High Conflict Central hears the most from parents when it comes to finding or working with a parenting consultant or parent coordinator. These people are so hard to understand, even lawyers and judges can have trouble with the role. We will admit that we struggled to understand their decisions and behaviors until our fearless leader, Susan Carpenter, made things more clear.
We have never met anyone who understands Parenting Consultants as much as Susan Carpenter does. Never. Of course many highly experienced PCs understand their role, but some of the newbies may not. Either way, they don’t share what is going on with you. Why? They figure your lawyer will. Unfortunately, on the flip side, lawyers think your PC will. Well, this leads to where nobody will. Lucky for you, we will. Susan will, too.
As someone who has been working for almost 20 years to help parents navigate the very choppy waters of family court, I get a fair amount of calls and emails from parents who feel overwhelmed with how off track their case has become. High conflict cases snowball into unimagineable craziness and parents desperately want to find ways to make it stop. Much of the craziness doesn’t really come from court. It really comes from the behavior of one or both parents. When you get sucked into the vortex of the land of upside down and backwards, AKA family court, there is little that the legal system can offer to fix it. Everything depends on the level of the cooperation between parents and their willingness to accept the reality of the situation and follow the prescripts that court professionals have to offer. Unfortunately, there is no magic fairy dust. There are no gold plated court orders that will make someone “follow the rules” or court orders. Parenting is not an exact science, whether a couple is happily married or whether they are angrily, hostiley, vindictively or hatefully divorced. The problem for divorced people is that you cannot put parenting on hold. Married couples sometimes alternate parenting between each parent because they do not fear the other has plans to take the children away, but divorced parents battle over who gets to do what, often because fear or hurt feelings are driving the parenting. Court orders cannot magically take fear or hurt feelings away.
In many cases, parents work through their fears and hurt feelings, and divorce drama can settle down to a level that will make the situation workable for children and parents, but in the case of high conflict, the battle continues to rage without end. It is possible for the craziness to not only stay the same, but to increase. It happens because one or both parents are very rigid and demanding and they are unable or unwilling to look at how they contribute to the conflict. Until both parents can examine how they got to this point, there really is no way to move them forward. So, even though the real burden is always on the parents, desperate parents beg the court for help.
Family court doesn’t have much to offer that will be of much help to you. They operate with no-fault ideas for divorce. You can blame all day long, but they don’t want to hear about it. Court operates under “the best interests of the child” doctrine, which means that the court has been elevated to the keeper of your child’s best interests, regardless of what a parent might think their child’s best interests are, and the most they can offer you is usually some type of mental health services. Even then, their options for mental health services in high conflict situations are a blend of law and psychology and sometimes, neither specialty does what it is supposed to do. If those areas don’t work together, but are in conflict with each other they add more drama to the mix. You end up being at the mercy of the biases and ideals that the professionals hold, often outside of court and outside of the application of law, but that is what they have to offer you if you cannot make it workable yourself.
About the only thing they can offer, once the Judgement and Decree has been signed, sealed and delivered, is the services of a Parenting Consultant or Parenting Coordinator. The term Parenting Consultant is exclusive to Minnesota. The rest of the world calls them Parenting or Parent Coordinators. What these professionals do is to act as a neutral party, who will case manage the parents’ communication and conflict, try to help the parents cooperate and make agreements about the children, but they will also make a decision when the parents are unable to agree. It can be helpful, but it can also be a prison sentence.
Because of my personal and professional background in family court, parents seek out my wisdom on who they should choose as their parenting consultant. Since I am in Minnesota, I know specifics about some of the PCs here. Because I work one on one with parents as a divorce and conflict coach or parent educator, I have seen samplings from many of our local PCs and I know how they think or react. That can be helpful when someone asks me who they should choose as a PC, but truthfully, you just cannot know how a PC will act in your case.
