The title of this post is intentionally provocative. Just about everyone who reads this is sure they’re the better parent. This post is written for every parent who disagrees with what the court ordered for parenting time and legal decision-making orders. In a lot of those cases, court orders are for fairly equal parenting time and joint legal decision-making and one parent doesn’t think that’s a correct result.
Sometimes a parent (or both of them) thinks that getting a parenting coordinator assigned will help him or her in trying to (a) reduce the other’s parenting time or (b) change court orders from joint legal decision-making to sole decision-making. It is the rare case that a parenting coordinator’s involvement will assist with either of those things.
The parenting coordinator is assigned the task of making the existing orders (both time schedules and decision-making) work. The parenting coordinator has no authority to change those orders in any substantial way, no matter how bad the situation might be. In many cases, the orders put into place by the court can be made to work, by disengaging the parents, reducing the parents’ excessive and poor communication, focusing the parents on the children rather than each other, preventing the parents from re-hashing their past arguments, and educating the parents about what the court orders mean.
Parenting coordinators see a number of parents who feel they need to prove that s/he is the “better” parent and that the other parent makes poor decisions. The parenting coordinator is not in a position to choose the “better” parent or punish the “poorer” parent. Examples of one parent insisting that he or she is “better” include stories about:
-I have an earlier bedtime for the kids; Other Parent lets them stay up too late;
-I restrict the children’s access to video games; Other Parent allows video games and watching screens all the time;
-I take better care of the kids when they’re sick; Other Parent isn’t responsive to their needs, sends them to school sick, fails to give them medicine they should be having;
-The kids are always tired when they come to me from Other Parent’s home, so they must not be getting enough sleep there;
-Other Parent feeds them junk; they always have healthy nutritious meals at my home;
-The Other Parent doesn’t have the car seat properly installed and I do;
– Child’s homework is never done (or never done correctly) when with the Other Parent, and I have to make up for that;
-Child watches age-inappropriate movies while with Other Parent, but I don’t allow that.
The parenting coordinator might even be able to recognize that some of these statements are completely true. One parent may be obviously more responsive to the children’s needs and more likely to enforce good bedtimes and avoid bad movies, bad video games, and too much screen time. Please don’t think the PC is disbelieving you about these things. But Other Parent will not lose parenting time or decision-making because of poor judgment about video games or bedtimes.
Nothing in the law says that the court is to give most parenting time, or decision-making, to the “better” parent. Let me repeat that — there is NOTHING in Arizona law that says the “better” parent gets the children more of the time. For the most part, the two parents are not being compared in court proceedings. When the issue of parenting time and decision-making is left up to a judge, the court looks for basic, or even minimal, parenting competency. If that fairly low bar of parenting competency is met, then it’s very likely the court will award close to equal parenting time, and award joint decision-making.
What children of separation and divorce often must do is get used to different households with very different parenting styles and competencies. While the ideal situation would be that the parents communicate often and effectively and agree to try to make their households and parenting styles as similar as possible for the kids, that’s simply not always possible. Each parent wants (and is entitled to) the autonomy to raise the children in a way that he or she feels is best. It’s possible that the parent’s differences in child-raising were a factor in their separation. And it’s not going to be up to the court, or the parenting coordinator, to tell one parent that his or her style of parenting is wrong.
The best parenting books will encourage the parents to talk and to try and have similar bedtimes, routines, meals, social media policies, and discipline in both households. I hope that’s happening in most cases. But if your case went to court and was decided by a judge, and if you have a parenting coordinator assigned, it’s not likely that’s happening in your case – and judges and PCs can’t force this kind of cooperation to happen.
The purpose of this post is to let you know that the PC (or the judge) really does see the differences in parenting styles. We even sometimes see that one parent is deficient. In the examples listed above, there are sometimes things we can do to help improve the child’s situation. If in fact a parent isn’t installing a car seat correctly, we can have that looked at and make a parent get a professional installer, or get instruction on installation. If the facts show that a child’s homework is consistently insufficient or not being done on one parent’s time, measures can be put in place that assure homework is being done at both houses (such as requiring a parent to email the completed homework to the other parent and to the parenting coordinator until it’s consistently done). But it’s hard to show that a child’s deficient homework is always happening at one house. As far as medication management, if medication is prescribed and a doctor confirms that the child isn’t getting proper dosages while with one parent, orders can be entered to ensure that medication is given properly. (This is, obviously, hard to prove.)
It’s highly unlikely a judge will override a parent’s decision about how much screen time a child gets, or what a child eats for dinner. We all want to think our children are getting the best possible care from a parent, but the law is not that the “best” parent gets the most time or decision-making. I can understand how hard this is for a parent to hear. The best things a parent can do for a child is be the best parent s/he can be during his and her own parenting time; make every effort to co-parent, no matter how significant your differences in opinion are; keep the children out of conflict between the parents; and reconcile yourself to the fact that co-parenting involves a lot of sacrifice and overlooking a lot of perceived faults. This is another way of saying “choose your battles”.