How to have a quality co-parenting relationship? Communication tips

This entry is a continuation of the post on April 30, 2014, regarding both parents having a quality co-parenting relationship.

Let’s discuss communication options. In co-parent relationships where there is high conflict, I recommend a simple formula for communication. Brief. Informative. Friendly. Firm. BIFF. This model is from Bill Eddy ( This formula applies to both verbal and written communication. Long, defensive, and accusatory emails will not likely get you what you want nor will they help your children. Expecting the other person to know what you need or want also does not usually work. Here’s an example of a non-BIFF email.
“I can’t believe that you sent our daughter to school without her homework done AGAIN. Can’t you ever get this right? What is so hard about sitting down with her to go through her homework from that day and ensuring she does it? Clearly you need to improve your parenting or she is going to fail grade three! This reminds me of all the times you shirked your duties with our older son as well. I’m sure you’ve got lots of time to spend with your new spouse and step-children, how about giving the same attention to your own daughter…[this goes on for a page of venting]”

Now, here’s the BIFF version.
“I’m concerned about our daughter’s school performance. Her last report card said that she was frequently missing assignments and the teacher called me last week to say she missed another two assignments. I’d like to talk about how we can support her together to get her homework done. I know you’re also interested in her doing well at school. I’d like to share the responsibility for helping her with her homework with you. What do you think about that?”

How can both parents have quality parenting relationships with their children?

During and after your divorce, you may be wondering if it will ever be possible for both you and your spouse to have a productive co-parenting relationship.  Many parents struggle with this.  Your lack of hope may be based on your beliefs about your former spouse, negative incidents that happened, or behaviour challenges you are experiencing with your kids.  This can be a scary phase for both parents and children.  The good news is that there are many things you can do to work towards making things better.  When it comes to conflict between you and your former spouse, there are process options and communication options.  Let’s start with the process options.  If you want to negotiate a stronger parenting plan for the benefit of the children, mediation can be beneficial.  Mediation may include only a couple of issues which are difficult to negotiate, or if necessary, it can include the entire parenting plan.   What issues are included will be determined by both parents, together with the mediator and any lawyers involved.  If there are certain important points which you cannot negotiate, consider involving a neutral professional who can assess the best interests of the children.  Social Workers, Psychologists, and  Counsellors are professionals who can assist you with this.  These reports are referred to in Section 211 of the Family Law Act.  This report can then be used to guide both of you in mediation or it may be used to help a judge to decide what is in the best interests of your children. 

If the divorce is final and parents are now continuing to have high conflict about co-parenting decisions, consider hiring a parenting coordinator.  A Parenting Coordinator (PC) is hired jointly by both of you and an agreement is made for the PC to work with you for up to two years.  Once you sign an agreement with a PC or if you have an agreement or court order requiring a PC, you must commit to continuing to work with this person, with few exceptions.  Having a PC means you don’t have to go to court to have decisions made about your children.  When the parents can’t agree on significant decisions, the PC works with you first to build consensus and if necessary, the PC will make a binding decision regarding the issue(s) in dispute.  Although this time can be scary and emotionally draining for everyone, in most situations, the conflict does go down over time.  If you’re having trouble staying hopeful or being strong for your kids, make sure you take care of yourself including seeing a counsellor for emotional support and getting enough sleep, nutrition, and exercise.

Now that I’ve described process options, let’s move on to communication options.  In co-parent relationships where there is high conflict, I recommend a simple formula for communication.  Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm.  Stay tuned for more on this way of communicating soon…

Top Ten Traps to Avoid when Planning for Aging Family Members: Number 1

The first trap to avoid is avoidance itself.  Avoiding difficult or uncomfortable discussions can make relationships and situations worse in the long term. 

—Ensure that you talk about finances (estate planning, inheritance, care costs) and if possible, involve several close family members so everyone is “on the same page.”  Remember to talk about the “what ifs” such as What will happen if the aging person becomes critically ill, or is dependent on machines.
There are often differences of opinion among adult siblings and other family members about what should happen.  Find ways to have open conversations about these differences and also look for similarities.  If you keep talking and trying to understand each other you may be surprised at what you can agree on.
Here’s an article with more information about communication when family members are aging.


