Children need their parents. This is particularly true during times of transition, such as divorce. The most challenging thing about going through divorce is to manage your own pain so that you can be the support your child needs. Divorce is a critical time for a family. Emotions are high. Sometimes parent conflict is extremely high to the point of insanity. If you are feeling so much stress and upset, just imagine what your children are feeling. They need their parents to reassure them that everything will be alright, but if you are not sure of that, it is hard to make them believe the words you tell them.
Many parents seek out help from lawyers or mediators to get through the divorce process. Some will even turn to a therapist. Those are good professionals to turn to, but the problem is that you may hear different things from each different player. A therapist is going to validate your feelings while a lawyer is going to tell you your feelings don’t matter. Everything will feel like it is tied to money when it is supposed to be about your children’s best interests.
Have you ever thought about seeking help from a coach-mentor? High Conflict Central has been involved with parents in conflict, especially parents going through divorce or post decree issues. We not only have a collective 21 years of experience in the process divorced parents have to go through, but also have experienced the pain. A requirement for our coach-mentors is that they have been through similar things to what you are going through. We can understand what you are talking about and help you understand the upside down and backwards experience of what it is like to go through family court in a way that your lawyer or therapist will never be able to do. We also understand the reason behind Family Court and what seems like insanity in their thinking and we want to help you understand, too. There is nothing that feels more like eternal darkness than trying to navigate a system that you are not prepared to navigate and do not understand.
High Conflict Central tries to be the link to connect all the pieces for you. While you may not want to spend money on coaching when you have high legal bills and concerns about your future, our clients will tell you that coaching helped decrease their lawyer bills and the number of interactions with court professionals like judges or parenting consultants. It will also help you feel supported and in the strongest possible position to help your child. Contact us to learn more about coaching services at High Conflict Central, a trademark of Susan Carpenter Coaching and Consulting.
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.
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!
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.
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.
When your ex is acting the fool, just get outta their way! Professionals will never see what is going on when you tell them. Let them see for themselves! In our latest video, Susan will explain more about getting out of the way and allowing your ex to act a fool. Remember, just because they may be acting the fool doesn’t mean that you have to do it, too. In fact, your chance for successfully navigating family court greatly increase when you do not let your ex rattle you. Check it out!
If you are not familiar with what parallel parenting is, our previous post explained more about what it is and why it can be helpful to high conflict parents. Here is a link to that post, “What is Parallel Parenting”, in case you’d like to read through that before continuing on with the rest of this post.
For high conflict parents, parallel parenting can be a way to move forward when they have difficulty with co-parenting after divorce. Regardless of their best laid plans or the detailed parenting plan they put in place, there are times when parents are not prepared for what is to come and did not realize how poorly they understood their situation enough to see the consequences of the decisions they made about child sharing after divorce. Parents desperately want closure and finality, but many do not get anything that resembles that, even though the legal process is over. For some, the battle keeps going and the conflict continues to escalate, often for years. When that happens, professionals label those parents as “high conflict”, but hold them to the same standard they would for low conflict cases. That is just not right.
The best way for high conflict parents to move away from conflict is to try parallel parenting. As a divorced parent going through Family Court, you may find that many professionals are opposed to the idea of parallel parenting and will constantly harp on the term co-parenting. Some professionals, even judges, have never heard of parallel parenting and that is astonishing. Why? Because for the last few decades, professionals were trained to help you co-parent and they were told that when parents co-parent, it is good for children. Post decree, the court is there for only one reason. The court’s concern is for the best interests of children. They are not necessarily concerned with the best interests of the parents. Parents had their chance to make decisions for how they wanted the details to work and then either put those decisions into written agreements that the court signed off on, or the judge decided the case for you. Once everything has been signed by the judge, the expectation is that you will follow the orders.
