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Ten Tips For The Holidays

Ten Tips For The Holidays – by Dr. Robin Deutsch, Psychologist

1. Have a very specific plan for the holidays so there is no opportunity for confusion or
conflict. Parents may alternate or split holidays, but when there is disagreement about
this plan, consider the longer view of alternating holidays by even and odd years.
Holidays are often a time of heightened emotions, and the reality of the loss associated
with separation or divorce is no more apparent than when parents must spend a holiday
without their children or without old traditions.

2. Try to continue traditions of the past for the children. If they are accustomed to
spending Christmas Eve with one extended family, try to continue that tradition, if not
every year then in alternate years. Parents should consider maintaining some of the
family traditions the first year after the separation, and alternating beginning the
following year.

3. If you can continue some traditions together, make them clear, attending to details of
who, what, where, when, and how. Some families are able to be together without
conflict arising, but parents often have different expectations about the experience itself,
as well as the amount of time they will be together. The most important thing for the
children is that they do not experience conflict between their parents.

4. Create new traditions that feel special to the children and family. This is an
opportunity for the new family configuration to establish new traditions for the holidays
including creation of a special holiday celebration or experience on a day other than the
actual holiday. It is also an opportunity for the adult who does not have the children, to
establish new practices such as time with friends, volunteering, movie days, and travel.

5. Think long-term—what do you want your children to remember about holidays when
they have their own children? For children, holidays are magical. It is often the little
rituals and practices that are most memorable, such as baking a pie, playing a game or
lighting the fire.

6. Remember, children’s memories include all senses—what they saw, heard, smelled,
tasted and touched. To the extent possible, create a memory that involves each of
these senses and describe it, e.g. we always listen to this music, eat cranberry sauce,
watch this movie, read this book, take this walk, and cut these branches. Do not allow
conflict to enter into these memories.

7. Self-care is very important. Life for the adults has significantly changed. Find new
ways to care for yourself, e.g. exercise, friends, books, movies, clubs, martial arts,
dance, classes, activities that bring new energy and attention. You want to rejuvenate
yourself and refocus on something to help you reconstitute yourself in your new life.

8. Keep your expectations small and be flexible. Focus on one thing that matters most
to you during the holidays, e.g. some sense of connection to your family, having some
time with extended family or close friends, creating a new tradition, continuing a
tradition. Your holiday time will not be the same, but you can decide that you will have
one small goal that you will work toward creating or preserving. Holidays may be
accompanied by unmet needs and dashed hopes. By thinking small you can manage
disappointment and decrease stress.

9. Though you, the parent, may feel disoriented and lost in the changed family, keep
your focus on the children and the new family constellations. Make the holidays about
your children, which means helping them to feel good about spending holiday time with
the other parent.

10. In ten years or twenty years, what do you want to see when you look back on these
years of change? From that long view you can highlight the tone and experience of
these transformed holidays. Remember, children who find holidays stressful because of
the conflict between their parents, have terrible memories as adults of holidays and of
special family moments. It is in your hands to create fond, pleasant memories for your
children. They can be traditional or not, but the message is that you and our family are
important and we find ways to celebrate and enjoy holidays.

Full attribution to Dr. Robin Deutsch provides consultation, mediation, parenting coordination and expert
witness services in Wellesley, MA. She developed and was the director of the Center of
Excellence for Children, Families and the Law at the William James College. Previously
she was an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School. Dr.
Deutsch was the co-chair of the AFCC Child Consultant Task Force. She served on
both the AFCC and APA task forces that developed Guidelines for Parenting
Coordination, the AFCC task force for Guidelines for Examining Intimate Partner
Violence and the AFCC task force for Court-Involved Therapists. She is the past
president of the Massachusetts chapter of AFCC, past president of the AFCC, and
former Chair of the APA Ethics Committee.

Recent AIFS Research – Children Want to Be Heard and Kept Informed – and Feel Safe!

In June 2018 the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) released a study ‘Children and Young People in Separated Families: Family Law System Experiences and Needs’ https://aifs.gov.au/publications/children-and-young-people-separated-families-family-law-system-experiences

The study included interviews with children and young people (10 – 17 years of age) who, as a result of family separation, had experienced the family law system.

Of particular importance to those who were interviewed was:
• For their parents to listen to them and take their views into consideration
• For the family law system to listen to them, particularly about safety concerns
• For the family law system to take them seriously
• To be better informed about the family law system
• Speaking to psychologists and counsellors during the family separation process was helpful.

The information provided contributed to the following recommendations:
• Give children and young people the choice to be involved in decision making
• Keep children and young people informed about the decision making process for example important decisions and dates
• Provide children and young children with a clear explanation of the new parenting arrangements
• Ensure children and young people have access to psychologists and counsellors during the decision making process
• Make sure that children and young children are safe and that there is scope to change the parenting arrangements.

The following video provides direct access to the voices of the children and young people: Quotes from the ‘Children and Young People in Separated Families Study’ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Vaw_hVOoO8&feature=youtu.be

The process of family separation and rebuilding is undoubtedly difficult. The work of organisations like AIFS provide the ‘science’ that is needed to support developments in the complex space that we work within. Our hats go off to AIFS for their hard work, and to the children and young people who allowed us into their world.

For the best advice about your family law parenting matter or family dispute resolution, contact Vanessa Mathews on 9804 7991 or vanessam@mflaw.com.au

‘Alienation? Myths, Complexities and Possibilities … ‘

‘Alienation? Myths, complexities and possibilities …’

Dear Friends

Last weekend I attended the AFCC Australian Chapter conference in Adelaide.

The conference topic was ‘Alienation? Myths, complexities and possibilities …’.

The calibre of the papers was excellent.

I was particularly interested in the workshop offered by Dr Philip Stahl, Psychologist, on domestic violence differentiation, personality disorders and unconscious bias.

Also of great interest was the current research on high conflict separations, alienation and children resisting contact with parents.

Early identification and intervention is the key to avoiding the escalation of ‘mere conflict’ into alienation and the devastating impact on children (regardless of age).

We heard from our local well-known Psychologists Dr Jenni Neoh and Ms Lisa Bottomley in particular about their respective intervention programs for complex family matters.

We often work with families facing experiencing particular difficulty with their post-separation parenting – with young and old children. We will be recommending Jenni and Lisa’s very special approaches to these clients in the hope of achieving an early and effective resolution.

The AFCC website provides a wealth of excellent resources, including conference papers http://afccnet.org.au/ . You may like to consider becoming a member.

We continue to offer a free 15 minute telephone consultation to your clients in need of family law advice – they simply need to call us on 9804 7991 or email enquiries@mflaw.com.au to book a time for one of our family law specialists to speak with them.

And remember, we’re always happy to help you out with any questions you may have.

Stay in touch,

Vanessa and the Team at Mathews Family Law

Family Violence and Children at Risk

Every day in my practice as a family lawyer, family dispute resolution practitioner and mediator, I hear stories of family violence and children at risk.

Whilst family violence is a tragedy in and of itself, more tragic is the suffering caused to the children who are exposed, …read more

Re-partnering After Separation, Divorce

Second marriages, partnerships, step-families present challenges, new opportunities after separation, divorce …read more

You’ve Tried Everything – Time for Family Court?

You’ve Tried Everything – Is it Time for Family Court?

While many married or de facto couples terminating their relationship try to work things out amicably, it can be tough.  Here’s this person you thought you’d spend the rest of your life with, and now you don’t even want to sit next to them at the same table.  But it’s almost always best to avoid court, at least in the beginning.  We recommend trying a number of alternatives, before going to Family Court:

Work it out on your own

Sit down and talk to each other.  This can save both of you time and money.   And being able to work things out at such a difficult time in your relationship bodes well for the future, demonstrating that despite the breakdown, you can work together for what’s best for everyone.

Family Dispute Resolution 

Many couples start with family dispute resolution.   Trained practitioners in the field of family disputes, with additional training in law, social work and psychology work with a separating couple to help them through the process.   This is generally used when children are involved.

Mediation 

Mediation is led by a trained, objective person whose role is to help each of you define the issues at hand, manage the discussion and come up with solutions.  The mediator is interested in resolving the problem in the best way possible for everyone involved.  The mediator does not judge or make a final decision but will help you come to your own resolution.

Collaborative Divorce 

Collaborative divorce is similar to mediation but each side also has a lawyer and often a social worker or counsellor and a financial advisor are involved.  Together all sides work together to help both of you come up with a solution that works for everyone.  Among the incentives to make this approach work: if negotiations fail, neither sides’ lawyer can represent them in court.

When is it time to throw in the towel and go to Family Court?

Sometimes though, Family Court may really be the right way to go.  Here are some factors to consider when making the choice whether to continue (or start) alternative approaches or go to Family Court.

Imbalance of Power

If your partner is abusive or domineering or makes more money or controls the finances in the family, this may put you in a much weaker position if you are trying to work it out by yourselves.  While some neutral third parties like a mediator have experience handling these types of people, you still might find yourself stuck and unable to move forward.

Your Partner has an Aggressive Lawyer

Even the most well-meaning of people can fall under the spell of a tough lawyer.   If they are working towards “getting even” rather than being fair, it’s probably time to go to Family Court and let a judge decide.

Your Partner does not Communicate

Each side has to be willing to talk about the issues at hand, express their needs and wants and listen to the other side.  You can’t really work out a problem with someone who refuses to show up to meetings or won’t express what they want  or won’t agree to anything,  If this describes your partner – repeatedly – it may be necessary to find a good lawyer and turn to the Family Court.

Vanessa Mathews and Kuppy Nambiar are accredited specialists Melbourne family lawyers Melbourne divorce lawyers who have the expertise and experience to provide you with the separation and divorce legal advice you are looking for.

Contact Mathews Family Law, Accredited Family Law Specialist, Level 2, 599 Malvern Road, Toorak, Victoria, phone 9804 7991, enquiries@mflaw.com.au

Mathews Family Law: http://www.mathewsfamilylaw.com.au

Family Court of Australia: http://www.familycourt.gov.au

Federal Circuit Court of Australia: http://federalcircuitcourt.gov.au

Special Medical Procedures, Gillick Competence and the Family Court

Where a ‘special medical procedure’ for a child is proposed, parental consent to the procedure will be insufficient and an order of the Family Court will be required.

A special medical procedure is one which is invasive, irreversible, requires major surgery and where the consequences of the procedure give rise to a significant risk of making a wrong decision and a wrong decision carries with it grave consequences.

Examples of special medical procedures include:

  • Gender identity dysphoria (GID).
  • Surgical gender reassignment.
  • Heart surgery.

In June 2015 the Family Court was asked to determine whether a 16 year old child, known as ‘Dale’, who was transitioning from female to male, was competent to consent to stage 2  of GID treatment (also known as ‘testosterone hormone treatment’).

Dale had already commenced stage 1 treatment (puberty suppression hormone treatment), for which a court order is not required.

As it was likely that stage 2 treatment would result in physical changes that would be difficult to reverse, stage 2 treatment is considered a ‘special medical procedure’ for which a court order is required.

Dale’s parents and his treating medical practitioners believed that Dale was, and should be, able to make his own decision about stage 2 treatment, without a court order being required.

His parents therefore sought a declaration that he be found to be ‘Gillick competent’ and therefore able to make his own decisions in relation to treatment.

In the English case of Gillick, it was held that ‘… parental right yields to the child’s right to make his/her own decisions when he/she reaches a sufficient understanding and intelligence to be capable of making up his/her own mind …’

Gillick has been approved and applied by the Family Court of Australia since 1992 (Marion’s Case).

If a child is found to be Gillick competent:

  • The child may consent to the special medical procedure.
  • The consent of the child’s parents is not required.
  • A court order is not required.

So how does the court determine if a child is Gillick competent?

The court must have regard to the child’s best interests as the paramount consideration.

The child’s ‘best interests’ will be determined by a consideration of:

  • The age and maturity of the child
  • The views/wishes of the child
  • The urgency of the application

The court will consider evidence as to the child’s best interests from:

  • The child’s parents.
  • Expert witnesses such as medical specialists, mental health professionals, counsellors, etc.

Having regard to all of the evidence, and making a positive finding as to Dale’s ‘ … intellectual capacity and sophistication to understand the information relevant to making the decision and to appreciate the potential consequences, some of which may be irreversible … his views are clear and have not changed … ’, the court determined that Dale was Gillick competent and therefore competent to consent to the stage 2 treatment.

The special medical procedures jurisdiction of the Family Court  is intended to protect against wrong decisions by parents that may result in irreversible wrong outcomes for children. The court has demonstrated a willingness to apply the provisions of the Family Law Act to these particularly difficult family circumstances with sensitivity, empathy and compassion.

Vanessa Mathews, accredited family law specialist at Mathews Family Law, can assist with your questions about special medical procedures.

The Task of the Single Expert Witness: A Recent Decision of the Family Court

To follow is a summary of the ‘pathway’ to be taken by the single expert witness in parenting proceedings.

It provides a useful reminder of the Family Court’s expectations of the single expert witness.

  1. ‘ … The task of a single expert witness is never easy. The opportunities for observation and consultation are rarely if ever entirely satisfactory, because of constraints of time and money. Usually, each party is seeking some corroboration from the single expert witness of his or her position.
  2. Although the expert may give evidence about the “ultimate issue”[67], more frequently the determination of that matter will fall to the Trial Judge. Each party and the Judge may confront the single expert witness with hypothetical sets of facts to see if the expert will or could modify or qualify his or her opinion. Frequently, with a necessarily limited database a single expert witness faces challenges to his or her opinion.
    It is important therefore that single expert witnesses follow the pathway prescribed by authority[68] to prepare and present his or her report.
  3. The pathway accords with common sense. First, the expert must have primary and particular qualifications and experience. For example, expert evidence on the health of children should come not only from a medical doctor but desirably from one specialised in child medicine and moreover someone experienced in such an area of practice and knowledge.
  4. Second, the expert should clearly indicate the information and facts upon which he or she has relied and identify the assumptions upon which he or she proceeded.
  5. To the extent that the expert relies on research to form his or her opinion, it may be wise to identify that research, particularly if it is likely to be controversial and invite cross-examination. An expert becomes an expert through knowledge of and reliance upon, research other than his or her own and the expert’s opinion must necessarily be a synthesis of knowledge in the field of expertise. However, comments such as “research shows” may indicate a lack of specialist acuity.
  6. Third, the pathway of reasoning to the opinion must be discernible. This would seem to be a statement of the obvious but surprisingly from time to time it is overlooked by the single expert witness …’.

As reported in Hoffman & Barone [2014] FamCA 52 (4 February 2014), Deputy Chief Justice Faulks, paragraphs 93-100 (inclusive).

Can what I say during family dispute resolution be used against me in court?

The short answer is no – what is discussed in family dispute resolution may not be used against you in court.

First, what is said during this process is protected by rules regarding confidentiality. Statements that you offer to a family dispute resolution practitioner, or to your lawyer in front of a family dispute resolution practitioner are protected. Such a practitioner can only disclose statements made during a previous family dispute resolution session in a limited number of circumstances. For instance, if the practitioner reasonably believes disclosure is necessary to protect a child from harm, or to report or prevent damage to property they may disclose statements indicating such.

While rules of confidentiality are implicated, you should also know statements made in a family dispute resolution are also inadmissible in court proceedings. While there are a few narrow exceptions to this rule, you should be aware that statements made during a dispute resolution session are generally not admissible in court.

Spousal Maintenance

…read more