Family Court Review, July issue, 2015

Topics:  peacemaking, family law, alternative dispute resolution, religious values,

Mosten, F. S. (2015). Peacemaking for Divorcing Families: Editor’s Introduction. Family Court Review, 53(3), 357-360. doi:

Burgess, H., & Burgess, G. (2015). Applying the Strategies of International Peacebuilding to Family Conflicts: What Those Involved in Family Disputes Can Learn from the Efforts of Peacebuilders Working to Transform War-Torn Societies. Family Court Review, 53(3), 449-455. doi:

Cloke, K. (2015). Designing Heart-Based Systems to Encourage Forgiveness and Reconciliation in Divorcing Families. Family Court Review, 53(3), 418-426. doi:

Coates, C. A. (2015). The Parenting Coordinator as Peacemaker and Peacebuilder. Family Court Review, 53(3), 398-406. doi:

Daicoff, S. S. (2015). Families in Circle Process: Restorative Justice in Family Law. Family Court Review, 53(3), 427-438. doi:

Gamache, S. J. (2015). Family Peacemaking with an Interdisciplinary Team: A Therapist’s Perspective. Family Court Review, 53(3), 378-387. doi:

Howe, W. J., & Scully, E. P. (2015). Redesigning the Family Law System to Promote Healthy Families. Family Court Review, 53(3), 361-370. doi:

Lewis, H. T. T. (2015). Helping Families by Maintaining a Strong Well-Funded Family Court that Encourages Consensual Peacemaking: A Judicial Perspective. Family Court Review, 53(3), 371-377. doi:

Lund, M. E. (2015). The Place for Custody Evaluations in Family Peacemaking. Family Court Review, 53(3), 407-417. doi:

Marx, J. A. (2015). The Role of Western Religious Values in Peacemaking for Divorcing Families. Family Court Review, 53(3), 388-397. doi:

Morgillo, L. (2015). Do Not Make their Trauma Your Trauma: Coping with Burnout as a Family Law Attorney. Family Court Review, 53(3), 456-473. doi:

Mosten, F. S. (2015). Unbundled Services to Enhance Peacemaking for Divorcing Families. Family Court Review, 53(3), 439-448. doi:

Nobile, J. J. (2015). Adoptions Gone Awry: Enhancing Adoption Outcomes Through Postadoption Services and Federal and State Laws Imposing Criminal Sanctions for Private Internet Rehoming. Family Court Review, 53(3), 474-486. doi:

Prisco, R. (2015). Parental Involvement in Juvenile Sex Offender Treatment: Requiring a Role as Informed Supervisor. Family Court Review, 53(3), 487-503. doi:

Schepard, A. (2015). July 2015. Family Court Review, 53(3), 355-356. doi:

Loss of “mundane talk” creates challenges for non-residential parents

Professor Stephanie Rollie Rodriguez at Texas A&M– Corpus Christi has published an interesting examination of what she describes as the “mundane talk” that provides the foundation for “maintaining nonresidential parent–child relationships” and the challenges faced by non-residential parents.  She writes, Parents “who have limited interactions struggle to “know” their children, while those with frequent interaction with their children have access to the mundane stories of their children’s lives, which helps to maintain the relationships.”

This research emphasizes the need for non-residential parents to have many ways of maintaining communication with their children even if not physically present and the need for non-residential parents and their children to share information updates about the time they are not together.  This communication is key to continued close relationships.


Should I Try and Work on My Marriage or Just Get Divorced?

This is a tough question that faces many couples during their marriage.  There are many issues to consider and it is not always easy to find helpful advice.  Alan Hawkins and his colleagues from Brigham Young University have written a very thoughtful guide to help couples think through this process.

They include helpful activities that either (or both) partners can do to get a realistic assessment of where they are.  Hawkins and colleagues also provide information about the effects of divorce on children and adults.

This is a valuable resource for couples.

Improving Communication to Prevent Divorce– Jeremy Kanter

Although divorce rates in the United States have been decreasing in the last ten years, about 36 percent of first marriages will end in divorce (National Center for Health Statistics). This is a serious problem for Americans due to the negative effects a divorce can have on both children and adults. For adults there is clear evidence of a link between long-lasting healthy marriages and better health outcomes, such as living longer, lower blood pressure, lower risk of heart attacks, cancer, and arthritis (Kiecolt-Glaser et al., 1987). There also is a link to depression from going through a divorce or having a poor relationship (Braithwaite & Fincham, 2009). A healthy marriage can truly add years to one’s life. On average men live seven years longer than single or divorced men and women live three years longer (Harrison 2007). Not only is the consequences of divorce felt by the adults, it also can be detrimental for children. Children who experience their parents fighting are more likely to be depressed, have higher blood pressure, experience social problems, as well as learned negative models to handle conflict themselves (Sarrazin & Cyr, 2007). The conflict that couples fight about most frequently has been observed as arguments over: Money, children (parenting styles, division of responsibilities), chores, leisure time, sex, and relatives (Oggins 2003). Yet, instead of addressing each individual topic to couples, researchers have turned to communication skills in order to help with all of these topics by just improving the way these issues are discussed. These communication skills can be taught before or during marriage. The main focus of these classes is communication exercises in order to help couples with their relationship quality and satisfaction.

One aspect that communication plays a role in couples’ relationships is what Markman, Stanley, and Blumberg (2001) describe as” filters.” They describe multiple filters such as: distractions, emotional state, beliefs and expectations, difference in style, and self-protection.  Distractions are defined as any internal or external factors that take away from the conversation you are having with your partner. An emotional state is simply when a partner comes back from a stressful day and takes this out on his or her partner. Beliefs and expectations can be seen when a partner expects the worst out of their partner, if one partner expects the worst, they will be looking for the worst to happen. Difference in styles is a filter that can be seen when one partner grows up with parents who express themselves by yelling, when the other partner is used to a more quite approach, when these two approaches meet, it could be a negative filter to their conversation. Finally, self-protection is one partner not bringing up a topic because of the fear of getting rejected. All of these filters are part of a communication process.  If these filters are not recognized; they can be detrimental to couples communication and lead to a lowered satisfaction in the relationship and eventually dissolution (Markman, Stanley, & Blumberg, 2001).

A second aspect of communication that can have considerable impact on relationships is the frequency of negative to positive communication.   John Gottman has spent many hours in his Love Lab studying distressed couples and has created several theories involving couples and how to make a marriage work.  This has led him to identify the ratio between positive and negative communication of 5 to 1.  That is, for every 5 positive interactions there is one negative one.  Gottman has found that this is a powerful predictor of divorce.  When this ratio is less than 5 to 1, problems in the relationship mount and dissolution usually follows.  Gottman asserts that the four most damaging types of communication are criticism, contempt, stonewalling, and defensiveness. (Carrere & Gottman, 1999).  He defines criticism as an attack on a person’s character instead of the situation. Contempt would be one partner viewing themselves as better than the other. Stonewalling is when one person shuts down emotionally from the conversation because the other partner is just attacking them with so much at once. Finally, defensiveness is the reluctance of one partner to acknowledge responsibility in the situation the couple is dealing with. These all tie into communication because if one does not recognize these creeping into their relationship, it could doom the conversation and make any communication nearly impossible.

The final way poor communication can lead to divorce is through expectations and roles. With the shifting roles of women throughout the last 30-40 years, marriages have been affected as well. There is a push for equal roles in decision making in relationships which creates new opportunities for conflict.  Many of these conflicts can originate from the expectations an individual has about how a certain topic will be addressed before marriage, and then the actual behaviors that occur during the marriage, this dissonance can cause a lot of dissatisfaction and conflict for couples (Madden & Janoff-Bulman 1981). When poor communication skills are mixed in with this dissonance it can lead to detrimental problems for couples, ones that if not addressed can lead to a divorce.

In the past 20 years these findings about the ways that communication issues can contribute to divorce has been translated into couples’ communication programs.  Researchers have been quite successful in creating curriculums to teach to couples communication skills that can strengthen their relationships.  The most successful marital education program to date is Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP)( Markman, Stanley, & Blumberg (2001), which uses a cognitive-behavioral approach. PREP is structured to have 5 main sessions: Sessions 1 and 2 focus on communication skills training, session 3 focuses on problem-solving training, session 4 discusses clarification of marital expectations, and session 5 has a focus on sensual/sexual education and relationship enhancement (Markman et al., 1988). PREP has been shown to sustain its effectiveness over three years and measures its effectiveness on marital satisfaction, lower levels of relationship instability, relationship aggression, lower rates of divorce or breaking up, and more positive interaction. Interestingly, even with this widely research based program, in a 5 year follow-up, the only advantage the experimental group had over the control group was in communication skills and less physical violence in men (Markmen et al., 1993). There also seem to be many limitation to these programs, the biggest concern by many researchers is in fact these classes are not reaching couples that need them the most (low-income families). There also seems to be a gap in testing these programs with a diverse population which makes it nearly impossible to generalize the effectiveness of a program to a wide audience (Carroll & Doherty, 2003).

A way that these classes can be sure to reach more families is moving the program to an online delivery.  There has been one initial attempt by converting PREP to ePREP (Braithwaite & Finacham, 2009). They found in a six month follow up significant improvements in relationship satisfaction and communication skills. A proposed solution would be to create a program similar to PREP and ePREP but with more interaction utilizing the newest social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. When a program like this is created, it could assist many couples who are either reluctant about attending therapy, or do not have time or transportation to go to these classes. An online program could be taken in the convenience of one’s own house. Divorce education programs have already moved many of their co-parenting classes to the internet (Schramm, & Mccaulley, 2012), so to move marriage education classes there next would be a logical step. Using Facebook and Twitter can also help with these programs giving couples exercises to do at home and also help with supplying an open forum where couples can ask questions or just hear different experiences from other couples who are dealing with possibly the same issues as them.  This would also be a great way to post any new findings in the research to keep content up to date. As well, this would be a great application for phones so people can open this up when they have truly any free time, not only when they are in front of their computers. Combining empirical methods to improve communication skills with the newest technology of the 21st century can only help strengthen marriages and benefit families across the world.

There are a multiple of topics that couples fight about, yet it seems to be not what couples are fighting about that leads to divorce, rather how they are fighting (Gottman, 1999). It also has been observed that one of the leading predictors of divorce is poor communication (Bradbury and Karney, 1995). If we can teach couples how to approach these discussions with better communication, we could equip them with the power to strengthen their future marriages. It sometimes is not about being right that gets couples past a fight, but instead, just being heard, which a key concept is taught in communication training (Markman, Stanley, & Blumberg, 2001).


Braithwaite, S. R., & Fincham, F. D. (2009). A randomized clinical trial of a computer based preventive intervention: Replication and extension of ePREP. Journal of Family Psychology, 23, 32-38.

Carrere, S., & Gottman, J. (1999). Predicting Divorce among Newlyweds from the First Three Minutes of a Marital Conflict Discussion. Family Process, 38(3), 293-301.

Carroll, J. S., & Doherty, W. J. (2003). Evaluating the effectiveness of premarital prevention programs: A meta-analytic review of outcome research. Family Relations, 52, 105-18.

Center for disease control and prevention. (2011).  Divorce, marriage, and cohabitation rates. Retrieved from

Gottman, J.M. (1999). The seven principles for making marriage work. New York, NY: The Rivers Press.

Kamey, B. R., & Bradbury, T. N. (1995). The longitudinal course of marital quality and stability: A review of theory, methods, and research. Psychological Bulletin, 118, 3-34.

Kiecolt, G., Fisher, L., Ogrocki, P., Stout, J., Speicher, C., & Glaser, R. (1987). Marital quality, marital disruption, and immune function. Psychosomatic Medicine, 49, 13-34.

Madden, M. E., & Janoff-Bulman, R. (1981). Blame, control, and marital satisfaction: Wives’ attributions for conflict in marriage. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 43, 63-74.

Markman, H. J., & And, O. (1988). Prevention of marital distress: A longitudinal investigation. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 56, 10-17.

Markman, H. J., Renick, M., & Floyd, F. J. (1993). Preventing marital distress through communication and conflict management training: a 4- and 5-year follow-up. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 6170-77.

Markman, H., Stanley, S., & Blumberg, S. (2001). Fighting for your marriage: positive steps for preventing divorce and preserving a lasting love. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Oggins, J. (2003). Topics of marital disagreement among African-American and Euro-American newlyweds. Psychological Reports, 92, 419-425.

Sarrazin, J., & Cyr, F. (2007). Parental conflicts and their damaging effects on children. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 47, 77-93.

Schramm, D. G., & McCaulley, G. (2012). Divorce Education for Parents: A Comparison of Online and In-Person Delivery Methods. Journal Of Divorce & Remarriage, 53, 602-617. doi:10.1080/10502556.2012.721301

Understanding the Effects of Divorce on Children

One of the challenges in understanding the effects of divorce on children is that we frame the question in a way that prevents us from getting a deep understanding of the issues.

