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When Co-Parenting Doesn’t Work…

There has been much ado online recently about successful co-parents.  Shared family vacations, shared family photos, shared holiday celebrations…even matching t-shirts.  This is the ideal when two parents, despite their differences, co-parent organically.

In my experience, there are three categories of co-parenting styles:  1) those who do it organically; 2) those who “make it work”; and, 3) those who can’t. 

Those who co-parent organically succeed at reinventing what it means to be “family” despite separate households.  They share the same beliefs about parenting, communicate well, and do not espouse the “territoriality” or “children as possessions” behavior (my time is mine…my child, my way…only I know best) that hallmarks, to varying degrees, the other two categories.  These folks are the most likely to have no parenting agreement or custody order, or if they do, it lives in a drawer and they live life doing what’s best for their children.

Divorce Roundtable

The Divorce Roundtable of Montgomery County is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the divorce process for Montgomery County area families, and especially children.  Formed in 1992, it is made up of judges, masters, court staff, mediators, therapists, attorneys, agency personnel, and collaborative professionals.  The Divorce Roundtable introduced, among many other court projects, the co-parenting skills training and court-sponsored custody mediation.  The organization also testifies on proposed family law related legislation. 

Several of our attorneys are current or former members of The Divorce Roundtable, including Kevin G. Hessler, P. Lindsay Parvis, and Jeff Hannon, who is the Past-Chair of the organization having served from 2009 - 2011.   During Jeff’s two-year tenure as Chair, he organized and presented two all day symposiums: Faces of Advocacy and Parenting Together After Separation. Lindsay has been an active member since 2014. 

Click here for helpful links from the Divorce Roundtable. 

Types of Evaluations in Custody Cases Volume 2: Private Custody Evaluations

In contested custody cases, there are many types of evaluations that the court can order or parties can agree to undergo in order to assess the fitness of the parents and the living and decision-making arrangements that suit the best interests of the children.  These fall into two broad categories:

  1. Evaluations performed by the Court and courthouse staff or contractors; and,
  2. Evaluations performed by private professionals.  There are many different types of evaluations performed by private professionals.  For example, private custody evaluations, psychological testing or evaluations, drug/substance/alcohol evaluations or assessments and testing, psychosexual risk assessments and other evaluations of alleged and convicted sexual offenders, and so on.

Types of Evaluations in Custody Cases Volume 1: Court Evaluations

In contested custody cases, there are many types of evaluations that the court can order or parties can agree to undergo in order to assess the fitness of the parents and the living and decision-making arrangements that suit the best interests of the children.  These fall into two broad categories:

  1. Evaluations performed by the Court and courthouse staff or contractors; and,
  2. Evaluations performed by private professionals.  There are many different types of evaluations performed by private professionals.  For example, private custody evaluations, psychological testing or evaluations, drug/substance/alcohol evaluations or assessments and testing, psychosexual risk assessments and other evaluations of alleged and convicted sexual offenders, and so on.

Representing Children in Contested Custody Cases

Maryland recognizes three types of attorneys who can be appointed to represent children in contested custody, access/visitation/parenting time, and domestic violence cases.  All of these roles require that the attorney be appointed by court order to represent the child client.

Child Privilege Attorney

This is the narrowest role.  A Child Privilege Attorney (“CPA”) is charged with determining whether the child’s privilege or confidentiality with a mental health professional (such as, psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker/LCSW, licensed professional counselor, or other licensed mental health provider) should remain intact or be waived.  If privilege is not waived, a mental health professional will likely be prevented, or at least very limited, from testifying, disclosing his/her file, and sharing information about the therapy.  If privilege is waived, then the mental health professional can testify, disclose his/her file, and share such information.  Pursuant to Nagle v. Hooks, 296 Md. 123 (1983), parents in a contested custody case lose the right to decide whether or not their child(ren)’s privilege should remain intact or be waived, and so an attorney is appointed to make that decision.  In sum, the CPA is a gatekeeper.  A CPA may notify the court of his/her waiver position in a written report but does not testify.

Resources for Effective Co-Parent Communication

Communication is key to effective co-parenting and can prove a challenge between parents during the strains of separation, divorce, contested custody litigation, and disagreements about the children.  There are many tools and resources to help.

If in therapy, a parent can work on strategies for how to navigate hostile communications, without reacting and responding in the heat of the moment.  Technology is on parents’ sides, since a parent in a custody dispute can decide when to read, to write, and to send responses to the other parent’s texts and e-mails.  In addition, Parent Coordinators are trained professionals (often therapists or attorneys) who help parents resolve parenting issues and work on communication.  Parent Coordinators can teach both parents how to reflect before reacting to communications, with the goal of improving co-parenting for the benefit of the child(ren).

Resources for How to Tell the Children About the Separation

When parents separate and/or divorce, it can be difficult to know how to tell the children in age appropriate ways while feeling prepared to answer any questions children may have.  There are many resources and tools to help.

Meeting with a mental health professional (often a social worker) ahead of time is helpful to develop a plan of how, when, and what will be said, as well as who will be present.  Parents who want to tell the children together can develop a “shared narrative” for the children, so both parents and children are on the same page.  Working with a mental health professional provides age appropriate guidance about how much to share, what questions will likely be asked, and how to answer them.  There are many mental health professionals who provide such services in this area and the attorneys at DHHW can point you in the direction of professionals experienced with this.

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