Integrating Family Law & Psychology

Courts across the State of Maryland are increasingly integrating Parenting Education Courses for adults litigating child custody issues. “Parenting education can provide parents with new, healthier perspectives” says Dr. Thomas Swisher. With both a law degree and a Ph.D. in counseling, Dr. Swisher has been integrating this approach with his mediation clients for years.Happy family together          When parents gain insight about the developmental stages and temperament of their children, they can make better decisions which serve their children’s unique needs. The needs of a 2 year old are significantly different from the needs of a teenager. Children also have unique personalities and temperaments. Some children are shy and others are outgoing. Some are sensitive while others are overly assertive or unaware of the feelings of others.

Knowing their child’s stage of development and temperamental tendencies helps parents devise “Parenting Agreements” and gives them a vocabulary which refocuses them toward cooperative parenting. When parents get on the same page, they offer their children a consistent, structured environment for growth. Dr. Swisher uses a swimming pool metaphor to explain this phenomena.

kids3            “Imagine your child in a swimming pool with water up to her chest. If the child is in the middle of the pool, she struggles to reach a side. If, however, your children is at one end of the pool, all she needs to do is push off the wall and glide seamlessly through the water.” “When parents coordinate their approaches,” Dr. Swisher explains, “they offer their child a sturdy wall to push off of, into the waters of life.

Parenting Agreements often contain language that attorneys are not used to. A parenting agreement addresses “good parenting” like not using the children to relay messages between parents and encouraging a loving, nurturing relationship between the child and each parent, even in a divorced family. Parenting Agreements also tend to go deeper into the ways parents work together. Decision making models are often incorporated into such agreements.

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As courts in Maryland become increasingly sensitive to the disruptive nature of litigation on families, expect to see more Court Ordered Mediation and Parenting Education. Some experts are advocating a change in vocabulary used by courts. “Custody” and “Visitation” are terms borrowed from the criminal justice world. We place criminals into “custody” and give them “visitation privileges.” These experts suggest that terms like these are packed with negative meanings, not appropriate for family law.

swisher2Dr.Thomas K. Swisher is an Attorney, Family Therapist & Professor of Family Studies at Stevenson University. Contact him at swishtom@gmail.com or (410) 750-2655.

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