High Conflict Central exists, in large part, due to the nasty divorce experience of its founding partners. We have experienced the harshness of divorce, custody battles, denial of parenting time, ineffective court authorities, and worthless lawyers. We understand how frightening it is to try and navigate the Family Court System, and we also understand the scary stories you will find on an internet search. When you read some of these “I lost custody of my children for no reason” blogs out there, they will send you into a tailspin, and can create such fear, anxiety, and drama that they will cause you to overreact to the Family Court System in a way that will devastate your case.
Let me tell you something. I have had the opportunity to read many of these cases. I am here to tell you that in almost every horror story case, when the parent tells you, “They took my children away from me for no reason”, the reality is that there is almost always a reason. It boils down to that parent’s lack of understanding about what the system is trying to accomplish and their own erratic behavior. For example, victims of Domestic Violence have a reaction to situations that normal people rarely have. Because they have developed something called, “hypervigilance”, they can overreact to different processes that are a normal part of divorce and custody cases.
Because the court processes have become quite lengthy in a disputed divorce with children, parents are on edge, waiting to get rulings about when they will get to spend time with their children, and how much time they will have. Waiting and not being in control of your own life or family creates anxiety and fear, but no one needs to allow anxiety and fear to overcome them or God forbid, to put you into a tailspin that results in losing time and the ability to parent your children.
High Conflict Central is here to help you navigate the Family Court System in an empowered way. We have been through Family Court and lived to tell the tale. We know that you can make the system and authorities in the system work better for you, but you are in control of how that goes. We know that you can be a strong parent, in spite of a toxic co-parent and even the family court system. You can, and you must! You are the one who can break the cycle or dysfunction, domestic violence, and toxic relationships, and be an excellent role model who teaches children healthier ways to live life.
Steer clear of the negativity in the blogosphere! We can give you an understanding of Family Court so you can use it to your advantage. We will give you new skills to succeed in family court, keep your children out of the fray and achieve the life you desire. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by connecting with us. Email us, or visit our High Conflict Central website to learn more.
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.
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!
After divorce, some people play the victim. It garners them attention and sympathy from others and helps them explain, in their own mind, that they are not at fault for the divorce.
Oddly enough, even though all US states are no fault divorce states, it doesn’t seem to matter. Fault or no fault, divorce can be deeply wounding to one’s ego. In order to show the world that they are not a bad person (and make themselves feel better), they have to portray a false reality that their ex is to blame. They will accuse their ex of having an affair, being mentally ill or turn it around in some other way. They may tell others that they initiated the divorce instead of telling the truth, that it was their ex who initiated the process.
Typically, these individuals fear being alone and will enter into a new relationship quickly, long before they are ready. They have done nothing to come to terms with the divorce or take the time to heal. They grab hold of the first person who comes along and buys their story. It helps them show the world: Hey, I am OK. See? Someone loves me. That other person had something wrong with them. That’s all. I am not a bad person. See how quickly someone found me?
Their new relationship develops during their grieving process over the divorce. These quick rebound relationships can interfere with, and may even halt that grieving process all together. Because they met their new significant other during the grieving process, they probably shared an embellished story about how evil their ex spouse was, giving their new mate an exaggerated impression of the truth in order to explain their misery. The problem with embelleshed stories is that they will have to keep the story going for the duration of the new relationship so the new partner doesn’t learn the truth. This can make things very confusing to an ex spouse who has to try co-parenting with the person who is trying to keep a storyline going.
Some ex-spouses struggle to understand why their child’s other parent hates them so and cannot let go of it or move beyond divorce and into a co-parenting relationship. If you are the ex who is constantly lied about, you may become defensive. You may also be very hurt and feel guilty about the divorce when you see the way your children’s other parent carries on with so much anger and tells lies, while you try to take the high road. You may hope that your ex will come to terms with the divorce so that your co-parenting relationship will improve. Unfortunately, you cannot make things better because it really is not about you. This is all about your ex wanting to save face.
What does it mean to save face? To put it simply, to preserve one’s dignity. It has to do with how one sees him or herself and how he or she thinks the world sees them. If a person finds divorce to be a highly negative reflection of their self-worth, and is deeply wounded because their spouse, who promised to love, honor and cherish them no longer loves them, they often cannot see divorce as anything other than an acknowledgment that they are unlovable and a failure.
