The Genetics of Psychopathy and Why it Matters in Child Custody

“The last scan in the pile was strikingly odd. In fact it looked exactly like the most abnormal of the scans I had just been writing about, suggesting that the poor individual it belonged to was a psychopath—or at least shared an uncomfortable amount of traits with one….When I found out who the scan belonged to, I had to believe there was a mistake….But there had been no mistake. The scan was mine.”



Brain scans of Dr Fallon and family

You are a world leading expert on brain imaging for violent criminals and psychopaths and you find that your own brain image is that of a psychopath. YOU are a psychopath. That has to be hard.


That is what a normal person would think; we have empathy, we have emotions. The psychopath doesn’t, (s)he will look how to turn this into a personal gain. And so did Dr Fallon; without empathy for what this public knowledge would do to his immediate family, he turned his discovery into a book about entering the dark side of the brain of a psychopath, included his family history of violent murderers and psychopaths. To top it off he then sought publicity with a huge media campaign. Book sales = money.

And I’m hopping on the band wagon, because his story is of extreme importance for child custody and there are 4 reasons why;

  1. Psychopathy has a genetic link; it passes on from parent to child. A child of a psychopath is at risk.
  2. Psychopathy is in the brain, it is not curable. Forced joint custody, parenting coordinators, therapy, etc will not improve the situation.
  3. Hitler vs Dr Fallon; Society’s misconception about the violent vs socially ‘adapted’ psychopath.
  4. Make or break the child; Influences in the early years.

1. The genetics of psychopathy

Yes, psychopathy passes on from parent to child through genetics. Dr Fallon in his book talks about several violent (and infamous) murderers that are related to him. He has a very interesting family tree to say the least.

Research has shown that Antisocial Personality Disorder (psychopathy) has an about 56% genetic component to it. Just to compare, breast cancer also has a genetic component. Women who have the mutated genes BRCA1 or BRCA2 have a chance of getting breast cancer in about 55-65% or 45% respectively. Angelina Jolie in 2013 went public with her double mastectomy because she has the gene mutations.

That is a different perspective, isn’t it? They are in the same range.

Just because you have the breast cancer gene, doesn’t mean you get breast cancer. If you have the gene for psychopathy, doesn’t mean you actually become a psychopath. But your chances of becoming a psychopath or getting breast cancer are the same when you have the gene for it.

Kids get some genes from Mom, some genes from Dad, it is a mix. This means children of psychopaths are at risk. It doesn’t mean they are guaranteed to have the gene, but there is a considerable possibility they do.

And when the kids do have the gene, it takes outside factors for psychopathy to become present, just like it takes outside factors for a woman to develop breast cancer.

2. Psychopathy is in the brain

Well-meaning people will say: ‘O, it will get better, it just takes time’, ‘Why doesn’t he go into therapy, that will help’, ‘If he just realizes what is going on, he will change’. I’ve heard my attorney say it, I’ve heard friends and family say it and I have to admit, I was of the same mindset during the marriage as well. I believe in human goodness and thought it would get better. I now know better.

Looking at the brain scan of Dr Fallon is sobering. It is clear that certain parts of his brain are functioning differently than his family members do. Sure, I read the research that psychopathy is not curable, I talked to experts, I preached and told it. Yet deep down inside I hoped it would be different; for the children’s sake. When I saw the scan, reality hit.

A psychopath is not going to change, no therapy will cure him/her. Nothing can change their brain.

3. Hitler vs Dr. Fallon

When we think about psychopaths, we think about Hitler, Charles Manson, Ted Bundy and perhaps even Jodi Arias, Ariel Castro or the Newtown school shooter Adam Lanza. We think of creeps, we think of violent criminals.

Certainly not of a well-respected neuroscientist, husband and father like dr Fallon.

And that’s where society and the judicial system go wrong. The world’s leading expert in psychopathy, Dr Babiak and dr Hare, wrote the book ‘Snakes in Suits‘ and as you probably guessed, it is not about violent criminals. The percentage of psychopaths in high-powered positions in society is similar to the percentage in prison.

However, not only is our view of psychopaths skewed, our perception of their ‘damage’ is also clouded. Violence and murder are tangible concepts. We see the horror. Psychological trauma is so much more difficult to grasp, especially when you are not the victim.

Caregiver behaviors …… negatively affect the child’s cognitive, social, emotional, and/or physical development. Psychological maltreatment has been linked with disorders of attachment, developmental and educational problems, socialization problems, disruptive behavior, and later psychopathology. American Academy of Pediatrics

Despite the fact that the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics have policies in place that recognize the frequency and long-term injury of psychological abuse, family court dismisses or even fails to recognize its existence. Yet the psychological damage of being raised by a personality disordered parent is well researched in the field of psychology, this is an unmistakable and devastating disconnect for the child.

4. Make or break the child

So how is it possible that Dr Fallon turned out ‘reasonably well’ and others have gone off the deep end? It is the early years. It is the environment the child grows up in.


Picture by Steve Corey (Flickr)


Dr Fallon explains he was loved as a child. He was the first-born after several miscarriages. He was wanted. He was important to his parents, or at least by 1 emotionally and psychologically healthy parent. A parent who was able to form secure parent-child attachments. So there was at least a 1-way of love.

As I’ve written about before, psychopaths cannot form secure attachments, but the love of Dr Fallon’s parent(s) provided him with a cushion to soften the impact of his genetics.

Just like smoking can cause lung cancer, red food coloring can aggravate ADHD, so is lack of love a trigger for becoming a psychopath. A psychopathic parent per definition can not express love; they are incapable of having empathy and without empathy there is no love. And a parent without empathy can not teach a child empathy.

Love is a deep concern for the other. Love is caring for the other. Children of psychopaths often endure neglect at best, or worse, physical abuse. This environment encourages the next generation to be psychopaths when they are at risk.

Dr Fallon emphasizes over and over again that the timing of the emotional/psychological injury determines the effect on the brain and what type of psychopath you become. For the gene to be expressed, the child needs to be exposed to trauma before puberty. Having the gene and being exposed to violence, or child neglect, is the recipe for disaster. The more severe the exposure, the more violent the psychopath becomes later on.

Family Courts Responsibility

‘Best Interest of the Child’ is the legal standard, not what is fair to each parent, or what a parent would like. Yet the courts do not follow-up on this, they would rather cater to Parental Rights organizations and work on a compromise between the 2 parties as if the children are property that needs to be divided equally. The legal standard is blatantly ignored to favor what can be agreed upon, not what is in the best interest of the child.

First of all courts need to put aside their misconception that psychopaths are violent criminals and realize that ‘upstanding’ members of society can be psychopaths as well. All persons involved in child custody decisions need to put the child first, and not the glorified theory of coming to an agreement and divide the property equally. This is the wellbeing of the next generation decisions are being made about.

When a child is at risk because 1 parent is a psychopath it is particularly important one limits the environmental influence of said parent. This could be a tipping point for the child to develop a personality disorder. It is extremely important that the child be around the parent that can express love, values, care and empathy. That does not mean the psychological disordered parent should be eliminated out of the life of the child, but the influence needs to be managed appropriately.

I can not repeat this enough; conflict is the single most predictable factor for the worst outcome for children of divorce. Forcing joint custody is perpetuating conflict for children. It is making the situation for children who are already at risk even worse. The acrimonious behavior of the psychopath is not going to change. They can’t change, their brain is set.

It is the courts responsibility to protect and safeguard the child, failure to do so has long-term consequences for the child and society. It is time courts recognize and take appropriate actions when there is a parent with a personality disorder and not stick their heads in the sand to cater to parental rights organizations. Our children are not 2nd rate citizens, they are our future. 

You’re Evil! Combatting Badmouthing in Parental Alienation

“You’re evil, you’re evil, you’re evil”, Muppet sings while hugging, kissing and frolicking with

Photo credit 'wendyb104' on Flickr

Photo credit ‘wendyb104’ on Flickr

her big sister while I’m setting the table for dinner. I smile; her words and actions are clearly contradictory, so she is not aware of the meaning. Such a sweet little toddler.

Time to have the discussion about certain words we don’t use, I think to myself.

While I’m serving dinner, I start out “There are certain words that are not nice to say to people, and I don’t want you to use them. We don’t say ‘people are evil’, we don’t use the word ‘stupid’. I want you to respect others and show respect in the words you use.”

“But Dad tells Kelly, my sister and me that you are evil. That we get the flea bites at your house and that you give Muppet the booty rash.” Sweet Bee says.


How many target parents have heard similar words? How many target parents have felt the same feelings that were going through me?

Countless, but even 1 person having to go through this is too many, even 1 child having to be subjected to this is too many.

And it is not like I had not heard it before. During trial we entered into evidence and email from Ex to me where he calls my mother ‘the Devil’, because my mother held him accountable for not taking good emotional, physical and financial care of me and the kids. The pattern is only repeating itself, but now with me who is to be eliminated.

The most prominent alienation strategy was denigration of the targeted parent, informally referred to as “bad-mouthing.” — Baker, Amy J. L.  “Adult Children of Parental Alienation Syndrome: Breaking the Ties That Bind” 

Bad-mouthing the other parent seemed to serve the same function as bad-mouthing the “outside world” has for cults: promotion of dependency. — Baker, Amy J. L. ” Adult Children of Parental Alienation Syndrome: Breaking the Ties That Bind”

Parental Alienation is depriving a child from a valid loving relationship. It is about creating dependency on the alienating parent, not based on the truth and reality, but based upon subjectivity and persuasion.

Drama replaces reason.

And that is the ‘hook’ Reunification Therapists take a hold of. They work with the child to teach them to ‘figure it out’, to learn to discern between fact/reality and subjective distortion. The Reunification Therapist works to improve mental functioning by working on reality testing and mitigate the trauma by weighing evidence.

Most parents don’t know what a therapist does, but that doesn’t mean a parent can not do ‘supportive’ work while the therapist is not available. It is hard and can be difficult, but the parent has to calmly, objectively and non-emotionally clarify the reality which the child themselves can test.

So what is the evidence in the statement of Sweet Bee? Ex has a ‘rat problem’, rats carry fleas. The kids return from access with numerous bites, documented by 3rd party. I have dogs who are religiously treated with K9 Advantix. The kids leave without flea bites. Muppet has been returned from access with a (bleeding) diaper rash multiple times, diagnosed and treated within hours by dr.’s.

“Are you itchy right now?” I ask. “No” they answer. “Do you have any bug bites right now?” I continue. “No” they answer again. “When you are itchy and have bug bites where are you then?” “We’re at Dad’s, and he has no bug bite lotion” is the answer. They emphasize the lack of bug bite lotion. While that seems trivial, it is not. It means they (unconsciously) did a reality check. They had been looking or asking for bug bite lotion while at Dad’s.

I didn’t lash out and said Ex was a liar to the children. I calmly did a reality check. While dealing with the bug bites was ‘easy’, internally I was trying to figure out how to bring up the diaper rash. The dr.’s diagnosed it as being the result of prolonged exposure to urine and it extends down her leg(s). It is not normal for a 3-year-old to have this when she is fully potty trained. The last episode likely had to do with the fact that Ex left the children unattended in a car for periods of time without supervision, access to food/water or bathroom. ‘Inadequate guardianship’ is what CPS supervisor called it.

