Ohio domestic relations courts have seen an increase in equal parenting time arrangements. Today, both mothers and fathers actively participate in day-to-day parenting duties and raising children. As a result, most divorce cases entail shared parenting (joint custody) where both parents are designated as the residential parent and legal custodian of the children during his or her parenting time. The parents share mutual decision-making authority including on medical and education decisions. The shared parenting plan sets forth how decisions will be made and how impasse will be handled. The shared parenting plan also apportions parenting time including the regular schedule, summer/vacation time, and holidays.
While it is encouraging to see parents desiring equal parenting time and rights, as a downside, it has increased the likelihood of post-divorce disputes. Shared parenting requires divorced parents to communicate on a regular basis, discuss and decide major and minor issues as they arise, and maintain a relationship even when they have personally moved on. The continuous interaction tends to perpetuate post-divorce conflict, which has amplified the need for alternative dispute resolution processes including mediation and parenting coordination.
To counteract conflict and prevent the need for post-divorce litigation, many shared parenting plans include mediation provisions including the requirement to mediate prior to filing any motion with the court. Mediation entails a third-party facilitator who works with the parents to discuss and attain compromises and agreements. Mediation provides parents a professional forum to have difficult discussions without the influence of emotions that tend to dominate at-home conversations. Mediation is cost effective and immediate. Once a mediator is engaged, the mediator can continue to work with the parents as needed throughout the children’s minority. Some courts offer mediation services to parents regardless of pending litigation. Other courts require parents to seek private mediation outside of the court.
If divorced parents are unable to communicate and make joint decisions, especially without assistance, a parenting coordinator may be more appropriate. A parenting coordinator works directly with the parents, like a mediator. However, if the parents cannot resolve the issue, the parenting coordinator has the authority to decide. The parenting coordinator’s authority is quasi-judicial where the decision is filed with the court, acting not only as a recommendation, but as a court order on how the parents must proceed. The parents reserve the right to object to the parenting coordinator’s decision, which the court can affirm or overrule. The parents may contact the parenting coordinator whenever an issue arises so that it can be immediately addressed. A parenting coordinator can also act as an educator and coach to help parents improve their communication and co-parenting so they can work together better in the future.
Divorce is inherently difficult for any family, especially those that are unable to communicate during marriage let alone after divorce. Both mediation and parenting coordination provides parents with the tools to insulate their children from ongoing battles. As family law evolves, parenting disputes will continue to shift away from the courtroom to alternative dispute resolution processes designed to lessen conflict. The shift towards mediation and parenting coordination certainly casts a positive light on negatively perceived divorce, paving the way for the future of coparenting and resolving post-divorce disputes.