As someone who has been working for almost 20 years to help parents navigate the very choppy waters of family court, I get a fair amount of calls and emails from parents who feel overwhelmed with how off track their case has become. High conflict cases snowball into unimagineable craziness and parents desperately want […]
We live in an age where state authorities have taken it upon themselves to mandate relationships. As crazy as it sounds, that is what they do. We also have the court system creating syndromes where none exist. This is done so that people who are incapable of developing and maintaining relationships on their own, can force others to be in relationship with them. We have judges who want to play along in this little game of mandating relationships, and lawyers who allow it to happen because they can earn a lot of money doing so.
Read the latest, in a string of state control over children, from West Bloomfield, Michigan:
This is all such a farce for several reasons! First off, I contend that only an abusive parent would force their children to have a relationship with them. As difficult as it is, if the other parent is lying about you, but you are able to spend time with your children, the children will know how you treat them when they are with you. Children know. Children are not stupid. Children come to know the truth, as they experience it, not by what is written, not by what is told to them, but by their life experience of the time they spend with you.
Why this judge is participating in a farce:
1. The state’s only interest in the parent-child relationship is due to the state ensuring “the Best Interest of the Child”. Removing children from the safety of their home and both parents is not in their best interest, and will harm them in a FAR greater way than if they are not spending time with one parent. It may be harmful if they are being denied time with a parent, but we all know that children find a way to do what they want to do, especially as they get older.
2. If this judge truly believes that PAS is the problem here, then she would hold the mother accountable and not the children. Stop punishing the victims!
3. A reasonable parent would realize that court “forced” interaction with anyone will not deepen anyone’s affection for you. Maybe the father should ask for court ordered therapy sessions where they may get to the bottom of what is happening and work on their relationship. This would afford an opportunity to repair a broken relationship, and not demand “parental rights”.
I realize that there is much more to ANY court story than meets the eye. I will try and research this case to find out more information, but until then, on the surface, it is pretty pathetic. Both parents and the professionals on this case are failing the children and I hope, for the children’s sake, that someone will do the right thing!
After years of parents trying to expose the detriment to children in the Family court System, the news media is finally willing to cover this! I reached out to the news media after my own abusive case, but the media said, “This is not news”. Luckily, I proved my case in court.
Many other parents (moms and dads, I might add) have also tried to get media coverage, to no avail. I am not sure why the media is finally covering abuse and parenting consultants in the past year or so, but let us thank God for the blessing of exposure now!
Excerpts from http://www.safekidsinternational.org/
I often listen to parents who are so enmeshed in the Family Court System that they are willing to flat-out tell a potential Parenting Consultant that they want to prove the other parent is “bad”. There are several things that astound me about this revelation.
One, my surprise at hearing them openly admit that? This used to be a strategy, but now is just a sad fact of truth.
Two, what do they hope will happen from proving the other parent is “bad”? None of them seem to know this, but I suspect they hope that the other parent will lose parenting time or custody. Still, they never really “get” how the System works. I do, and therefore, I am horrified that anyone would entertain this notion. Yes, you could call me a hypocrite, because I did get sole custody, but I did not get sole custody by proving how “bad” my ex was. I got sole custody by proving how the delay in decision-making, on important issues such as medical care, was detrimental to my children, AND detrimental to myself and the children’s father. My whole family won when I won sole custody! So it perplexes me when parents want to show how “bad” the other parent is.
Three, are their lawyers just hoping to pocket a lot of money? As a non lawyer who knows just how biting the system is for children and families, I cannot think of any other reason a legal professional would direct their client to drop their children deeper into the system. I would tell you, and have told some people, to run like hell in the other direction.
The problem with trying to prove the other person is bad is this: suppose you succeed? Do you expect some miraculous event to occur? A Parenting Consultant/Coordinator is there to help the two of you communicate and co-parent, and if you cannot make a decision about an issue regarding your child, then the PC can. The PC cannot change custody or child support so you’d maybe, at best, get a shift in percentage of parenting time, if you successfully prove “badness”. You still have to compel the professional to act. For some reason people think that if you can demonstrate how bad the other parent treats you, something magical will happen to free you of that other parent forever.
The truth is that if you are trying to prove the other parent is “bad” to you, nobody really cares about that. If you are trying to prove the other parent is “bad” to the children, bad is rather hard to define. What you think is “bad” may not be what the court professionals think are”bad”. If the other parent is physically abusive to the children, you may get somewhere, but you need to make sure you know what you are asking for. It would be extremely rare for a parent to be cut out of the children’s lives completely. I have seen cases where the parent cuts a parent out of the children’s lives completely, but the courts rarely do.
I guess what I am trying to say to you is to be careful about going down this road. It often backfires. If you do succeed in showing the bad side of your ex, you and the children will be made part of the (losing) effort of trying to fix the situation. You will likely see and interact more with your “bad” ex than ever before, and so you will not be rid of them, you will have to put up with much more.
One more thing, usually, if someone is truly acting “bad”, you should have no need to show that. The professionals on the case will see and understand it, eventually. The unfortunate thing is that many parents trying to prove their ex is bad, come across as desperate and unstable, creating their own threat to their parenting time with the kids.
My best advice would be to stay out of court and away from court authorities as much as you can. Don’t let them take control of your children.
Recently, a parent that I know, but have never worked with professionally, sent me a rant about how PAS is very real. She knows that my position is that it is not real, except in VERY extreme circumstances. The only time I will agree that PAS has been used against a parent is when they are not allowed to see their children at all, and the other parent tells the children that their mom/dad can see them anytime they want to, but choose not to. The other parent will often tell the children it is because mom/dad doesn’t love them. In that kind of case, the parent has zero time with the children to demonstrate that what the custodial parent says is not true. In a case like that, I do think alienation occurs. Otherwise, it is used as a court strategy to punish an ex.
Now one might wonder how does a parent have ZERO time with their children? Sadly, it does happen. A Family Court judge can find a parent is “endangering” the children and take away all parenting time. I, personally think that this violates the law. Judges have the option to grant supervised visitation, but sometimes, all parenting time is taken away. Sometimes, a judge will take it away without giving any conditions through which, the parent can get their time restored.
It can also happen when a parent is allowed parenting time per a court order, and the other parent just withholds the children. One might also think, how can that happen? Can’t they just go to court? Well, sometimes court helps, but sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes, a case has been so badly managed from a legal standpoint, whether it be acting pro se (representing yourself), or due to a really lazy or misguided attorney, that the judge has told you both to stay out of their court room.
Anyway, back on topic.
I have known parents with minimal parenting time who experience the horror of having an ex that tells lies about them or badmouth them in front of the children. They are not alienated from their children, no matter how hard the other parent tries to make it happen.
I also know parents who have 50-50 parenting time with their children, and scream alienation when their children start to express any desire to not spend time at their home.
What is the difference? How can one parent, with minimal time not be alienated, while the other parent claims to be alienated? The difference is that the one parent focuses on their children when the children are in their care, and the other parent chooses to focus on the battle during their parent time. The parents I have known, who claim parental alienation, cannot accept responsibility for their situations. They have latched onto blaming the other parent for every single parent-child clash they experience. It wears on the children after a while.
I have worked with many parents over the years, even before I ever thought of doing it professionally. Once my ordeal started in 1998, I reached out to other parents and they also somehow found me., and we would share our experiences of the evils of doing battle in the court setting. I can tell you that no matter how minimal the parenting time allowed to a parent, if they show the children love and a commitment to solid parenting when the children are in their presence, they do not lose their children’s affection. No matter what. Words can never beat deeds. Period. The other parent can bad mouth you until the cows come home. As long as you prove your love with actions, your children will see the truth. The children may be confused as to why their other parent says such crazy things about you, but they will eventually figure it out.
What I have seen across the board from parents who feel “alienated” is that they:
1. Have a drug or alcohol addiction that interferes with their ability to be fully present during parenting time, and they are very disengaged from their children.
2. They discount their children’s feelings about life events. for example, when it comes to a new significant other, they will just spring that relationship on the children, without having any discussion or without preparing the children for this change. I have seen parents move their new boyfriend or girlfriend in and be shocked when their kids come for parenting time and are upset to learn that mom/dad has a stranger living there.
3. They continue to engage in unhealthy relationships in their life and not protect the children from those unhealthy relationships. Some parents are so lonely, with such low self esteem, that they will become involved with the first member of the opposite sex who gives them any attention whatsoever. Many of these partners who are willing to jump into a relationship with someone they barely know have low self esteem, too. They are abusive, often chemically dependent, and will not take long to demonstrate how abusive they are to you, and to your children. Exposing children to that is cruel and will interfere with how your children regard you, ad how willing they will be to spend time at your home.
4. Rather than spend time on new traditions and making their house a home, they spend all of their parenting time complaining or bad mouthing their ex,and the children feel ignored and hurt.
So my point is that the parents who are “alienated” have often done it to themselves.
I know that many people will strongly disagree with my opinion, but it is my opinion. With almost 20 years of seeing these patterns, I have more evidence than there is evidence that there is such a thing as PAS.
As always, I will add the American Psychological Associations stance on PAS. Read about that here.
This post is more on my theme for this week, “The greatest of these is love”. Love is the answer. It is the one thing that is missing from the Family Court System. How can a system that works with families be devoid of love?