“Where does your booty hurt the most?” I ask Muppet. “In the front” she replies. Ok, good point, a good factual statement for a 3 ½ year old. “But when you are with Mom or with Dad?” I try to probe a little further. “Both” she innocently replies. And she is right, it is not like it is instantly over, and how am I going to explain to a toddler that it takes time to heal? How do I explain the cause and effect; prolonged exposure to urine = diaper rash?

And this is why parental alienation takes ground with younger children so much easier than older kids, teenagers or adults. Younger kids don’t have the same conception of reality, developmentally they are not ready yet. They still believe in Santa. They’ll believe anything a parent tells them.

Distorting reality for a child this young and depriving them from the other parents’ love, making them question the validity of this love is devastating and has long-lasting effects. It is cruel to the child.

But parents with this attitude do not solve problems by being rational. They have no internal conflict, it doesn’t bother them they are hurting the child. If a problem arises, it is always someone else’s fault. 

There is no protocol to fix the alienating parent—not legally, not therapeutically, and not by reasoning with them. It is also unlikely that they will ever stop trying to perpetuate the alienation, because it has become a gut-wrenching survival issue to them! — Douglas Darnell, 2000

Courts are supposed to uphold the statue of Best Interest of the Child. It should protect the child from the harmful effects of Parental Alienation, which is considered psychological child abuse in the DSM 5. Fighting parental alienation is not about a mother’s right, it is not about a father’s right, it is about the children’s right. They are not 2nd class citizens.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” Declaration of Independence July 4, 1776  

God bless our Veterans today. Thank you!

Family Law’s Ultimate Guide on How to Treat and Cure a Personality Disorder

Sarcasm: the use of words that mean the opposite of what you really want to say especially in order to insult someone, to show irritation, or to be funny”— Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Yup a little sarcasm on a Tuesday. Lucy TherapistThe brick wall that I, and other parents who deal with a personality disordered ex, keep running into is the persuasive but completely incorrect opinion that a personality disorder is something that can be cured. Like a depression, give some medication, have them in treatment and then magically *POOF* the perfect parent arises.

Just last week my attorney started uttering the words ‘what if Ex went into therapy….’.

I just about immediately wanted to bang my head into a wall. Why is it that Family Law attorneys and judges just don’t get that a personality disorder is a permanent character flaw?

These words from my attorney are just a symptom of how the justice system looks at personality disorders. They don’t grasp the concept, nor the extend of harm it causes children to grow up with a personality disordered parent.

“Personality” is a dynamic and organized set of characteristics possessed by a person that uniquely influences his or her cognitions, emotions, motivations, and behaviors in various situations.

Paper Mache Unfinished Comedy & Tragedy SetThe word ‘person’ comes from the Latin word ‘persona’, which means mask. In the ancient world, and in many cultures, masks were used in theatre and plays to typify a character.

A mask is not used to disguise the character, but to underline what the character symbolizes.

Your personality is what you are, it is your identity. In this multi-cultural society we recognize and even celebrate each individual is unique. It is not something that changes.

A healthy personality has a pattern of thoughts, feeling and social adjustments that assures the individual functions in society. A person with a personality disorder exhibit patterns of self-perceptions and attitudes that collide with society. They handle reactions to other people, problems and stress differently. It is a character trait that does not change over time.

Anti-Social Personality Disorder is particular resistant to ‘therapy’. The criminal justice system seems to recognize that and just puts individuals who commit a crime in prison. If they thought ASPD could be cured or even somewhat treated, then we would have Personality Disorder Clinics! We would live in a peaceful society! Utopia!

Research has shown that ASPD has a large genetic component (more than 50%). That is nothing new, Jang has done much research on fraternal and identical twins and came to the conclusion that about 46% of personality traits are genetically linked, not just ASPD.

So the Family Justice system is now in the gene-therapy business?

If Personality Disorders were harmless to children, it wouldn’t be such a terrible thing. Just force Joint Custody and eventually the bickering and fighting will stop. Joint Custody, the Family Law gene-therapy.

