November 13, 2014

Divorce: What’s Co-Parenting Got To Do With It?

173299392Divorce is a crisis in the life of a family.  It is not actually a legal crisis, though it requires this expertise to ensure that legal resolutions are reached regarding financial matters. It is not a theoretical crisis. It is a genuine emotional crisis. What does this mean for children?

Some years after I began my therapy practice with children and families decades ago, a researcher named Judith Wallerstein published the results of her longitudinal study on the negative impact of divorce on children. The data were a wake-up call, shocking to some, sobering to all. Mental health experts responded by saying parents and social institutions needed to be more attentive to the impact of divorce on children. A book was written advocating bird nesting—parents rather than children transitioning to and from the homestead—as an alternative “custody” arrangement for families (an option we now know to be a temporary rather than permanent solution). Questions began to be raised on the impact of parenting time arrangements that essentially minimized otherwise healthy and loving relationships between parents and children.

At the time Wallerstein’s study was published, the options available for divorcing parents were largely adversarial in nature. The focus was “rights based,” not based on supporting co-parenting and keeping children out of the middle of the crisis. Many of the parents with whom I work attest to the emotional trauma they experienced when their own parents divorced. In fact, it is likely these divorcing parents were assured by their attorneys that “children are resilient—your kids will be fine.” But we know that children do not become resilient in a vacuum. They need adults to create environments of support and attention to their needs.

Collaborative team divorce offers a clear and powerful alternative for parents who love their children and want to envision a hopeful future for them. Families work with a multidisciplinary team of professionals with specific skills and experience. Mental health expertise is woven throughout the process, both to specifically support children and to provide parents with the best possible grounding for effective co-parenting. If you want to know more about how your family can weather the emotional crisis of divorce with the most dignity and respect for the needs of your children, please learn more about Collaborative team practice at this link to the website for the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota.

Deborah Clemmensen
Licensed Psychologist

Deborah Clemmensen, M.Eq., Licensed Psychologist was a child and family clinician for many years before her discovery of Collaborative Team Practice in 2000 motivated the transformation of her professional role from therapist to Neutral Child Specialist. This work---hearing the voices of every family member during a divorce or break up, keeping children at the center and out of the middle, and assisting parents in the creation of developmentally responsive parenting plans---is both a passion and a privilege. Find out more about Deborah's work at

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