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Entries in Cochem (2)


International Shared Parenting Conference

Over 200 delegates attended the fourth international conference on shared parenting in Strasbourg on 22nd-23rd November 2018.  The conference was held in the Council of Europe building and the opening session was addressed by Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe.

She said: “There is an apparent, growing consensus that, when possible, shared parenting should be supported as part of separation and divorce arrangements.”

Shared parenting aims to maintain positive relationships between children and their parents in high-conflict separations and empower parents to meet their parental responsibilities in an equal way, she stressed.

The concept extends the principle of gender equality and challenges the stereotype of the father as breadwinner and the mother as nurturing carer and homemaker, still deeply entrenched in many cultures and still playing a role in many custody agreements.

However, shared parenting should not become a goal in itself or a systematic resumption: there are cases when shared custody does not correspondent to the child’s best interests. The decision on whether shared parenting is the best solution must take into account the individual circumstances, such as situations of intra-family violence, as well as the child’s views and expressed position.

The president of the International Council of Shared Parenting (ICSP) Edward Kruk, Associate Professor of Social Work at the University of British Columbia, stated that this conference marks the watershed in shared parenting, it is now established as a norm.  Those who oppose shared parenting have to prove why it should not take place.

Regina Jensdottir, Head of the Children´s Rights Division of the Council of Europe also mentioned moving on from gender stereotypes.  Both men and women have the right to balance work and parenting, shared parenting is a way forward for this. Efficient and fast moving justice systems are very important if cases have to go to court and non-compliance with court orders is a serious issue.

Amongst the many contributions to the ICSP conference two judicial presentations stood out. Marie-France Carlier, a judge at the Namur Family Court in Belgium described how family courts have developed since the Belgian law was changed in 2006 to a rebuttable presumption of shared parenting.  There is principle of one family, one file and one judge with speedy procedures - 15 days to consider decisions.

She noted that the judge has to conciliate. Their first task is to reconcile people. They have to prioritise shared parenting but are free to decide otherwise.  The person who doesn't want shared parenting has to provide reasons such as distance, very young children or child protection.  Equal shared residence has been ordered in 50% of cases in Liege and 48% in Anvers. Priority actions include reducing the hurtfulness of words in court papers, meeting strict time deadlines, keeping children in touch with what is happening, the use of mediation and consensus, preventing alienation from becoming embedded. 

Jürgen Rudolph described how he is spreading the word in various countries about the Cochem system that he developed as a family judge in Germany.  This involves linking the work of all the professionals around the court: judges, lawyers, psychologists youth workers and social workers. 

The goal is to get the parents to "look in the eyes of their children and get them talking again. Early intervention is vital. The lawyer bringing the case is only allowed to submit one page to the court and the other side is not allowed to write anything.  Rather than having lots of paper the professionals have to speak with the parents and children. Court hearings should take place within one or two weeks.  The court can put pressure on the parents to go on a journey and see the situation through the eyes of the child. 

Families Need Fathers Scotland hopes to invite judges Carlier and Rudolph to speak in Scotland in 2019 as a contribution to the discussion of changes in Scottish family law and court procedures.  Their hand's on experience of how radically different systems can bring major benefits for both families and courts should make a valuable contribution to this discussion.

Ian Maxwell from FNFS brought this Scottish debate to the attention of delegates in a workshop session describing how we are "Still Beating the Drum For Shared Parenting".  


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.