Category Archives: Uncategorized

Family Restructuring Therapy for Co-Parenting

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

Family Restructuring Therapy is based on the work by Dr. Stephen Carter and is an active and directive process used to address ongoing conflict between co-parents that seriously affect the children. It provides new ways to co-parent, and can be used to develop and refine parenting plans. It can be used to rebuild a working relationship between parents, and between parents and children. Parents are actively coached how to make agreements and adjust agreements based on follow-through. No one shall be pressured to make an agreement. Progress or lack of progress is documented by the therapist and may be reported to the Court. Continue reading Family Restructuring Therapy for Co-Parenting

What to Expect When Divorcing

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

Divorce can be devastating, from the immediate aftermath effects on finances, parenting, and social status. Understanding the aftermath, realignment and stabilization phases can help, though it still takes time to recover. 

Continue reading What to Expect When Divorcing

Divorce Mediation 101

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

Would you say your “soon-to-be-ex” is reasonable? Can you talk to your “ex” about a problem and focus on solutions instead of blame? If so, especially at the earlier stages of divorce, you may be in the minority. Divorce magnifies communication problems in the relationship at the time of divorce due to the perception of threat and stress. Many rely on attorneys, and rightly so, to do their communication.

Divorce mediation, on the other hand, can work hand-in-hand with attorneys. Many times mediation can resolve issues that can be resolved without attorneys. Attorneys are recommended to review all agreements. Divorce mediation focuses on interest-based proposals and counter-proposals; attorneys also focus on protecting and arguing for legal rights. Litigation can be time-consuming and expensive, though may be necessary.

A skilled divorce mediator gives two people the chance to make agreements while the mediator serves as guardian of the communication process. While a mediator does not take sides, make decisions, or advise clients, a divorce mediator does not allow poor communication and problem-solving get in the way of potential agreements. Mediation values confidential self-determination based on full disclosure of all relevant information. Without these elements, one has to resort to the legal system.

How to Communicate

Arguing points and counter-points tend to generate more heat than light. Mediation involves each side stating the facts they believe are true, but debate is limited. Anticipating anger is important in controlling temper.

One or both sides can be exasperated by the other person’s position, and hearing unworkable proposals, but if the goal is not to change the other person’s position, and instead make counter-proposals based on the other’s interests, more solutions are possible. The response to a proposal is either “yes,” “I’ll think about it,” or a counter-proposal. Questions are welcome; personal attacks are not. Self-confidence is needed to reduce defensiveness. Patience is needed for a good outcome.

Other communication rules include “Refrain from blame,” and don’t interrupt, raise your voice, or point fingers. Avoid “You” statements, such as “You always…” or “You never…” Use “I” statements. Ask to take breaks, to feel refreshed or get advice.

Positive Outcomes

Divorce mediation is associated with positive outcomes. It can reduce the negative effects of divorce on children. Children are most affected by parental unhappiness, conflict and anger. Making decisions in the best interest of children is a protective factor from the harm that can come from divorce.

Mediation is also helpful for the participants, and with agreements comes increased satisfaction with the outcome on both sides, compared to litigation alone. Mediation also reduces the chance of returning to court after divorce, and overall cost.

Mediation can be used for all or part of a dispute. Mediation may also be the most flexible way to customize agreements based on your unique situation.

Mediation sessions aim to resolve:

Child(ren)’s living arrangments
Parenting schedule
Holiday/Vacation schedule
Parental decision-making process
Child(ren)’s activities and costs
Insurance and medical expenses and other child-related issues
Property Division (including house, cars, etc.)
Assets and Liabilities
Spousal support
Retirement plans
Business issues
Tax issues
Any other issues of concern

Parenting Decisions

One of the primary decisions made in the best interest of the child involves sole or joint custody. A sole custodian means that the relationship between the parents is too conflicted to make decisions in the best interest of the children.

A joint custody arrangement means that co-parents can generally work together. Parents need to work together to determine the needs of the children, like appropriate medical care, child care, parenting time, use of holidays, vacations and other special times, location of the parent’s homes, and educational and religious training. Expenses need to be agreed upon like medical bills, child support (A general guideline is 20% of net income for one child, 28% for two, 32% for three, and 40% for four), school fees and extracurricular activities, and saving for college.

Protecting Children

Protecting the children from the harmful side of divorce is often neglected, sometimes unintentionally. The goal should under most circumstances should be consistent and calm involvement from each parent in each child’s life. Most children on some level wish for a relationship with both parents. Each parent can take part in not only providing financially but also providing influence on moral, social and educational development. Ideally, contact and affection would be unhampered and each parent would not get in the way of the child’s own developing sense of perception, and feelings about the other parent. Parents would not criticize each other within hearing range, or to put the kids in the middle by making them messengers (delivering positive or negative messages can feel like a burden to kids, when the responsibility to communicate belongs to the parents). Another rule to follow is to not tell the kids about future plans that will affect the other parent without talking to the other parent first.

Financial Decisions

The other area of importance is the financial side. Many decisions have to be made including the value and disposition of the marital residence, vehicles, bank accounts, retirement accounts, stock options, bonuses and other investments. Each participant should gather information from an attorney or tax accountant specializing in divorce to understand the implications of one’s financial decisions, for example, on tax filing. Mediation is not a substitute for independent legal, financial or other professional advice and all parties are encouraged to be fully informed about the decisions for which they are ultimately responsible. All terms of a settlement are non-binding until they are put into a written agreement, usually by an attorney and entered by the court. One can go to the self-help office of the court and file pro se, but it is not usually advised. Divorce mediation allows for direct problem-solving with a neutral party, focuses on effective communication to make parenting and financial decisions that benefit both children and parents, and aims to reduce repeated visits to court.

Success with Supervised Visitation

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

Supervised visitation is centered on maintaining or building a relationship between child and parent. If both parents provide a clear show of support for the importance of a relationship with both parents, the positive effects on the kids over time is powerful. It says that the kids are more important than the parent’s differences. In the case of domestic violence, abuse or neglect, kids and both parents would need to be prepared by a counselor who has been trained in domestic violence, abuse and neglect. Supervised visitation is about parents working together with a neutral third party to create a sense of safety. It gives the kids a sense of peace that parents will be okay and that a relationship with each parent will be okay. It is a chance at positive, consistent and calm interaction.  Continue reading Success with Supervised Visitation

Working with Counselors and Court

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

Working with the Court in managing chaotic situations involving children and counseling is challenging and requires an additional set of skills. This article should help to evaluate court-involved counseling. It is important to know how counseling will affect the legal process and how the legal process will affect counseling. Continue reading Working with Counselors and Court

What Is Parenting Coordination?

Parenting coordination is a future trend and a viable option to custody battles. When parents are not able come to an agreement regarding their children a parent coordinator will mediate the issue. If parents are still not able to come to an agreement a parent coordinator gathers information to make a decision in the child’s best interest. Continue reading What Is Parenting Coordination?

How One Parent Undermines the Other Parent

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

Much of the time one parent does not realize what they are doing. The effect on the kids is unnoticed. It is usually experienced by the child as stress, tension, anxiety, guilt and depression. Kids may act out or hide it. Parents usually justify it.

What is “it?” On the moderate side it is undermining the other parent and it can lead to alienation. While some parents undermine themselves, one parent undermines the other when intentionally or non-intentionally one parent sends a message that a positive relationship with the other parent is not that important.

How does this happen? It may happen not so much by what a parent says but how he or she feels when he or she says it. If a parent is concerned about his or her child’s welfare when questioning the child about the other parent, the child may perceive your concern as if the child is in a bad situation. Subsequent comments may suggest to the child that something is bad about the other parent. Perhaps the comments are an exaggeration of the other parent’s flaws. A parent’s natural wish to protect a child may lead to proposing ways the child can deal with this “awful” situation, and maybe even question the appropriateness of time spent with the parent.

The next step in undermining the parental relationship would be to give power to the child in deciding whether or not a parental relationship is appropriate. While most parents would not hesitate to insist their child do something that they must do, building a workable relationship with the other parent may be seen as optional. For a child, though, to choose between having a relationship with a parent and not having a relationship is distressing. Even though kids may complain about their parents and protest against seeing a parent, they generally deep down want a good relationship with both parents. When one parent sides with the protest, however, the child may see this is a way to connect with the “better” parent, and the other parent may lose out.

The more the child avoids the “problematic” parent the easier it gets to avoid the “problematic” parent. Plus, the child gets approval and attention from the “better” parent. A powerful reinforced cycle develops.

The child may react by idealizing one parent and devaluing the other. Or the child’s complaints are listed and some of them are trivial or untrue. The complaints sound like they don’t reflect the child’s true feelings, or there is little ambivalence. Children may deny hope for reconciliation.

Children who are burdened by an undermining parent learn that it is not possible to have a good relationship with both parents. The other parent may give the child space to come around, but this may inadvertently reinforce negative perceptions. Or, the other parent may “push” the relationship, again reinforcing negative perceptions. Also, the parent may respond to undermining by undermining the other parent, and then underrate the effect on the kids. Both parents end up with little insight into one’s own contribution to the problem.

The effect on the kids can include changes in how the child views the world, lowered self-esteem, loss of self-confidence, future conflict, issues with attention, depression, and/or anxiety, future addiction and other effects revealed by research. Unfortunately, kids identify with negative aspects of both parents. Often though, the better the relationship with one parent the better the relationship with the other parent. In retrospect, adult children report that they wish someone helped them with their relationship with the “other” parent.

How to Tell Kids About Divorce

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

Telling the kids is often described as the toughest part of a divorce. The kid’s dream of a “normal” life with mom and dad loving each other dies hard. There is much lost even in a “good divorce” so make sure divorce is unavoidable. Research says that ongoing conflict or an unloving home can be worse than a divorce, so it is important to understand the kids’ point of view.  For example, consider these lyrics by Tom Delonge:

Their anger hurts my ears
Been running strong for seven years
Rather than fix the problems
They never solve them
It makes no sense at all
I see them everyday
We get along, so why can’t they?
If this is what he wants
And this is what she wants
Then why is there so much pain?

Continue reading How to Tell Kids About Divorce