Disputes or High Crimes and Misdemeanors?

godstory

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.

Advertisements

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!

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.

Life’s doors Mediation Community of Parents Discussion Event

Image courtesy of Master isolated images / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Master isolated images / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Life’s doors Mediation Community of Parents Discussion Event

On June 14th, I am planning an event for divorced parents.  I want to get parents’ thoughts about working with Parenting Consultants/Parenting Coordinators.  I want to do a face to face group with people, but if you are not located near Brooklyn Center, MN, please get in touch with me, as I may want to include a phone conference.

I am hoping to make the process a little better for families, if I can. I have been formulating some ideas but think it is good to hear from others, too.  You may be able to give me some insight into areas where I am a little unsure if change would be good or not.

Please get in touch with me, and/or register for 6/14 the event at my website.  You can call me at 763-566-2282 or email susan@lifesdoorsmediation.com, if you want more information or complete the contact form below.

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.