International Commission on Couple and Family Relations

2012 Workshops


‘The challenge of change – why collaboration between the law and social sciences can help at-risk Australian children’

Presenters: Robin Purvis (Australia) & Steven Page (Australia)

Robin Purvis is a clinical social worker, family therapist and mediator with 40 years’ practical experience working with individuals, families and children. She has been preparing expert assessments for various court jurisdictions and tribunals in Australia for 30 years. She is currently in private practice, where, in addition to her psychotherapy practice, she provides reports for the Family and Children’s Courts, mediation and conflict resolution with families and in the organisational context, professional development training and workshops on a range of subjects. Her special interest and research have been in childhood experience and implications for adult functioning.

Stephen Page is a partner of Harrington Family Lawyers, a boutique family law firm. Stephen was admitted as a solicitor in 1987. He has practised primarily in family law since then, becoming an accredited family law specialist in 1996. Stephen is on the panel of independent children’s lawyers. He is the only non-North American lawyer on the American Bar Association’s domestic violence lists. Stephen authors several blogs including the Australian Divorce Blog. He regularly conducts workshops or presents on a range of family law issues.


Recent Australian research (Parkinson, September 2011) has reported concerning outcomes for children over the past decade, linking major deterioration in youth mental health to fragile home lives impacted by unstable, conflictual family relationships.

Concurrent research findings have consistently identified the failure of the Family Court to make child-protective decisions. The presenters will identify the complexity of issues confronting the system, compounded by judicial systems, interdisciplinary tensions, lack of understanding of psycho-social factors and an adversarial process that precludes a realistic assessment of family dynamics.

The workshop will facilitate discussion of ideas and suggestions for a collaborative approach that could make for better outcomes for children, and will aim to facilitate discussion.


‘Debtors and their families may be confronted with an excessive burden of debt. For that purpose, a procedure of collective debt settlement was introduced in Belgium.’

Presenter: Jo van Campenhout (Belgium)

As a lawyer at the Brussels Bar (Belgium) since 1992, I specialize in the subject of collective debt settlement proceedings, sometimes called ‘debt mediation’. Through training and schooling in mediation, non-violent communication (M. Rosenberg) and other intervention techniques, I work at the crossroads of advocacy and psychology, imbued with a grounded spirituality.

Within such a framework, another vision of law and advocacy emerges, in which a lawyer can have a far greater social role than merely an actor in an ‘adversarial system’ by service in a culture of connection and consultation. I also sit as an active member on governmental and bar commissions and other panels. My social interest reveals itself throughout my participation in associations and societies in the social and cultural sector.


Debtors and their families may be confronted with a excessive burden of debt. For that purpose, a procedure of collective debt settlement was introduced in Belgium.

The procedure is imposed at the request of the debtor, and a debt mediator is appointed by the Labour Court. Judicial professionals (lawyers, notaries public, bailiffs) or welfare institutions (such as governmental social policy offices and social workers) are appointed.

A dual role for the debt mediator is emphasised in the law in relation to the debtor and his creditors: restoration, i.e. remedying the financial situation of the debtor and repayment of the creditors [judicial spear point] In relation to the debtor (and his family); and guaranteeing that the living conditions of the debtor and his family (and the children in that family) are reasonable  (human/social focus)

There are often clashes between the judicial and social/welfare policy experts. As a lawyer–debt mediator I have an unusual, even controversial approach, an integrative developmental and preventive approach that places debtors in a learning process to raise cooperation and avoid tension and escalation.

With the help of different (interaction) models and drawing on a case study, it will be possible in this workshop to share insights and experiences and answer questions.


‘Divorce and family mediation: process and intervention’

Presenter: Justin Levesque (Canada)

Justin Levesque, PhD, social worker, trainer and family mediator, practises mediation at The Training Institute for helping children and their families (IFACEF) in Montreal, Canada. He holds a Master’s degree in Social Work and a doctorate in Human Behavior (San Diego). He has been a trainer, consultant and practitioner in family and divorce mediation since 1985. Now retired, he taught for 22 years at the School of Social Work at the Université de Montréal, Canada. He has authored many articles on family mediation and wrote a book entitled La méthodologie de la médiation familiale.


Family mediation is an interdisciplinary approach aimed at managing interpersonal conflict arising from marital breakdown. Being neither couple therapy nor family law practice, this approach combines elements of both fields to humanise the experience of divorce and help couples, and mainly children, reorganise their family life after the separation.

Mediation straddles the legal and the psycho-social. It helps couples come to terms with their separation and promotes sound parental arrangements that take into consideration the interests of everyone involved. It is also an empowering process that suggests that parental responsibilities survive the break-up of the family.

