Procrustean bed of Joint Custody.

“O weary traveller, come and sleep in my magical bed and all your troubles will be resolved.” — Procrustus

Divorce is the end of the nuclear family and the start of new beginnings. Theseus_Procrustes-600x450Parents each go into different directions and the child is in the middle. Enter the theory of ‘joint custody’, or the inherent right of a child to have a ‘meaningful relationship with each parent’.

And in ‘Utopia’ we all live ‘happily ever after’. Or do we?

Research data shows us that children who have a meaningful relationship with both parents do better in life than children who don’t. This of course is a good argument for joint custody. What is often failed to mention, is that those studies compare divorced single parent families with nuclear non-divorced families.

This is comparing apples and oranges. And this data is manipulated in the media to either advocate against divorce, or pro joint custody. It is not that simple. It would mean that children who lose a parent due to military service or death of a parent are essentially doomed and that is not necessarily the truth, nor is that supported by other research.

There is one thing that all researchers agree upon. What makes the biggest contribution to a child’s failure to adjust well long-term, is the level of conflict between the parents. Both in marriage and after divorce. The worse the conflict, the worst the outcome for the child. The NY court of appeals and appellate courts have it right, when the acrimony between parents is such that they can not communicate and get along, joint custody is out of the question. It is not in the best interest of the children. The emotionally and psychologically more healthy parent that contributes to most to the child’s life should be the sole custodian. It is now also mentioned in the bible of psychology:

Child affected by parental relationship distress: “…. if the negative effects of parental relationship discord (e.g., high levels of conflict, distress, or disparagement) on a child in the family, including effects on the child’s mental or other physical disorders.”  DSM-V

There are other situations where it is very clear that sole custody is the only option. Sole custody does not mean that a parent is or should be eradicated from the children’s’ life.

When there is (sexual) child abuse, it should be clear that sole custody with supervised visitation of the other parent is the only option. Too often we hear that joint custody is still given to the abuser (M/F). And lets not forget that statistically the most severe abuse takes place at the hands of the stepparent. Courts simply can not exclude stepparents from coming to a custody decision.

With a parent in prison, joint custody is going to be hard. Though Bill Eddy in his book ‘Splitting’ talks about taking kids to visit their parent in prison. Supervised visitation is also warranted when there is mental illness like schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder.

But there is also hidden abuse, abuse that courts fail or even refuse to see. Just because they turn the blind eye, doesn’t mean it isn’t cruel to the children involved.

Parental Alienation is now in the DSM-V as psychological child abuse. The makers of the DSM-V had to stay ‘politically correct’ and therefore the term Parental Alienation is not named per se:

Child psychological abuse: “nonaccidental verbal or symbolic acts by a child’s parent or caregiver that result, or have reasonable potential to result, in significant psychological harm to the child.”  — DSM-V

Science won, lobbyist for some parental rights organizations lost. Finally, so now we have to get the courts on board and recognize the damage that is done to children.

Who perpetuates most of the alienating behavior? A normal healthy psychologically parent may be angry at the beginning of the divorce and say and do some things that they later regret, but they will have no problem to admit their mistakes to their children and ex-spouse and assure the children love the other parent.

However, personality disordered parents per definition can not change, it is an enduring character flaw, and they are defensive of their mistakes. It is always the other, the target’s, fault. As time passes on, the children also become the target of the personality disordered parents defensive behavior.

We expect from the justice system, be it judge or jury, to be a trier of fact. We expect them to look at the evidence presented at trial. The 6th amendment assures each of us have a right to a fair trial, criminal or civil. In custody cases the stakes are high, the decision is about the emotional, physical and psychological health of the next generation, the generation that carries our country and future. It wouldn’t get to a custody trial if there weren’t severe issues to be addressed.

Procrustean bed: And arbitrary standard to which exact conformity is forced

Procrustus persuaded travellers in Greek Mythology to come and sleep in his bed. He claimed his bed was perfect and would fit each traveller. The iron bed in fact was a torture device, where Procrustus (meaning ‘The Stretcher’) would stretch the person who was too small and would cut off the legs of those that were too long.

Forcing joint or 50/50 custody on embattled or personality disordered parents, despite the evidence presented, discarding hard evidence that does not fit your theory and embellishing unsubstantiated accusations as being truthful, or justifying lies, undermines the justice system and hurts children. A personality disorder is a game-changer in custody decisions; it is time the courts realize the damage they are doing.

Dear Lady Liberty, I Kissed the Wrong Frog.

Dear Lady Liberty,

I’ve visited you again last weekend, and I’m always mesmerized by you and what you stand for.451268880_9dd7aa3c7c_b Freedom. You are a promise. A promise to oneself.

On 10 January 1998 I sat at the window seat of KL 691 trying to get a glimpse of Lady Liberty, the promise of this wonderful new country where I was enrolled in a prestigious PhD program.

I was trembling with excitement. I was in my early 20s and the world was my oyster. With just 2 suitcases and my dreams I landed in this wonderful and beautiful country.

After about a year I met Ex and I have to admit now, I kissed the wrong frog. I kissed the psychopath frog, and he did not turn into a prince.

Psychopaths are exceedingly charming, it is clear from our whole divorce proceedings that our female judge and female GAL are absolutely smitten with Ex. And so was I. It wasn’t until the end of the marriage that I, like Little Red Riding Hood, started asking questions, and no longer took the lies, gaslighting and manipulations for truth. The spell of the charm was gone on the 8th of July 2011 when I kicked him out of the house. O, and how he has held it against me that I kicked him out during the proceedings. The rage, he was insulted beyond. How dared I do this to him.

Hervey M. Cleckley wrote the ‘Mask of Sanity’ in which he describes the elusive psychopath, the master deceiver, who secretly possesses no moral or ethical restraints, yet behaving in public with excellent function.

Like a snake charmer mesmerize the snake, the psychopath with his/her superficial charm enchants the victim with the determined focus of a predator on its prey. Through a web of blatant lies, subtle lies, lies by omission, half-truths and truths the psychopath maneuvers its victim to where (s)he wants them to be.

And so did Ex. He knew from the get-go that 50/50 as a father was likely the best he could do through court. To him that was not a problem, as he would from there on proceed to full custody through the children, aka ‘Parental Alienation’. During the divorce proceedings he worked relentless on them.

And he succeeded with the court. I rejected an offer from the judge, where the children would spend 6 months of the year with the father first and then 6 months of the year with the mother.

Nobody familiar with Parental Alienation would take this idiotic proposal in consideration. This offer would have assured the bond between 1 parent and the kids would be broken. The judge assured me that she ‘would make sure the children were allowed to contact me’, despite a 2 year trail of evidence and admittance by Ex himself, that the children were not allowed to contact me, or talk about Mom, that the kids would be punished with a time-out if they failed to obey.

Six months are a long time without contact with a parent for a toddler and young child.

But both the judge and the GAL were smitten with the idea, Ex had cleverly maneuvered them in an advantageous position for him. Probably how he did during the marriage, like it was ‘my’ idea. Both the judge and GAL lost sight of the best interest of the child and had become puppets of the psychopath, they were enchanted. Ex could not conceal his victorious smile walking out of the judge’s chambers. I had no idea what had happened, but it send chills down my spine.

In criminal court these manipulations can not happen to the same extend. Apart from the Judge, there is the jury and the rules of evidence and sentencing are strict. Family Court is ruled by subjectivity. The Family Court judge becomes the ‘trier of fact’, in my case giving credibility to the parent who scored 2x the standard deviation above the norm on the Lie Scale in the MMPI. The seductiveness of charm; throwing away objective data to succumb to the psychopath.

It is in Family Court that most Life Sentences are given, ironically not Criminal Court. The lower standards and rules of evidence favor a bias, where subjectivity determines what happens to the child.

Do I regret my marriage? In a strange way I do and I don’t. For one, there are 2 beautiful kids and I wouldn’t want to have missed out on them for the world. Furthermore, not the marriage, but the divorce has grown me as a person. I wish I had learned my life lessons in a different way, but that is the past.

Standing in front of you last weekend I realized that what I dreamt of when I landed on JFK I have become. I’m happy, I have inner freedom. My dream is not over just yet, there are so many more promises to fulfill. On to the future!

Love,

Ostara

Splitsville goes Online; Facebooking, Tweeting, Instagramming and Blogging through Divorce

Earlier this week I received an email from Google+ “Ostara, do you know Attorney Ex, Your Attorney or Your Attorney? “.

Do you know......

Do you know……

I burst out laughing. So that is what my social media life has become? ‘Do you know the attorneys involved in your divorce’?

Forever curious, I clicked on the links, only to find my attorneys are boring and do not disclose anything. Ex’s attorney had a most interesting profile though. His YouTube channel revealed he ‘likes’ sexually semi-explicit videos. We all know YouTube doesn’t allow porn, but these ‘likes’ certainly makes me look differently at Ex’s attorney.

Throughout the divorce proceedings I just regarded Ex’s attorney as this friendly older man who was vigorously defending his client. He was doing his job, it was nothing personal against me, he was just earning a living. Not so anymore. Not after I saw his YouTube channel. No way!

And so your online presence and profile can determine how you are perceived in real life and obviously in court. Anything you say and do online ‘can and will be used against you‘ in Divorce Court. A survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers in 2010 revealed a whopping 81% of Family Law attorneys have used evidence from social media in their recent cases. Facebook was the most often cited with 66%. So how is evidence gathered from social media used in divorce cases?

A person’s state of mind

A string of tweets or Facebook postings can be used in custody evaluations to show a parents’ ‘state of mind’. They, your ex, the custody evaluator or mutual friends, see your ‘ranting and raving’ or making disparaging comments about your ex, not very conductive to the strived for co-parenting and not making you a good joint custody candidate.

On some FB pages I see ‘anonymous’ posts by the page owner with questions relevant to a followers specific divorce. It is great to have support and not have to reinvent the wheel so to speak and being able to do so anonymously. However, when you read the comment section, the actual questioner replies with updates. That entirely defeats the purpose!

Evidence of communications

In fault states social media, who you follow, who follows you and are your friends could be a clue to extra-marital affairs. Not relevant anymore in most states, but from your friend list attorney can gather who you associate with and whether that is a good environment for the kids.

Evidence of time and place

Your posts and pictures provide a timeline of where you are and what you do. The husband that claims he is too poor in court to pay alimony, yet post pictures of him skiing in Switzerland a week later. Pictures of the mother at a social gathering drinking and smoking while the kids are supposed to be in her care.

Evidence of actions

Brian McCurk took his ex-wife back to court after he found pictures of her belly dancing on Facebook. Dorothy McCurk was awarded a lifetime of alimony because she claimed disability after a 1997 car accident. Apparently she was also running a belly dancing blog where she stated she had been dancing daily for the past 3 years. Oops!

Your social media and online activity is both public and permanent. My Ex requested in discovery all my FB posts. Make sure you have your privacy settings to the max, but still don’t post what you don’t want the world to know, whether it is through official discovery or leaks by mutual friends. Who knows who took a screenshot of your posts? When in doubt, just close your online accounts for a while, pick up the phone or talk over coffee with your friends.

The Importance of Documentation; Email Forensics in This Day and Age

Or how to communicate with the personality disordered ex, during and after divorce.Computer-w-email If you have kids, there is no way around it, you have to communicate and the problems arise. False allegations are common and 1 of them often is that you ‘don’t communicate‘ with regards to the children. Another is that you are verbally abusive over the phone.

It is important to counter these false allegations and to document what you are doing.

Early on in the divorce proceedings the oldest was showing signs of depression. Per direction of the attorney of the children, after discussing the issue at a pre-trial meeting, I scheduled an appointment with a therapist. I informed Ex via email of the upcoming appointment. I already through Outlook had a ‘read receipt’ request and knew that Ex had read the email. Same with all further emails with regards to the oldest seeing a therapist. And then sh!t hit the fan. Ex had a meeting with the therapist and the therapist told Ex about his ‘disturbed’ relationship with oldest and wanted to make a plan to improve the bond between father and child.

That was such an insult to Ex, he turned around and started the false allegation that ‘he was never informed‘ and he was ‘going to report therapist to the licensing board‘. Typical behavior for a personality disordered parent, but of course it stirred up a lot of controversy. I provided the court with the read-receipts, settling the issue. Outlook’s read-receipts are not perfect and Ex found a way around them, so now I had a problem. With the history of denying receiving communications, the task was to protect myself against further allegations and continue to communicate.

So how do you communicate and gather evidence? The problem with internet communications is that it needs to be authenticated in order to pass the ‘rules of evidence’.

Text Messages

Some court allow text messages if the sender can be authenticated. And there lies the problem. Often litigants have a ‘nickname’ associated with the phone number; ‘Nick’, ‘Mom’, ‘BFF’. You can essentially name each and every phone number what ever you want, so this does not proof the text message was actually sent from the phone number associated with your ex.

So for text messages, whether printed or as a screen shot, to be admissible, the actual phone number of the sender has to be visible and authenticated as being from the ex-spouse.

Our Family Wizard

Personally, I’m a big fan of OFW (and no I’m not affiliated with them). Unfortunately they come with a fee of $99, however discounts are available for low-income families.

They offer a great SECURE platform to communicate through email and provide tools for financial accountability, sharing information, calendar etc. Not all information is shared with everybody. They have children’s accounts, which are sheltered, but also ‘professional accounts’. Giving the ‘parenting coordinator’ or ‘attorney for the children’ access can be very beneficial.

All entries are time and date stamped and are admissible in court as evidence. And there lies the crutch. A personality disordered parent does not want their actions or in-actions documented. In ‘normal’ conflicted or emotional divorces, neither parent would object to this form of communication, but a personality disordered parent will ferociously object and you may need to get a court order.

There are other online programs available, and please post links in the comment section if you know of them with a little review and tell us about your experience with them.

Email

So you’re stuck with email and documenting that your ex actually received and read the emails. Gmail is notorious for preventing sending read-receipts and many Macs do as well.

There are several email tracking services out there; Gmail Boomerang, ReadNotify, MSGTag just to name a few. They are work in essentially the same way. Each email you send will have a ‘tag’ attached to it that registered whether the email is delivered and when it is opened. Some services also register how often it is opened and at which IP address.

Now if you have a particularly deceitful ex you can use the paid service of RPost. This service is used by large insurance companies and law firms to not only proof delivery, read-receipt, but also content of the email sent.

Documenting your communications can provide the court with the evidence of who is more credible and protect you against false accusations. If 1 parent says ‘no email was sent’ the other parent can ascertain not only it was sent but also read, taking much of the ‘he said, she said’ out of the court room.

Email is a permanent record, so be careful what you actually write. Topic for another post and another day as this permanent record can beneficial for you, but an angry slip of the keyboard can also heavily count against you.