Saturday, August 14, 2010

Clear Court Orders for Shared Parenting

I’ve been asked to say more about clear court orders when a reasonable parent shares parenting with someone with a borderline personality or narcissistic personality. This is an issue in most high-conflict divorce cases. People with borderline or narcissistic personality disorders often find the loopholes in family court orders (apparently to get a sense of power and control to compensate for feeling so powerless in general and especially from having to live under someone else's rules).

In general, the court orders must be very specific about WHO does WHAT, WHEN and WHERE. For example: “Parenting exchanges will be done ‘curbside,’ meaning that the returning parent shall pull up to the curb in front of the other parent’s house at the scheduled time. The receiving parent shall open the door to indicate that he or she is ready to receive the children. The returning parent shall remain in the car while the children get out with their belongings and go to the other parent. The parents shall not converse or have negative non-verbal interactions during these parenting exchanges. A positive wave and smile are encouraged, but not required, during a parent exchange.”

Any subject that has been in controversy may need such specific orders, such as having parents communicate only by email, with a maximum of one email per day, which contains only one topic per email, and it must be about care of the children. In one court case, the judge ordered the parents to communicate by email using the B.I.F.F. method described by the psychological evaluator in the case. (I developed the B.I.F.F. method and it’s described in my new book Don’t Alienate the Kids!)

Such specific orders help borderlines, narcissists, and everyone restrain themselves from engaging in unmanaged emotions and extreme behaviors (such as used to occur at their unstructured exchanges, and with frequent disparaging phone calls or emails). With such specific orders, I have seen some reasonable parents share parenting with a borderline or narcissistic parent over several years.

Of course, the larger issues must also be addressed in court orders, such as a schedule that is appropriate for the children that avoids terms that create a parent contest, with a winner parent and a loser parent. For example, many fights are over the terms “physical custody” and “visitation” which imply an important parent and an unimportant parent. There is no need to use either of these words. (Various states and many Canadian provinces use the term "access" instead of visitation.)

A specific and clear parenting schedule is sufficient in a court order, without labels. If one parent has more time, it doesn’t mean the other parent has a lesser role. Most research shows that the influence a parent has on a child’s development is not directly related to time. From my experience, alienation is less about parenting time and more about the spill-over of intense emotions and extreme behavior by a high-conflict parent and other high-conflict people in the child’s life. Therefore, each parent should be the best parent possible during his or her time, even if one has more time than the other.

Of course, an exception is to establish who has “legal custody” meaning the right to make big decisions. Most divorced parents have “joint legal custody” (terms vary by state and province), which means they get to share in making decisions about the children’s school, doctor, activities, and counseling. In some cases, the court orders Joint Legal Custody, but makes specific orders identifying one parent to make the educational decisions and the other parent to make the medical decisions.

This is an increasingly common approach in high-conflict families using a “parallel parenting” arrangement, in which the parents have minimal or no direct communication. Some such families also have a Parenting Coordinator, who helps resolve future disputes after the basic court orders have been made. By interpreting and refining the court orders to be even more specific, the Parenting Coordinator can close the loopholes and help the parents manage better.

In short, successful shared parenting with a borderline or narcissistic parent may be possible in many cases, so long as court orders are highly specific to manage the unmanaged emotions and extreme behaviors. I have seen this work in some (not all) cases, and I believe it is preferable to arrangements that seek to eliminate the other parent. Of course, protection is an issue and safety must be provided. But if we don’t want kids growing up alienated, then they need to have some relationship with both parents. Clear court orders are one way to help manage potentially alienating behavior without all-or-nothing solutions. I cover this in more detail in my new book "Don't Alienate the Kids".

As always, I value your opinion so please leave a comment. Tell me what you think?

19 comments:

Amy said...

I think this a great idea to make the parenting plans specific when dealing with high conflict personalities.
The problem I have is that I share joint physical and legal custody, however the father has final decision making authority, which really doesn't make anything 'joint'.
He is also using every disagreement as a chance to file contempt lawsuits in a strategy to either drain me financially or prove that I am unfit and try and win sole custody.
He has made it clear he wishes to have sole custody, and has even offered to drop lawsuits against me in exchange for sole custody. I have tried offering mediation, but I don't see him ever agreeing to this.
Should I request a Parent Coordinator?

Scott said...

Dear Amy:
Yes it sounds like A PC would be great for you! Just get the right one that doesn' easily get bully or manipulated by an HCP

Scott said...