And NOTHING is more harmful to children then continuously being exposed to conflict.

During our trial the custody evaluator testified to such, experts testified to such. You look left and right in the literature and everybody (for once) agrees; continued exposure to conflict is harmful to children.

So, in the month or so that our latest court order went into effect we’ve had;

  1. Called CPS with false allegations
  2. Deliberately scheduled medical well visits when Mother is out-of-town, and went to great lengths to prevent Mother from access to medical appointments when she returned early. (repeated event)
  3. Not providing pre-school of Mother’s contact information (repeated event)
  4. Called law-enforcement to enforce a non-scheduled custody exchange (he wanted the kids, so they had to help him, even though it wasn’t his access time, he has a history of that too)
  5. Unilaterally reduced the court ordered support payment.

And psychopaths do things deliberately. It is with the intend to harm. Take for instance the medical appointment for Muppet. He had scheduled it 2 weeks prior, knowing I would be out-of-town those 2 days. I haphazardly found out from the Pediatrician’s office and this is not the first time Ex failed to notify me; oldest had surgery and he notified me after the fact.

I rescheduled, so both parents could be there and notified him. Ex caused a stink with the Ped’s and rescheduled again for when I was out-of-town and failed to notify me (Ped’s office was on to him and called me directly). Actions to cause harm with psychopaths are intentional and deliberate. It was his intention to prevent the Mother access, it was his intention to cause harm with calling CPS, it was his intention to cause harm with not paying support. He has no excuse, it is like a cat playing with a mouse.

And it won’t stop, they can’t stop, it is in their genes. No matter what Family Court thinks. Instead, judges and attorneys should take a personality disorder very serious and think about the long term well-being of the children, who, as a recent UCLA study tells us, suffer. They are the future.

Knock, Knock! Child Protective Services Calling! Parental Alienation and Projections of a Psychopath

A while back I had started researching the (ab-)use of Child Protective Services in divorce proceedings by parents. weathering the stormI started talking to mental health professionals, parents who filed CPS reports and parents who had CPS reports filed against them. It is definitely a tricky subject and I was circling my thoughts on how to formulate my findings and opinions.

And then one evening last week there was the envelope on the front door from the ‘Child Protective Service Team Leader’.

Yes, a CPS complaint was filed against me.

I knew Ex was a diagnosed psychopath, didn’t realize how ill he really was. I never thought he would stoop this low in using the children against the mother. To sacrifice the integrity of the children to get his way in the divorce proceedings. Then again, his MMPI already showed that he has Anti-Social Personality Disorder and is a Parental Alienator, and his behavior patterns presented at trial underlined it.

CPS, Divorce and the truth

CPS investigators have the daunting task of finding the truth and protecting children against abusive parents. Innocent until proven guilty can be hard when they know that something is going on, yet can not formulate the evidence. These children are left hanging.

Talking with mental health professionals makes it clear that the timing of filing for divorce and making a report to CPS is significant for finding whether there is any truth to the allegations. Reports filed prior or at the start of the divorce proceeding hold more ground then the reports filed further down the road. Doesn’t mean necisarrily they are true, but they are more likely to be true. Likewise, reports filed to CPS later down the road are less likely to be true and more a tactic of a gruntled parent to get an advantage in the divorce proceedings.

CPS is inundated with cases where parents seek an advantage in the divorce proceedings. This clouds the issue and creates scrutiny when there are real issues of abuse. Divorcing parents who want to bring real abuse to light are vilified and children end up being awarded to their abusers at an alarming rate.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are parents who abuse the system.

Filing CPS reports as a Parental Alienating Tactic

Every time a CPS report gets filed against the target parent, the child gets interviewed about the target parent. While at first the child may not have a negative image of the target parent, after being questioned, even if it is about unfounded issues, the seed of doubt is created in the child’s mind.

