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.”