This Christmas Give Your Family the Gift of Peace

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The amount of pressure we put on Christmas to provide us with a picture perfect family moment is crazy!  It’s as if we expect all of our family relationships to suddenly transform into the stuff that holiday movies are made of. 

Although Christmas can seem magical you’re setting yourself up for disappointment to expect more from family gatherings than reality can deliver.  So this Christmas, why not adjust your expectations?  You’ll be surprised by the peace it can bring. 

Don’t worry about everyone else’s good time – The only person you can control is you.  You are not personally responsible for meeting everyone’s holiday expectations.  So if Grandpa is sitting in the corner with complaints about dinner, let it go.  You may even find the less attention you pay him the less complaining there is.

Figure out what really matters to you – We often feel torn to attend every party and truck the kids all over the countryside visiting everyone in an attempt to keep everyone else happy.  Sit down with your partner or if you’re separated sit down your kids and figure out what matters to you.  What events and activities will make you and your kids happy?  And if the answer is sitting at home watching Christmas movies, that’s okay. 

Start your own traditions – If you are newly separated or divorced Christmas can feel like a sad time as you grieve the loss of an ideal Christmas season.  To combat that feeling start your own new traditions.  Involve your kids, they probably have lots of great ideas and it will help them in their grief as well.

You don’t have to do it all – Everything doesn’t need to fall on your shoulders.  But you need to speak up and let others know what you would like them to do.  They can’t read your mind. 

Pre-plan your holiday schedule – Whether you are with your partner or not it’s helpful to plan out the Christmas schedule.  Laying it all out on the calendar will help you determine if you have too much scheduled and where scheduling conflicts lie.  Have these conversations with your partner or ex ahead of time so you can work out what will work best for your kids and your sanity.

Gift giving is not a competitive sport –  The joy you feel when your child opens the latest and greatest gift on Christmas morning will be short-lived when the January bills roll in.   Don’t feel pressure to spend more than you can afford in an attempt to keep up with the Joneses.  Trust me, the Joneses probably can’t keep up with their spending habits either.  If you are divorced, have a conversation with your ex about setting a gift budget at each home.  Trying to outdo one another with expensive gifts is all about you and is not in the best interest of your kids.

Holiday time is not therapy time – No family is perfect.  During the holidays conflict you’ve been ignoring can come to a head or seem amplified.  Arguments and negativity are not the memories you want to give your children.  That doesn’t mean ignoring problems.  Acknowledge them and make a plan to address them after the holidays are over.  Perhaps your New Year’s resolution will be to not be dealing with the same conflicts next Christmas.   

 

Get Curious! How to Open Up Your Communication by Using "Open-Ended Questions"

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In our every day conversations we ask others a lot of “closed” questions. Closed questions are ones that only require a “yes” or “no” answer. Yes or no really doesn’t give us much information and we’re often missing out on crucial pieces of info that could help us to resolve something.

Open-ended questions, on the other hand, require the other person to give you more information than just yes or no. This information can be gold! It can let you know so much more about a situation and can really help you get to the heart of a matter.

In a recent live stream I did with Mediate BC about parent/teen conflict I used the example of a parent wanting to know if homework was getting done or not. In a closed question you would ask “Is your homework done?” And the answer would be yes or no. If it’s yes, great, you can move on with your night. If it’s no, you might start to make some assumptions about why it’s not done and this may lead to conflict.

So let’s try that with an open-ended question. “What’s your plan for getting your homework done tonight?” This question will give you way more information. Your teen can tell you about their schedule for the evening and how they plan to work in enough time for homework.

You can start to see how this can begin to open up communication with everyone in your life such as your spouse, co-workers and friends. You can probably also start to see how it can help to prevent conflict but less assumptions and misunderstandings happen.

So, I have a challenge for you! Pick one day this week and try to ask everyone you interact with an open question. It takes practice. At first it will feel awkward. But over time, the rewards will be worth the effort.

To help you get started here is a list of some open-ended questions you can try out.

You can also download them HERE for easy future reference.

What's important to you about that?

What do you mean by...?

How did you arrive at that conclusion?

How does that impact you? 

What are the benefits of doing it that way?

How do you feel about that?

What are some examples of…?

What is your understanding of…?

What is it like for you to hear him/her say that?

What expectations did you have?

What has worked for you in the past?

What will happen if you can't reach a resolution of this issue?

What do you want to address first?

What is your priority?

What is your hope for...?

How can you feel more supported?

When do you see this happening?

Where could we find that information?

What else do we need to know to make this decision?

How will we know this is working?

How will we measure our success?

What would you do if?

What should we do if our plan doesn't work?

And here’s the cheater! If you are having trouble thinking of an open question try this statement instead because it usually has the same effect as an open question.

Tell me more about that...

Help! My Teen is Driving Me Crazy!

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If you have teens in your house then I’m sure you’ve had at least a few moments of frustration. Those moments of frustration have likely, in some cases, lead to conflict between you and your teen.  Wouldn’t it be great to have a few tricks up your sleeve to deal with these conflicts more effectively?   Here are some tips about how to communicate more effectively with your teen when it comes to some of the common issues that come up such as getting homework done, screen time, using the car, staying out late, not getting chores done, all of those common issues that over time can lead to big arguments.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Using these tips isn’t going to magically transform the teen years into sunshine and rainbows.  But it will lead to less stormy days on a regular basis. 

Lots of these tips are tips are things that you can use in other areas of your life, with friends, with your partner and with co-workers

Tip #1 – Understand the teenage brain. 

The teen years are an awkward time where they are starting to present as an adult and wanting to be treated like an adult but are still like a child in many ways.  Often the expectations we place on teens are not realistic based on their cognitive and emotional development.  Their brain is still developing and skills like setting priorities, being organized or keeping to a schedule are very difficult because their brain is still working on those skills. It’s not that we can’t have these expectations of our kids but we need to recognize that in order for them to achieve them they need to be supported in a variety of ways.

Tip #2 - Pick your battles

Avoid unnecessary conflict.  As parents, when we’re frustrated with our kids, it can be easy for us to start to fall into a pattern of creating a conflict over every little thing we see them doing wrong.  This is exhausting for both of you so save it for the things that really matter.

Tip #3 - Check your own temperature

Going in hot never works.  Wait until you’re cooled down and can think rationally about how you’d like to approach the problem.  When you need to discuss an issue with your child pick a time where you both have the time to talk, you’re not distracted by other things and you’re in a good head space.

Tip #4 – Be curious.  Ask open questions

When in conflict we often make assumptions about the cause of the conflict and why the other person is behaving the way they are.  Those assumptions are often wrong.  So get curious and ask lots of open questions.  Open questions are ones which require an answer other than yes or no.  For a list of examples of open questions CLICK HERE.  Asking open questions helps you to get to the heart of the matter.  It also helps to identify needs.  A conversation where your teen feels like you are genuinely listening and interested builds trust.  Be non-judgmental about their answers.  What is important to them matters even if you think it’s silly. 

Tip #5 – Build empathy

Lots of times our teens have no idea what we’re going through or haven’t thought of things from our perspective.   So lay it out for them and talk about how their behaviour and choices impacts you, but not in a guilt-trippy kind of way. 

Tip #6 – Be a role model

Role model the language and behaviour you want to see.  Speak to them like you would speak to an adult.  The adult world will demand they deal with conflict so model a positive way of dealing with it for them. 

Tip#7 – Identify the needs and criteria for the solution.  

Make a list of the criteria your solution needs to meet.  For example, getting homework done may be the issue.  Your teen’s need may be that they want to be in charge of their own schedule for getting things done.  Your need may be that you need to be able to see that things are getting done.  So that’s your criteria for the solution you come up with together.

 

Tip #8 – Write it down. 

Create an agreement and write it down.  Review it after a set amount of time to see if it’s working.  And when it is done, it’s done.  Don’t hold this over their head for years to come.  Don’t keep a mental tally of all of their mistakes to use as ammo against them.  It shuts down any possibility for a two-way conversation. 

Tip #9 – Let natural consequences be the consequence.  

I’m a fan of natural consequences because when you’re an adult those are the kinds of consequences you deal with in real life.  If I don’t get work done in my job no one takes my phone away or tells me I can’t go out. Instead, I have to live with the consequences of not meeting a deadline. That’s a natural consequence. So step back and give them room to succeed or fail while you’re still there to catch them.  Giving them this room significantly contributes to their development of skills.  Cognitively and emotionally they require opportunities to make mistakes and misjudgements, it’s how they learn to be an adult.

Tip#10 – Don’t abuse your authority. 

There will be times when you need to use your authority.  In emergencies or when someone is going to get hurt you need to use your authority.  But don’t abuse it.  If your “go to” response for everything is “I’m the parent, do what I say,” you are going to get stuck in a cycle of conflict and rebellion.  This is true of most of our relationships where we hold some sort of power over another.  If all we ever do is assert our power we are asking for conflict and rebellion.  There is little opportunity or motivation for the other person to “buy in” to the relationship or to take ownership of the resolution.

DOWNLOAD A FREE COPY OF THESE TIPS BY CLICKING HERE!

SUGGESTED READING ON THIS TOPIC:

 

Parenting Time - How to Create a Parenting Schedule That Works

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After separation one of the first things parents often tackle is their parenting schedule, meaning, how much time will the kids spend with each parent.  When asked why they have set up a schedule in a particular way parents often talk about the kids’ activities, work schedules and school schedules.  Of course, these are important issues that need to be taken into account.  But even more important considerations are the developmental stage of your child and their temperament and personality.

So let’s walk through the different ages and stages and chat about things to consider when creating your parenting schedule.

Infants & Toddlers

At this age your child is completely dependent on you both physically and emotionally.  Attachment to each parent is crucial.  For this reason, you will want to set up a schedule where your child sees each parent on a frequent basis.  It is also important for you, as a new parent, because this is a time where you are learning all about your child.  You’re learning about their cues, what their different cries mean and how to comfort them.  It is a time where parents are building their confidence.  So it is important that each parent spends time with their child.  You will get conflicting information about whether overnights are recommended.  Overnights can provide a special time for a parent to bond and learn.  It also gives the other parent time to catch up on sleep!  If you are considering overnights you’ll need to figure out feeding schedules and other routines and how to manage them.

Preschoolers

At this age your child is very ego-centric.  They feel they are in control of everything that happens and for this reason they also feel like they are the cause of everything that happens.  They are not emotionally independent at this age and need you to be there for them to help them navigate the “why” of everything.  They need consistency and structure to feel safe and secure.  This doesn’t mean everything needs to be identical at each home.  It means that the child knows what to expect from each home environment.  At this age you still want to be looking at fairly frequent transitions.  As an example you may want to look at a 2-2-3 schedule.  In this schedule a child spends 2 nights with one parent, then 2 nights with the other and then back to the first parent for 3 nights and repeat!  With this schedule the child spends every other weekend with each parent.

School Age

School age kids are at risk of feeling the most impact from divorce in the long term.  However, what studies show is that it is not the divorce itself that causes trauma, but rather, ongoing conflict can cause trauma they carry with them into adulthood.  It is imperative that you, as parents, are encouraging a healthy relationship with the other parent.  This means no negative talk, no sabotaging visits and providing ample opportunity to communicate with the other parent even if the child is with you.  At this age kids can manage longer times between transitions as long as they can communicate or see the other parent when they need to.  At this age you might want to consider a 2-2-5-5 schedule.  With this schedule there are less transitions and your child gets to spend every other weekend with each parent.  

Pre-Teens

By this age your child is becoming more independent.  Their friends and the world outside their family is becoming more and more important to them.  However, emotional support and guidance is still crucial.  As they develop cognitively they are in a stage where they often see the world as black or white, right or wrong, good or bad.  They struggle to understand the grey areas.  They may be very emotional.  Anger or anxiety can surface if they feel torn between parents and try to maintain a good relationship with each of them.  At this age maintaining a

2-2-5-5 schedule can still be beneficial.  In this way both parents are connecting with school and activities while also getting to spend down time on the weekend.

