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Living Rent Free in Your Head

Image courtesy of nattavut at freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of nattavut at freedigitalphotos.net

When you devote much of your day in fear of your ex, or thinking about what your ex is doing, you are allowing them to live rent free in your head.  It is completely understandable that if you have had many negative experiences with your ex and experienced a prolonged, bitter custody battle, you would become afraid of having to deal with them in the future.  Still, the best thing to do is to get them out of your head and out of your life as much as possible.

I do not want to make light of the situation.  I hope to help people move forward and stop giving their ex more attention than they deserve.  If you have become overwhelmed with thoughts and fears about your ex, you have to work on changing your thinking.  It is not going to happen over night, but it can be done.  You will have to work hard at it and things may get worse before they get better.  What I mean by that is the controlling, abusive, meddling ex will do their best to make you fail in your quest for freedom.  That is reason enough why you must do it.  When you start paying less and less attention to them and no longer cower in fear of them, they are going to get in your face a little more before they slither away and the fact remains, they may never slither away completely.  You see, the problem is not with you.  It is with them.

Your ex has been masterful at turning the tables on you and keeping you off balance.  Because their behavior is not normal, you may be confused about why they are behaving the way they are.  Worse, you may also be confused that in the real world, people view your ex as very nice, smart, thoughtful, etc.  They may have a new relationship that seems just peachy and you may be questioning if you really are the problem.  Trust me, you are not the problem.

Keep in mind that most people in the real world only get a glimpse of who your ex really is and when your ex wants to, he or she can really turn on the charm.  The same goes for the new relationship.  They must make their new partner see you as a crazy person.  It helps them ensure that you will never go near their new partner and that they will steer clear of you as well.  No one can talk to each other that way.  The angry ex’s secrets do not get divulged.  This keeps their new love in the dark about who they really are and it helps keep you wondering what the heck is going on…and they LOVE that.  Remember how they treated you early on and how wonderful you thought they were.  The new partner will also be charmed.

They LOVE having you fear them.  They LOVE living in your head rent free.  They do not even have to do anything because you fear them so much and try to anticipate what they will do next.  It feeds their ego to know that they are always on your mind.

So how do you go about changing things?

First things first, you have to put your fear behind you.  You may even need to get angry.  You also need to retrain your brain to stop any and all thoughts of your ex whenever they crop up.

Second, have a diversion.  If you are overwhelmed thinking about what your ex may or may not do about any given issue, have a friend or a hobby or even look for a new love interest and whenever you just cannot shake the evil ex thoughts, call on that person or take some time to work on it.  If you choose a hobby, make sure that it is something that will keep you busy.  Reading sometimes will not work because if your mind keeps wandering, you will not really be reading.  Try exercise, too, and some stress reduction techniques, such as deep breathing, mediation or swinging your arms back and forth for 10 minutes.  Trust me, it works.

Third, carve out “ex free” time.  When you have the luxury of your child spending time at the other parent’s house or with grandma and grandpa or their friends, carve it out.  Announce to yourself that you will not give your ex anymore time than they have already taken from you.

This can be done, trust me, I have done it.  It takes some time and some practice, but once you master retraining your brain, the less you will think about your ex or care about your ex.  It will become habit to you and you will be well on your way to a new and happier life.  One last thing, it is natural to want to put your life on hold for fear that your ex will ruin anything that makes you happy, but that is just giving them more control over your life.  You do NOT want to do that.  Write down on a piece of paper in big letters the following:

NOT ONE MORE DAY.  MY EX WILL NOT GET ONE MORE DAY OF MY LIFE.  MY EX HAS BEEN LIVING RENT FREE IN MY HEAD FOR YEARS AND TODAY IS HIS EVICTION NOTICE.  HE/SHE NEEDS TO GET OUT OF MY HEAD AND OUT OF MY THOUGHTS AND OUT OF MY LIFE STARTING RIGHT NOW.  I DO NOT DESERVE TO BE TREATED THE WAY I AM BEING TREATED.  I DESERVE TO BE HAPPY.

And then go live it.  If you want to find a new love, seek them out.  Your ex may try to meddle and he/she may try to make things difficult for you in unimaginable ways, but you are stronger than he or she is.  Much stronger.  They have a sickness that they probably cannot escape, but you will choose to get healthier.  You will take steps to ensure that you never choose the same kind of psychopath as a partner again, and you won’t.  Your new love will love you and because they love you so much, they will see what your ex is doing and they will stand by you no matter what.

When you see it, you will believe it and achieve it!

Image courtesy of Nattavut / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Mandated Relationships

PAS statement from APA image by Susan Carpenter

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:

Judge Locks Up Kids for Refusing to Have lunch With Dad

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.

 

Background Image courtesy of arztsamui at freedigitalphotos.net

Background Image courtesy of arztsamui at freedigitalphotos.net

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!

What Do Parenting Coordinators Do?

I like to think that people should be informed about matters that involve them entering into a contract, especially where they are going to be paying thousands of dollars.  One of my biggest pet peeves is when parents get stuck in a contract they cannot get out of, and they never really agreed to in the first place.

The legal community does a very poor job of informing parents about what it means to work with a Parenting Consultant.  Usually, parents are strong armed into agreeing to have a PC appointed, and out comes the court order.  It happens quickly, and you really don’t know what a PC does, or how much they cost, until after a court order is issued that appoints one.  By the time you realize how the process works, you are stuck.

The following is a list of issues that a Parenting Consultant can decide about your children.  It is a list that I received when I went through training to be a Parenting Consultant.  If you were given this list at the time you were contemplating whether or not to appoint a PC, I truly believe that no sane person would ever agree to have a Parenting Consultant appointed.  Even when you are told that a PC will settle disputes about legal custody issues, you never imagine all the things they delve into about your family life.

I have used both Parenting Coordinator and Parenting Consultant to describe the role of these court authorities, but they mean the same thing.  Most places call them Parent Coordinators, but my home state of Minnesota calls them Parenting Consultants.

The following is the list of issues that a Parenting Consultant can decide, however, this is not all inclusive.  They can decide anything other than Custody, or Child Support.  Would you be willing to turn over decisions like this to Family Court?

PC duties by life's Doors Mediation

The Right of First Refusal, Helpful or Hurtful?

Image courtesy of  Stuart Miles  at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of
Stuart Miles
at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I hadn’t really given too much thought to “the right of first refusal” until a client showed me the Liz Library article about it a few days ago.  I often recommend the Liz Library for a reference because the articles are insightful and linked to research on the topics, and my client found the article because of a post where I referenced the Liz Library.  I had not really contemplated this issue before.

My opinion on the Right of First Refusal is that one should not give it to the other parent without asking for the same right in return, and I do still believe that to be a wise move.  In your own case, you should always discuss that with your lawyer, of course, but I’d be surprised if any lawyer would not think it should be reciprocal. That is about as far as I’d ever thought about it, mainly because if a parent asks for it, a Parenting Coordinator or judge is likely to give it.  It is one of the tools in their arsenal to encourage co-parenting, and so they usually will use the tools they have.  That is my take on all things Family Court.  You would not be there if it wasn’t about co-parenting difficulties, and the Family Court loves their toolbox.

Do I think that the right of first refusal is a good thing?  No.  As with anything in double edged sword land of Family Court, it could be a good thing, but it can also be used as a weapon by the controlling, vindictive ex spouse.  Is your ex spouse trying to gain more parenting time by way of the right of first refusal?  Probably.  What else might they hope to accomplish by it?  Control, control, control, and engagement, engagement, engagement.  They either hope to ensure they are informed about everything you are involved in when you either would not or could not involve the children, or they are trying to create another reasons that you will need to contact them.  On its face, the right of first refusal makes sense.  A child should be with their parent when a parent is available to care for the child in the other parent’s absense.  In most cases, it is better to have a parent with the child before involving a third party.  Too bad we don’t look at that with legal custody, huh?  I digress.  This is why it is hard to say if it is a good or bad thing.  It is both.  What I mean by that is when it comes to a high conflict family, odds are that it is a bad thing.  It will most likely increase the conflict, and become more problematic than it is worth.  For the cooperative, low conflict divorced family, it would be a good thing.  The problem is that the right of first refusal is typically sought by high conflict parents.  A cooperative family is neither going to ask for the right of first refusal, nor will they need to have it written in a court order.  For the low conflict divorced family the right of first refusal is an automatic thing, or they trust the other parents judgement on who they will choose to leave the children with when they cannot be available and don’t fixate on such trivial things.

Any of these tools really are remedies for high conflict families and no one else.  Truth be told, no one should ever call them tools, as much as they should call them weapons.  It is just a sad fact.  There is a reason why your family cannot manage co-parenting.  There is a reason why I am not a fan of co-parenting in high conflict situations.  I understand that the circumstances that create high conflict cannot be fixed by court ordered anything, and that most court ordered things are more problematic than they are worth.  Unfortunately, when remedy is asked for by one party, court authorities have to offer you some kind of remedy .  If it were up to me, the courts would first determine if there has been a problem, for example, is the other parent leaving the children in someone’s care frequently?  The court should make that determination before they try to resolve a problem that doesn’t exist.  In other words, they should make sure there is a problem before they offer a solution.  the reality is that court authorities don’t generally think that broadly.  They should also look at the dynamics of the family from which a parent is asking for a remedy, and if the parent is using things to control or punish the other parent with, they should not deliver any more weapons to the equation.  This is why I continue to oppose the one size fits all, cookie cutter approach that is used in the Family Court System.

