Any problem in the past can be turned into a proposal about the future. Proposals don’t have to be complicated. You can just blurt one out during a conversation with anyone or during a meeting with any group. Proposals get attention, because they are solutions to past problems by focusing on the future. Most of us are relieved to talk about the future, rather than what we’ve done wrong in the past. On the other hand, most of us easily slip into talking about the past – or even get stuck talking about the past – including what everyone else has done wrong. This article focuses on how to make proposals in a way that is easy and can be done at any time.
Whether you are a lawyer, mediator, collaborative practitioner or other professional involved in dispute resolution, you know that making proposals or “settlement offers” is central to eventually reaching agreements for the benefit of your clients. Yet, traditionally, we have thought of making proposals as part of our professional job, rather than teaching our clients how to do this.
Two significant changes in recent years are causing this to change: Courts (and budget cuts) are driving more parties to use out-of-court decision-making (such as mediation and other negotiation methods); and Clients are demanding to play a greater role in their cases from start to finish.
By now, most family law professionals know that they are regularly dealing with some clients or opposing parties with borderline, narcissistic and/or antisocial personality disorders or at least some traits of these disorders. While in the past they were simply thought of as jerks or worse, we now know there are predictable patterns of behavior involved and generally effective ways of dealing with them.
What are their Differences?
Conflict coaching, or conflict management coaching, is an innovative practice which has many benefits to offer the field of family dispute resolution. While more commonly used in workplace and organizational conflict in Ontario, coaching is growing as a practice in the context of family conflict, divorce, and co-parenting issues.
What is conflict coaching?
The purpose of conflict coaching is to help individuals reach their personally identified goals related to conflict resolution and interpersonal stress.
Brain researchers indicate that implicit prejudice comes from many unconscious “cultural factors” like jokes, catchphrases, overheard taunts, and so forth, from peers, parents and the media. It is not hard to imagine an angry parent making off-hand comments and making gestures about the other parent in the presence of the child, without consciously being aware of it. It’s not hard to imagine the child absorbing all of this without being consciously aware of it as well. In alienation cases, the problem is very similar.
I wrote this article seven years ago in 2010. I had just finished writing a book about child alienation (Don’t Alienate the Kids!), broadly defined as when a child resists spending time with one parent after a divorce, without assuming the cause. Ironically, 2010 was the year that the issue of alienation escalated into the news with two opposite political efforts: one to officially recognize alienation and the other to officially ban it from existence.
In this article I want to explain what may have been going on, why alienation is now gaining more attention and what to do about it.
I do a lot of consulting to family lawyers and their clients (often on the phone together), as well as many self-representing people in family court cases. These often involve high-conflict custody and access issues, although finances can also be involved. One of the biggest problems I keep seeing is that many family law professionals (lawyers, judges, mediators, evaluators, counselors, etc.) have a presumption in high-conflict cases. Here are the three most common presumptions:
One of the first questions asked by parents who are beginning the divorce process is, “What should we tell the children, and how should we tell them?” Most parents, understandably, have a tough time telling their children about their pending divorce and describing how their lives will be forever changed. This daunting task can generate feelings of guilt, sadness, and regret. Instinctually, parents may want to avoid talking about the divorce altogether in an effort to protect their children from the pain. However, failing to tell children about divorce in a timely manner can leave them feeling hurt, betrayed and even more confused.
In my mediation practice, I offer private mediations to families in transition and child protection mediation to families involved with child welfare agencies. A good proportion of the mediations, involve families in high conflict custody and access matters. A few years back, I attended a NWFF mediation training that Bill Eddy gave at one of the AFCC annual conferences. The small shifts in practice were noteworthy, and since then, I have used the NWFF techniques in my mediations. I had already been offering NWFF counselling, so incorporating the skills seemed quite natural. The following highlights some of the ways that I make use of the skills and strategies of NWFF program.
Parenting without Conflict is based on the co-parenting curriculum of New Ways for Families®. New Ways is a counseling and coaching method for parents re-organizing their families after a separation or divorce. New Ways was specifically designed for parents who are stuck in an endless cycle of defensive thinking and extreme behaviors.
How do we know it’s effective? In developing the Parenting without Conflict course, the curriculum from New Ways for Families in-person program was transferred in it’s entirely to an online platform. The New Ways curriculum is based on interventions proven successful: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Parent-Child Interaction Therapy. (Read more about the research completed on the in-person New Ways program).
The purpose of this article is to address how New Ways can be used in domestic violence cases to reduce the conflict between the parents, move both parents closer to getting needed help, provide useful parenting information, and serve as a partial assessment tool for the court in making future orders.
Mediation is a negotiation that is facilitated by a neutral third party, whose job is to help disputants find a mutually acceptable resolution to their problem. Transformative mediation is mediation’s Paleo diet. It’s a back-to-basics and root-source approach to mediation. Instead of seeking resolution (a settlement/agreement), transformative mediation seeks to change (transform) party-interaction, perception and approach to conflict. And, according to the theory, this is exactly what parties are really looking to achieve in conflict resolution:
Family court presents a difficult dilemma for reasonable people. If you act reasonably and use the cooperative problem-solving skills you use in daily life, you risk losing your case, because family court is a highly adversarial process that rewards combative thinking and behavior. This is why people with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) traits are often attracted to court and often win.
Much is written about overt abusive behavior, the kind of in-your-face actions that are easily recognizable to virtually anyone. Those more obvious forms of abusive behavior include behaviors such as yelling, screaming, name calling, threatening and intimidating as well as physical forms of violence such as hitting, kicking, pushing, shoving and strangulating up to stabbing and shooting. But what of the more subtle forms of abusive behavior?
Earlier in my career I did work for the court as Minor’s Counsel. I interviewed children and heard firsthand what they thought about their parents’ divorce. Occasionally, as a mediator I still interview children. Here’s what they tell me.
New Ways for Families draws upon recent research and principles drawn from evidence-based therapies, including Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), Child-Inclusive Mediation, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Recent research indicates that many people with difficult and abusive personalities can change with 1) lots of structure; 2) small skills taught in small steps; 3) focus on future behavior, and 4) lots of validation from everyone working with them. Research also shows that working with parents and children together is more effective than working with them individually.
This article explains PCIT from a therapists’ perspective who works extensively with the therapy, and discusses the use of PCIT in New Ways for Families.
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.