Saturday, June 27, 2009

When the other Parent Sabotages Exchange times

It's exchange day. Your court order says that you are to pick up the kids from a certain location at a certain time. Only once again, your ex-spouse is changing the plan. He or she calls and says the kids won't be ready until later. Or, the kids won't be at the assigned location. Often the other parent will specify an alternate location... and at times in the past, when you have gone to the alternate location, the kids haven't been there after all.

Through it all, the outcome is that no matter what you do, it seems that your ex-spouse is back in control, calling all the shots, running you around, and holding your kids hostage. Should you fight back? Should you retaliate by doing the same thing to your ex when access time switches back to them?

It's a dilemma, isn't it? You don't want to fight; but you do want to defend your boundaries. You don't want to damage the kids, you don't want to relinquish power and control, and yet their other parent doesn't seem to give a diddly about harming their own children and holding them hostage in order to play "parent-terrorist". And that's just what they are doing.

But if you cave in then you just keep getting more of the same. So, contrary to popular belief, caving in does NOT end the fighting, in spite of the most fervent hopes of those of us who believe in peace.

The primary thing is to find a way to "take away the stick". And, in the meantime, with every incident, keep your children's needs foremost.

Friday evenings are often 'trauma-drama" times for me as a Divorce Coach... when I have a high-conflict divorce case going on, my Friday evenings are often a barrage of phone calls from clients who are trying to get their court-ordered access, while their crazy exes play all sorts of rotten games. Here is what I tell my clients:

1. If you can communicate directly with your children, do so. Reassure them, calm them if they are distressed, do NOT convey your own distress about the situation to them, do NOT blame their other parent for not allowing you to see them. Remind them that you love them, and that you are eager to see them, and you will do so as soon as possible.

2. Abide by the court order to the letter. In all communication with the other parent, remind them that you will abide by the court order no matter what. If your court order is "silent" on certain details (such as a specific pick-up location), and if these details are now the lightning rods attracting conflict, then ask your attorney to enter a motion for clarifying orders. No one can anticipate in advance all the different things a high-conflict ex-spouse is going to find to fight about -- especially if you have a lazy or inexperienced attorney the first time around -- so once you've identified some key areas of conflict, then get solutions in writing and get them sanctioned via court order.

3. Collect evidence and document, document, document. Keep a journal, record dates and time. Upload voice mail recordings. Take pictures of the exchange place, and note that you were there at the correct date and time.

4. Do not engage in a chase all over town to get your children. Imagine what the children must be going through, if they are being carried to location after location in some weird dramatic event. Sometimes, if you just let it be, the other parent will carry the children back home and you can go there (ALWAYS with a third party and a video camera) later that evening or the following day and pick the children up then.

5. If your attorney is not assertive about entering a motion for an order of enforcement, then get an attorney who is. You need an attorney who understands the emotional impact of alienation on children, and who takes parental access very seriously.

6. With every subsequent contact with the children, emphasize how important they are to you, how eager you are to see them and be with them, and how you look forward to time with them. If there is a specific activity or special "connection point" you can mention ("we'll make animal pancakes next time, just like we always do") then bring it out. Give the children as much reassurance as possible that you are there for them and eager and willing to be engaged in their lives. If they express disappointment in not being able to see you, resist the urge to blame the other parent at this time. Just listen to the children, and address any of their fears or concerns with reassurance of your love for them. Help them feel safe and secure.

7. If you find your own emotions -- especially anger or frustration -- becoming overwhelming, call your coach, a trusted friend, pastor, or other 'safe' outlet to express your concerns. This will help you remain more calm when your children need you.

Parental access is just one of many ways that high-conflict parents use their children to exert power and control over an ex-spouse. It is emotional abuse. It is "parent-terrorism", and it needs to be handled delicately in order to minimize the possibility of accidentally inflicting additional harm on the victims (the children). The parent who is attempting to enforce access has a large task ahead of them -- to reduce both short-term and long-term damage to the kids. This is not easy under any circumstances, and is especially difficult when there are additional feelings of anger, frustration, fear, and helplessness involved. This is why the on-call availability of a good coach can make the difference between a successful outcome -- or -- one more divorce scar that a child will carry out of childhood.


No comments: