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Preserving Relationships and Costs in Child Custody/Access Disputes

April 15, 2015

A disclosure meeting comes at the end of a child custody/access assessment where the assessor delivers the findings and recommendations.

The findings and recommendations are highly influential at court and the hope is that by way of the disclosure meeting, parents can read the writing on the wall and come to an agreement and thus avoid the battle, cost and fall-out of court.

I offered to conduct a recent disclosure meeting verbally so as to avoid the cost of producing a written report. If necessary, a report can still be written. The parents and lawyers accepted. The matter settled and I will have saved the parents about $1,000.00.

I can’t take all the credit for the success.

Lawyers for both parents have a disposition to settling matters and not inflaming conflict. In the hands of other lawyers this situation could have gone nuclear and the lawyers could have profited significantly from an escalation of conflict that would have resulted in a drawn out legal battle.

This represents the second last court involved assessment I will be doing. I hope the last one works out so nicely. There are reasonable lawyers attached to that file too.

I have always had an eye towards helping parents settle their disputes, albeit this is not always achievable. However, at this point I am not accepting any more referrals with court involved parents. All my services are closed, meaning they cannot be used for court purposes and they are settlement oriented.

I am taking lucrative work off the table. However, a good referral source tried to entice me to take on another court involved assessment and I turned it away. The lawyer wrote in his letter to the parents:

I requested of Mr. Direnfeld that he make an exception and agree to perform the assessment in an “open” process. True to his commitment, Mr. Direnfeld has declined.

I sent an email out to lawyers in my community to let them know how my decision to only offer settlement oriented services was working out. My email read:

Since opting out of court involved work just a few short months ago, I have seen a steady uptick in my closed settlement services. Files sent for assessment are turning into consultations and single day mediations. It is interesting what doors open when others are closed.

The beauty of working outside of court is the creativity in actually developing services to suit people’s needs. Apart from the services outlined on my website we can craft an approach that best suits the parents’ needs.

I am also seeing an uptick in referrals of persons heavily involved in court who are seeking to now divert their matter. Perhaps the money is running out or finally cooler heads are prevailing, but people are coming to realize that court just doesn’t resolve underlying issues or leave relationships intact for ongoing co-parenting.

I received the following reply from a lawyer who received that email. He wrote:

I couldn’t agree with you more that: “doors open when others are closed ” and ” court just doesn’t resolve underlying issues or leave relationships intact for ongoing co-parenting “.

My most difficult files are those where the other side refuses to sign a CFL Participation Agreement and preserves the court option for them and their client. Often, when negotiations get rough, court seems like the easy or only way out – but experience shows it rarely is.

For me, it’s important to keep that door closed.

I am satisfied with my decision and look forward to helping more separated parents in distress do well by their children. Hopefully if they already have lawyers, they too will be settlement minded.

If you are a parent in the throes of separation, be mindful that your conflict can make you ripe for exploitation. Choose settlement minded service providers, otherwise that pound of flesh you seek can cost you everything.

While this may sound preachy, your long term interests should be the preservation of relationships and costs.

Goals met with this week’s disclosure meeting.

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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