Minnesota passed small tweaks to the best interest factors back in 2015. Since that time, an ad hoc group met to write a new parenting time guide. The new guide replaces the 1999 guide which basically assumed that one parent would be the custodial parent and the other parent have visitation. Times have changed and now both parents are encouraged to be involved in the life of their child.
To read the new parenting time guidelines in Minnesota, visit this link on the Minnesota Judicial Branch website.
Just so you know, our own lead coach, Susan Carpenter, was involved in the ad hoc group writing the guide. She was instrumental in getting parallel parenting time included as an option for high conflict parents!
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.
The following is my most popular post ever. It has been updated slightly. When I started trying to bring a new High Conflict Program to Minnesota, I removed the post out of respect for Our Family Wizard. They asked me to remove it, and offered to help me get the High Conflict program started in Minnesota. Normally, I stand behind what I write and what I believe, but at the time, I thought more people could be helped with the High Conflict program than could be helped by this post. As Family Court just keeps getting worse for families, I have decided that I need to re-post this. I think it is information that is helpful to people. That is what I am trying to do. As you will note, I do find certain portions of Our Family Wizard to be convenient. The goal when I wrote this back in 2011 was to help people stay focused on the reality that there is very little any Family Court tool can do to help you when you have a hostile co-parent. That is a sad fact of reality. Below is the re-post of sad realities.
*The following is a repost from A Day in the Life Blog of Life’s Doors Mediation from 12-15-11
Our Family Wizard is a communication tool that the courts often order families to use to manage co-parenting issues. You can email through our family wizard, keep a calendar/schedule for the whole family and scan receipts to have a record of expenses for the children.
The high conflict family will still have high conflict through Our Family Wizard. While OFW does offer discounts for military families and scholarships to some families, it will cost you $99 per year or $179 for a 2 year plan. That cost is for each parent. While there are some things about Our Family Wizard that are helpful and handy, it still is another money sucking entity for the court. You can do all the same things through email or a shared yahoo/gmail calendar, etc. The reason the court will order you to use it is because court authorities can log in and review what is going on with your family. For example, if you want your parenting coordinator/consultant to read some of the emails that your ex has sent to you, you can let them know that they should review the emails and the professional can log in, select your account and read through anything they’d like.
There are myths about how it works and I’d like to clear some of those up. I have known people who get very excited about the use of Our Family Wizard. They think that finally, someone is going to see how nasty my ex is and do something about it. If that is what you believe, the first thing you need to know is that these people see nasty. They see nasty family battles a lot. It is nothing new to them. Second, if your ex is nasty, what is it that you expect the parenting coordinator or consultant to do about that exactly? They really cannot do much.
There is a scare tactic to Our Family Wizard. The courts hope that since a court authority, including the judge, can look in and read your emails at anytime, you might decide to be civil and cooperative with your ex. Do judges look in and read your emails? I highly doubt it. They don’t want to see you in their court room, why would they take the time to go read nasty emails? Do parenting coordinators/consultants read the emails? Again, that is highly unlikely. They simply don’t have time. The system is not designed for them to read every email on every case that they are involved with. Usually, if you want your PC to read the emails, you would either need to call and tell them to do so, or send them an email and tell them to do so.
Our Family Wizard can be used for people who are not involved in the family courts, but is mostly court ordered for high conflict cases. Is it a bad thing? That depends. It will take more of your money. If you are already spending a fortune for attorney’s and parenting coordinators/consultants, this is just more money out of your kids’ pockets. Think of the things you could do for your child with that money. If it is a court order though, you have no choice. Well, you do, but if your ex will make a federal case out of it, you don’t want to risk contempt of court.
Does Our Family Wizard reduce conflict? Not so much. It may decrease some of the battles at first, but once you get used to it, you let your guard down. Communications get bad once again and now you have just moved the location of the battle, from yahoo (for example) to Our family Wizard. That is the only change, the location where the battle plays out.
