Articles Posted in Clinical Issues in Divorce

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When a child is resistant to seeing a parent, the reasons can be reduced to two basic phenomena: alienation or estrangement. Alienation refers to a child’s resistance or refusal to see a once loved parent, typically within the context of divorce or post divorce. In the case of “Estrangement” it is that parent’s own actions that have caused the child to not want to be with that parent.

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I have included below most of the text of the amended Illinois SB 4113, which seeks to establish a rebuttable presumption that an award of equal parenting time to each parent is in the best interests of the minor child(ren) in a divorce case.

For many years, my firm has represented Fathers in complex child custody cases, and in many cases  my Dad clients were rightfully awarded the primary custody of their children.  I have fought vigorously to level the playing field for my Dad clients through the years, some who faced false allegations, false OPs and other challenges in their divorce cases. These cases can be battles, but with the right strategy and management, the right decisions can be reached in these cases. Equally so, I have fought for women, in their own custody cases, some facing false allegations of parental alienation from a narcissistic husband.  My goal has always been to develop strategies for both my male and female clients to combat parental alienation, false allegations, and to create outcomes that serve both my clients and the true best interests of the children.

So with SB 4113, the question becomes whether this legislation will, in and of itself, create that level playing field for parents?  I note that many of the more vocal Bar associations have opposed this bill, and I can say that some judges with whom I have discussed this do not favor the bill. But, the idea of such a bill has a lot of favor, especially with men and women who, for too long, have been impacted by a legal system that oftentimes does not serve the best interests of children fully.  Will SB 4113 create that foundation so that the court is required to factor in a presumptive 50/50 allocation of time to both parents?  I am hopeful that SB 4113 perhaps undergoes some revisions that might make its passage more palatable.  I note that a 50/50 presumption is a satisfying idea, but that in many cases, many judges and clinicians do not believe that a 50/50 time allocation is appropriate in most circumstances and with most families.  An equalization of time is beneficial where the parents live proximate to each other, where the parents both share positive parenting traits, work schedules can accommodate 50/50 time, the age and circumstances of the kids favor shared time, and myriad other factors that can benefit a true shared parenting environment.  I believe that a shared parenting bill could be written that might be more dense, more detailed and more fleshed out that might give a solid and detail-rich shared parenting bill a real likelihood of passage.

I believe in and support shared parenting, in those cases where it is the right thing to do for both parents and kids.  In cases where there is negative parenting, parental alienation, and/or domestic violence or psychopathology, I also believe in rooting out these pathologies and restricting parents that harm kids and the other parent.

SB 4113 now moves on to the full house for consideration, and it will be interesting to see whether it reaches the desk of the Governor for signature in its present form.

 

AMENDMENT TO HOUSE BILL 4113
2     AMENDMENT NO. ______. Amend House Bill 4113 by replacing
3 line 18 on page 7 through line 11 on page 11 with the
4 following:
5     "(750 ILCS 5/602.7)
6     Sec. 602.7. Allocation of parental responsibilities:
7 parenting time.
8     (a) Allocation of parenting time. Best interests. The court
9 shall allocate parenting time according to the child's best
10 interests. Unless the parents present a mutually agreed written
11 parenting plan and that plan is approved by the court, the
12 court shall allocate parenting time. There is a rebuttable
13 presumption that it is in the child's best interests to award
14 equal time to each parent. In determining the child's best
15 interests for purposes of allocating parenting time, the court
16 shall consider all relevant factors, including, without
17 limitation, the following:
 

 

10000HB4113ham002 – 2 – LRB100 14598 HEP 38212 a
1         (1) the wishes of each parent seeking parenting time;
2         (2) the wishes of the child, taking into account the
3     child's maturity and ability to express reasoned and
4     independent preferences as to parenting time;
5         (3) the amount of time each parent spent performing
6     caretaking functions with respect to the child in the 24
7     months preceding the filing of any petition for allocation
8     of parental responsibilities or, if the child is under 2
9     years of age, since the child's birth;
10         (4) any prior agreement or course of conduct between
11     the parents relating to caretaking functions with respect
12     to the child;
13         (5) the interaction and interrelationship of the child
14     with his or her parents and siblings and with any other
15     person who may significantly affect the child's best
16     interests;
17         (6) the child's adjustment to his or her home, school,
18     and community;
19         (7) the mental and physical health of all individuals
20     involved;
21         (8) the child's needs;
22         (9) the distance between the parents' residences, the
23     cost and difficulty of transporting the child, each
24     parent's and the child's daily schedules, and the ability
25     of the parents to cooperate in the arrangement;
26         (10) whether a restriction on parenting time is
 