As the years go by, you may be shocked at how petty your co-parent is and stunned by their refusal to sit in the same room with you for the children’s extra curricular activities, doctor appointments and even mediation to settle a dispute about the children. Try not obsessing about changing the other parent, and do not make yourself a door mat and try to appease them in an effort to build a better relationship. If the other parent is saving face, nothing that you do will change the situation. It is all about keeping their secrets safe. Avoiding you, and making you out to be the bad guy, is the basis of their new relationship. They will move heaven and earth to keep the storyline going.
The avoiding parent lives in constant fear that if they start to repair the relationship with you, their new partner may start to see through all of the lies they’ve told over the years. They won’t risk being exposed as the liar they are. People who live a life based on lies will never risk a second breakup. The first one devastated them. Because they never took time to heal from that, another rejection would be unbearable. Eventually, the new partner may start to see that the story they have been told does not make sense, and your ex may possibly have to face their biggest fear, but again, you cannot change them, and it is not your responsibility to save them.
So what do you tell your kids when the other parent spreads lies and acts crazy? Tell your kids the truth. Tell them that you would like a better relationship with their mom/dad, and it is not possible right now. Tell your children that you do not understand why their other parent acts that way, but that you love them and will always be there for them no matter what. You may also want to tell them that you feel sorry for the other parent’s pain and hope that one day they will find a way to work through it. That is all you have to say. Then you must commit yourself to taking the high road and doing the best job of parenting that you can.
Hostile co-parenting relationships are not helped by seeking revenge or telling the other side what they need to do to make things better. You are the last person they will take advice from. Sometimes the best you can do is keep your own house in order and choose a healthier relationship for yourself, and leave your ex to battle their own demons.
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.
Co-parenting, AKA cooperative parenting is an obsession with Family Court professionals. It may even meet the level of addiction with some of them. System-wide group think reigns over common sense and good judgment, especially when they don’t know there are other options available to parents.
Even the term co-parenting is not understood across the board. Some Family Court professionals consider co-parenting to mean a shortened version of cooperative parenting, while others use the term meaning, “jointly or “together”. Still, no matter how one looks at it, I wonder how anyone can do anything “together” or “jointly” if they are not doing so cooperatively. That doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.
For example, if I want to paint the living room blue, but my spouse wants to paint the room red, we might have to find a compromise. We might say, “Fine. Let’s paint two walls blue and two walls red. If we could agree to do that and agree on which two walls each of us could paint as we desired, it might get done and we might both be able to live with it, but we’d have to be able to communicate rationally about that and see each other’s point of view and then come to an agreement about the particulars of how it is going to work. There would also have to be a basic level of trust that both people would follow through and not sabotage the other’s plan or destroy what the other person has been working on.
If two people could not decide between the colors red and blue or were unable to decide which two walls each person could paint (maybe there is some inequality to the open wall space available), they might decide to blend the colors. The problem with that is neither person would be achieving anything close to their original goal and they would both have to really like purple because that is what the result would be. It would take flexibility on the part of both people. It would also take respect for each other’s needs or wants and the same basic level of trust as in the first scenario. Even then, blending has different meanings to different people. Blending red and blue could mean making the room purple or it could mean one color with polka dots of the other, painting stripes of both colors equally (and again, what is equal to one may not be equal in the eyes of the other). No matter how the compromises happen, they still have to involve good communication, flexibility, trust, respect, understanding, balance, a sense of fairness, etc., etc. It is still going to involve some level of agreement to resolve the situation. Otherwise, you will end up in the same old room, with the same old paint and nothing will change.
That is the same problem with co-parenting. People can either do it or not do it. It may mean different things to different parents and it may even mean different things to different professionals. When parents cannot do it, they are accused of being “rigid” thinkers. It can be true that neither parent wants to change or wants to change their perspective, but it is often really a matter of differing perspectives. My perspective on it is this, we have alternatives to co-parenting. When professionals will not allow those different ideas to come into play, they are the ones with “rigid” thinking. What difference should it make to them as long as it decreases the conflict for the children? That is really why the professionals are in place anyway, to decrease the conflict.
