Category Archives: Uncategorized

Family Restructuring Therapy for Co-Parenting

 

Upset child from arguing parents

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

Child moving

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. 

The emotional process before, during and after divorce is similar to the effects of trauma. Normal reactions include shock, denial, guilt, restlessness, agitation, anger, emptiness, and hopelessness. The fear of the unknown future cannot be overcome except in time. This roller coaster affects sleep, appetite, concentration, decision-making and memory. You may feel ill or numb. You may want to be alone or not be alone. Rumination is likely.

It is difficult in the first stage to not blow up at your spouse and blame him or her for making you a victim. It may be impossible at this time to look at the relationship objectively. Problems resolving conflict in the marriage will be magnified in the divorce. The family and extended family will be affected.

The legal bills in the first month could pay for a lifetime of marriage counseling. Parents may be left with little financial cushion. Bankruptcy is possible. Divorce creates a demand for additional financial support, along with expectations. 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.

Parenting also changes. The urge may be to meet personal needs through the children. Children should not bear the responsibility of satisfying need for closeness and cooperation. Parents may feel hurt by the kids, or may feel guilty and indulge the children.

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.

Divorce mediation may be used at this time to focus on direct and effective communication in making parenting and financial decisions that benefit both children and parents, and which aims to reduce repeated visits to court.

Social status is affected by a sense of failure that isolates, and possible judgments from others. The goal is to retrieve positive self-identity and reinvest in relationships. Fears propel premature future relationships and marriages.

The second phase is the realignment phase, described by some as a three-year roller coaster ride. People fill time and emptiness with people and worry, possible avoiding the pain. Some continue the same kind of conflict with their ex-spouse that they had when they were married. In fact, one expert reported that one-third of those in “bad” divorces slept with their ex. Those in a “good” divorce did not. Recovering financially takes time, and may involve major changes like selling the home or working more than ever during this time of loss, change and demand. In the process of acceptance, a question needs answering: What did the divorce solve or not solve for me?

Protecting the children from the harmful side of divorce is often neglected, sometimes unintentionally. The goal 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.

Socially, both women and men tend to turn to women for support. Social status is possibly viewed through the subtle influence of sexism and ageism, discriminating against older women. Younger women are often more of a “package deal” with their children.

Stabilization can take five years after divorce, unless one is in a blended family which can take another five to seven years. Relationship patterns become solidified, along with possible distance between non-custodial parent and child. Children almost never give up their hope and connection to be with both parents.

The author Dan Blair is a Divorce Counselor, Divorce Mediator and Parenting Coordinator at Blair Counseling and Mediation.

 

Resource:

“The Postdivorce Family” by Fredda Herz Brown in The Changing Family Life Cycle ed. by Carter and McGoldrick.

 

Divorce Mediation 101

Angry wife showing bills

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, 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

Father-Son

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.

During the time together, activities and conversation about a variety of topics is facilitated. While it is not counseling or therapy, visitation supervised by a counselor has the advantage of available interventions designed to redirect communication in such a way that it is productive and resolves conflict. All participants agree how to express themselves, to not talk negatively about others, and avoid asking children to convey information about the other parent. It is in the child’s best interest that neither parent does not intentionally do anything to impair the natural development of the children’s love and respect for the other parent.

Research indicates that not only do children benefit from a relationship with both parents, but in retrospect, children wish they had more time with the non-custodial parent and that children can still feel rejected by estranged and alienated parents. Adult children reported that they wish someone had helped them with their relationship with the “other” parent.

It is essential that both parents are at ease with this process. The emotions of the parents affect the experience of the children. “It is easy to see how toxic parents can become in their ability to serve as a secure base or a haven of safety when they get so preoccupied with their own needs, pride, shame, or selfishness, or their anger at the other parent over betrayal or humiliation. How can I comfort my child when I myself am frightened? How can I tolerate my child having successes under your supervision if it is all about me, not about them?” (Everett Waters). Addressing each parent’s concerns to reduce anxiety helps increase success with supervised visitation.

Visitation Refusal

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.

Families are often referred to counseling or mediation because (1.) a child is distressed, or (2.) a parent is hoping for support in a court case, or (3.) counseling or mediation is court-ordered. Each of these scenarios differs in the nature of the information that is presented to the counselor or mediator, and in the expectations of the counselor or mediator. Each participant has an agenda that is influenced by the legal process. The clinician should be focused on the psychological health of the client, the mediator should be focused on communication and negotiation, and clinicians and mediators should respect the role of attorneys, forensic evaluators, parenting coordinators, and the Court. Clinicians and mediators should not mix roles without a waiver. If there is a court order, the role should be clearly defined.

Clinicians and mediators should be knowledgeable in child development, and obtain each parent’s perspective and maintain objectivity. The clinician should be careful with attitudes and beliefs of the children that reflect one of the parents. These attitudes and beliefs may be hiding true feelings and may be causing distress. Clinicians and mediators should also know characteristics of divorcing parents and children, family systems, best practice for high conflict, and understand relevant research and standards of practice. Clinicians and mediators should also have ongoing training, especially in domestic violence, parental alienation and estrangement, and special needs of the family and children. Clinicians and mediators should be understanding of expectations and processes of the legal system and work well with collateral contacts.

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.

The couple agrees to abide by that decision per a court order or parent consent agreement. Some decisions may go one parent’s way and other decisions may go the other’s. This dispute resolution process focuses on the children’s needs and is an alternative to repeated returns to court and/or ongoing conflict that may otherwise continue indefinitely.

Parent coordination can be used to develop adherence to a parenting plan and as a quicker analysis and resolution of child-related parental disputes. The aim of parenting coordination is to stem the drain on family financial and emotional resources by resolving any disputes arising between parents. Note that a parenting coordinator does not resolve the matter of custody, but may be used as an interim basis to the address the implementation of a temporary parenting plan.

The author is Dan Blair, LMFT, LCPC, NCPC is a Nationally Certified Parenting Coordinator and is trained to draft arbitration decisions with precision.

How One Parent Undermines the Other Parent

Upset child from arguing parents

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.

Visitation Refusal

How to Tell Kids About Divorce

Child moving

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