Parenting is difficult, even in an intact marriage. So when a marriage ends and you’re faced with having to parent with someone you don’t respect, trust, or may not even like – it can seem impossible. Just as parenting probably didn’t come naturally (at least not at first), neither does co-parenting. Among other things, successful co-parenting involves open communication and a level of respect for the other parent, two things many divorced parents simply don’t have. The prevailing view amongst child professionals who are familiar with divorce is that (1) a stable, loving relationship with each parent, and (2) a lack of exposure to acrimony, are essential to healthy childhood development. A solid co-parenting relationship is the surest way to ensure that these goals are met.
Healthy co-parenting allows children and parents the freedom to build post-divorce bonds effectively. Other benefits of healthy co-parenting skills include more constructive decision-making, less stress and a reduction in destructive negative emotions. For those parents who sincerely desire to set aside their personal conflict but still struggle to do so, there are options to help guide and support you in the process.
In an earlier article, we discussed the benefits of using a Parenting Coordinator for high-conflict custody situations. Another option to help relieve tension and conflict between parents is co-parenting therapy. Both options are helpful, yet each approach is different. Use of a Parenting Coordinator is a more formal arrangement in which the PC is a quasi-judicial authority who serves as mediator or decision-maker when parents can’t make decisions together. A co-parenting therapist, on the other hand, is able to use therapeutic techniques to reduce negative emotion, focus the parents on the child (rather than on each other), improve communication, and provide advice to improve functioning for the children.
Co-parenting therapy can be utilized as a single approach or it can work in tandem with the use of a Parenting Coordinator. In either case, it is important for divorcing parents to participate in the therapy as early as possible in the divorce process, preferably even before a planned physical separation occurs. Early participation can help prepare the family for the new world of living in different households and can potentially prevent years of hostility and acrimonious litigation, all with the goal of minimizing the negative effects of divorce on the children.
When seeking a therapist with whom to engage in co-parenting therapy, most believe that a child psychologist is the best choice. Child psychologists have a uniquely relevant perspective because they have devoted their education and practice to issues surrounding child development, a topic which triggers many of the disputes in which separated and divorced parents engage. For example, common disagreements include a child’s bedtime, social media exposure, and use of electronics. Having a child psychologist on board to help navigate such disputes by providing helpful, factual information on developmental milestones and the mental and physical needs of children of various ages ensures that a neutral expert’s input can be considered to help parents reach an agreement that truly is in the best interest of the child.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Co-parenting Therapist:
- Education: In North Carolina, a person may become a licensed psychologist with a master’s degree if he or she is properly supervised. However, a psychologist with a PhD or PsyD has more years of specialized education. Furthermore, a child psychologist likely focused his or her education specifically on the psychology of child development. Some child psychologists even have special expertise in issues facing children of divorce.
- Experience: How many years has the prospective therapist been practicing? In what area does the therapist focus his or her practice? If the therapist is a child psychologist, does he or she focus their practice on children experiencing divorce? Does the therapist also focus on coaching parents in better parenting skills and/or co-parenting skills? It is important to choose a therapist with years of experience directly related to addressing issues facing children of divorce.
- “In-House” Collaboration: Odds are if you and the other parent need co-parenting therapy, your children could benefit from individual therapy. Children do not usually participate in co-parenting therapy. However, if the parents receive co-parenting therapy from one therapist and the children receive individual therapy from another therapist, the therapists will be better able to collaborate and provide personalized services according to the unique needs of the family.
If you believe you and your family could benefit from co-parenting therapy and/or from having a parenting coordinator assigned to your case, contact our office today. One of our knowledgeable child custody attorneys will be able to advise you and assist you with getting the help you need.