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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


Wednesday, May 25, 2016



FAIRNESS v. INJUSTICE IN FAMILY COURT
© Jonathan D. Gordon, Esq. 2016 




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

            Your injustice may be someone else’s fair outcome. Sometimes in litigation, when a settlement is not possible, a Judge will make a decision based on the facts and the application of those facts to the Law.  In Family Court, the facts can be disputed and create ambiguity for a Judge. If facts are disputed and there has been no presentation of definitive and convincing proof in a motion hearing, then a Judge will often be forced to schedule a plenary hearing or trial on those disputed facts.  The trial is different from oral argument in a motion hearing since in a trial, there is sworn testimony and evidence may be used as proof of the proposition being asserted by the parties.  Witnesses may be sworn in and testimony is subject to cross examination. The rules of evidence will control what the Judge will admit into evidence and ultimately, at the end of this hearing, the Judge will decide the issue and make findings of fact as well as conclusions of Law.  Frequently, the Judge will strike a compromise position, giving something and denying something to both parties if it seems like the fair thing to do.  Sometimes, but much less frequently, one party will get a “home run” and totally prevail in the Court’s findings.
            It is not unusual for the losing party to be upset or to believe that the court’s finding was unjust, wrong or biased.  In New Jersey where I practice, there are mechanisms for having another look at the issue just decided. For example, a party may submit a motion for reconsideration.  This has to be applied for within 20 days of the Court Order that is being contested and cannot simply be for the reason that the party did not like the Judge’s decision.   Rather, among other things, a party would have to show the Court that the Judge omitted some important fact or misapplied the Law to these facts. Also, if there is brand-new information that just became available, that had it been previously submitted to the Court would have resulted in a different outcome, then this would be appropriate to  reconsider.  Being unhappy with the decision, however, is not a basis to file this motion.
            If a party is not able to get relief through a motion for reconsideration, an appeal may be considered.  In fact, when applying for an appeal (e.g. to the Appellate Division), you will be asked on the Notice of Appeal if you already submitted a motion for reconsideration or a motion to Stay Judgment (pending appeal) and if it was already rejected.  You have 45 days from the day of the original order to submit the Notice of Appeal. Otherwise, it is generally too late to appeal.  In Family Court, most appeals fail and the Appellate Division will affirm the decision of the court below.  Part of that is because the Appellate Division gives much deference to the Family Court Judge. This is due to the fact that the judge has expertise in this area and had the benefit of being there, hearing the arguments first hand and being able to make credibility determinations in the process of rendering a decision. The Family Part Judge has a certain amount of discretion to make a decision based on what the Judge deems to be appropriate and just.  The Appellate Division will send the case back to the trial judge (remand) or reverse the decision below if (among other things) the Appellate Judges believe that the Judge abused their discretion (went too far).  Or, the Appellate Division will reverse and remand, or simply reverse if the Judge made an error of Law.  These are simplifications, designed to give you a basic idea of the process. There are different ways that the Appellate Division will review a Judge’s decision, with different standards or criteria for making their determination, as requested by the petitioner, but this is not the purpose of the current explanation.
            Regarding justice and fairness, a Judge (at the trial level, rather than the Appellate level) will occasionally make a decision based on fairness or “equity”.  In New Jersey, the Family Court is a section of the Chancery Division of the Superior Court and is considered to be a “Court of Equity”. This means that at times, when there is no clear rule of Law that compels a Judge to rule a certain way, a Judge may decide an issue based on what is fair to do. This is usually found in financial issues, where a party may be repaid or at least partially compensated for expenses they previously incurred, because it is the right thing to do, to resolve a case. But a Judge also has the discretion to decline to do that based on other determinations (e.g. the party seeking to be compensated had “unclean hands” or some culpability or bad behavior).
            Justice from the point of view of the litigant may be self-centered. That is, if I lose my argument or application, then it is unjust by (my) definition.  A party can be passionate and sincerely believe that they are right and deserving (to win) but a Judge may disagree based on the totality of all of the circumstances and from a more objective outside perspective. At times, I have heard my clients or adverse clients (the other party) complain that the Judge was corrupt, a friend of the other lawyer, biased, or unintelligent.  It is difficult to defend a Judge to one’s own client, especially when the client is unhappy over a decision that the Judge made, but it is highly unlikely that the Judge was corrupt, or biased or influenced by friendship with a particular lawyer. Judges are not unintelligent.  Maybe sometimes they are impatient, or overworked, or they have had enough of the petty bickering that they hear in a particular case. It has happened, however, that on a rare occasion when there is an actual bias or appearance of bias, that the Appellate Division or even the Judicial Ethics Committee, might step in.  This, however, is something that is rarely, if ever, seen by an attorney perhaps in an entire career. That does not mean that it does not, or could not happen, however.
