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Thursday, August 17, 2017

BEST INTERESTS OF THE CHILD
PREVAILS IN RELOCATION CASES
 Jonathan D. Gordon, Ph.D., J.D.
© Jonathan D. Gordon, Esq. 2017 
            Interestingly, when a divorced parent wanted to relocate outside of New Jersey (referred to as “removal” in Court), and the other parent did not consent, the previous standards used to favor the parent seeking to move. Without going into great detail about the factors that a Court would use to determine if the removal of the child would be allowed, the NJ Supreme Court just overturned the previous standard in favor of an analysis of the best interests of the child.  Previously, if a custodial parent wanted to move, that parent would have to show “cause” for the proposed move by showing “a real advantage to that parent” by moving as well as showing that the sought-after move would not be “inimical to the best interests of the child”. (Cooper v. Cooper, 99 N.J. 42 (1984). In the subsequent Holder v. Polanski, 111 N.J. 344 (1988) case, the parent requesting the removal who had primary residential custody of the child, simply needed to show “a good faith reason” and that the move would not be “inimical” to the best interests of the child.  Subsequently with parents who shared custody, that application for removal would be treated as a matter of changed circumstances with a request for a custody change, based on a best interests analysis. (Baures v. Lewis, 167 N.J. 91 (2001)). All that was needed under Baures for a successful application, was for the parent to have primary residential custody, show a good faith reason for the move, present a parenting plan for the child to continue to see the noncustodial parent, and show that the move would not be inimical to the child’s best interests. There, the belief was that a happy parent would benefit the child as well.  The N.J. Supreme Court just reversed itself with the new case, Bisbing v. Bisbing which was decided on August 8, 2017 (A-2 077533).
            Under previous NJ Law, it used to matter who was designated Primary Parent of Residence (PPR) because the Court would be inclined to allow the move if requested by the PPR, if a showing of good faith was made and the move was not “inimical” to the best interest of the child (given an adequate parenting plan, usually involving a few weeks in the Summer plus holidays, etc.).  Now under the new decision, it does not seem to matter who is residential custodial parent (PPR) or who is the Parent of Alternate Residence (PAR) as long as the PAR has some reasonable involvement in the child’s life and there is joint legal custody. That includes the usual PAR schedule of alternating weekends and a mid-week dinner time and alternating holidays.  It does seem to matter, however, if one parent has sole legal custody and a court will have to analyze the circumstances underlying that arrangement and see what is in the child’s best interests. For example, it is possible (although much less frequently found) that a parent having no legal custody at all, still has parenting time, is very involved in the child’s life, etc. Then the court would have make an individual determination in that rare and unlikely fact pattern.
Now that the Supreme Court of New Jersey changed course, there are many new factors to consider.  What is “best interests of the child” and how is it measured?  Is it quantifiable and scientifically derived from some accepted methodology? Actually, “best interests” is a court determination. Otherwise it may be an opinion of a forensic evaluator which can be disputed by the opinion of another forensic evaluator.  Ultimately the Judge must decide if the move is in the child’s best interests or not. The benefit to the parent seeking to move is no longer a factor.  New Jersey Statute (N.J.S.A. 9:2-4) lists a number of factors that a judge must consider in determining best interests and custody.  These include, but are not limited to: The parents’ ability to agree, communicate and cooperate, any history of withholding or obstructing parenting time from the other (not due to abuse), safety of the child, the child’s preferences “when of sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent decision”, the degree of cooperation in co-parenting, history of domestic violence, the distance the parents live from each other now, the number and age of siblings, the interaction and relationship of the child with the parents and siblings, stability of the home environment, quality of parenting time spent with the child after separation, parent’s employment responsibilities, and any other factor deemed appropriate by the Judge.  No longer is equal shared parenting time required to have a quality relationship between parent and child—even for the parent of alternate residence.
It is hard to say how this will change current and future court applications for relocation by a parent who wants to move with the child.  Some judges may insist upon a forensic best interests evaluation:
       To conduct a best interests analysis, a forensic evaluator (could be for example, a Psychologist, Social Worker or Psychiatrist) would need to evaluate the child(ren) in question, both parents, relevant extended family members (e.g. grandparents, siblings, etc.), and collateral contacts.  What are collateral contacts (also known as collaterals)?  They are usually people who may be caregivers (e.g. babysitters, physicians, dentists), or teachers and school personnel, coaches, dance/gymnastics instructors, etc. Usually each parent will submit their own list of whom they think will be important for the evaluator to interview. These interviews may be in person or on the phone.  In some cases, the evaluator may do a classroom observation or a home inspection. At times, when one parent makes an allegation about the other, the evaluator may go back to the other parent and discuss it to hear their side of the story. The gathering of all of the information should be thorough, fair and balanced for objectivity. Usually, there are two sides of the story.  Sometimes, however, there is an imbalance that is created by information provided by a parent or information derived from the child(ren) or others.  A best interests evaluation can be via a court-appointed expert, a joint expert (agreed-upon by both parties), or two privately-retained experts, or a combination of the above.
         Things to be aware of:  For a parent seeking relocation with a child, and in anticipation of the required court process, the following guidelines should be followed:
         Do not lie, embellish, make up fictional allegations, purposely omit important facts.  It is better to focus on your relationship with the child, your concerns for your child’s health, education and general welfare, the bond you have with the child, any special circumstances that may steer the court in a certain direction.  Regardless of whether you are the parent seeking to relocate, or the parent who objects to the relocation, it is not helpful to your case to demonize the other parent. Unless there is a documented history of domestic violence, child abuse, or substance abuse, or some factual history that is noteworthy for its importance and relevance to the “best interest of the child”, it is probably not going to help you to sling mud and insults at the other parent. It may have the opposite effect on the perceptions of the evaluator, especially when your child actually has a relationship with that parent.
            I have written previously in this Blog that angry emotions stemming from feelings of abandonment and rejection (among other issues), often fuel Family Court litigation. It also sometimes fuels vengeful feelings against the other parent. Making up fictional allegations, minimizing (to the evaluator) the other parent’s involvement in the child’s life, exaggerating innocuous incidents (as if they really mean something significant against the other parent), and generally letting your anger spill over into the interviews—will all work against you. It will make you look like a malicious, vindictive person who is not operating in good faith, but who just wants to destroy the other parent or to marginalize their involvement in the child’s life. In other words, you can destroy your own credibility with the evaluator (and with the Judge) by not being completely honest and forthright, and by being unfair to the child and to the child’s other parent.
Let’s say that you really want to move out of the State and maybe you have a great reason to do so (employment opportunity, marriage, etc.), that is formulated in good faith, and is not stemming from your hatred of the other parent.  Under the new Bisbing ruling, that might not be good enough.  Even being PPR and having spent more time than the other parent with this child may not be good enough.  Under N.J.S.A. 9:2-2, if a parent wants to relocate with the child against the wishes of the other parent, that child may not be removed from the State “unless the court upon cause shown, shall otherwise order”. (Emphasis added).  “Cause”, as now defined by Bisbing is determined by a best interests analysis with the court considering all of the relevant factors enumerated in N.J.S.A. 9:2-4(c). See above for examples.
It is fairly clear that in most cases, a parent seeking relocation against the wishes of the other parent will have to go to trial after this evaluation (or evaluations) are completed.  The expert(s) will testify on the contents of their findings, will be cross-examined and there will be testimony from the parents, relevant collateral contacts, other  witnesses, and finally the Court will make its determination.  For couples going through divorce, and who anticipate that they may make a relocation request in the future, they may now be motivated to attempt to get sole (legal) custody of their child(ren) to make it easier for themselves later (because it is easier to get court approval to move if you have sole custody). Unfortunately, that will result in many more divorce trials if parents battle for sole legal custody then, rather than to have a legal disadvantage (if they are planning to relocate) later on.  But, the presumption in New Jersey, as stated by the Legislature in N.J.S.A. 9:2-4, is that it is in the public policy of this state for parents to equally share their obligations, rights and custody of their children unless the court in custody proceedings makes another determination with the best interests of their child as the primary consideration. The bottom line message seems to be that children need both parents, even if the parents did not fare very well as spouses or partners with each other. If you have to go through an evaluation, try not to sling too much mud, because mud tends to get you dirty as well.
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Good luck, and please post a comment about your experiences.
Copyright © Jonathan D. Gordon, Ph.D., Esq.,  2017
Jonathan D. Gordon, Ph.D., J.D., is a Family Law Attorney in NJ and in NY, representing Family Law clients in Superior Court of NJ . He is also a Licensed Psychologist (NJ #1358, NY #5614, OH #7540) who has performed forensic child custody evaluations and who has been appointed Guardian ad litem and Parent Coordinator by the NJ Superior Court, Family Division.
Please note, this blog is for information purposes only. It is neither legal nor psychological advice and it does not create an attorney/client or psychologist/patient relationship. If you have a question about a specific matter or issue, you should seek out an attorney or mental health expert to assist you.
Call to schedule a consultation:  201-801-0455
email: jonathan@jdgordonlaw.com
Web Sites:  
www.jdgordonlaw.com
www.jdgordonpsych.com

Tweet Me:  @jdgordonlaw; follow me on FaceBook


            

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

SHEDDING YOUR SKIN IN FAMILY COURT?

Jonathan D. Gordon, Ph.D., J.D.
© Jonathan D. Gordon, Esq. 2017 


          When a relationship dissolves, one would logically want to disassociate from the old partner, never see him/her again, walk away and never look back, etc., assuming fairly healthy thinking.  But it’s not that easy in Family Court cases that involved children or even with long term alimony issues.  Often, the relationship is truly “till death do us part” by its very nature.
            Having children with a partner just about guarantees that you will be tied to the other parent at least until the child is an adult, but it usually goes beyond that, into grandparent-hood. As I have stated in this space before, it is virtually impossible to surgically dissect away a former spouse when you have a child. While you might be able to plan separate birthday parties and vacations, you will not be able to plan separate weddings, Communions, Bar and Bat Mitzvas, college graduations, and births of your grandchildren, etc.  While it is difficult to think that far ahead when your child of divorce is eight years old, you might want to keep your interactions with your estranged or ex- partner on a civil and cooperative playing field because before you know it, your child will be 18, then 28, etc.
            Sometimes there is no escaping someone even when they live elsewhere, and you feel haunted and stalked by your own social media. For example, after a divorce or other break-up, you will be tormented by regular reminders of “this day in history”, for example, where you will be involuntarily subjected to photos of formerly loving moments you had  with someone you would rather not see.  Going through your Google photos or your phone gallery of pictures will yield, sometimes thousands of photos of your ex and you, during happier times. Also, your child will not let you forget about your ex. How do you deal with this now in a healthy manner?
            Sometimes it is better to take a step back, breathe, forgive, and accept certain realities, as touched upon above. The photos and social media example is only one facet of the bigger picture.  If you can speak civilly with your ex, it is best for you both to agree to keep it civil and cooperative for the sake of your children. You cannot obliterate your ex’s existence.  There is no way to do that legally, it is not realistic and it is not healthy for your child. Despite your hurt, your sense of betrayal, your anger, this person is someone who you once loved and with whom you created a child.  Is it good for you and your child, now that the relationship ended, to retain anger, hurt and sense of betrayal? That only hurts you because you are the one who feels lousy inside. It is also not good for your pocketbook either, since anger fuels needless litigation in many instances.
As I have also said previously in this space, it is good for your child (with a few specific exceptions related to criminal behavior, substance abuse and child abuse) to know that it is ok to freely enjoy a loving relationship with both parents.  Alienating a child from the other parent (overtly or subtly)  is a form of emotional child abuse.  If it is too painful to exist in the same sphere as your ex, to deal with him/her civilly and cooperatively as related to your child, then perhaps some counseling might be helpful. After the initial dissolution crisis dissipates, it is healthy for a person to settle down emotionally and to move on, keeping things in their proper perspective for the good of everyone concerned. When someone has great difficulty doing this, cannot forgive, retains significant anger, has violent fantasies, depression, etc., it is unhealthy for the person and for their child.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to completely shed one’s skin and totally start anew, as if to regenerate without memories of a previous life once shared.  The best one can realistically hope for is to feel ok, to be able to move on with life happily, and to accept the ex as a formerly important figure, who may still be a very important figure and role model for a child. That requires some mental gymnastics in some cases, but should be attempted and mastered. Your child needs the freedom to love both parents and to enjoy time with both parents, assuming there are no extreme, contraindicating circumstances. Going forward with your life is quite different from your child’s experience of the breakup, and it might be good to acknowledge this difference with your child, and to validate their need to enjoy their other-parent relationship without conflict, anxiety or guilt.
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Good luck, and please post a comment about your experiences.
Copyright © Jonathan D. Gordon, Ph.D., Esq.,  2017
Jonathan D. Gordon, Ph.D., J.D., is a Family Law Attorney in NJ and in NY, representing Family Law clients in Superior Court of NJ . He is also a Licensed Psychologist (NJ #1358, NY #5614, OH #7540) who has performed forensic child custody evaluations for the Courts and who has been appointed Guardian ad litem and Parent Coordinator by the NJ Superior Court, Family Division.
Please note, this blog is for information purposes only. It is neither legal nor psychological advice and it does not create an attorney/client or psychologist/patient relationship. If you have a question about a specific matter or issue, you should seek out an attorney or mental health expert to assist you.
Call to schedule a consultation:  201-801-0455
email: jonathan@jdgordonlaw.com
Web Site:  www.jdgordonlaw.com
www.jdgordonpsych.com

Tweet Me:  @jdgordonlaw; follow me on FaceBook


     

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

SOCIAL MEDIA COMES BACK TO BITE YOU IN FAMILY COURT

Jonathan D. Gordon, Ph.D., J.D.
© Jonathan D. Gordon, Esq. 2017 

