Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Financial Abuse Through Family Court

Enduring financial abuse is like watching someone steal your stack of wood so they can build a fabulous ship, decked out for a journey, captain of his own ship, while you are trying to gather the cast-off pieces from under the water to build your lifeboat.
Except that was not a his stack, her stack sort of situation. That stack of wood belonged to the children you had, too. And deliberately making one parent sink while the other parent sails is completely ignorant of the children's quality of life.
It is a parent's grown-up responsibility to provide for their children. It takes a person of average intelligence to see that if you set out to financially cripple a parent through costing them money or withholding resources, then you also cripple your own children. That is the crux of abuse...controlling the resources at someone else's expense, and punishing them through material means. It is abusive to forget this also punishes your own children.
If you dig deeper, and ask "why would someone work to financially undermine an ex?" The answers are found in psychological science and abuse. Remember, abuse of power is about having the ability to help and instead choosing to harm.

Family court and our "justice" system allows financial abuse to thrive over and over. The way the system is set up allows for such subjective interpretation of laws and policies that it also ensures a large margin of error. The problem is, these judicial errors create a quality of life for children that is sub-standard and burdens society.
It's "the Emperor's New Clothes". Over and over and over we hear stories of deadbeat dads who either agree to pay or through the charts are obligated to pay child support and then spend a disproportionate amount of money to get out of paying child support. The easiest way to do this is through 50/50 parenting.  The second easiest is to quit working, or hide income through cash work. Other ways, like moving out of state, not providing an address, and hiding assets, are just as acceptable. As we saw in the last post, 50/50 isn't fair or even. It often creates a burden for the children and a more reasonable ex by letting one disordered person run the show and narrate the story. Constantly.
When a man engages in constant court battles to financially strip his ex, where he could be engaging in good-faith discourse and civil conduct, he gains leverage to get his way, but COMPLETELY IGNORES HOW THIS AFFECTS THE CHILDREN.
When family courts support this charade, this pretending to have no money to pay even the smallest amount of child support while throwing tens of thousands of dollars at family court, they are throwing gasoline on an abuser's fire. They are enablers of abusing children.
Courts don't ask, "Where is he getting this money to hire expensive attorneys and all these motions?" or, "Why isn't he spending that money on making an awesome life for his children?" They ask, "How can we uphold his rights?"
The system is inherently flawed in that it sets up a bullying situation where one person can constantly attack and the other tries to gain footing and counter-attack. No one stops to consider that having warring parents is not good for the children. No one stops to consider that a man who will prioritize revenge over supporting his children should never be given 50/50. No one stops to consider that that man cannot see the big picture of his children's lives and that he should be working to give them a consistent quality of  life everywhere they live, and that no normal man would abide by his children going without the necessities of their life ANYWHERE. Able-bodied men then require the rest of society to take up their slack. Through step-fathers. Through welfare. Through a mother's family. Through watching his ex financially struggle and have multiple jobs while he is working? Hiding money? Someone has to clean up his mess.
And family court became part of making his mess by refusing to uphold its own child support policies, by refusing to consider the bigger picture of a child's life and holding their quality of life as a priority, by refusing to consider evidence, and by refusing to punish able-bodied men who deliberately refuse to work and who deliberately withhold child support. Instead, they punish children and those who are poor, women, and black.
Again, it's a social justice issue. You, the taxpayer, are used to your money going to make the rich richer. But this is one area where you don't have to pay for someone else's kid, someone who is perfectly capable of doing more.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Financial Abuse: The Relationship

Financial abuse starts in the marriage. Restricting spending in a spouse while not restricting it in yourself, preventing your spouse from building credit, not allowing her to work or making her work more to support your perfectly capable self, refusing to put her name on property while requiring her to pay for it, restricting access to accounts, refusing to share money needed for basic expenses, spending more on yourself than on your family, hiding money while requiring everyone to struggle, refusing to work and fully contribute to the family, overspending and hiding debt, taking out credit cards in spouse's name to run up debt and ruin her credit (another variation of refusing to let her build credit or shaming her for debt), and any way fraud is committed.
Remember, the name of the abuse game is power and control. We all have the power to harm or help and when an intimate chooses to harm his own flesh and blood by physical or psychological injury it is absolutely abuse. Financial abuse causes both physical and psychological injury because it sets up a hierarchy. It says to the children, "the only life that counts is your life with me. Only what I want counts. You should, therefore, have to struggle at your mom's house unnecessarily and I will ensure that you experience poverty, hunger, and real need to prove my point."
A man who would deliberately create want, need, and poverty in a home where his children spend half their time is worse than a deadbeat. The selfishness in that is unfathomable. It is abusive to children, to ex-spouses, and it abuses a system. It abuses the good faith of bystanders. It takes advantage of every type of leverage possible to make sure the victim is blamed.
Come on, how long do we have to put up with this incredible lie? This story is getting so old and redundant it's ridiculous. Abuser sets up victim to fail then blames her. It's so perfect and so deplorable. So many people enable this utter crap. It goes beyond morals and into just plain humanity.
If one has the power to help or harm and they CHOOSE, DELIBERATELY, to make their OWN CHILDREN'S LIVES harder, WHY do we simply shrug it off and let welfare take care of it (and then complain about how many are on welfare).
We are talking about men who have the ABILITY to fully and completely provide for their children, but prioritize revenge over their children's needs. Even the "justice" system, who has it structured as a "rights" issue, has prioritized the rights of men to harm and hurt their families over the children's needs. The harm is irreparable. It isn't like anyone recovers financially from such abuse. It is a deliberate leveraging of resources AGAINST ONE'S OWN CHILDREN.
The abusive part is not just the financial leverage worked against one's own flesh and blood, but the lies and deceit used to get there. And then we have to hear how fathers have rights. Those fathers take away the rights of their children to enjoy stability, peace, healing from a broken home, and relative consistency in their socioeconomic circumstances. What does it benefit a child to go back and forth from rich dad to poor mom? What message does that give a child about his worth? If a child sees a parent doing that to their mother, they innately understand it happens to them too if they happen to piss off the parent in power.
I had a wave of recognition and also incredible sadness when I heard a sister's story of how her children's grandparents, millionaires many times over, turned a blind eye to her children's struggle and needs. Kinder, more aware people had to step in to help her children. She witnessed her ex renting huge homes, driving nice cars, living a "large" lifestyle while she was struggling with basic necessities, had no help with childcare expenses, and barely had food.
Stop calling them deadbeats. They're abusers.
I received so many stories of this type of abuse I'm going to post a few at a time. The names of the women remain anonymous.

Abuse during the relationship and financial recovery:

"My ex and I divorced when our kids were 3 and 5 and he started using money to try and punish and control me from the start. He was the breadwinner for our family and I was a stay at home mom finishing my bachelors degree. I was in no position to leave him, and I think he was counting on that to keep me there despite his addiction and emotionally abusive behavior. 

