One way that can help co-parents better get along is for them to create a contract with one another about how they will engage in their co-parenting relationship together. The contract can include how they will communicate with one another (method of communication, amount of communication, etc); visitation with the child, what each of the parents can and cannot do with the child, and so on. Creating a contract can help alleviate the stress and frustration that they may feel towards one another since they will have worked through these things during counseling and can refer to the contract when an issue arises.
When looking at the different cases we see for our Specialized Family Therapy, the concept of contracting becomes a delicate art. Whereas the Court Order from Family Court may list several mandates, the Specialized Family Therapist recognizes that from a motivational interviewing perspective, each parent may be willing to invest at a different level. It is also important to remember that the court’s mandates will be very broad, such as improving communication and being able to agree on the terms of visitation, and that these different mandates may need to be broken down into smaller segments in order to be achieved.
For instance, a custodial parent might be willing to let the non custodial parent have more unfettered access to the children, if the other parent agrees to not do what the custodial parent considers risky outdoor activities with the children like snowboarding or hunting. The contract might also develop that the non custodial agrees to these terms, but has resentment when the custodial parent regularly states to the children “When you visit your father.” He may insist that his full cooperation would be enhanced if she states “when you are staying with your father.”
As you can see, each parent dissected the goal of being able to have more access to the children and improving communication into things that were very important to them. This is very common to see when working with these types of clients. These large and small concessions each parent makes are the result of the Specialized Family Therapist asking targeted questions. Any therapist taking this Specialized Family Therapy Course will become highly skilled at asking the questions to artfully get a therapy contract.
The most important thing to remember is to meet the client where they are and begin to work on what matters most to them at the time they enter therapy, even if it is not what the court order is asking them to work on. This helps them have a better relationship with you and helps them remain engaged in the therapy process. As they begin to move through the different levels of change, the court order mandates can be addressed.