PS. Don't ever give up joint custody. It won't be the end of the problems, it will just be the beginning as he pushes u out!

Lisa said...

No, a PC is a horrible idea. Your ex will manipulate the process and charm the "professional" assigned to your case.

The PC process will allow trivial matters to HAVE to be discussed with the PC "babysitter" that YOU will have to pay. your ex will say we MUST meet with the PC about the missing pair of crocs, we MUST meet with the PC about Johnny brushing his teeth....

It also takes your negotiations out of the court system and into a realm where the high-conflict parent can lie. There is no due process.

Our experience with PC has been that the PC is oblivious to the bullying and lying of the high-conflict parent. AND, if the high-conflict parent has money, they will just keep creating issues. The PC just thinks, "sure we'll meet about that," because they see $$$$. You might as well just hand over your checkbook to your ex, because he will find a way to, and is allowed to, spend your money on issues that you would be able to resolve yourselves. Keep spending your money on your lawyer and keep your proceedings in court, where at least perjury and falsification can be enforced.

PC is a way to keep lining the pockets of inept practitioners. In one year we have spent over $2000, just to have the PC involved in nonsense. My boyfriend is the victim of horrible alienation and visitation interference, and the only way the PC helped was to enforce 3.5 hours of make up time and to tell his ex that she has to call if one of the kids ends up in the emergency room. On a $24,000 salary, that $2000 was NOT money well spent. (the ex is a millionaire, so this is a game for her.)

Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. said...

Hi Scott, Hi Lisa,

Thanks for you comments, pro and con on Parenting Coordination. As with most aspects of high-conflict divorces, there's a range of ex's and professionals. My experience is that Parenting Coordinators are often very helpful in reducing conflict and costs. I think of one case where the PC was actively involved in re-introducing contact between an alienated child and rejected parent, step by step. Nothing else had worked, but the PC was able to calmly manage the other parent and significantly improve the situation.

I also recogize the fact that many professionals can get hooked in by a high-conflict parent, as most aren't trained to recognize the manipulations and false statements. I hope that our books and seminars for professionals help overcome this problem.

Best wishes,
Bill

Anonymous said...

Hello Bill,

My friend's ex was showing behavior that seemed to indicate that she was a HCP. He has custody of the children and a pretty cut and dry custody order but the mother refuses to follow it. Recently he recieved some medicial records for his child and in parent history, the records indicated that the ex has depression and bipolar disorder. I don't think that being bipolar and HCP are mutually exclusive but from what I understand one is chemically driven and the other is unconscious behavior driven. And I off the mark and can one use the techniques learned in your books on individuals with bipolar disorder?

Rob said...

Regarding Anonymous's friend, he may have a lot of insights into the family experiences of his ex. Consider them as clues to get some idea of the root causes of her behaviors. Bipolar Disorder seems to be more genetic than environmental, whereas BPD seems the reverse. Of course nobody really fully understands all of the contributing factors yet, so you can't apply this as a general rule. What you can do with this observation, however, is to combine it with observations about the family background to try to arrive at a more accurate approximation of what is really affecting the person.

For instance, BPD is often associated with emotional abuse of children. Such people will tend to treat their loved ones (or former loved ones) and children similarly to how they were treated. If your friend is aware of his ex being abused as a child and she behaves much like the abuse she endured, then environmental issues may be the dominant driving factor in her mental illness.

As much as we'd like to be able to label something in order to help understand it, often the very act of labeling it will cause the target of the adverse behaviors to be further persecuted by the courts. Even if you have very solid reasons and many behavioral examples for why you think somebody has BPD, NPD, or some other illness, stating your belief will cause you to be ridiculed by judges who have no understanding of the issues themselves. They will claim you are not an expert and you have no credibility.

This is of course simply exposing their own incompetence. Often experts cannot see the full scope of a patient's behaviors until they have worked with a patient for many years. They will therefore struggle with making an accurate diagnosis.

But a person who has been living with those behaviors for years has insights that the experts will never have. Ideally, to make a really good diagnosis, you would have those insights plus expertise of working with many people who suffer from these problems.

Diagnosis can be further complicated by comorbidity of multiple mental illnesses. It is not unusual for somebody with BPD to also appear to have depression, anxiety, PTSD, and substance abuse problems. HCPs often will not tell the full accurate truth about much of anything. Because the experts seldom talk with anybody but the patient, they develop a distorted view of the problems that is not accurate. So they may claim a patient does not have BPD when in fact BPD would be a better explanation for the person's problems than other mental illnesses they may suggest.

