Children’s Interviews in the Parenting Coordination Process

A black and white photograph of 3 small children playing in the sandThough parents are ultimately the decision makers, and the children do not have the same decision-making authority, parents decisions can be informed by the children’s wishes.

originally posted July 2015

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Interviewing children in the parenting coordination process is often a great way of gaining information. This can be invaluable when working with parents that present with very different opinions as to the views and preferences of their children, or who may be unable to consider their children’s interests at all. Once it has been determined that bringing the child’s views and preferences into the conversation is both safe and suitable, the information can serve as the centre from which child-focused decisions and agreements may radiate.

At times parents may be unable to accept the child’s interests and preferences. Parents may also be unable to allow their children’s needs to take precedence over their own self-interest, despite those needs being vocalized or apparent. Though parents are ultimately the decision makers, and the children do not have the same decision-making authority, parents decisions can be informed by the children’s wishes. By honouring children, even young children, and their place and importance as family members who are also experiencing the hardships of their parent’s separation, relationships can be strengthened.

Like adult participants, children must also be treated with courtesy, respect, and professionalism. Informing children about the limits of confidentiality and ensuring that they feel safe and respected is important for any child regardless of their age and developmental level. It is important to assure children that as a custodian of their thoughts, fears, and concerns, you are committed to ensuring their safety. They must understand that while there are limits to confidentiality, that you respect their privacy, and value their wishes to not have certain aspects of their inner lives revealed to their caregivers. Creating this sense of safety and establishing a trusting relationship with your child clients will provide instrumental in eliciting the information the process will benefit from and ensuring their safe participation.

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J. Norton (B&W) ®MCP (324x420)

Jared Norton is a Parenting Coordinator with Riverdale Mediation.  He seeks to help parents to develop co-parenting relationships and interactions which support the best interest of their children.  Jared helps co-parents address potential risk factors and to enhance protective factors within the context of the child’s world.

Click here to read Jared’ complete bio and CV.

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Family Arbitration: Exploring Your Options in Dispute Resolution

a bumblebee perched on bright orange flowers surroundedFamily arbitration is a very different process from mediation, and yet they are often confused. Arbitration is a process whereby the parties present their version of the story before a privately-retained arbitrator, often a senior family lawyer, who hears the evidence, applies the law and makes a binding decision. To explore other ADR process options, read our other blog posts.


Family arbitration is therefore, more like court than it is like mediation. However:

  • Unlike court, which is open to the public, arbitration is confidential; the parties agree that the record of the arbitration will be kept in confidence unless there is an appeal
  • Arbitration is not free. The parties pay the arbitrator they choose. Arbitration can be expensive, depending on how complex the matter is, how cooperative the parties are and how experienced the arbitrator is.
  • Parties in arbitration can limit their appeal rights.
  • Those coming before an arbitrator must first be assessed for suitability. This is similar to the screening process as that done by family mediators. The purpose is:
    1. to identify, assess and manage power imbalances that could negatively affect either party in a private FDR process, in particular any risk that a party, a professional or a child might be harmed before or during the arbitration process;
    2. to ensure that parties are participating voluntarily and
    3. to assess whether they are suitable candidates for a private and expensive process. (See Arbitration Act  & Regulations  and FDRIO Standards of Practice for more information).
  • Arbitration must follow the basic rules of due process, but it can be much less formal than court. Parties are free to design a process that best meets their needs, subject to certain requirements imposed by the Arbitration Act and the Family Law Act.
  • Depending on the jurisdiction, arbitration can provide parties with a resolution much faster than going to court.

Arbitration is a popular process in some jurisdictions and for some cases, such as complex financial matters that require specific expertise or high conflict situations where both parties want a speedy resolution. Arbitration can be a very fair and effective process. However, it is critical that candidates for family arbitration are carefully screened before they commit to the process.  Arbitration can be prejudicial to those who are not suitable candidates, particularly where there are significant unknown power imbalances.


For more information about the arbitration process, visit the resources below:

ADR Institute of Ontario 

Ministry of the Attorney General

Justice Canada

Originally posted August 10, 2016 

 

 

 

 

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Recognizing Moments of Successful Co-parenting

Art - Kool Aid (434x640)Providing hope and a realistic vision is as important as developing a roadmap for parents that they can follow towards achieving their final destination.

originally published August 15 2015


Like any intervention Parenting Coordination ultimately seeks to create change. In this case it is change in the toxic co-parental dynamic. As such, the end goal of the Parenting Coordination process is to move parents to a place where PC is no longer required, and where they function as effective co-parents. Realistically this may be that they are able to function just enough, and ideally they can buffer their children from conflict, be disengaged from each other, and can support the children’s relationship with the other parent.

Often the challenge is to educate parties what successful co-parenting looks like. Many parties entering Parenting Coordination have never experienced successful co-parenting and it is difficult to imagine a future where it could occur. Providing hope and a realistic vision is as important as developing a roadmap for parents that they can follow towards achieving their final destination.

As a PC it is important to acknowledge and capitalize on small often unobserved successes and chart incremental change. It can be easy to operate from a problem focused lens, but working from a solution focused and strength based lens parents may be able to develop a new narrative and conceptualize their conflict differently. They may also be able to see for the first time moments of successful co-parenting. Over time these moments build upon themselves and eventually they may achieve the ability to support their children without the assistance of court or a third party professional.

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J. Norton (B&W) ®MCP (324x420)

Jared Norton is a Parenting Coordinator with Riverdale Mediation.  Jared seeks to help parents to develop co-parenting relationships and interactions which support the best interest of their children.  Working with co-parent’s strengths, Jared helps co-parents address potential risk factors and to enhance protective factors within the context of the child’s world.

Click here to read Jared’ complete bio and CV.

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Learning as we Train New Mediators in Belize

The last session of training that we provided in the Caribbean for IMPACT Justice was November in Belize. We spent the week training with 38 police officers of varying rank, who came each day from across the country.

We were inspired by the energy these officers put into merely getting to the course. Many spent 2 hours or more each way, by bus, arriving in crisp uniforms, ready to study and practice their mediation skills.

As with all the sessions in other Caribbean countries, the people taking this training were hardly students in the usual sense. They included senior members of the Belizean Police Force who have been utilizing sophisticated forms of dispute resolution in tough situations for years. Many have experience that we, the trainers, will never have, including having members of the community show up at your doorstep seeking mediation. Several in this group were experienced trainers and mediators themselves.

We had many women in our group, many of whom were single parents. They described the challenges they face juggling the often dangerous work they do with demands of caring for children and family, getting to and from work, and managing in a tough economy. Working with gender constructs is an important feature of the IMPACT Justice Project, and all participants were already keenly aware of the impact of gender on negotiation process and outcomes.

Belize City is one of the most fascinating places I have been. Like many urban centres in former colonies, many of the buildings were designed and built in a former era, with colonial influences and often slave labour. We were fortunate to get a tour of the Supreme Court house, a former Governor’s residence and the oldest Anglican Church in Central America, built with bricks that served as ballast in ships from England.

Over the course of the five days, the group of officers explored the ways in which classic negotiation and mediation theory and practice might be interwoven with their day to day work. In some cases, such as situations of danger or domestic violence, it is not possible. But in many others, the officers felt that much of what they do could benefit from using the active listening, patient questioning and non-judging facilitation skills they were role playing each day. From neighbour disputes to husband and wife conflicts, they found applications for a  less adversarial, less judgemental and less authoritarian approach to conflict resolution.

 

 

 

By the end of the week, we had made new friends,  enjoyed many wonderfully warm and funny moments, and shared with our Belizean colleagues some great learning.

But most of all we enjoyed the bustle of this busy city; the great local food (coconut and ginger Tableta is a treat, and the confluence of Mayan and Caribbean cooking was always good) and meeting the many people who taught us about the history and contemporary life in the country. We also were able to explore the Lamanai Mayan Ruins outside Belize City , and appreciate some of the country’s fantastic natural beauty and historical significance.

IMPACT Justice (Improved Access to Justice in the Caribbean) is a 5-year project funded by the Canadian government. It is implemented by the University of West Indies Cave Hill campus in 13 CARICOM member states. The goal of the project is enhanced access to justice benefiting men, women, youth and business.


