Peaceful Divorce

What's Your Co-Parenting Style? Cooperative, Parallel or Somewhere In-Between?

One of many difficult things parents must do during and after their divorce is deal with their child(ren)'s other parent. While some aspects of "the deal" are spelled out in documents such as temporary or permanent court orders or final marital settlement agreements, most of the "parenting" details are not explicitly written down.

For example, a document provides that the child(ren) are to spend every Tuesday night and alternating weekends with Parent A. In most instances, an agreement will include times for pick up and/or drop off. In some cases, especially if there is a safety issue, the agreement will include a location for the child(ren) to be picked up and/or dropped off. So what's missing?

To begin with, the time(s) that may be appropriate for one child in the family may not be appropriate for another. Or the location for pick up and/or drop off for one child may not be appropriate for another. In some instances, the document may not specify which parent is responsible for driving the children to and/or from particular locations. Also, how are the child(ren)'s clothing and/or school supplies to be transported? On a particular weekend, one child may have a special event (sports, birthday party) or doctor's appointment that occurs during the weekend so parental decisions must be made and schedules may have to be accommodated. What about that birthday party for your child(ren)'s friend? Which parent buys the gift? What if the child(ren) are at Parent A's home but they need something that is located at Parent B's home? What if the child(ren) want to participate in an extracurricular activity that involves weekends? The possibilities are endless. But just as these scenarios may become conflicts, they are also opportunities for development of communication and problem-solving skills.

Parenting styles vary within households - even intact households where divorce is not an issue. Ask yourself the following questions to begin to assess your parenting style:

1. Are you more comfortable with structured communication procedures? Do you prefer to have precise rules about how and when you will communicate with your child(ren)'s other parent? (parallel parenting style) - or - Are you more comfortable with frequent communication? Do you prefer to have informal, regular exchanges of information with your child(ren)'s other parent? (cooperative parenting style)

2. Do you make decisions on your own regarding issues involving your children? (parallel style) -or - Do you participate in joint decision-making after discussion of issues? (cooperative style)

3. Do you have "house rules" that may be different from the way things are in the home of your child(ren)'s other parent? (parallel) - or - Do you and your child(ren)'s other parent agree about fundamental principles and have shared expectations regarding your child(ren)? (cooperative)

4. Are you able to be in the same place at the same time with your child(ren)'s other parent with some degree of comfort for yourself and your child(ren)? Can both parents attend school events, teacher conferences, etc. together? (cooperative) - or - Would you prefer to meet with teachers separately and take turns attending school and/or extracurricular events? (parallel)

5. Are you most comfortable when you stick to a set schedule, with little to no variation? (parallel) - or - Are you willing to be flexible regarding scheduling in the best interests of your child(ren)? (cooperative)

Although experts may advocate "cooperative" parenting for divorced parents, this may be quite difficult at times. When emotions are running high, even parents with the best intentions may have trouble communicating calmly with their child(ren)'s other parent. Sometimes a parent may deny a request about scheduling simply because they do not understand the child(ren)'s feelings about the schedule change. This makes sense since such requests are generally (and, depending on the child(ren)'s age(s)) made between one parent and the other. Negative personal feelings between the parents easily interfere with the best interests of their child(ren). It helps to have professional assistance to clarify the issues and re-focus on doing the right thing for the children. This isn't therapy - this is parenting coordination - an alternative dispute resolution process.

A Parenting Coordinator ("PC") is an alternative dispute resolution professional. The PC should have professional licensure in law or mental health, training in mediation, have a working knowledge of child and adolescent development and family systems, have specific training in parenting coordination and the ability to work within the framework of the alternative dispute resolution process. Parenting coordination is not therapy, it is not advocacy for one parent against the other, and it is not an evaluation procedure conducted regarding custody.

It is important to remember that divorce is a transformative process involving family members for an extended period of time - actually, forever. Even under the best of circumstances (whatever that means), parenting is challenging. Adding on factors related to divorce makes parenting even more challenging. Although it is useful for parenting plans in divorce agreements to be comprehensive and specific, it is virtually impossible for every detail to be addressed in a document. But that's actually a good thing. Why? Because children benefit as their divorced parents develop the ability to manage the details of parenting without conflict.

Do you really want to go to court and have a judge make decisions about your child(ren)? You know and love your child(ren). So does your child(ren)'s other parent. If the two of you have nothing else in common, you will always have your child(ren) in common. You may need help to develop practical, efficient techniques to communicate and make decisions, manage scheduling, set boundaries and clarify expectations. A Parenting Coordinator may be just the resource you need.

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