Most of the time we frame the question in terms of whether or not growing up in home with continuously married parents is better than one in which parents get divorced.

In this question we are comparing two structural arrangements of families without considering the marital or family processes that are embedded in these two structural arrangements.

A more fundamental question is what types of processes lead to better outcomes for children.  This leads to questions such as:

  1. Is it better if children have parental role models that demonstrate the ability to manage their anger and differences and resolve differences in constructive ways?
  2. Is it better if children have both mothers and fathers who are actively engaged in talking, playing, and teaching them?
  3. Is it better for children in they have parents who provide limits and rules about behavior and deeply caring and affectionate towards them?
  4. Is it better for children to have parents to communicate similar messages and expectations to them about what they should and shouldn’t do?
  5. Is it better for children if parents support one another in their involvement with the children?
  6. Are children better off when their parents demonstrate respect for each other?
  7. Are children better off when they aren’t exposed to physical and emotional abuse between their parents?

These are all process questions.  In general, research evidence shows that the answer to all of these questions is “yes.”  The research also shows us that both married and divorced parents can possess or not possess each of these processes.  There is also accumulating evidence that same sex couples can also possess or not possess these processes.

By focusing on the process questions in marriage, parenting and/or divorce education programs we can more broadly teach the skills and strategies that will help people be more effective in parenting regardless of the “structural” arrangement.

Does technology improve postdivorce relationships?

One of the major challenges divorce parents face is how to communicate effectively post-split, without major arguments. Self-help guides and divorced parenting programs regularly include strategies and suggestions about how to maintain a cordial working relationship with a former spouse. Why? Because one of the most consistent findings about what facilitates children’s adjustment post-divorce is the degree to which former partners limit conflict.

So it is not surprising that scientists have begun to examine whether new electronic communication tools can be a help or hindrance to parents working out their post-divorce relationships. Early work by Aimee Miller suggests that in some cases, e-mail may help faciilate post-divorce communication, but no one has taken an in-depth look at all of the available communication tools until now.

A team of scientists at the University of Missouri led by Lawrence Ganong and Marilyn Coleman studied a group of 49 parents (mostly mothers) after their divorce to determine how divorced parents use communication technologies to manage their coparenting. This qualitative study involved 60 to 90 minute interviews followed by detailed coding methods to extract common themes.

The authors conclude that “communication technologies… make boundary maintenance both easier and more challenging. They are unequivocally neither boon nor bane to divorced co-parents.” For the most part, it seems that the technology tools matter relatively little. Parents who are trying to work on co-parenting can use these tools to enhance their communication and parenting skills. On the other hand, parents who are having difficulty co-parenting together after divorce may use these tools to harass, control and mislead the other parent. The big challenge that remains for divorced parents is not what technology to use to communicate, but how to find a way to work together to raise their children.

For more see Huffington Post….

Parent Coordination Guidelines

“Parent coordination is  a nonadversarial dispute resolution process that is court ordered or agreed on by divorced and separated parents who have an ongoing pattern of high conflict and/or litigation about their children.”  APA, 2012.

This is the latest effort to provide more systematic and structured guidelines for professionals such as mediators, psychologists, therapists and attorneys who are providing parenting coordination for divorcing families who are unable to resolve conflicts.  One especially important aspect of these guidelines is an expectation that professionals involved in parenting coordination will work actively with other professionals who are involved in cases.  This is critical for families to not be buffeted by competing and/or conflicting advice from others involved in trying to help families manage or resolve conflict.

The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) has also produced a series of guidelines for parenting coordination.

AFCC has also produced guidelines and standards for divorce mediation, custody evaluation and other court related services to children and families.

New Findings from Divorce Science 2012

There are some very interesting new reports in the study of divorce in 2012.

The report by Lavner and Bradbury about “happy newlyweds who divorce” is an excellent analysis of what may be happening in many seemingly happy young couples.  There are important implications for those interested in couple and relationship education.  See my Huff Post summary of this study. 

Another interesting report is a 36 nation study of children of divorce and their outcomes.  Too often in the US our science is completely focused on samples of US children.  As a result we often miss important cultural and social welfare differences that may influence outcomes.

For more studies that we have found of special interest this year, see our working list of studies.