With high-conflict divorce and custody battles comes damage to the kids and a correlating increase in cost to society (we as taxpayers). High-conflict cases usually include ongoing child custody and access (visitation) conflict and frequent back-to-court visits. Kids exposed to their parents conflict in these cases can be expected to have poorer outcomes than their peers, including more acting out behaviors; physical symptoms like stomachaches, headaches, difficulty sleeping; declining school performance; and other impacts such as relationship difficulties long into the future.

What can be done to mitigate the harmful impact on kids, if anything? Can stomachaches be reduced? Can these kids have improved outcomes? If so, how is society impacted when we invest at the beginning of a divorce/custody case rather than after it’s embroiled for years in the courts?

A three-year study funded by the Alberta Justice and Attorney General offices and implemented by Medicine Hat Family Services (Canada) released its first of three reports on the effects of the program they’re testing, New Ways for Families developed by Bill Eddy, JD, LCSW. This method provides short-term counseling for high-conflict separating or divorcing parents in an attempt to reduce conflict escalation, assault or re-victimization and to increase parental cooperating in decision-making about their children.

Impact on Families

Program outcomes in the first two years showed that:

42% of clients improved their parenting cooperation in areas such as willingness to accommodate changes in visiting arrangements, to act as a resource to the former spouse in raising the children, and improved day to day decision making about the children
52% of parents noted improved cooperation on major decisions about the children
in 22% of cases, parents increased their involvement with the children
in 57% of cases, children exhibited less acting out behaviors
in 54% of cases, less symptoms of stress such as headaches, stomachaches; difficulty sleeping
in 45% of cases, school performance improved
and in 33% of cases, children were more interest in seeing the non-custodial parent (this means less child alienation, commonly referred to as parental alienation)
Results of Society’s Investment

The study found that for every dollar invested the program, $4.25 in social value was created in the first yearn, and $9.29 of value in the second year. What does this mean to us? Costs go down for courts, police time, legal costs to the system and the parents, mental health services, and costs related directly to the children such as Child Welfare interventions and personal impacts of stress and abuse. Overall, a win for everyone.NWFF SROI

Courtesy of Alberta Government Friends of the Family

 Megan Hunter is a speaker, trainer, consultant and CEO at Unhooked Media. She is co-founder of High Conflict Institute and was a Family Law & Child Support Specialist at the Arizona Supreme Court. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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