Changing Your Parenting Plan – FREE Workshop in Oshawa Sept 15, 2016
Sep 6th, 2016 by Families First Mediation

Your parenting plan is a living breathing document. It can change with the needs of your family and your children. These conversations need to happen and they are often challenging.

Debbie Miles-Senior from Side By Side Supervised Access Services and Julie Gill of Families First Mediation & join forces to help you answer the questions:

  • Why would I need to change my parenting plan?
  • Why are these changes so difficult and how do we make the changes?
  • What if we don’t agree?
  • How involved should children be?
  • Whose plan is it anyway?

Please join us for an open discussion as we provide answers to these questions and others.

Children Change - Flyer Parenting Plans


Child Custody Battles And A Broken System
Mar 10th, 2016 by Families First Mediation

Custody battles are difficult enough but within a broken system they are doomed to be more damaging to families.

custody battle

Here is a link to a post in the Toronto Sun today by Michele Mandel.

Judge blasts warring parents who squandered $500,000 on custody battle

I thank both Michele and Judge Alex Pazaratz for bringing attention to this story. Stories like this; often on a smaller financial scale, occur everyday!

While I appreciate Judge Pazaratz saying “Our family court system has zero tolerance for this type of emotional abuse of children” this couple spent $500k between them fighting within that very same system!

We need continued conversations and a lot more action focused at changing the system.

  • Changes have to be made at the beginning of the process.
  • Parents need to be educated on the alternatives and I don’t just mean at the MIP.
  • Parents need to be educated on what the real cost of long custody battles is to their kids and themselves.
  • Mediators need to get better about bringing awareness of mediation as a solution (Yes, we can do high conflict as well).
  • We need a team approach that makes it cost effective for parents to access lawyers, mediators, and social workers in order to make informed and reasonable decisions
  • We need to find a safe way to bring the children’s voice into the process.
  • We need lawyers to be educated on how to de-escalate their clients.
  • We need reality checks! Spending $500k fighting about the best interests of your child just can’t be in the best interests of your child.

I understand the need to fight, I truly do. My ex husband took me to court to fight for sole custody and primary care of our 2 children. I did fight back in order to get shared custody and 50/50 shared parenting. We had different ideas about what was in the best interests of our children and I see that in my office all of the time. I can tell you that the legal process destroyed our ability to go forward and positively co-parent. It was all about my rights and his rights and not about the rights of my children to have 2 parents that would continue to care for them.

My question is this…

Did the Family Court System and their zero tolerance, fail these parents?

These parents did not spend this kind of money without lawyers and other supporting professionals. This process took years to develop. There should have been a process to derail them.

We know people are going to fight and we know people are going to be unreasonable. But knowing that, how can we save them from themselves?

Julie Gill Q.Med, CDFA

Families First Mediation

How Will Your Children Remember Your DIVORCE?
Oct 26th, 2015 by Families First Mediation

Do you know the answer to the question – How will your children remember your divorce? It’s an important question and unless your children are very young they will remember it. If they are very young they will grow up with the tension or friendliness that you created during your divorce process.

couple fighting in front of kid

You have all heard the stories; fathers that have limited access to their children, parents that don’t pay support, couples that are in and out of court each time the children are brought back from a visit late, tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and several years have passed only to end up with an agreement that doesn’t meet anyone’s needs…especially the children.

What is the common mistake that most of these parents made?

They ended up in a battle to see who would win!

(Do you think perhaps they lost focus on what was really important? The children?)

Many times differences, mistrust, emotions and/or the inability to communicate cause parents to lose focus on the children’s needs. It is essential during a divorce to separate the adult relationship issues from the parenting issues.

Know Your Goals

Do you want to reduce conflict and confusion for your children?

Do you want to keep some of the family money to be used for your new lives instead of costly legal battles?

Do you want to encourage a good relationship between your children and your ex?

Do you want to be able to go to your children’s extra-curricular activities, graduation and wedding without shooting daggers at your ex? Do you really want to make these exciting events stressful for your children?

Know Your Options

First and foremost, get informed. Read what you can on the internet, there is a great deal of information available. Use your local library as a resource. Visit the Family Law Information Centre available at many of the court houses. Schedule a consultation with a lawyer. Part of knowing your options is knowing your rights and those of your children.

Will it be a friendly divorce where you can work through the issues at the kitchen table? Perhaps a do-it-yourself kit available online will do the trick or you’d like to file the papers yourself. The advantage of course is the cost. However, it can be time consuming, confusing and frustrating.

Can you sort some or all of the issues out by yourselves? Maybe mediation is the best fit for your family. The advantages are that you pay only one professional, you have complete control over the decisions, you set the pace and it is less stressful than court. Mediation allows you to have the legal process as a fall back. This is often not a suitable option if there are significant power imbalances or domestic violence.

Maybe you feel that you are not able to negotiate with your ex-partner and require a lawyer to handle everything but you don’t want to go to court. Collaborative lawyers can help you both work through your issues under an agreement that you will not go to court. This can be less stressful and less costly than the traditional lawyer-lawyer negotiation process. If you do not however resolve your issues and you wish to proceed to court you must retain new lawyers.

And of course there is always the combative court process for divorce. Does the story below sound familiar?

Parents who spent tens of thousands of dollars on lawyers that didn’t get along. They ended up in court several times only to get adjourned with no resolution to their issues. They lost any remnants of kindness that they once had for each other. They have a great deal of legal debt and are uncertain about their financial future. They are so stressed that they have lost a great deal of weight without ever having to go to the gym!

Did you listen carefully as they told you about how difficult it was for the kids?  Mom and Dad fighting all of the time, not knowing whose house they were going to sleep at, who they could say what to or who was going to take them to hockey and swimming lessons.

The reality is that there is no one-size fits all divorce because each family and each set of circumstances is different. What works for your family may not work for another.

Creating a parenting plan, by any means, as a first step in your separation is vital to a successful separation. Staying focused on your children allows you to start communicating and making decisions within the boundaries of your new relationship.

Normally lack of trust and emotions factor into how detailed a parenting plan should be. The less trust between the parents, the more detailed the plan should be. Both parents should have a voice and communicate directly regarding what is best for the children.

Once your parenting responsibilities are sorted you can move on more successfully with other aspects of your separation.

Create a divorce transition plan that works for your family. There is no right or wrong way to go about that, plans can be as unique as your family.

How will your children remember your divorce? Well, it’s up to you. Making positive choices during your divorce is the biggest success factor for how well your children handle and remember the transition.

Julie Gill Q.Med, CDFA

Owner and Principal Mediator

Families First Mediation

Conflict Preparedness For Youth- Are We Just Hoping They Will Learn These Skills?
Sep 10th, 2015 by Families First Mediation

Teaching youth to better manage conflict are not skills that are being taught, unless there has already been a problem. We are reactive. Are these skills that we hope young people gain through life experiences and by watching us adults model them. Is hope enough? Let’s be proactive about teaching these skills instead.

I was recently on a radio show discussing Youth and Conflict and I’ve had some great feedback. It would seem that I’m not alone in thinking that if we spent any time training our youth how to communicate, engage in conflict in a positive manner and negotiate that we might just see better results.

You can listen to it here


This isn’t about placing blame. Are the schools failing our kids? Are we as parents not doing enough to help them manage through these tough years? Is anyone really listening to our youth?

This is about finding a way to fill the gap that so obviously exists. Aren’t we all curious how we ended up going from the youth that we were to the responsible adults that we are today? Do we even think about how many lessons that we learned the hard way? Shouldn’t we be thinking of ways to teach our youth based on our experiences?

I know, it looks like all I have are questions. But questions are a great place to start! The BIG question is What do our Youth think would help them navigate conflict better?

We see youth in conflict managed poorly every day…we see bullying, fights, criminal charges, suspensions, withdrawals, mental health issues and sadly suicide. Before you ask, I don’t believe that opening a dialogue about problem solving or managing conflict is going to change all of this. I do however believe that there is an opportunity to change some of this.

