Pages

Monday, July 14, 2014


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


FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE: WHAT IS BETTER?

© Jonathan D. Gordon, Esq. 2014

     You might feel quite frustrated and lacking control, going into Family Court armed with a lawyer who makes a living from every minute of time he/she spends on your case, having to one-up your ex, or survive your ex’s attempts to marginalize you, hurt you, steal from you, control you or destroy you.  Sometimes it is unavoidable.  Sometimes you have no choice.  But to discern what that means—having no choice—from actually having a choice, or having options, that is a challenge.  You may feel compelled to act or to react.  You may really believe, in the moment, that an issue is outrageously important, or just outrageous.  Your perceptions may drive your decision-making and that is not a good thing.  If your perceptions are distorted, twisted into a certain shape by your past experiences and by your (pre-existing) personality, you might decide to embark on a certain course of action that you will regret later, maybe years later.  You will wonder, “What was I thinking, to do what I did”? 
In extreme circumstances, however, you may have to emergently ask for the assistance of the police or the Courts in scenarios of child abuse, spousal abuse or other domestic violence.  You may have to ask for the Court’s assistance to enforce existing Orders, such as your parenting time to which you are entitled, if it is being refused.  There are emergencies that sometimes occur in Family Court settings, related to these and other issues such as child support, spousal support, etc.  Those are things that cannot wait.  You have to be able to feed yourself and the children, keep the electricity on in the house, fuel the car, etc.  You might be dealing with a mean-spirited and vindictive person, a “destroyer”, who doesn’t care who gets hurt as long as you do.  It’s not about the children to the destroyer, it is about hurting you.  It is irrational, illogical, but nevertheless, real.
But what if you are simply inclined to oppose other party, and this is optional?  That is, you are just so hurt from the past, so angry, that you become obsessed with minutiae.  Every minute with the children has to be fought over.  No flexibility or give-and-take exists here.  Co-parenting takes place via text and email.  The loathing of the other person—the other parent of your children—supersedes all else.  It oozes from the pores of your body.  Or of your ex’s body.  Either way, it drives your respective lives, and certainly yours.  Imagine how your children will remember their childhood when they are adults.  Imagine how they will look back at their parents’ behavior during their childhood and adolescence.  You could ironically distance yourself from your children due to the ongoing fight to get closer to them during their childhood.  In other words, it is possible that your efforts and actions, seemingly on their behalf, will come back to haunt you (bite you) later. 
Having acute divorce-related narcissism puts you into a tunnel-vision state where you can easily feel like a victim, always blame the other party, perceive yourself as powerless and ineffectual, and become no fun to be with.  Blame and self-perceived victimhood is a formula for disaster.  It will not be seen the same way by the Judge or by the court-appointed forensic child custody evaluator/psychologist (or whatever that person may be called).  You will be disliked, be perceived as self-indulgent and narcissistic, sniping at the other party with trivial complaints (not trivial to you, but to everyone else), perceived as one who cannot move on with their life.  You will pay your attorney tens of thousands of dollars to end up in the same place as you might have been without the litigation.  But alas, it takes two.  Sometimes the other person is like the brick in the air, hurtling at you.  Sometimes not, however.  (For a full discussion of this topic, see my earlier post of February 2, 2012, entitled: Creating a Narcissistic Perception of the World in Divorce or Other Break-Up.

Some generalizations that might be useful to think about, or which may hit home for you:
1.    Things don’t matter that much, and most things don’t matter at all unless you are talking about real estate and business holdings, or truly valuable personal property.  But here, I am referring to things like used furniture, TVs, dishes, wall hangings, etc.
2.    Getting an extra day of parenting time, or your ex getting an extra day (or hour) of parenting time doesn’t matter in the long run.  It’s not fair?   Maybe not.  But things don’t always have to be equal.  Nice if they were, but they don’t have to be.  Your kids will be stressed out over the constant arguing over a day here or a day there.  They won’t enjoy their time with you if you are miserable and tense or muttering about their other parent under your breath.  If your ex is taking a vacation and it will overlap with your regular parenting time, maybe you can get a make-up day another time.  Or if you tell him/her that it’s fine with you, just have a good time with the kids, then maybe when you need an extra day or two, your ex might be more inclined to be flexible.  In the end, years later, this is all silliness.  The kids know it, just like they know that they are being used as pawns in their parents’ ongoing battle.  No one wins.  Everyone loses.  The judges often tell this to parents with the caveat: “Wake up before it’s too late and your child can’t stand both of you”.  It happens and I have heard judges say this to parents in these exact words.
3.    During the acute, divorce-related, narcissistic, tunnel-vision phase of the process, it becomes really hard to think or to say: “This really isn’t a big deal”.  Everything becomes a big deal!  It’s all about you, all about winning, all about the unfairness, victimhood, desperation and drama.  There are good reasons for your actions; it is all justifiable; it is all being acted-upon by your attorney who you fantasize will score a home run for you in Court.  But it may be that after submitting reams of motion papers, certifications, exhibits, legal briefs, etc., that the Judge in five minutes waves it all away as being trivial, or worse yet, doesn’t read it all (the Judge is already fed up).  Or the Judge simply doesn’t agree with your position no matter how much time your attorney spent packaging it for the court. You can’t believe it.  How could the Judge, after reading your certification, have ruled that way?  The extra $5,000 that you had to pay your lawyer to draft and file these papers and appear for the oral arguments in court, no longer exists in your pocket.  The issue was just decided, not in your favor. (I have heard the term "a roll of the dice" used in court many times.)  Or better yet (and this often happens), no decision at all was made.  The Judge sent you to mediation or appointed a parenting coordinator or a Guardian ad litem to represent the children’s interests.  So now you must pay another lawyer or mental health professional, pay more hourly fees, and be subject to another professional’s perceptions and control of your case.  All of this happens because you and your ex cannot make decisions together, or you both are at odds no matter who is right.  The Judge steps in and takes control to protect the best interests of your children as he or she sees it.  And the Judge will freely point out that he or she is a stranger who doesn’t know you or your children, and that you are both handing your children over to a stranger in black robes to make important decisions about their lives (because you both cannot do so).  Some axioms, from my experience:
For better (not for worse):
It is better to be honest than dishonest.  It is better to be truthful and forthcoming than to lie or use trickery and deception to win an advantage.

It is better to be nice than to be mean. Karma!

It is better to be flexible and reasonable than to be rigid and unyielding.

It is better to enjoy the quality of your parenting time rather than to watch the clock and cry (or mutter) over missed minutes.

It is better to pick up the kids on time and to drop them off on time.  It is also better to call or text if you are going to be late.  If you get that text or call, it is better to be appreciative rather than enraged. The kids can feel it.

It is better to never blame or say anything bad about the children’s other parent—ever. 

It is better to pay the child support and/or spousal support on time and to make the children know that you will never let them go without their necessities.

It is better to try to see both sides of the story because there are two sides.

It is better to work things out between the two of you than it is to pay a lawyer to argue for you in court. It is also better to work things out yourselves so a Judge doesn’t have to decide it for you.

It is better not to blame and feel like a victim even if you are one. 

It is better to move on with your life rather than to be stuck in the past, reliving old hurts, affairs, betrayals, etc.   It might be better to see a therapist for help.

It is better to be a happy person for your own sake and for the sake of your children, rather than to act happy to show your ex that you don’t need him/her.  It is better to realize that being happy is not dependent on your ex. It comes from inside of you.

It is better not to over-do with your kids, not to over-spend, not to over-dazzle them with presents, amusement parks, fancy trips, etc.  They don’t need their parents in a competition for who can spend the most money on them.  They will happily take the things that you give them, but at some level, they know it comes from your insecurity, anger, or worse: your inability to relate to them  and to their feelings without giving gifts or dazzling trips, etc.  Parenting doesn’t need a “wow factor”.  Money does not buy the love of children.

It is better to set reasonable limits with children than to let them have whatever they want due to a parent’s fear that a child will reject the parent and run to the other one (who is going to be more permissive).  It would be better for you and the other parent to present a united front to the kids and to have the same policies regarding child-rearing so that the kids will not manipulate one parent against the other.

It is better, however, not to be overly rigid, punitive, angry, scary, or arbitrarily restrictive with your children (or with your ex).  In this respect, it is better to use positive reinforcement and incentives rather than to use physical punishment with children.  If you find that you lose your temper with your children and have difficulty with your emotional responses in general, it would be much better to take care of yourself with a good therapist.  That might be a better place to spend your money in some situations.    

I hope that this helps.  While it is not always possible to think or act this way, and while the scenarios presented here might not apply to your specific situation, it is nevertheless helpful to try to keep these ideas in mind when making decisions that will affect you, your emotions, your children and your wallet.
     Good luck, and please post a comment about your experiences.
Copyright © 2014 by  Jonathan D. Gordon, Ph.D., J.D., Esq.
Please note, this blog is for general information purposes only and should not be relied upon or taken to be legal or psychological advice nor does it 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

"Like": JDGordonLaw on FaceBook.

Jonathan D. Gordon, Esq.   
322 Cedar Ln, Teaneck, N.J. 07666  (201) 801-0455
___________

Friday, May 30, 2014

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

The Myth of Privacy and Confidentiality in Relationships:

Letting it all Hang out in Family Court

© Jonathan D. Gordon, Esq. 2014

There is a pervasive feeling that we lost our privacy, either due to Government, or from the ubiquitous surveillance cameras everywhere we go, or now-even at home.  The recent disclosure of Donald Sterling’s conversation with his girlfriend caused a great uproar and condemnation due to the racial content of his diatribe.  Regardless of the offensive nature of what he had to say, legal issues related to public disclosure from surreptitious tape recordings are also relevant.  The lessons we can learn from this and from other disclosures are many.
Is there a reasonable expectation of privacy at home?   Should we be able to say whatever we want in the sanctity of our homes with no concern?  Is there in fact, any sanctity in our homes?  In Family Court, where the intimate secrets of relationships are laid bare, there probably is no reasonable expectation of privacy.  This is because in Family Court, client credibility is continually being assessed.  Not only is credibility examined, but also basic morality, ethics and the ability to parent a child, among other things.  When a judge has to make determinations about who may be the better parent, what is in the best interests of the children, and whether or not to give the benefit of the doubt to one or another client, then almost any credible data can be useful.  Just because a person is in their home does not guarantee that what takes place there is immune from scrutiny.  This raises many questions and issues.
Perhaps there is such a thing as ethics, morality and values that follow us around, regardless of where we are.  What we whisper or how we act in the confines of our bedrooms or living rooms will be examined publically when the relationship falls apart.  The person who was once trusted with our secrets may one day bring those secrets to Court when it is advantageous to do so.  Regardless of whether or not this seems fair, it will happen when the bottom falls out of the relationship and the former confidante turns into the betrayer.  This is about what is between two people.  In another scenario, if child protective services gets involved in a family, the intrusion into privacy is even worse.  State workers go into homes, look in bedrooms, closets, refrigerators, bathrooms and interview everyone who might have information about the family. Neighbors, schools, pediatricians and friends are interviewed.  Nothing is immune from scruitiny.  But absent a referral to the authorities for alleged domestic violence, child abuse or neglect, what can we reasonably expect from our partner as far as privacy and confidentiality is concerned?  Is there any protection from this kind of exposure?
When you look at it from another perspective, it is not so hard to understand.  Why should our partner, in a Family Court proceeding, be expected to keep the confidentiality usually afforded to a therapist or to the clergy?  Perhaps in a relationship and in parenting, there should be a higher expectation of morality, ethics and good behavior, rather than the expectation that anything goes.  A person who tape records our conversation in our own home is already not in that relationship. That person is somewhere else emotionally.  Most people would know that.  Why would a person, knowing that there is a serious problem in their relationship, expect their partner or spouse to continue to protect them and to tolerate the very same bad behavior that led to the demise of that relationship?  The reality is that once the distance between two people is obvious, once the awkwardness or tension is palpable, the new expectation should be that the rules already changed.  The best thing that both parties can do is recognize there is a problem, discuss it and then seek help to ameliorate that problem.  But if two people have different motivations, agendas, and perceptions of the same reality, then really—all bets are off.  The initial premise of that relationship is long gone.  Loyalty falls away with the demise of the relationship. 
So what is the message?  That you can safely say or do whatever you want so long as you perceive the relationship to be solid?  Probably not.  There is such a thing as offensive behavior and speech from which inferences may be drawn by others.   Behavior that is considered to be ethical, moral and good can be debated but is generally accepted by most reasonable people to be within certain parameters.  What is acceptable in one generation is perhaps no longer acceptable in a subsequent generation—or vice versa, as in sexual mores that were previously more strictly construed than today.  We are well aware of what is generally acceptable today and what is not--unless the person just crawled out from under the rock where he or she was living for the past 40 or 50 years. 
To assume that we are protected at home from any examination of our behavior is really na├»ve.  Actually, when two parents become adversarial, the converse is true.  Everything gets put under the Family Court microscope.  Sometimes what is brought to court for examination is petty and ridiculous and the complainer looks bad for bringing it.  Sometimes, however, what is presented to a judge shows the other parent’s lack of trustworthiness, morality, values, judgment or veracity.  The judge will take that information, if verified, and make certain assumptions about that parent’s character, among other things. It can sway the court against a parent and help determine a custody or parenting time determination.  What you say, how truthful you are, and how you act matters.  It always mattered.  But when two parents are in court fighting over a child, it matters more than ever.  "How you act" encompasses a lot of behavior, including but not limited to being manipulative, lying, cheating on taxes, stealing, hiding money, lying to the Judge, domestic or other violence, child abuse and neglect.  It also includes being perceived as a nasty, hateful person.  The Judge will make that assessment.  If you are never in front of a Judge, you will still be judged in this world by the people around you, your children, your bosses, and everyone with whom you come in contact.  If a person is a nasty hateful and manipulative person, it will be obvious to others and one's life will be characterized in those terms.  The worst scenario is when your children perceive you that way.  It happens. 
The best approach is for people to be the best people they can be, wherever they are, and regardless of who they live with.  Being well behaved, civil and respectful to others is learned early in life.  Those are always important values, among others. Maybe the answer is for us to self-monitor and to examine our own behaviors and attitudes on an ongoing basis, to ensure that we are above criticism.  To be sure, an adversarial partner or spouse will criticize and will watch for opportunities to pounce on our mistakes.  But good will, reasonableness and kindness hopefully matter in the long run.  Hopefully that wins the day.

Things come back to bite a person.  Bad karma, and bad behavior is like a boomerang.  While warped values, baseless hatred of others, and immorality are heralded in the press, the bizarre scenarios that we read about in the papers are often re-created in Family Court, rather than in the NBA.  A judge, trying to figure out what is in the best interests of a child, may indeed be very interested in a tape recording, if it was legally obtained.  The answer is not to sweep your house for bugs, but to self-sweep for bad behavior, warped values and attitudes that are corrosive to society, destructive to a relationship and which are antithetical to good parenting.  That way, you have nothing to hide. If a tape recording is ever produced, it will only reveal that you are a good person, a good parent and a good citizen.

Good luck, and please post a comment about your experiences.
Copyright © 2014 by  Jonathan D. Gordon, Ph.D., J.D.
Please note, this blog is for information purposes only and should not be relied upon or taken to be legal or psychological advice nor does it 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
"Like": JDGordonLaw on FaceBook.