Coaching Clients to Effectively Use a Parenting Coordinator

In a previous post we talked about what a Parenting Coordinator (PC) is and the benefits to using one. This article is aimed at helping you prepare your clients to work effectively with their PC. A PC can be most helpful with calming a hostile and chaotic family dynamic if both parents are willing to work with the PC and make changes within themselves.

To increase the chances that the PC work and relationship goes well, you can help prepare your client by sharing the following suggestions:

  1. Be positive in your interactions with the PC; do not project your anger at your ex onto the PC.
    Some people who did not want a PC interact with the PC with a lot of hostility, sometimes even before any PC decision has been made for them to disagree with! Being calm and positive with the PC can help pave the path for a good relationship with your PC. That doesn’t mean every decision will go your way, but by being positive with your PC he or she will be able to best hear and consider your perspective when making tough calls.
  2. Remember, the PC’s decisions are not personal. The PC is a neutral party who does not have an emotional history with the family and is making decisions based on best practices for divorcing families. Those decisions won’t always be in line with what you want and they won’t always be “even.” A good PC is going to make decisions that are best for the child and based on what is considered best practice. Along those lines, avoid thinking of PC decisions as you or your ex “winning” or “losing.” That framework keeps you locked into Conflict Mode with the other parent, which results in high hostility and stress for everyone involved – including your child.
  3. Do what your PC says. Follow the official PC decisions to the letter as those are legal in nature (i.e., same as if a judge ordered them). When the PC implements structure to help increase effectiveness and efficiency of the work (e.g., email the other parent only through the PC, limit number of communications), work within that structure. If the PC makes suggestions (e.g., how to phrase something to the other parent), take them. They are trying to help you decrease hostility and develop skills so that you and the other parent can function effectively on your own in a way that is healthy for your child.
  4. Keep your child in focus with every decision. When you find yourself entering into a conflict with the other parent ask yourself, “Am I arguing for something that is clearly in our child’s best interest, or could this be a matter of opinion?” Sometimes after years of conflict people can develop a pattern of arguing just for the sake of arguing; your brain immediately assumes the worst and/or develops a position opposite of what your co-parent suggested. Remember, the point of PC work is to decrease hostility and make decisions for the good of the child, so if your PC suggests you may be arguing for no good reason, listen and work to be less argumentative.

Those may seem like some obvious basics but nonetheless can be quite challenging for couples that are locked in such hostile conflict that they require a PC. The following are more aspirational goals:

  1. Two things contribute most to a child having a good outcome from a divorce – low hostility between parents and a strong, healthy relationship with each parent. Support their relationship with the other parent. The child needs you both. Never speak poorly about the other parent in front of your child – children see themselves as half each parent, so when you disparage their other parent you cause emotional pain to your child.
  2. Keep the focus on the present and the future. Your goal is not to convince the PC with examples from the past that you are the good parent and the other parent is bad, your goal is to do what is best for your child from here forward.
  3. Enter the relationship with the goal of learning from the PC so you can stop working with them and be effective, amicable co-parents for the benefit of your children. Depending on your PC’s background and style, you might have the chance to learn about child development, your child’s experience in two homes, and skills to improve communication and resolve conflict. You are paying for this service – get everything you can from it. Your PC has no interest in wasting your time or money so take their suggestions on how to engage most effectively in this process and as a co-parent.
  4. Avoid being an accountant, keeping track of how many decisions are made in each parent’s favor. This only contributes to the mindset of being in an adversarial relationship with the other parent when a major goal of working with a PC is to have an effective working relationship with the other parent for the sake of your child.
  5. Think of the PC and the other parent as your teammates in making decisions that affect your child. Be respectful of your teammates and assume they are doing what they think is best for your child. Come to each meeting (or email) prepared with what you want to discuss and keep your interactions brief, to the point, and polite or even friendly.
  6. Be familiar with the PC order so you know what your PC is allowed to be involved with. For example, the PC is never allowed to make decisions about money or make major custody changes. Talk with your attorney when there are issues outside your PC’s purview.

As their attorney you might at times receive complaints from your client about PC decisions, or their perception that the PC is aligning with the other parent. After looking into this, if you feel the PC has been neutral it is helpful to the PC process to remind the client that the PC is a neutral party keeping their child in focus, and that compromise and negotiation isn’t part of being divorced, it’s part of being a parent – married or not. Also, attorneys and PCs can model good communication by having a good working relationship too. Reach out to the PC at the beginning of a case just to open the lines of communication, and help the PC if you can any time they reach out to you. Together attorneys and PCs can often help clients get the most out of their PC experience.