The Questions Every Parent Should Ask Themselves Before Mediation

Preparing for family mediation can sometimes be a daunting task. What you are going through is tough and we understand that sometimes there is stress and heightened emotions which can make it difficult to think clearly.

As mediators, we take on the role of facilitating the conversation between you, the parents. You are the best people to decide on the future of your children and our role is to help the conversation take place. Mediators are there to help that process in a way that is neutral and impartial. We don’t take sides and we can’t advocate on your behalf.

What helps the mediation process is if you are putting the children first in parenting decisions. It can be hard to separate your own needs from those of the children, so I’ve prepared some questions to keep the kids in mind.

For the purpose of this exercise, I will use a case study of Sally and Rob who have two girls who are 8 and 10. Sally has been offered a new job and she is has asked for mediation to formalise a parenting plan. Rob has been unable to understand why they can’t continue with the flexible agreement they have. He works shift work and needs flexibility.

1. What outcome do I want from this, and why? 

Sally wants a parenting routine which has set days to accommodate her new job. This is so she can earn some extra income to support herself and the children.

Sally has been finding it stressful that she never knows when Rob will have the children in advance. She will not be able to accept the new job if this can’t be formalised.

Rob doesn’t want things to change. His employer has refused set working hours in the past and he will risk losing his job. This will naturally impact him, and therefore his capacity to pay child support.

Being able to explain or articulate ‘why’ you hold the position you do will help each of you, and the mediator, to understand.

2. Am I being child focused and if so, how? 

Sally is trying to provide a better, more stable financial future for she and the children.

Before the children were born, the couple had decided that Sally would be a stay at home Mum, while Rob worked to provide for the family. They made this decision based on what they felt was best for the kids. Rob still believes this is what is best.

Sally’s desire to work is child-focused when viewed in isolation, however, their previous decisions were also made with the children in mind. Working out what’s best for the children, now there is a new family structure, is the challenge for the couple to work through in mediation. Being child focused can mean many different things.

3. What will the impact on the other parent be?

When Sally thinks about Rob’s employment, she understands that his shift work presents the main conflict. Rob has always been able to work and have the freedom to see the kids whenever he has days off. However, this is no longer going to work as Sally’s work hours will be set.

Sally feels like it’s time for her, and while she understands this will impact Rob, she feels she is entitled to work and wants to take up this opportunity. Sally wants Rob to understand this isn’t just about him.

Rob is concerned that he won’t get to see the children as often, and he feels this isn’t best for the kids. He is distressed at this thought as he misses them living with him full time and it’s already very difficult for him. He can understand Sally wants to work but he doesn’t agree this is best. Rob wants Sally to understand this isn’t just about her.

Considering the other parent can be a challenge because it requires you to take a bigger picture perspective. Your mediator doesn’t expect you to be an expert at this. However, when both parents feel heard, you are more likely to reach an agreement. Your children want both of you to be stable and happy. So with this in mind, being considerate of the other parent is being child-focused.

4. What will the impact on the children be? 

Sally is worried about their financial security and so although she realises there will be some disruptions, she considers this to be most important.

Rob is concerned that he will not have as much time with the children and that ultimately this is not in their best interests. He feels Sally should get a job that can work around his hours until the children are much older.

Both parents agree that the children love spending time with each of them and Sally knows they will be sad at losing precious time with their dad.

The children’s experience of parenting decisions can sometimes get forgotten. Of course, they are children and they have to adapt. However, after parental separation, they have already experienced significant changes and it helps them if they know they are being considered in decision making.

5. What are the possible alternatives? 

When Sally initiated mediation, she had not considered alternatives. For her, the only decision was that Rob would have to make sacrifices and she hoped the mediator would help him to see that.

Rob was also stuck in his position of expecting Sally to stay home or get a job to work around his.

The mediation was at an impasse.

When Rob realised that this was important to Sally he started to think of alternatives to spend more quality time with the children in the holidays. Sally agreed this would be worth discussing. Rob also suggested that his parents would like more time with the children, and perhaps he and the children could all stay there when he is working. This opened up a whole new conversation with options.

When the focus shifts to alternatives it can ease the tension. Parenting disputes can often get stuck in opposing positions. However, when each parent is willing to negotiate and to consider alternatives, the conversation can shift toward one which is solution-focused and resolution is possible.

6. What will happen if we can’t agree?

Try as we might, mediators can’t wave a magic wand. Family mediators are there to facilitate the conversation, but they can’t force the two of you to resolve the dispute. So it’s beneficial to consider what will happen next if you can’t agree.

Sometimes it’s not a single issue as in this example. Equally, alternatives aren’t always easily discussed.

When parents can’t agree they sometimes initiate the court process to have the disputes resolved in court. This requires careful consideration as it is both time consuming and costly and may not result in the outcome you want.

Before entering into mediation it is beneficial to consider what will happen if you can’t agree. In family mediation, if the court is the only other option, the potential emotional impact and financial drain on the family may not necessarily be in the children’s best interest.

This is one example only and you may have very different issues. Try writing down your own answers to these questions before your mediation, or when trying to come to an agreement with your co-parent.

Co-parenting in a Crisis

During times of crisis, we tend to react from a base of fear. However, we all react or respond to fear in slightly different ways. And that’s okay. The important thing in co-parenting during this time is that you recognise there is more than one way to get through this. It’s also likely that you may have different approaches as to what’s best. The biggest concern of co-parenting through this current coronavirus crisis is if the children can move between homes safely during any future quarantines. And if not, what will happen to existing court orders or parenting agreements. I know some parents are concerned about breaches or being accused of withholding children. In short, you should follow the government advice or specific advice of your health care professional. If you or your children are diagnosed or being tested for coronavirus, then the government health advice is that you will be required to stay in isolation.  This may affect your normal co-parenting routine. It’s better to be prepared and have this conversation in advance. Work out what you will do, how you will both manage and you what you will do if the children are disadvantaged in time with the other parent. It’s best if you can be flexible, considerate and accomodating. Most of all, be child-focused. If being in quarantine is a contravention of existing orders then I recommend the following. If you normally communicate directly, email or phone your co-parent and advise them of the current situation. Talk rationally, calmly and sensitively about the situation at hand. Be considerate that this may disrupt their routine and may require a short adjustment period for them to consider. It can be a good idea to flag a conversation with an initial message that says “we might have some disruptions due to the coronavirus. I was wondering if we could talk this through?. Can I call at (time)?” If you have, or feel you need a lawyer, contact them and ask them to communicate with your co-parents lawyer about the current health status and any anticipated changes in parenting time. If you are the parent who is not with your children and the children can not be safely returned to you for your scheduled time, remain calm. These are exceptional circumstances and eventually, life will be returned to normal. These are my recommendations
  1. Communicate calmly, openly and with a child-focused approach.
  2. If quarantined, facilitate FaceTime calls for the children with their other parent.
  3. Act on specific medical or government advice only.  Do not listen to advice from well-meaning friends or social media.
  4. Keep each other openly and honestly informed in relation to the health status of yourselves and people the children may have come into contact with.
  5. Some people who have compromised immunity disorders may be on specific advice to remain in social isolation at this time. This may be extended family such as grandparents.
  6. If you or the children are NOT diagnosed or being tested for coronavirus, then shared parenting should continue as normal.
Please remember, we are ALL going through something unusual. Keep calm and keep communication open, honest and sensitive to the fact that we are all dealing with something a little unknown. However, there is no reason to panic. Calm communication is your best tool. See our parenting after separation course for more tips on improved communication.

The Leaver and the Left

There is a concept in separation and divorce in which there is often a disparity between where each party are emotionally in relation to the separation.

While some couples come to the decision together, in many cases one party has already made the decision to leave long before they’ve told the other. They are referred to as ‘the leaver’. This can cause a great deal of frustration for the person who is being left.

As you will see from the inserted graphic, the leaver is ahead at every stage. By the time they are making new plans and coming to terms with their life ahead, the left is only just finding out. This in itself can cause a great deal of conflict.

What happens then is the grief cycle for the left, which the leaver has already had time to come to terms with, is only just beginning. For the leaver, there are heightened emotions, often denial and sometimes still trying to save the relationship. This is discussed in full in the parenting after separation course.

The message I encourage separating parents to understand is to have an understanding that you are each on the same path but at different stages. You will ultimately both come to a place of acceptance, however, if you can respect that each of you is at different stages, this will go smoother.

Consider the graphic and where you are now.

Were you the leaver or the left?

Where is your co-parent at on this scale?

What do you think life looks for them now?

What do you think they experienced at various stages?

This is just some food for thought. You may not come up with all the answers you need right away. Processing relationship grief and loss is an individual journey and can take time. You will come through this in the end.

As always, I’m here to help. You can contact me via the contact form on this site or at parentingafterseparation.com.au

Co-parenting at Christmas: What your children really want you to know

Christmas and birthdays are the most important days in a child’s calendar. When you are little, a rotation around the sun takes ‘like’ FOREVER! Just ask any 5-year-old. You’re a parent. I’m sure this isn’t news to you.

Many families have an agreement for alternating years with each parent for Christmas Day. For those who have families in country areas or other cities, this allows you to travel if you need. For other separated couples who haven’t managed to put aside their differences, alternating Christmas is just the way it is. It is widely viewed as the fairest way to manage Christmas. At least, that’s the parents’ view.

For children of separated parents, this can be a very hard day. They are missing one of the two people they love most in the world. Half of what makes them whole is absent. It’s grief they can’t yet define.

Even though they are happy in moments throughout the day, their mind wanders frequently to what the other parent is doing. Here is some of what they want you to know.

I wonder if my other parent is okay.

I wonder who they are with.

Are they having fun?

What if they are alone?

Because even a child knows being alone on Christmas would be ‘just the worst thing ever’.

For these children, a big piece of what is most precious to them is missing on Christmas Day.

What they really want you to know is

Even though today is really fun with you, I also miss them too.

I love you both and it makes me sad to not see them.

I wish that I could see them today too.

If I am acting out, it’s because I don’t have the words I need to express myself. It doesn’t mean I don’t love you, or them. It means I am sad inside.

In most cases, there are ways you can improve co-parenting at Christmas so your children truly have the best possible day.

Share the day

Even if you can only arrange an hour, please share the day with the other parent. There is nothing more heartbreaking than knowing someone you love is nearby but you can’t speak to them. Let them spend time together so they can exchange presents and be a part of each other’s happiness. No matter your past disagreements, Christmas is about the kids and this will mean the world to them.

Buy a present for the other parent

Take your child shopping to buy a thoughtful present for their other parent. It matters to them that you are resilient enough to put your differences aside. Help them wrap it and make it beautiful and special.

Include them in the day

If you are a distance away, you can still include the other parent. Facilitate a FaceTime call – or even a couple of times in the day. Ask your child if they would like to save some storable food or treats for their other parent so when they do see them they will be able to share some of those memories.

Remember your child’s extended family

Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousin’s all make up an important part of your child’s happiness. Facilitate a call with them so they can say Merry Christmas to them too.

Be happy for them when they talk about their other parent

This one applies year-round, but it’s a good reminder at Christmas to stay focused on positive communication regarding your co-parent. Encourage them to be excited for their shared time and to make the most of every opportunity. They will thank you for it in the years to come.

These are little gestures which go a long way to your child having ‘the best Christmas ever’. And we all want that for our children.

Make this a truly merry and memorable Christmas.

For help with parenting after separation please see the parenting course website or contact Jasmin

Activities for engaging your children online

Often the non-resident parent (be that for a week, or extended period) will report having difficulty in engaging children online. Phone calls, Skype and Facetime are all wonderful ways to interact. But how do you keep them interested?

Firstly, I think it’s important to acknowledge that online engagement can be both necessary and sometimes the only means of contact for a long period. This not only applies to separated parents but also Defence personnel on deployment, FIFO parents, etc. It’s hard, but it’s survivable.

Many parents of young children report their children are disinterested or seem distracted. They may have 20 minutes allocated but it’s hard to keep the attention of a small child for that long unless you’re doing an activity with them.

Here are some tips and suggestions I give often to parents of young children. Remember that some activities may be trial and error.

Read a storybook

Just as you used to do at bedtime, children still love for you to read stories to them. Pick a few books and have them nearby. You can turn the pages to face the screen and read as you go. They will probably remember some of the sounds, or words and might even join in.

Make them a gift

Get yourself some craft supplies and while on your Skype call, ask your child for input into what you are making for them. For instance, if you’re making a stick figure doll (paddle pop sticks, glue, coloured cotton wool, buttons) – then invite them to choose the colours, fabric or tools you use to create it. These can all be purchased cheaply at a $2 shop or similar.

When it’s done and if possible, send it to them. Or tell them you’ll keep it in a safe place for when you next see them.

Draw a picture

Using an A4 notepad, ask them a topic of something they like. It might be an animal, a farm, a house – whatever comes to their mind. Invite them to give you feedback as you draw. Which colour green? Where should I put the sun? What’s goes on top of the hill? Are there clouds?

PS. You don’t have to be Picasso! Remember, this is not a test – it’s fun for you and your children.

Play a song

Bring out the smiles with a favourite song from one of their favourite characters, kids bands, or movies. Yeah, you’ll be singing along to Frozen in no time!

If you’re musical, play or sing them something yourself. Just aim to choose a song that is a favourite of theirs.

Play a memory game

Okay, so this isn’t like the cards memory game (although if you’re clever you could try that too. Here’s what I mean:

You start by saying, let’s play a memory game! “I remember the time we went to the Gold Coast on holidays”. Then it’s their turn. “Oh yeah, I remember when we went to movie world!” Your next turn “I remember the day you were born and we were at the hospital” Now, they aren’t going to remember that so prompt them with “What is your next favourite memory” and on it goes.

Write yourself some prompters and have them nearby. It’s okay to talk about the past when you were a family. It’s very positive for them to remember happy times.

Remember….

Children learn through repetition – and they enjoy it! So don’t be afraid to repeat the ones that work the best. You don’t need to reinvent yourself coming up with ideas for every time.

You’re doing your best and that’s fantastic. Every step forward is one less you have to take!

Post-Separation Friendships – the path to achieving the unthinkable.

Post-separation friendships are becoming more common. All too frequently though, they are met with disbelief or a level of scepticism – ‘this would never work for me’. Maybe it wouldn’t but it likely could have.

Perhaps the most dominant myth is that if you could be friends after separation, you could have stayed together. The reality, however, is that relationships end for a vast number of reasons.

I was listening to the famed researcher, Brene Brown recently when she was talking about her research and what it meant to feel belonging’. It made me reflect on how this impacts separating couples.

Brene points out that belonging (family and intimate connections) are part of our DNA. This is where most people start their relationships or at least form the strongest part of them. When, or if, that is lost, the opposite which is felt is a sense of ‘fitting in’. Of trying to be who your partner wants you to be and not being true to yourself. When fitting in becomes the accepted version of you, it’s usually the beginning of the end.

If there was one single learning in personal development post-separation, it’s this: Learn to love who you are and let go of the rest. Let go of judgment. Let go of fitting in. And don’t accept anything into your life which is not helping you to move in a positive forward direction.

So how do you get there? There are some common traits which you will find in couples who can maintain a friendship with their former partners.

They embrace change

You separated for a reason; whatever that was. What has to now happen is that move on freely and happily with your life. The two of you chose this new path so you could create a better life for yourselves.

In pre-mediation work, I hear from clients their frustrations about what their former partner did or didn’t do, that caused the relationship to breakdown. While this conversation plays an important and necessary part of the mediation process, it also needs to eventually become something of the past and not remain in your present.

An often forgotten part of that process is accepting the new status quo. This is about accepting all the new challenges ahead of you and taking responsibility for your new personal path. If you can do this, you will prevent the blame game and bitterness which vexes so many couples after separation

The dynamic has now changed and amicable post-separation couples can embrace this as a positive, new step forward.

They undertake self-development work

Self-development work is very much an individual journey and may involve a whole variety of modalities. Counselling, coaching, meditation or even a new healthy daily or weekly practice such as yoga or going to the gym. It may even be a new, healthier diet regime.

Whatever it is, it’s important that you choose this for yourself as part of who you are – not who you were once fitting in to be. This is your time to shine and to find the path in life for yourself.

