The two most common forms of parenting orders are sole custody where one parent makes all major decisions relating to the children or joint custody where both parents make decisions jointly. The other form is split custody where each parent makes all major decision with the respect child or children in his or her primary care.
In recent years, courts have made orders for shared custody where both parents parent the children equally with respect to time sharing and decision making. The other form of parenting that is emerging that is suitable in high conflict cases is parallel parenting.
Parallel parenting is a parenting arrangement that has evolved to deal with high conflict cases where neither a sole custody order to one parent nor a cooperative joint custody is a viable option. Parallel parenting, with a detailed parenting schedule, is usually a viable solution as it does not require the same level of co-operation that joint custody demands.
In V.K. v. T.S., 2011 ONSC, The Honourable Chappel’s review of the case law suggested the following factors as particularly relevant in determining whether a parallel parenting regime, rather than sole custody is appropriate:
(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 behavior, which could impede the objective of achieving a balance of roles and influence through parallel parenting.