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Resolution's Dispute Resolution Conference took place at the end of last week in Nottingham. This annual conference, focusing on dispute resolution, is 10 years old this year. It says something about the importance of dispute resolution that there is a separate conference devoted to updates in this area. There were interesting lectures and some thought provoking workshops.
How to give your clients for more for less? was the promising title of the workshop hosted by Emma Ries, Penny Mansfield CBE and Dr Janet Reibstein focussing on the work of the organisation OnePlusOne. OnePlusOne started life in 1971 as an organisation undertaking research into what makes relationships work or not work. It is based at Middlesex hospital. In the late 1990s they launched a programme that took the cutting edge research and turned it into a programme to help parents deal with conflict upon separation. They describe it as making their research work in the real world. It's a programme that helps parents to learn essential skills that help them to avoid the conflict that they can unfortunately get stuck in when there are disputes about children following a separation. They call it their 'getting it right for children' programme. It's an online programme that is free for parents to access. It essentially uses a form of behaviour modelling therapy that focuses on changing the destructive behaviour and focuses on teaching parents how to stay calm and put themselves in the other person's shoes. It also teaches parents to talk to each other about how they feel by saying 'I think' or 'I feel'. It helps them to work towards achieving compromises by way of negotiation and, most importantly, to understand the effect that their conflict has on their children. Its overall aim is to turn destructive parenting into co-operative and collaborative parenting.
How can practitioners access the programme and how can it help?
The website programmme can be found at The Parent Connection and they suggest that practitioners work through it themselves so that they can understand the programme before recommending it to clients. CAFCASS has recently picked up on the program and although their work has previously been focused on early intervention, it can also be useful for parents whose disputes have gone a little further down the track. They have also been working with other health agencies and they believe that success can also be achieved by working in conjunction with family law practitioners.
The idea is that the client undertakes the online programme working at their own pace (it will take some parents longer than others and it's important that the messages are reinforced to ensure they are retained). As part of the mediation, or collaborative process (or indeed traditional solicitors' approach) the practitioner checks how the client is making progress by referencing their own knowledge of the programme.
Most family practitioners will know how difficult continuing disputes about children can be. First and foremost there is the effect on the children involved. Secondly, constant disputes about children can stall the process of resolving financial issues which means the family remain in the state of limbo with money issues unresolved. This causes stress for both parties which sees relations become difficult and the whole cycle perpetuates. For family practitioners themselves disputes about children can be very draining - especially in circumstances where there are two capable parents who could focus their energies so much more constructively on working together.
By using the programme it is hoped that parents will then have the necessary tools to break the destructive behaviour cycles that they have become stuck in and be able to move forward with the other parent to parent their children together in an effective way. Without the distraction of constant dispute about issues concerning the children the clients and their lawyers or mediator are free to focus on resolving the financial issues so that the family can achieve a more certain outcome more quickly. If the programme is as effective as we were told then this could certainly make a sizeable difference in resolving matters where parents are caught in the cycle of constant dispute about their children. Given the programme is free to use and it would certainly seem that clients could get more for less, and their children will reap the greatest benefit from this.
Louisa Whitney is a mediator at LKW Family Mediation and a freelance legal writer and blogger
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