Over the years, I have had favorite PCs. There have also been some PCs that I tell people to steer clear of. Still, it is a hard call. PCs can burn out. PCs can come up with ideas that they think are really good and then see that they go bad. PCs charge you a lot of money for their services and so if that is their sole motivation, they may enjoy seeing the conflict increase. Every so often I see a PC do a phenomenal job and I recommend that individual very highly, but then something happens and they do a terrible job on the next case. Did they suffer from burn out? Are they too overloaded with cases? Word gets around if they seem to know what they are doing. Did they get ill? Are they just tired of the pettiness? What you may not understand is high conflict is not only stressful for you, but also stressful for the professionals. I can speak to how difficult it is to witness some of the things parents will do to their child on a daily basis and be unable to do enough to put a stop to it or make the parent see their role in the conflict. Performing the role of PC is not easy. Being a prisoner (parent) of the role is frustrating, to say the least.
What you must remember is this. The individuals who fill the role are human, just like you. They make mistakes. They get stressed. They have no magic formula to make people cooperate, treat each other decently, put their children first, or “follow the rules”. Your conflict may be different from the conflict they’ve managed in other families. While conflict is very similarly rooted, the underlying issues or triggers may be different. The interaction between parents may be very different. The histories between parents may be very different. The children’s personalities may be very different. Parent’s personalities may clash with the personality of the Parenting Coordinator/Consultant. A PC may be too passive to make a difference for you or they may be too aggressive to change an aggressive parent. You can never really know how things will go in your particular case.
If you are planning to appoint a Parenting Coordinator/Consultant to your case or are struggling with one that you currently have, I strongly recommend coaching services. Your approach to the process and with the professional will determine how well it can work. Coaching can help you understand what is happening, especially when it makes no sense to you. For more information on why your family cannot move forward, contact us. We are always happy to see if we can make a difference for you and your child.
Also, regardless of where you live, if you have any recommendations for a Parenting Consultant or Parenting Coordinator, leave a comment. Parents want to know about different professionals so that they don’t choose the wrong one. Your feedback may spare another parent from a lot of grief. Always keep in mind though, if a parent has approached the situation with ill intent, they probably will have a hard time with the PC on their case. Everything is about perception.
Follow High Conflict Central. Our goal is to help parents make a better life for themselves and their children. You can read more about that here and here. We are assembling a team of divorce mentors around the country. If this is something you are interested in, either finding a mentor or training to become a mentor, contact us today.
PC services are part of what is offered by Life’s Doors Mediation, a sponsor of High Conflict Central. Reach out to them if you are looking for PC services. To learn about the difference between a PC and a PTE, sign up for our free e-course on the topic.
WordPress congratulated me today on a decade of blogging. I knew it was around this time I sat down to write my first blog on the subject of parental alienation, it was a Mother’s Day memorial for all the mothers without their children, it was for my mother who for a very long time had […]
A conflict, by definition, must involve two or more sides (unless it is within you). Therefore if parental alienation is about high conflict divorce it must mean that both of you are fighting. Or does it? One of the biggest myths that I encounter […]
As a Life and Divorce coach, I am sometimes misunderstood and misjudged. Over the years that I went through a high conflict divorce, I brought myself out of a deep dark place and into a life of joy and happiness. I have successfully shown many others how to do the same and focus on finding their way beyond what has happened in the past and to the life of their dreams I’ve been able to help many people, but not everyone. Some people want to stay stuck. If an individual wants to stay stuck in something bad, there is nothing I can do. There is also nothing a psychologist, lawyer, or judge can do either. They may try, but ultimately they will have to leave you behind and move onto helping the people who are willing to do the work that will get them where they want to be.
I work mostly with people in the Family Court System. These are parents who find themselves in a high conflict divorce situation, getting beaten to a pulp (legally) by the confounding judge, who is unable to understand what the heck it is that drives them to do the things they do.
I understand domestic violence. I understand parental alienation (which is not the same as Parental Alienation Syndrome). I understand Domestic Violence Organizations. I understand Father’s Rights Groups. I understand the parent who lives under a microscope for years in family court proceeding after family court proceeding. I understand the legal community. I understand the psychologists. I understand a lot of what happens in Family Court. I understand how people got into the mess they have gotten themselves into. Understanding all these things does not mean that focusing on them will make anything better. In fact, putting a focus on what is wrong in Family Court can be a huge waste of time and hurt you in achieving your custody and parenting time goals.
