Coparenting versus Parallel Parenting in Virginia Child Custody

Posted on Jan 28, 2022 by Katie Carter


In my experience, courts come down kind of hard on coparents about the way that they share their coparenting responsibilities. In fact, I’ve heard of some cases where one party was given primary custody because, of the two parents, he or she was the one more equipped to facilitate coparenting. In cases where one party is prone to game playing, withholding visitation, or even using the children as intermediaries, it can really be detrimental to the custody case.

In general, courts want to see coparents who have respect for each other and who help facilitate the child’s changing relationship with their other parent.
If that sounds like an ideal, that’s because it sort of is. And, in general, I think that, to the court, coparenting means something different than what, technically, coparenting is.

There are two basic ways to look at your responsibility for raising children after a divorce, separation or breakup: coparenting and parallel parenting, and both describe different ways that coparents (as in, parents who are no longer together but who share children in common) learn to find a way forward.


Technically, in a coparenting situation, the parties collaborate about issues related to the children and work together to create a more standardized experience for the kids between the two homes.

Coparenting, when possible, is generally regarded as the ‘best’ way to raise children in the wake of a divorce or separation because it sees two parents coming together to make shared decisions on behalf of their children.

Parallel Parenting

Not all exes find coparenting realistic or reasonable, though. No matter how much you might want to be able to coparent with your child’s other parent, he or she may or may not be cooperative. I find that there are many cases – especially cases where abuse is an issue – that one parent just isn’t willing to collaborate to the degree necessary to truly and effectively coparent.

You can’t always help it. You can turn the other cheek and try to be the bigger person but, at some point, there’s only so many compromises you can make. If two parents aren’t willing to coparent, then coparenting isn’t going to work.

So, what parents who can’t coparent tend to do is what’s called parallel parenting; basically, each parent sets up a set of rules and a pattern of structure that applies to the time the child(ren) spend in their home, in full knowledge that the rules and patterns may be different in the other parent’s home.

Coparenting v. Parallel Parenting

I’m not here to tell you that any one method is better than the other. While it would be nice if both parents could work together for the shared good of their children, that’s not always possible. Ultimately, you can’t commit to coparenting on your own. If it isn’t working for you, parallel parenting may be another way to think about your shared childrearing responsibilities after your divorce or separation.

The court doesn’t really differentiate, but I also don’t think that the court’s insistence on using this verbiage means that the court is saying that coparenting is the only way of raising your children together post divorce or post separation. The court is trying to use inclusive language that describes your shared obligation, not to impose on you some kind of unrealistic ideal for raising children. Parallel parenting, if it works for you, is going to be a better choice for you than fighting tooth and nail every step of the way with a coparent who isn’t going to really follow coparenting principles in good faith.

As nice as it would be to be able to feel like active and engaged coparents, that’s not always the reality – and that’s not something you need to beat yourself up in order to achieve.

Parallel parenting can be just as effective and it may give you the freedom that you need to be the kind of parent that you’ve always wanted to be. If it’s not possible to work together – to really coparent – then you may find that parallel parenting is actually better for you and for your children.

For more information or to discuss your custody and visitation issues with a licensed and experienced Virginia divorce and custody attorney, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.