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Raising children with another person is a challenge even when you are married. When you are divorcing, with separate households, different parenting styles, and your own rules, things often become much more difficult. Since your children are at the heart of this dispute, you don't want them to suffer, and you definitely don't want them to believe that they are at blame for your conflict or your divorce.
While your children aren't at fault for the disagreements you and your ex have about custody and parenting time, they are definitely affected by them. Often, in a divorce, it seems like the parent who is willing to behave the worst gets their way, because it is so costly and time-consuming to go to court and get a judge to enforce or interpret a custody or parenting time order. If an infraction or disagreement is relatively minor, it can still cause disruption but not be worth going to court over.
Such repeated issues can erode the co-parenting relation further, and the situation can spiral downward; resentments grow, and parents are increasingly unwilling to "play nice" with one another. Eventually things will end up back in court, but often not until lasting harm is done. Parenting consultants can help prevent this downward spiral and help keep a co-parenting relationship on track.
The parenting consultant's job is to address and resolve disputes between co-parents regarding their children. While there are no statutory provisions, the parties can create a contract with a parenting consultant that is enforceable by the court. Depending on what you and your co-parent agree on for the terms of the contract, your parenting consultant may deal with only issues relating to parenting time, or may have broad authority to help you resolve any dispute which even tangentially relates to your children.
Parenting consultants are sometimes confused with parenting time expeditors (PTE), who are professionals who frequently help mediate and ultimately have authority to decide parenting time disputes when the court orders their services. The PTE role is limited to clarifying or interpreting the existing court order.
Unlike a PTE, a court will not order parents to use a parenting consultant unless they have agreed to do so. The parents decide the scope of the parenting consultant's involvement: what types of disputes he or she will help resolve and whether his or her decision on an issue will be binding. Some parents feel more comfortable having an option for court review of a parenting consultant's decision.
Many co-parents appreciate having access to a parenting consultant. A parenting consultant can help resolve a relatively minor issue that causes stress between co-parents, but wouldn't be cost-effective to address in court, such as a parent who is frequently late to pick up or drop off the kids. Parenting consultants can typically be called into action on a much more immediate basis to deal with parenting concerns. Getting a court to resolve some issues can take weeks or months, between notifying your attorney of the problem, having them prepare and file a motion, and getting on the court's docket.
In addition to saving time, parenting consultants may also help you save money. Meeting with your attorney and having them go through the process of getting and appearing at a court hearing consumes several hours of their time and hundreds or thousands of your dollars. A parenting consultant's hourly fee is usually less than an attorney's, and you and your co-parent are likely sharing the cost, rather than each paying for your own lawyer. In addition, parenting consultants can speak with relevant others, such as a child's teacher or counselor, giving them a fuller picture of the situation from which to make a decision than a judge might get from a motion.
Because you will probably work with your parenting consultant over an extended period of time, he or she will really get a sense of your family's needs and challenges, and be able to help resolve disputes and conflicts in that context. It can be very comforting to know that you have a third party supporting your family's needs, and just knowing that your parenting consultant is available may help you and your co-parent resolve issues on your own.
There is, however, one caveat of which you should be aware: unlike the attorney-client privilege you enjoy with your attorney, there is no parenting consultant-parent privilege. That means, that should your parenting consultant be subpoenaed as a witness in your Minnesota custody matter, he or she may need to testify as to interactions with you. So be honest with your parenting consultant, but be aware that the things you tell them may some day come before the judge in your custody matter.
All parenting consultants are not created equal, as noted above. Some have more legal knowledge than others. Some may have a background that is particularly helpful in dealing with your family's unique situation, such as a parent with substance abuse issues or a child with special needs. It is important to consider the kind of help you want from a parenting consultant before contracting to work with a particular person.
Your family law attorney can help you evaluate your own needs and possibly recommend a few parenting consultants with whom you and your co-parent might agree to work. Although the services of a parenting consultant may seem like one more expense in an already expensive process, those services may save you money in future legal fees and help preserve a positive co-parenting relationship.
For more information on Minnesota parenting consultants, we invite you to contact our law office.