When parents enter the Family Court System it is very confusing. First, they want you to part ways, but at the same time keep forcing you together to “co-parent”. They use confusing lingo and it seems like the parents do all the work, while the professionals take a lot of money for putting the hard work on you. It is true. They do. A common quote from my coaching clients is, ” I had to do all the work for my lawyer.” Well, there is a reason for that. The professionals do not know your children, your schedules, what matters most to you and what doesn’t, and in particular, once you have entered post decree land, there isn’t a whole lotta law that goes on. The law becomes the law you (or the courts if you weren’t able to agree) created for your family. There is no law that dictates what your parenting time schedule has to be. There really isn’t. The time can be distributed evenly between parents or it may not be distributed evenly for any number of reasons. Some states do a default parenting time schedule when parents cannot create one on their own, but it is all very complicated. Parents can choose to deviate from a schedule if they want and they are encouraged to be flexible as life evolves. Why be flexible? Because life can change quite a bit over the span of a childhood, but even when you have deviated from the schedule, if you return to court later, the court will enforce the schedule that is in an order because that is what they signed off on.
Sometimes, this confusion and lack of structure creates fear and anxiety for parents. Some parents do not understand that the law has pretty much completed their case and they keep waiting for “it to be done”. In other words, a parent may want this person who hurt them so terribly to go away and never bother them again. Unfortunately, though, that is not the way it works when you have children together. Like it or not, you do have to talk to each other and coordinate schedules, school or medical needs, etc. The way most parents learn to do this is to work on emotionally processing the divorce and hurt feelings they were left with from the relationship through therapy, coaching, education or self help, so they can move into a new type of relationship, without having all of the bad feelings get in the way. Unfortunately, some people are unable to do this or don’t see the value in doing the hard work of self reflection. They don’t like what has happened. They don’t like the arrangement. They don’t like that they have a co-parent because life would certainly be easier if they didn’t, and they don’t like that their ex never got punished for the hurtful things they said or did throughout the marriage and/or divorce process. Is that what Family Court is there for? Are they there to punish?
Many people who continue to push for some kind of “conviction” of their co-parent do not seem to understand that Family Court is not criminal court. It is not a crime to get a divorce. It can be very hurtful, but it is not a crime. It is not a crime to want some of the stuff that was accumulated during the marriage or to want to continue to be a parent to your child after the divorce. The fact that someone seeks a divorce, even though one parent does not think that will be good for the child, doesn’t make it a crime. These things are the nature of relationship breakdowns and unavoidable in some marriages. If the marriage is going to end, it is going to be end and hopefully, each spouse will learn to come to terms with that and move on to create the life they dream about, either on their own or with someone new. On top of that, when you share a child, you have to process these separate lives, while still coming in contact with the other person. That makes it much harder to go through all of the emotions and accept the loss. That is why your success in court depends greatly on you more than professionals. It depends on how resilient you are. Professionals don’t know what you need to get to the point of acceptance. Some professionals believe that you need time, but courts have deadlines. They cannot just sit and wait for everyone to process their loss. If they did, many people would continue to not process the loss and hope that their spouse will change their mind by forcing the marriage to continue forever, but there are two people in this thing. Often, two people with very different desires for outcome. What do you call that difference of opinion or differing needs? It is called a dispute.
What do you do when working with two people in a dispute? For example, let’s say that two of your friends have a dispute over some words that were said. Suppose that the friends are Janet and Martha. Janet told Martha something in confidence and without realizing it, Martha shared the information with another friend named James. Her breaking confidence was not very nice, but it was not a crime. Now, in this dispute, the words have been spoken and the action cannot be undone. Hopefully, Martha is sorry for saying something she should not have said, but she cannot do anything other than to apologize and ask for forgiveness. Janet can either accept her apology and work to repair the relationship or she can decide that it is time to let the friendship go. For the two of them, that may work, but maybe because your goal is to remain friends with the two of them, even though their friendship has ended, and no one is upset with you about anything, each one will be able to stay friends with you individually. The relationships are all going to change, even though you were not part of the dispute, it does affect you. You may try t it and see how it goes and find out that there needs to be some ground rules set. Especially when the friends don’t think that you should be friends with both of them and fight over you. If your friends are going to put you in the middle or try to win you over to one side or the other, it is going to become very uncomfortable for you and you are going to feel the ramifications of their quarrel. As an adult person, you can walk away and say good-bye to both of them if the situation becomes too uncomfortable for you, but a child of divorce cannot do that when the dispute is between their parents.
Another thing that would not happen between the friends is this, no one would try getting the police involved or ask a court to prevent you from having a relationship with either Janet or Martha. There was no crime committed and you have the right to have a relationship with anyone you wish. There wouldn’t be any authority figure to come yell at Martha or order her to not be allowed to have friends again. Because we are talking about a dispute between people, no matter what anyone else thinks of it, no crime occurred, and so there is nothing that anyone else can do about it, certainly not the police. Martha and Janet will feel the way they feel about it. A relationship ended. There is really no “right” outcome from what has happened. People who care about them may want them to apologize, make up and go back to being friends, but Janet and Martha will be the ones who decide their next steps, but they way they will each treat you afterward will determine how you feel about each one of them going forward. Hopefully, they will understand that you have separate feelings and needs from them and that your desire is to remain friends with both of them separately and they will create conditions where you can do that.
For a child of divorce, they need their parents to sort this out for them. They don’t want anyone to punish mommy or daddy because they hurt each other’s feelings or made each other sad. If mommy and daddy can deal with their hurt feelings and put them aside in order to understand their child’s needs and figure out how to separately manage the child’s activities, health and wellness, that is the best thing that can happen, but when the parents refuse or keep trying to make the child choose sides or stop seeing a parent, in the legal divorce they are going through, that is when a third party neutral is called upon to come in and try to help for the child’s sake. By this time, the hurts of the past are way behind the parents and they are usually already divorced. The situation is what it is and the court orders/agreements are what they are. Court appointed third parties are there to help everyone make it work, but if they do see a child in the middle, they will help to free the child from the conflict and negative feelings between parents. There really isn’t a lot that third parties can do to help you improve the situation. You will have to do this for yourself. They will try to get you focused on the child to make the child’s life more manageable because children do suffer enormous consequences when they have to live through parent hostility.
Many times parents do not understand this. They complain and complain and complain about what it is they do not like about the other parent or what the other parent has done. They expect that if they demonstrate just how bad a person the other parent is, someone will punish that parent in some way. That is not the nature of dispute resolution, which is what Family Court is about. Family Court looks for solutions and moving families forward. They want you to take your family out of court and start making decisions for yourselves. They don’t want to parent your children for you. They want to give you the tools to do it.
If your approach to Family Court is to try to prove fault in a no-fault system, you will lose sight of the needs of your child. If you need help understanding dispute resolution or gaining some coping skills so that you can focus on your children more than the battle, especially if you have an ex spouse who cannot seem to grasp the nature of custody and parenting time, give us a call at 763-566-2282 or at High Conflict Central, 1-800-516-2446. We’ll do our best to help you.