Family Restructuring Therapy for Co-Parenting

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

Family Restructuring Therapy is based on the work by Dr. Stephen Carter and is an active and directive process used to address ongoing conflict between co-parents that seriously affect the children. It provides new ways to co-parent, and can be used to develop and refine parenting plans. It can be used to rebuild a working relationship between parents, and between parents and children. Parents are actively coached how to make agreements and adjust agreements based on follow-through. No one shall be pressured to make an agreement. Progress or lack of progress is documented by the therapist and may be reported to the Court.

Family Restructuring Therapy can be court-directed, referred by counsel, or self-referred. Family Restructuring Therapy can take place pre- or post-settlement, and is useful to head off more intrusive interventions such as a custody evaluation.

If there are serious and unproven allegations affecting custody then Family Restructuring Therapy is not appropriate. An evaluation or assessment is likely a better alternative. Family Restructuring Therapy can be used after allegations are examined and found unsubstantiated.

My Background

I am a marriage and family therapist, licensed clinical professional counselor, court-approved divorce mediator and nationally certified parenting coordinator. I have over 20 years of experience working with children and adolescents and the legal system. I currently provide therapy to children, adolescents, couples and families. I understand child development, the impact of family conflict and divorce on parents and children, and patterns of abuse, neglect, and domestic violence.

Why Use Family Restructuring Therapy?

Family Restructuring Therapy has one goal: to benefit your children. Parental conflict has a high negative impact on children. Parental conflict is related to emotional problems, behavioral problems, academic/learning problems, depression and anxiety, substance use, precocious sexual activity, antisocial behavior, high school drop-out, suicide/self-harm, not attending college, poor adult relationships, and even lower career attainment for children living in a high-conflict divorce. Dr. Carter gives this example of a preteen girl who stated, “Genetically, I am 50 percent my mother. Since my father hates my mother, that part of me must be bad. I am also 50 percent genetically my father. Since my mother hates my father there goes the other half. I must be all bad so what does it matter if I cut myself.”  Many children do not verbalize their feelings, but instead show their allegiance to one (or both) of the parents over the other in hopes that conflict will be minimized. There is a need for parents to work together that surpasses the injustices of the relationship, unless there is ongoing abuse or neglect. The problems in the co-parenting relationship are not the children’s fault. Children need protection from parental conflict. Only parents working together can prevent the harmful effects of Visitation Refusal or How One Parent Undermines the Other Parent.

Family Restructuring Therapy is a therapeutic process, not an assessment or evaluation. A therapist should never make recommendations regarding custody and/or access without a complete custody evaluation.

Process of Family Restructuring Therapy

  • Each parent meets with the therapist once. Thereafter, meetings are conjoint unless an exception occurs by mutual agreement.
  • All sessions, except the first, are focused on the future, without placing blame. No parent can make demands or direct the other parent. The only way to look back is to admit one’s own mistakes that led to harm.
  • It is expected that both parties will behave in a cordial manner and if inappropriate behavior occurs during the session, the session is subject to early termination and will resume at the next scheduled session.
  • If any agreements are reached they will be documented by the therapist.
  • All activities related to the family (direct client contact, telephone and email contact, communication with counsel or the Court, report-writing) are billable time and are not subject to insurance reimbursement (criteria need to be met for direct client contact to be submissible to insurance).
  • Outside communication is postponed except in the case of emergencies, and only via email (or other agreeable medium.) Emails must follow 10 commandments:
  1. Maximum one e-mail per day.
  2. Maximum one topic per e-mail.
  3. Everything written must be child-focused, informative, and polite.
  4. You cannot talk about the past, make accusations, call names or otherwise blame the other.
  5. You must copy all e-mails to the therapist.
  6. Maximum 40 words per e-mail – ideally less than 20 are preferable.
  7. Responses are made within 24 hours but not within 3 hours, except in emergencies.
  8. If there is a request, a specific proposal can be included.
  9. Responses indicate acknowledgement and agreement, and for that which you disagree a counter-proposal is made, or it will be discussed in counseling.
  10. Use the given email address or a communication tool like Our Family Wizard.
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