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A Dose of Reality to Settle Parenting Disputes

February 7, 2015

Clinical Evaluative Consultation  

Thank goodness there are those lawyers, often those trained in either mediation or Collaborative Law, who seek to keep their warring clients from going nuclear at court. They tend to run their files collaboratively even if not officially “collaborative” (those who do this know what I mean). It may be that their client needs a dose of reality – a realistic appraisal of their situation while minimizing the risk of giving those same clients more ammunition to use for litigation.

That’s where the Clinical Evaluative Consultation come in and sets itself apart from a traditional custody and access assessment..

To explain, when separated parents cannot agree on the residential arrangement for their children between them or how conflicting decisions should be settled, many turn to the Court seeking an Order determining the residential arrangement and who would have decision making authority for what.

To guide the Court, many of these same parents would participate in a custody and access assessment (in the US these are referred to as custody/access evaluations). Therein a clinical investigator (typically a social worker or psychologist) would interview the parents, speak with and observe the children with the parents, obtain additional information from other sources and then write an extensive report concluding with recommendations on the matters of custody and access. Whereas some parents would settle their dispute on the basis of the recommendations, for others, the report and recommendations only serve to fuel their dispute in litigation.  Some parents will use the report to only hit the other parent over the head with the findings therein, feeling validated for their view of the issues, anger and position. In other words, these reports can harden parents’ positions actually escalating the very conflict the report would hope to alleviate. In this circumstance, rather than being instructive and providing a clinical road-map to address the parental mess, problems continue unabated.

A Clinical Evaluative Consultation (CEC) takes the process of a custody and access assessment, but keeps it out of a Court with the aim of facilitating settlement. Rather than concluding with a written report available for litigation, the CEC concludes with a verbal disclosure meeting and settlement meeting combined. It is attended by both parents and their lawyers. The entire process is closed, meaning nothing can be used for Court purposes. There will be no written report and the clinical investigator cannot be called to Court to testify in the event this matter proceeds to a trial.

The benefit of the closed process is that parents as well as the clinical investigator can speak very freely about the matters at hand without concern that it may be used against anyone at Court. The process allows the parents to obtain important and impartial information about themselves, their children and their situation so they the parents can retain control of the outcome – their settlement.

The process provides the parents important insights as to how this matter would be viewed in a traditional custody/access assessment and likely outcomes if the matter were to proceed to Court. Because of the clinical focus, looking forward to the future for better outcomes, the CEC may help parents engage in a process aimed at improving those issues that undermine or intervene on co-parenting. Rather than giving a snapshot in time and pronouncing an static outcome with a winner and loser, the CEC seeks to take a more developmental perspective to provide parents an opportunity to work towards a better future for themselves and for the sake of their children. Because it cannot be used at court, parents may better weigh the merits of their case against the opportunity for improving their situation.

The research is quite clear, with only a few exceptions, court is the worst place to resolve parenting issues. As mental health professionals, we must continue to develop processes to help conflicted parents work outside of a court process to resolve their differences. The Clinical Evaluative Consultation is just one of several creative approaches I offer to help those parents who need a dose of reality without necessarily contributing to ammunition for litigation.

Separating parents need and deserve the kind of help that leads more to settlement than ongoing battles.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

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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