You and your former partner will be happy to watch each other grow into the new, happier or healthier version of you. Your children will benefit from this too.

They embrace new relationships

Separating couples who are capable of an amicable separation will be happy when their former partner moves on. Just because it didn’t work for the two of you doesn’t mean you can’t each try again. And you should!

Part of this process is, of course, accepting that your children will have new significant other people in their lives. Despite popular opinion, this isn’t as much about who that person is, but rather is about your self-confidence and relationship with your children.

They seek solutions, not conflict

Probably the biggest myth of amicable separations is that it’s easy. It’s not. It takes work. And lots of it. However, separating couples dedicated to this path will choose to seek solutions that work for everyone, not another battle or argument to win. “

Being solution-focused comes with a skillset of asking genuine and open questions. It’s an approach of ‘how can we resolve this?’ not ‘how can I get what I want?’.

Solutions don’t always come easily. They can require you to be flexible and to let go of specific outcomes. Usually, in separating couples they require a child-focused approach and to include their interests as well as your own. Sometimes they take trial and error or seeking external help or advice. The underlying sentiment must always be to find a resolution.

This is a period of growth. Of change. And new beginnings. It will bring you resilience, peace of mind and the capacity to self-reflect.

If you’re one of the people doing the heavy-lifting to make a post-separation relationship healthy, thank you! I congratulate you and your co-parent. Please keep speaking up about your experiences – warts and all! Those of us who have travelled the path before you know it’s not always easy. It’s most frequently unscripted. The rule book doesn’t yet exist. But with passive persistence, we know you will get there.

Need help? Contact Jasmin

The Struggle of Parallel Parenting

The struggle of parallel parenting is real! Parallel parenting is the term given to a style of parenting that is adopted by some parents, most frequently when there is a high level of conflict and a low level of communication. What it means in practical terms is that each of you will parent differently.

VERY differently.

When we talk about this struggle it does not necessarily apply to all. For many families, this is the best approach for the least amount of conflict and it can work extremely well. However, for some, it presents frequent challenges.

There may be one set of rules in your house, and another in the other parents home. While it would be conveniently easy to say what goes on there is none of your business, it’s also quite difficult to accept this when you feel the children aren’t being cared for as you’d wish.

There is a saying that’s appropriate here and it always comes to mind for me when helping parents through these frustrations.

Your level of happiness is determined by the difference between your expectations and reality

Having an expectation that things are going to change can be fraught with disappointment. I’m not suggesting you lower your standards or those you wish for your children, but sometimes it’s beneficial to take stock of what’s within your power and what’s not. Then work out what, or how, you might be able to influence a different outcome, and let go of everything else.

The most common issues arising for those who parallel parent are:

  • Child bedtimes or other routines.
  • Activities, or lack of
  • Attention to homework or after school activities.
  • Decisions affecting the children made without consultation.

Parallel parenting can be a challenge for one, if not both of you. When conflict is high there is a tendency for at least one parent to be quite opposed to any suggestion or routine which is adopted in the other home.

But all is not lost. There are some simple steps you can apply that will help make this path smoother.

Minimise the opportunities for conflict

This may be through minimising time spent in each others company, especially at handovers or when the children are present. It does not have to mean eliminating it altogether unless you feel that is absolutely necessary. It is helpful for the children to see you together at times, and being courteous to each other in the presence – if that is at all possible. If it’s not possible, keep contact minimal and courteous.

Communication Skills

Communication Book

A common tool is for the parents to use a handover book to communicate important things about the children. This may be about changes in pick up, school uniforms, planned holidays or other occasions.

Try a communication app

There are many parent communication apps on the market today. In some cases, you can employ the services for a third-party mediator to monitor your communication or to call upon if you need help.

Our Family Wizard and Parenting Apart two common applications you might wish to try. Otherwise, try google for parenting apps.

Choosing your battles

This is quite a big subject however with every conflict if you consider a few key questions it can help to prioritise where this sits in the hierarchy of matters to focus on.

