“Narcissistic Personality Disorder in the Family Court System”[i] is not Opportunity for the Courts to Ignore Parental Rights and Your Constitutional Protections.
Tina Swithin brings up some really good points and some suggestions in her most recent article “Narcissistic Personality Disorder in the Family Court System” but also presents a couple of suggestions and ideas that are contrary to the way things should be done. Trying to make a “feel-good system” for some reduces the protections for others and increases the damage done to children. Almost all parents I know including myself and my current husband were asked during our child custody battles, “Why can’t you both just get along for the sake of the children?”[ii] This question becomes the biggest insult as well as a major emotional barrier. All of the people working in the family court system, judges and attorneys included, use the parents not getting along as an excuse to run up your financial bill by using expensive investigations and procedures, an excuse to violate your constitutional parental rights, and as an excuse that they need to choose one parent over the other. As they get both sides fighting each other and one trying to prove the other parent has something wrong with them, as Swithin herself experienced, “The untrained observer may perceive the situation to be about two immature parents who are not capable of putting their children first.”[iii]
This incorrect assumption and wrongheaded thinking gets used against the parent being attacked and also used against the parent that claims they are being protective. This is solved by using the constitutional principles that protect parental rights. Swithin is not the first one to make the incorrect assumption that protecting parental rights is contrary to protecting children. She states “Parental rights seem to carry more weight than what is truly in the best interest of the child.” This is usually a complaint that is made by a parent that has failed to cut the other parent out of their child’s life. Yet if the tables were turned and they had a disorder that did not render them unfit or a clear and present danger to the child, they would be appreciative to have the protections that parental rights afford them from being cut out for not being perfect or for having a disorder. Not all disorders, illnesses, etc. render a parent unfit and each state has their minimum standards for what renders a parent unable to care for the child’s basic needs. Family courts most certainly should apply these equally to all parents married or divorced, not unequally ostracize a parent going through a divorce. Just as in marriage it is in divorce as well that protecting parental rights is what protects children’s rights. And children’s rights are held in trust by both their fit and loving parent.
Not giving parental rights the proper weight is what has been allowing family courts to continue to hurt children, by putting the children in the middle, forcing them to choose a parent, empowering the children to use the parent’s against each other to get their way, and by costing children financially by spending their college funds by forcing the parents to tear the other parent down. The result most of the time, regardless of the outcome, is the state severely damaging the children, damaging the parents, and transferring wealth from the children to attorneys and to the mental health profession. The system inflames parents by saying things like Swithin puts here and then it uses that inflammation to drain all the resources that parents should have to raise their children. Do they really realize what they are saying? Do they really support lengthening litigation to make the parents fight more over one parent’s imperfection or disability and taking more money from children and giving it to attorneys and mental health professionals?
When you ask a court to use arbitrary procedures to “protect” your child from what you perceive as a bad parent and you lower the bar to what is defined as bad for the child and open this up to personal bias and beliefs, you open yourself up to broad and arbitrary abuses of power, expensive procedures, lengthy fighting over the most basic of differences, that essentially boil down to what looks like two spoiled children having a temper tantrum and trying to get their way.
We need to protect children from parents who are truly dangerous, but we must have the same bar for all parents married, single, or divorced and everyone involved must have their rights protected unless they are proven guilty of some crime. For a state to step in and start grilling you on your parenting styles, either of you, when the two of you were still married, the state would have been met with resistance. If they didn’t follow procedure and treat you the same as any other parent you would challenge them. They would have been met with being overturned by an appellate court if they tried to restrict you from time with your child for any length of time just because you were making choices they disagreed with if these choices didn’t rise to the level of child abuse. They would have to file the proper charges and accuse you of child abuse or child neglect that fall within the scope of the child abuse laws, otherwise they would not be authorized to tell you what to do, how to do it, how much time to spend with your child, or how to spend your time with your child. States don’t have this right to ignore your parental rights and divorcing parents don’t have this right either! Parents getting divorced are convinced that they get to tell the other parent what to do and how to raise the children and that is what is costing them and their children so much harm and money. Parents would do this much less, however, if it wasn’t being encouraged and required of them.
