August 2, 2015

Illinois Divorce: Factors to Consider in Deciding to Divorce

Excerpted from psychcentral.com: Are You Ready For Divorce? 7 Questions To Ask Yourself

" This article outlines what couples need to do to face the numerous dilemmas associated with divorce. But first, they must identify their unique dilemma. Couples facing the possibility of a divorce face one of these three dilemmas:

* I want the divorce but I am not sure if it is the right decision. Since going through a divorce impacts the lives of your children as well as your lifestyle, economics, and marital investment, the pressure to make the “perfectly correct” decision is enormous.

* I do not want the divorce but my spouse does. Being in this reactive place will leave you feeling out of control and helpless. You will experience intense emotional devastation as your life will be changing before your eyes without you having any say in the outcome. In addressing this dilemma, you need to ask yourself if you are clinging to familiar, safe ground and to a marriage based on illusions. It is not easy to acknowledge and confront the problems in a marriage, especially when you are feeling so hurt by your partner.

* I only want this divorce because my marriage is not working. There will be tremendous preoccupation and anger about how your partner caused you to make this decision. The amount of noise generated from this blaming will be in direct proportion to your unwillingness to risk expressing any of your own fears and sadness. If this doesn’t occur, the divorce proceedings to follow will be riddled with tension and conflict as well as a continuation of the blaming.

The common element in all three dilemmas is fear. Victims of the first dilemma fear making a mistake. Victims of the second dilemma fear their own attachment to the familiar. The third group of victims fear accountability and softness. All three result in divorces that are combative and drag on and on, sometimes for years on end." Credit: http://psychcentral.com/blog

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July 26, 2015

One Man's Story: Parental Alienation

This is one person's account of their life as a child victim of parental alienation, and the more positive outcome that arose as an adult.

July 20, 2015

Illinois Divorce: Parental Alienation Issues

From an interview with Dr. Amy Baker, PA expert:

" I must admit I am a bit disappointed in the comments so far on the WDET website in response to my interview. I hate to see the conversation devolve into a gender war when the research is so clear that both mothers and fathers can be alienators. I would prefer to see attention focused on prevention (education of custody evaluators about differentiating alienation from estrangement, training attorneys in proper handling of these cases, and so forth). There is so much to agree on! See http://wdet.org/posts/2015/07/17/81018-what-is-parental-alienation-syndrome/

..and my response to those commentators questioning Dr. Baker's approach:

Having had years of experience with PA cases, it's my impression that what underlies PAS is a mental health issue; a pathology that resides with the alienating parent. It can be a personality disorder, or some other constellation of disorders that causes the alienating parent to see the other parent in "black and white" terms, and to view the targeted parent as deserving of malicious retribution in the form of losing a relationship with their children.

Once we accept that underlying PA is a form of pathology, we can understand that its occurrence is gender neutral, as that it presents in both men and women. I have seen it present in both genders, and I cannot say whether innocent men are targeted disproportionately to innocent women.

As Dr. Baker points out, there is so much that can be agreed upon and acted upon, that we need not spend energy arguing about which gender is more abused in a PA case. The children are the victims, and the innocent parents as well victimized, regardless of gender.

July 14, 2015

Illinois Divorce: Parental Alienation

The case involving the Michigan judge that placed three children in juvenile hall as a punishment and coercive measure has been roundly criticized for using contempt proceedings, in what even the judge agreed is a longstanding Parental Alienation case. From a local Detroit newspaper account:

Three Bloomfield Hills kids who refused an order by a judge to go to lunch with their father have been ordered to a juvenile detention facility.The Tsimhoni family was in Oakland County's family court for a hearing on supervised parenting time when Judge Lisa Gorcyca took matters into her own hands.

June 24 court transcripts showed how upset the judge was. She ordered the Tsimhoni kids ages 14,10 and 9 to have a "healthy relationship" with their father. She criticized them for avoiding him and even compared them to Charles Manson and his cult. Gorcyca then ordered the children to apologize and have a nice lunch with their dad. When they refused, Gorcyca held them in contempt and had each child hauled off to Children's Village's juvenile hall - until they are 18 years old.