Teens

Despite a growing independence and developing an identify separate from their family, the teen years can be tumultuous and emotional.  As a parent you walk the fine line between interfering and being supportive.  This is an age where your child can express their views about the parenting schedule.  It is important for them to feel heard and to feel like their needs and wants are being taken into consideration.  If you have younger children this can start to be a time where your teen is moving on a different schedule than their siblings.  They may not want to move back and forth as often.  They may prefer to have more of their stuff at home than the other.  As much as you can support them and remain connected while still encouraging their independence and listening to their opinions. 

Creating your parenting schedule can be difficult and it may mean sacrifice on your part.  But if you can hold the idea of “what is best for my child?” at the forefront of all of your decisions that is the best you can do.  Your children are the most vulnerable and have the least amount of control through separation and rebuilding a new version of your family and it’s important to honour them throughout the process.   

What to do With the Family Home When You Separate

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In Family Mediation the issue of what to do with the family home is a hot topic. The family home is often a couple’s biggest asset. Besides the financial value there is often an emotional value attached to it. Sometimes working through the emotional piece is harder than figuring out the financial piece.

In this article I want to look at your options in terms of the financial value of your home. There are basically 3 options you can choose when determining what to do with your home.

Option 1 - Sell the home

This is sometimes the simplest option. It can also sometimes be the only option if neither spouse is in a position to qualify for the mortgage on their own.

Things to think about with this option

  • Possible capital gains if the real estate you are selling is not your primary residence, for example, an investment property.

  • Will you qualify for a mortgage on your own? If not, selling may be the only option.

  • Do you need the cash? Sometimes you need the cash out of the home in order to pay off other family debt in the separation.

Option 2 - Buy Out Your Spouse

With this option one spouse buys the other spouse’s half of the house. For this option to work you will need to come to an agreement on the value of the home to determine equity. You then need to determine the dollar amount of the buy out. You may want to adjust it to take into consideration projected selling costs or possible capital gains.

You may need to look at refinancing the mortgage in order to buy out your spouse.

Another option is to draw up an instalment loan with terms agreeable to both of you.

As an alternative to cash for the buy out other assets could be transferred to the spouse who surrenders the home.

Things to think about with this option -

  • An instalment loan creates a creditor/debtor relationship. How will that impact your ongoing relationship as co-parents?

  • If you are surrendering the home and are taken off title but remain on the mortgage you will likely be on the hook if your ex ever defaults on payments.

  • If you surrender the home but remain on the mortgage you may not qualify for a mortgage of your own because you may be considered overextended.

Option 3 - Joint Ownership of the Home

This option may work for couples who want their children to remain in the family home until they finish school or reach a certain age. Usually the couple agrees to sell the home after this contingency occurs. The most common arrangement in this scenario is that the resident spouse pays the mortgage and other costs associated with the house such as property taxes, maintenance and repairs are shared equally between the ex-spouses.

Things to think about with this option -

  • It creates a financial tie that may cause stress, especially if there are disagreements over maintenance and repair costs.

  • The spouse who moves out needs to rent or purchase something else and may not qualify for another mortgage due to still being on the current mortgage.

It’s never an easy decision. You really want to weigh all of the pros and cons. You’ll also want to think about where you see your life 5 years from now. Sometimes that can help to determine whether it makes sense to hang on to the house or not.

If you have any questions on this topic or any other family mediation issues please get in touch!

We're Separating- How Do We Decide Who Gets What?!

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Along with a parenting plan, property division is the other area where much of mediation time is spent.  Questions abound in this area.  How do we decide who gets what?  Do we just split it 50/50?  What am I entitled to?

The answers, of course, are different depending on your specific situation.  Although it is important to know your legal rights and what you are entitled to, the beauty of mediation is that it is flexible and you and your ex-partner get to decide the final outcome.  And that may be very different than what you are entitled to.  Sometimes what we are entitled to isn’t what we actually want. 

But to give you a basis for your decisions I’ll fill you in on the general guidelines for property division.  Remember!  This is the general overview and your situation may be different.  There can be grey areas in property division and legal advice may be helpful so that you are making informed decisions.

Family Property

This typically includes property that existed at the beginning of the marriage or common-law relationship, regardless of whose name it is in.  It also includes property acquired during the span of the marriage to, typically, the date of separation.