  • Instead of being so critical of our youth, let’s be supportive of their strengths.
  • Instead of managing everything for them, let’s be there to guide them (or catch them) when they try to problem solve on their own.
  • Instead of dictating what they will do, when they will do it and how they will do it, let’s ask them for their input.
  • Instead of talking at them, let’s try listening to them.

I was asked to talk about this topic because I faciliate a workshop for Youth called RESOLVE – Conflict Preparedness for Youth. It creates dialogue around relationships, respect, power imbalances, and boundaries while helping teach communication skills as well as Conflict management.

I was asked why I thought my approach was effective. My answer is simple. I think any approach is effective! These are not skills that are being taught. These are skills that we hope young people gain through life experiences and by watching us adults model them. Is hope enough?

I think we need to empower the Youth and give them a voice. I’m sure we will be pleasantly surprised by what we hear.

Julie Gill, QMed, CDFA

Owner of Families First Mediation

Ashley Madison – A Time For Some Difficult Family Conversations
Aug 21st, 2015 by Families First Mediation

“I think it’s time to bring the personal family issues of the leaked Ashley Madison users back into the private world. No media, no courts, just families having these difficult conversations in a safe environment.”

Everyone feels they have a right to judge, not sure why but they do. The focus right now should be on minimizing risk to the families involved. Not just debating the legal and moral positions of the site and hackers.

Am I condoning cheating? No

Am I condoning the hackers blackmailing, bullying and sharing private information? No

Do I think people are seeing the families behind those leaked names? No

Ok, so we all know what Ashley Madison represents – feel free to think what you want about the people that join and pay for a membership.  I can tell you though as a Family Mediator that we have no idea what goes on in other people’s homes and/or in other people’s relationships. And really, why should we?

Perhaps these members have an open relationship. Perhaps they are separated and living together for convenience. Perhaps it was a joke or a joint effort by a couple to see what the site was all about. Perhaps it was cheating, pure and simple.

The hack does not end with user names being released, that is just the beginning. I’m concerned about the family fallout. What is going to happen with those couples and families now? Some very difficult conversations for sure. Those conversations may bring about some ugly truths, mistrust and some very real changes in their lives. These people can be mothers, fathers, children or grandparents and all of their extended family will now be involved in their personal lives, and let’s be clear, it is their personal lives.

I think it’s time to bring their personal family issues back into the private world. No media, no courts, just families having these conversations in a safe environment.

As a private and confidential process, maybe it’s time for the mediation process to shine. An opportunity for these families to have difficult conversations and for us as mediators to help them find a way to move forward.

Julie Gill Q.Med, CDFA

Owner & Principal Mediator

Families First Mediation


9 Tips To Bonding In A Blended Family
Jun 15th, 2015 by Families First Mediation

Think it’s tough to bond in a blended family? You’re right it can be, but there are ways to make it easier.

Due to the sheer number of divorced families it stands to reason that many couples entering into new relationships both already have children. When these families come together there are many changes that need to be considered and planned for.

Ashley and Jeff have been dating for 6 months and are talking about moving in together. Like many other couples now a days they are both divorced and have children from those marriages.

They are excited to have found each other and want to share their lives together. The children have met on quite a few occasions and seem to get along well. Ashley and Jeff really want this new relationship to work and talk at length about how best to manage it. They refer to the Brady Brunch regularly hoping that their new family will unite just like that one.

Much like their divorces, this is a transition forced on the children due to the parents needs. Ashley and Jeff know that they need to be focused on the best interests of their children during this time. They have decided to create a parenting plan to help them have conversations, make decisions and guide them through what they hope will be a successful transition into a blended family. Ashley and Jeff think that it may be a good idea to share some of their plan with their ex-partners to ensure they have a comfort level around the new people in their children’s lives. Ashley and Jeff feel that their children are old enough to have a voice and be part of the process. They are choosing to create the parenting plan through a series of family meetings. Some sections will be decided solely by Ashley and Jeff as the parents and adults, other sections will be created using feedback from the children.

Here are some tips that Ashley and Jeff are following to ensure that their transition is successful. They can work for you too!

