Growing unhappiness with the adversarial way that family disputes are processed in the courts, has created a need for the development of interventions and services to either limit conflict, or help parents and children get ‘unstuck’ from high conflict divorce. These include mediation, custody evaluations or assessments, supervised access programs, and psychological approaches.
Mediation, a form of Assisted Dispute Resolution, involves a process where a neutral third party mediator assists the parties with communication and negotiation, to help them to reach a voluntary agreement about issues such as child custody, visitation, support and property division issues. Mediation is often considered to be an issue-oriented, goal-directed, problem-solving approach, with the main goal of reaching an agreement. Mediators help parents resolve disputes by developing a process to balance power, while figuring out the parties’ positions and interests, and coming up with several options for identifying and prioritizing, and then negotiating, differences and alternatives until an agreement is reached (Johnston & Campbell, 1993).
Custody and access evaluations are usually conducted by psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and other mental health professionals with the main goal of assisting the court by providing expert recommendations about the custody and access of the children involved in the dispute. The custody evaluations normally deal with the level of conflict between parents, parent functioning, child–parent relationships, and the children's developmental, social, emotional, and educational needs after separation and divorce. Custody and access evaluations are given a large amount of weight by the courts, with the expectation that custody evaluators will use the best available scientific evidence, and objective, reliable, and valid procedures within the evaluation process (Saini, 2008).
Supervised Access Program
The Supervised Access Programs provide a safe and secure setting where visits and exchanges can take place, while ensuring the safety of all participants, including staff. Staff and volunteers are trained to be sensitive to the needs of the child and to provide the court and/or lawyers with factual observations about the participants' use of the service. The staff and volunteers at the supervised access centres usually do not provide services such as counseling, mediation, therapy, or parent education, and all visits and exchanges are done on-site at the supervised access centre.
Psychological approaches for high conflict families
The main focus of the programs talked about above has been to find ways to limit the level, frequency and nature of high conflict by limiting the contact between the parents. Although family processes may begin to change while involved in these programs, the focus on improving problems between family members is considered secondary. Psychological approaches and intensive psychotherapies have been used with high conflict families. High-conflict divorcing families often seek therapy, sometimes because of the difficulty in living with these disputes, though more often because the court or lawyers have gotten involved.
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