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Dear Chump Lady, The court wants me to say she is a “good parent.” I can’t.

Dear Chump Lady,

I’m coming to the end of things with a divorce hearing shortly, on money and children matters next month.

As part of the custody proceedings, my lawyer wants me to say such pearls as my ex is a “good parent” and I am “as attuned to the children’s needs as she is” and — we both “work hard to provide for the kids.”

The lawyer thinks this will make me sound more balanced, which is helpful with the local courts who tend to side with the less crazy-sounding spouse.

But I just can’t say any of this. My entitled ex has not only refused to pay anything for the kids, she is demanding extra for herself, despite making a tonne of money as a lawyer. The only person she is working hard for is herself.

She is manipulative and a pathological liar who models lying to the kids. She blew up our family with her affair and her biggest issue about the kids is how they reflect on her. Their success (which she assists) is her success. She is not a “good parent” — she is a deeply flawed parent, even if she has some good points.

And, being at least a little narcissistic, she lacks the empathy to be attuned to the kids and usually just projects her own feelings on them (especially about what they would like, i.e., to spend every holiday with her and her family, to spend more time with her, to do whatever it is she feels like doing).

I know it might help my case, but I just can’t say these things.

Any thoughts on whether to eat this shit sandwich and hope I get a better outcome or take a pass in favour of hoping the courts will understand?

FTSL

Dear FTSL,

I’m generally in favor of doing whatever your lawyer tells you to do. I am not a lawyer, so I can’t give you legal advice. And I have no way of verifying the legal credentials of anyone who comments here. All I can do is caution you against only listening to advice you want to hear, versus really difficult advice that could help you.

My husband is a trial lawyer and he would lecture his clients about how they should appear on stand. The other side, he’d tell them, is going to paint you as crazy, angry, and irrational. So it’s your job to be NONE OF THOSE THINGS, no matter how justified you feel, no matter how right you are — “the person with the coolest head wins.” Don’t play into their narrative of you.

And these are very ugly cases in which any person in their right mind would be frothing, insanely angry. Like your boss left a noose on your desk (and then tried to say you were a bad employee), or your co-worker sent you naked pictures of himself and constantly propositioned you for sex, and then said you were slutty and wanted it. Or a crane hit you in the head at work, you fell into a coma, and then were fired for “failure to show.” (All real cases he had.) My point is FTSL — there are a LOT of shit sandwiches of injustice out there.

My guess is the narrative the other side wants to paint is that you hate your ex-wife and you want to punish her by withholding support or time with the children. I know that narrative makes your head want to explode. I GET IT. I think what your lawyer is trying to do (and I’m not a lawyer — see disclaimer above) is balance the narrative. Give you the cool head of someone who is trying to be reasonable.

And I know that to you, that feels like lying. She’s a terrible person who blew up her family for ego kibbles. A mother who will not pay to support her kids. A narcissist who is only concerned with how those children reflect upon her.

You bred with a fuckwit. So did I. So did many of us here. We feel your pain.

If it were me, this is how I would address this — make a chart. (Bonus, the court loves exhibits.) Take all the emotion of it and just make LISTS — all the things you do for your children and all the things she does. Time, money, homework, packing lunches, all of it. And let the list do the talking for you.

The list says, “I concede that she has packed the occasional peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the last 6 months,” however “I pay all the kids’ expenses despite having a smaller income” or “I spend 80 percent of the time raising them compared to her 20 percent.” I don’t know what your particulars are — but I would just assemble as much EVIDENCE to support your point of view.

My husband says, “Testify to the facts, don’t characterize them. She does this, this, this well.” I wouldn’t lie and characterize her as a “good mother,” but you could concede that she makes sandwiches.

FTSL, I faced a similar dilemma when I had custody trials years ago. (I had physical custody and decision-making. My son’s father sued me multiple times, mostly pro se, for full-custody despite the fact he had deadbeat child support issues and a history of mental illness. Yeah, I know how to pick ’em.) I got the same advice to be reasonable and understand that my son had a right to a relationship with his shitty, horrible father.

I told the judge that recognizing that “need” for me was difficult. And I had to “balance” that need for a relationship against his father’s mental illness. I signaled to the judge that I saw both points of view, but the illness greatly concerned me. That approach — showing my vulnerability and my desire to do the right thing — resonated with the judge. I got what I wanted in court. (Of course, I was in court against someone who was demonstrably mentally ill. You are dealing with a competent-appearing person. Results may vary, and again, I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice.)

I’d ask your lawyer if you couldn’t say something similar, if asked. You recognize your ex’s right to have a relationship with the children, but you balance that against her narcissism, non-support, and indifference to breaking up their home.

Remember, it’s ALWAYS about the kids — not you. How this divorce effects them, not your personal animosity towards your ex. It’s about their well-being — so make that argument — how you are a GOOD FATHER and what all you do. Her proving she’s a good mother is on her.

Good luck. I know it sucks epically. But you will survive this. Thanks for being the sane parent. Big (((hugs))) from Chump Nation.

 

Ask Chump Lady

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  • Don’t do it. Don’t say things you don’t believe. Don’t do the opposite either and say things that are going to hurt you. Just don’t say anything. It’s up to them to decide what happens. Be yourself, state facts. If you say she’s a good mother it could come back to bite you in the ass later. What if she gets partial custody and abuses them and then you are trying to get full custody of them and the courts look back at your earlier statements and say “why did you say she was a good parent if she isn’t and/or you don’t believe that?”.

    Always tell the truth. Just don’t always share everything you think or feel if it is going to hurt you.

    • I agree with this advice. Document, document, document all the time the kids spend with you, expenses you pay, any emails that show her reluctance to split costs or spend time with the children or go to events. all that stuff is relevant.

      • 100% agree. It may seem trite as you document all missed visits, late returns home, inability and/or refusal to pitch in with sports equipment purchases, etc. But it adds up fast and is proof when you need to go back to court to help your kids get what they need.

        Documenting that you always put the kids’ needs first goes a long way in having the judge understand your rationale.

        Good luck. Breeding with a fucktard is a never-ending suckfest.

    • Be true to yourself fellow chump! Co parenting with a scum bag cheater will never be a picnic! Even if you lie and say nice things about her.

  • This resonates with me FTSL, and not only because I’m a fellow male Chump dealing with a mother than went so far off the rails.

    CL speaks truth to power here — you need to keep your eye on the end result that you want, whatever that happens to be. If you and your attorney can manage that totally on your terms and with you fully dictating the narrative, I’ll be the first in line to buy you a congratulatory beer. But as any deal maker will tell you, it’s not very often that you don’t have accept some unpleasantness in order to better the chances of getting what you want.

    I put together the type of visual documentation of which CL speaks (dates, time away from the house, missed appointments, instances where her lifestyle resulted in observable impact on our daughters, etc) and presented it to the GAL assigned to our case. While it did not make it into final evidence, it did provide the GAL with a solid sense of the situation, and that I wasn’t letting anger dictate my reaction (which, it turns out, was the major thrust of KK’s testimony).

    The GAL asked me point blank: ” KK has testified that you think she’s a bad mother, and that you’re using that opinion to influence her relationship with the girls. What’s your reaction to that?” My response was: “Given what I’ve presented to you, I can’t in good conscience say that I think she’s currently making good choices or setting a good example for our daughters. This was not always the case, and I understand that what she’s doing amounts to any fair definition of physical or emotional abuse. I do think it’s reflective of someone who’s far more interested in her own needs right now, and not those of the daughters she should be looking out for.”

    The final report submitted to the judge may as well have been subtitled: “Thank goodness there is one safe, sane and attentive parent in the house.” It was extraordinarily complimentary towards me, and put KK on notice that she needs to take caution with the lifestyle she’s chosen. It didn’t get me the 60/40 custody I was hoping for, but the formal validation of the reality of the situation helped in other ways.

    Work with your attorney, and let the facts do the talking.

  • I also put together a comprehensive list and visual calendar of every time my x walked out the front door and what time he walked back in: X left at 8am and returned at 9:50pm on a Sunday etc. I also noted every single carpool and sporting event he appeared at, 0. To represent my actions I noted where I was every day and if I hired a babysitter to help me transport kids or stay with them when I was at class or work. For months, 9 to be exact. When it came time to talk about custodial time I argued that the during the school year the only consistent night he was home was on a Wednesday. I argued that custody during the school years, based on my careful record keeping should be 60/40 and he could have the option of dinner, once per week on weeks that I had longer stretch of time. It was very simple, very fair and fact based. Because we have no family to help, I also argued for Right of First Refusal if a parent could not exercise their overnight. The first year, during his custody time, he exercised right of first refusal 14 nights of the 28 that he had the children in a three month period, he never once (and still hasn’t) taken the kids for dinner per our custody agreement. The first year out was difficult, my x wanted me to “trade” days. My lawyer told me that I was well within the parameters of the custody agreement to refuse to ‘wheel and deal’, that the custody schedule is for the children, not the grown-ups. It is in place so that the kids have consistency in their lives. During our second full year of shared custody, my x did better, he has only given the kids to me about 7 extra nights. To be fair, each fall, I have a business conference attend and have to ask that he has the kids for an extra night. Document without emotion, just the facts. My lawyers advised me to be as unemotional as possible and let my documentation speak for itself, and it has. His willingness to have the kids come to my house when he is taking multiple vacations (not work trips) has not been lost on my children. Custody is a marathon that depends on strict documentation. Good luck.

    • Wow. I wish I had read this advice when going through my divorce. My ex wasn’t especially involved with the kids when we were together, but became “Disney Dad” (at first) when we separated. I spent two years waiting to gather enough financial resources so I could leave with the kids. I wish I had documented–maybe I wouldn’t have had to give him 1/3 custody. Once separated, he constantly asked to switch nights. I was in fear of doing anything contrary because he, like OP’s ex, was an attorney and he threatened to take the kids away from me for good–even though I was always their primary caretaker.

      My ex was a master at getting me to look like the emotional, insane parent in front of the courts and the school system, ESPECIALLY when I tried to tell the truth. FTSL, if you cannot muster a calm demeanor in a courtroom situation, I advise you to find someone–a counselor, a friend–to help you rehearse what you are going to say and how you will say it. I agree with another commenter that simply saying your ex is a “good parent” may come back to bite you. Bring documentation. I wish I had done so…

      In the end, though, my ex showed his true colors. About two years ago he told my oldest child he did not want to see her again if she continued to call out his abusive behavior. About a year ago he said the same thing to my younger child. I still receive support, but expenses such a college, eyeglasses and books are entirely on me–while he vacations with his girlfriend multiple times a year.

      In the end my kids are going to be fine, but I wish I had been able to spare them all this drama.

  • My lawyer prepped me for these kinds of questions for my custody study. When Uncle Dad and I couldn’t arbitrate a solution between the two of us, the judge sent us to see a psychologist who would give his professional opinion about who should have custody of our two young daughters, who were 3 and 4 at the time.

    My attorney/step mom warned me that the psychologist would ask me what attracted me to Uncle Dad in the first place. She said that the doctor did *not* want to hear a laundry list of my complaints against him.

    But, from what you’re describing, this sounds completely different. I would not be able to go into court and say Uncle Dad is a good dad. In fact, he hasn’t even seen his children in 18 months. Both of his daughters’ birthdays came and went this spring without so much as a call, text, or a card. They are 5 and 6.

    This past Saturday, he tried sending his 80 year old grandmother to my house to pick the girls up for his visitation–to use his visits in absentia (no it’s not legal). The girls saw their great-grandmother through the window. I had to explain to them that she was there and might try to take them to their father, so of course, they didn’t want to go. Then they cried wanting to know why she would take them to their father. It hurt their feelings.

    I couldn’t let them go because Uncle Dad is selling drugs (confirmed by PI), and who knows what would happen if I allowed my kids to go over there. It’s a big mess. Anyone have ideas? I have good insurance. But I’m a single mom with sole custody.

