The Challenges of Shared Parenting

28 July 2009

When a relationship breaks down, parents are often faced with the difficult decision of deciding a parenting style that suits both parents, yet still upholds the best interests of the children.

Since the Shared Parenting amendments to the Family Law Act, that commenced on 1 July 2006, the debate has continued as to whether or not Shared Parenting is the right approach? While Shared Parenting is often an option adopted by some separated parents, it is not suitable for all situations. By the legislation creating a “presumption” of “Shared Parental Responsibility” and the requirement that the Court must consider “equal time”, it is inevitably the “high conflict” cases that pose the biggest challenge to the Court in applying the legislation.

Recently however, a new concept has emerged coined “Parallel Parenting”.

What is “Parallel parenting”?

“Parallel Parenting” is suggested as being for situations where parents are unable to provide a “joint front” as role models for their children. It provides an arrangement that is similar to children living in a sole parent household however, it is “parallel” in the sense that it involves 2 households but with separate parenting.

how does it differ from shared parenting?

The concept of “Parallel Parenting” still involves the children spending time with both parents, so on the face of it, it may appear like the notion of Shared Parenting because the children may still spend equal time with both parents. “Parallel Parenting” differs greatly from Shared Parenting however, in the way that the parents do not actually “share” the care of the children, as both parents live separate lives and split and divide their care of the children, rather than “sharing” the care.

Shared Parenting is about promoting cooperation, collaboration and communication, however the notion of “Parallel Parenting” implies the exclusion of unnecessary communication and cooperation. This option is usually considered in family situations involving high conflict parents, it therefore allows children to have “meaningful relationships” with each of their parents but protects them from unnecessary exposure to parental conflicts.

Parallel Parenting or shared parenting?

Parallel Parenting

This concept is suggested as a way that:

  • Parenting can be done in a positive way for conflicting parents to enable “equal time”  to occur with their children, but not involve them in their own disputes; and
  • allows children to have a “meaningful relationship” with each parent in the confines of that parent’s environment at any time, without the interference of the other parent.

There are some disadvantages of parents minimising communication and adopting such a parenting style. The concept of “Parallel Parenting” does not encourage future cooperation and communication or any form of improvement in these areas between the parents. It is not the most ideal option for children growing up, as children should be able to see their parents making important decisions in their lives and be a joint role model for their children. Also there is the possibility the children could grow up with negative views of each parent from the other parent.

Shared Parenting

Shared care arrangements often work well in situations where parents can effectively communicate with one another and decisions with the best interests of the children in mind. However, it is debatable as to whether this is the most effective method of parenting for separated parents who are in “high conflict”.

A Report by Dr McIntosh last year, adds some recent data to this ongoing debate. The (2) published Reports involved 2 small study groups of couples in high conflict and offers a rare snap-shot into the post-2006 parenting Orders.

In one study, almost half the children left the ‘Court mediation’ in a “substantially shared-care arrangement” (5 nights or more a fortnight with each parent). Four months later, 73% of shared-care parents reported “almost never” cooperating with each other.

In the second study, where the parenting disputes were privately mediated, 28% went into a “substantially shared-care” arrangement. One year later, 75% of those arrangements had collapsed.

A Recent Example

The notion of “Parallel Parenting has emerged in parenting issues before the Court. In a recent case, the Family Report writer discussed the concept in a situation where both parents were unable to communicate without causing conflict.

The Facts:

  • The Father was aged 42 and the Mother was aged 43. The couple were married for 5 years and had 3 children of the marriage, aged 12, 10 and 5.
  • The Father proposed the parents have “equal shared parental responsibility” for the 3 children and the children continue to live in a “week about” basis.
  • The Mother proposed the children primarily live with her and spend “significant and substantial” time with the Father, due to his work commitments and in order to provide the children with a routine. She proposed this involve the children living 10 nights each fortnight with her and 4 nights with the Father. She preferred the Father spend time with the children in one block, so as to minimise the changeovers.
  • The parent’s relationship with each other was based on tension and mistrust. The children had also become involved in this poor relationship. The Family Report provided evidence that the children’s health was at risk by being involved in this way.
  • The Family Report writer provided an option that would allow the children to have a peaceful relationship with both parents, even though it would not be an ideal option. The option was “Parallel Parenting”, which is distinct from “Shared Parenting”.

Court Found:

  • By involving the children in their disputes, the parents were acting selfishly and appeared to be uncaring as to the effects this was having on the children.
  • There was some merit in the concept of “Parallel Parenting” in contrast to the more desired “Shared Parenting”.

Court Order:

  • The parents attend a post-separation parenting course.
  • The parents have equal shared parental responsibility and the children live with each parent on a “week about” basis, with changeovers occurring on Friday afternoons. This was to allow the children to maintain their relationship with each parent.


If you have any questions about this article or would like to make an appointment to discuss your personal circumstances please telephone us on 3221 4300 or email us at [email protected]


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