As part of a divorce or child custody dispute, more and more New Mexico courts are ordering parents to participate in co-parenting counseling, which is a particular style of therapy designed specifically to help parents deal with the difficulties presented by sharing parenting duties while living apart.
While the trend is for courts to order parents to participate in co-parenting counseling, or take co-parenting classes, most specialists agree that, unless both parents are willing to put their negative feelings aside and place their children’s needs first, then co-parenting therapy has little chance of success.
It is important to realize that a separation or divorce always has an impact on the children, no matter how much parents may try to protect them. While some children may act out in obvious ways, others may demonstrate their anxiety in more subtle ways.
Co-parenting therapy is intended to teach parents how to deal with their parenting and custody issues in order to minimize the effects that their divorce or break up will have on the children. While the specifics of a co-parenting therapy plan will vary depending on the situation, there are some goals, rules and potential pitfalls that apply to most situations:
Goals of Co-Parenting Counseling
While co-parenting therapy is tailored to the specific parents, there are several goals common to most situations. These include establishing that the children’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being should be the parents’ main priority. This means working together to make the transitions easier for the children. Goals also include clearing lines of communication between parents; setting clear, appropriate boundaries; formulating realistic expectations from each other; and having realistic expectations and commitment to the counseling.
The parents’ attitudes contribute heavily to the success or failure of co-parenting therapy. Specialists suggest that parents try to put their feelings aside and focus on their children’s needs. Parents must want to communicate effectively with each other and to do this they must control their feelings of anger towards their ex.
Ground Rules of Co-Parenting Counseling
Many therapists suggest establishing a set of ground rules on which to base future communication and interaction with the other parent. This may include an agreement to treat each other with respect at all times, especially when the children are present or within earshot. Another rule may be to never use demeaning or derogatory language with or about each other. Again, parents should be especially careful not to use condescending or offensive language about the other parent in front of the children.
Sabotaging the Counseling
There are also several attitudes and actions that can sabotage co-parenting counseling of which all parents should be aware. Parents who are unwilling or unable to let go of their own feelings of anger and pain about the divorce or separation have little chance of success in learning to co-parent. Parents should also refrain from trying to use co-parenting counseling as a way to find out what went wrong in the relationship or to re-hash problems with their ex-partner.
Co-parenting therapy can go a long way in helping children and their parents move on after a divorce or separation. However, it may not be appropriate or useful for everyone, especially in domestic violence situations. A discussion of the pros and cons of co-parenting classes or therapy with an attorney experienced with child should be a part of any child custody dispute.