How do I treat parents who struggle for years without end in on-going court battles? Why do I connect with these parents, while the court authorities label these families , placing judgment, such as high conflict, or label the parents and children with some mental behavior disorder? While court authorities may be correct in recognizing some disorders that are present in these lives, they may instead be seeing a situational manifestation of the underlying stress, emotions, extreme fear, and lack of understanding the system that keeps these people living back brained, every day of their lives.
These parents wake up in the morning wondering why. Why did this happen to me? They go to bed at night asking, why. Why can’t this stop? Why can’t I have my life back? Why? I never did anything to deserve this! No one ever called me a bad parent before. They cannot understand for the life of them how the things they have always done without being vilified for, and were instead, often praised for, are now treated like a crime. Treated as a crime that is not on the books, not listed in the world in general, as criminal behavior, but in this new setting of darkness, it is a crime and punishable.
I’d like to see the system change. The system can work where it needs to, but it takes so long, and it is not really doing any justice. It was put in place to help people terminate a marriage, and to establish a place in their child’s life after that marriage has ended. It was not put in place to follow families for years, and to pick at every little parenting decision that they make. Those of us who are parents understand that we don’t always do the right thing. Sometimes we don’t know what to do, and that is made worse by not having the freedom to figure it out through trial and error. We do our best much of the time. There are certain triggers for parents, or anyone for that matter, who is struggling. When you are hungry, lonely, tired, angry or afraid, you don’t always do the right thing, have the right reaction, or choose the right path.
All people have these feelings from me to time in their life, but the families who are frequent fliers in court experience trauma all the time. They go through life thinking that they are done with this system, and wake up one day and there it is again. Rearing its ugly head. It is maddening to try to become free, and find out you are not. In their face is another battle, and another request for thousands of dollars to pay an attorney, thousands of dollars that this parent would rather spend on their family. Thousands of dollars they would rather spend on their family, on their children, and on more positive things in life.
You can’t disengage from the Family Court because if you don’t respond, if you don’t show up, the consequences are severe. The other party wins. What kind of justice is that? We should be able to say, no more! I quit. I’m done! I am not going to engage in this nastiness anymore! I am not going to engage in that which takes me away from my children. I am not going to engage in that which makes me so weary that it takes away so much time and energy away from my children, that it is beyond ridiculous. I’m not going to do it anymore.
But they do not let people do that. Parents are often punished with a financial judgement or losing time with their children, and sometimes, losing their children completely. They have been accused of doing things that are often unproven. Accused of things that other parents do in their daily lives, and no one judges them for it, or punishes them for it, and no one says anything to them about it. No one thinks anything of it when t involves a parent not in the Family court setting, because no one is pointing it out in a court of law, and saying that they don’t like that behavior. Unfortunately, that is what these on-going court battles are really all about. One parent doesn’t like what the other parent is doing. It has nothing to do with laws, and so these things don’t belong in court. They just don’t.
What I do differently, is that I love these people. I accept them for who they are. I accept the fact that they have faults, like we all do, and I help them take the system that is all powerful, and break it down to size. I help them realize that it is a set back in life, but they cannot allow it to be all consuming. I cannot do it for them, though. They do it for themselves, but what happens is that I trust them to do it. I stand back and I let them do it. And if they are struggling to know what to do, at times, I work with them to help them figure it out.
We need to be loving these families. We need to be holding them in our hearts. We need to be loving the children, and allowing both parents to be who they are and not label what kind of parenting they should do. Some will co-parent, and do it well. Some will co-parent and not do it well. Some will not be able to co-parent, and they will need to find another way, but it doesn’t need to be labeled as anything other than parenting. It doesn’t mean that these parents are bad.
In a lot of these battles the parents are chastised for their struggle. Judges and court authorities chastise them for bad mouthing each other. Yet, what is the court doing? What are the court authorities doing? They, too, are badmouthing the parents. They are not looking for the positive. They are looking for who is to blame. They are looking to find fault. They are often looking, not for the good parent, but which one is the worst parent. The court thinks that both parents are bad, because, to be honest, the court doesn’t think highly of either one of these people.
We have to do better, and I know we can do better, and when these parents are supported and accepted for who they are, and held accountable when the children aren’t safe, or the children are hurting emotionally. What I mean by accountable is not punishment, but it is, asking them what action they will take for their children’s security. We need to give them the support, the tools and the space, to rectify the problems.
These parents wants to make things better. They want to do better for their kids. They want to be left in peace. They want that stress taken away, so that they can focus on parenting and moving in a better direction for them and their children. Sometimes the other parent is going to move in a better direction with them, and sometimes they are not. When the other parent will not move in a positive direction, we need to give a parent the permission to say, “They are not going to move on with me, so I have to move on by myself.” Then, just let it be.