Before the divorce was final, he would give me a check each month to cover expenses for the household. He was spending too much money and it wasn't long before these checks would bounce, so I would take them to his bank on the day he got paid and cashed it right away so I could get the money before his account was empty. 

We had no real assets, as he had been so irresponsible with our money to support his addiction. We did own a nice car, which he usually drove, but both of our names were on the title. We owned it outright and he tried to trade it in to a dealership so he could upgrade to a big truck. He had snuck into the house while I was out to take the title from the safe, but because my name was also on it, he wasn't able to give the car to the dealership. I took the car back and sold it myself, using the money to pay closing costs on our house when we sold it. I knew that if I left it to him to sell the car, he would have kept the money and we wouldn't have been able to close on the sale of the house. 

We had a couple of home improvement loans for the house which we were ordered by to court to split the responsibility for, but he stopped paying so I had to take care of several thousand dollars worth of loans. He had opened a credit card account without my knowledge during the marriage and tried to stick me with thousands of dollars for that account when we divorced, but when I explained the situation to the judge, he did not hold me responsible for that. 

I had to move back in with my parents so my kids could have stability while I worked to improve our situation. He mocked me for that. I had primary physical custody, because that is what he asked for during the divorce. When he later realized that he wouldn't have to pay me as much in child support if we had 50/50 custody, he filed for a change in custody. The judge sided with me on this when I responded that a change in custody was not appropriate because there had not been a "significant change in circumstance," which is the requirement under the law for a change in custody. 

He lost his well-paying job with excellent insurance due to having committed some crimes and spent a few months in prison. When he got out, he had to take a lower-paying job and he kids were no longer covered under his insurance. I had them covered under my employer, but it was more expensive than his former insurance. He would not cover half of their out of pocket expenses, even when given an invoice. When he lost his good insurance coverage, he didn't notify me. I didn't find out until I started getting bills for their medical care. One of my children has autism, and his therapy can be expensive. 

Five years ago he left the state and moved to the other side of the country. He did not tell me that he was moving and did not tell me where he went. He went from job to job and did not notify the child support collection agency for my state when he changed jobs. I usually find out where he is working through mutual friends or social media, and then I report his new employer to the child support office myself. At one point he was about $12k in arrears. The only reason he is close to being caught up is that the state has been garnishing his income tax refunds for years. He has filed several times to have his support amount reduced due to his wages being so low and his recent unemployment. 

I am now financially able to support myself and my kids. I count myself lucky that I was able to continue my education and find a field of work that paid well and allowed me to still spend a significant amount of time with my kids. 

The ex has had no contact in about a year, and made very little contact after moving away. I could take him back to court to try and recoup the cost of the kids' medical expenses, but I feel that that would open the door for him to begin harassing me again and I'm not sure that it's worth it. He has remarried and has three more children.  He claims that he is not employed at times, but I suspect that he is finding work under the table to support his family and avoid paying child support. "

A story of fraud and struggle:

"Narc discarded the kids and I in 2013 and left me with a house that was so far underwater I could see the ocean floor. He didn't pay a dime in child support until the divorce was final. He started to pay but turned around and filed to take the kids away from me so I would have to pay him child support.

Once he figured out that the kids would not be moving with him he stopped paying and then the fight began with enforcements after enforcements. The attorney general is "involved" but are as useless as they come. Have done nothing for me or the kids.

What makes this all the more complicated is that my ex frauded the VA into giving him 100% disability so he's making $3500 a month tax free. The court order is for $920 and after much hassle I got the VA to give me the kids portion of the VA money which is $199.20 for 2 elementary age kids. That doesn't even cover their after school care.

I'm appealing the VA decision because I have tons of evidence that he committed fraud not only in getting the 100% (he deployed to Iraq but his job was to play the piano and check ID's at the gym. I'm not kidding!) but in the form he filled out with expenses he lied to make it look like he had no extra income.

So I'm left to raise 2 kids on $199.20 a month from him where as he alone has $3300 a month to spend on himself.

He got remarried and she's 100% disabled vet and she also gets child support of about $500 a month for her kids about the same age as mine. So for 2 adults and 2 kids that one household has a tax free income of over $7k a month where I'm raising 2 kids on less than 1/2 of that. Plus his "wife" is in full support of my kids not getting any $ because the VA $ is not considered "income".

He has no other children. He is $45k behind. He hasn't seen the kids since Nov 2, 2014."


 "I have 3 kids, 6,12 and 15. I had 3 miscarriages between the second and third, the last ectopic, so I couldn't have any more kids the natural way. I had stayed home with the kids but at this point he pushed me into getting a job right away and then went on about how he was going to stay home doing nothing for two years like I had. Then he found out his employer health insurance funds most of the cost for IVF, so we had the third by IVF. As soon as he was born, my soon-to-be-ex bullied his co-workers into firing him and then stayed home for now 6 years without any real attempt to find work. He cooked the meals but I had to work from home, freelancing with editing and other occasional work, with the baby on lap or beside me. When the youngest was weaned and potty trained, he got increasingly verbally abusive and made it hard to work from home because he kept coming upstairs and picking fights. Then when I tried to move out, he started playing the perfect Dad and stay at home parent. He kept bullying me in increasingly sophisticated ways but will not agree to any child care arrangement, which is required for me to move out (otherwise he gets custody). So we are stuck here because he wants sole custody so he can live off the child support. He has said he has no interest in a personal relationship with the kids, he wanted them to pass on his DNA and as a legacy."


Stay tuned for more stories of abuse. I will be posting stories every day this week. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Financial Abuse Series-One

Source: https://homelesschildwelfare.wordpress.com/local-research/


Many years ago I visited Atlantic City. I was helping a ministry group rehab a house and we visited the Boardwalk. I was struck by the experience of abject poverty in the neighborhoods surrounding the rich, glittering, spare-no-expense casinos. That something representing riches was set against a backdrop of poverty has stuck with me. The messages of exploitation, class, and entitlement were received loud and clear. This was the first time I had seen abuse of power so starkly illustrated: the rich ostentatiously flaunting indifference to the suffering of the poor. This was my first real education about how power and abuse work in the world. 

Fast forward to a college class: Political and Economic Power. In my class, I learned definitions of power: "the ability to achieve purpose" and "the ability to help or hurt." I learned about neoliberalism (or corporate libertarianism) and how it has worked by convincing the everyone that their interests align with corporate interests. I learned that the guiding principle behind neoliberalism is to maximize profit while minimizing accountability and responsibility. As a system, it externalizes blame so that profits are preserved and any costs are put on the people. It sets up classes, hierarchies, is economically exploitative, and because now, corporations are considered to be "people" with "rights", it uses government and politics to carry out its oppression of others.

I remember thinking, "I know a place where people are corporations and behave just like this: family court." I had a work group and we even did a research project on child support as an issue to take up using principles of non-violence. Our group included someone who had formerly worked at the child support enforcement office, so she'd seen everything. We could easily see the oppression acted out through economics and how there was a big need to enact social change around this issue.

