Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Can Halle and Gabriel Share Nahla?

Once again we have a famous couple starting to fight over raising their child. (See last week’s blog about Bristol and Levi.) Unfortunately, the idea of solving the conflict by cutting out one parent is again being discussed – a popular all-or-nothing solution which drives many modern custody disputes. I know, as a family lawyer and social worker. How are we going to teach children to share if their parents can’t?


While they started out peacefully, news reports suggest that Halle Berry would rather exclude Gabriel Aubry from their daughter Nahla’s life, or have him only see her under supervised visitation. Friends and strangers are lining up on each parent’s side. This is the tragedy of custody disputes – they grow in opposite directions, rather than everyone working together to manage three key problems:

Problem 1: What if one parent is dangerous to the child?

Answer: Safety first! When a parent is dangerous, children need to be protected (from child abuse, domestic violence, severe alienation, neglect, drug abuse, etc.). The most common method is to require supervised access (“visitation”). This protects the child from danger, while protecting the child’s relationship with both parents.

Problem 2: Is it better for High-Conflict parents to share parenting or better to exclude one of them?

Answer: Research shows that it’s best for both parents to be involved in the child’s lives. But shared parenting doesn’t have to mean equal time. It does mean making both parents important to the child in every way possible, given their strengths and weaknesses. It’s in the children’s best interest to learn skills for dealing with life (what to copy and what not to copy) from both parents, to develop self-esteem (I’m loved, not rejected), to develop flexible thinking (not all-or-nothing solutions) and how to deal with difficult people.

Problem 3: Can parents improve?

Answer: Some can and others can’t. It’s better to put both parents into some form of parent education or counseling right away – before any custody battle – rather than having their parents (and friends and family allies) fighting over custody from the start. At High Conflict Institute we developed a short-term program exactly for this purpose called New Ways for Families, to help Family Courts see if parents can learn skills first BEFORE making the big custody decisions.

What do you think?

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