Co-parenting Conflicts? A Parenting Coordinator May Be Just What You Need

Once a marriage dissolves, parents have to face years of working together to raise their children. While the courts can make broad decisions about custody and parenting/visitation plans, the court rarely makes decisions about basic day-to-day caretaking of the kids. As parents, it’s your job to work together and act in the best interest of your children to implement the parenting plan as ordered, and not involve the courts with every dispute. The problem is that many parents don’t know how to communicate with each other on parenting issues, resulting in conflict that has a lasting negative impact on the kids. Multiple court actions rarely solve the problems, and the children feel stuck in the middle.

Once the initial custody order and parenting plan is decided, either by agreement or after a trial, the real work begins. Parents who can cooperate with each other may never need court intervention. However, when one or both parties struggle with mental or other health issues, personality issues, substance abuse or other characteristics affecting the ability to communicate, it makes the co-parenting relationship nearly impossible to succeed. For better or for worse, parents need to learn to get along and cooperate for the sake of their children; otherwise, the children suffer and the parties become emotionally and financially drained, litigating their disputes to an overburdened judge.

The parties can instead hire a “Parenting Coordinator,” or PC, to help resolve disputes. A PC will teach parents good communication skills and, in some cases, make a binding decision that a court will honor if the parents can’t come to an agreement. While a person must have mediation training in order to qualify as a Parenting Coordinator, the PC is not simply a mediator. A PC has additional graduate-level training in Parenting Coordination to work with high-conflict parents, where a mediator doesn’t. The mediation process is confidential between the mediator and parties, and the mediator can’t be called to testify in any contested court action between the parties.

By contrast, the parenting coordination process is NOT confidential and the PC may make periodic reports to the court, and can be called to testify as to the discussions and topics of conversations discussed in meetings. A mediator doesn’t perform any investigation and simply relies on the parties’ attorneys to help them come to an agreement. A PC may decide to make a full investigation by speaking with the children (if appropriate), teachers, therapists or other people involved in the care of the children who can provide additional information to the PC in order to help the parties agree or to assist the PC in making a binding decision.

Parents in high-conflict situations are strongly encouraged to seek the services of a PC to assist them in staying out of court and provide parenting solutions. Parties are encouraged to schedule a free, half-hour consultation to learn more about Parenting Coordination.

Parenting Coordination in Action
Michael and Karen were married for 10 years and have two kids, Aidan (age 6) and Emily (age 9). After a bitter divorce trial, the parties were ordered to share custody under the following parenting plan: Karen has parenting time on Mondays and Tuesdays, Michael has parenting time on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and the parties alternate weekends.

After their divorce, Michael and Karen struggled with basic issues, like extracurricular activities for the children, therapy, religious education and school-related concerns. Since the judgment was issued over two years ago, the parties have been embroiled in multiple modification and contempt actions. Emily has developed serious mental health issues due to the instability she feels about her parents. Aidan has regressed considerably, only wanting to stay with Karen and crying hysterically when Michael picks him up. Karen has filed for contempt several times against Michael for vilifying her to the children, and because he is continually late for pick-ups and drop-offs. Last year, Michael filed a complaint for modification against Karen seeking full physical custody of the children based on Karen’s issues with alcohol. Karen counterclaimed for full physical custody, alleging that Michael was psychologically abusing the children. Both modifications were denied by the court, and the judge found that a shared parenting plan was still in the best interest of the children.

During the last modification trial and, in light of the high conflict displayed by the parties, the judge strongly encouraged them to agree to submit any future issues to a Parenting Coordinator of their choosing to avoid litigation, and focus on resolving parenting disputes in a constructive rather than destructive way. The parties agreed and the judge wrote in the modification judgment that all future issues between the parties must be submitted to the Parenting Coordinator before either party files for contempt or modification.

The parties began meeting with the PC and, after only two months, made significant progress with their communication. The PC helped each party to empathize and listen to the other party, even if they don’t agree with the other party’s position. Through proper training, these parents were able to put aside their anger towards each other and focus on their common goal of raising well-adjusted children. Also, whenever Michael and Karen have a time-sensitive parenting issue, they can resolve it much faster with the help of the PC rather than waiting weeks or months to have the judge make a decision. While they still don’t agree on everything, Michael and Karen are both committed to reducing the conflict between them and minimizing the impact on Emily and Aidan. This is a perfect example of how Parenting Coordination helps high-conflict parents recognize their children’s needs, and how important it is to work together instead of against each other.

A Cape Cod native, Chantal Hayes Rice, Esq. has been a member of Hayes & Hayes Attorneys-At-Law, P.C. since 1999 before starting Cape Cod Divorce & Mediation, P.C. While she also practices in the area of real estate, probate and estate planning, she concentrates her practice on general family law, divorce mediation, collaborative law and limited assistance representation (LAR).

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About Ann Luongo

Ann Luongo has been writing for Cape Cod and South Shore publications for over 15 years.
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