Starting with the criteria for determining children’s best interest in German family law the role of attachment relationships as one of several primary criteria is discussed. Although sometimes used as dependent or mediating variable until now empirical support for the relevance of attachment in decision processes and interventions with high-conflict divorce samples is mostly based on non-experimental and non-specific findings. Therefore, more research on this group of families is needed.
In a study based on 100 custody evaluations for German family courts empirical associations between several criteria for determining children’s best interest were analyzed. Using a multiple indicator model including observations of attachment relevant situations as well as measures for children’s attachment representations especially children’s wishes regarding residential arrangements tended to reflect their attachment networks. Associations were not so close, however, that exploring children’s wished could substitute an assessment of attachment relationships.
How to do such assessments in practice with high-conflict divorce families is still open to discussion. Based on the aggregation principle which has been approved by the Bundesgerichtshof a multiple indicator model including non-standardized observation of attachment relevant situations by trained observers may be a viable way under German legislation.
Most important on a conceptual level attachment theory provides practitioners with conceptual tools (e.g. the concept of conditional attachment strategies by Mary Main) that open up ways to understand children`s behavior under conditions of chronic inter-parental conflict.
Heinz Kindler, Dipl.-Psych, Dr. phil, studied psychology in Gießen and Regensburg. He earned his PhD in 2001 working in the attachment research group of Klaus and Karin Grossmann at the university in Regensburg. In 2005 he was certified as forensic psychologist (DGfP/BDP). In 2013 he became lead of the Division on Family Services and Child Protection at the German Youth Institute in Munich. Major research projects are on risk assessment in child protection, children in foster or adoptive families (including an implementation study with the ABC-training by Mary Dozier), prevention of sexual abuse and sexual revicitimisation and quality development in child protection services. Heinz Kindler has written numerous articles and books, including books on child neglect (together with Beate Galm and Katja Hees) and methods in research on violence (together with Nena Helfferich and Barbara Kavemann). He has served in several commissions at the ministry of justice on child protection law (2008-2009) and parentage law (2015-2017). Currently (2016-2018) he is member of the inquiry commission on child protection and children’s rights by the parliament of Hamburg, one of the German Länder.