Family property generally includes things like (this is not an exhaustive list):

·      the family’s primary home

·      other real estate (cottages, investment properties etc.)

·      vehicles

·      recreation vehicles (boats, RV’s etc.)

·      timeshares

·      airline points

·      furniture

·      antiques

·      collections

·      money in bank accounts

·      retirement savings plans

·      non-retirement investments (mutual funds, stocks, bonds etc.)

·      life insurance cash value

·      stock options

·      businesses

Excluded Property

This typically includes:

·      gifts or inheritances given to one spouse and kept in that spouse’s separate name

·      personal items (clothing, sports equipment, inexpensive jewellery etc.)

·      family heirlooms

·      property that has been protected by means of a pre-nuptial, post-nuptial or co-habitation agreement

Excluded Property can become a grey area and can become Family Property depending on how the property was treated during the marriage or common-law relationship.

How to Divide Your Property

Many people think you just add it all up and divide it so that each person gets assets equal to 50% of the total.  While 50/50 may be a place to start it is likely not where you’ll end.  You want your division to be “fair and equitable.”  This means that although it may not be equal in terms of present dollar amount, over the long term, it is equitable.

For example, if one spouse takes the house and the vehicles and the other spouse takes all of the investments, on paper the numbers may appear equal.  However, over the long term, the spouse who took all of the investments is more likely to come out way ahead of the other spouse.  This is because, although the house may appreciate there is also a cost to keeping the house.  And of course, we all know cars don’t appreciate. 

Another thing to consider is future potential income.  If one spouse has always been at home and the other has worked you will want to consider the long term earning potential for each person when you are dividing assets.

So you could start with 50/50 and then start to analyze the impact of that division in the long-term and start to make adjustments.

The goal is to be fair and equitable because that is not only in your best interest it is in your children’s best interest to live in two households that have a similar quality of life.

Valuation

What is it all worth? As you can imagine, the value of various property can be a big point of contention.  Sometimes couples can easily agree on amounts for various items.  But the house, often the biggest asset, can commonly be a roadblock.  If that is the case, and you cannot agree on a value, then it is best to seek out objective information.  This can come from a realtor or an appraiser that you have both agreed on.  For finances you generally take the value of those assets on the date of separation.  Pensions can be more difficult and may take more work to determine how to handle them.  Things like furniture often don’t come into play when adding up assets.  Couples often just divvy them up or sell them and are done with it.  However, if you want to include your furniture as an asset, unless it is an antique or a particularly unique piece, you generally value each piece by what you could get for it at a yard sale or on a used online market.  Although you paid $2000 for your sofa, it’s probably only worth a few hundred used.

Benefits of Mediation in Division of Property

As I mentioned, it is important to know your rights and what you are entitled to so that you are making informed decisions.  But it’s not uncommon that what you are entitled to is not what you actually want.  In mediation the two of you have all the control and power to make decisions that make sense for you, your situation and your kids.  It’s all in your hands.  My job, as your mediator, is to help you work your way through those, sometimes difficult and emotional, discussions so you can get to an agreement.

Have questions?  Feel free to get in touch, I’m happy to answer them.

-author, Lori Frank

Content is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be construed as legal advice or advice about your specific situation.

Back to School & Co-Parenting

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Back to school – the real new year begins.  Often, for parents, it is a bittersweet time.  We are saying goodbye to the more carefree days of summer but also secretly yearning for the structure and routine that September can bring.

There is a lot to do and a lot to navigate when it comes to your children and school.  For parents who are separated or divorced there can be an added layer of complexity to the situation.

Everything from transferring backpacks, sports equipment and science projects back and forth between two homes to what to do when it’s time to schedule “meet the teacher night” can be a source for tension and disagreements.

So, how can you make this big transition smoother for everyone involved?  Here are some tips to help get you and your children back to school with confidence.

1.     Use a co-parenting app.  Communication is usually the biggest challenge for parents who are separated or divorced.  A co-parenting app allows you to communicate about all things kid-related while minimizing the chances for miscommunication or lack of communication.  One of the best features is a shared calendar.  Everyone can be on the same page for homework, activities and events. 

