Parenting Time & Decision Making

When Parents are in a “Power Struggle”, is Parallel Parenting the Right Call?

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Written by Russell Alexander / (905) 655-6335

When Parents are in a “Power Struggle”, is Parallel Parenting the Right Call?

In a prior blog we discussed a ruling that set out some of the tests that govern the courts’ decision on whether a “parallel parenting” order is appropriate.   Rulings like that one help parents understand whether this unique form of parental decision-making might be a good fit for them and their child, especially if they remain in a scenario where high conflict is the norm, and where matters are unlikely to improve in the foreseeable future.

A case called H. (K.) v. R. (T.K.) is also helpful in this regard, since the court explored the parallel parenting concept and the relevant tests a little further.

First, it’s important to define this form of custody at the outset; the court described it this way:

Parallel-parenting orders can take the form of “divided parallel parenting”, where each party is given separate, defined areas of parental decision-making, independent of the other; or alternatively, “full parallel parenting”, where both parents are given the right to make major decisions respecting the child in all major areas of parental authority while the child is with them, without the consent of the other parent.

It is usually reserved for those cases where neither sole custody, nor cooperative joint custody, will best meet the interests of the child.

Facts-wise, the court in H. (K.) v. R. (T.K.) was faced with a high-conflict scenario, punctuated by chronically poor communication between the parents.   The police and Children’s Aid had been frequently involved, and each parent had brought multiple motions complaining about the other.  Neither were fully compliant with prior court orders, and they levelled accusations against each other about missed access visits, access denials, and schedule changes.  The mother claimed the father was argumentative, demanding and unyielding.  The one thing the parents did agree on, was that their conflict was distressing to the children.

The court concluded that the parents were in a “power struggle that had little to do with the children.”

In the context of determining custody, the court considered the parallel parenting model as one of the options.   These kinds of orders have been made in high-conflict cases, especially where one parent is unjustifiably excluding the other from the children’s lives and cannot be trusted to exercise sole custody responsibly.  Or, it might be considered appropriate in cases where the parents are incompatible with one another, but are both capable parents and agree on major issues.

With that said, parallel parenting orders are not warranted where they do not meet the best interests of the children because the conflict is too high to make the order work.  This is especially true where the order would put the children in the middle of conflict every few days, and might give rise to frequent visits to court.

In considering whether a parallel parenting order should be made the court should take the following approach:

  • First, the court must evaluate the likelihood of one category of decision making conflicting with another (the “spillover effect”) and the ability of the parents to navigate those conflicts.
  • Whether the parents have the ability to navigate scheduling conflicts between activities and appointments. Since they are each acting independently in their own sphere of decision making, what happens when both a soccer practice and math tutor are scheduled for the same time? Is it possible given the dynamics of the parents’ relationship before the order is made to anticipate, define and create priorities for many of the potential conflicts?
  • The geographical distance between the parents. If the parents reside far apart, the residential parent may not be able to take the children to a doctor, tutor, counselor, school or activity (depending on the area of decision making) chosen by the non-residential parent.
  • Family dynamics — the court must evaluate if a parallel parenting order is more likely to de-escalate or inflame the parents’ conflict.

In this case, the court refused to make a parallel parenting order, since it had a number of concerns about the father’s demanding, controlling conduct – not to mention the fact that he seemed more focused on his own rights than on the best interests of his children.  It also noted his lack of reliability, and the possibility of the “spillover effect” in connection with his decision-making.

Finally, it observed that the parents would likely continue to have conflicts relating to scheduling because their communication was so poor, and because of the distance between their respective homes (they lived in different cities).    The court went on to consider different options.

For the full text of the decision, and of related decisions on parallel parenting, see:

(K.) v. R. (T.K.), 2013 ONCJ 418(Ont. C.J.)

Hensel v. Hensel, 2007 CanLII 45911 (ON SC)

Izyuk v. Bilousov, 2011 ONSC 6451 (CanLII)

(V.) v. S. (T.), 2011 ONSC 4305(Ont. S.C.J.) (CanLII)

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About the author

Russell Alexander

Russell Alexander is the Founder & Senior Partner of Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers.