Monday, September 11, 2017

 Jonathan D. Gordon, Ph.D., J.D.
© Jonathan D. Gordon, Esq. 2017 
     We who represent clients in Family Court, often hear false allegations or lies presented. Those lies can usually be refuted by evidence to the contrary, or perhaps by the failure to support the lie with evidence (because it's a lie).  Unfortunately, in Family Court, character assassination and unproven allegations can also be used to sway a judge, casting doubt on a parent's ability to safely parent a child.  This is when bad behavior can be unwittingly rewarded.  Family Law attorneys sometimes reflect that they are so used to lying in court, that it is almost expected. The concept of perjury, as it is experienced in criminal court or in civil litigation, does not seem to have the same taboo when it takes place in Family Law. Why is this tolerated?
     One reason why lying is so ubiquitous in Family Court, is because it is difficult to ascertain what is a lie.  Saying that someone is a bad parent, or an uncaring parent is a value judgment, a perception, which is not necessarily a conscious lie. Both parents in a custody battle may exchange mutual accusations that the other is a lousy parent. Perhaps they are both wrong, but being angry, bitter or vindictive, they want to destroy the other with their destructive allegations (while not taking their child's best interests into consideration).
     It is upsetting, however, when we see a vindictive parent purposely making up falsehoods to present in Court, to accomplish their destructive goals.  Unfortunately, a Judge often cannot initially determine who is accurate and who is not. That is why in Family Court, Judges often rely on expert testimony from a hopefully objective professional who may delve deeper into what is really happening to this family and what is in the best interests of the child.  But an expert is not a prophet or a mind reader either. We find that when the same lie is repeated again and again, and it appears in court documents (e.g. client's certifications) year after year, well-it starts to look like it might be true. In fact, the creator of the lie might actually believe it him/herself because of the intensity of their feelings. Judges get frustrated, experts may sit on the fence (because the expert isn't sure), and the same lie is bandied around in a compelling way, implying that something has to be done about it quickly (the way the party who lies makes it sound).  As a result, at times, a non-drug abusing parent is sent for a substance abuse evaluation, has to have parenting time supervised, has to have parenting time limited, has to attend an anger management or parenting skills class, has to have a psychological or psychiatric evaluation, etc.  These are the exceptions rather than the rule, but they occur more frequently than you would expect.  At the most extreme, a judge might suddenly change residential custody in court, without a hearing, just based on the allegations of parental alienation from the other parent. 
     Unfortunately, a parent might provide ammunition to the other parent (who is making the allegations) in a moment of anger, saying inappropriate things to a child or even directly to the other parent.  I have previously discussed in this blog that at a time when someone else is trying to pounce on any imperfection, it is best to be careful what is said, how behavior is manifested, and how compliance with court orders takes place.  The other party should be assumed to be recording (audio and video) everything that is said, having a private investigator following you around, or soliciting sworn certifications from neighbors, relatives and caregivers to use against you in court. While repugnant to most judges, and while hardly ever used in court, surreptitious recordings of children may exist. Better to be watching one's "P's and Q's" during litigation to minimize this kind of unfair (and unnecessary) scrutiny.  When an adversary shows up in court with a handful of sworn certifications, or better yet--with your unfortunate text message to back up the "lie", that may be all that is needed to destroy your credibility with the judge.  And if your credibility is harmed, then the credibility of the lie is enhanced. In other words, you cannot afford to "lose it" even once in this setting or atmosphere. When you are being evaluated, watched, measured or tested (by being provoked), then anything that happens can be used in court if it seems relevant.  
     While attorneys for the most part are ethical, sincere and hard working professionals who are trying to properly represent their clients, there are a handful who have no qualms about twisting the truth in order to prevail in court.  While rare, it is sad to see that happen, and truth-twisting does happen.  Whether a judge will see that as "lying" per se, or just a case of zealously representing a client, depends on the judge, that lawyer, and on the circumstances.  But I have heard judges tell clients at the onset of a case, that if the judge is lied to once, that the client is "done", when it comes to credibility.  And every attorney knows that it takes a long time for an attorney, with a good track record, to establish a good reputation with a Judge, but all it takes is one slip-up with the truth to destroy their credibility. It still amazes me why any attorney would knowingly lie to a judge. It is simply not worth it, and it is wrong on so many levels.  
     Lying to destroy the other party is fairly well known in Family Court, and is not tolerated if it is identified as such.  Unfortunately, parents who do this with malice, are not considering the effects of their behavior on their children who need both parents (assuming the other parent is not abusive or substance-addicted). Wrongfully hurting the other parent's access to the child with unfounded lies and innuendo, as well as with false allegations of domestic violence or sexual abuse, is akin to child abuse in some situations, since it causes damage to the child by distancing the child from an otherwise loving and safe parent. This malicious behavior by an angry or hurt (rejected) parent is the height of narcissism and selfishly places their own needs before those of their child.  Hopefully the Family Court judge can quickly identify and discern what is factual from what is false, and get the family on the right track. Better yet, if an angry parent is thinking about destroying the other parent, it would be good to rethink that intention, perhaps get counseling to deal with the underlying issues, and to openly discuss their concerns for their children and for themselves with an experienced family law attorney who will almost always provide a realistic path for the client, upon which to proceed ethically and morally during this difficult time. 
Good luck, and please post a comment about your experiences.
Copyright © Jonathan D. Gordon, Ph.D., Esq.,  2017
Jonathan D. Gordon, Ph.D., J.D., is a Family Law Attorney in NJ and in NY, representing Family Law clients in Superior Court of NJ . He is also a Licensed Psychologist (NJ #1358, NY #5614, OH #7540) who has performed forensic child custody evaluations and who has been appointed Guardian ad litem and Parent Coordinator by the NJ Superior Court, Family Division.
Please note, this blog is for information purposes only. It is neither legal nor psychological advice and it does not create an attorney/client or psychologist/patient relationship. If you have a question about a specific matter or issue, you should seek out an attorney or mental health expert to assist you.
Call to schedule a consultation:  201-801-0455
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