Regarding applying Bill Eddy's advice for HCPs to Bipolars, I think it is worth a try. I've read several of his books. Much of the advice about avoiding conflict by structuring interactions with rules and safeguards seems applicable regardless of the exact origin of the conflict-prone behaviors.

Rob said...

Regarding Anonymous's friend, he may have a lot of insights into the family experiences of his ex. Consider them as clues to get some idea of the root causes of her behaviors. Bipolar Disorder seems to be more genetic than environmental, whereas BPD seems the reverse. Of course nobody really fully understands all of the contributing factors yet, so you can't apply this as a general rule. What you can do with this observation, however, is to combine it with observations about the family background to try to arrive at a more accurate approximation of what is really affecting the person.

For instance, BPD is often associated with emotional abuse of children. Such people will tend to treat their loved ones (or former loved ones) and children similarly to how they were treated. If your friend is aware of his ex being abused as a child and she behaves much like the abuse she endured, then environmental issues may be the dominant driving factor in her mental illness.

As much as we'd like to be able to label something in order to help understand it, often the very act of labeling it will cause the target of the adverse behaviors to be further persecuted by the courts. Even if you have very solid reasons and many behavioral examples for why you think somebody has BPD, NPD, or some other illness, stating your belief will cause you to be ridiculed by judges who have no understanding of the issues themselves. They will claim you are not an expert and you have no credibility.

This is of course simply exposing their own incompetence. Often experts cannot see the full scope of a patient's behaviors until they have worked with a patient for many years. They will therefore struggle with making an accurate diagnosis.

But a person who has been living with those behaviors for years has insights that the experts will never have. Ideally, to make a really good diagnosis, you would have those insights plus expertise of working with many people who suffer from these problems.

Diagnosis can be further complicated by comorbidity of multiple mental illnesses. It is not unusual for somebody with BPD to also appear to have depression, anxiety, PTSD, and substance abuse problems. HCPs often will not tell the full accurate truth about much of anything. Because the experts seldom talk with anybody but the patient, they develop a distorted view of the problems that is not accurate. So they may claim a patient does not have BPD when in fact BPD would be a better explanation for the person's problems than other mental illnesses they may suggest.

Regarding applying Bill Eddy's advice for HCPs to Bipolars, I think it is worth a try. I've read several of his books. Much of the advice about avoiding conflict by structuring interactions with rules and safeguards seems applicable regardless of the exact origin of the conflict-prone behaviors.

Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. said...

Hi Anonymous and Rob,

The issue of having a "High Conflict" Personality Disorder and/or Bipolar Disorder is a common concern. I think that Rob covered it pretty well.

Similar methods are helpful with both disorders - mainly avoiding emotional escalations, helping them stay focused on tasks rather than criticizing the person, and teaching the children that its healthy to use flexible thinking, managed emotions, and moderate behaviors. Even if one parent has a hard time with these skills, the other parent can still teach them and be a role model for these skills.

A recent study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for the U.S. stated that nearly 40% of those with Borderline Personality Disorder also had Bipolar Disorder at some time during their lives, and nearly 25% of those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder also had Bipolar Disorder at some point in their lives. So there is a lot of overlap. You are right that Bipolar has a more genetic connection, whereas Borderline is perhaps half and half - genetic tendencies and early life experiences. What this means is that medications are the preferred treatment for Bipolar Disorder, whereas medications generally don't address the problems of Borderlines - they need skills training and counseling. However, both Bipolar and Borderline folks often refuse to get help. So you are left with trying to deal with them at an arms-length, with methods such as I describe in my new book "Don't Alienate the Kids!"

Best wishes,
Bill

Grateful2BeFree said...

I have been divorced from a Bipolar drug addict who has also been diagnosed with NPD and Anti-Social Personality Disorder for two years. The process has been grueling for our two boys and me. Fortunately, with much support, MONEY, and a good lawyer knowledgeable about these disorders, I have a very detailed court order. Obviously, I have sole legal and physical custody of the boys, with him having a very detailed court order. Had we gone in front of a Judge, the order would have had a lot of loopholes, which is not good when you deal with a troubled parent. The children's social worker's input was so important and the key to my successful Order. I had psychological testing done for both of us, which highlighted his troubling behavior. This documentation, along with clear, strict boundaries has helped in keeping the lion tamed. I also have medical authorization to speak to his psychiatrist and therapist at any time re: the children. He also had to give me monthly documentation of his treatment compliance and negative drug tests in order to see the kids unsupervised during visitation. It's a win-win situation for both of us and the kids. The children's social worker would have gone to court and destroyed his credibility, which pushed him to sign the current parenting plan. I encourage all parents going through a divorce with a mentally ill and/or addicted parent to get a counselor for the kids IMMEDIATELY who has experience with the court system, is willing to go to court for the kids, and knows how such parents negatively impact the kids. It's an investment that far outweighs the investment in a lawyer. I found my therapist through the court system in my area- she had an excellent reputation with the court, lawyers, court evaluators, and other parents like me. Going through such a tumultuous time without getting the kids much-needed help, and receiving the validation I deserved while navigating through the court system proved to be priceless.

Anonymous said...

Having a detailed, airtight Custody Order sounds great in THEORY. I did my research, taking much of Bill's advice before creating my current Parenting Plan with my ex who has displayed a wide range of BPD traits. My friends and colleagues thought I was being irrational when creating it. It's got such specific language it's laughable to Non's.

I had my ex BPD's first wife's example to follow with regard to the conflict with my step-son. (I used to be a Negative Advocate, I still can't figure out how that happened!) So, I did my research.

The problem:

There is no way to predict life. And crazy things happen, especially with the chaos of a BPD. Something requiring a new order or more specific language always comes up, with a BPD. ( return child's comfort item, what happens if it is "forgotten"? Or administer child's prescribed medicines at proper dosage at proper time or communicate if there is a missed/late dose. Claiming the child is sleeping when time for your phone access EVERY time you call, or didn't hear the phone so couldn't follow the order to return call because he didn't know there was a call to return, it's endless minutae.)

One email communication per day with one topic will be used AGAINST you. "I could not communicate about the 103 degree fever and ER visit because I already emailed you about blah blah blah."

Or, God forbid you send an email... he'll be 45 minutes to an exchange and if you email a second time to ask about it he SCREAMS violation of court orders!!!! Or "forget" to give you information you need and you have to call pediatrician emergency number, disturb Dr at home, and embarrassingly explain you can't ask Dad what the prescription is for and when/how to give it). BPD behavior tentacles out and affects all who are even remotely involved.

It goes on and on. And it's exhausting to the healthy parties. It's risking that a child end up with TWO mentally unhealthy parents.

Regardless of court orders, sharing a child with a BPD is a nightmare. Worse, they are NOT capable of putting a child's needs or best interest in front of their own, it's the very nature of the disease. It is what it is. Even the smallest incidences of self-centered parenting eventually accumulate and negatively affect the children. Abuse by 1000 tiny cuts.

Until they are treated, the assumption that anything more than supervised visitation between a BPD and a child is damaging to the healthy parties and amounts to enabling the BPD behaviors.

A BPD is a person with a Cluster B Mental Illness. Would it be good advice to give a Detailed Parenting Plan and Custody Order to an untreated, in-denial raging crack addict? And as long as your child comes back "not abused" (meaning you can't see any visible injuries") then it's Mom's World/Dad's world?

An untreated BPD is still BPD'ing because they can't stop, same as the untreated crack addict. So whether your child is spending 50% of their time with a BPD or 50% of their time with a crack addict, they are still observing wrong behaviors, developing a tolerance for emotional abuse and lowering the bar on what is acceptable in life.

Believe me, no matter how tight the Court's orders, the untreated BPD will find a way to use them as a stick to beat you with and make you regret ever trying to put what they view as "restrictions" on them. Of course they can't see that the Orders might be for your protection, everything is about them. So the Orders are viewed as unjust punishment, ever the victim.

I've made a vallient effort using BIFF, Strict Orders and taken Mr Eddy's good advice. And yes, it has helped immensely.

I hoping, however that this is not as good as it gets.

Ro said...

Hi, Bill.

My concern is not about the kids being affected by alienation but with damage narcissistic personality has on the child. My husband manipulates and lies to the children, from matters small to big, most unrelated to divorce. He makes decisions based on how they will positively impact him, without care for the children. They are the victims of the abuse as I was during my married years. Can we save our children from the parent with the disorder, or will that parent definitely get shared and legal custody? Thank you for your advice.

Anonymous said...

Anon.... I totally agree with you..

My situation is very difficult, my now ex husband has started a hate campaign saying i wont allow him to see his daughter who is 3. Hes notasked for access cos i wont allow unsupervised. Its the allor nothing attitude. Everyone believes him as they only know him and hear one side, its very upsetting to be lied about. Hes abusive, mentally, physically and emotionally, has blind rages, self harms, smokes weed, hes negative, picky, moody, depressive character and i dont want him near my baby, but will ONLY allow supervised contact, this is not negotiable..

