Point C: How to Keep the Child a Priority in High-Conflict Divorce Cases

Can a 5-minute public service “video fable” help parents and professionals settle high-conflict divorce cases? 

Former New Jersey family court Judge Lawrence Jones authored and developed a novel educational tool: Point C. This very short film can help both parents and divorce-related professionals resolve high-conflict cases involving children. It was featured as a panel program at the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) 2024 Annual Conference in Boston, Massachusetts. 

The five-minute Point C video has been the subject of substantial interest, discussion, and debate within the legal community. Since 2023, multiple national organizations, including AFCC and OurFamilyWizard, have featured the Point C video on their resource pages as a new resource to help parents and professionals resolve high-conflict divorce cases involving children. 

The 2024 AFCC conference, however, marked the first time that Point C was addressed and discussed in a panel format as part of a national professional conference. The AFCC program was entitled: “We Hear, But Do We Listen? Point C and the Child’s Voice on Contentious Transitional Issues in Divorce.” The theme of AFCC’s 2024 national program was entitled, “Coping with Transition, Individual, Family and Beyond.” Apart from Point C author, Lawrence Jones, the guest panel included: 

  • Dr. Mark Singer, a licensed psychologist in New Jersey who is involved in performing parenting time evaluations and risk assessments, along with providing family and co-parenting therapy within the context of high-conflict families. 
  • Lynn B. Norcia, Esq., a New Jersey attorney for over 40 years who currently limits her practice to family law litigation with a particular focus on work as a Guardian ad Litem, parenting coordinator, and mediator, and who has spent many years during her career working in a variety of roles within the child protection legal arena. 
  • Joni Jones, RN, who has been a registered nurse for over 45 years and is a co-creator of Point C. She is board certified in psychiatric and mental health nursing and is a certified anger management specialist who assists in the mediation process for cases that include children with autism spectrum disorders. As a parent, and an affected individual herself, she pairs with other parents to help bring resolution through education and guidance. Advocating for the autism community for 25 years, she has educated many families, affected individuals, judges, attorneys, and organizations, including those providing services of protection to the child. 

Said Joni Jones: “The Point C video, shown at the beginning of the presentation, is so powerful because it impacts each viewer a little differently. Viewers watch with their own frame of reference and following the journey of the presented child ‘hits home’ to many people. It has a very ‘catchy’ tune. A strong non-verbal point of the video is what not to do to avoid a contentious divorce and help avoid any associated trauma that may occur if present.” 

Lynn Norcia spoke about the some of the challenges that some court-appointed Guardians ad Litem (GALs) may face in providing a voice for a child’s interests, along with the continuing issue of distinguishing between the problem of some parents not understanding the difference of the role of a GAL vs. an attorney for the child, especially in cases where the child is resisting contact with one parent. Ms. Norcia also reflected upon both positive and negative aspects of courts interviewing children, and the significant related subject of issues and considerations on how to include the voice of the child in both mediation sessions and in proceedings involving parenting coordination. 

Said Norcia: “There are a variety of ways in which the voice of the child can be incorporated into a custody dispute. In addition to forensic interviews, there are also Guardian ad Litem interviews and reports, appointment of an attorney for the child (which is different than a GAL in most jurisdictions, including New Jersey), judicial interviews, parenting coordinators meeting with the child, and in limited circumstances, the child's voice can be included in family mediation. Interviews are best conducted by individuals with at least a modicum of training in how to interview a child. Whenever the child's voice is brought into the dispute, it should be done with great care and sensitivity and should never include a direct question to the child about who they prefer to live with.” 

Dr. Singer addressed steps which can be taken to access a child's voice and desires when the child is reluctant to speak, as well as how one may manage accessing a child's voice when a parent is resistant to allowing the child to speak with a mental health professional without the parent or other professional present. Dr. Singer further focused on the issue of child communications “beyond spoken words,” and what other indicators can one use to have a better understanding of a child's voice. Dr. Singer also shared his thoughts on how one may potentially access some information about a child's cognitive ability in cases where there has not been formal testing. 

Stated Dr. Singer: “In interviewing children, any professional must understand their limitations and consult with other professionals prior to speaking with a child to ensure that one is well equipped to not only elicit information but to be able to listen to the child. Looking at body language often sends more information than a child's verbal content. Show the child the same respect that you would expect from a child. Truly understanding a child begins with building trust and displaying empathic respect.” 

Joni Jones focused on her experience as a mental health nurse and mediator who worked 10 years on a mental health unit; witnessing how adults were impacted by being a recipient of divorce as a child, going through a divorce themselves, and / or all the continued challenges that happened after their divorce was finalized. Joni gave some examples of early signs of trauma. She discussed simple tools of effective listening and heartfelt forgiveness to help parents bridge to the left side of the brain where they can be focused, hear what is actually being said, and where logical decision making takes place. She noted that simple tools such as these can in some cases help support a constructive environment for settlement negotiations.  

Said Joni: “Too often, the emotional needs of children who are at the center of many divorces, fall through the cracks. Many parents think their actions of contentiousness are in their child’s best interest and don’t realize how damaging it can be, until they watch the Point C video. The message is very clear. Our panel brought skill-building ideas and resources following the video because many parents know now what not to do, but still need that skill building assistance to achieve that goal.”  

“It was wonderful that AFCC hosted such a diverse panel of professionals from different disciplines to address the issues of a ‘Point C’ child, because there are millions of Point C children across the nation constantly being hurt through parental tug-of-wars and never-ending courtroom battles. We are honored that AFCC, as a leading international educational organization, provided a forum on important issues concerning a Point C child, and recognizing the importance of how influential this video can be to parents and professionals not only throughout the United States but also the world.”

At the conclusion of the Point C program, all of the panelists focused on a roundtable discussion of the importance of cultural competency and sensitivity in helping parties through the dispute resolution process, and in accessing and considering the “voice of the child” as part of the process itself. The panel answered several questions from the audience. 

Educational objectives of the Point C program at the AFCC annual conference for attendees included: 

  1. Learning about the Point C video and its message as a potentially influential tool to not only help parents but also help professionals in the divorce field (attorneys, mediators, mental health counselors, and family therapists) achieve breakthroughs in overly contentious and hostile divorce litigation involving significant transitional issues for the parties’ children. 
  2. Focusing on ways to receive the voice of the child on transitional issues in divorce litigation so that parents and professionals not only hear, but also listen to the child as part of a “best interest” analysis (forensic evaluations, vs judicial interviews vs GALs vs child-inclusive mediation). 
  3. Considering possible constructive ways to increase effective parental education to diffuse the level of ongoing hostility in a case on transitional issues. 
  4. Prioritizing important ways to focus on the critical emotional needs of a child during a hostile divorce, and to identify multi-faceted approaches to address conflict in a manner that allows children to express themselves in a healthier manner while having the opportunity to have positive relationships with both parents. 
  5. Addressing particular challenges and strategies when addressing transitional issues concerning children with emotional vulnerabilities and/or developmental disabilities (for example, challenges when transitioning a child with special needs from an intact family arrangement to one where the parents live separately). 
  6. Considering issues of cultural competency and sensitivity which may surface when considering the voice of the child at issue.  

The non-profit Point C website is available free of charge to parents and divorce related professionals, and it contains additional free resources as a public educational service including over a dozen related educational videos addressing a multitude of relevant topics relating to children and divorce.  

The Point C website further references potential uses of both the Point C video and supporting materials by professionals including mediators, mental health professionals, attorneys, judges, child advocates, university school curriculums, coaches, parents, and public awareness campaigns.