Co-parenting Conflict Resolution – Alternatives to Court Litigation

Written by invokio1811 — October 27, 2022
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When parents divorce, the final decree declares the death of the romantic relationship. But their relationship as parents lives on-whether it be acrimonious or amicable. Typically, divorcing parents follow the parenting plan they submitted with their divorce paperwork.

Of course, this doesn’t mean everyone will abide by it. What should you do if your co-parent is not holding up their end of the bargain? You may be thinking that means going back to court. Not so fast. You have many options. Let’s explore them.

Communicate with Your Co-parent

Sounds obvious. But some still don’t or won’t do it. They may not be able to stomach the idea of talking to an ex. They may fear it will get combative. Or there may be a long history of no responses when attempting to communicate with them. But before writing off the most cost-effective and least damaging option to co-parenting relationship, consider whether you’ve exhausted this avenue. Maybe with a little forethought, you can plan an interaction with your co-parent which will be met with less animosity.

While it may be obvious, I often ask parents who comes to me for help with co-parenting conflicts if they have talked to their co-parent about it. Shockingly, many respond with a resounding “No!” Of course, some of these go on to explain they’ve tried to communicate on other matters, and it has always devolved into a verbal deathmatch. But surprisingly, far more just write the idea off as out of the question for one reason or another.

They make sweeping assumptions that it will go badly, that they can’t do it, or that the other person is simply not rational enough to give it the effort. Really? Does anyone remember the old cliché about what it means to “assume” something? When you assume it makes an ass out of “u” (you) and “me”.

Unless you are a gifted clairvoyant, you can’t assume that just because things turned out a certain way in the past that they are guaranteed to follow the same pattern in the future. Every event in our lives is surrounded by unique circumstances. Our mood, what else is going on at the time, the context of a given situation, and so on.

So if you have yet to address an issue with your co-parent concerning your parenting plan, this should definitely be your starting point, even for those who are ordered to communicate through a parenting app. Use it! Apps can be very useful if you embrace their features rather than pushing back against them. If your motivations are truly aligned to being a good parent, use every tool you have.

If you want help on how to plan this co-parenting interaction, I have an excellent article that will walk you through it step by step at TeresaHarlow.com.

Work on Yourself

Come on Teresa. How does this solve anything? Honestly it may or may not solve your particular conflict. But the point is two-fold.

First, make sure you have a helpful mindset. Are you focused on what is important or on your conflict, anger, or what you want to see happen or change? If you are not focused on being a good parent, enabling your co-parent to do the same, and raising happy, functioning humans, your energy may be misplaced.

Additionally, lets refine what is important more directly and understand those things we need to concede as co-parents. Unless your child’s physical or emotional well-being are in imminent danger, you cannot control what goes on in your co-parents house. And remember, they can’t tell you what to do in your home either. Isn’t that something you can appreciate? This doesn’t mean you have to like what is going on. But controlling it is something you are going to have to give up for your own sanity.

If you need to work through an issue going on in the other home, ask yourself is addressing it is worth potentially damage your co-parenting relationship? Choose wisely.

Mediation Keeps Decision-making in Parents’ Hands

Family Mediation is an alternative dispute resolution process that brings parents together outside of the courtroom to resolve disputes together. It is sometimes ordered by the courts in an attempt to encourage settlements between parents outside of the courtroom. But it is important to know that while mediation may be court ordered or voluntarily undertaken, no one can force parties to settle an issue through mediation. The courts can only order that you attempt it in good faith – meaning you need to show up as requested.

A mediator is a neutral third party that facilitates the dispute resolution process between parents. The mediator’s role is not to find the truth or make decisions for the parents. It is to help parents formulate their own solutions to the problems between them.

The fact that parents are in control of deciding for themselves what is best for their family is one of, if not the biggest advantage to mediation over court litigation. The other pro is the cost. Mediation is usually significantly less costly than the attorney fees and court costs associated with a trial. It also puts parents on less adversarial footing, which can fuel amicable relationships between co-parents well beyond the resolution of any current issues.

Want to learn more about family mediation services I offer in Ohio? Set up your free consultation with me here.

Collaborative and Amicable Divorce Processes

If your divorce is not yet finalized (i.e. pre-decree), you could engage the services of Collaborative or Amicable divorce professionals in your community to help hammer out any unresolved issues before you go down the court litigation route. At present, these services are limited to those who are in the process of divorcing. So if your divorce has already been finalized, these processes will not be options for you.

Click Collaborative Divorce Law and Amicable Divorce to learn more about these pre-decree options. 

Family therapists

Family therapists encompass a broad set of trained professionals including License Marriage and Family Therapists, Psychologists, Social Workers, and life coaches. Therapists can help parents to adopt more effective approaches to communicating with one another and often work to resolve issues that hold them back from doing this.

I’m not going to get into a lengthy explanation of the differences in training, cost, and approach of the varied practitioners who refer to themselves as family therapists. But, if you decide to engage one, be sure you vet them. You should have a comfortable rapport, understand their fees, and know the kind of training and experience they have. Ask for referrals. There is no one right answer to all of these concerns. It greatly depends on your needs, issues, budget, and preferences. But you should be clear on what you are and are not getting with their services.

Co-parent Coaching

Co-parent coaching is offered by private practitioners and also as a service of some family court systems. Check your local domestic relations court to find out if this service is available at low or no cost to you.

Co-parent coaches may or may not have other professional certifications such as family therapist, social worker, etc. But just because they don’t doesn’t mean they can’t help or are not allowed to provide you assistance. Many Co-parent Coaches have other business and life skills that position them to be incredibly effective as co-parent coaches. Again, just as with Family Therapist, understand who you are getting and make an informed decision as to whether they fit your needs.

If you would like to learn more about co-parent coaching services I offer, click here.

Courts should be a last resort

While this is the go-to step for so many divorced parents when conflicts arise, I encourage you to try another approach first. Not only is going to court and the associated attorney’s fees expensive, it is also exceptionally adversarial. By definition, it pits parents against one another in a win-lose proposition. That’s why they say you either win or lose your case.

If you do opt for court, know this. You are CONCEDING decision-making power to a judge or magistrate who barely knows you, your co-parent, your children, and your situation. So while I am sure they strive to make the best possible decision, it is only based on the information they have available to them and is bound by the issues brought in any one case. This reason alone should be enough to encourage you to try other avenues of dispute resolution first.

If you have run out of other options or need the safety that the legal system provides, I know it can be tempting to represent yourself to save money. But I would strongly urge you to reconsider. The legal system is complicated and the smallest missteps in paperwork or strategy can mean the difference between an outcome that you want and one that is very damaging to your interests. Even those who may otherwise have the truth and best intentions on their side can fall prey to bad outcomes because of mistakes made in their court case. Get an attorney!

More Help for Co-parents

Have you read my book, Combative to Collaborative: The Co-parenting Code? Get it in paperback, ebook, or audio book now on Amazon.

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This post was originally posted on National Parents Organization.

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