Climbing the mountain: 2. Before court

The mountain we’re climbing is high conflict family separation of all kinds. Part 1 (of 9) was: Introduction and aims. Thanks for the feedback and improvements. They will be added to the full ‘Climbing the mountain’ page – click any time in the top menu. Now read on for Part 2 …

Prevention and Early Intervention: Before Going to Court

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 10.09.32Most separating parents manage the difficult process collaboratively to ensure both parents’ love, relationship and care for their children continues. There is plenty of informational guidance for them. Though it is seldom easy, most parents are able to do it themselves.  It is easy for parents to let outsiders in to help them in their difficult upsetting predicament, but parents and helpers should remember that outside help can make things worse.

  • Aim: Support parents doing as much as they can themselves as the best way. Keep working on a number of practical and cultural hurdles that hinder parents.
  • Aim: At this (and any other) early stage, parents and helpers should expect to draw up collaborative parenting agreements as part of any collaborative separation to be completely sure what it is you think you’ve agreed.

More active help (before legal processes and courts) is typically found from family mediation and from collaborative divorce lawyers. These engage and offer parents structured help in collaborative parenting as they separate. The earlier this collaborative help can start the better to avoid, guide or resolve the early stages of conflict before it escalates. Parents need to quickly realise that they may not be able to do it themselves, so they can move onto collaborative help. This is already available and promoted before court and around early court hearings at lower levels. But access may depend on personal and financial resources that not all parents can manage.

  • Aim: Promote an even stronger culture, referral to, funding assistance, and provision of effective collaborative and shared care solutions, since that will prevent and reduce the number of high conflict cases.
  • Aim: As soon as outside agencies get involved with separating families, and at every level after that, professionals need to know quite a lot of complex specialist and even counter-intuitive things. As just one example of many things to remember: Children are liable to the influence of others – and especially by close emotionally upset family members; so what a child says about their family’s separation can only be one part of anyone’s more complete assessment of what is in their best interests.

The problem is that for some couples, one or both parents may have good or bad reason to resist or to find it too hard or otherwise to fail to collaborate even with the best collaborative help available. Even if they know this is bad for the children, attachment-hurts trigger over-riding life and death impulses that fuel the conflict. It is often at this stage that parents turn to lawyers for more active guidance (not just the legal signing off). Involving lawyers does not automatically mean huge expense or going to court. Good lawyers can help avoid these.

  • Aim: Improve the knowledge, skills and routine information provided by family lawyers so that all families get reliable support and guidance, not the sometimes well-worn but bad advice: give it time, trust me, etc.
  • Aim: Identify good practice and promote it – e.g. the parents’ two collaboratively-minded lawyers can skilfully liaise, if possible, towards a child-focused resolution that the parents themselves may not be able to negotiate but can be persuaded to consider and accept. It’s not the best way maybe, but sometimes this is concluded with a collaborative compromise at the 11th hour in the corridors outside the court, avoiding the detrimental effects and expense of going into court. This is not the same as a formal collaborative divorce approach.
  • Aim: For any early intervention drawing up collaborative parenting agreements is part of any collaborative separation,  and also provides a basis for litigating separations and for child welfare hearings.

Well functioning courts may be challenging, but they should not be detrimental either. It may not look it, but family courts start out by providing an extra structure that aims to help parties reach an agreed solution, not an imposed one.

To be continued.  Next time: Prevention and Early Intervention: In Courts

As ever, no great claim is made for the accuracy or quality of this thinking. Please feedback in the Comments below with any small or big corrections, additions and improvements. Inviting improvement is a key point of this exercise.

Nick Child, Edinburgh

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About Nick Child

Retired child and family shrink now family therapist living, working and playing in Edinburgh.

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