The courts don’t know much about High Conflict and what exactly drives it.  This is why they are ill equipped to offer remedies to it.  The court authorities continue to make the same mistakes that parents make when it comes to high conflict divorce.  I would coach the court authorities in the same way that I coach parents.  Less is more.  Court orders aren’t working?  Why add more?  A parent getting more information on the other parent increasing the conflict?  Why give them more?

What the courts should keep in mind is that they really do know some of the accusations that come out of high conflict divorces.  The accusations that come are abuse, alcoholism, drug use, mental illness.  If those accusations are coming, they may never be able to prove any of it.  That is a fact with how the Family Court operates.  They aren’t really looking for evidence of anything if you have joint custody, but what they could do with the accusations, is to know that you are likely a high conflict case and remedies don’t provide solutions in the high conflict divorce.  Instead, they provide weapons.  In the way that they would allow a cop to have a gun, but deny a psychopath a gun, the right of first refusal works great for the well intentioned good guys, but in the hands of a bad guy, the right of first refusal will be a dangerous thing.  The Family Courts need to start determining that in the high conflict family, one parent is a bad guy.  Even if they don’t want to put in the work of determining who the bad guy is, they need to acknowledge that there is one and take a less is more approach.  They should not offer remedies that can be used as a weapon.  Period.  They only need to recognize that there is at least one bad guy involved.

No Assumptions

no licensing requirement found

no licensing requirement found

If I were to pass legislation to improve the Family Courts, I would not want to pass a joint custody assumption or a 50-50 shared parenting time assumption or anything of the sort.  I’d put forth a “Make No Assumptions” Family Law bill.  I would prefer that the courts not be involved in families at all.   If you are the two parents whose relationship resulted in bringing a new life into this world, you already share a child.  Why look to the court to give you something you already have?  The only time a court should be concerned about the relationships in your family is if someone or something is denying with or interfering with your right to participate in that relationship.  Other than that, it should be up to you to determine how parenting should be split, based on numerous different factors, and if you have to look to a court for a decision, they should have to look at those numerous different factors, too.  A split down the middle might be the right way to go, but it might not be.  We should also keep in mind that parenting is not just about time with the children.  It is about much more.  Raising a child is not an equal proposition.  It’s not a perfect science, and it is definitely not fair.  50-50 is something we invented to seem fair, but is it fair?  Is it fair to the child?  What about the parent who works evenings, whose kids are in school all day?  Should we still give evening time, to be fair, even though the parent cannot be there?  If that parent has every weekend with the child, is that fair and equal to the parent who gets zero weekends?  Kids do not always feel close to both parents equally, at all times.   That is just the nature of life, love and the intricacies of a relationship, and it isn’t always fair.  If parents come to court to settle parenting time disputes, shouldn’t the court have to look at all of the factors of the case and then decide what makes sense for that family over what is fair?

Let me explain why I believe that courts should not make assumptions about custody, or even parenting time.

In Minnesota, the courts use the Best Interests of the Children Standards when there is a Custody dispute. That standard is often applied in parenting time disputes as well. Many legal experts admit that these standards are out of date.  Personally, I feel that the Best Interest standards are a myth, just like much of what Family Court tries to do to “Case Manage” families, is a myth.  Families cannot and should not be case managed, and who is qualified to determine anyone’s best interest?

The interesting thing about the best Interest of the Child Standard is that the courts have gone to a shared parenting assumption throughout the nation. It may not be law in every state, but it is the line of thinking behind the scenes. Research shows that children do better in life when they have involvement and on-going contact with both of their parents, whether in the marital home, or after the marriage has ended.  Shared parenting, one could say, is in the “Best Interests of the Child”.  I am not arguing that fact.  Whenever possible, both mom and dad should continue to be involved parents for their children. What I am going to argue here is whether or not the courts are actually concerning themselves with the best interest of the child, or more with the best interest of the parent.  Is giving a parent 50% of a child’s time/life about the child, or about the parents perceived “right” of fairness?

There is research out there that shows children of married parents do better than children of unmarried parents. Should a court force a couple to stay married because of that research? How can you force a relationship between two people?  Still, Family Courts do try to force their idea of shared parenting on families and it has been a disaster. They instill parental “rights”, and when parents fight over those shared rights, there is no one actually looking at the “rights” or needs of the child. The child becomes lost in the battle.  The battles are almost always a dispute about what dad wants or what mom wants, and judges decide which parent “wins”.  Children are an unseen entity that everyone loses sight of.  They are usually not in the court and rarely given a voice.  Of course age has to do with that somewhat, but even older children are excluded from the process.