     Many people do not realize that the phrase "anything you say may be used against you in a Court of Law" also applies to what they post on social media.  It is remarkable what people post about themselves: pictures of themselves with the person with whom they are having an affair, pictures of themselves guzzling beer, party pictures that depict themselves in raunchy positions or gestures, etc.  Also amazing are the posts that trash talk their estranged ex partner or spouse, or even their children (e.g. "my kids are such brats...".). This article is written a bit tongue-in-cheek, but the advice is quite serious and you should take it to heart because it could save you from a bitter defeat in Court.
     Please stop posting the intimate details of your life to the world, even to your friends alone. It is not a good idea.  The person who wants to humiliate you in court is scavenging around for any bits of evidence that they can attach to a Certification as an exhibit. The person from whom you are trying to take custody of your child will use these posts to show the Judge that you are not the best parent (even if you are). Why give people ammunition to use against you?  Is it that important to amuse your friends with your zany activities, that you will risk jeopardizing your court case?   Trust me, it's not worth it.
     Interestingly, you should also know that according to Court rules, ethical standards and rules of evidence, once you post incriminating posts on social media, and you later are told (e.g. by me) that it's a bad idea, you can be slammed for tampering with evidence (also called spoliation).  Even your own attorney is not ethically supposed to tell you to remove the post, because it is destroying "discoverable" evidence that your opponent is otherwise entitled to!  For example, when you are getting divorced, as part of the discovery (obtaining evidence) process, you will receive Interrogatories (a zillion questions about everything you ever owned, bought, sold, did, or experienced, along with all of your health history, names of doctors, etc.).  You will also receive a Notice to Produce documents and other things that might be important for the case.  For example, you will be ordered to produce all audio and video recordings, emails, texts, reports, writings, documents, electronically stored data, diaries, etc., that might be useful at trial for either side. If you are told to produce all social media posts that you ever posted referencing your ex (for example), and you already took down those posts and you do not produce them, then you are non-compliant with that requirement. You are also lying to the court (because you have to sign a sworn certification that it is complete) by saying it does not exist, since it did exist and you made it disappear.  If your ex's friend took a screen shot of that post before you deleted it, and it ends up as a Court exhibit, there goes your credibility.  Another example of posting that is a bad idea, is evident in the news item that appeared on the Associated Press (AP) Twitter feed on July 4, 2017(https://apnews.com), about a woman who posted on Cragslist that she was looking for someone to poison her ex husband in Israel, using ricin.  Small wonder that the FBI arrested her for using Interstate Commerce for the commission of murder-for-hire. Seriously? Wow. Not the best idea. But that is an extreme case. Your posts, however, may still hurt you.
     The message here is (1) posts are not private and they can be packaged and used against you in court; and (2) think about the possible long-term consequences of what you put out in public, things you say, show others, etc.  As a general practice, it is not a good idea to air your private thoughts and fantasies and parts of your anatomy that should be covered, even if you are joking. It is probably ill-advised to post to social media if you are angry (or just feeling arrogant and superior), or if you want your soon-to-be ex to be jealous, upset or devastated by what you posted.  Also realize that your emails and text messages will be printed out and used as exhibits or as evidence of you being verbally abusive, insulting, and crass in what you communicated.  In some instances, your text messages and emails can be considered to be evidence of harassment or even evidence of terroristic threats and can be used against you in a domestic violence proceeding.  Domestic violence is not always about physical violence.  It includes (among other things) harassment, terroristic threats (e.g. death threats, etc.), and stalking to name a few. 
     The moral of the story is to think before you post: ask yourself if you might one day regret anything you write, say or post, if it is presented in Court.  Would that weaken your case or your credibility? Will you wish you never said that (and left that voice mail), posted that photo, or texted that text?  Oh, by the way: remember that your opponent (in court), whether your ex, or your ex's attorney will be sure to produce transcribed certified conversations you had with the ex that were tape recorded. It's better not to say anything if you are angry.  And, rather than having to worry about what you posted, it's better to post only cute things about puppies, kittens or ducklings, and maybe about a trip you took to the county fair with your child. But photos of you with a beer bottle in each hand with half-dressed people sitting in your lap, posted on Facebook, is so unnecessary when you think of all the damage that even one photo can inflict on you. Even though you may be the best parent in the world, to the Judge it is an example of poor judgment on your part, and will hurt your credibility.  Forewarned is forearmed. Good luck out there. Family Court can be a jungle of dangerous evidence lurking when it comes to your case. Be cautious, show good judgment, and think before you party too hard since there are always camera phones around. It is not paranoia if indeed, someone is out to get you. This is not a good time to be careless and cavalier, when someone is looking to catch you in a slip-up. Just saying.

