Thoughts From High Conflict U

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 […]

via Who Do You Recommend for a Parenting Coordinator or Consultant? — High Conflict U

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