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What’s Not Right About Always Being Right

Being right all the time is not right, when coParents are creating parenting plans.
(4 minutes 3 seconds read)

Debra Carter
Dr. Carter is a Clinical and Forensic Psychologist, Florida Supreme Court Certified Family Law Mediator, and a Parent Coordinator.

What’s Not Right About Always Being Right

Being right all the time is not right, when coParents are creating parenting plans. Alas, the hardest conflicts to resolve are those based on what the parents see as moral issues. These are often seen as black and white, or as right or wrong.

No compromise can be imagined. Parents can get stuck when they cannot see any way around one of these issues. As an example of a moral issue causing a conflict, let’s consider a family I worked with several years ago. The mother had converted to Judaism after the wedding. The couple’s two children were raised Jewish. After the divorce, the wife went back to her original faith, attending the Roman Catholic church regularly. The parents became locked in conflict over the issue of religion. Mom insisted on the children attending weekly mass with communion as well as attending catechism classes. Dad insisted the children attend Hebrew school and synagogue.

Differences in religious beliefs have led to wars between nations. It is no wonder that religion can cause war in a divorce. In the situation above, I worked with the parents to identify their interests: Dad wanted the boys to celebrate their Bar Mitzvah (which occurs around age thirteen) and to understand his family’s Jewish heritage and religion. Mom wanted the children to be exposed to her religious beliefs and participate in religious services with her.
Since the children were eight and ten when their parents divorced, they were still forming their own ideas about religion. So the parents agreed that the children would be exposed to both religious beliefs. Mom agreed to attend a church where they could celebrate mass on Saturday afternoons when they were with her. Dad agreed the he would take the children to temple on Friday evenings when they were with him. Since Hebrew training, a precursor to becoming a Bar Mitzvah, occurred on Sunday mornings, the parents agreed that dad would take each child for this training every week for one year prior to the Bar Mitzvah. The parents agreed that they would plan the Bar Mitzvah celebration together and after the celebration, the children were free to choose the religious services they wanted to attend.
A person’s sense of fairness and justice can also lead to conflict. Our sense of justice is linked to the rights we believe we are owed. Being denied what we are owed, or not being treated in a fair manner, can lead to a stubborn refusal to back down. Financial issues in the settlement are often matters of fairness. When one party spends down resources before the divorce, or tries not to pay alimony or child support, things can get very ugly, very quickly.
The problem is that justice is not always black and white. What one person thinks is fair, another will think is completely unacceptable. One way to work out these problems is to consult some independent standard of fairness. Sometimes this is the court. Sometimes the Parenting Coordinator can show parents research by scientists that helps defuse the conflict. There are also times when the Parenting Coordinator may be able to show parents how their conflict is affecting their children.
The parents may have been so focused on each other that they didn’t realize the effect on their children. The Parenting Coordinator may also take on a role to help solve the conflict. These roles may include teacher, facilitator, bridge builder and referee, amongst others.
Conflict that has reached a stalemate can be seen as a plateau, a flat area that goes on and on. But at the end of the plateau is a cliff — a place where both parents know that things will suddenly get much worse. If both parents see a cliff approaching, they are more likely to look for a solution. This can happen when increasing legal fees are steadily eating up all of the parents’ money. It can also happen when the conflict leads to a crisis with their children.
I worked with a family where parents had been in conflict for over five years. The couple’s twelve-year-old son made a “mock” suicide video and posted it on a social media website. Several family members saw the video and showed it to the parents. This was a very real cliff: their son was so upset with their endless conflict that he was thinking of killing himself. The parents were shocked and scared enough to try to work things out and end the conflict. The problem was, they had been in conflict for so long they didn’t know how to change. It took parenting coordination to show them a different way to relate to each other.
Remember that interests can be compatible even when positions are not.