- Communication is essential to responsible co-parenting, and breakdowns in communication sometimes require the intervention of a counselor, therapist, or other co-parenting mediation professional.
- Often, parents who had particularly painful or acrimonious break-ups and are still angry with one another can benefit the most from professional help. A counselor or therapist can re-orient them as co-parents rather than ex-partners, so that their focus remains on their children.
In my experience, the thing that is most essential to responsible co-parenting is communication. This means that when communication falls apart between co-parents, I am most likely to recommend counseling to facilitate communication and therefore responsible co-parenting.
I think that counseling often helps both parties stay in the right mindset for responsible co-parenting: that is, to retain the mindset that everything they do needs to be in the best interest of their child or children.
Generally, co-parents were in a committed romantic relationship at some point, and sometimes that relationship ended poorly or painfully. Sometimes the relationship ended very poorly or painfully because of the actions of one co-parent, such as infidelity.
In these cases, you might have one party who is still angry at the other and might act from that anger. It can become easy for them to lose sight of the fact that the issues in their former romantic relationship have nothing to do with their child or children. It’s essential to remind co-parents that their child or children deserve two parents who can effectively co-parent, not bickering ex-partners who will drag the child or children into their interpersonal drama.
In these cases, I would be more inclined to suggest therapy or some other professional mediation to re-orient the co-parents and keep their focus on their child or children.
What Happens If I Simply Cannot Find A Way To Communicate Effectively With My Co-Parent Without Things Turning Into A Battle? Are There Legal Options To Help Us Come To An Agreement On Some Of These Matters?
I would say that if you just can’t find a way to communicate, a parenting coordinator is always a good choice. A parenting coordinator will both mediate all conversation between you and your co-parent and will help decide on small disagreements, in order to keep you out of Court for smaller things.
If you’re looking for a way to handle written communication exclusively, Our Family Wizard is a good choice. However, if all communication remains contentious, even with the use of an intermediary app like Our Family Wizard, then a parenting coordinator might be the only option.
The next question I often get is, what happens if a parenting coordinator doesn’t work, or if the parties can’t agree on a parenting coordinator?
In that case, you will both find yourselves running to Court for every issue, and there’s really no in-between. The Court would probably encourage the parties to try and do mediation before they file anything, and there is Court-offered mediation.
However, court-offered mediation isn’t done with a professional mediator, so it may not be even effective. The parties can agree to hire a private mediator, but again, they have to agree to enter mediation. Furthermore, the mediator’s decision isn’t binding on them—so in the end, it may not even help.
Therefore, in this situation, you will often have parties that mediate and then they don’t like the outcome, so they end up litigating anyway.
As a rule, the Court really tries to encourage mediation or alternative dispute resolution, but if that doesn’t work, you will wind up going to Court for all your disagreements.
Sometimes, parents get tired of this and agree to a parenting coordinator. Otherwise, there isn’t really any other recourse. Short of going to Court for all your disagreements if you just can’t get along, a parenting coordinator is probably the only other option that you will have.
Why Is It Best For Parents To Try To Work Out Changes To Their Parenting Time Or Legal Decision-Making Arrangements On Their Own, With Or Without Their Attorneys, Before Trying To Take The Matter Before The Court?
First of all, attorneys are not cheap, so I would advise to always try to work out disputes before hiring an attorney. If you hire an attorney every time you need to go to Court, it’s going to save you a lot of money if you can work things out with your co-parent before you get to that point.
In addition, the Court is not actually the best way to make many of these decisions.
Often, when you go before a Judge for the types of nuanced issues that are behind a request to change parenting time or legal decision-making authority, the Judge usually does not have enough time as you might like to make their decision.
The Judge gets to see you for an hour, maybe two hours. They get to read the documents that you filed, and they get to see your docket history. That’s all the Judge is going to know about you.
Do you feel that you are going to be able to present everything that this Judge needs to know to effectively make your case in the two hours that this person is going to know you, out of your entire life? Maybe, and maybe not, but oftentimes not. Either way, you are taking a very serious chance if you take the disagreement to Court, because whatever the Judge decides is very difficult to un-do.
When is it Best to Hire Your Firm? What Can Your Firm do for Someone with a Co-Parenting Case That They Cannot do for Themselves?
There are many reasons why a client might need an attorney to represent them in a custody or legal decision-making case.
To illustrate some of the things that we can do for potential clients, I will circle back to an example I touched upon before. As aforementioned, I once had a woman come to me because she’d had three different petitions rejected.
This was a smart woman. She was a pretty high-up executive in an insurance company. She simply didn’t know how Family Court worked and assumed she could do it herself.
Different parts of Family Court work different ways. Sometimes in Family Court, it doesn’t really matter what you say. If you are filing a Divorce Petition, for instance, there’s really no magic language you need to use to get an audience with the Court.
However, in filing a Petition to modify any kind of Family Court Order, there is magic language. A lot of times, people that represent themselves don’t know it, and try to approach without it, and fail—even, like my client, intelligent and capable people.
As an attorney, I can be artful in presenting the case with the “magic words” to the Court. I can write a Petition in a way that highlights the specific sorts of change in circumstances that the Court is going to be looking for.
Attorneys know what to highlight, and exactly where to put it, and how. We even know where the Judge’s eyes are going to go to on the page, which is important because perhaps the Judge won’t have time to read the entire 15-page Petition when he has hundreds of other cases.
So, we can use the appropriate words, we can make it short, we can highlight the language that the Judge needs to see to be able to allow the Petition to even go through, and in that way we can give your Petition a fighting chance.
We can be helpful whether parties agree to or disagree on a modification. Though we are traditionally thought of as more helpful if you have to go to Court over a disputed modification, we can also help with agreed upon modifications. We can draw them up into a Stipulation, get the parties to sign it, and file it officially in the Court instead of leaving it as an unofficial, handshake agreement.
That way, you can make sure that in the future, the agreement is actually enforceable. Because after all, and agreement isn’t worth much if it isn’t enforceable.
What Final Advice Would You Offer Co-Parents Out There who are Struggling in Their Arrangements, Or for Those who are Considering Requesting Changes to Their Parenting Time and/or Legal Decision-Making Arrangements?
I would say to and think about what the changed circumstances are that merit the modification. I would also consider what I’m asking the Court.
The Court is going to ask you what things were like before and how things are now, and is going to want you to explain why things are so different now that it justifies a modification.
To prepare for this, you really need to sit down and think about how you want to convey both the difference and change in circumstances and why it merits a modification.
For example, if you’re asking for a modification because the plan is no longer age-appropriate, then you should explain, “When this was put together, the child was 3 years old and wasn’t going to school, and his mother was only working part-time,” or whatever the circumstances were.
Then you’ll explain the current circumstances. For example, “Now the father is living in this new location, and the child’s going to this school, and this is how apart they are, which means the child has to travel and hour each way.”
Whatever the reason is, you really want to get the details in explaining the difference between what it used to be like and what it’s like now, and why that difference justifies your request to change the Order.
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