Bi-lateral Parenting Assessment

A bi-lateral parenting assessment is a full forensic assessment of the family culminating in a written report that is provided to the court, typically at trial, giving guidance on what parenting arrangement should be ordered.  The assessments usually include psychological testing of the parents and some tests may be administered to the children as well.

The process is expensive and stressful.  Costs can range from $6,000 to $20,000, although subsidized services are sometimes available.  They are stressful because it is a one way process.  The psychiatrist, psychologist or social worker doing the assessment gathers a lot of personal information and the parent has little or no idea about what impressions that person is forming and what conclusions he or she will eventually reach.

Another significant problem is that while the assessment is being conducted, the assessor is not available to assist the family with ongoing, day-to-day issues.  Use of a co-parenting coordinator is highly recommended.  Potentially, a bi-lateral parenting assessment can be avoided through the early use of a co-parenting coordinator and perhaps a home study.


Case Management

In Alberta, Case Management is a process where one judge oversees a particular file and ensures that it proceeds to trial in a timely fashion.  This is useful if the case is going to trial, and it can be useful to have one judge who acquires a broader and deeper understanding of what is going on, but often the Case Management judge will not make interim orders unless they are by consent.  It can also be difficult to schedule meetings with the Case Management judge, particularly for clients who are self represented.  The use of co-parenting coordination in conjunction with case management would be an excellent way of serving the needs of many families.


Collaborative Divorce

Collaborative divorce is a non-adversarial approach that uses an interdisciplinary team to help families transition as smoothly as possible through the stressful and challenging process of restructuring their emotional, financial, and legal relationships associated with separation and divorce.

To better serve the complex, multidimensional needs of families going through separation and divorce, collaborative divorce adds to collaborative family law the use of a divorce coach for each parent, a child specialist, and a financial analyst.

Note that, contrary to what one might think, the multidisciplinary approach generally costs less than a lawyer only collaborative approach, costs about half or 60% of a litigated approach that does not proceed to trial, and tens of thousands of dollars less than cases that go to trial.

The development of collaborative divorce, using a multi-disciplinary team is generally accredited to the work of Peggy Thompson and Nancy Ross.  (link to their website

To get a more personal sense of collaborative divorce, read the case examples in:

Divorce: Does it have to be destructive? By Nancy Ross, and;

Divorce the Collaborative Way, by Peggy Thompson.

For a concise explanation of this process, refer to Susan Gamache's article, Collaborative Separation and Divorce.

For a detailed explanation of this process, refer to Collaborative Divorce by Rodney Nurse and Peggy Thompson (undated).  (link not yet available) has links to numerous articles by lawyers, by coaches, and from the popular press.  This site is a key resource for anyone considering collaborative divorce.

Recognizing that the multi-disciplinary approach can be useful for situations other than divorce, collaborative practice is a term that has emerged and is often used synonymously with collaborative divorce.  (link to International Academy of Collaborative Professionals)


Collaborative Family Law

link to Collaborative Family Lawyers of Canada's website

Recognizing that litigation through the courts generally makes a family's situation worse rather than better, Stu Webb, a lawyer from Minneapolis, Minnesota developed the concept of Collaborative Family Law.  Clients and lawyers sign a 4-way agreement committing to collaboratively reaching a settlement without using the adversarial court process.  If a settlement is not reached and the matter needs to go to trial, both lawyers have to withdraw from the files and the clients have to get new counsel.  Because the lawyers don't want to lose their clients and because the clients don't want to have to get new lawyers all four people are committed to the common goal of reaching a settlement.

Click here to listen to an interview with Stu Webb.

Click here for an overview of the development of Collaborative Family Law.


Collaborative Practice

See also Collaborative Divorce. Collaborative practice and collaborative divorce are often used synonymously.  The collaborative, interdisciplinary team described under collaborative divorce could be applied to such issues as division of estates.

(link to International Academy of Collaborative Professionals)



When used in this website, the term "co-parenting" is not synonymous with 'joint custody'.  Regardless of what court orders exist, if parents are separated and are each still involved in their children's lives, then to some extent they each have to parent and they both have to parent collectively.  While there are a multitude of different parenting arrangements that can and are employed, parents who alternate weekly the provision of residence and primary care, as well as parents who physically live half a world apart and one of them only sees the children in person for a few days, every year or less, all have to co-parent to some degree.


co-parenting coordination

Co-parenting coordination is a process where a qualified professional uses a mixture of education, mediation, arbitration, and counselling to reduce the amount of conflict that a family is experiencing.  The objective is to help the family transition through the separation process with as little conflict as possible, and if the conflict is already quite high, manage the conflict and help them progress more quickly to a point where they can function on their own.

Note that co-parenting coordination is more commonly referred to as parenting coordination.  We prefer to use the term co-parenting coordination because we hope to imply an objective of co-operation, collaboration, and consensus.  Parenting coordination might convey to some the idea of simply coordinating the interaction of two autonomous parenting environments.  This is generally referred to as Parallel Parenting.  It's not the best arrangement, but sometimes it's all that can be achieved for a while.  Please note that co-parenting coordination is applicable to any parenting arrangement; joint custody, sole custody, balanced parenting schedules or situations where one parent is the primary caregiver.

Use this link to review definitions of parenting coordination from various other sources including legislation, private practitioners, and published literature.

Use this link to read a more detailed descriptions of co-parenting coordination as provided by Canadian Co-Parenting Centres.



As per Canada's Divorce Act ( R.S. 1985, c. 3 (2nd Supp.) ), section 2.(1)

"custody" includes care, upbringing and any other incident of custody;

Custody is often used to identify the authority to make major decisions associated with the child(ren), which technically is more accurately called guardianship.  There is a growing movement to stop using the terms custody and access (For the Sake of the Children; Report of the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access, December 1998, pgs 25-28), but old habits die hard and the transition has been very slow.

Parenting schedule, parenting plan, or parenting arrangement are more suitable terms.


Divorce Coaches

The Collaborative Divorce model uses a team approach that includes Divorce Coaches, a Child Specialist, and a Financial Advisor.  In many respects, the Divorce Coaches, as defined by Susan Gamache, in her article, Collaborative Separation and Divorce, provide services and assistance that is similar to what a Co-Parenting Coordinator would offer.  Two notable differences are:

  • Gamache's model uses two Divorce Coaches, one working with each parent;
  • there is no mechanism for resolving impasses that the parents reach in their day to day lives;

The following is a description from Susan Gamache's article:

The Divorce Coaches. Each spouse can work with a divorce coach to provide a safety net for the difficult times that may be a part of the divorce and to develop the new co-parenting relationship. This process helps spouses to recognize the end of their marriage and to move on to create fulfilling lives post divorce. When children are involved, divorce coaches teach divorcing parents how to best protect themselves and their children from the risks associated with divorce in the present and to look to the future needs of their family. This work also includes assisting spouses to clarify how they feel and think about issues, improve communication about sensitive topics, and to develop a parenting plan. (Gamache, p. 2)


Domestic Special

In Alberta, a Domestic Special is a hearing for addressing issues such as interim parenting schedules, that are too involved for the 20 minutes allotted in Morning Chambers.  Domestic Specials can range in length from an hour or two, to an entire day.


ex parte

On or from one side only - used for such legal matters as injunctions, commissions, hearings, and testimony and ordinarily implying a hearing or examination in the presence of or on the papers filed by one party and in the absence of and often without notice to the other party. (Webster, 1986)



The terms guardianship and custody are often used interchangeably. Even in legislation there is no clear differentiation. According to the Alberta Family Reform Workbook, October 25, 2002, guardianship is defined in section 3.1 as:

Alberta Justice proposes that guardianship be defined in legislation as the responsibility of an adult person for the care and custody of a child, including the responsibility to determine where the child lives, the responsibility for making day to day decisions associated with caring for the child, and the responsibility to make major decisions such as those involving religion, education, health and legal issues.

The legislation may list specific rights as part of the general definition but parents or a court could change the list, or add new rights and responsibilities to meet individual circumstances.


Home Studies

Home studies are not the same thing as a bilateral parenting assessment, but they are similar.  Home studies are less comprehensive and consequently much less expensive.  Also, home studies do not use any psychological testing.

If parents are unable to agree on a parenting arrangement through mediation, a home study can provide some objective information that will hopefully lead to a settlement.  In the event that a settlement is not then achieved, the home study can provide information to an arbitrator, a co-parenting coordinator, or the courts, which would be useful in establishing an interim order.  A full bilateral assessment would then be required prior to a final order being made.  Note that if a co-parenting coordinator was in place and had arbitration authority, he or she would likely do the home study himself/herself as part of that process.

A home study assesses the home environment that each parent has created, the relationships that the children have with each parent, and the dynamics of the relationship between the parents.

The description below is from a resource document of the Vermont Family Court.

The purpose of a Home Study is to develop information helpful to parents and the court in making decisions about children. Its emphasis is on learning about each parent by studying his or her social history, home environment, and network of relationships with other persons connected with that home. It is particularly useful when the children’s relationship with others in the parents’ lives (e.g., step-parents, half-siblings, parents’ significant others) may be an important factor. It is not intended to be a psychological study of family members. It is useful in determining which parent’s home offers a more suitable living environment for the child/ren, as it focuses on the impact of not just each parent but other household members on the child/ren’s development. The Court determines who will pay the cost.


JDR - Judicial Dispute Resolution.

JDR is a process offered by Alberta Justice, Court of Queen's Bench, where parents and their counsel can meet with a judge, present the basics of their positions, and get an opinion on what judgment would likely be made.  Note that, while each judge runs the process uniquely, it is not really a mediation process.  JDRs can be binding or non-binding.  One potential problem with binding JDRs is that there is no record of the proceedings and therefore there is no opportunity to appeal.


Morning Chambers

In Alberta, Morning Chambers sits every morning from 10:00 until noon.  Applications can be made that require less than 20 minutes for the judge to hear and make a decision. Anything that requires more time must be set down for a Domestic Special.


parallel parenting

Alberta Justice's Parenting After Separation for Families in High Conflict manual (Rev. 2003/04) describes parallel parenting on page 29. It is an arrangement where there is little or no direct interaction between parents.  While parenting arrangements that are set up in a parallel manner can be quite effective in reducing the amount of conflict, there is a cost to all family members in that each parent will likely be excluded from certain activities and events and the children would generally not be able to participate in activities that do not coincide with the parenting schedule. Parallel parenting should be considered as a temporary arrangement. Moving back and forth between parallel 'camps' puts an unhealthy stress on children. Long term use of such an arrangement could impair the children's social, emotional, and psychological development.

The following 2 page article by Elaine Wilson (2000) describes parallel parenting, provides a table that contrasts it with cooperative parenting, and lists 10 tips for successful parallel parenting.   link to Wilson (2000)


parental alienation

"Any constellation of behaviors, whether conscious or unconscious, that evoke a disturbance in the relationship between a child and the other parent."  (Darnall, 1998)


parental alienation syndrome

"The parental alienation syndrome (PAS) is a disorder that arises primarily in the context of child-custody disputes. Its primary manifestation is the child’s campaign of denigration against a parent, a campaign that has no justification. It results from the combination of a programming (brainwashing) parent’s indoctrinations and the child’s own contributions to the vilification of the target parent. When true parental abuse and/or neglect is present the child’s animosity may be justified, and so the parental alienation syndrome explanation for the child’s hostility is not applicable." (Gardner, 1998a, p. xx)


parenting coordination

See co-parenting coordination.



In Alberta, QB means Queen's Bench.  It is the federal court and is the one that handles all divorces.  Note that there is also a Provincial Court that has a family division.


Divorce Dictionary's dictionary

Alberta Justice's Family Law Information Centre's glossary