Dallas Bar Association

Parenting Facilitation: When Parents Don’t Play Well Together

by Peggy Pasquini and Dawn Fowler

Parenting Facilitation is the newest and often best option in a judge’s toolbox when faced with “War of the Roses” parents. Parenting Facilitation is a process in which high-conflict parents are ordered or agree to take the argument out of the courtroom in an attempt to achieve settlement of child-related issues with the help of a trained parenting facilitator. Although it is similar in many respects to its legal cousin, Parenting Coordination, there are substantial differences that are beyond the scope of this article. However, the most important differences are the qualifications and duties of the professionals and the inability of a parenting coordinator to testify in court. See Texas Family Code Sections 153.601 through 153.611 for specific information about these important tools.

The Parenting Facilitation process is completely transparent. Everything discussed in facilitation sessions must be revealed to counsel for both parties. Additionally, unlike most forms of non-judicial conflict resolution, facilitators are authorized to testify in court upon the request of either party or the judge.

An order appointing a parenting facilitator specifies the duties the facilitator undertakes in each case. These duties include (1) identifying disputed issues; (2) reducing misunderstandings; (3) clarifying priorities; (4) exploring possibilities for problem solving; (5) developing methods of collaboration in parenting; (6) understanding parenting plans and reaching agreements about issues; (7) complying with the court's order concerning conservatorship or possession of and access to the child; (8) implementing parenting plans; (9) obtaining training regarding problem solving, conflict management and parenting skills; and (10) settling disputes regarding parenting issues and reaching a proposed joint resolution or statement of intent regarding those issues. Additionally, a facilitator may be charged with monitoring compliance with court orders.

A parenting facilitator may be appointed at any time during a suit relating to children, including divorce, modification or enforcement. The rights and duties of each parent, periods of access and possession, residency restrictions and allocation of costs for the children may all be discussed. Decisions, as they are made, are reported to the parties’ attorneys for proper drafting and filing with the court as applicable. Through this process, parents are allowed and encouraged to customize their solutions without the limitations that exist in a litigious trial environment. However, no agreements reached in facilitation divest the court of the exclusive jurisdiction to determine issues of conservatorship, support and possession of and access to the child.

Additionally, the court may, and often does, appoint a parenting facilitator at the conclusion of a case to assist the parents going forward. Facilitation allows parents who do not communicate well to meet with the facilitator when decisions need to be made. Often these decisions include a change in a parent’s or a child’s schedule that necessitates adjustments in possession schedules, decisions regarding schools, extracurricular activities, discipline or a myriad of other problems inherent when children are being raised in two separate households.

Facilitators receive extensive training in methods and means to assist parents in communicating and reaching consensus in the best interest of their children. A facilitator must hold a license to practice in Texas as a social worker, licensed professional counselor, licensed marriage and family therapist, psychologist, or attorney. Additionally, the parenting facilitator must have completed at least 8 hours in family violence dynamics training provided by a family violence service provider; 40 classroom hours in dispute resolution training; 24 classroom hours of training in family dynamics, child development and family law; and 16 hours of training in the laws governing parenting facilitation and the multiple styles and models of service.

Although the facilitator must be trained in mediation, this process is not mediation, nor is it therapy. Facilitation is a means for the parents to actively participate in making decisions for their children without the necessity of acrimonious and often expensive litigation. Research has consistently shown that children can recover from a divorce, but continue to suffer when their parents continue to fight. Parenting Facilitation is a new approach to an age-old problem that is yielding positive results.

Peggy Pasquini and Dawn Fowler are trained parenting facilitators and coordinators.  They practice family law at Peggy Pasquini, PC, and Keane, Fowler & Donohue, respectively and may be reached at ppasquini@pasquinilaw.com and fowler@kfd-law.com.

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