Family Restructuring Therapy: Interventions with High Conflict Separations and Divorces

June 5, 2012

Hello, I’m Megan Hunter, publisher of a few books at HCI Press and owner of, your resource for all things related to unhooking from conflict.

While it’s shocking to none that high-conflict divorce is hard on children, unless you’ve lived it or worked with the families enduring it you can’t really know the long-term negative effects – translate: devastation – it has on the kids. A plethora of research supports it. Conflict harms kids. But we all knew that. We don’t need research to tell us that.

I first witnessed this when a friend was involved in a years-long child custody battle. He pushed her buttons. She exploded and took revenge. He reacted and filed a court pleading. If nothing, they were consistent. They lied, manipulated, and involved just about everyone they could in our small town in the court battle. She snooped through his garbage in the dumpster behind his house. He filed yet another legal pleading. She dumped the contents of her messy car on his front lawn. He spit on her while she was holding their 3-year-old in her arms. The court eventually awarded custody to the father and set a tight visitation schedule. The judge concluded that forced to decide between parents who were damaging their kids, he was choosing the one who would possibly do the least damage. Eighteen years later, the kids are grown. The oldest son hasn’t spoken to mom in years. The middle daughter reunited with her mom during college, and the youngest son spent time in and out of juvenile facilities.

It’s what pushed me into understanding conflict and doing something about it. Could something have been done with this family to prevent the fallout or could the court have done something to at least mitigate the damage?  The family was evaluated by mental health professionals; however, not much was known about high-conflict personalities at that time nor was there an understanding that custody evaluations (assessments) nothing to help the family and typically make things worse.

Dr. Stephen Carter, a registered psychologist based in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, recognized the problems associated with evaluations and subsequently developed an alternative that would protect children from parental conflict and teach the parents to effectively co-parent, develop concrete and practical parenting plans and reunite alienated children with a parent. His method, called Family Restructuring Therapy, focuses on:



  • looking at the needs of the child within the family
  • never losing sight of the fact the children need their parents to make tough decisions and act like adults
  • parents handling their divorce and co-parenting better than they did their marriage
  • learning to communicate, parent, and behave appropriately

Years of successfully using this method with families led him to write Family Restructuring Therapy: Interventions with High Conflict Separations and Divorces, which I published through HCI Press in 2011. It’s written and intended for use as a guide for mental health professionals who work with high-conflict separation and divorce. Dr. Carter’s method focuses on the family system as the client instead of assessing each individual separately. The goal of Family Restructuring Therapy is to effect a change in the family system, which reflects the changes to the structure of the family created by the divorce. In the process, parents are educated about how to navigate the future. Traditional divorce, including custody evaluations, fails to teach that, especially in high-conflict families.

Part 1 of the book introduced Family Restructuring Therapy and focuses on its philosophy, therapy, challenges, ethical and legal issues, the characteristics needed by therapists to do this work, and finishes by exploring high-conflict parent and child behaviors.

Part 2 focuses on the practical side, the processes of Family Restructuring Therapy. How to:

  • work with the parents from start to finish
  • work with the parents in a therapeutic team approach
  • work with the children
  • work with families when the children have rejected a parent

And as a nice bonus at the end, he provides a Parenting Plan List of Topics. A checklist of topics parents may want to include in a parenting plan.

I urge every family law professional, including judges, to read this book, whether you are a mental health professional or not. Many changes have occurred in the divorce system, but we have a long way to go. Litigation and cooperation cannot co-exist, according to Dr. Carter, and he provides a practical, proven method for helping families to cooperate instead of litigate.

Would Family Restructuring Therapy have helped my friend and her family? I whole-heartedly believe it would have. The years of suffering they endured could have been significantly reduced.

Finally, and probably most importantly, her children were not taught how to manage conflict, manage emotions, have moderate behaviors and flexible thinking – the most important skills in navigating adult life. Family Restructuring Therapy would have gone a long way toward teaching them those skills.

Dr. Carter is speaking this week at the International Association of Family & Conciliation Courts annual conference in Chicago.

About Unhooked Books
unHooked Books is based in Scottsdale, Arizona, USA. We’re not just an online bookstore. I opened unHooked Books after seeing a need for one place for people to find the best and most current information available on personality disorders and borderline personality disorder in particular, living healthy, eating healthy, and managing your life. After 15 years in divorce and child support law in a county prosecutor’s office and the Arizona Supreme Court, I co-founded High Conflict Institute which helps people in high-conflict disputes of any kind. This bookstore stemmed from the needs of the people who contacted us out of desperation. Our books are written by people who are experts in their fields. I’ve personally met and worked with most of them, and those who I haven’t met, come highly recommended by those whom I have met. Enjoy perusing our bookstore and contact us with questions or comments. Thanks for stopping by! Megan Hunter unHooked Books

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