  • Resolve your divorce first – How you manage your divorce can play a significant role in the success of future relationships. Bringing unresolved issues and emotions into a new relationship will certainly create challenges.
  • Create a parenting plan – Discuss and agree to such topics as discipline, rules, behaviour, parenting/step parenting roles. Rules should be consistent in the house and expectations as well as consequences should be clear.
  • Be respectful of the natural parents – There are roles for parents and step parents. Children will feel safe if the transition from home to home is smooth and if the parents and step parents are respectful of the other’s relationship with their children.
  • Continue the strong relationship with your own children – As you work hard to build a relationship with your step children it is often easy to take the relationship with your own children for granted. You will need to pay equal attention to your own children so that they don’t feel displaced during the transition.
  • Talk to the children – Don’t spring it on them; let them know of your intentions early on. Make sure they have a voice and that you are responsive to their concerns. Help your partner do the same.
  • Remember each child is unique – Children will adjust in their own way in their own time. Children need to develop relationships on their own…not be ‘forced’ into them.
  • Line up parenting schedules if and when you can – In order for the kids to bond they need to spend time together developing as a family. Special occasions and holidays will want to be spent together when they have bonded.
  • Quality Time – Ensure each parent spends time with their own children, with their step-children and also equally as important with each other to continue to develop and strengthen their relationship.
  • Get professional support if required – The help of counsellors or mediators may make your transition smoother.

Remember, your children want to see you happy and in a healthy relationship. You in turn want to show your children what a healthy relationship looks like. It will take some time and effort but it will pay off if you plan this transition and see it through.

Enjoy the chaos. It won’t last forever.

Julie Gill Q.Med, CDFA

Owner, Families First Mediation


Family Mediation on the Radio – Why Would I Need A Mediator?
Feb 15th, 2015 by Families First Mediation

On December 28th 2014 I was pleased to be a guest on the radio program Mediation Station. Our topic was “Why Would I Need A Mediator?”

Mediation resolving conflict

So, I regularly have people say to me “Oh I am happily married, I would never need your services” or “if I take your card or friend you on Facebook someone will think I need your services”.

To these people I have a few questions…

“What if a family member was divorcing, would you rather see them in court losing their savings or privately sorting out their differences?” (Divorce Mediation)

“What if you are struggling with your siblings over selling your dad’s house during the process of moving him into a care facility?” (Elder Mediation)

“What if your son/daughter is in a new relationship with a partner who also has children and they are planning on moving in together? How will your grandchildren will be cared for?” (Family or Blended Family Mediation)

For all of the above situations a Family mediator could be amazingly helpful in creating transition plans and bridging the gaps in communication.

Life is about relationships, making connections, happiness…yes? I have devoted my practice to helping families transition their relationships during a time of stress. It is a very balanced and fair process that lets you stay in control. Staying focused on what really matters and helping you to move forward. What could be more positive than that?

Mediation is part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Having the knowledge that mediation exists may help you, a family member, friend or client in the future. Mediation really is your choice for POSITIVE change.

Listen now…


Julie Gill

Qualified Mediator & Certified Divorce Financial Analyst

Families First Mediation









DIVORCE – You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know!
Jan 19th, 2015 by Families First Mediation

Have you been divorced before?

If not, you probably don’t know where to start or what to do!

That is not uncommon.

Divorce - You Don't Know What You Don't Know

Divorce – You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

I was sitting in the hospital today with my daughter trying to get her care. She was in a car accident a couple of weeks ago and is still struggling. Today the emergency doctor asked what has been happening since the accident and wanted to know why we were there. Although I knew what had led up to our hospital visit, the honest answer I gave him was “I just don’t know what to do”. That’s when it hit me. I sound just like my clients!!!! I just wanted help.

Does this sound familiar?

  • I don’t want to make a bad decision now that will cause harm in the future.
  • I don’t know what my next step should be.
  • I don’t know what professionals I need and how to get in touch with them.
  • I don’t want to miss anything.

Sounds like everyone going through a separation and/or divorce!

As confident as I am as a mediator that I can walk people through the process, their options and connect them with the right professionals – they don’t know me. I am asking them to put a lot of trust in me. Little old me.