First, we will briefly retrace the evolution of this approach in Europe and North America, specifically in Canada and Quebec, and identify its basic assumptions. Second, the different phases of the intervention process will be discussed and a distinction will be made between mediation, counseling and marital therapy. Third, the presentation will focus on how to manage interpersonal conflict, promote direct communication and use the appropriate negotiation techniques to reduce the effects of an emotional dispute between spouses and bring them to a point of readiness to cooperate. This will be an interactive workshop.


‘This workshop highlights an innovative community-based solution to strengthen families, which involves collaborative working between voluntary organisations and the National Health Service in the UK’

Presenter: Katharine Hill (UK)

Katharine Hill is Director of Family Policy at Care for the Family, a national charity which aims to strengthen family life and help families in difficulty.

Katharine leads on Care for the Family’s policy agenda, representing the organisation at the highest level of government. She is Co-Chair of Kids in the Middle, a policy-focused coalition of 28 national family charities and 29 agony aunts. She speaks and writes widely on family issues.
Prior to joining Care for the Family in 2004, Katharine was a solicitor, specialising in family law. Her work centred on divorce, including custody and finance, care proceedings and other aspects of family breakdown. For a number of years, Katharine also ran a Legal Advice Centre in a socially deprived area of Bristol, which gave her a keen understanding of the legal and sociological issues surrounding marriage and family breakdown. Katharine has also served as a magistrate in Bristol.


The workshop addresses both the content of the course and the unique delivery method. The cost of family breakdown to the UK taxpayer is estimated at £42 billion pa. Relationship education based on existing community schemes has been shown to strengthen families and to prevent family breakdown.

Let’s Stick Together is Care for the Family’s universal preventative relationship education programme. It is delivered by a network of trained volunteers to first-time parents via postnatal health clinics. This unique access point makes the service available to all and enables the programme to reach a wide range of families.

Let’s Stick Together teaches three evidence-based principles. The focus is on three predictors of relationship outcomes in the early years of parenthood: ‘Bad Habits’, ‘Good Habits’ and ‘Father Involvement’. Bad habits are ‘STOP’ signs: S scoring points, T thinking the worst, O opting out and P putting down. Good habits are the five love languages: Time, Words, Actions, Gifts and Touch. Father involvement includes identifying a risk factor (pushing Dad away) and a protective factor (making time together).

The course has run successfully in the city of Bristol. Working collaboratively with the National Health Service, trained volunteers have reached 25% of all first-time mothers in the area and evaluation results are overwhelmingly positive. Care for the Family have now received government funding to roll the programme out nationally.


‘Co-mediation: lawyers and social workers – an excellent combination. Teamwork is required to make mediation effective. A cross-pollination of skills and a skills exchange between the lawyer and the social worker must occur.’

Presenter: Melindi van Rooyen (South Africa)

FAMSA: Senior Social Worker. Responsibilities: family and marriage counselling; mediation; liaison with court and attorneys.


– Definition of mediation and co-mediation
– Discussion on why co-mediation between social workers and lawyers can be successful in the mediation process
– The artful skill of mediation
– Brainstorm the artful skill of mediation


The juristic approach of winner-takes-all is on one side of the professional spectrum. The whole system of litigation is adversarial by nature, steeped in battles of law. This results in an order that decides a winner and a loser. We will explore what skills lawyers are challenged to develop to become skilled mediators.


On the other side of the same spectrum you will find the social worker. The approach taken by the social worker is more emotive than the winner-takes-all approach. Social work is a profession concerned with helping individuals, families, groups and communities to enhance their individual and collective well-being. We will discuss and explore what skills social workers are challenged to develop to become skilled mediators.


Teamwork is required to make mediation effective. A cross-pollination of skills and a skills exchange between the lawyer and the social worker must occur. We will discuss the excellent combination of skills that becomes available when lawyers and social workers co-mediate.


‘Is it still permissible for a family lawyer to act on a strictly juridical basis?’

Presenter: Irene Dijkmans (Belgium)

Irene Dijkmans (°1956) studied Law (cum laude, 1980) and Notary Law at the University of Leuven, Belgium). She has been active in private practice since 1982, especially as a family lawyer. At first she combined the jobs of candidate notary and lawyer, but since 1999 she has been acting as a family lawyer and mediator. She has her own private practice as an Accredited Mediator and a Deputy Judge. She was a practice teacher in Family Mediation at the University of Leuven and is an assistant at the Mediation Institute Flanders (MEDIV). Through theoretical training and her practical experience from various perspectives (family lawyer, mediator, judge and candidate notary), she has developed a great involvement in and expertise in family conflicts.

Thanks to my years of experience and consideration of many different points of view, I have learnt that, especially in a family conflict, you must not, as a professional, add grief and suffering to a situation. Instead, you have to start trying to contribute to the personal growth and accountability of the people involved. The individual providing aid and assistance cannot be effective while he/she is questioning his/her own position and assignment.

In my position as family lawyer, I am convinced that a strictly juridical behaviour rarely achieves the desired result. The well-being of the client and his/her environment should be the ultimate concern of the lawyer.

In the workshop we will explore how, without compromising legal assistance to the client, the lawyer can contribute to reaching the objectives mentioned above. We will have a look at how this can lead to a less distinct separation between the various professions that work with families. Of course, the child always occupies a central position in such matters.

In the workshop, we can discuss a few examples, such as non-violent communication with others, determining a road map with the client, etc.


‘Family policies: it is necessary to distribute monetary allowances or to develop services and facilities?’

Presenter: Philippe Steck (France)
CNAF, Direction des relations internationales


In Europe, the distribution of family benefits in the form of monetary allowances is more dominant in the French and Belgian systems, whereas the Scandinavian countries give more importance to services and facilities (childcare, family mediation, access to housing, parenting help).

The French-speaking African countries pay similar allowances to those in the French system.

However, change is happening. In France, the system of social action is evolving more quickly than the family benefits system, which is only just keeping up with inflation.

The new needs of families invite us to think about striking an appropriate balance between distributing monetary aid to equalise living standards and fight poverty and providing services and equipment.


A. The ageing of families is going to necessitate new services for households where people have a longer life expectancy but are more likely to be dependent on aid. The same is true of home care.

B. Reconciling family life and professional life will require good opportunities for parental leave vacation, but also more day nurseries or nursery assistants and home helps.

C. The global increase in single-parent families (likely to reach 25% in Europe in the next few years, numbers currently exploding in South America, a new phenomenon beginning in China) will require not only basic welfare benefits but also services of family mediation.

D. The emergence of individualism and its consequences in the behaviour of young people will require support, called ‘positive parenthood’ in the European Union, combined with national education.

E. Access to housing, now an essential part of the family budget, will become more difficult if householders are unable to meet rent payments.

F. The emerging countries, in the battle against the informal economy, and within the framework of a global construction of social welfare, will be forced to think about ways and means to assure a fair social redistribution.

In conclusion, if we know enough about how to take monetary measures for social redistribution, could we now consider the possible positive effects of social cohesion resulting from providing services and facilities?


‘Parenting together: a service for parents in post-separation conflict over their children. The Tavistock Centre for Couple Relations.’

Presenters: Susanna Abse, Leezah Hertzmann (UK)

Susanna Abse is CEO of The Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships (TCCR). Before training as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist, she worked for many years with troubled adolescents. She is a full member of the British Society of Couple Psychotherapists and Counsellors and past Vice-Chair. She was Programme Leader at TCCR for the MA in the Psychoanalytic Study of the Couple Relationship between 2001 and 2005. She has published on a range of issues to do with couples and families and teaches and lectures internationally.

Leezah Hertzmann is both a couple and individual psychoanalytic psychotherapist based at the Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships, where she is head of the Parenting Together Service. Prior to this, she was Child Mental Health Adviser to the Department of Children, Schools and Families in the UK, working on the development of policies and practice in the area of family mental health in educational settings. Her previous experience includes working as Research Psychotherapist at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust, on a number of published research studies, investigating and developing interventions for parents and children. She has a particular interest in the role of conflict in family life and the development of psychological interventions to address this.


The Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships, founded in 1948, is renowned as a centre of excellence for research, training and clinical services aimed at the needs of adult couples. As part of our clinical services, since 2007 we have been developing a service for parents who are in chronic conflict about parenting styles and issues and who have had or are continuing to have involvement with the family justice system over the care of and contact with their children. We have developed this service using a new model of intervention based on Mentalisation Based Therapy (Allen & Fonagy, 2006) which is a practical, evidence-based and brief psychological treatment. The aim of the therapy is to develop and strengthen the parenting alliance by reducing manifest anger between the parents, hence ameliorating the harmful effects of ongoing, poorly resolved, child-focused conflict. High conflict between parents, particularly when it is focused on the child, produces poor outcomes for children (Dunn, 2007; Cummings and Davies, 2002; Harold, Shelton, Goeke-Morey and Cummings, 2004). This service has shown the enormous demand there is for a therapy that can work with separated couples who cannot make collaborative arrangements to parent their children and whose conflicts interfere with their capacity to keep their child’s experience to the fore. While there are many agencies who will offer help to the children whose parents are in conflict, solicitors, clinical psychologists, social workers and other professionals are anxious to find help for the parental couple when mediation is not an appropriate or effective solution.