    • Let me give you some resolve Kelli….go to your Attorney immediately and provide your evidence and documentation that he is selling drugs and your attorney will get an EOOP (Emergency Order of Protection). This EOOP will keep him from contacting the kids (and yourself) for a defined period (21-30 days). After that period, you will go to court to get all visitation pulled. A drug selling – great grandmother uber sending person is not what is in the best interest of your kids.

    • If he is selling drugs more than likely he is not gainfully employed and needs to support his habit. He may be under pressure from relatives, such as grammy, to see the kids as I really doubt he’d bother extending himself to try and see his kids. Maybe some sort of threat of exposing him and his drug dealing would have him back off and leave well enough alone. Stipulating a drug test may be another option. Sorry you are going through this mess.

  • The last child at home only has one more year of HS to go. My cheater is much more interested in minimizing child support than in gaining custody. I’m glad she won’t be forced to serve time with him–and, egads, the slut–but it is still quite something that he thought nothing of discarding, lying to, and gaslighting the kids just so he could hang onto the AP. Quite a guy. Looks like he’ll miss out on that father of the year award yet again. The kids are two things to him: expenses, and opportunities to manage his public image. That’s it. Really glad I don’t have to pretend otherwise any more. My deepest sympathies to those who have to choke that down.

    • So many cheaters put AP over kids as a priority. Because now they are free from big, bad spouse and all that tedious family responsibility!!! Woot! Woot!

      And they NEVER want to pay so they go for as much custody as possible to reduce child support. Selfish losers. (Read that one part like “slut-butt” Lol)

  • I’m don’t consider myself a very emotional person but going through infidelity and divorce definitely put me on the roller coaster. It was really difficult to think straight when it feels like death is happening inside. Never mind strategizing and sticking to the plan. My divorce was amicable and without lawyers. Kudos to all you who went through an actual divorce with your cheater and stuck with the gameplay. I can only imagine.

    • After reading so many nightmares and knowing my ex I was certain I would have come out much worse had I gone to court. I just did not have the mental or emotional capacity and wanted more than anything to get away. Court would have been a performance stage for him and he certainly had enough experience publicly humiliating and shaming me. Some days I feel bad that I could not be more aggressive (or asked my lawyer to be aggressive) but the only difference in our settlement would have been 60/40 custody instead of 50/50.

      • Same scenario here. My exw and I agreed to 50/50. I also didn’t have the mental and emotional capacity to fight for more during the divorce. Unfortunately, if you are dealing with a truly disordered person, what I learned is all I did was procrastinate the inevitable. I still don’t have the mental and emotional capacity, but what I do have is I gained primary custody 4 yrs later. Exhausting.

  • As difficult as it is to accept, most courts do not care if someone is a “good” parent, Instead, the standard is really is that person an adequate parent. You may cook a homemade breakfast and your X feed them cereal from a box. Doesn’t matter. Is the child fed, clothed, safe, free from harmful influences, not physically abused? These are the questions judges ask. Do not expect the judge to give you a gold parenting star or “take your side.” Sorry, it is not going to happen. Also understand that most courts are going to do whatever is standard where you live. If the standard is 40-60, that probably is what you are going to get. Some states have “look back” provisions, though, so if the parent doesn’t use their custodial time on a regular and ongoing basis, it gets reduced and back child support is awarded. If you plan to invoke this rule, be sure to have bullet proof documentation.

    I know this advice is not what most people want to hear, but unless your X is doing things that are harmful to your children, has an untreated mental illness, or is a drug addict or alcoholic, most judges are going to require some sort of “shared” custody or liberal visitation. The fact your X is a total asshole cheater, or has previously been “uninvolved” in parenting, doesn’t affect most custody decisions. This is a bitter pill to swallow for many people, and they end up spending a lot of money to obtain a result that is unobtainable. The best thing to do is find out what how your particular judge approaches this issue and try to come as close to that position as possible. Always try to appear to be the most reasonable person in the room; you are far more likely to get what you want if you do.

