When is a Parallel Parenting Order Best?
In a recent Blog called “Joint Custody? Parallel Custody? What’s the Difference? And When Can They Work?” …the court heard the story of a couple who had met in 2004, married in 2014, and separated in 2015 after an incident where the police were called.
The wife now had a raft of complaints about her husband’s poor treatment during the marriage, including allegations of physical and emotional abuse. Conversely, the man felt he had been underappreciated by his wife, and that she did not do enough around the house while home with their child. He claimed that far from being verbally or physically abusive, he said she was the one who liked to start arguments and be aggressive towards him during the marriage.
Since separation, the wife had been the primary caregiver of their child and was now asking for sole custody. The husband had remained actively involved and wanted to have joint custody of the child, rather than merely access rights.
The court scrutinized the couple’s relationship history, specifically their ability to get along. After noting that joint custody was an “exceptional remedy” which was to be granted in circumstances where the parties demonstrate “cooperation and consent”, the court concluded that these parents lacked the necessary level of either.
The court then turned to an alternative option: An order for a parallel parenting arrangement. The court wrote:
In more recent years, the concept of “parallel parenting” has developed as a sub-category of joint custody. This type of parenting has been used to describe various parenting arrangements that allocate specifically defined areas of decision-making authority to each parent independent of one another …
Parallel-parenting orders have been made by courts in situations where both parents have been involved with the child and wish to retain decision‑making rights, but the conflict between them is such that a joint custody order is not in the child’s best interests. …
There are many benefits to a parallel-parenting order in appropriate cases. As Chappel J. explained in K.(V.) and S.(T.), 2011 ONSC 4305 (CanLII) at para. 79:
There are many merits to a parallel parenting regime, in appropriate cases. It gives both the child and the parents the benefit of maintaining each parent as a meaningful player in the child’s life, over and above time-sharing with the child. The importance of this factor from an emotional standpoint cannot be underestimated where a family is in turmoil because of a breakdown in the parents’ relationship. In addition, by delineating clear areas of decision-making between the parties, parallel parenting has the potential in appropriate cases to disengage the parties and reduce parental conflict.
The court also elaborated on the factors that go into a court’s decision on whether this type of order is best in any given case, in preference to joint or sole custody. It began by noting:
The key issue in determining if a parallel-parenting order is appropriate is whether it is in the best interests of the child. It is not about parents having rights. … As noted in Young, ongoing conflict which adversely affects children is “the single factor which has consistently proven to be severely detrimental to children upon separation and divorce.”
In the context of this guiding principle, the court reviewed the jurisprudence and itemized the governing factors. They are:
- a) The strength of the parties’ ties to the child, and the general level of involvement of each parent in the child’s parenting and life.In almost all cases where parallel parenting has been ordered, both parents have consistently played a significant role in the child’s life on all levels.
- b) The relative parenting abilities of each parent, and their capacity to make decisions that are in the child’s best interests. Where one parent is clearly more competent, responsible and attentive than the other, this may support a sole custody arrangement. On the other hand, where there is extensive conflict between the parties, but both are equally competent and loving parents and are able at times to focus jointly on the best interests of the child, a parallel parenting regime may be ordered.
- c) Evidence of alienation by one parent. If the alienating parent is otherwise loving, attentive, involved, competent and very important to the child, a parallel parenting arrangement may be considered appropriate as a means of safeguarding the other party’s role in the child’s life. On the other hand, if the level of alienation is so significant that a parallel parenting order will not be effective in achieving a balance of parental involvement and will be contrary to the child’s best interests, a sole custody order may be more appropriate.
- d) Where both parties have engaged in alienating behaviour, but the evidence indicates that one of them is more likely to foster an ongoing relationship between the child and the other parent, this finding may tip the scale in favour of a sole custody order.
- e) The extent to which each parent is able to place the needs of the child above their own needs and interests. If one of the parties is unable to focus on the child’s needs above their own, this may result in a sole custody order, even if that parent is very involved with the child and otherwise able to meet the child’s day to day needs.
- f) The existence of any form of abuse, including emotional abuse or undermining behaviour, which could impede the objective of achieving a balance of roles and influence through parallel parenting. [Footnotes omitted.]
The court added that the husband was actually asking for joint custody with parallel parenting, suggesting he and the wife could try to make decisions together (and failing which, the final decision-making power in relation to specific issues would be granted to one of them).
The court agreed that this was the best, most appropriate solution in this case and that it would be in the child’s best interests to grant this kind of order.
For the full text of the decisions, see: