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.
Property division rules were established without fault in many states. Approximately ten states use “community property” rules, which just split everything 50-50 for most items, regardless of wise or poor decisions during the marriage in regard to property. Other states have “equitable division” rules, which allow a little bit of wiggle room in dividing property in a divorce, but not a lot. is has mostly been eliminated as an area for blaming behavior.
Parenting, on the other hand, is a wide-open potential battle ground 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 encourage 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 HCPs. Parents know very little about the realities of family court. 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.
When HCP parents become involved in the family court process, they are extremely vulnerable to the thinking, emotions and behaviors around them. As HCP parents, they generally have difficulty managing their own emotions, especially under stress, often because they never had secure attachments from which to learn this. Further, their unmanaged emotions are easily hooked by other people’s anger, criticism, blame, sadness and anxiety. Their emotional controls and boundaries are weak. is means that when someone blames them for misbehavior, or gets angry at them or shares intense fear with them – they pass it directly on to their children.
This emotional contagion can also go directly from the child to parent to professional, as reports are made of inappropriate behavior with the child, large or small. If the professional cannot contain his or her own upset emotions, then he or she gets emotionally hooked and passes anger, fear, frustration, hatred, and so forth right back at the parent, who passes these emotions directly back to the children. It is right brain emotions transferring to right brain emotions, without either person realizing it. This emotional feedback loop easily drives blaming behavior and splitting.
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 HCP parent’s extreme stress, fear and anger will pass directly to the children. It’s as if the children were there in every room with their HCP parent during every conversation about the court case with every other professional. The child absorbs the judge’s angry statements, the lawyers’ angry statements, the other professionals’ angry statements, family and friends’ angry statements. The entire family court culture usually blames someone – and when it’s one of the child’s parents, it seems to become an irresistible force which almost no child has the ability to resist.
HCP parents often raise allegations of abuse or alienation at the beginning of a case. is parent often requests that the court restrict the other parent’s involvement with the children. This escalates as legal professionals attack one parent, then the other. Unfortunately, the family court structure allows this “all-bad” parent and “all-good” parent contest, with lots of emotion and many extreme behaviors – all justified by what the other parent “has done.”
This immediately escalates the case into high-conflict, lots of anger and emphasis on determining which parent is to blame for the child’s abuse or alienation. Deciding which parent is to blame fits right in with the court Culture of Blame. But this adversarial process of deciding which parent to blame is not the solution – it’s the problem! It helps build a Wall of Alienation.
Excerpt from Don’t Alienate the Kids! Raising Resilient Children While Avoiding High-Conflict Divorce. By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.