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The 7 Strategies for Determing Your Parenting Plan

The Parenting Plan is the parental agreement setting out how the children will be cared for between separated parents. Most broadly, it stipulates the residential arrangement and how decisions shall be made affecting the child. The parenting plan may also include agreements with regard to extra-curricular activities, education, faith and health. If there are particular needs or wants by either parent or regarding the child specifically those can be included too. In the event parents cannot agree on something that arises upon completion of the Parenting Plan, the plan can also include a statement as to how differences will be resolved. Essentially, the Parenting Plan is the road map that separated parents will follow for the raising of their kids.

The objective in detailing a Parenting Plan is to provide as smooth a parenting path to follow as possible so your children can enjoy a meaningful relationship with both parents to achieve a good developmental outcome – be a well rounded person who gets along with others and is successful in life.

While some parents may fret the details of the plan, the most important determinant to how well children of separated parents develop has less to do with the actual details, including the time lived in each parent’s home, faith, choice of school, extra-curricular activity, etc. The most important determinant is actually parental conflict. The greater the conflict between the parents, the greater the risk for a poor outcome for the child. The degree to which parents can find reasonable solutions to their differences, the children are better off. The degree to which parents may find themselves in ongoing conflict, then the greater the necessity or specifying as much detail as possible and the greater the necessity to limit or control for contact between the parents.

As best as possible, parents are encouraged to develop parenting plan between themselves, as opposed to having a plan imposed through court or arbitration which is not to say that court or arbitration may not be necessary, but should be considered a last resort.

The reason for parents to first try and develop a plan between themselves is because no other third party will ever know the details of your life, like yourselves. Further, those plans agreed to between parents tend to be better followed and longer lasting. While a solution may be imposed through court or arbitration, inevitably one or other parent is dissatisfied with the outcome and that parent may try to change it either directly by seeking to return the matter to court or arbitration or indirectly by doing what they want to do anyways. Thus imposed outcomes, do not necessarily end conflict.

Consider these strategies when seeking to resolve a Parenting Plan;

  1. Sit down privately with the other parent to discuss matters between yourselves:
  2. If you are concerned about behavior and still want to discuss things directly with the other parent, choose a public place to meet or include a mutually agreed upon person to join you. This can be someone you both trust in a professional capacity, your clergy, a counselor, a mutual friend (who is able to remain neutral);
  3. Meet with a trained counselor whose expertise is helping separated parents communicate between themselves;
  4. Meet with a mediator whose expertise includes working with separated parents. A mediator is a professional whose expertise is helping people in conflict reach agreements between themselves by working with them together, even though the notion can be anxiety producing. You only need to be willing to try. You don’t have to believe that yourself or the other parent will actually come to an agreement. In fact, more often than not, people who attend mediation are of the opinion that it is “the other person” who will not be ale to reach an agreement, yet most matters do settle or at least are narrowed down by the process;
  5. Retain “collaborative” lawyers and sign a participation agreement. Collaborative lawyers are trained in helping people find solutions to their differences without the threat of going to court. Like mediators, they work outside of the court system and can help you craft specific agreements taking into account the particulars of your situation. Also like mediation, collaborative lawyers and parents meet and work together to arrive at mutually acceptable solutions;
  6. Lawyer assisted negotiation is more for those persons who will not meet together. Each parent tells their own lawyer their view of the situations and what they hope to achieve. The lawyers then negotiate between themselves on your behalf. With this approach, you may never know how well your lawyer represented your situation and you may not be privy to their actual communication with the other lawyer. In the hands of a killed negotiator who themselves will remain civil, respectful and not inordinately demanding but conciliatory, this can lead to a resolution. However, this approach is at risk of actually inflaming conflict and the parents will likely never achieve the degree of specificity they may desire because the lawyers will never be as intimately connected to your situation. If you use this approach, ask to read every letter your lawyer sends on your behalf before it is sent. Angry demand letters produce angry demanding responses. Know what is being sent as those letters will represent you to the other parent. Unfortunately, in many cases, lawyer assisted negotiation increases conflict and is a prelude to litigation
  7. Litigation is the option of last resort where the final outcome is fully in the hands of a third party, be it a judge or an arbitrator (private judge). Litigation often entails the telling of respective stories from the past that may have little to do with the present situation, but presents each parent in the worst possible light. This can hurt relationship beyond repair. However and with arbitration specifically, you at least get to choose who hears your case and typically people choose an arbitrator who has particular expertise in the area of concern. However, arbitration is a privately paid service and hence may be more expensive than court, particularly if both parents include their lawyers. Arbitration can be less costly though if the parents share the cost and attend on their own. There are many pro’s and con’s to attending court or arbitration and with or without legal representation.

Be careful who you seek advice from to determine which approach is best for you. There can be considerable bias towards the service one offers. To determine what is best for you, it is advisable to speak with several mediators, collaborative lawyers and litigators. Beware of hollow promises and keep in mind that agreements made between the parents directly, no matter how they are assisted, tend to be better followed and longer lasting.

By the way, you will be co-parenting no matter what. The only question is the degree to which you do so successfully and in the end, peace between the parents provides for the better outcome for children regardless of what you agree to.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

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Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

gary@yoursocialworker.com
http://www.yoursocialworker.com

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Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

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Four Tips for Managing the Two-Year-Old

So what’s up when a kid reaches age two? Many parents are ready to pull their hair out when their kids reach this age… and it continues for about a year to a year and a half.

Parents of younger infants are lulled into a sense of ease when their son or daughter reaches about 6 months. By this time infants are usually sleeping well through the night, able to sit in a high chair, can amuse themselves with play and are enthralled with mom and dad’s gaze and smile. To many, parenting at this stage appears easy and there is no way of appreciating just what lies ahead.

By 24 months however, toddlers may be bored with static toys, they are generally quite mobile – able to walk at a brisk pace for multiple steps and highly explorative. Herein lies the set-up for the terrible twos, unless prepared.

Two-year-olds have this marvelously inquisitive mind, but absolutely no experience from prior learning to understand “safe or harmful”, “good or bad”, “right or wrong”. As such, they simply set out to explore the world, as it is available to them. Until they learn or experience otherwise, all objects are neutral. Objects have no inherent worth and are not yet known for causing either pleasure or pain. It’s only when the child experiences the object can they determine its value. Value to the two-year-old is usually a function of the pleasure an object can bring to the child. Pleasure is derived from touch, taste, sight, sound and scent. Some things are pleasurable and “fun”, while others offer neither amusement nor any particular pleasure. Other items, like the taste of a sour lemon, may cause displeasure and children soon learn to avoid these.

Knowing this about normal childhood development, the challenge facing parents is to pre-empt negative outcomes from their child’s exploration and learning while maximizing the opportunity for positive outcomes. To reduce frustration and maximize the opportunity for your child’s learning and pleasure consider the following:

  1. By this stage of life, if you haven’t already baby-proofed the home, do so. It is reasonable to put away the fancy glass and china that adorns the coffee table, have safety latches on cupboard doors and gates on the stairs. Your child will explore and this is normal and healthy, so get on your knees, look at your home from your child’s point of view and fix anything that can cause harm. You will be more relaxed if you are less concerned bout household safety hazards.
  2. Telling a two-year-old what not to do, doesn’t mean they will know what to do. As such, they may stop doing what you have told them, but may go on to another equally disturbing activity. It is reasonable to tell a child to stop doing something, but not sufficient. Every time you tell a child what not to do, follow it up by redirecting the child to what they can do and be specific. So if you say, “Go play”, this gives the child permission to do almost anything, whereas if you tell the child, “You can play with the blocks or the dolls”, this more clearly directs the child to approved activities.
  3. Children do need to learn safe from harmful, right and wrong, good and bad. When your child does do something you deem inappropriate, tell them so in a firm voice. However, don’t stop there. Next direct them to other approved activities and soon after let them know how they are playing well.
  4. Self-esteem grows the more the child gains mastery over their environment and self. While some areas may be off-limits, other areas should be structured to allow exploration and play. A lower drawer in the kitchen filled with plastic bowls and utensils offers the child a safe and inviting area to learn and have fun. Consider what other places and activities are acceptable for your child and make them available.

