Family Court Minefields: Dirty Tricks Used by High-Conflict People in Custody Disputes and Parallel Parenting, Part 1
This is the first part of a series of articles dealing with common dirty tricks that high-conflict people (HCP) and abusive personality disordered individuals (APDI) commonly play in family court. In Part 1, we will take look at the ways in which these women abuse OurFamilyWizard as a way of drawing you into further conflict and craziness.
Dr. Tara J. Palmatier recently posted an informative article about OurFamilyWizard, an innovative and effective tool for managing a parallel parenting relationship with a high-conflict person. I have experience with OurFamilyWizard. Some of the more enlightened judges in my practice area fairly regularly order parents to communicate and exchange information through OFW when the parents have been involved in a protracted and highly-conflicted custody dispute. I’ve also used the tool to deal with my own children’s father and step-mother. OFW can be a refreshing relief for those of us who must remain in contact with a high-conflict parent or step-parent of our minor children.
So what’s the downside?
It’s not that the OFW tool itself is flawed, but as in all things, the determined HCP (and aren’t they all determined?) can find ways to abuse and manipulate the tool to further “game the system.” You’ve all heard the “No Contact” directive, and OFW is designed to help you maintain that boundary to the greatest extent when you share minor children with a high-conflict ex. You know how hard No Contact can be, in spite of best intentions and earnest effort. The HCP just has a way of crashing through that boundary even when you have the knowledge and skills and tools (like OurFamilyWizard) available to you.
Games People Play
Sadly, I’ve seen HCPs use the OFW tool to draw their victims into further conflict and unwanted communication in various ways. For instance, the HCP might claim her password suddenly stopped working and she can’t log in or claims to have lost internet access (a modified damsel-in-distress ploy designed to avoid the OFW restriction and play the helpless waif at the same time). The HCP will almost certainly use OFW to post memorandums that are inflammatory, hostile, untrue and generally designed to elicit a heated response from the other parent.
I’ve seen these manipulative people post doctor’s appointments an hour before the scheduled appointment, assuring the notice will not be seen in time for the other parent to participate. I’ve seen HCPs post important appointments or events on the wrong day or at the wrong time, seemingly intentionally, to keep the other parent from participating in important events. HCPs have been known to schedule their time with the kids on the other parent’s days or schedule birthday parties or other types of activities during the other parent’s time with the kids—and then post these things on OFW, as if to taunt the rational spouse.
That’s not to say OFW is not a very valuable tool—it is, there’s no question about it. Although the high-conflict, disordered parent will likely try these tactics, if you know what to expect in advance, you can be prepared and you can guard against taking her bait and being suckered back into the drama. The beauty of OFW is that every single interaction with the program is logged and that will be helpful in court. But beware: having everything logged is essential in defending yourself against false claims about your behavior, but it may not be very helpful to prove your ex is a crazy, manipulative s0-and-s0.
Remember Your Primary Objective
Your high-conflict ex will certainly claim that she was trying to use the tool as it’s intended; she’ll claim mistake, innocence, ineptitude, etc., and it’s hard to prove that her cumulative errors are intentional and designed to sabotage the effectiveness of OFW. When you approach the judge with all of these manipulative “errors,” believing that you’re painting a clear picture of how disordered your children’s mother is, the judge is likely to simply conclude that OFW hasn’t corrected the issues it was meant to correct , at which point the judge may very likely discontinue its use. The HCP has accomplished her goal!
You’ll recognize her manipulations as part of a pattern that typifies her character and you’ll probably be eager to point it out to the judge to as another example of the HCP’s self-defeating, self-destructive behavior. But wait! Whenever you’re in litigation, you must always keep your hierarchy of objectives in mind.
Always weigh the upside and the downside, keeping in mind your most important goal—extricating yourself from the crazy vortex that surrounds your chaotic, disordered soon-to-be-ex. If exposing all of your ex’s shenanigans on OurFamilyWizard is likely to lead the Judge to abandon its use, that’s not such a great result for you! Although your HCP may be gaming the system, there’s no question that OFW will get you closer to No Contact and it will help you maintain those all-important boundaries, so long as you’re prepared for her dirty tricks. Meanwhile, the evidentiary value of her OFW tricks is relatively small—presumably you have a stockpile of outrageous events from throughout your marriage to present in Court.
So, consider whether exposing her gamesmanship on OFW outweighs the potential of having the tool removed from your tool belt. Her goal is to get you to engage in more conflict; your goal is to steer clear of conflict and minimize contact. OFW will still help you disengage from the conflict and drama if you know the tricks that she’s likely to play and if you steel yourself and prepare to let her taunts and barbs bounce off of you.
Finally, here’s one more pointer that will help counter the effectiveness of such underhanded chicanery: To the greatest extent possible, do not rely on Crazy to feed you information about your kids. You should independently have a relationship with their doctors, schools, therapists, friends’ parents, coaches, etc. You can get all or nearly all of the information you will need about your children’s appointments, practices, school events, birthday parties, etc. Get the information directly from the source, rather than being sucker-punched by disinformation from their mother. It is the responsible and mature way to be involved in your children’s lives and narrows down their mother’s ability to exclude you.
Please check back soon for the second article in this series, which will focus on other dirty tricks exes employ in high-conflict custody cases and how you can best protect yourself and your children.