May 24, 2014
Mediating divorce cases can be stressful and draining on the mediator. But what happens when a case shifts gears suddenly and becomes a classic “high-conflict” case in which tensions rise, and you quickly feel like you’ve lost control of the mediation and may not be able to rescue it.
What can you do?
Building structure within each basic mediation step
Step 1 : Signing the agreement to mediate
spend more time bonding with clients during this stage
establish that you will have tight control over the mediation process
thoroughly explain the process and rules of communication
let them know you’ll pay equal attention to their concerns and proposals
Step 2 : Making the agenda
have clients raise the issues – not you
emphasize that it is the parties’ dispute and decisions to be made, not the mediator
encourage each party to look at and speak to the mediator instead of each other
Step 3 : Making Proposals
begin the proposal process earlier than usual mediations, to keep highly intense emotions from taking over
focus on understanding a proposal before allowing the other person to respond
manage the process with a very direct approach, while not taking responsibility for the outcome
Step 4: Finalizing Your Agreements
remain calm and remind yourself and the parties that you are responsible for the process, not the outcome
remember that high-conflict cases may take twice as long to reach final agreement
solving and the other is focused on relationship defensiveness – this may cause them to go round and round several times before signing the agreement
It is possible to help parties in high-conflict cases reach agreement and develop solid parenting plans by using a highly-structured method like this new resource
About Unhooked Books
Unhooked Books is the one place for people to find the best and most current information and resources available on personality disorders, high-conflict personalities, divorce, parenting, co-parenting, living healthy, eating healthy, and managing your life. Founder & CEO, Megan Hunter, established one place for people in any type of relationship to find tools to enhance relationships, prevent relationship disaster and handle relationship transition. Her firm belief is that with just a little education, most people can resolve most relationship issues.
It’s the busy travel season! Over the past month, I was in five cities (in four time zones) giving seminars on managing high-conflict personalities. First, I was in New Orleans, to present to their new AFCC Chapter there (see photo with organizers). I saw old friends and met many new ones, as we discussed key issues in managing high conflict parents (and an occasional high-conflict professional) in separation and divorce cases. I emphasized recognizing patterns of high-conflict personalities, so that professionals will use different methods to help them – not to diagnose them.
I encouraged having a “private working theory” which includes not trying to force insights on high-conflict people (HCPs) – just forgedaboudit! – because this just creates an unnecessary tug of war that frustrates the client and the professional. Instead, I gave four key skills to use, which focus on future behavior and decision-making: Connecting with Empathy, Attention and Respect; Analyzing Alternatives (making proposals, etc.); Responding to Misinformation or hostile emails (BIFF Responses); and Setting Limits. Of course, I got in some New Orleans jazz, gumbo and scenery – and I look forward to the AFCC International conference there in 2015!
Next, I spoke at a children’s hospital and gave them similar tools. The staff especially liked the BIFF Response method for dealing with angry emails and letters. We practiced responding to parents in conflict over their child’s treatment. Most people don’t realize that working with children in any setting these days involves dealing with separated and divorced parents, some of whom remain extremely angry at each other and carry out their conflicts into the children’s healthcare treatment, education, recreation and other activities. I was very pleased to work with such dedicated professionals who are willing to work with ill children – and their high-conflict parents.
Then, on to Calgary in Alberta, Canada. There I spoke to the Alberta Family Mediation Society and their new AFCC Chapter, for a combined day and a half of presentations on (you guessed it) high-conflict personalities in separation and divorce. I gave them the same tips and tools I gave the New Orleans AFCC chapter, as well as more specific mediation techniques for managing high-conflict people. I emphasized teaching mediation clients simple skills to use and reinforcing those throughout the process: asking the mediator questions, making their own agenda, making proposals, asking questions about proposals and making decisions – a method I am now teaching as “New Ways for Mediation.” I especially enjoyed seeing many friends in Alberta, including those running the New Ways for Families programs in Calgary and nearby Medicine Hat. These programs are thriving at teaching parents new skills to help them make their own decisions out of court. We hope to have research results published next year from three years of experience, as well as expanding into other cities in Alberta.
Next Blog: On to Pennsylvania and Ohio
Bill Eddy is a lawyer, mediator, therapist and the President of the High Conflict Institute based in San Diego. He is the developer of the New Ways for Families method and the New Ways for Mediation method, as well as the author of several books including The Future of Family Court and It’s All Your Fault: 12 Tips for Managing People Who Blame Others for Everything. This year he is working on materials for the New Ways for Work method of coaching potentially high-conflict employees – or anyone – to use the same “new ways” skills for greater success in the workplace. For books, video training and free articles, visit us at www.HighConflictInstitute.com.
Next week I have the pleasure of going to the St Louis area to teach brain-based interventions for teachers, clinicians and parents. We’ll explore neurocognition, self-regulation skills and enhancing executive function. Here is the slide show. Download it, view it, use it. Let’s spread the word that kids need skill sets not punishment.
JOIN US April 30, 2014 For a LIVE 6 hr webcast on brain-based interventions. Watch from the comfort of your home or office. For registration call 1-800-844-8260.
ON SALE 70% off TODAY ~ Find The Complete Parenting Package HERE. 75 pages of neurocognitive printables with a license for practice, Bloom: Helping Children Blossom and The Family Coach Method.
Guest Blog: Should Parents Be Allowed To Make Custody And Visitation Agreements Without Being Challenged?
April 18, 2014
In theory, it is best when parents with minor children are able to work out a custody and visitation arrangement on their own when they separate and/or divorce. After all, the matter involves their children/family and wouldn’t they know what is best for their particular situation? Not always!
