September 22, 2015

Children in High Conflict Families

We live in a bell curve world. By that I simply mean that all manner of traits and characteristics can be viewed as occurring in a distribution throughout society that clumps more numbers in the middle, and fewer numbers on each extreme. This is, undoubtedly, an over simplification we use to help us comprehend the limitations we are up against in understanding the complexity of the topic – in this case, children in high conflict families. Averages may be calculated from individuals, but can’t be calculated from the average.

As we have accumulated more experience in working with families in the new paradigm of collaborative family practice, we become aware that some personality traits are more desirable than others in predicting successful results. Unfortunately, there are some families that are just not very amenable to finding a good and workably solution. Best candidates can work cooperatively to reach agreement on the issues.

We all come into this world in our unique family. If we are fortunate enough to avoid a family pattern of domestic violence, chemical dependency, mental health deficiencies or dysfunction, we have a reasonably good chance of leading a normal healthy life. But if we ourselves must survive a destructive childhood we may simply not have the capacity to raise a healthy child until and unless we find some measure of healing. Compound this reality by having two parents who each have survived some measure of dysfunctionality, and we may simply be incapable of providing a healthy environment for our children.
Given the nature of who we are as a society, however, there are some interesting and innovative things happening that offer some better possibilities. For those who have the interest and curiosity, here is a link to the article that offers new ideas for working with parents in this difficult situation.

My intention in the balance of this article is to simply focus on one small aspect from this fascinating piece: Neutral Decision-Making (Special Master). The article identifies a variety of jurisdictions throughout the United States that using various forms of case managers to act as buffers for parents who, for whatever reasons, lack the capacity to work with each other to resolve even the simplest of tasks. I particularly love the description used in New Mexico courts that refer to this role as “wise persons.”
There are three benefits for the use of this role that are listed: 1.) help families more quickly resolve differences; 2.) un-clogg the courts from some of their most difficult families; and 3.) help families with very young children to address the changing needs of young children in a supportive way by both parents. The “Special Masters” take over the role of the final decision maker with the best interests of the children as their guide. Not surprisingly, for some parents who are unable to voluntarily take the other parent’s interests into consideration, they are more often able to abide by the decision of a neutral third party, especially when trapped by demons from the past from being able to have the other parent get their way.

Even if parents wholly lack the capacity to function at a high level of trust, they may be able to reduce the conflict between each other, and thereby provide an opportunity for their children to avoid some of the stress that has afflicted their parents.

Such an option is hugely beneficial for the children, who may be better able to evolve into a higher level of being than was possible for one or both of their parents. This is also a positive step forward for a parent who has had much to overcome in their own life.

This possibility is one that exists within the collaborative law model. Talk with any collaborative professional if you would like more information about how this might be accomplished.

Bruce Peck

Bruce is one of the founding members of the Collaborative Law Institute.
Back in the Wonder Years, this small group was trying to figure out what a new way of practicing family law might look like. Today the collaborative law concept has exploded, not just throughout the United States, but also internationally. For over thirty years Bruce has continued to hone his skills to provide the highest quality of services to family law clients. He helps good people make tough choices during difficult times.

Bruce is a laid back and easy going person who listens well to others. He is a shameless optimist who can always see possibility and opportunity. Being very curious by nature, he is a voracious reader. His love for words has drawn him into being an avid poet.

Bruce’s skills supports clients interests without alienating their spouse. When the parties reach agreement, it is not under duress. They have the time to discuss all decisions with their attorneys before signing the agreement. Once completed, the stipulated divorce is filed with the court for a default hearing in which neither party, nor their attorneys, ever have to set foot inside a courthouse. Learn more at

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