Second only to property division, child custody, support, and parenting plans form the most contentious part of divorce proceedings. Parents whose parenting styles are already divergent may find the stress of divorce launching them into a full battle over parenting decisions. And parents are human, so they sometimes use disputes over parenting decisions as a proxy for other points of contention. The marriage may be ending, but the conflict can continue for years through parenting decisions designed more for vengeance than providing love and stability for children.
A contentious divorce is no excuse to be a bad parent. Family mediation and parenting coordination exist to help parents continue to provide a stable, loving environment for their children, even as that environment spreads itself between two different homes. With family mediation, a neutral third party helps parents hear one another out about each other's parenting priorities to establish ground rules for parenting and keep the communications focused on parenting decisions. Parenting coordinators can serve as part mediator and part parenting coach as they help parents develop and adhere to parenting plans and child-focused communication. Both services help parents work together as parents even as the marital relationship ends.
Family mediation forms part of parenting coordination. With family mediation, a mediator contacts the parents separately, then together, to help negotiate a co-parenting structure. A mediator may also address and negotiate with the children, provided they are of the age to understand compromise. Mediators are neutral third parties, but they cannot work effectively if the parents are absolutely unwilling to compromise or trust the mediator to not favor either party.
If you choose family mediation, or a court recommends it, know that it is a non-adversarial approach. Do not expect to "win" a mediated dispute. You will have your own parenting priorities, which may include specific support amounts, parenting time distribution and making key parenting decisions. Your soon to be former spouse will have their own priorities, which may be in conflict with yours, but are likely to be just as focused on the well-being of your children. Most individual parenting decisions are less important in themselves than your children having two parents who can work together for their benefit. If your former spouse gets to spend Christmas with them this year, you will miss your children, but they will gain time with a caring parent and peace in both homes.
Our York divorce lawyers might also recommend parenting coordination. Parenting coordination may include recommending parenting support services, helping parents create a parenting plan, and may share their observations with the court. Parenting coordinators also educate parents in peaceful conflict resolution and remind parents of the effects of parental conflict on children. Parents who have been separated from their children for a long time may find parenting coordination helpful, as parenting classes may be involved. Parents who cannot come to agreeable terms for a parenting plan may receive recommendations through professionals that a parenting coordinator has access to. Like family mediation, this is a non-adversarial process, with the best interests of the child or children remaining paramount throughout. But parenting coordination may be more suitable for families who have issues beyond a heated conflict over where the children will spend weekends.
One major advantage of family mediation and parenting coordination is that it reduces the number of parenting decisions that must be litigated. Family Law often makes references to concepts such as "the best interests of the child", or morality issues that leave it up to a judge's personal views, which may not allow for the changing nature of families or for cultural differences. While litigation can be necessary, and sometimes the best option, it is a poor tool for making ordinary parental decisions. Whenever feasible, conflict resolution techniques that do not require a court date should be preferred, and family mediation and parenting coordination are among the best methods for high conflict families.
While their recommendations may receive the sanction of a court order, parenting coordinators can only recommend, educate and negotiate. They cannot make rulings or change existing court-ordered arrangements. They can help document the need for altered arrangements, by noting your child's behavior or environment. They can help document behavior patterns between parents. If your co-parent is consistently late or skips picking up the kids for weekend visits, your parenting coordinator may be one person to notify of the tardiness, depending on their level of involvement. But their role is to help establish the best arrangements for parenting, not to help one parent "win" the divorce. Keep the discussion with the parenting coordinator to parenting issues alone, and everyone wins.
A parenting coordinator should not have any other function connected to the divorce or parenting arrangements. They should not serve as an attorney for either parent, naturally, and the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts recommends that they not serve in any capacity that could result in bias, such as, but not limited to, serving as the child's therapist or attorney. A parenting coordinator should not receive any gift or service from any party who might have an interest, which includes the parents, extended family and friends of the parents, or anyone representing same. It might be tempting to try to sway a parenting coordinator, but you must trust in them and the parenting coordination process itself for success. A biased parenting coordinator can be worse than none at all.
Your parenting coordinator might be a mental health or legal professional, but with training in mediation. Both have their advantages. Those who come from a legal background are naturally better versed in how Family Law works, but if your family is struggling with serious emotional instability or mental health problems, a parenting coordinator who is a psychologist or therapist might know more about the resources available to your family. But both will provide competent and compassionate service based on a non-confrontational model of conflict resolutions, so if you are assigned a parenting coordinator whose background doesn't match your family's needs exactly, they should work to help you find the resources you need.
The role of a parenting coordinator should be temporary; once the parenting coordinator has helped parents develop a parenting plan and helped the parents develop ways to de-escalate conflict and resolve disputes peacefully, they should be able to step aside and let newly successful co-parents work together to parent, even as they move on romantically. While it's not always pleasant to have a third party in sensitive discussions and decisions, family mediators and parenting coordinators can help parents provide greater stability for their children and greater peace for themselves.
Submitted by Diane on behalf of Colgan & Associates. They are a law firm of trusted advisors whose goal and focus is to help their clients preserve, restore and move forward with their lives. They offer a team of six attorneys and support staff to work with clients in family law matters (divorce, child custody, alimony and support), traffic matters and criminal defense.