Friday, May 23, 2008

Whose Issue is it? How new partners affect the co-parenting process after a divorce

Once some time has passed, I am often asked to meet with parents and their new partners, to make changes to the parenting plan created during the original divorce proceedings. Some want to change the parenting schedule, and some want to increase or decrease the support payments.

It's not unusual for the new partner to have a great deal to say about the parenting plan and child support. Unfortunately, it's also not unusual for the actual parent to take a back seat and let their new partner drive the process.

In fact, after years of these meetings as a lawyer, I came to recognize that the actual parent was often not nearly as interested in the issue as the new partner. At some point, usually after the case was well underway, I would have occasion to meet privately with the actual parent and would learn that s/he did not really want parenting time or child support to be changed, but was requesting the modification to appease the new partner.

After seeing this pattern repeated so many times, I began to limit new partners' participation in such cases. I would not allow the new partner to be present at meetings with the actual parent and would direct all communications only to the actual parent. By meeting only with the parent, I found that fewer of these cases actually got filed and those that did went much more smoothly and settled much more quickly.

Now, as a mediator and parenting coordinator, I continue to see this pattern of the new partner being more invested in the parenting conflict than the actual parent. Even in parenting coordination, it is important to separate the new partner out of the conflict, at least initially.

Including the new partner later on, though, can provide information essential to understanding the on-going conflict. This new partnership is just one more layer of complexity that can prevent parents from putting their children's needs ahead of their own.

For your children's sake, take a step back and consider whose issue is really on the table, and if the changes you're proposing are really best for your children. The answer might surprise you.

© 2008, Mary Wollard, J.D., Family Solutions Center, www.cofamilysolutions.com

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