On October 18 and 19, 2012, AFCC-O held its Fourth Annual General Meeting and Conference, The GPS of Family Law….The Road Not Taken. Our tradition of new, interdisciplinary and innovative programming continued, much to the delight of the approximately 260 people who attended. The morning featured an exploration of the dynamics at play and options available to a couple experiencing the breakdown of their relationship. This was done through a role-play featuring Ashley Waye and Michael Kleinman, two Toronto area lawyers and members of AFCC-O. Ashley and Michael played a separating couple, who were exploring their options with the various friends and professionals involved in the system. The session was moderated by the Honourable Justice Mary Lou Benotto, Mr. Philip Epstein, Q.C. and Dr. Barbara Fidler.
From this session, we learned that all of the professionals involved with the family have important but different roles to play, and they should conduct themselves in ways that consider not only in the best interests of the client but also the best interests of the children involved. The audience generally agreed that lawyers set the tone for how the issues will be resolved, and influence whether parents progress through the stages of the separation, or decide to take steps to attempt reconciliation. The morning program allowed for audience participants to weigh in on the pros and cons of each step, or possible road from the perspective of their particular profession. Without a doubt, the interactive presentation led to a greater appreciation among all participants of the roles various professionals can play and how these can be coordinated when working with separated and divorcing families.
The afternoon began with a reminder that families live on even after they have completed their involvement with the court system or professionals. Our files may be closed but the lives of the families continue. The children grow up and live with the consequences of the decisions of their parents. Moderated by Deborah Moskovitch, the session, “What Adult Children of Divorce Have to Say”, featured the results of a qualitative study conducted by lawyer and researcher, Dr. Denise Whitehead hearing the voices of young adults who lived in shared parenting arrangements. This provocative presentation was followed by the personal and compelling stories told by three adults who experienced very different divorce scenarios growing up.
While we all recognize the difficulty that the families going through separation and divorce experience, we can make a difference to ease the process for them, hopefully contributing to a positive outcome for children and parents. Learning how to manage our clients, some of whom are particularly challenging, was the focus of the second afternoon panel. “When your Client is the Obstacle on the Road to Success: Dealing with Challenging Clients.” This session was moderated by the Honourable Justice Sheilagh O’Connell and featured social worker, Jacqueline Vanbetlehem, family law lawyer, Brian Burke and psychologist and psychoanalyst, Dr. Arthur Leonoff. The take away lessons were many: appreciate that your client is suffering through the worst time of their life and needs extra time and patience; be clear and transparent in all steps taken so that your client can feel included and part of the process that impacts their life, and even though the client may be reluctant, establish clear rules and expectations for the protection of everyone involved.
The day wrapped up in fine, if not comical, style with a Canadian celebrity (the Honourable Justice Harvey Brownstone) and our own “Dr. Phil” (Mr. Philip Epstein) providing an update on important current cases. Program attendees had high expectations for this duo and they were not disappointed. Notwithstanding that this session was held at 3:15 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, the audience hung on to every word uttered by two of the finest public speakers in the country. At the conclusion of the day, everyone left invigorated with new perspectives on the work we do and happy to have had the chance to renew bonds and acquaintances with our colleagues and friends at the social event on Thursday evening and throughout the program day.