Parenting Coordinator/Decision-Making Services
William G. Austin, Ph.D.
Parenting Coordinator Service for Relocation and Long Distance Parenting
Dr. Austin provides parent coordinator/decision making (PC/DM) services for cases involving relocation and long distance parenting. Parents who need PC/DM services are encouraged to sign-up for the three-hour service of “co-parenting education for long distance and relocation” so that it would be integrated into and be the prelude to the PC service when there is going to be a long distance parenting arrangement, or that relocation has already occurred, or is going to occur.
As a PC, Dr. Austin uses his relocation risk assessment model to educate parents about how to manage the risk of harm to the nonmoving parent-child relationship. Dr. Austin also uses his parental gatekeeping framework to help educate parents about long distance parenting and to work out practical solutions to co-parenting issues. Gatekeeping is exceptionally important in long distance parenting. It cannot be over-emphasized how difficult it is for a parent to accept his or her child is relocating and for the parent and child to adjust to the extended separation. This is why relocation produces so much angst and conflict. It is extremely important for relocating parents to be vigilant in trying to cooperatively co-parent and proactive in trying to involve the other, distant parent in the life of the child.
Dr. Austin treats parent conflict over parenting time/child access issues as “gatekeeping disputes.” The gatekeeping framework is a fresh approach to understanding and managing parent conflict. The gatekeeping conceptual language allows Dr. Austin to integrate co-parenting education and coaching into the PC role with the goal of achieving a permanently improved co-parenting and problem solving relationship between the parents so that a PC would not be needed. The issue of gatekeeping is always at the center of a relocation parenting dispute. The nonmoving parent usually asserts the moving parent will not be a facilitative gatekeeper and so his or her relationship with the child will deteriorate.
Dr. Austin’s approach to co-parenting/gatekeeping education also adopts a “performance enhancement” approach that attempts to foster a mindset that parents will strive to enhance their performance in their parenting and co-parenting roles. Parents are encouraged to step back from conflict, not just to work towards cooperative co-parenting, but also to strive for excellence in their parenting and co-parenting. When there is a long distance parenting arrangement, then the incline to achieve excellence in parenting and co-parenting is a steeper challenge. Dr. Austin’s approach in PC work is not just to manage the conflict and settle disputes, but also to challenge the parents to work at succeeding and achieving excellence in parenting and co-parenting. [See http://thetobincompany.typepad.com on the performance-enhancement approach.]
The fact that a PC is needed means that the parents need to improve their performance in their co-parenting behaviors. The irony and tragedy for the children is that parents who have functioned very highly as parents and co-parents prior to the separation and divorce have often exposed their children to conflict during the time of separation and divorce. They may have performed very poorly at co-parenting because of the angst of the intimate partnership ending and difficulty in making the transition to separate residences. The PC’s aim is to try to keep the parents in the 80% of parents who are able to largely eliminate their conflict in the two years following separation. This goal becomes more difficult to achieve when there is relocation. The PC must try to nudge the nonmoving parent to accept the bitter pill and reality of relocation and the challenge of long distance to stay involved and connected with the child. The PC must do “gate training” of the residential parent so she can be a facilitative gatekeeper to keep the gate open for the distant parent. Dr. Austin’s goal is to facilitate excellence in parenting and co-parenting even with the obstacle of long distance.
When a parent relocates with a child, or a parent needs to relocate away from the community where the child primarily lives with the other parent, then a long distance parenting plan needs to be created and implemented. Parents often get into legal disputes when a parent wants to relocate with the child, or it becomes a “relocation case.” Because relocation cases cannot easily be successfully mediated (e.g., it difficult to compromise and find middle ground on the relocation issue) they frequently require a parenting evaluation by a psychologist, a parental responsibility evaluation (PRE) in Colorado, or what is referred to as a child custody evaluation (CCE) in other states. Such cases also often are litigated in court even when there is an evaluation and recommendation on the relocation case because parents usually feel so strongly either that the child should not move away, or that he or she has a right to move with the child due a number of different reasons – remarriage, return to a former home community where extended family reside, job opportunity, etc.
In Colorado, relocation will often be approved by the court because when the request to relocate occurs at the time of divorce, or in a pre-decree context, the law requires the Court to assume that each parent will be living where he or she states that they intend to reside.
Relocation cases almost always engender conflict between the parents. The nonmoving is often expresses moral outrage that the other parent is “taking the child away” and may assert that the other parent is trying to “alienate” the child. The nonmoving parent inevitably will emphasize that relocation and resulting long distance will gravely harm his or her relationship with the child or children, especially if the children are very young. Even when the parents have been communicating well and cooperative in their co-parenting prior to the relocation issue surfacing, there can be intense conflict that will persist if the court approves the relocation and orders a long distance parenting plan to be implemented.
Long distance parenting creates enormous challenges for co-parenting. Conflict often persists. Distrust may have replaced a good working co-parenting relationship. There may be huge practical impediments to arranging for contact between the nonmoving parent and child. It may be an interstate situation. If the child is very young, then telephone contact may not be realistic. Travel cost and time for travel may make it difficult for there to be frequent physical contact. Regular Skype contact can be very helpful. Extended parenting time in the summer can be helpful.
