The process that the client selects to resolve issues pertaining to child custody, separation and divorce can have a big impact on the how the children adjust to a separation and/or divorce.
Many options exist for dispute resolution in family law matters. Clients can present their case to a judge and ask the court to decide the issues. In those cases, there often is high conflict and the children frequently are exposed to, and sometimes involved in, a high-conflict custody battle. One or both of clients may pay for a mental health professional to perform a costly custody evaluation that is then submitted to the court. The child may even be called to testify in court. The Judge may, or may not, follow the recommendation of a custody evaluator. The litigation process is quite lengthy (in some Northern Virginia courts in can take more than two years to litigate custody and divorce). While this period of time is long for adults divorcing, it can seem like an eternity to a child. In the meantime, children can be anxious about how the separation will affect them and what the final outcome will be.
The clients that maximize direct communications through a problem solving/interest-based approach are using a process that will best serve the needs of their children. In Divorce Mediation and Collaborative Practice, the clients use a neutral mental health professional, who has experience working with couples on co-parenting, to assist with issues and concerns relating to the children. The neutral child specialist can serve as a voice for the children and offer perspective on what is age appropriate for a child and what might work well for a specific child. The neutral assists the clients in collecting information so they can jointly make decisions about what is in the children best interest. Unlike with litigation, the emphasis is on cooperation (as opposed to competition) in an amicable (as opposed to adversarial) manner. The children are exposed to less conflict, they are told the level of information that is appropriate for that child in a timely fashion, and the process is not likely to last as long as litigation would.
During an initial consultation, I conduct a factual intake. It is helpful for you to prepare and bring with you a chronological history of significant events/issues leading up to the current time, an overview of your financial profile (assets/debts/income for each of you, how they are titled and approx. what they are worth – it does not have to be perfected but a big picture helps to be able to provide a good consult and use our time most efficiently), and an outline of your questions, concerns, interests and goals (to include what you would like to get out of the consult). A good intake helps me fully understand your circumstances. From there, I will explain how the law applies and what your rights and obligations are (while incorporating answers to your questions in this discussion). I also explain options for processes available in helping you reach your goals and help you evaluate the pros and cons of the processes. I believe it is important for each of us to have an overview and understanding about options for proceeding before proceeding beyond a consultation. The client should allow two hours (you will not be charged for part of that time when filling out an intake prior to our sitting down together). The length of time needed will depend on the complexity of the situation.
With Mediation and Collaborative Practice, a foundation is laid for the parents to use an out of court process to address concerns and to revisit that process and those professionals if issues or concerns arise relating to the children in the future. It is more holistic and more likely to prevent the harm to children that can occur when parents divorce.