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All dressed up and nowhere to go:
Attachment measures and theory in family law practice

Association of Family and Conciliation Courts webinar
09.14.2021
(c) 2021 B.D. Garber, Ph.D.

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One critical idea to consider:

What we see and measure in the preschool years is BOTH the quality of the child's relationship with a particular parent AND a snapshot of the child's emerging capacities for self-regulation. Those two variables diverge in the early grade school years.

The first variable -relationship quality- is subject to the pressures of ACEs and therefore has little predictive validity. Preschool attachment security is only predictive of later relationship security when all other things are equal. That is (almost) never the case in the high conflict divorce population.

The second variable -self-regulation- is internalized across development and must be measured differently at different points in development.
Self-regulation is the ability to manage one's internal physical and emotional experience. It is conceptually quite similar to constructs known elsewhere as "resilience" and "emotional maturity." In early grade school years, look for transitional objects. In high school, look for transitional (peer) affiliations. In adulthood, look for intimate relationships, commitments to work, hobbies, and faith-based practices. In the senior years, look for self-actualization.

Family law professionals concerned with understanding and extrapolating forward about a child's relationship with each of two or more caregivers should be concerned with reciprocal connectedness rather than attachment or "bonding." Reciprocal connectedness (or "fit" as referenced in CCE guidelines, standards, and best practices) is accessible across development. It refers to the mutuality and appropriateness of the relationship.

BDG 03.09.2021



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Citations in alphabetical order

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. (1997). Practice parameters for child custody evaluation. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 36(Supp.), 575–685.

American Psychological Association. (2010). Guidelines for child custody evaluations in family law proceedings. American Psychologist, 65, 863–867.

Arredondo, D.E. and Edwards, L.P. (2000). Attachment, bonding, and reciprocal connectedness:  Limitations of attachment theory in the juvenile and family court. Journal of the Center for Families, Children & the Courts, 109-127

Boldt, L. J., Goffin, K. C., & Kochanska, G. (2020). The significance of early parent-child attachment for emerging regulation: A longitudinal investigation of processes and mechanisms from toddler age to preadolescence. Developmental Psychology, 56(3), 431–443

Eisenberg, N., Cumberland, A., & Spinrad, T. L. (1998). Parental socialization of emotion. Psychological Inquiry, 9, 241–273. http://dx.doi.org/10.1207/s15327965pli0904_1

Eisenberg, N., Duckworth, A. L., Spinrad, T. L., & Valiente, C. (2014). Conscientiousness: Origins in childhood? Developmental Psychology, 50, 1331–1349. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0030977

Eisenberg, N., Spinrad, T. L., & Cumberland, A. (1998). The socialization of emotion: Reply to commentaries. Psychological Inquiry, 9, 317–333. http://dx.doi.org/10.1207/s15327965pli0904_17

Eisenberg, N., Spinrad, T. L., & Eggum, N. D. (2010). Emotion-related self-regulation and its relation to children’s maladjustment. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 6, 495–525.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1146/annurev.clinpsy.121208.131208

Forslund, T., et al., (2021). Attachment goes to court. Attachment & Human Behavior, online advance release.

Garber, B.D. and Prescott, D.E. (2020). On the value of Teddy bears and Barbie dolls: The place of children's transitional objects in family law. Southwestern Law Review, 49.

Garber, Benjamin D. (2004). Parental alienation in light of attachment theory: Consideration of the broader implications for child development, clinical practice and forensic process. Journal of Child Custody, 1(4), 49-76

Garber, Benjamin D. (2009). Attachment methodology in custody evaluation: Four hurdles standing between developmental theory and forensic application. Journal of Child Custody, 6(1&2), 38-61.

Garber, Benjamin D. (2012) Security by association? Mapping attachment theory onto family law practice. Family Court Review, 50(3), 467-470

Garber, Benjamin D. (2016). Exploring a process-oriented forensic family observation protocol. Family Court Review, 54(2), 261-276.

Garber, Benjamin D. (2019). For the love of Fluffy: Respecting, protecting, and empowering transitional objects in the context of high conflict divorce. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 60:7, 552-565.

Grossmann, K., Grossmann, K. E., Kindler, H., & Zimmermann, P. (2008). A wider view of attachment and exploration: The influence of mothers and fathers on the development of psychological security from infancy to young adulthood. In J. Cassidy & P. R. Shaver (Eds.), Handbook of attachment: Theory, research, and clinical applications (pp. 857–879). The Guilford Press.

Kalpidou, M. (2012). Sensory processing relates to attachment to childhood comfort objects of college students. Early Child Development and Care, 182(12), 1563-1574.

Kelly, J.B., & Lamb, M.E. (2000). Using child development research to make appropriate custody and access decisions for young children. Family Court Review, 38(3), 297–311.

Kitagawa, M., Iwamoto, S., Umemura, T., Kudo, S., Kazui, M., Matsuura, H., & Mesman, J. (2021). Attachment-based intervention improves Japanese parent-child relationship quality: A pilot study. Current Psychology: A Journal for Diverse Perspectives on Diverse Psychological Issues. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-020-01297-9

National Association of Social Workers. (2016). Social workers and child custody evaluations. National Association of Social Workers.


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