A conflict is when there is some mutually incompatible situation that affects both parents. The most common conflicts that arise between parents are scheduling problems (e.g. both parents want the children on the same weekend).

Other conflicts may include parents wanting the children to go to different schools, or doctors. “Disagreements” are not conflicts we are describing them here. A difference of opinion, as on a dental procedure, falls more into decision-making. Disagreements can often be resolved with win-win solutions. A conflict means that there are only win-lose solutions available – that is, where one parent has to give in.

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On the emotional level, equal power is the key to success. Parents need to assume and believe that they have equal power in the resolution process. Parents can rely on court orders to resolve conflicts (e.g. “Gee, that’s tough, but the order says I have the child that weekend”), but this takes control out of the hands of the parents. One parent might win one conflict with a court order in hand, but this sets a precedent and the other parent will no doubt win another by asserting the order when favorable to that parent. The result is that neither parent is really resolving conflicts in a way that really serves everyone’s purpose, especially the children. You can get into a tit-for-tat battle relying solely on court orders. Everyone looses out that way in the long run.

Another key emotional ingredient is to accept that many conflicts cannot be resolved until parents get to impasse. Impasse is the point where there seems to be no solution. It is a tense emotional time when it becomes clear that one of the parents must give in. If parents stick with it, and don’t start fighting dirty, they will often get through impasse by having new ideas dawn on them that resolve the conflict. In order to be successful at resolving conflicts, therefore, parents must accept that there will be some tense emotional times. We all like to avoid those tense moments, but then we never teach our children how to resolve conflicts.

Finally, I have seen parents turn everything they don’t like about the placement schedule into a conflict. This is an abuse and will lead to failure. Conflicts should only be very special circumstances that have a major effect on the parent or children. Wanting the children for an unscheduled weekend because the parent misses them is probably not a conflict; wanting the children because there is a once in a lifetime family reunion probably is a conflict.

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About Dr. Kenneth H. Waldron

Dr. Kenneth H. WaldronKenneth H. Waldron, Ph.D., is a psychologist in Madison, Wisconsin, with a practice focused on divorce. His practice includes divorce mediation, coparenting counseling, custody assessment, parent education, and consultation to courts and court-connected mediation and investigation services.