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Home > Resolving Day-to-Day Custody Disputes Without Going to Court

Resolving Day-to-Day Custody Disputes Without Going to Court

Sometimes when couples divorce, the custody battle never ends. Although the Court may have made a decision about custody and visitation, one or both parents may be unhappy and will continue to re-file for custody. Sometimes, the parents are constantly arguing and filing contempt for violations of their joint custody rights over relatively minor issues. These alleged violations may include: not getting phone calls regularly, getting a child’s hair cut, lateness, mistakes about pick-up locations, changing the schedule unilaterally if one parent has a special event, and problems notifying the other parent about children’s activities, schedules, and appointments.

There are also times when a parent may want to make a small, reasonable one-time change to a schedule for a special event and the other parent is completely inflexible. Many of these issues are small and are not going to be the basis for a change in custody or a finding of contempt. Yet the parties may file anyway as they see no other option. For Delaware families involved in these difficult cases, the Delaware Family Court Judges will frequently order the parents to attend counseling together with a therapist to work on their communication and to assist them in making joint custody decisions. For many divorced or separated couples the counseling works. For others, it is just another forum in which to argue and vent their disdain for the other parent without any results.

The parents who intensely engage in conflict obtain no resolution from counseling since the counselor has no decision-making authority over the parents. Therefore, if the parents cannot resolve even small day-to-day disputes, they often return to Court. The result is that the Court’s dockets have become clogged by cases involving these same parents returning to Court again and again seeking to have a judge resolve their daily arguments about the children.

A group of Delaware psychologists and attorneys have teamed up with the Delaware Family Court to launch a pilot Parenting Coordinator Program in New Castle County, Delaware. Parenting Coordinators are licensed Delaware attorneys or licensed Delaware mental health professionals. The Parenting Coordinator serves as a mediator who attempts to get the parents to resolve disputes themselves. However, if the parents are unable to resolve minor disputes, the Parenting Coordinator can make the decision for them. This decision-making authority is limited to small issues, such as one-time deviations from the schedule, minor changes in pick-up time or location, arranging child care for days not outlined in the Custody Order, professional days or snow days, attending sporting events and other minor issues the Court does not need to decide. Some of these decisions are time-sensitive and the parents could not get before the Court in time to resolve it. While the initial pilot program is limited and pro bono, parties can currently contract with a parenting coordinator privately. The ultimate goal is to reduce the fighting in front of the children and to reduce the stress on the children. For more information on the pilot project or to secure a Parenting Coordinator, please contact Felice Kerr in our Centreville, DE office at [email protected]

The following article is informational only and not intended as legal advice. Speak with a licensed attorney about your own specific situation. © Copyright 2011 MacElree Harvey, Ltd. All rights reserved.