When separated or divorced parents use the family court system to settle their various disputes, parental conflict can increase because the court system is adversarial. Good parenting, however, is cooperative. Co-Parenting Counseling gives separated and divorced parents the opportunity to learn and practice more effective ways to communicate and cooperate with each other regarding their children’s needs.
Separated and divorced parents typically experience deep sadness about the loss of love, a partner, and the hopes they may have had at the beginning of their relationship. Concerns about finances and property division also are common. Although most parents worry about how their children will cope with the separation/divorce and how their children and their relationships with the children might be affected by it, there may be times when other adult matters can feel overwhelming and distracting. Anger, trust, and communication problems that were present prior to separation and may have contributed to or resulted from the breakdown of the adult relationship often continue after separation and can make it hard for parents to discuss and agree on important matters related to their children’s care.*
Even under the best of circumstances, separation and divorce are stressful and painful life transitions for children and their parents. Even when children know their parents are unhappy, they rarely want them to separate or divorce. Naturally, children who have been exposed to violence or other high parental conflict may experience some relief and may benefit when their parents separate. Even with such relief, however, few children avoid the pain associated with having the two most important people in their lives split up. When parents have successfully shielded their children from their conflicts and their marital dissatisfaction, children are caught by surprise and may experience their parents’ separation as a bomb that shocks them and shatters their lives and illusions. Although most children eventually recover from the trauma of parental separation and divorce within one to two years, about 20-25% of such children exhibit serious and lasting symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, and behavior problems. Because each child and each family is unique, however, it is difficult to predict which children will suffer the normal, nearly inevitable pain of having their parents separate and/or divorce and which children will develop longer-lasting and more severe symptoms. Sometimes one or more children in a family may appear relatively unaffected, while other children in the same family may exhibit serious problems. Sometimes children’s symptoms arise close to the time of the parental separation. Other times, such problems may not be evident until many years later. Nevertheless, it is well-accepted among mental health professionals that the best predictor of a poor outcome for children of separated and divorced parents is continued parental conflict. Continued parental conflict is especially hard on children when it directly involves them, such as when one or both parents argue or fight with each other in the children’s presence, bad-mouth the other parent, or discuss their adult disputes with or in the presence of the children.
PARENTS ARE FOREVER. Your love relationship with the other parent may end, but your relationship as parents must continue because your children need both of you in their lives and need you to relate to each other, if not as friends (which may be difficult, at least soon after your separation), then at least as civil, business partners, the business being the needs and best interests of your children. Co-Parenting Counseling is not strictly psychotherapy but can be therapeutic for you and your children by providing you with a place and a process to learn new ways (or to remember ways you once used) to find common ground about the children you both love.
*If there are concerns about domestic violence, substance abuse, or any other problem that creates safety issues, these must be addressed appropriately before Co-Parenting Counseling can be effective. It will not be possible for parents to work with each other cooperatively if either is afraid the other parent will become violent or if either parent is impaired. A parent alleging to have been the victim of domestic violence by the other parent should discuss such concerns with me prior to beginning Co-Parenting Counseling.