Thursday, September 27, 2012

Appeals Court Upholds That Facilitating Child’s Relationship with a Sociopath is More Important than Anything Else in Child Custody

What is the single most important factor in a child custody decision?

a- Primary Caregiver?

b- Child’s bond with a parent?

c- Abuse and Mental Health issues?

d- Past and Future Potential Performance of Parenting Responsibilities?

e- NONE OF THE ABOVE (This is the correct answer)

Yesterday, I received a copy of the Appellate Court opinion on my custody case. I lost and they didn’t even have the courtesy of addressing some serious issues that were raised. Although this ruling was not reasonably unexpected, it just serves to underscore how powerful family court judges really are.

What was the most disturbing thing for me is that the authoring judge made two definitive statements that really reveal the disordered thinking of the legal system.

#1. As noted by the court in Woods v. Tidwell, "the trial court is not obligated to consider all relevant factors in reaching its decision…”

Tenn. Code Ann. $ 36-3-106 provides that custody and visitation determinations are to be made consistent with certain factors. These are called the Best Interest Factors. I am not going to list all of them here due to time constraints, but they are similar to those of other states.

The higher courts have previously held (in multiple cases) that consideration of the “best interest factors” are mandatory and that the court MUST conduct a comparative fitness test to decide which parent is most suited for custody. This was designed to ensure that the best interests of the child are served. Now, it appears as if it is no longer applicable.

#2 Father's relationship with the child would be best served by Father being designated primary residential parent.

This was the sole factor that the judge found to be in favor of the father. I obviously disagree with this opinion. The fact is that I had offered extra visitation, never defied a single court order, and continued to allow supervised contact despite strong evidence of abusive behavior. The only thing I asked for was that my ex undergo the recommended psychiatric treatment.

Listen up people because the court is saying that the father’s relationship with the child is more important than any other consideration. This includes abuse. Again, this contradicts previous case law (Burden vs. Burden, Tn Appeals Court 2007 and others) where the appellate courts held that the courts CAN NOT place a parent’s best interests above that of the child.

In the end, the appeal process was a mistake. It has added to the chaos of the family court system. It sets a legal precedent where it is being said that it is okay for a family court judge to disregard the child’s bests interests in favor of promoting a relationship with a parent, regardless of how bad they are.

The full appeal will appear in a separate tab on the blog for those who wish to read it. One interesting thing about the opinion is that is completely ignores a key component: un contradicted expert testimony as to mental health issues.

There was only one expert witness in my case. It was a psychologist who performed a mental evaluation on the father and found him to be Antisocial (sociopathy). He recommended that contact be supervised and layed out a treatment plan for implementing unsupervised contact. The judge in this case completely disregarded this testimony. He made no reference to it, never mentioned it. Disregarding expert testimony is not an application of the judge’s common knowledge. It is a willful omission of the best interest factors.

Again, the court is implicitly saying that it can consider anything it wishes to, regardless of the law. The judge’s authority is absolute and irrefutable.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

How to Defend Yourself Against a Sociopath's Verbal Abuse


Sticks and stones may break my bones, but your words will NOT hurt me anymore!


Sociopaths and other abusers thrive on degradation. A few of the choice labels I have been given include thief, whore, fat ass, bitch, worthless loser, and piece of shit. I have been compared to the scum on the bottom of my abuser’s shoe, told I was a stereotypical stupid blonde, and that I was created for one purpose only: to be on my knees in front of my abuser, calling him “Jesus“.

After awhile, I began to internalize these insults. My once strong self-confidence faded like the sun sinking into the western horizon. Every barb the sociopath flung at me induced a feeling of shame. I had only just begun recovery when the sociopath filed for custody. And then…. things got worse. Now the sociopath had a hired gun to help him degrade me. In fact, he said he hired this particular lawyer for one reason, and one reason only: to crush me.

It almost worked. If not for being surrounded by an amazing group of supporters, I don’t think I would still be sane. This group consists of God, my family, a few close friends, my attorneys, and a marvelous counselor. Today, I am able to brush off the insults and not blink an eye. Don’t get me wrong- I still have bad days. Learning how to deal with verbal abuse has helped me grow stronger both as a person and as a mother.

During my journey, I have been contacted by other survivors who are dealing with exactly the same thing. They are emotionally devastated and their abuser is challenging them for child custody. These mothers are afraid to reach out and ask for help. Their very real fear is that counseling will be used against them in court to try to make them look crazy.

I am choosing to open myself up because I believe it is wrong that women (or men) have to fear healing. Since I have been so blessed as to have been given such a wonderful counselor, I am going to share with you some of the lessons she has taught me.

1. Understand that your abuser’ actions are motivated by self-hatred. When he degrades you, he (or she) is not really talking about you personally- he is projecting his feelings about himself onto you. Instead of taking it personally, allow yourself to be empathetic about the enormity of pain that he must be in.

2. But don’t allow this empathy to excuse his behavior. The abuser is responsible for his own actions- NOT you. You didn’t cause it and you can’t cure it. You must learn a healthy way of dealing with his behavior, as it is unlikely to ever change.

3. Don’t internalize the shame. How do you do this? Focus on developing strategies for neutralizing verbal abuse. Exercises for finding emotional balance are very useful. You have to actively work on it. This includes:

  • Learn the “path to healing.” You will go through various stages on this journey to recovery. Find out what those stages are and where you are at along the path. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you find out that you stumble- everyone does.
  • A sociopath is a predator looking for prey. Low self-esteem makes you an easy target. If he can spot this weakness, he will exploit it fully. Begin each day by fortifying your self-confidence. Remind yourself of your strengths and the things that are positive about whom you are. Don’t belittle your victories- embrace them.

4. Know that YOU control the verbal interaction with your abuser. You can’t prevent him from putting you down, but you can certainly undermine his motive. Verbal insults are designed to evoke a reaction from you that satisfies his craving for conflict. He needs you to react with fear, anger, or weakness. Don’t give him any of those things.

5. Neutralize the abuse by refusing to be a “verbal punching bag.” A simple comment, such as, “that was a very rude thing to say,” (delivered in a calm and professional manner) will suffice.

6. Change the direction of the insult around. When your abuser attacks you as a person, you can easily turn a negative into a positive. Own your mistakes, but state how you have grown from them. For example, you could say, “yet, look at how well I have done on my own.” Be careful not to turn this into an opportunity to throw a few insults of your own. The idea is to stop verbal abuse, not escalate it by trading insults.

7. Disengage your emotions from your abuser. Take the high road and be the better person. Yes, they are slimy, scum sucking, abusive parasites who are bound to live a life full of misery. Everyone knows this- even them. You don’t need to remind them of your point of view. They won’t own it or learn from it, and it will not make you feel better. Refuse to be a victim.