Empty Shell Marriage and Divorce

February 17th, 2016

Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel Anna Karenina begins with this often quoted sentence: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” This sad observation rings true with millions of couples living in what sociologists and psychologists call “empty shell marriages.”

An empty shell marriage is a marriage in name only, one where the spouses continue to live under the same roof but live as separate individuals. When divorce is difficult for legal, religious or financial reasons, or when a couple decides to stay together for the sake of the children, their failed marriage can desiccate to a shell.

Although they may share a home and may have been married for years, the spouses are not emotionally connected and often are lonely and emotionally distant. On the surface, an empty-shell marriage often appears happy and healthy, successful and serene. The relationship is stable and often little conflict is visible. Outsiders get the impression the marriage has no problems but are often very surprised when the marriage finally caves and ends in divorce.

Empty-shell marriages have lost or never had the passion needed to make the marriage vital because the relationship may never have had depth and often may have been formed for superficial reasons, says Charles Lee Cole in the Cultural Sociology of Divorce: An Encyclopedia by Robert E. Emery.

Generally, in empty marriages the spouses either 1) never had emotional and sexual passion or 2) they once had a strong attraction and lost it.

Empty shell marriages have no vitality - only the outside shell remains. Shells can appear pretty - even when they are empty. Sadly, too many marriages end up in this state after a few years.

John F. Guber and Peggy B. Hanroff have identified three types empty-shell marriages.

> In a devitalized relationship husband and wife lack excitement or any real interest in the other spouse or their marriage. Boredom and apathy have drained the marriage but serious arguments are rare. Arguing takes energy and the spouses do not think it is worth the effort.

> In a conflict-habituated relationship husband and wife frequently quarrel in private. They may also quarrel in public or put up a facade of being compatible. The relationship is characterized by considerable conflict, tension, and bitterness. The couple cannot live together – or apart.

> In a passive congenial relationship both partners are not happy but are content with their lives and gradually feel adequate. The partners may have some interests in common, but these interests are generally insignificant. The spouses contribute little to each other’s real satisfaction. The couple exists in a state of détente.

Marriages that become empty shells often drift through a progression. A loss of respect segues to a failure to communicate that reinforces withdrawal and apathy. Each spouse turns to his or her own separate interests, hobbies, careers, and friends. Personal advancement triumphs over the well-being of the other spouse.

In empty-shell marriage the spouses feel no strong attachment to each other, but outside pressures keep the marriage together, writes Angelia Davis. These include the desire to convey a stable family image, the need to maintain a place in the community, and the desire to avoid the financial consequences of divorce. Sometimes a couple may believe that ending the marriage harms the children or that getting a divorce would be morally wrong.

Only the spouses in a marriage genuinely know the marriage, so for obvious reasons, the number of empty-shell marriage is unknown. It may be as the number of happily married couples.

In an empty shell marriage, the spouses find many ways to be unhappy. Home life is without fun or laughter. The spouses do not share and discuss their problems or experiences with each other. Communication is at a minimum as is any spontaneous expression of affection or sharing of a personal experience. Children are usually starved for love and reluctant to have friends over because they are embarrassed about having their friends see their parents interacting. The couples in these marriages engage in few activities together and display no pleasure in being in one another’s company. Sexual relations between the partners, as might be expected, are rare and generally unsatisfying.

William J. Goode compares empty-shell marriages to marriages that end in divorce. In most families that divorce, the husband and wife pass through a state where each feels unbound of the other. They cease to cooperate or share with each other and look on one another as almost strangers. The empty-shell family is in such a state. Its members no longer feel any strong commitment to many of the mutual role obligations, but for various reasons the husband and wife do not separate or divorce. The number of empty-shell marriages ending in divorce is unknown. It is likely that a fair number eventually do. Both spouses have to put considerable effort into making a marriage work in order to prevent an empty-shell marriage from gradually developing.

In his book, The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck defines love as: “The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” Love as an investment of myself in order to promote the spiritual health of others. In an empty shell marriage, such generosity does not bloom.

Divorce and Adoption

February 3rd, 2016

When parents who have adopted children face divorce, custody and visitation issues may seem unclear. Divorce is tough, but it can be even more complicated for everyone involved when spouses try to work out custody of an adopted child. Adoption often makes the situation emotionally more difficult for the child, and parents may become concerned about their legal rights, says Brette Sember, a divorce expert.

If the divorcing parents adopted the child together, or if a stepparent adopted his partner’s child, adoption has no impact on custody. In the first case, both parents are the legal parents; both have equal rights in the eyes of the court. However, if one is also a biological parent, the court probably will take that fact into consideration when making a decision. A court probably will not award custody to a stepdad who recently adopted the child, over her natural mom. However, it is possible because the courts base custody on the best interests of the child. If the natural mom is shown to be a poor parent, custody could certainly be awarded to the adoptive father.

Divorce can be very difficult for an adopted child, who has grown up in an adopted family. The child may have spent years coming to grips with the adoption itself — the loss of his biological family. Now he or she has to deal with another loss. The split up can cause an adopted child to regress and re-experience the feelings of loss and grief related to the adoption. The upset of the divorce may cause him or her to act out in ways unseen since childhood.

All children of divorce deal with anger, loss, sadness, and confusion, but for the adopted child divorce may be a one-two punch. In general, therapy is almost always a good idea for children who are going through a divorce, and even more so for adopted children in a divorce. A good therapist can help a child work through his or her emotions and find coping strategies for the situations he or she experiences.

If the spouses can talk to their child together about the divorce, they can set the tone for him or her. The adopted child needs reassurance of love and a reiteration that the divorce cannot change that. He or she needs to be told that even though his or her parents are divorcing they are still the parents.

Adopted children often carry a deep fear that their adoptive parents will one day give them up just as their biological parents did.

The best thing parents can do is to work together cooperatively as parenting partners. It does not matter whether the woman is the biological mother and the father is the stepparent. In the child’s eyes both are his or her parents.

A spouse must put aside anger toward the other parent and find a way to work together so that the child has two parents who are active and cooperative and civil to each other when it counts.

Parental Conflict and Children

December 17th, 2015

Chronic parental conflict harms children, according to Kathy Eugster, MA, a Counseling Psychology 
Registered Clinical Counselor
, Certified Play Therapist and Supervisor 
Child and Family Therapist. Sociologists and researcher agree that parental conflict is the biggest predictor of poor outcomes for children. The level and intensity of the conflict between parents and resolution are the most powerful determinants of the impact. It does not matter whether the parents are married or divorced.

While children are resilient and highly adaptive and cope with separation and divorce, their parents’ “continuing, unresolved, hostile” battling severely damages them. The longer parental conflict continues and the greater the tension between the parents, the greater the likelihood that psychological difficulties result, including depression, sleep problems, low self-esteem, school problems.

When parents battle, children feel unsafe. Chronic parental conflict pollutes the atmosphere with tension, chaos, disruption and unpredictability when the family environment should be safe and secure and comfortable. Children become anxious, frightened, and helpless. They may worry about their own safety and their parents’ safety even without actual or threatened violence. Children’s may imagine harm coming to them or a family member and they may worry about divorce and being split up.

Children worry about taking sides in the conflict because they want to please both parents but this becomes impossible when they are caught in the middle. They may align with one parent, which can be very destructive and unhealthy for all family members.

Sadly children often believe they are responsible for the parental fighting, and they feel guilty, particularly if they hear arguments about different parenting styles, school issues, or financial issues related to them. The guilt from feeling responsible for their parents’ conflict causes much emotional distress.

Children learn the wrong lessons about parenting when parents only model unhealthy — indeed, destructive — ways to communicate and resolve problems. Most likely, they will learn by example, and that is how they will communicate and solve problems with others when they become adults.

Chronic parental conflict increases stress on parents, which can result in the decreased use of effective parenting skills over time, with a resulting negative impact on the children. When a child constantly hears bad things about one parent from another parent, the danger is that the parent-child relationship of the criticized parent may weaken. This can also work in the opposite direction, since a child can resent a parent who criticizes and refuses to respect the other parent, especially as the child grows older.

The Effects of Conflict on Children

Some children respond to parental conflict by acting out. They may demonstrate behavior problems, increased anger and inability to manage anger, violent behavior, delinquency, and gang involvement. 

Some children respond to parental conflict by turning inward. They are likely to demonstrate depression, isolation from friends and activities, physical symptoms like headaches, stomachaches, ulcers, and substance abuse. 

Children who are exposed to parental conflict do not interact well with others. These kids often have very poor social skills, low self-esteem and poor relationships when they become adults. 

Some children exposed to high conflict have trouble thinking. Advances in neuropsychology have shown that when exposed to conflict our brains release stress hormones that over time can actually change brain functioning. The effects of being exposed to conflict show up as problems in school, truancy, impaired thinking (things like problem-solving, abstract reasoning, memory are affected) and symptoms that mimic Attention Deficit Disorder.

Parental conflict is toxic for kids. No parents would dose their children with poison, yet parents who fight in front of their children do just that. The effects of conflict for children are huge. Divorcing parents can protect their children by behaving in front of them. One way to counter the negative effects of conflict on children is to argue cleanly. It take time a to work on solving a problem instead of trying to win at all costs.

The Friendly Divorce

October 30th, 2015

An amicable (“friendly”) divorce is sometimes used as a synonym for an uncontested or no contest divorce, which works when a couple decide to end a marriage that no longer works well in the appropriate way – as a business deal. In this regime, the spouses recognize that love has gone (or perhaps never existed), and they just want to go away. The partners exit each other’s life, if not amicably, then at least civilly. If there are no children, the spouses have little or no contact after the divorce; if there are children, they handle things fairly and respectfully way.

An amicable divorce turns on agreement on issues including, but not limited to, child custody, child support, visitation, spousal support, and property division. After reaching an agreement on terms and conditions, the couple must file divorce paperwork in family court to obtain the divorce. Often, there is a requisite separation or waiting period. The final divorce is subject to the court’s approval. The divorce incorporates terms the couple agreed to. Amicable divorces are popular because spouses agree on terms and conditions and file papers in court without the cost and time of hiring attorneys to do battle with one another. An amicable divorce saves time, money, and heartache.

Make no mistake. Divorce is never fun, but divorce does not have to be trench warfare and a fight to the death. If at all possible, the spouses can engage in what is known as a civil divorce, which is also called a collaborative divorce.

A collaborative divorce is appropriate for a couple that does not have difficulty agreeing. It is a big time and money saver. Lawyers facilitate the couple’s communication and continue to advise their respective clients. All parties try to agree on the specifics of the divorce so that the matter does not go to court. Parties come to their own agreements during divorce instead of putting control in the hands of a judge. Each spouse retains a collaborative lawyer, and both spouses and the attorneys make decisions outside of a court of law. Both spouses share information and come to an agreement on important issues such as alimony and child custody, and both agree a on any experts who need to be hired to help finalize the divorce. After this collaborative agreement is signed, the spouses must identify the property and financial assets they have, as well as any debt, so they can decide on how it all will be divided, and any other issues to be resolved during this collaborative divorce process.

In a mediated divorce, couples resolve issues out of court with the help of a mediator. The mediator helps the couple come to an amicable agreement on issues in divorce. Some jurisdictions require couples to seek mediation on certain issues in divorce.

Sometimes spouses come to understand that they probably would have made better friends than sweethearts, so the parting is amicable, if perhaps tinged with melancholy. These partners avail themselves of that could be a friendly divorced, and sometimes the spouses remain friends and share parenting comfortably with each other and future spouses. About one third of divorcing couples end marriages with a friendly divorce. In some jurisdictions, they can use a summary divorce and file pro se. This do it yourself (DIY) divorce works well if parties have been married a short time, have no children and no substantial property. It can also work when both agree to all property division, custody issues, and support schedules. Couples are not required to have counsel to divorce; they can file papers and seek court approval in most cases without lawyers.

Therapists may be beneficial to a couple even after the decision to divorce, as they may help facilitate an amicable agreement during divorce proceedings. Therapists can assist a couple overcome heated emotions so they can focus on efficient completion of the legal process.

Regardless of the specific approach taken, when divorcing spouses commit to developing compromises and solutions that work for both parties rather than fighting on every issue, the legal process of divorce works more smoothly. In turn, the parties are able to move forward individually and as a family more quickly with less pain, effort, expense, and time expended.

Divorcing a Narcissist

October 7th, 2015

Many people exhibit some narcissistic qualities, but full-blown narcissistic personality disorders afflict only about 8 percent of men and about 5 percent of women. Marriage to a narcissist is tough, but divorcing one is tougher, according to Sara Parker-Pope of The New York Times.
Marriage to a narcissist becomes a high conflict test of endurance for the victim spouse and children. Anyone who has dealt with a narcissist or other high-conflict personality knows that they are the masters of projection and dishonesty. They love to project their own fictions and falsehoods onto their victims, and in a divorce a narcissist can become particularly vicious.

A narcissistic personality disorder manifests itself differently with each person. The Mayo Clinic say a narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. Those with narcissistic personality disorders believe that they’re superior to others and have little regard for other people’s feelings. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism.

Dr. Carole Lieberman, a psychiatrist, says narcissistic individuals are able to lie in such a convincing fashion. “Since narcissists believe that the world revolves around them, or that it should, they think they can reinvent reality and no one should question them. Even though they know that what they’re writing or saying is really stretching the truth, they think that they are so clever about it that they will fool the recipient into going along with them,”
 says Dr. Lieberman.
Dealing with a narcissist isn’t for the weak. Charming and charismatic at the onset, crossing a narcissist brings forth a furry that few people are equipped to deal with. This interaction leaves the sanest person questioning his or her own sanity.

Narcissists may engage in what is called “gaslighting,” a term used for a form of mental abuse in which information is twisted or spun to favor the abuser. He or she may present false information with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity. The abuser may deny that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, or stage bizarre events with the intention of disorienting the victim. The term comes from the 1944 film Gaslight, in which a husband attempts to drive his wife insane.

When dealing with a narcissist, it is very important to build a foundation from rock — the rock that comes from knowing what is the truth.

“[I]f you’re dealing with a narcissistic personality disorder, you’re dealing with somebody who does not have the ability for empathy or to emotionally tune in to their partner or their children. They come into the relationship with this charming and very seductive beginning. But that turns into emotional warfare. Narcissists are people who lack empathy, who are not accountable for their behavior. They set up their world so it’s about them. They exploit others for their own gain,” according to family therapist Karyl McBride. McBride is the author of a guide for people trying to extract themselves from narcissistic relationships — Will I Ever Be Free of You? How to Navigate a High-Conflict Divorce from a Narcissist and Heal Your Family, which is featured in this month’s Well Book Club.

“If you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, you eventually discover you are there to revolve around them and to serve them. You can only imagine the shock that happens for people when they get seduced into something they think is the best thing that ever happened to them and it turns into this kind of relationship,” McBride says.

A relationship with either a full-blown narcissistic personality or even people with a high number of narcissistic traits become traumatic experience for the victim spouse and the children. When the victim spouses files for divorce and decides to leave or even thinks about leaving, the marriage becomes an even bigger nightmare. Victims have to deal with family law and custody evaluators and therapists and judges and the courts. “If you divorce a narcissist, it’s not going to be a normal divorce because if you leave the narcissist, they never get over it. They seek revenge, and the court system is an incredibly great platform for a narcissist.” Narcissists thrive in turning a divorce in what Parker-Pope calls a “playground.” -– “where they can just continue the battle with the partner and continue to seek revenge, and that’s what happens.”

The narcissist does not get over a divorce. Other people are hurt and angry and eventually recover and get over it. The narcissist continues to blame the partner and harm him or her. They do it by these long, extended, contentious divorce cases that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

People with full-blown narcissistic personality disorder don’t seek help. They’re not introspective or in touch with their own feelings, and they blame everyone else. They are difficult to treat, and they don’t seek treatment. If they do, it’s only to tell you how often everyone else is wrong.

Marriage to a narcissist reaches a point where the victim spouse sees that the high conflict of the marriage is causing emotional damage the children, and he or she makes a decision to leave. The victims in these relationships get physically sick, and they become exhausted from having to revolve around the narcissist and they feel like they can’t do anything right.

In a divorce, the narcissist uses children as tools. “Kids have a hard time going through a normal divorce. In these high-conflict, contentious divorce cases, this becomes a child’s life. It’s evaluators and therapists and court cases. Children are caught in the middle of all that and deeply harmed by it.”

“Narcissists don’t make great parents, but they use the children as pawns because they know it’s the most important thing to their partner. It’s not that they necessarily want to have time with kids, but it looks good for them to do the Disneyland-parent kind of stuff. The children are the best tool they have to get back at their partner.”

Child Friendly Divorce

August 25th, 2015

Parents can foster their children’s long-term adjustment to any major change in the family.

Relationships must be nurturing and supportive. The children need to know they can depend on the parents. Parents can buffer children from many of the blows that come with a divorce if the provide the right environment.

Parents cannot prevent or protect their children from all stress, particularly not when divorce fractures the family, but they can reduce the stress the children receive so they can tolerate and overcome it. This fosters the resilience children need.