    • I second this. The courts really like to stick to their default custody arrangement unless there is a VERY compelling reason not to.

      It is very hard to swallow less time with your child because of the total self centered bullshit of your ex-spouse. And what I’m about to say made me want to punch people when I was going through it, but now that I have lived a year in 50/50 custody I know it to be true: the time off, by yourself, is a gift. Single parenting is no joke, and there is a reason humans couple up to do it. If your ex isn’t a completely insane fuckwit, allowing your ex to shoulder their parenting responsibilities after the break up gives you the opportunity to be a real individual and get your personal life off the ground quicker and in a way that just isn’t possible with full parental responsibilities. The most important thing is to always be there if needed. It isn’t your fault or failure and doesn’t make you any less of a good parent to not be awarded sole or majority custody. You are fighting a system that is generally rigged in favor of 50/50 custody.

      • rockette, this is very wise. It’s hard not to be with the kids full time, but if you use the time off well, you’ll be in a better situation and so will the kids.

        • Interesting comments – I read a really interesting book recently on high conflict divorces and how narcisstic people are “blamers”. Once I read this (and received CL’s advice!) it made it a lot easy to understand her shitty behaviour and not take it personally or react to her abusive and personal filings (she acts for herself on kids stuff, but uses a lawyer for money matters… guess what her priority is!!).

          My lawyer is a problem solver and refuses to go aggressive (preferring to be assertive), whereas she is a blamer and her lawyer is a “negative advocate” – a real toxic combination.

          |As CL suggested, my blamer ex is trying to paint me as a hater (and, ironically, “blamer” – pure projection) and the whole “she’s a good parent” thing is just to show me as balanced and her as borderline crazy and therefore ought to be largely disregarded.

          Tough to swallow, but will have to suck it up and eat this particular shit sandwich….

          • FTSL, the projection is such a mindfuck! It sounds like you have a good lawyer and your ex’s is just what you would expect. The judge will usually know it already, they see the attorneys on a regular basis and reputation usually precedes. You sound like you’ll be able to keep it under control and be the balanced parent. Once you have established yourself in the judge’s eyes as the balanced parent, you will have more credibility in order to show him or her the reality of the situation.

            What book are you reading on narcissistic people, if you don’t mind me asking?

            • Sounds like “Splitting: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone with BPD or NPD” to me. Excellent book.

    • Very good advice Violet. As a former divorce attorney, this was always the hardest part to explain to my clients. It’s such an emotional time for them and the emotions are so raw, it is almost impossible to get them to understand that to the judge and other court personnel, it is just one more of a million cases they have heard. There’s no way to not become somewhat hardened when you see people coming and going through your court every single day. To the parties their situation is unique, to the attorneys and the court, not so much. That’s just the harsh reality. Does it mean that sometimes they overlook bad situations? Yes but most of the time that is not out of malice or negligence, it’s simply that the easiest and fastest way to get people through the system is to have a status quo.

      I do understand why everyone feels like their situation is different and merits individual attention. Hell, even knowing what I know, when I went through my own divorce I had to constantly remind myself of what I said above. There was a little voice in the back of my head telling me “but, but, but…he’s such a BAD MAN and he deserves to be punished” but I knew logically that wasn’t going to happen.

    • Honestly, this scares me. My husband basically dropped out of our daughter’s life when I kicked him out of the house on D-day just over a year ago.

      I work hard to be flexible when he asks to see her, even though his asking is frequently “I’m in town, can I see DD in an hour?” (Note that “in town” just means he drove over a bridge, he only lives 30 minutes away). He will meet us at a playground or out in the yard (I won’t let him in the house) for like an hour. Since January, he has seen her 4 times.

      Our daughter will be 3 this month (and he will probably skip this birthday too, in favor of playing Dungeons and Dragons), and she literally does not even recognize him. The last few visits I have had to tell her that he is her daddy.

      I have documented every visit (and every missed visit when he didn’t show up) since D-day. The idea that he could still get custody, even unsupervised visits, scares the crap out of me! I do have the “advantage” (yuck) of his diagnosed and untreated depression and suicidal ideations. He is very good at appearing normal/functional though, I helped him cover up his mental illness from friends and family for years.

  • I would talk with the attorney about finding a different way to make you sound “balanced.” I think going into court saying someone is a good parent when you clearly don’t believe it, or worse, there is evidence to the contrary, might actually backfire.
    In full disclosure, I was asked questions through attorneys, but my statements were not presented in court, and I don’t think they ended up in an official record. (My state is weird). When I was asked, I steered completely away from any opinions. When I was asked whether she was a good mother, I just went with “I have told you what I know. I leave it to the judge to decide whether she is or not, based on those facts.”

  • Ex’s attorney #5 tried to paint my as unreasonable by asking if my mind is made up about her illnesses. I responded that I while I doubted she was getting effective treatment that I hoped I was wrong and that was why we were having this hearing. It is amazing how quickly he stopped asking me questions after that since I sounded so reasonable with that statement. (It was such a dramatic change that the Judge even commented on it).

    • If somebody has gone through FIVE attorneys (and I’m not talking about just interviewing several which is always advisable) you were definitely dealing with a disordered person. Congrats on moving forward and away from this person.

      • Attorney #6 today for the non-payment of child support hearing where ex wants to make the argument that she can’t work because of the three new kids that she has had in the past 27 months.

      • I make jokes that it is like a TV Law Firm when you add up the names. If I am being very politically incorrect I point out that she now has all the gender stereotypes covered and most of the persona archtypes covered. Who knows, maybe she will start checking off race boxes next.

  • Where I lived was presumed 50/50 asset split and custody . However, if both parties agree other arrangements can be set. What I did was bargain with ex-ass. Like many, he really wanted to do nothing AND pay nothing. Because the state would have ordered him a largish child support (there they went by equalizing the parents income), I offered to take half of what the court would have ordered, if he gave me more time and let me move to attend grad school. I also said I’d give him the house outright without him having to pay me my half. I just wanted away with my children. Of course he agreed. I moved away, he only exercised his extended summer vacation twice. The first real argument he had with them, he told them he didn’t want to see them anymore. They took him at his word and refused to go next summer. When he threatened court I said “Fine. Since I have them 99% of the time (and you already agreed to let them move across country where they are settled in school with friends, etc. for three years), I’ll be asking for the appropriate child support.” That was the last real interaction I had with him. He wasn’t really interested in raising his kids. He was interested in NOT paying for them. He stopped paying support and I just let him wander away. Frankly having that nightmare out of our lives completely, was worth it. What I’m getting at, is these people are often doing this so they look good to other people and the court, AND, to minimize support. Not always, but sometimes, you can set up a scenario that makes it worth their while to go away.

    • OOOOH, do I got advice for you. You have until the last child reaches 18 to file a complaint for back unpaid child support.

      XH had a brother who figured he’d “gotten away” with not paying child support for years. Three months before youngest child reached 18, mom went to court and was awarded ALL OF the back child support she never got. Since “father” had absolutely no proof that he paid anything, because he had not paid anything, he was hit with a $34,600 back due bill, payable immediately. “Father” told his family he had plans to cover kid’s college expenses or some cr@p – or another scam., instead of “paying money for the children’s mother to blow” for all those years.

      Anyhew–
      It’s AMAZING how quickly he got the money together when faced with jail time. This happens in my state, you may want to check with yours. (Yes, “father” was living in another state, but he was billed just the same.)

  • Speaking of the kids, I’m halfway through a book I would highly recommend to anyone trying to unravel their own skein of fuckedupedness leftover from their childhood, and maybe gain a little understanding to help their children cope with a disordered parent. “Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents” by Lindsay Gibson. Her treatment of affairs definitely does not have enough fire and brimstone for my liking, but the book is helping me to understand a little better the effects of growing up with a man baby cheater father, and is also helping me to accept that my ex’s psychological issues far predated my involvement in his life (still trekking that slow road to acceptance that the affair was NOT MY FAULT).

