From Boston to Anchorage to Austin

November was another busy traveling month for me – from Coast to Coast, and North and South! In Boston, I spoke to over one hundred professionals at the Massachusetts Guardian ad Litem (MAGAL) conference. The audience was a good mix of mental health professionals and lawyers working to manage high-conflict behavior in today’s family law cases. There were mediators, parenting coordinators, a judge, evaluating psychologists and others. I focused on the need to engage separating and divorcing parents more in learning self-management and decision-making skills, so that they can be more active in positive decision-making rather than passive recipients of the decisions of others – which they frequently resist. Of course, I mentioned our New Ways for Families method and the benefits of having the whole family involved in short-term counseling learning the same skills.

We also talked about personality disorders and their apparent increase in society and in family law. There was a great panel with some very experienced family law professionals. What was great, I thought, was how willing to work together people are for the benefit of families that we know are often quite difficult or disturbed. Most of all was the focus on wanting to help the children have reasonably stable childhoods.

Then, the next week I was in Anchorage, Alaska, for a two-day training in mediation methods for high-conflict family cases. About 70 professionals from around the state were very active in discussing issues as well as participating in our practice exercises. They really enjoyed the emphasis on “So, What’s Your Proposal?” as a method of engaging parents in playing a more active role in solving their own problems – together. For more on this method, see my book titled So What’s Your Proposal? or our 1-hour video: Is Divorce Mediation for You?

The group was obviously very experienced as they asked many detailed and challenging questions about how to implement methods for these high-conflict cases. They liked the ideas presented about Pre-Mediation Coaching, which can be done by the mediator a week ahead with each party individually, or even just at the start of the mediation.  Lawyers and counselors can also help their clients by doing pre-mediation coaching. There was a wide range of professionals present who work in many settings with families. There was such warm energy in the group over these two days, that I can understand how people can live in the cold up here – by working together so well!

Then, south to Austin, Texas, for a training for about 25 lawyers in Williamson County and Travis County on our New Ways for Families method. They have been practicing this method for over a year there and have some very experienced counselors, lawyers and a few judges involved. Right now there is not a formal program with funding, so it is self-pay by parents and loosely coordinated. But there is a very dedicated group there and we expect it to grow significantly over time.

We focused on the basic principles of the New Ways method and how it differs significantly from other forms of counseling and parent decision-making. It’s a big shift to having short-term, front-end counseling which is narrowly focused on parents learning co-parent key decision-making skills. We discussed the importance of lawyers shepherding their clients through the New Ways process, including helping them prepare their Behavioral Declarations (2-page declarations which are only to be seen by the counselors and not by the court). While some raised concerns that the parents may end up in court anyway, we explained the success we are having in other jurisdictions, notably Calgary and Medicine Hat in Canada, where they are having a 50-70% success rate at families settling out of court (read the Social Return on Investment Case Study). It seems to be a worthwhile method and the group in Williamson County is helping show it can work – even without a formal, funded program – because of the skilled and dedicated professionals making it work there.

We wish everyone healthy and happy holidays this season! We look forward to sharing our tips and tools and enthusiasm for some new methods and books coming out in the New Year. Stay tuned!

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Bill Eddy is a family lawyer, family mediator and family therapist in San Diego, California. He is the developer of the New Ways for Families™ method, as well as the author of several books includingIt’s All YOUR Fault! 12 Tips for Managing People Who Blame Others for EverythingBIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People, Their Personal Attacks, Hostile Email and Social Media Meltdowns, and Don’t Alienate the Kids! Raising Resilient Children While Avoiding High Conflict Divorce. For information about training, resources or books, see www.HighConflictInstitute.com.