 

10000HB4113ham002 – 3 – LRB100 14598 HEP 38212 a
1     appropriate;
2         (11) the physical violence or threat of physical
3     violence by the child's parent directed against the child
4     or other member of the child's household;
5         (12) the willingness and ability of each parent to
6     place the needs of the child ahead of his or her own needs;
7         (13) the willingness and ability of each parent to
8     facilitate and encourage a close and continuing
9     relationship between the other parent and the child;
10         (14) the occurrence of abuse against the child or other
11     member of the child's household;
12         (15) whether one of the parents is a convicted sex
13     offender or lives with a convicted sex offender and, if so,
14     the exact nature of the offense and what if any treatment
15     the offender has successfully participated in; the parties
16     are entitled to a hearing on the issues raised in this
17     paragraph (15);
18         (16) the terms of a parent's military family-care plan
19     that a parent must complete before deployment if a parent
20     is a member of the United States Armed Forces who is being
21     deployed; and
22         (17) any other factor that the court expressly finds to
23     be relevant.
24     If the court deviates from the presumption contained in
25 this subsection, the court shall issue a written decision
26 stating its specific findings of fact and conclusions of law in
 

 

10000HB4113ham002 – 4 – LRB100 14598 HEP 38212 a
1 support of the deviation from the presumption.
2     (b) Restrictions Allocation of parenting time. Unless the
3 parents present a mutually agreed written parenting plan and
4 that plan is approved by the court, the court shall allocate
5 parenting time. It is presumed both parents are fit and the
6 court shall not place any restrictions on parenting time as
7 defined in Section 600 and described in Section 603.10, unless
8 it finds by a preponderance of the evidence that a parent's
9 exercise of parenting time would seriously endanger the child's
10 physical, mental, moral, or emotional health. If the court
11 deviates from the presumption contained in this subsection, the
12 court shall issue a written decision stating its specific
13 findings of fact and conclusions of law in support of the
14 deviation from the presumption
15     In determining the child's best interests for purposes of
16 allocating parenting time, the court shall consider all
17 relevant factors, including, without limitation, the
18 following:
19         (1) the wishes of each parent seeking parenting time;
20         (2) the wishes of the child, taking into account the
21     child's maturity and ability to express reasoned and
22     independent preferences as to parenting time;
23         (3) the amount of time each parent spent performing
24     caretaking functions with respect to the child in the 24
25     months preceding the filing of any petition for allocation
26     of parental responsibilities or, if the child is under 2
 

 

10000HB4113ham002 – 5 – LRB100 14598 HEP 38212 a
1     years of age, since the child's birth;
2         (4) any prior agreement or course of conduct between
3     the parents relating to caretaking functions with respect
4     to the child;
5         (5) the interaction and interrelationship of the child
6     with his or her parents and siblings and with any other
7     person who may significantly affect the child's best
8     interests;
9         (6) the child's adjustment to his or her home, school,
10     and community;
11         (7) the mental and physical health of all individuals
12     involved;
13         (8) the child's needs;
14         (9) the distance between the parents' residences, the
15     cost and difficulty of transporting the child, each
16     parent's and the child's daily schedules, and the ability
17     of the parents to cooperate in the arrangement;
18         (10) whether a restriction on parenting time is
19     appropriate;
20         (11) the physical violence or threat of physical
21     violence by the child's parent directed against the child
22     or other member of the child's household;
23         (12) the willingness and ability of each parent to
24     place the needs of the child ahead of his or her own needs;
25         (13) the willingness and ability of each parent to
26     facilitate and encourage a close and continuing
 

 