Child support is a huge issue, with $112 BILLION and counting owed in back child support. It is also a racial and gender issue, for family court judges have little repercussions for enacting gender or racial bias. Their only real requirement is that they act nice during proceedings. It's in their decisions that punish women and minorities that biases are evident. It's an area where the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing, for on paper, we have child support charts and public policy, but in practice, we have sweeping inconsistencies and a huge lack of accountability. Six-figured white men are routinely told to quit their jobs to get out of paying child support. Men walk into the child support office complaining about their unemployed status as they drive off in their new cars, or even drive beater cars and jet off to their exciting international vacations. They don't care about their children's lives when they are with the other parent. It's like they believe their parenting responsibilities get "switched off" during the time their children are somewhere else.Yet withholding child support is not the only way to financially abuse someone. 

When I first started writing this, my intention was to explore my own experience and the experiences of others. I have a circle of friends with whom I've gathered stories, and there was a common thread running through them. Most often, the personality they were dealing with, man or woman, was high-conflict and controlling. Whether or not they were diagnosed or professionals had suggested the possibility of a personality disorder, the stories were basically the same. I sought experiences of women through a national website with over 32,000 followers. This site is dedicated to educating family court about cluster B personality disorders and support women going through a divorce from one or already divorced. On asking, my inbox was flooded with responses. Financial abuse is an issue that has little platform, little attention, but has a huge impact. Women are primarily the targets, and although one can find counter-examples of men being financially abused, exceptions do not negate the structure within which abuse is allowed to thrive. 

It's the abuse that keeps on giving. It doesn't stop after divorce.

One aspect of abuse we don't talk about very much is an abuser's pleasure at watching another suffer. It isn't JUST about enacting continuous power over another, it is about TAKING AWAY something they want and that is a basic human right: agency over one's life.  With emotional abuse, the abuser may have gotten to see his partner grovel and beg for love. With physical abuse, there is obvious wounding. Somewhere, deep down, there is a sense that an abuser takes pride in acting out this demonstration of power over another person. It confirms their belief that they must be in charge and powerful. No where is this more evident than when someone uses their resources to take away the resources of another. There are no bruises, but you can easily see the ramifications of your abusive handiwork: making another work second and third jobs, imposing deep legal debt on them, watching them struggle with bankruptcy or lack of housing or poor housing or lack of food and transportation. Watching them live paycheck to paycheck, sacrificing visits to a dentist or doctor in order to buy food, or to make sure their child has their needs met. Watching your own bank accounts fatten so in some sick way you can think of yourself as the "winner" while watching a former intimate and your own children be put in precarious positions over and over. To an abuser, this is pleasure. It is somehow a victory if you are homeless and without food. It proves your inadequacy, even though it was their attacking that put you in that position.

Maximize profit, eliminate accountability.

But in interpersonal relationships, the accountability is ultimately to your own flesh and blood. Refusal to see the bigger picture of how financial abuse affects them is not just irresponsible, it is abusive to children.

The NNEDV defines financial abuse as:
"Financial abuse is a common tactic used by abusers to gain power and control in a relationship.  The forms of financial abuse may be subtle or overt but in in general, include tactics to limit the partner’s access to assets or conceal information and accessibility to the family finances."

Abuse is leverage over another person's life. It is the privilege to affect another's life without consequence. It is the ABILITY to help or harm and choosing to harm. In this series, I will allow the stories of individuals illustrate how this abuse affects children on a visceral level, and how it affects parents who are targeted for this abuse, and how it affects society. I will look at enablers such as families, culture, and family court. I will explore how the larger paradigms of control are echoed in interpersonal financial abuse, and why it should be considered for radical change in public policy. My hope is to raise awareness for this very important issue and educate people on what it's like behind the scenes and how family court is kind of like socialism for abusers, especially if the judge isn't fluent in all the languages of abuse. Finally, I hope to let people who are in these situations know they are not alone.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

More Vacation Pictures (warning-there's a LOT)


Saltwater cowboys










Chincoteague Island


Just camping with wild horses
















Friday, July 28, 2017

Camping Vacation



Occasionally, I get a good case of wanderlust and work up big ideas like, "we're going to go camp for five days and go see the Liberty Bell and NYC and drive and drive." And so I followed this wander-lusting idea to Chincoteague Island. Chincoteague captured my imagination when I was a girl and read pretty much every book Marguerite Henry wrote, including "Misty of Chincoteague." I had heard this was no dreamy world in a book, but that it really existed. There is an event every year called "pony penning" where the herd of wild ponies on Chincoteague and the Virginia side of Assateague are gathered, driven to swim for a few minutes across a channel, then brought to auction as a yearly fundraiser for the town's Volunteer Fire Department. I had no idea when I scheduled our camping trip that we were arriving during pony penning...the biggest deal of the year. Luckily, we were able to procure a camping spot that allowed us time to explore the charming village atmosphere of the island, for two nights.
We arrived at the campground at roughly 9 pm and set up our tent. The warnings about mosquitoes were true. Nonetheless, we slept and woke up to the snuffling of miniature ponies, and llamas who were kept in a marshy field right behind our tent. We went to Chincoteague beach as soon as we could. It was beautiful and there were trails and a lighthouse but I couldn't tear my kids from the beach. We saw plenty of ponies in the marshes and it is an incredibly beautiful place.
The second night, it rained and rained and our trusty tent stayed nice and dry. But the campground wasn't very nice and we decided we needed to move.
Now, I'm a talker and during our Chincoteague stay, in between beach time, we ran into a pony penning event. The saltwater cowboys, as they're called, were going out to the marshes and field to round up the South herd for auction. The North herd would join the south herd on Monday for an early morning run on the beach, then they'd be readied for the swim. People brought chairs and lined the fences in the hot, hot sun to watch the cowboys bring the horses in. That was a treat because we got to interact with the locals, who had named all of the horses and were a tight-knit group. The charming town reminded me a lot of Gilmore Girls' fictional town Stars Hollow. And then, those famous ponies!
In talking with the locals, I learned about Assateague State Park in Maryland. Just an hour north, we again got lucky and were able to procure a tent site on the beach for the next three nights. We found out it was entirely possible to fall in love with a place. If one loves the idea of horses, the smell of horses, the habits of horses, and the look of horses, one loves this place. We got to combine tent camping with horses and the ocean. What bliss!
But adventures are not adventures without some foibles and mistakes made. We ended up with terrible night weather for camping and our tent was not strong enough to withstand the wind. Rain, we could handle. But the wind that came with it flattened our tent completely. After reassembling our tent twice, we made a makeshift tent out of the van and used the back hatch as a tent roof. That worked beautifully and we fit one queen air mattress on the ground and the other queen in the van. Having lost our van storage, I was able to put our necessities under a tarp and weight it down.
We were warned about the horses. They're kind of like big raccoons only they just stand there if you try to shoo them away. They are always looking for food. You will be fined if you feed or touch them so you can't treat them like pets. They have to be shooed away through loud, clanging noise.
When we arrived, we were visited by five horses who snuffled around looking for food. I think they just like to socialize a little too.
I have to gush about the bathrooms. They were almost spa quality. I almost cried when I saw the bathrooms because the Chincoteague campground was run down and not very nice.
We spent the next three days fully immersed in the beauty of the island, falling asleep right next to the waves, playing on the beach, walking with wild horses on the beach, and keeping our cooler full of ice. It was HOT.
I highly recommend this trip. There are no hotels on Assateague but I think the National Park (which is right next to the State Park) might have cabins. We found out there are people who camp there every year in the same place and so a community of familiars is built. There were a lot of teachers there (smart!). The people in our loop were so nice and we made new friends. And as a bonus, camping is cheap. I spent as much on camping as I would have on one night in a hotel room.
We fell in love. We have found our "happy place" and will definitely return to the magic of Assateague. After being on the island, the city sounded so much less alluring and home and our own animals were calling, so we wanderlusted back to where we began.
Next time, though, I will plan differently for pony penning week. We didn't see the swim because we were on Assateague and we would have had to leave at 3 or 4 am to make it in time to Chincoteague. We were tired and wanted to see more of the beach.
Thousands of people come for the swim and next year I might spring for a hotel room on Chincoteague and make that our last night so we can experience that too. I will take more sunscreen, more bug spray, and a lower, stronger tent. Less food requiring the cooler, although we did cook eggs and grilled cheese on my trusty iron skillet. Oh, and we even made ramen noodles and macaroni and cheese. Oceanside camping is a little different than other camping I've done, in this case, because of the wind and weather. The breeze at night is wonderful but it gets extremely hot in the day. The water in the ocean is COLD. Much colder than Florida beach water. No offense to Florida and I do wish the water were warmer, but I prefer this Maryland beach.
I was told it is best to book your campsites a year in advance. Yes, a year in advance. It's an 11 hour drive from Louisville, through pastoral Delaware and mountainous West Virginia. Cell service is spotty which will certainly reduce your stress level.
I didn't get a crab cake but I really wanted to. Next time for sure. There were lots of stands that served organic coffee. You can surf there.
We returned tanned, blissed, and full of each other in the most loving way. It felt so nice to connect with my little family in this beautiful place.
Here are some pictures from my phone:







