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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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On this Holy Weekend

A biblical lesson on Judges…

image courtesy of liveholy.org (no original copyrights found) and redherringalert.org (image and verse)

image courtesy of liveholy.org (no original copyrights found)

No Assumptions

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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.

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.

 

Embattled Parents Wanted

Image courtesy of sakhorn38 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of sakhorn38 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Have you had your fill of Family Court?  Are you tired of the battle, and think or hope that your ex is sick of it, too?

 

Life’s Doors Mediation is looking for parents who have been at war for too long and want to find a new way to parent, whether that means co-parenting, parallel parenting, or something else that we come up with.  I have been quite successful in changing the direction of parents who are looking to the family court for answers.  I’d like to help you.

If you live in Minnesota, please give me a call.  The first 2 parents who call me will get a free assessment to see if we can make a positive change to your situation.  I will even contact your ex to see if they would be willing to call a truce.  After that, I will work with you separately or together, as needed without charge. You have nothing to lose, but a lot to gain.  Your children have a lot to gain also.

Can you be a little vulnerable and let go of the family court crutch?  Find out today, 763-566-2282.  You can also email me at susan@lifesdoorsmediation.com.

 

What is Your End Game?

Image courtesy of Digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I often listen to parents who are so enmeshed in the Family Court System that they are willing to flat-out tell a potential Parenting Consultant that they want to prove the other parent is “bad”.  There are several things that astound me about this revelation.

One, my surprise at hearing them openly admit that?  This used to be a strategy, but now is just a sad fact of truth.

Two, what do they hope will happen from proving the other parent is “bad”?  None of them seem to know this, but I suspect they hope that the other parent will lose parenting time or custody.  Still, they never really “get” how the System works.  I do, and therefore, I am horrified that anyone would entertain this notion.  Yes, you could call me a hypocrite, because I did get sole custody, but I did not get sole custody by proving how “bad” my ex was.  I got sole custody by proving how the delay in decision-making, on important issues such as medical care, was detrimental to my children, AND detrimental to myself and the children’s father.  My whole family won when I won sole custody!  So it perplexes me when parents want to show how “bad” the other parent is.

Three, are their lawyers just hoping to pocket a lot of money?  As a non lawyer who knows just how biting the system is for children and families, I cannot think of any other reason a legal professional would direct their client to drop their children deeper into the system.  I would tell you, and have told some people, to run like hell in the other direction.

The problem with trying to prove the other person is bad is this: suppose you succeed?  Do you expect some miraculous event to occur?  A Parenting Consultant/Coordinator is there to help the two of you communicate and co-parent, and if you cannot make a decision about an issue regarding your child, then the PC can.  The PC cannot change custody or child support so you’d maybe, at best, get a shift in percentage of parenting time, if you successfully prove “badness”.  You still have to compel the professional to act.  For some reason people think that if you can demonstrate how bad the other parent treats you, something magical will happen to free you of that other parent forever.

The truth is that if you are trying to prove the other parent is “bad” to you, nobody really cares about that.  If you are trying to prove the other parent is “bad” to the children, bad is rather hard to define.  What you think is “bad” may not be what the court professionals think are”bad”.  If the other parent is physically abusive to the children, you may get somewhere, but you need to make sure you know what you are asking for.  It would be extremely rare for a parent to be cut out of the children’s lives completely.  I have seen cases where the parent cuts a parent out of the children’s lives completely, but the courts rarely do.

I guess what I am trying to say to you is to be careful about going down this road.  It often backfires.  If you do succeed in showing the bad side of your ex, you and the children will be made part of the (losing) effort of trying to fix the situation.  You will likely see and interact more with your “bad” ex than ever before, and so you will not be rid of them, you will have to put up with much more.

One more thing, usually, if someone is truly acting “bad”, you should have no need to show that.  The professionals on the case will see and understand it, eventually.  The unfortunate thing is that many parents trying to prove their ex is bad, come across as desperate and unstable, creating their own threat to their parenting time with the kids.

My best advice would be to stay out of court and away from court authorities as much as you can.  Don’t let them take control of your children.

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.

 

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.

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