There are four key ways to do this. These involve building good relationships with your children, developing open communication with them, stabilizing the home environment and limiting the amount of change in children’s lives. The third, stability, is by far the most crucial to their long-term adjustment.

Here is a checklist for parents to help foster children’s long-term adjustment to divorce:

> Build good relationships with the children. This means spending time alone with the children, showing them empathy and respect, reassuring them. Parents must be interested in their activities and support their relationship with the other parent.

> Maintain open communication with the children. Parents must listen to the children and put themselves in the children’s place. This means listening to the children, particularly about divorce related questions.

> Create a stable home environment. This means regular, organized routines and established rules and limits.

> Limit change in children’s lives. This means giving children six months before making additional changes, and making changes slowly.

Children often emerge from their parents’ divorce with greater psychological strength. Research shows that the most effective easy to foster that resilience is not to shelter them from stress, but to allow them to encounter stress in doses that are moderate enough for them to handle and overcome successfully. This resilience serves them throughout their lives.

Both spouses may experience feelings of guilt during a divorce, but they do so at different times. The leaver may feel guilt over leaving the marriage, no matter how unhealthy it was. In fact, the longer the co-dependent marriage goes on, the more each party is locked into an existing role. The giver becomes accustomed to always putting others’ desires and interests before his or hers. It may be agonizing for that person to suddenly put his or her mental well being ahead of doing for others. On the other hand, the spouse left may do a lot of hand wringing over various “if only” issues– if only he had been a better provider, lover, caregiver, companion.

The shock numbs with time, as the sufferer accepts the fact of the major life change is permanent. Guilt can be addressed in joint counseling, or counseling for closure.

Some ways to ease the divorce process, may be to:

> Listen to your child;

> Put yourself in your child’s place;

> Tune into divorce related questions;

> Accept their feelings;

> Use emotional regulation to help yourself and your child;

>Encourage them to talk

> Engage your child in an activity;

> Stay available;

> Share some of your own feelings;

> Use a children’s book to give them information about the divorce;

> Seek out other support people for your children;

> Resolve the issues of custody and placement as quickly as possible;

> Take children’s developmental needs into account;

> End parental conflict;

> Support children’s relationships with their other parent;

> Encourage your child to assume age-appropriate responsibilities;

> Resolve the reconciliation question quickly;

> Get counseling for your child if necessary;

> Make changes gradually;

> Allow six months between major changes;

> Continue familiar routines;

> Give children time to prepare for changes;

> Provide a positive focus.

Planning for Transgender Couples in Marriage

July 9th, 2015

Transgendered people face thorny legal issues with regard to marriage. Although marriage is not yet a legal option for gay or lesbian people in all jurisdictions, it is already an option — and a reality — for many who are transgender.

Transgender people are often able to enter into a heterosexual marriage after undergoing sex-reassignment. A transgender person may also be married to a person of the same sex, which happens, for example, when one of the spouses in a heterosexual marriage comes out as transsexual and transitions within the marriage. If the couple chooses remain married as many do, the result is a legal marriage in which both spouses are male or female. Alternatively, in jurisdictions that do not allow a transgender person to change his or her legal sex, some transgender people have been able to marry a person of the same sex. To all outward appearances and to the couple themselves, the marriage is a same-sex union. In the eyes of the law, however, it is a different-sex marriage because technically speaking, the law continues to view the transgender spouse as a legal member of his or her birth sex even after sex-reassignment.

In short, marriage is a very real option for a variety of transgender people in a variety of circumstances; in practice, however, the legal validity of marriages involving a transgender spouse is not yet firmly established in the great majority of jurisdictions.

Transgender people who are married must be aware of their potential legal vulnerability and take steps to protect themselves. Married transgender people should certainly act accordingly and should not hesitate to exercise their rights as legal spouses, including, for examples, the right to file married tax returns, the right to apply for spousal benefits or the right to have or adopt children as a married couple. At the same time, however, it is also important to create a safety net in the event that the validity of the marriage is challenged.

Although there are many benefits and protections that arise exclusively through marriage that cannot be duplicated through any other means, there are also some basic protections that can be safeguarded and secured through privately executed documents and agreements. At a minimum, a transgender person who is married should have:

> A last will and testament for both spouses;

> Financial and medical powers of attorney in which each spouse designates either the other spouse or another trusted person to be his or her legal agent in the event of incapacitation; and

> A written personal relationship agreement including a detailed account of each spouse’s rights and responsibilities with regard to finances, property, support, children and any other issues that are important to the couple.

The agreement should acknowledge that the non-transgender partner is aware that his or her spouse is transgender to avoid any later claims of fraud or deception. Ideally, the couple should draft those documents with assistance from an attorney and supplement them with any other legal planning documents that are appropriate for their specific circumstances.

With those basic documents in place, transgender people who are married can at least ensure that the spouses can inherit each other’s estates and retain control over their own financial and medical decisions, even if the validity of the marriage is challenged. In many cases, the safety net created by extra legal planning will never have to be used. In others, the presence of that extra protection will shelter the transgender person and his or her spouse from devastating emotional trauma and financial loss.

Divorce after Adoption

June 23rd, 2015

In the happier times of a marriage, divorce isn’t the ending that any parent envisions when they begin the journey of adoption. However, divorce undoes families with adopted children the way it undoes families with biological children. When adopted children are in the picture, however, a parent may feel extra guilt because the trauma of divorce now compounds the dislocation of adoption, thus inflicting an additional sadness on a child with a history of loss.

In a divorce involving an adopted child, the parent who chooses to demonstrate a good ending to a bad situation sets an incredibly important example. The adopted child needs to be guided through his or her own pain and confusion. When a parent displays emotional leadership, the adoptee learns there is life-after-loss.

Whether a couple’s divorce is amicable or acrimonious, the emotional needs of the adopted child must be a high priority for at least the year after the divorce. Parents must remember that divorcing spouses are the marriage role models that children internalize and replicate.

Divorce triggers an adopted child’s loss issues. It is an opportunity to identify and talk about the core issue of loss, validate feelings, offer empathy, and help build a child’s resilience with coping skills. An adopted child’s awareness — that divorce equals abandonment — is an enormous canyon he or she must cross to successfully deal with the stress of this major life change.

Ethical Problems in Family Mediation

June 11th, 2015

Often used in a divorce, mediation is a voluntary, non-binding process where a neutral third party helps the spouses reach a mutually beneficial resolution of their dispute. The mediator facilitates communication, promotes understanding, assists in identifying and exploring issues, interests and possible bases for agreement and compromise. Sometimes he or she helps the parties evaluate the likely outcome in court or arbitration if they cannot reach settlement through mediation.

Ethical issues in mediation are typically associated with confidentiality and conflict of interest, according to Trip Barthel, the Founder and Executive Director of the Neighborhood Mediation Center in Reno, Nevada. Sometimes, however, the mediator faces situations that tax the give and take of the process. For example, sometimes mediation moves toward a very unbalanced proposal, or, worse, threatens the well being of parties “not at the table,” such as children in a custody dispute.

Mediation is a fluid and flexible process. JAMS (formerly Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services), which is a national mediation service, have established guidelines to guide mediators facing an ethical conflict. National in scope, the guidelines are not intended to supplant applicable state or local laws or rules. All JAMS mediators know applicable state statutes or court rules. In the event that these guidelines are inconsistent with such statutes or rules, the mediators complies with the applicable law.

> The mediator must make sure everyone knows about his or her role and understands the terms of the settlement. If a party is unable to give informed consent because of, for example, a physical or mental impairment, the mediation should stop until such informed consent has been obtained from the party or the party’s duly authorized representative.

> The mediator must protect the voluntary participation of each party. The right of the parties to reach a voluntary agreement is central to mediation. Court-ordered mediation can imply reluctance. A mediator should assure the parties that although they have been ordered to attend the mediation, a settlement could be reached only if it is to their mutual satisfaction.

> The mediator must be competent to mediate a problem. A mediator should have sufficient knowledge of relevant procedural and substantive issues. A mediator should refuse to serve or withdraw from the mediation if the mediator becomes physically or mentally unable to meet the reasonable expectations of the parties.

> The mediator must maintain the confidentiality of the process. The parties must understand confidentiality before the mediation begins. The mediator should explain (a) any applicable laws, rules or agreements prohibiting disclosure in subsequent legal proceedings of offers and statements made and documents produced during the session, and (b) the mediator’s role in maintaining confidences within the mediation and as to third parties.

> No confidential information should be disclosed without permission of all parties or unless required by law, court rule or other legal authority. A mediator must not use confidential information acquired during the mediation to gain personal advantage or advantage for others, or to affect adversely the interests of others. If the mediation is being conducted under rules or laws that require disclosure of information, a mediator should so notify the parties prior to beginning the mediation session. In addition, a mediator’s notes, the parties’ submissions and other documents containing confidential or otherwise sensitive information should be stored in a reasonably secure location and may be destroyed 90 days after the mediation has been completed or sooner if all parties so request or consent.