Horses like to sunbathe too!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

When Your Children Love Your Abuser

Maybe it was you, the woman who sat in her therapist’s office listening to an explanation from the DSM on what “narcissistic personality disorder” is, with regard to your ex. Maybe you were the woman whose ex finally received an official diagnosis: “antisocial personality disorder” or “borderline personality disorder” or some combination. Maybe no one told you, but you learned through domestic violence professionals who helped you. You learned that your ex has an incurable disorder and that he is too arrogant to seek help or even listen to how he’s affected you. You learned that it is damaging to be involved with someone who is so consistently demeaning, controlling, selfish, dishonest, and abusive and began to untangle your own trauma issues. The mental health professionals you sought for advice told you the only thing to do is to go “No Contact”, for the reason that you cannot expect any semblance of normal, healthy relationship with this person. You’ve learned about “flying monkeys”-people who are enablers of the disordered, and you’ve cut those enablers out of your life. You learn to accept the situation and let go, realizing that this person can never accept influence, never value you as a human being, and will never change. As you heal and grow, life for you without an abuser or disordered person becomes increasingly hopeful, safe, and sweet again.
Except, you had children with this man. You can’t completely go "no contact" or avoid situations where you have to work together. Except “working together” in the spirit of mutuality, cooperation, and doing what’s best for the children is incompatible with his disorder.
And to top it off, your kids think Daddy hung the moon. You're the one who put in long hours of changing diapers and nursing and trying to juggle playdates and your job and you had a grown person who instead of stepping up to be supportive and helpful, was checked out and off doing what he wanted, when he wanted. The children may or may not know the depth of the abuse. They may or may not have witnessed direct verbal or physical abuse. But they understand, innately, the hierarchy an entitled parent sets up. And they intuitively know that Dad thinks Mom is worthy of contempt and ridicule. Despite this, they still believe that this parent who has exhibited unmitigated cruelty towards their own mother, who manipulates everyone’s lives through family court, who refuses to support his children financially and instead works behind the scenes to ensure they have an unnecessary struggle, who hates their mother, who consistently hurts someone they love- is a person who is trustworthy and loves and cares about them. Even though they've never actually seen or experienced their disordered parent being unselfish and supportive, their normal is set at a lower standard because it's all they've known.
There are plenty of tools in an abuser’s toolbox to use the children for dominance and control. A disorder does not go away because that person scapegoats someone or a new wife enters the picture or there are children involved. It’s pretty much the nature of personality disorders to have distorted thoughts and behaviors. And there are very, very few who seek help or recovery.
How do you reconcile your ex’s “good daddy” act and your children’s developmentally appropriate tendency to live in that fantasy with this behind the scenes hatred of you? These are your children to love and guide. Their father abandoned the marriage and refuses to be a team player in co-parenting. But your children love and want both parents. Their father is locked in to a compulsion to control and an extreme entitlement that he cannot fix. You understand how much that hurts. And you understand that it hurts the children when their father models a constant contempt for you. This affects your relationship with your children in different ways. Acting like a good dad on the surface while undermining the other parent without appreciating how this affects the children is gaslighting. It’s a performance when really that parent is dominating and dictating. Ultimately, it's child abuse. Depending on the severity of your ex’s disorder, this could result in:
                -Your ex frequently using family court to work out co-parenting issues while depriving you of common courtesy and financial support and holding to a double standard. The goal: to financially cripple the mother (and the children, by proxy, making this child abuse) therefore, maintaining control
                -your ex initiating a custody battle as a response to your calling out his abuse issues or again, to maintain control. Depriving a child of their healthy mother through lying, ruthless use of financial advantage to disadvantage the other, and enemy-making is abusive to a child.
                -disparaging the other parent, either openly or passive-aggressively, thereby teaching children the subtext of abusive control: “your mother is incapable and unworthy and less than me. I have to dictate to her what to do and how to do it because she is too stupid to contribute to your major life decisions.”
                -starting smear campaigns to punish you for speaking out or not doing what he says
                -strictly enforcing the children’s loyalty to him and their participation in family enmeshment
                -emotionally abusing the children through tight control and harsh parenting methods, as well as denigrating their parent whether they denigrate verbally or not
                -acting as if he is in charge and can make decisions unilaterally, thereby effectively erasing your influence and diminishing your role
                -manipulating the children to turn against you, reject you, and join his “side” and disparage you. This is called “domestic violence by proxy” because it is using the children’s loyalties to punish a loving mother. Withholding from her what she desires most: a relationship with her children, is punitive and cruel to the children. The underlying message is, “your mother is crazy and she must never get what she wants”.

