What happens after a divorce when two parents cannot seem to agree on parenting time or nearly anything else related to their child(ren)? Individuals often going through a divorce will ask, “How much longer do I have to deal with him/her?” When children are involved, the real answer is forever!
While a marriage may not always last forever, the job of being a parent does. One of the hardest things that a person can face during a divorce (and after) is negotiating and navigating the pitfalls that can often occur when parents are forced to see their former spouse’s when dropping off or picking up the child(ren) of the marriage. Too often parents cannot put their differences aside and act in the “best interest of the child(ren)”, which includes communicating with the child’s other parent. In order to facilitate those difficult relationships judges will often appoint a parenting coordinator (a neutral third party, often a therapist) to help facilitate a schedule that can work for both parents, while acting in the “best interest of the child.”
In the recent unpublished appellate decision Menzel v. Davis, the parties exemplify the bad conduct that can occur when parents cannot agree on a post-divorce parenting schedule. Menzel traces four years of discord and court proceedings between the parents of a seven year old child (yes – the parties have a minimum of another 11 years to deal with one another). The nexus of the problem is that the parents cannot agree on a schedule and each time they see one another an incident occurs. In order to minimize the harm to the child, the court appointed parenting coordinator reduced the amount of contact and transfers by changing the parenting schedule. Dad was unhappy with the new schedule proposed by the parenting coordinator. In any event, the trial judge subsequently incorporated the parenting coordinator’s recommendations. Dad then appealed the judge’s decision, alleging that the judge delegated its authority to the parenting coordinator and failed to conduct a “plenary hearing” on the matter. The Appellate Court denied dad’s application, holding that the trial court properly applied the “best interests of the child” standard considering the parties’ history of conflict and inability to agree.
This case is an example of how parties in a divorce should conduct themselves. It is sound advice to clients that it is imperative to act in the best interest of the child(ren) at all times, especially when interaction with your “ex” cannot be avoided. A court is always going to look at how the parties interact with one another when it comes to the child(ren) and clients should always take the high road, no matter how difficult. If parties cannot make parenting decisions, including scheduling amongst themselves, the judge has discretion to make these decisions for them or appoint a parent coordinator to make recommendations. Thus, when clients take the high road they are not only helping their child deal with divorce better but they are also helping themselves.