Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Why a Parenting Coordinator if the Fighting Hasn't Started?

In Oklahoma, the statute governing parenting coordinators states that they can be appointed in cases of high conflict.  "High conflict case" is defined as:

"...any action for dissolution of marriage, legal separation, paternity, or guardianship where minor children are involved and the parties demonstrate a pattern of ongoing:
a. litigation,
b. anger and distrust,
c. verbal abuse,
d. physical aggression or threats of physical aggression,
e. difficulty in communicating about and cooperating in the care of their children, or
f. conditions that in the discretion of the court warrant the appointment of a parenting coordinator."

The Court may also appoint a parenting coordinator in cases where the parties agree to the appointment, "high conflict" or not.

The statute further addresses the job of the parenting coordinator, as follows:

"The authority of a parenting coordinator shall be specified in the order appointing the parenting coordinator and limited to matters that will aid the parties in:
a. identifying disputed issues,
b. reducing misunderstandings,
c. clarifying priorities,
d. exploring possibilities for compromise,
e. developing methods of collaboration in parenting, and
f. complying with the court’s order of custody, visitation, or guardianship."

My experience shows that most lawyers propose a parenting coordinator to their client when it appears that future interaction with the other parent is likely to be acrimonious and difficult.  That is certainly a valid approach, and one that should be seriously considered in many cases.

It is my belief, however, that children would benefit, and divorced parents would succeed better in their role, if more parents turned to the parenting coordinator to provide assistance in "developing methods of collaboration in parenting."  It seems we spend much time working on fixing problems when we could be spending time working on developing a framework for post-divorce effective, healthy, mutually-beneficial parenting. Our children deserve it.

In my practice, there are recurring themes of conflict and opportunities for disagreement.  In a vacuum, many of them appear to be petty.  In life, they create much of what I address as a parenting coordinator on a daily basis.  More importantly, they are all areas in which parents should want to do better, and can, with some guidance.  Generally, these areas are:

     1.  Communication, including telephone, email, texting, in person, both between parents and between parents and the children;

     2.  Health care issues;

     3.  Logistics of visitation, transfers, transportation, extracurricular activities and changes to the schedule;

     4.  Clothing, school supplies and homework logistics;

     5.  Interpretation of language in court orders.

Parents will obviously continue to disagree on issues that arise.  Many of the issues, however, are recurring and should be able to be addressed in advance, with both parents being able to express their needs and consider the needs of the other parent, and then come to conclusions as to how these recurring issues are going to be addressed on an ongoing basis. Parenting coordination in advance of disputes will resolve many of these issues before they exist.

Efforts at development of methods of collaboration in parenting will likely relieve conflict, reduce anxiety, stress and anger, and make your children's lives better.

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