Ottawa Addresses Divorce and Family Violence

© 2013 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. This week, on May 13 and 14, I presented a 2-day training on managing high conflict personalities in divorce and family violence to over 75 social workers, therapists, lawyers and mediators in Ottawa. It was a very experienced group, and we had several good discussions of the overlap of divorce and violence. I emphasized my belief that people who engage in ongoing spousal abuse and/or child abuse have personality disorders, especially borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. Of course, this has been controversial in the past, as some abuse professionals have said for years that there is no mental disorder associated with domestic violence and child abuse. However, I believe that we are seeing research now that explains that “coercive controlling violence” may be associated with personality disorders, although lesser forms of family violence may not involve personality disorders, such as “situational couple violence” (in which both partners engage in pushing and shoving when they have conflicts) and “separation instigated violence” (1-2 incidents which occur at the time of separation, but there is no prior history of violence in the relationship). Any of these types of “intimate partner violence” may be involved in a divorce. Understanding the difference between cases involving personality disorders and those that don’t is important. When a case of domestic violence involves a personality disorder for the “perpetrator” or “dangerous person,” then verbal directives from a judge or other professionals will have no impact. Long-term change is needed, which takes long-term practice of new behaviors, such as managing impulsive behavior, changing how one thinks in conflict situations and managing one’s own emotions (and not blaming them on the victim or other people). Batterers’ treatment groups have been shown to make a difference in 26 weeks or 52 weeks, precisely because they address long-term change with lots of practice changing thinking, emotion management and restraining one’s own impulsive behavior. On the other hand, those who don’t have personality disorders and who may be involved in situation couple violence or separation instigated violence generally don’t need such intensive programs and may instead need conflict resolution skills and restraining orders to stay away from the other partner. Of course, one of the overall lessons of this training was that most partners, even those with personality disorders, appear able to change their behavior with an emphasis on learning small skills in small steps, with lots of repetition and encouragement. What doesn’t work is shame and blame, because it triggers the “defensive brain” which shuts down logical thinking and problem solving, and makes it very unlikely that the person will learn and change. Unfortunately, our adversarial system of dispute resolution (family court) often triggers more defensiveness (and less learning) than out-of-court methods. Since I had two days, I had time to give the family professionals present some practice opportunities for teaching clients skills for managing their own emails (BIFF Responses), making proposals and practicing structured mediation – some of the skills that we teach in the New Ways for Families method and the New Ways for Mediation method. What was interesting about Ottawa is that three family service agencies have been trying out the New Ways for Families method with clients over the past two years, even though the court has not been involved up to now. One evening, about 25 people gathered to discuss their experiences with New Ways and to ask me questions about how it is working in other locations. It was exciting for me to discuss New Ways with counselors with actual experience with the method. I look forward to them communicating more with family courts and showing them that this method can divert a significant portion of their high-conflict court cases if the courts will give it a try. Over lunch on the second day, we also had a presentation by the local Collaborative Practice Ottawa group, which included discussing how this method may be more appropriate than court for many cases in which there are concerns about family violence. The benefit of this collaborative approach is that all team members can help calm the parties and reinforce using positive skills, as compared to family court where the parties are placed in an adversarial structure, which tends to escalate their negative behavior more than it manages it. Overall, it was a great visit to a new city for me! I didn’t realize how beautiful and relatively small and manageable Ottawa is, given that it’s the national capital of Canada. Everyone was very welcoming and they gave me some brief daily tours. Most of all, they showed a very strong commitment to helping children, families, victims and perpetrators to overcome violence and to protect children from future family violence. 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.

Collaborative Practice and BIFF Responses®

© 2013 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. Last weekend, I participated in the annual CP-Cal conference: Collaborative Practice – California. There were about 160 attendees, with numerous workshops and a few plenary sessions. It’s amazing to see how Collaborative has grown in California in just 8 years! It was fun to see friends and to hang out with two of my favorite colleagues from San Diego, Shawn Weber (who is now on the Board of CP-Cal) and Julie Mack, both lawyers who have been involved in court cases and mediation cases of mine. Several of the sessions talked about the brain and how litigation tends to bring out the worst in us, and how staying calm, speaking slower and having a friendly smile on your face can entice the brains of others to become more flexible and collaborative in their thinking. Friday evening, the speaker, Doug Noll, pointed out research which shows that lawyers who turn down final offers in civil mediation (mostly about money settlements) did worse in their court outcomes in about 50% of cases. This is dramatic evidence that people should try twice as hard to settle their cases, and that many clients – and/or their lawyers – are over-confident half the time about their likelihood of success by having their “day in court.” (I have always thought of Family Court as the emergency room for legal disputes – and I’ve never heard anyone say: “I want my day in the Emergency Room.”) Of course, Collaborative Practice (they no longer call it Collaborative Divorce, because it is being applied in other settings now) tends to be comparable to average litigation cost-wise in many cases, because of the whole team of 2 attorneys, 1 or 2 mental health coaches, a child specialist and a financial specialist. Yet the level of satisfaction by clients is much higher than in litigation, where one generally loses, if not both! And the children are far better off when decisions are made by parents thoroughly working on their parenting plans by agreement, than to have a judge make their family decisions. When I became a lawyer 20 years ago, I remember a researcher telling family lawyers that if parents reached their own agreements for parenting plans – even with professional help – they followed them over 80% of the time, and if the judge made their parenting decisions, they followed the judge’s plan a little over 40% of the time. Of course, the Collaborative team approach helped inspire our New Ways for Families® method, which teaches skills using 3 counselors with a Parent Workbook for six sessions, which is then reinforced by lawyers and/or mediators in decision-making. As I reported in my previous blog, this approach is having a lot of success in Alberta, Canada, in two family court jurisdictions. New Ways is an especially effective method for managing high conflict cases, whether there is one high conflict parent (often with a personality problem such as borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, or antisocial, paranoid, or histrionic personality disorders) or both parents. This “collaborative” skills-building method helps bring out the best in parents, which really helps protect their children from unnecessary conflict and litigation. One of the key skills in New Ways is BIFF Responses. I gave a 90 minute session training Collaborative professionals (lawyers, mental health professionals and financial professionals) for coaching clients with this method. As some said, it’s harder than it looks – but gets easier with practice. We have been teaching this method through our seminars for High Conflict Institute for over six years, and the feedback from parents, legal professionals, workplace professionals and employees is that this is a really helpful technique for written responses to hostile communications, such as emails, Facebook  postings, etc. I am hopeful that Collaborative Practitioners will start having their coaches and child specialists teach the New Ways for Families’ skills at the beginning of their collaborative cases. We have adapted a “Collaborative Parent Workbook” for this purpose and look forward to providing our 1-2 days trainings to collaborative practice groups that are interested in such a skills-building approach for their clients. I believe it will help clients be more efficient, more effective, more satisfied – and more likely to keep working together in collaborative and other methods, such as mediation, rather than going to court. 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.