The Missing Link for the Amicus: Kids First Parents Second

logo4I’ve been talking about ways in which we can use a team based approach to help direct parents’ to find ways to resolve their problems. I’ve also been talking about ways in which we can help parents reach agreements and minimize their conflict.  I’ve also been talking about how an amicus can work with mental health professionals to come up with a team based approach to help divorcing parents.

An amicus’ job also requires that they communicate with the children of the divorce.  Amicus’ have reported to me that they have trouble connecting with young kids, preteens and teens.  This is not a surprise.  Kids do not want to talk and do not want to open up.  Getting kids to open up requires skill and technique.

Kids First Parents Second is a kid centered divorce program. All of a sudden kids have a resource, a way to open up and express themselves.  All of a sudden parents have an educational resource, one in which macro and micro approaches to resolving conflict are taught.   All of a sudden the amicus can drive his message to parent’s about how conflict hurts kids.  All of a sudden parents see that the legal system has created an environment that directs parents to resolve their differences.  All of a sudden we’ve created a community for change.

So combine the techniques I’ve been talking about and you have yourself a mechanism for true change at the courthouse.  Again, no ones rediscovering America over here, these resources have been around for decades.  All we’re doing is taking what Texas law allows us to do and create a kid centered program.  For Kids First Parents Second, mission accomplished.

The Use of Informal Settlement Conferences – Texas Family Law

An amicus has tremendous power to settle a family law dispute.  A trained amicus, a funded amicus, has the ability to get to know all members of the divorcing family. The amicus has the ability to gain the trust of both parents and understand the true needs of the children.   Once trust is established the amicus has the ability to help the parties to settle their lawsuit.  If the amicus sees a party acting outside the norm, the amicus can direct the parties to a mental health professional who will provide the data necessary for the amicus to give direction to the parties to help minimize conflict.  Knowing your parent’s strengths and weaknesses are extremely important in settling a family law case BEFORE it needs to be tried.

If an informal settlement conference was scheduled at the beginning of the lawsuit, an amicus could provide DIRECTION to the parents on WHAT they should be doing to get their lawsuit resolved.  If a second informal settlement conference was scheduled PRIOR to the case being mediated or tried, the amicus could help FILTER what issues would be agreed to and which ones needed to be resolved through the use of mediation or by the trial court.

The trust that the amicus has is a resource that should not be ignored or overlooked.  A meeting that provides your client with needed direction to settle their lawsuit is NOT an unproductive meeting.  Let your amicus use informal settlement conferences in your case, it may be the most productive afternoon that you and your clients have.

And now, introducing the 6th Grade Band…..

Many mental health professionals these days are forced to act in a particular role.  That role may be as a parent facilitator, parent coordinator, what have you.  The mental health professional is to work together with an attorney who has his own identified role, and so it goes.

Judge’s looking for solutions to family law disputes must find themselves feeling like the band director at a sixth grade band class. When the court appoints mental health professionals and begins to elicit testimony from their “expert” NOISE can be the word of the day, not BEAUTIFUL music the court wanted to hear.

So how do we make this better?  Mental health professionals need to be able to work OUTSIDE of the statutory defined roles so they can do the work they were trained to do.  Mental health professionals can be CREATIVE and can get parents to FOCUS in a way that attorney’s can not.

So we rewrite the music sheets, or perhaps add to their repertoire.  Mental health professionals can have their roles defined not only by statute BUT by court order. Restructuring court orders will be just the thing to expand the mental health professional’s role in cases and truly be able to join in full force on a team based approach to resolving family law conflict.

We will be addressing this topic in our upcoming seminar on September 25th, 2015 in San Antonio, Texas.  We will be talking about using mental health professionals as ad litem’s in custody cases.  We will also be talking about using amicus’ to work with mental health professionals to help parent’s problem solve their way through custody/visitation issues.

Please join us to join in the discussion.

Matt Sossi

Creating an Environment to Support a Community……

I stood before a crowd in Spring, Texas for an event hosted by Spirit Families to help single families.   As I got up to speak our host asked a local poet to speak. He looked at the children attending the event with nothing but love in his heart.  He spoke of the fact that we still look at black dolls and white dolls differently.  He spoke of the fact that we had racial divide in this country.  He spoke the truth, not just the truth as he knew it, but the truth that everyone in the community knew.  He knew how racial divide would effect the kids attending our event and he was genuinely concerned for their future. He was not just from Spring, Texas he was man who had traveled, an educated man, a black man.

I was next to speak.  An educated white man.  A professional.  I truly had no idea what this poet had experienced. I wondered why I had been invited and what I could offer.  Than it hit me.  I took the stage and had the kids approach.

I simply stated “Kids, repeat after me……I can be….whoever…I choose to be.”  I repeated myself and asked the kids to do the same.  I then asked the members of the community.  “Parents….what will it take to get these kids where they want to go…”   I asked everyone to say one word “change.”  The parents repeated the word and I moved on.

I had been invited to help kids identify and express emotions.  I had been invited to help kids handle day to day troubles.  That was a task that I felt that I could offer assistance.   I felt nothing but appreciation for this community allowing me to do this work.  My work helped me connect to people in the community as fellow brother’s and sisters, and we were joined in a common goal to help children.

So I’m going back to Spring, Texas.  I’m going back to help kids who seem to want to focus on anger and need direction.  I”m going back to Spring, Texas to build an environment to help support this community and effect change.  Perhaps that is where we start and begin healing this country of ours.

Matt Sossi, Executive Director Kids First Parents Second

They got it right……

Parents walked into a conference room with their two attorneys.  Both parents were extremely stressed and worried.  Both attorneys knew that their clients wanted to resolve their problems amicably.

“Forget who gets custody.  Take that off the table for the moment.”   Said one lawyer.  “Focus on how your going to meet the needs of your kids.”  The parents looked like they lost a great weight off their back.  Mom started “Well our 5 year old needs to be home schooled, he has emotional problems and will suffer if he has to go into public school.  Lets wait until the spring and see how he does.”  Dad looked at Mom “Well it’s time he got into public school, it will be good for him to be with other kids.”

The lawyer’s excused themselves from the room and started talking to one another.  Clearly the parents had the ability to communicate with one another and were reasonable in their positions.  The attorneys agreed – give the parents a chance to solve their problem themselves.

Within a 1/2 hour the parents had created an agreement for how they would share the child for the next 90 days. They focused on the child’s needs and created a parenting schedule that solved the problem.    “Great job” said one lawyer.  “Now here’s the thing, your agreement might work, it might not, that truly doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you are working together as parents and focusing on your kids issues.”  The attorneys referred the parents to see a therapist who specialized in cooperative parenting and now hope for the best.

In one simple step the attorney’s helped these parents through a difficult time.  Parents who simply want to resolve their issues simply need a little direction and guidance.  Through some work and patience it’s our hope that this case will turn out just fine.  While every case will not be so easily solved, parties should always be respected and always be directed to solve their custody dispute based on to on the needs of their children.

I want to speak to the Amicus…….

“What is your recommendation about how these people should resolve their conflict?”

Imagine if that was the question that a Family Law Judge asked the amicus appointed in a case.

An amicus is focused on meeting the needs of the children the subject of the suit.  The amicus can act objectively and does not necessary act for the personal needs or wishes of anyone.  An amicus has tremendous power, whether they know it or not.   In the past amicus have worked within the conflict model and have accepted their role in the litigation process. Training amicus’ to resolve disputes using the interdisciplinary approach offers a game changing opportunity to ending family law disputes.

An experienced family law attorney has access and normally, a working relationship with skilled psychologists, psychiatrists, child therapists, etc. in their community.  An experience family law attorney sees the reasons WHY the parents can not resolve their conflict. It is these attorneys that should first be trained to use the interdisciplinary approach to help facilitate an end to divorce conflict.   New attorney’s will need training to understand the importance of mental health professionals.

There may be many reasons why the parties can not resolve disagreements by themselves.  In the case of young parents, there may simply be a question of immaturity.   Divorce clients may be trapped in the adversarial process due to the nature of the attorneys involved.  A certain percentage of divorce cases will have mental health aspects that will need to be addressed.

Amicus’ may want to have the parties and their attorneys sit down for an informal settlement conference, or mediation.  The amicus may refer the parties to a mental health professional to clarify a particular issue and obtain neutral third party recommendations.    The amicus referral avoids the normal “appointments” that mental health professionals are given by virtue of a court order.  The referral gives the mental health professionals greater flexibility, as it avoids the limitations put in place when they are appointed to a given role.

The amicus redirects the parties and refocuses their energies on solving  their problems.  If the amicus can convince the parties to jump on the “team based” approach to resolving their problem, he or she has directed the parties away from the courthouse and away from conflict.  In my opinion, Amicus’ have the best chance of implementing the interdisciplinary approach to resolving family law disputes.