Seminar in Quebec: New Ways and the Cromwell Report

© 2014 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.

This month I got to travel to Quebec, Canada, to give a seminar about our New Ways for Families program. Of course, this month might seem like the worst time to travel northeast, but it turned out to be very beautiful (but still very cold for my San Diego bones). Before I went, I looked over the recent “Cromwell Report,” which addresses Canada’s family and civil court systems in light of important questions about how to best serve today’s legal clients. It recommends many procedural improvements:

“The formal system is, of course, important.  But a more expansive, user-centered vision of an accessible civil and family justice system is required.  We need a system that provides the necessary institutions, knowledge, resources and serves to avoid, manage and resolve civil and family legal problems and disputes.  That system must be able to do so in ways that are as timely, efficient, effective, proportional and just as possible:

  • by preventing disputes and by early management of legal issues;

  • through negotiation and informal dispute resolution services; and

  • where necessary, through formal dispute resolution by tribunals and courts.”

I see New Ways for Families as a method which can provide “early management of legal issues” by diverting families right at the start of a case into short-term counseling, which teaches skills that can be used in communicating and making joint decisions – and ideally staying out of the adversarial process after that. Of course, emergency orders can still be made, but then the parties (especially parents) should be taught skills to help them make their own decisions. Our results in Calgary and Medicine Hat in Alberta, Canada, are showing this to be possible in a significant number of cases. (For more information on the preliminary results from one of those programs see the Social Return on Investment Report).

New Ways can also provide preparation for “negotiation and informal dispute resolution services.” As soon as parents have completed 6 sessions each of Individual Parent Counseling with the New Ways Workbook, then they go into Parent-Child Counseling for 3 sessions each with their children. After that, they should immediately go into mediation or some other form of alternative dispute resolution, so that they can use their new skills to make their own decisions (with professional assistance) out of court. We have found this 2-step combination to be highly effective: 1) Learning skills in New Ways for Families, then 2) using these skills in mediation (such as our New Ways for Mediation Method) or collaborative divorce or other out-of-court method.

There are many ideas available for improving the court process that court systems are considering these days. However, I believe they will make little impact if they are just procedural changes within the context of an adversarial legal dispute. What is really needed today are methods which don’t pit one parent against the other to fight for time with a parent’s child, but instead assist the parents in learning skills and applying them to make their own decisions.

Instead, they need to be diverted into a “family systems” approach which recognizes that everyone in the system needs skills to make more reasonable decisions – even if only one parent has a “high-conflict” personality. By having both parents go through New Ways for Families, the conflict is calmed down and parents report liking the skills (which they can use anywhere in their lives). A reasonable parent can use the skills to deal with a high-conflict co-parent. Both need to be involved, or it reinforces an adversarial process and endless defensiveness.

The adversarial process is part of the problem – especially for parties with mental health problems. It’s essentially an “overdose” of adversarial thinking, which the average person can handle but high-conflict people can’t. Sometimes high-conflict families need court decisions, but without new skills they generally don’t implement these decisions and just keep coming back. Until we teach both parents skills for managing their disputes, their disputes will keep on going – costing parents and tax-payers, without providing a benefit.

I really enjoyed my visit to Quebec! They were having their Ice Festival, complete with ice sculpture, an ice “palace”, an ice hotel, snow activities for children, pretty street scenes and lots of good food. It was great seeing so many happy kids and families playing in the snow. And it didn’t surprise me that the Canadians beat the U.S. in ice hockey at the Olympics – they start playing hockey at about 3 years old!

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.

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