Change Your Mind

Co-parenting book, Change Your Mind, by family therapist Leo Terbieten - cover image The importance of becoming self-protective and assertive during separation and divorce cannot be overstated. You must provide for your own safety in order to keep your children safe. But these efforts must be kept in perspective lest they morph into obsessive futile engagement with the other parent and the legal system. It’s easy to become fixated on the other parent and their faults to the point of absurdity. Unbalanced or other-focused aggression will stick out like a sore thumb to the legal and clinical professionals involved in your case.

The court, and custody professionals in general, take a dim view of parents who appear to be demonizing the other parent. This poses challenges for the parent who is trying to convey their legitimate concerns to the court. Expressing those concerns must take into account that much of what you believe is important is unlikely to rise to the level of significance in the family law process. This can lead to frustration and feelings of not being seen or validated by those who have the power to impact your children’s future.

This doesn’t mean that your fears regarding the other parent are not justified but your approach must be tailored to what is possible rather than your strongly held concerns. The old saying that possession is nine tenths of the law could be adapted to family law by substituting the word perception for possession. How you are perceived during the process by judges, mediators and therapists alike contributes heavily toward your ultimate success.

It is understandable that you would resent feeling controlled by the other parent or the court but railing against them can actually make matters worse for you. Of course you believe that it’s not fair that your concerns are not addressed or even heard. It’s maddening that the other parent seems to get a pass on behaviors that you find totally unacceptable. The family law system, however, is not designed to achieve equity. Its sole purpose is to make decisions that, based on the evidence available, are in your children’s best interests.

A more extreme yet common issue that can develop during divorce is paranoia. Once the other parent is seen as the enemy your imagination of what they’re capable of can run amok. Many of my clients feel that the other parent is having them followed, spying on them or hacking into their computers and mobile phones. They fear the other parent is saying bad things about them to friends, the kid’s teachers, medical providers, coaches and co-workers.

It’s not that these types of things don’t happen during divorce but letting fear and dread consume you and affect your behavior during the legal process is really self-destructive. The other parent may very well be engaging in unethical or even illegal activities but it’s critical that you don’t let your imagination or anger take control of your rational thought processes. If you have solid evidence that the other parent is engaging in activities that could endanger you or the children or severely damage your reputation the criminal or family court may intervene.

Absent convincing proof, however, your best course of action is to conduct yourself in such a way that prioritizes your children’s best interests. If you are perceived as overly concerned or hyper vigilant toward the other parent your ability to act in your kids’ best interest may be called into question. You may need to take action to combat the other parent’s unethical or illegal activities such as protecting your email and phone accounts and becoming more involved in the kids ‘school or community activities. Getting involved let’s others get to know who you really are as opposed to the depiction that’s being offered by the other parent.

Remember, ultimately you’re not in control of the custody process or its outcome. The best use of your time is to manage your presentation to the court taking into account what will be viewed as important to your children’s best interests. Taking control of your emotions will allow you to avoid the pitfalls of rage and fear that can give others an inaccurate perception of who you really are.

For more information on dealing effectively with child custody and divorce issue please check out these two helpful books:

“The Custody Manual”

“Change Your Mind, Co-Parenting in High Conflict Custody Cases”