The Best Interests of the Child

The new Family Law Act in BC refers to the “best interests of the child” as the ONLY consideration when the courts and parents are making plans for children.  Section 37 (2) defines the child’s best interests as:

(a) the child’s health and emotional well-being;

(b) the child’s views, unless it would be inappropriate to consider them;

(c) the nature and strength of the relationships between the child and significant persons in the child’s life;

(d) the history of the child’s care;

(e) the child’s need for stability, given the child’s age and stage of development;

(f) the ability of each person who is a guardian or seeks guardianship of the child, or who has or seeks parental responsibilities, parenting time or contact with the child, to exercise his or her responsibilities;

(g) the impact of any family violence on the child’s safety, security or well-being, whether the family violence is directed toward the child or another family member;

(h) whether the actions of a person responsible for family violence indicate that the person may be impaired in his or her ability to care for the child and meet the child’s needs;

(i) the appropriateness of an arrangement that would require the child’s guardians to cooperate on issues affecting the child, including whether requiring cooperation would increase any risks to the safety, security or well-being of the child or other family members;

(j) any civil or criminal proceeding relevant to the child’s safety, security or well-being.”

Click on the link below for more information regarding what the court will consider when determining the best interests of children.

As a mediator, when I am working with parents, I support them to look at their children’s needs and find ways where both of them can be involved and ensure their children’s best interests are met.  This is possible even if parents have different views about what is in their child’s best interest.  All children want a close, positive relationship with their parents (even if sometimes it doesn’t seem like it).  Mediation can assist parents to develop a productive co-parenting relationship for the sake of their kids.


Conflict about Estate Division

I recently attended the memorial service of my father-in-law, while this event and the ensuing estate division went smoothly, I was reminded of how this often does not happen.  When an elderly family member dies, previous family conflicts can reoccur or new ones can begin.  Many families have ongoing conflicts between siblings due to personality differences, traumatic events, and family dynamics.  Here’s an example.  Margaret was the mother of three children who are now in their fifties.  She passed away after a long battle with cancer.  During her illness, her oldest daughter, June, was her primary caregiver and missed a lot of work, due to her caregiving responsibilities.  As a result, her mother changed her will two months prior to her death to give June 50% of her financial assets.  The remaining 50% was split evenly between the two youngest siblings, John and Julie.  Julie and John were very upset about this and felt that their mother was not aware of the support they provide “behind the scenes” to Margaret.  They also felt the division of assets was unfair, since June lived in the same home as Margaret for three years and Margaret covered the mortgage, so June’s living expenses were significantly reduced for this period.  In a situation like this, the parties can choose to hire a mediator to assist in resolving this dispute.  A mediator can help the siblings to discuss the situation in a safe and productive manner.  It is not uncommon that the dynamics between them for most of their lives will also be reflected in this situation.  If John and Julie feel like June was always favored by her mother, then they are likely to interpret this situation in the same way.  If June has always felt like she priorized her mother’s well-being more than her siblings did, then she will likely interpret John and Julie’s frustration as unjustified.  A mediator can help all of the siblings to understand each other better and figure out a plan for moving forward and preserving or improving sibling relationships.  I also recommend that all involved get legal advice so they are aware of their legal rights and responsibilities.

Back to School Doesn’t Have to be Complicated or Conflictual

A new school year is starting and this often means new parenting plans for divorced parents who are co-parenting.  This is an opportunity to build on what has worked for both of you in the past and let go of arrangements that haven’t worked.  Take a moment to consider how last year worked.  What did you like?  What did you wish was different?  How did your children respond to the plan?  What did they say they wish was different?  Use the new school year as a chance to become more collaborative in your relationship with the other parent.

Here are some questions for both of you to consider.

1)      Are there other easier ways to increase the parenting time that each of you spends with your children? 

This could include attend school or extracurricular events together if you haven’t in the past.  Maybe a change in the transportation arrangements would allow each of you more valuable conversation with the children.

Try alternating roles.  If one of you typically manages the medical and dental appointments, try switching this arrangement for one year and see how it works.

2)      What is your favorite activity to do with your children?  What are your children’s favorite activities with each of you?

Ensure that both of you have an opportunity to spend time with your kids doing these activities on a regular basis.  Remember, that your kids need both of you.  They will be happy and healthy if each of you can support them to have a close relationship with the other parent.

3) What has changed this year?  Are the school schedules different?  Is someone attending a new school?  Maybe one parent has a different job and can now pick up the children earlier?

 Take advantage of any changes to improve the parenting plan to increase the benefit to your children.

3)      Evaluate the number of structured activities that your children have.  Consider if you can reduce these to allow for more unstructured play and time with each of you.

Check out this link for more info.

As adults, we often forget how to play.  If you have forgotten, redevelop this skill by sitting on the floor with your children, and/or joining their favorite game.  Letting a child direct his or her play with you will help build a strong connection between you.  If you start with 30-60 minutes a few times a week, you may be surprised at how much this improves your child’s openness to you.

4)      If you and the other parent aren’t ready to have this kind of conversation alone, consider hiring a family mediator to help you tweak or improve the current parenting plan for the benefit of your kids and yourselves.

See The Benefits of Mediation on this website.

How divorce mediation helps


Here’s another description of how divorce mediation saves time, money, and emotional energy.

Conflicts About Moving: Elders, Couples, and Business owners

Moving is a stressful.  Deciding to move is stressful.  In addition, a decision to move is almost always linked to another stressful life event.  If your business partnership is dissolving, then one or both of you may need to change your office space or store front.  If your marriage or common-law relationship is ending, one of you is probably planning to move.  If your elderly parent is in the hospital and can’t return home, a move is inevitable.  These stressful events can increase conflict and result in unproductive discussions about what to do next.  If you’ve tried talking with the others involved to come up with a solution and the conversation didn’t go well, stay tuned for some helpful tips.

Firstly, choose a time to discuss the “move” options when both of you are feeling well-rested, have eaten, and have at least an hour free.  Your conversation may not take an hour, but it’s easier to have a time cushion in case it does.  Make an agreement with the person ahead of time about when and where you will meet.  Rather than getting into all the details when you’re arranging to talk, try something like…

“I’d like to talk about where both of us are going to live. How about tonight after dinner? ”   OR

“Dad, we’d like to talk with you about options for you when you get out of the hospital.  Would tomorrow after lunch work?”

Secondly, before the meeting, make a list of your own interests (eg. Needs, hopes, motivators, fears) regarding the move.  Some examples are: affordable rent/mortgage payment, financial security, planning my time off, sentimental value of certain items, and keeping moving costs low.

Thirdly, think about some of the interests the other person might have.  When you do meet, it is important to ask them open questions to find out their interests.  It’s helpful to think about what these might be ahead of time.  Guard yourself against only seeing their motivators as against you.  Instead of thinking “she wants to get as much of my money as possible”, think, “she wants financial security just like I do”.

During your conversation, try some questions like:

“What’s most important to you about where you live?”

“What do you think will be most difficult in this transition?”

“What problems would you like to avoid?”

Be prepared to state your own answers to these questions as well.  Being direct and open is a great way to build trust in the conversation.  If you state your intention to find a solution that works for both of you, that can go along way towards building a bridge over the problem.

Some situations require the assistance of a third party.  Don’t hesitate to contact a mediator to assist if you have a big problem and the conversations aren’t going well.

My siblings and I are in conflict about planning for our father who is ill. What can we do to reduce the conflict?

Conflict is a normal part of family life and in the case of sibling conflicts, it often continues throughout our lives.  Some people discover that their conflict as adults looks very similar to the conflicts between them as children.  This is because we learn our responses to conflict within our families and at a very young age.  If you are experiencing conflicts with your adult siblings, consider the following.  How much of this conflict is linked to past family situations?  You’ll know the answer if you hear yourself saying, “He ALWAYS does that” or “She NEVER seems to get my point.”.  Try focusing on the present and the concern at hand.  Start with identifying your own needs, interests and motivators in the situation and focus on the present not the past.  Some common needs are: 1) to know your parent is comfortable and cared for; 2) to have positive relationships with siblings; AND 3) to ensure that siblings don’t get burned out caring for a parent.  Rather than having the typical unproductive discussion which might be characterized by someone refusing to talk, stomping off, or raised voices, try asking open questions.  Here are some examples to get you started.  What would be your ideal scenario for dad’s situation?  What role do you want to play in his care?  How does being involved in his care and/or decision-making impact you? What do you think would happen if we…..?

In some situations, the tension is too high or there is too much water under the bridge to make the conversation productive on your own.  In these situations, consider hiring a mediator to help everyone feel heard and to create a plan that benefits all family members.

How does the new BC Family Law Act define guardianship?

On March 18, 2013, the new Family Law Act came into effect in BC.  As a result, many legal concepts and definitions have been updated or changed.  Over the next few months, I will be writing about different aspects of the new Family Law Act as well as providing you with legal resources.  This information should not be interpreted as providing legal advice.  I will be providing legal information only and I strongly recommend that anyone involved in a family dispute get independent legal advice.  If you would like a list of lawyers to choose from, please email me and I will be happy to provide this.

In the Family Law Act (FLA), there are some changes regarding the definition of guardianship.  According to the Legal Services Society, the FLA defines a guardian as the person who has the right to make decisions about a child, such as where the child will live or go to school; medical and dental care; and what religion the child will be raised in. (p. 4, Guide to the BC Family Law Act,

You can find a more detailed description of guardianship and legal options available for parents at,_Parenting_Arrangements_and_Contact.

In mediation, this is significant because the FLA states in Section 39 (1), “While a child’s parents are living together and after the child’s parents separate, each parent of the child is the child’s guardian.”  Parents can then use mediation to negotiate how parenting responsibilities will be divided between the guardians.  These responsibilities are listed in Section 49.

As a family mediator and dispute resolution professional, I can assist parents to negotiate how they share parenting responsibilities between them.