Excerpt from

"The Family Assistance and Parent Support Program"

The following has been copied from the resource manual "The Family Assistance and Parent Support Program" and has been copied with permission from Family Conflict Resolution Services, a non-profit community based organization with a mandate to produce programs to address family conflict.   It describes many of the basic causes of conflict and provides solutions for their resolution.  The Family Justice Review Committee supports the work of the organizers of this program in their efforts to find solutions to family conflict. 

 

Family Conflict Relating to Separation and Divorce
The Causes and Solutions

The mounting dilemma of separation and divorce in recent years has resulted in a substantial rise of family-conflict and has led to the destruction of many families. We expect, through the implementation of this program that what has been happening to families as a result of family conflict and the court process will be dramatically reduced.

Most tragically, it is the parents who have the most intense love for their children, and possess the highest standard of equality and fairness, who, unfortunately, are the ones most devastated as a result of the adversarial family-court system. It is these parents, who will fight the hardest to ensure that their children benefit from a parenting environment that is based on the principles of equal-parenting, cooperation and fairness, yet they are often the ones who lose through the court process. Those who helped develop the Family Assistance and Parent Support Program believe that difficulties encountered during a familyís transition into their new arrangement, are due generally to the various elements of conflict discussed below.

causes & Elements Of Conflict

Anger & Revenge

These emotions represent an important contribution to the overall power-imbalance that occurs between separating parents. The majority of family disputes that end up in the courtroom are the results of anger and revenge, often with little consideration for the overall emotional and financial effects on the family. Frequently, one or both parties will want to punish the other by creating various difficulties within the family, which are intended to hurt the other parent. In the end, nothing is accomplished, except to emotionally and financially devastate one or both parents to the detriment of the children.

  • Exhausting the other parentís assets is a well-known strategy, often used and encouraged by the legal system.

  • Devaluing the other parent to the children.

  • One parent initiating adversarial court proceedings based on the purpose to gain substantial advantage over the other parent.

Manipulation Of Government Agencies

Often parents will manipulate the system (legal or government agencies) as a tool to use in their pursuit to create anguish and difficulty for the other parent. This is very often linked to their need for revenge. In a sense, these agencies become an indirect accomplice to the destruction of the family. Examples of this manipulation include:

  • Unwarranted intervention of a child support collection agency where the parent is willing to financially provide support without the intervention of an overseeing government body.

  • One parent imposing the use of a supervised access centre, when circumstances show that it is not required.

  • A parent receiving governmental assistance may intentionally misuse the legal aid system to bring about, at no cost to them, financial and emotional hardship for the other parent.

  • Abuse of child protection agencies or police agencies by the use of false allegations.

Interference Of Parent-Child Relationship

Parental interference, closely linked to anger and revenge, will raise the level of animosity experienced by parents and children. Interfering with the other parentís ability to share in their childís ongoing parenting process allows for fulfillment of their desire for anger and revenge. Further examples of interference are noted below.

  • One parent is intentionally late during the exchange of children, using any excuse, such as traffic or illness, to create interference with the other parentís scheduled time.

  • One parent refusing to allow the children to attend special family events during the other parentís non-scheduled parenting time, or their refusal to accommodate reasonable changes to parenting arrangements when requested by the other parent.

  • One parent expressing fear-based statements concerning the other parent to the child, creating difficulty and stress for the child to voice their true feelings and desires.

  • Even though one parent is unable to attend their childís activities or events, they try to prevent the other parent from participating as well. Such activities would include school field trips, lunches etc.

  • A parent placing their child in daycare, when the other parent is completely capable and willing to provide this care for the child.

Personal Financial Gain

Personal financial gain is also another strong motivator of family-conflict. Gaining custody and control of the children involved is often desired as a way of increasing one parties personal financial-gain to the disadvantage of the other parent. Personal gains made in the name of child support promote animosity, anger and revenge. Childrenís values of fairness and equality are adversely affected when they see one parent take financial advantage of the other. Some examples of a parent acting only in hopes to further their own personal financial gain are:

  • Ravaging public legal resources (legal assistance) in order to devastate the other parent while bettering themselves, the attitude "take him/her to the cleaners" motivates this type of action.

  • Money that is paid supposedly as child support is often used instead to support the personal life style of the custodial parent.

  • Custodial parent continues to collect child support unfairly during times of extended parenting by the non-custodial parent (e.g. summer holidays).

  • A parent not respecting an older childís desire to live with their other parent due to the resulting loss in child support or government assistance income.