This is a subtle, but very effective way of the alienating parent to remove the target parent from the child’s life. “See, it wasn’t me, CPS thought there was enough reason to investigate”. The alienating parent doesn’t tell the child the result of the investigation, which usually is ‘unfounded’ and the child perceives that persons of authority are questioning the ‘safety’ of the target parent. The security and love the child feels for the target parents slowly and subtly erodes.

True parental alienators have personality disorders, they will not stop until they have removed the other parent from the lives of the children. They will seek allies within friends and family, but also do not stop there, they will enlist law enforcement, the courts and CPS. Nothing new here.

Filing a CPS reports based on projections of the Phychopaths own behavior

Parents with personality disorders project their own behavior on the other parent. When I heard the allegations filed against me, I almost burst out laughing, the seriousness of the situation prevented me from doing so. One of the allegations was ‘unsanitary living arrangements with dog feces and garbage all over the house’. This comes from the man that has a rat problem in his house. Yes, you read that right, he has rats in the house. My attorney was present for the interview with CPS and he jokingly said: “Well, if he didn’t kill so many cats, he probably wouldn’t have a rat problem”. My house is clean, I showed the investigator the back of cupboards, which were organized and dust free. We live here, so yes, at the end of the day there are toys on the floor and dishes in the sink. But no rats.

The 2nd allegation was much more serious and gives much more food for thought, knowing that psychopaths project their behavior and deep inner thoughts on the other parent. “Mother takes pictures of the children in various stages of undress with the intent to distribute”.

Yes, basically child pornography.

Now why this worries me. The CPS investigator told me that the pictures he had seen had nothing of a sexual nature, but as it was reported in a phone call, he had to follow up. He agreed the pictures were from a parent taking snapshots of their child. Happy moments.

Ex’s family has a history of sexual child abuse. Within the family the grandfather has fondled the daughters, and brothers have coerced sisters to perform oral sex. Now, at this moment, I don’t believe Ex has had inappropriate relations with the children. However, the oldest is becoming of the age that sexual predators become interested in girls.

Is there anything I can do about this? No, nobody has been prosecuted for (unconscious) thoughts. We live in a free society. I have to let the CPS investigation run its course. I’m not going to muddy the water with more allegations that can never be proven.

It is absolutely vicious and evil how 1 parent tries to eliminate the other parent out of the lives of the children, over the backs of the children. When one makes such false allegations and uses the child as a weapon to disparage the other parent, you don’t really love your child.

Kids Say the Darnest Things; Parental Controls of Your Divorce

This morning I, with toddler & iPad in tow, went to the salon to have my nails done for the photo shoot this coming Friday. article-1262377-08EEBE03000005DC-546_468x544

Just your normal morning; updating and getting updated with all the local and personal gossip, living the small town USA life. While my nails are getting done the toddler is playing on the iPad and the ‘Girls’ and I are happily chatting. Until somebody mentions something innocuous about a video they saw.

Muppet looks up from the iPad and inserts into the conversation. “Dad has 2 videos on his laptop”. We all look adoringly at Muppet and smile, oh how adorable toddlers can be. “He hangs up his undies and then dances with Shelly” follows while making a thrusting movement.

Jaws drop. Dead silence.

My brain goes a million miles an hour. How to handle this? Don’t destroy innocence. Muppet has no clue what was seen. I’m speechless, yet I know I have to say something to ‘save the situation’. Say something smart, say something witty, SAY SOMETHING………..

“I enjoy dancing, dancing is fun!” Yup, a failed comeback, but the best I could come up with.

This has been a consistent problem during the divorce, the children are consistently exposed to way too much. The oldest knows about motions and affidavits. I get questions using language that even I don’t know (“Sorry hun, let me look up that word before I answer you”. English is my 2nd language), let alone what is appropriate for a 7-year-old. It is simply not fair to a child to do so, it is putting adult issues onto innocence and demanding them to grow up too fast.

It is a lack of boundaries.