There have been times when I have either lost a client or lost a client’s respect and trust when I have had to tell them that they and their attorney are putting too much emphasis on domestic violence in their family court case. I have also angered parents when I’ve had to tell them the parental alienation syndrome argument won’t get them far. An honest statement like that mistaken to mean that I don’t believe parental alienation happens. I know it happens. I have even experienced it for myself. It happened to my youngest son and I, at the hands of a manipulative father, but my son and I are closer than ever now because I always trusted him to know truth and to figure out what was happening. I did what I could, left alone what I could not do, and put my energy into waiting for my son to be ready to restore our relationship. I had faith that I had raised him in a way in which he would see truth, and now, we are closer than ever. He does know the truth and bears some scars.
It was a long journey from my naive beginnings in family court. I went from being blind sided by the nastiness of Family Court to getting to where I am today.
More than believing in parental alienation, I believe that co-dependence, childhood trauma and unhealthy relationship patterns are likely the underlying cause of on-going family court nightmares. A good psychologist should tell you that as long as there is one strong parent, your child can overcome the trauma, regardless of what your ex throws at you. I have seen this to be true. In my own case, I stopped being the victim of domestic violence and stopped adding to the drama. I wanted a better life for my children and myself. That meant that I would have to pull myself up by my bootstraps, get healthy, and work with the professionals in the Family Court System at their level. They were not going to listen to me if I only spoke to them when I was at the point of hysterics. I was never heard when I screamed and swore at them, and you won’t get far with that either.
They were also not going to allow me to educate them. These were educated professionals and in their eyes, I was the one who was uninformed. If I was so smart, how come I couldn’t put an end to this conflict for my family? Why did they have to make decisions about my children? They could not understand and I was not able to make them understand. I found them to be obstacles in the way of me being able to move on with my life. They were also, definitely, hindering my children’s development, but they would not have ever wanted to hear that. Over the years I came to realize, that they were not the answer to the problems and they should not be my focus. Instead, my focus needed to be on myself, and my children. That is when I began to turn that ship around, and in doing so, I freed myself and my children of those professionals forever. No more obstacles. No more hindrances.
This is what I help my clients as well. Please don’t think that means that this can happen overnight. It is a process. I help my clients through that process, but they determine the pace, I cannot. I connect with many clients through a free consult, but not every consult turns into a client. Some people think I am nuts and they never come back. They do not want to give up that crutch of family court. That is sad because most people come to me due to their frustration with how the Family Court is not helping the situation, but is instead, making it much, much worse, but when told that they may need to take the focus off of family court professionals and onto their healing and gaining skills, they don’t want to refocus their energy inward. It is a lot of work to explore what has happened to you, and it is painful and ugly to peel back the layers of who you are you, and so some people cannot stomach it.
Think about this for a minute. Maybe it will make sense to you and maybe it won’t. I can only put it out there and hope that you can make some sense out of it. When you are a victim of domestic violence and look to the family court to help you with it, that is your focus. If you keep your focus there, and run to and fro, in search of professionals who will understand, that is taking your time, energy and money away from having the life you want. You may think that you cannot have the life you want, but I am here to tell you, it is just not true. You are the one keeping your life and your children’s lives in the family court. Your ex may stay there, and he or she may use it against you, but if you really get yourself strong, stay confident in your truths, and put your focus outside of the court, you will see miracles happen. The people I see who beat this system at its own game, refocus on their life and their children and slowly shift their thoughts and energies away from their nasty ex and the confusing court people, are the ones who succeed in getting saving their children from an imprisoned life. The people who latch on to their domestic violence experience or try to expose parental alienation will find that they ramp up the conflict, get more deeply embedded in the Family Court System, and feel more and more stuck over time. I am not saying that domestic violence or parental alienation should be tolerated or ignored. I am not saying that at all. What I am saying is you cannot push those memes the entire time because there are only certain ways to successfully use those arguments in family court.