Non-Compliance/Enforcement Of Court Orders

A significant factor, which accounts for much of the extensive family-conflict prevalent today, is the non enforcement of valid court Orders. Custodial parents frequently ignore court Orders, as they know that it is very difficult for the non-custodial parent to take action. Due to matters involving family-conflicts being considered civil matters, police and other enforcement services do not want to get involved. It can cost a non-custodial parent thousands of dollars in court costs attempting to have access/parenting-time Orders enforced. The lack of enforcement of Orders has resulted in the loss of the public faith in the family court system. The following are examples of non-compliance:

  • Court ordered telephone access may not be allowed by the custodial parent

  • Court ordered parenting-time denied.

  • Refusal to provide information and reports concerning the condition of the childís education and health & welfare status.

Unjust Court Decisions

The family-court system, faced with the multitude of complex difficult issues that a separating family often experience, is often not able to render decisions that are fair and just to all family members. All too often a family-court decision is reached where one parent has not received fair treatment. Their parenting relationship as well as all other aspects relating to their childís well being is placed under the control of the other parent. Often a factor contributing to faulty decisions rendered by the courts is the lack of resources for proper process and management of the familyís case. Custody may be given to one party, while evidence may indicate that the other party is just as capable a parent. Other circumstances widely experienced by parents who may also feel unjustly treated are the following:

  • Failure of authorities (Courts, Police) to enforce the current effective court Order.

  • Financial affairs of support payor scrutinized with no scrutiny or financial accountability being imposed on the support receiver.

  • Awarding sole-custody (assigning unlimited authority) to the parent whom has demonstrated uncooperative and vindictive behavior.

  • Court judgements are often gender biased. Numerous custody decisions favor one parent, usually the mother, when both are equally capable of fulfilling their roles as parents.

  • A parent not given sufficient parenting time in order to promote in a meaningful parent-child relationship.

  • Court does not acknowledge childís desire to spend more time with the non-custodial parent.

  • Excessive child support imposed on the child support payor.

  • Failure to recognize importance of childís relationship with grandparents and extended family members.

Conflict Encouragement By Third Parties

While having to deal with unfamiliar crisis, the inexperienced, recently separated family, is easily swayed by outside influences, which by trying to do what they perceive as righteous, further aggravate the distressing circumstances. Initially parents may not wish to go to court, but are subsequently encouraged by friends and/or professionals. They are influenced into believing that they have more to gain than the other parent by litigating rather than settling on what would be considered a fair settlement. Although many fair-minded and concerned legal professionals do help by finding workable, fair solutions for their clients, there are, unfortunately, a number of legal professionals who undermine these efforts by encouraging their clients to pursue court action even when the other party is extending a reasonable offer. There is a growing concern among the general public about those in the legal professional who put the wishes of their client ahead of what is in the best interests of the family. This selfish practice is tainting the reputation of all those in the legal community.

  • Your lawyer suggesting that you use stalling tactics and procedural impediments to settlilng.

  • Parentís new mate instigating conflict for their own self-interest.

  • Neighbour states that they feel your spouse is untrustworthy or other comments that will exacerbate the matter

  • Police will routinely advise a parent to "get yourself a good lawyer."

Concern Over Childrenís Welfare

In a small number of cases, parents or other family members may have valid concerns about whether the health and safety of the children is being ensured. Failure to have their concerns addressed may impel them to take the other parent to court for various reasons, some of them being:

  • One parent is being abusive to other parent in the presence of the children.

  • One parent is being physically or emotionally abusive to the children.

  • Children are exposed to an environment where drugs, alcohol or an anti-social environment are present.

  • One parent failing to provide the child with basic necessities such as; food, shelter, clothing, education, social skills, etc.

  • One parent is knowingly trying to damage the relationship between the children and the other parent intending to cause Parental Alienation.

The action of taking the other parent to court is likely to create conflict, but in these cases where the childrenís welfare is being questioned, the action may be justified. These types of concerns are addressed through the case management concept of the program.

Teenage Manipulation Of Parents

A child, during their teenage years, being aware of their newfound independence, may create or intensify family-conflict between its members, especially parents. The family court system allows teenage children to make decisions as to their residency, which can create future conflict, especially in areas of custody and child support. Due to their lack of life experience, teenage children are not able to fully comprehend how the consequences of their actions may affect their family.

When looked at closely, a teenagerís behavior may often imitate that of their parents. Their decisions often do not reflect their long-term best interests, but instead satisfy their short-term want of power. Frequently one parent, seeking personal advantage will unduly influence a teenager to make a decision that is not in the best interests of the family and intensify the family-conflict.

Ultimately subjected to this type of environment children end up being harmed, causing them to become spoiled, and demanding and controlling of their parents. These children grow into adults lacking the social skills that they need to become sensible well-adjusted parents themselves. Teenage children in this situation often lose respect for authority and may become uncaring towards one or both of their parents. Their relationship with their siblings may also be negatively affected due to conflicting loyalties of the siblings to the parents. Manipulation is demonstrated by the following:

  • Teenagers threatening to move and live with the other parent in order to get their way and to exert control over their parents.

  • One parent using gifts, promises and inappropriate freedoms to influence their teenage child to move to their home in order to obtain custody and collect child support benefits.

  • Parents become fearful of exercising appropriate disciple out of fear that the child may withdraw, forming a stronger bond with the other parent.

Lawyers/Adversarial Family-Court System

Lawyers and other professionals can play a significant role during the early stages of family-conflict by further enhancing an adversarial position for their client, often without consideration for the best interests of the family-unit. Their obligation to protect their clientís best interests brings about actions that heighten the familyís existing conflict. The current design of our judicial system unfortunately makes it very difficult for lawyers to take a non-adversarial position in representing their clientís best interests. Due to their formal education and courtroom training, a lawyer will usually approach a clientís case involving family-conflict from an adversarial position, failing to understand the overwhelming positive benefits to the family that result from a harmonious parenting arrangement. These actions support many of the causes of conflict previously mentioned and frequently include the following as well:

  • Failure of the lawyer to encourage equal parenting time, and instead, encouraging the pursuit to win sole custody for their client.

  • Manipulation of information that negatively portray the other parent in the worst possible light.

  • Suppression of facts that may be beneficial to all members of the family. E.g. A lawyer may impede records due to their favoring the other parents case or use delay tactics.

  • Knowingly promote questionable or false allegations, which cause many times irreparable damage to the other parent.

  • Often due to the other party applying unethical steps.

EFFECTIVE SOLUTIONS

Restoring a power-balance between parents encourages the elimination of elements that create family conflict. This neutralizing of power, one of the programís significant components in providing an overall solution, promotes the development of a conflict-free environment resulting in considerable benefits for the family-unit. The varied solutions and examples described below, create a framework that enables a family to begin approaching their new family-arrangement in a straightforward and cooperative manner.

Effective enforcement of Orders

The incentives to cooperative parenting embodied within the program provide a strong foundation to resolve the vast majority of family-conflict situations without the need for enforcement. However, in a relatively small number of cases where severe conflict exists and a parent is unreasonable or uncooperative, effective enforcement will play a important role.

Effective and prompt enforcement in these severe cases is important in order to make clear to the offending parent that the breach of their court Order will not be tolerated. Parents who previously may have considered breaching Orders would likely reconsider knowing that enforcement will be prompt and effective, and will reflect negatively on their position.

The program provides provisions for enforcement of Orders using the following strategies to be effective.

  • Clearly defining within the Order the actions the enforcement body would proceed with when a specific breach of the Order occurs in the event of access denial or failure to contribute to the financial support of children.

  • Personally reviewing with each parent the particular enforcement actions that have been included in their Order. Providing each parent with an outline of all enforcement actions that will result if a breach of their Order occurs.

  • Education and cooperation with enforcement bodies (e.g. police) so that when called upon to promptly respond it would have the complete reassurance and full support of the community.

  • Remedial actions will be built into program so that parents will not have to go back to court to resolve a breach of the order.

Equality and fairness

Strict standards of equality and fairness are incorporated throughout the programís guidelines and procedures. The parenting program is designed to ensure both parents receive the opportunity to equally parent their children. Some of the areas where equality and fairness would be addressed are:

  • Participation in the transportation of the children to school, special occasions and events, holidays, etc.

  • Ensure that each childís bond, traditions and customs with both immediate and extended families is maintained

  • Contribution to the financial support of the children in a fair and equitable manner.

  • Treatment of children as persons with certain rights, and not as the parentís possession.

Financial accountability

The financial requirement of this program minimizes the potential for conflict between parents caused by one parent attempting to achieve financial gain, a common goal in today's adversarial system. Procedures in the program ensure that money paid as child support by one parent is used for the child and not as directed to the personal gain of the other parent. When alimony is required, it should be clearly specified and disassociated from the child's maintenance. The following procedures address the problem of financial gain by ensuring that:

  • Each parent contributes a fair amount of financial support to the child based on his/her individual income.

  • Ensuring that neither parent will financially benefit when a child wishes to change residency arrangements without mutual consent or without a good reason.

  • That each parentís income is accurately and fairly reported and verified when required.

  • That accountants assist in maintaining records to reflect that support monies are used properly in the care of the child

  • A community review complaints board will investigate claims of misuse of support monies.

  • That each parent maintain records to reflect how and where support monies are used but excluding small expenditures so that record keeping is simplified. A simple monthly budget sheet, updated annually will be adequate in most cases.

Third party involvement

The circumstances of parents being misguided and pushed by third parties to unwisely oppose (seek to hurt the other parent) each other will always exist. Nothing will stop people from advising one parent to take the other to court. This program, will however, provide the framework so that reasonable persons outside of the conflict will more easily determine that it may not be advantageous to begin an adversarial process. This program addresses the problem of third party encouragement with the use of the following strategies:

  • Providing independent third party services (mediation and support) to all family members.

  • Providing fair, equitable, non-biased services to all parties and providing fair and equitable solutions that withstand the scrutiny of third parties.

  • Incorporating positive incentives to parents who are unreasonable.

  • Ensuring that neither party will be a "winner" or "loser" throughout the process.

Parenting/separation/divorce education

The program incorporates various educational components that will equip family members with the skills to assist themselves in understanding and coping with their new family arrangement. Family members will be encouraged to participate on a voluntary basis in those areas that most apply to their circumstances. The program will fully utilize the communityís existing information/educational resources, which could include:

  • Educational materials (e.g. literature, videos etc.) relating to separation and divorce which demonstrate the best interests of the children.

  • Educating older children of the importance of respect for both parents and the importance of maintaining healthy relationships within the family.

  • Workshops for parents that focus around anger management, parental alienation, coparenting and the prevention/elimination of family violence.

  • Age appropriate workshops for children focusing around coping skills and their role in their familyís separation/divorce and prevention/elimination of family violence.

Incentives to cooperative parenting

The program through effective incentives will promote cooperative parenting and voluntary compliance. These incentives are to play a major role in supporting parents to be proactive in collectively doing what is best for their family. Cooperative parenting is known to have a significant positive impact on a childís emotional long-term development. Children living in a cooperative environment are better prepared to fulfill their own parental role later in life. Cooperative parenting is promoted by:

  • Reassurance that the each parentís parental rights will be maintained so long as they continue cooperative parenting.

  • Separation/Divorce/Parenting education of parents which would emphasize the benefits of cooperative parenting and the role that each of them contributes to the overall well being of their family.

  • Giving both parents an equal and fair opportunity to demonstrate their ability to parent and contribute towards the best interests of their children

  • Clearly defined and effective graduated noncompliance/enforcement measures, which may include temporary reduction of parental decision-making in circumstances where a parent may demonstrate their unwillingness to parent cooperatively.

  • Involvement and support of others in the community which helps parents to voluntarily comply with their parental responsibilities

Support team/community involvement

Support involving both the community and the programs team will play a substantial role in eliminating family-conflict. The program utilizes individuals and organizations from the familyís community who will makeup part of the familyís particular support team. Their various capacities have been outlined in the section "Introduction and Outline" of this manual. Through their support and professional guidance the family will progress towards their goal of a healthy post separation or divorce relationship.

Family health-care professionals and members of the public acknowledge that parents become more accountable and cooperative when community members/friends become involved in assisting the family.

  • Family Coordinators

  • Professionals such as: Psychologists, Doctors, Lawyers

  • Personal support-person

  • Community will assist with difficult situations

Minimal judicial involvement

Reducing the involvement of the current court process will have a major corresponding effect in decreasing a familyís-conflict. Courts by their very nature are an adversarial system, which forces family members to take an adversarial position against each other. This program is designed to involve the judicial system only when circumstances require, which usually is to place the weight of law behind the community in its efforts to help the family. Minimizing the use of the judicial system minimizes financial and emotional burdens on the family.

Things that will help reduce judicial involvement are:

  • Clearly defined enforcement measures, which do not make it necessary for parents to go back to court for forced compliance.

  • Clearly defined and all encompassing Orders which cover almost every contingency that parents may encounter

Fair and equitable child support arrangements

This program includes innovative and effective solutions to the serious problem of child support. It addresses the underlying causes of conflict relating to financial support of the children with solutions that are not only fair to the children but at the same time treat both parents equally, fairly and give them the equal opportunity to demonstrate their abilities to parent their children. At the same time it provides incentives to maintain this healthy working relationship. Under this program both parents contribute equitably to the support of the children in relation to their proportionate incomes in almost the same manner as if they would have if the family was intact.

  • Establishing a budget for the child that both parents contribute directly to the child rather than payment to each other.

  • Allowing both parents to share equally in expenditures for the child which allows the child to see that both parents are contributing to their well being. Having both parents purchase clothes for the child for example can be an important aspect of reinforcement of the parent & child relationship role shared by both parents and children.