The Right of First Refusal, Helpful or Hurtful?

Image courtesy of  Stuart Miles  at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of
Stuart Miles
at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I hadn’t really given too much thought to “the right of first refusal” until a client showed me the Liz Library article about it a few days ago.  I often recommend the Liz Library for a reference because the articles are insightful and linked to research on the topics, and my client found the article because of a post where I referenced the Liz Library.  I had not really contemplated this issue before.

My opinion on the Right of First Refusal is that one should not give it to the other parent without asking for the same right in return, and I do still believe that to be a wise move.  In your own case, you should always discuss that with your lawyer, of course, but I’d be surprised if any lawyer would not think it should be reciprocal. That is about as far as I’d ever thought about it, mainly because if a parent asks for it, a Parenting Coordinator or judge is likely to give it.  It is one of the tools in their arsenal to encourage co-parenting, and so they usually will use the tools they have.  That is my take on all things Family Court.  You would not be there if it wasn’t about co-parenting difficulties, and the Family Court loves their toolbox.

Do I think that the right of first refusal is a good thing?  No.  As with anything in double edged sword land of Family Court, it could be a good thing, but it can also be used as a weapon by the controlling, vindictive ex spouse.  Is your ex spouse trying to gain more parenting time by way of the right of first refusal?  Probably.  What else might they hope to accomplish by it?  Control, control, control, and engagement, engagement, engagement.  They either hope to ensure they are informed about everything you are involved in when you either would not or could not involve the children, or they are trying to create another reasons that you will need to contact them.  On its face, the right of first refusal makes sense.  A child should be with their parent when a parent is available to care for the child in the other parent’s absense.  In most cases, it is better to have a parent with the child before involving a third party.  Too bad we don’t look at that with legal custody, huh?  I digress.  This is why it is hard to say if it is a good or bad thing.  It is both.  What I mean by that is when it comes to a high conflict family, odds are that it is a bad thing.  It will most likely increase the conflict, and become more problematic than it is worth.  For the cooperative, low conflict divorced family, it would be a good thing.  The problem is that the right of first refusal is typically sought by high conflict parents.  A cooperative family is neither going to ask for the right of first refusal, nor will they need to have it written in a court order.  For the low conflict divorced family the right of first refusal is an automatic thing, or they trust the other parents judgement on who they will choose to leave the children with when they cannot be available and don’t fixate on such trivial things.

Any of these tools really are remedies for high conflict families and no one else.  Truth be told, no one should ever call them tools, as much as they should call them weapons.  It is just a sad fact.  There is a reason why your family cannot manage co-parenting.  There is a reason why I am not a fan of co-parenting in high conflict situations.  I understand that the circumstances that create high conflict cannot be fixed by court ordered anything, and that most court ordered things are more problematic than they are worth.  Unfortunately, when remedy is asked for by one party, court authorities have to offer you some kind of remedy .  If it were up to me, the courts would first determine if there has been a problem, for example, is the other parent leaving the children in someone’s care frequently?  The court should make that determination before they try to resolve a problem that doesn’t exist.  In other words, they should make sure there is a problem before they offer a solution.  the reality is that court authorities don’t generally think that broadly.  They should also look at the dynamics of the family from which a parent is asking for a remedy, and if the parent is using things to control or punish the other parent with, they should not deliver any more weapons to the equation.  This is why I continue to oppose the one size fits all, cookie cutter approach that is used in the Family Court System.

The courts don’t know much about High Conflict and what exactly drives it.  This is why they are ill equipped to offer remedies to it.  The court authorities continue to make the same mistakes that parents make when it comes to high conflict divorce.  I would coach the court authorities in the same way that I coach parents.  Less is more.  Court orders aren’t working?  Why add more?  A parent getting more information on the other parent increasing the conflict?  Why give them more?

What the courts should keep in mind is that they really do know some of the accusations that come out of high conflict divorces.  The accusations that come are abuse, alcoholism, drug use, mental illness.  If those accusations are coming, they may never be able to prove any of it.  That is a fact with how the Family Court operates.  They aren’t really looking for evidence of anything if you have joint custody, but what they could do with the accusations, is to know that you are likely a high conflict case and remedies don’t provide solutions in the high conflict divorce.  Instead, they provide weapons.  In the way that they would allow a cop to have a gun, but deny a psychopath a gun, the right of first refusal works great for the well intentioned good guys, but in the hands of a bad guy, the right of first refusal will be a dangerous thing.  The Family Courts need to start determining that in the high conflict family, one parent is a bad guy.  Even if they don’t want to put in the work of determining who the bad guy is, they need to acknowledge that there is one and take a less is more approach.  They should not offer remedies that can be used as a weapon.  Period.  They only need to recognize that there is at least one bad guy involved.

Where is Your Focus?

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

As a Life and Divorce coach, I am sometimes misunderstood and misinterpreted.  Over the years, I brought myself out of a deep dark place and into a life of joy and happiness.  I have successfully shown many others how to turn their backs on the darkness and move into their own piece of happiness, focusing on finding their way to the life they dream of.  I’ve been able to help many people, but not everyone.  Some people want to stay stuck.  If an individual wants to stay stuck in something bad, there is nothing I can do.  There is also nothing a psychologist, lawyer, or judge can do either.  They may try, but ultimately they will have to leave you behind and move onto the people who will work with them to get where they want to be.

I work mostly with people in the Family Court System.  These are parents who find themselves in a high conflict divorce situation, getting beaten to a pulp (legally) by the confounding judge, who is unable to understand what the heck it is that drives you to do the things you do.

I understand domestic violence.  I understand parental alienation (which is not the same as Parental Alienation Syndrome).  I understand Domestic Violence Organizations.  I understand Father’s Rights Groups. I understand the parent who lives under a microscope for years.  I understand the legal community.  I understand the psychologists.  I understand a lot of what happens in Family Court.  I understand how people got into the mess they have gotten themselves into.  Understanding all these things does not mean that I want you to focus on them.

I can lose someone’s attention and respect when I tell them that they and their attorney are putting too much emphasis on domestic violence in their family court case.  I also anger people when I tell them that parental alienation syndrome is not real.  That statement can be confused with not believing that parental alienation happens.  I know it happens.  I have even experienced it for myself.  It happened to my youngest son and I, at the hands of a manipulative father, but my son and I are closer than ever now because I always trusted him to know truth and to figure out what was happening.  I did what I could, left alone what I could not do, and put my energy into waiting for my son to be ready to restore our relationship.  I had faith that I had raised him in a way in which he would see truth, and now, we are closer than ever.

It was a long way from being blind sided by the nastiness of Family Court to getting to where I am today.

More than believing in parental alienation, I believe that co-dependence and Legal Abuse Syndrome are likely driving the on-going family court nightmares.  A good psychologist should tell you that as long as there is one strong parent, your child can overcome the trauma, regardless of what your ex throws at you.  I have seen this to be true.  In my own case, I stopped being the victim of domestic violence and stopped adding to the drama.  I wanted a better life for my children and myself.  That meant that I would have to pull myself up by my bootstraps, get healthy, and work with the professionals in the Family Court System on their level.  They were not going to listen to me if I only spoke to them when I was at the point of hysterics.  I was never heard when I screamed and swore at them, and you won’t get far with that either.  They were not going to allow me to educate them.  These were educated professionals and if I was so smart, how come I couldn’t put an end to this conflict in my family?  Why did they have to make decisions about my children?  They could not understand and I could not make them understand.  I found them to be obstacles to moving on with my life.  They were also, definitely,  hindering my children’s development.  I found that they were not the answer and they should not be my focus.  Instead, my focus should be on myself, and my children.  That is when I began to turn that ship around, and in doing so, I freed myself and my children of those professionals forever.  No more obstacles.  No more hindrances.

This is what I do for my clients as well.  Please don’t think that this can happen overnight.  It is a process.  I help my clients through that process, too.  Not every consult turns into a client though.  Some people think I am nuts and they never come back.  They do not want to give up that crutch of family court.  That is sad because most people come to me due to their frustration with how the Family Court is not helping the situation, but is instead, making it much, much worse and they don’t want to refocus there energy anywhere else.  It is a lot of work, and it is painful and ugly to peel back the layers of you, and so some people cannot stomach it.

Think about this for a minute.  Maybe it will make sense to you and maybe it won’t.  I can only put it out there and hope that you can make some sense out of it.  When you are a victim of domestic violence and look to the family court to help you with it, that is your focus.  If you keep focusing there, and seek professionals who will understand, that focus is taking your time, energy and money away from having the life you want.  You may think that you cannot have the life you want, but I am sorry to tell you, it is not true.  You are the one keeping your life and your children’s lives in the family court.  Your ex may stay there, and he or she may use it against you, but if you really get yourself strong, stay confident in your truths, and put your focus outside of the court, you will see miracles happen.  The people I see who beat this system at its own game, refocus on their life and their children and slowly shift their thoughts and energies away from their nasty ex and the nasty court people, are the ones who succeed in getting their story told.  The people who latch on to their domestic violence experience or try to expose parental alienation will find that  they ramp up the conflict, get more deeply embedded in the Family Court System, and feel more and more stuck over time.  I am not saying that domestic violence or parental alienation should be tolerated or ignored.  I am not saying that at all.  What I am saying is you cannot push those memes the entire time because there are only certain ways to successfully use those arguments in family court.

Not everything involved with the conflict is related to domestic abuse or parental alienation.  Some things are communication issues and related to how you speak to or correspond with you ex.  Some issues are related to those Mars-Venus, male-female issues, too.  Some issues have to do with the stage of development your child is in, as well, and so you need to really consider what is driving the conflict for each particular issue that arises.  You cannot blame everything on domestic violence or parental alienation because the professionals don’t always have any recourse.

This post may anger some people and intrigue others.  It’s hard to really explain it all in one blog post!  If you are interested in finding out how to free yourself of the family court, as much as possible, please contact me.  I’d love to consult with you to tell you more.  There is nothing more rewarding for me than to see a client who grasps these concepts and takes back their life!