New Ways at AFCC Conference

AFCCOn Friday, May 31, I attended the largest international conference on custody and access issues for separating and divorced parents. This was the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, which is 50 years old as of this year. This conference was held in Los Angeles, which is where the first conference was also held in 1963. There has been a huge, worldwide shift in family relations in these past 50 years. Are we better off as a society? There is more freedom of choice: as people live longer they can now end their marriage and marry someone else or choose to remain unmarried. With the advent of the birth control pill in the 1960’s, people can have sexual relations without having babies and facing the dilemma of forming a family with someone they don’t know very well. Children are no longer illegitimate if their parents aren’t married – in most jurisdictions today they are treated exactly the same as children of marriage. We are now seeing the final steps toward marriage equality and parenting equality for same-sex couples – although we’re not quite there yet (perhaps the U.S. Supreme Court will resolve this equality issue this summer!).

Of course, this increased freedom has contributed to weaker family relations and weaker relationship skills. Society is much more unstable – especially for those who have children and raise children without committed relationships. This is where AFCC comes in: for 50 years professionals (counselors, lawyers, judges, mediators, etc.) have come together for training and the exchange of ideas to make the world more stable for children in the context of changing families. The fact that over 1100 people attend these conferences from countries around the world indicates the importance of this work and the impact this organization has on helping families as much as possible through the transitions of divorce and new ways of raising their children.

It was in this context that I had the opportunity to present a workshop on New Ways for Families with Cathy Regier, a lawyer in the city of Medicine Hat and Allan Rosales, a therapist in Calgary – both in Alberta, Canada. While New Ways started in San Diego in 2009, we had no funding and no coordinator. Medicine Hat and Calgary both received $500,000 grants to implement and study New Ways for 3 years each. Cathy and Allan reported some of the results after 1½ years of cases. So far, Medicine Hat has had 74 cases and Calgary has had 51 cases (San Diego has had about 30 cases).

The results that we reported at AFCC are very encouraging. But first, I want to comment that in Calgary they are giving the Millon inventory of  mental disorders to all of the parents referred to the program. There are elevated scores for traits of personality disorders in a vast majority of cases – over 80%. This means that it is especially important to use a new approach, like the New Ways method, for teaching these clients relationship conflict resolution skills that are simple, repetitive, required by court orders (or signing an agreement to learn these skills) and based on lots of encouragement, rather than criticism.

The results they are seeing in both programs show that a large majority (over 80%) are becoming able to settle their own cases out of court after going through the individual counseling, parent-child counseling and then ADR processes, such as mediation, immediately after the counseling. We are also seeing improved co-parent relationships, more willingness of children to see both parents and several report that the children are less stressed, have less illness and sleep better – as a result of their parents learning skills that help them calm down and feel less stressed. Keep in mind that some families have one high-conflict parent and some have two. In both types of situations, the skills taught and practiced in New Ways seem to really help them calm the whole family and give them a structure within which to help their children learn the same skills and not feel as caught in the middle.

Out of this presentation, we received many interested requests for more information – especially now that we have four models of the method: Court-based Counseling; Collaborative Divorce Model, Decision Skills Class and Pre-Mediation Coaching. Each model has its own workbook and there is a new Professional Guidebook explaining the method.

I think we are going to see several more cities starting to try this method within the next year. If you are interested in learning more, visit: www.NewWays4Families.com. You can also see a free one-hour video explaining the method with a sample case at this website. It’s time for New Ways for Families!

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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. 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.