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Choosing ADR can protect children from conflict during separation and divorce

In the last few decades, the rate of divorce in Canada has fluctuated between 35 per cent and 42 per cent. When couples who are not married are taken into account, the rate of family breakdown increases significantly. The last year for which Statistics Canada provided information on divorces was 2008, and that year the average age at divorce for women was about 42, and the average age for men was about 44.

While divorce at any age is difficult, matters can become particularly complicated when children are involved. Kids are vulnerable and often feel helpless, frustrated and confused during their parents' separation and divorce. And with the divorce rate hovering at about 40 per cent, children throughout Canada could potentially experience trauma if their parents' separation isn't carefully handled.

The common assumption used to be that divorce had to be a battle with a winning side and a losing side. In addition to the damage this kind of approach can cause to spouses, children can also be negatively affected by parental conflict and divorce litigation.

To reach long-term solutions to family disputes, parents are now encouraged to consider methods of alternative dispute resolution, or ADR. Divorce mediation, arbitration and collaborative law are forms of ADR that allow divorcing spouses to come to an agreement on a range of issues, which may include child care and property division, all in a non-adversarial setting.

With ADR, when spouses disagree, a neutral third party -- a mediator, for example -- can help guide the spouses to a mutually agreeable solution. This method is distinct from procedures in a courtroom, where animosity can quickly mount because of the adversarial nature of litigation and the parents' conflict can easily spill over into the children's lives.

For more on mediation and other ADR processes, please see Kirk Montoute LLP's ADR overview.

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