The twenty-first century would see unprecedented growth for AFCC, beginning with one of the largest conferences in AFCC history. Nearly 750 delegates joined AFCC for its 37th Annual Conference in New Orleans in May 2000, as US Senator Paul Wellstone and his wife Sheila Wellstone, a well-known advocate against domestic violence, provided the keynote address.
The New Orleans conference theme, Alienation, Access, and Attachment, provided the opportunity for members of the Northern California Task Force on the Alienated Child, led by Dr. Janet Johnston and Dr. Joan Kelly, to share their reformulation of Richard Gardner’s controversial parental alienation syndrome. The work of the task force was then published in what would become a landmark special issue of Family Court Review.
While AFCC staff and many members were en route to New York for the 2001 Regional Conference, terrorists struck the World Trade Center on September 11. The conference was cancelled, but the AFCC spirit was not daunted by these events. With the support of AFCC New York members and Hofstra Law School, the conference was held five months later, and AFCC members worldwide contributed money and support to help the organization weather this challenge.
In 2002, Ann Milne retired and Peter Salem, associate director since 1994, became executive director of AFCC. In 2003, AFCC celebrated its 40th Anniversary in Ottawa, Ontario; twenty years after AFCC’s first Canadian President Hon. John VanDuzer organized the AFCC conference in Toronto. Justice VanDuzer was honored for his contributions at the Ottawa conference.
In 2004, the AFCC Board of Directors passed a strategic plan calling for the association to focus on initiatives to influence the field of practice. A series of special projects resulted, among them:
- AFCC was awarded a contract to develop and evaluate a researched-based screening instrument for the Connecticut Court Support Services Division. The resulting Family Civil Intake Assessment Screen Project was a finalist for the Kennedy School of Government Innovations in American Government Award.
- AFCC President Hon. George Czutrin appointed a Parenting Coordination Task Force in 2003 to take the lead in the development of this emerging new field. The task force produced the first national set of guidelines for parenting coordinators, adopted by the AFCC Board of Directors in May 2005.
- AFCC President Leslye Hunter appointed a Task Force on Model Standards of Practice for Child Custody Evaluation in 2004 to revise the AFCC Model Standards for Child Custody Evaluation. The AFCC Board of Directors adopted the Model Standards in May 2006.
- AFCC partnered with Hofstra Law School Center for Children, Families and the Law on the Family Law Education Reform Project (FLER), an effort to close the gap between the teaching and practice of family law. FLER systematically included hundreds of interdisciplinary family court professionals in the project and hosted the first AFCC-sponsored conference at the Johnson Foundation’s prestigious Wingspread Conference Center. The FLER Report was endorsed by numerous national organizations and the October 2006 issue of Family Court Review is dedicated to the FLER project. The project is ongoing and a website has been developed to support skills-based, interdisciplinary teaching of family law classes.
- AFCC partnered with the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) to co-sponsor a think tank on Domestic Violence and Family Courts, AFCC’s second Wingspread Conference. The think tank focused on issues of differentiation in domestic violence and participants included leading judges, legal and social science scholars, domestic violence advocates and interdisciplinary family court and family law practitioners. The July 2008 issue of Family Court Review is dedicated to this project. The American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) and the Center for Association Leadership honored AFCC with the 2010 Associations Advance America Award for this project.
AFCC conferences have remained a springboard for new initiatives; however they have faced challenges in the first decade of this century, beginning with the cancellation of the New York Regional conference in September 2001. The 2003 annual conference in Ottawa contended with the SARS outbreak in Ontario, and the 2006 annual conference had to be relocated from New Orleans to Tampa, Florida, following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. However, AFCC and its members have been resilient. Attendance records were shattered with more than 900 attending the 44th Annual Conference in Washington, DC in 2007, and more than 1,000 participating in the 45th Annual Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia in 2008, including record-setting numbers of Canadian and international participants.
AFCC signed on with Wiley-Blackwell to publish Family Court Review beginning in 2005. Dr. Janet Johnston was associate editor from 2004-2010, followed by Dr. Robert Emery in 2010. Family Court Review readership exploded with the addition of online access.
The last months of 2008 brought a financial crisis, which would negatively impact many organizations and AFCC members. Courts saw their budgets slashed as states scrambled to deal with budget shortfalls. Those in private practice were impacted, as clients tightened their belts or were no longer able to pay for services. In response, the AFCC Board of Directors initiated a price freeze on membership and member rates for conference registration that was ultimately extended through 2011. In the intervening years, AFCC fared well. Membership continued to grow and conference attendance remained high with over 1,000 participants attending annual conferences.
In 2009, the AFCC Board of Directors continued focus on initiatives to influence the field of practice and collaboration with other organizations. Among the special projects that resulted:
- The Future of Court ADR: Mediation and Beyond, a collaboration between AFCC, Marquette Law School Dispute Resolution Program, and Resolution Systems Institute, resulted in a two-day symposium/think tank at Marquette Law School in September 2011. The results of this meeting were published in a special issue of Marquette Law Review, Spring 2012, Volume 95.
- Closing the Gap: Research, Practice, Policy and Shared Parenting grew out of a longstanding debate about parenting time and decision making after separation and divorce. Colleagues with diverse and, in some instances, contrary perspectives examined barriers to use of research in family law practice and policy, and attempted to identify areas of consensus and clarify differences. The resulting issues of Family Court Review, conference proceedings, and think tank report are available on the AFCC website.
By 2010, AFCC membership increased to more than 4,200 members in 19 countries. The number of AFCC Chapters continued to grow, and the first Canadian chapter, Ontario, was formed. The AFCC e-newsletter (AFCC eNEWS), the parenting coordination listserv (the AFCC Parenting Coordination Network), and AFCC’s entry into social media (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) further expanded the association’s reach.
The Center for Excellence in Family Court Practice, a place on the AFCC website for service initiatives and sponsored projects, was established in 2011. The reports, guidelines and related work of many aforementioned projects can be found there.
AFCC collaborated with the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) in 2011 to hold a joint conference. The 2011 Conference on Advanced Issues in Child Custody: Evaluation, Litigation and Settlement was held in Philadelphia. This first joint conference sold out and the successful collaboration is now occurs biennially in odd numbered years, offering advanced level interdisciplinary training to legal, mental health and other professionals.