By Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
Separated parents in high conflict have a way of dragging others into their
dispute. Not just family friends, and neighbors, but every professional associated
with the children. The parents seek to bolster their claims to support their
custody and access position and believe letters of support from their professional
service providers will do the trick.
They ask doctors and dentists for letters stating which parent more often brought
the children to appointments. They ask daycare providers and teachers how the
child behaves depending on which parent drops off the child. In the process,
the parent also informs the professional of his or her version of events, thus
going beyond asking for a letter of support, by actively recruiting the professional
to his or her side of the dispute.
If a professional service provider offers a letter of support, the precedent
is set for that professional service provider to then become a target from the
other parent. The other parent is seeking to discredit the letter provider.
In reality, the nature of the dispute requires the other parent to discredit
the letter provider. The aim is to restore balance and hopefully tip the scale
in favor of his or her own claim in the custody/access dispute.
As the dispute intensifies and the competence or bias of the professional service
provider(s) becomes the battleground, the services provided to the children
may become tainted. The physician and/or dentist may seek to remove him or herself
from providing the child’s care to escape parental harassment. The daycare
or school setting, once perceived as a place of neutrality and safety for the
child, is a source of anxiety as the child fears parental intrusion and has
to cope with the service providers’ consternation with the parents. Collateral
damage then includes a loss of service to the child as well as an increase in
distress for the child.
In the eyes of the assessor/custody evaluator, such letters of support may
say less about the quality of that parent’s relationship with the child
and more about his or her own boundaries and ability to contain the dispute
and keep it from reaching or affecting the child. Hence, a parent who resists
dragging in the professional service providers may actually reflect more positively
in the eyes of the assessor than a parent who brings a sheaf of letters.
In the event a parent determines that contact with a professional service provider
is necessary to a determination of the case, then let the assessor make contact.
Assessors, with written consent, can request information from service providers
in neutral fashion so that the information is not tainted by the intrusion of
the parents. Service and parental relationships can remain intact, the child
is spared distress and the case can proceed accordingly.
If parents are using a collaborative family law approach to settling custody
and access disputes, then they or their lawyers or child expert/consultant may
send a joint request for information, thus bringing balance to the request.
In such cases, they would be wise to clearly state that they are involved in
a collaborative strategy to facilitate their resolution, and advise the service
providers that their involvement will not extend beyond their letter of information.
Service intact, kids spared.