Co-Parenting Counseling is a specialized form of mediation, focused on improving parent-to-parent communication. Parents who are divorced or no longer living together recognize that raising children can become a daunting task. Communicating about, negotiating over and caring for the children are areas filled with potential conflict. It is easy for parents to make the assumption that when things aren't going well for or about their children it is the other parent's fault. It is easy for old conflicts to re-surface. Unfortunately parents usually resort to relying on the court to resolve the disagreement. This has the risk of exacerbating the conflict. Often lost in the conflict are the children who are caught in a web of arguments.
There is an extensive catalog of research that reports that children thrive when the adults can model effective conflict resolution strategies. If we look at the most important task a parent has is the successful raising of their children we can begin to look at Co-Parenting as a business partnership. Parents must develop skills similar to a business partnership. An inability to manage conflict undermines the children's well being and makes the parents unhappy. Parents who continue to be preoccupied with anger, resentment and contempt are unable to successfully move on with their lives.
Utilizing some of the major elements of mediation I assist parents to deepen their understanding of the children's needs. During my initial meeting with the parents I assist them in developing goals for the do-parenting counseling. I use the metaphor that co-parenting is like driving to the store. Before you leave the house you set a goal - the store. Once you are driving you keep the destination in mind. A good driver will spend more time looking through the windshield and periodically check the mirrors. If we are constantly looking in the past, the rearview mirror, then we will miss the pedestrian in the cross walk and perhaps not reach our goal.
Some families come into Co-Parenting Counseling because they are doing their own divorce - a kitchen table approach. I assist these parents in developing the parenting plan, an agreement of where and when the children will be living. I also help parents have conversations about health, special needs of the children, educational issues and extracurricular activities. These parents might not use the services of an attorney or mediator. They will be able to submit the parenting plan to the court as part of their self-drafted marital settlement agreement.
Many parents are referred to Co-parent Counseling as part of a court order. These parents can sometimes arrive more battered from the legal conflict they have been experiencing. Working with clients in this situation, I help them develop stress management skills that would help de-escalate the situation before jumping into the goal setting stage. Sometimes the focus for these families is to help develop strategies for sharing information and work out details of the parenting plan. Other times the court orders the parents to develop the parenting plan with the assistance of a co-parent counselor.