|Jonathan D. Gordon, Ph.D., J.D.|
© Jonathan D. Gordon, Esq. 2014
Monday, July 14, 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.
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Jonathan D. Gordon, Esq.
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