17 January 2022

Assessing & Responding to Substance Use in Collaborative Practice

By Kelsey Antifaeff, Registered Clinical Social Worker & Registered Clinical Counsellor 

 

2022 is upon us and many committed to Dry January”, which is an emerging tradition of taking a month-long break from alcohol in an effort to hit the reset button.  New Years resolutions are another popular avenue to reset substance use habits.  Regardless of the method, many Canadians are entering another year with COVID-19 and taking stock of how it has affected their substance use. 

 

At the beginning of the pandemic, mental health and substance use experts predicted that a “shadow pandemic” would accompany COVID-19 as the world struggled to cope with stress, anxiety, depression, and social isolation.  Emerging data over the last year confirmed that for many Canadians, the pandemic has led to increased substance use as a coping strategy.  

  

According to surveys collected by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction and the Mental Health Commission of Canada, respondents reported more mental health symptoms and increased substance use since March 2020.  Substance use concerns are greater among people who lives along; women in households with young children (< 13 years); people with a history of a substance use disorder; and people experiencing low-income or unemployed.   

 

As divorce practitioners, we know that substance use is often cited as a contributing factor to divorce.  Given this rise of substance use among Canadians throughout the pandemic, it is likely that we will see an increase amount of divorce cases involving substance use in 2022.  

 

What can we do as Collaborative divorce practitioners to better support families impacted by substance use?  Here are four ways a Collaborative team can begin addressing concerns related to substance abuse:

 

1. Ask about it. 

 

In the past, we may have assumed that if substance use was a factor in the separation, our client would tell us.  

 

Given the amount of stigma around substance use, many people do not feel comfortable raising the issue.  A proactive screening process with new clients allows practitioners to identify substance use during the intake process, which allows for a comprehensive approach for support to be established at the outset.  Integrate the following question into your initial meeting:

Was alcohol, substance use, or other addiction(s) a contributing factor to the separation or divorce?

 

2. Reduce stigma.

“We need to keep in mind that substance use disorders are a medical condition, deserving of care and treatment just like any other, and remain open-minded and not let our judgements or assumptions colour the way we think of someone.  Everyone has a story, and for people experiencing substance-related harms, we know that their’s often includes trauma.” (Public Health Agency of Canada, May 2021

 

Societal stigma about substance use is a significant barrier for clients; particularly when a parenting plan hangs in the balance.  

 

The best way to reduce stigma is to convey our intention to provide the best care to our client: 

 

It is important to know about substance use so that I can provide appropriate support and resources to you and your family; you deserve the best care throughout the divorce process.

 

3. Screen for Interpersonal Violence

 

Substance use is a significant risk factor for interpersonal violence.  Throughout COVID-19, rates of interpersonal violence has increased dramatically.

 

Given this context, it is even more imperative that divorce practitioners integrate violence screening protocols into every case assessment. 

 

SAFeR is an approach to decision-making in interpersonal violence-related family law matters, including a user-friendly screening tool for violence.  These screening questions are designed to integrate into your intake process and ensures that you are asking the right questions to assess for interpersonal violence. 

 

Legal Aid BC has fact sheets and a resource guide for family lawyers entitled Is Your Client Safe? and the federal government has created a course for family professionals entitled Family Violence and Family Law for Legal Advisors” as part of its free webinar series highlighting recent amendments to the Divorce Act.  

 

4. Involve a Divorce Coach

 

For a client whom substance use is a contributing factor in the divorce, involving a Divorce Coach is invaluable.  As trained mental health professionals, Divorce Coaches understand the complexities of substance use disorders and treatment options.  Divorce Coaches also understand the impact on the individual and the family system, including children.  This specialized knowledge informs how we approach Parenting Plans that centre the needs of the child or children.  The addition of a neutral Child Specialist may also be helpful when substance use is an issue.  

 

Families impacted by substance use have often experienced trauma.  The divorce process may be experienced as an additional trauma for them.  Divorce Coaches provide skilled, trauma-informed support throughout the process.  Recommending the services of a Divorce Coach early in the divorce process means that the client will have adequate supports available to them from the outset.

 

Others on the Collaborative team can support the work of the mental health professionals by being informed of how to have a trauma-informed practice, referring to materials such as the Golden Eagle Rising Society’s “Trauma-Informed Legal Practice Toolkit,” the creation of which was led by lawyer Myrna McCallum. 

 


These are the initial steps of how Collaborative team members can get started working with families impacted by substance use. Once clients are in the process and substance use concerns have been identified, the mental health professionals, especially Divorce Coaches, can suggest specific ways to help families based on their unique concerns and needs.  The Collaborative Process is a client-centred option that allows for innovative, creative, flexible solutions that meet the needs of families impacted by substance use. 

