The divorce is final. You are no longer husband and wife. Is your relationship finished? If you have children, absolutely not! You and your former spouse will be connected for the rest of your lives. Your relationship will continue indefinitely.
One of the most difficult tasks that divorced couples are expected to do is co-parent. You are hurt, angry, and emotionally exhausted. You do not trust the person with whom you once shared your most intimate feelings. You are still becoming accustomed to a new normal. However, you have been ordered by the court to communicate with your co-parent, to make major decisions together, to raise your children together. Not only is it a court order, but is absolutely what is best for your children.
How will you be able to do this daunting task? Good question! One of the reasons you got a divorce was because you did not see eye to eye with your former spouse. The answer is co-parent counseling. The author surveyed four therapists to find answers to the most pressing questions.
1. Why do we need co-parent counseling?
Aside from the obvious answer that you need to learn how to communicate now that you are no longer living under the same roof, you need co-parent counseling for the sake of your children’s well-being. Marsha Schechtman, LCSW acknowledges that children are capable of handling divorce, but children are not capable of handling the stress that comes from poor co-parenting. Often we believe it is the children who need therapy post-divorce; but, as Danielle Levy, Psy.D points out, it could actually be more beneficial for the parents to learn to work together. That sentiment is echoed by David Alexander, M.S., L.P.C. who notes that adolescent delinquency could be linked back to weak communication between divorced parents. Sarah Brogdon, JD, LSCW, PC stresses that children do not need to be involved in adult discussions; the children do not need to be burdened by adult topics. Learning to communicate with your co-parent will help shield your children from those mature issues for which they do not have tools to understand conceptually or practically.
2. Marriage counseling did not work; why will co-parent counseling work for us?
Co-parent counseling is NOT the same as marriage counseling. According to Mr. Alexander, couples counseling is relationship counseling; alternatively, co-parent counseling is a specific discussion about rearing children and the issues that arise with that. Dr. Levy agrees; the goal of co-parent counseling, in particular, is to learn how to move from one home to two homes in the least impactful manner.
3. What will we learn in co-parent counseling?
Succinctly put by Ms. Schechtman: how to parent and communicate with each other as it pertains to the needs of the children, and how to foster a relationship with your children. Maybe you think that you are already skilled in those areas, but do you honestly feel as confident now that your children have two homes? It could not hurt to have a refresher course, especially in learning how to communicate with your former spouse. Ms. Brogdon adds that parents will also deal with logistical issues involving their children. How will you arrange extra-curricular activities; how will you respond to birthday party invitations that are not scheduled during your parenting time; how will you deal with family events and holidays that may not be addressed in your parenting plan? All of those concerns may be resolved in co-parent counseling.
4. When is the best time to start co-parent counseling?
All four therapists interviewed for this article agree that the earlier you are able to start, the more success you will see (although, no one should think it is too late to start the counseling). You could work with your co-parent counselor in creating a parenting plan and in making a determination of the final decision maker(s). If you receive no other benefit from co-parent counseling, you will at least save some money by working with a co-parent counselor to prepare the parenting plan instead of paying the two attorneys to prepare it, and you will probably have a better parenting plan too!
5. Will our co-parent counselor meet our children?
In most cases, the counselor does not meet the children, although all four therapists agreed that it is helpful to meet the children in certain situations. Please note that the co-parent counselor does not, and should not, serve as a therapist for the children.
6. How long will it take to accomplish the goals?
The million dollar question: how much and how long?! Of course the unanimous answer is “it depends.” Everyone agrees that the overarching goal is not to engage in long-term counseling. The purpose is to teach skills and then be available for general, infrequent check-ins or to discuss a particular issue upon which the parents are stuck.
You may not love each other anymore, but you certainly still love your children. Your children need for you to communicate effectively. Your children need to know that you are on the same page with respect to parenting, and that you are a united front. Your children need to see you working to better your relationship with their other parent. Please consider participating in co-parent counseling.
If you are contemplating divorce and concerned about the impact it will have on your children, you may want to consider participating in the Collaborative Divorce Process.
The author would like to thank the following professionals for their contributions to this article:
- David Alexander, M.S., L.P.C.; 404-816-9501
- Sarah Brogdon, JD, LSCW, PC; http://www.peachtreepsychological.com/sarah-brogdon–jd–lcsw–pc/ 404-352-4348
- Danielle Levy, Psy.D.; http://www.cobbfamilypsych.com 404-592-1981
- Marsha Schechtman, LCSW; http://atlantabehavioralconsultants.com/people/marsha-schechtman/ 770-753-4911