Of Parent-Child Connections and Next-Gen Tools for Family Law Professionals

While the adversarial system has its strengths, few would argue that its impact is particularly positive in the lives of children after separation.

When I practiced a mix of civil and family litigation, a mentor of mine often said that “law is a substitute for warfare.” Bellicose terms like “A Litigators Arsenal” abound in the world of litigation, and comparison between legal and martial strategy and theory can get pretty deep (e.g. think Antonin Pribetic and his paper on strategic functionalism and Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, which preceded his award-winning blog, Trial Warrior). But while sharpening pikes for corporate clients in litigation may conjure certain romantic ideas of splattering the enemy’s guts all about the ramparts, anyone familiar with the costs of family law disputes incurred by children likely finds it depressing how court-based dispute resolution wrecks such collateral damage, whether that is measured emotionally, physically or financially.

We do have, of course, a new wave of family law professionals who engage in less nihilistic methods. In BC we have numerous rosters focused on softer means for addressing family breakdown, with a burgeoning array of professionals engaged in parenting coordination, child interviewing, mediation, collaborative family law and even arbitration.

As lawyers begin to hammer their swords into plowshares, many are exploring the toolboxes of family justice and children’s counselors, social workers, facilitators, and other professionals to see what types of nuanced tools facilitate peace, settlement and—importantly—communication. This includes communication with children, whether that’s between parents and children, or between family law professionals and kids torn between their parents in separation. What tools are good for reaching out to an upset child, for prompting their disclosure about their lives and views?

One tool in development that could be very interesting to family law professionals is a flashcard system called “Connection Deck”, which is the brainchild of a local BC facilitator called Daniel Lindenberger (who in the interests of full disclosure happens to be an old childhood friend of mine, but whom I had lost much contact with until I heard that he was doing this interesting project). The Connection Deck project is on Kickstarter, and describes itself thusly:

There are countless resources out there for parents, but Connection Deck takes a new approach. Rather than giving you advice or promoting a specific parenting philosophy, Connection Deck helps you connect with your own intuition, experience and wisdom around what makes adult-child interactions joyful, nurturing, and transformative.

Each of the 90+ cards in Connection Deck describes an underlying element that recurs in ever-changing ways in positive adult-child relationships. Each card explores something that will feel familiar, something you’re already aware of but that can be hard to remember in the moments when you need them.

The Connection Deck creators imagine it in the hands of parents, teachers, counselors, social workers, caregivers, and of course kids and teens themselves, but I would be curious to see how child interviewers preparing reports on the views of their subjects might use such a tool. The card deck concept is based on the successful Group Works Deck which is used for deliberative facilitated processes in more grown-up contexts, but the child-centered deck is claimed to be similarly useful. The Connection Deck’s general uses include ones I imagine have application, directly or as an aide, to the process of preparing views of the child reports, such as:

  • A common vocabulary for seeing, understanding and communicating deeply about family dynamics and individual needs
  • A way to process and debrief events or situations
  • A teaching tool
  • A way to start and/or deepen discussions about what’s important in family, school or life
  • A planning tool

The Connection Deck units price in around $35 (that’s the minimum donation that secures a pack in the event of successful crowd funding), and the art is being produced by artist Lalita Hamill, who has a particular aptitude for connecting the spheres of philosophy and law through her art. I liked this quite from her portfolio of philosophical paintings:

I consider it to be my life’s work to unite art and philosophy in a new way that will inspire conversation, realization, and understanding about what it means to be human. As you can see, my life’s work has just begun.

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