I came across a TIME article titled “Joint Custody Blues” which made a very important mention of the P.E.A.C.E. program, “intended to disarm parents in contentious custody situations.” Elizabeth Thayer and Jeffrey Zimmerman founded Parents Equally Allied to Co-Parent Effectively (PEACE) . The P.E.A.C.E. Program (Parents Equally Allied to Co-parent Effectively) is designed to facilitate cooperative co-parenting between parents who are engaged in high conflict separations and divorces. The goal of the program is to teach parents to jointly make decisions and interact in the best interests of their children. Parents meet together with a parent counselor to work on their unique situation and build healthy interaction patterns. They work closely with the attorneys for the parents and children. Read more about the P.E.A.C.E. Program.
I contacted Dr Elizabeth Thayer for some insight on this terrific program.
Dr. Thayer, what happens when parents who loved each other enough to create a child, then turn to the courts to tear each other apart? What can people do if a program like yours in inaccessible to them because the parents simply are not on the same page for the “best interest of the children”? If disagreements were not resolved in the marriage, how can it be expected to be resolved with joint custody? Even if the disagreements are not about “autism and fathers in denial”, there are still many instances where disagreements become so bad, it just explodes.
And then, the heavy questions: What happens in a case of emotional abuse where the husband tells the wife “if you will leave me, I will make sure you never see these children for the rest of your life”. Then, they claim to the courts that the mother has emotional issues, is mentally ill, and cannot take care of the children. With your experience in hostile custody battles, how can you advise a couple in this situation, so that they can find peace, let go of the allegations, and keep a stable relationship so that the children can one day grow to be healthy adults?
Elizabeth S. Thayer Ph.D. Responds:
I will try to answer your questions knowing that these are pivotal questions and quite complicated.
1. If parents choose a litigation approach wherein they increase the conflict and put children into the process we know that the conflict will affect them in multiple ways. Conflict is the highest risk indicator for children of divorce. The results are long lasting and create indelible scars for everyone thus impairing the parents ability to work together throughout the childrens’ lifetime. The children then inherit the conflict as adults and continue to have to live their parents’ divorce.
2. There are more opportunities to learn to work together as parents than you think. Many states now have mediation programs through the courts, we have trained others in different locations (including the family service agencies throughout CT), parenting coordination is growing rapidly, and there are many individual therapist now well versed in divorce parenting work.
3. When disagreements are not resolved in a marriage it does not mean that they can’t be resolved after divorce because they are no longer about the marriage but solely about the children. That is an important distinction and the essence of what makes the co-parenting work cooperatively.
4. Lastly when there are such threats as you related in your second paragraph, you need a team to work with the family including a good Guardian Ad. Litem (GAL in Ct.) who will work with the clinician involved and with the attorneys. Again the parents need to truly understand the effects of their conflict on the children and that nothing is worse than that. Unfortunately sometimes children need to become symptomatic before the parents can see the truth. We count on parents’ love for their children, a team of professionals dedicated to the same cause (individual therapists included), a court that will continue to send the same message, and childrens’ voices asking parents to stop the warfare.
Dr. Thayer, thank you so much for your dedication to the cause. I hope that many parents as well as children can be helped by your expert guidance and continued dedication.
Dr. Thayer can be contacted for divorce mediation and more, information below:
Elizabeth S. Thayer Ph.D.
Beacon Behavioral Services LLC
40 Dale Road
Avon, Ct. 06001
General email: firstname.lastname@example.org
To make a referral to the PEACE program or to get more information, please call Ms. Sandra Pelletier, Office Manager at (860) 676-9350 (ext. 27).