2.     Bring your child’s teacher into the loop.  Let your child’s teacher know the situation and communicate with them when your child is going through difficult.  Don’t misconstrue this as an opportunity to speak ill of your ex with the teacher.  Keep the conversation about your child and how their teacher can best support them.

3.     Show up.  If your child is participating in a soccer game or the school play, be there, even if you have to sit at opposite sides of the auditorium.  Your child will remember that you showed up for the important events in their life.  And when you’re young it’s ALL important. 

4.     Stay informed.  Make sure your school has both of you on their newsletter list.  Ask for two copies of report cards.  Ask the teacher to cc you both on any emails.  When you were together one or the other of you probably took the lead in this department.  Now that you are separated be proactive and rely on yourself to make sure you know what’s going on in your child’s life.

5.     Contribute.  Whether it’s paying your share of the back to school supplies or helping to make the dreaded erupting volcano science project, do your part.  Your child is noticing your contributions to their life.  Time and engagement is the most valuable contribution you can make. 

6.     Revisit your co-parenting separation agreement.  This will continue to guide you in times of conflict.  As your children get older be sure to amend your agreement to address the changes taking place in your life and theirs.

As much as your children are learning in school they are also learning from you as their role models.  Take this opportunity to show them just how grown up you can be.   

Author - Lori Frank

    

What If My Ex-Partner is Completely Irrational and All We Do Is Argue? Can We Still Mediate?

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Yes, you can.  You don’t have to be getting along in order to choose mediation for your separation.  In fact, it’s very common that parents who come into mediation are not getting along and are not able to have productive conversations on their own. 

Although you don’t need to be getting along, what a mediator will ask of you is that you are open to coming to the table and having a discussion.  It is the mediator’s role to manage that discussion and all of the emotions that come with it even though you seem to be at an impasse.  Often, couples get stuck on repetitive conversations that rehash past hurts.  The mediator will help you move forward from the fighting and begin to focus on the “what next.”  The mediator will help you to move away from the destructive and hurtful conversations you may have been having into conversations that focus on the future and what is best for your kids.  With the help of the mediator communication often opens up leading to a better understanding of what each other is trying to say. 

Even after mediation, you don’t have to be friends.  But for the sake of your kids, you need to figure out how to get along. 

Ultimately, mediation is helping you to lay the foundation of how you will communicate and best support your kids as you move forward as co-parents.  When you’re a parent you’re in it for the long-haul.  So why not make the journey as enjoyable as possible.

Author - Lori Frank

Elder Mediation Can Prevent Conflict

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Elder Mediation is a process that people are becoming more and more aware of as a valuable and effective way to resolve conflict that can arise in families as parents age.  Unfortunately, what is often missed is that Elder Mediation can be used to prevent conflict.  Lawyers, professionals and families often do not understand this preventative aspect of Elder Mediation.

But wait, let me back up a bit and not assume that you know what Elder Mediation involves.  Elder Mediation is called such because it generally revolves around issues related to aging.  Examples of people who enter into Elder Mediation might be aging parents, their adult children, siblings, care professionals, physicians, hospital staff or organizations that serve elders.  The role of the mediator is to provide a forum for family decision making.  Mediation is private, voluntary and confidential.  The mediator does not give advice, does not take sides and does not judge who is right or wrong.  Mediation is a collaborative process that gives everyone a safe space to be heard and to discuss the issues that are causing stress as families encounter the many changes that take place as parents age.  Of course, the ultimate goal is to resolve conflict that has arisen and come to agreements moving forward.

Resolving family disagreements is what we typically think of when we talk about Elder Mediation.  But there is another, very important function, that Elder Mediation can play in the family life cycle.  It can help to prevent conflict.  Aging is inevitable.  We all know it is going to happen and we all know that it will present challenges and new issues for a family.  So why not get ahead of it?

There are many issues that can be discussed before the crisis of a family feud hits.  An Elder Mediator can help you to identify those issues and then walk you through them one by one with the idea being that you make decisions together during a time of relative peace rather than a time of upheaval.  We all know how well we cope and make decisions when we’re stressed, angry, sad…NOT!  So why do it?  Why not have those discussions and make decisions when you have the time to be thoughtful and intentional about them? 