But what can you do to help your children? How do you reconcile the fact that they love a person who lacks empathy and whose judgment is impaired by an incurable disorder?
There are several things you can do. First, commit to your own healing. Having children means you must have contact with your ex. Family courts do not understand the impact of personality disorders, and they see it as a rights issue. Even the disordered have the legal right to raise their children. Who cares if this produces more narcissistic, sociopathic, wounded people in the world. However, there are things you can do to mitigate the damage and guide your children towards emotional health. 
-Teach them how to take no for an answer
-Teach them how good it feels to be validated and loved, and guide them towards learning to validate the opinions of others. 
- Teach them full expression of feelings and self-awareness 
-Teach them about gaslighting, emotional abuse, and dishonest manipulation in an objective, indirect way, just like you might help them with their math
-Teach them to resolve conflicts by using a restorative justice model: if you hurt someone, you make a repair, and you are able to apologize 
-Teach them that their voice counts. While they are young, they will have very little power in their relationship with their father, and they will live in the fantasy world of the very young. My son, who is 8, told me that when he is older he will work at a Lego store but only two days a week because it would cut into his job as a paleontologist, and then he would find time between jobs to be an inventor. This is a beautiful aspect of childhood-this innocence in imagination. But that kind of magical thinking also applies to working with people who are disordered. Children are just not mature enough to speak up for themselves against an abuser. Still, teaching them and modeling having a voice can help. I have  a friend who points out characters in movies, such as the witch in “Tangled”. You can learn a lot about gaslighting and manipulative tactics from most any Disney movie. Pointing out where the character grew to say, “no more lies” can give children an imagination of what is possible when you use your voice, and that there is a way to have courage.
--Teach them that their preferences and desires matter, but that they must also consider others. There is a give and take.
-Teach them emotional intelligence all the way around, by modeling through your own relationship with your children. Do not be afraid to directly confront issues, have hard conversations, and provide solid guidance to your children. Adopt a policy of 100% freedom of expression, that your house is a safe place to do that
-Teach them healthy boundaries. Narcissists and their families tend to engulf their members, making boundaries blurry and permeable. Help your children recognize who they are as unique people rather than letting a narcissist define and dictate who they are.
-Be a role model. Be aware of your own issues and triggers, especially if you have c-PTSD or PTSD from the relationship. Be gentle with yourself and model self-care. Self-care is as much about taking care of your feelings as it is about taking care of your physical needs. If you ended up with trauma issues because of a narcissist, your children are likely to a) also have trauma issues from not being seen, heard, or taken into account or b) cope by becoming narcissists themselves. It’s difficult when the worst outcome would be for your children to end up with all the selfishness, control, lack of empathy, dominance, and retaliatory traits of their father. But you cannot always prevent that.
-Be aware that when your children go through their teens, they are likely to switch teams as they become more developmentally narcissistic. No, they are not necessarily becoming narcissists, but are simply exhibiting the egocentrism, lack of decision-making capacities and poor impulse control that marks their age. The trouble is, narcissists do well with other narcissists, and narcissism runs in families. So of course, you are on “higher alert” during this age. Get your children into counseling, keep talking to them and keep lines of communication open and do not take any dismissal personally. In fact, use this age to teach boundaries because even though they demonstrate bravado, they are subject to the influences of peers and often naïve. Keep teaching them the importance of good character.
A cluster B’s parenting style is less of a parenting style and more of a management style. They need to control the appearances of the situation, micromanage details, and judge and correct. To them, children are projects who need to be aggressively fitted into their mold. Children who become their own person are threatening in a dysfunctional family. To that end, they make decisions without considering the children or the other parent while appearing to be actually doing the work of parenting. They are like the managers who come into the office, work everyone into a frenzy, then retreat to their office. No sense of teamwork or fair play.
But you can work to make sure your children have a mother who, through monumental effort and growth, comes to the place where she can handle this. Grow out of the victim mindset, even though you have been targeted for every ounce of destruction your ex can wreak on you. Your ex himself will have dibs on victim mindset even as he is the one victimizing. He will continue to model retaliation, control, and unending bitterness while he accuses you of those very things. He will teach the children no skills related to cooperation, because he cannot do that himself. He will show the children that things and appearances matter more than people. He will teach them selfishness and how to reject people when you don’t get your way, no matter how devoted and loving that person was.
It’s not fair, it’s not right, and cleaning it up is painful, messy, and lasts a long, long time. But you can use this situation to clarify and grow yourself. Through oppression, you can grow wise, strong, and clear enough to show your children what really counts: unconditional love.

Hold your ground, warrior women. Don’t let anyone tell you “mother” is less than or more disposable than “father”. Love your children fiercely, heal yourself, and hope always comes. No matter what your situation, know that you deserve complete grace. And so do your children. Let them love, let them learn their own way to forgiveness, don't judge them and protect them fiercely from influences of shame and blame. They will come to see their father through adult eyes some day, and you will be there to help them pick up the pieces when they hurt over their awakening. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Being Born

Geta Bratescu. Medea's Hypostases III. 1980, drawing with sewing machine on textile


 July 11 is my birthday, but it is not the day I was born.
The day I was born I blackened my feet on gold sculpted carpet, heavy with coal dust. My gift: Art News and Grumbacher pastels.
The day I was born I felt death in the room, its big energy came to sweep away Mamaw's breath
I was born again and again at those altar calls, but took my first breath when I laid eyes on the Goddess
I was born through my mother's anger and vitriol towards me, how we made each other cry and hurt, and then how we loved.
I was born through a lover's hands and lips, where feeling flowed pure, shimmering; the first time I really made love.
I was born when lying on my back on a clear Canadian night and believed I could touch those stars if I held my hand gracefully high enough.
I was born in front of white, empty things: piano keys, canvas, paper.
I was born the four times I pushed out my babies in my own power. And now, it takes five minutes of mothering to gather handfuls of being-born.
I was born under another white thing: the heady blindness that comes from grief, which is so full of light you cannot bear its heat.
I was born each time I lost everything. 
The day I was born was when I knew we loved each other.
I was born all those times you rejected me and I tasted my freedom and the unexpected liberation of the unwanted.
I was born all those times you hit me and called me names and pulled me into your contemptuous dark silences and I decided I would be kinder than that.
I was born when I lost you, when I knew you: uncovered, when I saw you: revealed, when you came to me: unhinged.
I was born today in rain and yoga class. I will be born tomorrow over dishes and a sewing machine. 
There is no such thing as a birthday, or reborn.
There is only being born. 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

