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Parental Expectations of Med/Arb or Parenting Coordination

Separated parents come to mediation/arbitration or parenting coordination believing the service provider will offer a quick fix to an impasse on any given issue. There can be considerable pressure by one or both parents to simply settle their differences by choosing between opposing views.

To be clear, unless a remarkably serious issue, the service provider should not be quick to judge or impose a resolution.

In these roles, it behooves the service provider to try and help separated parents settle their dispute between themselves first, even if they are not hopeful.

The rationale for this is that those agreements entered into voluntarily and as determined by the parents, tend to be better followed and last longer than those outcomes imposed by a third party. Rushing to impose a decision undermines the parents being able to unpack their dispute, review their priorities and obtain support that very often leads to them determining their own solution.

To add, the service provider early on knows precious little about the parents, their children and their situation. As helpful as the service provider wants to be, imposing a decision in the absence of learning about the parents, children and situation, can lead to an outcome poorly suited to meet anyone’s needs. Simply put, do not expect or seek the service provider to quickly solve your problems on your behalf.

What parents should expect is to receive information, education and support to learn how to better settle disputes on a go-forward basis. They should also expect the service provider to help them take turns talking, respectfully listen and problem solve between themselves. In so doing, the service provider may have to control the meeting to allow respectful and appropriate discourse. No one should be allowed to ramble, simply register multiple examples of the others issues, or make demands. The service provider does manage this process, at times to the consternation of a parent whose greatest challenge may be to listen and relinquish control in order to achieve that oft times elusive mutually acceptable outcome.

Only after the service provider has had an opportunity to get to know the parents over some time and the parents have truly exhausted opportunity to resolve matters between themselves should the service provider determine the outcome. Only then should the service provider impose a decision as mandated in view of impasse when other options are proven unfruitful. This is the preferred process and not withstanding though, there may be occasion when the service provider is required to make a quick decision, but this is typically avoided as much as possible.

If called upon to make a decision, contrary to the belief of many parents, the service provider is not bound to chose between the parents’ competing views or positions.

The service provider should be taking the view respecting the best interests of the child as determined by the service provider and not the parents. The view is not just for what is best in the moment, but with a view to the long-term interests of the child.

The service provider in these situations will likely prioritize limiting the child’s exposure to parental conflict as that alone is most determinative of children’s well being given parental separation. As such, the service provider may take a perspective different from either parent if required to make a decision on the parents’ behalf. In so doing, neither parent may be satisfied, although the child will likely be better served in the long term.

Mediator/Arbitrators and Parenting Coordinators do want to be helpful.

At times it takes the parents a while to catch on how these services are helpful and learn to be patient when the process may be slower than expected. These process still tend to be far superior than going to court. These services tend to resolve issues sooner, at less cost and in a manner better suited to the parents and children. Along the way, many parents learn how to better resolve matters between themselves, rendering the actual service redundant.

Reasonable expectations of the Med/Arb and Parenting Coordination can help parents make good use of these services. The goal is happy, responsible, well adjusted children. Just as most disputes do not occur overnight, better outcomes will require patience and commitment on the part of the parents.


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Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
(905) 628-4847  


Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.


Call Gary for your next conference and for expert opinion on family matters. Services include counselling, mediation, assessment, assessment critiques and workshops.



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27 Sina Street, Georgina, ON, Canada L4P 3E9 Tel: (905) 628-4847 Email: gary@yoursocialworker.com