Archive for abuse

It’s Official: Parental Alienation Syndrome is NOT a Psychological Disorder

So it’s official.  The American Psychological Association has made it clear that Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) will not be included in the forthcoming DSM-V as a psychological disorder.  Frankly, I am relieved.

Read about it here:

I have seen some very alienating behavior over the years in my family law practice.  It comes from both genders and every time it comes up, a child is harmed.  Sometimes it is driven by emotional issues such as addiction, abuse or even a personality disorder.  More often than not, however, it is just because someone is being mean by putting their poor emotionally defenseless child in the middle of their divorce.

To get an idea of what Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is, here is an article from

PAS has not been well received in the California courts.  For one thing, the science is not very good and is not deemed as sufficiently reliable for use in custody proceedings.

Here are some links to sources by skeptics of Parental Alienation Syndrome:

I have had many potential clients call me wanting to launch a legal campaign in family court based on PAS.  I try to explain that the science is considered unreliable.  However, these parents often feel so convinced that they are victims of PAS that they won’t hear anything else.  When I start to explain that PAS is not a recognized psychological disorder, I am quickly written off.

I try to explain that the BEHAVIOR, without talking about the label, is what counts.  It is universally accepted that exposing children to alienating behaviors is harmful to them.  We can hang our hats on that concept in court rather than getting caught up in the label of a so-called syndrome.

As a caution, experience has also shown me that many parents who complain of PAS often miss the point that it is quite possible that the child is alienated because the alienated parent truly IS terrible for that child.  It is not uncommon for an abuser to complain that the other parent is alienating. But that’s a discussion for another day.

My recommendation to all parents in difficult custody cases is to focus on the undesirable behaviors and not assign psychological labels.

My brother, in describing how he can spot an emotional problem without being a trained psychologist, relates the story of how a mishap on a swing resulted in his own self-diagnosis that his arm was broken.  How was this child able to diagnose his fracture without being an M.D.?  He simply looked at his arm and noticed that it was bending at a forty-five degree angle the wrong way.  No medical books required — his arm was broken!  It’s not much different in figuring out that there is a serious problem in a custody battle.

I have observed that most cases where alienating behaviors occur often involve psychology that is more reliable than the very unreliable “unscience” of PAS.  For instance, there is often abuse of a parent or the children.  Very often substance abuse is involved.  Perhaps one or both parents suffer from a personality disorder.  I don’t need the en vogue diagnosis of a psychological disorder to show the court that there is a problem and that a child is suffering.  Just like my brother’s childhood diagnosis of his own broken limb — Judges don’t need it either.

Here’s an idea. When there is bad behavior in a custody battle — the Judge should simply call it out and put an end to it. You don’t need a DSM diagnosis to conclude that it is bad for kids if one parent is on a campaign to alienate the other parent.  It’s just rotten, nasty and mean behavior. Period. This is not about gender, because I see rotten behavior from moms and dads equally. Where I practice family law in San Diego, it is almost standard in every case that there is an order that neither parent shall speak negatively of the other parent in the hearing or presence of the child. I believe a child has a right to draw his/her own conclusions about a parent without being subjected to either parent’s mean-spirited histrionics — no DSM diagnosis required. As Bob Newhart would say, just “stop it!”


Are You a Victim of Financial Infidelity?

The author in this article presents a very interestin­g take on fidelity in marriage. The idea of “financial fidelity” is a good one. So many of my divorce clients arive at the decision to end their marriages over money issues. As a divorce profession­al, I appreciate the advice to have a moderate response with financial “cheating” is discovered­. Many of my clients opt for a postnuptia­l agreement when such happens as a way to prevent the marriage from disintegra­ting. Having a written agreement with clear understand­ings of the financial boundaries and what is expected from a spouse can have a huge impact on the success or failure of the marriage going forward. I also support having the prenup discussion prior to marriage so that a marrying couple can have the money conversati­on. This prevents misunderst­andings and incorrect expectatio­ns from developing down the road.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Judge has harsh words for Mom before sentencing her for spanking her kid





Judge has harsh words for Mom before sentencing her for spanking her kid

See this article about a Texan judged who sentenced a mother for felony abuse charges after she spanked her child.  Note, she did not use a belt or leave any bruises, just some red marks.

