Divorced and separated parents have many professionals ready to “help them” with their issues following their separation from the other parent. There are divorce coaches, mediators, therapists, psychologists, parenting classes, parenting coordinators, social workers, certified divorce financial advisors, divorce attorneys and guardian ad litems. There are even coaches who will help single parents learn how to date again. And then there’s me. A Co-parenting Coach.
While I didn’t set out to invent a new type of coach, as I’ve talked to others who support parents before, during, and after a split from their co-parent, I found no one else is doing what I’m doing in the way I am doing it. So I thought I should spend some time demystifying my role as a co-parenting coach so that if you are a co-parent or serve the co-parenting community, you can decide whether my co-parent coaching service is a good fit.
What Co-parent Coaching is NOT
I want to be very clear. Co-parent coaching is not legal advice or legal counsel. It is not therapy. I am not an attorney, psychologist, or licensed therapist. A co-parent coach is like a sports coach. Parents, children, extended family, and others close to the family are the players who make up the team. The co-parenting coach provides direction and guidance to the team. But it is up to the players – the family team- to carry out the direction of the coach.
Also as a coach, while I will ask my clients to give input and contribute to coming up with solutions, I won’t leave the team to their own devises. Again I am not a therapist and, while I do function as a mediator, when engaged as a coach, I am not acting as a mediator, and I will not stop at asking the team players what they want to do. I will also offer suggestions, give direction, and may even assign players responsibilities that they must carry out if they wish to be successful in their efforts.
The Difference between a Co-parenting Coach and Divorce Coach
Divorce coaches are primarily concerned with helping their clients navigate the waters during the divorce process and may also offer them help establishing a plan for their post-divorce life. But none I have come across focus on helping parents with their co-parenting issues after the ink dries on the divorce decree.
As a co-parenting coach, I take a more holistic approach to helping co-parents on their journey before, during, and sometimes long after the divorce is final—and even when there is no marriage to begin with. Of course, clients can engagement me to help them address a particular issue such as creating their parenting plan or resolving a conflict they have with a co-parent. But even when they come to me for this specific purpose, I suggest they work with me long enough to implement the solution developed to ensure it is carried out and works as planned.
Co-parent Coaching vs. Mediation
Both mediation AND co-parent coaching are excellent alternatives to court-based remedies when it comes to resolving co-parenting disputes. Like mediation, co-parent coaching is a far less adversarial engagement with a co-parent than taking them to court. There are four primary differences between mediation and coaching.
- Mediation can only occur if both parents agree to participate. However with co-parent coaching, even if the other parent is not willing to participate, I can work with one parent to help them work to improve the things they can control and interact more effectively with the other parent.
- Mediation is a moment-in-time engagement in which parents work with a mediator to help them resolve disputes they have at any given moment. Once the parents reach agreement, the mediator summarizes it in what is called a “memorandum of understanding” which the parents can then take to an attorney or prepare themselves to be formally filed with the court. That’s pretty much the end of the relationship with the mediator.
As a co-parenting coach, I remain engaged with the parents as they apply the solutions agreed to and work with them to make adjustments if issues arise. After everyone is satisfied that what they have come up with works in reality, parents can then have their agreement legally prepared and recorded with the family court in their jurisdiction.
- Co-parent coaching is more directive than mediation. Whereas a mediator is not supposed to suggest solutions to the parents, as a co-parent coach, just like a sports coach designs and gives the team plays to carry out, I leverage my expertise and analysis of the situation to offer suggestions to the parents as they design the solution they want to implement. Then once they try it out, we discuss the outcomes together and make adjustments, if needed, in response to reality.
- A mediator cannot have an affiliation with either parent or the children before mediation. As a coach, I may have a relationship with a parent, child, or other family team member. For example, I may begin working with one parent and later add the other parent to the coaching sessions if they decide to participate. Regardless of who approached me for help first, my interest will always be to help the family arrive at solutions that are best for everyone involved. And I will never steer a solution based on the desires of one parent over another.
Co-parent Coaching vs. Parenting Coordinators and Guardian ad litems (GALs)
- Parenting Coordinators and GALs are most often appointed by family courts. These professionals are focused on what is best for the children, irrespective of what is best for the parents. While it isn’t their only responsibility, parenting coordinators have the authority to make decisions and impose them on parents through the family court system.
Think of GALs as attorneys who ONLY represent the children involved. They report their findings and conclusions based on their view of what is best for the children to the court for consideration.
When parenting coordinators or GALs enter into the process, parents often give up control to the family court system when it comes to decisions about their children.
- As a co-parenting coach, I am interested in designing solutions that are best for everyone involved and that the parents have control over. While it may be difficult to come to a solution that everyone is overjoyed with, the solution chosen shouldn’t destroy the lives of the children or either parent. Plus, decisions made by the parents themselves are more likely to be appropriate for the family as a whole and voluntarily complied with by everyone involved.
What Types of Issues Can a Co-Parenting Coach Help With?
High-level List of Issues Usually Appropriate to Address with Co-Parent Coaching
NOTE: I created this list to give you a general idea of the types of concerns that co-parent coaching may be able to help you with. However, every situation is different and extenuating circumstances may make co-parent coaching more or less appropriate in a particular situation. This is typically determined during the initial consultation.
- Designing co-parenting living arrrangements, routines, and norms
- Creating a parenting plan including the parenting schedule, financial responsibilities, decision authority (custody), and much more.
- Revising or updating a parenting plan
- Resolving all types of disputes between co-parents and other family members, big and small
- Improving communications with a co-parent (in person, phone, text, email, app, etc.)
- Helping parents collaborate on a child’s disciplinary, academic, health, or social challenges
- Helping parents reconcile spiritual, religious, cultural, political, social, and style differences
- Dealing with Parental Alienation
- Providing assistance with engaging other family professionals and services
- Helping parents manage their children’s expenses and possessions across homes
- Much, much more!
High-level List of Issues Usually NOT Appropriate to Address with Co-Parent Coaching
- Physical abuse
- Substance Abuse
- Violent, threatening, or criminal behavior
- Questions of paternity
- Punishing the other parent physically, emotionally, mentally, or financially
- Various psychological disorders in either the parents or children
I Require 3 Things From My Co-parent Coaching Clients
- Be a good parent—one who strives to raise happy, healthy, loving, and productive children
- Do whatever they can to enable their co-parent to be a good parent.
- Choose personal happiness (no one should be a martyr)