High conflict Central accepts a simple fact and that is many people cannot co-parent. Even in happily married households, parents are doing things other than co-parenting. We don’t rule out the possibility that people have the ability to get there if they are both willing to accept the situation and are willing to change and make a better life for their children, but we don’t start at co-parenting unless it is already happening. We actually start at where you are. What has happened to you? How has it affected you? How has it impacted your children? What is the history between the parents? What is the level of trust? What is the level of respect? Where is each parent at in their healing process? Where are you at with your parenting skills as a single, divorced parent? How much do you know about what is happening to you in Family Court and why it is happening? That is where we start because all of those things need resolution before you can be ready, willing and able to co-parent. We also know that even if you get there, co-parenting only works when both parents are ready, willing and able, and can approach the situation with good faith. If one or both parents has a strong desire to keep hurting the other, co-parenting will not happen because trust can never be built under those conditions.
Parents who can co-parent, do co-parent. They do so without a court order or any of the watchdog professionals that get appointed to make parents play nice in the sandbox. High conflict parents should not be asked to start with co-parenting. There are other ways to help the children.
Because these are the types of relationships present in high conflict divorce situations, it is my opinion that family court needs to get out of the business of forced co-parenting. When you have parents who only know conflicted parenting, the bar is set too high to expect them to get to co-parenting. It is too high a leap for their skill set! High conflict parents could be allowed to use the parallel parenting style, unless and until they are healed enough to raise the bar to co-parenting.
We know that conflicted parenting is the worst situation for children in the middle. We also know that co-parenting is the best style for children of divorce, but there seems to be an unwarranted reluctance on the part of court authorities to consider the benefits that parallel parenting can offer in high conflict cases. I really don’t understand the reluctance at all. Court professionals expect parents to jump from worst to best all in one shot:
CONFLICTED PARENTING >>>>CO-PARENTING
That is quite a stretch for anyone, let alone, parents who may not have the communication and relationship skills necessary to make co-parenting work. If the professionals would give up some of their own rigid thinking, we could help parents go from here to here:
CONFLICTED PARENTING >>>> PARALLEL PARENTING
At least that would be a step in the right direction and give parents a chance to settle into their own lives with the children, learning to parent separately, and if they are so motivated, gain some important skills before they move into co-parenting. Some parents may have to stick with parallel parenting to keep the peace, but at least a parallel parenting style would move them away from conflicted parenting and offer something better for their children. If parents did well moving from conflicted parenting to parallel parenting, they may gain the confidence to take it another step:
PARALLEL PARENTING >>>>CO-PARENTING
(BETTER THAN CONFLICTED) (BEST)
That is my hope for change in the system. I’d like to see professionals have the ability to accept change for the better even when it is not the ideal. They should seek improvement in steps, rather than demand big changes that parents aren’t always able to understand. In my opinion, at least we would get parents out of the conflicted style of parenting and everyone benefits from doing that!
For now, we have a system of professionals who don’t realize that their rigid thinking about co-parenting is just as bad as parents who refuse to change. They continue to push co-parenting against all common sense and good judgement.
If you find family court, the professionals rigid thinking and co-parenting to be a mind numbing endeavor, give us a call. We love to talk to high conflict parents and help them put a stop to the nonsense. We feel so much joy when we see you and your children experience a little peace after trauma. It isn’t as hard as you think, and we don’t care if your ex participates or not, as a matter of fact, we prefer to work with parents one on one. It is always a free consult, and we offer some free e-courses, as well. Contact us to learn more!
High Conflict Central was created by Susan Carpenter. She is a relationship coach, Author and Instructor with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. Her focus is on communication, relationships, family conflict and dynamics, and gender differences in communication, stress management, parenting and conflict. She is an expert on relationships involving high conflict divorce, domestic violence, adult children of alcoholics/dysfunction, adults who experienced trauma as a child. Susan is also the owner of Life’s Doors Mediation in Golden Valley, Minnesota, where she is a qualified rule 114 mediator, parenting consultant, parenting time expediter and parent coach. She wrote the book, “The Parenting Coordinator and Consultant Survival Guide” to help parents understand that process to utilize their PC more effectively. You can contact Susan at email@example.com or by calling (800) 516-2446.
