Parenting Coordination has been growing rapidly around the United States and other countries along with the increase in high-conflict families during and after a divorce. This article explains the background of parenting coordination; how the authority of the parenting coordinator originates; the role of the parenting coordinator after orders (both interim and final) have been made; its effectiveness; and some of the key issues to consider and why—in addition to helping families make decisions—it presents an opportunity for families to learn skills that will help them help themselves in the long run.
Have you ever had difficulty catching your breath? If so, you know the feelings of panic it creates. The longer you're without air, panic gives way to hysteria. Scuba divers know the importance of oxygen supply. Without it, you don't survive. Divers usually dive in pairs in case their air supply is compromised. Every diver has a second air hose and regulator to loan to a scuba partner to prevent disaster. In those moments of oxygen shortage, a diver is going to feel some panic and possibly hysteria, mostly depending on experience. They need to attach to their partner's spare air hose to get the oxygen flowing through the blood stream again. Only then does panic and hysteria subside. They feel better, they relax.
This is the best analogy I can come up with to describe relationships for people who have Borderline Personality Disorder, Complex PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), anxiety disorder, and other issues that result in relationship anxiety. Not all, but some.
In this Part 2, I explain how family systems adapt when there is a mental illness in the family, and how family courts misunderstand the importance of these adaptations. Since courts – and most people involved with courts – focus on individual rights and individual behavior, they tend to misunderstand the powerful part that family systems play in past and future behavior.
Family systems theory has been around for decades, but there is little discussion of it today. Yet understanding how family systems work can help professionals and parents going through separation and divorce. In this article, I explain some of the basics, some of what happens to family systems in divorce and how to truly help families in divorce. I also point out why the adversarial process of family courts successfully managed family conflicts in the past, but is guaranteed to fail today’s high-conflict family systems (regardless of procedural changes within the adversarial structure) – whereas skillful family mediation and other non-adversarial processes can succeed.
We all have dealings with high-conflict people, in our families, at work and in our communities. They often catch us by surprise with their extreme thinking, emotions and behavior, which can include: an inability to compromise, lying, spreading rumors, stealing, damaging property, hiding money, suing their employers, frivolous lawsuits, stalking, abusing children, alienating children, domestic violence and sometimes even killing people. Yet most people scratch their heads, wondering why – and how to prevent these extreme behaviors in the future.
This article proposes some solutions to recent concerns raised by family lawyers, counselors, mediators and judges. How do we protect the children from their parents’ high-conflict behavior in separation and divorce? How do we create a shift from their negative engagement with decision-making to a positive engagement that helps parents help their children – rather than harming them, perhaps for life. I believe the answer lies in a significant paradigm shift I call skills before decisions.
When you ask someone what he or she wants or needs, they usually begin by telling you what the DON’T want.
Very few people can actually tell you want they DO want. Even when pushed, they will tell you what they don’t want. And when you focus all of your energy and attention towards what you don’t want, you end up attracting just that, everything you don’t want.
High-conflict people are highly defensive, so that negative feedback tends to trigger defensiveness rather than insight, and shuts down opportunities for teaching new skills. Therefore, working effectively with “resistance” to any feedback and criticism is one of the central issues of helping high-conflict people. Because of this defensiveness, they frequently deny that they have any problems and resist every effort that counselors and other professionals make to help them – even in their own self-interest.
Rather than engage in the usual “tug-of-war” with this resistance (which the clients are very used to), New Ways Counselors are encouraged to “dance” with the resistance, or to “go with the resistance” – by non-judgmentally exploring and discussing the client’s concerns while providing information, rather than arguing with or confronting the client.
Parenting After Separation (PAS) is a free, 4-hour online parenting class for separating and divorcing parents in California. It is good for the majority of separating and divorcing parents, but it's not designed for high-conflict cases.
Clients today want to be positively engaged with their professionals and to play an important role, yet many of them tend towards negative engagement and many professionals are tempted to respond negatively as well – especially when they have “high-conflict” clients. These tips can be used with anyone to help them engage clients in thinking about problem-solving rather than reacting.
