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Settling Issues Between High Conflict Separated Parents 




I am a single father with custody of my 9 year old son. I have had custody for the past 6 years. My son's mom is possibly manic/depressive and is a woman who can be running hot and cold when it comes to parental responsibilities. Lately his mom has started to give him a hard time when she has to get up early on the weekends when he's with her so he can get to hockey practice or games. She doesn't attend any sport he plays and is unwilling to do homework with him. He is now telling me that he doesn't want to play hockey due to his mom's influence. I do all the picking up and dropping off for visits and sports. What is a good strategy for dealing with this situation? His mom is not responsive to open communication with me.


When it comes to separated parents we differentiate their situations by the level of conflict between them. As such, we speak of low, moderate or high conflict separated parents.

Between separated parents where the conflict is low, they are able to communicate typically face to face, by telephone or email. There is no particular hostility and issues that arise are resolved between themselves alone.

With moderate conflict separated parents, they at times need a third party intervener to help mediate and settle disputes. Typically these parents, once a dispute has been settled are able to move on and follow though with their agreements. Often their agreements are set in writing and if in dispute again; they can refer to their written agreement to clarify what to do. Parents who have gone through mediation or Collaborative Law will usually have a "Parenting Plan" as a result and this will be their roadmap for the care of their children between them.

High conflict separated parents most often have their disputes sorted out between their lawyers or by way of the Court system. There is often ongoing hostiles and resentment regardless of the settlement. Also commonly, one parent is invested with the authority to make final decisions regarding matters affecting the children; sole custody. In such situations, the other parent may remain upset for the outcome. As such, between high conflict parents, issues may arise with greater frequency, impacting on the needs and wants of the children. Typically counselling and even mediation is insufficient to resolve these conflicts. In these circumstances, parents generally return to the lawyers and Courts to resolve the problems.

In lieu of the Court, some people are now turning to "Parenting Coordinators".  A Parenting Coordinator is like hiring a private referee. This is typically a person with training in mental health issues as well as issues related to parental separation, custody and access, power and control issues, domestic violence and drug and alcohol issues. The Parenting Coordinator can use a variety of strategies to help parents resolve issues, from guidance, to mediation to arbitration. However, both parents must agree to use a Parenting Coordinator and there is no public funding for this service. You can ask your family lawyer who provides this service in your community.

Beyond going to Court or using a Parenting Coordinator, you may seek individual counselling to obtain more individual advice. In the end, the most destructive element to children subject to parental separation is the degree of parental conflict. At times, it may be better to forgo an extra-curricular activity to limit the conflict, than continue the battle and have your child exposed to the turmoil.


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Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
(905) 628-4847  


Gary Direnfeld is a social worker in private practice. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider Gary an expert on child development, parent-child relations, marital and family therapy, custody and access recommendations, social work and an expert for the purpose of giving a critique on a Section 112 (social work) report.


Call Gary for your next conference and for expert opinion on family matters. Services include counselling, mediation, assessment, assessment critiques and workshops.


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