Settlement-Focused Parenting Plan Consultations
The Settlement-Focused Parenting Plan Consultation is a hybrid alternative dispute resolution model that blends the advantages of child custody evaluations, mediation, and collaborative practice. It is a confidential, voluntary procedure which is mediative in nature and occurs outside of the court system.
The consultation is conducted by a mental health professional experienced in child custody evaluations, and trained in mediation and collaborative practice. The purpose of this program is to involve a child custody expert at the beginning of the process to offer solutions, rather than later in the process as often occurs during a traditional litigated custody “dispute.” The goal of these consultations is to avoid the acrimony, hostility and expense frequently associated with declarations, depositions, retention of adverse experts, and trial employed in a traditional custody litigation process.
The Settlement-Focused Parenting Plan Consultation assists parents, and their attorneys, in deciding upon appropriate time-sharing plans for their children. To achieve this goal, the consultant conducts a series of interviews with all family members and gathers additional information from reviewing records and interviews with collateral sources. The consultant then provides input and assistance to parents and their counsel in the following areas:
· A summary of the special, post-divorce needs of each child, based upon his/her developmental age and unique personality
· Education related to enhancing a child’s adjustment to divorce
· Assistance with conflict disengagement and improved co-parenting
· Assistance to parents in negotiating a parenting plan for their children
Settlement-Focused Parenting Plan Consultation versus Child Custody Evaluations:
Child custody evaluations can yield a number of benefits to families. They are especially helpful when the court needs information regarding the safety of children in various custody arrangements, such as in cases of physical or sexual abuse, domestic violence or severe psychiatric dysfunction or parental substance abuse. However, child custody evaluations can sometimes produce unintended, counter-productive consequences, if parents disregard or attack what they don’t like in a report or use it as a potential weapon in a custody battle.
The biggest difference between the two procedures is that the settlement-focused parenting plan consultation is a form of mediation, and the information gathered during the process is confidential and utilized for settlement purposes. The consultant, the parties and the attorneys can focus their efforts on designing the best possible parenting plan without anxiety about the use of the information in litigation. There is no report, and the only written document may be a parenting plan, which cannot be utilized in court if there is no agreement but may be adopted as a court order if it is mutually agreeable to both parents. In contrast, if a child custody evaluation report does not lead to a settlement, it may be utilized for litigation purposes, the evaluator’s records and data may be subpoenaed, and the evaluator may be called upon to testify in court regarding the information gathered during the process and recommendations.
Settlement-focused parenting plan consultations cost less than half the price of a child custody evaluation and typically can be completed in 4-6 weeks, whereas a child custody evaluation typically takes a minimum of 10-12 weeks.
Because I am trained as a Divorce Coach and Child Specialist within the Collaborative Practice model, these consultations can also be utilized or adapted for use as part of the Child Specialist role in Collaborative Practice.