Anonymous said...

Prevention is better than cure.

All the stories on this post are eye-opening. Is there a way to prevent people from having children with HCP/BPD/NPD's?
I wish there was. I can only imagine the million of children lives that will be spared.
Unfortunately the trouble with such people is that they are initially the best charmers in the world. As one stated, they are so convincing liars that you fall right into their trap.

Getting out of the relationship is already a victory for you.
Unfortunately the children are the one's that have to suffer.

Giving in is not an option, always keep fighting. You actually fight for the chances you want to give your children. A fair chance in life to live a healthy life not full of manipulation and toxic lies from a HCP parent.

There is no cure, this is just palliative care. I wonder what really can be done to stop such conflicts?

Stopthenonsensenow@live.com said...

I really feel for you if you're dealing with a parent with BDP. I encourage you to try this method kentioned, buy the book, or keep informed any way you can. and here is why:

I have endured 6 straight years of torment by my kid's mom who has BDP (diagnosed). I have experienced horrors that I never thought possible, lies and manipulating beyond anything you could read in a novel. And I KNOW many of you have and are STILL going through them.

Sadly, as mentioned there is no cure for BPD. I work in mental health and have for years. I have consulted many psychiatrists, and kentsl health workers from all backgrounds. I have researched every study going back decades. Mark my words, No medication, no counselling method, no "big insight" leading to a breakthrough. With any other ailment it's possible, unfortunately if BDP is what your "co-parent" has then you are faced with a life long battle.

Some of you may doubt what I said, or you are inclined to give your BDP-parent the benefit of the doubt sometimes, I want you to know that I get it. It's because you're a good person, and because the horror and manipulation you're being exposed to seems legitimately UNBELIEVABLE. Please take a minute to believe it, accept it, and although I'm a stranger know that If I can help you I will. Not for money, but because i genuinely know what you're going through.

For now, all I can do is say that when I read your story i believe you, I hear what you've gone through and i can imagine quite accurately all of the unmentioned suffering you are experiencing and staying quiet about. Again, it's because you're a good person not wanting to fan the fire and wanting to minimize the damage they are doing to you and your children. As a start, remind yourself that this isn't fair to you or normal, and you and your child dont deserve any of it. youll need to prepare to spend your life remonding your child that. if no one else is in your corner, know that I am.

What can be done about it you probably wonder daily? I ask myself that question in the form of a living quest. I have devoted the last 5yrs to this and It starts with research, and educating yourself and others about what is silently happening to you and all of these other parents and children living as hostages to their BDP co-parent or family member.

From there i aim to rally support and raise awareness about this disease. It is under diagnosed, poorly treated, and often downright dangerous (google BPD and criminality) and look for peer reviewed journals.

I know I'm tired of suffering and although I don't have all the answers I can't help but strongly feel that there may be a solution out there for those of us suffering by association. I'd like to connect with others in this situation.

Unknown said...

the BPD horror show only ended when the court transferred custody from mother to myself and gave very limited access. This sort of order is appropriate when there is too much conflict and the child cannot get out from under it and the BPD parent has a hold over the child's mind in a very unhealthy way.

Anonymous said...

"One email communication per day with one topic will be used AGAINST you. "I could not communicate about the 103 degree fever and ER visit because I already emailed you about blah blah blah."

Yeah, I agree with this. I am trying to deal with a husband who texts me constantly, claiming it's about the children. I respond because I'm afraid that if I don't, he will someday have the kids (he has some visitation) and then not call me about something important because of the one time I told him to stop calling. They are so black and white. Very frustrating.

Anonymous said...

How do you convince your controlling 'father' to let you spend your birthday with your mom? I extremely dislike my so called father and have been constanly provoked, threatened, and in a few cases abused by him yet the cops and court deem this as consequence to my own acting out. I keep asking him to let me spend my birthday with my mother and he flat out refuses, saying if i pursue the matter there will be extreme consequences.

Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. said...

Hi Anonymous (May 9th),
If he's a high-conflict person, you won't "convince" him of anything. I don't know your age, but if you're a teenager, you generally have to live with your parents' problems until you're an adult - and start thinking about what that will be like. If you're an adult, you can make your choices and will have to decide whether or not to offend your dad - but you will have to live with the consequences. Think of it as a daily choice, one way or the other. Your mom will probably understand.

Good Luck,
Bill