Domestic Diversions

Parenting Coordination with High-Conflict Families

I have been providing Parenting Coordination (PC) since 1995.  I learned of this service at the Association of Family Conciliation Courts (AFCC) Annual Conference in 1994.  PC is a service often provided by Psychologists for co-parents in post-divorce situations.  Parenting Coordinators provide 3 roles: educators, mediators, and arbitrators to help co-parents resolve conflicts related to co-parenting problems. The process of PC is dynamic and requires Parenting Coordinators to utilize all 3 roles at various times, particularly arbitration when Co-parents are entrenched in conflict.

I am passionate about making a difference in the lives of individuals, families and community.  There are co-parents who benefit from my education, counsel and mediation services.  Many graduate to effective co-parenting for the welfare and peace of their children and themselves. 

In protracted PC cases with high-conflict co-parents, it is my experience that arbitration, accountability, and case management are essential for success.  As previously stated, the process of PC is dynamic. Each role is inter-dependent and necessary for the Parenting Coordinator to be effective.  In fact, some families with whom I have worked for over 3 years, unfortunately still need me in the role of arbitrator because they won’t make the requisite changes to conclude PC.  The education, counsel, and mediation efforts on my part are washed away by the tide of chronic anger and entrenched conflict.  In the absence of authority to make decisions during impasses, co-parents end up no longer invested in mediation and return to previous positions of recalcitrance, control, acting out, and litigation. 

High-conflict co-parents usually have one or both parents with characterlogical disorders.  Consequently, they are prone to harbor deep resentments, to act out feelings, and avoid accountability.  They aren’t interested in solving conflict or protecting the welfare of their children as much as they are invested in exacting revenge, getting or maintaining control, and self-fulfillment.  These co-parents need to be held accountable and they need help making decisions for their children because they are sacrificing their children on the altar of perpetual conflict, bitterness, self-righteousness, and unresolved ex-spousal issues. 

“Simple” decisions such as where the parent parks to pick up the kids, who cuts the children’s hair, and whether the children take swimming lessons in the Spring can unleash intense emotions, control issues and irrational acting-out behaviors.  In the event that the Parenting Coordinator doesn’t have the ability to arbitrate these decisions in the moment of crisis, the co-parents will likely continue these destructive patterns with no hope of change. 

Early in the PC process, the co-parents often receive education about co-parenting, child development, divorce recovery and the like.  They also experience, at times, successful mediation when they craft agreements supplemental to the court order that are supposed to guide their behavior and decisions.  Nonetheless, the years of making agreements, and receiving education and counsel don’t get internalized and manifested in behavioral change, hence the problems in character development.

Consequently, the co-parents improve at finding loopholes in agreements, while avoiding accountability.  They are uncanny in getting various professionals in the system to argue amongst each other.  Eventually, these characterlogically disordered co-parents learn that the Parenting Coordinator only has the power to help them mediate conflict and the co-parents aren’t interested in that, only in controlling, and hurting their co-parent, while gaining control and satisfaction in the process.  Also, they grow wary of the process because they believe that PC doesn’t work, saying in exasperation, “there is no accountability”.  Interestingly, this is a retort said not looking in the mirror, but pointing their finger at the co-parent sitting across from them in my office. 

Eventually the process disintegrates into co-parent accusations of Parenting Coordinator incompetence, bias, and collusion with the divorce industry.  I’ve heard many of complaints including, “I’ve lost respect for you, you have no power to do anything about this”,  “If we are supposed to be meeting with you to keep us out of court why has [my co-parent] taken me to court time and time again while meeting with you?  This makes no sense to me, we now get to pay lawyers fees and your fees.  I guess that works well for you guys.”

This disintegrating process is frustrating for Parenting Coordinators like me. I am interested in solving problems rather than being powerless in the middle of problems.  The inability to arbitrate in the moment to promote accountability and the lack of coordination amongst professionals creates an inadequate system to effectively work with these difficult co-parents.  Essentially, the dysfunctional co-parents remain in control.  And the history suggests that when they are in control, the children suffer.

I envision that some day we will have a family court that operates similarly to a drug court.  This would involve working with these high conflict families very intensely in a team/case management approach, where communication and cooperation is essential to be effective.  The high-conflict cases would perhaps be involved in parenting coordination and counseling while at times litigating and being evaluated.  The professionals involved at such time (Judge, Parenting Coordinator, Attorneys, Guardian Ad Litems, Counselors, Evaluators, Mediators, etc) would meet together at regularly scheduled times to make decisions in the best interest of the children.  This would be intensive and expensive for a short period, yet likely successful and cost effective in the long run.

