One man’s ex-wife denies him access to their 10-year-old child out of spite. A woman’s 9-year-old daughter has taken on the adult role of peacemaker and mediator, passing messages between father and mother.
The stories told during a recent Saturday morning class at the Gainesville Civic Center spoke to the biggest underlying problems between divorced parents that affect their children: a lack of communication and unwillingness to work together for the best interest of the child.
“Joint legal custody does not work unless the parents cooperate and communicate,” said Arline Kerman, a lawyer and educational psychologist who led the frustrated parents through discussions. “The main issue that these parents need to address is the best interests of the child, rather than focus on their own negative feelings they have toward one another.”
Kerman and longtime Gainesville psychologist Guy Jordan have created the Institute for Co-Parenting Resolutions, a class that divorcing parents can take to fulfill court-ordered requirements before custody and divorce decrees are finalized.
Judges in Georgia courts already require parenting classes of all parents who are divorcing and seeking joint custody. Kerman said the difference in their co-parenting course is that it shows parents how to get along for the sake of the children in matters of custody.
“It can demonstrate for the court that they have the ability and willingness to co-parent,” Kerman said. “Otherwise you’ve got a mess.”
Jeffrey Bagley, the chief superior court judge for Forsyth County, said it’s a problem he sees all too frequently in his court.
“Obviously, children will benefit greatly when the parents get along,” Bagley said. “Unfortunately, many parents are absolutely unwilling to cooperate, or in some instances, even communicate.”
The result, according to Jordan, are courts that are clogged with domestic cases that come back to a judge repeatedly for modification or contempt hearings.
Many divorcing parents, Jordan said, don’t come to court prepared with a solid plan on who will take care of what responsibilities, when and where exchange of children will take place, and other details that are essential to making joint custody agreements work smoothly.
Parenting plans are required of parents seeking divorces, but are often filled out as an afterthought just prior to a court hearing, Jordan said. Judges are left to inquire of parents in hearings that can take hours or days with no final resolution.
“Some people think judges have this magical ability to know what’s best for the child,” Jordan said. “The parents should know what’s best for the child.”
The Co-Parenting Resolution class has been approved as a substitute for the court-ordered parenting classes in 18 Georgia counties, Jordan said. In some cases, judges have suggested it as an alternative.
The three-hour live class, which supplements a five-hour class supplied on DVD, is being taught on Saturday mornings once a month at the Gainesville Civic Center, with the next class scheduled for March 20.
Hall County Juvenile Court Judge Mary Carden sees the effects that warring parents can have on their children.
“This conflict often allows the teen to play one parent against the other to escape appropriate supervision, boundaries and discipline,” Carden said. Co-parenting would eliminate this problem.”
Kerman said she wants to see divorcing parents sit down at the co-parenting classes together, unlike the parenting classes that parents can take separately.
“Parents on their own initiative have got to want to know how to communicate for the benefit of their child,” Kerman said. “It’s hard work. I understand the bitterness and hostility they may harbor toward each other, but unfortunately that interferes with the best interest of the child.”