Family, Mediation

Pattern of co-operation key for divorcing parents

By Staff

Respect, co-operation and a children-first attitude are the essential components of a successful divorce, says Toronto family lawyer and mediator Patrick J. Aulis.

None of those factors is easy, but a growing number of separating parents are finding it useful to hire joint parenting co-ordinators, communication help, and financial advisers, says Aulis, founder of Aulis Law Firm Professional Corporation and North York Mediation.

Sharing experts enables families to avoid an adversarial situation, and that means they get genuinely useful advice, he tells

“Many experts are happy to have a joint retainer,” Aulis says. “They welcome the chance to give their authentic opinion rather than one that supports only Mom’s point of view and then face being ripped to shreds by Dad’s lawyer.”

With most separating parents, arguments and blaming are an endemic problem, he says, but it’s important to keep the children out of disputes as much as possible.

“I find that parents have a great deal of difficulty doing that,” Aulis says. “They either lean on them for emotional support, or they want validation from the children for what has happened — for them to recognize that the other parent is the bad guy and that they’re the wronged individual.”

Aulis has practised general law for 14 years and recently opened a family mediation practice. He offers these tips for divorcing parents to ensure their children thrive.

1) Rediscover — or create — a pattern of co-operation.

“Parents need to demonstrate to the children that they’re working together to solve problems and to manage the resources of the family,” Aulis says. The idea is to come up with a plan that will enable them all to live in a stable, nurturing situation.

When a child asks if he’ll be able to play hockey this year, and Dad says, 'No, because your mother is making me pay all this child support,' that’s destructive for the child, he adds.

“They may feel they’re the cause of the problem — it’s child support after all — and they’re being asked to take sides.”

Instead, the father should say: “Your mother and I are discussing what we can afford as a family, and we haven’t decided yet. But we’re sitting down with an adviser to try and figure it out, and we’ll do our best to see that everyone gets what they need, but it may not always be what everyone wants.“

2) Try to minimize the animosity and strife, which is admittedly hard to do when you’re in the grip of powerful emotions.

“There’s not much that strikes more to the soul than a sense of betrayal, feeling let down by your significant other,” Aulis says. “But realize that for a child it feels like living in a war zone. Minimize what they see and hear.”

3) Don’t leave things lying around that kids don’t need to see: evidence of affairs, letters, financial documents, journals.

4) Don’t have arguments in front of other people — family members, teachers, the soccer coach.

5) Don’t post rants on social media like “so-and-so let me down yet again today, big surprise!” “Keep it private, be respectful,” he adds.

6) Don’t use children as messengers, pawns or to punish the other parent.

7) Never let a child make decisions that she or he should not be making. For example, if they are crying and don’t want to go to the other parent’s house, stick to the adults’ arrangement.

“You must make the child understand it’s important for them to spend time with both parents. It’s not up to them to make the decisions. Otherwise, children are put in an impossible situation, picking Mom or Dad — they can’t win.”

Smart children become very intelligent liars in this situation, Aulis says. He’s seen cases where kids told each parent they didn’t want to see the other one.

“They want to have a good time at both homes, and they want to keep both parents happy, so they tell them what they want to hear.”

8) Use experts such as joint parenting co-ordinators, financial planners, accountants and communication facilitators. There is also a wealth of information online from governments and family lawyers aimed at helping divorcing parents, he says.

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