While most people can agree that is is important to “put the children first” and “not put the kids in the middle” of conflict between parents who are no longer together, divorced parents often find this much easier said than done. Often, there is distrust and miscommunication between the parents, and these problems are often challenging to overcome. Frustration can quickly build, leading to escalated emotions, antagonism, and potentially expensive and lengthy court battles. Co-parenting counseling is the first line of defense to avoid such animosity. Coparenting counseling is an alternative dispute resolution method which provides assistance in amicably solving coparenting problems, before filing a court action. Parenting counselors help parents cooperatively resolve any disputes which may arise over the terms of the parenting plan.
What is co-parenting counseling?
Coparenting therapy involves working together with a therapist who is specially trained in family and relationship dynamics to learn how to raise your shared child(ren) with cooperation and respect.
Coparenting counseling is described by Retired Superior Court Judge Lawrence Jones as the opposite of couple’s counseling: “With marriage counseling, parties attempt to save their marriage. With co-parenting counseling, the marriage is over, but the parties still need help in improving their mutual abilities to work together after divorce, as co-functioning joint parents on child-related issues.”
During sessions with your parenting counselor, you will learn specific skills unique to blended families and stepfamilies, including:
Dealing with one another respectfully and professionally
Managing conflict though open, honest and calm discussions
Setting appropriate boundaries
Respecting each parent’s right to make decisions on his/her own parenting time
Recognizing and accepting parenting style differences
Identifying and improving the way you react to the other parent
Modeling effective problem-solving for your children
Putting the needs of the child over the feelings of the parents: Prioritizing what the child needs, rather than what the parents want
Why should I consider co-parenting counseling?
You can solve problems more quickly and with less expense.
Even married parents argue at times over their children’s upbringing. When you are no longer a part of a couple with your child’s other parent, conflict is even more likely. Coparenting counseling offers an alternative to spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on lawyers and mediators. In addition, coparenting counseling focuses on developing understanding and respect for the other parent’s point of view, rather than trying to “win” or “get what’s owed.”
You can engage in problem-solving with less animosity.
Research consistently shows that children suffer as a result of their parents’ divorce when they are exposed to conflict between their parents. Children will naturally love both parents, and identify with each of them. Parents give their children a great gift when they can be successful in solving their problems without their children witnessing arguments, name-calling, belittlement, and anger.
You and your co-parent will be making the decisions regarding your child, rather than a third party.
Parents know their children best, and understand what they need better than any third party. However, when parents are unable to agree and the court system gets involved, parents lose the power to make decisions about their children and, often, parts of their own lives. Learning to collaborate with your child’s other parent is an investment in the future peace of two households.
As your skills improve, the need for a parenting counselor will decrease.
The goal of every good therapist is to put themselves out of a job. Your parenting counselor will work with you to help you master the skills necessary to effectively work as a team and cooperate with your child’s other parent, with a minimum of hard feelings. As you continue to apply those skills, and learn new ones, it is very likely that you will find a decreased need for alternative dispute resolution assistance. Ideally, you and your child’s other parent will eventually learn to navigate areas of disagreement or conflict without the assistance of a third party (therapist, mediator, lawyer or court system).
My coparent is “high conflict.” Can a parenting counselor still help me?
There has been a lot of attention in recent years about ‘high conflict personalities’ (HCPs), especially related to divorce and blended family situations. Many times, each coparent will see the other one as ‘high conflict’ (or ‘narcissistic,’ or ‘borderline,’or ‘personality disordered,’ or any number of other accusatory ‘diagnoses’-made-by-a-biased-former-partner). In most situations, these labels are used in frustration when parents find themselves unable to effectively express their points of view to one another. A parenting counselor can help reduce judgment and name-calling, and instead facilitate understanding (rather than anger and scorn) between the parents. Understanding and effective communication is the first step to agreeing on a fair solution.
What are some specific things that a parenting counselor can help with?
There are lots of potential conflict areas in a shared custody (known in Florida as “timesharing” or “shared parental responsibility”) situation. A parenting counselor can help coparents reach agreement on any area of conflict. The most common disagreements include:
Where the children will spend holidays
What schools the children will attend
How medical/healthcare decisions will be made
Which parent has financial responsibility
How schedule adjustments or “makeup timesharing” will be handled
How to make transitions easier on the children
What’s the difference between parallel parenting and co-parenting?
Coparenting refers to multiple parents (or parent figures) working together to assist in a child’s upbringing. Any time more than one parent is involved in a child’s life, some degree of coparenting is taking place. Some parents choose to work closely together, with frequent communication collaboration on most areas of a child’s life (such as bedtimes, homework procedures, household rules, discipline techniques, religious upbringing, approaches to ‘screen time,’ etc.). Other parents find it too difficult to cooperate with the other parent to this degree, and instead tend to make most decisions independent from input from the other parent (parallel parenting). The degree of collaboration between the parents may vary from time to time. Regardless of where parents fall on the cooperation continuum, a parenting counselor can coach in effective problem-solving.
Isn’t it weird to go to counseling with someone other than my spouse/partner?
Not at all. People attend counseling to assist them in learning skills and/or overcoming problems. It is very common to have a variety of struggles when raising a child in a divorce, remarriage, or never-married situation.
Many people, especially those who have re-partnered, feel concerned about “attending therapy with my ex.” You can be assured that for this type of counseling/coaching service, there is absolutely NO processing of divorce issues or prior relationship baggage. When/if those issues come up, your parenting counselor will set boundaries to stop the topic and advise the person bringing it up to address that issue privately, in another setting. Co-parents are there for one thing: to learn how to coparent effectively.
My coparent refuses to participate. Can parenting counseling still help me?
Absolutely! Even though ideally both parents would be committed to learning the skills necessary to cooperate more effectively, just one parent who is committed to reducing conflict will likely make a difference in the interactions. Ultimately, the only person that you can control or change is yourself.
Can I use a coparenting counselor to help me get a divorce/work out a parenting plan/figure out child support?
Absolutely! Florida law allows divorcing couples to decide on their own how they will work out the details of parenting their shared children. Your parenting counselor can help you cooperatively create a parenting plan to work out timesharing, allocate responsibility of expenses, and many other aspects of divorce to help ensure the least possible negative impact on the children. While your parenting counselor cannot give legal advice, we can refer you to family-friendly attorneys who can provide counsel. If coparenting counseling fails to assist you and your coparent in reaching an agreement on any of the issues, we can also refer you to low-cost, family-friendly mediation.