10000HB4113ham002 – 6 – LRB100 14598 HEP 38212 a
1     relationship between the other parent and the child;
2         (14) the occurrence of abuse against the child or other
3     member of the child's household;
4         (15) whether one of the parents is a convicted sex
5     offender or lives with a convicted sex offender and, if so,
6     the exact nature of the offense and what if any treatment
7     the offender has successfully participated in; the parties
8     are entitled to a hearing on the issues raised in this
9     paragraph (15);
10         (16) the terms of a parent's military family-care plan
11     that a parent must complete before deployment if a parent
12     is a member of the United States Armed Forces who is being
13     deployed; and
14         (17) any other factor that the court expressly finds to
15     be relevant.
16     (c) In allocating parenting time, the court shall not
17 consider conduct of a parent that does not affect that parent's
18 relationship to the child.
19     
14 on page 16, by replacing lines 19 and 20 with the following:
15     "(a) After a hearing, if the court finds by a preponderance
16 of the evidence that a parent"; and
17 on page 18, lines 8 and 9, by changing "clear and convincing a
18 preponderance of the" to "a preponderance of the".
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The Illinois legislature is considering now a Shared Parenting bill that would create a legal presumption that shared child custody and parenting would be the “presumed” status for divorcing parents, absent a showing that such shared parenting is not appropriate.  I have had a chance to discuss this bill with some of the judges with whom I appear before (it’s not unusual for experienced lawyers and judges to talk about important issues in private settings, without discussing specific cases).  I’d say that the majority do not support presumptive shared parenting, insofar as the limitations created by such a bill would be problematic in ways that are discussed in the article, below.

The other side of the coin with this issue is that, in my experience, without  “push” from the legislature, many judges still consider some parents as “visitors” in their children’s lives and resort to recommending parenting schedules that are anachronistic, and akin to the “standard order” visitation schedules that were common in the last century in many Illinois counties.

In my practice, my approach and view is that every family system is different, and there is no “one size fits all” approach that works for a parenting plan after divorce.  Many myriad factors need to be evaluated and considered, with the aim of providing the children with the best possible developmental outcome from the divorce of their parents.  For good and loving parents, the children should have substantial contact with both parents; the clinical research supports this idea.  For parents with deficits, or histories of personality disorders, substance abuse, or violence, or traits as parental alienators… the standard is very different, and the parenting plan needs to address these problematic issues, too.

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From time to time, interesting questions are posted on some forums that discuss divorce, and especially divorce when dealing with soon-to-be ex spouses, and ex-spouses, that are poor parents, or a persons with pathologies like narcissism. Here is one recent question posed by a parent, with some suggestions:

 3am my 4 year old woke up and had terrible croup. Couldn’t breathe and was hysterical. Of course STB ex sleeps until I started talking loudly enough…we ended up at the ER. He is fine but I can’t conceptualize ever leaving my son overnight in my STB ex’s care overnight. He is clueless and a total sociopath narcissist. How do you wrap your brain around the notion of leaving your little ones when the other parent is not competent?

When a healthy spouse is in a marriage with a narcissist, for example, or even just an incompetent or selfish parent, the healthy parent ends up doing 99.9 percent of the caregiving, including monitoring and medicating the children when they are ill. However, once the separation of the spouses is complete, the caregiver spouse is no longer present to be the caregiver and decision maker, the buffer for conflict, and the guarantor that the kids are well cared for when they are ill.

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Spouses with NPD can be toxic to live with. One aspect of life with a narcissist is the emotional abuse that accompanies being in a relationship with NPD. In the following article, Dr. Jeanne King, Ph.D discusses a scenario with a partner with NPD, and the emotional damage that these interactions cause.

” Have you ever noticed how some people will throw a deaf ear at your plea for change and your cry for help…just because. And then, the more you speak, the less you are heard. It’s as though they want you to believe that no matter how you ask what you seek, it will not be forth coming…just because.

Take Andy and Rebecca, for example. Andy has a habit of engaging restaurant servers into conversations about matters unrelated to the meal at hand. On this one evening, he was chatting with Rebecca in a back and forth banter over a recent physical assault/encounter of theirs.

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I have been a member of the APA for many years, and benefit tremendously from the APA’s publications, research papers, and educational materials, such as the podcast below. Children involved in a divorce do tend to experience worry, anxiety, and some depression, and these symptoms and illnesses are often situational, and not long lasting. Other children can be affected by anxiety disorders that are more chronic, more severe, and require proactive treatment.

Podcast: Anxiety Disorders in Children

Fear and anxiety are part of most normal children’s lives. But how do we know when anxiety is a problem in need of professional help? In this episode, Golda Ginsburg, PhD, talks about how to recognize the signs of an anxiety disorder in your child and what are the most effective, evidence-based treatments.

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In my law practice, a divorce with a narcissist involves unique issues and challenges. Many toxic narcissists, in divorce, use emotional abuse to denigrate and control their partners, and are notoriously difficult in the case to achieve settlement with, even on minor issues. In my view, boundaries need to be set with narcissists in the case, and I have years of experience understanding these traits of NPD in divorce and custody cases, as well as managing NPD personalities in the litigation. Again, boundaries are critical, as well as establishing control over the NPD in the case. In other words, I try to disempower the NPD, and then empower my clients, many of whom no longer feel they have any power or voice in the relationship.

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Relationships require give and take. They are built on mutual respect, love, trust, and compassion. When you are in a relationship with a narcissist, those components often cease to exist after a short period of time. Narcissistic people are not empathetic. They aren’t willing to hold another up the ladder of success. They need complete attention and expect their partner to put them up on a pedestal.

In a case study by Susan Heitler, Phd called Narcissism: A Redefinition and Case Study of Treatment, she points out the conflict-focus in couples therapy and how narcissistic personality disorder affects relationships. In her findings she lists,

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PsychCentral has an interesting summary for one of the more pervasive forms of personality disorder that some people face in a marriage or divorce, and yet this form of Personality Disorder is not well understood. There is a significant comorbidity ( co-existence) with other personality disorders. This personality disorder/trait exists in about 2.5 percent of the population, and like NPD and BPD, and the toxic behaviors can be aggravated by a marriage that is failing, or with a divorce. My firm has been dedicated for many years to a) understanding these traits and toxic behaviors, and b) managing them within the context of divorce and custody litigation.

” People with paranoid personality disorder are generally characterized by having a long-standing pattern of pervasive distrust and suspiciousness of others.  A person with paranoid personality disorder will nearly always believe that other people’s motives are suspect or even malevolent.

Individuals with this disorder assume that other people will exploit, harm, or deceive them, even if no evidence exists to support this expectation. While it is fairly normal for everyone to have some degree of paranoia about certain situations in their lives (such as worry about an impending set of layoffs at work), people with paranoid personality disorder take this to an extreme — it pervades virtually every professional and  personal relationship they have.

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I have always been comfortable meeting with people in broken marriages at any time of stage of the marriage breakdown. Many people know they are ready to end a marriage once they make that first step to talk to an experienced divorce lawyer for advice and strategy. However, some people with a ‘dependent personality’ arguably stay in bad marriages far too long, and can sometimes become victimized by a marriage partner that is controlling or abusive. Many people with these dependent traits are very good and kind people, who simply do not have a good sense of healthy boundaries. One of my goals is to help coach good people in difficult or abusive situations, and engineer a better life for them and their children.

Here is a fine article on what 9 things people with these traits tend to do:

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There is a temptation in relationship dependency to focus on the relationship itself. But the key to knowing how susceptible you are to relationship dependency is to focus on your part of the equation. You need to ask yourself, “Do I have a dependent personality, or do I tend to display dependent personality traits?” If you do, then it is likely those traits will show up in your relationships.

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Being in a marriage with a narcissist can be extremely challenging, and a number of my clients have exhibited symptoms of a post-traumatic stress disorder after years of living with a partner with narcissistic traits. My firm’s practice has a focus on divorce and custody issues for clients separating and divorcing a person with toxic narcissism. Dr. Johnson’s article, below, highlights some aspects of this pathology.

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Psychologist Stephen Johnson writes that the narcissist is someone who has “buried his true self-expression in response to early injuries and replaced it with a highly developed, compensatory false self.” This alternate persona to the real self often comes across as grandiose, “above others,” self-absorbed, and highly conceited. In our highly individualistic and externally driven society, mild to severe forms of narcissism are not only pervasive but often encouraged.

Narcissism is often interpreted in popular culture as a person who’s in love with him or herself. It is more accurate to characterize the pathological narcissist as someone who’s in love with an idealized self-image, which they project in order to avoid feeling (and being seen as) the real, disenfranchised, wounded self. Deep down, most pathological narcissists feel like the “ugly duckling,” even if they painfully don’t want to admit it.