Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Can We Afford High Conflict Divorces in 2009?

According to news reports, on December 24, 2008, Bruce Pardo dressed up as Santa Claus and killed his soon-to-be ex-wife, her parents, and six other people at her parents’ home outside of Los Angeles while they were enjoying a Christmas family gathering, then killed himself. A week earlier, Pardo and his wife were at court where they signed a court-form settlement agreement, which included terms that he pay her $10,000 the next day. Apparently he was unemployed since July 2008, was desperately seeking work, and had difficulty making spousal support payments (although they were waived in the final lump sum settlement). His neighbors, a new girlfriend, and members of his church reported that he was a friendly, cheerful man. However, the divorce was described as bitter. She got the dog he loved and the wedding ring he wanted back.
Most divorces don’t end this way. But in 2006, a survey of 131 family law attorneys in San Diego County showed that during their careers approximately half experienced having a client or opposing party seriously injured or killed. And in 2003, a few blocks from my home, a father killed his 14-year-old son and then himself, after being served with a restraining order after many years of an acrimonious custody dispute. He was also unemployed for much of the previous year.
In 2009, I am concerned that we are facing many stressors as a society: growing unemployment, growing home foreclosures, many troops returning from overseas with post-traumatic stress disorder, and more high conflict divorces. What is to be done?
This past year I attended a seminar on preventing youth mass murder, such as school shootings, shopping malls, etc. The presenter, James Garbardino, made a very powerful statement. He said that they can’t predict exactly who will commit a mass murder, but they have identified several factors that place a youth at high risk. Perhaps the key factor is whether there is at least one adult in the youth’s life who really cares about him – has a secure bond with him. This is a highly protective factor even for those who have many other risk factors. Having someone with a secure bond really seems to matter.
When people go through a divorce, some lose the most secure bond that they ever had – especially if they had an insecure childhood. This is no small event, even if it can be summed up in brief court papers to sound like a minor event. Add to that: loss of close contact with children and important relatives, loss of your income, loss of your house, and even loss of a beloved pet. Who can you turn to?
Current research shows that about 20% of the U.S. population meets the criteria for a personality disorder. And personality disorders are often “attachment” disorders – the result of insecure early childhood attachment. For those with these disorders, finding a secure bond with someone in adult life is much harder and the loss of this bond is much more devastating than it is for the average person.
So, where am I headed with all of this? I think there’s hope and opportunity for changing our divorce culture. Over the past several months, Megan Hunter and I and several others have been discussing a new approach to Family Court disputes over children, called “New Ways for Families,” a 3-Step method for making decisions about parenting without becoming a high conflict court case. This method includes a relationship with a confidential counselor for six weeks, followed by three sessions of Parent-Child Counseling, followed by family (or court) decision-making. New Ways for Families is designed to immunize families from becoming high conflict. For more information, see our website Home Page.
Perhaps this secure bond approach can reduce the trauma of divorce and protect children from being at the center of a high conflict case – and protect them from developing personality disorders themselves. Recently, family courts have been told to be less adversarial and attorneys have been told be more civil. Let’s start out the New Year giving people hope, rather than taking it away.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for trying to help so many people with your efforts. You are a truly insightful and well-intentioned person. However, I fear that your efforts are too late.

What Bruce Pardo did was obviously the act of a desperate and messed up person. Shooting an eight year old child in the face is outrageous unless the child was a lethal threat that could not be handled in any other way. This was not the case.

Bruce Pardo likely was driven to his destructive behaviors by being ruined by an out of control family law system that is bent on ruining the victims of legally and perhaps otherwise abusive litigants, especially if the abusers are women. Unfortunately, since nobody seems to be going into depth on what really happened in that divorce court, perhaps we will never know exactly what drove the guy over the edge.

What is so bad about violence?

Our society routinely supports violence. It justifies it as necessary to deal with evil.

Violence is said to be bad when it is unjust and harms innocents. However, the family law system in this nation is so malevolent and unjust and far from innocent that it increasingly deserves a violent response.

Nothing else has worked to fix this system. It is so bad that if it were imposed upon our society by an outside force, it would likely be deemed an act of war.

Thomas Jefferson said that a revolution now and then is a good thing. The Second Amendment embodies the right of citizens to bear arms. It appears the intent was at least in part to protect themselves from a government that has gone out of control and victimizes the population.

We have precisely that situation today. Men, particularly fathers, in family law courts are routinely destroyed with no just cause. Their children are taught to hate them, their lives are ruined, and they are falsely labeled as child abusers and spousal batterers or worse. Then they are turned into slaves of their abusive ex-spouses under penalty of arrest and incarceration.

How else but escapism (leading to the so-called "deadbeat dads") or violence do you expect somebody to respond to being kicked out of his home and banned from seeing his children without even an opportunity for defense, falsely labeled a batterer and child abuser, having his assets and income forcibly stripped away to make "child support" and "spousal support" payments with little left to live on precisely when he has nowhere to live after being kicked out, being vilified to his children by the mentally ill witch who started the divorce with lies, seeing the children only under supervised visitation conditions at the cost of thousands of dollars per month for months or years, and all of this with no evidence that he ever did anything wrong?

The above is a common scenario in the "family law courts" of this country.

If a terrorist or foreign soldier did even one quarter of these things to you personally, do you think anybody would blame you if you shot the person dead? No, they would not. Yet the people in the divorce industry routinely commit these cruel, inhumane, and unjust acts upon their victims.

There is no due process in the United States. We do not have the rule of law here. We have the rules of lies. Family law courts routinely violate the concept of innocent until proven guilty and that judicial decisions are to be impartial and based upon facts. Perjury is rewarded regularly by family law judges. They claim that they can do nothing to stop perjury because it would be too onerous to prosecute it. So many abused men are shut out of their children's lives, lose everything financially, go to jail, or worse. Sometimes it's an unlucky woman who has this happen, but largely this system is biased in favor of women and especially in favor of women who are duplicitous liars.

For all practical purposes, our society has Borderline Personality Disorder. It splits people into "all good" and "all bad" categories largely based upon irrelevant and arbitrary factors such as gender, believes in lies and dishonesty and uses them to manipulate others to gain control over them, rewards dishonesty, ignores perjury, practices malevolent ruination of others based upon lies on a daily basis, has emotional outbursts like tossing people in jail for waving at their children, and is resistant to all attempts to change its behaviors for the better.

When you look at what the evil "family law" system does to people, especially to fathers, it is surprising that there isn't more violence.

There are a huge number of family law cases which call for violent responses, but violence against the ex is not the right avenue. What is called for is violence against the courts, dishonest and "negative advocate" lawyers, and government. The ex is often a mentally ill mess from being abused as a child. She wouldn't be able to create such widespread disaster if the courts, dishonest and negative advocate lawyers, and government were not for all intents and purposes conspiring with her to destroy her target, her former husband. The ex will harm at most several children and spouses. Her co-conspirators will harm thousands or more.

Perhaps what you noted about your poll of legal colleagues finding that half of them have had a client or opposing litigant seriously injured or killed due to family law litigation really is a sign that people are being much more civil that the circumstances would suggest they be.

Without violence or at least a threat of severe widespread destruction of those invested in the "divorce industry", this system is never going to be fixed.

Without increasing violence to the point that legislators, judges, lawyers, government agents, and others who are involved in this sick family law system start to fear their own death at the hands of the hundreds of thousands or millions of people whose lives they have unjustly ruined, what is going to motivate anything to change?

I submit to you that this system is so bad that the escapism of the so-called deadbeat dads is no longer the ethical option. Political activism has been tried, but is going nowhere. It also often backfires on the victims of this sick system.

Unless there is immediate and meaningful reform, it is now time for armed warfare to strike down the family law system and all who support the way it operates today.

There are some basic changes required:

1) Family law courts must punish perjury. They must seek it out and punish for it. The same goes for contempt of court. Litigants who are being abused to the edge of personal destruction do not have the resources to defend themselves. If the courts reward perjury and contempt of court because they are being done to abused litigants, then the courts are unjust and evil.

2) TROs must be eliminated. Nobody deserves to have their rights stripped without even a chance to defend. How this is justified under the US Constitution is hard to see. Furthermore, TROs don't really protect anybody in any case. If somebody is violent or potentially so, a TRO is just going to piss them off further. Think of your example of the father and the 14 year old boy.

3) For cases in which children are involved, parental coordinators should be immediately put into place when the divorce is filed. They should stay involved until at least the finalization of the divorce plus 6 months. There are so many cases in which a lying party makes false claims of abuse, refuses to honor visitation and custody schedules, violates court orders, and the party against whom this is all being done is basically left defenseless. It sets everything up for high-conflict mode and immense damage to the children.

I'm sure there are other good suggestions, but that's 3 for starters.

If this evil family law system isn't reformed immediately, bad things are going to happen. With the recession (and perhaps depression) and idiotic moves like Massachusetts doubling and tripling child support payments on fathers who are already struggling to make ends meet, there is huge potential for a violent response.