TCCR has developed this pioneering therapy with support from and in collaboration with Professors Peter Fonagy and Mary Target, based at the Anna Freud Centre/University College London, UK. The UK Department for Education is currently funding a randomised control trial of the intervention, which is about to get underway. Mentalisation Based Therapy has been evaluated as effective with a variety of patient populations, particularly those patients suffering from borderline personality disorder. The model of intervention is particularly suited to couples engaged in high levels of conflict, as they are frequently in highly aroused and poorly regulated states of mind. The structure of Mentalisation Based Therapies can help them manage their complex and conflicted feelings in order that they can not only come to collaborative arrangements about their children, but also keep in mind both the child’s experiences and emotional needs. This workshop will explore the challenges of working with these parents and couples and the particular clinical difficulties posed to clinicians. Our model of intervention will be described and routine evaluation of service effectiveness and user participation feedback presented.


‘Solution-oriented consulting for family courts – presentation plus interaction’

Presenter: Heinrich NOELLE (Germany)

Heinrich O. Noelle, Dipl.-Psych., M.ED., School of Education, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA, USA. Family therapist, psychologist, psychotherapist. Born in Berlin. Has worked on three continents. Eleven years in Hoyerswerda in East Germany, a heavily deindustrialised, surface-coal-mining community. Now based in Dresden, Saxony, he is a consultant to family courts in cases of extra-high conflict involving children or adolescents. Interest in evolving alternate paths of conflict resolution. State-of-the-art-diagnosed with and publicly confessing to an adult ADD personality ‘without hyperactivity’.
This presentation will give an outline of a special framework within which to work with family courts and social agencies in a community. A growing number of family courts in Germany are asking expert witnesses to consult in a solution-oriented way with parties struggling before the court over (their) children. This applies, at the discretion of the judge, in cases of extra-high conflict. Consultation happens outside the court or directly during court proceedings with the judge, lawyers, the struggling parties, the Youth Department and often others present.

Participants could be judges, lawyers, social workers and counsellors or family therapists, who show an interest in going beyond the limits of the counsellor’s consulting room or the therapy room and using all their wits to explore the furrows and pitfalls of a high-conflict arena. This is a place for here-and-now venturing into the unexpected – and for leaving one’s mark.


‘Incarcerated parents: effective family law and parenting education is vital both to incarcerated parents and the well-being of their children. Two approaches to supporting parents in prison.’

Presenters: Eve Sullivan, Andrew Cohen, Robert Wojcik (USA)

Eve Sullivan, founder of Parents Forum and Arminta Jacobson Parenting Education Professional of the Year 2011, has a Master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She is the author of Where the Heart Listens: a Handbook for Parents and their Allies in a Global Society. Eve, mother of three and grandmother of two, sees the effort to develop positive ways of expressing feelings and managing one’s internal and interpersonal conflicts as key to successful parenting. She found her volunteer work with Parents Forum at MCI-Norfolk (two workshops/year 2003–2008) very rewarding.

Andrew Cohen has represented parents and children for the Committee for Public Counsel Services Children and Family Law (CAFL) Division since 1995. In his current position as Director of Appeals, Andrew Cohen oversees the work of the 130-member CAFL appellate panel, conducts trial and appellate training and maintains a small trial and appellate caseload. He has authored articles and book chapters on evidence, parent representation and child welfare trial and appellate practice. He has lectured at the American Bar Association, the National Center for Adoption Law & Policy and the Massachusetts and Boston Bar Associations.

Robert Wojcik currently works in job development at CareerPoint in Holyoke, Massachusetts. An inmate at MCI-Norfolk for 15 years, he was granted parole in 2009. He credits his productive re-engagement in society to the support he received while in prison. Robert Wojcik worked with both Andrew Cohen and Eve Sullivan on bringing their respective programmes to incarcerated parents. While at Norfolk, he co-founded Children of Incarcerated Parents (COIP) with Mike Mims. COIP continues to provide school supplies – and now play supplies – for children with parents in prison. Bob is a strong advocate for provision of parenting resources to incarcerated parents.


Effective family law is of concern to incarcerated parents and is vital to the well-being of their children. This workshop will discuss two approaches to supporting parents in prison.

Many incarcerated men and women file cases each year in efforts to see their children and deal with child support issues. The Boston Bar Association sponsored a programme, presented by Andrew Cohen from the Committee for Public Council Services (CPCS), to bring awareness of family law issues to incarcerated parents.

Since the legal standard in Family Courts is the best interests of the child, an incarcerated parent’s ability to parent must be considered. Parenting education for incarcerated parents can make a powerful, positive difference in their lives and the lives of their children. Parents Forum has worked with prisoners to teach emotional awareness and communication skills.

Greater awareness of the two programmes mentioned above, which started in Massachusetts and are active in the prison system, will benefit those involved with Family Courts. An incarcerated parent needs to be able to say to his or her child, ‘Don’t be like me, but love as I love you.’ The presenters will speak from first-hand experience with these programmes and share both personal and professional insights.