Children of Divorce

Today, in the Los Angeles Times there’s a short blurb about a Washington State man charged with assault for branding his three children.  Yes, branding…as in what one does to cattle.  Divorced dad Mark Seamand branded all three of his kids with the letters “SK” as in “Seamands Kids.”  His oldest who is 18 gave her consent and the younger sons will testify in their dad’s defense.  They are “proud of their brands.”    Needless to say, Mom was shocked.

In my own practice, I’ve seen a lot.  Only recently, the son of client mater-of-factly disclosed that his mom uses handcuffs on his three year old and eighteen month old brothers to “keep them from touching stuff.”

Another child reports that he smoked “pot” with his dad to be cool.  Yet another was promised new breasts at sixteen if she lived with that parent.

Although the foregoing seems out of the realm of the usual, it’s only a short step from the usual techniques of persuasion by a parent in trying to convince a child to choose one parent over the other.  Parents of divorce get caught up in ownership over their children. 

 Literary research substantiates the detrimental and life long psychological effect.  In 2008 the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) declared a public health crisis and resolved to improve the live of children and families through the resolution of family conflict.

In California the Elkins Family Law Task Force made recommendations to revamp divorce court with a focus on reducing conflict, streamlining the process, and protecting children.  The courts are just now starting to make changes in spite of the severe reduction of financial resources.

Approximately fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. California has about 9.5 million children and half are impacted by their parent’s actions because of divorce, domestic violence or paternity cases.

This new direction will focus on protecting our children and giving them a voice.  Finally.

Published in: on May 13, 2010 at 10:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Frequently Asked Divorce Questions

1. How soon can I be divorced?

Legally as soon as six (6) months and a day. However, the actual process usually takes longer if there are children, support issues and property division.

2. I just moved here, can I file for a divorce?

You must be a resident of the State of California for six (6) months and of the County three (3) months immediately preceding filing your Petition. You may however file for a Legal Separation and later amend your Petition after the required passage of time.

3. How do I choose a good divorce attorney?

A referral from someone who has had a positive experience is often the case. More and more people are using the internet to locate an attorney. However, you should still make these inquiries, to list a few.

• the attorney’s length of time in practice,
• percentage of practice devoted to family law
• experience with your type of issues
• familiarity with the judges in your court
• the office policy for returning your calls
• whether you will have input regarding decisions in your case
• the ability of the attorney to listen to you and his or her rapport
• beware of guaranteed outcomes or promises
• psychologically aware of family dynamics and children
• how many trials or hearings has the attorney had
• does the attorney’s client base consist of both genders

The list is not all inclusive and you should be comfortable in relating to your attorney. Remember, your attorney is your employee.

4. What should I bring to the initial client attorney meeting?

At the initial meeting be prepared to discuss your issues fully. Supporting documents will greatly assist the attorney in evaluating your situation. The types of documents needed depend on the kind of family law matter you have.

Financial records: Tax returns, bank statements, money market account statements, corporate books, profit and loss statements, pension statements, and credit card statements, promissory notes, to name a few.

Real Property: If you own real property whether situated in California or outside, copies of deeds of trust, lease contracts, appraisals and mortgage statements would be needed.

Agreements: Any signed Premarital, Post-marital or Cohabitation Agreement is necessary as it defines and may limit your rights.

Custody: Records relating to custody vary. The children’s school records, a spouse’s criminal history, domestic violence or drug and alcohol abuse would be important in some cases where it’s at issue.

5. I have a secret bank account, must I tell my spouse?

During the marriage and during the divorce spouses owe a fiduciary duty to one another. This duty is much like being partners in a business. You have a duty to disclose “all material facts and information regarding the existence, characterization and valuation of all assets in which the community has or may have an interest and debts for which the community is or may be liable”, as well as all material facts and information relating to the income and expenses of each party. Moreover, each spouse must “provide equal access to all information, records, and books that pertain to the value and character of those assets and debts, upon request.” Failure to do so may result in substantial sanctions.

6. What should I tell our children about the divorce?

Your discussions with your children will depend on their ages and what they have seen or heard in the household during the marriage. Foremost is to reassure them that they are loved by both parents. Both parents are to avoid discussing “adult” issues and must refrain from making disparaging remarks about the other parent. Parents should strive to avoid conflicts in the presence of the children or to use the children as messengers. The most damaging thing that a parent can do to their children is to ask them to choose which parent they want to live with. If one parent actively badmouths the other and tries to “alienate” the child, it is critical that your attorney be psychologically aware and have experience in “high conflict” divorce cases with parental alienation.

7. If I leave the house will the Court assume that I have abandoned my children or given up my rights to the house?

No. In fact the Family Law Code specifically states that there can be no negative assumption about a party leaving the home.

8. If one spouse has been unfaithful during the marriage can that be used to gain an advantage in Court?

No. California is a “no fault” divorce State.
10. If we agree on all the issues, do we need an attorney?

Maybe. Family Law is extremely technical. You should at the minimum consult with an attorney to be advised of your rights. A reputable attorney will encourage you an amicable resolution if the settlement is equitable and fair. If that’s the case, the attorney can assist you in preparing the Judicial Council forms and you won’t even need to go to Court. The forms themselves are daunting and easily rejected if improperly prepared.

A Common Divorce Mistake

I was watching War of the Roses this past weekend.  There are some great lines in the movie and as a divorce lawyer with a fair share of high conflict cases, I can relate.  One that popped out was when Danny DeVito’s character tells Michael Douglas, “Oliver, there is no winning in divorce…only degrees of losing!” warning him in response to his escalating contest with Kathleen Turner.  Michael Douglas has lost all reason and is caught up in an emotionally charged game of one upsmanship as if keeping score means something.

When a client tells me that it’s “the principle and I don’t care how much it costs”, I do a Danny DeVito with them.  Viewing divorce as a contest with winners and losers ends badly.  A better approach is to make a “risk analysis” perspective.  How much are you willing to risk to get even?  What costs are associated in doing it that way versus making a business-like decision? Choosing a scorched earth approach incurs huge attorney’s fees, court costs, possibly sanctions not to mention the emotional chaos.  The more issues you can resolve outside of court the better the outcome.   Remember, the Roses ended up swinging from the chandlier and not from partying.

Parental Alienation

Judges often say that while only 10% of their cases are high conflict custody they take up 90% of the court’s time.  High conflict custody cases are emotionally charged and complex proceedings.   My area of expertise are those 10% cases.   My psych education and work gives me an advantage because those high conflict cases generally involve psych issues.  Often one spouse, or both, will have a personality disorder or engage in parental alienation tactics. 

Parental alienation (PA) is a concept developed by Dr. Richard Gardner who coined the term Parental Alienation Syndrome.  It is a combination of parental programming and the child’s own contribution to the vilification of the targeted parent.  If you google parental alienation there’s a plethora of information on the subject too expansive to go into detail here.

 In PA cases, the alienating parent uses denigration, depreciation, and harsh criticism to destroy a child’s affection for the targeted parent.  The parents become polarized and the child is caught in the middle.  This is called “triangulation.”  Oftentimes the child will emotionally detach from the targeted parent and move towards the alienating parent.  The alignment is often out of emotional survival.

Time is the enemy of the targeted parent.  Unfortunately, the courts are bogged down and matters get delayed.  It is important to get an immediate order for a child custody evaluation with a court appointed psychologist.  Every court maintains a list of qualified experts that are appointed by the court to assess the parties and their children and to make recommendations to the court.

The other critical order to get is one for the appointment of a therapist for the child who is trained in and understands parental alienation.  Usually the court approved panel of experts will have the requisite training. 

Most importantly is coaching the targeted parent on how to respond to the child’s brainwashed statements or aggressive behavior.  Children who were once sweet and obedient may become depressed, angry, destructive or refuse to visit.  I advise my clients that under no circumstances can they denigrate or discuss the other parent’s tactics with the child because it only causes the child to defend the alienating parent and to align with him or her further.  There are specific techniques unique to the situation that need to be employed by the targeted parent.  I recommend individual counseling for the parent and reading books that explain the process to coach them through the experience. 

If the parent takes the high road, role models being a great parent and provides unconditional love, the child will be less likely to stay entrenched with the alienator.  Remember, the alienator’s relationship with their child is not founded in love, it’s conditioned on the child’s hatred of the targeted parent.  Over time a child generally will want to be with a loving, authentic parent and not be with an angry, denigrating one.  Denigration of a parent to a child is actually denigration of the child in his or her mind.  It’s emotionally abusive.

Published in: on January 23, 2010 at 3:54 am  Leave a Comment  
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Walking on Eggshells…Living With Abuse

The media’s coverage about the Rihanna and Chris Brown’s awards night argument and the more recent rumors of domestic violence surrounding the Tiger and Elin Woods “car accident” catapulted the subject of domestic violence onto our television screens.  And, in doing so might have inadvertently helped to further educate the public….somewhat.  In spite of the horrific murders that revealed a history of domestic violence in the OJ Simpson case,  public opinion naively harbors a simple notion that abuse is physical and it’s a man beating up on a woman. 

On the contrary.  In my practice I have represented both male and female victims.  There seem to be more women as victims than men because men are less likely to report abuse or even view themselves as victims. 

All forms of domestic abuse have one purpose: to gain and maintain total power and control over the victim.  The tactic used by an abuser to dominate their partner is the form of the abuse and it’s not limited to physical abuse. The tactics employed to gain and maintain the control go beyond physical and thus are  far more insidious.  Humiliation involving verbal denigration of the partner in private and public; isolation from work, friends and family; threats to take custody if the partner attempts to leave; financial dependence on the abuser; intimidation by making the partner afraid by using looks, actions or destroying property; making or carrying out threats in retribution; and minimizing by making light of the abuse;  denying or shifting responsibility for the behavior.  Because there is no physical sign like a bruise, these tactics are subtle and are viral until the abnormal becomes the norm.  Victims describe living this way as “walking on eggshells”.

Too often during a divorce the abuser has another arrow in his or her tactics quiver.  The court system.  There an abuser has a platform to voice his or her indignation.  There the abuser portrays him or herself as the true victim.  Accusations roll off the tongue and the victim looks like a deer caught in the headlights.  Or worse, the victim, who is most likely suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome, may seem hysterical and angry, ie: crazy.

Fortunately, our judiciary is well-educated about the psychological nuances of domestic violence.  The abuser’s passion play won’t result in a standing ovation.  Instead, it is viewed for what it is, an act.  I encourage individuals to change the way they are used to relating to their abuser.  That, and educating themselves by attending personal empowerment programs, getting counseling and reading books so they will begin to understand what has happened to them.  Recovery takes time, at least a year with those efforts.

Finally and most importantly I tell my clients that abuser is going to do what he or she is going to do regardless of the victim’s response or actions so they must stand up for themselves from the outset in court.  That step is their first on the road to recovery.  Victims of abuse are the strongest individuals I know because of their ability to survive.

As Lance Armstrong says, “live strong”.  I encourage you, be courageous. 

Published in: on January 7, 2010 at 1:53 am  Comments (1)  
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