I predict that the majority of the co-parents would experience a system of professionals that didn’t unwittingly perpetuate litigation, disorder and conflict, but a system that pro-actively fostered accountability, communication and resolution.  The systemic case management approach would discourage the very problems we are all interested in resolving.  Instead, I believe the current system of working with these high conflict families is designed to be less than effective.  Although, the system has historically evolved from a highly adversarial paradigm, it is my hope that we can continue to evolve to meet the needs of these families and truly serve the best interests of the children.

6 thoughts on “Parenting Coordination with High-Conflict Families

  1. Erma Piasta

    I find your article very informative. Have you though of net working with other PC’s
    I would be interested in what other PC’s from other states had to say about High Conflit
    families they had to deal with and what sucesses they might have had.

  2. lexi

    The logic described above does not add up. PC get paid handsomely some where $200/hr. So it is in best interest of PC to keep both party conflicted so that they can keep PC employed. I have more trust in judicial system then PC. Also there should be a governance body for PC who ensure PC are operating in ethical boundary.

  3. winema

    Parenting coordinators (PC) are new SCAM schema on Americans!!! They will try to convince unaware parents to go to them for custody evaluation during the child custody dispute. They works in a gang with several corrupt lawyers who will try to concince you that it may be cheaper then go to court. To get your trust they will pretend to be fair and just in beginner, but one parties fall into his trap, they will suck thousand of dollars from both parties involved. At the end of custody evaluation PC will recommend you to go to Parental Coordinator to himself of to one of his friends. Then he will totally get control of both parents life, because PC are both judicial, executive, legislative and financialy motivated party in this case, i.e. they making the “rules”, decide if you follow them, panish parents by putting limitations on all aspects of parental time. Using you natural love to kids he will be controlling every step of your relationships with them and you personal life. PC will tell you where you can live, what friends you can have, he will control every word you can say, what candy your kids can eat, and many more – sky is the limit, because there is no law controling them, whatever they think in “child best interest” they can do. Also PC will charge both parties for every word of this precious “recommendations”. Eventually he will cost you both thousands more then just go to court. DO NOT FALL INTO HIS SCHEMA! If you did already, try to go to court and have a judge to remove PC from your case, but many times PCs are very resilient to removal. If file malpractice suite or complaint to psyhologyst board, PC probably drop, but you will be judged by the same PC like one you have, and PC ask court to assign a new PC they choose to your family.

    This several good links for parenting coordinator victims:

  4. High Conflict Parenting Witness

    Anyone who thinks parent coordination is a “sceme” has not witnessed high-conflict parenting issues, or is the parent causing the high conflict. Parenting coordinators are an option that can save a child from debilitating circumstances, and can keep the kind of exhausting and pointless emotion winema displays to a minimum.

  5. LW

    I had excellent results w.a PC! She was truly focused on resolving our issues 4 our child. However my high conflict, alienating ex ended services when he could not get her 2 place all blame on me.

    Im sure some ppl may have had bad experiences. Thats going 2 be true no matter where u go in life. But that doesnt make them all schemers! And i agree more ppl likely 2 complain are those who are also high conflict!

  6. Not a Scam but also not beneficial

    DO NOT TRUST A PC THAT BEGINS ANY SESSION WITH “you have more time so it is only fair that you sacrifice an hour here and there to make it fair for your co-parent.” Politely asking for a new PC is underway. It is tragic what this system does to a cooperating parent. Expect high-conflict parent to continue controlling and manipulating at any cost. Literally. In situations where multiple PC’s, Judges and Lawyers have been handling the case for multiple years , there needs to be a law giving the rational and cooperative parent (proven by actions and not testimony) sole managing right, in terms of decisions. Until PC is effective and consensus be achieved (over a specific time frame and when the PC feels joint- managing would be effective), only one parent should posses this sole right to make decisions, which I believe would dramatically reduce the conflict, arguing and need for control. High-conflict cases do not stem from what is best for the child, rather is is about what the other parent is losing, hence the high-conflict. Take that aspect away and true, genuine yearn for better parenting will unfold.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.