Parenting Coordinators, High Conflict and Parental Inflation
It Doesn’t End When The Judge Signs the Decree
Written by: Stefano Ceroni
It is important for parties who are involved in a paternity or divorce action (with children) to realize that their individual case will not necessarily end when the Judge signs their final Decree.
You see, until all of the parties’ children reach the age of majority (which is presumed to be 18, with some minor exceptions), their case is never really quite over, at least when it comes to issues regarding the children.
Why? Well, in Arizona, the law recognizes that circumstances may change between the time two parties separate and the time when their kids are ready to be shipped off college.
For example, people move, kids gets older, schools change, finances change, accidents happen, parents change, new problems arise, etc.
So, in order to insure that the current orders in place serve the best interest of the children at all times, the Arizona courts allow for parents to request modifications of their previous orders whenever they can show that a substantial and continuing change in circumstances has occurred.
The problem with this rule, however, is that it is not only quite frequently misunderstood, but it is also repeatedly abused.
The Concept of Parental Inflation
Why is that?
Well, in my opinion, the problem most often stems from the inevitable pandemic of parental inflation.
Parental inflation – what the heck does that mean???
Parental inflation, as I like to define it, is that inherent thing that almost every parent does when they over-exaggerate the significance and impact of certain issues when it comes to their children.
And, the truth is all parents, at some time or another, have been infected by this syndrome. Fortunately, having momentary outbreaks of this disease is not always a bad thing. In moderation, it can be exhibited as pride, discipline, encouragement and even highly responsible parenting.
At its extreme, however, it can create an overprotective, highly demanding, super-sensitive parent who makes a mountain out of even the smallest of molehills.
Signs of this extremity are evident in those parents who have a strong and impenetrable opinion about every single aspect of child rearing that one could imagine. (I have a feeling we have all met or seen someone with extreme parental inflation…think “Wife-Swap” or “Toddlers in Tiaras”.)
Fortunately, however, most parents, even those who exhibit many signs of extreme parental inflation, do not remain in a state of extremity for that long; unless, of course, they are involved in some sort of litigation regarding their kids.
You see, in general, most parties become highly sensitized about the problems or parental deficiencies of their ex when they are in the middle of resolving a custody (legal decision-making) or parenting time dispute. However, once their case is over, they usually return to being normal problem-solving parents who work cooperatively to give their child[ren] the best life possible.
Unfortunately, when you have a party [or both parties] involved in a custody or parenting time dispute that is also experiencing parental inflation, there is a tendency for them to believe that everything their ex does is in some way permanently damaging to their child. When this tendency arises, it then becomes extremely difficult for that parent to ever trust the other parent again; which as you can assume, makes it nearly impossible for the parents to work through any of their disputes without third party intervention.
So, what generally happens?
Well, the party [or parties] who is [are] experiencing parental inflation, almost always look(s) to take advantage of the laws regarding modifications, because of their deep rooted belief(s) that their exes behavior will most certainly be admonished by their judge.
The issue, however, is that often times a party who is suffering from parental inflation incorrectly assumes that their complaints about their ex are severe enough to warrant judicial interference.
Why aren’t they?
Well, in general, judges do not like to micro-manage every single parenting issue that might arise during the minority lifespan of the parties’ child[ren]. In their minds, issues that are not really relevant to the child’s safety or emotional well-being are beyond their proper scope of influence. Instead, most judges prefer that the day-to-day issues of parenting be resolved outside of the courtroom and preferably by the parents themselves.
And, when it comes to parents suffering from parental inflation, their gripes and grievances are, for the most part, minor parenting conflicts.
Some Examples of Situations Where Parenting Coordinators Are Needed
Don’t believe me?
Let’s take a look at some examples to see where you stand:
Which of these scenarios do you feel warrants a modification of either legal decision-making or parenting time?
1.) Your ex is allowed to have a reasonable telephone access with your 6 year old son whenever he is in your care. Your ex, however, believes this allows him to call every single day that you have parenting time at 5:30, which just happens to be the time that you always sit down for dinner. Your ex continues to call at 5:30 demanding to speak to the child even though you have asked that he call less often and at a different time.
2.) Your ex signed your daughter up for spring softball without specifically asking you first. Your Decree also stipulates that any non-mutually agreed upon extracurricular activities shall be paid 100% by the enrolling party. Your ex agrees to pay for the cost of softball, but you object because they did not consult with you first and you would prefer your daughter take piano lessons as opposed to playing softball. This is the second time they have enrolled your daughter in an activity without your prior permission.
3.) During your marriage, your ex was enrolled in a bowling league that met every Friday night at the local bowling alley. On occasion, your ex would have a beer or two while bowling before driving home from the lanes. Now that you are separated, your ex has a new girlfriend with whom he lives with. Every other Friday, your ex receives the kids for the weekend. However, you recently found out that he continues to go to his bowling league on those Fridays, leaving the child home with his girlfriend. There are no issues regarding the girlfriend’s ability to care for the child and the child and she have a good relationship. Your ex, however, recently received a DUI on his way home from the bowling league. The DUI was extreme, but your child was not with him in the car.
4.) Communicating with your ex has become impossible. The two of you fight over every single decision that needs to be made regarding your children. You think their bedtime should be 7 p.m., they say 8:30 p.m. You want your daughter to take advanced math, they disagree. They want to take the kids to China for three weeks over the summer, but you do not want them traveling out of the country for more time than is permitted in your Decree. You want them to continue taking the kids on Wednesday nights because you work late on Wednesdays and that is what was ordered, but they want to change it Thursdays because that works better for their schedule. Every time you discuss these issues you scream at each other making absolutely no progress.
Okay, have you decided?
Well, the answer is, none of these scenarios really warrant any type of change in legal decision making or parenting time without any additional issues. Of course, all of these issues are ones that can be extremely frustrating for parents. However, none of them are putting the children in any type of harm that is likely to be considered significant enough for a Court to justify a substantial modification of prior orders.
And, the truth is, most problems that people have with their exes fall into this category.
So, what do you do?
Well, fear not, your situation is not completely hopeless.
Enter Parenting Coordinators!
When clients express to me that they are having problems similar to the ones highlighted above, the first thing I almost always recommend is that they consider having a Parenting Coordinator (“PC”) appointed to their case.
Parenting coordinators are either a mental health professional (therapist/counselor etc.) or an attorney who has training in mediation and other alternative dispute resolution methodologies, who may be appointed by the court to their case to assist the parents when it comes to resolving their parenting disputes.
In fact, parenting coordinators can not only make recommendations to your judge in cases where the parties can’t reach agreements, but they can sometimes even issue emergency orders in situations where drastic action is warranted.
In my opinion, every party who is involved in a high conflict case with children should consider having a parenting coordinator appointed.
Parenting coordinators are specifically trained to help parties resolve issues that normally do not rise to the level of warranting judicial interference. This is important because they can help parties reach fast resolutions without having to incur the costs and delays associated with formal litigation.
So, if you find yourself in the middle of case with a party suffering from parental inflation (or you fear that you may be unable to turn-off your own symptoms of the disease), then perhaps consider talking to your ex about asking the Court to appoint a parenting coordinator to your case.
Click here for a list of Maricopa County, Arizona Court approved parenting coordinators