> The mediator must be impartial. A mediator should disclose any information that reasonably could lead a party to question the mediator’s impartiality. A mediator may proceed with the process unless a party objects to continuing service. A mediator should withdraw if a conflict of interest exists that casts serious doubt on the integrity of the process.

> The mediator should refrain from any conduct involving a party, insurer or counsel to the mediation that reasonably would cast doubt on the integrity of the mediation process, absent disclosure to and consent by all parties to the mediation. This does not preclude the mediator from serving as a mediator or in another dispute resolution capacity with a party, insurer or counsel involved in the prior mediation.

> The mediator should exercise caution in accepting items of value, including gifts or payments for meals, from a party, insurer or counsel to a mediation during or after a mediation, particularly if the items are accepted at such a time and in such a manner as to cast doubt on the integrity of the mediation process.

> A mediator should not recommend other professionals. If a mediator is unable to make a personal recommendation without creating a potential or actual conflict of interest, the mediator should so advise the parties and refer them elsewhere.

> If it becomes appropriate to discuss the possibility combining mediation with binding arbitration, the mediator his or her role and relationship to the parties has altered, as well as the impact such a shift may have on the disclosure of information to the mediator. The parties should be given the opportunity to select another neutral to conduct the arbitration procedure.

Supervised Visitation

May 18th, 2015

Supervised visitation permits contact between a non-custodial parent and his or her child/ren in the presence of a third party who observes the visit and ensures the child’s safety. In family court cases, particularly those involving domestic violence, courts prefer supervised visitation by a neutral, professional third party to visits voluntarily supervised by friends and family because the latter can be dangerous to both the child and the monitor.

Supervised visitation works in situations where the non-custodial parent is trying to improve his/her parenting skills, struggles with a drug or alcohol abuse problem, becomes abusive or has had trouble controlling anger, has been absent from the child for a long period of time or has never spent time with the child, or in cases where the parent have been involved in inappropriate sexual behavior with the child.

Courts order supervised visitation to ensure children’s safety when divorced or separating parents are in high conflict because despite parental friction, children do best when they have reliable, ongoing relationships with both parents, but with their emotional and physical safety protected.

Supervised visitation can happen in the presence of a neutral third party, for example, friends of the family, a grandparent or other family member, neighbors, child care provider and in the presence of the custodial parent, which works a child is very young. Parents who choose to provide supervision in this manner must work extremely hard to ensure that their child is not exposed to conflict. Supervised visitation can happen at a neutral location where the visit is monitored by professionals and with a mental health professional trained in post-divorce issues.

The professional enforces effective safety measures. In most communities, social service agencies, victim service and child welfare organizations both private and governmental, and private individuals provide these services, which range from one-on-one supervision with a monitor continuously near enough to hear and see the parent/child interaction, to visits in large rooms supervised by several monitors.

The visit may take place at the parent’s home or in a designated visitation facility, such as a child care center. Supervised visitation ensures that parents have an opportunity to maintain contact with children in a structured environment that is both safe and comfortable for the child.

In supervised visitation, the visiting parent reports to the designated visitation center to visit with the child or the judge arranges for the child to be delivered to the parent’s home. In both routines, the judge specifies the supervisor. Many times, a counselor or social worker supervises contact and ensures that the parent visits with the child in a controlled setting.

The court may order supervised visitation temporarily or indefinitely when there are allegations of abuse or domestic violence.

Once a judge decides custody and visitation and issues and order, it remains in place until a parent demonstrates that there has been a change in circumstances. The parent who wishes to change a visitation order must return to court and request that the agreement be modified to reflect a change in circumstances This can be a parent’s decision to move, a parent’s successful completion of rehabilitation or counseling, or other changes that impact a parent’s suitability.

Supervised visitation protects children, while allowing parents to maintain contact with them. Parents whose visitation is supervised should strive to demonstrate their fitness to a judge. In the case of allegations of parental misbehavior, the accused should cooperate with any investigation ordered by the court.

Guidelines for the provision of supervised visitation services vary from state to state, including the guidelines for the training of the professionals. High quality initial training and continuing education are important for the professional and the families, courts and larger communities served.