            In certain areas of Law, there may be a bias that seems unfair. For example, in Child Protective Services (CPS) cases, the Judge usually sides with the Deputy Attorney General (the lawyer representing the CPS agency) in New Jersey, The Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P).  Even when the Division has no case, has a flimsy set of facts, most Judges will usually defer to the Deputy Attorney General (D.A.G.)’s arguments, as well as the Court-appointed Law Guardian for the child, and err on the side of caution due to concerns about the safety of the child.  Since in New Jersey (and elsewhere) the Court has the power to make decisions as a parent (parens patriae powers), then a Judge can at least temporarily change custody of a child, kick a parent out of the house until a further determination is made, and can continue the case for up to a year until it either gets dismissed of goes further if appropriate.  That means that for a small minority of parents who are wrongfully accused of abuse or neglect of a child, that they are treated as guilty until proven innocent later on.  The allegations made by the Division can be later discredited at trial, but the trial can take 3 to 6 months to begin after the initial Complaint is submitted. For a parent who did not commit an act of abuse or neglect, but is accused of doing so, that parent may have to spend tens of thousands of dollars defending themselves (if they do not qualify for public defender) and in the interim, may have to sleep on someone’s couch if they were ordered to leave their home (leaving the child in the care of the other parent or another relative). I had a case like this where the father lived in his car for months until the case was dismissed in his favor.  Parenting time can be ordered to be supervised only, or infrequently allowed, such as every other week for a couple hours. That targeted parent may have to submit to a battery of psychological tests, substance abuse assessments, and perhaps submit to treatment (even before a diagnosis is rendered).  The treatment that may be ordered can include anger management training and parenting skills training.  The assessments may be over-broad and essentially can become a fishing expedition to find some reason why the child should not be in the care of that parent.  The CPS workers generally do not back down, assuming that the parent is “guilty” and that they should receive only supervised parenting time and go for treatment.  Ultimately, that is for a Judge to decide, but the process moves slowly and the Judges usually will go along with the recommendations of the Division and Law Guardian (who usually are in agreement with each other).
            The purpose of describing this latter issue in CPS cases, is that for a parent who is unjustly accused of child abuse or neglect, much damage can be done. This can be psychological, financial, and certainly to the parent-child relationship.  A child’s behavior can deteriorate with the sudden inexplicable absence of a parent with whom they are bonded.  A parent can be forced to go for treatment for a “condition” for which they were not (yet) diagnosed, and their compliance with the treatment and court-ordered assessments will be used to later decide when or if the parent and child can go back to normal.  It is a very difficult area of Law, replete with unfairness when a client has not been abusive or neglectful to their child.  Importantly, however, most of the allegations of child abuse or neglect turn out to be real, the protections of the State are clearly necessary, and children’s lives are often salvaged or saved by the efforts of the child protective services and the Court.  We are only speaking here of the times when an innocent parent is swept up into the system that assumes that they are not so innocent.  That is a painful process for that particular parent or family. 
            Justice and fairness is usually accomplished in Family Court.  There are many variables to juggle, including the financial issues, credits due a party, child support and alimony, equitable distribution, anticipated retirement age, and most importantly, the best interests and safety of any children.  Arriving at custody and parenting time decisions is sometimes a daunting task, requiring expert assessments.  All of this takes time, money and the desire to settle the issues through negotiations.  If the parties can negotiate and make compromises, they may be able to reach a fair settlement without going to trial. They can save money on legal fees and maintain a civil, cooperative relationship for the benefit of any children they may have. Then the parties do not have to be so concerned with justice and what is fair. They can mediate their issues make decisions themselves without a Judge having to intercede.  When the parties cannot agree, cannot make decisions amicably, and continue to fight with each other, a Judge will make the decision(s) for them and this will open the door to a party feeling that they were judged unfairly.  It is better to avoid this by making a conscious decision to work out an agreement, even if not totally satisfactory.  A good agreement requires compromise, sacrifice and the ability to keep things in perspective.  That is not easy, but the results can make the effort very worthwhile. On the other hand, being self-righteous, angry, feeling victimized, needing to malign and put down the other party invariably leads to more litigation, more legal fees, and the likelihood of feeling that you did not get a fair shake in court.
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

Wednesday, January 20, 2016



INFIDELITY, FAMILY COURT & EMOTIONS
© Jonathan D. Gordon, Esq. 2016 

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



            The stereotypic divorce drama, involving the private detective trailing the cheating spouse is now less frequently seen in Family Court, at least in New Jersey where I practice.  Since the passage of the NJ “No fault divorce law” in 2007, it is much easier and simpler to get a divorce for no particular reason other than “irreconcilable differences” that must have have lasted for at least six months before the filing of the Complaint for Divorce. No trial necessary to prove these grounds, no requirement to be specific about what the irreconcilable differences are or how they arose. Just the six month requirement.  So why use the grounds of adultery (among others) at all? 
            The Courts are not really interested in marital fault any more unless there are substantial issues of physical or financial injury such as the major dissipation of marital assets, spousal violence resulting in injury, and some others.  Without getting into a discussion about these here, they can be called “marital torts” (for which money damages may be awarded) that essentially co-exist in parallel with the divorce litigation.  That will be the subject of another column.  Other than marital torts (called “Tevis claims” in NJ, named after Tevis v. Tevis, 79 N.J. 422 (1979)), that are successfully litigated, a Judge will not financially favor a litigant who complains about their estranged spouse committing adultery, for example.  So the Court will not award more alimony or any damages, or attorneys’ fees for being on the receiving end of infidelity.  The Courts do not care how many people your spouse slept with or what gender their partner was.  In that case, why do people bother?  Usually anger drives this choice, as well as the grounds of Extreme Cruelty.
Grounds for Divorce
            Divorcing over grounds of extreme cruelty or adultery enables the litigant to write a Certification, a sworn narrative that details as many specific details about the marital infidelity and/or extreme cruelty (e.g. being humiliated, insulted, treated in an emotionally abusive manner, etc.) that may have taken place over the course of the marriage.  For someone who is hurt, devastated, angry, or just wants to vent their marital experiences, this is an opportunity. On an emotional level, the angry spouse wants the Judge to know what happened. The spouse’s fantasy here is that the Judge will be outraged too. But that is just a fantasy since it will not happen.  Sometimes, however, it is recommended to detail these events in the Complaint to illustrate the spouse’s character, personality and violent or addictive tendencies (for example) and history when custody of children is involved.  But adultery alone is not a reason for the Court to award primary custody of a child to the non-cheating spouse. It is simply not a shocker anymore, and is so common as to be mundane in the courtroom context. While the non-cheating spouse may be outraged and devastated, the Court will not be unless something put the children at risk or has the real potential to do so (e.g. having an affair with an alcoholic, a felon, sex offender, or drug dealer, etc.). But even then, the financial outcome of the divorce is essentially the same, although a Judge may issue orders preventing the new partner (of any party for that matter) from any contact with the children if it there is a risk of harm
Why Infidelity?
            Why do people have affairs, anyway?  On the extreme end of the spectrum Some people who suffer from sexual addiction may be compelled to engage in serial sexual encounters due to their dysfunction.  But that is a disorder, requiring treatment like any other addiction.  It manifests itself in chronic sexual acting out behavior. It is not because the cheater fell out of love with their spouse, or that the spouse refuses sexual relations. It is rather, a compulsive behavior that is difficult if not impossible to resist.
            Some have affairs out of chronic anger or long term pent-up resentment against their spouse for a variety of possible reasons (may be called “excuses” or “rationalizations” by some). Anger, as I have stated elsewhere, can be a catalyst for change, or can be a destructive force if the anger is held inside, festering and getting in the way of love. Infidelity is often an act of anger against the resented spouse.  Some examples of underlying “reasons” acting as a wedge between the couple, thereby estranging them from each other over time, could include: Disagreements over money management and spending, meddling family members, the lack of sexual chemistry or lack of desire by a spouse, untreated alcoholism or substance abuse, employment problems, etc. just to name a few. Lack of sexual desire could happen after a woman has a child or after menopause, or for both genders could be the result of depression, anxiety, substance or alcohol abuse, etc.  A couple could drift apart because of the stress that a child with medical problems or handicapping conditions could generate, not to mention the need to focus on that child. The family dynamic that led to an infidelity could be complex and multifaceted and is a therapy issue.
But a cheating spouse could cheat without having any perceptible animosity or resentment toward their spouse.  A cheating spouse could cheat because of falling in love with someone with whom they interact on a regular basis, such as a co-worker. This may be an insidious process that grows over time.  It is possible that this cheating spouse can love both the spouse and the lover at the same time, differently, without having any desire to leave the marriage, without having any angry reason to have had an affair.  In this scenario, the cheating spouse carves out a separate and distinct relationship with the lover and with the unsuspecting spouse, as if in two separate worlds kept insulated from each other.  While this is difficult to get away with over a long period of time, some have this kind of relationship with two partners: a spouse and a lover, for years. 
            How much energy it takes to maintain a secret, other-life in addition to the marriage, may be huge and emotionally draining.  At some point, the cheating spouse may opt to leave one of the partners because they cannot maintain the fiction at home and keep a lover and spouse happy at the same time. Or subconsciously, that cheating spouse may allow him/herself to be discovered and this will force the inevitable and dramatic outcome on that person. Unless the couple wish to go for marriage counseling to work on their issues, the trauma to the marriage may be insurmountable (with or without therapy).  Or they may be able to salvage their relationship if the motivation is there. But damage is done and it is usually difficult (but not impossible) to re-establish trust after such an event.
Emotional Care
            A spouse discovering infidelity should immediately get a qualified therapist to help to emotionally process what happened in a productive manner, to prevent impulsive and reactive behavior that could ultimately be self-defeating or self-destructive.  If possible, marriage counseling should be considered, but at the very least, individual counseling.  The pain of discovery of the affair is great, and if the infidelity is seen as a back-stabbing betrayal, it will take time to heal. A support network will be helpful, but not if the support network vilifies and demonizes the cheating spouse. How could that possibly help the non-cheating spouse in any way except to encourage that person to be a victim?  The support network would not know the details and inner workings of the marital dynamics and history.  The one seeking support would be well advised to realize this and to request not to have their spouse (the parent of the children) become the target of hatred, vilification and disparagement, especially within earshot of the children.  It is up to the perceived victim of the cheating spouse to control the environment, including the reactions of family and well-intentioned friends. This can be done by polite requests not to disparage their spouse, regardless of how heinous others think he/she is for what they did.  The hurt and emotional upheaval that ensues should not be shared with the children since it will not be to their benefit. It will hurt them. So it takes great efforts to act in a healthy fashion after a major betrayal from a spouse or partner.  Letting it all out at once in a destructive manner will make things worse.  Regardless of the ubiquity of infidelity these days, it can be a devastating experience for most. That is why a therapist can help and this should not be delayed. Ironically, a victim of domestic violence or a spouse’s affair who cannot cope, may find themselves under scrutiny by the Court if children are getting exposed to undue emotional reactions, or attempts at alienation from the other parent. When everyone is under a microscope in Family Court, being in control of one’s emotions and putting the children first is essential.  You’re in enough pain already. Don’t make it worse by losing control. If there is acrimony between the spouses, the cheating spouse will not miss the opportunity to make it look like the non-cheating spouse is unstable and unfit. Regardless of the legitimacy of the reasons for the outrage, the expression of that outrage can be self-defeating and even self-destructive. Don’t let that happen.  Don’t fall into that trap because it can and will be used against you by the other spouse if there is an agenda to do so.
Effects on Children

