Research and Practice in the U.S. for Resolving Conflicts Involving Children: Focusing on High-Conflict Cases

This is a draft translation of pages 149-151 of Research and Practice in the U.S. for Resolving Conflicts Involving Children: Focusing on High-Conflict Cases (Family lawsuit study group, volume 272, page 149, August 2002, Shinji Ozawa).

Introduction

 As the number of divorcing families increases, disputes over post-divorce custody and parent-child visitation are on the rise. In recent years, as Japan’s family values have become more diverse, and as awareness of human rights within the family has increased, it has been pointed out that the number of highly contentious and difficult-to-solve cases has increased. In the United States, where two out of three couples end up divorcing, disputes over children are becoming increasingly violent. I have had the opportunity to study the handling of family cases in Oregon, the United States, focusing on the family courts and related agencies, and one of the major topics of discussion in the U.S. courts is assistance for high conflict families. Therefore, in this paper, I would like to introduce the actual situation of disputes over children in the U.S. and various attempts to resolve them, focusing on high-conflict cases.

1 The reality of divorce and visitation in the United States

 Since the 1970s, irresponsible divorce has been adopted in the United States, and legal and social obstacles to divorce have been removed. In addition, as women have entered the workforce, it has become possible for women to become economically independent. The number of divorces in the U.S. in 1997 was about 1.2 million, about three times as many as in 1960.

 Divorce is not only the loss of one parent, but also the loss of many other things, such as a familiar home, schoolmates, a family image, and a financially stable life, resulting in a psychological effect known as the grief response. Children whose parents have divorced may become highly anxious, seek approval excessively, and blame themselves for the divorce, thinking that they are bad children (1). (1) Wallerstein et al. conducted an empirical study on the situation of children who have experienced divorce, which had a significant impact on society (2). (2) Wallerstein et al. interviewed 60 divorced families with minor children every five years to study the effects of divorce on children over a long period of time. The results of the five-year study revealed that the children who adapted well to life after divorce and had the best psychological state were those who continued to have regular contact with the day-care parent. In other words, children who maintained a good relationship with their parents after divorce had higher self-esteem and were less likely to be depressed due to their parents' divorce (3). This report supported the idea that it is desirable for parents to work together to care for their children after divorce, and expanded the notion that divorce is not the breakup of a family, but the creation of two homes for children, “Mom’s home” and “Dad’s home.

 These empirical studies have led us to believe that children experiencing divorce need (1) an explanation of divorce (that divorce is not the child’s responsibility and that the relationship with both parents is guaranteed after divorce), (2) a consistent pattern of life (a consistent schedule for visitation is preferable), and (3) redundant support. (3) redundant support. In fact, in the U.S., picture books that gently explain divorce to children using dinosaurs as the main characters and guidebooks that explain how to explain divorce to children are sold. Also, legally, non-custodial parents are allowed to have frequent visitation with their children. For example, Oregon law states that both parents share the right and responsibility for the upbringing of the child after separation, and that the noncustodial parent is guaranteed continuous and frequent contact with the child (Oregon Revised Statute 107.101). It also stipulates that, except in exceptional cases such as abuse, a person who is willing to promote interaction between the noncustodial parent and the child is the appropriate nurse (ORS 107.137). Furthermore, Portland, Oregon has established a “standard for visitation,” which states that, according to the age of the child, (1) two hours of visitation per week until the child is 18 months old, (2) six hours of visitation per week until the child is 30 months old, (3) visitation every other Friday from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Saturday until the child is three years old (4) visitation every other Friday from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Saturday until the child is three years old or older. The “standard” is 6:00 p.m. every other Friday to 6:00 p.m. on Sunday for ages 3 and above, and in addition, two weeks of visitation is allowed during summer vacation.

 Although the standard is not suitable for all families, and considering that visitation should be allowed according to the actual situation of the family, in the surveys and arbitration court cases I observed, many of them were close to the standard and frequent visitation was allowed.

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