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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

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The Best Revenge on an Ex-Updated

Image courtesy of Photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This article was originally posted on May 18, 2011.  Due to its popularity, I thought I’d re-post it.

When hit with divorce some people decide that their life is over. They think that in order to be a good parent, they must make sacrifices. They decide that dating has to wait until the children are grown, or they decide that they must be alone FOREVER.

There are always those people who decide that “all men are scum!” or that “all women are man haters!” While it certainly feels that way as you try to heal the wounds of divorce, those statements are blatantly false. Just because one person hurt you, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a loving man or woman out there who has been hurt just as badly, and would love to find someone like you. Many people are looking for a decent, loving individual, with whom they can build a new life, but instead, they do not allow themselves to seek out a potential mate.

It is called fear, people. Fear holds them back from true happiness. Those who live in fear never get to live life to the fullest. They miss out on the joy life can bring. They miss out on sharing a life with someone wonderful.

We can take our past experiences and let them continue to hurt us, or we could chalk it up to experience and hop right back on that bicycle and try it again. What I think people find through dating, especially when they are a little older and have been through divorce, is that they matter, and that they are more beautiful and desirable than they think they are.

The period following divorce can be a chance to learn about yourself. It can be a time to figure out who you are and what your interests are. You can try people on for size and it will help you find the right one for you. Just because the last one turned out to be the wrong one, that is no reason to give up and hide under the covers. I truly believe that there is someone out there for everyone. Just make sure that you have examined your part in the failed relationship and that you are emotionally healthy and ready for a new relationship before you get deeply involved with a new mate. It will save many headaches later if you get your act together!

I have another take on that whole “sacrificing for the children” belief. I think that when you swear off dating, you are robbing your children of a good example. Here’s why: Since you ended up divorced, that was probably not the best example of a healthy relationship. Did you fight? Was there chemical dependency involved? Was your ex physically and verbally abusive? Children learn by modeling. They observe the relationships they see and it leaves an impression on them. The kind of relationship they witness will be the relationship they seek out in their own lives and they will do so without even knowing they are doing it.

One day, they will choose a significant other and have a relationship just like their parents had. Why? Because this is what a relationship looks like to them. Do you want that? Would it be better to show your children how to date selectively and then hopefully find that special person with whom you can have a healthy, lasting relationship with? What a great model to give them, especially if all of the relationships around them haven’t always been the healthiest! Do this for you, but also for your children, and for that new person you have yet to meet, the one who is just as lonely as you are. You just might surprise yourself and find the right one. I know I have.

Keep in mind that there is another reason to open your heart and mind to love, and all of the possibilities in life. Your ex. While I would never recommend dating just to get back at your ex, I do think the best revenge on an ex is for them to see you blissfully happy and successful in life! Go ahead. Have the last laugh.

 

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.

Enough With Demonizing Parents!

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This nonsense of the legal community demonizing parents who want a chance to have their day in court, has got to stop.  There has been enough of this nonsense in recent years.

Any time a parent has legitimate concerns about the welfare of their children in a shared parenting situation, that parent is demonized, and their life and the lives of the children are put through hell for daring to question the legal community and their effort to bring  joint custody everywhere.

In the past, custody determinations were based on what was best for the children.  Even though we have family court laws that are based on the “Best Interest of the Child” standard,  the courts frequently push the parents to share custody because the legal community has determined that is what is right for parents.  It is all based on a gender equality agenda, and there is no consideration really given to the child, when that consideration would throw a monkey wrench in the agenda.

The reason I bring this up is because my youngest son recently moved out, which has given me the custody of my basement back!  I am going through the junk that has been acquired over the years and going to do a cosmetic makeover of my entire basement.

The other day, while cleaning, I came across the nonsense bullshit that I had to deal with when I separated from my Mixed Personality Disordered (proven in a psych eval) spouse.  I don’t bring this up very often because I no longer allow his mental strangeness to infect my life, and my children have learned exactly who their dad is and what he is all about.  It doesn’t mean that they don’t spend time with the man, and it doesn’t mean they don’t love the man, it only means that I do not.  There is no reason for me to have anything to do with him.  When it comes to him and I, the relationship is toxic to both of us, and I will not engage in the toxicity.  I did not want to engage in it back then either, but the court coerced and threatened me when I tried to disengage.

So back to the bullshit I found in my basement.  When my husband and I separated, the man did some really freakish things.  I knew he was an alcoholic.  I knew that he was abusive to me, and the children, for that matter, but I became very concerned when the threatening phone calls came at all hours of the day and night from pay phones near where he lived, and the mysterious letters, and a package that I received in the mail started coming.  The man actually stalked me for a summer.  It was all very frightening.

He lived an hour away from me, yet, he would show up near my home, in places that did not make sense for him to have driven an hour to, and to be “coincidentally” there at the same time I was.

I received letters implying that I was a lesbian, with flyers from lesbian groups.  I one time received a metabolife brochure, after my ex’s girlfriend had told me how fat I was (I weighed 135 at the time).  I also received an odd joke printed out, something about a person who is lazy and can’t stand on their own two feet.  The package though, that was the kicker.  The package had deodorant, mouthwash, tampons, soap, etc., and it contained a note about what a filthy, smelly person I was and included a comment about me at “that time of the month”.  I was very frightened to open that package.  I seriously thought it might have a bomb in it.

There is much more to this story, and much I can tell you about why there is no doubt in my mind that my ex was behind all of this, but it would take a very long time to tell the story in full.  One day I plan to tell this at a training event, but what you need to know now is that I did involve the police.  The police did very little.  They really did not care about it, or the fact that I was scared, or the fact that I was stalked by my ex husband.  They told me flat-out that they could not really do much unless he injured or killed me.  Isn’t that comforting?  This is what Domestic Violence victims live with all the time, especially if they have children, and are going through family court.

Anyway, in the end, I could not prove that it was him.  It might have been his girlfriend, I was told.  True, but again, all of this gave me reason to be concerned about my children spending time alone with their dad and/or his girlfriend, but to bring that up in court, no one wanted to allow it, not even my own attorney, who I paid a sizable retainer to be an advocate for my children and I.  As a matter of fact, this attorney told me not to include any of this in my affidavit because it would make me look stupid for having chosen such a man to marry.

The problem with not being able to have my day in court on the matter is that my ex’s bad behavior continued, and even got much more disturbing, as time went by.  After hundreds of thousands of dollars, and eight years, I finally had to have my day in court anyway.  Once I was able to prove my case, I won sole custody, which I should have had all along!

I find it deeply disturbing that family court and the legal community do everything in their power to keep parents from having their day in court and to explain why they should be an exception to the joint custody rule.  It creates a hellish childhood for the children in these families, and it prevents the entire family from moving on with their lives and accomplishing their dreams.

We demonize any parent who doesn’t readily embrace joint custody.  Why the need for such demonization?  We don’t demonize mass murderers, but we will demonize a parent who just wants their children to be safe???

Back in 1993, a man opened fire on the Long Island Rail Road.  There were dozens of witnesses.  Passengers held him down until police arrived and handcuffed him.  There was no question that he did it.  Still, he was entitled to his day in court.  No one was demonizing him for pleading not guilty and wanting his day in court.  No one.  He had his trial, represented himself and was found guilty.  Justice worked, as it should have.

Why then, do family courts try to deny parents their day in court and to raise questions important to their child’s future?  Why does the legal community treat a mass murderer with more respect than they do a parent in family court?  It doesn’t make sense and it needs to stop.

And by the way, this is not only happening to parents who experience domestic violence.  There are many parents who know that their children will not be taken care of by the other parent for numerous reasons, not only suspect, but know it.  They should have a chance to be heard and a chance to present evidence to back up their claims.  That is our right here in America.  We need to fight for it.

Let’s take the Family Courts back to the rule of law and the role they are really supposed to play, and kick them to the curb on pushing their activist agendas on our lives.

 

Love is the Answer to the Family Court Question

"Tulips and Heart Shape Butterflies" by anekoho

Image courtesy of anekoho/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.

 

Saving Face

Image courtesy of Ambrose at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Ambrose at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.

Positively Productive Mediation Experiences

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Mediation can be an anxiety and fear producing experience.  it is rarely something people look forward to.  Many of the first conversations I have with people who are in the process of finding a mediator involve the following language, or something similar:

“Well, _________ says we have to try mediation.   It will probably be a very short meeting because we can never agree on anything.  I just don’t see him/her saying anything other than, “NO!”.  That’s all it ever is.”

Still, they are willing to set up that appointment and come in to mediate, and they are usually very surprised at the outcome.

Rarely does anyone look forward to mediation.  Usually, the parties have not spoken in quite some time, and if they have, the conversation quickly escalates into an argument.  Nobody wants to embrace conflict.  Conflict is unpleasant and something most people do their best to avoid.  The thought of sitting down in a room with this person seems unthinkable because of the history of the relationship and because you know this person all too well.  You can only think of all the mean and nasty things that other person has ever said to you, and every horrible experience you have been through with them or because of them.  Those negative thoughts are why it is easier to ignore the problem, rather than deal with the problem.  However, if you don’t deal with the problem, it will not go away.  Sometimes when that problem is dropped into the legal process, it will only grow bigger.  Legal proceedings are relationship problems on steroids.

If you can look at mediation not as a conflict, but as an opportunity to come to resolution, you can quickly see areas where you and the other person have some common ground.  A good mediator will point out areas where the two of you are in agreement from early in the process.  You need to remember that mediation is not only anxiety and fear producing for you, but also for the other person.  They are not looking forward to the experience either.

Mediation can be a very positive experience and it can change relationships for the better.  That doesn’t mean that you are going to repair the relationship.  That will sometimes happen, but more often, you can bring closure or a new direction to the relationship.  That may be a scary thought, but think of it this way, whatever the relationship is right now, if all it involves in not being on speaking terms, or escalating arguments, it is not working the way it is.  Putting an end to the conflict and changing the relationship going forward, can put you on a more positive path, even if that means you walk your path, and they walk a different path.

You can make mediation a positive experience for you, by approaching it in a positive way.  Don’t assume the worst.  Go about it with no preconceived notions.  If you come out without an agreement, you are no worse off than you were before, but remember, you may come out ahead.

Mediation is a confidential process so you can speak openly and not fear any ramifications in court later.  As a matter of fact, if the issue is taken into court, and the other party tries to tell the judge that you said, “X, Y or Z” in mediation, the judge will stop any further discussion of what was said in mediation.  Go into mediation and say what you need to say.  That alone can be quite healing for people.

Some other ways to ensure that mediation is a positive experience for you are to:

1. Make sure you are well rested.

2. Make sure that you will not be hungry.  If you schedule around lunch or dinner time, eat before the session if you can.  If not, bring a snack.  Feel free to take a break if you need to.  Mediators will usually do their best to make sure their clients basic needs are met.

3. Come prepared with your idea for resolution.  Do not think in terms of what you think the other party may or may not agree to.  You may come out very surprised.  It happens more often than not.  Ask for what you need, but also be prepared to compromise.

4. Consider what the other party is asking for.  If you need a moment to think about it, be sure to let the mediator know that.  You do not have to agree to something that you do not want to do, but sometimes a knee jerk reaction is to say no, when the reality is, it may be a workable solution.

5. Think about your life going forward, not about the past. Even if the relationship was bad, it may improve when you can agree to move forward after coming to some resolution of the issues that have you entrenched in battle.

6. Don’t think of it in terms of all or nothing.  Partial agreements can be very helpful, too.  You may be able to resolve some of your issues and that is a step in the right direction.  You would be surprised how often an agreement on a small issue starts the ball rolling on bigger issues.  Sometimes, people return to mediation after coming out of a first session with a partial agreement.  After having some time to reflect on a prior session, people realize that they can return to mediation and work out the rest of the agreement.

7. Keep your discussion positive and use I statements. Try not to place blame. How you got to where you are doesn’t have to interfere with a plan that moves you forward.

8. Consider mediation a new beginning.  Even when you do not find resolution, the conversation can help you clarify where the relationship is at.  You no longer have to wonder if you will or will not be able to have a productive conversation.  Let the experience shape how you will go forward with or without the other party.  Sometimes relationships do have to end, but it opens our lives up for new relationships going forward.  We can take what we have learned to make better choices in the future.

Mediation offers the opportunity to redefine relationships.  It also offers an opportunity to be creative when resolving conflict.  When you stay positive and are open to the possibility of what may happen, your experience will serve you well, even if you are not able to come into an agreement.

If you enter into a mediation session with a positive attitude, it will often spill over to the other side of the table.  You can have a positive, productive mediation, provided you go in with a positive attitude and are willing to sit down for an open discussion.  You may not get everything that you hope to, but in most cases you can both come out winners.

