by Diane Dierks, LMFT | Jun 7, 2021 |
I’ve been working in the divorce field in some capacity for 30 years now. I’ve seen a huge change in how things work in the court system, starting in the 90s, moving into the early 2000s, and now into the teens and twenties. It’s been a real developmental journey. I’m almost tempted to say the teenage years were the worst, and I welcome the twenties, even though the brain isns’t quite finished yet! I like this metaphor, because I have grown up among others who were learning and growing as well. I have learned from my colleagues in the legal community, those in the financial field, and definitely from all those who are brave enough in the mental health realm to tackle the tough problems of high conflict co-parents, parental alienation, and how to embrace attorneys who are too often seen as the enemies.
When I went through my own divorce in 1990, we did not have any money, so my neighbor across the street who was a real estate attorney offered to do a non-contested divorce for free, and we jumped at the chance. The “parenting plan” was represented by one line in the divorce decree that simply said: Parties will negotiate reasonable visitation. That’s enough for most of us now to cringe as we know what problems that would likely cause in the future. However, I think my ex-husband and I muddled through because we did not see litigation as an option. That was in the infancy stage of divorce history when dads were still given every other weekend because he was the one with the stable job and needed to be focused on that Monday through Friday. It took a while for custody decisions to catch up with the culture of women working just as hard as men and men having critical value to offer their children. Likewise, it has taken awhile for the mental health community to catch up with the current cultural mode in which if there is a house to mortgage, an inheritance to tap into early, or a line of credit to access, one must fight for the children or risk being seen as a deadbeat parent. Sadly, kids don’t understand what it means to “fight for” children because they just don’t want to be fought about. But that’s a subject for another article. My point is that we have come a long way, I think, in accepting these cultural changes, and I am proud of all who have worked to meet and respond to cultural needs, rather than try to fight against them. We have been trail blazers of sorts, and I love the job I have now in mentoring and supervising the younger ones who are so eager to meet the challenge of these families and help them affirm children’s rights and well-being.
This month, I am excited that we have hired two new parenting coordinators and two new therapists who will be focusing on reunification cases. We have added a new service (Short-Term Parenting Coordination) as a six-session, non-confidential, assessment intervention for co-parents who are in the midst of litigation and need help, so the attorneys and GALs can do their jobs. We did this because we listened to those in the legal community who seemed frustrated with our therapeutic ethics. I love that you are listening to us, so I felt we needed to listen to you and adjust our processes to work better with the court’s. I hope all of us will get better at listening and adjusting. To those in the legal community, I ask that you keep telling us what you want so we can work together, but also understand when we must balance that with our clients’ mental health. To those in the mental health community, I urge you to overcome your fear of legal intervention. It’s here to stay. Instead of shying away from anything legal, learn about it and find out how to add value to it through additional training and listening. We can’t change this often frustrating culture of litigation, but we can certalinly work within it to create better outcomes. Thank you for your courage to change the things we can.