As a California family law attorney, I’ve seen good people behave badly and bad people behave atrociously. And over the years, I’ve seen some men try to break a mother's spirit and wallet in Family Court. Why? The reasons are plenty but it mostly boils down to control. Our experience shows husbands who engage in this conduct possessed unhealthy control in the relationship and want that same control after the relationship ends. Whether narcissistic or to a much worse level of sociopathy, there is a way to deal with such fathers.
The following isn't legal advice, you should always consult privately with an attorney in your state but I can give you some common sense tips that may not be so common unless you live such issues on a regular basis as I do.
What is the spiteful father’s intent in divorce court?
Before I decide how to deal with fathers who engage in such conduct, I evaluate their potential intent. It is not about reading minds; it is about a search for motivation.
For example, in California, the law bases child support in part on the parenting time percentage. That means generally the more a father has parenting time, the less he pays in child support. So what is motivation number one? The greatest motivation of all—money.
Another common motivation? I look to why the relationship ended. If it ended poorly and the mother left the relationship due to the father's abuse or infidelity, the father may still feel anger. Few things exact a more hurtful revenge then destroying a parent–child relationship and a father who abused the mother during the relationship physically and/or emotionally may be motivated to continue that abuse through the Family Court system.
Why is intent important? Because once you know why someone does something, you have an insight into his or her potential goal and what is important to them. This gives an effective attorney the ability to plan a strategy to expose that parent's intent and break their plan apart.
Finding effective legal representation during a high conflict divorce
I know it is partly a cliché—get a good lawyer. But it is deeper than that.
If you know you are dealing with a father with misconduct on his mind and a mind to break you, you do not just need a good lawyer, you need an effective litigator who is accustomed to high conflict cases.
I do not refer to a barking dog in a suit. I do not care for the word aggressive. I mean intelligent, experienced representation that, for example, knows how to ground you and ensure your focus is on the issues that matter while not spinning his or her wheels and wasting your money in the process.
So when you interview your advocate, do not be shy about explaining the relationship-type you had with the father, the threats he has made, what you expect he may claim in the family law case and the questions and concerns you have about it all. An experienced attorney should be able to walk you through the family law process in your state, the law as it applies to situations like yours and at some point hopefully early in the process provide you with a specific strategy.
Using the law as both shield and sword against a vengeful ex
If you expect a high-conflict battle, then you should educate yourself on the law.
In California, we have liberal laws on attorney fee orders. If a mother who finds herself in a family law case is unable to afford legal representation and there is a disparity of income between she and the father or the father has a greater access to funds, family law judges may order attorney fees against the father and in the mother's favor.
The California law's goal is to balance each party's ability to pay fees. How do you think that may impact a father who intends to break a mother financially in court? Do you think a father who all of a sudden sees a prospect to pay both his and her attorney fees will think twice about his nefarious plan? Unless he is a martyr, the answer is probably yes.
In addition, using California again as the example, there are specific California Family Code sections that punish bad behavior when a parent engages in litigation conduct that unreasonably drives up the other parent's attorney fees. In California, a parent does not have to wait until the case’s end but can bring such a request at any time assuming that parent gives proper notice. These are using the law as both a shield and the sword examples.
Does your state have laws like this? This is why you must consult an experienced family law attorney in your state.
Stop feeling. Start thinking.
The first rule when you end up in a hole is to stop digging. The second rule is to look for a way out. Stress can cause you to keep digging. Anxiety can cause you to keep digging. Instead, realize you have control over one thing—your mind. What you allow to come in and what you allow to come out in your thoughts, words, and actions. Your emotions may be of little use to you in a high conflict child custody case. If you are completely caught up into the father's misdeeds during the relationship, cannot emotionally get past them, cannot focus on the present moment and the realistic goals you and your attorney should set, all the hope for justice may be for nothing.
How do you do this? In California, we have found three things that are a good start:
1. Therapy: Your lawyer is not your therapist. Find a therapist who can help you with the emotional aspects of your case and how it impacts your life.
2. Accept no amount of anger, frustration or any other emotion is going to make your situation better. Logic and reason are the path out of the hole.
3. Be realistic in your expectations. There are things you control such as your mind and there are things you do not such as a judge's perspective of the facts or how much time a judge can dedicate to your case. Whatever the laws in your state, find out through your legal representation what your reasonable expectation should be.
We hope this article was helpful in providing some common sense tips when the father attempts to break your spirit and wallet in Family Court. Please consult with a family law attorney in your state if you have any questions about your specific situation.
Please note, this article is not intended to be legal advice or any other type of advice.