Lessons I Learned From My Parents: Part V

Parents are correct in the notion that causing the children to take sides can be extremely useful in their divorce game of chess. However, unlike chess, divorce is not a game and children are not pawns.
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In my last article from this series, I explained how my father "divorced" me when I refused to permanently and completely sever ties with my mother. It should be noted that he ultimately "divorced" both of my siblings as well and for similar reasons. My brothers were still minors at the time and our father initially succeeded in his efforts to alienate them from our mother. He bribed them to make my mother's life miserable to the point where she could no longer handle them. In fact, my youngest brother later disclosed to me that our father had told him to do everything possible to provoke our mother into striking him and then calling the authorities on her. To my father and brother's dismay, my mother never struck him. I have since become aware that my father then instructed my brother to just make something up and to call the authorities, which he did. My father ultimately obtained full custody of both of my brothers, but for no reason other than his effort to hurt our mother. Of course, the added benefit was that he no longer had to pay her any child support.

While we like to pretend that custody battles are not related to the child support associated therewith, such faux ignorance is by no means blissful. While parents frequently treat their children as pawns during family law proceedings, life is not a game of chess and consequences ensue. My father apparently had difficulty "managing" my brothers' behavior, which no doubt stemmed from his gamesmanship. In fact, he ended up sending one of my brothers to live with his brother, our uncle. That "solution" didn't work well and ultimately my mother gained full custody over him. Shortly thereafter, my mother wanted our other brother to join us for dinner on Mother's Day. When the call was placed, we were told that our brother would be joining our father and step-mother for Mother's Day dinner. As luck would have it, both of my parents decided to celebrate Mother's Day dinner at Trader Vic's Restaurant at the Beverly Hilton Hotel and at the same time. However, to our surprise, my father and step-mother were dining alone. We later learned that they had left him home with the dogs and that they had never intended on having him join them for dinner. As you can imagine, my mother ultimately obtained full custody of my youngest brother following that "incident." It can be no surprise to you that my brothers have not had a relationship with our father since that time.

I wish that our experience was unique, but sadly it is far more common than people seem to realize. I have seen such things occur time and time again over my career in family law. Children, both minors and adults, frequently align with one of the parents. They do this because of the information conveyed to them by one or both parents or by forcing the children to choose one over the other. After my last article from this series was published, I received numerous emails from people, telling me of similar experiences they had endured. Furthermore, as mentioned in my prior articles in this series, I had the pleasure of reading a book titled "Broken Circle -- Children of Divorce and Separation," Photography by Karen Klein and Commentary by Broken Circle participants. "The Broken Circle project gives voice to young adults talking about how their parents' divorce or separation impacted their lives then and now." Let me share with you Jessica's story from that book: "My mother obtained a protection order against my dad, which led to a series of events essentially forcing my sister and I to each choose a parent... I became estranged from my mother and felt as though she viewed me as my dad... My dad continually bashed my mom to me, and since I was the only one left who would listen, I did... Both my sister and I struggled with depression and an overall feeling of disconnectedness."

Parents are correct in the notion that causing the children to take sides can be extremely useful in their divorce game of chess. However, unlike chess, divorce is not a game and children are not pawns. Parents need to understand that what they do, say, and how they act toward the other parent has long-term consequences. The things people do with or without the assistance of their attorneys have consequences that will last for generations to come. "When you start a court case, you are starting a war," says Justice Harvey Brownstone. Parents should always remember that the casualties in such a war are the members of the family itself, including the children, who become collateral damage.

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