Cooperative Solutions

Divorce magazine

28

Mar'16

Mediation Barriers

Mediation Barriers We asked several divorce mediators in the Greater Toronto Area how to recognize and overcome some of the most common barriers to a successful mediation. Here’s what they had to say. Edited by Jeffrey Cottrill Barrier #1: “Litigation will give me everything I want” Clients often believe that they can “win” by going to court, and therefore it may be contrary to their interests to participate fully in mediation. Three other misconceptions often underlie this belief: First, that his or her case has a very high probability of success. Unfortunately, lawsuits are fuelled by the fact that almost everyone feels that way. Lawyers often present best-case scenarios, or clients “hear” what fuels their optimism. Since 95-98% of cases settle, why not reach agreement at an early stage — before you have spent the big litigation bucks? An objective risk assessment would protect many people from spending their savings and years of litigation only to be disappointed, frustrated, and in debt. Second, that the ideal is “winning” and having the other person “lose”. Divorcing couples pass through many stages of grieving and often litigate when angry. Later, they regret their actions when they enter the stages of sadness or eventual acceptance. Most importantly, litigators never consider the downside of winning — namely, that the partner whose cooperation is critical for their ongoing relationship with the children or for financial support will no longer be willing to offer assistance. Third, and most important, is that those who choose an adversarial course of action often have not reflected on the damage to children from living in a high-conflict zone. Conflict between parents is the most damaging factor for children of divorce. If you are fighting for the children, it is rarely in their interest. Dr. Barbara Landau, president of Cooperative Solutions, is a psychologist, lawyer, and mediator in Toronto. She assists parents to reach fair agreements in the best interests of their children. She can be reached at (416) 391-3110. View her Divorce Magazine profile online.

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28

Mar'16

When will my child-support payments end?

“When will my child-support payments end?” Case law provides for children receiving support through their first post-secondary degree. Parents share in proportion to their gross income the cost of tuition, books, residence, etc. associated with post-secondary education. If a child were to drop out of school, leave home (other than to attend school or for summer employment or a vacation), go to work or marry, and be self-supporting, child support would stop. If a child were unable to be self-supporting due to illness, disability, education, or any other cause, child support would continue. Usually, an age is set to terminate child support based on the expectations of when the child will be self-supporting. Until the obligation to pay child support terminates, the payor needs to maintain an amount of life insurance that will cover any obligations should he or she die. The other parent is almost always the beneficiary in trust for, or on behalf of, the child. Sometimes, there are negotiations around whether the tuition should be paid directly, or whether there should be some reduction while the child is away at school; however, usually the residential parent does not rent out the child’s room while he or she is away, and they often provide a “living allowance” to the child and pay for clothes, food, telephone, or transportation. Some parents expect some contribution from the child, e.g. from summer jobs. Many children take a year off at some point to gain experience, travel, or discover their future direction, and this is often an important time to think before they commit to a career path. Also, some children need to take an extra year to get the grades they will need for their 2nd post-secondary degree. At this point, parents make a personal choice regarding further financial assistance. In addition, you need to think about your personaI values with respect to helping your child have the opportunities he or she needs to get a start in life — what would you have hoped your parents would offer you? What do you want your children to explain to your grandchildren with respect to their parent’s support? Dr. Barbara Landau, president of Cooperative Solutions, is a Toronto psychologist, lawyer, and mediator who assists separating families in creating parenting plans, improving their communication in the best interests of their children, and arriving at fair financial settlements. She is this year’s recipient of the prestigious John M. Haynes Distinguished Mediator Award for her contributions to the field of mediation. She can be reached at (416) 391-3110. View her Divorce Magazine profile here.

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28

Mar'16

I’m starting to dread my stepchildren’s weekend visits

“I’m starting to dread my stepchildren’s weekend visits (they’re 10 and 12). They’re supposed to help with chores, but never do unless I nag. My husband ‘just wants to enjoy their visits,’ so he doesn’t want to be the one to get after them. So either I nag, or my husband and I do all the work. What should I do?” Your dilemma is a familiar one: whether to be cast in the role of the awful stepmother or to suffer in silence like Cinderella. Neither of these options sounds very promising. When you feel caught between a number of unattractive alternatives, it’s a good idea to stand back and clarify your objectives. First, maintaining a good relationship with your husband should be a high priority. For this reason, it would be unwise to put him in the position of choosing between pleasing you and jeopardizing his relationship with the children. When parents have a limited amount of time with their children, they are often anxious about setting limits out of fear that the children may choose not to come for a scheduled visit. This insecurity often lessens over time, but while it lasts, it’s important to let the parent take the lead on setting and enforcing household rules. Second, you probably would like a more harmonious relationship with your husband’s children. Children are usually very loyal to their family of origin, and have a great deal of difficulty accepting someone else stepping into a parental role. It’s common to hear children say, “You can’t tell me what to do — you aren’t my mother!” The best tip for successful step-parenting is to take a fairly low-key, back-seat role — especially on issues of discipline. Another important factor to consider is the children’s ages. With pre-teen and teenage children, hassles over household tasks are par for the course. If the same type of expectations exist in Mom’s house, that will ease the way, but that may not be the case. If the expectations are different, the children will likely see the rules as imposed by you, hence the bad rep of Cinderella’s step-mom! Your third goal is to be treated fairly and with respect. In part, your success in achieving this goal will depend on building the children’s trust and confidence. They will need to see and hear that you do not intend to replace their mom or criticize her parenting. Also, they need reassurance that you’re not trying to undermine their relationship with their father by setting rules that will cause him to take your side against them. Here are some constructive steps you can take. First, you should explore these issues with your husband when the children are not present. Explain your concerns as a problem to be solved together. Before you explain your concerns, ask if he has thought about the situation and what concerns he has. For example, does he think chores are a good idea? If so, what chores? Since he is the parent, he needs to understand that he is responsible for any enforcement, with you supporting his decisions. Otherwise, it will undermine your relationship with his children. A follow-up strategy is to have a meeting with the children. Start by presenting the issue as a problem to be solved by everyone together. You should let the father take the lead. Ask the children for their thoughts about how the situation could be addressed and be open to their views. Make it clear that it’s important to share tasks, but which tasks, when they are done, or by whom, may be open to negotiation. The specifics are less important than the good feelings and better ” buy-in” generated by working towards a cooperative solution. Be realistic in your expectations and remember to ” catch a child doing something good” in order to increase their positive feelings about themselves and you, as you work towards a mutually respectful relationship. Dr. Barbara Landau, president of Cooperative Solutions, is a Toronto psychologist, lawyer, and mediator who assists separating families in creating parenting plans, improving their communication in the best interests of their children, and arriving at fair financial settlements. She is this year’s recipient of the prestigious John M. Haynes Distinguished Mediator Award for her contributions to the field of mediation. She can be reached at (416) 391-3110. View her Divorce Magazine profile here.

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28

Mar'16

Should we stay together for the sake of the kids? If so, how long?

“Should we stay together for the sake of the kids? If so, how long?” The answer is, “It depends.” This is a complicated question, but one that thoughtful parents often ask. Parents worry that their decision to separate will harm children emotionally, socially, and academically. However, the potential harm of separating depends on the reasons for the separation, as well as the ages and vulnerability of the children. Essentially, the reasons for separation can be classified as high, medium, and low risk. Those in the high risk group include separations based on abuse, addiction to alcohol or drugs, and serious mental illness. Any potential harm caused by separating is likely to be balanced by the benefits of being removed from a harmful and chaotic environment. Those in the medium risk group include breach of trust, such as an affair, financial mismanagement, or control over decision-making. If parties can accept that an affair is usually a symptom of other problems in the relationship, and that financial issues often reflect different comfort levels with risk taking, then counseling may help to bridge the differences. With respect to power and control issues, unless the controlling partner understands that his or her behavior is inappropriate and seeks assistance, the marriage will not likely be repaired. Finally, low risk separations include couples drifting apart, no longer sharing similar interests, or having poor communication. In these cases, there is little risk and possible benefits if couples are motivated to re-engage in their marriage. Regardless of the reason for separating, the impact will depend on how it is handled and on thoughtful planning. The planning should focus on the children’s needs as determined by their ages, temperament, and attachment to each parent. If parents can model respectful communication, reassure children that their relationship with both parents will continue, and minimize serious disruptions in the children’s life, the negative effects can be considerably reduced. For parents in the high-risk group, separation is likely to trigger an escalation in violence. Delay can be dangerous. It is important to consider safety measures to protect the children and the target of violence (usually the woman). For the medium or low-risk groups, parents may decide either to attempt a reconciliation or to continue living together separately under one roof while they make a more permanent plan. Often it is helpful for the parents to arrive at an interim parenting plan that offers clear structure and predictability as to who will be acting as caretaker on which days so as to minimize the effects of parental conflict. Another option that may be feasible for low-conflict couples for a fairly short period of time is called “nesting.” That is, the children continue to live in the matrimonial home while the parents alternate residences. For older children, the parents could move in and out on alternate weeks, for younger children the parents could shift more frequently, and for infants the primary care-taker (usually the mother) could reside in the home while the father spent time in the home on a frequent basis to carry out care-taking routines such as feeding, bathing, putting the child to sleep, or taking the child out to play. The suggestions mentioned above serve as transitions and help to prepare children for separation. It is a good idea to explain the care-taking plan and prepare the children in advance for significant changes, such as a move by one parent. The key factors to keep in mind are to minimize the children’s exposure to conflict and to reassure the children that their relationship with both parents will continue, even if the parents choose to live in separate homes. Dr. Barbara Landau, president of Cooperative Solutions, is a Toronto psychologist, lawyer, and mediator who assists separating families in creating parenting plans, improving their communication in the best interests of their children, and arriving at fair financial settlements. She is this year’s recipient of the prestigious John M. Haynes Distinguished Mediator Award for her contributions to the field of mediation. She can be reached at (416) 391-3110. View her Divorce Magazine profile here.