If the Constitution were followed properly, parents in divorce would continue to have equal rights to their child and would only need to determine how those equal rights including possession time would be exercised. If the other parent hasn’t broken any laws, your hatred, dislike, or distrust is simply not grounds to deprive them of their constitutional rights any more than it is grounds to have them jailed.
Articles like this that suggest that high-conflict custody cases should take more court time are opening parents up for being driven into bankruptcy and inappropriately losing their child when they can no longer afford to pay for the expensive evaluations and intrusions into their lives that most likely aren’t going to produce the results of cutting the other parent out in the first place. They end up getting accused for the problem that the children have from the conflict. This suggestion only hurts children more, makes attorneys richer, and destroys more lives.
Educating experts to investigate this further and identify a personality disorder in a parent is not beneficial for the children in divorce. If a parent has a disorder that is so impairing that they are unable to care for the children’s basic needs and are a clear and present danger to the children then the courts have standards to follow for this and these are what should apply in family court as well.
Lowering the standards and increasing the costs to educate others to step in and take over the decision making of the parents before one is charged with being unfit or properly plead to be a clear and present danger is not a good idea at all. These experts absolutely should be educated but their involvement in divorce family courts of law are only warranted when the proper charges are brought and then it is up to the state to prove it, not the other parent.
They are using parents and children already going through the emotional devastation of divorce and financial costs of having to establish two homes to raise the children. Parents don’t need the added complication or the wrong ideas that they should fight to force the other parent to be under their control or that they should make the children nervous about the other parent just because that parent has imperfections.
However, as Swithin also stated that some of these parents can be outright dangerous, and if that’s the case then following the proper procedures and treating all parents equally under the laws and using the proper charges and laws would be the proper course. Why would you want to take the chance of running out of money if the other parent really was dangerous and possibly leaving it open to arbitrariness of a broad and capricious standard like “best interest of the child” in family court and possibly have your children end up in an abuser’s hands. The book that my husband and I wrote, “Not in the Child’s Best Interests” goes through this more thoroughly and shows how taking shortcuts around the Constitution in the family court by avoiding the standards required to prove a parent unfit or a clear and present danger could actually be leaving children in the hands of the dangerous parent. We have all heard about parents where the abuser got custody of the children and the other parent was left with NO authority to do anything at all to protect the children.
Why take these chances, why open yourselves up to the wrong fight and unnecessary expense? When you see the problem clearly you won’t get tricked into creating the wrong solutions.
We appreciate that people like Tina Swithin bring up very important issues, and are not intending to pick on her specifically, but a couple of her suggestions we disagree with, that high conflict cases should be given more court time and that parental rights should be given less weight or else the best interest of the child is not being met. We hope to inform and educate everyone more clearly where the real problems reside and how the wrong ideas lead to the wrong solutions and how these together weave their way into the process. Protecting parental rights is how parents protect their children’s rights. And parents do not have to be perfect to continue to be an equal parent in their children’s lives; the other parent does not have to like them, and the children do not have to choose a parent they like better nor should they.
According to the attorney that Tina Swithin interviewed, Chelsea Story in Orange County, ”The central focus of judges in the family court system should be on children’s rights and protecting the children. Custody determinations should not be based on father’s rights or mother’s rights but based solely on the best interest of the child.” This type of thinking is exactly what has been causing the problems in the first place. It’s a horrible position to be put in to have the custody of your child in the hands of strangers and third parties just because you and the other parent didn’t work out. Regardless of whether the other parent has a personality disorder does not mean they cannot be a parent. And being a parent is not up to the determination of the other parent or the therapists. If the parent falls within the standards of what the state considers fit then you are just spending a bunch of money to inflame a court. You risk this turning on you, you risk running out of money, and you risk hurting your child even more. Parents with illnesses are allowed to be with their children. Attacking them because you disagree with their parenting styles just causes a lot more problems.
Children’s rights are best protected when fit parents who love and care for them have their rights protected by default. This allows the conflict to end sooner and the children to settle more quickly. This keeps the children out of the middle.
[i] Swithin, Tina. “Narcissistic Personality Disorder in the Family Court System.” Published by Huffington Post at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tina-swithin/narcissistic-personality-disorder-divorce_b_4073110.html accessed on October 14, 2013.