Negotiating Child Custody in a High-Conflict Divorce

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Even in a reasonably amicable divorce, issues surrounding child custody are often the most difficult to settle. And while a high-conflict divorce is tough on spouses, it’s devastating to children. According to California law, judges must determine custody on what is in the “best interest of the child.” When a divorce is contentious, spouses often have an even harder time separating out what is right for their children from “getting back” at the other parent.

While every divorce has its own set of unique issues, high-conflict divorces share a number of similarities that make determining child custody especially difficult.

Characteristics of a high-conflict divorce

In a scholarly article, conflict in divorce was broken down into three dimensions:

  • The “domain dimension” is about controversy over issues such as financial support, division of property, child custody and visitation.
  • The “tactics dimension” refers to the ways in which a couple tries to resolve disagreements informally: either “by avoiding each other and the issues, or by verbal reasoning, verbal aggression, physical coercion and physical aggression.” It can also be manifested by the way in which divorce proceedings are handled legally.
  • The “attitudinal dimension” is about “the degree of negative emotional feeling or hostility directed by divorcing parties toward each other,” either overtly or covertly

Another study by researchers from the University of South Florida states that high-conflict divorces are characterized by:

  • Parents’ inability to communicate civilly
  • Long-term parental battles and entrenched conflict
  • Hostility and non-responsiveness to standard resolutions and/or interventions

Ultimately, high-conflict divorces have the most adverse effects on children, including depression, anger and anxiety, difficulty in making lasting friendships and relationships and problems in school.

Finding appropriate approaches for resolution

In every marriage dissolution that involves children, there are usually two options when it comes to child custody: You and your soon-to-be-ex come to a solution that is agreeable to both you and the courts, or the courts make a determination.

In high-conflict situations, parenting coordination is an intervention strategy that is gaining traction. You and your spouse can choose parenting coordination or the court can order it. Either way, this approach involves a focus on the child, assessment of disputes, education of the parents, conflict and communication management, and facilitated negotiations by a parenting coordinator.

The parenting coordinator can:

  • “Make decisions or orders resolving conflicts between the parents which do not affect the court’s exclusive jurisdiction to determine fundamental issues of custody and time-share.”
  • Each parent “specifically agrees that the Parenting Coordinator may make decisions regarding possible conflicts they may have on (certain) issues,” such as modification or reorganization of school vacation and/or holiday time, the child’s care providers, child-rearing disputes such as bedtime, diet, clothing, homework, and discipline, healthcare and management, scheduling swap of custodial time and travel within the U.S., among other items.
  • “The parenting coordinator does not have the authority to change the custodial designation of joint or, sole, legal or physical custody established in a current order of the court.”

The objective of the parent coordinator is to help parents implement a parenting plan, to monitor compliance and to resolve conflicts between parents. The ultimate goal is to “help parents resolve disputed or difficult issues amicably and efficiently on their own, without having to involve the Parenting Coordinator…”

No matter what path you choose in resolving child custody issues, be the best parent you can be each day. Keep your children out of the argument, don’t make them “choose sides” and put their interests at the forefront.

Learn more about how to find the best possible child custody solution in a high-conflict divorce

At Giuliano Law, we help clients throughout the Monterey, Hollister and Gilroy areas who are struggling with child custody issues in a contentious divorce. To find out how we may be able to help, please contact us online or call us at (831) 372-4003 to speak with a child custody attorney in Monterey.

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