IS YOUR CHILD REJECTING ONE PARENT? In divorce or separation, 10% - 15% of children express strong resistance to spending time with one of their parents – and this may be increasing in our society. It may be the father or mother. It may be the parent the child “visits,” or the parent where the child lives. Is this the result of abuse by the “rejected” parent? Or is this the result of alienation by the “favored” parent? The idea that one parent can alienate a child against the other has been a big controversy in family courts over the past 20 years, with the conclusion that there are many possible causes for this resistance.
When parents separate, having a talk with your children that includes some or all of the following may be helpful (presented in age-appropriate terms). You can say this separately or jointly to your children. It helps if you agree on when you are going to say this to them, and what details you have agreed upon to tell them. For example: parenting schedule, how you will communicate, and how decisions will be made.
In divorce mediation, there is almost always a numbers person and a feelings person.
The numbers person was probably what I refer to as the “Managing Partner” in the marriage. The person who balanced the accounts, took care of getting the bills paid and the taxes done, made the investment decisions, etc. This spouse was often the more organized and logical partner in the marriage. They are more logical in their decision making, they are linear thinkers and often have a good grasp on how this divorce thing is going to look from a logical perspective. They are often focused on practical matters: schedules, finances and logistics.
The other spouse is often the “feelings” person. Numbers aren’t really first and foremost in this person’s mind. They are worried about where they will live, will they have enough money, are the children going to be ok, will they ever find love again. They are often slower to process the practical issues of divorce.
Whether you’re choosing a friend, getting married, deciding where to work, electing a leader or just trying to understand someone’s behavior, it helps to have personality awareness skills. This has become especially important in modern times for several reasons. Once you have personality awareness skills, you will start noticing patterns of behavior you didn’t think about before. While most of our articles, books and videos are about how to manage people with “high-conflict” personalities, this article is about how to avoid bringing new high-conflict personalities into your life.
Divorce and legal separation can be an extraordinarily difficult time in a person’s life. Clearly, divorce is not just a legal process; it’s a human experience. Although there are legal and financial questions to address, the transitioning of the family is not without a good deal of stress. Here are some ideas to help manage the stress that a lot of attorneys will never share with you:
The skills taught and practiced in the New Ways program increase the likelihood that a client will be more cooperative, less defensive and more engaging in the decision making process. This article discusses how the program can help attorneys better manage their clients, whether the cases are considered "high conflict" or not. The article discusses how New Ways can be used even in cases of domestic violence and child alienation.
In this Part III, I propose a paradigm shift for making divorce and separation decisions which may eliminate 80-90% of today’s family court cases. Should mediation and counseling replace today’s family court? The answer is “Yes!” However, while I recommend replacing today’s family court, I do not recommend completely eliminating family courts.
Instead, I recommend seriously redesigning family court into a Family Transition Center, which provides structure and accountability in a non-adversarial manner to assist families and individuals seeking to change their relationships and/or their behavior, and a role for a non-adversarial family court judge for managing those few families for which it is necessary.
This article focuses on how the adversarial process of litigation escalates the dysfunctional behavior of those with mental health problems, creating larger public health problems and expense, and how these parties confound the adversarial process of decision-making. Part III will propose a paradigm shift for making divorce and separation decisions which may eliminate 80-90% of today’s family court cases.
This is a question which would have been unheard of until very recently. Yet various trends today indicate that it may be time to seriously consider such a question. Part I of this article explains how today’s Family Court clients are significantly different from those ten or twenty years ago, and a large percentage have hidden mental health problems presenting as legal problems. Part II will explain how the adversarial process of litigation escalates the dysfunctional behavior of those with mental health problems, creating larger public health problems, and how these parties confound the adversarial process of decision-making. Part III will propose a paradigm shift for making divorce and separation decisions which may eliminate 80-90% of today’s Family Court cases.
In the autumn of 2005, I happened across an article about high-conflict divorce. I’d worked in divorce law long enough to know that these were the outlier cases—the seemingly impossible cases that were beyond what most would consider a “normal” divorce—they were family destroyers. These cases did not settle easily and often required a judge to decide every matter at issue. They usually took a year or more to be finalized and then ended up becoming “frequent filers,” coming back to court to fight about anything and everything.
These cases drained the budgets of the courts who adjudicated them, served as a source of frustration and helplessness for the professionals who handled them, and wiped out savings, retirement, and college funds for the high-conflict couple. But worst of all, the parents’ behavior affected their children in damaging, disturbing ways.