Judge Jose Longoria said, “You don’t spank children today.”

It seems that more and more courts are taking a strong stance against spankings.  I am not sure I agree with such a hardline, but we are certainly seeing more and more bannings of corporal punishment in our family law cases in San Diego.

What do you think?  Is spanking inappropriate all the time or are there times when spanking is ok?

High Conflict Divorce Tip #1: Boundaries

In my career as a divorce professional, I have developed a name for myself as an attorney who knows how to guide clients through a high conflict divorce. My business partners observe that I have some of the craziest cases they have seen in their careers. Clients and professionals learn quickly that I am good with tough, emotionally charged cases. Lately, I am even being asked to provide consultation to other attorneys regarding how best to handle cases like this.  My best talent is in helping parties settle even the most acrimonious cases outside of court.

High Conflict Divorce Tip #1: Boundaries

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

My first high conflict divorce tip: set clear boundaries early in the case.

A good deal of the emotional and legal pressure of family law cases results from the parties being unable to respect each other’s boundaries- or maybe just being unable to understand what boundaries should be set. I think of the Robert Frost poem, “Mending Fences”. Here is an excerpt:

I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;

And on a day we meet to walk the line

And set the wall between us once again.

We keep the wall between us as we go.

To each the boulders that have fallen to each.

And some are loaves and some so nearly balls

We have to use a spell to make them balance:

‘Stay where you are

until our backs are turned!’

We wear our fingers rough with handling them.

Oh, just another kind of out-door game,

One on a side. It comes to little more:

. . . .

He said it for himself. I see him there

Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top

In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.

He moves in darkness as it seems to me~

Not of woods only and the shade of trees.

He will not go behind his father’s saying,

And he likes having thought of it so well

He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

(from visited 05/21/2011.)

Family law is unique because in the vast majority of cases, the opposing parties have had sex with each other. That takes the whole dispute up to an entirely different emotional level from your garden variety legal dispute. The parties have likely spent years with each other lowering boundaries and emotional defenses between them. We are most vulnerable with the one’s we love. We also feel the safest and allow the mixing of our lives. Privacy becomes less important to us than closeness. Trust is more important than verification. We lower our defenses with our lovers and share everything. But when the break up happens, we try to go back to what we were before we met. The problem is that folks invest a lot in each other emotionally. So even though there is the intellectual understanding that lives should be disentangled, old habits die hard and we leave our boundaries open.

I had a difficult high conflict divorce case early in my career where a husband and wife chose to divorce, but live next door to each other. The idea was that this would be good for the kids. Having mom and dad live next door to each other would make co-parenting easy. They believed that an informal and less rigid co-parenting arrangement would be best.

However, what happened was that the father in this relationship didn’t quite sever the relationship in his head. He kept a key to the mother’s residence and would walk in unannounced. He tried to leave his dirty clothes in the hamper at the wife’s house. He would walk in and take food from the fridge. One day the wife came home and found him in her shower. He explained that he was remodeling his shower and that he needed to use hers. Naturally, he never paid towards her water bill or replaced any of the food he “borrowed”. The wife became exasperated and the tensions escalated. She asked him not to come in uninvited anymore and to do his own laundry. He became angry because, after all, the divorce was not final and his name was still on the deed to the house. He talked to the kids about how “unreasonable” their mother was being. Although she changed the locks, he obtained copy of the new key from their teenage daughter. Needless to say, we spent a lot of expensive time in court on this one.

In my opinion, the case got off to a bad start because the husband wanted to keep the same level of familiarity with his wife even though he had filed a petition for divorce. I am no shrink and I am sure a psychologist could talk about what issues there were that led him to not wish to sever the relationship. The wife’s mistake was not being very clear on her required boundaries early in the case. When he moved out, perhaps he should not have moved next door. Perhaps it should have been clearer for both of them that they now had separate residences and that although they used to sleep in the same bed, privacy and respect for personal space had to be respected. Sadly, the conflict in this high conflict divorce escalated to the point where their children were in emotional crisis.

I spent a good deal of time in this high conflict divorce case helping the parties set new boundaries. The locks would be changed again. The wife would express that he could not come over unannounced. He had to do his own laundry and buy his own food. He would shower at his own place. Most importantly, the children would not be exposed to the adult business of their dispute. With boundaries, things improved.