  1. What will the children lose or benefit from in relation to resolving this conflict?
  2. How important is it to resolve this right now?
  3. Are my assumptions or thoughts about this outcome (the outcome you want) legitimate?
  4. What will be the follow-on impact of pursuing this?
  5. How successful is my approach likely to be?
  6. Is there another way to approach this?
  7. Is this something I can let slide?

Parallel parenting can be hard, however, it is manageable if you both can remain child-focused. Think of it as solving a puzzle. How can I piece this together so it makes more sense and is less frustrating?

Need help? Contact Jasmin directly or via Facebook

False Allegations and Family Law Reform

The recent announcement of another inquiry into family law reform has caused yet another divided response among those affected by the system, and those who work within it. 

This current battle of family law is now focused on the issue of false allegations. This subject is one which I believe is often misunderstood and misrepresented. 

Before this can be discussed it is important to acknowledge that family violence is a widespread problem in Australia and affects women, men and children as victims. The broadening of the definition of family violence from a violent assault, to include behaviours, has increased the opportunities for allegations to be raised in court as having an impact on the wellbeing of family members. 

Critics of the inquiry are questioning if false allegations are a genuine problem. There seems to be a fear that if we discuss the issue that somehow parents in family court will not feel confident to speak up about their experiences. I don’t foresee that there will be any consequences on the individuals, rather what will come from this inquiry is an awareness, data and hopefully an improved system. These are uncomfortable conversations, but they are vital if we are to have a fair and just process. 

False allegations are often reported in the media as being rare or almost non-existent. This is factually correct. Technically speaking, anyway. When giving evidence you are required to take an oath, to tell the truth. Failure to speak the truth is known as perjury. A false allegation can only be proven if there is a prosecution for perjury, and this is extremely rare in family court matters for a number of reasons. 

Firstly, there was the repealing of Section 117AB of the family law act which means that a complainant in family law can not be prosecuted for perjury unless there are extreme extenuating circumstances. Secondly, after enduring years of a family court matter, most people are financially and emotionally drained and can not sustain more time and energy in the court system. 

The Australian Institute of Family Studies holds an archived report on a study of some 300 family law cases in which allegations of family violence were present. The report states that it was not within the scope of the study to determine if allegations were ‘true’ or ‘false’, but rather the strength of the ‘probative’ evidence to support the claims. Probative refers to the weight of the evidence, meaning if it was substantial enough, or not, to be considered in a judgement.

According to the published data, 82% of the cases involved allegations which did not hold probative weight to determine those allegations as substantiated.

As the battleground of family law has evolved over the past 50 odd years, we have seen the initial complainants being the vast majority of mothers, to a significant rise in complainant fathers. Each trying to get in first to lay claim on the children by proving the other parent unfit. And so, the data shows that those alleging spousal and family violence in family court are both mothers and fathers. Where allegations were corroborated, it was more mothers who provided evidence (56% mothers; 33% fathers). 

The Evidence Process

When being able to provide evidence of family violence the court process often relies on subpoenas of police reports, medical and therapists attendances, if they apply. These reports add to the probative weight. The absence of probative weight does not mean allegations are false, merely that there was no evidence. 

The consequence of family court decisions made on hearsay can give dire and life long impacts both for the accused, and their children.  As can ignoring them altogether.

Determining family violence allegations is an extremely complex matter for the judiciary. Family violence is known to largely occur behind closed doors and includes a wide range of offences including subjective behavioural matters, such as a feeling of being controlled or abused. A judge must make a determination on ‘he said; she said’ version of the events and look for patterns or other behaviours which corroborate the allegations being made. 

In considering if the current family law inquiry is necessary, you must also consider the impact of judgments made with little or no supporting evidence. For some children, this can result in the permanent removal of a parent, or limited time with them.  It is in the best interests of the child to ensure this process can pass scrutiny. And if not, then we improve it until it does.


Communicating With A High Conflict Co-Parent

Much of what I write about  relates to helping people co-parent in the best possible way. When both parties are willing, the transition to successful co-parenting can eventually be smooth even when some conflict is present. Usually we find that when the parents can remain child focused there is a rationale applied and a common sense, workable solution eventually arises through coaching.

So what happens when one parent is high conflict?

Well, conflict is what happens ! No matter how calm, passive or unaffected you try to be, conflict will eventually escalate when one parent is hell bent on seeking their sense of revenge or justice. Ultimately you are bullied into submission and compliance, or you self implode. Sometimes both.

I’m not one for internet diagnosis of people, however there are some common themes in high conflict people. Most notably, narcissistic personality disorder and borderline personality disorder. If you’re dealing with one of these people the chances are you already know the signs and symptoms. In short, NPD people are self centred and consider themselves blameless while they project all the relationship problems onto their target. In doing this they take no responsibility whatsoever. Borderlines tend to be prone to acute bouts of expressed anger and self destruction.

Both of these personality disorders make for very difficult co-parenting arrangements. They seek out conflict rather than seek to resolve it.

Strategies

The hardest part of co-parenting with a high conflict personality is the attachment you must have with them due to your children. However, no one should be subject to continual (or even short term) abuse.

In short, communicating with high conflict co-parents is extremely hard. However, there are ways in which you can minimise the outfall and impact upon yourself. There are some standout do’s and don’ts with communicating with high conflict co-parents.

Bill Eddy is a renowned therapist and lawyer who has working in the separation and family mediation space. He has done extensive work and research with high conflict personalities and I’ve adapted what I have learned here from Bill, along with experience from helping with strategies for dealing with high conflict co-parents.

Don’t

  • try and tell them they are a high conflict personality. This will enrage them and they will become extremely defensive, as is their pattern.
  • engage them in their agenda of conflict or confrontation, particularly verbal. In fact actively avoid it at all costs.
  • never apologise as they take this as your guilt.
  • don’t lay blame or accuse them as they will become defensive.
  • take their criticisms to heart. They are a reflection of them, not you.  

Do

  • Keep in mind that high conflict people are quite predictable. Learn their patterns in order to preempt their strike.
  • Keep communication to the written format or use a mediator, lawyer or other professional to screen and filter what is being said. The high conflict person loves and audience as long as they can lay blame. However they want to be seen as the ‘good’ person so they will do their best to be reasonable with an audience they may be judged by.
  • If you are writing to (or otherwise communicating with) a high conflict person, try and formulate your narrative in a way that does not cause them to be defensive. (This includes laying blame or accusing them of something.)
  • Try and eliminate the word “YOU” from written communication. Instead of “you are making this harder than it should be” try “this is harder than it should be”. Or, instead of “the problem you don’t understand is” becomes “there is a problem here and I’d like to share my views.”
  • Keep solution focused and future focused (high conflict people love to live in the past). No matter how much they try and drag you back to the historical argument, you need to keep the focus on resolution.  
  • Seek help for yourself and create a self care routine. High conflict people have a way of stripping you of your self worth and it’s important you do as much as you can to minimise that.

Recovery

Healing from the trauma of a narcissistic or borderline personality disordered partner or ex-partner can be a long, slow process. You’ve been unfairly shrouded in a sense of shame and guilt that has undoubtedly become pervasive in your thinking. This kind of abuse alters your brain chemistry and the wiring becomes out of alignment with what is considered normal function. You become unable to think clearly, unable to regulate emotions and are over sensitive to fears or threats.

The antidote to this is being able to re-write your story. To immerse yourself with those who demonstrate love, respect and understanding. To spend time doing things you love and things that bring you joy and happiness – even for short moments. As you heal, you will be able to create for yourself a life with a strong sense of belonging. Always reach out if you need support.

Countering Arguments Against Shared Parenting in Family Law

Have we reached a tipping point in the child custody debate?

Despite strong public support and mounting empirical evidence in its favor as an ideal living arrangement for the majority of children of divorce, shared parenting as presumption in family law has historically been met with skepticism among some legal and mental health professionals. In a recent article in the Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, I describe how the past 40 years have produced three distinct “waves” of arguments against shared parenting, and how these have stalled meaningful legislative reform toward the establishment of shared parenting as a legal presumption, placing the burden of proof on shared parenting proponents to defend their position and demonstrate its efficacy, in a way that supporters of more traditional sole custody arrangements have not had to face.