Hilary Linton is a Toronto lawyer whose practice is restricted to providing mediation, arbitration, teaching and consulting services.  She has used her years of experience to launch her ADR business, Riverdale Mediation, which specializes in family mediation and arbitration, teaching mediation and negotiation theory and skills, and private training and consulting for corporations, government and individuals.

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Access To Justice : Community Realities

flyer promoting Family Dispute Resolution Institute of Ontario's 2nd Annual Forum on Access to Justice held on November 24th, 2016 at the Law Society of Upper CanadaThe theme for FDRWeek this year was “FDRevolution”, highlighting the emerging revolutionary changes and innovative techniques, products, services and complexities of FDR practice. On Thursday, Nov. 24th,  FDRIO held its 2nd annual Access to Justice Forum: at the Law Society of Upper Canada. Read more on the discussion between community members, organizations, and professionals on how to improve access to justice.


Domestic violence, poverty, mental health and language barriers can pose significant challenges for those seeking family law services. These barriers impede many individuals experiencing separation and divorce from accessing legal services and family dispute resolution (FDR) resources. Considering this pressing issue, the Family Dispute Resolution Institute of Ontario (FDRIO) hosted it’s 2nd Annual Forum on Access to Justice in Family Law. This forum was held during FDRweek to bring together academics, family violence experts, FDR practitioners, legal aid specialists, mental health professionals and policy makers in an interactive dialogue to discuss and debate creative solutions to this critical issue and identify initiatives that work.

The forum opened with Dr. Les Jacobs dissecting his recent research with the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice (CFCJ) investigating the social and economic costs of Canada’s justice system. The senior research fellow’s work with the Cost of Justice project is producing empirical data that will inform the future of access to justice in Canada. The study revealed what most at the workshop already know: there are serious gaps in access to justice when dealing with family law issues. According to the Access to Civil & Family Justice report, nearly 12 million Canadians will experience at least 1 legal problem in a given 3 year period and few will have the resources to solve them[i].

Community Voices: Panelists speak out

Panelists each identified access to resources as a problem for clients accessing justice in family law disputes. A panelist and counsel with the African Canadian Legal Clinic (ACLC) noted the challenge of overcoming anti-black racism and community perceptions of the justice system as barriers for black men in accessing resources when dealing with high conflict family law cases. The ACLC is one of only a handful of legal resources that has services available to black men specifically. Mental health professionals attending the workshop shared how there are no services that meet some clients’ specific mobility needs. For people experiencing PTSD, severe anxiety, and depression, leaving their home to access legal resources is not always a viable option. So many professionals have clients for whom there are limited to no resources for their specific family legal issues. The gap in access to justice in family law extends especially to those in living in poverty.

Dr. Jacobs confirmed that members of poor and vulnerable groups are particularly prone to legal problems. They experience more legal problems than higher income earners and more secure groups. The cost of legal services and length of proceedings is increasing. Legal fees in Canada vary significantly; however, one CFCJ report provides a rough range of national average hourly rates from approximately $195 (for lawyers called in 2012) to $380 (for lawyers called in 1992 and earlier)[ii]

Further, legal aid funding is available only for those of extremely modest means. For those with middle-income ranges, legal aid funding is generally only available for individuals with a gross annual salary of less than $18,000, or for a family of 4 with a total gross annual salary of $37,000. So, whether you are living in poverty or in the middle class, there is likely to be a cost factor in your ability to access justice[iii].

A community outreach worker with Centre for Immigrant and Community Services (CICS) shared examples of how income disparities impact access to justice in family law. Often there can be language barriers, issues with citizenship and cultural differences that pose problems to employment and gainful employment which could pay for family law services. Dr. Jacobs also noted how people’s problems multiply. Canadian’s have one kind of legal problem can often lead to other legal, social and health related problems. At the CNE this past summer, The Action Group (TAG) had volunteers providing information to the public. Diverse groups of people approached the volunteers of the legal advocacy group in droves sharing their stories, not realizing that they in fact are facing a multiplicity of legal issues at once.