Then I think about, how scary it is to be in a position that you never expected, you never planned and you have no idea how to manage.  Add to that the emotional turmoil, frustration and things not moving at the speed you would like and what do you have?  FEAR, plain and simple.

Only you can decide what is right for you. When I started typing “only you” all I could think about was “Only you can stop forest fires” haha, sorry back to the point. Gathering information, making sure that you are comfortable with the information you are being given and that you only act on the information that you feel is right is what will help alleviate that fear.

I think that those of use in the divorce industry need to get much better at helping people manage that fear. With information, with empathy and with empowerment.

We help people through a huge life transition and we have the power to make it a little easier and a little better. I really want to say A LOT better and A LOT easier but sometimes that is just wishful thinking no matter how could I am at my work.

Although you may not know what you DON’T know. You do know what you DO know and what you feel.

  • Question everything.
  • Only make informed decisions.
  • Do what you feel is right in your gut or your heart; whichever one you trust more.

Just make sure you are comfortable with the information that you have gathered, that you make the best decisions based on your situation and that you can move on without feeling that you missed something.

All I can do with my daughter is my best. All you can do through your separation is your best. And YES your best is good enough.

Julie Gill

Mediator and Owner

Families First Mediation

Durham Region, Ontario

Paying for health care is the biggest worry for aging Canadians – Is your family talking about this?
Oct 21st, 2014 by Families First Mediation

There was a recent article by The Canadian Press that stated  “Working longer may not be possible after serious health events and that paying for health care in old age is Canadians biggest worry.”  

The article (read it here) identifies that 47% said they worried about needing more long-term care than they have the money for, while 45 % said they fret over whether they’ll outlive their savings.

If these are the concerns, how do you manage them? For starters, how do you even talk about them with your family?

Should your wife/husband and/or children be aware of what your long-term care wishes are? Should they know how much you have available and what you would like if your savings are not sufficient?  Read the rest of this entry »

What Is Elder Care (Caregiver) Mediation?
Oct 15th, 2014 by Families First Mediation

Elder Care Mediation – As our population ages, families are facing many challenges as their living requirements change and age related issues become a normal part of their everyday lives.

Perhaps it is your transition or you’re a family member that’s experiencing these issues as you assist in the role as caregiver to a senior family member. Either way, this blog may help you.

eldercare mediationFamilies are often in conflict with decisions concerning the care of elder family member. 

It is important for everyone involved to have a voice in the decision making, to have open discussions about some sensitive topics and too generally bridge the gap between adult children and their senior loved ones as well as the gap between siblings. Family mediation is a terrific way to bridge these gaps.

In elder care mediation, the family members, including the elder family member, choose who should be involved in the discussions and the issues to be addressed. The elder care mediation process provides a safe and respectful place to have a conversation where important information can be gathered, ideas shared and plans agreed to.

The advantages of Elder Care mediation are:

  • Elder family member can be involved as much as possible in the decisions
  • Finances and tasks can be divided up
  • Families can develop a plan that is customized for their individual needs

The primary topics of discussion are the care of an elder family member are Quality of Life, Housing, Financial Decisions and working through Family conflict.


Perhaps you are downsizing, moving in with your children or relocating to a retirement community. There are many financial and emotional decisions to be made during this time. At this time the senior parent can lose their voice in the process as adult children begin to take decisions away. Often adult children will have a high level of conflict during the decision making period.

Support and Personal Care agreements

When a child takes on responsibility for a parent it may cause hardship both financially and emotionally, require a significant time commitment or increased costs for the child. In many instances siblings have difficulty with these decisions and any compensation that a parent wants to provide to the child that has become the caregiver.

The reality is that there needs to be a division of duties, decisions about bringing in outside professionals, relief for caregivers and agreement on the level of care needed.

Estate Planning

There are many financial and legal affairs that will need to be taken care of. You may need to modify a will, create Powers of Attorney or simply rebalance your household budget based on your new requirements.

It is a very emotional and stressful time for many families and sometimes there is a sense of urgency. Keeping all families on the same page will ensure a smooth transition and less conflict.

As a mediator my role is to help your family be future focused and address the needs of all family members.

Julie Gill, Q.Med, CDFA

Families First Mediation

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