Kathryn Homburger Mickelson

Raising children with another person can be unbelievably stressful. Despite our best efforts to be sensitive to another person’s parenting style or preferred method of discipline, aligning one’s values with the other parent when both parents have had a lifetime of varying experiences that form personal opinions of what is the “right” or “wrong” way to rear children can be tricky. 

In Illinois, parents are presumed to be fit to co-parent absent the existence of an impediment to this presumption. I have many clients who complain that their former partner is “impossible” to co-parent with, that “co-parenting” with a difficult partner seems like an oxymoron, and that seeking sole decision making on behalf of the child or children is the only option.

Is the ability to co-parent lost in the face of a “difficult parent?” With the help of a few tools, not necessarily so:

1. Centralize

While texting is quick and efficient, communication gets lost over text. Texting between separated parents, though perhaps necessary in the event of an emergency, begs for conflict.

Luckily, a number of online tools are available for separated parents where communication can be centralized and monitored, such as OurFamilyWizard.com and Talkingparents.com, where messages are stored and it is possible to see if a parent has “viewed” a message and when. On top of this, OurFamilyWizard.com can analyze messages before they are sent to identify inflammatory language and suggest alternative words that will diffuse a message.

2. Organize

Parents can avoid conflict by being organized in what they communicate with one another. When sending an email, stick to one topic per thread to ensure matters are addressed separately. While it may seem cumbersome to break down subjects into several emails each, there is less of a risk of misinterpretation or finger pointing when decisions need to be made.

3. Diffuse

Parenting coordinators are professionals who assist parents with resolving disputes without the need to go to court, unless a party disagrees with the parenting coordinator’s suggested resolution and needs a judge to weigh in. Considered a “mediator with teeth”, parenting coordinators are governed by circuit court rules and appointed by Court Order that include very specific terms regarding the types of decisions he or she will make for the parties. In addition to immediate resolution of conflict when a decision has to be made (versus litigation, which can take months to resolve with the Courts’ full calendars), the cost savings can be significant.

Whether parents to toddlers or teens, separated parties can raise children “together” in a less conflict-ridden manner than one might think, provided there is a commitment to working through differences and taking advantage of the tools out there to do so.

Kathryn Homburger Mickelson, Divorce and Family Law Partner