Mental Health of Children in Divorce

How Parents Can Help Kids Deal with Divorce

David Kuroda MSW ’72 has spent his career advocating for children—and healthy divorces.

OVER HIS DECADES-LONG career as a social worker, counselor and mediator, David Kuroda MSW ’72 has helped some 8,000 families navigate the stress of separation and divorce.

He has seen firsthand that dividing a family is never easy, but it doesn’t have to come at the cost of a child’s well-being. “It’s not the divorce that hurts children,” he says. “It’s the way parents get divorced, and the amount of conflict between them, that harms children.” Read More

Mental Health of Children in Divorce

Improving The Mental Health of Children in Divorce

Improving The Mental Health of Children in Divorce

By Alison Spirito and Joseph P. Spirito, Jr.

High-conflict behavior during divorce may have a more significant effect on children than divorce itself.[1] Children who witness their parents’ high-conflict divorces suffer from preventable mental and emotional health problems at significantly higher rates than children from intact families or even divorced families where the parents exhibit low or no conflict.[2] While litigation often normalizes high conflict, Collaborative Law and mediation consistently succeed in severing it from the divorce process by promoting consensual dispute resolution and drawing on the unique skills of child specialists and mental health professionals.

I. The Effects of Divorce on Children’s Mental Health

Children of divorce are at least twice as likely to develop preventable mental health issues as children from continuously married families.[3] Approximately 25% of children and young adults from divorced families have serious emotional or psychological problems, compared to 10% from intact families.[4] Divorce significantly increases the risk of “behavioral, internalizing, social and academic problems” as well as adjustment problems in children and adolescents.[5] The greatest effects are seen in externalizing symptoms, including “conduct disorders, antisocial behaviors, and problems with authority figures and parents. Less robust differences are found with respect to depression, anxiety, and self-esteem.”[6] However, even children who were doing well as adults believed they had been “permanently scarred” by their parents’ divorces.[7] Children of divorce also experience “intolerable stress and loyalty conflicts” when caught in the crossfire of their parents’ disputes.[8] Because children of divorce are so much more likely to struggle with mental health issues, divorce systems that reduce family conflict and offer support to children are invaluable.

II. The Limitations of Litigation

Courts are ill equipped to tackle the mental and emotional health concerns families face during divorce. Litigation is driven by conflict, “fails to take into account current understandings of how people are wired, what they need in times of change, what children need during and after divorce, and how families change and restructure.”[9] Similarly, “because our legal system doesn’t offer an adequate framework for addressing issues of the heart, it tends to emphasize only the items or expenses that can be listed on a balance sheet.”[10]  Since many negative emotions are never properly addressed during a litigated divorce, feelings of “disappointment, sadness, and betrayal” remain.[11] “Left unattended, these feelings can magnify to the point where they pose serious impediments to reaching a settlement or maintaining a durable (manageable) agreement in the years after divorce.”[12]

Notably, because litigation publicizes private family matters, the exposure creates even more unnecessary stress and conflict. In most states, anyone can watch hearings and trials, courthouse records are posted online, and anyone can access court files by going to a courthouse.[13] “All the personal dirty laundry and detailed financial data that were ever before the judge remain on the public record—information that none of us would want our neighbors, our children, or identity thieves to have access to.”[14] In contrast, Collaborative divorces are not on the record and “lawyers can ensure only the bare minimum that law requires to process the legal divorce goes into the court file.”[15] Mediation privileges and confidentiality laws prevent private information discussed during mediation from being part of the public record. Protecting children’s privacy and their exposure to parental conflict during divorce, including the “embarrassing accusations and counteraccusations leveled along the way,”[16] is crucial to minimizing harm caused by the divorce. Fortunately, Collaborative Law and mediation are systemically better able to address families’ mental and emotional health issues and privacy interests in divorce.

III. Collaborative Law and Mediation Reduce Conflict and Improve Children’s Mental Health During and After Divorce

The Collaborative Law and mediation processes empower families to be autonomous decision-makers and highlight the unique perspectives and services that child specialists and mental health professionals can offer families during divorce. These holistic divorce models consider mental and emotional health issues that may be hindering case resolution. Collaborative Law and mediation not only help parents manage their divorces more efficiently, but also teach them tools for long-lasting communication with each other and their children.

A. Collaborative Family Law

The Collaborative method, pioneered by Stuart Webb in 1991,[17] is at the cutting edge of modern divorces.  The International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP) has over 3800 members from 20 different countries, and has quickly gained in popularity compared to the modest group of 50 members it had in 2000.[18]  Collaborative Law is a form of alternative dispute resolution, or as many in the family law community prefer to call it, “consensual dispute resolution,” because Collaborative Law is far more desirable than the word “alternative” insinuates.[19] Collaborative Law should be the first choice for many divorcing parents because it addresses more than just the legal forces at play during divorces.

A “fully staffed” Collaborative team consists of the two parties, their individual collaborative lawyers, two mental health professionals working as coaches, a child specialist, and a neutral financial consultant.[20] Each member of the team contributes expertise as necessary to meet the parties’ needs and resolve the case as efficiently as possible. The team commits to resolving the dispute outside the court system, and the parties sign a Participation Agreement that requires team members to withdraw if a dispute cannot be settled without going to court.[21] Collaborative divorce is highly successful, with less than 10% of Collaborative cases resulting in impasse and requiring the parties to hire separate attorneys and professionals for trial.[22]

The Child Specialist

The child specialist is a “licensed mental health professional with particular training and experience in family systems, child development, and the needs of children during and after divorce.”[23] The specialist brings children’s perspectives to bear on the parenting plans and gives them an opportunity to express themselves without feeling divided loyalty to their parents. The specialist is an advocate for the children, works directly with them, and makes recommendations to parents regarding the child’s development and parenting plan.[24] Child specialists give children a voice so their input can be valued.[25] Typically, the specialist will begin by meeting with both parents to hear their perspectives and then meet with the children, unless the children are too young.[26] When discussing parenting plans in Collaborative divorce, child specialists often prefer to use vocabulary like “parenting time” over legal designations like “custody,” emphasizing that it’s “family time, not a legal event.”[27] After the child specialist gathers information from the children, the specialist may debrief the team in a five-way meeting with the two spouses and two mental health coaches.[28]

The child specialist in the Collaborative process is in a better position to safeguard the interests of children than a child custody evaluator employed in court proceedings. The custody evaluator’s role is limited to “evaluation and recommendations.”[29] Evaluators observe children “like judges at an Olympic ice skating event,” but do not form relationships with them.[30]  In contrast, the child specialist in the Collaborative process will “assess the child, support the child in expressing his or her feelings and reactions to the divorce and other family issues,” and harness the information to help parents understand their child.[31] The child specialist’s goals are “support and education.”[32] Child specialists are in a unique position to give feedback to parents and the team to provide for the best interests of the children[33] and act as consultants and helpers.[34] They can devote more time to focusing on the children and working with the Collaborative team, rather than preparing for depositions, cross-examination, tests, and interviews that may be necessary in litigation.[35] Moreover, unlike the child custody evaluator, the child specialist does not formulate an official written report that can be read by the children in the future and potentially cause them emotional harm.[36]

The Mental Health Coaches

In addition to addressing children’s mental health directly, focusing on the mental health of parents can improve the way they co-parent and interact with their children and each other. The mental health coaches have “special additional training and experience in communication skills, family dynamics, and issues relating to healthy recovery from separation and divorce.”[37] They provide “emotional encouragement, teach stress management and communication skills, explore parenting concerns, and help ensure that both partners’ needs, concerns, and feelings are understood and expressed in constructive ways.”[38] Coaches help parents discuss co-parenting concerns.[39] They are proactive and stay in regular contact during divorce to help manage and prevent problems before they can stall issue resolution and settlement.[40] Including mental health professionals and a child specialist on a Collaborative team helps divide the workload by individualized skillset. It allows the lawyers to focus on the law and negotiating settlements.[41]

The mental health professionals and child specialists are not psychotherapists. They do not deal with “extreme emotional disturbances,” but rather focus on “divorce-related changes and challenges.”[42]  The work of the mental health professionals and child specialists is confidential and ends with the Collaborative divorce process.[43] Child specialists do not testify in any court proceedings subsequently brought if the Collaborative process dissolves.[44]

The structure of the Collaborative team is flexible and can be adjusted to suit the parties’ needs. While flexibility is one of Collaborative Family Law’s greatest advantages, the child specialist is often the first team member to get cut. Parents too-often decide to work in a lawyer-only model or include one neutral mental health coach or two coaches, but overlook the importance of the child specialist.[45] The decision to include a child specialist in the Collaborative process is important as the specialist offers parents a neutral perspective on their children’s needs and delivers unique insight as an advocate for the children.

While hiring a fully staffed Collaborative team may be expensive, the process may be much less expensive than litigation because the team works together to get to the root of underlying emotional and mental health issues hindering resolution. A 2010 survey conducted by the IACP found that the average Collaborative case ranges from $17,800 (no children) to $25,600 (cases with children subject to the legal process).[46] Several financial advisors interviewed by CNBC “suggested litigation may cost three times or more than the collaborative option.”[47] Additionally, by investing in child specialists and mental health coaches at the beginning of the divorce process, parents are able to save on voluntary or court-ordered therapy later to repair fractured relationships.

B. Mediation

Mediation has “traditional roots” in family law,[48] and has a promising ability to reduce conflict and improve family relationships. An average of just 5 hours of custody mediation “led to significant and positive effects on parent-child and parent-parent relationships 12 years later, including more sustained contact between fathers and children, compared with those in the litigation sample.”[49]

Mediation is flexible, cost-efficient, and mindful of the needs that individual families face. When mediators work with divorcing families, they encourage parties to address the mental health and emotional issues that are acting as barriers to resolving specific legal problems. Parties who choose mediation as their divorce model should consider hiring a mental health professional to facilitate family communications. Mental health mediators recognize the similarity of values between the fields of divorce mediation and mental health in that they “both provide an opportunity for change and growth; both support the values of autonomy, self-determination, and empowerment.”[50] Mental health mediators are often successful because they “bring to the mediation process an understanding of families and the dynamics of family conflict” as well as children’s needs in divorce.[51] However, the role of the mediator is different from the role of therapist. “The mediator addresses psychological conflicts only as they present an impediment to the resolution of topical issues, such as property division, plans for the children, and financial support.”[52] Focusing on conflicts only as they specifically hinder resolution allows mediators to tackle problems efficiently and help families reach their goals.

In addition to the success that mediation has had as a substitute to the court system, court-ordered mediation before hearings on custody and visitation disputes has proven to be a successful complement to litigation as well. Mandatory court-connected mediation offers an opportunity to expand participation in the mediation process and provides parties free or low-cost exposure to an entirely new dispute resolution process. A 2004 report published by the Judicial Council of California on court-connected mediation demonstrates “positive impacts on settlements and trial rate, disposition time, satisfaction and costs.”[53] “In the San Diego and Los Angeles programs, the incidence of trial was 24 to 30 percent lower among cases in the mediation program group than those in the control group.”[54]

The goal of mandatory mediation is to disrupt “the escalating cycle of conflict that so often perpetuates custody disputes and to shield children from the traumatizing consequences of repeated parental conflict over their care.”[55] The authority of the courthouse setting and law requiring the parties to participate helps parents confront their issues.[56] Court-mandated mediation draws “upon the principles and techniques of voluntary and non-court-related mediation” but can differ in significant ways.[57] For example, in family disputes in California, mandatory mediation is applied only over custody and post-separation access to children.[58] Parents are required to participate and the mediator “actively advocates a resolution that benefits the children involved.”[59] These mediators “employ strategic counseling tactics to release parental impasses and free people to move toward finding resolutions.”[60]

When California adopted mandatory mediation in custody disputes in 1981,[61] mediators were able to work with one or two families per day, parties were sometimes able to “walk in” on the day of the hearing, and could schedule an appointment to be held within 2 weeks.[62]  Today, mediation services through the court are overburdened. Mediators are pushed to oversee four cases per day, parties have to wait months to get appointments, and settlement rates have decreased to approximately 50%.[63] Because court-connected mediation services are overloaded, some courts only provide one or two-hour sessions, which often does not allow enough time to accomplish mediation objectives.[64]  Increasing the number of hours each mediator can work with the parties and expanding the process to last more than one session if needed for the parties to come to an agreement would improve these services.

IV. Additional Ways to Engage Professionals and Support Services to Resolve Conflict

Even if parents do not choose Collaborative Law or mediation as their divorce model, they may still wish to explore options that reduce high-conflict and offer mental health support for their children. Many experts and services provide support to divorcing families, including minor’s counsel, custody evaluators, co-parenting counselors, parenting coordinators, parenting mediators, marriage and family therapists, and applications that help families communicate and plan like Our Family Wizard. These tools help parents improve their communication with each other and their children and help them attain and sustain low-conflict relationships.

V. Conclusion

In 1850, Abraham Lincoln prepared notes for a law lecture where he gave his audience the following advice: “Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser- in fees, expenses, and waste of time. As a peacemaker the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.”[65] President Lincoln’s words are still true to date, but there is much more at stake in family court than “fees, expenses, and waste of time.” Parents are struggling to keep their families and relationships intact as well as protect their children from the psychological harm that is more likely to result from high conflict divorce.  Collaborative Family Law and mediation can provide the support that parents need to better communicate with each other and maintain strong relationships with their children while investing in their children’s mental health during and beyond the divorce process.

 

Website: www.mcgs-law.com

 

[1] Stuart G. Webb & Ron Ousky, The Collaborative Way to Divorce: The Revolutionary Method that Results in Less Stress, Lower Costs, and Happier Kids, Without Going to Court xiii (2007); Deborah Moskovitch, The Smart Divorce: Proven Strategies and Valuable Advice from 100 Top Divorce Lawyers, Financial Advisers, Counselors, and Other Experts 37 (2007).

[2] Joan B. Kelly & Robert E. Emery, “Children’s Adjustment Following Divorce: Risk and Resilience Perspectives,” 52 Family Relations 352-362, 353 (2003), http://www.jstor.org.libproxy2.usc.edu/stable/pdf/3700316.pdf.

[3] Id. at 355.

[4] Pauline H. Tesler & Peggy Thompson, Collaborative Divorce: The Revolutionary New Way to Restructure Your Family, Resolve Legal Issues, and Move on with Your Life 49 (2006).

[5] Kelly & Emery, supra, at 355.

[6] Id.

[7] Tesler & Thomson, supra, at 49.

[8] Kelly & Emery, supra, at 353.

[9] Tesler, supra, at 29.

[10] Webb, supra, at 43.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Tesler, supra, at 31.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Moskovitch, supra, at 51.

[18] Nancy Cameron, “The Growing ADR Community: Adapting for Culture, Language, and Families Around the Globe,” Collaborative Review: Journal of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, Vol. 11, Issue 1, 1 (Spring 2010).

[19] David Kuroda, “Consensual Dispute Resolution- A Billionaire Chooses Collaborative Divorce,” 2006.

[20] Tesler, supra, at 41.

[21] Webb, supra, at 6.

[22] Id. at 7.

[23] Id. at 90.

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] Tesler, supra, at 131.

[27] Deborah Nason, “Collaborative divorce can ease emotional, economic stress,” (2014), http://www.cnbc.com/2014/05/01/collaborative-divorce-can-ease-emotional-economic-stress.html.

[28] Tesler, supra, at 131.

[29] Nancy Ross, “Collaborative Divorce: An Interdisciplinary Model,” The Collaborative Quarterly, Volume 2, Issue 2, 15 (October 2000).

[30] Kuroda, supra, at 2015.

[31] Ross, supra, at 15.

[32] Id.

[33] Id.

[34] Kuroda, supra, at 2015.

[35] Id.

[36] Id.

[37] Tesler, supra, at 43.

[38] Id.

[39] Id. at 44.

[40] Id. at 45.

[41] Webb, supra, at 89.

[42] Tesler, supra, at 132.

[43] Id.

[44] Id.

[45] Susan Hansen & Jeanne Schroeder & Kathy Gehl, “The Child Specialist Role in Client Choice of Process: Focusing on the Children and Enhancing Value,” The Collaborative Review, Volume 13, Issue 1, 13 (Spring 2013).

[46] Nason, supra, “ Collaborative divorce can ease emotional, economic stress.”

[47] Id.

[48] Jay Folberg, Resolving Disputes: Theory, Practice, and Law 413-14 (2005).

[49] Kelly & Emery, supra, at 360.

[50] Jay Folberg & Ann Milne, Divorce Mediation: Theory and Practice 385 (1988).

[51] Id. at 388.

[52] Id.

[53] Folberg, Resolving Disputes, supra, at 11.

[54] Id.

[55] Folberg, Divorce Mediation, supra, at 207.

[56] Id.

[57] Id.

[58] Id.

[59] Id.

[60] Id.

[61] Kuroda, supra, at 2009.

[62] Kuroda, supra, 2010.

[63] Id.

[64] Folberg, Resolving Disputes, supra, at 450.

[65] Ambrogi, “Abraham Lincoln’s Notes for a Law Lecture” (2004) http://www.lawsitesblog.com/2004/06/abraham-lincolns-notes-for-law-lecture.html.

Co-Parenting

From the Kids Perspective: Co-Parenting Through Divorce

Vi Ballard & Paula March
Website: southbaytherapist.com

“Co-Parenting”

3rd Saturday,  9am-12pm, $75/person

ABD mental health professionals Vi Ballard & Paula March facilitate a co-parenting class “From the Kids Perspective: Co-Parenting Through Divorce” the third Saturday of every month at the Collaborative Center of Southern California in Hermosa Beach. For more information call Paula March at 310-245- 6814.

joint-custody

What is meant by joint legal custody

Family Code ‘3083, with reference to the order of preferred joint legal custody

states as follows:

“In making an order of joint legal custody, the court shall specify the circumstances under which the consent of both parents is required to be obtained in order to exercise legal control of the child and the consequences of the failure to obtain mutual consent. In all other circumstances, either parent acting alone may exercise legal control of the child An order of joint legal custody shall not be construed to permit an action that is inconsistent with the physical custody order unless the action is expressly authorized by the court.”

 

In essence and in substance, that code section states that if no one specifies the particular of what joint legal custody will mean, there is a “default.” The default status provides that either parent may make the decisions with reference to the health, education or welfare of minor child. Either parent could consent to cosmetic surgery for the minor child, change a child’s school, or even change the child’s name.

Any parent who is seeking joint legal custody should consider specifying the areas which require mutual agreement including the following:

1.         Enrollment or termination of attendance in any public or private school.

2.         Participation in regularly occurring extracurricular activities.

3.         Non emergency medical, dental and orthodontic, other than routine exams

4.         Participation in mental health counseling, therapy or treatment.

5.         Change in area of a child=s residence

6.         Issuance of a driver=s license.

7.         Issuance of a passport

8.     Body piercing, tattoos and extraordinary hair cuts

9.         Signing contracts on behalf of the child (for theatrical services. etc.).

10.      Nominated as a guardian ad litem (to litigate on behalf of the minor child)

Legal custody has statutory liabilities to be aware of even if a parent with joint legal custody does not share physical custody. Civil Code ‘1714.1 provides that a parent in custody and control or a minor is liable up to $10,000.00 in damages resulting from acts of the minor which cause death, physical injury or property damage.  Education Code ‘48904 provides for a parent’s liability for a child’s willful misconduct or vandalism of school property up to an amount of $7,500.00.  Penal Code ‘490.5(b) provides that “a parent having custody or control of a minor” is jointly and severely liable with the minor for shoplifting or theft of books from a library.  lf both parents have authorized a minor to acquire a driver’s license, both parents may share some responsibility with reference to that minor in the event the minor has an accident.

Non-custodial parents should be aware of Family Code ‘3025 subsection (1):

“Notwithstanding any other provisions of law, access to records and information pertaining to a minor child, including but not limited to medical, dental and school records, shall not be denied because such parent is not the child’s custodial parent.”

A non-custodial parent has an absolute right to be made aware of and to acquire information regarding the minor child’s medical and school pursuits. The non-custodial parent need not accept a statement from, for example, the child’s physician or school administrator, that “I’m sorry, we cannot give you this information because you do not have legal custody.@

I hope this gives you a better understanding of what a joint legal custody really means.

 

Tara-McGuinnessTara McGuinness is a member of A Better Divorce, a Certified Family Law Specialist and has years of experience helping clients in Torrance / Palos Verdes in all areas of family law including California divorce, prenuptial agreements, trusts and estates. Our firm is conveniently located next to the Del Amo Mall in Torrance, California and is one of the most trusted family law firms in the South Bay community.

Mental Health of Children in Divorce

Child’s Testimony in Custody Cases

ELKINS TASK FORCE REFORMS – UNCERTAINTY ABOUT IMPLEMENTATION

An important change regarding children’s testimony in custody cases, (Family Code §3042).went into effect last year. “If a child is 14 years of age or older and wishes to address the court regarding custody or visitation, the child shall be permitted to do so, unless the court determines that doing so it not in the child’s best interests. In that case the court shall state its reasons for that finding on the record.” Professionals have expressed concerns about how this is going to be implemented. There is a provision that a minor’s counsel, evaluator, an investigator or recommending mediator may help the court determine if a child wishes to express a preference.

Learn more about Collaborative Divorce

David-Kuroda2David Kuroda is the former Division Chief, Family Court Services, Superior Court of Los Angeles and directed the Mediation and Conciliation Service, the first and largest court mediation program in the nation.

In his 18 years with the Superior Court, he was responsible for the district courts, the PACT and Contemnors’ Programs, Divorce Seminars, and Visitation Monitors. Under his leadership, the service set high standards for the mediation service and other innovative programs serving children and families of divorce.

He has served on numerous committees with the Judicial Council, Los Angeles County Bar Executive Committee, Family Law Section, and has collaborated on numerous programs with the bar associations of the South Bay, Beverly Hills, San Fernando Valley, and Long Beach. He’s the past vice-president of A Better Divorce: A group of collaborative professionals; he also serves as vice-president of the California Social Welfare Archives., on he advisory board of the Los Angeles Collaborative Family Law Association, and was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) California Chapter and with the George Nickel Award by the California Social Welfare Archives, USC.

In addition to directing the program, he has personally provided mediation services to over 7,000 families from the working poor to the wealthy and famous, including high profile cases and movie producers. Virtually all parents, whatever their backgrounds, love their children, and with some guidance, have been able to work together, even after divorce. Mr. Kuroda has provided training for graduate students from USC, and has taught professionals child custody mediation.

judges-family-court

Proposals For Helping Judges in Court

PROPOSALS FOR HELPING JUDGES

  1. ESTABLISH A MEDIATION PANEL TO REDUCE NUMBER OF CASES FOR HEARINGS

The Superior Court maintains “panels” or lists of professionals who provide child custody evaluations services, parent education groups and co-parent counseling services. A similar list of professionals who provide mediation could be very helpful. The court could require the child custody mediators to provide pro bono services as a requirement for being on the list. Volunteer attorney mediators have already been helping settle cases at no cost to the court, although the ADR program at the court will be eliminated by this summer. The Los Angeles County Bar Association will be taking over the administration of this valuable program.

The Southwest District two years ago has added financial and mental health professionals to its volunteer mediation panel. This could complement the volunteer attorney mediators who serve in the central and many district courts. We in the legal community need to do more to resolve cases and reduce the demands on our family law bench officers.

  1. PROMOTE THE GREATER USE OF RESOLVING DISPUTES BEFORE GETTING TO THE COURTOOM: MEDIATION, COLLABORATIVE DIVORCE

Judge Scott Gordon, speaking at the Beverly Hills Bar Association’s “Meet the Judges Night,” cited consensual dispute resolution as an important response to the court’s budget problems. As described above in this article, there are many ways dissolutions can be resolved without burdening the court. The attorney who can settle cases early on, without having to prepare for depositions, trials or relying on child custody evaluations, will experience less stress and greater rewards as a family law practitioner.

  1. INCREASE THE COLLABORATION WITH PROFESSIONALS IN THE COMMUNITY FOR PARENTS

When the court suspended offering the Parents without Conflict Program by the Family Court Services staff, it freed up staff to be more available for the mandated program of custody mediation and evaluations. As important as the programs were, it was a judicious use of staff to provide the services required by statute.

The court has also eliminated the PACT classes at the courthouses, and instead directs parents to an online program.

The Family Court Services, known earlier as the Conciliation Court, has always been innovative. The Los Angeles Conciliation Court established one of the first marriage counseling programs in the nation, and was recognized by the Board of Supervisors for “saving” many marriages. As the community counselors became trained and more available, the court discontinued offering the marriage counseling services. We used to tag all of the 1284 forms for Confidential Counseling and write letters offering counseling  as a “last chance” to save the marriage. That is no longer being done and mental health professionals are now providing an important service that was originated in the courts.

Divorce Parenting groups are listed on the court’s website, and parents are now able to attend groups in their neighborhoods. Similar programs can be set up to complement the PACT (Parents and Children Together). The innovative and award-winning PACT program, originally conceived by Judge David Rothman and Commissioner Jill Robbins for Santa Monica, has been implemented in courthouses throughout the county. Maybe the time has come for the programs to be offered in local communities. The court should still require the education program, but by encouraging mental health professionals to run the programs, even more Family Court Service staff would be available to shorten the wait times for mediation and evaluations.

  1. RESTORE THE INTERN TRAINING PROGRAM FOR MEDIATION

In the 1980’s and 1990’s, interns from the masters and doctoral programs from the top area universities applied for the year-long program at the court. The selection process was similar to the process for hiring staff. Only the most qualified candidates were selected. These interns provided effective mediation services, sometimes more successful than the more experienced staff. Interns augmented the staff in the central district and in almost all the districts. Their services were provided at no cost to the court. Thousands of cases were settled.

In addition, the morale of the staff was enhanced by the idealistic, energetic and caring interns. One intern once showed me a research article citing the sometimes greater effectiveness of the interns when compared with the more experienced, older staff.

It is notable that the manager, supervisor and some of the most effective staff of the Family Court Services started their careers with the court as court interns. The USC School of Social Work has expressed interest in placing their graduate students at the Superior Court for their internship experience.

Learn more about Collaborative Divorce

David-Kuroda2David Kuroda is the former Division Chief, Family Court Services, Superior Court of Los Angeles and directed the Mediation and Conciliation Service, the first and largest court mediation program in the nation.

In his 18 years with the Superior Court, he was responsible for the district courts, the PACT and Contemnors’ Programs, Divorce Seminars, and Visitation Monitors. Under his leadership, the service set high standards for the mediation service and other innovative programs serving children and families of divorce.

He has served on numerous committees with the Judicial Council, Los Angeles County Bar Executive Committee, Family Law Section, and has collaborated on numerous programs with the bar associations of the South Bay, Beverly Hills, San Fernando Valley, and Long Beach. He’s the past vice-president of A Better Divorce: A group of collaborative professionals; he also serves as vice-president of the California Social Welfare Archives., on he advisory board of the Los Angeles Collaborative Family Law Association, and was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) California Chapter and with the George Nickel Award by the California Social Welfare Archives, USC.

In addition to directing the program, he has personally provided mediation services to over 7,000 families from the working poor to the wealthy and famous, including high profile cases and movie producers. Virtually all parents, whatever their backgrounds, love their children, and with some guidance, have been able to work together, even after divorce. Mr. Kuroda has provided training for graduate students from USC, and has taught professionals child custody mediation.

attorney-child

Child’s Attorney in a Divorce

MINOR’S COUNSEL, THE ATTORNEY FOR THE CHILD – STILL CONTROVERSIAL

In more and more cases, the courts are relying on Minor’s Counsel to assist in the resolution of cases. In some jurisdictions, the use of minor’s counsel is almost routine. A number of factors have led to the greater use of attorneys for children. Because of the limited resources of Family Court Services, fewer cases are being resolved in mediation and it’s also taking longer for child custody evaluations. Even the “fast-track” evaluations have been renamed, in part because it’s not a speedy way of getting recommendations before the court. Minor’s Counsel often provides information to courts in a more timely manner. Often the newer bench officers are utilizing attorneys for children much more than the more experienced judges. Concerns about the greater use of Minor’s Counsel have long been raised by attorneys who believe too much rides on a quick assessment with no written report; mental health professionals have expressed concerns about some attorneys who aren’t experienced in interviewing and assessing the needs of young children. Concerns have also been raised about the uneven quality of the representation. Minimum and uniform training requirements have been established but the program still has its share of detractors.

Because Family Court Services no longer provides comprehensive child custody evaluations, along with the high cost of private evaluations, judges are appointing more Minor’s Counsel in custody cases. The courts appreciate how quickly these attorneys can provide input for the judges.

One of the Elkins Task Force recommendations was for more training for attorneys servicing as minor’s counsel. The next training for lawyers want to serve as Minor’s Counsel will be held in October; completion of the training will be a requirement for Minor’s Counsel Appointments.

Learn more about Collaborative Divorce

David-Kuroda2David Kuroda is the former Division Chief, Family Court Services, Superior Court of Los Angeles and directed the Mediation and Conciliation Service, the first and largest court mediation program in the nation.

In his 18 years with the Superior Court, he was responsible for the district courts, the PACT and Contemnors’ Programs, Divorce Seminars, and Visitation Monitors. Under his leadership, the service set high standards for the mediation service and other innovative programs serving children and families of divorce.

He has served on numerous committees with the Judicial Council, Los Angeles County Bar Executive Committee, Family Law Section, and has collaborated on numerous programs with the bar associations of the South Bay, Beverly Hills, San Fernando Valley, and Long Beach. He’s the past vice-president of A Better Divorce: A group of collaborative professionals; he also serves as vice-president of the California Social Welfare Archives., on he advisory board of the Los Angeles Collaborative Family Law Association, and was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) California Chapter and with the George Nickel Award by the California Social Welfare Archives, USC.

In addition to directing the program, he has personally provided mediation services to over 7,000 families from the working poor to the wealthy and famous, including high profile cases and movie producers. Virtually all parents, whatever their backgrounds, love their children, and with some guidance, have been able to work together, even after divorce. Mr. Kuroda has provided training for graduate students from USC, and has taught professionals child custody mediation.

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Collaborative Divorce: How a Parenting Plan Will Help Co-Parent

 SPECIAL MASTERS, OR PARENTING PLAN COORDINATORS – KEEPING SMALL ISSUES OUT OF THE COURTROOM

Not since the first training session for Special Masters over six years ago, has there been a training program in s Los Angeles County for attorneys and mental health professionals interested in becoming Special Masters. The Superior Court, along with the Association for Family and Conciliation Courts, AFCC, sponsored a training program in March. Matthew Sullivan, Ph.D. provided the training, followed by a panel, including Judge Robert Schnider, Lynette Robe, J.D., Angus Strachan, Ph.D. and Jane Shatz, Ph.D. A list of the attendees who attended the training, and perhaps the earlier training, will be developed.

The court may not order the assignment of a Special Master in a case, although if the parties and the attorneys stipulate, the court will usually sign the stipulated order. A few difficult cases require an inordinate amount of judicial resources and are wearing on all the professionals involved, not to mention the adverse effects on the children. Using a Special Master to make decisions regarding more routine conflicts may provide benefits for the families as well as for the bench officers. Mary Lund, Ph.D. and Lyn Robe and convened A Special Master committee and developed a stipulation for the use of the Special Master. It is now available on the Family Law Home Page of the Los Angeles County Bar Website: lacba.org. The use of the Special Master or Parenting Plan Coordinator is not without controversy. Some are concerned about the delegation of authority to non-judicial officers and the absence of the usual protections in a court hearing. The option, however of using an attorney or mental health professional to resolve minor issues may provide relief to the courtrooms that are excessively burdened.

 

See an excellent summary of the case law regarding the Parenting Plan Coordinator by Mara Berke, Law Offices of Marshall S. Zolla, “Planned Parenthood,” Los Angeles Lawyer, March 2009.

 

Learn more about Collaborative Divorce

David-Kuroda2David Kuroda is the former Division Chief, Family Court Services, Superior Court of Los Angeles and directed the Mediation and Conciliation Service, the first and largest court mediation program in the nation.

In his 18 years with the Superior Court, he was responsible for the district courts, the PACT and Contemnors’ Programs, Divorce Seminars, and Visitation Monitors. Under his leadership, the service set high standards for the mediation service and other innovative programs serving children and families of divorce.

He has served on numerous committees with the Judicial Council, Los Angeles County Bar Executive Committee, Family Law Section, and has collaborated on numerous programs with the bar associations of the South Bay, Beverly Hills, San Fernando Valley, and Long Beach. He’s the past vice-president of A Better Divorce: A group of collaborative professionals; he also serves as vice-president of the California Social Welfare Archives., on he advisory board of the Los Angeles Collaborative Family Law Association, and was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) California Chapter and with the George Nickel Award by the California Social Welfare Archives, USC.

In addition to directing the program, he has personally provided mediation services to over 7,000 families from the working poor to the wealthy and famous, including high profile cases and movie producers. Virtually all parents, whatever their backgrounds, love their children, and with some guidance, have been able to work together, even after divorce. Mr. Kuroda has provided training for graduate students from USC, and has taught professionals child custody mediation.

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Collaborative Divorce: Avoid Criticism of Co-Parent

A COACH HELPS A FATHER LEARN: COMPLIMENTING INSTEAD OF CRITICIZING

A father desperately wanted joint custody of his young children. The mother had reservations because he had never spent much time with the children. He persisted in pointing out his strengths and her faults. In frustration he criticized her parenting. She responded by threatening to seek sole custody. The coach suggested a break, and asked him what he really wanted. He said, “I want to be able to take care of my children; I need to spend time with them.” A different strategy was suggested. Rather than criticize their mother, he was advised to tell her she was a good mother and highlight the many things she did well. He did. “Mary, you have been a wonderful mother for our children. You have given them so much; you have taught them so much. You are a wonderful mother.” Her anger disappeared, and instead there were tears in her eyes. A therapeutic response would have been to recognize his anger and value as a father and addressed his basic feelings about being good enough. The coaching helps in different ways.

 MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONALS AND ATTORNEYS

 Most mental health professionals don’t like working with attorneys. They don’t like receiving letters from them; they don’t like talking to them. It’s because they don’t understand the role of the attorney. The attorneys in collaborative law are different. They have become tired of fighting; they don’t like having to do whatever it takes to “win.” They too feel like casualties of the divorce wars.

Collaborative family law provides a better way for attorneys and mental health professionals to work together. The best of both professions are available to the parents. Phone calls from attorneys are welcomed, and it’s rewarding being on the same team.

 

Learn more about Collaborative Divorce

David-Kuroda2David Kuroda is the former Division Chief, Family Court Services, Superior Court of Los Angeles and directed the Mediation and Conciliation Service, the first and largest court mediation program in the nation.

In his 18 years with the Superior Court, he was responsible for the district courts, the PACT and Contemnors’ Programs, Divorce Seminars, and Visitation Monitors. Under his leadership, the service set high standards for the mediation service and other innovative programs serving children and families of divorce.

He has served on numerous committees with the Judicial Council, Los Angeles County Bar Executive Committee, Family Law Section, and has collaborated on numerous programs with the bar associations of the South Bay, Beverly Hills, San Fernando Valley, and Long Beach. He’s the past vice-president of A Better Divorce: A group of collaborative professionals; he also serves as vice-president of the California Social Welfare Archives., on he advisory board of the Los Angeles Collaborative Family Law Association, and was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) California Chapter and with the George Nickel Award by the California Social Welfare Archives, USC.

In addition to directing the program, he has personally provided mediation services to over 7,000 families from the working poor to the wealthy and famous, including high profile cases and movie producers. Virtually all parents, whatever their backgrounds, love their children, and with some guidance, have been able to work together, even after divorce. Mr. Kuroda has provided training for graduate students from USC, and has taught professionals child custody mediation.