Co-Parenting Disputes - The New Divorce
Guest Blog Post By Kayla Hankerson on Navigating Through Co-Parenting Issues
10 years ago, in the prime of my college career, I would have never imagine myself doing what I do for a living. Truth be told, I would have never imagined myself as a wife, Mom, stepmom, and professional packer either (I’ve lived in 3 states in 4 years). As usual, God himself has worked through my life in mysterious ways and what for some people is the most turbulent and stressful time in their life- for me, is the time I get to make my work my worship.
I’m a family law mediator and for those that don’t know what that is- I help divorce ( and co- parenting disputes) suck less.
Over the course of my professional career I’ve had the opportunity of assisting divorcees and recently, more unwed parents, resolve disputes and stay out of the lose-lose system of family court. John Hopkins reported in a study that among women under 30, more than one half of births happen out of wedlock. Unwed with kids, is the new norm. Go on any social media and news outlet and you will see that unwed with kids also has nothing to do with social class. Celebrities like Drake have been in the recent news for his “mystery baby and baby mama”. Countless athletes and entertainers are also frequently a topic of conversation when it comes to child support arrears when retirement presents itself. And if you need further evidence - The Kardashian’s are doing it too. Despite putting a ring on it or not - the arguments are the same for both groups if they split: timeshare, child support, accountability and expectations.
However, what most people don’t know is that the law was written for the married. As a result, unwed parents have a bit more work to do since few statues exist to guide them. With so many millennials pushing back marriage but still cohabiting and “adulting” if you will, the result is a child in the middle of two adults that by the time they come see me, are often under high levels of stress and communication has broken down. Very few times has any clear structure been established since both parents knew little about each other’s parenting style or beliefs prior to adding a baby in the mix. Not to mention, changes in employment, pursuing other romantic relationships and other children cause additional conflict in an already heated situation.
So if co-parenting is the new divorce what do we do? For starters, our court system needs to change but that could take several decades. In the meantime though, parents need to get it together.
Time and time again I find myself educating the community on alternate dispute resolution methods. The truth is few people know that mediation is an option- and regardless of the state you live in, MEDIATION IS AN OPTION. Mediation has countless benefits starting with the fact that it’s voluntary and confidential and ending with the attribute most like the best, it’s the most cost efficient dispute resolution method. It’s a no brainer. So when you’re in dispute with your baby daddy and you can’t seem to agree when he’s picking up the little rascal or how to split that childcare cost, remember there is no need to be upset AND spend thousands of dollars doing so. Mediate it.
Maximize your accountability tools.
Some people come to me and the first thing they say is that mom or dad is highly conflictive and refuses to participate or sign anything because the other parent will only use it against them. The point of agreements are to AGREE! What a thought. The magic of mediation is that it allows you the flexibility to define what works for everyone involved. So the idea that an agreement will cause more conflict is not true. In fact, an agreement brings clarity, expectations and agreed upon rules into parenting. Agreements aren’t to be used as blackmail, they are excellent accountability tools that create stable and structured environments for the child(ren). By the way, all of which are ingredients for a thriving kid.
Know your position in any negotiation.
I’ve never heard a client tell me they loved the family court experience. Nor have they ever told me they wouldn’t mind doing it again. Judges have no time to get to know you, your family, or the specific likes and needs of your child(ren). Litigating a case is fancy language for having a judge impose the law on you. Each person puts forth their best argument and a judge decides your future. Make sure you understand the pros and cons of your decision to argue before you decide to litigate. Most times it’s best and more efficient to share with the other party the truth of what is going on,what your needs are as a parent and what is in the best interest of the child. Be creative, work together and leave the ego at the door. After all, you could be divorced, taking a break, or broken up with your partner, but never your child(ren).
In my own little family- we practice co-parenting all the time. Yes, despite being married, my husband and I currently live in two different states. With an ever changing toddler it requires even us, to discuss our parenting beliefs, what we think is best for our daughter and be in constant communication of changes and milestones. It’s no surprise us millennials are bringing a whole new definition to family. In 15-20 years it will be interesting to see if our kids understand the “normal” family dynamic to be unwed just as millennials have come to terms with their norm being divorced parents.
At the end of the day, to our kids we are their family; however it’s packaged, and the best security blanket we can give our children are two parents who respect each other.
Kayla Hankerson is a Family Mediator located in Miami, FL. For more information on mediating a family dispute or ways she can help you or someone you know get out of the constant bickering and get some concrete solutions contact her at: www.kaylahankerson.com or email@example.com.