Pre-Conference Institutes 1 & 2

9:30AM - 1:00PM

1. From Intake to In Court

Trial Track

This institute will utilize a fact pattern to address how attorneys analyze a case from the moment the client calls for a consultation until the court calls the case for trial. Presenters will discuss issues including client interviewing and counseling, managing client expectations, analyzing case facts, selecting and working with a mental health consultant, preparing for the child custody forensic evaluation, for discovery and depositions, motion practice, and for trial.


Arnold T. Shienvold, PhD, Riegler, Shienvold & Associates, Harrisburg, PA
Lawrence Jay Braunstein, Esq., Braunstein & Zuckerman, White Plains, NY

2. Controversies in Parenting Coordination: Bridging the Divides

Parenting Coordination Track

Parenting coordination, largely developed in North America over the last two decades, is now utilized worldwide, although the process looks very different across jurisdictions. To properly employ parenting coordination for clients, practitioners must be aware of the process differences across different legal frameworks. While parenting coordination generally addresses controversies between parents, some conflicts are integral to the process itself: informed consent, confidentiality, access to justice, the timing of the appointment, its purpose (whether PC’s primary function should be resolving and arbitrating disputes or the larger purpose of developing effective coparenting techniques), and whether the PC process can be an improper delegation of judicial authority are all issues to be explored in this advanced session on the evolution of parenting coordination.

Debra K. Carter, PhD, National Cooperative Parenting Center, Bradenton, FL
Barbara Jo Fidler, PhD, Families Moving Forward, Toronto, ON, Canada
Annette T. Burns, Esq., Phoenix, AZ


1:00PM - 2:00PM

Pre-Conference Institutes 3 & 4

2:00PM - 5:30PM

3. Integrating Technology into Your Practice: Opportunities and Challenges

The COVID-19 pandemic has created technology-related challenges and opportunities for legal and mental health professionals working in the family courts. These approaches to technology involve both the same skills as in-person procedures and a set of considerations and skills specific to using emerging technologies. This institute will address the practical considerations used by the presenters to conduct legal services (representation, alternative dispute resolution, litigation, etc.), and mental health services (online dispute resolution ((ODR)), tele-behavioral health services, and remote-child custody evaluations).


J. Benjamin Stevens, Esq., AAML Vice President, Spartanburg, SC
Sandra (Sandy) Brooks, JD, Fellow AAML, Bethesda, MD
Matthew J. Sullivan, PhD, AFCC Former President, Santa Cruz, CA

4. Refuse/Resist Cases: Getting the Mental Health and Legal Communities to Speak the Same Language

Over the last decade, there has been a proliferation in clinical writing on the development, evaluation, and reporting on various treatment models and approaches for working to reduce strained parent-child relationships. Despite noteworthy developments, these cases are complex and continue to challenge those looking for easy answers. Currently, there are no practice guidelines available and there are mixed results about the safety and efficacy of existing programs. When assessing refuse/resist cases, legal professionals must be conversant with the latest literature and be prepared to present this in court. This institute will identify the various approaches, consider the empirical evidence, and report on the overall safety and efficacy of these approaches and to identify how this can be presented to a court.

Louise T. Truax, Esq., Reich & Truax, PLLC, Southport, CT
Michael A. Saini, PhD, MSW, RSW, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada

Opening Plenary Session

10:00AM - 11:30AM

Technology in a Covid (or Post-Covid) World: A Practical and Ethical Guide to Family Law Practice

For better or worse, the pandemic has forced family court, dispute resolution, legal, and mental health professionals to adapt to a variety of challenges in a short amount of time. Zoom hearings, online mediation, and remote child custody evaluations may seem like expeditious and effective solutions, but what are the risks involved? Are videoconference parent-child observations ethical for custody evaluators? Can family law attorneys adequately represent their clients when presenting testimony and evidence in remote hearings? Are self-represented litigants at a disadvantage in a remote hearing? How can mediators working online be assured of safe and confidential settings for the parties? This panel will examine both the practical and ethical challenges of working remotely and explore the possibilities for the future when all options are on the table.


J. Benjamin Stevens, Esq., AAML Vice President, Spartanburg, SC
Mindy F. Mitnick, EdM, MA, AFCC President, Edina, MN
Hon. Elizabeth Kellas, Winchester, VA
Moderator: Maria P. Cognetti, Esq., Cognetti & Associates, Harrisburg, PA


11:30AM - 12:00PM

Sessions 1 & 2

12:00PM - 2:00PM

1. Objection! Overruled! Sustained! Evidentiary Considerations When Using a Mental Health Expert in Child Custody Litigation

Trail Track

The involvement of mental health experts is not new to custody litigation. Sometimes there is frustration, failure to communicate, or even lack of preparation between mental health experts and the lawyers who hire them. Often that tension is rooted in the development, admissibility, and presentation of evidence that requires work and cooperation between the lawyer and the mental health professional. This session offers guidance for both lawyers and mental health professionals related to evidentiary hurdles that arise before and during a custody trial. It will address common pre-trial evidentiary motions, trial evidentiary objections, and responses to both as they relate to testimony and reports offered by mental health experts in custody trials. Presenters will also explore how lawyers and mental health professionals can work together to ensure the information and reports from a mental health professional will pass evidentiary muster so the court will have the information needed to make a decision beneficial to your client.

