Court Ordered Behavioral Intervention (COBI)

The Issue of the Resistant Child in Family Court

One of the issues parents may encounter in family court litigation is a resistant child to a court-ordered parenting schedule. In these cases, a child may remain opposed or hesitant to fully engage with one of the parents. The dynamic that follows is often that the parent who is being resisted blames the other parent for interfering, while the parent who is perceived to be aligned with the resistant child not only denies that assertion but argues that it is bad parenting behavior on the part of the resisted parent that causes the estrangement. As a result, the family does not abide by the court-ordered parenting plan and further litigation ensues.

Challenges with the Therapeutic Interventionist (TI) Approach

Historically, courts have appointed a professional to work in a therapeutic setting with the resistant child and parents as a Therapeutic Interventionist (TI). These professionals work jointly with the family and the resistant child to address the underlying causes for the child's resistance.

The TI approach works in a portion of cases because the approach is rooted in attempting to change how the parents and the child think or feel about each other. However, in many cases, the therapeutic approach is not productive because the family is unwilling to change their views. In those cases, the TI process is difficult to impose, expensive, and time-consuming.

COBI: A Behavioral Intervention Approach

The COBI behavioral model is a timelier and more cost-effective remediation than the TI model for addressing situations when a child is resistant or refuses to engage with one parent.

In contrast to TI, the COBI model does not require parents to alter their feelings toward each other but instead focuses on behaviors that interfere with the implementation of the parenting plan ordered by the court. Evidence-based practices suggest that a behavioral change, rather than the therapeutic approach, can be more effective in resistant child cases.

The Process

After conducting a trial, the court determine the schedule that is in the best interests of the child. Yet even with the entry of the orders and a finding that each parent is fit to engage in the schedule ordered by the court, the plan does not get implemented because the child may be resistant to follow the schedule with one of the parents, even though ordered by the court. Rather than resorting to serial enforcement actions, the COBI (Court-Ordered Behavioral Intervention) approach is implemented.

Unlike the TI process, COBI only focuses on the behaviors that the parents and resistant child must change in order to follow the court-ordered plan. In its basic structure, the COBI meets with the parties and child, identifies the claimed basis for the resistance, and then works with the parties and child to alter behaviors in a fashion that allows the estranged relationship to move forward in a productive and long-term beneficial fashion. For example, if a child reports that the resisted parent does not actively engage the child during parenting time, the COBI works with the resisted parent to engage more actively with the child.

COBI Features

There are many features of COBI, a behavioral intervention approach, that have improved upon the TI model.

  1. Time Limited Intervention - COBI is designed to complete the work within 6-9 months rather than the 1-2 years often encountered when a TI is appointed to do this work. There are a finite number of sessions with clear goals to accomplish between sessions.
  2. Behavioral-Focused Measurements of Success - COBI success is not rooted in altering how parents feel toward one another but rather on how they engage one another and comply with court orders.
  3. Court Engagement Until Implementation - COBI requires the court to stay involved with implementing its own orders. After 30 days of the COBI order, a procedural review hearing allows the court to review the level of COBI cooperation and compliance by the parties and child. At a 90-day review hearing, COBI and parties report to the court on progress and identifies any impediments. By contrast, the TI approach has had far less judicial engagement in the process with deference given to how the therapy is progressing.

COBI Outcomes

The COBI process is designed to have timelier resolution in cases of a reported resistant child, reduced costs to the parties, and improved relationships between a resistant child and the resisted parent. In cases where a COBI has been appointed, issues have been addressed more directly, less time is required for the process, and there has been a reduction in serial appointments of a number of professionals and delays that were often encountered with TI appointment. The TI approach remains viable in other settings, such as when a parent needs to overcome obstacles that prevent them from fully engaging with their child (such as when the parent is in need of drug or mental health treatment so they may properly engage in future parental involvement.)

What COBI is Not

Some have confused the COBI approach with other approaches in addressing the resist/refuse dynamic. One such approach is Intensive Family Reunification Therapy, where parent and child are immersed into intensive counseling. COBI does not employ any Intensive Family Reunification Therapy methods, nor does the COBI model consider those approaches. COBI is designed to avoid the need for this kind of therapy.

 COBI Goals

  • Less expensive
  • Greater oversight by the court for a resolution
  • Quicker resolution for the parents and the child

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