I was recently representing a father of three (3) minor children in a divorce case in which he and his wife entered into an Agreement under which he would see his children every other Friday from 7:00 p.m. to Sunday at 4:00 p.m. He entered into this Agreement in Conciliation Court, which is the mediation program that parents are required to attend in Los Angeles County before going into court on a matter relating to child custody and visitation. For those who are unaware, lawyers are not permitted to participate in Conciliation Court.
Before my client ‘s Conciliation Court appointment, I warned him against entering into a Custody and Parenting Agreement that he would not be able to live with for a long time. As requested, my client contacted me as soon as he left the courthouse. During that conversation, he informed me that he had entered into a Conciliation Court Custody Agreement and Parenting Plan. As soon as he finished describing the terms of the Agreement, I asked him whether or not he realized that he would not see his children for twelve (12) days between each of his alternate weekend visits. I commented that most, if not all, of his children’s friends will see their fathers on a more frequent basis, regardless of marital status. I explained to him that his children will most likely assume that he sees them less than other father’s see their children because he loves them less and that this would most certainly negatively impact his relationship with them. After our conversation, he agreed with me that his children would most likely perceive their relationship with him in the way in which I had described, especially since he resided in close proximity to them. He then requested that I file an Objection to the Conciliation Court Agreement and Parenting Plan. As discussed in my article from the September/October edition of the San Gabriel Valley Psychological Association Newsletter, I informed him that the Court might refuse to acknowledge the Objection to that Agreement.
I immediately contacted his wife’s attorney, who had not yet been informed of the fact that they had reached an Agreement regarding the custody issues. I explained my concerns to him and he immediately acknowledged the problem and validated my concerns. I requested that he see if we could modify the Agreement to include some visitation during the week. He told me that he would discuss the matter with his client. Meanwhile, I filed an Objection to the Conciliation Court Agreement and Parenting Plan. As an additional complication, the hearing on this matter was scheduled for the next Court day and therefore it was virtually impossible to resolve the matter prior to that hearing. As a result, I suggested that everyone arrive at the Courthouse at 7:00 a.m. the following morning (1 ¾ hours before the scheduled hearing) in order to try and resolve the matter without judicial intervention. Everyone agreed to my proposal and we were able to settle the matter outside of Court. With the assistance of their attorneys, the parents were able to work out a parenting plan that suited their particular situation and which was in the best interest of the children.
After entering into that Agreement, which was signed off by the Court and made into an Order, I received a copy of the Conciliation Court Agreement and Parenting Plan which the Court also signed off on, even though we had subsequently resolved the matter differently and I had filed an Objection to that Agreement. Under the circumstances, the fact that the Court signed off on the Conciliation Court Agreement and Parenting Plan in that case is of no significance. However, it is indicative of the fact that courts tend to disregard Objections to such Agreements. Although I knew and had previously written about such concerns, it bothered me that courts sign off on Agreements entered into by parents which most certainly are not in the best interest of the children and will negatively impact the children’s relationship with one or both parents.
Over the years, I have come across many situations in which parents enter into Custody and Visitation Agreements which are clearly detrimental to the children. Nevertheless, the courts sign off on such Agreements because they are “Agreements.” On several occasions, I have seen parents with multiple children enter into Agreements whereby each parent would have 100% of the time with particular children of the relationship in order to “avoid conflict with the other parent and to protect the children from being exposed to such conflict.” In other words, rather than learning to co-parent, the parents decide that it is in the best interest of the children that they have a relationship with only one of the parents and that their relationship with their siblings in the other parent’s custody be severed. Such a parenting arrangement is by no means in the best interest of the children. Under such circumstances, the children not only need to deal with their parent’s divorce, but also with the loss of one parent and certain of their siblings. Although courts would never make such orders, they do sign off on such Agreements, thereby making them binding Orders of the court.
Thus, while it is best when parents with minor children are able to work out a custody and visitation arrangement on their own when they separate and/or divorce, some parents need assistance in determining what is in the best interest of the children. Without such assistance, parents can do things that are very detrimental to their children, often without even realizing it. Should Judge’s just sign off on such Agreements, without even addressing the possible consequences? Who protects the children from such parents?
April 16, 2014
Forthcoming changes to the family law in England and Wales amount to a “revolution”, the President of the Family Division has claimed.
In the recently published 11th View from the President’s Chamber, Sir James Munby said:
“Central to this revolution has been – has had to be – a fundamental change in the cultures of the family courts. This is truly a cultural revolution.”
The family courts stand “on the cusp of history” and the changes due on April 22nd mark “the largest reform of the family justice system any of us have seen or will see in our professional lifetimes.”
Tuesday sees the introduction of the ‘Single Family Court’ and the retirement of the current Family Proceedings Court. The newly unified court will deal with all but a few family proceedings which will be reserved for the High Court. Family cases will no longer be heard in either magistrates or county courts, although the family courts will sometimes sit in county and magistrates court buildings.
Amongst other changes, April 22 will also see the introduction of compulsory attendance at a MIAM – mediation information and assessment meeting – for anyone planning to take a family dispute to court. People attending such meetings will be provided with information on mediation as an alternative way to resolve their differences.
In addition, child arrangements orders will be introduced, replacing the residence and contact orders currently used to settle the circumstances of children following divorce or separation.
Child arrangement orders are defined by the Children and Families Act 2014 as:
“…an order regulating arrangements relating to any of the following—
(a) with whom a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact, and
(b) when a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with any person.”