Many parents were only given one option for how they would parent after divorce and signed either an agreement or a court motion stating they would do it. That style is called co-parenting. Unfortunately, there are some misunderstandings in the world of family court about co-parenting. This post is to help parents and professionals alike understand that there are other options available to parents who cannot make co-parenting work for them. These options often are ignored, kept as a trade secret, or become a dirty word when the reality is, it should be okay for some families to do things a little differently when they do not fit the mold of the ideal that professionals envision for parents. What people need to understand is that many families are already parallel parenting, but the professionals continue to call it co-parenting or frown on those who fail to co-parent. Parents should have the freedom to utilize the parallel parenting style of parenting after divorce when it can be used as a tool to improve their situation and make things better for their children.
What is co-parenting and why are professionals so adamant that you have to do it? Well, it depends on who you ask. Some parents and professionals think of a co-parent in the same way you’d think of being a co-pilot. Just as co-pilots fly together, co-parents are parenting together. That is all it means to them, but if that is all it means, why are these parents co-parenting for the first time after they no longer live together? Weren’t they parenting together when they were together, in the same house? The analogy of co-parents and co-pilots seems terribly misplaced. When have you ever heard of co-pilots flying in two different planes? They don’t. So to say that co-parenting means to parent together would make more sense when talking about parents who live in the same house together. Still, most parents never hear the term co-parent until they are in the divorce process and have been living separately for a while. You never hear married parents refer to the way they are raising the children together as co-parenting, but they might be. Although it is possible that they may not be. As parents go through the legal processes of divorce, it is unlikely anyone ever explores what kind of shared parenting style the parents used there, but just because they lived together, it did not mean they were co-parenting. In some families, parenting styles are very different and each one does their own thing, even when they disapprove of the way the other parent manages their parenting. So really, what is the big deal about co-parenting? Some divorce professionals just see it as a word that means doing so together, but forget to tell you how difficult it is going to be to do it while living in two separate homes. Co-parenting is a really strange term when you think about it. How can two people co-anything when they are not there together, doing it at the same time? Maybe something like team-based parenting would make more sense? How about collaboratively parenting? I think we are doing a disservice to families by making all sizes fit in a one size fits all box. One of the best movie lines is from Forest Gump:
Momma always said, “Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”
Well, families are like a box of chocolates, too. Some may be full of nuts, some may look good on the outside while they contain some really icky stuff on the inside and some may be very different when looked at individually or may be best when taken in small doses. This is why we should think about what might be the ingredients of the family and what might fit the best before boxing them a box when their family prefers a plastic wrapper.
Even when working with professionals, parents never know what they are gonna get. Family court professionals can be quite different individually, too. Some professionals believe that the term co-parenting is meant to be a shortened version of two words, cooperative and parenting. Cooperative parenting is a style of parenting after divorce that is the most beneficial way for parents to ensure their children’s healthy development and help them adjust to their parents’ divorce. When parents can put their relationship behind them and transform that relationship into a cooperative model of communicating and resolving conflict, children will come through divorce without the psychological, relational, and behavioral harm children who are caught in the middle of high conflict experience. Cooperative parenting helps children cope and more power to the parents who can instantly do it! Cooperative parenting is the best way to function after a divorce and it will happen when it is the shared goal for both parents. However, cooperation is not a solo endeavor and so the key to success is having both parents on board with doing everything in their power to make it happen. If one parent is not prepared for it or has very different ideas about how to parent children from that of the other, it can be place an unfair burden on parents who want to do the best for their children, but are not getting the level of cooperation from the other parent that is required to make it work. It works when both parents approach the situation from a good place and are making a good faith effort to build a better, but different relationship than what they had before.
Divorced people are looking to end their relationship, not to put a great deal of work into a new and improved relationship, but or those parents who understand from the get go that their relationship is going to continue in a different capacity because they have kids together, that change will come easier than for those who feel blindsided by the idea that the relationship is not over. It is frequently more difficult for one person than the other, especially if they were not the one who wanted the relationship to end. They need time to come to terms with the change and deal with their feelings. It won’t be possible to make someone do something that they do not have the skills for. Sometimes, neither parent is ready. If they haven’t healed enough, they just won’t be ready to be in the same room with the other parent or talk to the other parent, at least not yet. If that is where parents are at, it will take some work to ever move them into a cooperative style of parenting. This is why family court professionals are doing more harm than good when they offer cooperative parenting as the only way of sharing children after divorce and force the issue too soon.
It would be nice if all family court professionals could define co-parenting so everyone can be on the same page about what exactly it means. Look up the definition on different websites, including legal websites, and it is hard to understand what it means and how to do it. To say that it just means together sounds rather odd. Can parents parent “together” if they are not cooperative? Can anything be done jointly or together when it is done uncooperatively?
Most people can relate to trying to work with a co-worker who held difficult feelings about them. Try working on a project with the guy who doesn’t like you, is competitive with you or jealous of you. It is going to make the completion of the project all the more difficult and it may mean that the boss will need to intervene and remind you about the deadlines and all of the collateral people who will be impacted when things are not done in a timely fashion.
Whether or not you understand the reasons why you co-worker doesn’t like you doesn’t make any difference. Maybe the coworker prefers to work alone. Maybe they want all the credit for a job well done. Maybe they feel slighted because the boss (or the kids) seems to like you better than they like them. Regardless of what the issue is, the negative feelings belong to the other person. You cannot change the way they feel. All you can do is do your best to get the job done and not let the other guy affect your work.
Just like in the work place, the goal may have been put on you by other people. It may have been something you were told you had to do rather than something of your own choosing. When you “have to” instead of “want to” or “get to” work together, it changes things like motivation and the level of commitment you have to the idea. Those things are going to impact how great the level of cooperation there is going to be. It doesn’t have to, but it often does. Maybe negative feelings are getting in the way, but maybe each person simply has very different styles for getting things done.
Family court could take lessons from the workplace. Companies tend to do a great deal of training and team building exercises. Managers know that people are all different and need to be prepared for certain tasks well in advance of having to perform them. Good managers can recognize when two people will make a good team and when they won’t. In a case where the two people cannot work well together, it may be possible and even desirable to allow them to complete their parts of the project separately. The company may want to offer some training or coaching to help them work as part of a team, but in the mean time, it may be the best way to allow each to use the skills they have. Most successful managers realize that you have to meet people where they are and give them the tools to develop the skills that will get them where you want them to be. It would be nice if family court professionals did a better job of looking at the relationship dynamics before locking you into one that won’t work for you, and hopefully, they can consider all of the options available that might get your family going in the right direction. Currently, though, parents need to take responsibility for their own knowledge and if something doesn’t sound like it will work for you, look for other ideas yourself if you can. You are very much at the mercy of the professionals you come in contact with. Some are extremely knowledgeable and helpful while some dictate what you need to do and push it through because time is money!
Because of the way Family Court and Family law operates, it can be challenging to find the right kind of help. Neutrals can only do so much. In most cases, they cannot spend one-on-one time with you because it could make them looked biased. Still others cannot give you the kind of help or education you need because of the role they perform on your case and the ethical considerations of their area of practice. Others, do work for you and only for you, but their hourly rates make it unrealistic to spend a lot of time talking to them, and then of course, there are the different factions. The legal folks aren’t very concerned about your feelings on anything and the psychological folks aren’t in the business of knowing any more than they have to about the law. Each can only help you on their end of the spectrum of knowledge when the reality for you is that you are dealing with a blend of different fields. Professionals from different fields have teamed up to try to help, but really cannot mix and mingle enough to be all that helpful.
The truth is, what you need most is support. You need a friend or mentor to walk your journey with you, someone who understands the blender you are caught in. At High Conflict Central, we do know. We have walked in your shoes and can share our experience with you to help you avoid the pitfalls that come with high conflict and we will tell you about things like parallel parenting because we know that you may not hear about it from anyone else. We are dedicated to education and want to teach you all you need to know about co-parenting, child development issues, conflict, communication and much more. We provide coaching and consultation, offer resources, classes, webinars and a place to air your frustrations with all things high conflict or family dysfunction. We also know who some of the most knowledgeable professionals are and we can refer you to the right place. Not all professionals are well versed in high conflict. It can mean disaster for you and your children when they don’t.
