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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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Mandated Relationships

PAS statement from APA image by Susan Carpenter

We live in an age where state authorities have taken it upon themselves to mandate relationships.  As crazy as it sounds, that is what they do.  We also have the court system creating syndromes where none exist.  This is done so that people who are incapable of developing and maintaining relationships on their own, can force others to be in relationship with them.  We have judges who want to play along in this little game of mandating relationships, and lawyers who allow it to happen because they can earn a lot of money doing so.

Read the latest, in a string of state control over children, from West Bloomfield, Michigan:

Judge Locks Up Kids for Refusing to Have lunch With Dad

This is all such a farce for several reasons!  First off, I contend that only an abusive parent would force their children to have a relationship with them.  As difficult as it is, if the other parent is lying about you, but you are able to spend time with your children, the children will know how you treat them when they are with you.  Children know.  Children are not stupid.  Children come to know the truth, as they experience it, not by what is written, not by what is told to them, but by their life experience of the time they spend with you.

 

Background Image courtesy of arztsamui at freedigitalphotos.net

Background Image courtesy of arztsamui at freedigitalphotos.net

Why this judge is participating in a farce:

1. The state’s only interest in the parent-child relationship is due to the state ensuring “the Best Interest of the Child”.  Removing children from the safety of their home and both parents is not in their best interest, and will harm them in a FAR greater way than if they are not spending time with one parent.  It may be harmful if they are being denied time with a parent, but we all know that children find a way to do what they want to do, especially as they get older.

2. If this judge truly believes that PAS is the problem here, then she would hold the mother accountable and not the children.  Stop punishing the victims!

3. A reasonable parent would realize that court “forced” interaction with anyone will not deepen anyone’s affection for you.  Maybe the father should ask for court ordered therapy sessions where they may get to the bottom of what is happening and work on their relationship.  This would afford an opportunity to repair a broken relationship, and not demand “parental rights”.

I realize that there is much more to ANY court story than meets the eye.  I will try and research this case to find out more information, but until then, on the surface, it is pretty pathetic.  Both parents and the professionals on this case are failing the children and I hope, for the children’s sake, that someone will do the right thing!

New Relationships Based on Shared Divorce Experiences

Adorable Young Couple Kissing by stockimages

As a relationship coach, I often encourage those who have divorced to start dating again.  I think it is important to give your children an example of a healthy relationship, and it is important for you to heal and move on.  I’m not saying that you cannot survive on your own.  I am only saying that life is more enjoyable when it is shared.  We need other people to support us, emotionally, and we need to have someone who is always there for us when we need them.  We can have supportive friends in our lives, but that is not the same thing as having someone who has committed themselves to walking your journey with you, no matter what.  Because I advocate for dating after divorce, I hate to be a wet blanket on those who think they have found someone, but I always stress healthy relationships, not just having any relationship.  This means that you need to be healthy first, and find someone else who is healthy, too.  In this day and age, that in itself is a tall order.

Be careful to find someone with whom you have a lot in common.  Yes, opposites can attract, and you should have some separate interests, but be careful about the foundation of your relationship.  I have seen numerous times where a couple gets together based on their hatred of their exes, and the common experience of a high conflict divorce.  The experience is not something that many people understand so when you find someone who gets it, you feel like you have struck gold.  However, when the only thing you have in common is what is hopefully only a temporary experience, you may be setting yourself up for failure.  What happens when the kids are grown and this experience becomes a distant memory?  It may seem like this will be your life forever, but the truth is, it won’t be.

Sometimes one person is able to move beyond that conflict and the other person is not.  What happens to your relationship then?  If you have grown beyond it, but your new partner stays stuck in resentment, will that make you feel differently about them?  Married couples who stay together only because of their children also find out that there is nothing there once the children move out.  Those couples can learn to rebuild a relationship, but that is pretty rare.  There is a better chance of staying together when you have many building blocks in your relationship foundation.

When you search for a new relationship, try to think in overall terms of your life and what you hope to accomplish in the future.  Look at the events of your life to see what is going to be temporary and what will be more permanent.  While divorce is permanent, divorce difficulties are temporary.  Believe that both of you will move past this one day.  Having children to raise is also permanent, but temporary in the fact that those children will become adults with lives of their own, and they will not need you as much.  Find a partner that your want to live with through good times and bad, with small children at home or grown children out of the home.  Before getting too involved with anyone, think about what life is like now, and in the future, and in the other person’s life now and in their future, and discuss how you see that future together.

When a relationship has its roots in a temporary situation, the relationship may be doomed to be only temporary.  If you want something to last long term, you will have to choose a mate who loves so much about you that they will ride all temporary and permanent life events with you.  What is it that attracts you to the other person?  What attracts the other person to you?  If you are afraid to ask them that question then you are not in a healthy relationship.  If you are together because you were able to talk for hours about the similarities in your divorce experiences, realize that those experiences have a basis in the involvement of two other people, too.  What else do you have to talk about?

I have seen a few times where a relationship is based on both people being involved in high conflict divorce and nothing else.  Each time, these relationships have failed.  There is nothing wrong with failed relationships because we do learn from them, but when children are involved, I urge you to be cautious.  Conflicts always involve two people.  Think about that.  Examine how each of you handles conflict because you just may repeat the cycle.  That would be more damaging to your kids than staying alone.  As always, don’t rush into anything before you are ready.  Divorce is a period of time when a person will go through great change.  Hopefully you and your new partner will come out as better people, the unfortunate truth is that not everyone does.  Make sure that you have healed enough to be in a relationship with someone because if you have not done the work you need to do on yourself, these issues will creep into this relationship, too.

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

Image courtesy of  David Castillo Dominici  at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With your attorney, from day one

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

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

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

With court professionals, post decree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Court Ordered Co-Parenting Doesn’t Work

Image courtesy of iosphere at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of iosphere at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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