 

 

***

 

Kelsey Antifaeff is a Registered Clinical Social Worker, Registered Clinical Counsellor & graduate of a Clinical Fellowship in Addictions with the BC Centre on Substance Use.  Supporting families impacted by substance use is one of her specialties in her work as a Divorce Coach and Child Specialist. 

10 January 2022

Prepare, not predict

By Tracy Theemes, Financial Advisor, Financial Planner 

People have strong feelings in one direction or the other about cohabitation, marriage and relationship agreements (sometimes referred to as prenuptial agreements). I appreciate both points of view. I hear the contention that it is “preparing for the worst” and “expecting things to fail”. I also respect the other side of statistics and practicalities. When it comes to the financial side what I like best about any pre-partnership commitment is transparency. After decades of working as a financial advisor, I have seen that the biggest issue for most partnerships is a lack of honesty about money. People will discuss their views on parenthood, geographical preferences and sex needs until they are blue in the face while daintily skipping over their financial beliefs, behaviours and expectations. I cannot tell you the times I have heard someone tell me they would wait until after they were married to reveal their debt situation. Or their compulsive spending patterns. Or that they have set up a new will leaving everything to their children. They want to avoid these contentious discussions before the wedding. To me, this is the height of disrespect. 

We all know discussing money is tough. No matter how comfortable you are with your economic decisions, opening your books to show someone else what you “are worth” brings even the bravest communicator to their knees. But adults entering into such an important legal, financial and spiritual relationship must overcome this reluctance. Recently, my adult daughter was in the process of purchasing a condo with her partner. This signalled a whole new level of partnership. And I was adamant that they develop a shared list of understandings and promises, including what would happen to the condo in the event of a separation. “If you can’t talk about money and your expectations, you are not mature enough to make this commitment”. That may sound harsh. But it is my experience that secrets about money are tied to other relational issues. And they will always come back and do damage. My belief, borne of decades of experience is that open-hearted communication is the foundation of a solid, productive relationship. And these tough discussions about money, though challenging, can lead to greater intimacy and trust. 

Healthy relationships require shared understandings. Before my husband and I got married we invested a substantial amount of time in creating a personal, signed agreement that we called our “Sacred Promises”. This answered many of the legal questions my Collaborative lawyer colleagues expound upon. But most importantly it is a collection of our beliefs about what we were committing to with one another. We looked at everything from what really was infidelity to how we would handle a major illness to under what conditions we would break our promises. Given that we had both already been divorced we knew that promises get broken. We could not ignore that reality even with our love for each other. It was an illuminating dialogue, and often very surprising. Now that we have been married for almost five years I can say with certainty that we did not cover all the situations that we faced but we created an infrastructure of communication that has helped us weather the unexpected storms that have arisen. 

We cannot predict the future. But we can prepare for it by laying in the groundwork for positive outcomes. Cohabitation, marriage and relationship agreements address the best of all worlds by increasing the probability of success while allowing for changes in plans that do not have to lead to conflict and trauma. And if you can talk about money with candour and trust, you are already on your way to a long and happy relationship.

31 December 2021

Association de mediation familiale du Quebec v. Bouvier

The Supreme Court of Canada released their Association de mediation familiale du Quebec v. Bouvier , 2021 SCC 54 decision on December 17, 2021. The SCC looked at whether there is an exception to the settlement privilege, allowing for the existence or scope of a settlement to be proven in the context of a family mediation in Quebec. The SCC has posted a Case in Brief summarizing the facts and main issue. 

Quebec has a unique set of rules related to how family mediation works in their province. Still, this decision has implications for all family law consensual dispute resolution professionals, as they consider the terms of any agreements made entering into a mediation regarding what may or may not be disclosed or relied on afterwards. 

The decision also highlights the usefulness of the terms in a Collaborative Process's Participation Agreement, which makes what information and documents may be disclosed at different stages of the process clear and what must happen before the parties can rely on any agreements made within the Collaborative Process.

08 April 2021

Unbundling Your Practice: Examples Across North America

The CDV was lucky enough to have Forrest “Woody” Mosten conduct a two-day online training titled Unbundling Your Practice for Lawyers and Consensual Dispute Resolution Professionals: To better serve your clietns and increase profitability in January 2021. For a limited time, the course is available as a rebroadcast for $175 USD (approximately $225 Canadian). Learn more and register here.

During the training, Woody provided a number of examples of different unbundling models that professionals use in their practices around North America. Here are some examples: 
  • In Des Moines, Iowa, The Law Shop’s lawyers have created a successful model offering flat fee case evaluations and unbundled services, which they refer to as “customized client services.” 
  • Brian Burke in Santa Barbara, CA exclusively offers client education sessions and referrals. 
  • In Victoria, BC and Duncan BC, Alinea Legal Coaching offer services such as flat fee strategy packages, agreement coaching packages and negotiation support, as well as ‘phone-a-coach’, ‘email-a-coach’ and ‘meet-a-coach’ options.
  • In Toronto, Ontario, Lisa Eisen offers limited scope services and legal coaching through her firm, Family Law: A La Carte 
  • In Northern California, Hello Divorce offers flat fees and unbundled options 
  • Levitt Quinn in Los Angeles, CA is a non-profit family law centre that provides affordable legal services based on a sliding scale. 
  • Legal Grind in Santa Monica, CA is a coffee shop where people can receive legal advice and listen to presentations from various legal professionals. 
  • In Toronto, Ontario, Joel Miller offers coaching and unbundled services through The Family Law Coach
  • In Toronto, Ontario, multidisciplinary teams previously offered information sessions under the name, The Neutral Zone.

Lawyers in British Columbia can use the Family Law Unbundling Toolkit’s resources and templates to build their unbundling practice. More information is available on the Law Society of BC’s website and and the People’s Law School’s Unbundled Legal Services website. There is a Facebook group for lawyers who offer unbundling services.



05 March 2021

Do Adult Children need a Child Specialist? 5 Key Considerations

By Jamila Nazerali Hilborn MA, RCC, Child Specialist & Co-Parenting/Divorce Coach


 

Since the hit of COVID-19 there has been a surge in my practice in working with adults aged 18-28 as a Child Specialist and Psychotherapist. According to Hartford Healthcare’s recent census, “The pandemic...affects people ages 18 to 29 more, with 42 percent reporting anxiety and 36 percent depression. The second most-affected age group was people 30 to 39, with 34 percent reporting anxiety and 28 percent depression.” Many of them have uprooted their lives to move back home. Reasons for moving back home include job loss, universities transferring to online format, covid-19 restrictions, or the need to suspend their “gap year” of travel. At a time when many of them are trying to navigate love interests, build careers, and create reliable networks these clients have not only had their lives suspended but they have profoundly regressed. Many have described their experience of being forced to “move back” whilst also having to “move back” into their old roles, schedules, and family traditions. Not only are they going “back and forth” between two homes, but now they are transitioning with significant others and pets. Some have explained that during birthdays and holidays they’ve been expected to follow past schedules. For a significant amount of these clients, the new lives that they have built have allowed them to explore who they are beyond their two-home family under one roof. The impact of all of this would seem that the pandemic has created a long detour in establishing their own independence and securing long-term healthy boundaries.

 

For the adult children that are in the initial stages of parents restructuring their homes, there is great confusion. This is an age group that is already significantly overlooked and is commonly referred to as the forgotten demographic. In a longitudinal study done by Watterstein et al. (2000) an adult child explains, “It’s sort of a permanent identity, like being adopted or something like that. I guess you might say our parents’ divorce was the formative event in our lives. It explains why I feel the way I do. The divorce is a permanent part of me in some ways I’ll never get over it” (Children of Divorce at page 291).  How then are these adult children expected to “get over it” when the pandemic has shackled them “back in it”? It would seem that the role of the child specialist in the case of adult children has never been more valuable. They no longer have a choice and yet where is their voice?

 

Whether your family is in transition or has been restructured into two homes, here are five things to consider:

1. They are still your children: Although adult children are able to understand much more than minors, it can be tempting for parents to overshare or lean on them. It is important to keep boundaries and to limit their involvement, while maintaining a parent-child relationship.


2.  Understand that they have feelings too and will also need support: Many parents assume that older children will not feel torn, guilty, or that the rupture of the marriage is not their fault. Surprisingly, adult children share similar feelings to younger children. The adult children that have had to move back are not only reverting back into old patterns, but they are incredibly flooded and haunted by the “ghosts of their past”. Furthermore, they are typically more skilled at hiding their feelings, which make them a target for being easily forgotten. Try to validate their emotions, and hold space for empathy.


3. Recoupling and family blending does impact adult children: Whether they live at home, have to move back, or temporarily visit. Family restructuring does change their sense of belonging and understanding of home or their family of origin.


4.  Relationship repair can be more challenging: Encouraged visits or traditional ways of repair are no longer applicable to this demographic. This can make rebuilding the child-parent relationship much more difficult. Further, adult children feel more responsible to find appropriate solutions, and often take on parenting roles.


5.  Your co-parenting relationship is still important: Many parents assume that they will not have to make the same efforts in creating a cohesive co-parenting relationship with their ex-spouse since there is usually no formal parenting plan with adult children. However, adult children need to feel that their parents are still a cohesive team with a united front regardless of how old they are. Not only is your co-parenting relationship valuable, but your co-grandparenting relationship will also influence a legacy of generations to come.


Sources:

“These Age Groups Most Affected by COVD-Related Depression, Anxiety,” Hartford HealthCare article


The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25 Year Landmark Study by Julia M. Lewis and Sandra Blakeslee, reprinted edition 2001 

27 February 2021

Divorce Act amendments coming into force on March 1, 2021

The Divorce Act amendments from 2019 are finally coming into force on March 1, 2021, after being delayed for almost a year because of the pandemic.

The Department of Justice's (DOJ) "Divorce Act Changes Explained" compares the previous version of the Divorce Act to the amended version.  The DOJ has compiled resources for lawyers and families. 

The amendments are mainly focused on parenting provisions.  They include references to parenting plans, which have long been a component of Separation Agreements created through the Collaborative process







21 February 2021

Collaborative divorce and online dispute resolution: How COVID-19 is changing the way we settle disputes

By Marcus Sixta, Collaborative Divorce Lawyer, Mediator

COVID-19 has laid bare the many vulnerabilities of our justice system. In the first few months of the pandemic, courts were effectively shut down, except for the most urgent matters. For family law and divorce cases, this meant that many hearings and trials were adjourned and claimants had no access to the courts to get an order or judgment. There is still a massive backlog of family law cases in our court system today which will likely last for some time.

However, rising out of this crisis is a new level of appreciation for alternative dispute resolution processes, like Collaborative divorce, which can be conducted online and remotely. On February 17, 2021, the Canadian Bar Association released a report titled No Turning Back: CBA Task Force Report on Justice Issues Arising From Covid-19. This report includes the following recommendations regarding dispute resolution:

  • Justice system partners (including groups representing justice seeking individuals, court and tribunal administrators, bar representatives etc.) should establish a working group dedicated to exploring how to effectively triage matters that are more amenable to early resolution and matters that better lend themselves to remote proceedings.
  • The working group should explore which areas of law are potentially suited for ODR-type platforms and how to integrate all these matters into the public system.
Online dispute resolution (ODR) is a process of resolving disputes online and can include mediation and Collaborative law. A videoconference platform with screen sharing technology is used so that all the participants can see each other and share documents. Also, these platforms, like Zoom, include the option to create breakout rooms so that participants can meet privately with their lawyers before coming back together as a group.

In my practice, I have seen that the majority of family law cases do not need court intervention. Most of them in fact are resolved outside of court, but for some reason there are those who are still resistant to alternative dispute resolution processes like Collaborative law and mediation. However, changes to the justice system brought on by COVID-19 may be forcing them to accept a new reality.

In 2020, when COVID-19 had closed the doors to the court system, many people had no other choice but to resolve their family law disputes in mediation or through a Collaborative process because these processes can be utilized fully through online platforms. As a result, some people (including some family lawyers) who would never have considered mediation or Collaborative divorce gave it a try. Moreover, I have witnessed judges in court being far more assertive with people and very firmly telling them to attempt to resolve their matters outside of court because court resources are so limited now.  

My experience with ODR processes like Collaborative divorce and mediation over the last year has convinced me that for many people this process is more client centered and convenient. Rather than needing to travel to a lawyer’s office, clients who may have long commutes can attend meetings at home. For people living in small communities with limited legal resources, ODR opens up the possibility of working with Collaborative lawyers and mediators in other cities. Individuals with mobility limitations are also benefiting from ODR as it means they can access dispute resolution services wherever is convenient for them.

The justice system is slow to adapt to change, but COVID-19 has forced it adapt to the times by advancing technologically and further embracing alternative dispute resolution processes. It has also highlighted the benefits of ODR and how this can be used in mediation and Collaborative law to reduce the pressure on the courts, while also providing a client centered approach to conflict resolution. These changes should be enshrined in court rules and legislation so that they last well beyond the pandemic. As stated in No Turning Back: CBA Task Force Report on Justice Issues Arising From COVID-19: "First, there is no turning back. The pandemic propelled the justice system into a long-awaited modernization. We must continue forward and build on the measures, procedures and innovations implemented in response to the pandemic and focus on the needs of the users of the justice system."