Parents who are separated or divorced, or who are in the process of splitting up, may benefit from co-parent counseling. The process can help improve communication, reach or modify agreements regarding a schedule for when children are to be with each parent, define areas for sole and joint decision-making, and any other issues that require attention. Co-parent counseling may help one or both parents separate their anger or grief related to the ending of the relationship from the business of on-going parenting so that both parents can focus more fully on parenting issues without the intrusion of “unfinished business” from the past. Agreements reached can be written in the form of a parenting plan which can be submitted to attorneys or to a court where it can be made into a court order. This gives parents the freedom to write their own child custody agreement that, once filed and signed by the judge, is just as enforceable as any order written by a court.
My approach to co-parent counseling is to meet first with each parent individually, after which a decision is reached about whether or not it makes sense to go forward. If we agree to proceed, then there is a series of six weekly sessions with both parents to work on improving communication as we clearly identify the specific challenges and obstacles to post-divorce parenting they are facing. We focus on collaboratively developing options and solutions, testing them out, and adjusting them so we arrive at as good a resolution as possible. My background as a child therapist and analyst allows me to consult with parents every step of the way in considering the potential impact of various options on the child. As we approach the end of the six weekly sessions, a decision is made about whether and how to continue. Options include ongoing weekly meetings for a longer period, less frequent regular meetings (for example, meeting every two weeks or monthly), meeting as needed, or ending the co-parent counseling process.
Co-parent counseling is not for every separated or divorced parent. It is not simply a less expensive alternative to litigation. Individuals who cannot tolerate sitting together in a room or who cannot constructively contribute to a dialogue in which issues are identified and resolved may find co-parent counseling frustrating and ineffective. For people in this sort of situation, direct court intervention, court based mediation, custody evaluation, special mastering, and other such arrangements may be more effective both personally and financially. However, years of clinical experience show beyond a doubt that many people enter co-parent counseling reluctantly and skeptically, and a good number of these folks are surprised to find that they are able to resolve their troubling issues and work out parenting arrangements that support their children’s ability to flourish in the family after parental separation or divorce.
I have been working for many years with separated and divorced families in the process of working out arrangements for their children. My professional experience in this area is as a mediator, custody evaluator, and special master. I was one of the founders of the Kids Turn program in San Francisco and developed the curriculum for both children and parents. I was also a member of the Judicial Council of California, Administrative Office of the Courts work groups that wrote state-wide standards for child custody evaluations and supervised visitation. I have taught and lectured about children, parents, divorce, and child custody at the local, state, and national levels with mediators, therapists, lawyers, and judges, and have published papers in professional journals and book chapters on these subjects.