Dr. Joan B. Kelly retired at the end of 2014 after 45 years of research, practice and writing focused on the impact of separation/divorce on children and parents, divorce and custody mediation, and applications of divorce and child development research to parenting plans for children of all ages. She was honored by AFCC for her contributions to the field with a special issue of Family Court Review containing all of her publications with that journal and a tribute to her work (see A Tribute to Joan Kelly, PhD. at the Time of her Retirement).

Dr. Kelly will no longer provide consultations, forensic services, or teach seminars. She will respond to email requests for those of her publications and materials that are in pdf format (see Joan B. Kelly, Ph.D. List of Publications).

A Tribute to Joan Kelly, PhD, at the Time of Her Retirement*

After almost five decades of unprecedented contribution to families of divorce and the family law field, Dr. Joan Kelly has announced her retirement, A brief overview of her accomplishments shows she is leaving a gaping hole that will be difficult if not impossible to fill.

Joan Kelly began her remarkable career in 1969 as researcher and co-author (with Judith Wallerstein) of a ground-breaking, in-depth study of 131 children of divorce from 60 families. She meticulously documented their emotional distress, and resilience along with risks to their development, and spotlighted the capacities of parents to care for their youngsters at the time of their separation and at a five-year follow-up. The findings were subsequently published in the best-selling book “Surviving the Breakup: How Children and Parents Cope with Divorce” (1980) – a book that remains a seminal contribution in the field today.

In efforts to help make the traditional adversarial court process more humane, flexible and efficient, Joan Kelly then established the Northern California Mediation Center as a base for her practice and teaching. She spent the best part of the next decade helping introduce mediation to family law and family courts across the country as an alternative dispute resolution forum. This included undertaking relevant reviews of the burgeoning literature together with authoring some of the earliest studies of divorce mediation wherein the process and outcome effectiveness of mediated and adversarial divorce settlements were compared.

From that time on, her role as researcher has gradually evolved into that of major reviewer, synthesizer and disseminator of the broader social science literature pertaining to children, mothers and fathers of separation and divorce. With respect to professional practice, she has continued to be a highly valued consultant for numerous task forces, think tanks, professional boards, and similar policy making bodies. As educator, for many years she has served as core faculty for AFCC sponsored professional trainings across North America and beyond. In sum, Joan Kelly is one of those rare combinations of researcher-practitioner-educator that are particularly valuable in cross-disciplinary work, because they know how to communicate and translate between professional groups what is relevant, pragmatic and important.

Whereas other leaders in the field would be hard-pressed to claim pre-eminence in one or two domains of expertise, Dr. Kelly can claim expertise in multiple domains with more than 132 papers published in professional journals and edited books that cover the waterfront. These include not only the range of dispute resolution services like mediation, parent coordination, custody evaluations and screenings for triage of service but also major reviews on diverse subjects such as interviewing children, effects of parental divorce on children of different ages, parent alienation, parental conflict and intimate partner violence, high-conflict divorce, parenting plans for very young children, role of fathers in child development, custody and visitation patterns, and move-aways, Her papers presented at professional meetings number in the many hundreds; her seminars and workshops in the thousands; the individuals whom she has influenced and helped are countless.

In all of her work, Dr. Kelly is viewed as incredibly smart and knowledgeable and deeply respected for her integrity. She has the reputation of being consistently fair, thorough, honest, and generous with her time and effort, and a straight-shooter who is also prepared to lead by calling the shots. Most especially, she has advanced the standards of scientific rigor and expectations for evidence-based practice and policy in family law. Personally she remains warm, unassuming, a down-to-earth good friend and colleague.

In sum, with Dr. Joan Kelly’s retirement from the field:

  • We are losing a foundational member of the pioneering generation of contemporary family court and community - one who is a keeper of institutional memory.
  • We are losing, an inordinately productive researcher and teacher who has been a trustworthy interpreter and synthesizer of social science knowledge for several decades. In this respect there is truly no one person to fill her shoes.
  • We are losing, a practitioner, architect and surveyor of best-practices models for dispute resolution and services to families in the courts and communities.
  • We hope we are keeping a good friend and colleague.

Thank you Joan, from the bottom of our hearts, for all that you have given!

*The Tribute was published in “Special Issue: In Honor of Joan B. Kelly”, Family Court Review, Vol.52, 2014.

Joan can be contacted at: P.O. Box 7063, Corte Madera, CA 94976-7063