Another problem with Our Family Wizard is that often, a parent will email the other parent, but will start writing to the PC and cc-ing the other parent. This is not the way it is supposed to go, but it often goes that way. The way disputes work in family court, one parent can make a request of the other, if the other parent says no, then you contact the parenting coordinator/consultant. This doesn’t always happen with the crutch of Our Family Wizard. As mentioned previously, one parent will start emailing the PC at any sign of dispute. They will add your name to the email as if you are an after thought.
Our Family Wizard may work well for you and your family. It’s hard to say, but you should definitely check it out before you have to use it. There are some other programs around so it doesn’t have to be Our Family Wizard, but you and your ex will have to agree to use a different company and hope your professional is OK with it. Most professionals will only go with Our Family Wizard.
Since your emails on Our Family Wizard are not private, you will need to be careful what you write. Written words are missing body language, facial expressions and emotion so in the absence of that, words can be taken to mean things that you didn’t intend.
Also, regarding the calendar, I have known some couples who use the shared calendar and if anytime the other parent forgets to add an appointment or send an email through Our Family Wizard, the other parent goes berserk. These things happen. It is very unfortunate and not what it is intended for, but you need to be aware that it can be used as a weapon.
Again, this can be a useful tool, if you use it as it was made to be used. Personally, I liked the receipt scanning ability. I could scan copies of medical payments when requesting reimbursement from the other parent. It is also fantastic to keep track of the kids’ schedule and appointments, clear up miscommunications, etc., but it can and is often another tool to use against an ex. If you have a high conflict person to co parent with, this will just end up like anything else, a battle field.
Over the years, different companies have popped up from time to time in an effort to compete with Our Family Wizard, but they typically go out of business pretty fast. Our Family Wizard has succeeded in making a name for themselves across the country and judges frequently court order the program for parents, as do parenting coordinators and consultants. There are some good things about Our Family Wizard, but if you think it will stop a bad actor, it usually will not. You also cannot force someone to sign up or use the program if they are not going to. Some people choose to be difficult and non communicative. If someone is acting in bad faith and wants to make your life miserable, there is usually little you can do to stop it, other than be courageous and strong in the face of the attacks from an unhappy person while spending your time focusing on the needs of your children. No matter what.
High Conflict Central has helped many parents on communication. We offer coaching and education for individuals and families. One of the most helpful things our clients gain is to remove the stress of emailing with a hostile co-parent. You know, the one who sends 25 nasty responses to a simple request. We’d love to help you, whether you use Our Family Wizard or not. Contact us for a free consult today and the best part is, working with us does not have to involve your ex. It will be your work for yourself and for your children. Contact us today.
High Conflict Central was created by parents, for parents. Even though a couple of our coaches now work in different capacities in alternative dispute resolution processes, we all started out in your shoes and conquered the worst of high conflict divorce. Some of us even challenged bad custody evalutions and successfully motioned the court for sole physical and legal custody to free our children from a family court prison. We want to help you do the same.
High Conflict Central offers live and online training to help you learn to Manage Conflict, improve communication, work with and understand court authorities, such as Lawyers, Parenting Coordinator/Consultants, Guardian ad Litems and even Child Protection Workers, not to mention, learn ways to bring peace back to your home and keep your children out of the middle. Check out our free e-courses!
To see everything High Conflict Central has to offer divorced parents and victims of domestic violence, including divorced parent mentors, visit our website. We are here for divorced parents, and we will do whatever we can to ensure that you remain a strong parent who is involved in your children’s lives! Your children need you.
Our Number One Goal:
To teach you to be the strongest, most engaged parent you can be at this time when children need you the most, and, if necessary, to compensate for what is lacking in the other household. To shift the focus away from what is beyond your control and focus, instead, on what is.
Goal Number Two:
To help you acquire skills to live life to the fullest, regardless of the behavior of anyone else and successfully work with court authorities to achieve your goals.
Goal Number Three:
Finally, our goal is to ensure that children have the love and guidance from at least one parent to keep them out of the middle of conflict and teach them healthy relationship skills so that family cycles of abuse and dysfunction do not repeat.