New Ways Update in Calgary, Canada
Several days ago I provided a 1-day Update Training to counselors and others involved with the New Ways for Families program in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The YWCA of Calgary is managing a $500,000 grant to operate and study this new method for diverting high conflict divorce cases out of the court system as much as possible. High conflict families consume a huge amount of time and budgets for Family Courts around the world these days. Frankly, the combination of the adversarial Family Court process of conflict resolution and divorcing parents with high conflict personalities (often personality disorders) is a bad mix. Such people lack relationship conflict resolution skills, so that once they are locked into adversarial thinking they are generally unable to extricate themselves for the conflict and the court system. They get so stuck in blaming and raising legal motions that some families spend more years in family courts than they were married.
Of course, high conflict cases may contain one person with a high conflict personality (often a personality disorder) and a reasonable person just trying to cope and protect their child or children. Since people with personality disorders generally don’t know they have this problem, they tend to project problems onto others – especially someone who they perceive as abandoning them, humiliating them or otherwise treating them badly and deserving to be punished. Unfortunately, the Family Court process matches their high conflict thinking (all-or-nothing, totally blaming others, bringing advocates to court, getting lots of attention, etc.) and has confused legal professionals a lot over the past decade or so, as most ordinary people resolve their divorce and parenting issues out of court.
With this background, New Ways for Families is having some surprising success in teaching potentially high conflict parents some effective communication and conflict resolution skills that help them manage their conflicts better and make joint decisions more than before. While I was giving the New Ways Update Training, they told me of the feedback they are getting from parents:
- They like the skills and find them useful in other parts of their lives as well.
- Their children having fewer problems, including more contact with non-custodial parents, doing better at school and sleeping better.
- The parents are becoming slightly more able to work together at making decisions and supporting each other.
Of course, they are only halfway through their grant period, so these are preliminary results. But between the Calgary program and the Medicine Hat program (also in Alberta), over one hundred families have participated in New Ways for Families. The results appear to be that nearly 90% of these families are making their own out-of-court decisions in mediation or other ADR methods immediately after completing the New Ways individual and parent-child counseling. This represents a huge potential saving to the court system and to families, as they put their energy and resources into more positive endeavors.
As always, I enjoyed training these participants and learned from them. With their help, we are continuing to refine the New Ways method. We expect to promote it much more widely in 2014 after we publish the results of the two funded programs in Calgary and Medicine Hat.
Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist and mediator based in San Diego. He is the President of the High Conflict Institute, which developed the New Ways for Families method (www.NewWays4Families.com). The Institute also provides speakers and trainers in managing high conflict situations in other legal disputes, workplace disputes, healthcare and educational settings around the world. For more information: www.HighConflictInstitute.com.