Good luck, and please post a comment about your experiences.
Copyright © Jonathan D. Gordon, Ph.D., Esq.,  2017
Jonathan D. Gordon, Ph.D., J.D., is a Family Law Attorney in NJ and in NY, and is also a Licensed Psychologist (NJ #1358, NY #5614, OH #7540) who has performed forensic child custody evaluations for the Courts and who has been appointed Guardian ad litem and Parent Coordinator.
Please note, this blog is for information purposes only. It is neither legal nor psychological advice and it does not create an attorney/client or psychologist/patient relationship. If you have a question about a specific matter or issue, you should seek out an attorney or mental health expert to assist you.
Call to schedule a consultation:  201-801-0455
email: jonathan@jdgordonlaw.com
Web Site:  www.jdgordonlaw.com
www.jdgordonpsych.com

Tweet Me:  @jdgordonlaw; follow me on FaceBook
     

Monday, July 3, 2017

FORENSIC CHILD CUSTODY EVALUATIONS

Jonathan D. Gordon, Ph.D., J.D.
© Jonathan D. Gordon, Esq. 2017 

     Frequently in Family Court, it becomes necessary to order what is called a Forensic evaluation, either for the purposes of custody, parenting time, or relocation out of State. A Judge, at oral argument on a parent's application (motion), does not always know for sure what is in the child's best interests, just from the arguments of lawyers.  For example, pre-divorce, a parent might want sole custody (e.g. legal and residential), thereby being afforded the power to make all decisions regarding the child without needing the consent of the other parent. (This is unusual, however, since the presumption is joint legal custody). Or, perhaps there is a dispute over parenting time--how much each parent should spend with the child. Sometimes a parent wants to move out of State with the child, against the wishes of the non-moving parent.  The Court needs to know what is in the best interests of the child, or in some cases, if a move out of State would be harmful ("inimical") to the best interests of the child.  Without going into detail about Case Law and Statutes, which can vary from state to state, this article is primarily an overview about the process of performing a forensic evaluation by an expert to assist the Court in making its decision in these areas.
     This forensic evaluation is usually performed by an experienced and forensically trained licensed psychologist, licensed clinical social worker, or psychiatrist, with a report to be written and provided to the Court upon completion. The evaluation is not just performed on the child, but also on the parents as well. Intrinsic to the evaluation is the need to clinically interview each of the parties, make an assessment of the personality dynamics and possible mental health issues of each (if any), as well as make an assessment of the child.  The latter also includes looking into the educational status of the child, if there are any special needs, learning problems, medical issues or behavior problems that should be factored into the equation.  Important also is the need to review documents and other evidence, usually provided to the evaluator by the parents as well as by their attorneys.  
     Accordingly, an evaluator--as part of the evaluation--could review court documents, previous orders and reports, the reports of other evaluators, school records, photos, video recordings, emails, etc.  In relocation cases (also sometimes called "removal"), the evaluator may also review information comparing the target location (where the moving parent wants to live) to the current location, regarding medical, educational and social factors to determine if they are comparable.
     Needless to say, these evaluations can be very expensive, depending on the amount of work and time required, the number of children in the family to be evaluated, the amount of data to be reviewed, and if the expert will need to undergo a deposition and eventually testify at trial.  Also important to performing a comprehensive evaluation is the need to interview "collaterals" who are additional people with first-hand knowledge about the child, the parents or the family. These collateral contacts may be a teacher, guidance counselor, physician, relatives, neighbors, etc.  Obviously, some of the collaterals will be more credible than others.  It is less likely that a school social worker working on the child's special educational program (e.g. Individualized educational plan, or IEP) will be more credible than the maternal grandparents who most likely will be biased in favor of their son or daughter who are the child's parents.  All of this must be taken into consideration, assessed and put together in a credible manner so that the Court can rely on the information. At times, a forensic psychologist will perform psychological testing on the child as well as the parents if more information is needed to provide a full picture for the Court.
     Often, the Court will appoint its own expert and the report goes directly to the Judge first, to be disseminated under Protective Order to the attorneys, to protect its confidentiality. Usually, after a court-appointed expert renders a report, one or both of the parents will not be happy with it. In that event, the dissatisfied parent usually has the right to hire their own expert to hopefully refute the Court-appointed expert's opinion.  In some cases, there are three experts: one of the Court's choosing, and one for each of the parents.  The Court-appointed expert will be more credible to the Judge who appointed that expert, unless the report is filled with inaccuracies and there is a lack of scientific underpinnings, methodology and data to support the conclusions.  Either way, if the parents end up being ordered to split the cost of the Court-appointed expert, and they each hire and pay for their own expert at an average of $7,500-$12,000, depending on the amount of time required, you can see how much this can cost.
     Sadly, some parents cannot afford to get their own expert who may want an initial retainer of between $7,000 and 10,000 before doing any work.  In the event that the Court-appointed expert does not do a satisfactory job (in that parent's opinion), a disgruntled parent may have to live with those results if there is not another report or expert who will refute the first one. Ultimately the Judge listens to all of the testimony, makes credibility assessments and makes a determination. The expert also will be cross-examined at trial and even a Court-appointed expert can be found to be not credible when forced to explain their results and conclusions.  On the positive side, however, sometimes a well-written expert report disseminated to the parties prior to the trial date, will motivate the parties to settle and avoid trial. I have seen this happen first-hand.
     I have previously written in this Blog that parents going through divorce, or custody and visitation disputes are fixated on the "badness" of the opposing party.  Being temporarily blinded by their own emotions and feelings of victimhood, they can become tunnel-visioned and even acutely narcissistic in their formulation as to what is in their child's best interests. Vilifying the other parent to the expert, slinging mud and disparaging the other parent, is often counterproductive and self defeating.  The parent going through this evaluation process, rather than demonizing their ex, would be better advised to focus more on their own solid relationship and activities with their child, unless there are unusual circumstances such as domestic violence and child abuse.  
     From the point of view of what is healthy for the child, the best approach is the parent who seeks to include--rather than to marginalize--the other parent, who encourages the child to have a good relationship with the other parent, talks respectfully to--and about--the other parent to the child and to others (especially when the child can overhear), and who clearly signals to the child that it is ok to love and have fun with the other parent (even though that parent may have been unlovable as a spouse or partner).  The healthy approach is to minimize stress for the child and to reduce or eliminate the loyalty conflict felt by the child who loves and wants to please both parents.  Even nonverbal cues (e.g. facial expressions, rolling eyes, etc.) can signal to the child that it is not ok with Parent A that the child enjoyed their time with Parent B. Children are very focused on the individual reactions of one parent regarding the other.  Part of the expert evaluation is to identify and to predict the degree to which the parents will be supportive and cooperative with each other, and to make recommendations to the Court based partly upon those and other important factors.

Good luck, and please post a comment about your experiences.
Copyright © Jonathan D. Gordon, Ph.D., Esq.,  2017
Jonathan D. Gordon, Ph.D., J.D., is a Family Law Attorney in NJ and in NY, and is also a Licensed Psychologist (NJ #1358, NY #5614, OH #7540) who has performed forensic child custody evaluations for the Courts and who has been appointed Guardian ad litem and Parent Coordinator.
Please note, this blog is for information purposes only. It is neither legal nor psychological advice and it does not create an attorney/client or psychologist/patient relationship. If you have a question about a specific matter you should seek out an attorney or mental health expert to assist you.
Call to schedule a consultation:  201-801-0455
email: jonathan@jdgordonlaw.com
Web Site:  www.jdgordonlaw.com
www/jdgordonpsych.com

Tweet Me:  @jdgordonlaw; follow me on FaceBook

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Children, Alliances and Lies

Jonathan D. Gordon, Ph.D., J.D.
© Jonathan D. Gordon, Esq. 2017 
          Children cannot escape their parents.  When the parents are divorcing or dissolving their relationship, sometimes the children find themselves in the middle of the battlefield.   Whether witnessing their parents’ arguing, or being subtly  recruited as an ally by one or both parents, the children are in the middle and it causes great damage. 
          The dissolution of a love relationship brings out the worst in otherwise nice or well-meaning people. This overflows and is evident in Family Court, when the acrimony and pain is freely aired in front of a Judge. Unfortunately, some parents cannot see beyond their own pain, sense of betrayal, anger, etc. This acute narcissistic response to the crisis of divorce or relationship dissolution is essentially tunnel vision with a loss of empathy. Tunnel vision shuts down or curtails normal empathy for others, in this case children.  Since it is unnatural to have empathy lacking for a child’s feelings or welfare, then at times, the Court has to step in and make sure that the child is protected. How is the narcissistic curtailment of empathy manifested?
          Some cannot keep their feelings to themselves and they say all sorts of horrible things to a child about the other parent. If not overtly stated, then the feelings may be communicated by facial expressions or other body language, conversations with others within earshot of the child, and in extreme situations may manifest by preventing the child from having normal contact with the other parent.  As I’ve mentioned in this space previously, anger can drive litigation with its resultant financial and emotional costs.  Whether out of a sense of betrayal, or victimization and a need/desire to get even, a child is a convenient vehicle with which to hurt the other parent.  Nothing could be more irrational, but it is a common phenomenon seen often in Family Court.  Sometimes, a parent is convinced (rightly or wrongly) that the other parent is incompetent as a parent and is incapable and undeserving of having a warm, close and nurturant relationship with their child.  No expense is spared, no effort or methodology is overlooked in the quest to marginalize the other parent. 
          In some cases, a parent might apply to the Court for permission to move far away, out of state.  Court’s these days are inclined to allow a custodial parent to move to another state if the move is “not inimical to the child’s best interests” (the current Law in New Jersey, for example) and the move is made for a good faith reason (e.g. Mom got a great job offer elsewhere), among other factors. The moving parent must present a reasonable parenting plan for the other parent, which usually consists of a few weeks in the Summer and perhaps a holiday or two or school break during the school year.  Sometimes that arrangement works and is satisfactory.  Sometimes it is unrealistic and even impossible to implement. A parent seeking relocation with a child is not necessarily angry, vindictive or trying to marginalize the other parent.  An empathetic, sensitive parent can still need to relocate for good reasons.  A Court (when the other parent objects) has to dissect away all of the issues to determine if the move is a good thing, or not for the child, and if it should happen at all.
          Some parents, in their short-sighted, narcissistic view, prefer to act on their belief (whether justified or not) that the other parent should be marginalized, excised or alienated.  Acting out that belief and proceeding with that agenda, can be very damaging to a child since the child loves both parents. If there is adequate empathy for the child’s feelings, then a parent sees the potential emotional damage, exercises appropriate parent-child boundaries and inhibits their own behavior to shield the child from harm.  If there is adequate empathy for the child, the parent, in the presence of a child on any particular day, understands that the child loves the other parent and is entitled to a relationship with that parent (assuming that the other parent is a fit parent) because it is intrinsically good for the child.  It is good for the child by definition, because the child has two parents.  Even if the other parent is a terrible husband or wife, that does not necessarily mean “poor parent” as well.  When one party vilifies the other, unfortunately the parent-part of the equation gets thrown in with the other (often irrelevant to parenting) issues.  So besides being perceived as a bad spouse, that party is perceived as a horrible parent as well even though he or she may be a great parent.  And we know who loses out: the child.
          The child knows that parent A despises parent B.  It hurts the child. He/she feels the tension, sadness, anxiety inside.  The child learns to hide feelings, not talk about Parent A to parent B, to pretend that the parenting time that just ended was no big deal, nothing special, for fear of hurting the receiving parent’s feelings or causing a problem.  In short, the child learns the “rules” of the particular home he/she is in at any particular time, and uses emotional energy or effort to be someone he/she is not. The effort is expended trying to please the parent he/she is with.  At the end of the day, the child learns to be something he/she is not, learns to be guarded and to inhibit his/her love for Parent B, just to please Parent A or to avoid Parent A’s anger or disappointment.  How sad that is for the child.  
          Being (perceived to be) betrayed, abandoned, hurt, victimized by the other partner/spouse breeds (irrational) hatred and contempt. But perceptions during a breakup, especially when kids are involved can (and often are) distorted, short-sighted and selfishly driven by misguided, subconscious motives.  It’s hard to have that insight when a parent is acutely narcissistic and in pain themselves; hard to conjure up empathy—even for a child’s feelings—when there is so much anger fueled further by vindictively obsessive thoughts.  All of this is in the context of a child going back and forth between two parents. It’s enough to make a child walk on eggshells.  But that causes great anxiety and often depression which affect school, as well as physical health.
          Parents going through a painful divorce should learn to recognize that they may temporarily be unable to be objective, unable to see the big picture.  They should recognize that it is common for the divorce crisis to exist concurrently with an impairment of good judgment and impulse control.  If a person acknowledges that (on their own or via professional counseling), and understands that there are always two sides to a dissolution, two opposing views of why it is happening, then hopefully self-righteous, moralistic thinking can be avoided. Hopefully the parent does not perceive him/herself to be a victim and play that role with the resultant blame and anger.  
Even if a person is convinced that they are “right” and the other parent is “wrong”, there are certain ironclad rules that should be adhered to with children, (assuming both parents are fit, not abusive, not impaired by alcohol or drugs, or criminal behavior or a history of domestic violence, etc.). Calling the other parent unfit because you don’t like that person for how they treated you in a relationship, is not valid.  Unfit is used here in the context of court proceedings in which the court or local child protective agency deems the other parent unfit.  Being a lousy spouse does not mean that spouse is a lousy parent. Also, your being the better parent does not mean that the other parent should play no role as a parent, or be marginalized.
The Basic Rules:
1.   The children have a right to a loving relationship and good, quality time with both parents and the children should know that you feel this way and are supportive of this.
2.   The children have a right to love their other parent (who you might despise), and should be given the green light for them to freely do so, by you.
3.   The children should never hear you say anything disparaging about the other parent, whether directly or indirectly by overhearing you speaking with others about the other parent.
4.   It is your duty as a parent to shield your children from the litigation, from the issues that led to your breakup, from your true feelings about their other parent.
5.   It is your duty as a parent to make your child feel comfortable telling you about the fun times they had with the other parent, or in showing you pictures, gifts or souvenirs from time spent with the other parent. This means you behave as if you are happy for your child even if secretly you are seething. (If you are seething, you might consider getting counseling to help you through this because seething only hurts you and makes you feel sick inside.)  Acting happy for your child is difficult, since you must be aware of your nonverbal cues, your body language, facial expressions, etc. Rolling your eyes, tensing up, looking depressed, tearing up, etc., all tell the child that it is not ok that they had fun with the other parent. To teach your child that message, is to make your child compartmentalize his/her life, needing to keep things to him/herself to avoid your reactions and displeasure.
6.   It is inappropriate and damaging to a child to pump that child for private information about the other parent’s love life, financial situation, or other information that is not relevant to the child’s parenting time.  If your child is being mistreated by a boyfriend/girlfriend, you will hear about it anyway, and you can act accordingly. Most of the time, however, new partners of an ex are benign, not wanting to cause any problems with their new partner’s child or other parent.  Your child should know that you are ok with their establishing a warm relationship with the other parent’s new girl/boyfriend, and that you are not threatened by that relationship (even if you have insecurities of your own).  If you are overly anxious about the possibility of your child loving your ex spouse’s new partner more than your child loves you, then you might benefit from counseling for these insecurities. Your child may benefit from you being in counseling as well.  If you allow yourself to feel competitive with your ex’s new love interest, it will lead to emotional disaster for you and for your child, not to mention further litigation.  Avoid buying extravagant gifts for your child even if you can afford it. It will only provoke a similar response from the other parent, or hostility.
7.   Do not lie to your child about the other parent.  Also, do not relate stories—even if true—about your ex to the child, if the stories are at all negative. Do omit telling bad stories about your ex to the child, e.g. “Your mom had three affairs.” or “Your father never did things with you until we separated”, etc.
8.   Do not schedule appointments for the child when the appointment will occur on the other parent’s parenting time, unless unavoidable, and unless you first inform the other parent and gain their cooperation and approval.  Do not sign up the child for extracurricular activities that will take place on the other parent’s parenting time, unless you have pre-approval from the other parent as well as an understanding that the other parent will take the child to that activity.
9.   Do not interfere with the other parent’s parenting time. Don’t call your child frequently or unnecessarily, outside of your agreed-upon or court-ordered phone time. Make pleasant small talk with your child rather than to interrogate or pump for information. Don’t be intrusive.
10.  Please share important information regarding the health, education and general welfare of your child to the other parent even if you loathe him/her.  Use email or text.  For emergencies and acute illness, don’t delay informing the other parent. Pick up the phone and call or text. The child needs both parents to be in the loop. 
11.  Please do not act as if the other parent does not exist.  Perhaps for you, the ex does not exist, but for the child, it is a very different story. Act as if you are both on the same page regarding your children, even if you despise each other, simply for the benefit of your children.
Generally, all of the above require a degree of acting, keeping appropriate parent-child boundaries, keeping your feelings to yourself, self-monitoring (e.g. for internal emotional upset, body language, eye rolling, sighing, etc.) and by playing a perhaps phony role for the sake of your children.  Your role is that of co-parent who respects the other parent as an equal.  Even if you privately believe the other parent is a pathetic loser as a person, and a waste of space on this planet, there is nothing to be gained by your children knowing you feel that way.  It only will hurt the children.

If you want to be the best loving parent you can be, it would be good for you to allow, encourage and facilitate your children’s love for—and relationship with—the other parent and other parent’s family.  Even if you do not get thanked by the other party (because the other party thinks you are a pathetic loser too), you are doing this for your children’s comfort level and to generate as much good Karma as possible for you and your children. While you cannot control the other parent, you can certainly aspire toward doing the right thing by your children, for their benefit.  You have the potential of control over what you do, and it is a good thing to self-monitor, and to be cognizant of the effects of your behavior on your children’s emotional and physical development. Try to let go of the past as best you can, don’t harbor anger and resentment, and go forward with your new life as a single parent with a child who depends on your mental health, stability and good example.
Good luck, and please post a comment about your experiences.
Copyright © Jonathan D. Gordon, Esq. 2017
Please note, this blog is for information purposes only. It is not legal or psychological advice and it does not create an attorney/client or psychologist/patient relationship. If you have a question about a specific matter you should seek out an attorney or mental health expert to assist you.
Call us to schedule a consultation:  201-801-0455
email: jonathan@jdgordonlaw.com
Web Site:  www.jdgordonlaw.com
Tweet Me:  @jdgordonlaw; follow me on FaceBook

Friday, July 1, 2016



Vengeance is Sweet, but Sweet is Expensive

(Family Court as Roman Theatre)

© Jonathan D. Gordon, Esq. 2016 


Jonathan D. Gordon, Ph.D., J.D.

            It is fascinating how some people in Family Court believe that anything goes. Dirty fighting, low blows, torpedoes and surprise maneuvers are common.  Lying is almost expected. At least it is not shocking.  It is understood that people embellish, re-invent history and even create fiction to gain some imagined advantage.  The system has few methods with which to deal with this, but we will discuss some of the effects of scorched earth litigation.
            Of course it would be simple if divorcing or litigating parties would be cooperative and conserve their financial resources. The more litigation, the more legal fees.  But if they were so cooperative, they might still be happily married.  As I discussed in earlier posts, much that drives matrimonial and other family court litigation is related to emotions and beliefs.  The emotions that one may be experiencing could include extreme anger, extreme anxiety, extreme depression.  The cognitive basis for these emotions could include beliefs such as perceiving one’s self as a victim, as abandoned, betrayed, humiliated, robbed, etc. “That so-and-so ruined my life!”  As a person falls into that trap of these irrational cognitive beliefs or self-perceptions, then it is common to blame the other party for the abandonment, betrayal, humiliation and robbery that is perceived. Blaming the other party and being the victim is always unhealthy emotionally and financially.  The resulting tunnel vision of such a person leads that person to lock into a narcissistically self-centered theory of the (marital) circumstances which is difficult to climb out of.  It doesn’t make things easier when a client distorts the facts to their lawyer who takes up their cause, and when well-meaning family and friends encourage a parson to take the other party “to the cleaners.”
            When a person has the beliefs outlined above, and as a result is enraged at the other person (e.g. an estranged spouse), many people (not all) will give themselves permission to act badly against the other.  The perceived victim may indeed feel totally justified in besmirching the other party’s name in the community, making marital property (not yet divided up) disappear or damaged, or worse.  False allegations can be commonly found in domestic violence complaints, in financial allegations and with regard to parenting skills or involvement.  A parent who wants to hurt the other, may use the children as a weapon. This is sadly common.  The children suffer and it often becomes clear to the Judge that one parent is doing this, causing upset or alienation, or other problems.  The Court, once this is clear, will come down hard on the parent causing problems for the children and for the other parent. It is not so difficult to identify in most cases. 
            False domestic violence allegations are very damaging and cause immediate consequences to the falsely accused party, if a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) is issued.  This includes being immediately kicked out of the house with the shirt on your back, having your legally obtained weapons confiscated, and perhaps not being allowed to have contact with the children.  All of this is Temporary (in NJ where I practice) until the final hearing which is a trial.  If the trial results in a Final Restraining Order (FRO), then it is permanent until and unless dismissed by the plaintiff, the person who sought the order. (We are only talking here about false allegations and not the majority of complaints that truly reflect incidents of domestic violence and rightly result in an FRO.).  The result of being wrongly accused of domestic violence when none has occurred, besides being horrifically malicious, is a financial loss due to the attorneys’ fees the defendant must spend to be defended in this trial. The trial can involve calling witnesses, introduction of evidence (e.g. tapes, photos, texts, etc.) and may be continued over a period of days.  It is possible to spend tens of thousands of dollars (but more likely around $10,000) to defend a complaint of domestic violence. It also costs the accuser for the days in court and the resultant legal fees. 
            False accusations of dissipating marital assets, stealing or hiding marital money, transferring property to the name of others to “hold” for the owner, or charging up a storm on the spouse’s credit card can also cause much damage and result in high fees.  A forensic accountant, depending on the nature of the valuation of a business, or evaluation of where money went, can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $50,000.  Depending on the complexity of the case, the sky is the limit.  If the accusing spouse is simply making accusations over feeling cheated, without a concrete (documented) basis, it will end up costing the accusing spouse a lot of money just to vex the other spouse.  In fact, a Judge could make the party requesting a forensic accounting pay for it 100%.  The same is true for an accuser who wants a vocational evaluation for a spouse who is accused of being “voluntarily underemployed”.  The question is whether it is really worth it to throw out $10,000 or $25,000, or whatever it is, just to “go after” the other party due to anger?  Some would say yes, it’s worth it.  But besides the bad Karma, and the risk of losing one’s credibility with a Judge, there might be a better use for those funds, such as a vacation or maybe psychotherapy.
            It is common, when child custody or parenting time disputes arise, for parents to   allege all kinds of things about the other parent that they never alleged before.  A good example is an allegation that the other parent drives the children in the car when intoxicated or under the influence of something. This begs the question of “Then why did you allow your spouse to drive the children with that spouse for the past 8 years, thereby putting them in danger?”  False accusations that the other parent was never involved with the children when that parent actually was, or that the other parent is not interested in the children or does not participate in the children’s lives, becomes “he said-she said” to a Judge.  Most of the time, with opposing allegations, or with allegations and denials, a Judge will refer the parents and children for a psychological evaluation as to the best interests of the children or for a custody recommendation.  Just parenthetically, a full psychological evaluation with a written report on a family could cost between $15,000 and $25,000.  Court testimony is extra.  But the Roman theatre includes low blows, dirty fighting and distraction.  It is no different in Family Court with some people who have a score to settle.
            At the end of the day, the Court has one ultimate tool in the decision making process, namely the trial.  If there are disputes of material fact, possibly credible accusations or allegations on both sides, and there is a dearth of clear unequivocal evidence available, then the Court will set a date for a trial on the issues, with discovery (e.g. document production, depositions, reports from forensic experts, etc.) deadlines.  You can count on such a trial costing from $25,000 to $75,000 or more, depending on the complexity of the issues.  If this litigation is being driven by anger and vengeance, it is very unfortunate and dysfunctional.  You will lose all of your savings unless you are very wealthy.  You may go into debt to finance this. 
            When the trial is over and the Judge makes her or his determinations, you will find that most of the time, it will be in the neighborhood of a midpoint between the previous positions of the two parties.  Had they gone to mediation, or worked it out between themselves and then had their attorneys draft an agreement, they could have saved a ton of money and gotten the same or similar outcome.  But vengeance is sweet.  Sweet can be very expensive.

            Not only is the seeking of vengeance or retribution expensive financially, it also takes an emotional toll on both parties.  It is self-inflicted suffering.  For someone who perceives themselves to be a victim, this is perfect.  But not everyone wants to be in litigation for the fun of it.  Often, the accuser will leave the trial very surprised and devastated that the Judge was not very impressed with the allegations, or with the evidence, or with the credibility of the accuser.  So not only was the defendant forced to spend a lot of money on a lawyer to defend themselves but the plaintiff/accuser threw their money out needlessly just to get even with the spouse that was such a “bad person” to that spouse.  Trials are sometimes necessary to get to the truth when the truth is not readily apparent to a Judge.  Two people can genuinely disagree on how much time a child should spend in a particular parent’s home, or disagree on how much money was spent on certain things that now should be a financial credit for a party.  Genuine disagreement, especially when mediation efforts failed, will be resolved by a Judge.  But to waste the court’s time and to put the other party through the wringer out of malice, is just dysfunctional, wasteful, and abusive.  Unless a party wants to drag things out to punish the other party, it is better to work things out amicably, whether between themselves or in mediation, than to use the Family Court as a Roman theatre to act out their hatred of the other party.  And if you believe in Karma, well, it often comes back to bite you later on.  
Good luck, and please post a comment about your experiences.
Copyright © Jonathan D. Gordon, Esq. 2016
Please note, this blog is for information purposes only. It is not legal or psychological advice and it does not create an attorney/client or psychologist/patient relationship. If you have a question about a specific matter you should seek out an attorney or mental health expert to assist you.
Call us to schedule a consultation:  201-801-0455
email: jonathan@jdgordonlaw.com
Web Site:  www.jdgordonlaw.com
Tweet Me:  @jdgordonlaw; follow me on FaceBook