Shaunis Mercer is more than an attorney: she’s a parent coordinator, a former juvenile defender, and a mother of two. She has been an important member of our team for several years now and continues to make great strives for our clients. Here’s a closer look at her experience working with families, how becoming a mom gave her a new perspective on working with families, and her thoughts on how parents can overcome their differences to be their for their children.
Why did you decide to become a parent coordinator?
I learned what a parent coordinator was for the first time while handling high conflict custody cases. It seemed like a good way to empower parents to make decisions together. Most importantly, it kept cases from returning to court over day to day decisions.
Parent coordinators are usually appointed by the court in high conflict custody cases, but many of my clients who are able to reach an amicable settlement outside of court can still benefit from working with one.
What’s the most challenging thing about being a parent coordinator?
It’s important to try to get the parties to agree together on a decision. Sure, we have the authority to make all the decisions, but we are doing a disservice to the families if we aren’t trying to give them the tools to work together. I became a parent coordinator before I had kids of my own, and after having them and learning how challenging decision making can be, I feel even more confident that the best thing for a family is two parents who are on the same page.
What has being a mother taught you about working with parents?
As a parent coordinator, I try to step outside of the legal aspects of the discussion and focus on what the children are experiencing and convey that to my clients. I am very fortunate to have a parenting partner who shares equally in parenting responsibilities. My own children are 1.5 and 5 years old. My older son enjoys playing soccer on Friday evenings. Usually this means that I am not able to attend his classes, and my husband takes him. I know that he enjoys for both of us to present when possible, so I try to attend as my schedule allows.
For parents who are no longer together, this still often applies. Most of the time, the court favors equal custody for both parents if they are capable. Co-parents may prefer to not to attend the same events as each other, but I try to encourage them to think of how their child will feel to have both parents present when possible to cheer for him or her. Parenting is a partnership that is not undone by the end of a marriage.
What’s the most important co-parenting tip you would give someone?
Never speak negatively about the other parent in front of your children. Even if you are completely right, your child is still in a relationship with them. You are putting your child in a terrible position of having to choose between believing you or defending the other parent. Even if your child says horrible things about the other parent, it is your job to reinforce that they’re still his or her parent and that you are both working to come up with what is best for the child.
How can parents who don’t get along co-parent effectively?
Leave your personal feelings about the other parent at the door when you are going into a conversation about the children. Regardless of how you feel, try to believe that both of you are putting your child’s best interest first. If you have to, imagine that someone else who cares about your child is presenting you with the position of the other parent. How would you feel if your child’s teacher or doctor had their opinion? Would you feel differently about the request?
If you’re interested in setting up a consultation with Shaunis, give our office a call at 919-787-6668 and ask for her by name.