I do agree that a child has 2 parents with equal rights, and those parents share the rights to that child.  I really hesitated writing that last sentence because to say a child belongs to both parents, or anyone has the “rights” to each other seems highly adversarial and enslaving.  It creates a misconception that a person could be the property of someone.  We do not own our children.  We have been blessed with being given a relationship with them and a responsibility to care for them.  We have to recognize that both people are the parents of the child, and the child was born to those two individuals who produced the child.  I do not want to use words that imply “ownership”.  None of us have a “right” to another person. Maybe we need to call it “relationship with”, and rather than protecting “parental rights”, we should protect the “parental relationship”.  When you think in terms of a relationship with someone, you can then realize that a relationship cannot be proclaimed.  If you want to have a relationship with another human being, you have to cultivate and cherish that relationship.  You have to honor and respect the other person if you want to keep them in relationship with you.  This applies to a co-parent and it applies to your child.  It applies to every person with whom you intend to have an ongoing relationship, and asking a court to proclaim it for you will never create the relationship you hope to have with your child, former spouse that you parent with, or anyone else.

If we want to look at best interest of a child, we need to look at best interest according to whom?  I certainly would not want anyone deciding what was in my best interest because they would have to know my history and what things have happened in my life that forged the person I am today.  They would have to know my heart, and what makes me tick.  They would have to know what my passions are, what I am interested in and what I am not interested in.  They would have to know what family means to me, because it means different things to different people.  Some people could care less about blood relationships and more about caring relationships in their lives, than they care who shares DNA.  They would have to know my life experience from birth, and there is just no way that they could.  So who is the best authority on what is in anyone best interests? As you ponder that question, you can see, that is a tough one to answer.

Maybe it should be the best interest of the family.  What do little Mary and Johnny need?  What do mom and dad need?  What does the family need to make this transition easier for all?  What has happened in their past?  What are their dreams for the future?  Can a family find that kind of help in the legal system? No, they cannot.  You can ask for court orders, but try to get enforcement when another individual is truly opposed to something.  Asking for court orders also creates a bad pattern for your life because the only authority courts have over your family exists now, because of a minor child.  If you have to force children to be in relationship with you, what happens when they turn 18?  A parent had better hope to cultivate, honor and respect that relationship so that it still exists when a child becomes an adult.  Court can only ever be a temporary fix. You will need to figure it out at some point, or you just might lose it all in the end.

The reason that no one should make assumptions about families is because families are complex.  Is it fair when one parent wants the relationship with their children, but not the responsibility for them?  Families are made up of individuals and relationships. They have different passions. They have different personalities. They have different schedules.  There may be good reason why the parents do not interact. There may be good reasons why a parent should not have 50% of their children’s time.  Parents have to look at time, not as a reflection of their value as a parent, but rather as the value of their child’s life and activities and interests.  Life cannot be scheduled on weekends and mom’s time/dad’s time, and be fair to everyone.  Life happens on its own schedule and in its own time frame. Events and milestones happen when they happen.  Parents and children have different time frames of healing from trauma, and let me tell you that there are very few things in life as traumatic as divorce, especially divorce with children.

In a perfect world, we would stop talking in terms of “Parental Rights” and the “best interest of the children” and start honoring and respecting the family relationships and dynamics.  These things cannot be legislated or court ordered.  We can and do have laws to protect parental relationships so that parents are never denied time with their children, or restricted in building a relationship with their children. Denying and restricting time is something that not only warring parents try to do, but courts do as well, and there are laws that are supposed to prevent that, if only those would be enforced.   Naysayers will always remind me about safety and abuse, but if the Family Court would get out of relationships, the criminal courts could and should deal with abuse and neglect issues where they exist.
Children are not property and society needs to stop treating them as such. We are destroying beautiful children as we carve up their lives into the ownership of percentages of time, and we are setting them up for failure.  They are also being given a horrible example of how to build and cultivate healthy relationships and work through relationship conflict.  We have to do better as a society with honoring and respecting each other as the beautiful, wondrous people that we are.

Here’s the scoop!

The Newspaper And The People by njaj

Image courtesy of njaj at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Last year, Life’s Doors Mediation went to all sliding scale fees for Mediation, Parenting Consultant and Parenting Time Expediter services.  The change has been a good one for everyone, especially, the families that I want to serve.  This has led me to the decision to go full sliding scale fee for 2015.  Starting next year (and if you mention this post to me before then), all coaching and parent advocate services will be a sliding scale fee.  My goal has always been to reach parents and help families to mostly stay out of court when possible, but to use the court in the most efficient way possible for those who do have to use it.  Life is all about balance.  Family Court should be there in some instances, but realistically, courts or the law cannot help you with emotional issues.  A key piece of the coaching services I provide involves looking realistically at what is causing you the most difficulty, weeding out what you can combat on your own, what you need a lawyer to help you with, and what things are not yours to “fix”, but instead, learning to protect yourself and your children from abuses and intrusions from those who lash out at you.

Many things help you when used strategically, but you have to know where, when and how to apply them.  This is where I come in.  I am a divorce and co parenting coach, parent advocate, high conflict program instructor and mediation professional.  Life’s Doors Mediation does focus on divorce and hostile co parenting issues, but I also coach couples and individuals on dating, confidence, self-awareness and much more!

Visit the website and if you are interested in coaching, give me a call and ask about my new sliding scale fees for coaching.

http://www.lifesdoorsmediation.com

Why Your History of Domestic Violence Works Against You in Family Court

Image courtesy of  David Castillo Dominici  at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I have a personal experience of domestic violence.  I am just putting that out there so that people know that I know what I am talking about.  I understand domestic violence from your perspective.  I lived it.  I escaped it.  I moved beyond it, and I went through trying to prove it in Family Court.  I learned a lot from it and that is why I want to help you learn from my experience.  The goal here is to help others understand where it is going to be beneficial to you in Family Court and where it is not.

Let me first caution you that if you are in an abusive relationship, tell someone about it.  Find someone you trust, a family member, or a friend, and tell them.  Do not be ashamed or afraid to do so.  It is the first step toward a better life.  If you don’t have someone in your life that you can go to, find a domestic violence organization such as the Domestic Abuse Project, the Battered Women’s Coalition, Cornerstone, Sojourner Project, Alexandra House, The National Domestic Violence Hotline, or do you own search to find an organization near you.  They will help you.

My second caution is to know that the above listed organizations will help you and encourage you to tell your abuse story to court authorities.  That is important.  I just caution you to know when it will help you and when it will hurt you so that you who should hear it and how to tell it in a way that really will help you.  Knowledge is power.  Domestic Violence groups want to help you, but they may not always know how best to apply it in the Family Court situation.

My third caution is that if you are going through a divorce from an abuser, tell your attorney as early in the process as possible.  I know it is hard to do because of the shame involved, but this is important for your children’s sake.  You have put your children first all these years so you need to be brave just a little longer and put it all out there.  Ask for help from an advocate so that you can be your bravest now.  It is very important.

My fourth caution is to make sure your attorney understands abuse and when to apply it to your case.  Not all of them do.  They have to use it for maximum effect.  If they don’t, they are going to talk you into making some really bad choices, and sign on for things that are not in your best interests, for example, a Parenting Consultant or Coordinator.  If your attorney is not presenting your case correctly, find one who will.  The Domestic Violence groups should know attorneys who get it.  I also review pleadings to see if an attorney is presenting that aspect of your case for your best interests.  If your attorney would consult with me on domestic violence, I’d be happy to help with strategy, too.  While I am not an attorney, I know when and where they can best use this piece of your divorce story, and protect you from getting stuck in a big mess.

When you have a history of domestic violence, you have spent all of your time living under a cloud of worrying about what the abuser wants.  You have lived your life trying not to make him or her mad.  You know the hell it brings when you make them mad.  You are now conditioned to be hypervigilant, always reading the behavior of others in an effort to protect yourself.  In Family Court, this hyper-vigilance can be misconstrued as mental illness on your part.  For this reason, you need to do Family Court divorce and then be done with it.  Get your judgement and decree, and then get out.  Do not sign up for any court authority to manage your case.  While you may think you need a professional to make decisions because you and your ex will never agree on matters related to the children, you are better off going with professionals who cannot coerce you into situations that will make you relive the abuse daily.  Stay away from any professionals who can court order you to do things that will interfere with your parenting, and your healing process, and who may completely misread your actions.  Any on-going Family Court actions put you at further risk of abuse, and will not benefit your children.  Your best hope for healing and raising healthy children is to seek help from a therapist and/or domestic violence groups.  You can move beyond domestic violence in your life, but you will not move past it in the horrific world of Family Court.

The most beneficial times to get your story across in Family Court:

With your attorney, from day one

Domestic Violence is a reason why your attorney should look out for you when trying to settle financial and property matters to ensure that you are not intimidated into giving away too much of what you are entitled to.

Also, many states have custody and parenting time laws in regards to proven domestic violence.  While it is an uphill battle to get sole custody in the “group think” of family court, a world where everyone is equal and parents should share custody 50-50, there will never be a better time to go for sole custody and keep your family out of the court clutches than in your original divorce proceedings.  Post decree it is nearly impossible to make any changes if you have not made the initial plea.  Abusers do not think of their children’s best interest and so it is my opinion that you should not have joint custody with an abuser.  That is the reason why many states have laws about this in the first place.  However, if you find your lawyer is too wimpy about this issue, and many are, be careful with this.  Many people are afraid to use the court as it is intended.  This includes lawyers.  If in doubt, get a second opinion.  We do it with medical care and we should do it with lawyers, too, when it seems that they are not being an advocate for us.  Tread carefully, but confidently, when you can prove your claims.

