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.

I Can Only Imagine Movie Trailer

I am very much looking forward to this movie.  It looks amazing!

Many of the people I’ve worked with in the last 20 years are parents who experienced a traumatic family event.  Now, their own children struggle with a similar situation.  My goal is to help everyone get through it in the best way possible, which is not always easy, depending on the circumstances you find yourself in and the mindset of the people who are involved.  Even some of the professionals have scars that they carry, scars that create their own toxic contributions to conflict or family drama.  Still, no one should ever give up hope for a better family life.

I enjoy working with parents, regardless of what they have done in the past or how difficult their situations may appear on the surface.  While many shy away from “high conflict” families, I tend to embrace them, especially when I can work one on one with them.  Why?  Why do I do it?  It can certainly be painful and stressful.  It is often hard to watch parents who are hurting their children.  Many of them do not even realize their part in the struggle, but for those who take the little seed that I plant and let it grow, the results are amazing.  For that reason, even if there might only be a handful in hundreds, I am compelled to continue working with parents.  Once someone works through pain, trauma, abuse or anger and recognizes their own piece in the relationship puzzle, their eyes are opened.  They cannot un-know what they know.  They cannot undo the past, but they can create their future.  It is a blessing to see and the effects are not just in them, but ripple to others, children, friends, neighbors, and the community.  Parents willing to self reflect out of  pain and into peace to be awesome role models for their children are the greatest parents I know and I admire them deeply!

Please go see the movie, “I Can Only Imagine”.  I can already see the greatness within, even simply from getting a couple of minutes worth of a glimpse.  Have a glimpse of faith and hope.  I pray it plants a seed in you!

Success Story?! REPOST

The following is a repost from 1/14/13.  It is important to post now because the video appears to have been scrubbed from the internet.  Does that surprise anyone?

As you know, I am determined to raise awareness about Parenting Consultants, known in other states as Parenting Coordinators.  I am also trying to help people avoid this process all together.  See the video below, and I have added some links to Liz Library articles about PCs, too.

Well, praise be to God.  After many years, and many parents trying and failing to get the news media to do a story on parenting consultants, a couple of brave Moms were able to finally shine a spotlight on the process.  Information is power and so I do call this a success story.  The journalist also interviewed Karen Irvin, a long time PC, and I suppose they had to do so in order to be fair, but that seemed to put the criticism back on the parents more than the process itself.

Personally, having experience on both sides of the process, I know that there is enough blame to go around.  Parents can become quite hostile with one another.  That is a problem.  However, there is the problem of having a process that takes money away from the families who need it and having no way to get out of that process if you find it does not help your situation or it turns out to be much more expensive than you had anticipated.

The news story says that parenting consultant contracts are for two years.  I still hear from a multitude of people that have no end date in the contract or court order.  Much of what is wrong in the system is that the system does not educate itself on the latest recommendations, nor do they require any special education for parenting consultants.  It is available, but it is not required.  As Karen Irvin said, “We’ve developed a two-day training that we think should be four days, but I don’t know that we could get people to a four day training.” I’d like to challenge that thinking because many of these same people are willing to attend a three-day divorce camp!

Parents do share some of the responsibility for how bad the relationships are because there are times the PC is used as a weapon and just the presence of the court authority overseeing your life can invite nit-picky battles that probably would not happen without the presence of a court authority and the false sense of power that provides.  But the court would be wise to put in place some on-going training requirements and also to adopt standard language for a pc order that includes a time limit either across the board or an agreed upon term determined by the parties at the time of the court order.  Plus, I want to see attorneys required to inform clients that the court cannot order a parenting consultant if a party does not agree to have one.  That does not happen very often.

I do have some things coming that I think will help the situation.  I am just not at the point where I can make my announcements yet.  Just know that some things are coming…soon.

Watch the news video and let me know what you think.  Did this new story help to raise awareness?

http://www.clipsyndicate.com/video/play/3898036

http://www.thelizlibrary.org/site-index/site-index-frame.html#soulhttp://www.thelizlibrary.org/parenting-coordination/parenting-coordination.html

http://www.thelizlibrary.org/site-index/site-index-frame.html#soulhttp://www.thelizlibrary.org/parenting-coordination/

Updates on the Parenting Consultant Nightmare!

Updates on PCN-Therapy resized smaller

Buy Now

When I wrote my book, “The Parenting Consultant Nightmare”, I knew that because things can change so quickly in Family Court, the book would need to be updated from time to time.  I have tried to figure out how to keep parents updated on the latest trends in the world of Parenting Consultants or Parent Coordinators, and how to work with the process more efficiently.  I have decided to offer low cost E-Books that you can download, for the latest information.  These will be on a variety of topics to help you understand how to minimize the effects of on-going court battles, and move your family away from Family Court Case Managers, and back to at least one parent.  It is not easy, but it can be done.

My latest E-Book, “Updates on the Parenting Consultant Nightmare-Therapy, Parenting Coordinators and Family Court” is now available through E-Junkie.  Click on the Buy Now button above if you’d like to purchase it.  You can also buy it through my Life’s Doors Mediation E-Book webpage linked below.

 If you’d like to be notified when a new Ebook is available, please enter your email on my E-Book web page.

What Do Parenting Coordinators Do?

I like to think that people should be informed about matters that involve them entering into a contract, especially where they are going to be paying thousands of dollars.  One of my biggest pet peeves is when parents get stuck in a contract they cannot get out of, and they never really agreed to in the first place.

The legal community does a very poor job of informing parents about what it means to work with a Parenting Consultant.  Usually, parents are strong armed into agreeing to have a PC appointed, and out comes the court order.  It happens quickly, and you really don’t know what a PC does, or how much they cost, until after a court order is issued that appoints one.  By the time you realize how the process works, you are stuck.

The following is a list of issues that a Parenting Consultant can decide about your children.  It is a list that I received when I went through training to be a Parenting Consultant.  If you were given this list at the time you were contemplating whether or not to appoint a PC, I truly believe that no sane person would ever agree to have a Parenting Consultant appointed.  Even when you are told that a PC will settle disputes about legal custody issues, you never imagine all the things they delve into about your family life.

I have used both Parenting Coordinator and Parenting Consultant to describe the role of these court authorities, but they mean the same thing.  Most places call them Parent Coordinators, but my home state of Minnesota calls them Parenting Consultants.

The following is the list of issues that a Parenting Consultant can decide, however, this is not all inclusive.  They can decide anything other than Custody, or Child Support.  Would you be willing to turn over decisions like this to Family Court?

PC duties by life's Doors Mediation

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.

Now or Later

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net"
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Relationship problems suck.  They really do.  When you are married, relationship problems suck even more.  When you have children, the stakes are extremely high.

As a coach, I talk to people who are looking for help.  They may want to try communication coaching.  Sometimes, one or both partners have anger issues, and they might want to look into Anger Management.  They may even be contemplating divorce.

Divorce will scare the crap out of you.  Sometimes, it is sprung on you.  Your spouse has determined, without talking to you about it, that they want a divorce.  They have thought it over for a long time, and come to the decision.  You can’t change their mind.  It is done.

Other times, you talk together about how the relationship is not working.  This is a great time to act.  Even if you think this is not a great time because you are on the brink of divorce, it really is an opportunity.  There is something positive in the fact that you have been able to talk about this together.  That shows promise!

For parents of small children, you really need to see the opportunity in this situation.  While some couples will choose to divorce, others may find that they don’t have to.  If no one has come to the divorce decision yet, there is still time, and there is certainly a lot of wisdom in waiting to make that decision while you spend time working on your issues.

Relationship problems are a two-way street.  It is rarely about the actions of just one person in a couple.  The relationship didn’t start out sour.  If it had, why would you have gotten married?  Why would you have had a child together?  There was potential there and most likely still is.

The question you have to ask yourself is this: If I need to make some changes to improve my relationship, should I do it now, in an effort to save my marriage, or should I do it later, to work on the co-parenting relationship?  If you and your spouse have a child together, you are going to have to continue to build that relationship, aren’t you?  If you have trust or anger issues in your marriage, won’t you still have them in the co-parenting relationship, too?

When a relationship has problems, most people seem to know where their own personal weakness lies.  They often know, or are willing to learn about their faults.  If the two people are willing to make changes to improve their lives, it would be better to do it now, before more damage is done, than to have to do it later.  Just something to consider.

Divorce was a good thing for me.  I am not sure my children would agree that it was a good thing for them.  Divorce might be a good thing for you but it might be worth really making sure that you cannot salvage that relationship, especially if you have children who end up being part of that relationship forever, no matter what it becomes.