By: J. Alex Jacobson
Founder, Mediator — Jacobson Mediation Group
Contrary to what one may initially believe, it is absolutely possible to successfully co-parent after a divorce, even in the most high-conflict situations. Here are some tips:
1. Work with a mediator to reach a comprehensive agreement that addresses all matters — parenting and financial — as they are inextricably linked. Mediation provides an opportunity for parents to make critical decisions about their family in a non-adversarial setting. A mediator will help the parties navigate the conversation in order to craft an agreement that is narrowly tailored to the needs of that family.
For example, consider a family with a child that is involved at an advanced level in a sport. The parents will necessarily confront issues relating to the scheduling of practices and games, how these impact parenting time, the costs associated with enrollment, training and travel for the sport, and the selection of coaches and trainers. A good mediator will assist the parents with identifying and addressing these issues leaving few, if any, matters for further discussion or interpretation.
In a courtroom, judges rarely have the time to address the level of detail in a judgment that will maximize the likelihood that parents will be able to successfully co-parent. Considering the foregoing example, a judge may take a broad-stroke approach and dictate a parenting schedule without regard for how the commitments of the sport impact the schedule or assign a support obligation without regard for how the financial commitments of the sport impact one’s financial circumstances. The result of this approach leaves many issues open and provides a source for ongoing conflict between parents.
Further, once embroiled in the adversarial process, it is difficult to “un-ring the bell”and effectively co-parent. After parents spend a significant amount of time, money, and emotion in the litigation, it is often difficult to forget the impact of that process.
Mediation provides the best opportunity for parents to retain control of the process and the agreements that are reached so as to provide the clearest roadmap for moving forward to successfully co-parent in separate homes.
2. Appoint a Parenting Coordinator in the Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage who is delegated authority to address matters about which the parents are unable to agree so that returning to court is unnecessary absent exigent circumstances. Parenting Coordinators in Cook County, Illinois are charged to “reduce conflict between the parents and reduce unnecessary stress for the children.” Think of a parenting coordinator as a referee who will call the shots and avoid the need for parties to re-engage attorneys.
3. Maximize transitions between parenting time at natural transition times in the children’s schedule. For example, have one parent’s parenting time conclude at the beginning of the school day and the other parent’s parenting time commence at the end of the school day so that there is no need for the parents to interact at transition times.
4. For the children’s items that are not overly costly, purchase duplicate items for each parent’s home so that there is no need to transport personal items, sports gear, clothing and the like between homes. Then, each parent is responsible for his/her own items and there is no need to interact with the other parent to address the whereabouts of any of these items.
5. Confirm and re-confirm any schedule modifications in writing to avoid any confusion. Assume that the Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage is the default unless confirmed otherwise in writing.