I recently attended a continuing education course for Family Law attorneys and judges which was presented by one of the premier providers of court-approved parenting classes. Much of the content was what I would have expected. However, at the conclusion of the class, it became clear that there is a significant disconnect between what we as family law attorneys do on a day to day basis and what our clients are learning in co-parenting classes.
Research from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) find that children of high conflict divorce assimilate angry, impulsive and violent behaviors. These children often experience more sleeping problems, headaches, stomach aches, tenseness and sadness. High conflict divorce can even lead to internalized chronic stress for children which can lead to depression, anxiety disorder, somatic symptoms disorder, and even suicide. The purpose of Co-parenting classes is to give parents the tools they need to effectively communicate and remove their children from the conflict. Low conflict divorces lead to better adjusted children. This is accomplished by learning to communicate respectfully, establishing healthy boundaries and working together. The specifics of how parents develop these communication skills requires instruction from a qualified co-parenting facilitator, generally in a group setting, with examples of effective and respectful communication, conflict resolution and cooperation. Parents are also provided a list of resources, including co-parenting books, to read and work through the exercises after the class.
One tool that courts often order parents to utilize is Talking Parents, an online application that helps parents to communicate more effectively. It is common in cases that appear to be headed toward high-conflict, that courts will order parties to complete a comprehensive co-parenting class and utilize Talking Parents for custody and visitation issues. The anticipation is that parties will be more polite, respectful and focused on cooperating if they are communicating on a court-ordered correspondence application rather than texting or talking by phone. However, in order to be effective, both parties must apply the tools and communication guidelines provided in the co-parenting classes. All too often one or both parents complete the class simply because it is a requirement, with no application of the material covered in the classes. In the same way, disrespectful and disparaging communication is transferred from text message to Talking Parents communication. Another common result is that one or both parents will use Talking Parents to document their misrepresentation of an event or verbal communication. In other words, by stating their perception of a particular event or action on Talking Parents, the parent thinks it now becomes an undisputed fact. As expected, the other parent responds to the accusation or misrepresentation with a swift rebuttal. In such a case, the intent of a co-parenting tool is frustrated. This leads to correspondence between attorneys which generally mirrors their clients polarized perceptions. If the parties are not able to resolve the dispute through meet and confer between their attorneys, then the matter often ends up in court. Faced with two conflicting sets of facts, the Court must then decide which set of facts is more credible and make an order in the best interest of the children.
There are certain conflicts regarding custody and visitation that require a Judicial determination. However, in such cases both parties often walk away disappointed with the Ruling. Moreover, the children are often embroiled in the conflict. Remember the effects of high conflict cases on children as discussed above? That is the ultimate result. In summary, I think children of divorce would benefit if parents tried just a little harder to apply the tools they are provided in co-parenting classes for effective communication and cooperation. In the same way, family law attorneys can assist parties in effectively co-parenting by modeling their communications around the same principles.
If you want to hear more about the latest information about Co-Parenting versus Family Law Litigation, please contact our office. The Law Office of Bawden and Kochis handles cases with family law issues regarding adoption, annulment, mediation, domestic violence, pensions, child custody, child and spousal support as well as pre-marital and post-marital agreements. Telephone (909)792-0222, or email us at [email protected]