Also make sure to follow your gut instincts.  Most domestic abuse victims know that they will never get their ex to work with them on important decisions regarding the children, but legal professionals give you false hope that your ex will change.  Haven’t you hoped for this for years?  You couldn’t make it happen and neither will they.  Trust your gut.

With court professionals, post decree.

This part is tricky business.  First off, in my opinion, you should avoid getting a “case manager” type of court professional assigned to your case.  These would be Parenting Consultants and Coordinators, but may also be a Guardian ad Litem or something else.  These roles are not helpful for Domestic Violence and often increase the hostility and interactions between you and the abuser, turning your life and your children’s lives into a nightmare.

I have seen many parents push the abuse claims, when they cannot prove it after the fact.  As I said, the best time to prove it and use it is during the initial divorce proceeding.  Post decree, there is little that can be done about it, especially by the court professional.  I have sat in many trainings with professionals who say, “we don’t care about domestic violence”.  Personally, they will tell you that they do care and wish there was no such thing, but professionally, there is nothing they can do about it.  Nothing.  There is no place to report domestic violence of an adult and no one who could do anything about it if there was.  What would you expect them to do?  You would think that they could, at the very least, keep the abuser away from you, but instead, the frequently force you to come together “for the children”.  This shows just how little they care about domestic violence.

Police can act on domestic violence.  The problem for you is that they are part of the criminal court system.  Criminal courts will address it and can go so far as to put an abuser in jail.  Family court has very little in the way of remedies for domestic violence of an adult.  Keep that in mind.  Not all court systems are the same.  Family Court deals with custody, parenting time, and division of property.  They do not deal with crime.  Something else you need to know is that criminal courts will rarely deal with an issue when you are actively involved with Family Court for that issue.  That is a big problem.  Family Court sucks all issues into it over other courts.  If a crime is committed related to domestic violence, it must be very blatant and beyond a reasonable doubt, to be prosecuted in criminal court.  The emotional abuse and harassment of parenting time and legal custody matters typically falls to the Family Court to deal with.  In their eyes, with joint custody, the parents have equal rights to the children and as such, are expected to “co-parent”.  Rather than protect you from an abuser, the Family Court often brings you more interaction with the abuser because they have an expectation that you and the other parent will work together to raise your children.

What you can hope to achieve in Family Court in regards to domestic violence is direction on how to communicate and facilitate co-parenting.  By telling your story, you can hope that a court authority will understand why you want little to do with the abuser, or why you are always worried about things that might happen because you have had to be hyper-vigilant for so many years, but there will not be much else that they can do for you.  Many of them will ignore your claims entirely because the violence history is not relative to the role that they are fulfilling to bring about co-parenting.  Even when a professional does believe you, you have to take action about it.  Nothing comes on its own.  You have to be the advocate for your healing and for the well being of your children.  Here’s why it is your battle to fight, for example:

Parenting Consultants/Coordinators are like a mini court.  You agree to use them to settle parenting disputes instead of going to the court.  The Parenting Consultant/Coordinator is now basically the judge of your family to settle disputes about the children.  In court, you must file a motion in order for a judge to make a decision.  That is how it works.  Courts are not just sitting around watching people and waiting for something to happen so they can jump in uninvited and decide an issue.  In the Parenting Consultant process, you must ask the PC to make a decision and you should also give them an idea of how you want the matter resolved.  This is similar to how you ask a court to decide an issue for you.  You lay out the area of disagreement, tell the court how you want to see it decided, and ask the court to decide it.  Since a Parenting Consultant is a mini court on their own, you want to approach issues the same way.  The difference is that Parenting Consultants don’t have to know or understand the law.  They are deciding the law of your family as is spelled out in your court orders, or agreements that the two parents have created over the years.  In their role they are also supposed to “assist” the parents in co-parenting.

When you tell a parenting consultant about a history of abuse, you need to take it further than just telling your story.  When you tell a court authority a story, they can really just determine if they believe it or not.  They could also, I suppose, try to make the abuse stop, but when you tell your PAST story, to them, it has already stopped.  Again, there is nothing they can do about something that happened in the past.

