Virginia Mediation’s Parent Education Seminars have always covered the subjects required by Virginia Code Section 16.1-278.15 as to Juvenile & Domestic Relations District Court (custody) cases and by Va. Code Section 20-103 as to Circuit Court (divorce) cases. These subjects are:
the effects of separation or divorce on children,
parenting responsibilities,
options for conflict resolution and
financial responsibilities.
Our classes are limited to 15 people seated so that they interact with each other and the instructor. From our first classes the stories participants shared and questions they asked revealed that what they wanted and needed was not covered under the 4 required topics, so we added:
how to set boundaries,
how to improve communication,
how to hold the other parent accountable, an
how to avoid the shouting, anger and misunderstandings.
We also found that some of our participants and/or their lawyers were not sufficiently prepared for trial, so we added:
What are the statutory “best interests of the child” factors judge’s must consider when making custody decisions,
What other factors most help (influence) a judge in making custody decisions,
How to help your lawyer prepare a winning case for trial, and
How to hold your lawyer accountable: a custody/divorce client’s “Bill of Rights.”
The foregoing provides educational information and does not provide legal advice. It was not prepared for you either generally or in connection with any specific issue or case. The mediator does not give legal advice. You are responsible for obtaining legal advice from your own lawyer.
© 2020 A.B.Massey, 1119 Caroline St., Fredericksburg, VA 22401 (540) 809-8683

Become a Leader. Be Proactive.
Consider reading the book Leadership and Self-Deception. 2nd Ed., by The Arbinger Institute, which will impress upon you that to be a leader all your communication with the other parent should be helpful to them. It should not be lectures and or defensiveness on your part. You want to put on a positive case reflecting your efforts to “work with a jerk!” If you can, avoid putting on a negative case about the other parent’s lousy coparenting; rather put on evidence of your positive efforts to overcome the other parent’s negativity.
Bill Eddy, LCSW, JD specializes in teaching and writing about high conflict people (“HCP’s”). He says you don’t need to know their diagnosis, just that they are HCP’s. They need and want empathy, attention and respect “EAR”), three things you really don’t feel like giving them! But there are ways to give them “EAR” without agreeing with them, by making them feel heard, by actively listening to and acknowledging what they have to say. You reflect back to them by paraphrasing, reframing, asking questions to engage them, rather than reacting to what they’ve said before you really understand what they said.
When I asked clients in mediation a question, if they don’t like the question, it is not uncommon for them to respond with a statement that is not a reply to the question at all, but a lecture on their opposing viewpoint. That’s what politicians do!
Rarely can these people even restate your question or phrase the question that they are supposedly answering. No wonder there is no communication. This couple is communicating about as poorly as an elderly hard of hearing couple or a politician!
The foregoing provides educational information and does not provide legal advice. It was not prepared for you either generally or in connection with any specific issue or case. The mediator does not give legal advice. You are responsible for obtaining legal advice from your own lawyer.
© 2020 A.B.Massey, 1119 Caroline St., Fredericksburg, VA 22401 (540) 809-8683

How to work with your lawyer and Guardian ad litem
Start by studying the family law client’s Bill of Rights©.
You should try to prepare your case for the lawyer rather than waiting for them to do it for you at your expense.
If the GAL is slow to make a house visit take pictures and send them to the GAL. Don’t wait! Write out an itemized history of the conflict with the other parent on lined white paper or type it so that the lawyer and/or GAL can use a yellow highlighter and can quickly find your version of an incident testified to by the other parent. We also teach what judges have said about what influenced them in making decisions in custody cases. Be sure to have witnesses to back up your evidence. Have them write up and sign statements with their name, address, phone and email to give your lawyer and to the GAL. Make a list of your children’s doctor, dentist, mental health counselor, friends and their parents, address, phone and email and a statement of each person’s interaction with your child. List the 9 temperament (personality) factors and how each applies to your child. List each of the “best Interests of the child” factors of Virginia Code Section 20-124.3 and under each factor detail how it applies in your case.
Consider having subpoenas issued to require your witnesses to attend and to back up your testimony even if it is repetitive and correlative. It may bolster your testimony by their readiness to back you up even if they don’t even testify. And if you need their testimony but they are sick, have a flat tire or forget to show up, you might be able to get a continuance. They can accept service, so the awkwardness of having the sheriff serve them with the subpoena can be avoided. The opposing lawyer asks you the questions upon cross-examination, but the judge is listening and makes the decision. Note the judge’s name, and address the judge by name, especially if the judge does not seem to be attentive.
The foregoing provides educational information and does not provide legal advice. It was not prepared for you either generally or in connection with any specific issue or case. The mediator does not give legal advice. You are responsible for obtaining legal advice from your own lawyer.
© 2020 A.B.Massey, 1119 Caroline St., Fredericksburg, VA 22401 (540) 809-8683

