live elsewhere when they’re not on parenting duty (this other place could be another shared spot, or each parent could have his or her own place). Nesting can get expensive and does require a lot of cooperation between the parents, even if it’s “parallel” cooperation.

Mediation and Counseling

With mediation and counseling, third parties help keep co-parents on track by facilitating productive discussions and emphasizing the focus on the children’s best interests. Counseling sometimes makes co-parenting possible when it would not be otherwise.

How Parallel Parenting Affects Children

Parallel parents can be one of the best things to happen to children. It is better than children being put in the middle of their parents’ explosive arguments and conflicts.

Children benefit from parallel parents’ increased stability, predictable routines, secure relationships, and child-centric approaches. They may have an entirely different set of rules at each parent’s house and be aware that their parents cannot get along per se, but they’re not put in the middle of constant conflict. Kids feel less pressured to take sides and learn that even when adults cannot get along, they can still cooperate for the well-being of children.

How a Family Law Lawyer Can Help You

The expertise of a lawyer can improve any type of parenting arrangement, including parallel configurations. High-conflict co-parenting may mean unhappy children, stressed parents, raised stakes, and increased odds of failure. It can be difficult to determine whether to stick with co-parenting or explore an option such as parallel parenting.

Family law lawyers possess experience and expertise in complex custody arrangements. They can provide valuable guidance and support as you navigate areas such as these:

  • Legal advice and strategy
  • Parenting plans
  • Mediation and negotiation
  • Communication
  • Enforcement and modification
  • Protection of your rights

For example, with legal advice and strategy, a family law lawyer offers discussion on your legal rights, responsibilities, and options related to parenting or parallel arrangements. These lawyers can represent you in a trial or during a contested or uncontested divorce. They are able to help you create a blueprint that aligns with your goals and the best interests of your children.

Successful parallel parenting requires a comprehensive and well-structured parenting plan. A family law attorney helps you draft such a detailed plan outlining each parent’s responsibilities, schedules, decision-making processes, and communication protocols.

Parallel arrangements often require negotiation and compromise. Your lawyer can represent your interests during mediation sessions with the other parent and reach agreements that are fair and beneficial. Lawyers can also act as communication intermediaries or facilitate communication to ensure that critical information gets where it needs to go respectfully.

If the other parent is not following the parenting plan, your lawyer can take legal steps to enforce the agreements, too. A similar concept applies if the parenting plan needs modifications as children grow or life situations change. Above all, lawyers help protect your legal rights throughout the process and advocate for your interests as well as the best interests of your children.

Uncontested divorce lawyer Denise Erlich is passionate about helping divorcing couples in the greater Chicagoland area transition to their new life as seamlessly as possible. Ms. Erlich patiently guides her clients through every step of the divorce process and provides clients with candid advice about their case and legal options, so they can make informed decisions about their future.

Years of Experience: More than 20 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: Illinois State Bar Association U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois
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