Kim R. Bonuomo, Esq., Allman Spry Davis Leggett & Crumpler, PA, Winston-Salem, NC
Katie B. Connell, Esq., Connell Cummings, LLC, Atlanta, GA
Kate McNamara, PhD, Kathleen McNamara, PHD, PLLC, Fort Collins, CO

2. Parenting Coordination: Who’s Calling the Shots?

Parenting Coordination Track

This session will highlight the uneven jurisdictional terrain across North America as it relates to a parenting coordinator’s (PC’s) role and scope of authority, as well as the potential advantages and perils of navigating a facilitative versus decision-making role. The relationship tension between the PC, lawyers for parties, parents, and the court will also be discussed emphasizing the importance of the order of appointment. A model for ethical decision-making will be introduced and guidelines to promote best practices will be reviewed.

Annette T. Burns, Esq., Phoenix, AZ
Debra K. Carter, PhD, National Cooperative Parenting Center, Bradenton, FL


2:00PM - 2:30PM

Sessions 3 & 4

2:30PM - 4:30PM

3. The Child’s Voice in Rashomon: The Mental Health Professional, the Child Advocate, and the Judge

There are a variety of methods for eliciting and presenting the child’s perspective in family disputes, e.g., evaluator observations, child advocate meetings, and judicial interviews. But there is little clarity about how child statements are weighed, how differing interview contexts are selected and considered, and how interviews impact children in high conflict parenting disputes. This session will focus on weighing the child’s voice in context and considering the impact of interviews on children. Presenters will utilize scenarios of children in middle and high school, exploring multi-disciplinary perspectives, and judicial challenges.

Stacey E. Platt, Esq., Loyola University Chicago School of Law, Chicago, IL
Hon. Linda Fidnick, Hampshire Probate and Family Court, Northampton, MA
Marsha Kline Pruett, PhD, ABPP, Smith College School for Social Work, Northampton, MA

4. Flying High: Substance Misuse, Parenting, and Family Court

This session will focus on how to proceed when substance misuse dynamics are present in a child custody case. Due to stigma and a lack of understanding about addiction, courts often impose conditions and interventions that are contrary to best practices and addiction research. Uninformed court responses can destabilize the parent-child relationship, negatively impact coparenting, and unwittingly harm family systems. Drawing on the latest research and neuroscience, this session will help attorneys, judges, and mental health professionals to set realistic expectations, effectively manage relapse, and institute safeguards that can be implemented to protect children and parents. Practical science-informed tips will also be provided for attorneys to use when grappling with these challenging cases.

Stephanie Tabashneck, PsyD, Esq., Wellesley, MA
Jeffrey A. Soilson, Esq., Fitch Law Partners LLP, Boston MA

Sessions 5 & 6

1:30PM - 3:30PM

5. He Said/She Said: How to Discern and Prove the Existence of Intimate Partner Violence and Its Impact on Children

Detecting and protecting survivors engaged in the legal system is often difficult for legal professionals. Add in the complexity of coercive control and fashioning safe and appropriate parenting plans that respond to these dynamics and you have some of the most challenging cases for family law professionals. These survivors and their children often go unnoticed because most family law professionals do not have sufficient education and skills to obtain the information necessary to identify these families. Further, even when these families are identified, the legal system often fails them. This session will provide participants with the information, skills, and approaches to rout out these facts when interviewing family members in any family law context and help decision-makers accurately assess credibility in these cases, especially when confronted with no tangible evidence of abuse.

Danielle Pugh-Markie, MPA, Director of Judicial Education and Leadership, Center for Court Innovation, New York, NY
Linda A. Delaney, JD, Delaney Stafford LLC, Chevy Chase, MD

6. Direct and Cross Examination of a Child Custody Forensic Evaluator

Trial Track

This session will utilize the fact pattern addressed in pre-conference institute #1, and will focus on preparing and conducting a direct and cross examination of a child custody evaluator. Presenters will address evidentiary rulings, qualification of an expert, effective utilization of the child custody report, existing literature and child custody evaluation standards and protocols, electronic evidence, and virtual child custody evaluations.


Hon. Kathie Davidson, Administrative Judge, Ninth Judicial District, NY
April Harris-Britt, PhD, AHB Center for Behavioral Health and Wellness, Durham, NC
Lawrence Jay Braunstein, Esq., Braunstein & Zuckerman, White Plains, NY


3:30PM - 4:00PM

Sessions 7 & 8

4:00PM - 6:00PM

7. Challenges in Parenting Coordination: Refocusing on the Child

Parenting Coordination Track

This session will examine the importance of parenting coordinators helping parents to establish and maintain children as the heart of the parenting coordination process. The presenters will examine the critical role of child development when assisting to implement and modify parenting plans, helping parents shift their focus from their rights to their responsibilities for their children, the harmful effects of conflict, and the benefits of efficacious coparenting on the developing child.

Barbara Jo Fidler, PhD, Families Moving Forward, Toronto, ON, Canada
Mindy F. Mitnick, EdM, MA, AFCC President, Edina, MN

8. Current Trends in the Social Science Research Related to Family Law

Trends will be explored based on an environmental scan of published empirical studies during the past five years and cover emerging issues and ongoing debates regarding a range of topics, including coparenting, high conflict, intimate partner violence, resist/refuse dynamics, the impact of the pandemic, virtual technologies, and more. By identifying both national and international trends in the social sciences, the scan will inform the issue of relevance, ongoing needs, and gaps in the family justice framework.

Michael A. Saini, PhD, MSW, RSW, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada


10:00AM - 11:00AM

What Do Judges Want? Help Me Help You!

Judges have the unenviable task of making final decisions in custody cases when presented with competing allegations of domestic violence, mental health problems, alienation, substance abuse, and neglect. Attorneys argue their client’s case, attempting to convince the judge that their client’s desires will provide for the best interests of the children. When requested, custody evaluators provide a comprehensive assessment of the family dynamics and children’s needs regarding the most appropriate parenting plan. Somewhere within all that evidence, data, opinions, and fluff are the essentials that the judge wants and needs to reach a determination. Join us for an in-depth conversation between an experienced family court judge and a senior evaluator as they discuss what judges really want and need from the attorneys and evaluators who appear before them.


Hon. Ramona A. Gonzalez, La Crosse, WI
Arnold T. Shienvold, PhD, Rieger, Shienvold & Associates, Harrisburg, PA

In-person Lunch

11:00AM - 12:00PM

Plenary Session

12:00PM - 1:30PM

Cultural Competence, Best Practice, and Risk Management: The Intersection of Principle and Practice

Our society has become increasingly aware of its diversity. Factors related to race, ethnicity, gender identification, sexual orientation, ability differences, age, religious beliefs, and nationality, along with other facets of identity are present in every case, whether immediately visible or not. Aspects of these cultures may be the subject of legal, mental health, and dispute resolution processes, and in the multitude interactions among professionals and family members. Is it necessary, or possible, for professionals to fully understand the myriad cultures that exist in today’s world? How do we consider what is culturally contextual or are there universal “truths” for family law professionals? What are the risks posed by working with families without truly understanding their unique beliefs and values? How can professionals educate themselves, and one another, to be culturally competent? This panel will explore the necessity and the challenges of providing high quality services to all families.


Hon. Kathie Davidson, Administrative Judge, Ninth Judicial District, New York, NY
Hon. Kevin Duffan, Second Judicial Circuit, VA
April Harris-Britt, PhD, AHB Center for Behavior Health and Wellness, Durham, NC
Elizabeth Green Lindsey, Esq., President, AAML, Atlanta, GA
Moderator: Hon. Linda Fidnick, AFCC President Elect, Northampton, MA


1:30PM - 2:00PM

Sessions 9 & 10

2:00PM - 4:00PM

9. When a Lawyer Needs a Psychologist: A Conversation About the Role of Mental Health Consultants

The use of trial consultants can be essential in certain contested custody matters. For consultants, agreeing to provide such services can also present ethical peril. This program will examine the use of mental health experts as trial consultants, focusing on ethical considerations for both attorneys and mental health professionals. When should an attorney seek such services? What services can trial consultants provide to law firms? Can a trial consultant who has assisted a firm provide testimony at trial? How safe from discovery is a consultant’s file? Should trial consultants prepare clients for a forensic evaluation? Is there information that attorneys should withhold from consultants? In this presentation, an experienced matrimonial attorney and trial consultant will dialogue about this intersection of law and psychology.

Nancy D. Kellman, Esq., White Plains, NY
Jeffrey P. Wittmann, PhD, Forensic Consultation Services, Albany, NY

10. Trends in LGBTQ+ Family Law: Good, Bad, and Otherwise

Presenters in this session will identify five practices in LGBTQ+ family law they would like to see more of and five practices they would like to put to rest. These topics will address the needs of both LGBTQ+ adults and children, in various stages of family law systems. Presenters will discuss their approaches to these issues from diverse geographical and disciplinary viewpoints and hope to foster a dynamic discussion with conference participants. This session panel will go beyond the fundamentals of LGBTQ+ family law by addressing specific, practical issues to improve family court services for LGBTQ+ individuals.


Ross T. Ewing, Esq., Ewing & Associates PLLC, Lexington, KY
Lauren M. Mac Neill, Esq., MSW, Portland, OR
Richard A. Roane, Esq., Warner Norcross + Judd LLP, Grand Rapids, MI

AFCC is an interdisciplinary and international association of professionals dedicated to improving the lives of children and families through the resolution of family conflict.