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« Law grants custody rights to Swiss fathers | Main | Scottish child contact and residence laws should be reviewed »
Sunday
Jul202014

The family judge who changed his approach

In one of the keynote speeches at the ICSP conference, retired German family judge Jürgen Rudolph described how he developed a radically different approach to family cases.

This came about in response to the frustration of handling family disputes in court and he freely confessed that, before this revelation "I created a lot of havoc as a family judge and hid behind the experts."

This approach to parental conflict resolution is known as the Cochem system, named for the court district in which it was developed. Judge Rudolph brought together a working group of magistrates, court officials, mediators and lawyers to work out a way of committing all parties to resolve disputes without conflict.

While some lawyers were initially reluctant to change their approach and stop putting their client's interests uppermost, the group eventually developed a code of practice with the following main provisions: 

- The lawyer shall guide his technical-legal advice and oral and written arguments in such a way that parents are encouraged to restrict their differences of opinion and are supported to do this.
- The lawyer shall prioritise the principle that the judicial process of parental separation is not a fight where there is a winner and a loser but, rather, a search for fair solutions. 
 - Wherever possible, the lawyer shall direct the parents to provide truthful and honest information which drives frank discussion. 
- The lawyer shall use one language directed towards and for agreement, taking care to exercise self-control and seeking to express respect for the other party's point of view. 
- The lawyer shall be especially attentive to his choice of words in his written pieces in order to ensure this. 

The guidance for judges that was developed specified that they should find out about the resources of the parents, rather than their shortcomings, and that early intervention in contact disputes is essential.  The Cochem model is based on orderly and interdisciplinary co-operation between the various professionals working for the resolution of parental conflicts. Over 90% of cases can achieve consensual and lasting solutions using this approach.
The Cochem separation/divorce working group has now evolved into the Institute for Interdisciplinary Training  
and the ideas are being studied with interest across the world.

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