From the Coparenting Coach's Desk

More on Loyalty Conflict

Special outings can be a source of tension, stress, and pressure for children when Mom and Dad don’t get along. This is an example of an avoidable loyalty conflict for the child if the parents have basic coparenting communication.  Simple coparenting agreements include these kinds of activities. Mom and Dad agree to alternate or they agree that Mom will always do a certain activity each year and Dad will do another.

Unfortunately, when coparenting relationships are high conflict, special outings like LegoLand or Disneyland can easily turn into competitive events for coparents who are insecure in their role as a parent and who want to “win” in a self-centered game against the other parent.

Some common examples include:
1Disney Ice Show
2New Movie Release – G Rated or 2nd or 3rd in a series
3Del Mar Fair
4Monster Trucks

Children suffer when coparents are so estranged from one another that they are unable to agree on basic information exchange for the purpose of protecting a child from loyalty conflicts. When coparents have gone weeks, months, or even years with no face-to-face contact the potential for set-backs and new allegations is high. Transition points in a family working toward a successful restructure are vulnerable times for each family member.

Family Court typically doesn’t provide transition plans for parents that are sensitive to these delicate transition times. Transition plans should include a gradual change from supervised visits to book-end visits to supervised exchanges to face-to-face exchanges with a neutral person present. This kind of transition process is necessary to support all family members in making the changes towards a healthy new structure but the law does not require this kind of support.

As the gradual change plan moves forward, conjoint coparenting counseling for the sole purpose of making basic agreements about information exchange and about special event procedures can make all the difference for every family member. These agreements remove uncertainty and stress on the family system, and establish new norms for 2-home family functioning that are critical for success.

Family Courts could provide transition plans appropriate to each family system, but it is a very rare occurrence in an adversarial judicial system struggling with understaffing, full calendars, and inadequate budgets.

If you want to create a new family structure which supports your children in moving between homes successfully, then find a way to sit down with your coparent and make some basic agreements. Most coparents find it difficult or impossible to stay calm without a neutral person to keep the agenda on track. 

Facilitated Coparenting Meetings at Transitions Family Program at Hannah’s House are an excellent way to approach this task. Most coparents meet for 1-3 meetings to make the basic agreements, and then do periodic scheduled meetings to follow up and refine.

Loyalty conflicts weigh on children. Loyalty conflicts diminish the joy and spontaneity of childhood. Protect your child from this avoidable stress and your new family structure will flourish.