I see victims who have learned that domestic violence has an impact on custody and so they continue to tell their story repeatedly, hoping to get some kind of action out of the court authority, whether it is a PC or a judge, but you need to know:

  • the difference between criminal court vs family court
  • the role of the court professional on your case
  • what are the expectations of co-parenting in joint custody
  • the differences between sole and joint custody
  • the differences between physical custody and legal custody
  • how you have to take action for yourself and your children
  • what is parenting time vs custody
  • constant court interactions interfere with your healing process and that is not in the best interests of your child

In Family Court, the main reason that courts stay involved with a family is out of concern for the children.  They care about the conflict because of the effect it has on the children.  They don’t necessarily care about you.  When a childless couple divorces, there is no continuing involvement from the court.  If you are a victim of domestic violence, you need to look out for yourself.  You can do this with the help of therapists and advocates who understand what you are going through and what you have been through.  If you are going to tell your story in Family Court, it needs to be done strategically.  You have to learn to tell your story in terms of making a request for a remedy, but also to balance if that remedy is doable under the parameters of the court orders in your case.  I wish I could say with any confidence that you someone you can turn to for help in Family Court, but I can’t.  Even when the court authority understands domestic violence, the professional’s role, and the court orders, dictate how they make decisions.  It is going to be up to you to explain what it is you are asking for and why.  Your history of abuse may come into play if you want separate meetings from the other parent, or if you want to put limits on communication between you and the other parent.  It definitely comes into effect if you plan to file for sole custody, however, a Parenting Consultant cannot change custody so you don’t need to try and hammer that home to the PC.  You will also need to understand how professionals must try to balance your needs as a victim with joint custody and co-parenting.  It is my opinion that you will do better outside of the Family Court system, but when you have to use the system, do so strategically.

Why Court Ordered Co-Parenting Doesn’t Work

Image courtesy of iosphere at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of iosphere at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There is a huge problem today in how Family Court has decided that their role is to oversee families after divorce.  Time and time again I remind court authorities that they cannot force co-parenting; it will either happen naturally, or it won’t.  Time and time again I listen to court authorities continue to believe that it is their duty to determine how parents will parent their children after divorce, and to force these parents “get along” to make a better life for the children.  Still, I persist in trying to stop court ordered co-parenting.  Many people think that I am anti-co-parenting.  I am not.  I am just a realist, and a champion for peace in the home of parents and their children.

Co-parenting is the best way to move past divorce.  It is the best way for parents, and the best way for children.  It is the best way to create a healthy, functional family.  I do not dispute that, and I would not interfere with families who choose to do that for their family.  I am a supporter of co-parenting where it can and does work.  On this, I do not disagree with court authorities about co-parenting.  Where I disagree with the court authorities is when they put parents and their children through hell to try to get them there.  My belief is that if parents are going to co-parent, they will do so without being forced by a court.  It comes naturally to those families, after they have been allowed to heal the hurts that created the divorce.  When it doesn’t come naturally, it is my belief that the harm caused by the court authorities who “case manage” the family for years and years, is more harmful than if those families are allowed to choose a different way to parent after divorce.  It prolongs the pain and anguish for each member of the family, and it actually interferes with the healing process of each member of the family.  Forced co-parenting creates high levels of distrust, which generates much higher levels of hostility, and leads more families into the category of high conflict, as those parents feel pressured and depleted, emotionally and financially.  The parents feel imprisoned and no longer feel that they control their own destiny.  This affects the whole family, including extended family members.

A recent op-ed in the New York Times speaks to how divorced parents lost their rights.  Courts do not take the same control of married families, as they should not, but they seem to feel obligated to do so when people with children terminate a marriage.  I do not think they have the right to do this in any family.  There are many ways to parent after divorce.  Families can co-parent, parallel parent, and alternate parenting.  Who said that the courts should get to dictate which method you choose?  When did it become illegal to parallel or alternate parenting?

When I was married, my husband and I never referred to our parenting style as co-parenting.  We never heard the term “co-parenting” until after we divorced and we experienced a conflict.  The word was in our divorce decree, but we never really paid much attention to it until court authorities started chastising us for not “co-parenting”.  Had we not had a post decree conflict that took us back to court, we would have gone happily on our way, having very little to do with each other, parenting separately, and both parents and children, would have never been the wiser.  We would have never called that wrong for our family, and we would never have considered it to be illegal.  Do you know why?  Because it is not illegal for us to live our lives as we see fit, and to parent our children, as we see fit, even when doing so deviates from the group think of Family Court authorities.  I’m not sure what one might have called the way my ex husband and I were parenting, in between the decree and the conflict that lead to the shackles of the Family Court takeover, but it was natural for us and informative.  We did not need to discuss the children much and each had our own way of parenting the children, based on the fact that we hadn’t spent much time doing anything together.  My husband had not been very interested in doing things as a family, including the years that we were married, so it was natural for us to do our own things with the children.  Even though we kept things separate, we knew enough to tell the other when there was an important school and medical matter that arose.  No one had to tell us to act, we just knew to tell the other because we did know right from wrong, as it went along with our morals, values and beliefs.  The relationship wasn’t perfect, not much is perfect in a life, but it was manageable and peaceful.  Once family court authorities told us how wrong it was and took our family captive, we no longer knew wrong from right.  The reason we could never know wrong from right is because those court authorities wanted us to live under their morals, values and beliefs.  They were strangers.  How can we know what is right and wrong in their eyes, especially where parenting is concerned?  There is no manual on how to parent, and no one ever gave us a manual to explain the court way of parenting.  Another problem was that the court way of co-parenting changed with each individual court authority who came along.  Just when you thought you had figured it out, someone new came along with their morals, values and beliefs, and we had to try to conform again.  It was a never-ending process of trying to follow rules in a game where the rules kept changing and the goal posts kept getting moved.

