When Co-Parents Collide: Interview with Parenting Coordinator, Brooke Randolph
Brooke Randolph is a licensed mental health counselor/therapist who also serves as a parenting coordinator. Increasingly, family courts are turning to parenting coordinators to assist co-parents experiencing high levels of conflict.
CoParenting101.org: How are children impacted by parents who remain entangled in conflict after a break up?
Brooke Randolph: Exposure to high levels of interparental conflict has been the strongest predictor of child maladjustment after divorce. Unfortunately up to 25% of divorces result in high conflict during the first two years following the divorce, and up to 15% of families of divorce continue to experience high conflict for several years. When children are under stress, they can withdraw, suffer mood swings, demand more attention, become fearful, lose interest in activities they once enjoyed, have difficulty with schoolwork, become defiant or destructive, experience nightmares, and/or experience physical symptoms. Parents seem to forget that children identify with both parents as part of themselves and experience confusion when they observe one parent rejecting the other.
Given the stress that high parental conflict places on children, why do some parents stay mired in conflict, even years after the break up?
Parenting is very personal. Children are a part of ourselves, and many have difficulty letting someone else make decisions for their children. People have a wide range of theories and values for parenting, many of which can cause conflicts over specific issues. The intention to stand up for what one thinks is best for his or her children may be well-meaning; however, the result of co-parenting conflict can be dangerous and damaging for all involved. In addition, there may be hurts and grudges from the relationship that complicate interactions and cause parents to see ill-intention in the other parent. Ineffective and mismatched communication patterns may also be common reasons for relationships to end, as well as factors that complicate and cause conflict.
What's the process for getting a parenting coordinator involved?
Either party's lawyer may appeal the court to have a PC appointed to the case. The judge may also make the determination to add parenting coordination to the court order without an appeal. If either party is interested in parenting coordination, he or she may request that his or her lawyer write an appeal to appoint a PC.
What kinds of issues might a parenting coordinator address?
Parenting Coordination can address a variety of issues including the transporation and exchange of children, clothing,, and other essentials; education, extracurricular activities; religious training and observation; roles of and contact with parents' significant others and extended family; discipline; communication between parents and children; communication between parents about the children; child's appearance; child's physical and mental health care; and child care. Parenting Coordination can also address the interpretation and scheduling of court-ordered parenting time, including holidays, summer plans, and minor adjustments or temporary changes to the schedule.
What are the limits of parenting coordination?
A PC cannot act as a therapist, custody evaluator, or legal advisor to either party or the children. Parenting Coordination addresses parenting issues, child development, and conflict resolution; but cannot address financial matters or substantively change parenting or or the order of the court.
Who pays for parenting coordination?
Parenting Coordination is generally funded by the parents utilizing the service. The sample orders in Indiana state that each parent will pay 50% of the fees of the PC. The court can order a different fee-split based on income differentiation. I have had cases with an 85-15% split. Parents and sometimes attorneys will ask if parents can be charged 100% for their personal communications with the PC; however, there are major problems with this division that could lead to additional conflict. One parent may contact the PC with a complaint about the other, arguing that the need for communication with the PC was necessitated by the other and thus that parent should pay the PC's fees. This is a major reason why the split on fees is ordered. A common exception is if one parent subpoenas the PC for court testimony.
Currently, only about a dozen states in the U.S. utilize parent coordinators. This is such a sensible and effective resource, why aren't more states recommending parent coordinators to "high conflict" parents?
Although parenting coordination has been practiced since the 1990's, many areas still need education to introduce and explain parenting coordination to judges and attorneys. The legal system has established practices and processes, and it can take time to integrate anything new. It is important for the attorneys to be on board and explain to parents the benefits of parenting coordination, including how it can be cost-effective. Parents may initially see that they are paying for another professional to be involved, not realizing that when utilizing a PC, the time for this one professional is split between the parties rather than each paying for their own attorney and court costs.
Any final words of advice for co-parents who are stuck in conflict?
I always believe it is important to state that parenting coordination empowers parents to make decisions for their children without the time, expense, and frustration of repeated trip to court or continued conflict. A PC can also be an advocate for the children. Unfortunately, children are not always completely honest with their parents for fear of hurting their feelings or getting in trouble. I allow children to contact me at their own initiative, generally without charge. My favorite feedback is always when children tell me that their parents are getting along better. Parenting Coordination is a way that parents can prioritize their children by reducing conflict. Conflict should not occur in front of children; however, even if conflict is not visible to children, they can sense the tension in their parents and it effects them. Parenting Coordination is a flexible process, based on the needs of the specific case. Parents do not have to be in the same area or state. Issues can be addressed in meetings, phone conferences, or through email.
Learn more about parenting coordination and about Brooke Randolph's professional services here.