    More on topic, I can’t claim to have legal advice but I have worked closely with judges and second all of the tips previously commented. Judges, especially family law judges, are mostly overworked and burned out and see a lot of shit. They generally appreciate anything that will makes their lives easier, and really, they are human too and really want to feel like they have made the right decision with your case. So your attorney sounds like he is trying to get you to appeal to this part of the judge by streamlining the narrative: “we are both good parents” is much easier for the judge to believe and make a decision on than “she’s crazy and you should believe me instead.”

    Really the problem with a lot of the family law narrative is precisely what has been brought up here: people make these claims about their spouse’s character without providing any evidence. This leaves the judge in the position of having no one who he/she really believes, and needing to make a very important decision about children’s lives based on almost nothing. Your role as the sane parent is to be the judge’s ally in discovering the truth. My scope of experience is narrow, but really every judge I have met and worked with (roundabout 15 judges, in all different courts) wants to help and do the right thing. The only thing you can do is remain calm, present the evidence and facts, and if asked for an opinion, tell the truth without getting defensive or angry. You anger is righteous but the courtroom is not the right place for it. Not saying there aren’t asshole judges out there but it is only going to be helpful to think of the judge as your ally. Best of luck <3

    • Basically the inside knowledge I can offer is that behind that tough bench exterior, there is usually a person who goes back to chambers and really, truly hopes that they did the right thing. The more you can help the judge feel like he or she is making the right decision, the more likely they will be to take your part in all this.

    • This is brilliant advice: “Your role as the sane parent is to be the judge’s ally in discovering the truth. My scope of experience is narrow, but really every judge I have met and worked with (roundabout 15 judges, in all different courts) wants to help and do the right thing. The only thing you can do is remain calm, present the evidence and facts, and if asked for an opinion, tell the truth without getting defensive or angry. You anger is righteous but the courtroom is not the right place for it.”

      FTSL, your anger is righteous, but you can either have your anger or the best solution for your kids. Not both.

  • If your lawyer is right, lie your fucking ass off. Seriously. If you don’t trust your lawyer’s judgment, then why are you using him/her? I get it, honesty, nobility, whatever. It’s war. Don’t be the army lining up in a neat little formation out in an open field banging a drum. Be the army surrounding them, hiding in the woods.

  • The money issues: Deal with those through exhibits, who pays, who does not. That’s about evidence.
    You can say that between her income and yours, there should be sufficient income to care for the children if both contribute.

    The “good mother” issue: Just acknowledge that your kids love and need contact with their mother. And they love you and need contact with you.

    Focus on what you want. If you want 50% or more of custody, make the case that you are already spending that time with the kids or more. Document what you do and what she does. In my state, one of the key decisions is which parent is more likely to foster the relationship with the parent who doesn’t have majority custody. So if you come across as angry and vindictive, that will truly harm your case.

    A custody hearing is not a place to get justice for the betrayal or for blowing up the family. What the court is deciding is where the kids will be better off, not who was the moral failure in the marriage. If one parent is a narcissist and the other is enraged and vengeful, there are no good choices. Do what you can to deal with those feelings outside of the custody question. So find outlets for your anger: run, box, see a therapist, write about the terrible things she’s done. But remember that your kids will be with their mother for a substantial amount of time. And if you want them to heal from the divorce, you have to deal with your pain and anger so that they have one parent who is not focused on their mother. Read your letter and think about that.

    • Exactly!
      I went through mediation in order to get custody of my son and the “permission” to relocate.
      The mediator did not want to hear who cheated and who didn’t. All it matter was where the baby will be better. My parents already gave us all the support they could, so that was it.

      The divorce came much, much later. The court could not care less who lives with whom. They want to know where the baby will be better. And they also push for joint custody, so you must have a bullet proof case that you are the pillar for those kids.
      I could not prove that the OW is a prostitute. The court was not interested in shaming the other party.
      As CL put it, it’s a shit sandwich for the children. But I did everything I could to limit the damage and cut our losses. I can sleep at night…
      I focus on staying sane, healthy and to develop my career. These are the things only I can control. And they work for the benefit of my son and myself. A well deserved double win, after all those losses.