So often parents of two-year-olds feel like all they say is “No”. Use the above suggestions and you may find yourself saying “Yes” more often and those “terrible twos” may just be a little easier. By the time your child is 42 to 48 months, they will have learned much and will better understand what is safe or dangerous, right or wrong. It will be easier.

Use the suggestions and give it time.

(Print this article as a one-pager)

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

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Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

gary@yoursocialworker.com
http://www.yoursocialworker.com

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Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

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Three Key Steps for a Better Leaving Home Experience for your Son or Daughter

With all the attention on where your kids are going, little may have been said about where they are leaving. Each year thousands of children leave home and some for the very first time. With college or university looming, make the most of your son or daughter’s experience of leaving home.

Parents would do well to remember their first experience of leaving home. For many it came easily, but for some it was accompanied by stress and for others conflict. In remembering their own experience, parents next have to consider the experience they want to provide their son or daughter.

This experience of leaving home is important psychologically for children, now young adults, and parents alike. The experience can set the tone for the next stage of family development; adult-to-adult relationship with your child. Remember, they will likely be married some day and you will want to see your grandchildren.

So no more telling a child what to do. After managing through adolescence, parents are faced with the fact that their child is a young adult. Long gone are the days of parental authority. Coming to terms with this fact lies at the heart of the leaving home experience and can impact on your son or daughters sense of adult security and your future relationship together.

Perhaps it is not so much that the parents must reassure their children that they will be all right, but that the parents must reassure themselves and not let their concerns impede the children’s departure. Let them leave in peace and do not try to cram in all the lessons left untaught. Some lessons are only gained by leaving home.

For a better leaving home experience consider these suggestions:

  1. Talk with your son or daughter about their feelings of leaving home. Don’t push on whether they will miss you though, as this feeling might actually be your own. If it doesn’t come up, then maybe the thought hasn’t crossed their mind in the excitement of the experience.
  2. Reminisce with them about their growing up and the pleasures you have had along the way. Marvel at their growth and accomplishments and your anticipation of future accomplishments.
  3. Plan well for the departure so the actual moment isn’t fraught with last minute errands or conflicts. Offer your help and be prepared to stand back or jump in – only as requested or discussed. Your hand is no longer attached to the bicycle seat and you have to let go now again.

If you follow these suggestions you may experience a smoother transition to an adult relationship with your son or daughter. This kind of experience can repair past conflicts with your child and improve the odds of having a great relationship as adults.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

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Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

gary@yoursocialworker.com
http://www.yoursocialworker.com

Facebook
Linked In
Twitter

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

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A Direct Approach to Couple Therapy

Marital therapy is about uncovering issues that intrude upon and undermine the relationship. Once discovered, the challenge is to alter either how one or both thinks, feels or acts, in order to improve upon that relationship.

Depending on the approach of the therapist, how one goes about achieving those objectives and the length of time involved will vary greatly. However, there are four immutable beliefs when it comes to therapy: Don’t ask direct questions; don’t share your hypothesis; don’t tell anyone what to do; and therapy is scheduled for 50 minute sessions, week after week.

I shake up those immutable beliefs. In my approach to therapy I ask questions, lots of questions and rather than the standard 50 minute session, I schedule a good three hours for the first meeting and meetings rarely occur weekly. Three hours is necessary because after asking lots of questions, I then share my hypothesis – my opinions on the matters at issue and what drives them and then I give advice; I tell people directly what they can do differently to improve upon the relationship. It remains the couples’ discretion what they chose to do with guidance provided.

The questions asked are related to an extensive individual and family history taking procedure, trans-generational in nature and probing for issues related to mental health, physical health, addictions, violence/abuse, quality of relationships, developmental histories, personality styles, etc. I am looking for or assessing issues that may be either contributory or intervening variables, past or present, to the current problem. In this approach it is my experience that couples come to learn things about themselves and each other that were largely unrealized.

