Earlier this year, a judge of the Family Division endorsed the use of a dispute resolution process called Parenting Coordination as a potential means of ongoing support to separated parents who had:
- experienced a very upsetting separation
- subsequently experienced challenging court proceedings to decide upon the child arrangements, and
- who continued with challenging parental conflict.
In the judgment, available online (here), it is reported that the separation and conflict was affecting the well-being of the two children, both of whom were showing signs of emotional distress.
Without some additional intervention, it is highly likely the parents in the case would have continued in chronic conflict, increasing the chances of longer term challenges for their children and a good chance of returning to court on repeated occasions – hence the judge’s comments that the parents should seek ongoing professional assistance to help move forward more constructively.
This is a follow-up blog about parenting coordination. You can read the first here, or if you prefer a vlog to a blog, watch Claire Molyneux talk about parenting coordination with the Family Law Vlogger here.
In brief, parenting coordination is only suitable for parents who already have in place a parenting agreement or a court order (known as a child arrangements order). Some parents are able to follow the terms of their agreement or court order and work out relatively manageably how to fine-tune its terms; for example, if the order states that parents shall share the school summer holidays, some parents feel able to sit down together and make appropriate and mutually acceptable arrangements. For others, however, quite understandably any kind of interaction can feel impossible. If there are no safety issues, and the problem is one of really challenging or practically impossible communication, parenting coordination could help.
What are the ingredients for a successful parenting coordination intervention? There are a number of factors. To start with, both parents need to be willing to buy into the process and engage with the work the parenting coordinator asks them to embrace. It is no good if only one parent is willing to make changes. Both need to be open minded and accept that parental conflict is potentially damaging to the well-being of children, and an unhealthy dynamic between parents is worse for children than the separation itself, particularly when it becomes chronic. Good parenting coordinators can help a family visualise what experience of childhood and parenting they want their children to have, and help parents re-create their family narrative. Of course following court proceedings in which each parent has looked at the other’s negatives, and tried to argue for a particular outcome, this might seem like a great big and insurmountable mountain to climb. But, with time, support, constructive challenge and a spoonful or goodwill and willingness, things can improve and enhance the quality of life of everyone affected.
In brief summary, with a parenting coordinator, parents might:
- Learn about the effects of conflict on children;
- Learn about healthy and unhealthy forms of communication – sometimes referred to as the silent to violent continuum;
- Put together a parenting charter;
- Visualise the childhood the children might have if things don’t change, and what childhood experience the parents would like their children to have;
- Look at what different and improved communication system might enable parents to move towards their preferred narrative;
- Practising and sense checking ideas over time;
- Work with the parenting coordinator, who will help mediate the terms of the parenting agreement;
- The parenting coordinator can make one off decisions relating to something in the order if that is necessary.
If you would like to know more about parenting coordination, please contact Claire Molyneux Claire.Molyneux@Mills-reeve.com. The Parenting Coordinators Alliance website may also be of interest, link here: Parenting Coordinators Alliance.