What we are missing……

We had a great many outstanding speakers at the Different Path seminar.  One of the best presentations of the afternoon was by Julian Schwartz.  This lawyer provided a diagram of how parties communicate in a typical divorce case in a case that is handled outside the collaborative practice.  Basically the parties communicate through their attorney OR they communicate through a mediator.  The parties present evidence to a judge OR they talk to the mental health professional conducting a social study.  The parties do not, however, communicate.  Then the lawyer provided a diagram of how parties resolve their disputes through the collaborative practice.  The one thing that stuck out in Mr. Schwartz’s presentation was that parties had the ability to communicate with a mental health professional to resolve their child custody issues.  By having the ability to communicate the parties resumed their status as parents and tried to work together to make sure their child was shielded from the harmful effects of the divorce process.

So how do we help assist divorcing parties to communicate when we are not using the collaborative model?  The answer is simple, we introduce the parties to a mental health professional.  We can use that mental health professional in many ways.   To me, mental health professionals that address the needs of the child in a non threatening, nuetral way will go a long way in fostering TRUST and COMMUNICATION between the parties.  In plain English, appoint a court appointed therapist for the child, appoint a parenting coordinator, or even a parent facilitator.  The cost of inclusion?  A fraction of what the parents would otherwise be paying if the case were to be prepared or presented at trial.

Final Thoughts – Different Path Seminar

In the movie “Back to School” Rodney Dangerfield must take his final examinations all over again or he will flunk out of school.  His nemesis, the economics professor begins to ask a question, with 10 subparts.  At the end, Rodney looks up and and answers “Four?”  Amazingly, Rodney is right, even though he admits, “I feel like I gave birth, to an accountant!”

Is the interdisciplinary approach more effective than the present conflict model in resolving conflict among divorcing parents?

So we first analyze the question from the mental health professionals perspective:

Our mental health panel had to answer the question whether or not a team based approach could resolve family law conflict.  The question came with many subparts, a.  What are the different roles that mental health professionals play once they are appointed on a case, b.  what are the rules when they have to live by once they are appointed to a certain role, c.  what are the limitations of each role,

Mental health professionals can take many roles, they can be consulting experts, parent facilitators, court appointed therapists, parent coordinators or required to perform forensic examinations (psychological assessment/social study).

Message from the mental health professionals to the legal profession:  Accurately assess the situation, and provide the appropriate role that the mental health professional will need to take for the case at hand.  Not every case needs a social study.  Not every case is going to be solved through the assistance of a parent facilitator. Certain appointments may take control of a case AWAY from the attorney’s wanting to promote conflict, other appointments will only EXACERBATE the problem.

Facing the ugly truth:  Mental health professionals message to attorney’s – you are not truly here to talk about “best interest of the child” but more to address the needs of the individual parent.  Keeping the parents in agreement and able to coexist will give the child has the best chance to adapt/cope after divorce.   Think long term, not short term.

Our panel seemed the benefit of certain appointments which would require parties to communicate with one another DURING the court proceedings.

Do we want our mental health professionals to take a social or forensic approach?

Education and Intervention:  The mental health panel was split on whether or not education and intervention would assist in helping divorcing parents settle their disputes.  While it was clear that education and intervention yielded positive results in promoting settlement, it was also clear that forensic evaluations forced parties to assess their circumstances and learn how to get along with one another.  It seemed apparent that cases involving pathology of some sort would best be resolved through the use of forensic evaluations. Cases that were NOT designated “high conflict” seemed to have the best chance of settlement through the use of intervention and education.  All mental health professionals agreed that education and intervention needed to take place PRIOR to any court involvement. All mental health professionals acknowledged that 10% of all family law cases would be considered and classified as HIGH CONFLICT.

Message from the Court’s:  Jurist on Panel

Not every case needs the help of a mental health professional  Parties need to address cost/benefit of inclusion of mental health professional.  It was acknowledged that a mental health professional, if properly used greatly reduced conflict between the parties in certain cases. Jurists on the panel cautioned the mental health professionals to know what was required in their court appointed role and to not go outside of that role.  Jurists on the panel cautioned attorneys on the proper questioning of the mental health professional to make sure that they were not being asked (unless specifically authorized) to give an opinion on an ultimate finding of fact.

From Attorney’s advocating a team based approach:

Collaborative Law:  Speaking for the need of communication, collaborative lawyer’s spoke of the benefit of inclusion of the mental health professional to seeking guidance and refocus to help divorcing parent.  Collaborative attorneys saw definite benefit of mental health professional in reducing conflict (in part because it promotes communication between the divorcing parents).

Team based approach Attorney:  Attorneys speaking who used the team based approach understood that the mental health professional (When used effectively) played a vital part in reducing conflict and getting parties to reach agreements.   Attorneys who looked for “solutions” to divorcing clients problems usually felt the need of employing a mental health professional to guide the parties to some sort of peaceful coexistence.

So the answer it seems, once all the many subparts are included, is “Yes, a team based approach should be employed when the parties are able to employ a mental health professional.  A mental health professional, when used correctly will go a long way to start the parties communicating with each other again and regain their role as parents, not litigants.”

Concept Building: Teenager’s Bill of Rights

You want to ask a teenager about divorce?  Good luck with that!

#1. Teenagers really do not need to know which parent did what to cause the divorce.

#2.  Teenagers are not going to like the idea of having Mom or Dad be their best friend.

#3.  Teenagers are not going to want to be asked to play detective, messenger or spy.

#4.  For the most part, teenagers want to be left alone, they have enough to worry about.

That’s a lot of statements ending in “no.”  The question is, how do you help your teenager?  Lets think teenager first, parents second. So Mr. and Ms. Teenager here’s food for thought, lets not make a bad situation worse.

  1.  Have direction – where do I want my life to go?  How is this divorce going to effect me?
  2.  Establish boundaries: Teenagers know all about the bill of rights, they learned about the concept in social studies/history class.  The first right might be the right to be left alone.  The second may be that I don’t want to be asked where I want to live.  Teenagers might simply want to say that “Your Problems are not my problems”  you are the parents – figure it out.
  3. Get a response:  Get mom and dad to respond, accept and “ratify” your bill of rights.  Understand that the parents are not going to agree to every condition that you want. Talk through the important points – make sure they are included in your rights as a teenager.
  4. Start a Journal
  5. Get involved in activities/groups, you might even get a job.
  6. Support Groups  – Church – have time to express yourself and share your story.

Message to teenagers:  You need to act, because taking action will save you, guaranteed.  Action requires two things:  1.  Doing something JUST FOR YOU, 2.  Take POSITIVE steps to express yourself, either through a journal OR in a group.

If you were in a plane that was about to go down, what would you do?  Would you use all your energies to complain and be disappointed OR would you look for a parachute that would save you.  Action means making choices and choices, well they define who you are.

Message to parents:  Stop fighting over your teenager, give them space and flexibility.  Think long term relation over short term power plays.  If you want to fight understand a few things:  1. Teenagers will get lost, teenagers will play one parent against the other.  2.Fighting with your ex over your teenager will mean that they will lose a period of time in their life that is so special to them, one that they’ll never get back.