Separation and divorce can introduce a variety of challenges surrounding the maintenance of normalcy in children’s lives. Traditional custody arrangements (now referred to as decision-making responsibility), where one parent is awarded sole decision-making authority, are ill-suited for every situation. Parallel co-parenting has emerged as an alternative method to conventional parenting orders. This style of parenting is becoming increasingly popular in Alberta as it can be an effective solution for parents dealing with high-conflict situations. In this blog post, we will explore the benefits of parallel co-parenting, how it differs from traditional co-parenting, and how it can be implemented in light of Alberta’s law on parenting orders, including recent developments in the case law.
Traditional co-parenting typically involves both parents working together to make decisions about their children’s upbringing and well-being. This often includes regular communication and cooperation between the parents. On the other hand, parallel co-parenting emphasizes minimal contact between the parents and a more structured and organized approach to co-parenting, which can involve a clear division of responsibilities and minimize direct communication between the parents.
Parallel co-parenting can be beneficial for parents who are dealing with high-conflict situations. It allows parents to maintain a sense of control over their own lives while still being able to care for their children. For children, parallel co-parenting can provide stability and security as it allows them to maintain a relationship with both parents without being caught in the middle of a conflict. Additionally, parallel co-parenting can reduce stress and tension between the parents, leading to a more favourable environment for the children.
The Family Law Act and the federal Divorce Act govern Alberta’s family law legislation. These Acts provide the legal framework for issues related to marriage, separation, divorce, parenting, support, and property division. The Family Law Act applies to couples who are married or in an adult interdependent relationship (often referred to as a common-law marriage), while the Divorce Act applies to couples who are legally married.
Parallel parenting is not a legally recognized term in either Act; however, the legislation allows parties to draft a parenting plan as part of a parenting order or a contact order, stipulating their parallel co-parenting approach. A number of factors must be considered before implementing a parallel co-parenting plan.
The critical consideration for the viability and enforceability of a parallel co-parenting plan depends on whether it will align with the best interests of the child, as required by s.18 of the Family Law Act. This requirement was also echoed in the case of Richter v Richter:
First, as a general proposition, joint custody and shared parenting arrangements ought not to be ordered where the parents are in substantial conflict with each other, and certainly not before trial especially when there is also significant disagreement on the evidence. The best interests of a child are not well served by imposing régimes which invite continued court applications on all matters, big and small.
The child’s best interests will be the court’s foremost consideration when examining a parallel co-parenting plan. The nature of the conflict and the relationships between the parties will also be considered within this context, as explained below.
The recent case of AC v MP elaborates on additional factors to consider when evaluating the prospect of parallel co-parenting plans:
- The presence and origin of parental conflict;
- The style and manner of communication between parents and whether parental communication is “child-centered”;
- The existence of a power imbalance between the parents and the consistency of the child’s life between homes;
- Whether the child has “exhibited behavioural issues around the transition between homes” and whether rotating homes is “too complicated”;
- Whether child support is a live issue;
- The relationship of the child with other individuals living in their parent’s homes;
- The practicality of a parallel co-parenting plan and lifestyle;
- Whether the child has a “sound emotional relationship” with both parents; and
- The child’s wishes (greater weight will be afforded to older children).
In the case, Honourable Judge T. LaRochelle found that a “shared parenting arrangement” would not be appropriate considering the best interests of the child due to the “lack of communication and general mistrust between the parties.”
It is important to note that the courts may not accept parallel co-parenting plans in every situation, and it is highly specific to the context of the dispute. Nevertheless, there are key components to include in a parallel co-parenting plan to ensure enforceability.
The parallel co-parenting plan should include as many details regarding the arrangement as possible in order for it to be accepted and enforced by the courts. The plan should include:
- The child’s living arrangements;
- The parenting schedule;
- The communication protocols between parents; and
- The decision-making guidelines relating to education, religious instruction, welfare, etc.; and
- A written conflict resolution process should also be established as part of the parallel parenting plan. This process should include steps such as attempting to communicate directly with the other parent, utilizing a neutral third-party mediator, or escalating the issue to legal representation. It is essential that both parents agree to and follow this process.
In the absence of the above information and a commitment from both parents, the court may conclude that the parties are unable to communicate effectively enough to implement a parallel co-parenting plan. Additionally, conflicts may still arise, so it is important to develop a strategy to deal with them and prioritize the best interests of the child.
Parallel parenting can be a viable option for high-conflict situations in Alberta. It allows parents to have separate and distinct parenting roles while ensuring that the child’s needs are met. As one of the most recognized family law practices in Alberta, Dunphy Best Blocksom LLP provides comprehensive support to clients seeking advice regarding the implementation of parallel co-parenting plans. Our family lawyers have extensive experience resolving parenting disputes. To learn more about our skilled team, call 403-265-7777 or reach out online.