The family court system in the United States is failing our children. Our appointed judges and commissioners are supposed to act in the best interest of the child, but unfortunately, they are not. My friend, Amie, was able to eloquently express what she deems as the primary issue in our family court system: the courts have a threshold of what they deem as acceptable but as mothers, as fathers, as parents and as a society, our thresholds should be much higher. The pendulum has been swung too far in different directions when it comes to mothers' rights and fathers' rights. I am not sold on the notion that an individual should have rights just because they have the ability to procreate. A child's right to be safe and loved should supersede parental rights.
My case is classified as a "high-conflict divorce," however, the sad reality is that I am divorcing a narcissist and the family court system is uneducated when it comes to this disorder. I usually have a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach as I wait for my court case to be called. Compared to drug abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse and abandonment issues that are often addressed before us, my ex-husband, Seth, is a welcomed relief to the court. Seth seems educated, articulate and he is fighting for his children. Step back into reality for a moment and the truth is that Seth isn't fighting for custody of our children, he is fighting to win and to gain control over me. Winning and control are the primary driving forces of individuals with personality disorders.
I recently spoke to Bill Eddy, an attorney, therapist and mediator and the President of the High Conflict Institute. I have followed Mr. Eddy's work for the past two years and his book, "Splitting: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder" has become my legal bible. Mr. Eddy is on the frontlines of the crisis in the family courts and founded the "New Ways for Families" method of managing high-conflict family court cases. In addition, Mr. Eddy co-developed the "HCI PatternViewer" program for analyzing high conflict behavior in family court cases. Mr. Eddy was kind enough to share the insight he has gained from being entrenched in the family court system:
"Tina Swithin is correct that the Family Court system is generally not educated about personality disorders, which creates several serious problems. Personality disorders are not obvious on the surface, which is why many people marry those with these disorders and why many courts are easily misled by them -- for months or years. To really understand what is going on takes looking under the surface and knowing what patterns of behavior to look for. This takes time and special knowledge, which family courts don't have, so decisions often favor those with the desperate emotions or the calculating control of those with personality disorders.
The adversarial process of the court brings out the worst behavior for those with personality disorders. They become extremely defensive and often much more dangerous, as they resort to extreme efforts for power and control over the other party, the children, the professionals and the judge. This can include lying, spreading rumors, hiding money, hiding children, false allegations and even violence. Many cases that I have read of family court related shootings happen within 2-3 weeks of a court hearing.
Family courts need more training, more time and more money for services for parents stuck in high-conflict cases. None of these are likely to occur any time soon -- in fact, the opposite is occurring. Yet society reaps what it sows and this is the future for many of the next generation. This is a mental health problem and a public health problem, and needs to be recognized as such."
Quite simply, the judges and commissioners of the family court system are not taking the proper time to evaluate high-conflict custody cases. The judges are too focused on moving cases through the courtroom like cattle. Two healthy parents should be able to come to an agreement based on what is in the best interest of the child. Unfortunately, in many cases such as mine, there is only one healthy parent. Our court system needs to receive ongoing education about high-conflict divorces and personality disorders. Thankfully, there are people like Bill Eddy from the High Conflict Institute who is working tirelessly to provide education, but this is just the beginning of what is needed to make changes in our system.
Much like a doctor becomes accustomed to the cycle of life, our courts have become accustomed to abuse, neglect and abandonment. This issue begins in the courtroom and trickles down to everyone who has a hand in the family court system. This includes the very people who are supposed to protect our children such as parenting evaluators, counselors and therapists, Guardian ad Litems and Child Welfare Services. As a society, we should demand a higher threshold when it comes to our children. Sadly, these issues come back to parental rights and the fact that the family court system places a higher priority on parental rights than what is truly in the best interest of our children.