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Parental Separation and Conflict: Resolving Disputes in 2017….

December 6, 2017

Wow, have things changed when it comes to helping separated parents sort out the care of their children between them…

It used to be that anyone working with separated parents had no formal training beyond their professional training. So in the 1990’s coming from working in children’s mental health to private practice, I was asked by family lawyers if I could provide custody and access assessments. Like everyone else who did so back then, I applied my professional training and experience in terms of providing children’s mental health assessments to the task of providing custody and access assessments. There was no formal training for this task. However, I was successful and well received.

At the same time, mediation was in its infancy. I would be asked if I could provide mediation to help people resolve their custody and access dispute. Back in the day, the lawyers sought for us to actually provide evaluative mediation, meaning we would still assess the situation, provide our input and help the parents resolve matters based on our professional views. This too was well received.

With time, we would then be asked to provide an evaluation, tell the parents of our views and apparently the parents were then in agreement to follow through with whatever was suggested. That was defacto arbitration.

Throughout the 1990’s even if a parent didn’t love the outcome of an assessment, mediation or defacto arbitration, they still thanked the service provider and carried on. That was the end of it. Even if the matter was decided at court, the likely outcome was a follow through by both parents.

Things changed in the new millennium. There was a rise in men’s rights activists and there was also a rise in terms of concern about violence against women. As such men were seeking greater equity in terms of custodial rights as well as residential time with their children. Women were seeking greater protection from violent men. If ever there was a gender war before in the child custody/access arena, these two movements added fuel to the fire which is not to say either was inappropriate.

Along the way, services such as assessments, mediation, arbitration and newly arrived parenting coordination were slowly becoming more formalized. Collaborative Law, a fledgling movement was only just beginning to gather a head of steam.

As the first decade of the new millennium unfolded, to be accredited as a mediator (although still unregulated) one must take a course in domestic violence and power imbalances so as to be aware or lower potential risk of harm or lop-sided agreements. To provide family arbitration, one must also not only have been trained in arbitration generally, but if a non-lawyer, attend a 30-hour training in family law as well as a 14-hour training in domestic violence and power imbalances. For family arbitrations to be recognized, the parties (parents) subject to the process must be screened for domestic violence and power imbalances, although there is no stipulation as to who provides that screening or what the training, if any, entails. As service providers, we were then subject to greater expectations and training, which was good for producing greater consistency with each approach and greater safety for those participating.

Also throughout the first decade of the new millennium men have seen an overall steady increase in the amount of residential time ordered by Canadian courts. This, to the chagrin of the mothers.

These outcomes have all contributed to a more complex family law system as well as the likelihood of more contested disputes. As those disputes have escalated, so too have the allegations of domestic violence and allegations of parental alienation.

By the second decade of the new millennium, when service providers used to be thanked for their work regardless of outcome, the service providers were increasingly becoming the new target of blame. It was learned that if one didn’t like an outcome and if the service provider was implicated as somehow deficient, it afforded a dissatisfied parent the opportunity of a “do over.”

With that, the past 10 years have seen a dramatic increase of complaints to service providers’ licensing bodies. Indeed, every one of my closest colleagues have had that experience – dissatisfied parents in the midst of custody/access battles complaining to their licensing body.

More and more seasoned professionals in private practice who were providing these necessary services are no longer doing so as a result. They recognize the personal risk involved to their professional reputation and practice as well as the futility of a process that now may just as much escalate conflict as resolve it.

Given the rise of complexity of the family law court system, many, if not most of the parents who turn to it for relief, neither find the relief they seek or can afford a lawyer to manage the process and system. As such, we have also seen a dramatic rise in self-represented litigants whose model of court is influenced by Judge Judy or Judge Roy Brown.

Many of the self-represented litigants enter the court as an arena prepared to do vicious battle. Trouble is, they forget that those with whom they do battle, they must carry on afterwards in a co-parenting relationship. Resentment remains, and retribution is the sought after relief to discharge the resentment. With that, the battle continues.

Even the Judiciary and reasonable family law lawyers recognize the current folly of court. However, they are stuck in a system ever spiraling out of control, taking with it parents and children.

Having seen and lived the changes over time, I opted out.

I no longer involve myself in family court. I seek to provide peacemaking services such as mediation, Collaborative Law and support services to help those struggling through with difficult co-parents or through contested or other dispute resolution services. I help people take a broader look at their involvement in conflict, the mechanisms of conflict and offer strategies to better manage oneself in the circumstances so as to minimize risk of escalation and maximize opportunities towards more peaceful co-existence.

To those parents who are new to their separation/divorce, I provide this brief history to help you better understand the context in which your dispute is embedded. My goal in doing so is to help appreciate the social and legal changes of the past 10 to 20 years and how they will impact the resolution of your dispute. In other words, if you choose court or if you choose a hardball litigator to resolve your issues and if you prepare to do battle, then do expect an all out costly brawl.

If you are at all hoping to ever co-parent reasonably at some point in time, then be wary of hiring hardball litigators lest you be lost in the vortex of the family law system and never-ending motions and counter-motions. In lieu of a hardball litigator, seek those family lawyers who have invested in their own training for things like mediation and Collaborative Law.

Do also consider seeking support and where a third party may be necessary to help resolve matters, seek those whose disposition is towards that peaceful co-existence. Be mindful of the fact that the outcome of court imposed decisions now favors a more equalized (doesn’t mean actually equal) outcome for the sharing of children’s time between the parents. One doesn’t have to like or dislike these social changes, but to deny or resist them can bring greater battle to your dispute. Acquaint yourself with current realities.

I also caution parents to resist the battle cry, “I am acting in the best interests of the children” as that is likely a belief held by parents on both sides and that particular battle cry often only serves to intensify the battle. Instead, seek solutions while laying silent on any battle cry. Identify concerns and interests and work with those who may help develop a road-map to a better place.

Settle into the fact that things have gone awry and that there is often no simple one-size immediate solution, but rather a process over time that will need to unfold. In the toughest of situations, practice meditation to help resolve or manage the stress so as to enable patience.

If you need a mantra or thought or ideals to hold in meditation, consider the words of Max Erhmann with his writings, Desiderata:

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

In order to strive to be happy and resolve conflict in 2017, seek peace and act peacefully.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker. Check out all my services and then call me if you need help with a personal issue, mental health concern, child behavior or relationship, divorce or separation issue or even help growing your practice. I am available in person and by Skype.

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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 and Georgina Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America. He consults to mental health professionals as well as to mediators and collaborative law professionals about good practice as well as building their practice.

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