AFCC Conference on Divorce and Custody Disputes and “Attachment”

Last week, 1300 divorce professionals gathered in Chicago with the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts to discuss the best ways to help families with young children going through divorce. The conference focused on early childhood “attachment” and the controversies around parenting during the first three years of life when the parents are already separated or divorced. Several speakers explained about early childhood and the importance of building secure attachment with each parent with consistency, stability and emotional availability. The biggest issue is whether a child needs a “primary” attachment with one parent while the other parent has less parenting time during the first two or three years, or whether equal parenting time during these first two or three years is just as good or better. Research was presented favoring one primary attachment during the first three years, which I generally agree with. For my opinion on this issue, see my article “Thoughts on Shared Parenting Presumptions” on our website. The issue of when to start overnights and how many nights to have with the other parent remains controversial during these first three years. Research was presented that showed that one or more overnights a week away from the primary attachment parent is distressing to the child during the first two years. What seems to be agreed upon is that the gender of the “primary attachment” is not the biggest factor, and that shared parenting up to 50-50 after about age 4-5 generally can work well.

I gave a session on Treating Personality Disorders as Attachment Disorders with about 200 in attendance. This is such an important topic, because having an “insecure attachment” in early childhood appears to be one of the most important factors in developing a personality disorder in adulthood. Without a “secure attachment,” children do not learn to feel secure in relationships and tend to develop overcompensating methods such as endless clinging or avoiding intimacy. In adulthood, these can be risk factors for borderline or narcissistic personality disorder. Because they can date back to very early childhood, they can be really hard to change in adults.

The best approach is to help children grow up with secure attachments from the start. However, this is unlikely to happen in families consumed by high-conflict Family Court disputes over who is the “better” parent or imposing equal shared parenting as a presumption. I still believe that the adversarial court process increases parent anxiety and stress, which spills over to the children. If we really want to help children, we should do everything we can to use out of court procedures like family mediation to help parents stay calm while they make their own decisions. When they have a hard time, we should help them learn decision-making skills so that they can be effective in family mediation.

Speaking of family mediation, the Academy of Professional Family Mediators (a new organization for which I am a board member) had a great booth at the conference. We will have a conference packed with excellent training and planning for family mediators on September 27-30 in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The price for this conference increases on Friday, so sign up now if you are a professional family mediator at

High Conflict Institute provides training and consultations, as well and books, DVDs and CDs regarding 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: