If you have recently separated and are considering how you and your former partner will raise your children, you will no doubt have looked online and come across a wealth of information on the benefits of “co-parenting”.

Co-parenting is, in its simplest definition, sharing the duties of raising a child.  In reality, this usually means that the following dynamics exist between the parents: co-operation, communication, compromise and consistency, along with a strong ethos that the child’s needs should be placed before the parents’. Effective co-parenting is usually not immediate and it can take many years of hard work to create. However, many are willing to put in this effort as co-parenting is clearly portrayed as the “gold standard” of post-separation parenting.

But is co-parenting achievable in every situation? In my previous blog “Parenting after separation - when spending time with your children feels like a 'gift' rather than a 'right'”, I looked at some of the conflicts that can arise when parents cannot agree on the role of the other parent. In a situation of high conflict, making shared decisions and maintaining a close parenting relationship with your former partner may be an impossible task. No matter how hard you work, co-parenting may simply not be achievable.

In these circumstances, there is an alternative - “parallel parenting”. This is an arrangement in which separated parents are able to achieve a form of co-parenting by means of disengaging from each other and having limited direct contact, whilst remaining fully connected to their children. Usually, the way this plays out on a day to day basis is that parents still agree on major decisions regarding their children’s upbringing, but each make their own decisions as to day-to-day parenting when the children are with them. Although parallel parenting is not a panacea for high conflict relationships, it can help shield children from direct parental conflict.

Whether it be co-parenting or parallel parenting you are aiming for, communication is key. Help is now at hand in the form of a new online service called ParentPlan. In essence, it is an online noticeboard for parents to share appointments, information, documents, photos and videos.  For example, parents can upload all of their children’s calendar dates (such as activities, term dates, appointments, parties and holidays) and contact details (teachers, doctors, grandparents, carers and school friends’ parents). This may be of particular benefit if you and your former partner find it difficult to speak to one another and in situations of high conflict.

The developers of the service believe it will assist parents to:

  • Exchange positive information about their children;
  • Avoid disputes before they happen, for example over the simple, practical arrangements for their children;
  • Avoid harmful communication – such as the streams of emails and texts which we see in cases which are often sent in the heat of the moment and regretted afterwards;
  • Help resolve issues that may arise in relation to the day to day care of the children; and
  • Help parents to communicate to make longer term plans in advance for their children with the other parent, such as agreeing holiday dates.

While it is no substitute for direct communication between parents, in my view services like this are to be embraced. In the modern world where parents have increasing demands on their time, sites such as this could help busy parents whether they wish to co-parent or parallel parent and, in fact, whether they live together or apart.