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28

Mar'16

DIVORCE MAGAZINE: Advice to a Step-Mom

DIVORCE MAGAZINE: Advice to a Step-Mom DIVORCE MAGAZINE: EXPERT ADVICE COLUMN, 1999 BIO: Dr. Barbara Landau, President of Cooperative Solutions is a Psychologist, Lawyer and Mediator who offers counselling and mediation services for family and marital conflicts. With her husband, Sy Landau, President of Organizational Strategies Group, she offers training in mediation and workplace conflict resolution. Dear Step-mom, Your dilemma is a familiar one – whether to be cast in the role of the awful stepmother or the nagging wife or suffer in silence like Cinderella. None of these options sounds very promising. When you feel caught between a number of unattractive alternatives it’s a good idea to stand back and clarify your objectives. First, I’m assuming that a high priority is to maintain your relationship with your husband. For this reason it would be unwise to put him in the position of choosing between pleasing you and jeopardizing his relationship with the children. When parents have a limited amount of time with their children, they are often anxious about setting limits out of a fear that the children may choose not to come. This insecurity often lessens over time, but while it lasts, it’s important to let the parent take the lead on setting and enforcing “household rules”. Secondly, you probably would like a more harmonious relationship with your husband’s children. Children are usually very loyal to their family of origin, and have a great deal of difficulty accepting someone else stepping into a parental role. It’s common to hear children say “You can’t tell me what to do, you aren’t my Mother!” The best tips for successful step parenting are to take a fairly low key, back seat role, especially on issues of discipline. Another important factor to consider is the children’s age. With pre-teen and teenage children, hassles over household tasks are par for the course. If the same type of expectations exist in Mom’s house, that will ease the way, but that is often not the case. If the expectations are different, then the children will likely see the rules as imposed by you – hence the bad rep of Cinderella’s step mom! Despite this, your third goal is likely to be treated fairly and with respect. In part, your success in achieving this goal will depend on building the trust and confidence of the children. They will need to see and hear that you do not intend to replace their Mom or criticize her parenting. Also, they need reassurance that you are not trying to undermine their relationship with their father, by setting rules that will cause him to take your side against them. Here are some constructive steps you can take. First, you should explore the issues with your husband when the children are not present. Explain your concerns as a problem to be solved together. Before you explain your concerns, ask if he has thought about the situation and what concerns he has. For example, does he think chores are a good idea? If so, what chores? Since he is the parent, he needs to understand that he is responsible for any enforcement, with you supporting his decisions. Otherwise it will undermine your relationship with the children. A follow-up strategy is to have a meeting with the children. Start by presenting the issue as a problem to be solved by everyone together. You should let the father take the lead. Ask the children for their thoughts about how the situation could be addressed and be open to their views. Make it clear that it is important to share tasks, but which tasks, when they are done, or by whom may be open to negotiation. The specifics are less important than the good feelings and better buy-in generated by working toward a cooperative solution. Be realistic in your expectations and remember to ‘catch a child doing something good’ in order to increase their positive feelings about themselves and you, as you work toward a mutually respectful relationship.

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