If you need a friendly ear or want to hear about the many conflicts that arise when trying to co-parent or parallel parent, especially with a difficult or hostile co-parent, give us a call. We always offer a free phone consult so you can know what to expect from working with us. Call us at 1-800-516-2446 or email us via firstname.lastname@example.org. Connect with us today!
Even the most skeptical of parents think that once the legal paperwork is all signed sealed and delivered, everything will be fine and they will move beyond the relationship they had before the divorce. During the divorce process, professionals likely assured them that they would be able to co-parent and share in parenting responsibilities and continue the relationship they’ve had with their child or perhaps even build a better relationship. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen that way.
Co-parenting requires parents to communicate regularly and frequently. Given that life can change on a dime and schedules can sometimes get interrupted by things that are beyond our control, the best of divorced parents are able to be flexible with their schedules and adapt to changes without much difficulty or make adjustments to their plans and the distribution of parenting responsibilities as they need to, but few families can really achieve that level of commitment or cooperation when the divorce is over. For a high number of parents, the fighting they experienced during the divorce process does not end with a decree and sometimes, it ramps up. Even though they previously drafted carefully worded agreements on how they would manage parenting responsibilities and different conflicts and scenarios, the agreements do not work when the parents try to put them into practice. Either one of the parents will not follow the agreement or each parent has a different interpretation of what the words on the paper actually mean. On top of that, some parents find their co-parent uses information against them or tries to manipulate the parenting time schedule by scheduling appointments, activities and play dates on the other parent’s time without permission. It is beyond frustrating to live that way. So what can be done to change it?
Parents who struggle with co-parenting can try a style called parallel parenting. For those whose interactions are moderately or highly conflicted, parallel parenting can be a way to move forward when co-parenting proves to be too difficult for them to manage successfully. Unfortunately, court professionals rarely suggest parallel parenting as an option. Some professionals want to push you to co-parent no matter what because it offers your child the best chance for success in the future, while others naively think that the contention will die down once parents put the legal system behind them. It is naive to think that relationship problems or significant communication problems will magically disappear and foster cooperation if they have never been addressed. It is also fairly common to find professionals out there who have never heard of parallel parenting. If the professionals you encounter have no concept of what parallel parenting is, how can they explain that it is an option to you? They can’t, and that is very unfortunate because parallel parenting can help parents move away from conflict to keep their child out of the middle of it.
So what is parallel parenting anyway? Parallel parenting is a style of parenting that allows parents to disengage and reduce the frequency of interactions they have with each other. It allows each parent to operate independently of the other and manage their own day to day parenting responsibilities. Parents will still need to communicate about important issues that are related to their child, and make major decisions together, but they will only communicate when necessary. Typically all communication will take place in written form, such as via email.
Parallel parenting is not ideal and it tends to put a higher burden on the the child to adjust to two different sets of households, routines and rules so that the parents do not have to make adjustments that they are not ready or willing to make, but it does not have to be a permanent arrangement. Sometimes, parallel parenting is used only until both parents have come to terms with the situation or while they take measures to work through hurt feelings following contentious legal battle. However, some parents will continue parallel parenting until the children are grown and there is nothing wrong with that. While it is best when parents can co-parent and work together to parent their children after divorce, if they cannot, parallel parenting is better than always being in a state of conflict, arguing over who is right, being disrespected or having to rely on someone you learned long ago was unreliable and it protects children from being caught in the middle of the battle.
Parents are humans. Humans have different ways of coping and managing disappointments and hurts. It’s just the nature of the beast that some humans have the skill set to be resilient while others need significant time to heal, deal or feel. You cannot put a time limit on grieving the loss of a relationship, nor can you decree it be done. You also cannot make someone cooperate with you or communicate well if they do not want to. Co-parenting requires a good faith effort on the part of both parents and an ability to separate their own feelings from the feelings of their child. It also helps when parents have good communication skills and maintain healthy boundaries. Still, the odds that a couple held all those qualities and ended up divorced seems illogical. Most relationships break up for a reason and that reason has be set aside or forgiven in order to form a successful co-parenting relationship. When not set aside or forgiven, parents need to find other ways of sharing their children peacefully.
What are some of the reasons to try parallel parenting?
One or both parents still holds highly negative feelings about the other.
One or both parents have boundaries issues.
Communication between parents is ineffective, hostile, or disrespectful, or the parents are unable to stay child focused when they interact with each other.
One or both parents is unable or unwilling to work together to meet the child’s day to day needs or make decisions together.
There is a moderate or high level of conflict.
Each parent has a vastly different parenting style from that of the other and they fight over which one is right.
How does parallel parenting work?
Parents disengage from each other and do not interact during child exchanges or school events. They may alternate attending school events or not sit together when in attendance at the same time and they will schedule separate parent-teacher conferences if the school will accommodate such a request (most schools will).
Parents communicate only in written form (except for emergent or time sensitive matters) and do not communicate about routine, day to day issues. Communication is kept to a minimum and is typically done via email or an online communication tool, such as Our Family Wizard.
Each parent is responsible for the day to day care and parenting during their parenting time and basically mind their own business when the children are at the other parent’s home
Routines and discipline decisions may vary from house to house
Parents do not attend medical, dental or counseling appointments together, but divide up who has responsibility and when.
Parents are responsible for accessing information from school, doctors, dentists or other professionals in the child’s life without relying on the other parent to provide routine information.
Parents do not share personal information and may use a neutral location for child exchanges or have a neutral person do the pick ups and drop offs.
Parenting time schedules are rigidly adhered to and are very detailed as to times and exchange locations. A third party may be in place to address parent disputes or situations that are unclear or were not covered when the schedule was created.
Parallel parenting can offer families some much needed breathing room that opens to door to co-parenting in the future, but if it doesn’t, it provides something better than the conflicted situations that cause tremendous amounts of stress to families and it gets children out of the middle of hostile situations that put their healthy development and well-being at risk.
Because it is really about getting back to our lives and our kids and having a mentor to guide you along the way and listen to your concerns and understand your struggle can help you do just that! High Conflict Central is about parents connecting with parents to lend support. Nothing more, nothing less. Please read our disclaimer and keep this in mind as you read our posts.
High Conflict Central Full Disclaimer:
The information on this blog is based on personal opinions and insight. Our writers are not attorneys nor licensed psychologists. We are Divorce Mentors, Relationship Coaches and Alternative Dispute Resolution professionals.
A majority of people struggling in Family Court are having issues due to a hostile ex or unhealthy relationship patterns. It has little to do with the law. None of the information or opinions offered by the authors should be considered legal advice. High Conflict Central and the individual writers who post are not rendering legal or other professional services through this blog and disclaim any and all liability to any person who reads this blog. We encourage readers to do their own research into the information that is provided. Readers should keep in mind that many things factor into court processes and cases can be quite different depending on where they are in the process and what has already been decided in their case.
Personal stories are shared to raise awareness. Our purpose is to help people disengage from high conflict battles and move into a happier and healthier life, but is not meant as legal advice or therapy. If you need legal or psychological advice, please seek the help of those professionals. Our goal is to support you as you navigate systems and the professionals you meet along the way and to help you learn from our experiences in the high conflict divorces that we lived through.
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High Conflict central offers resources for divorced parents and families in conflict. We focus on relationship building through knowledge and education. In families is where the most important relationships in life exist and those relationships shape our success in the outside world. We like to teach you how your family of origin impacts all of the relationships in your life and how to utilize your history to improve your future. High Conflict central puts an emphasis on communication, relationships, conflict resolution, family dynamics, and gender differences in the way people handle stress, conflict, parenting, and communicating.
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