Learn how to relax and stay calm. Try meditating.
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. – Viktor E. Frankl
To expand that space both in time and awareness read and practice Herbert Benson’s timeless book The Relaxation Response in which he teaches a simple meditation technique. Read our separate blog post on the specifics of meditation. Meditation may not come naturally for you. Do not expect a sense of your power to choose your response to your spouse’s anger or nasty remark to come to your mind readily after only a few months of meditating. Christians should also read Thomas Keating’s book Open Mind, Open Heart. Understand the difference between mindfulness and single-pointed meditation. Practice both. See what technique works best for you.
The “Quieting Reflex” is a stress management technique created by Dr. Charles Stroebel who wrote a book about it in 1982. • Become aware that you are feeling stress. • Give yourself an “inner smile.” Imagine that you have eyes and a mouth on the inside of your face and smile to yourself! • Say to yourself, “Calm body, alert mind.” • Inhale slowly; imagine that you have holes in the bottom of your feet and the breath is coming up through your soles. • As you exhale, allow the muscles in your neck, jaw and tongue to relax. • Imagine a wave of warm, heavy energy moving down through your body and out your feet, and allow yourself to feel limp and loose. See another blog post of ours on the QR.
I read a 1984 review of Stroebel’s book in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. The reviewer indicated that he didn’t see much new in Stroebel’s 4-step QR and that Stroebel didn’t cite any “validating data.’’ I checked the web for something more recent that might validate the technique and I found that Kaiser Permanente® has the technique posted revised/reprinted 2/11 on the web. If you have a technique that works and takes less than 6 seconds please let us know. You must practice QR regularly for it to be effective for you. Strobel recommended a 6 months training period.
The foregoing provides educational information and does not provide legal advice. It was not prepared for you either generally or in connection with any specific issue or case. The mediator does not give legal advice. You are responsible for obtaining legal advice from your own lawyer.
© 2020 A.B.Massey, 1119 Caroline St., Fredericksburg, VA 22401 (540) 809-8683

Learn how to communicate
Learn how to communicate in a way that helps the other parent feel safe rather than threatened. Read Crucial Conversation by Patterson, Grenny, McMillian and Switzler.
Read the book BIFF, by Bill Eddy, LCSW, JD, on how to send a brief, informative, firm but friendly message by email or text. Limit your phone calls.
If the other parent calls you, hear the other parent out before your BIFF message. You must earn the right to speak by making the caller feel heard which should help calm them down. As they feel listened to and understood, they become more likely to listen to you.
You must first be aware of the fact that their phone call or what they’re saying is triggering a “fight, flight or freeze” reaction in you. Silently, shift instantly to the “Quieting Reflex” (see blog post). Repeat or paraphrase what they said to you in a humble and inquiring way. “Is that what you said?” Let them respond, then pose a question to clarify what they said and to establish rapport. At that point, you should have earned the right to give your own response.
Consider reading Difficult Conversations: How to discuss what matters by Stone, Patton and Heen and/or Thanks for the Feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well by Stone and Heen.
Our PE class teaches a way of thinking about the other parent that is a paradigm shift for many of our students. Consider reading the book Leadership and Self-Deception. 2nd Ed., by The Arbinger Institute, which will impress upon you that the best parents provide leadership in even the broken families and set an example of how a good parent should act. To be a leader all your communication with the other parent should be in the “best interests of the child” by being helpful to the other parent. It should not be lectures, displays of anger and/or defensiveness on your part. You want to put on a positive case reflecting your efforts to “work with a jerk!” If you can, avoid putting on a negative case about the other parent’s lousy coparenting; rather, put on evidence of your positive efforts to overcome the other parent’s negativity.
Bill Eddy writes about difficult people, who he labels as a group “High Conflict People.” He says you can treat them all the same; you don’t need to diagnose them with any mental health label otherwise. So, even if you don’t know whether their issue is narcissism, you might still benefit from reading Disarming the Narcissist, 2nd Ed. by Wendy T. Harry, LCSW. If anxiety is an issue, read calming your anxious mind 2nd Ed. by Jeffrey Brantley, MD. To learn about principled negotiation, read Getting Past No by Ury.
The foregoing provides educational information and does not provide legal advice. It was not prepared for you either generally or in connection with any specific issue or case. The mediator does not give legal advice. You are responsible for obtaining legal advice from your own lawyer.
© 2020 A.B.Massey, 1119 Caroline St., Fredericksburg, VA 22401 (540) 809-8683
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