The judge in this case was angry, frustrated and without sufficient understanding of her options, when she jailed these children. Subsequently, as of this week, she has released them and ordered them to a Michigan summer camp, where their parents may visit them.

Parental Alienation cases are difficult for all involved. However, there have emerged in recent years clinical interventions that can be very successful in repairing estranged parent-child relationships. What may have been useful to this judge was an understanding that she could have ordered a clinical intervention, and used the power of the court to force compliance by the parents.

Jailing the children may only have played into the alienating parent's hands, and allowed the alienator to further blame the targeted parent for the jailing of the kids. Most PA cases, in my experience, involve an innocent targeted parent, and the pathological alienator. This Michigan case may be more complex. The fact that this case seems to involve many years of litigation between tw highly educated, wealthy parents, one of whom removed the kids to Israel at some point in the case, highlights what may be a high level of toxic behaviors between both parents, with the children the casualties of the war.


May 3, 2015

Divorce and Stress: The Path to a Less Stressful Divorce

As part of my law practice I am fairly heavily invested in the study of psychological issues in divorce, including issues such as personality disorders and the pathology of parental alienation. Included in my approach to the psychology of divorce is the study of how to make life changes less stressful and how to manage a divorce and custody case with tools to lessen the severe stresses that a contested divorce involves.

Reading an article from a prominent psychologist neuroscientist and author, the following observation was made:

“The stress of divorce is … equivalent to the stress of experiencing a car crash every day over six months.” Lyubomirsky, 2013, p. 15 of "What You May Not Know — Soundbytes from The Myths of Happiness," Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D.

Divorce certainly can be stressful. Whether a divorce approximates the trauma of a daily car crash, I am not sure, but in my practice, all efforts are made to make the process of divorce as manageable and as comfortable as possible. One means toward this goal is good preparation and coaching of my clients: so much anxiety can come from clients fearing the unknowns in the process. Another approach is to bring my experience from actively managing complex cases for over 20 years, using mediation, negotiation, and trial experience (when negotiation fails).

Finally, I do try to bring to bear my experience not just as a lawyer but as counsel: I counsel and coach my clients through the process to educate them and set appropriate goals and expectations. Finally, if a client needs clinical therapy, or the children are acting out or having troubles in the midst of change, I help them connect with therapists that can provide appropriate counseling and therapy for the client and the children.

A difficult divorce need not feel like a daily car crash. My job is to be an experienced vehicle for positive client outcomes and professional management of the case. Please contact me if you have questions or concerns about your family situation, and I will be happy to help lessen the stress of divorce for you.

April 27, 2015

DuPage Divorce: Grandparent Alienation

I have represented, along with alienated parents, the grandparents that have been kept out of the lives of their grandchildren. For many years, Illinois did not recognize the right of grandparents to assert a petition for Grandparent Visitation. Illinois, however, currently has a Grandparent visitation statute that permits, under certain circumstances, grandparents petitioning a court for the right to have visitation with their grandchildren.

Recognizing the seriousness of the issue, leading Parental Alienation expert and author Dr. Amy Baker has written on the issues concerning Grandparent Alienation:

" Grandparents can derive tremendous pleasure from relationships with grandchildren and suffer terrible pain and loss when those relationships are disrupted or prevented. As with alienation between a parent and child, alienation between a grandparent and grandchild represents a form of ambiguous loss in which the child is physically absent but very much alive in the heart and mind of the grieving grandparent. There is no closure because the child is still alive. That is the blessing and curse of alienation.
Estranged_grandmother_Thomas.jpg

Because the middle generation functions as a gatekeeper, they are the key. The alienated (or estranged) grandparent must try to repair that relationship in order to heal the psychic wound that is preventing that parent from allowing access to the grandchildren. However, it is essential to not treat that person as a means to an end. They will most likely sense that they are viewed merely as obstacles rather than as valued individuals. "

Cite: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/caught-between-parents/201504/alienated-grandparents

April 7, 2015

Kane County Divorce: Custody Forensics


My practice is devoted, in part, to complex custody litigation. I have always believed that to practice in this area at a high level, a focus, if not a passion, for clinical issues was required in order to best serve my clients and their children's best interests. For over a decade I have been a member of the American Psychological Association, and other professional associations focused on psychology and legal issues.

I was particularly pleased this year to be admitted by invitation and application to Forensic Forum. Forensic Forum is a select group of clinicians, judges and lawyers that meet via seminars, meetings and dinners to discuss developments in law and psychology affecting child custody and other related issues in the family court. Forensic Forum describes its mission this way:

" The purpose of this organization is to provide education, study, consultation and services to the legal and behavioral sciences professions and to the community; to establish dialogue among professionals involved with law and behavioral sciences; to explore ethical and legal issues at the interface of law and the mental health professions; and to enhance ethical practice at this interface. It is the mission of the Forensic Forum to offer informational services to the public and to the respective professions regarding optimal practice in the areas of behavioral sciences and the law."

My gratitude at being a part of Forensic Forum is surpassed only by my desire to learn from, and contribute to, the Forensic Forum's mission to enhance practice at the interface between family law and the psychological and psychiatric sciences.

March 4, 2015

Kane County Divorce: Approaches to Healing: the Unexpected Divorce

One aspect of my practice is helping my clients manage what can be one of the biggest traumas in life....an unexpected divorce. As a divorce and child custody attorney, I am not involved in the practice of therapy, but any experienced and dedicated lawyer in this filed understands that one has to be mindful of the traumas and difficulties our clients face in managing an unexpected divorce. Part of this caring and management involves coaching, support, caring, and, for some, a referral to a skilled clinician for therapy.

Canadian therapist Justice Schanfarber just published an interesting article on the healing process that can be undertaken when the trauma of a divorce arrives:

" The end of a relationship or marriage can feel like death. Grief is an appropriate response. This means anger, sadness, denial might all arise.

It’s visceral. Breathing is hard. You can’t sleep. For the person being left it can feel like the end of the world. You wonder if you’ll even survive. To say you’re hurt and confused or angry is too little. It feels much bigger; like everything has been turned upside down and shaken, like the ground has disappeared under your feet.

Along with negotiating urgent practical matters like finances, housing and parenting, you might also come face to face with abandonment, rejection and self-esteem issues, some of which may have been dormant and are arising for the first time.

This is a very, very tender spot to find yourself. It’s immensely uncomfortable. In my work as a counsellor I notice patterns and common tendencies in my clients. I’ve also identified opportunities and choice-points for moving forward in a healthy way. Here are five principles that can help –

1. Feel what you feel
Feelings aren’t negotiable. They can’t be wrong. They simply are. It’s important to feel what you feel. When we deny uncomfortable emotions they come back to haunt us, or they drive our behaviour from underneath consciousness, without our active consent. Rule of thumb – there’s no need to either encourage or deny feelings. Notice them, name them (“I feel sad”) and watch them change over time. Note – Anger is a feeling. Fear is a feeling. Sadness is a feeling. “S/He’s a control freak” isn’t a feeling. More on that later.

2. Take thoughtful action
We don’t necessarily choose our feelings, although we choose how we act on them. As much as noticing our feelings is important, it would be a mistake to act on them without consulting our rational, thinking self. The trouble is, when strong feelings are present we don’t have much access to the part of our brain that makes well-considered choices. Take some time. Let feelings settle before you make important decisions around child custody, financial agreements or emails to the inlaws. Breathe.

3. Get support, but not from your (ex)partner
The person who is leaving the relationship is almost certainly not the person to help you cope with the pain you feel. You might feel extremely needy or drawn to this person right now. Do not give in to the urge to seek comfort there, especially if it is not offered. If you are holding out hope for reconciliation, say so, but then get support elsewhere. Seeing you pick yourself up, brush yourself off and take support from others is the most attractive thing about you right now in your (ex)partner’s eyes. Turn to friends, family and community for support. Tell them what helps, and what doesn’t. Find a counsellor or therapist that you trust.