Not everything involved with the conflict is related to domestic abuse or parental alienation. Some things are communication issues and related to how you speak to or correspond with you ex. Some issues are related to those Mars-Venus, male-female issues, too. Some issues have to do with the stage of development your child is in, as well, and so you need to really consider what is driving the conflict for each particular issue that arises. You cannot blame everything on domestic violence or parental alienation because the professionals don’t always have any recourse, even if they do recognize those issues are present. You still have the court orders you have and their roles are limited as far as what action they can take. You are the driver of a family court battle, not them. You want to make sure you are focused on which direction you want to go and where the journey will lead. If you know your desired destination, you cannot go around in circles. That will not get you there. Instead, map out how you are going to get there and come hell or high water, keep traveling in that direction and don’t stop until you get there!
This post may anger some people and intrigue others. It’s hard to really explain it all in one blog post! If you are interested in finding out how to free yourself of the family court, as much as possible, please contact me through High Conflict Central. I’d love to consult with you to tell you more. There is nothing more rewarding for me than to see a client who grasps these concepts and takes their life and their children back!
Let’s face it. The world of Family Court today is nothing but crazy! If you get divorced and you have children, prepare yourself for upside down and backwards land. NOTHING is as it seems. The power is extreme. The players are extreme and there doesn’t seem to be much room for such things as liberty, the freedom to choose your own relationships and there really isn’t a whole lot of law going on in Family Court anymore, at least not post decree.
There has been a push to keep families out of court to try and make sure they don’t make anyone feel bad by having accountability. Unfortunately, rather than NOT make parents feel bad by being held accountable for their actions, they instead make everyone feel bad, including the children. Then, once everyone is feeling bad enough where they’ll do anything to make it stop, families are offered special help in the form of third party decision makers who can make decisions without you ever having to go to court. Sounds great doesn’t it? Well, it can be a nightmare.
Your family may very well need the help of a parenting consultant or parent coordinator, but they can be a very complex role that parents just do not understand. We know that families do better when they are prepared.
Because parents are not always fully informed about the different roles of independent contractors who work with high conflict families, High Conflict Central has created a free e-course to explain the difference between two of these court authorities that you might end up with. Whether you are in Minnesota or not, there are things that you can learn in this free e-course about PCs, which are known as Parenting Consultants in Minnesota and Parent Coordinators in other states. These are important roles to know about in a high conflict case. Check it out:
I have an acquaintance who, like me, has dedicated her life to helping children. This is something that we both agree on, the importance of parents in the life of their children. In fact, we agree on many things when it comes to parents and children. Especially, when it comes to those families who have been impacted by divorce. We agree that children need to interact with both of their parents. We agree that children are given to parents from God. We agree that God chose both parents as being responsible for the particular child in question and that both parents have a right to that child and a responsibility to act in good faith to raise them. Where we disagree is on a 50-50 split. She believes that dividing a child 50-50 will resolve all conflict and remove all court battles for that child’s family experience. I disagree.
The reason I disagree is because I work with parents in these horrible high conflict situations and I see the harm that high conflict can inflict on a child. I see this played out every single day. The worst of cases? Those who stipulated (agreed) to joint custody and/or 50-50 parenting time when they had no business doing so. In those families, they have some serious work to do before they will ever have even a remote chance of working well together. Neither parent will be able to fix the problem on their own and the other parent has no interest in working together on resolution. In those cases, a 50-50 split is not going to be a good thing for their child and will also not be a good thing for either parent. It will be a detrimental situation for both parents. Sole custody and limiting time for the parent who won’t get in the game may be the only resolution for that family, unless they want to constantly run to court or a court appointed decision maker to get decisions made for their child.
Why do my acquaintance and I see the situation so differently? Why do law professionals see it differently than feeling and emotion professionals do? Why do so many parents get it wrong when they talk about “parental rights”?
The acquaintance, whom I will now refer to as “Parenting Equality Bound” has studied Supreme Court decisions on Parental Rights. I have also studied the same decisions. She sees the law as a weapon. I see the law as a tool. Some of the work she has done over 30 years has severely weakened the law. I’d like to fix some of that and return the law to a strong place again. It is the weakness she helped create that is the source of many of her complaints about the law. It’s rather ironic. Because Family Law is an extremely weak and vague area of law, she’d like to do away with it all together while I’d like to see its hands untied so it can get back to a place where it works for people it is supposed to serve. Two different people. Two different ideas. Two different beliefs. Two different solutions. Two different perspectives and the only way that this difference will be resolved is if one of us decides to see things differently. That is unlikely to happen.
The reason for our different perspectives? I used the law as a tool to help my children and it worked. Someone very close to her in her life used it as a weapon regarding parental rights in a system that is there for the Best Interests of children, and it did not work that way. It rarely works if you only see it as a weapon and see it about you without regard to the children. Unfortunately, some parents only know weapons. Regardless of perspectives, law is law. It doesn’t care about feelings. We’ve tried to make it care about feelings and that has been a disaster for high conflict families whose feelings can be extreme and sometimes out of touch with reality. High Conflict families are the lens that both me and Parenting Equality Bound see it through because the cooperative families don’t need the help of law so much as the high conflict families do. The problem is that the laws have been molded into expectations of parental cooperation for the benefit of children and to date, we don’ have 100% compliance with cooperation.
The other day, Parenting Equality Bound and I were discussing new legislation she is pushing. Every year without fail, she pushes, and pushes. She has been described as a “bull in a China” shop. Just a few weeks ago she greatly insulted several colleagues that she has worked with for the last three years on a publication and I watched her lose all of what she gained in terms of respect. Any respect her colleagues developed over the three years disintegrated in one brief moment. She lost the respect of everyone on that work group, myself included. I stay open-minded with people and try to give them the benefit of the doubt, but what she wrote to the work group was simply outrageous and unfounded and just another example of how things have to be her way or the highway. It also showed the very narrow lens though which she sees the world. Many of the parents I’ve had to work with also see through a very narrow lens and because of it, they are not able to see the big picture in a variety of situations. During my conversation with Parenting Equality Bound, she asked me why I would not want parents to have equal rights. My answer is that parents do not have two separate rights to a child. There is only one shared right. She makes an argument that parent’s rights are 100% and 100%. That math makes 200%. I know the reality is simply 100%, which means both parents combined share 100%, which can be distributed between the two anywhere from zero to 100. 50-50 is only one possible outcome, but there are several other possible outcomes to choose from. I don’t understand why parents would want to be limited. From my perspective, they might be the one who should have close to 100%. If it was to benefit their child, why wouldn’t they take on more responsibility if the other parent is not capable of being responsible or child focused?
I used to see it the same way she did. I had my rights and my children’s father had his rights and because it was so painful to work with him, I just wanted to take my rights and the child over here and have him take his rights and the child over there and leave each other the heck alone! He had always been abusive to me and the children and he had also had issues with alcoholism. Someone with those kinds of relationship issues doesn’t make for a very reliable or responsible co-parent. Still, I tried to make it work and all it did was prove how impossible it would be unless the abuse and alcoholism were going to be addressed. Professional after professional wanted me to pretend those issues did not exist so we could move on. Unfortunately, moving on was not in and of itself going to foster an environment of cooperation in our case. I did everything I could do on my end only to have the other parent highly resistant to change anything on his end to improve things for the children and I started to realize, we really had zero care and control of the children. Because we were unable to figure this out and do it together, the court professionals held the care and control of the children. That was unacceptable to me. I believed a parent should take charge over and above the court professionals and so I made my case and was awarded sole custody. That corrected 95% of the problems my children faced by being stuck in a long, drawn out legal affair and under the custody of court people. Because of this, I still believe and will continue to believe that there are cases where it is better to have one parent take over the heavy lifting instead of leaving the decisions of children in the hands of court professionals. When 50-50 does not work well for the family involved, it equates to a childhood lived inside the overshadowing of a system. The family has no escape route until the children turn 18 and are fully emancipated. What 50-50 means is two half parents and in most cases, it actually means 100% court professional parents.
