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June 6, 2012 – AFCC Conference Kicks Off in Chicago – Marked by Controversy

The Association for Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) annual conference begins today in Chicago amid serious questions about the organization’s status as a preeminent facilitator of non-biased family law issue exploration.

This year AFCC hosts its 49th annual conference.  The sold-out Chicago conference is titled: Attachment, Brain Science and Children of Divorce: The ABCDs of Child Development for Family Law.  Over 1,200 professionals working in the family law field are registered to attend.   The conference is being held at the Hyatt Regency through June 9.  Numerous plenary sessions are scheduled along with over 80 workshops.  Click here for a link to the conference brochure.

So what makes this particular conference so controversial?  AFCC publishes a journal call Family Court Review.  FCR is widely read among family law practitioners.  Its articles review leading edge questions and issues, informing an influential audience of professionals.

In July of 2011 a clinical psychologist from Australia, Jennifer McIntosh, organized an issue of FCR focused on Attachment Theory and its impact as a driver for public policy.   McIntosh indicated she wanted attachment theory “science” to inform and guide the development of policy and statutes in the area of family law.  So she wrote questions and interviewed several experts in the area of attachment theory and presented the articles along with results of her own research in the special edition.

Trouble is – attachment theory as presented by McIntosh led people to believe the “science” is much more “settled” than has actually been proven.  She further failed to discuss alternatives to her own viewpoints, and her interview subject’s comments in response to her directed questioning.

McIntosh was tapped several years ago to report on the effects of Australia’s implemented shared parenting statutes.  While the Australian reforms of 2006 were not truly ‘equal parenting’ time laws the result nonetheless was a significant number of children spending more time being cared for by both their parents.   

Without going into detail McIntosh compiled a 160+ page report basically indicating, contrary to actual evidence, shared parenting had not been beneficial, particularly for infants and significant statutory modifications to the Australian reforms were necessary.  In essence what was being sought was a ‘rollback’ of laws that provided children greater access to both parents.

Among numerous other problems with the paper she submitted to the Australian government is that her work was not peer reviewed prior to submission, yet it was considered definitive.  

As our readers might imagine, opponents of Shared Parenting embraced her work as “proof” that Shared Parenting, while appealing particularly to non-custodial parents, was actually harmful to children and therefore to be avoided.  Opponents of Shared Parenting are so enamored of this research that Jennifer McIntosh has reached nothing less that ‘rock star’ status among them.

Jennifer McIntosh has literally been ‘around the world’ spreading her message that children don’t need both parents, particularly young children aged two and under.  Attorneys and domestic violence groups have hosted her at conferences from Minnesota to Israel.  She is providing teleconferences to interested groups around the world.  

What’s been the effect of her mission to squash shared parenting thus far?  In Australia, the Australian Institute of Infant Mental Health recommended fathers should not have custody of children under two years of age.   In England, appendix H of the Norgrove report on the family courts notes McIntosh’s work as influencing the recommendation that fathers’ relationships with their children receive no specific statutory protection in the event of divorce or unmarried parentage.  

And here in the USA we saw McIntosh’s worked repeatedly trumpeted by opponents of Shared Parenting in Minnesota.  As you’ll recall the Minnesota legislature just passed a law giving both parents a baseline of 35% time with their children, only to see the legislation vetoed by Governor Mark Dayton.  We are seeing her voodoo/junk science more and more widely reported in professional journals around the nation.  However ill supported her conclusions are; they are being parroted in bar association newsletters and by the domestic violence crowd.

Parents facing custody evaluators or attorneys arguing against shared parenting based on McIntosh’s work need to know her findings are coming under serious and significant fire by other highly respected professionals practicing in this area of law and psychology.  While it’s beyond the scope of these comments to explore those criticisms fully know that her conclusions are not well supported in the literature.

As for AFCC culpability in spreading what borders on junk science – So great has been the professional outcry against the biased and one-sided nature of last year’s FCR journal issue on attachment theory and brain science that AFCC will be publishing another issue this July dedicated to those criticisms.  It’s too bad this comes a year after AFCC allowed McIntosh to serve this year’s conference organizer and after a year of spreading her opinions masquerading as science around the world.

Shame on McIntosh and shame on the AFCC.  We hope AFCC does better in the future but we are concerned when we review the up and coming leadership of the organization given some of those individuals known antipathy towards a child having both parents fully engaged in the child’s life, even when the child’s parents do not reside together.  It’s time to lighten the footprint of the courts, and associated professions, on the lives of America’s families.