One of the trickiest aspects of family law is how to get separated or divorced parents to behave in the best interests of their children. Parenting is a challenging proposition in any household, but when you add the complexities of divided parents, long-distance households, and blended families, it becomes overwhelming.
It is not uncommon for parents to project their fears and need to control each other through the children. It is also not uncommon for children to manipulate their parents by falsely accusing one or the other of misconduct.
Custody and visitation can be quite conflicted with divorced parents expecting the judge to make the other parent behave. Many attorneys seem quite happy with having their clients fight it out in a courtroom rather than seek collaborative solutions.
Recommendations for Reforming Child Custody
In seeking a solution to the constant bickering and sniping combative parents engage in during child custody matters, I have several solutions I would like to see implemented sooner than later.
1. Take Domestic Disputes out of the Courtroom.
I have long advocated for mandatory mediation and education in all domestic cases before panels consisting of a lawyer, a mental health professional, and a child psychologist. Having a judge decide a parenting plan based on the testimony of highly prejudiced parents is not the best way to find solutions in highly emotional cases.
Parenting plans devised by mental health, legal, and psychological experts would be more appropriate and workable than “one size fits all” parenting plans delivered by a judge.
2. Institute Mandatory Parenting Classes in Child Custody Disputes.
The mere fact that the divorced parents weren’t successful partners suggests that they need training to be appropriate co-parents. Co-parenting requires cooperation, communication, and flexibility – which are usually in short supply during the divorce process.
Having been divorced myself, I would have welcomed training with my ex-partner on all three of those aspects of parenting. Parenting coaching might also help some separated parents find solutions to their relationship issues and avoid divorce altogether.
3. Require Follow-up Reports from Divorced Parents.
Divorced parents should have to file reports with the mediation panel at appropriate intervals indicating whether parenting is going well or needs help. Further training could be offered if parents or the child/children need support.
4. Eliminate Flight Risks.
One of the biggest fears is one parent leaving with the children to another jurisdiction. I am in favor of changing the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJAE) to require initial child custody cases to either be filed in the jurisdiction where the parties were domiciled immediately before separation or require a six-month residency requirement for the plaintiff.
5. Appoint a Trusted Guardian ad Litem.
In conjunction with having custody panels, an independent, objective Guardian ad Litem should be appointed to advocate for the children separately from the parents. The guardian would be better able to cut through the divorced parents’ positions and seek the best solution for the children.
Focus More on Saving Marriages Than Ending Them
The proposition that a third party may go through their “dirty laundry” may also make parents less likely to seek a divorce and try harder to find solutions.
As a former family lawyer turned professional coach for legal professionals, I am fond of the saying: “Don’t quit before the miracle happens.” If we focus more on ways of healing broken relationships rather than how to break them up, we may end up saving marriages by bringing a holistic approach to the divorce process.
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