ImageThe 49th Annual Association of Family and Conciliation Courts Conference (AFCC) was another fantastic opportunity for Judges, Lawyers, Psychologists and Social Workers to get together to find clues about unraveling the puzzle of high conflict divorces. With this year’s theme “Attachment, Brain Science and Children of Divorce” a lot of research was presented pertaining to attachment.

Two things struck me from the conference. The first point was how lucky AFCC members are to have a forum for learning about the most up-to-date research and practices. The second point was despite all the work being done, that we have only begun to understand the complex dynamics of high conflict divorce and that research is desperately needed pertaining to interventions with high conflict families.

Unfortunately, even the best laboratory research may not generalize to the “real world” and people are so complex that no two families are alike.

My view of families is that they are stuck in a brick outhouse, and a ripe one at that. To explain this, each “brick” is a separate problem, whether the parents own issues from before the relationship, problems in the relationship, communication or problem solving weaknesses, extended family interference, mental illness, or a multitude of other possibilities. Solving issues in such high conflict families involves chipping away at one brick at a time while also teaching the family new skills and processes.

As professionals, we are obliged to keep up with the best possible knowledge of the day, while using “clinical judgment”, which is more of an art than a science, to meet the unique needs of each family we work with. The vast number of excellent programs emerging for working with high conflict divorces is both reassuring and overwhelming. Each program is a tool for the professional’s tool belt, and no one thing is, or ever will be, a cookie cutter solution for such families. This is one area where we do not have to worry about being replaced in the foreseeable future by computers and videos.

Even though professionals in the midst of divorce proceedings appear adversarial, including the mental health professionals at times, events such as the AFCC conference show that we are all on the same team – the one aimed and helping kids be their best.

About our Guest Blogger

ImageStephen Carter, Ph.D., is a Registered Psychologist based in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, specializing in counseling and assessments with adolescents and children, and assessments and interventions with divorcing families. He is the author of Family Restructuring Therapy, which is available for sale via  This book is a “how to” manual for working with families in separation and divorce using an active, directive therapeutic process called Family Restructuring Therapy. This philosophy and effective process works well for the “normal” divorced family who need to learn new practices and patterns, and for the “high-conflict” family whose behavior patterns have become so maladaptive that the children’s well-being is at risk.

A valuable resource for mental health professionals, and also for lawyers and the Court when trying to decide what can be done with challenging parenting battles. It is clearly not a passive approach to counseling. If you’re tired of witnessing the damage that conflict has on children and want to engage in the highly satisfying work of helping parents communicate effectively and seeing children relieved of the burden of picking sides, devour this book and get to work!

To learn more about Dr. Carter, or to explore family counseling options, please visit or send him an email at


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


April 17, 2012

Several years ago I wrote an article on Calming the Alienation Debate, which later evolved into my book titled Don’t Alienate the Kids! Raising Resilient Children While Avoiding High Conflict Divorce. Now, it seems that the debate is just about over. Child alienation, also known as Parental Alienation or Parental Alienation Syndrome, estrangement or visitation refusal, has become widely accepted as a real problem – especially as it seems to be happening to mothers just as much as fathers these days.

When a child resists or refuses contact with one of his or her parents during and after the separation/divorce, there is a serious problem.
The debate for the past 25 years has focused on: Who is to blame for this abnormal behavior? Families often get caught up for months or years in a legal battle over who has been “alienating” the child and how to pry the child away from this bad (but “favored”) parent. In the process, children become even more alienated and most professionals and parents eventually give up trying to change the child’s rigid thinking. It seems pretty clear now that the “cure” of evaluations and litigation to determine who is the better parent and who is the bad parent often makes things worse.

After analyzing this problem as a social worker and as a family law attorney, I am as convinced as ever of several things:

  •  Alienation is not a gender issue now, if it ever was. It affects mothers almost as much as fathers.
  • It is often a reflection of one or both parents with a personality disorder, which includes a lot of all-or-nothing thinking, such as believing that one parent is “all-good” and the other is “all-bad.”
  • Resistance to contact with a parent is not a typical symptom of abuse – in fact, most abused children love their abusive parent and are also afraid to resist them.
  • Healthy parents should not give up and accept a child’s resistance helplessly. While it may be appropriate to back off at times, it is important for the child to know that this is an unhealthy behavior and that the healthy parent wants to help the child learn healthy ways of dealing with relationship problems.
  • One of the best things that a “rejected” parent can do, if this parent still has regular contact, is to teach their child lessons for life – including flexible thinking, managed emotions and moderate behaviors. These lessons can be taught in casual conversations about movies, friends, neighbors and other family members. There is no need to single out the other parent as acting inappropriately – instead teach the lessons of appropriate behavior and let the child make the connection that the other parent is acting inappropriately. This avoids bad-mouthing the other parent – and reinforces life lessons the child really needs to learn to succeed.
  • Courts need to take stronger action earlier in cases to insist that both parents will be involved with the child, although protective orders can still be made when necessary – while not taking a blaming approach, but more of an educational approach.

Now, the question is: What can be done? This is a healthier question than who is to blame.
Ideally, the family will be treated as a family and have one or more therapists involved who take the same approach and do not focus on blame or “reunification” between the alienated parent and the child. Any treatment must involve both parents and require the parents to support each other’s relationship with the child, even if the other parent has engaged in some bad behavior. There can be protections built in rather than eliminating one parent (which only teaches “all-or-nothing” solutions to the child, rather than learning any skills).

This is a huge subject and one that is finally getting some progress as the debate subsides. For a more thorough review of this issue, see the comprehensive article titled: Parental Alienation and Children Exhibiting Visitation Refusal Behaviour, by Joseph Goldberg at the website of the Canadian Symposium for Parental Alienation While I prefer not to use the term “syndrome” in defining this problem, I believe this article is very helpful in taking a problem-solving focus.

For therapists who want to work with such families, I encourage them to read Steve Carter’s book: Family Restructuring Therapy(Unhooked Books, 2011). And of course, for professionals and parents there is our New Ways for Families method and website The problem of alienated children will grow until we all understand it and reinforce teaching children lessons of cooperation, instead of blame, and teaching more effective conflict resolution skills for parents instead of simply criticizing them or labeling them.

High Conflict Institute provides training and consultations, as well and books, DVDs and CDsregarding dealing with High Conflict People (HCPs) in legal, workplace, educational, and healthcare disputes. Bill Eddy is the President of the High Conflict Institute and the author of It’s All Your Fault!, Splitting, BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People, Their Hostile Emails, Personal Attacks and Social Media Meltdowns and Don’t Alienate the Kids! He is an author, attorney, mediator, and therapist. Bill has presented seminars to attorneys, judges, mediators, ombudspersons, human resource professionals, employee assistance professionals, managers, and administrators in 25 states, several provinces in Canada, France, Sweden, and Australia. For more information about High Conflict Institute, our seminars and consultations, Bill Eddy or to purchase a book, CD or DVD, visit: