Department of Conflict Resolution Studies Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences – Department of Conflict Resolution Studies

First Advisor

Robin Cooper

Second Advisor

Ronald J. Chenail

Third Advisor

Judith McKay


The family law system effectuates case outcomes affecting the lives of parents, children, and society through court orders imposing important life decisions upon divorcing or unmarried parents, children, and post divorce families. While some cases are resolved in alternative dispute resolution forums, others enter the courtroom and judicial decisions cause unintended consequences for millions of adults and children each year. This research details a parent’s suboptimal family law system experience caused by judicial decision-making, highlighting the need to examine the causes of unintended systemic outcomes. The purpose of this research is to raise awareness and provide justification for systemic reform to prevent unintended consequences of court ordered outcomes caused by underlying structural violence. Conflicting objectives of litigants and problem solvers are investigated to determine the causes of systemic failures so recommendations for improved outcomes can be formulated. Theories of justice, civil rights, public policy, systems, structural violence, and nonviolence are integral components of this research. Applied theory in the context of the researcher’s experience highlights the need to address this social system issue while demonstrating the system intended to resolve disputes actually exacerbates conflict, resulting in more disputes. This research contributes to the literature because many litigants are unable to share their stories due to their oppressed condition within the system. This autoethnography documents the effects of a social system for conflict management gone awry and establishes a foundation to promote dialogue in support of a new way to manage disputes that is conducive to conflict resolution instead of conflict escalation.