It’s a funny thing… we need a license to drive a car, license to carry a gun, and license to marry. But when it comes to raising our children, there’s no course book or manual. No licensure requirements. No formal training needed to help us be better parents. While pre-marital parenting courses aren’t yet the norm, some more enlightened states are, however, beginning to require parenting courses before couples can finalize their divorce. Why is the requirement of completing a parenting course prior to the divorce on the rise in family law? What was the impetus of such a seemingly burdensome requirement? There has been an acknowledgement and recognition by family law practitioners and family law courts that co-parenting, especially in high-conflict divorces, requires communication between two people who are separating their lives. Typically, the poor communication skills that often fueled the separation in the first place, carry-over into the post-marital interactions having a severe and significant negative impact on the children. In order to avoid or reduce these negative impacts on the children of divorce, parenting courses, parenting coordinators, and other professionals are available to help families transition into this post-divorce life and enable them to co-parent in the best interests of their children.
There is an emerging profession on the horizon: Qualified Parenting Coordinator. Don’t feel badly if you have no idea what the heck that means… until a few months ago, neither did I. I had no clue that there was someone who, by choice, works with individuals in high-conflict divorce cases to resolve important conflicts relating to co-parenting challenges. What I’ve learned is that when all else fails, the Parenting Coordinator is the referee, the umpire, the objective third-party, the masochist in some cases, who can step in and facilitate a resolution that is truly designed to be in the best interest of the children.
If you are co-parenting with your former spouse, perhaps the term “co-parent” seems to be more of an oxymoron than a reality. Do any of these statements sound familiar?
· “You were supposed to drop off the kids by 5:00 p.m., and it’s now 5:30 p.m. You are always late. I’ll see you in Court.”
· “How dare you leave our 12-year old home alone with that tramp! Let’s see what the judge has to say about this!”
· “You can’t talk to me like that in front of our kids! I’m filing a Petition!”
Next to the divorce itself, co-parenting is the single-most cause high-conflict divorcees use to perpetuate litigious behaviors, resulting in unnecessary stress on the children, exorbitant legal fees, and a burden on an already over-extended court system. Lawyers don’t want to (but must) bill their clients for what they perceive to be non-legal work, and judges certainly don’t want to waste the Court’s valuable time adjudicating parental matters.
Parenting Coordinators (or, “PCs” as those in the know refer to us) are a new breed of family law and mental health professional. Parenting Coordination is an emerging profession in family law, and PCs are trail-blazing an alternative path for parents to resolve their co-parenting issues outside of the courtroom. Authorized by statute in currently 11 states, the purpose of Parenting Coordination is “to provide a child-focused alternative dispute resolution process whereby a Parenting Coordinator assists the parents in creating or implementing a parenting plan by facilitating the resolution of disputes between the parents by providing education, making recommendations, and, with the prior approval of the parents and the court, making limited decisions within the scope of the court’s order of referral.” 61.125 Florida Statute. In essence, PCs were created to lessen the burden on the back-logged court systems, which are being misused by litigants, who are hell-bent on asking a judge to throw a parent into the pokey for being consistently 15 minutes late with drop-off, insisting on showing up to events when it’s not “his/her day,” or purposely ignoring homework assignments so that the other parent is forced to do them.
According to Allyson Tomchin, LCSW who is a Florida Supreme Court Certified Family Mediator and President of Directive Energy, the success of parenting coordination is in what she refers to as the “Not:” Not going to court; Not calling your attorney; Not litigating; Not calling the police; Not missing holidays and special occasions; Not fighting with the ex spouse/ex partner; and Not being constantly frustrated and angry regarding co-parenting. Tomchin’s goals center around reducing family conflict. Tomchin, who has been counseling and coaching parents for nearly two decades offers this piece of advice to high-conflict divorcing parents,
“Every Parent I know wants their children to be successful. They want them to be happy, independent and end up in loving relationships as adults. What high conflict parents need to know is that divorce is not what creates pathology and sickness with children, it is the constant conflict that causes irreparable harm.”
“If parents can learn to manage themselves, engage in acceptable communication and even fake courtesy with their co-parents, then they will have moved mountains in this process. Children have a right to love their parent free from interruption from the other parent. They have a right to a low conflict environment.”
While Parenting Coordinators are extremely beneficial in high-conflict divorces, and are being appointed more often in family law disputes, the fact is that the skills and expertise of a PC are also beneficial to non-high conflict divorcees, who simply need some guidance in navigating through the co-parenting maze during and after divorce. Co-Parenting Coaches work with former spouses to craft parenting plans and agreements that plan for the future and addresses the “what if” scenarios that occur as our children grow up. For example, while exchanging the toddlers on Fridays at 5:00 p.m. may work now, when they become adolescents or teenagers, this schedule may not be reasonable.
Top 10 Reasons Co-Parents Should Consider Engaging a Parenting Coordinator:
1. Reduce legal fees
2. Eliminate wasted energy battling in circles
3. Spend less time in court
4. Reduce stress on children
5. Enjoy quality time with the children
6. Model the positive behavior for children of courtesy and respect
7. Create an environment where the children can enjoy quality time with extended family
8. Benefit from being in a therapeutic environment to discuss child related issues as opposed to the courtroom.
9. Focus on career as opposed to spending time litigating
10. Focus on a new relationship with a significant other