Recent Judicial Conferences
In the past three weeks I have spoken to two groups of judges on managing high-conflict litigants (litigants are people who bring their disputes to court). “One group was tribal judges at a United States nationwide conference at the National Judicial College in Nevada and the other was a judges’ forum at a Canadian nationwide conference in Saskatchewan. There are many more similarities between judges in the United States and Canada, than differences. Judges around the world appear to be dealing with more and more high-conflict litigants – sometimes one and sometimes both parties. For tribal judges, there are additional issues related to the culture of Native Americans, including a history of marginalization and poverty, along with a high level of alcoholism – which seriously affects parenting and role-modeling for the next generation. Research shows a larger percentage of people with personality disorders among some minority populations, including Native Americans and African-Americans. I don’t see this as a judgment on these groups, so much as a judgment on our larger culture for the history of destruction of their families. I was told by some that until the 1970’s, many Native American communities had their children essentially kidnapped by federal agents and sent to federal schools in a misguided effort to speed their assimilation into the majority culture.
With this in mind, the pressures on native families are significant and important to address, so that cycles of relationship dysfunction can be prevented. Tribal judges have a huge task on their hands, yet they also play a leadership role in their communities and I was very impressed with their commitment to truly helping families with very few treatment resources available. They appreciated the simple techniques that we teach professionals and were very interested in using some of our New Ways for Families methods – such as our new inexpensive Decision Skills Class – in helping separated and divorced families raise their children more peacefully and out of court.
The other group of judges in Canada had a different cultural issue they addressed at their conference – the issue of French-speaking minorities not having enough French-speaking judges to handle their cases. Canada officially has two languages, but in reality only those in Quebec seem to have a significant number of French-speaking judges. Thus, the issue of increasing the number of bilingual judges was discussed with serious plans to increase their numbers.
The topic I addressed had to do with high-conflict litigants in general, and then we had a discussion of those who do not acknowledge the court’s jurisdiction – at all! There are some (fortunately, very few) leaders and followers who have been challenging the court’s jurisdiction, claiming they are “free men” and other similar names, who are not governed by tax laws, marital property laws or even the courts. They resort to vague legal claims going back to the Magna Carta and other documents. Therefore, the Canadian courts are developing clear guidelines for disallowing court documents that make these arguments, as a waste of the courts’ time and the delay of other parties in need – including families with custody and support matters that shouldn’t be delayed.
Of course, many of these cases are actually family law cases, so my presentation about high conflict personalities was especially relevant. When a party claims that child support and custody decisions do not apply to them, it undermines the future of the children, as well as the entire court system. I talked about the importance of setting limits with such arguments, but also the importance of treating all litigants with Empathy, Attention and Respect while setting limits.
I was very encouraged by the seriousness with which all of these judges take their work, and their strong desire to assist families and all litigants the best that they can. Hopefully, my information in Nevada and in Saskatchewan will make some small contribution to their work and benefit the struggling families before them – especially when there are personality disorders or traits involved.
Bill Eddy is the President of the High Conflict Institute and the developer of “New Ways for Families,” “New Ways for Mediation” and “New Ways for Work.” Each of these methods is designed for managing high conflict situations with more structure, simple conflict resolution skills that anyone can apply right away, and less stress on professionals, co-workers and family members. He is the author of several books, including Managing High Conflict People in Court and The Future of Family Court and It’s All Your Fault! (now in Spanish!). See www.HighConflictInstitute.com.