High Conflict Custody Cases
When working with a high conflict custody case, we often utilize different strategies or resources than we would in other cases where tensions are lower. In many instances, it may be helpful to have an objective third party involved in the matter, such as a Guardian ad Litem, a co-parenting counselor, or a parenting coordinator.
A Guardian ad Litem is an attorney who advocates for the best interests of the minor child(ren) involved in the case (see our article entitled “What is a Guardian ad Litem in a Custody Case?”). A Guardian ad Litem’s involvement in a custody matter, especially a contentious custody matter, may assist the Court and the parties in discerning issues in the case and, to some extent, fact-finding (since the Guardian ad Litem may interview and gather documents from not only the parties, but other individuals involved in the case, such as other family members, teachers, therapists, etc.).
A co-parenting counselor has a therapeutic role, and will assist the parties in improving their communication and working on other issues in a therapeutic setting.
A parenting coordinator, on the other hand, acts a bit more like a mediator, assisting the parties in resolving specific custody disputes. In the event that the parenting coordinator cannot get the parties to reach an agreement, he or she will then make a recommendation to the court as to how the conflict should be resolved. The recommendation, if approved by the court, will be entered as an Order. If either party is unhappy with the recommendation, that party can file an objection with the Judge. A co-parenting counselor is always a mental health professional, such as a therapist or a psychologist, while a parenting coordinator may be either a mental health professional or an attorney.
Other strategies that are often used in high conflict cases serve the goal of lessening contact (and therefore, conflict) between the parties. For example, we might agree on (or ask the Court to impose) restrictions on text messages and phone calls between the parties, or require them to use a parenting app for non-emergent communications. Limits on the parties’ contact at custody exchanges might also be necessary or desirable—for example, the parties might be required to stay in their respective vehicles and to let the child(ren) walk to the other car, or the parties might have to exchange at a police station or at a well-lit location with cameras.
It is often helpful to have more specific boundaries or rules in place in high conflict cases, and we can tailor those boundaries to the issue(s) the parties are experiencing. For example, we may suggest (or ask the Court to order) that significant others not be present at custody exchanges, if the parties’ significant others are causing tension in the co-parenting relationship. If clothing, food, or other items become bones of contention, we may have to specify in more detail what the parties should or should not be sending the child to custody exchanges with; for example, we have been involved in cases in which a party asked that the other party not send the child with junk food, or cases in which the parties’ custody agreement needed to specify that the child have sufficient clothing at custody exchanges.
If you are interested in discussing your particular custody situation in more depth, contact Tanner Law Offices at (717) 731-8114 to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys.