As family courts continue to be burdened with increasing divorce and custody issues, some couples are turning to “parenting consultants” to help alleviate stress and resolve issues with their former spouse.

Parenting Consultant Program

The parenting consultant program was created in the mid-1990’s by Dr. Karen Irvin in hopes of giving divorced couples a way of solving their problems without going through the court system.  Courts can also recommend a parenting consultant or “PC”, and their decisions are usually legally-binding.

The state has a list of court-approved parenting consultants.  Some of them have backgrounds in personal or mental healthcare, while others are educators or attorneys.  In order to be a court-sanctioned PC, one must pass a two-day training course, but Irvin hopes to lengthen the seminar.

“We’ve developed a two-day training that we think should be four days,” Irvin said. “But I don’t know that we could get people to a four-day training.”

Although the parenting consultant can resolve some issues, they can also make matters worse, said mother and divorcee Angela, who asked to have her last name withheld.  Angela was optimistic at the beginning.

“It looked like a good idea,” she said. “She ruled my son can go to a certain day care, that he should participate in field trips at day care.”

Angela said the PC also helped negotiate things like parenting time during birthdays and holidays, but over time she felt that she lacked control to make decisions with her child.

“Did I envision my parental rights being taken away? No.  If I want to sign him up for something and the ex doesn’t agree, like a sport, I have someone deciding if my child can play a sport,” said Angela.

She also said the motives of the PC aren’t always in everyone’s best interests.  She believes the PC awards more parenting time to her ex in order to reduce his anger towards Angela, but that just punishes her.

“You get time taken away from your child,” she said.

Not only do parenting consultants have the final say, but they also add expenses to an already costly divorce.  Angela said her ex often sends vicious emails to the PC about Angela’s parenting styles, which the PC responds to, at the cost of $275 per hour.

“And then she bills both parties,” Angela said.

Angela said she spent close to $10,000 over the last two years on parenting consultant fees, which cuts into money she could use to enroll her son in certain activities.

Dr. Irvin said the system isn’t perfect, but the PC’s are simply “trying to decide something that is going to benefit children”.  She added that parenting consultant’s are often in a “no-win” situation.

“When you make a decision, one of the parties is now saying, ‘Wait a minute, I thought you were impartial and objective and clearly you’re on the other parent’s side’,” Irvin explained.  “We now find that many of our parenting consultant clients are not necessarily looking for help, and they’re not looking for change–except to change the other person.”

Inherent Problems

Angela said the problem stems from the fact that if conflict is resolved, then the PC is no longer needed.

“Our conflict is their livelihood,” Angela said of the consultants. “Why would they want the conflict to stop?”

Dr. Irvin has been a PC for 15 years, and although she tries to make the best decisions for the children, she said there is no exact science.

“I can think of a few cases where I think I had a positive impact where I helped the kids, but I think of many more where I’m still scratching my head going, ‘I wish I knew for sure that the direction I took this in was really the right direction for these kids’.”

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