Add to that the huge numbers of troops coming home to families torn apart by vindictive and manipulative ex-spouses who used unconstitutional and abusive laws to harm their children and them. These soldiers are trained to fight wars and to protect our country. Let's hope that if the government doesn't fix the mess it has made, the military will do it for us. Target #1 should be the family law courts themselves, and target #2 should be the legislatures that created this evil system and keep it alive.

As it stands today, growing up as a male child in this country means you will very likely be victimized, abused, ridiculed, criminalized, and treated worse than a slave. This cannot allowed to continue. Any ethical and moral parent cannot allow this to happen to their children.

The time for immediate reform or armed conflict is here.

Anonymous said...

It's a sad day when people who are so abused by the courts and government feel like there is no other option than violence to solve the problem.

Why isn't legal reform possible?

Or maybe take divorce out of the hands of the courts entirely?

Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. said...

Thank you for responding to our blog. You make several good points, including how the courts tend to split people into “all-good” and “all-bad,” the need to punish perjury, and the benefit of having a Parenting Coordinator at the start of a case. As a lawyer for fathers in many cases and mothers in many others, I have seen how the court process can exaggerate the negative qualities of one parent and exaggerate the positive qualities of the other. That is why we are working with judges, lawyers, and mental health professionals to change the family court process to one with more balance and understanding.

I disagree with any hint of violence being a solution to these complex issues. While I understand the frustration that many people feel, I am concerned that talk of violence will distract from the good ideas that you and I and others are proposing.

I am encouraged by how many people are working on making changes today in our family courts. For example, in California there is the Elkins Task Force which is working on making the family court system more friendly for people who are representing themselves. This task force was actually created by the California Supreme Court after agreeing with a self-representing father in the Elkins case.

Our “New Ways for Families” approach is designed to get parents into an equal counseling process at the start of the case, to strengthen skills of making their own decisions so that the court is less involved and the case does not become “high conflict.” If the court has to make some of the decisions, the focus is more on strengthening skills (flexible thinking, managed emotions, and moderate behaviors) than on judging parents all-good or all-bad. We’re finding a lot of interest in this approach.

I believe there are many people all over the country working on making positive family court changes. You are right: there is a lot of work to be done. You may find a group near you. Best wishes in 2009!

Anonymous said...

I have been the victim of numerous false allegations, I have lost my house and have not been able to see my children(all based on lies). Although I don't condone violence, I can definitely see how someone can be driven to these acts. I cannot afford an attorney and my ex's family has plenty of money. She is bpd and my life is a living nightmare.

Anonymous said...

Abuse is still mainly a male problem. I don't agree that life's stresses causes abuse. Immaturely dealing with stress, entitlement in a male dominant culture where denigration of women in many subtle ways is still acceptable, contribute to the high tolerance to abuse. Men tacitly and actively support these attitudes. Women do get more emotional and victimised women are not as able to 'work' the rational, reasonable approach so favoured by men. It is a con, perpetrated by men who are neither rational nor reasonable, but rather know how to seem that way to the 'audience'. I never believed in these gender types, but I have had to learn to accept that this attitude is quite prevalent. My ex is high functioning and only privately abusive, or with employees. He is incoherent over a period of time, but extremely coherent in short bursts. He can be both extremely subtle, and ridiculously blundering. But both are calculated. I have high compassion and don't see people as 'things' to be labelled. However my interpersonal and high empathy skills allowed me to stay blind to the abuse that was being perpetrated for 10 years, I kept excusing, tolerating, feeling compassion and definitely not blaming. I still don't blame, it is not interesting to me to do so. I do need a solution that doesn't involve my daughter having to be exposed to a father who habitually cycles through behaviours that are seductive, controlling, frightening, disorienting, and deceptive. He also brainwashes her and threatens her property, animals etc. he does it through trickery and controlling or rage and not through beatings. She knows, but can't assert it. He uses his power to win over her. The reasoning he uses is not coherent, but controlling and the only escape is to give in, or to get away physically. Which my daughter can't do when she is with him. If you please him, he still abuses at his whim. if you give feed back that he 'must be tired', he would say he was being patronised and rage about that. He prefers fear and submisssion. I feel a lot of fear about giving him any further leeway. I have absolutely no evidence that it has ever led to an improvement in the relationship, or for my daughter. I have lots of evidence that he uses it to his own ends, and against me. Therefore my fear is healthy and I am not about to go against that until I feel differently. I finally know that I need to trust myself, not the persuasion of someone I have no reason to trust.