Steven D. Kopald, Partner – Law Firm of Kopald and Kopald
Michele Ross, LCSW
Below you will see a case study written by an attorney and a therapist. The purpose here is to demonstrate what harm can occur in the court process when one party is determined to punish the other, and the court makes inconsistent rulings resulting in financial and most importantly emotional damage to the entire family.
A Client first came to therapy for marital discord. The Client knew she was unhappy in her marriage and was contemplating divorce. She had been married for 9 years. She is 38 years old and has three children ages 2, 4 and 7. In her first few sessions, she discussed the history of her marriage and some of the erratic behavior her husband was exhibiting that contributed to her seeking out therapy. She explained she was the main financial earner in the family and due to Husband’s financial mistakes they were required to file a bankruptcy. In the 4th session of therapy she decided that she should pursue a divorce which she felt was in best interest of the family. At that time I discussed the processes of mediation and litigation. She determined that mediation would be in the best interest of her and her children. She also felt that mediation would benefit her husband financially and emotionally. When she began divorce process, she was fully intent on having an amicable divorce. She wanted her children to go through this process with the least amount of emotional stress as possible.
The client first consulted me as the best way to achieve a fair dissolution of her marriage that would minimize negative impact on their young children, while being mindful of the family’s precarious financial circumstances. I first met with her in late 2008 early 2009 although she was still unsure of when she would start the divorce process that she told me had to happen. Her delay was her concern about the impact on her family, three (3) small children, and the financial strain on her resources. She had recently filed for bankruptcy and her husband made little effort to bring in income. The only asset that they were able to keep despite the bankruptcy was the residence, a two (2) bedroom condominium that she and her husband had purchased after the birth of their second child.
Although it is more common to personally serve the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage on the other party, it is possible to serve the documents by mail, thus avoiding the embarrassment the service. I included a letter advising the husband that it was our intention to mediate the dissolution and explaining the benefits. Specifically it was explained that mediation not only saves significant costs, it can be handled so that the emotional issues are dealt with in a non-adversarial manner. This, I carefully explained to the husband in my correspondence, was especially important to limit the harm to their children.
In order for this to be a successful mediation the spouse needs to become interested in the mediation process as a way for his needsand feelings to be heard and his family priorities considered.
Before the divorce started and when the possibility of using the mediation process was still viable, the client was in a relatively stable mental state. She expressed sadness over loss of her marriage, but believed that this process could be done in such a way, that co-parenting would occur and the children’s lives would not have to change significantly.
As the process continued, the husband’s behavior became more and more abusive and it was evident to her and her attorney that mediation was not an option. The husband began to harass the wife with threatening excessive e-mails, abusive verbal attacks in the presence of the children and telling the children that their mom was choosing to leave them
The family continued to disintegrate. The spouses were incapable of resolving their financial obligations leaving the mother attempting to meet all of the household expenses including payments for the residence. The husband refused to contribute. The husband almost immediately after the “divorce” was initiated became involved in a new relationship with a girl some fifteen years his junior,. He felt that it was appropriate to go to his girlfriend’s residence, spend “time” with her and return to the family home early morning, sometimes at 3:00 a.m. when he then entered the master bedroom to crawl into bed with his wife. As a result of his behavior wife wanted him to find another place to live. The husband refused to negotiate any alternative living conditions. Because of the husband’s refusal to leave the residence, the mother was required to file a motion with the court to require that he move into a separate residence.
The first court appearance was scheduled for mid September 2009. The wife wanted the husband to find a separate place to live and to establish custody and visitation that provided the best for the children, allocating significant time for both parents to be with the children. She did not want to share a bed with her husband after he spent late nights with his girlfriend.
The first court appearance to determine the residences of the parties and to establish visitation, custody and support was scheduled for September but continued by the Judge until December.
When the hearing finally took place, in December almost four (4) months later, the evidence presented to the court clearly indicated that the children were being used by the father as a means of “punishing” his wife’s decision to terminate the marriage. All of the parenting rules that had been practiced by the parents were ignored by the husband. The best way for him to punish his wife was through the children. Television had not been permitted during school days in the past; he now allowed the children to do their homework in front of the television. While the food that they had decided was best for the children was with no added sugar, now the everyday breakfast was cereal with added sugar. If the wife objected, the children cried.
The Judge acknowledged that the evidence indicated that the current living environment adversely effected the children, increasing as the negative verbal sparing and loss of any continuity in rules and schedules of the children were disrupted.
As the divorce proceedings and litigation continued, there was severe psychological damage that occurred for the mother and the children. Instead of 2 adults working on co-parenting and ways they could help the children with the separation, there was abusive verbal fighting, raised voices and inappropriate information in which the children were exposed. As litigation continued client had to miss work to meet with her attorney and for court dates. She loss the ability to focus on her job and engage in effective parenting as a result of the husband’s refusal to consult or cooperate. Also as her mental state deteriorated it became more difficult to focus on her job, parenting and social relationships.
To understand the benefits of mediation and an example of the arbitraines of Court decisions, you only have to look at the decision of the Judge who decided the lives of the children and the parents. It was clear that the level of anger and discord within the residence was substantial. The Judge first ruled that the children were so adversely affected by the present circumstances that he issued an Order that permitted the wife to take the children to therapy without the consent of the father who had argued that the children were not adversely affected by the divorce and were fine and did not need therapy.
The judge determined that the current situation with the parents and the children in the same residence created a harmful environment for the children. The evidence demonstrated that when the children were with one of the parents separately, they were less subject to emotional problems.
With that clear statement by the Judge, he ruled that the entire family, fighting parents and all, should all remain in the same house and the father was not ordered to find another residence.
The Judge further ruled that the children be moved from their bedroom in the residence into the master bedroom. The wife was given the “sole right and use of the children’s bedroom and the father was to use the dining room as his sleeping quarters. The ruling required the parties to continue to share the small residence.
This was not logical. The Judge had just previously ruled that the present living arrangement created most of the stress and emotion problems of the children and his basis to order the wife to take the children to therapy.
Thats all for this month – stayed tuned as we delve further into this case study for our next post.