4. Stay open, even when it hurts
When we feel hurt and angry we look for an explanation. We want to understand. We assume we shouldn’t feel this way, that it’s a big problem. And so we search for a reason. The reason we find is almost always some version of I’m bad or They’re bad or The world is bad. What these three positions all offer is a way out of the confusion. Assigning cause (blame) does relieve some tension. The problem is that each of these three beliefs locks us into an adversarial relationship – with self, with other, or with reality (the world). I’m not saying that your relationship ending wasn’t caused by you or them or the unfairness of the world. But getting too fixated on any of those causes makes you rigid and closed to possibilities that might be just around the corner.

5. Help others
This piece of advice was given to me by a friend over a decade ago when a relationship was ending and I was in deep pain. His simple and wise words led me to the act of writing this for you now. Helping others gets us out of our own head and puts us in direct contact with the universal experience of suffering. Everybody hurts. Help someone. Share their pain, and feel your own soften. "

February 27, 2015

I reviewed an interesting article this morning on men, and how men fare in society in light of divorce and changing roles in life in a man's middle aged years.

Divorce is difficult and traumatic for both men and women, but it seems some women have a resiliency that allows them to move forward in life more successfully than men, generally. The article points out that women traditionally have been better suited to forming relationships with other people, and have certain social skillsets that many men lack in middle age.

lost-man-1_3213898b.jpg

Further, the majority of women in divorce are awarded the residential custody of children, leaving some fathers in middle age without a household of children to wake up to, without a partner to look after, and without the funds to explore other activities.

Are there solutions to the post-divorce middle age crisis for men? Terry Real, a psychologist and the author of How Can I Get Through to You? Reconnecting Men and Women, thinks the time has come for men to readjust their sights. Our culture’s masculine code, he says, dictates that “men don’t need relationships, men don’t need to be connected, men don’t need to be heartfelt”.

The answer, Real says, is to understand and then reject that old, outdated part of the masculine code, which gave a sense of entitlement, a sense that men can “go home, rip open our belts, pop open a beer, belch and be loved. We just don’t get away with that anymore.”

The answer may be that men need, during the process of divorce, to be coached and educated on how to navigate the world post-divorce. How to set expectations, and to re-engineer one's outlook on life. As one person in the article described, it's going to take more changing than merely buying a Harley-Davidson. The change needs to come from within, and thankfully, the resources and coaching exist to help men survive divorce in those middle aged years.

February 16, 2015

Illinois Divorce Lawyer: Abuse and Neglect: Healing

In my work in Divorce and Custody Law, I have been involved, as well, with a number of Abuse and Neglect cases in Juvenile Court. Some of these cases arise out of an initial divorce filing, and a finding is made that there is active abuse or neglect occurring within a family environment. My law school alma mater, the University of San Diego, conducted a study that examined the efficacy of law intended to protect abused and neglected children.

From the study:

" Laws intended to protect children from abuse and neglect are not being properly enforced, and the federal government is to blame. That's according to a study by the Children's Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law, which says children are suffering as a result.

The numbers are grim. Almost 680,000 children in the United States were the victims of abuse and neglect in 2013. "

In my practice, identifying and remedying abuse or neglect situations is a first priority. I also feel it is important to be a resource for treating clinicians that can help families and children recover from abuse, as well as adapt to a changed family structure as a result of divorce, or abuse. Modern science now understands that a history of childhood abuse is not a neurological or psychological "sentence." The brain has an amazing plasticity, meaning that it can be trained to respond in more healthy patterns even when a patient presents with PTSD, anxiety and/or depression.

Bessel van der Kolk MD has written anew book that addresses this issue, and illustrates new body based protocols to address PTSD. Dr. van der Kolk shows how these stress damaged brain areas can be reactivated through innovative treatments including neurofeedback, mindfulness techniques, play, yoga, and other therapies. Based on Dr. van der Kolk’s own research and that of other leading specialists, The Body Keeps the Score offers proven alternatives to drugs and talk therapy—and a way to reclaim lives:

" It's about becoming safe to feel what you feel. When you're traumatized you're afraid of what you're feeling, because your feeling is always terror, or fear or helplessness. I think these body-based techniques help you to feel what's happening in your body, and to breathe into it and not run away from it. So you learn to befriend your experience."