The relationship will be what it is going to be, and if given time, space, and acceptance, they might come into a better relationship. If court professionals keep pointing out how bad one is to the other, the court system is doing what they accuse these parents of doing to each other all the time-badmouthing. I think it would be much better if the court would focus on the positive things that these parents are doing, because there are positives.
I came from my own high conflict battle. The other parent and I were never going to see eye to eye. We had completely different world views. We married when we were young, before our front brains were developed, and by the time our brains were developed, we were totally different, with different views of the world, and different paths we wanted to take, and that is all there was.
Divorce law shouldn’t be about changing the people into what some legal authority wants them to be, because this court involvement in families ends when children are 18. So why should a parent change their life, and who they are for 1-18 years in the system, when their life will hopefully be 100 years long or so, and they have to be who they are. People have to be who they are, and be accepted for who they are and not criticized all the time. And then they can soar! But keeping these families in court is like tying an anchor to them. It’s a heavy weight that they always carry, and they cannot fly. They cannot be free. The court should be about laws, but families are about love. And if the court is not going to love them, then the court needs to get out of their way, and let them be the light, and the love, for their children.
After divorce, some people play the victim. It garners them attention and sympathy from others and helps them explain, in their own mind, that they are not at fault for the divorce.
Oddly enough, even though all US states are no fault divorce states, it doesn’t seem to matter. Fault or no fault, divorce can be deeply wounding to someone’s ego. In order to show the world (and make themselves feel better), they have to portray a false reality that their ex is to blame. They will accuse their ex of having an affair, being mentally ill or turn it around in some other way. They may tell others that they initiated the divorce instead of telling the truth, that it was their ex who initiated.
Typically, these individuals fear being alone and will enter into a new relationship quickly, long before they are ready. They have done nothing to come to terms with the divorce or take the time to heal. They grab hold of the first person who comes along and buys their story. It helps them show the world: Hey, I am OK. See? Someone loves me. That other person had something wrong with them. That’s all. I am not a bad person. See how quickly someone found me?
The new relationship develops during their grieving process about the divorce. These quick rebound relationships can interfere with, and may even halt that grieving process all together. Because they met their new significant other during the grieving process, they may have shared with their new mate how terrible you are, in order to explain their misery. The problem is that they will have to keep this story going for the duration of the relationship. This makes things very confusing to an ex spouse who has to try to co-parent with the person who is trying to keep a storyline going.
The ex spouse will struggle to understand why their child’s parent hates them so and cannot let go of it. If you are the ex who is constantly lied about, you may become defensive. You may also be very hurt and feel guilty about the divorce when you have to watch your children’s parent carry on with so much anger, while you try to take the high road, as they continue to tells lies. You may hope that they will come to terms with the divorce so that your co-parenting relationship will improve. Unfortunately, you cannot make things better because it really is not about you.
This is all about your ex wanting to save face. What does it mean to save face? To put it simply, to preserve one’s dignity. It has to do with how one sees him or herself and how he or she thinks the world sees them. If a person finds divorce to be a highly negative reflection on their worth as a person, and is deeply wounded that their spouse, who promised to love, honor and cherish them no longer loves them, they often cannot see divorce as anything other than an acknowledgment that they are unlovable, and a failure.
As the years go by, you may be shocked at how petty your co-parent is and stunned by their refusal to sit in the same room with you for the children’s extra curricular activities, doctor appointments and even mediation to settle a dispute about the children. Try not obsessing about changing the other parent, and do not make yourself a door mat and try to appease them in an effort to build a better relationship. If the other parent is saving face, nothing that you do will change the situation. It is all about keeping their secrets safe. Avoiding you, and making you out to be the bad guy, is the basis of their new relationship. They will move heaven and earth to keep the story going.
If the avoiding parent starts to repair the relationship with you, their new partner may start to see all of the lies and they cannot risk being exposed. People who live a life based on lies will never risk a second breakup. The first one devastated them. Because they never took pause to heal from that, another rejection would be unbearable. Eventually, the new partner may start to see that the story they have been told does not make sense, and your ex may possibly have to face their biggest fear, but again, you cannot change them, and it is not your responsibility to save them.
So what do you tell your kids when the other parent spreads lies and acts crazy? Tell your kids the truth. Tell them that you would like a better relationship with their mom/dad, and it is not possible right now. Tell them that you do not understand why the other parent acts that way, but that you love them and will always be there for them no matter what. You may also want to tell them that you feel sorry for the other parent’s pain and hope that one day they will find a way to work through it. That is all you have to say. Then you must commit yourself to taking the high road and doing the best job of parenting that you can.
Hostile co-parenting relationships are not helped by seeking revenge or telling the other side what they need to do to make things better. You are the last person they will take advice from. Sometimes the best you can do is keep your own house in order and choose a healthier relationship for yourself, and leave your ex to battle their own demons.