When Jane called to set an appointment for couple therapy in their 8th year of marriage, she explained that while their relationship had been by and large peaceful, her husband Jason retained resentment towards her mother and this flared a few days earlier resulting in pushing and shoving between them with police intervention and child protective services called to investigate. They were at their wits end with each other.

In therapy it was revealed that her parents separated when she was about 9 years of age, the result of her father having beaten her mother for the umpteenth time. She witnessed the attacks and remembered having never felt safe in her father’s company. Her mother continued to reinforce the view that men were not to be trusted and in the mother’s next relationship although not physically abusive, her partner, now stepfather, was verbally abusive to the mother reinforcing the view that men were not to be trusted.

Jason hailed from a family where father was alcoholic and unavailable although not otherwise abusive.  Jason lived a life continuing to crave closeness to an intangible ghost of a father. He forever sought to feel connected to Jane in lieu of his father and she was forever suspicions of his motives and hence remained distant. She and her mother formed more of an intimate relationship, her place of emotional and physical safety, than did the relationship with Jason. This in turn triggered Jason’s loss for his father’s availability and the closeness he sought. Notwithstanding this dynamic, decisions favored Jane’s preferences and while Jason did not begrudge that whatsoever, what upset him was that Jane’s preferences were more influenced by the opinion of her mother than him.

Surfacing their past and the impact upon them and the dynamic it created was enough to produce a new and more compassionate view of each other. Direct guidance was provided to help Jane shift her boundaries to be more inclusive of her husband and less dependent upon her mother. Jason was helped to understand the importance of his demonstrating both emotional support for Jane’s shifting boundary as well as appreciation for doing so.

As the session unfolded, the couple spontaneously drew closer together upon the couch. With little prompting to start, Jason put his arm around Jane when she appeared distraught, surfacing painful memories. Thereafter he continued to  provide tangible support when Jane was upset throughout the remainder of the session. Jane was able to apologize for having triggered his feelings about his father’s unavailability and craving for their relationship by having gone to discuss matters first with her mother over him. This in turn touched Jason who welled up with tears for having been both understood and appreciated. He openly mourned the loss of the relationship with his father he had always sought yet was never available. The couple achieved a sense of emotional intimacy that had previously eluded them.

The couple were satisfied with this one meeting and felt they could work with the new information and guidance provided. While another session was not scheduled, they were informed that they could return should the need arise. They expressed their gratitude for the meeting. They got what they needed to alter the trajectory of their relationship.

From my perspective, people need time to unpack their story in therapy. Fifty minutes is just not enough for people to feel satisfied and indeed, the biggest argument against the 50-minute session I hear from people I serve is that in their work with prior therapists, while they may just start getting somewhere, they run out of time and the moment is lost. In follow up meetings the lost moment is not recaptured. To add, they complain to me that with prior therapists, they are not provided guidance and leave feeling aimless.

I wouldn’t want my surgeon asking me off the table for having run out of time, saying the scalpel would be removed next week. I am of the view that we need to provide ample time in every therapeutic meeting so that the meeting can conclude at a point in time where it makes sense as opposed to arbitrarily for having run out of time. As such, I always set aside three hours for all my sessions yet I bill for actual time used. I also wouldn’t want my physician to lay silent on the connection between my smoking and my lung cancer so similarly, I provide education as to the impact of things like domestic violence, drug and/or alcohol abuse, parental conflict, etc. My approach is active, informative, educational and directive. Hence brief.

This is the result of not only 33 years of practice, but in training in multiple treatment moralities, continuing education, ongoing familiarity with social science research, but most of all listening to people about what is most helpful to them.

Admittedly, this approach is not helpful to everyone, but it is an informed approach.

Ask the people you serve if they found your session helpful and if so, why or why not. Ask them what they might prefer for you to do differently and consider their input. Let the people you serve guide the approach and development of your practice and see how it evolves.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

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Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

gary@yoursocialworker.com
http://www.yoursocialworker.com

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Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

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Coping With The Ugly Truth about Parental Alienation Syndrome – PAS

Few issues gather as much heated debate than the concept of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS).