A friend and I were discussing co-parenting and the courts the other day.  We were trying to figure out why court authorities ever came to the belief that they needed to involve themselves in relationships.  Why would anyone think it was a good idea?  Our discussion went to how the court should be able to terminate a marriage, and to ensure that both parents are able to establish a continuing relationship with the children, but we drew the line at allowing the court to determine the relationship between the parents.  To us, you cannot court order relationships.  Period.  Think about the two of us as friends.  We are very close friends and have been friends for a number of years.  We have had our disputes over the years, and even did end our friendship for a couple of months at one time.  This “breakup” was created when we were having a profound difference in a situation which showed the difference in our values and beliefs, and neither wanted to bend our values and beliefs to cater to the other.  Luckily, we were able to come together and resolve those differences, and our friendship is stronger than ever.  We have figured out, all on our own, how to maintain our friendship, but still allow each other to have our different beliefs.  Had one of us decided that the friendship was not worth working things out, the friendship would have ended.  Neither of us would have been able to force the other back in, and no court would have cared how we moved forward after the split.

Should a court have told us that one of us had to cater to the other?  Do you think we’d be friends now if one of us had to give up our core values for the other?  How often would we have needed to return to court to ensure that we stayed in the relationship?  That’s what we are doing by having Family Courts “manage” post decree conflicts.  Why don’t courts interfere in all relationships?  When someone wants to end a relationship, shouldn’t they be allowed to do so without judgement?  Should the next step in Family Court be to have a friend take the other friend to court to make one stay in the relationship?  It sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it?  But that is what we are doing with forced co-parenting.  Since the courts force co-parenting on this ridiculous argument that it is “in the best interests of the children”, maybe the courts should not allow divorce for couples with children.  Research also shows that children whose parents stay married do better overall so why is it not considered the best interest of the children to force the parents to stay married?  Because it is ridiculous to court order relationships!  That’s why!

We need to get away from this notion that any court or law can force a relationship to continue.  They can’t.  Family Court should continue to free people from of a marital relationship they no longer want, but they need to stop there.  They need to get out of relationship matters, stop with co-parenting orders and stop with post decree conflict resolution.  Couples are made up of 2 individuals, each of whom has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in these United States of America.  Most people will negotiate a way to continue on as parents in a way most beneficial to their children.  For those who won’t, there are probably equal numbers of married parents who are not parenting as Family Court would like them to either.  The difference is that Family court doesn’t have the authority to dictate how married people parent anymore than they do with divorced parents.  It is a myth to think they can, and the reason why some families get embroiled in high conflict situations that devastate their children for years.

Co-parenting is not only a style of parenting after divorce, it is also a relationship between two people, much like a marriage is.  If one doesn’t want to do it, nothing in the world will make them.  The reason why courts stay out of most relationships is because it is not violating a law to choose not to be in a relationship, and there are too many variables in the relationship for a court to even try to dictate what to do.  Still, the Family Court uses “co-parenting” as a way to keep families in perpetual legal proceedings for years.  The time has come for this to stop.

I do believe Family Court authorities can and should present information to divorcing parents about why co-parenting is best and explain what co-parenting means, but I do not believe that co-parenting has any place in the law, or in a court order.  Families should follow the natural way of parenting that worked for them during the marriage based on their own morals, values and beliefs, either shared, or not shared, and with that, figure out the best way they can go forward after the marriage ends.  If left to their own devices, I believe most people will enter a natural way of parenting after divorce that will be more peaceful than any court coerced relationship would be.

Anger and Your Child

The video below is showing how a toddler reacts to an angry person. It interrupts their focus from fun and learning and puts all of their focus on the angry person. If you watch, you will see the child just stops. The child in the video doesn’t know what to do, except he appears to be bracing himself for what may come.

Think about this child in terms of a nasty, angry co-parenting situation, caught in the middle of two angry parents. While the parents may not be angry all the time, it may be enough to refocus the child’s attention on the battle, and not school or friends or other happy experiences. This is a good reminder to keep those feelings of anger in check during your parenting time with your child, and to do your part to keep the conflict with your co-parent at a minimum. This is not to say that you should blame the other parent for their anger, or try to control their anger, because you cannot. You can only control yourself. However, your decreasing reactions may have a counter effect on the other parent. It is hard to be angry to someone who is not helping to fuel that fire.

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