The theme for the 2020 Annual Conference came out of a brainstorming lunch meeting of conference co-chairs Dr. Frank Davis, Commissioner Louise Bayles-Fightmaster and Attorney David Blacker in October 2018. We agreed at the outset that we were not fearful of controversy. The times we live in reflect less willingness to reach out to somebody who has a different point of view or who has a different background or life experience. In response to comments made at past conferences, we agreed to bring greater diversity in attendance, content and presenters to the conference, which led to a discussion about the need for greater diversity in systems and organizations more broadly, including even AFCC. This could lead to some uncomfortable though necessary dialogues. As our discussion progressed, we hit on the theme, “difficult conversations,” which could work on a variety of levels, from the interpersonal level to the inter- and intraprofessional levels, to the systemic level.

We are tasked as family law professionals with engaging in one difficult conversation after another, with our clients, our colleagues, and the courts. And part of our job is teaching parents how to communicate more effectively with each other for the benefit of their kids. Our failure to communicate effectively, and our failure to provide the tools and resources to our clients to do so, can have enormous negative consequences on the people we serve. Of course, before we can begin to have those difficult conversations, we have to be willing to have the difficult conversation in the first place.

Moreover, we need to think about systems which get in the way of those difficult conversations which, if had, could lead to better outcomes long term. Our legal system sets up an antagonistic structure forcing two sides to a battle that certainly some may want but most do not. The family having by necessity reached accommodation and compromise when whole is now pushed into a contentious arena which assiduously avoids the difficult conversations between the now feuding parties. Financial and emotional resources are squandered to reach a judicially determined result.

Our aim at this annual conference of the AFCC California Chapter is to explore the power of difficult conversations and how they can help create and strengthen relationships, even at their legal end. Difficult conversations can also lead to more empathy in our practices, in our client’s cases, and in their lives going forward. Finally, though uncomfortable or charged, difficult conversations can initiate greater clarity and peace of mind in ourselves and those with whom we work.

I and my co-chairs Dr. Davis and Commissioner Bayles-Fightmaster, as well as the entire 2020 Conference Committee, invite you to join us February 7th through 9th at the Park Central in San Francisco to take a closer look at all of those important and difficult conversations we face every day as professionals dedicated to the welfare of the children and families of California.  CLICK HERE to go to the 2020 Conference Webpage.