What is a Parenting Consultant and Do You Really Need One?

KSTP did a short piece this past week on their evening news program which seemed to imply Parenting Consultants are a waste of a client’s money. Interestingly they only spoke to two women and both women had some complicated legal issues with their ex-spouses related to parenting time and the children’s activities. If the two women highlighted in the segment had gone to court over the issues they presented to their Parenting Consultant, they would have spent many times more in legal fees and may have ended up with a bad result.

I think it would be helpful to clarify the role of a parenting consultant When some parents divorce, they manage to communicate and while they may have different opinions about what is best for their children, they exchange parenting time without incident and they effectively communicate issues regarding the children’s education or health concerns. Some parents though, particularly when one parent is a high-conflict person, cannot communicate effectively with each other and cannot agree on things like the children’s extra-curricular activities or whether a job or time with friends should trump time with the other parent. Parents who need a Parenting Consultant may experience one parent alienating the children from the other parent. One parent might not encourage telephone communication or might not follow the parenting time schedule. While a Parenting Consultant can help parents understand and follow court orders, they typically do more to help clients address all the smaller issues that are not covered in a court order. Parenting Consultants should help parents negotiate their disagreements in the best interests of their children–not the best interests of the parents. Sometimes educating the parents on the difference between their own best interests and their children’s is the solution.

When parents cannot agree on day-to-day parenting issues (which includes everything from whether the 12 year old should be playing “mature” rated video games or whether a birthday party should trump parenting time with dad) they typically cannot afford to go to court to have the disputed decided. Going to court means filing a motion, paying attorneys’ fees, and waiting many weeks before getting a hearing and then waiting another 90 days for the court’s decision. The real kicker is a judge, who doesn’t know your family’s unique needs and struggles will make a decision.

A Parenting Consultant is a professional who spends time getting to know the parents on a more personal level and gains an understanding of the family’s unique situation. A Parenting Consultant can typically respond to a family’s needs within a couple days, rather than a couple months. The parents communicate directly with the Parenting Consultant and they do not have to pay attorneys to settle their day-to-day disputes.

Using a Parenting Consultant is far less expensive than going to court, but Parenting Consulting services do not come cheap. Typically parenting consultants charge between $200 and $400 an hour but the goal is to need the parenting consultant less as time goes on. The KSTP segment seemed to blame the Parenting Consultants for the expenses but parents who cannot agree are in a difficult position and a Parenting Consultant provides an invaluable service for those families trapped in conflict. A good Parenting Consultant is constantly teaching parents how to manage without them. A bad Parenting Consultant may not teach the parents to manage either because the Parenting Consultant doesn’t know how, or because that is not the Parenting Consultant’s goal.

A good parenting consultant helps parents understand the reasoning of the consultant’s decision and over time, the parents can predict what a parenting consultant is going to say on certain issues and rather than incur any more fees, the parent may decide on his/her own to compromise his/her position.