Briefly stated, PAS refers to the child of separated parents who comes to reject a parent and/or that parent’s family and/or anything or anyone associated with that parent on the basis of undermining behavior by the other parent.

Although not a true diagnostic label in the context of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, it is an issue hotly contested in the most fractious of child custody/access battles. Unresolved, the child outright rejects a relationship with one parent in favor of continuing an exclusive relationship with the other parent. Whereas the rejected parent will advise the outcome is the result of the manipulations by the favored parent, the child in time comes to present the preference as their own choice.

Courts have struggled with this matter for years as have mental health professionals who seek to reverse the disastrous effects of a maligning parent to restore reasonable relationships all around.

The pain and anguish felt by the rejected parent is tremendous to say the least for they are experiencing the loss of a child who otherwise appears available. To boot, in the process, this parent is typically vilified, made out to be a monster as the alienation process unfolds. To say this is crazy making is an understatement.

While Courts do wade in to try and right these wrongs, they are challenged to not next ruin the relationship with the preferred parent over that of the rejected parent although at times courts will make orders requiring; reversal of residence; supervised access to no access; and mandatory attendance at treatment.

To understand these intrusive interventions, one has to consider PAS as the family equivalent of an aggressive cancer.

Imagine a cancer so aggressive so as to threaten life and limb. The treatment regime may include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. These treatments are all known to be devastating in and of themselves, but if to survive, they become a necessity. So it is with PAS and intrusive family interventions.

The ugly truth though remains. Not all cancers can be successfully treated and patients die. So too of PAS. Not all relationships are restored and indeed some lives are given way to anger, depression and suicide.

Like any form of aggressive cancer, be it physical or social, early intervention is key. Also key is the role of legal counsel. It is unfortunately too easy to ratchet up parental conflict through zealous litigation in these cases.

Better outcomes may prevail if legal counsel would recognize the deleterious effects of litigation in favor of seeking clinical and conciliatory approaches. Unfortunately however, it is all too common that those parents bent on destroying their child’s relationship with the other parent somehow or other find very litigious lawyers who buy into their one-sided accounts of the other parent’s shortcomings to fight tooth and nail on behalf of the maligning parent.

Despite all our great efforts, then, at times there is no way out of these situations. As in medicine, not all diseases are treatable.

When all seems but lost, the challenge becomes one of coping in the face of great adversity. To have any sense of hope that a future relationship may transpire, one has to survive to that future. Resist alcohol; resist drugs; resist self defeating behavior. Engage in a healthy lifestyle; form friendships; seek entertainment; take care of your health.

The only thing known for sure in the heat of battle and terrible discontent is that it is awful and hurts terribly. The future though, remains uncertain.

The best one can do is be prepared to greet it, however it presents itself. Therein while tragedy may strike, we strive to overcome. We seek to remain resilient and if a relationship at one stage of life is lost, we hope to be there to pick up at another stage of life. Learning to live with patience in the midst of adversity is key. Ask any cancer patient.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

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Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

gary@yoursocialworker.com
http://www.yoursocialworker.com

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Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

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Think Twice about that Custody/Access Assessment. I did.

I continue to decline referrals for child custody/access assessments with court involved separated parents as I have since January 2015.

So far I have turned away about $30,000.00 worth of work. I think that speaks to my commitment to peacekeeping settlement services such as mediation and collaborative law.

As can be imagined, for the first part of the year I saw quite a reduction in my revenues, but then something great started to happen. Those early referrals for assessments were coming back as requests for mediation and I was receiving more referrals for my other creative settlement services. Now my revenues are about the same as they were last year at this time.

Today I received yet another email request for information about a child custody/access assessment. Here was my reply:

Dear _____,

Thank you for your interest in my service.

In January 2015, I decided I was no longer going to provide court involved service. This includes custody/access assessments.

I have long since learned that court involvement to resolve these matters typically results in an escalation of parental conflict, which in turn is toxic to the well being of children. Further and whereas in the past, this service did prompt some parents to resolve their issues, in more recent years, it seems that as one parent is dissatisfied, it only serves as the stepping stone to the next round of conflict. In other words, court involvement and those services directed for court use are contributory to the very parental conflict from which parents seek relief.

