What is Parenting Facilitation?
Jack Bannin, MS, LPC, LMFT
Parents involved in litigation against each other often experience conflict about parenting practices and other child-related matters, but have difficulty communicating effectively about their concerns. In some cases, the parental conflict is such a problem that parents may benefit from having a neutral third party to guide conversations in a more solution-oriented direction, provide useful information about how harmful parental conflict can be to their children, and to help parents shift from “litigation mode” to “cooperation mode.”
Parenting facilitators are specially-trained professionals who work with parents to help them:
- identify child-related problem areas
- understand and implement the possession and access provisions of parenting plans
- clarify priorities for the children
- reduce misunderstandings between the parents
- improve communication and conflict resolutions skills, and
- develop strategies to improve collaboration.
- They also monitor parents’ compliance with court orders and help in other ways permitted by law.
Much of a parenting facilitator’s job is to provide parents with direct feedback on how to change their behaviors in order to accomplish these goals. Interacting with a coparent can feel like walking into a mine field. A parenting facilitator guides you through that field, pointing out to you where not to go.
Is this counseling?
No. Even though parenting facilitators may be a mental health professional, they do not provide mental health services. Instead, this is a legal process, and parenting facilitators can speak with attorneys and judges about what is said and what happens in parenting facilitation meetings. They also may write reports about the parenting facilitation and file those reports with the court. Parenting facilitators often are subpoenaed to testify in court hearings to help the judge/jury make decisions.
The cost of parenting facilitation can be high, and health insurance cannot be used to cover the services for the same reason that your health insurance will not pay for your attorney. However, when compared to the cost of an attorney, parenting facilitation tends to be much less expensive. Since parenting facilitators can help parents resolve some of their conflict that otherwise would have been directed to the attorneys, you may find you spend less money on attorney’s fees—money that you can then spend to meet your children’s needs. Conflict is certainly expensive. The sooner parents realize that cooperation is the cheaper, less stressful route, the sooner they can move forward with their separate lives and get out of the courthouse.
How do I get a parenting facilitator involved in my case?
Parenting facilitators must be appointed by court order. Sometimes that happens when a judge, on his or her own, decides the services are needed. At other times, one of the parents may request that the judge appoint a parenting facilitator. Additionally, the parents can agree that a parenting facilitator would be beneficial, and will have their attorneys draft an order appointing a parenting facilitator for the judge to sign.
Can a parenting facilitator make decisions in my case?
There are some things that a parenting facilitator cannot do. Even though they may use some mediation-like methods, it is not mediation. The outcome is not a legally-binding order crafted by the parenting facilitator. In fact, parenting facilitators may not modify any order, judgement, or decree. However, agreements made in parenting facilitation can be translated into something enforceable if the attorneys take the necessary steps (for example, a court order). Parenting facilitators are permitted to make other recommendations to the court to help clarify an existing order, when something in the order is unclear or not working well. Parenting facilitators cannot decide things like conservatorship, child support, possession of and access to the children. In fact, they can make no recommendations to the court regarding conservatorship, possession of or access to the children (sometimes called “visitation”). Parenting facilitation is not an evaluation or investigation, and cannot be used in place of a child custody evaluation.
If you believe a parenting facilitator is right for your case (or one has been ordered), then speak with your attorney about what to expect. You may have some input into the selection of the parenting facilitator, and your attorney will likely have an opinion about who might best fit that role for your circumstances.