Do You Recommend Your Parenting Consultant or PTE?


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When I created my first website, I had a page called, “Rate Your PC”.  My plan was to collect information on all Parenting Consultants in Minnesota so we could find out if there were any good ones, and keep the good ones in business while weeding out the bad ones.  At the time, my attitude about being a PC was, “Hell NO!”  I NEVER wanted to inflict that kind of damage on a family.  Period.

After working as a coach, it turned out that most of my clients came to me for help dealing with their parenting consultant and hostile co-parent.  I blogged about PCs and people would find me because of that.  After a while, I decided that I really needed to write a book because all of the questions were the same: “How do you get rid of a parenting consultant (coordinator)?” “Why won’t they do something about my ex?”  “How did I become the bad guy in all of this?”  “Can you file a complaint against a PC?”  All of these questions and more are covered in my book, “The Parenting Consultant Nightmare”

As part of my research for the book, I attending the training to be a Parenting Consultant.  Don’t think for a moment that my stomach wasn’t queasy.  It was.  I attended the Parenting Time expediter training as well, even though it was facilitated by my former PTE and PC.  I think she was much more intimidated than I was.  Because the training was pretty good, I did decide to offer these services.  It’s something I struggle with all the time.  Is it the right thing to do?  If you have any feedback on the question, I hope you’ll either comment after the post, or send in a contact form through the website.  Many clients tell me they want me to offer those services because I “get it”.  Still, if I am their coach, I cannot be their PC.  Anyway, having attended the training, and offering PC services, made me rethink that “Rate your PC” page.  Not because I felt hypocritical in collecting the data, and not because I have become “one of them”, but because I realized it was not giving me what I was looking for.

Being a friend to parents who deal with  high conflict co-parenting situations is not easy.  I can help you with many things, and I have succeeded in empowering people into making the system work better for them, but I cannot make the situation go away completely. If you have a co-parent who is always on the attack, they are going to stay on the attack, however, if you are empowered, their interest in you tends to decrease significantly.  The less reactive you are, the less they continue to try.  So I have had to rethink and shift gears as I learn more about the issue from the viewpoint of the parenting consultants or parenting coordinators, and what works for you and what doesn’t and have changed my approach somewhat.  I decided to stop collecting that data and had good reasons to stop collecting it.

One reason was that I did not get any good reviews.  If anyone has had a parenting consultant or parent coordinator on your case, that makes sense.  You would not expect to find anyone who knows how to manage these high conflict cases.  But are there really no good ones?  Typically, people are willing to take time reporting a negative, but rarely will report a positive.  I’d like to find out there are some good ones available, but it did not look like anyone would let me know that aspect.

Another reason  I quit collecting data is because people are afraid.  They are not going to turn in that information unless they know me and trust me.  Let’s face it, those of you in high conflict cases involving a PC just do not trust anyone.  You end up wondering where the information goes and who does it go to and worry that you may not stay anonymous?  My clients do learn they can trust me, and that I am not “one of them (PCs)” so through my daily work I can learn who the good and bad PCs are.  Again, no good PCs to report, but if you had someone who actually decreased the conflict, why would you be looking for a website, blog or coach to tell that story to?  Most likely, you would just go about living life, quite happily, I might add.  I still like to hold out hope that there are some out there.

Since I no longer collect information about PCs,  I want to share with you a website where you can write a review of your parenting consultant, parenting coordinator or parenting time expediter.  It has been around for a while, but the owner of the site  is not really going through those court issues anymore, from what I understand, and so I don’t think the owner does much with the site anymore.  That makes it harder to find when searching on the internet.  You can help move it up in the searches by adding reviews. The reviews are listed as a Parenting Time Expediter directory, but most PTEs also work as PCs.

For anyone who wants to write a review of their court professional, please do so on that directory site.  I think it would be an excellent resource for parents who need to choose a PC or PTE, whether the first time appointing one, or if the old one has left the case and they need to appoint someone new.  If you have anyone to report on, please do it at:

www.mnparent.org

I hope that we can raise awareness about that site so that people can come away with options for who to appoint and not to appoint.  Remember, it is important to share who the good guys are.  It’s not just about the bad guys!

You Cannot Know What You Cannot Know


Image courtesy of pakorn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As someone who experienced the harsh world that is High Conflict Divorce, first hand, I have been helping others navigate the process for as far back as 2000.  I was never prepared for the sheer lunacy of the family court system and, like most, was waist deep in it before I got a clue as to how unhelpful it was.  I often had no recourse and even if there was some action that could be taken, I often did not have enough money to pay for an attorney, at the exact time I needed an attorney.

I have seen the shock on faces of those who have not experienced the system.  When you tell your story to the lay person, they often stare in disbelief.  They cannot fathom that your children are being treated the way they are and no one will step in to protect them.

I am in an interesting position because I have some connections in the legal field.  Plus, I work with high conflict parents.  The stories are similar, and I know that these parents tell the truth.  Truth is a matter of perception and it can be misinterpreted or exaggerated, but the pain that high conflict parents experience is real.  My belief is that if we can support those parents, no matter what anyone in the system perceives truth to be, we would then be able to help these families, but the problem is that very few in the system actually understand it.

I have had to work very hard to share what I see and what I believe.  I work very hard because I am not an attorney, and I am not a licensed psychologist.  I do not have the credentials to make those in authority listen to me, except for a rare few.  The thing I have is personal experience, and a way of explaining things so that people can understand.  They may never be able to understand completely, but they can get some of it, and that is what is important.  Every little bit helps.

The most important thing though, is to help you get deeper into you, who you are, and why you have found yourself in this hellish place of the family court nightmare.  So I want to share with you a commonality that High Conflict Parents have.  This has been a common theme with almost every parent I have worked with.  You have all had to live through having a parent who was an alcoholic, or a parent who was abusive, and there are some other common threads out there, but for the most part, you are an Adult Child of Dysfunction.  You grew up in that relationship and when you grew up that is the relationship you knew.  That is what seemed familiar to you, and the result was that you picked a mate who would repeat for you the relationship you had with one, or both of your parents.

When I learned this about myself, it was life altering.  Wow!  I was excited!  You mean, I don’t have to be this way?  I don’t have to feel lousy all the time because of people who suck the life out of me and give me nothing, but pain in return?  I did not give into this very easily until the light bulb went off in my head and I was ready to look within.

A couple of years before my light bulb moment, a therapist had told me that people choose a relationship just like their parents had.  I was perplexed and confused by what she said.  My husband was an alcoholic, but my father was not.  In my mind, I equated the similarity in my husband and my relationship with that of my parents’ relationship, but was not seeing the role reversal.  It played out in my head numerous times.  I did not choose the same because my dad is not an alcoholic, I told myself.  The more I thought about it, the more I thought that therapist must have been crazy to suggest such a thing because my dad rarely touched a drop of liquor.  But, finally, one day, it hit me!  OMG, I did choose the same relationship, only I was my dad, my ex was my mom.  That is when the healing began.

I don’t want to go into a long drawn out story about my mother’s drinking, and the affect it had on me, but I will tell you that I had no clue about what was not normal in a family who keeps secrets, speaks to each other through filters, or manipulates people into doing things for them or against another family member.  I was surrounded by people like these.  It was in my family.  It was the same with friends.  It was a learned behavior, a behavior learned from birth, no less.  Birth!  If this is what I was surrounded with, and what I learned by example, and I never got to experience a healthy relationship, then how could I know any different?  How could I not have that experience repeat itself, especially in a system that is ripe for a higher level of that secrecy, lying and manipulation?    This system wants to give you a court order saying that you will co-parent, but they give you no direction on what exactly that means.  Court authorities lay this in your lap and basically say, “Now go co-parent for the good of your children”.  Then, when you cannot accomplish this feat, the torture begins.  You can never win at this game because they are asking you to do something you have never done, seen, or heard of in your life and you simply don’t know how to do it. 

You try as hard as you can to do as they say and then get criticized.  You are not even sure why, most of the time.  You just know this is how it has always been.  One person tries to hurt the other, the other person walks on eggshells trying not to “make them mad” and you still end up having everyone angry at you anyway.  So how do we rectify this situation?  I suspect that we cannot rectify it in the court setting because they will never be able to walk in your shoes and you will never be able to walk in their shoes.  You cannot know what you cannot know!  What is worse, we have no idea if the professionals on the case have their own Adult Children of Dysfunction issues or not.  If they do, they will probably never go after the bully because they, too, learned to walk on eggshells and not make waves.  You cannot know what you cannot know.

