The Web address of this article is
Clicking underlined links here will open a
new window. Other links will open an informational popup,
so please turn off your
browser's popup blocker or allow popups from this nonprofit Web site.
Follow underlined links after
finishing this article to avoid getting lost.
Regardless of their reasons for divorcing, many parents have trouble
creating, using, and maintaining effective parenting agreements. Major
conflicts are specially likely when one or both ex mates commit
to a new partner (a stepparent) who has her or his own ideas about effective child
This article is for divorcing and stepfamily adults and their
supporters. including legal professionals and clergy. It ...
Defines an effective
Gives an example of a real couple
conflicted over an agreement;
Summarizes common surface
Proposes four core real problems,
Suggests what family adults can do to
make an effective parenting agreement without resorting to costly
All separated and divorcing parents who actively nurture their minor kids
need to negotiate ongoing decisions about child custody, visitations,
holidays, schooling, health, diet, clothing, pets, vacations, financial
support, housing, socializing, religion, hobbies, and special events. Depending on many factors, some
couples can negotiate and implement these cooperatively and others can't.
The purposes of an informal or legal parenting agreement are to...
ensure that all dependent kids get their
developmental and special needs met consistently despite parental
separation and differences, and to help family adults...
Agreements that fulfill both goals - as judged by all family members - are
effective. By definition,
parenting agreements that require
legal intervention are not effective.
divorcing Mom and Dad who consulted me by court order had been at a bitter
impasse for over a year. The non-custodial Dad angrily accused his
ex wife of arrogantly refusing to "obey" the parenting agreement they signed
in court and dictating how and when he was able to contact their five-year-old
him of being "self-centered, intrusive, out of control, stuck, way too rigid
in interpreting the parenting agreement, and using it to 'force me' to do
things that don't fit our current circumstances" She claimed he was
doing this to punish her for divorcing him.
She got the court to issue two orders of protection against him for alleged
threats of visitation-related violence to her. These enraged him as "totally
unjustified and insulting," and were later each vacated. Her attorney got
the court to order her ex to attend an "anger management class," which he
did at his own expense. He says "It was worthless," though admitting "I've
probably said some things (in anger) to her that I shouldn't have."
These troubled, unaware parents were
using the court to force each the other
into compliance - which is inherently aggressive and disrespectful. They each claimed
was no alternative, and their legal battle was solely the other parent's fault.
Their prior marital injuries and the new ones from suing each other will
take years to heal, and will hinder each of them in trying to forge a healthy
relationship with a new partner. Their vulnerable little daughter is the
tragic victim of this complex scenario, just as each parent was victimized
as a vulnerable
child in a
The court has ordered them to make visitation exchanges at a local police
station, to minimize the chance of mutual outbursts. The father bitterly
complains that his ex and their lawyers have cost him $25,000 on top of
their divorce settlement, so that he is now "broke" and "on anti-depression
In my compassionate opinion, these (typical) parents each
genuinely love their daughter, and are relentlessly accumulating
stress for the core reasons outlined below. Neither they, their several attorneys
(including a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) representing the little girl), or the
presiding domestic-court judge know these reasons or what to do about them.
Since 1981, I've worked with hundreds of divorcing families and stepfamilies
like this who described insoluble disputes about co-parenting agreements as their
"biggest problem." Many of them resorted to hiring lawyers to try and
force the other co-parent/s into compliance - inevitably making the stress
in and between their homes worse.
None of these parents or legal
professionals knew what the real problems were or how to resolve
This article summarizes what I've learned
about such conflicts, and suggests how to avoid or reduce
disputes over "parenting agreements." Let's begin by examining...
the Surface Problems?
Parents who have trouble negotiating and/or following child-related
agreements may choose to use lawyers, judges, and mediators to forge a legal
parenting agreement. More often than not, this becomes a costly adversarial
process which increases frustration and hostility between all people
involved, including vocal kids. This is specially true if one or both
parents claim the other is violating the legal agreement, and seeks to force
compliance via court actions.
Typical surface problems include...
attacking each other for being
irresponsible, selfish, manipulative, hostile, uncaring, dishonest,
abusive, undependable, uncooperative, etc.
one or both parents refusing to compromise
on certain child-related conflicts;
arguing over unfinished marital and divorce
complaints and accusations;
relatives taking sides about parental
disputes, specially grandparents;
family members blaming lawyers for being
unfair, biased, and over-aggressive;
one parent demanding that the court force
the other to get a psychological evaluation to "prove" they're "mentally
blaming a court-appointed mediator for being
incompetent, unfair, or biased;
arguing about a custodial parent moving the
visitations and/or financial support as a punishment or a strategy;
requiring a child to side with or choose one
parent over the other;
fighting over a stepparent's role or actions
or other stepfamily issues.
Variations on these stressors
are endless. Often parents battle over several or many of these at once.
NONE of these
parenting-agreement conflicts are the real problems.
As long as the parents and any legal professionals focus on trying
to resolve them permanently, they will probably fail - and hurt the
child/ren in the process.
If you've studied the prior
in this educational Web site, you should be able to identify the real reasons
typical couples divorce and can't negotiate and implement an effective
parenting agreement by themselves:
1) Wounds -
One or both parents are psychologically
and don't (want to) know or admit that (Lesson 1); and...
- One or both parents don't know how to...
communicate and problem-solve effectively;
help each other grieve divorce-related (and
other) losses effectively (Lesson 3);
co-create a high-nurturance family (Lessons
4 and 5); or how to...
parent effectively (Lesson 6).
These two factors combine to cause typical
between ex mates (and others).
Finally, average divorcing parents and any new partners are
usually unaware of...
how to co-create a high-nurturance
stepfamily (Lesson 7).
YouTube video summarizes how to do win-wn problem-solving. The video
mentions eight self-improvement lessons in this site. I've reduced that to
Two more core problems are...
3) Minor kids have
been raised in a
environment, and may have begun showing symptoms of their own psychological
4)Other adults who
try to resolve the surface issues above (like relatives, lawyers, mediators,
social workers, and therapists) don't understand these three root problems.
They focus fruitlessly on the surface issues, which inevitably causes
When I proposed these four real problems to the couple in the example
above - and assured them they could resolve their version of the problems
if they tried - they quit therapy. They were each dominated by protective
false selves which weren't ready to give up control, and needed to
fight and win.
This lose-lose-lose position guaranteed that their vulnerable little daughter would become a
Grown Wounded Child (GWC) who would
probably pass on the [wounds and unawareness]
the next generation.
Significant conflicts over informal or legal parenting agreements between ex
mates can be prevented if family adults study and apply
Lessons 1 thru 6 or 7
in this nonprofit Web site. Many divorcing couples are unable or unwilling
to do this because they are (a) unaware of these Lessons, and (b) are
dominated by short-sighted, combative
Parents who expect the legal system to resolve their disagreements are
seldom satisfied, because (a) typical legal professionals (including judges)
are wounded and unaware of what you're reading here, and (b) the adversarial
court process always creates new conflicts - e.g. over legal
expenses and disputed rulings.
If you are a divorcing-family or stepfamily adult affected by a significant
fight over a parenting agreement, and you don't study, apply, and advocate
Lessons 1 thru 6 or 7 to the disputants and their supporters,
you become part of the problem.
The young people in your family and their descendents mutely depend on
all you adults to protect them against inheriting the lethal [wounds +
To see if any of your family adults are
wounded (controlled by false selves now), see
this. To see if any of you are unaware of vital
information, take and discuss these
This Lesson-6 article defines an effective parenting agreement, and
gives an example of a real couple fighting over an agreement. It
outlines common surface problems that hinder effective parenting agreements
between divorcing parents, and proposes four underlying real problems
springing from adults' psychological wounds and unawareness of this
and the topics in this
This implies that divorcing-family adults should take, discuss, and apply
this course to (a) minimize parenting and other conflicts, and
(b) protect their young people from
inheriting the cycle and passing it on.
For more perspective, see this related article on reducing
ex mates' hostility - including the controversial
"parental alienation syndrome" (PAS). Otherwise, continue studying Lesson 6.