The discovery of an affair, while devastating a marriage, can also have major effects on the children of the marriage, whether minors or emancipated adult children.  At times, the children will side with the non-cheating spouse (perceived to be the victim or unhappy underdog).  This can lead to severe estrangement of the children from the cheating parent, along with other possible emotional results in the children.  It doesn’t help if the non-cheating spouse rants constantly to the children what a creep the other parent is.  This kind of reaction does great damage to children.  Some parents cannot filter out their feelings to protect their children, thereby using the children as sounding boards or worse yet, therapists for the parent.  This does untold damage to children such as causing depression, behavioral acting out, anger management issues, or a child who becomes “parentified”.  The parentified child overly identifies with the needy parent, acts to nurture, calm and reassure that seemingly fragile parent.  This child may also act in a parental role for a younger sibling, if the grieving parent cannot. The parentified child may stay home more, have less interactions with his or her friends and be less of a child then he/she should be for their age. (less play, more taking care of a parent in need).  It is unnatural and not healthy since it is the parent who is supposed to nurture the child, not the other way around.  


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



Monday, January 4, 2016



Parallel Parenting or “Split the Child in Two”
© Jonathan D. Gordon, Esq. 2016 

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

            In divorce or uncoupling with children, there are many instances where the parents cannot communicate with each other, cannot or will not cooperate with each other, and in other respects continue the acrimony that existed since the demise of their relationship.  Obviously, for two individuals to share parental responsibilities effectively, there must be a basic level of cooperative civility and communication related to the best interests of their children.   Some are able to pull this off and their children only benefit from their parents presenting a unified, supportive and nurturant presence in their lives.  But many divorced or otherwise uncoupled parents cannot stop hating the other.  They carry their sense of betrayal, hurt feelings, perceived victimization and anger with them all the time.  It is very difficult for them to hide their feelings, to keep from making comments to, or in front of, their children.  That parent truly believes that they are the better parent (or the only parent that matters), regardless of the reality.  Maybe that parent is, or is not the better parent.  In a high-conflict divorce with children, the parties often have a parent coordinator appointed by the Court, to mediate the day-to-day conflicts related to parenting time and children’s activities, among other things. This can keep the parties out of Court, and enable the parties to avoid direct dealings with the other.  Sometimes in cases where both parents are clearly acting at odds with each other, to the detriment of the children, a Court may appoint a Guardian ad litem for the children who will act as an investigative attorney to report on the children’s best interests to the Court.
            Let’s say a couple got divorced and live more than a short local distance from each other, perhaps a 30-60 minute ride between homes.  In a case where both parents have a significant amount of overnights—more than just every other weekend for the non-primary residential parent—then you might find a scenario where both parents set up their own separate worlds between which the children move back and forth.  Recently, this phenomenon has been dubbed “parallel parenting”, since each parent sets up their own choices of activities, doctors, friends, and sometimes pre-schools, for their children.  So the children here would have two doctors, two soccer teams, two sets of friends, two birthday parties, etc.  The parents’ wish is to set up a scenario where they can have a life with their children, to the exclusion of any communication or interactions with the other parent.  But what effect does this have on the children?
            Unfortunately, there are no longitudinal data available to support the benefits or detriments of this setup on children.  But logically, how could this go on indefinitely? A child living in two separate worlds eventually will have to merge some activities of those worlds.  The child can only go to one elementary school by Kindergarten age.  If there are two pediatricians, will one communicate with each other?  What if one doctor prescribes something for the child while at one parent’s house, what if the other parent’s pediatrician disagrees with the treatment?  What about orthodontics?  Does the child have to belong to two soccer leagues, and what if one league’s game conflicts with the other league’s game?  It can get crazy, for the sake of setting up two distinct worlds for the child.  Who is this really for?
            It is likely, despite the stated goals of each parent to set up a wonderful, calm world for their child, that there is a certain amount of narcissism or parental selfishness operating within each world. The disdain by one parent for the other parent continues to exist, and it is unlikely that the children would be totally insulated from their respective parents’ feelings about the other.  Comments are made by a parent or relatives, facial expressions are revealing, and there is a rigidity within each parent’s structure that the child has to live with. It promotes the ongoing competitiveness between the parents to create the “better” world, to insidiously seduce the children toward one parent more than the other.  The parent(s) may or may not be consciously aware of this underlying motive or dynamic, and may strongly disagree that they are motivated by selfish motives.  But pronouncing that you are doing something that is good for your children does not necessarily make it good, even if you sincerely believe it. 
            Parallel parenting postpones the inevitable, putting off the time in the future when the parents will actually have to swallow their anger and hurt feelings, move on and get along for the benefit of their children.  At some point, the children, being forced into this parent-focused structure, will resent it and perhaps resent it a lot and rebel. This lifestyle is a dressed-up version of the Disneyland parent, disguised as a child-friendly structure, which it often is not.  Do the parents ever intend to participate together to plan a wedding? How about the children going to college?  Do the parents ever intend to discuss where their children will go to school, if and when cars will be purchased, trips abroad for study opportunities, etc.?  Will the parents ever have to sit down to discuss their child’s emotional and social development, especially when there are problems?  And if so, will they do it without finger-pointing, blaming the other parent?   It is inevitable that the parents will have to become grownups if they are going to truly make their children comfortable, conflict free, and well-adjusted as adults.  It is inevitable that at some point, the parallel worlds will have to converge to some extent. The fantasy that one can parent children while completely insulated from the other parent is actually not a nice thing, and perpetuates the pre split-up demonization of the other parent (now perhaps unstated overtly, but still running in the background). Here, freezing out the other parent substitutes for the demonization.  Nothing more need be said about the other parent.  Rather here, having set up one’s separate sphere of parenting implies the non-existence of the other parent, and that message is clearly sent to the children.
          Unless the other parent is a danger to the children, is an active alcoholic or substance abuser, is emotionally or physically abusive or truly neglectful to the children, is morally lacking or engages in criminal behavior, then there is no excuse for one parent being quarantined by the other.  It is not for the children’s benefit as much as it is for the parents’ selfish needs. There is no evidence that this is good for children.    
          If a divorced couple continue to hate each other after the divorce (and this also applies to unmarried parents who split up, obviously), unless otherwise contraindicated by a history of domestic violence or other pathological conditions such as substance abuse and alcoholism, etc., then they should seriously consider counseling to enable them to learn to put their history aside and work together at least minimally, for their children’s best interests.  In the event that one individual’s emotional state is such that they are filled with hatred for their former partner, and that person cannot move on and let it go (whatever “it” was), then individual psychotherapy should be considered.  Walking around chronically with anger, hatred of another person, tension or high anxiety over anticipated dealings with that hated person (vis-à-vis an event with the children), then recognizing that this is unhealthy would be a good first step. Hating another person doesn’t hurt the hated person; it cannot be felt by that person.  Rather, it eats away at the insides of the hater.  The anxiety over dealing with someone who hurt another (emotionally) is a problem for the anxious person, not the hurtful person.  I would strongly recommend that someone who suffers these emotions in silence would be well advised to go for assistance to learn better coping methods.  It would feel better to learn to be indifferent to the other person and to be enabled to deal with them in a problem-solving manner for the sake of child-related issues that will come up for the parents. You can be indifferent (emotionless) to another person while continuing a working relationship with that person for some higher purpose.  There is a big difference between having a negative opinion of another (e.g. “that person is selfish and uncaring”), and having your intestines twisted into a knot over any thought of that person. You can have a negative opinion, accepting that the other parent is a flawed individual with whom you would rather not hang out.  You can nevertheless simultaneously communicate civilly and make a plan on behalf of your children with that person. Demonizing and marginalizing the other parent accomplishes nothing, but it hurts the kids.
          Parallel parenting pretends the other parent does not exist. But that is a fallacy in most cases.  That person once worked with you (one way of putting it) to create a child with you.  That person is a necessary, not expendable component of parenting your children and it is good for your children to have both parents working with each other for their benefit if it is at all possible, even if it causes the adults some discomfort. 
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