Ways to reduce conflict in child custody

Some of the most contentious battles in divorce cases involve children. Parents are naturally inclined to argue over custody and visitation rights, but sometimes they also have different and very strong beliefs about how children should be raised. Parents may bicker over whether children should attend sleep-away camp, go to a certain church or school, play a sport, have limits on TV or computer time, and so on.

In addition, sometimes couples are still angry at each other and use child-rearing battles as a proxy for their own ongoing conflict.

While some disagreement is probably unavoidable, there may be techniques that can reduce the stress for parents who have high-conflict custody issues, and avoid the hassle and expense of constantly returning to court to battle over minor problems. For instance:

Parenting coordinators. In some states, a judge can appoint a parenting coordinator – a specially trained social worker, therapist or attorney – who can help resolve disputes. Parenting coordinators can mediate disagreements and teach better communication skills. Sometimes, a coordinator can actually make child-rearing decisions if the couple simply can’t agree (although the “losing” parent can usually still appeal to the judge).

Parenting coordinators typically have a professional degree, years of experience and additional training. For couples who simply can’t communicate with each other without warfare erupting, they can sometimes be a good idea.

It’s important to note that a parenting coordinator’s job is to resolve disputes in the best interests of the children. Although many coordinators are lawyers or therapists, they are not your lawyer or therapist, and they are not bound by the same confidentiality rules as a lawyer or therapist whom you hired on your own. That means things you tell them and things they witness can be reported to the court, so you should be on your best behavior.

Private mediators. Parenting coordinators are appointed by a court, but parents in many states can nevertheless seek out the help of a private mediator who can assist in resolving disputes.

Mediators don’t have the decision-making authority that judges or parenting coordinators do, and if a parent is being vindictive, mediation might not work. But if both parents are sincere and simply have hard-to-reconcile differences about how the children should be raised, a mediator can often help them find common ground and reach a compromise.

Mediation can be less stressful and expensive than going to court, and the experience can help parents to open the lines of communication and resolve differences better in the future.

Detailed parenting plans. In some states, a judge can approve a highly detailed parenting plan that resolves current disputes and anticipates and provides for other issues that might arise as the children grow older.

Certainly, it’s much easier to resolve as many child-rearing issues as possible at the time of the divorce, rather than going back to court and fighting about them piecemeal later.

Parenting websites. There are some commercial websites that allow parents to handle all their custody-related interactions online.

These websites may offer a shared visitation calendar and allow parents to communicate online about schedule changes, expense reimbursements, and other issues.

The advantage of online communication is that there’s a written record of every interaction. Parents are much less likely to be vindictive when they know their words are being preserved, and there are far fewer “he said, she said” disputes when there’s an online record of every agreement.