I had another potentially high conflict divorce mediation case where the parties chose to remain in the same residence for a period of time. Given the state of today’s real estate market, many parties are choosing to delay the sale of real estate. We spent a good amount of time early in the case establishing boundaries, in spite of the choice to continue to cohabit. The parties agreed to a nesting schedule for the children, where one parent would be “on duty” at a time. They chose not to expect to have meals together. They bought two refrigerators. They did, however, agree that one day per week they would have dinner together with the children as a family. All of the finances were divided and they no longer shared expenses. They would pay equally on certain joint household bills like homeowner’s insurance, property taxes or the mortgage. Most importantly, they agreed that if there was ever going to be an argument or dispute between them, the children would never see it. If a disagreement became too much for them to navigate on their own, they would return to mediation for a facilitated discussion before letting it get out of hand.

I was very concerned about this case because of the parties’ close proximity. I was terrified it would become a high conflict divorce and I would be receiving a call in the middle of the night that one of them had been arrested. However, I was gratified that they followed their boundaries quite well and even came up with new rules as needed. Because they respected one another’s space and privacy, things actually went very well. In my opinion, they could only have such success in reducing the conflict between them because they chose early on to set rules and boundaries. Then, the respected the rules and boundaries that they set. Later they told me that at first it was easy to slip back into the old habits they had when married, but that they quickly learned that respecting the rules made their lives more peaceful.

Now, I would not recommend a cohabiting relationship for most divorcing couples – especially those in a high conflict divorce, but I can say that the lesson to be learned here is that boundaries matter. Redefining the relationship early in the process is essential and can have a tremendous effect on how the case goes. It can be the difference between a mutually agreeable settlement or thousands of dollars in court costs in a high conflict divorce. It can be the difference between happy and emotionally healthy children and kids in crisis.

Another useful metaphor for the high conflict divorce is that it is important to know, as if on the highway, which lane you are supposed to drive in. If people switch lanes chaotically or don’t follow the traffic rules, bad things can happen.

So here are some pointers for building good fences to prevent the case from devolving into a high conflict divorce:

  • Have a meeting early in the case to determine what boundaries need to be set and what rules for interaction are agreeable to the parties’ transition from married to single people.
  • Make sure the kids’ boundaries are respected. Don’t allow the kids to be used as messengers between the parents. Make sure they are not exposed to the parents’ legal dispute or “put in the middle” in any way. They just need to know that they have two parents, who love them. They don’t need to be immersed in “adult business”.
  • Get a parenting plan figured out early and then follow it to the letter. Make sure that the parenting plan accounts for possible disagreements and clearly spells out times and locations for exchanges. The plan should specify a clear holiday and vacation schedule. Err on the side of overly detailed. The parties can always choose to be flexible with one another, but make sure there is a clearly defined procedure for parental communication and for how the parenting plan could be modified in the event of mutual agreement.
  • Be sensitive about introducing new love interests. Sometimes it can be very upsetting to the other party when the new love interest comes into the picture. If step-parenting is anticipated, make sure that the parties have a conversation about the roles and expectations regarding the step-parents and their relationship with the children.
  • Codify the agreed about boundaries by stipulated court order and make sure that the order includes clearly defined consequences should a boundary be crossed.
  • Divide financial responsibilities early. Have clear understandings about who is responsible for what joint bills. Consider establishing a temporary support regime as early as possible. Make sure that financial disclosure happens early and that automatic temporary restraining orders relating to community assets and debts are followed and enforced. A lot of the fights in high conflict cases arise from simple misunderstandings about financial boundaries and responsibilities.

So, do fences make better neighbors? Possibly. Do good, clear and respectful boundaries make better ex-spouses and co-parents? Absolutely!

For more information about managing a high conflict divorce,
contact San Diego Divorce Mediator  Shawn Weber at 858-410-0144.


Other helpful posts about setting boundaries in your high conflict divorce:

How to Establish Boundaries After Divorce

Bill Eddy, LCSW, JD, Clear Court Orders for Shared Parenting:

Women’, Dealing With Your Ex After Divorce and Setting Boundaries: