Originally published in Collaborative Law Alliance of New Hampshire

Fred and Wilma got through the divorce process using the collaborative model.  Agreements were filed on the topics of property distribution, child support and alimony.  With the help of a neutral child specialist, they agreed upon a parenting plan for their 11-year old daughter Pebbles who will soon start middle school.  These were difficult conversations, as Fred and Wilma have never seen eye to eye on parenting.

All is calm now, but given the history of their relationship, Wilma expects that she and Fred will disagree about issues affecting Pebbles as she enters the teenage years.  She foresees tension around issues such as; when will Pebbles be old enough for her own cell phone?  When will she be old enough to be left home alone after school?  What about dating?  What if Pebble's afterschool activities or part-time job affect the parenting schedule?

Such issues arise frequently between divorced parents who do not communicate well.  Turning to the court to resolve such disputes is likely to cause frustration with the slow pace, significant expense and adversarial nature of the process.  Moreover, neither parent really wants a judge to make parenting decisions for them.

Parenting disputes are difficult and emotionally trying but they are best resolved by the parents.  Parents in conflict need the help of a neutral to communicate.  Fortunately, Fred and Wilma have several options for alternate dispute resolution.  They may choose to reassemble the collaborative team for the purpose of addressing post-divorce parenting issues.  Or they may instead turn to a neutral who specializes in the resolution of parenting disputes, such as a co-parenting counselor or parenting coordinator.  Both methods assist parents in resolving parenting issues, increasing cooperation and reducing stress for the child while encouraging the parents to become more child-focused.

Co-parenting counseling involves an aspect of mental health treatment, assisting parents in managing their own behavior in order to unburden the child.  Parenting coordination is pure dispute resolution with no treatment involved.  Parenting coordination is non-confidential, allowing the parenting coordinator to hold the parents accountable to reduce conflict and to help get their child out of the middle.  The parenting coordinator's ability to report back to attorneys regarding to what is going on can be helpful in getting increased cooperation and assist in settlement of disputes.

Attorney Jeanmarie Papelian is a collaborative divorce lawyer with McLane, Graf, Raulerson  & Middleton in Manchester, N.H.

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