I am just went to my first court date and the court ordered that I go to a parenting conference. What is it and what should I do to prepare?
This is a common question and something that is ordered in many cases involving parenting time and legal decision-making. Arizona Courts prefer when parties are able to reach agreements rather than go to trial. This helps reduce the amount of trials that the courts have on their calendars and also allows that parties to control what happens to their families. If the case goes to trial the judge will make the decision and the parties no longer have control of the situation.
A parenting conference is a meeting between the parties and a conference provider. This is a non-confidential meeting, which means that what you say can be used against you in your case later on. The conference provider will prepare a report after the conference and it will discuss what happened at the conference including what is said and what happens. The conference provider can and often will tell the Court about the parties’ body languages as well as their demeanor. This means that if someone acts childish or is angry the report will likely include these details. That is why it is extremely important to understand what a parenting conference is and what it is not.
A parenting conference is not a therapy or counseling session. While it may seem to be similar in nature it is not and should not be treated as such. Therapy and counseling are great tools for dealing with emotional trauma but parenting conferences are not therapy or counseling. Oftentimes these conferences can be conduced by a behavioral or mental health professional so it is easy to get confused or too comfortable during the conference. Many individuals who have not used therapy or counseling will use this conference as such which can lead to poor results. If you are interested in therapy or counseling please make sure to investigate those options on your own.
What if my ex starts telling the provider lies and is abusive?
Providers deal with these situations all the time and are generally pretty good at reading people. If your ex wants to spend his/her time being overly negative they can but that is not a great use of the time or the conference. I advise my clients to be direct with the provider but not negative about the other party.
For example: “I am frustrated by my ex’s inability to discuss school changes.” This statement is much different than, “My ex is stupid and can’t make decisions.” See the difference? By expressing your frustration with your ex’s inability to co-parent you are telling the provider about your ex’s failure to co-parent without making yourself look like a negative person that does not get along with your ex. It is really important to think about how your answers affect the report. You can have your opportunity to be “heard” by the provider and run down your ex or you can choose to take the opportunity to strengthen you case.
Make sure to be respectful of the provider and to make sure that you are on time. Do not speak over anyone else that is speaking and do not leave unless it is an emergency. If it is an emergency you will need to explain prior to leaving the conference.
The biggest thing to remember in parenting conferences is that you are not required to reach agreements. The provider may attempt to force you into signing an agreement. Do not sign anything that you do not understand with or do not agree with. If you sign an agreement you will be held to it no matter if you hire an attorney or not. The Court rarely lets people out of written agreements. Do not feel that you have to or the provider will say you were difficult. It is much better to be “difficult” than bound by an agreement about your children.
I wish you the best of luck with the conference and in your case.