What Courts Don't Know That They Don't Know

About High Conflict Divorce/Custody

High conflict family court (both divorce, and post judgment placement and custody) can be differentiated from other cases because of the extreme lack of trust between parties, high levels of anger, allegations of abuse or poor parenting, and protracted litigation.  In addition, one parent will engage in sabotaging the other parent–child relationship, and thus these cases may sometimes be called “parental alienation.”  

The relationships within the family are marked by fear, projection of blame, deceit, betrayal and the refusal to cooperate or communicate.   These dynamics existed within the family long before they ever entered into family court.  High conflict families develop dysfunctional coping mechanisms over time, because at least one parent has a cluster of relationally destructive personality disordered traits.

 “While there are other personality disorders, BPD (borderline personality disorder) and NPD (narcissistic personality disorder) are the most common in high-conflict divorces (definitions added ).  And, “… high-conflict divorces have increased over the past decade, a trend that may be tied to the growing number of people with BPD and NPD” (Eddy, Kreger, 2014 ).

High conflict cases jam up family court dockets because they are opened, but never closed.   Family courts do not have the relevant, scientific information to be able to resolve these cases safely and efficiently.  

The key to solving high conflict cases is recognizing and intervening in the traumatic and dysfunctional relational dynamics driven by one parent who has narcissistic (borderline) personality disorder (NBPD).  This parent affects every step in the legal process by distorting the court’s perceptions of the family, the other parent, and the children.

Research documents that family courts and the mental health professionals have strongly held mistaken assumption about families in high conflict cases. These misconceptions compromise the accuracy and integrity of their practice, decisions, and judgments (Warshak, 2015).

The following are 5mistaken assumptions that are present in nearly all high conflict family courtrooms.

1.  Families in high conflict court are normal. (wow- not by a long shot)

85% of divorcing parents work out a change in home structure without harming the children.  Healthy, normal parents do this without family court.  In fact, healthy, normal parents with empathy would never consider going to family court and putting the fate and future of their children into the hands of a perfect stranger.   The rest of us (15%) are jamming into family courts across the country.  If our families were normal we wouldn’t be in family court.  We put the "D" in dysfunctional.  One parent has a serious mental illness and our children and us have been traumatized/abused for years by that parent.  Of course we are going to be high conflict.

2. Both parents contribute to the conflict.

The controlling parent has one of the most dangerous mental illnesses and uses toxic coercion and exploitation to traumatize the rest of the family.  While he or she may pretend (false persona) to be calm, rational, and caring; it is an act to fool the court and mental health professionals.  Narcissistic (borderline) parents (NBPD) do not enter family court to resolve ANYTHING, but to escalate conflict aimed at blaming and punishing the already traumatized targeted parent for the divorce.  Most targeted parents have complex PTSD from living with a partner who has NBPD.  In family court, targeted parents spend most of their time trying to defend themselves against being constantly attacked.

3. The parent with NBPD has a healthy relationship with the child.

As soon as the couple separated and the disturbed parent could isolate the child from the other parent, the NBPD parent began pressuring the child into the middle of the conflict.  Parents with NBPD coerce their children to align with them against the other parent.  They begin to treat the child as a confident and “buddy,” which raises the child’s status in the family hierarchy to that of the abuser and above that of the other parent.   Teenagers are especially vulnerable to conforming to this cross-generational coalition. Cross-generational coalitions are a profound breach in generational boundaries and a well documented form of pathology NOT a healthy bond!

4. Children, especially adolescents are credible witnesses and should have a voice in placement.

In high conflict family court, the child’s viewpoint never reflects a mature judgment, independent of the narcissistic (borderline) parent’s manipulation and pressure. 

Scientific research in adolescent development and neuro-psychology has found that adolescence is stage of tremendous physical, cognitive, and emotional development.   This means that adolescence is also the time when children are the most vulnerable to the emotional pressures and exploitation from their parent with narcissistic (borderline) personality disorder (NBPD).   Unfortunately, children trapped with the parent who has NBPD do not have the emotional, cognitive, or even physical capacity to contradict and/or defy a parent who holds all the power over their lives.

While professionals may believe that children act mature and are honest, objective, and authentic, children in high conflict court will only express what the controlling narcissistic (borderline) parent demands that they say and do.

5. Removing a child from placement with a narcissistic (borderline) parent would be traumatizing.

There are two mistaken assumptions here.  The first is that family court is trauma informed or at least they know what trauma is.   My experience is that family court is unaware of the profound impact of trauma on the family.  The second assumption is that a child will be traumatized if they are separated from the narcissistic (borderline) parent. 

The most comprehensive way to measure childhood trauma is through Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) scores.  Our children experience 7+ out of the 10abusive and neglectful environments identified by the landmark ACE Study in the mid 1990's.   There is very little room left in our children's lives for any more trauma.  The only ACEs that are missing are physical abuse and neglect and sexual abuse.  Our children are some of the most traumatized children in America and need immediate intervention.  Removing them from their mentally ill parent and placing them with the targeted parent will reduce their ACE Score by 75% within a few weeks.