The first wave of arguments was advanced in a manner that considered the idea of shared parenting of children by parents in conflict after divorce as an outlandish proposition. Three distinct arguments were made to discredit the concept:

First, it was asserted that children have one primary attachment figure to whom they become bonded, almost always the mother, and that any period of separation from the primary attachment figure will damage children’s development and compromise their well-being. At the same time this argument was advanced, however, reformulations of attachment theory emphasized the fact that children typically formed primary attachments to both parents, that these attachments were equally important for children, and that children tenaciously continue these attachments in changing circumstances, including after divorce.

A second line of argument was then put forward, stating that child development would be compromised when children move back and forth between two homes, “bounced around like a yo-yo,” with constant movement, two sets of home rules and different parenting styles. The research on children living in two homes found, however, that children themselves generally did not report such problems, and that sustaining attachments with both of their parents protected them from the adverse child development outcomes often accompanying divorce. In fact, lengthy separations from either primary attachment figure were found to be detrimental to child development.

Finally, a third argument was made that it is harmful to child development to disrupt the caregivingstatus quo, and that mothers should thus retain their role as the primary day-to-day caregivers of children. Research suggested otherwise, however: shared care of children was becoming the norm in two-parent families and disrupting shared parenting would in fact be more likely to lead to instability in children’s lives.

The second wave of arguments against shared parenting were presented as more concentrated and in-depth rebuttals of the concept, especially in situations where parents disagreed or were in conflict over child care arrangements after divorce. First, it was argued that shared parenting after divorce exacerbates parental conflict, and that children would be drawn into the conflict if shared care arrangements were imposed on families. Shared parenting, therefore, is only suitable for parents with little or no conflict and who get along well as co-parents. Again, research findings challenged this viewpoint: in actuality, an adversarial “winner-take-all” approach to child custody exacerbates parental conflict, leading to adverse consequences for children, whereas conflict is reduced in shared parenting arrangements where neither parent feels marginalized from his or her children’s lives. Further, research demonstrated that children do better in shared care arrangements even if there is conflict between the parents, and that sustaining both relationships is a protective factor for children in high parental conflict situations. Not all conflict is bad for children. Ongoing and unresolved conflict, however, is harmful to children; in such situations, rather than depriving children of a relationship with one parent, interventions to reduce conflict and support child development, such as assisting parallel parenting, therapeutic family mediation, and parenting education programs, were found to be most protective of child well-being. In response, a second critique of shared parenting was then advanced within the “second wave”: in high-conflict families, shared parenting exposes victimized parents and children to family violence and child abuse, and a legal presumption of shared parenting will allow abusive parents to continue their reign of terror in families. This argument, however, misrepresented the position of shared parenting proponents, who made clear that a legal presumption of shared parenting should always be rebuttable in cases of violence and abuse, as in such cases the safety of children and victimized parents is the primary consideration.

The third wave of arguments against shared parenting acknowledged that shared parenting may be beneficial for most children and families of divorce, including those in high conflict, but cautioned against the use of presumptions in family law, arguing that the best interests of children are different in each individual case, and that judges should retain their decision-making authority when it comes to post-divorce living arrangements for children. In response to this viewpoint, it has been pointed out that research on post-divorce outcomes for children and families has now established which living arrangements are most likely to support healthy child development. Without a legal presumption, judges make decisions based on idiosyncratic biases, leading to inconsistency and unpredictability in their judgments. And with two adequate parents, the court really has no basis in either law or psychology for distinguishing one parent as “primary” over the other.

It may be asked, then, after 40 years of debate, whether we have now reached a tipping point, when researchers can conclude with confidence that the best interests of children are commensurate with a legal presumption of shared parenting responsibility after divorce. Summarizing the state of current research in two recent special issues on shared parenting in the Journal of Divorce and Remarriage and the Journal of Child Custody, leading divorce scholar Sanford Braver asserts, “To my mind, we’re over the hump. We’ve reached the watershed. On the basis of this evidence, social scientists can now cautiously recommend presumptive shared parenting to policymakers…shared parenting has enough evidence [that] the burden of proof should now fall to those who oppose it rather than those who promote it.”

References

Kruk, E. (2018). “Arguments Against Presumptive Shared Parenting as the Foundation of Family Law: A Critical Review,”  Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 59 (5), 388-400.

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