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Shifting the Lens in Family Court: A Trauma-Informed View

Categories: FLAFCC News,

Written by Dr. Peggie Ward

When it comes to family law, the issue of trauma can often be overlooked. Trauma is a broad term that encompasses anything from physical harm, long-term illness or even mental and emotional distress. In recent years, family law has begun to incorporate the understanding that trauma can have a significant impact on relationships and legal proceedings within families.

Family law through a trauma lens considers how childhood events such as being exposed to violence, abuse, or neglect can shape an individual's identity and approach to problem solving as an adult. It also takes into account any potentially traumatic events that may happen during divorce proceedings or disputes over custody arrangements. By considering the possible presence of trauma when examining family law cases, lawyers are better able to provide effective advice for those involved in difficult family situations. A trauma-informed approach also seeks to create a more equitable and just system by reducing the potential for further harm and increasing access to resources and support.

What is Trauma?

Trauma is a term that is used in many different contexts, but its definition remains the same. Trauma is an emotionally and physically distressing event or experience, especially one of overwhelming intensity. Trauma is unexpected, the person is unprepared, and there is nothing the person can do to stop the even from happening. Trauma can be anything from a car accident to an assault; it can also be caused by chronic exposure to stress and adversity such as poverty or neglect. Understanding trauma and how it affects individuals is essential for family law practitioners who wish to provide the best possible legal representation for their clients.

The effects of trauma are pervasive, impacting all aspects of a person’s life including mental health, relationships, finances, physical health, legal issues and more. By understanding the way that trauma shapes people’s behavior on both conscious and unconscious levels family law professionals can better serve their client’s needs both in court proceedings as well as out-of-court negotiations.

How to Apply a Trauma Lens to Family Law

The legal field has long been criticized for its lack of understanding and consideration for the emotional turmoil faced by those involved in family law cases. To better support individuals experiencing divorce, custody battles, or other family-related issues, recognizing the lens of trauma is essential. A trauma informed way of thinking recognizes parties in these cases need to feel safe; to feel valuable; to feel empowered; to be heard. A trauma informed model shifts from blame (what is wrong with you?) to understanding (what has happened to you?). 

By incorporating practices informed by a trauma lens into family law practice, attorneys can provide more effective representation while showing compassion towards their clients who are navigating some of life’s toughest moments. Judges who use a trauma informed lens in court learn how obtain the most salient information while taking care not to trigger a potential traumatic response.  When parents participate in the decision making process they are more likely to follow through with agreements. Alternative Dispute Resolution, mediation, and case management conferences all involve and empower parents to help create their own paths through their legal issues.

Impact of Trauma on Our Legal System

The legal system is often viewed as a place where justice is served, however, this may not be the case for those who have experienced trauma. In recent years, experts have taken a closer look at how trauma can impact our legal system, particularly in the area of family law. Studies have shown that individuals who have experienced trauma are more likely to become involved in disputes with family members or other parties over child custody and parenting arrangements. These types of situations can lead to long-term consequences for both parties if they are not properly addressed in court.

When it comes to family law matters, understanding how trauma affects people's lives is essential for achieving fair outcomes. Trauma can alter an individual’s perception of reality and make them unable to process complex information or think clearly during negotiations or proceedings.

Benefits of Approaching Family Law from a Trauma Perspective

Approaching family law from a trauma perspective can offer numerous benefits to those navigating through the legal system. By understanding how past trauma affects individuals in present-day conflicts, family lawyers can better serve their clients and provide more tailored advice to help them reach desirable outcomes.

Trauma-informed practices are gaining recognition as an important factor in successful family law cases. Studies have shown that by taking into account a client's background, attorneys can assist them in making decisions that are best suited for their needs, ultimately leading to more favorable results. They also gain insight into potential triggers and behaviors that can be used to de-escalate tense situations or disagreements between parties involved in the case.

Ultimately, approaching family law from a trauma lens allows family law professionals to approach each case with greater empathy and understanding of the events leading up to it which helps develop strategies for resolving conflict effectively.

Conclusion: Moving Forward with Compassion

Trauma informed principles acknowledge that trauma is pervasive. Trauma informed environments allow a person’s strengths to emerge.  In trauma informed environments, safety, trust, choice and control, compassion, and collaboration are paramount. The shift toward a trauma informed approach in family court is vital. 

The topic of family law can be difficult for many, especially those who have experienced trauma. To address these issues, understanding the effects of traumatic experiences must be addressed in family law matters. By recognizing the effects that traumatic events can have on individuals and their families, it is possible to move forward in family law cases with empathy and understanding while also focusing on legal procedures. By focusing on safety, empowerment, and equity, we can help to reduce the potential for further harm and create a process that is respectful, dignified, and ultimately healing for everyone involved.

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