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Tuesday, January 8, 2013
The Family Court Destroyer-False Accusations
What should you do when someone is trying to destroy you in Family Court? There are many different scenarios and motivations. The emotional and financial effects can be the same in each. I tend to get referrals for very high conflict cases because I am also a Psychologist besides being an attorney. The high conflict is often about children: child custody and parenting time (visitation) disputes, parental alienation, relocation out of state with children, choice of religion and religious education disputes, to name a few. These can be in the context of divorce as well as in unmarried couples with children. Regarding the latter, I have found that this is more difficult than in divorce because the couple often splits up long before one of them goes to court for relief. In a traditional divorce, the parenting time plan is often carved out in the process of the divorce process under the court’s scrutiny and deadlines. Unmarried couples who split and have children often (but not always) have informal methods, or no methods to deal with their children until they go to court and get a court order, if they need one at all. I will talk about this in more detail later. In contrast, some amicably divorcing couples may carve out a detailed parenting time schedule at the divorce but create another informal system later that works for both of them and for the children.
Besides child custody disputes, there are high conflict divorces where one person may try to destroy the other financially. The more powerful (often the sole or primary wage earner) party in the divorce may—if playing the role of destroyer—hide assets, lie about his or her financial ability, dissipate assets (e.g. by running up a credit card bill for a couple years or months prior to the commencement of the divorce), put away joint income or savings gradually in the form of cash hidden in a vault someplace, or give money to a sibling or friend to hold, title property in the name of others (e.g. siblings, parent, etc.), stop paying the mortgage, go into foreclosure, file bankruptcy, etc. And the list can go on and on. There are books written about finding hidden assets for the purposes of getting adequate alimony and child support. But the assets often remain hidden nevertheless, often to the extreme detriment of the children and the former spouse. There are many ingenious and creative methods that people devise to deprive their spouse or child of support to which they are entitled. In almost all cases, the actor justifies their actions because of their anger and feelings of victimhood by the other. In some cases, it can simply be selfishness and narcissism as the depriving party wants as much comfort and spending ability as possible, regardless of the cost to another person. Sometimes divorce brings out the worst in people.
Hatred can drive a person to act very badly. In a chronically narcissistic person who has always been like that, it is unlikely that there will be much hesitation to take what he/she wants and leave the other person to fend for themselves. There is no empathy, no compassion. There likely never was. So this is nothing new in the parties’ dynamics and is likely an underpinning of why they broke up in the first place. Indifference, lack of empathy and selfishness can help an angry person justify malicious behavior and vindictiveness. Vengeance and rage is destructive and the destroyer can self-justify any type of bad behavior. Someone who lacks empathy, who is selfish and indifferent to others will do what they can for their own comfort and advantage. Someone who is vengeful and malicious will go out of their way to hurt another person with whom they are angry, sometimes just to get even. Not all angry people are vengeful or malicious, however. Anger is a normal emotion. When it goes out of control, beyond acceptable limits, however, it is dysfunctional and sometimes dangerous. It is also self defeating and often self destructive.
A destroyer can be motivated by feelings or abandonment and betrayal, as I spoke about previously. Reactive Narcissistic Behavior (RNB) is all about that. That person has acute tunnel vision caused by their perception of having been victimized by the other person. This causes rage and vindictive behavior, regardless of the consequences to others, especially children. I have seen numerous domestic violence complaints like this. When the parties should have—and could have--just gone their separate ways, one or both of them could not peacefully do so. Instead, perhaps one party threatens the other, assaults the other, posts photos or private information on Facebook, shows up at a new girlfriend or boyfriend’s residence to confront that person or the old partner, etc. People damage their ex’s cars, throw rocks through windows, and tell lies about that person (or expose intimacies), either on Facebook, to other friends, or in Court.
Lies are truly horrible methods. When a person throws a rock through a window, you can always replace the window. The listener in Court, perhaps a Judge however, does not initially know if an allegation really happened or not. Outsiders (usually not Judges) most often assume an allegation is true until proven false. Sometimes, however, even a judge will tend to believe an allegation if it is disturbing enough and if represented sincerely and passionately in court. You see that when a judge reacts emotionally to an allegation and when there is no readily available proof that the allegation is a lie, especially regarding children. Most judges, however, will be tentative and will want proof or documentation that the allegation really happened. With false allegations of sexual abuse, most people will be perceived as guilty until proven innocent, and even then, there is always a lingering doubt in others. A destroyer will lie for revenge. That person will invent new realities for the Court to hear. It is akin to terrorism in the court since generally the purpose of terrorism is to destabilize, surprise, cause chaos and anxiety in others and to disrupt normal routines and economies.
People often lie in Family Court. Perjury is sadly commonplace and sometimes hard to identify. Of course, it is not condoned and if a Judge finds out they were lied to, the liar had better watch out. That person will have zero credibility from that point onward. People sometimes lie about being assaulted or threatened. Sometimes a person will invent a false accusation of assault or terroristic threats (domestic violence) or child abuse or neglect against the other party. They lie about statements the other parent allegedly said to a child during their parenting time. They lie about what time the other parent showed up to pick up a child, they lie about a parent not being able to adequately care for a child. The list is endless, but there are recurring, common themes: fiscal irresponsibility (e.g. spouse overcharging on credit), child abuse and neglect, spousal abuse, the other spouse’s supposed addiction to illicit substances, alcohol or pornography or other dysfunctional sexual practices or demands.
Sometimes a person will convince themselves of their own fiction and act (and feel) as if it really is true. Some people with severe emotional distress or with underlying personality disorders often distort reality and perceive things differently from the way they really are. They routinely distort reality, see things as they aren’t, and believe with all sincerity that it happened that way. One common example is the belief that the other parent is not capable of safely and independently parenting their child. People are capable of distorting reality to meet their emotional needs. In extreme cases, such as in paranoia, some people can actually be delusional with regard to believing that someone else is trying to hurt them (or their child). A truly delusional person has a thought disorder, a serious psychiatric problem that requires medication or at the very least--intensive psychotherapy. A person who distorts reality under stressful circumstances, such as in a divorce, may sincerely believe their perception, but it falls short of being a delusion. There is a qualitative difference between being delusional and distorting reality under stressful circumstances. The bottom line is that someone with great rage who feels vengeful, can consciously or unconsciously talk themselves into a justification for their bad, destructive behavior. That is the narcissistic tunnel vision that I frequently speak about. Unfortunately people who are like this, can do a lot of damage to others, including children. An easier way to understand example of this twisting of reality is when a person doesn’t want to go to work on a particular day. They get themselves so worked up before calling the boss, that they convince themselves that they don’t feel well. A person can develop a stomach ache, headache or feel dizzy under these circumstances—until the phone call is made, of course. Then they have a miraculous recovery. In child custody disputes, when a misguided parent begins waging an unnecessary and unjustified war against the other parent, either they don’t care or they have no insight into what they are doing. And the damage to the children and to the other spouse is the same, regardless. Most of these wars are misguided and unnecessary. But they happen nevertheless.
A judge tries to assess credibility while hearing the arguments of the attorneys and listening to testimony of the parties in court. The lies and distortions are paraded in front of the judge and the judge knows that someone is lying. It is more difficult to discern who it is, however. Lying through tears with the utmost sincerity can make a damaging impact and then it will (often unfairly) be the other person’s burden to show that the accuser was lying. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is the reality in this context.
In family court, one is often tentatively guilty until proven innocent in some subject areas. This includes being accused of sexual molestation, domestic violence, seriously poor or irresponsible parenting and neglect, to name a few. A judge who hears very serious accusations impacting the safety of a child is put into the position of having to act immediately to protect the child until the accusations are proven or disproven. Having a shred of confirmatory evidence can clinch the decision against that parent. That “shred” of evidence can be finding porn on the computer, a previous DUI arrest or psychiatric treatment, even years ago, etc. The judge has to err on the side of caution to protect a child. In a case alleging that the child may be at risk, a false accusation can result in a parent having their parenting time suspended with visits having to be supervised until all of the forensic assessments are completed. Child protective services may be called in to investigate. In that case, the investigator will interview the children, the pediatrician and the school staff. Imagine the damage a false accusation does to a child, and to the parent-child relationship when the accusation is malicious and false. It comes with the humiliation of people, based on a false allegation, asking others if they have reason to believe that child abuse or neglect has occurred. It does happen, and when it does, it is devastating. Of course, at other times when the accusation is true, it is the wrongdoer’s direct actions against the child that does the damage and the allegation against that parent can save the child’s life!
It would be nice to say that justice and fairness are always accomplished, but sadly they are not, always. Not meaning to be discouraging, it is important however to understand that if there is enough intelligence, skill, cunning, money and determination in the vengeful person, serious damage can result. On the other hand, the vengeful spouse can be discovered and identified by the Judge and by the forensic psychologists, and that person is then put in check by the Court. Sometimes it may be necessary to make a business decision to determine if you seriously want to wage this battle, depending on what is at stake. In the financial arena, you may be about to embark on thirty thousand or more dollars worth of litigation (a trial over a dispute of fact—he said vs. she said) which can be waged over a potential outcome worth half of that or less. You may never be able to find that cash that you think is in the unknown safety deposit box. Sometimes it will make more sense to negotiate a settlement of those issues since you will end up saving money in the long run.
Financially, and practically, it is almost always better to settle a dispute than to litigate it. The difficult part of this is the emotional. Watching your ex (or future ex) smirking at you after signing such an agreement (favorable to the other spouse) can be very painful for some. Litigating just to wipe that smirk off of the other person’s face is common, but irrational and self-defeating. That’s tunnel vision. You lose your money fighting in a senseless power struggle for a small pot at the end of that imagined rainbow. There is a net loss, rather than a gain. You can also win a battle but lose the war in the big financial picture. Sometimes it is better to save the money you know you is guaranteed (e.g. equitable distribution), rather than to gamble on getting a home run in your legal battles. Very often the other party is more well-equipped then you to litigate without too much financial pain because they earn more, have more stashed away, or have wealthy (vindictive) relatives who are funding their litigation. While that is not fair, consider that the financial ability and the desire to litigate, plus anger, is a very bad combination, and that can and will be used against you in Court.
When it comes to children, it is unusual for a parent to walk away from the litigation, and it is often impossible or extremely difficult for a person to do so. Walking away from the litigation often means walking away from the children, walking away from precious days or hours of parenting time, walking away from what is most important to you. While I am not suggesting that you do this, the point here is that the vengeful, malicious person in a high conflict custody or parenting time dispute can do damage to you, to your children, and to your relationship with the children. Even when you can prevail in the litigation, often it is after many weeks or months of forensic assessments, taking your kids to a psychologist to be evaluated, having the parents and siblings evaluated, rendering and analyzing expert reports, attending depositions, and eventually going through the trial. By the time that half year (or longer) passes, everyone is stressed out and certainly not enjoying life to its fullest. The saddest part is that the children are suffering. They are well aware of their parents fighting over them and they are anxious, nervous, conflicted, feeling guilty, confused, angry and depressed to name a few. These children often develop behavioral problems, become aggressive or depressed, and their school performance suffers. Over a period of years, the damage can be irreparable.
The destroyer-parent wants to marginalize or eliminate the other parent as a parent. The destroying parent makes malicious remarks to the children about the other. For example, there are cases where a parent tells the children, that their other parent is an idiot, a bad parent, and unnecessary in the household. Besides telling children insulting things about their other parent, some destroyers make up fictional events designed to create anger in the child. Imagine how a child feels, being told that it is their other parent’s fault that they did not go on a particular vacation, did not get the sneakers they wanted, did not get to go on the school trip, etc. It is not hard to imbue resentment in a child against the other parent, especially if the child is young. Unfortunately the alienating parent doesn’t care much about the effect this has on the children; it is all about power and winning. It is about control over the other (hated) spouse, and about domination and vengeance. It is sick. It is also a form of child abuse to manipulate information and emotions to alienate a child from their parent. It is a form of terrorism and child abuse and does great damage to children.
What should you do if you are embroiled in this type of scenario? Try to:
• Remain focused and centered on your long term goals. If you are not sure about what your goals are, this is the time to define or re-define what they are. You cannot just be randomly reactive to the attacks of your adversary, bouncing around like a cork on their ocean. You need direction, goals, a course of action.
• Make sure you have realistic goals. Ask your attorney if your goals are readily attainable and what the odds of success are. Perform a risk-benefit analysis. Risks and costs include the loss or expenditure of money as well as the emotional toll on you and your children.
• Try not to let the other party push your buttons so much that you react emotionally or impulsively. Re-think your initial decisions, impulses and inclinations. Get feedback from others who will not simply egg you on, but who will give you intelligent and fairly objective advice, even if it’s not what you want to hear. If necessary, get a consultation with another family law attorney just to make sure your attorney is on the right course. Be a little skeptical, however, regarding the information you receive. It is very easy to criticize someone’s attorney from the outside, especially if that consultant might stand to gain a client in the process. Ask specific, pointed questions regarding strategy and possible outcomes. You want to know all of the possible scenarios so that you can make an informed decision.
• Ask for help or advice from a therapist, clergy, or a trusted, intelligent friend.
• Don’t let the court battles define you. Continue to pursue all of your other goals so that you have a life outside of the courtroom. Make sure your job is secure, that you perform your job in a satisfactory manner, and that you are centered and functional. If you are working, you must not let your job performance suffer. If you do not work, try to find a job and throw yourself into your job search. Keep proof of your applications (and rejection letters) in case you later need that proof for the Court (showing that you are making an effort).
• Get organized, watch your diet and your alcohol intake; maintain structure in your life. Get rid of clutter in your home. Continue to maintain social contacts and maintain your grooming and hygiene. In other words, don’t let yourself be destroyed or deteriorate simply because your spouse or partner wants to destroy you. Refuse to be knocked off balance, no matter what, even if it takes effort. Do things one step at a time and ask for help when you need it. Try to keep balance in your life. Do not post information about your legal problems on FaceBook or other social media sites. Do not send angry emails or texts. They will all be printed out and brought to Court to show the Judge. In some cases, what you post on the Internet, text or say on the phone can be considered to be a form of harassment and possibly domestic violence.
• Set realistic limits. There is only so much you can do, only so much power you realistically have, only so much energy, only so much money to be spent, etc. Understand the reality of your limitations, and you might need to resign yourself to getting less (from Court) than you expected. Survival with stability is sometimes a good goal when home runs just don’t exist.
Good luck, and please post a comment about your experiences.
Copyright © Jonathan D. Gordon, Esq. 2013
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.
Web Site: www.jdgordonlaw.com
Tweet Me: @jdgordonlaw
Tweet Me: @jdgordonlaw