Triage for Parenting Problems

by Brette Sember

headacheEveryone occasionally has conflicts with their ex over visitation and parenting time. After all, if you agreed about everything, you would still be married. While most divorced parents experience problems with the other parent from time to time, many parents don't know how to handle these problems.

Some parents are quick to call their attorney or rush back to court for the smallest problems. Others try to solve problems themselves in ways that are not appropriate -- by withholding visitation or child support. Still yet, there is another category of parents who sit back helplessly, seemingly unable to do anything about the problem they're confronting.

You need to learn to take a triage approach to parenting problems with your ex. There are many situations you can work out on your own, however, there are also many situations where you do need help from professionals. Learning what kind of intervention to use when can save everyone a lot of headaches and ultimately a lot of attorney's fees.

On Your Own

There are many problems you and your ex can work out on your own. This does not mean withholding visitation, not paying child support, or playing games with each other. It means having civilized, calm conversations with each other in which each of tries your best to come to a compromise. If you have trouble talking to each other, try using email.

Some parents find that if they schedule a conversation in a public place and treat it like a business meeting, they have much better luck working out a solution. The many situations you should try to resolve this way include:

  • A need to alter the parenting schedule, which includes regular visitation, as well as holiday
  • Complaints from your child about the schedule
  • Obvious problems with the schedule, such as one parent always late
  • One parent saying derogatory things about the other to the child
  • Frequent arguments in front of your child
  • Small disagreements such as who will launder the child's clothes, where toys will be kept, and bedtimes or curfews at each home
  • Misunderstandings about what you have agreed to

Mediation

Mediation is a step that many parents simply skip. If they can't work out something on their own, they throw up their hands and go rushing back into court. Mediation is an intermediate, less expensive step that can help you resolve a lot of problems in an inexpensive way.

A mediator works as a neutral third party and helps you and your ex look for solutions and compromises that may not have been obvious to you. A mediator can also help you communicate what is at the root of the problems you are having; often core problems are not dealt with and if this is the case, they continue to cause eruptions now and then.

Mediation is appropriate when you and your ex have seriously tried to talk things out on your own, but have not been able to find a solution. Mediation is appropriate for:

  • Any conflict you've tried to work through on your own but have not been successful at solving
  • Reworking your entire custody and visitation plan
  • Changes to the plan that need to be made as your child grows older and has different needs
  • Reaching an agreement about relocation
  • Ongoing problems that keep happening again and again, no matter how many times you think you've reached a solution
  • When you need a plan for how to deal with disagreements in the future
  • Parents who simply are not comfortable sitting down and talking alone together
  • Parents who react only with anger to each other and are unable to communicate

Attorneys

The minute you pick up the phone to call your attorney, you start the clock on attorney's fees, so it is best to avoid this when possible. However, there are some situations where you do need to get your attorney involved. Most attorneys will help you try to work out a solution first, before resorting to going to court. Often this means your attorney talking to your ex's attorney and trying to reach an agreement in that way. Calling your attorney is appropriate when:

  • You've tried mediation and gotten nowhere
  • One of you is resistant to mediation and will not work with or respond to a mediator
  • Your child is being placed in dangerous situations by the other parent, or is not being adequately cared for
  • The other parent is ignoring court orders
  • The other parent does not take your concerns seriously

Court

There are situations in which you do need to go straight to court. If you have an attorney, you will want to call her first and arrange to have her file the papers for you. If you don't have an attorney, these are situations in which you need to file first (with the help of the court staff) and worry about getting representation later:

  • Your child has been abducted by the other parent
  • The other parent will not allow you contact with your child
  • Your child has been abused by the other parent, or by someone else while in the other parent's care (you also need to contact the police and child protective services in this situation)
  • The other parent has plans to violate a court order (such as by taking a child out of state, or relocating) or has already done so.

Brette McWhorter Sember is a retired family attorney and mediator and nationally known expert about divorce and parenting after divorce. She is the author of:

Learn more about Brette on her web site.

Copyright © Brette McWhorter Sember. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.