When you devote much of your day in fear of your ex, or thinking about what your ex is doing, you are allowing them to live rent free in your head. It is completely understandable that if you have had many negative experiences with your ex and experienced a prolonged, bitter custody battle, you would become afraid of having to deal with them in the future. Still, the best thing to do is to get them out of your head and out of your life as much as possible.
I do not want to make light of the situation. I hope to help people move forward and stop giving their ex more attention than they deserve. If you have become overwhelmed with thoughts and fears about your ex, you have to work on changing your thinking. It is not going to happen over night, but it can be done. You will have to work hard at it and things may get worse before they get better. What I mean by that is the controlling, abusive, meddling ex will do their best to make you fail in your quest for freedom. That is reason enough why you must do it. When you start paying less and less attention to them and no longer cower in fear of them, they are going to get in your face a little more before they slither away and the fact remains, they may never slither away completely. You see, the problem is not with you. It is with them.
Your ex has been masterful at turning the tables on you and keeping you off balance. Because their behavior is not normal, you may be confused about why they are behaving the way they are. Worse, you may also be confused by the realization that in the real world, people view your ex as very nice, smart, thoughtful, etc., and they may have a new relationship that seems just peachy which makes you wonder if you really are the problem. Trust me, you are not the problem.
Keep in mind that most people in the real world only get a glimpse of who your ex really is and when your ex wants to, he or she can really turn on the charm. The same goes for the new relationship. They must make their new partner see you as a crazy person. It helps them ensure that you will never go near their new partner and that they will steer clear of you as well. No one can talk to each other that way. The angry ex’s secrets do not get divulged. This keeps their new love in the dark about who they really are and it helps keep you wondering what the heck is going on…and they LOVE that. Remember how they treated you early on and how wonderful you thought they were. The new partner will also be charmed.
They LOVE having you fear them. They LOVE living in your head rent free. They don’t even have to do anything to control you because you fear them so much and try to anticipate what they will do next, you are putting them in control. They don’t have to put any energy into it. You are doing the work for them! It feeds their ego to know that they are always on your mind.
So how do you go about changing things?
First things first, you have to put your fear behind you. You may even need to get angry. You also need to retrain your brain to stop any and all thoughts of your ex whenever they crop up.
Second, have a diversion. If you are overwhelmed thinking about what your ex may or may not do about any given issue, have a friend or a hobby or even look for a new love interest and whenever you just cannot shake the evil ex thoughts, call on that person or take some time to work on your new activity. If you choose a hobby, make sure that it is something that will keep you busy. Reading sometimes will not work because if your mind keeps wandering, you will not really be reading. Try exercise, too, and some stress reduction techniques, such as deep breathing, mediation or swinging your arms back and forth for 10 minutes. Trust me, it works.
Third, carve out “ex free” time. When you have the luxury of your child spending time at the other parent’s house or with grandma and grandpa or their friends, carve it out. Announce to yourself that you will not give your ex anymore time than they have already taken from you.
This can be done, trust me, I have done it. It takes some time and some practice, but once you master retraining your brain, the less you will think about your ex or care about your ex. It will become habit to you and you will be well on your way to a new and happier life. One last thing, it is natural to want to put your life on hold for fear that your ex will ruin anything that makes you happy, but that is just giving them more control over your life. You do NOT want to do that. Write down on a piece of paper in big letters the following:
NOT ONE MORE DAY. MY EX WILL NOT GET ONE MORE DAY OF MY LIFE. MY EX HAS BEEN LIVING RENT FREE IN MY HEAD FOR YEARS AND TODAY IS HIS EVICTION NOTICE. HE/SHE NEEDS TO GET OUT OF MY HEAD AND OUT OF MY THOUGHTS AND OUT OF MY LIFE STARTING RIGHT NOW. I DO NOT DESERVE TO BE TREATED THE WAY I AM BEING TREATED. I DESERVE TO BE HAPPY.
And then go live it. If you want to find a new love, seek them out. Your ex may try to meddle and he/she may try to make things difficult for you in unimaginable ways, but you are stronger than he or she is. Much stronger. They have a sickness that they probably cannot escape, but you will choose to get healthier. You will take steps to ensure that you never choose the same kind of psychopath as a partner again, and you won’t. Your new love will love you and because they love you so much, they will see what your ex is doing and they will stand by you no matter what.
When you see it, you will believe it and achieve it!
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.