I just returned from attending and presenting at the Federation of Law Societies biannual Family Law Conference, in Halifax, Nova Scotia. My topic was “The Future of Family Courts: Implications for Lawyers,” based on my newest book: “The Future of Family Courts: Structure, Skills and Less Stress.” At this conference in their many workshop sessions, they discussed the same issues we are dealing with in family courts in the United States – and around the world. One of the sessions really grabbed my attention, about whether family court orders will be enforced by the police or not. Apparently different provinces have different policies. But this shows how difficult family law has become, when court orders aren’t even being followed on a substantial scale.

This problem highlights the issues I spoke about as their closing plenary speaker: Court decision-making for high-conflict families (sometimes one parent, sometimes both) doesn’t really work unless:

  1. The courts have more structure, otherwise making decisions often makes things worse, their orders aren’t followed, and the children are more likely to repeat their parent(s) bad behavior.  This means courts need to require parents to learn decision-making skills before the big decisions are made, and need to more accurately understand the family (and the patterns of the parents behavior) when the court does have to make the decisions. Plus, they need to require parents to be accountable by having their orders enforced.
  2. Parents learn more skills for communicating and decision-making, so that they make the hard decisions more often and learn to work with and live with those decisions. One of the common mistakes that family courts and lawyers make about today’s high-conflict clients is to think that they just need parenting classes – something which lawyers and judges refer out. Instead, lawyers and judges need to be an essential part of teaching and reinforcing communication and decision-making skills, so that parents can become more productive in the decision-making process. By learning more communication and decision-making skills (like BIFF Responses and Making Proposals and Managing Stress), they are more likely to make those decisions succeed and also teach their children how to live with decisions, rather than just teaching them how to keep fighting and becoming alienated.
  3.  The stress of family law decisions is reduced. Parents and professionals in family law are burning out, primarily from misunderstanding who is responsible for what. Professionals should be more responsible for providing structures for parents to succeed in, rather than criticizing parents or making assumptions about them. Some parents really are dealing with a co-parent with a serious mental health problem, including personality disorders which aren’t obvious on the surface. Whether or not they have such problems, they will not be motivated to use skills they don’t have. Professional disdain and disrespect are not motivating to high-conflict parents, because they often really don’t have the skills to make complicated decisions when they are really upset, although they might if efforts were made to reduce the stress on them. Likewise, many professionals are trying too hard to control parent behavior rather than to teach small skills and reinforce their use when making decisions. Professionals are not responsible for their clients’ outcomes, especially when their clients are working in the opposite direction and undermining those who are trying to help them. It’s a question of sharing responsibility, not becoming responsible for other’s behavior.

Of course, I could go on and on about this topic. What I really want to say about this conference was that it was great to see some familiar faces and put faces to names I had known by email. I also really enjoyed the most beautiful weather by the Halifax harbor, with the tall ships there this week and with lots of tasty food and ice cream treats every ten feet along the boardwalk!

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: