"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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.