A child is not your ‘brother in arms’. To protect the child you need to take actions to protect them from being exposed to conflict.

Password Protect All Things Electronic

Computers, tablets, smartphones are part of society. Kids at some point will pick up your phone, will want to play on your tablet. You may be busy cooking dinner, or finally taking that shower. Murphy’s Law, you’re not looking, or it is a really inconvenient moment.

Don’t take the risk. It is so easy to set up a password.

Set Up Separate User Accounts with Parental Controls

In this day and age, you can’t deny access to computers and internet. They need it for school, homework, and social networks. All operating systems have the possibility to set up different users, which have access to different things on the computer and internet.

You really don’t have an excuse to allow children to see inappropriate adult content or things related to the divorce. Curious minds will read. Seeing the desktop files with ‘dadsucks’ ‘momisbad’ is inexcusable.

Don’t Keep Paperwork Laying Around

While we all may at times leave paperwork and bills out on the kitchen counter, when dealing with divorce related paperwork one should be really conscientious. Seeing a bill is a totally different for a child than seeing documentation that talks about your mom and dad breaking up. It rips a wound that should be healing over time, right back open.

Hold Divorce Related Phone Calls Out of Earshot

I’ve always had all my conversations outside, out of earshot, but with the children in my line of view. A couple of month ago the oldest wanted to talk to GAL. Walked right outside, right to where I always make my phone calls. I smiled.

Just remember “Little teacups have ears”.

Don’t Use the Kids as Messengers

This should be so obvious, yet time and time again I hear it in our household, and stories from others. Put on your big girl panties or be a man, if you have to say something to your ex, do it in person, or via a phone call, text or email.

As a parent it is your duty to protect the children from harm. Being exposed to conflict, being exposed to the divorce going ons is harmful. Cherish the young years your children have, they will thank you for it later. Be that safe haven, their rock, when all around them is changing.

Child Custody Battles; a Lesson from My Child at Dave’s & Busters

“Sometimes the most poignant revelations in life can come from observing the innocence of children.” — Unknown

Custody Battle

Last night we went for dinner at Dave’s and Buster, the kids were all excited and they were going to ‘win BIG and get lots of money’. I smiled and told them to just enjoy the games and if they won prices, that was a bonus and a gift, but not to have expectations. They ran off in excitement discussing which game to play first. Upon returning they were beaming; the oldest with lots of tickets, the younger with just a few, which were actually given by the oldest. We ate our dinner and they went to get their ‘prizes’, having high expectations. They returned with each a ‘nerd stick’. I hugged both of them and told the oldest how proud I am. The biggest winner assured that both came out equally.

Depending on whose research you read, about 80-95% of custody situations get resolved at least reasonably amicable. These parents are excellent candidates for joint or shared custody and their children have great long-term outcomes.

So in about 5-20% of the cases there is high conflict. Conflict is a huge detrimental factor in the wellbeing of the child. Researchers state that parental conflict is the biggest predictor of poor outcome for children. The most powerful determinant is the level and intensity of the conflict. Joint custody is just then harmful for the child. Continued exposure to conflict as a child, whether in a marriage or during/after divorce, leads to depression, low self-esteem, self-blame, acting out, poor social skills and poor relationships as adults.

Advances in neuropsychology have shown that when exposed to conflict, our brains release stress hormones that over time can actually change brain functioning.

That’s scary.

That is what you are doing to your child.

Bill Eddy of High Conflict Institute and many other researchers along with him, have repeatedly stated that in high conflict divorces there is at least 1, more likely 2 parents with a personality disorder. When there are 2 ‘normal’ parents, the issue, while maybe heated at first, will resolve, not maintain or intensify, like with personality disordered individuals. Thank heavens my personality testing came back normal.

A parent with a personality disorder will not stop. Even if they have full/sole custody, they want more, they want omnipotent control. Having physical possession of the child is not enough. They also need the psychological possession, so they will interfere with the relationship with the other parent. The DSM V now calls that psychological child abuse.