As pointed out in Dr. Austin’s publications and review of the research, relocation is a general risk factor for children of divorce. This is due to the fact that children of divorce show the best overall long-term adjustment when they enjoy quality relationships with both parents. The research also demonstrates the importance of fathers in children’s development. Children benefit from the positive psychosocial resources they receive from the important relationships in their lives. This is the Social Capital that facilitates their growth and development. Parents are the main source of social capital for children.
When relocation occurs and there is extended separation between the child and the nonresidential parent, then the child is at risk to experience “relationship harm” that may translate to “developmental harm” due to not benefitting from the social capital from the distant parent. In his publications on relocation, Dr. Austin has proposed that the key to the child having a “successful relocation” with satisfactory adjustment is for the residential, moving parent to be a facilitative gatekeeper so that he or she is proactive in supporting the other parent-child relationship. With long distance parenting, the residential parent needs to feel comfortable with the other parent being a consistent presence in his or her residence via Skype and telephone, and actively keeping the other parent informed about the child. The same is true for the nonresidential parent when he or she becomes the “summer time” residential parent. Being supportive and facilitative may be a challenge when there is ongoing conflict, or if there has been a history domestic violence in the marriage. Both parents need to learn to compartmentalize their hard feelings from the need to cooperate and communicate about the child as needed.
Dr. Austin’s work as a Parenting Coordinator for long distance cases is based on his extensive work and experience on both relocation and parental gatekeeping as a parenting evaluator. His publications on relocation and gatekeeping are available on the websites, including relocation risk assessment model and the gatekeeping forensic model. Dr. Austin combines his co-parenting education service on relocation and gatekeeping in his role as a PC. The PC service begins with the co-parenting educational component, and preferably before relocation occurs. Educational materials are provided both on the risk to the child and the child-nonresidential parent relationship associated with relocation and on gatekeeping. A power point presentation is part of the educational component. Discussions with the parents cover how both parents can learn to be facilitative gatekeepers and to recognize gate-opening behaviors and to avoid gate-closing behaviors. Discussion also covers how to keep the distant parent meaningfully involved, how to handle the summer parenting time, and how to deal with practical aspects of travel, exchanges, Skype and so forth.
Following the educational component, the long distance parenting plan is examined in detail with a plan agreed to for resolving any difficulties that may arise concerning the implementation of the long distance parenting plan.
If there has been history of intimate partner violence in the parents’ relationship, then this may be treated as special exception on how the co-parenting relationship would be expected to operate in the context of long distance.
Professional Resources: Relocation
Austin, W. G. (2000a). A forensic psychology model of risk Assessment for child custody relocation law. Family and Conciliation Courts Review, 38, 186-201.
Austin, W. G. (2000b). Relocation law and the threshold of harm: integrating legal and behavioral perspectives. Family Law Quarterly, 34, 63-82.
Austin, W. G. (2005). The child and family investigator’s evaluation for the relocation case. In R. M. Smith (Ed.), The role of the child and family investigator and the child’s legal representative in Colorado (pp. C9-1 – C9-28). Denver: Colorado Bar Association.
Austin, W. G. (2008a). Relocation, research, and forensic evaluation: Part I: Effects of residential mobility on children of divorce. Family Court Review, 46(1), 136-149.
Austin, W. G. (2008b). Relocation, research, and forensic evaluation: Part II: Research support for the relocation risk assessment model. Family Court Review, 46(2), 347-365.
Austin, W. G. (2010). Relocation and forensic mental health evaluation in Colorado: Issues involving very young children. In R. M. Smith (Ed.), The role of the child and family investigator and the child’s legal representative in Colorado. Denver: Colorado Bar Association (pp. C1 – C23). Denver: Colorado Bar Association.
Austin, W. G. (2012). Relocation, research, and child custody disputes. In K. Kuehnle & L. Drozd (Eds.), Parenting plan evaluations: Applied research for the family court (540-559). New York: Oxford University Press.
Austin, W. G. (2012). Relocation Disputes in Colorado: Continuing Issues and Guidelines for Evaluators. In R. M. Smith (Ed.), Advocates for children: The CLR, CFI, and PRE in Colorado. Denver: Colorado Bar Association (pp. 227-244). Denver: Colorado Bar Association.
Professional Resources: Gatekeeping
Austin, W. G. (2011). Parental gatekeeping in custody disputes. American Journal of Family Law, 25(4), 148-153.
Austin, W. G., Fieldstone, L. M., & Pruett, M. K. (2013, in press). Bench book for assessing gatekeeping in parenting disputes: Understanding the dynamics of gate-closing and opening for the best interests of children. Journal of Child Custody: Research, Issues, and Practice,10(1).
Austin, W. G., Pruett, M. K., Kirkpatrick, H. D., Flens, J. R., & Gould, J. W. (2013, in press, July). Parental gatekeeping and child custody/child access evaluations: Part I: Conceptual framework, research, and application. Family Court Review, 51(3).