The best option for a co-parent's safety concerns.
I ended my first co-parent blog post with a discussion of co-parent solutions.
An important idea that I highlighted was radical acceptance – to work well and resolve disputes with your co-parent, you have to accept that your co-parent is going to remain an important part of your child’s life and, in turn, will have an ongoing presence in your life…which, in turn, means you’ll have to make compromises and expressions of good will and tolerate the anxiety inherent in future interactions.
Feel free to peruse the reader comments I immediately began to receive; the resistance to this idea of acceptance was palpable.
To review, radical acceptance is not about liking your co-parent, it is not even about resigning to your co-parent’s weaknesses – it is about accepting that your co-parent’s perspective and needs will need to be understood and reasonably considered, moving forward.
Having said this, an option that might help facilitate radical acceptance – especially if you perceive your co-parent as a force of instability with a high risk to abuse, neglect or otherwise cause distress in the parenting role – is to pursue a GAL evaluation. This option examines your co-parent safety concerns and is the most efficient way to trigger your Judge's consideration of reducing or removing your co-parent from the equation.
This GAL (Guardian ad Litem) evaluation or court-ordered custody evaluation consists of a neutral third party (often times, a psychologist or lawyer) that is appointed by your Judge to consider the “child’s best interests.” The GAL’s primary goal is to clarify your co-parent concerns (and your co-parent's concerns of you), review the history of parental and co-parental misbehavior, and render appropriate and healthy recommendations to the Judge about the parenting plan and other matters of legal/physical custody.
This option is, of course, a trade-off.
On the one hand, a GAL evaluation is the best option at your disposal if the goal is to seek a reduction in your co-parent’s involvement relative to the separation agreement and/or current court judgments
On the other hand, it is an expensive and time-consuming process that inherently provokes antagonism between co-parents and anxiety within all immediate family members (assuming the children are old enough to be included in the interview process).
Important Considerations about this GAL Evaluation Process:
The price of a GAL evaluation tends to range between $5000 and $10,000.
If you already received a GAL evaluation that you perceive as unfair and unreasonable AND you believe there has been a “significant change in circumstances,” then you can pursue another GAL evaluation (follow up evaluations are often shorter and cheaper).
“Change in circumstances” is a legal term that warrants consultation from your family and probate court attorney, and reflects the notion that sometimes, for a variety of reasons, your co-parent’s presence becomes more destructive than was previously the case (e.g. your co-parent is accused of problematic parenting, the child’s needs changes, the parent-child relationship changes, etc.).
Seek out GAL’s with a reputation for thoroughness and objectivity; these are the traits that Judges tend to prioritize when considering the post-evaluation report to the court.
Dr. Jeremy Clyman earned a master’s and doctorate in clinical psychology (PsyD) from Yeshiva University. He completed three years of doctoral-level clinical externships in neurocognitive assessment, couples and family treatment, and cognitive behavioral for adolescents, adults and older adults.