Issues involving children can be among the most difficult to address in divorce. Each parent wants to have a strong role in decisions regarding their children. In addition, those decisions often must be made over an extended period of time after the divorce has been granted. Parents whose parenting styles have been conflictual during the marriage usually find their differences becoming even more acute after separation. Fortunately, over the past two decades a new out-of-court process called parenting coordination has developed to assist parents with their post-separation and post-divorce parenting issues.
The parenting coordinator’s work combines being a resource for legal information, an educator, and, most importantly, a conflict reduction specialist, according to one experienced practitioner. Drawing on this broad array of skills and information, the parenting coordinator works with the divorcing or divorced parents to sort through the minutiae of child-related issues that a judge won’t make the time or effort to deal with.
The manner in which parenting coordinators are used varies somewhat within Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia, but in general the role involves meeting regularly with both parents to field day-to-day questions and working together to resolve them. Different parenting styles are frequently at the root of the issues that arise.
For example, one parent’s style may fall on the permissive/indulgent end of the continuum and the other on the punitive/authoritarian end. Neither style is right or wrong, but the difference between the two styles creates conflict that negatively impacts the children and makes it difficult for the parents to agree on a whole range of child-related issues. A typical situation might involve the children’s extra-curricular activities. One parent may feel a child should be able to participate in as many as he or she desires, while the other parent believes strongly that the child should pick just one or two. In addition to resolving issues, an important objective of the parenting coordinator’s work with conflicted parents is to help them move along the continuum to become cooperative co-parents. One part of that work focuses on communication style, helping the parents keep their interactions constructive and on point.
The ultimate goal is to reduce the amount of damaging parental conflict to which the children are exposed. Each parent is dealing with the aftermath of unresolved issues from their marriage – the unmet expectations, hurts, betrayals, and attacks. But those unresolved issues need not necessarily impact the children. That is where the parenting coordinator comes in.