© 2012 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.
I just returned from Minnesota where I had the opportunity to speak for two days to over one hundred family law judges and their law clerks about understanding and managing high-conflict parents in separation and divorce. It was a very dedicated group who are sincerely committed to protecting parents and children from harm, especially domestic violence and alienation, while helping both parents raise their children the best they can. Helping Parents Do a better Job of Making Reasonable Decisions I emphasized the importance of teaching and reinforcing conflict resolution skills – relationship conflict resolution skills – so that parents can do a better job of making their own reasonable decisions rather than relying so heavily on the courts. I mentioned research from years ago that indicates that when parents make the parenting plan decisions they are twice as likely to follow the plans, than if a judge has to make the decision.
While I explained the apparent increase of personality disorders in society and in family law litigation, I also pointed out that some of them can learn relationship conflict resolution skills enough to stay out of court and make their own decisions – not just for their parenting plan at the time of a divorce or separation, but also for the future in teaching their children and dealing with the other parent. Of course, I told them about EAR Statements®, BIFF Responses®, Make a Proposal, Managing Emotions and other basic skills that parents can learn and use right away, especially in structured approach such as the New Ways for Families® Method developed by our High Conflict Institute and already in use in 5 jurisdictions in the U.S. and Canada.
I pointed out that the vast majority of parents do not rely on family courts to make their parenting decisions. When parents need to use the court to decide parenting matters, it is a sign of serious problems. I made the analogy of the Emergency Room (“E.R.”), which no one hopes to go to. The idea of someone having their “day in court” is an undesirable concept when you think of parenting children. Therefore, when parents come to court, their problem needs to be understood fully and to have appropriate orders made, rather than using a cookie cutter approach that says one size fits all. (Ironically, one of the issues discussed at the conference is the Minnesota legislature’s current consideration of a shared custody presumption that would require a judge to order at least 45% parenting time for both parents – or a 35% alternative – unless the presumption was overcome by proving abuse, etc. See my next blog for my thoughts on this issue.)
Those at the conference seemed to agree with me that flexible thinking is very important in helping specific families and their own specific problems. I emphasized that abusive behavior and false allegations of abusive behavior look the same on the surface, so that looking beneath the surface with an open mind is essential in dealing with today’s cases. I mentioned briefly the importance of behavior pattern analysis when looking at parent problems, rather than focusing on just one or two events with lots of emotional arguments about them. I have been working on pattern analysis this year in developing our HCI PatternViewer™ software computer program (visit our site for more details ). The judges pointed out their limited resources, but I mentioned that simply asking the parents to explain the patterns of the problems they are raising may help a lot in understanding their cases more deeply than emotional debates about one or two events.
Overall, it was a great opportunity for the judges and I to discuss more deeply the issues of high conflict parents and how to really help them and their families at this important time of change in their lives. I look forward to future discussions like this with judicial officers, as well as all family law professionals.
Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, and mediator. He is the co-founder and Training Director of the High Conflict Institute, a training and consultation firm that trains professionals to deal with high conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books and methods for handling high conflict personalities and high conflict disputes with the most difficult people.