It’s not to say that no matter when you discuss future plans conflict won’t arise.  I can almost guarantee it will to some degree.  Even the most harmonious families will have disagreements about issues related to aging parents.  But, it won’t be with the same kind of intensity and overwhelm when it is crisis-driven.  You will have a much better chance of success of moving through disagreements when you’re not suddenly faced with issues such as selling the family home, surprises in the will, how will care be paid for, what role does the brother who lives across the country play, where do your parents keep their bank account information and so on and so on. 

If you are in your 40’s your parents are probably in their 70’s and potentially still in relatively good health.  This is the time to have these conversations.  As your parents age their health and cognitive abilities can deteriorate unexpectedly and rapidly.  

Over the last couple of years I have had the chance to sit down with my siblings and parents and start these kinds of conversations.  So far, so good.  We’re laying the groundwork for the potentially more difficult conversations to come as my parents move toward years where they may not be able to participate as fully as they can right now.  It’s not easy thinking ahead to a time when your parents will not be here.  But for you, the adult children, who will still be here, wouldn’t you rather spend your time in a more peaceful co-existence rather than in one where the family has been torn apart by conflict?  Isn’t that what your parents would have wanted for you?   

Lori Frank, Q.Med - Family & Elder Mediation

Disability, Mediation and Capacity

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Just like anyone else, people with disabilities may find themselves in various disagreements or conflicts in their daily life.  These issues may be directly related to their disability or the person may find themselves at a disadvantage because of them.  They may have tenant issues, problems with service providers, financial disputes, family conflicts, disagreements with neighbours, employment issues or difficulties with government services. 

Many people turn to mediators as a way to have a neutral person facilitate a conflict resolution process with the other party.  Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for there to be a misperception or assumption that the mediation process will not work for someone with a disability.  There may be assumptions around capacity, ability to participate and ability understand. 

However, a skilled mediator can make mediation accessible and shape it to fit the person with a disability without compromising their neutrality. 

Accommodation requires the mediator to think ahead and to try and anticipate the ways in which the individual will require adaptions throughout the process.  Someone with mobility impairments may need to be accommodated through changes to the physical space or they may not be able to attend at a traditional office.  Those with visual impairments may require translations into Braille or text to speech technology.  Individuals with hearing impairments may benefit from modified speed and volume of speech or may prefer written or visual communication.  An interpreter may be a helpful addition to the process.  Taking the lead from the individual, the mediator can make adjustments ultimately benefitting both parties with the opportunity to participate effectively in the mediation and resolve their conflict.  

Accommodating those with intellectual disabilities or autism can require more creativity, problem solving, research and training on the part of the mediator.  It may take more time for the mediator to understand the individual and their unique way of expressing and receiving information.  For these individuals, questions around capacity may arise.  Capacity can be such a vague term.  However, in the case of mediation capacity refers to the individual’s readiness to participate. This may be different than legal capacity.  What it really comes down to for the mediator is determining what needs to be done and ensuring the person can fully participate.

In some cases this may mean the individual needs to bring someone with them who can assist them to participate in the process.  In British Columbia this brings up the participation of someone named in a Representation Agreement.  An upcoming article will delve more deeply into the subject of Representation Agreements in mediation.  The simple version of this is that the individual with a disability may need to bring their Representative (often a family member or friend), in order to participate.  This can bring up issues for the other party in that they may then be interacting more with a person with whom they do not have a direct conflict.  The other party may feel there is an imbalance because it may feel like two against one.  Managing perceived or real imbalances between the parties is a key skill a mediator must possess.  All parties must feel safe, heard and understood throughout the process. 

Many positives can come out of mediation for a person with a disability.  It can provide an opportunity to resolve conflict, to learn conflict resolution skills for future use and to help them to take ownership of decisions that affect their life through meaningful participation.  In more general terms, being able to participate effectively in mediation may also contribute to challenging perceptions and assumptions others have or the individual may even hold about themselves.   With experience, research and feedback from others an inclusive process is absolutely realistic.

Get in touch to learn more about how mediation can be an inclusive process for you or someone you support.

lori@lorifrankmediation.com

250-516-4234