When families have two parents who can work out the sharing of divorced parenting, great! They should. Those who can agree to do it, do it, and it works well for them. They don’t need a court order to tell them what to do and they understand that parenting is not an exact science. They are sometimes willing to let the other parent take a greater role from time to time and sometimes they have to take on a greater role, too. It may not be fair and equal, but it is balanced. Those parents don’t want their rights handed to them from a court. They know that they already have their shared right and understand that with that right comes the responsible to their children so that no one has to do it for them. They also understand the concept of sharing. They know that sometimes you have to give up something to get something else.
The parents who cannot get cooperation without (and sometimes even with) a court order are the ones who have to make hard decisions. Can the situation work for the child and how much can they do alone to support their child and make it work? Sometimes one parent can do a lot to improve a situation even when the other parent won’t life a finger to make things better. They may be able to make 50-50 work despite the other parent. However, in some families, when a parent is actively working against their every effort, it may be time to put a stop to the sabotage. Sometimes that is the kindest thing you can do for your children and the parent who doesn’t know how to share because in reality, they are harming the children and themselves. I do not want to see sole custody go away because it can sometimes be the only thing that rescues a child that is being harmed. I also always believe that it is better to have a parent entrusted with the children rather than a system. I’d prefer there be two parents, but when that is not possible, it makes sense to have one rather than none.
Parenting Equality Bound never sees a reason why 50-50 won’t work. As I said, she believes that each parent has a right to the children from the Supreme Court of the United States. I’ve listened to lawyers try explaining to her that there aren’t two rights, but only one shared right. She will not listen. Through my research, I have also learned about this shared right. There are not two rights, there is only one right to one child. Therefore, that one right can be distributed between parents and in Family Court, that is what is done. It may be 50-50. it may be 25-75 or it may be 35-65. How it gets distributed depends on how parents can make it work best for the child or children involved.
Parenting Equality Bound continues to tell me to read the Supreme Court decisions. I have. I ask her to show me where they say parents have more than a “right”, in other words, when do they say parents each have a right separate from the other? She can never show me that. She will show me various SCOTUS decisions, which she believes offer parent’s rights in the plural, but everything I have read lists parents in the plural and the words “right” or “interest” in the singular. Does it matter? Yes, it does.
There is only one right to one child. Yes, there are two parents. Splitting the baby in half is not the answer. The answer has to be about the child’s safety and well-being. In the King Solomon story in the Bible, the only custody battle shared from God’s word, one parent is lying and manipulating and acting in bad faith. The other parent is able to be focused on the child’s safety and well-being. The bad faith parent doesn’t care if the child is destroyed, so long as she wins. The good faith parent is unwilling to allow the child to be harmed no matter what the outcome is for her. Solomon, the wise judge, gives the care and control to the parent who can put the child’s needs above their own. That is what good parents do. That is why we do need wise judges to make tough decisions like that. Part of the problem is that for so long now, judges have tried to make parents share and make decisions together because the child does need both parents. Some of it has gone beyond all common sense and good judgment. There has been a big push for restorative and social justice (with ideals such as equality) that have weakened the law in the area of families. The truth about equality is that we are all created equal, but we are not promised an equal outcome, especially when we act in bad faith or use court as a weapon that harms our children.
I would urge parents who believe in parenting equality to review the Supreme Court documents on the right or the interest of parents. Is it singular or is it plural? Is it a right you share with the other parent or are there two rights, plural? If it is truly one right to be distributed in the best interest of your child, are you placing a limit on yourself and tying your hands when the other parent acts in bad faith? What if you are the only one who is focused on providing a good outcome for your child? Might it be that you are the one who should take control away, not only from the parent acting in bad faith, but from a court who would prefer not to act, but has to act because the two of you have shown that you cannot act in good faith together?
It is a rare event when a parent gets sole custody after divorce, as it should be, but real equality is when each parent has an option to rescue their children from having court professional be the parents when one parent makes it impossible to get decisions made for their child.