Finally, Dr. Jacob’s investigation showed that legal problems have social and economic costs. It is no surprise that unresolved legal problems adversely affect people’s lives and trickled down to public funds. One panelist can attest to this through his work at Downtown Legal Services with the University of Toronto. It is not unusual, for a case to go to court despite all efforts to divert parties away towards an alternative dispute resolution options. This puts added unnecessary strain on the system when less costly route could be more effective. The common reasons for these outcomes is people do not find the legal information accessible. Overwhelmed by an already stressful family law issue, people do not always have the tools to navigate the information presented to them.

Fortunately, groups like Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO), Ontario Justice Education Network (OJEN) and TAG are collaborating to provide easily accessible legal information and resources through multiple mediums.
Continued collaboration with community organizations and further research is needed to improve access to justice in the family law system.


[i]  Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters, Access to Civil & Family Justice: A roadmap for change. (Ottawa: Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters., 2013).

[ii] supra

[iii] supra


Rhodes Thompson-Chase is an administrative assistant at Riverdale Mediation . Rhodes graduated from Carleton University where he earned his BA (Hon)  in Law and Gender Studies.

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Collaboration Across the Caribbean: Training with the IMPACT Justice Project

4 photographs of students and trainers collaborating over course materialJoel Skapiner, Nicole Stewart-Kamanga, Regina Thompson and Elizabeth spent a week in Guyana conducting another session of ADR training in collaboration with IMPACT Justice project. Read Joel’s account of their time in Georgetown!


4 photographs of students and trainers collaborating on course materialFour mediate393 roster mediators are spending a week in Guyana training social workers to upgrade their mediation skills through a program called IMPACT Justice project funded by the Government of Canada and run through Riverdale Mediation in Toronto. There are about 25 participants who are almost equally divided between child protection workers and “probation officers”. I have the latter in quotes because their roles are different from what they would be in Canada. Their roles include conducting pre-trial investigations and reporting their findings to the court. The child protection workers, unlike in Ontario, conduct pre-apprehension mediations with the aim of reducing the number of apprehensions. Mediation plays a large role for both jobs and the participants in the program are keen to absorb as many skills as we can impart.

2 photographs of students and trainers collaborating on course material, 2 photos of Georgetown magistrate courtsI was taken on a tour of the Georgetown Magistrates Court to see how that court processes its cases.  In Guyana, the Magistrates are a combination of what in Ontario would be Provincial Court judges and Justices of the Peace.  I sat through two spousal interim restraining order applications & closing submissions in two drug trials. The first thing that struck me was how difficult it was to hear all the parties. The courthouse is on the main street and with single pane windows, every truck’s engine & constant car horns reverberated through the courtroom.  In addition to that, two air conditioning units (it was 32 degrees Celsius with very high humidity outside) rumbled so loud that any voices not drowned out by the outside noise were taken care of by the AC units. Counsel, witnesses, and the magistrate were constantly asking one another to repeat themselves. I noticed there were no court reporters in any of the courts.

When I was introduced to a magistrate in chambers during a break in the proceedings I was told by her (most of the magistrates were women) in answer to my question about a record of proceedings, that their only record consisted of her notes which would be typed if a matter went on appeal. Overall, the courts seemed to be very efficient and there is an emphasis on process. The only real surprise I had was when counsel for one of the drug case’s accused referred to the prosecutor as being his learned friend and “a very nice young girl”. No one at the court except for me seemed to react to this.

4 photographs of students and trainers in collaboration on course materialVery few people can afford the courts in Guyana and so our training should go far to help resolve disputes in a quick and affordable way.

 


Our Team in Guyana!

Joel Skapinker

Joel has many years of experience practicing family law, currently with Skapinker & Shapiro.


Nicole Stewart Kamanga

Nicole is an Accredited Family Mediator and Family Lawyer with a negotiation/mediation-based private practice. She holds an LL.M. in ADR. Nicole is a panel lawyer with the Office of the Children’s Lawyer and sits on the Board of the Ontario Bar Association’s ADR Section.


Elizabeth Hyde

Elizabeth is an arbitrator, mediator and parenting coordinator with Riverdale Mediation Ltd.


Regina Thompson smiling

Regina Thompson

Regina is a parenting mediator, a family/child protection mediator and a Certified Adjudicator. Regina is founder and principal of Strategic Intervention Services Associates; a full-service culturally contextualized ADR consultancy.

 

 

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