APA, D.C. Court Pilot Program to Ease Divorce Disputes
> 6/8/2007 11:25:29 AM

Divorce proceedings can unfold in a variety of ways. Sometimes amicable separations are possible, but just as often things can become messy. Children represent parents' biggest emotional investment, so when it comes to divorce, it makes sense that child custody battles can flare tempers and incite unusually negative interactions. These stressful disputes can take a toll on all relationships involved: not only the divorcing couple, but also the relationship between parent and child. At any age, custody battles can be a source of anxiety and stress for children unlike any other and lead to various negative mental health outcomes.

It was in the interest of avoiding the many problems that child custody battles can precipitate that the Family Court of the Superior Court of Washington, D.C. began piloting a program this February that seeks to educate parents about focusing on children's best interests to reach amicable custody situations. Developed with the help of the American Psychological Association, the program places parents and children, separately, with mental health professionals that help all parties explore the issues at hand in their relationships. With the parents, the program, entitled Program for Agreement and Cooperation in Child Custody Cases or PAC, focusses on mediation. By forcing parents to stay attuned to the lives of their children, it hopes to take the edge off of the debate and eventually come to a resolution that will satisfy all parties. The hope is that doing this type of work outside of the courtroom will lead to less arimonious settlements, and therefore less trauma and stress.

Meanwhile, as parents focus on their children, the children explore the idea of family with mental health workers. As the APA Monitor describes, the youths' sessions attempt to help children understand that family is not always about a mother and father being together every day, but about a foundation of support that can come in different shapes and sizes. The sessions are also done in group form so that children can interact with others their own age who are experiencing similar situations.

Many negative outcomes for children have been linked to divorce rates, so it is very encouraging to see the D.C. court taking such a proactive step. The trend of divorce nationwide has been slowing, and divorces have dropped off in D.C. in particular, but while there may be less divorce in general that doesn't mean that specific cases can't be damaging to those involved. If the PAC program proves successful, it could serve as a powerful model to other courts. And if this type of model spreads nationwide, we could be looking at not only fewer divorces, but less pain for those who decide that divorce is the only way for them.

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