Every so often in mediation I get a parenting pair that just can’t seem to seal the deal. Typically, they get stuck on a lot of relatively small issues, rather than the biggies. For example, they will disagree adamantly about who should drive for pick ups and drop offs or they squabble over four calendar days per month with the children. These parents are perfect candidates for Parenting Coordination. Parenting Coordinators serve as mediators and educators for high-conflict divorced or separating couples so that they can re-form their patterns to better support their children as a team.
A recent training in Parenting Coordination I attended busted several myths I held about the field.
Myth 1: Parenting Coordinators serve as arbitrators, making decisions for the parents that they can’t make themselves.
Although they are granted decision-making power in certain areas, good PCs use this ability judiciously. Primarily, they help parents resolve conflicts by appealing to their innate desire to put their children first. For high-conflict parents, this takes longer and involves more education (and patience) than mediation, but relies on similar principles.
Myth 2: Parenting Coordinators are like couples’ counselors for divorced couples.
They seem like therapists or mediators because they sit with the parents together and help them sort through issues, but there’s a big distinction: Parenting Coordination is a non-confidential process. That means that the long arm (or big stick) of the law looms over these parents. When they start playing nasty games, lawyers are notified, court dates are set and a judge threatens to intervene.
Myth 3: It’s a nice idea, but most of these cases are hopeless.
(Yes, I took the training in spite of holding this myth.) Turns out, a fair number of high-conflict parents are regular folks struggling with a huge transition and just need some extra support letting go, re-learning patterns and moving on. Some are “conflict-o-philes” who can, with a solid parenting plan and certain behavior constraints, adequately co-parent together. Of course, there are always going to be miserable people who decide to remain in conflict forever. Some of these cases result in the PC testifying in court to provide a more informed picture for the judge.
Myth 4: Only judges can assign Parent Coordinators.
While it’s true that judges recommend most PC cases, many people opt in to Parenting Coordination because they recognize that their situation is too much to handle without support. Most probably feel “since my ex won’t listen to me, maybe a neutral third person can talk some sense into him/her.” (See Myth 1). Attorneys, mediators, therapists, and friends can refer PCs to people struggling with co-parenting. When looking for a PC, look for someone who can straddle the fence between therapist and lawyer; someone who offers education, encouragement, impartiality and listening skills, but who is not afraid to use the strength of the legal system to apply pressure to an entrenched dynamic.
I would be happy to explain the role and purpose of the Parent Coordinator more thoroughly to you or someone you know who may benefit from these services. Clearly, it’s not for everyone, but in appropriate cases, it can relieve a great deal of pressure from the parents and ultimately the children.