coParenting and Family Court Culture
Family courts are not designed to understand the hidden dynamics of parent-child relationships. This makes sense when you consider that family courts have the same basic structure of all courts, which are focused on individuals. There is a plaintiff (someone who has been injured) and a defendant (the one who is accused of causing the injury).
Since 1970, all states have adopted “no-fault” divorce laws, which say that it is improper to even consider who is to blame for the divorce. It has become a hybrid structure – it’s designed for two sides to blame each other proving or defending against the finding of fault. However, you are not allowed to find fault for the reason for the divorce. Therefore, other issues become the focus of fault-finding. When the issues of child support and spousal support first were getting decided in the no-fault system, the parties would argue over how each other spent money. But then states adopted a system of guidelines, which eliminated most of the blaming arguments about how each parent spent money.
Parenting, on the other hand, is a wide-open potential battleground over who is “all-good” and who is “all-bad.” With the court’s modern concern to prevent or reduce child abuse and domestic violence, allegations of abuse get a lot of attention and influence almost every aspect of the case. The court can decide temporary property allocation and support based on where the children live and what percent of time each parent has. The result of all of this is that family courts still model, tolerate, and often inadvertently encourage the high-conflict behavior. Family courts have a ‘Culture of Blame’, unless the professionals involved work hard to overcome it. This can include lawyers, counselors, mediators, and judges.
What is important to note here is that the blaming behavior of family law professionals is contagious when it comes to high conflict parents, often focused on who wins and who loses versus being focused on the child’s best interests. Most parents know very little about the realities of family court because movies, TV shows, and the news give a distorted view of how family court judges make decisions and the procedures that are involved. Therefore, parents follow the professionals’ lead in managing their cases. Even when many parents do not have lawyers, they still observe the behavior of all the professionals at court and absorb their behavior. They are role models of high-conflict or low-conflict behavior, which work well for other legal areas but not the best way to deal with families.
When high conflict parents become involved in the family court process, they are extremely vulnerable to the thinking, emotions, and behaviors around them. As high conflict parents, they generally have difficulty managing their own emotions, especially under stress, often because of the emotional nature of the relationship easily hooked by their coParent’s anger, criticism, blame, sadness and anxiety. The longer a high-conflict case goes, the more people involved, the more frustration there is without resolution, the more likely it is that the professionals’ frustration and the high conflict parent’s extreme stress, fear and anger will pass directly to the children.
Editor’s Notes: The longer it takes to reach a custody agreement and parenting plan, the more children get stuck in the middle and suffer. Of course, family court is there for the absolutely necessary cases that deal with serious issues and those who absolutely cannot come to an agreement. However, what this excerpt is saying is that YOU, as your child’s parents, are best equipped to make decisions that will be best for your child because you know their unique needs. Not only will you save a lot of time and money if you can find a resolution outside of the courts system, but you can move forward and help your child adjust to their new parenting dynamic, reducing unnecessary stress.
Excerpt from Don’t Alienate the Kids! Raising Resilient Children While Avoiding High-Conflict Divorce. By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.
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