Disputes or High Crimes and Misdemeanors?

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When parents enter the Family Court System it is very confusing.  First, they want you to part ways, but at the same time keep forcing you together to “co-parent”.  They use confusing lingo and it seems like the parents do all the work, while the professionals take a lot of money for putting the hard work on you.  It is true.  They do.  A common quote from my coaching clients is, ” I had to do all the work for my lawyer.”  Well, there is a reason for that.  The professionals do not know your children, your schedules, what matters most to you and what doesn’t,  and in particular, once you have entered post decree land, there isn’t a whole lotta law that goes on.  The law becomes the law you (or the courts if you weren’t able to agree) created for your family.  There is no law that dictates what your parenting time schedule has to be.  There really isn’t.  The time can be distributed evenly between parents or it may not be distributed evenly for any number of reasons.  Some states do a default parenting time schedule when parents cannot create one on their own, but it is all very complicated.  Parents can choose to deviate from a schedule if they want and they are encouraged to be flexible as life evolves. Why be flexible?  Because life can change quite a bit over the span of a childhood, but even when you have deviated from the schedule, if you return to court later, the court will enforce the schedule that is in an order because that is what they signed off on.

Sometimes, this confusion and lack of structure creates fear and anxiety for parents.  Some parents do not understand that the law has pretty much completed their case and they keep waiting for “it to be done”.  In other words, a parent may want this person who hurt them so terribly to go away and never bother them again.  Unfortunately, though, that is not the way it works when you have children together.  Like it or not, you do have to talk to each other and coordinate schedules, school or medical needs, etc.  The way most parents learn to do this is to work on emotionally processing the divorce and hurt feelings they were left with from the relationship through therapy, coaching, education or self help,  so they can move into a new type of relationship, without having all of the bad feelings get in the way.  Unfortunately, some people are unable to do this or don’t see the value in doing the hard work of self reflection.  They don’t like what has happened.  They don’t like the arrangement.  They don’t like that they have a co-parent because life would certainly be easier if they didn’t, and they don’t like that their ex never got punished for the hurtful things they said or did throughout the marriage and/or divorce process.  Is that what Family Court is there for?  Are they there to punish?

Many people who continue to push for some kind of “conviction” of their co-parent do not seem to understand that Family Court is not criminal court.  It is not a crime to get a divorce.  It can be very hurtful, but it is not a crime.  It is not a crime to want some of the stuff that was accumulated during the marriage or to want to continue to be a parent to your child after the divorce.  The fact that someone seeks a divorce, even though one parent does not think that will be good for the child, doesn’t make it a crime.  These things are the nature of relationship breakdowns and unavoidable in some marriages.  If the marriage is going to end, it is going to be end and hopefully, each spouse will learn to come to terms with that and move on to create the life they dream about, either on their own or with someone new.  On top of that, when you share a child, you have to process these separate lives, while still coming in contact with the other person.  That makes it much harder to go through all of the emotions and accept the loss.  That is why your success in court depends greatly on you more than professionals.  It depends on how resilient you are.  Professionals don’t know what you need to get to the point of acceptance.  Some professionals believe that you need time, but courts have deadlines.  They cannot just sit and wait for everyone to process their loss.  If they did, many people would continue to not process the loss and hope that their spouse will change their mind by forcing the marriage to continue forever, but there are two people in this thing.  Often, two people with very different desires for outcome.  What do you call that difference of opinion or differing needs?  It is called a dispute.

What do you do when working with two people in a dispute?  For example, let’s say that two of your friends have a dispute over some words that were said.  Suppose that the friends are Janet and Martha.  Janet told Martha something in confidence and without realizing it, Martha shared the information with another friend named James.  Her breaking confidence was not very nice, but it was not a crime.  Now, in this dispute, the words have been spoken and the action cannot be undone.  Hopefully, Martha is sorry for saying something she should not have said, but she cannot do anything other than to apologize and ask for forgiveness.  Janet can either accept her apology and work to repair the relationship or she can decide that it is time to let the friendship go.  For the two of them, that may work, but maybe because your goal is to remain friends with the two of them, even though their friendship has ended, and no one is upset with you about anything, each one will be able to stay friends with you individually.  The relationships are all going to change, even though you were not part of the dispute, it does affect you.  You may try t it and see how it goes and find out that there needs to be some ground rules set.  Especially when the friends don’t think that you should be friends with both of them and fight over you.  If your friends are going to put you in the middle or try to win you over to one side or the other, it is going to become very uncomfortable for you and you are going to feel the ramifications of their quarrel.  As an adult person, you can walk away and say good-bye to both of them if the situation becomes too uncomfortable for you,  but a child of divorce cannot do that when the dispute is between their parents.

Another thing that would not happen between the friends is this, no one would try getting the police involved or ask a court to prevent you from having a relationship with either Janet or Martha.  There was no crime committed and you have the right to have a relationship with anyone you wish.  There wouldn’t be any authority figure to come yell at Martha or order her to not be allowed to have friends again.  Because we are talking about a dispute between people, no matter what anyone else thinks of it, no crime occurred, and so there is nothing that anyone else can do about it, certainly not the police.  Martha and Janet will feel the way they feel about it.  A relationship ended.  There is really no “right” outcome from what has happened.  People who care about them may want them to apologize, make up and go back to being friends, but Janet and Martha will be the ones who decide their next steps, but they way they will each treat you afterward will determine how you feel about each one of them going forward.  Hopefully, they will understand that you have separate feelings and needs from them and that your desire is to remain friends with both of them separately and they will create conditions where you can do that.

For a child of divorce, they need their parents to sort this out for them.  They don’t want anyone to punish mommy or daddy because they hurt each other’s feelings or made each other sad.  If mommy and daddy can deal with their hurt feelings and put them aside in order to understand their child’s needs and figure out how to separately manage the child’s activities, health and wellness, that is the best thing that can happen, but when the parents refuse or keep trying to make the child choose sides or stop seeing a parent, in the legal divorce they are going through, that is when a third party neutral is called upon to come in and try to help for the child’s sake.  By this time, the hurts of the past are way behind the parents and they are usually already divorced.  The situation is what it is and the court orders/agreements are what they are.  Court appointed third parties are there to help everyone make it work, but if they do see a child in the middle, they will help to free the child from the conflict and negative feelings between parents.  There really isn’t a lot that third parties can do to help you improve the situation.  You will have to do this for yourself.  They will try to get you focused on the child to make the child’s life more manageable because children do suffer enormous consequences when they have to live through parent hostility.

Many times parents do not understand this.  They complain and complain and complain about what it is they do not like about the other parent or what the other parent has done.  They expect that if they demonstrate just how bad a person the other parent is, someone will punish that parent in some way.  That is not the nature of dispute resolution, which is what Family Court is about.  Family Court looks for solutions and moving families forward.  They want you to take your family out of court and start making decisions for yourselves.  They don’t want to parent your children for you.  They want to give you the tools to do it.

If your approach to Family Court is to try to prove fault in a no-fault system, you will lose sight of the needs of your child.  If you need help understanding dispute resolution or gaining some coping skills so that you can focus on your children more than the battle, especially if you have an ex spouse who cannot seem to grasp the nature of custody and parenting time, give us a call at 763-566-2282 or at High Conflict Central, 1-800-516-2446.  We’ll do our best to help you.

The Great PAS Debate

Image courtesy of / jesadaphorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of / jesadaphorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Recently, a parent that I know, but have never worked with professionally, sent me a rant about how PAS is very real.  She knows that my position is that it is not real, except in  VERY extreme circumstances.  The only time I will agree that PAS has been used against a parent is when they are not allowed to see their children at all, and the other parent tells the children that their mom/dad can see them anytime they want to, but choose not to.  The other parent will often tell the children it is  because mom/dad doesn’t love them.  In that kind of case, the parent has zero time with the children to demonstrate that what the custodial parent says is not true.  In a case like that, I do think alienation occurs.  Otherwise, it is used as a court strategy to punish an ex.

Now one might wonder how does a parent have ZERO time with their children?  Sadly, it does happen.  A Family Court judge can find a parent is “endangering” the children and take away all parenting time.  I, personally think that this violates the law.  Judges have the option to grant supervised visitation, but sometimes, all parenting time is taken away.  Sometimes, a judge will take it away without giving any conditions through which, the parent can get their time restored.

It can also happen when a parent is allowed parenting time per a court order, and the other parent just withholds the children.  One might also think, how can that happen?  Can’t they just go to court?  Well, sometimes court helps, but sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes, a case has been so badly managed from a legal standpoint, whether it be acting pro se  (representing yourself), or due to a really lazy or misguided attorney, that the judge has told you both to stay out of their court room.

Anyway, back on topic.

I have known parents with minimal parenting time who experience the horror of having an ex that tells lies about them or badmouth them in front of the children.  They are not alienated from their children, no matter how hard the other parent tries to make it happen.

I also know parents who have 50-50 parenting time with their children, and scream alienation when their children start to express any desire to not spend time at their home.

What is the difference?  How can one parent, with minimal time not be alienated, while the other parent claims to be alienated?  The difference is that the one parent focuses on their children when the children are in their care, and the other parent chooses to focus on the battle during their parent time.  The parents I have known, who claim parental alienation, cannot accept responsibility for their situations.  They have latched onto blaming the other parent for every single parent-child clash they experience.  It wears on the children after a while.

I have worked with many parents over the years, even before I ever thought of doing it professionally.  Once my ordeal started in 1998, I reached out to other parents and they also somehow found me., and  we would share our experiences of the evils of  doing battle in the court setting.  I can tell you that no matter how minimal the parenting time allowed to a parent,  if they show the children love and a commitment to solid parenting when the children are in their presence, they do not lose their children’s affection.  No matter what.  Words can never beat deeds.  Period.  The other parent can bad mouth you until the cows come home.  As long as you prove your love with actions, your children will see the truth.  The children may be confused as to why their other parent says such crazy things about you, but they will eventually figure it out.

What I have seen across the board from parents who feel “alienated” is that they:

1. Have a drug or alcohol addiction that interferes with their ability to be fully present during parenting time, and they are very disengaged from their children.

2. They discount their children’s feelings about life events.  for example, when it comes to a new significant other, they will just spring that relationship on the children, without having any discussion or without preparing the children for this change.  I have seen parents move their new boyfriend or girlfriend in and be shocked when their kids come for parenting time and are upset to learn that mom/dad has a stranger living there.

3. They continue to engage in unhealthy relationships in their life and not protect the children from those unhealthy relationships.  Some parents are so lonely, with such low self esteem, that they will become involved with the first member of the opposite sex who gives them any attention whatsoever.  Many of these partners who are willing to jump into a relationship with someone they barely know have low self esteem, too.  They are abusive, often chemically dependent, and will not take long to demonstrate how abusive they are to you, and to your children.  Exposing children to that is cruel and will interfere with how your children regard you, ad how willing they will be to spend time at your home.

4. Rather than spend time on new traditions and making their house a home, they spend all of their parenting time complaining or bad mouthing their ex,and the children feel ignored and hurt.

So my point is that the parents who are “alienated” have often done it to themselves.

I know that many people will strongly disagree with my opinion, but it is my opinion.  With almost 20 years of seeing these patterns, I have more evidence than there is evidence that there is such a thing as PAS.

As always, I will add the American Psychological Associations stance on PAS.  Read about that here.

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.

Update on my most recent personal experience


As you may have read previously, back in June, my ex filed for custody of my youngest son.  My son and I had had an argument over the fact that his room was a pig stye and I wanted it cleaned.  That was my only crime, demanding that my son clean his room.  I had let my guard down, expecting that my ex would not go backwards and would actually tell my son that his behavior was not acceptable anywhere and would not be acceptable at his home either, instead he filed for sole custody, told the same lies to the judge that he always had told way back when and pulled his poor, poor pitiful me act yet again.  I expected the judge to review the case and why I won sole custody, but the judge was lazy and did not want to do his job.  The judge did not allow me the opportunity to speak to my son or to allow me to set up mediation.  Mr. Judge Supreme wanted to show how powerful he was an after telling me that court orders cannot be enforced, he can uphold laws, such as law 609.26, ignoring the past physical abuse that my ex perpetrated against my son, the same child as was in the middle again, and not follow laws or court orders or even the proper procedure, and granted my ex sole custody.

As I strongly suspected, my ex was only interested in ending child support early.  Had he told me so, I could have accommodated him, but he could not admit to that.  I did know that my ex has been extremely jealous of me having my own business and being a mediator and divorce coach.  This has been driving him nuts and his attack was solely an effort to get back his money that he did not feel I deserved or needed.  You know what?  He can have it.  He is an alcoholic and it will not bother me if I see him drink himself to death with it.

You may think that this is a horror story and that I am upset about it.  I am not.  I have my son back.  I want to give you all some hope for those of you living in fear that your ex will turn your child against you.  I always tell people that the children will be the ultimate judge of you and your actions had better be in their best interests if you want to win not just the battle, but ultimately win the war.

I let my son go with his dad.  I sent him a few emails about my love for him and my expectations of what it would mean for him to be a man.  At the time he was 6 months away from turning 18.  I also let him know what truths I knew about him and explained to him that I would always be there for him, but that I would not allow anyone to treat me with disrespect or to lie to me.  Then I left him think about things and I completely left the choice of visiting me up to him.

After a period of adjustment, he did get past the fear of making his dad mad at him and started coming to stay with me with great frequency.  He learned that his dad is not there for him and he had been used.  You see, his dad got to keep his child support money but made my son pay for all of his expenses, including food, and medical supplies and medications for what is a chronic medical condition.  He would not help my son get his drivers license or any of the things one would do if they really wanted their child.  When he got sole custody, he left me listed as my son’s education coach at school and lead the school staff to believe that my son still lives at my house.  Why would anyone who wanted custody and claimed child endangerment (because I told my son to clean his room) not take over these issues for their child?  Because even in my case, the coparent’s issue is not about the child.  It is solely about control.  My son is even afraid to tell his dad that he lost his glasses because his dad is a horrible person when he is angry, even after 2 stints in anger management.

Anyway, it was a difficult period of time and since then my son has turned 18.  He is making plans to move closer to where I live.  The only reason he hasn’t done so is because he has a job out near his dad’s house.  The best part is that he now spends a great deal of time at my house, pretty much whenever he is not working.  His brother took him to get his drivers license last week when he was at our house and he passed.  Even though his physical address is his dad’s house, his dad spends very little time with him.

I guess the point I am trying to make is that you can win in the end, even if you have lost some major battles during the process.  In the end your child will know who is the one who is there for them.  The other point I am trying to make is this: you know who your ex is.  He or she may perform in front of court authorities or other professionals that are involved with your child and draw people into their pity party or manipulate them into aligning with them, but ultimately there comes a time when the kids are grown.  You will find that you were right all along.  Your ex is who they are and they can pretend all day long to be what they are not, but where it matters, for example, with their children, they cannot hide the truth.

Another bonus is that I think my son learned some important lessons as well.





Like a Fly on the Wall


Every once in a while I hear a song that sounds perfect for the high conflict co-parenting situation and my own metamorphosis from victim to strong outspoken advocate.  These lyrics grabbed me.  See what you think if you apply them to your own situation.

If you could just see it all just like a fly on the wall, would you be able to accept what you can’t control?

The fights are exhausting and frightening, this I do know.  Can you start to separate your life from the high conflict court mind control and time that you hold with your children and not let it in?  Sometimes, we create our own prison.







Reflections From the Coach


My business is evolving and because of all of the recent opportunities coming my way, I have not had time to blog.

There has been a lot going on with Life’s Doors Mediation.  I have kept my mediation business separate from the coaching that I do because both entities operate much differently and when I started out, I was judged harshly about things I posted on the blog.  There were even times when attorneys would dissuade their clients from attending mediation with me.  I was lacking the confidence to stand my ground at that time.  That is no longer true.  I am leaning toward putting both pieces back together again.  There is now a third piece, as well.

I sometimes struggle with my place in between people who are suffering and being involved in the Family Court System.  The parents are the ones I am most concerned about because the system is massive and can fend for itself.  No matter what happens outside the system, it will survive and evolve in the same way my business does.  I have no doubt that my business will survive because of the people I work with.  When they get spit on by the system, they need someone to turn to.  Often, the insights and support I provide gives them a place to go away from the court.  I offer a start to healing and building a new life.  I cannot offer them complete freedom from court if they have an ex who simply wants to attack them.  I cannot stop or fix their ex.  What I can do is offer them someone who will listen to them.

I am reflecting today because the family courts are much worse than they were when I went through court.  Custody is denied to parents who try to protect their children.  If one does not embrace the idea of co-parenting and honor the other parent’s role as a parent, the court will devastate you.  It is difficult to honor the other parent when they have abused you.  I want to impress upon you that family court starts with the idea that children need both of their parents.  Those who try to interfere with parenting time for any reason must prove endangerment. By that I mean, proving physical harm.  If you cannot prove that, you stand no chance of keeping the children away from the other parent and with good reason.  Parents are parents and should have the right to be with their children.  I do not want to go too in depth because I know there are cases where children have been taken away from a good parent because the parent was misjudged and misunderstood through out the process.  In cases like those, if you examine what happened to those parents, you can see where the parent went astray and where the officials involved with them failed them and their children.

This is not a system to trifle with.  I can help you navigate this system and get what you need and get out and stay out, if I get to you early in the process.  If the damage is already done, I can help you keep things from getting any worse and learning how to use the resources available to you in the way they were meant to be used.  This helps you keep court intrusions to a minimum.

When you read any of my old blog posts, take them with a grain of salt.  The family court system is an ever changing animal and what works today may not work tomorrow.  I am not an attorney or a licensed psychologist.  I am someone who understands the system from both sides.  Please tread very carefully when you seek help from the system.  It is rare that you will find help, peace or justice there.  Do not be the one to invite them into your life or your children’s life.  If you feel stuck in the system, I would love to meet with you and review the path of how you got there.  Where ever possible, we will look for other resources for you so that you can disengage from the system.  The longer you push the court system for help, the greater the risk that you will lose parenting time.  You have nothing to lose by consulting with me, but if you continue to look to the court system for help, you might just lose time with your children.





The Parenting Consultant Nightmare is Now Available!





Its here.  It’s here!!!  Much later than I had hoped, but it is here!  Editing is a tedious process and I have learned that for future books, but hopefully that makes this title user friendly. 

I am not a lawyer and I am not a psychologist, but this book has tips you need to avoid a Parenting Consultant Nightmare for your family.  If you read it and think that your parenting consultant should read it, do not give it to them personally.  Email me with their info and I will make them aware of the book and encourage them to read it.  You might get in trouble with your pc for implying they do not know what they are doing.  Allow me to take the risk for you!

Also, tell anyone you know who is living in Family Court hell that there is a guide to parenting consultants now available.

Buy it today on Amazon or Create space