If you ask any parent what is most important to them in life, chances are they’re going to say their children. Family is most certainly at the top of the “what’s important to us” list, but what happens when family changes?
In domestic relations court, parents seek legal intervention when they are separating or divorcing. And, many parents struggle to transition from a romantic relationship to a functional co-parent relationship. This uncertain time is a big life stressor and has a tremendous effect on children involved.
That’s why I am so pleased to announce a new Delaware County Domestic Relations Court initiative called Co-Parent Coaching. It’s a pilot program that focuses on parental communication. The goal is to build a positive co-parent relationship aimed at reducing conflict that negatively impacts children. The court’s co-parent coach, Amy Armstrong, works with the parents to get past the hurt and arguments in order to improve the lives of everyone involved.
Sharing the responsibilities of caring for children from two separate households can be complicated. Many parents are simply not prepared. In fact, they’re overwhelmed. They are going through an emotional rollercoaster, and add to that, the normal stresses of caring for children! It’s a lot for anyone, and many parents just don’t have the tools to productively manage such a drastic change. Enter Co-Parent Coaching. The program is unique in that it improves the interpersonal dynamic between parents, creating not only a better co-parent relationship, but also an environment where children can thrive.
So, how does it work? Well, first a case must be identified as one that would benefit from this type of program. Then the court orders the parties to participate in the program. Once Co-Parent Coaching is ordered, parents contact the coach to set a meeting. The coach meets with each parent individually and then meets with the parents together in order to identify their goals and priorities. The coach listens carefully to each party and helps both parents navigate their actions as they consider different ways to work together. With support from the coach, parents discover new, more effective co-parenting behaviors. These behaviors help keep children out of the middle of adult conflict, while simultaneously meeting the needs of the child and family as a whole.
We understand that parents in our court can be under an immense amount of stress and pressure. Parents seek domestic relations court involvement when they are separating or divorcing, when issues come up regarding child support or compliance with court orders, or when circumstances change and new orders from the court are needed. Sometimes the issues are overwhelming. Sometimes parents simply have different ideas about how to resolve concerns. Breakdowns in parental communication often result in blame and criticism of the other person. Whatever the reason, parents often feel the other party is not making good parenting decisions, or not working together for the best interest of the child. That’s why Co-Parent Coaching is so important. A coach can help parents recognize the assumptions, negative motives and uncomfortable emotions they often attribute to the other parent and replace them with productive conversations and healthy boundaries.
It can be a difficult process, but what we’ve found is that the goal is actually pretty simple. At the end of the day, parents really just want what’s best for their kids. That’s it. They just don’t always know how to get there. With Co-Parent Coaching, parents are given the tools that help them interact in a more positive way. Whether it’s learning to listen or how to express themselves in responsible ways, it’s all for the betterment of the family.
The coach is highly trained to address relationship trauma and sensitive issues that may be present in the event of domestic violence, substance abuse, or intense interpersonal conflict. We do not shy away from any case that could be helped through Co-Parent Coaching. Co-Parent Coaching is already helping Delaware County parents navigate their challenges. We have seen parents take responsibility for their thoughts, feelings, and actions, and create new habits for better communication and reduced conflict. These new habits are the foundation for long-term, successful co-parenting.
Co-Parent Coaching was launched in January 2021. It was put into place to help parents be their best, to help them manage the issues that brought them to court. It’s not about simply issuing an order or signing legal paperwork. We are dealing with people’s lives, their children and families. That’s why I am so proud to share news of this program with you today, and to let you know the Domestic Relations Court is dedicated to helping families thrive in Delaware County.
Randall D. Fuller is judge of the Domestic Relations Division of the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas. Judge Fuller is a life-long resident of Delaware County.