Case Study: High Conflict ParentsNick Richards FDRP LL.B MBA GDLP DMgmt MQLS
A 5-year old child of high-conflict parents spends every second Friday to Wednesday with her father and the remainder of the fortnight with her mother. Changeover occurs around school times, with her father collecting her at the entrance to the school.
Recently the child began to refuse to visit her father; she becomes distressed, screams and runs away from him. On a recent visit, he physically forced her into the car in a highly emotional and conflicted event.
What can we offer this family?
This family can benefit through family mediation in several ways, notably through managing the high conflict environment between them, educating them as to their legal rights (to the extent permissible as an FDRP), to educate how to identify when family violence is considered unacceptable in addition to introducing the parents to qualified professionals that will assist.
We would initially assess the suitability of their matter for FDR, to assess risk (if any) and plan for the safety of participants by taking into consideration matters related to any history of family violence, the safety of the parties, equality of bargaining power, any risk of child abuse, the emotional/psychological/physical health of the parties in addition to any other matter the FDRP considers relevant.
Our practitioner will quickly build rapport with the parties to get beyond the façade, to reduce a parties reluctance to openly reveal instances of domestic violence and other threatening behaviours. In the event the matter is not appropriate for FDR a certificate can be issued, as such and any mandatory reporting responsibilities be adhered to and executed.
High conflict and emotive management
As family separation and divorce involve high levels of emotion with many cases being cloaked in extreme violence, we can determine at our discretion, whether a case is appropriate.
This particular scenario describes the parent’s relationship to one another as one of high conflict, and states that when the child refused to go with her father, he was emotionally charged. It is widely accepted that when dealing with volatile and high conflict personalities, an FDRP will observe anger, resentment, hurt, regret, guilt, shame, sadness and fear. Freud delineated the human mind into 3 distinct levels (preconscious, conscious and unconscious) and found that parties are likely to shift between their conscious and unconscious minds where when parties experience high levels or stress or acting in a conflicting manner they are subjected to ‘fight or flight’ tendencies, subconscious thinking, feeling and thoughts outside human consciousness awareness.
An FDRP in the process of FDR has the ability to engage interventionist methods and skills (LARSQ) to navigate the parties mindsets from the unconscious to the conscious mind, thus allowing parties to experience rationalist thoughts, logicality, analytical thinking and slower thought processing which all are necessary for parties to be able to negotiate appropriately and ultimately resolve their issues.
Identify Level of Risk and Implement Safety Plans
Through our initial assessment we can determine whether FDR is appropriate inter alia due to violence and can take the appropriate steps to screen the parties for instances of family violence, drug and alcohol abuse and mental health issues.
When violence has been identified the FDRP can make an assessment on the likelihood that it will occur, and its anticipated severity should it occur. Armed with this information an FDRP can appraise safety planning options and determine most appropriate options for the case, which could include escape planning in the event of a physical threat to one or more of the family members in addition to session planning (should FDR proceed) where the practitioner can assess whether certain arrangements should be taken for the safety of the parties such as engaging the use of shuttle, telephone, co-mediators, e-mediation, legal representatives and support persons inclusion).
A safety plan should extend to the child, teaching them to:
- avoid conflict with the father;
- remove themselves from a situation if they feel they are at risk;
- access assistance if possible; and
- escape if necessary.
Additionally, this process will assist the FDRP in determining other risks to the parties such as legal, physical, cyber and financial. An FDRP brings the skills needed to identify family violence and these include the ability to recognise dynamics of power and control; to recognise the impact of disclosure on those affected; ability to ask intimate questions in a respectful manner, make appropriate referrals where necessary and providing effective information/explanation of the role of screening and risk assessment to fearful and hostile clients in addition to those whose first language is not English.
Whilst many FDRP’s have a legal background in Australia, an FDRP is limited as to what advice they can legally give, however the practitioner can communicate information about their role, the regulations imposed on them, the process, confidentiality provisions, information in relation to screening, risk assessment, safety planning, what constitutes family violence and the alternatives to mediation.
Useful Referral Programs & Informative Materials
We would also communicate information about relevant referral programs with suitably qualified practitioners that may be able to assist in the FDR process for the family.
The scenario used is quite brief as to the families circumstances, however an FDRP may refer the family to practitioners and services that deal with:
- CALD background persons;
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons;
- child abuse;
- legal advisors;
- alcohol and drug abuse;
- mental health (suspected and diagnosed);
- independent children’s lawyer;
- counsellors (family, child and relationship);
- religion; and
- self-represented parties;
Additionally, an FDRP would make use of information sheets and relevant professional materials that explain separation, domestic violence, child inclusive practice to assist the parents in coming to an agreement, as well as providing information about and encouraging parents to undertake self-help courses in dealing with familial issues that may assist in the family dispute at hand. As noted above FDR would benefit the parties, initially to identify areas of concern such as family violence and if detected then appropriate safety measures could be implemented and the FDRP could make referrals that could improve the families situation. Through a detailed intake should the matter proceed to FDR then the family’s high conflict could be dampened through an interventional approach by the FDRP and the use of frameworks such as LARSQ.
Note: The above is not legal advice and should be not relied upon as such.