Just Googling ‘parenting capacity’ and ‘personality disorder’ will give you a host of links with the long-term detrimental effect of a parent with a PD on children. It is well-recognized that a PD parent is too self-centered to raise children.

A parent with a personality disorder keeps all the tickets and ‘buys the biggest price’ for themselves. It is about possession. The healthy parent may have more tickets, but realizes that a child is not a possession, their love is to be shared equally. The healthy parent must fight, as not fighting will result in loss or deterioration of the relationship with the child. At the same time the healthy parent realizes that ‘winning’ custody does not mean the other parent is out of the child’s life. Contrary, the healthy parent will share, the healthy parent will assure with actions that the other parent continues to receive the love of the child.

I’m still dumbfounded the judge in our situation faulted me for my willingness to share. She called me hypocritical for providing evidence that substantiated sole custody and at the same time being willing to share. Yes, while having a parent with a PD has long-lasting effects on a child, the child still loves that parent.   Having all the tickets, or being awarded sole custody, doesn’t mean I buy the biggest price. I can still share the love of the children.

So the kids bought 2 nerd sticks for $20, just like the expense of a custody battle does not affect the love of a child for their parents. The irony was not lost on me.

The Impact of Divorce on Children

I love watching TED talks, they get the leading experts in a certain field to hold compelling, yet for us novices, interesting talks. In relative short time they talk about a subject and when done, they leave, at least me, with lots to think about and I often feel enlightened.

Dr Tamara Affifi is a professor in Communications at UCSB and is the presenter in the video below. Her recent research examines the impact that various factors like divorce, economic uncertainty and parents’ communication patterns (e.g., conflict, reoccurring stressful disclosures, social support) have on adolescents’ physiological stress responses (e.g., hormones).

In the video below, Dr Affifi touches upon the subject of how children feel about divorce. Some kids are much impacted, some less. The level of conflict is what makes the difference. I’ll admit, spit has a different taste to me now and watching the video made me ponder a few things.

Conflict, by definition, is a state of instability, disarray and uncertainty. It raises our ‘flight or fight’ responses; heart rhythm, blood pressure and alertness. Useful responses in emergency situations, when you need to get out of danger. It is a physical reaction that results in action, but to innocent children it is just stress, they can not change the situation, which has long-term psychological effects.

Children in high conflict marriages suffer the most. It is the continuous exposure to conflict that is damaging.

Conflict can take many different forms and shapes. From outright domestic violence, (sexual) child abuse, spouses continuously arguing, to psychological abuse. Psychological abuse is just as damaging, though so much more difficult to proof and quite frankly, so much harder to get away from. Psychological abuse is ever-present, there is a continuous conflict.

In psychological abuse there is continuous gaslighting. The victim is paralyzed because of the arbitrary and unpredictable inconsistencies. No matter what you do, it is wrong.

Psychological abusers need complete control over their victim and both male and female perpetrators exhibit a cluster of traits and high rates of personality disorders. Abusers can be very manipulative, often recruiting friends, law officers and court officials, even the victim’s family to their side, while shifting blame to the victim. Abusers are convincing. Why else would you have married him or her? But this makes the victim extra vulnerable, when the justice system sides with the convincing abuser, the victim gets victimized all over again.

Perpetrators need a high level of conflict and drama. By externalizing their inner chaos and projecting onto others, it diverts them from resolving their inner problems. Spouses and children suffer. Yes, children suffer. Not only because they see what happens to a parent, how the abuser treats the adult is how (s)he will treat the children, a double whammy.

Psychological abuse erodes the soul, it erases the identity. Isolated and alone, who can come to the victims aid? Who will believe them? Paralyzed, victims have a hard time leaving their abusers, I was no different. I fought long and hard to safe the marriage. It took a long time for me to come to terms with the fact that divorce was actually in the best interest of the children.