In March, 2013, the new Family Law Act was launched in British Columbia. Although a number of changes had been made in all matters governed by this act, what has stood out for me are first, the emphasis on encouraging parents to engage in alternate dispute resolution rather than court process, and second, and most importantly, that the only consideration in developing parenting plans are the best interests of the children. The law clearly specifies the factors to be reviewed in determining their interests. The law also states that children will have their voices heard unless there is good reason to refrain from doing so, rather than the other way around as it had been. There has never been more reason to hear children’s concerns and their experience of the separation in broadening our understanding of their needs than now.
During a separation, even parents who have functioned as an effective parenting team – both largely sharing a common perspective and understanding of their children’s needs and their parental responsibilities of meeting them – can experience conflict about what their children need and what family life should look like post-separation. This is because it is a very emotional time and fears arise for the well-being of their children and of their parent-child bonds. During this time, children may well be talking with their parents about their concerns, but the parents may be hearing different things. Just as parents need emotional support to manage their own feelings and behaviour during such a turbulent time, children also need emotional support.
- Providing a safe place for the child to share their story and discuss their concerns and interests, without worry of being seen as taking sides or disappointing either parent.
- Providing parents with information and guidance to help their children through the process. This involves sharing knowledge concerning developmental stages, attachment issues, and family dynamics which impact the children.
- Assisting parents to develop a parenting plan which best meets their children’s needs.
- Relationship repair, in which parent-child relationships have been negatively impacted by the circumstances of the separation or negative marital dynamics leading up to the separation.
- Where there is child resistance to spending time with a parent, understanding the reasons from the child’s perspective and seeking ways to address their concerns within a context of repairing or building relationship.
Children have confidentiality in the process in that they are safe to share their experience, knowing that I won’t repeat what they tell me in confidence. However they also know that their parents need clarity on their feelings and needs, so we work together to agree on the feedback I can share to help them move forward in resolving concerns. The emphasis is always on healing and growth within the family.
Please note that I do not act as a mediator to resolve disputes about their children’s needs to parents actively involved in litigation, nor is my work with youth about providing documentation to legal professionals. My services are for families who want therapeutic input and support in resolving matters together. In the case of discussing shared parenting of very young children, I have colleagues who specialize in working with parents to create a unique and evolving parenting plan that allows the child to build their attachment to both parents and to thrive.