Since January 2015, I have retooled my services towards only peacekeeping.

I do provide a suite of services that are directed to helping separated parents resolve their issues outside of the court arena.

If I may be helpful with any of those services, it would be my pleasure to do so.

Here you will find a listing of my settlement services with complete explanations of each;
http://www.yoursocialworker.com/contact.htm

Parents are so convinced that custody/access assessments and court are going to save the day and provide a good outcome.

It only seems that that approach contributes the the agony experienced by all.

Parents, please reconsider. Please also know that at any time during the litigation process, you can always withdraw and redirect to peacekeeping services such as mediation, collaborative law or any of my other creative services.

In the end, parents want and need parenting agreements that are most likely to be followed and are durable. Agreements determined between the parents themselves are most likely to provide for that and that is what I strive to provide.

Think twice about that custody/access assessment. I did.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

https://garydirenfeld.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/gary-feb-12.jpg?w=200&h=301

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

gary@yoursocialworker.com
http://www.yoursocialworker.com

Facebook
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Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

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Separated Parents: Step away from the “C” word!

The quickest way to start conflict between separated parents is to talk to them about child custody. The mere mention of the word conjures up images of one parent winning the kids with the other parent losing.

Traditional thinking has it that custody must be specified, particularly when parents are in conflict and cannot resolve parenting decisions reasonably. This thinking only intensifies an already acrimonious situation. It bears mentioning that in the throws and newness of a separation, parents are at odds with each other and in the midst of the fear of loosing their kids, they are apt to be in conflict. This however, does not necessarily mean they do not hold the same values or interests with regard to the care and development of their children. It also doesn’t mean that they would not exercise reasonable judgment with regard to their children’s needs. Teasing out the couple issues from the parent issues, there just may be reasonable ground to let both parents carry on with meaningful roles.

There is a way out of the quagmire for some parents in conflict to resolve parenting issues without the all or none consequences of awarding custody to one. In some situations they can both continue to feel equal in terms of being a parent, fully able to maintain their relationship and assert a meaningful role with their children. The process entails stepping away from the “C” word in favour of developing a parenting plan, discerning the scope of authority on specific issues, and specifying a means of dispute resolution.

Parents can be helped to determine their mutual interests and areas of agreement. Authority can be vested in one parent or the other for specific issues. Through the vesting of authority, each parent is assigned a span of control for the specific issue. Where parents cannot reach consensus, they can then agree on less expensive processes of dispute resolution such as mediation or arbitration through the services of a Parenting Coordinator. While parents may fear they will always be running back to mediation, this is rarely the case, particularly if there is a rule that the one who calls for mediation pays for the service, this to cut down on frivolous actions.

Essentially what needs to be determined is a set of rules for the management and care of the kids. To the degree this is achieved and in particular, out of court, the parents retain overall control of their lives. They remain free from the loss of control court imposed solutions may bring. Their conflict is in part reduced knowing both can have an ongoing and active role in parenting decisions even if some decisions are circumscribed.

As parents retain a meaningful role by agreeing to abide by their mutually established rules, responsibilities and span of authority, they can then ease into their separation with a growing sense of security that their attachments to the children will remain intact.

In the end, this is what both parents want post-separation. It is not just a say in the school they attend, but that each parent feels important and active in their children’s life. This is in the children’s interest. Even if one parent complains that the other never showed such interest before, the fact may be that they are now. An active and interested parent is good for any child whenever it comes. Step away from the “C” word and seek an agreement. Your kids will thank you for it.

Achieving this kind of parenting agreement can be difficult but difficult does not mean impossible. It requires a commitment from the parents and the support of a highly qualified support system. The support necessary may be found in a very experienced mediator or through lawyers practicing Collaborative Law. The Parenting Pan Worksheet can be a vital tool in the process of negotiating the agreement.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

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Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

gary@yoursocialworker.com
http://www.yoursocialworker.com

Facebook
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Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

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