Autonomy Buckets

Apr 1, 2014

One frequent topic of co-parenting discussions is how much autonomy each parent will have when making decisions about the children.  How will decisions be made by the parents to benefit the children now that interaction and communication between parents is less frequent and maybe more difficult?

I like to talk to clients about “Autonomy Buckets”, a concept I learned from Cat Zavis, an attorney, mediator and expert communicator in Washington state.


The concept is that the parents will discuss which decisions will go in which buckets. 


“Full Autonomy” means that one parent has the authority to make decisions on that issue without input or notice to the other parent.


The “Inform” bucket means that a parent has the authority to make a decision on an issue, but needs to inform the other parent of what is going on and the decision they made.


The “Consult” bucket requires a parent to discuss the issue and potential decisions with the other parent before taking any action.  It does not require agreement, as one parent still has the authority to make a decision.  But, the other parent’s thoughts and input must be seriously considered in the process.


The “Negotiate/Consensus” bucket means that both parents have to agree on the decision before taking action.  It may be that the parents agree to move a particular issue to one of the other buckets from this one.  An issue can be moved to one of the other buckets for one instance, but remain in this bucket for any future instances.  For example, the parents may agree that the choice of babysitters will be put in the “Negotiate/Consensus” bucket.  But, when the issue comes up, one parent may choose to let the other make the decision.  So, for that one instance, the parents move the issue into one of the other three buckets.  But, the next time a babysitter search comes up, they start again from the Negotiate/Consensus bucket.


In my experience, using this framework helps parents make decisions as to how they want to make decisions for their children in the future. 


Frankly, it is not a bad idea for married couples to use the framework so that they both have the same expectations regarding how decisions get made for the children.


The Autonomy Buckets are just one of the many concepts that I use in collaborative divorce and mediation cases to help families resolve divorce issues without unnecessary fighting.  Hopefully, it helps you.

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