School of Conflict Management, Peacebuilding and Development
When I started working as a parenting coordinator (PC) in 2006, I envisioned a practice filled with uncomfortable and heated conversations around a table. But while there have been plenty of heated conversations, they have taken a different form than I expected. I have spent a lot of time, and had some of my most challenging experiences, not in meetings or other face-to-face encounters but rather in listening to lengthy unfocused voicemails, reading and editing inflammatory emails, and teaching the fundamentals of netiquette to parents who had forgotten their e-manners.
I have found that many parents have little or no face-to-face contact, but engage with each other electronically quite frequently. For these parents, co-parenting is a virtual activity. Parents in high conflict disputes use technology to avoid direct contact while maintaining a high degree of communication. Sometimes they turn this communication into a cyberwar, using voicemail, email, text messaging, and social media as the weapons, but often enough it works. Traditional face-to-face sessions rarely result in any progress and in some cases are counterproductive. Reasonable, articulate and even conciliatory individuals become irrational, incommunicative, and intransigent with the prospect of being in the same building with a co-parent, much less the same room. In effect, the thoughtful application of communication technology may be what allows these co-parents to parent at all.