If no one ever teaches you what a healthy relationship is, you will never find one.  As soon as you try, it would feel as foreign to you as if you were in a foreign land without a translator.  You may find a table full of wonderfully kind people and sit down with them, hoping to fit in, but feel lost.  And if you saw a table of people who speak your language, even if they were very mean and uncaring people, you would feel more at ease with them.  At least in that instance, you understand them, and it is comfortable to you.  You don’t have to try hard to fit in because you have always been surrounded by those types of people.

Undoing this damage from the dysfunctional environment you grew up in is not easy.  First, you have to be made aware of how unhealthy the people around you are.  You have to let that sink in and realize it is true.  You have to learn this new way of doing things and then you have to practice at it.  It will not happen overnight.  It takes a lot of practice to break free and you also have to step over the fear of the unknown because again, you cannot know, what you cannot know.

If you are involved in a high conflict divorce, and just cannot understand why you cannot get out of it, I’d like you to consider the possibility that you are an Adult Child of an Alcoholic/Dysfunction.  It may not apply to you, but it may lead you to other areas of understanding.  Check out these resources:

http://www.drjan.com/

http://acainnerpeace.ncf.ca/charac.htm

http://www.houstonadultchildren.com/

http://psychcentral.com/lib/tips-on-setting-boundaries-in-enmeshed-relationships/00017840

There are many more.  Do your own research. 

Here are a few boo
ks that I highly recommend:

http://www.amazon.com/Intimacy-Struggle-Revised-Expanded-Adults/dp/1558742778/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1392424912&sr=1-2&keywords=the+struggle+for+intimacy

http://www.amazon.com/Complete-ACOA-Sourcebook-Children-Alcoholics/dp/1558749608/ref=la_B000APW2GK_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1392424937&sr=1-3

http://www.amazon.com/Adult-Childs-Guide-Whats-Normal/dp/1558740902
/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1392424276&sr=1-2

http://www.amazon.com/Adult-Children-Secrets-Dysfunctional-Families/dp/0932194532/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1392424988&sr=1-1&keywords=adult+children+the+secrets+of+dysfunctional+families

http://www.amazon.com/Boundaries-Where-You-End-Begin/dp/1568380305/ref=sr_1_9?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1392425197&sr=1-9&keywords=boundaries

http://www.amazon.com/When-Past-Present-Emotional-Relationships/dp/159030571X/ref=sr_1_35?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1392425469&sr=1-35&keywords=healthy+boundaries+in+relationships

Compassionate Eyes

Part of teaching the High Conflict Diversion Program is to help parents learn to have some compassion for their child’s other parent.  It is very hard to do, especially when they seem to go out of their way to make your life miserable, but learning to have compassion for them is not really about them.  It is about freeing yourself from the wounds of your past and moving into a new future.  You may not have control of the court battle, but you can control the future path you travel.

I know that many people enduring any prolonged conflict carry within them a lot of anger, hurt, resentment and pain.  Sometimes we lash out at other people because of those feelings and emotions.  It isn’t healthy to live life this way for very long.  Stress and anger have deep effects on our mental and physical health.  Those who continue living in the pain are more likely to repeat these patterns, or get stuck right where they are in life, waiting until something magical frees them.  What they do not know is that the key to their freedom is within them.  No one else can free you.  You have to be willing to learn and grow and move away from that pain and into the freedom of a new life.  It takes a willingness, some time, and an active effort to get there.

The following video is an awesome example of how to see people with compassion.  You cannot know what is going on within your friends, neighbors, coworkers, or even your ex.  We like to believe that we know the inner workings of our ex, and we may understand a great deal about them, but once we are no longer married to that person, we only think we know.  Deep down there may be reasons for their behavior or reasons why they cannot move forward with their own life.  You may never know what those reasons are.  By treating them compassionately, you can start to empathize with them.  You do not have to like them.  You do not have to help them, but it would serve everyone well, even your children, if you could say, I am going to move away from this bitterness and have a happier life, regardless of what the other parent does.  If you don’t know, the best revenge on an ex is to live a happy life.  Happiness comes from giving others the benefit of the doubt when they behave badly, seeing your part in any conflicts and taking steps to correct that, and to be the best person that you possibly can.  You will be an example for your children and you can teach them compassion by showing them how it is done.

Please watch this fantastic video from Fellowship Bible church in Arkansas.  Make it go viral, please!

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