Monday, June 25, 2012

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

Copyright © Jonathan D. Gordon, Esq. 2012

While this is not an attempt by any means to review the concept of karma in depth, I will try to employ this concept as an illustration for behavior that is manifested in Family Court.  I am also not attempting to review each religion’s definition of Karma, or the historical origins derived from each religion, but rather to make a point as it pertains to Family Court issues.  So with that proviso, here goes.

The concept of karma, simplistically, can be seen as a consequence of one’s actions, as a stream of cause and effect.  The Hindus see Karma as thoughts, words and actions that cause a direct effect. But the consequences of one’s actions (Karmically speaking) are mitigated by other actions, and it is the totality of one’s actions that will determine one’s future course.  It is the law of nature, if you will, that brings the effects of one’s actions back to the actor.  It is similar to the Newtonian physics concept that every action causes an equivalent, opposite reaction.  Buddhism conceptualizes Karma as a person’s actual intention, as contrasted with their overt behavior.  Good intentions cause good effects while bad intentions cause evil effects.  Doing good acts for selfish motives causes bad Karma.

Western culture adapted the karma concept which essentially has the same or similar themes in concepts such as “what goes around comes around”, “reaping what you sow” and “live by the sword, die by the sword” (Christian).  A more modern view, such as that discussed by the psychoanalyst Carl Jung, suggests in his concept of synchronicity that things that happen simultaneously are related.  He suggests that any act resulting from cognitively unresolved emotions (cognitive dissonance) causes Karma.  (Note: I previously discussed cognitive dissonance in my post about “Dog Wars”.)  Rabbi Nachman, the founder of Breslev Chassidism and his followers discuss “A turn for a turn” which is conceptualized as the message that is sent from G-d to teach a person why he/she is suffering.  For example:  “An employer who unjustly accused an employee of stealing (to withhold his wages) was soon thereafter accused by the tax authorities of cheating on his income tax.” ( There are numerous discussions in the Talmud and other Jewish commentaries regarding why people experience suffering and tragedy, in the context of “a turn for a turn” or for purifying one’s soul (this time around).  Whether or not the person recognizes his/her suffering as a message or as a consequence of an action (Karma) varies from person to person.  Sometimes, especially in times of great duress, it is difficult to discern the correct course or to figure out why things go in a particular direction, despite one’s certainty of what seems fair and just at that time.  “A wise mind will know time and justice.  For everything has its time and justice, for man’s evil overwhelms him. Indeed, he does not know what will happen, for when it happens, who will tell him?” (Ecclesiastes 8:5-6).

Whether it is called karma, or poetic justice, a turn for a turn, or reaping what you sow, it all represents a widespread belief across cultures and religions that in one way or another, one is responsible for-and will be held accountable for-their actions and intentions.  How does that apply to Family Court actions?  It is common to see hatred expressed freely in Family Court.  It is often a place of great sadness, disappointment, betrayal and hurt.  Divorces happen there.  Marriages end.  Spouses and partners recount their subjective pain, their traumas, their addictions and perversions, rejections, physical violence, the allegations of abuse and neglect of children, etc.  Day after day mud is slung from one side to another, either to gain some perceived or hoped-for advantage, or most importantly to get essential relief from the Court.   Regarding the latter, sometimes the only language someone will understand is a Court Order.  The Family Courts are, among other things, charged with protecting the best interests of the children.  These courts also protect litigants’ rights, enforce previous court orders, ensure fairness in the financial aspects of marital dissolution, protect battered spouses, etc. (to name a few).  When one party is dishonest, disturbed, violent or uncooperative, a person may have no choice but to make an application for Court assistance (i.e. filing a motion or petition).   That is not the primary focus here.  Rather, the issue of Karma is one that can help guide a person through very difficult circumstances.

In general, a person’s self perception can determine their reactions to difficulties.  For example, an angry person who perceives him/herself as a victim may be driven toward vindictive behavior by a sense of self righteous indignation.  If a person feels justified, that person may indulge in unnecessary and harassing litigation that was not necessary.  This is sometimes done just to punish the other party, to make them spend their last dime on legal fees, to try to humiliate that other person in court, etc.  Sometimes a person who feels betrayed, abandoned  or otherwise screwed-over by the other, gives him/herself a license to beat up the other party in court over and over again.  Sometimes the issues are not clear and it takes time for the Court to see that this is frivolous and harassing.  This is bad legal Karma and can come back to bite the offending party.  We see this when a Judge who may have once been sympathetic, begins to realize that the complaints are never-ending, without merit, are trivial, mean-spirited, untrue and represent a continual process of legal harassment and vilification of the other person.  The Court won’t indefinitely allow this to take place.

Very Bad  Karma- Some Examples:

Alienation of Children from the Other Parent:

            One of the worst things a parent can do is to alienate a child from their other parent.  Regardless of your opinion of the other parent, as long as he/she is not dangerous, violent, neglectful, a drug addict or alcoholic, or possesses some other terrible characteristic, you do not have the right to deprive the child of that parent.  The definition of “neglectful” can be very subjective.  We are not talking about who is the better parent.  Even though you may consider yourself to be the better quality parent, your concerns probably do not rise to the level of abuse or neglect.  Purposely alienating a child from the other parent is a form of child abuse.  The child will eventually realize what the alienating parent did to them (maybe much later in life) and what that alienating parent did to the child will come back to haunt him/her.  The child will want to know why the alienating parent did that to them and will usually seek out the other parent anyway.  The maliciously alienating parent goes down a destructive as well as self-defeating path.  A parent in the throes of a dissolution of a relationship may become so reactively narcissistic that he/she cannot see the damage this does to the child. There is a selfish loss of empathy.  Every bad behavior becomes justified in that person’s mind.  Being consumed with hate, anger, vengeance and a sense of personal victimhood creates bad Karma.  It is a disabling and destructive force and is hurtful to children who need two parents to love.

