Brett Coleman
High-Conflict Custody: Steps to Take Early OnThe CBA Alberta Law Conference was held in Calgary last Thursday, January 28 and Friday, January 29. On Friday morning, a group of lawyers practicing Family Law in Alberta attended a roundtable discussion on High Conflict Custody matters, moderated by Medina Shatz of our firm. One of the takeaways from that roundtable discussion was that from both a best interests of the child and a litigation perspective, it is best to address and manage high-conflict early on and throughout the process.

If you are newly separated or considering separating from your spouse and have children, it is a good idea to consider taking steps to eliminate, reduce and/or manage conflict (perhaps before it has even materialized). The sooner the better. Playing the “blame game” and engaging in the circular exercise of taking turns pointing out all of one another’s flaws and parenting missteps does not help you if doing so results in conflict harmful to your children.

Instead, consider dedicating some resources towards ensuring, early on, that your children’s adjustment and transition throughout the separation and divorce process is as seamless as it possibly can be. Oftentimes, thought is directed towards these strategies too late in the game, once damage has already been done. It is much more difficult to reverse the harmful effects of conflict on your children than it is to take a proactive stance from the outset.

There are many services and options available to you, if your goal is to prevent your children from being impacted negatively, including but not necessarily limited to the following:

  1. Counseling for your Child(ren)

Consider having your child engage in counseling early on in the process. For very young children, this could involve Play Therapy. Depending on the circumstances, it could be appropriate for that counseling to be 1-on-1 with the child, with one or other of the parents or with both parents in a form of family counseling. This may seem obvious, but engaging your child in counseling early on can both prevent or reduce some of the negative side-effects of separation itself, related conflict between parents as well as provide some insight as to what steps should be taken in the process as it relates to your child and parenting issues.

  1. Counseling for You

Even if you do not feel as though you are the root of the problem, attending counseling yourself can provide valuable insight that may help you navigate your divorce, particularly if it is high-conflict in nature.

  1. Working with a Communication Coach

If you’ve pinpointed the conflict to communication between you and your spouse, another option is working with a communications coach.

In particular, Andrea LaRochelle of Calgary works as a High Conflict Communication Strategist. Andrea is able to work with one or both parties in improving future communications to reduce conflict. She teaches proposal-based communication and helps the parties to develop a road map for navigating communications with one another moving forward in the divorce and co-parenting process. Ms. LaRochelle’s services can even go as far as vetting emails before they are sent or being copied on email correspondence in order to provide a level of accountability to the parties. This assistance can be valuable in so many different ways, from improving relations on a person level (and thereby supporting the well-being of children) to helping to facilitate a more expedient divorce settlement to ensuring you do not end up in a “battle of the hateful emails” if you end up in litigation with your spouse.

Ms. LaRochelle recently published a book entitled “I’m Done: Take Control of Your High Conflict Divorce”, which can be purchased on Amazon.

More information and contact details for Ms. LaRochelle can be found here:
http://andrealarochelle.com/

  1. Parenting Coordination (“PC”)

Parenting Coordination is a child-focussed alternative dispute resolution process whereby either a mental health or a legal professional with mediation training and experience assists high conflict parents to implement a parenting plan. The PC would assist in facilitating resolution of any disputes in a timely way.

Looking into PC early on in the process would be appropriate in the case where parents are in agreement on the parenting schedule, from the get-go, but conflict / communications breakdowns result in other parenting issues altogether.

Ultimately, taking these sorts of steps directs your primary focus to your children, which is always of benefit to your children and ultimately should be of benefit to both yourself and your children if your parenting dispute ends up in litigation.