jointly speaking

Ah, the joys of joint custody. Our culture seems to smile happily and vapidly at the notion of 50/50 joint custody. In our minds, we are happy to see fathers finally participating in their children's lives. Mothers have overwhelmingly joined the workplace, so they have more freedom to do their jobs. It gives them more time to date and pursue other interests, right? It's a good thing.
I'd say this is the exception and not the rule, for the simple reason that "joint" custody is much of the time, anything but.
We need to separate out what joint custody is in practice and what it is in name. In practice, joint custody involves two people who are not out to demean or subjugate the other through family court, who prioritize support of the children, who do not wish to financially cripple the other, and who, for all intents and purposes, understand the larger picture of a child's life. They understand that while they may not get what they want all of the time, that their child's well-being and happiness are more important than their own wishes and desires. It isn't about the demands of one parent.  My first ex took my kids to eat at McDonald's occasionally. While I ran a relatively health-foody tight ship, he took the kids to McDonald's. Is that worth my time and energy? Hell no. I can grumble and complain and have my feelings about such things to others, but in the scheme of things, it means nothing. It was a happy moment for my kids.  I'm sure he was not happy with some of my parenting decisions either. His relationship with his grown children now is a good one. This, to me, is what joint parenting looks like: jointly meeting the children's needs without destroying and demeaning their other parent. Having the goal of giving your kids a good life, together, because that is your responsibility.
But I get the sense that many of the fathers who vehemently-as in initiating a court battle- fight for 50/50 and even sole custody have an ulterior motive: getting out of child support. 50/50 came out of the father's rights initiative, so it was an initiative very much aimed against mothers as a group.
Kids are expensive. 50/50 arrangements with no child support aren't even considering that the only expense you save on while your child is not there is food. And for the average child, we are talking one hundred dollars a month that 50/50 saves a single mother on meals. One hundred dollars. On the low end, it costs nearly eleven hundred dollars a month to raise a child. That includes housing, clothing, and food. That number is low, for divorced parents have to pay for their own housing. So, if a single mother has no help with housing, the only thing 50/50 saves her is one hundred dollars a month per child. Anyone who is a parent knows that that is a drop in the bucket and barely noticed.
It becomes an even more acrid medicine to burn the throat when one considers the ongoing pay gap.
It becomes too big to gulp down when one sees a man's rich family deliberately stand by when there is material need in their children's and grandchildren's lives; who even work to destabilize another parent out of spite, and who help hide money. There are parents who infantilize their grown children and enable their irresponsibility and dishonesty.
And it cannot sit on my stomach when that same man cries, "I'm poor, I'm poor! I can't, I can't!" and wears his fine shoes and takes plenty of vacation time and has a mattress full of hundreds. And he doesn't care that those hundreds were won on the backs of his own children.
It's facetious and deceptive because those are the fathers who do not actively participate in parenting responsibilities during marriage. They leave the majority of the heavy lifting and daily work and guidance of the children to the mother. These are the dads who are off playing basketball, having dinner with friends, shirking responsibilities of home, and walk in like they hung the moon. But once divorced, he makes up a story that changes history. "I changed ALL the diapers. I made ALL the meals. I did ALL the driving. She was NEVER around." They criticize the mother and make sure everyone knows her shortcomings, despite the fact that she had little help from him. Through the courts and this changing of history, he can use his male role status to gain more time with the children. This sudden change in parenting allows him to pay less or no child support, and is, of course, not representative of any relationship he developed with his children. It reflects not an investment in his children, not a desire to actually be a father. I'm sure there is some benefit to the children finally getting their father voluntarily, whereas before, his participation was spotty and inconsistent. I'm sure there is a part of these fathers that does actually care for a child, way, way, way outside of their selfishness and awareness. But that is not the ultimate motive. The ultimate motive is two-fold: to demonstrate superiority and show that he can perform "mother" even better than "Mother" can, effectively diminishing her role that HE established during the relationship, and then withhold financial support from her. He cannot appreciate the bigger picture of how he is actually withholding support from the children. It's a move meant to punish and demean the mother and it becomes yet another lie she is forced to live.
Because we are constantly asked to live with these lies. It's infuriating. We hold the truth, the antidote to fantasies we are asked to swallow like good children. We know the truth, and it is taken from us systematically and replaced with mythologies.
But we know, we KNOW, no matter how many times the words are used, that this is not joint custody. It is a continuation of an abuse dynamic set out during the marriage. It is merely a property arrangement. It is petty. Let's not sentimentalize it or sugar coat it by calling it "joint" custody where there is a parent hostile to the other. One person who is demeaning another cannot co-parent; they can only tolerate control. It then becomes a situation where one parent is put in a protective position against the other's aggression, and where she is protective, she is blamed. This is worse than just a "less than ideal" situation for the children. This has lowered the bar to the whole family having to sacrifice their needs and rearrange their lives due to the selfishness and incapacities of one parent.
So, there is, in the situation of court imposed "joint" custody, nothing "joint." A supposed "fair" arrangement ends up lopsided for the parent who didn't initiate a court war. Symmetrical is not the same as fair. It leaves her without money, without a help in raising children, and having to witness her children be mindlessly shuffled to a place where she is shut out. "Mother",at the wishes of the father, is mutually exclusive of "Father". So the children lose because they will never have a good example of collaboration on their behalf; and never be able to fully realize their own needs during their childhood.

"Psychological researchers who have expressed negative opinions about joint custody include, among others, Anna Freud and Judith Wallerstein. A major problem according to Wallerstein, is that the child lives life in a "no man's land." Having children routinely shift as a temporary resident between two households that have other permanent members who "really" live there full time presents a destructive outlook for a child, damaging of identity and self-esteem. It is ironic that the fathers' rightsters who complain about not wanting to be a "visitor" in their child's life, and therefore demand 50-50 joint custody, do not seem to recognize that their solution not only renders their child a continuous visitor shifting between two households, but also that the child then does not even have a home from which to return."  http://www.thelizlibrary.org/liz/005.htm

So where does this idea that a forced 50/50 arrangement is so great for the children come from? Where does the idea come from that it is in any way collaborative or healthy?

There is plenty more research at the Liz Library that shows it is not:
""[Presumption of joint custody] legislation increased the number of motions to modify or enforce parenting time or child custody... the number did increase significantly (and almost doubled) following enactment of the statute. Most of these motions were to change custody or visitation, not to enforce parenting time... If the desire of the legislation was to make it easier for unhappy parents to enforce their visitation time, its purpose was clearly not met...
"Constitutionalizing child custody, or litigating in terms of individual parents' rights, is likely to harm children in many ways. They may end up living with a parent more interested in punishing the former spouse than in doing what the child needs. They may have less money with which to live, as a child support settlement for lower than the guideline amount pays off a parent claiming joint custody, or if a joint custody solution is ordered but not actualized, or if scarce resources are expended on pre or post-divorce litigation."

- Brinig, Margaret (2005). Does Parental Autonomy Require Equal Custody at Divorce? The University of Iowa College of Law, University of Iowa Legal Studies Research Paper Number 05-13 April, 2005

So "joint custody" in the most collaborative, conscious sense of the word is a joke. 50/50 being presumed is not always in the best interests of the child, and that is a smokescreen anyway for the interests of the one contentious  parent. It also increases income in the divorce industry. Money and greed are powerful motivators.
Divorce is always hard on a child. There are always issues that are going to need to be worked through. But a child should be able to heal that wound in the safest place with their primary parent, not be suddenly shuffled so a man can have rights. Those children sacrifice their rights to a supported time of healing, access to their mother, to stability in their lives. They will learn to suppress their intuition and that they are not heard. They will learn there are consequences if one parent doesn't get their way. They will see one parent being punished, obstructed, and demeaned. 
Joint custody does not fix those situations. It just makes it harder for everyone except the person who is litigating it.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Ethnography of Spirit

Ethnography, used loosely, is a "description of the habits and customs of a people." In this article, ethnography is described as a visitor  describing things from an insider's viewpoint: "The ethnographer goes beyond reporting events and details of experience. Specifically, he or she attempts to explain how these represent what we might call “webs of meaning” (Geertz again), the cultural constructions, in which we live.
Ethnographers generate understandings of culture through representation of what we call an emic perspective, or what might be described as the “‘insider’s point of view.” The emphasis in this representation is thus on allowing critical categories and meanings to emerge from the ethnographic encounter rather than imposing these from existing models."
On this Memorial Day, I think on those who have returned from wars with heaviness in my heart. I appreciate all that they went through as a sacrifice for our country. And although I do not have an insider's view, I know the warrior culture within our military is very much a strong, necessary force, and that it carries its own set of wounds within its community. 
But I know that for me, I never had to leave home to experience a war, a war on a family, a war on me as a human being, a war against my existence, a war on my psyche, a war marked by shame and a force against my becoming who I am. This war raged on for years, and stood as a contrast to the prevailing social mores around family. The customary picture of family is one of togetherness, support, unconditional regard, time spent together as a communal river, washing and moving and  waving and splashing over a bedrock of love. In my family, there was no solid bedrock, only the turbulence of harm caused, of abuse. There was a history of pain upon pain, and holding on together in atavistic impulses to revoke the destruction. 
Having my own "ethnographic encounter" with my family of origin requires the perspective of years. Only through living years out of the experience can I do the requisite remodeling to come to my past with curiosity. Any study of one's self, of becoming aware of why you have developed your struggles or lack thereof, begins in childhood. It begins before one's own childhood and it most certainly found in the childhoods of one's parents and grandparents. Then one can begin to create the meaning of these shared experiences, and mine them for their value in your life.
For me, coming firmly from Appalachia on all sides, I widen my spirit beyond the data of how my story and the stories of my family are strung together. To do complete justice to my personal ethnography, I must consider the customs of the environment in which I was raised, and the geography. Appalachia clings to me, a mountain in the background of my mental  pictures, a church with a gravel parking lot on a steep hillside, kudzu crowding the side of a mountain, a rebellious uprising of flowers among stultifying grey rocks. I express a lot about the abuse that has threaded my life, of the themes of personal mining and exploitation, but making meaning is about widening even further beyond that narrow theme of oppressor/oppressed. It is about taking that and setting it among the mountains, those mountains where natural beauty and coal-greed ugliness coexisted and no one even thought about it. Those mountains that at once embraced, gave, nourished, and terrified. "Mountain mama" was real. And she will live, despite the ravagings and cripplings at the hands of lesser men. 
The existing model of Appalachia, in my mind, is one of exploitation and colonization. The existing models of my family contains those of personal greed and lack of remorse, mirroring the plundering of the mountains and its people. For me, the new model involves how "place" never quite leaves you, how the qualities of Appalachia are embedded in turns of my phrases, how I view people, how I respond to life, how I set up my relationships. It recently occurred to me that this is absolutely where I am from. I had focused on where I had moved, the places I'd lived, not considering that the propensity to adapt to place is a strength of character prevalent in Appalachia. Trauma had taken away my sense of home. Yet Appalachia was in me, whatever that meant, and that is my home, my place to be "from". 
If you look at Appalachia, or my family, you will also see the make-do spiritedness set among the openness to being plundered. I swear, it is the giving nature of this land and its people that causes trouble. There are two kinds of people that exist in this world in varying degrees, but they come together in stark contrast in Appalachia. Those people are at heart those who give and those who take. Living so attuned to a mountain and its people gives you a sense of abundance, and that abundance is freely shared. Take away that abundance, and you cripple a people's natural pleasure in sharing and giving. You break them down just a little. 
Then the narrative of overcoming can emerge. This is the meaning, for me, to take the grace of these mountains, their ever-imposing benevolence, there unassuming generosity, and use that part of myself to face the takers and put them in context. The parts of me that were exploited, and mined, and broken, can be healed through this grace, through this understanding that I am more than a string of hurtful incidents. I am more than a taker's depersonalization. 

I am the strength of the mother mountain. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Ten Ways Family Court is Basically "Handmaid's Tale"

"A Handmaid's Tale" is a dystopian tale of a "handmaid"- a woman basically designated to be a breeder. She is treated as property, has no real rights, and her only value to society is to make children for officials and their barren wives. After the excesses of the world created so much pollution and illness the birth rate fell drastically low, a re-forming of society occurred. In this society, the rights of women and children were reconfigured while being told they were the ones in charge, and the patriarchy was solidified through strict, subversive control of women's status and roles. The society was structured around the lower masculine values of competition, dominance, punishment by death, demanding compliance, and people as property. This was strictly enforced through a pseudo-religious brainwashing regime, and strict control of what was said and done. Handmaids are basically slaves. They are forced to be raped once monthly in order to try for a child in a bizarre ritual that involves the wives of the men who are trying to impregnate them.
In reading this book, I noticed  there are parallels between today's family court and the dystopian society in Handmaid's Tale.

1. A disdain for science
In "Handmaid's Tale", science is deliberately shunned in favor of cultish rituals and unapologetic stereotypes. In family court, the brutal and often surreal actions around parental alienation mirror this disdain for science. Despite having a body of scientific knowledge of cluster B personalities, the dynamics of domestic violence and coercive control tactics including financial abuse, and decades of research regarding attachment, family courts reject all that science and instead operate from an understanding of junk science like "parental alienation syndrome" and worn-out stereotypes of women in general-that women are crazy, gold-digging, vengeful creatures out to get poor innocent men.
Parental alienation is especially dangerous since it flies in the face of research and since manipulating the children is a tactic abusers use, and the use of "parental alienation syndrome" gives the court an excuse to believe the projection of an abuser. In any other area of life, when someone does something wrong or abusive, we encourage calling it out. But in family court, truth-telling is seen as disparaging the other parent instead of protecting the children. Hence, sexually abused children end up in the custody of their abusers nearly 70% of the time. The courts in those cases become accessories to abuse.
Parental alienation is more aptly labeled "domestic abuse by proxy". It is not the same as a parent protecting a child from an abusive parent. Accusing a protective parent of "parental alienation" is indicative of an abusive mindset and possibly a personality disorder. Again, we have the research and psychological science in place to back this up. We just don't have the courts listening to research and solid science.

2. Financial rights of women are taken away
In "Handmaid's Tale", the women had their bank accounts suddenly frozen and handed over to the men. In divorce from an abusive man, this is very common, but even more, a woman can be repeatedly taken to court at great expense. With the advent of 50/50 parenting plans being the preferred situation in the courts, child support is becoming a thing of the past. This makes it easier for men who want to get out of child support to work the system and financially cripple a woman while he benefits. Spend a day at the child support office watching men in expensive shoes and expensive cars whine how poor they are and can't get a job. They are believed and even supported in their lies. The blatant concentration of resources with men with no regard to how it affects children, and no repercussions for men who disobey child support orders is chillingly one-sided and echoes a "Handmaid's Tale." Not to mention back child support is not even taken seriously, especially for richer men. Then women are still responsible for the guidance of the children, for taking one's self away financially is creating slavery and refusing to be a father.

3. Women have no voice
In  "Handmaid's Tale", women are barely allowed to speak to each other freely, much less complain about the system, have a say in what goes on, or have their own voiced desires and pain. They were severely traumatized by having their children and husbands torn from them, then told not to speak about it. In fact, the whole book could be called "Offred's Trauma Journal" as we watch her deal with the extreme and horrid situation she finds herself in and the insidious, routine silencing of women.
In family court, the same kinds of horrid strictures exist. Women who have experienced any kind of emotional, physical, or verbal abuse are cautioned not to speak of it in court lest they be seen as degrading their ex husband. Yet, when they don't speak up, they are blamed for not speaking up and colluding with their own abuse. There is no obedience to a system that will blame you no matter where you turn. The truth isn't even an issue because no one cares about truth in family court. They care about winning.

4. Children are leverage
"Offred" had her daughter cruelly taken from her. Children were a commodity in "Handmaid's Tale" and were to be given only to those of high status. There is such a trend in family court to give a child to an abuser it's frightening. See the above. A woman is blamed for speaking up about abuse, and blamed for not speaking up about abuse. She often goes into a courtroom that has already decided it is stacked against her. Add to that the fact that GALs, therapists, and caseworkers are rarely knowledgeable about the dynamics of power and abuse, and have no clue what a cluster B personality looks like or that it is abusive. This is a set up to punish the children by blaming them or having them end up with their abuser. But the real reason given is that the mother spoke up and that is not allowed in family court. If she does not obey the unwritten precept that one must always speak well of a child's parent, even when they are abusive, then she is blamed for causing difficulty.
Unfortunately, this results in death of children in some cases. Don't believe me?
See this video, and this one.

5. Mothering is debased and tightly controlled.
The culture in Handmaid's Tale is an extreme example of patriarchy. The blame for the failure of the society to procreate is placed on the woman and they are divided into two groups: women who can bear children, and women who cannot. Birth mothers are easily replaced by foster mothers, who also have no choice in the matter. In family court, the whole structure of court embodies traditional lower masculine values of competition, acquisition of property (which includes children), aggression, dominance, control, and power-over. 50/50 parenting is a way of treating children as property and often father replaces mother during that time since he most likely wasn't available to begin within the marriage.
Even men who embody traditional feminine caretaking traits do poorly in court. It is as if holding up the value of "mother" is rejected. And feminine values such as collaboration, cooperation, and mutuality are indeed looked down on, and can't even be expressed within the current structure of family court. Couples who can embody those values, or, as research suggests, men who can embody those values, don't even end up in family court. (see Gottman's research on accepting influence) The family court structure favors the wishes of men and male archetypes.

6. Gaslighting is practically a religion.
The person who can gaslight the court the most is the "winner". In Handmaid's Tale, the gaslighting occurs when the women are told they wanted a society run by females and they have it, when in fact, it is run by the men. In family court, gaslighting is accepted as truth as a man can capitalize on the biases against women and stereotypes of women as emotional, punitive liars. This then gives the man a free pass to continue his control and abuse, and look good while doing bad. He knows that the judge doesn't know, and worse, doesn't care, that he's treated a woman like shit for years. Women are told that 50/50 parenting is fair to them, even though they protest that it isn't fair to children to grow up with an unsafe, abusive, or personality disordered parent.

7. The ultimate goal is to be in service to "the man"
Obedience to extreme oppression is vital in Handmaid's Tale. If you do not obey the rules, no matter how stupid and extreme the rules are, you are at risk of punishment by death.
In family court, a double standard prevails based on the biases, often anti-woman, of the judge. A woman's perspective is rarely valued and is presumed to be anti-man from the outset. Family court was created by men, out of a system that was created by men. Women used to have no rights to their children or spousal or child support. Women and children were the property of men and their humanity was not even an issue. Any strides made in changing child support and spousal support laws are now experiencing a regression. Family courts are a mess these days as they are set up much like the "good old days"; the days before women could vote, the days where children were property and automatically given to the man. Nowadays, evidence of abuse is often ignored to fulfill the goal of denying a woman's reality and holding traditional male values.

8. Cronyism prevails.
In the book, there is a "secret" place called Jezebel's where husbands take their surrogates, their property, out on a "date". The surrogates can drink, smoke, and have "real" sex with their owners, all things that are forbidden in their carefully controlled lives. It is assumed the men do not snitch on each other, and it is also assumed this is a symptom of  a "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" paradigm. In family court, judges can hand down decisions that are so biased and one-sided you know this backscratching happens. Even Donald Trump, the poster child for cronyism, demanded that the "swamp" be drained. The system isn't perfect and cronyism and corruption happens all over the nation in our court systems. But when it affects children, it should be a crime.
The father's rights movement has changed many laws in family court. Often, the men involved in father's rights are abusers themselves and simply acting out of narcissistic injury. I recognize that some men can be berated for upholding feminine values and are as much protective parents as women are, and some women can also uphold hyper masculine values and those are rewarded in family court. But the overall paradigm that is being obeyed is that of extreme patriarchy.

9. Children are property
In "Handmaid's Tale", children were merely coveted property. In family court, children also have no rights of their own. Their voice is not considered and the underlying principle is often "father knows best" when applying "best interests of the child" standards. Their primary attachments are often modified and severed through harmful parenting arrangements, and forced bonding through sudden change of attachment arrangements are traumatizing to children. Parenting arrangements suggested by men often reflect not the kind of parent they are, but a desire to get out of paying child support.

10. Patriarchy is the model of society
In "Handmaid's Tale", the most extreme manifestation of patriarchy is depicted. In family court, many of the same values are in place and the rights of women and children are marginalized and a woman's value is denied in favor of male values. As Bell Hooks writes, "Patriarchy is a political-social system that insists that males are inherently dominating, superior to everything and everyone deemed weak, especially females, and endowed with the right to dominate and rule over the weak and to maintain that dominance through various forms of psychological terrorism and violence." Family court is one such form of psychological terrorism and violence, built by men to serve the interests of men.

Many women have been through the unreasonable, abusive nightmare of family court and readily recognize it as an extreme manifestation of patriarchy. If unreasonable constructs like parental alienation, giving custody to known abusers, ignoring the harmful impact of personality disorders, actively creating poverty in women, and perpetuating the "abusive husband/good dad" myth, then it is absolutely the kind of dystopian dysfunction that mirrors "The Handmaid's Tale." The book feels surreal. But disturbing elements of this horrid, surreal dystopia are found right here in our country, right now, in family court.

Please see my next post on this family court topic: http://theindigorabbit.blogspot.com/2017/06/jointly-speaking.html