Trying to impoverish the other party:

            Whether it is a wife who feels betrayed by a philandering husband or a husband who hates his seemingly unlovable wife (these are just for illustration; could be the opposite scenario, or one of many others), the more powerful spouse’s sense of victimhood and self righteousness may act as self-permission for--or rationalization of mean behavior.  Trying to “take him/her for everything he/she’s worth” is just mean.  Being selfish, uncaring, punitive and vindictive to the other party is sometimes acted out financially.  One of the parties may try to make sure the other person—possibly the other parent of the child they both created—has “nothing” at the end of the day.  It is sad to see one party enjoy their apparent victory when the other person is ordered to pay an inordinate amount of support, beyond what the recipient really needs and what the payor can comfortably afford.  Sometimes it works that way and while it might be unfair, it gets put into place and one party is enriched parasitically off of the other.  The Courts try to prevent this, but do not always see how one party is being disproportionately enriched.  This often happens when the larger wage earner is able to hide their income and to make it look like they have less than they do to avoid paying the support they should be paying.  This is mean, unfair and creates bad Karma.

Gordon’s Rules of Family Court Karma:

            What goes around comes around sooner or later.  When it does, you may or may not be there to see it.  Justice doesn’t always show up at your convenience for you to witness. You just have to trust that it will occur eventually.  That may entail some spirituality on your part to believe that things get taken care of one way or another in this world (or in the next), and that you do not have to be the one to mete out justice.

            It’s bad Karma to want to witness someone else’s bad outcome, just to get satisfaction that they “got theirs”.  Believing that life balances itself out one way or another for the best should be enough.

            Don’t do the right thing for the sake of being rewarded by some supernatural force, like getting a prize for good behavior.  That will lead to disappointment and bitterness.  Living your life in a positive way with minimal expectations for reward will create inner positive effects.  You will like yourself more and be a happier person living in the light.  That is your reward.

            It is bad Karma to try to control and manipulate others for your own benefit.

It is bad Karma to walk around chronically angry, feeling victimized, blaming others, not taking responsibility for your actions, relying on magical solutions, lying to others, making promises you don’t intend to keep, manipulating and misleading others, obsessing, scheming, plotting, being vengeful, etc.

It is bad Karma to threaten, verbally or physically abuse another person.  Bullies create bad Karma.

It is bad Karma to steal, cheat, deceive, manipulate, lie, defy court orders, not show up for appointments (passive-aggressive behavior), hide things from the court or  from your estranged partner/ex, exaggerate, be a drama queen, say inappropriate things in front of your children and their teachers, withhold parenting time, etc.

It is good Karma to tell the truth, allow others to be who they are (as long as they are not trying to hurt you), take responsibility for your actions, make amends, be fair, respectful and reasonable.

It is good Karma to be forgiving, kind, charitable, civil, respectful and sensitive of the feelings of others.  This includes your ex, your children, and those around you.  Getting more with honey than with vinegar holds true most of the time.  When it doesn’t, you can be satisfied knowing that you took the high road and acted in a way that you can be proud of.  You want to be an example and a good role model to your children who observe you and who absorb your attitudes and copy your behaviors.  On the other hand, taking the high road does not mean that you have to subject yourself to abuse and be taken advantage of repeatedly by a mean person.  There is a time for understanding and civility and there is a time for litigation.  Knowing and recognizing the difference is important.

It is good Karma to allow and to encourage your children to love their other parent, enjoy their time with that parent and his/her family without being made to feel guilty or uncomfortable.  You should assume that your child(ren) will not always be with you or under your control since they also have to be with the other parent.  The other parent has other rules and other ways of doing things.  Accepting the other parent’s differing parenting style and philosophy of life amounts to accepting reality on your part and that is a good thing.  Fighting the other parent on inconsequential parenting issues or on other things you cannot control, such as differing religious observances, creates bad Karma and makes your child anxious, guilt-ridden and depressed.   It is good Karma to accept that you cannot control everything, don’t have to, and that things will usually turn out for the best regardless of what you do.  You cannot control what goes on in your ex’s house when your child is there.  Your child is not as fragile as you may think. Think about other things and let go.  We are not, however, talking about abuse, neglect or other extreme conditions.  That is an entirely different subject requiring a different approach. 

There are probably many more examples I could use, but hopefully this makes the point clear.  Even though Family Court litigation is unpleasant, comes with hurt, betrayal and sadness, it does not, and should not have to be a place where one party is trying to maliciously and vindictively destroy the other, hurt the other, and alienate the children from the other.  Keeping a sense of personal balance, perspective and decency is key.  Asking one’s self, “Is this going to generate bad Karma?” is a good way to self-check one’s actions.  There was once a time when you loved the other person, perhaps created a child with that person, and now if the relationship is over, it is still a good thing to part civilly, respectfully and fairly to each other.  That way, you can look in the mirror at night and like what you see, not have to feel guilty. If you don’t feel guilty (because the other person had it coming) then at least not having to deal with the inevitable consequence of the bad Karma you created, later down the road.  Even in Family Court, light is better than darkness, mutual respect wins over vilification, forgiveness wins over victimhood and retribution, and all of these allow you to more quickly move on with your life for a better future.  What do you think?  Post a comment.

Copyright © Jonathan D. Gordon, Esq. 2012

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.

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