January 9, 2015

As part of my law practice, I track interesting articles relating to BPD and NPD. My clients are often benefited by having some coaching about these disorders and the best strategies for dealing with high conflict and toxic spouses. Here's one article today from PsychCentral of interest:

How are Complex Trauma and Borderline Personality Disorder Related?
By Sara Staggs, LCSW, MPH

" I’ll admit that when I hear that a client has borderline personality disorder (BPD), my first thought is, “Oh, this person is a trauma survivor of some sort.” And while not all people with poor emotion management, impulsive and destructive actions, intense fear of abandonment and an unstable self image have a history of complex trauma, it gets me to a non-judgmental place where I’m able to be very open to hearing someone’s story. And people can sense when you approach them with the assumption that they are very strong and are doing the best they can, as opposed some other attitude.

Some therapists won’t work with people who have borderline traits because many of the symptoms can be high maintenance for a therapist to deal with, especially if they aren’t prepared. Specifically, working with clients who self-harm, have intense mood swings, and are impulsive are not things that all therapists are equipped to deal with. Personally, I find clients who have these traits highly engaged and I usually enjoy working with them. When a clinician says “I don’t work with borderline patients,” they’re also saying they cannot work with people who have complex trauma. Because while the population isn’t the same, there is too much overlap to consider them completely separate populations.

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) was developed by Marsha Linehan as a treatment for borderline personality disorder. Borderline personality disorder occurs much more often in people who have a history of childhood trauma, particularly sexual abuse and incest, and many people, including Marsha Linehan, believe that BPD is caused by attachment trauma. Attachment trauma and complex trauma both include symptoms of disruptions of trust and attachment, difficult with emotion regulation, numbing and dissociation.

DBT addresses four areas:

emotion regulation
distress tolerance
interpersonal effectiveness
mindfulness

Trauma therapy aficionados will notice that there is no processing component, so DBT works best as a phase 1 treatment: establishing emotional and physical safety, and building up coping skills. " http://blogs.psychcentral.com/after-trauma/2015/01/how-are-complex-trauma-and-borderline-personality-disorder-related/

December 22, 2014

Divorce Loneliness during the Holidays: 10 Ways to Help

I have written in the past during the holidays on the subject of creating new traditions; the idea is that during or after divorce, creating new activities and places to celebrate the holidays with yourself and the children, versus lamenting the loss of past traditions. Trading lamentation for adventure takes work, just as working oneself out of a sense of post-divorce loneliness during the holidays takes effort. I found this article on PsychCentral today on 10 ways to combat the sense of loneliness...this article may be particularly useful during these holiday periods for people going through a divorce or separation.

" Have you ever been lonely in a crowd? Have you ever been perfectly content all alone? Me too. And I have also suffered from loneliness.

Loneliness is a complex mental and emotional phenomenon that has at its base a powerful emotion that has survival value for children. All of us have experienced some degree of abandonment, if only for a short time, and remember the painful and scary feeling that goes along with it.

Whenever we are reminded of this feeling or anticipate it in the future, we get a twinge of abandonment distress that we experience as loneliness. This can happen among a crowd of friends or even after making love. It can be pretty confusing and can put you off your game if you don’t know what’s going on.

Here are some tips for recognizing loneliness for what it is and dealing with it in the healthiest ways.

1. Realize that loneliness is a feeling, not a fact. When you are feeling lonely, it is because something has triggered a memory of that feeling, not because you are in fact, isolated and alone. The brain is designed to pay attention to pain and danger, and that includes painful scary feelings; therefore loneliness gets our attention.

But then the brain tries to make sense of the feeling. Why am I feeling this way? Is it because nobody loves me? Because I am a loser? Because they are all mean? Theories about why you are feeling lonely can become confused with facts. Then it becomes a bigger problem so just realize that you are having this feeling and accept it without over reacting.

2. Reach out because loneliness is painful and can confuse you into thinking that you are a loser, an outcast. You might react by withdrawing into yourself, your thoughts, and your lonely feelings and this is not helpful. At its best, anticipation of loneliness might motivate us to reach out and cultivate friendships, which is the healthiest thing to do if you are sad and alone. When you are a child, and your sadness causes you to cry, you may evoke a comforting response from others. If you’re an adult, not so much.

3. Notice your self deflating thoughts. We often create self centered stories to explain our feelings when we are young, it is not unusual for children to assume that there is something wrong with them if they are not happy. If they are lonely and sad, children may assume other people don’t like them when this is rarely the case.

Victims of bullying may well have fans and friends, but they often aren’t aware of it because the shame and loneliness get more attention. Habitual assumptions about social status continue into adulthood and if you are looking for evidence that the world sucks, you can always find it.

4. Make a plan to fight the mental and emotional habits of loneliness. If you realize you are dealing with an emotional habit, you can make a plan to deal with loneliness. Since healthy interaction with friends is good, make some effort to reach out to others, to initiate conversation and face time even when your loneliness and depression are telling you not to. Yes, it is work, but it is worthwhile, just like exercising is worthwhile even when you are feeling tired or lazy.

5. Focus on the needs and feelings of others, the less attention on your lonely thoughts and feelings. I can walk down the street thinking about myself, my loneliness and the hopelessness of it all, staring at the sidewalk and sighing to myself. Or I can walk down the street grateful for the diversity of people I get to share the sidewalk with, silently wishing them good health and good fortune, and smiling at each person I meet. The latter is more fun, even though I sometimes have to remind myself to do it on purpose.

6. Find others like you. Now days there are more tools than ever before to find out where the knitters, hikers or kiteboarders are congregating so that you can get together with those who share your interests. This makes it much easier to identify groups with which you will have something in common, a natural basis for beginning a friendship.

7. Always show up when meeting up with others. You don’t have to run for president of the knitters society at your first meeting. But you do have to show up. I have been telling others to practice yoga for 20 years and promising I would do it myself for just as long, but except for the occasional coincidental yoga offering at a retreat, I didn’t take the trouble of finding a class I could attend regularly until a month ago. Now I am enjoying it and it wasn’t that hard. I have put a reminder in my phone to resign from the procrastinator’s society.

8. Be curious, but don’t expect perfection or applause. Each time you show up is an experiment, a micro adventure in social bonding. If you are curious about and interested in others, they will be attracted to you because you are giving them attention. So you will get attention in return. Curiosity about others also takes your focus away from those painful feelings that tend to make you hide and sulk.

9. Kindness goes a long way. “There’s nobody here but us chickens.” This is one of my favorite lines from The Lazy Man’s Guide to Enlightenment by Thaddeus Golas. Underneath the impressive facades of the high fliers are the same set of emotions we all are born with. Celebrities suffer from stage fright and depression too.

You have the power to offer loving kindness and generosity of spirit to all you come into contact with. It isn’t instinctual to be kind to strangers or people who scare you. But it is a choice. It is a choice that Jesus and Ghandi used intentionally. And in the long run it is a winning choice. The alternative, being mean or stingy with those you don’t know well, can get you a reputation as a Scrooge.

10. Be persistent even if a particular group does seem to be a dead end for you, try another. AA and AlAnon recommend that everyone try six different groups to find one that suits you best. If you are persistent, challenging the assumptions and feelings that tell you to give up and resign yourself to a life of loneliness, and showing up and being curious and kind to others and more and more groups, the odds are in your favor.

And once you have a friend or two, nourish those friendships with time and attention. Don’t be too cautious about whether you are giving more than you are getting at first. If you make more friends and some of them are takers, you can choose to spend more time with the friends who reward your friendship.

Credit: Brock Hansen, LCSW – Visit his website at Change-for-Good.org