  • Lots of good advice here. CL’s husband is right on. I have never handled a divorce, but have tried about 500 cases on a variety of issues and it is important that you do not look vindictive or unbalanced. I keep harping on this concept of “Fundamental Attribution Error” as it comes into play in many circumstances surrounding infidelity: public perception of the betrayed, kids perceptions and , as in this case, how you come off in court.
    A betrayed person is well advised to be aware of the fact that , in many instances, the cheater is highly invested in portraying you as a bad , unbalanced, controlling, abusive asshole. They do this for a number of reasons, including justifying the cheating to others and themselves, as well as to gain an advantage in court.
    The third party observing the behavior of the betrayed, fairly frequently, is either unaware of what the betrayed has been put through or, as is the general perception of folks who have not been on the receiving end of cheating, has no idea of the trauma.
    So, that person, in this case the judge, looks at the sometimes angry or erratic behavior of the betrayed as being representative of the betrayed persons normal demeanor and behavior. Judges may be a little more aware of the trauma, or they may be a bit jaded and minimize it even more.
    Thing is that in dealing with infidelity, as difficult as it is, one must be disciplined. Rages or name calling just play into the cheater’ hand’s ( not that you are doing that in this case). But, the same is true of any signs of being vindictive or , God forbid, that terrible word, bitter.
    You need to play the game in my opinion and come off as calm and reasonable and do what your lawyer suggests. I was thinking that maybe you could point out certain deficiencies, especially as of late, post affair, but on further reflection, think that might not be a good idea, either, even if you do it calmly etc.
    This whole ordeal is very difficult.

  • FTSL,

    You have to look at this whole divorce and custody as a *process*.

    Metaphorically, like an emotional boxing match. Boxing not as in beating the crap out of each other but rather strategizing so you can endure all the rounds. Try to outsmart her as many rounds as you can. You will be fatigued. You will be exhausted. You will be in pain. Always keep your focus. Always keep your cool. And mostly, NEVER give up! Let sheer determination propel you to attaining what is best for your kids. Don’t expect a “knock out” or a “TKO” (unless you have incriminating documentation).

    Part of the *process* is giving the courts what they want to hear based on your attorney’s advice. Part of the *process* is documenting “ex has refused to pay anything for the kids.” Part of the *process* is showing the court the “tonne of money as a lawyer” she makes. Part of the *process* is after this divorce/custody is all finished and your exw continues her destructive ways, is to take her back to court if you feel your kids emotional well-being is being jeopardized. Part of the *process* is taking each step, as calculated and informed as possible with what’s in the best interest of your kids at heart.

    My divorce was final over 4 yrs ago. DDay was almost 7 yrs ago. Court ordered 50/50 custody at that time. I received primary custody of my 3 birds just last September 2016. The courts saw the danger my birds were in becaue of my DOCUMENTATION. My extremely disordered exw is currently fighting to get some custody back. I am still going through this *process* all these years later!! This will never end. All I can do is one round at a time. I’m running on pure adrenaline (and nicotine). I am exhausted. I am overwhelmed. But I will NEVER give up. What motivates me is VICTORY, not for me, but for my 3 birds. It’s all part of the process.

    Good luck to you.

    • “I am still going through this *process* all these years later!! This will never end. All I can do is one round at a time. I’m running on pure adrenaline (and nicotine). I am exhausted. I am overwhelmed.”

      Same here (minus the nicotine)… I am *only* 1.5 years post-divorce and in 50/50 situation, learning to distance myself from the drama, blame shifting and assorted energy-sucking moves from sucky sucking mcsuckerton… It is exhausting, and yet, there is no victory in sight, I have 8 more years to go…

      One big learning in this whole debacle is that I have stopped being nice… Going through this shit storm has made me snarkier, less accommodating, and fact-based all the way… Wishing you loads of energy as you keep going SCaL…

      FTSL, I agree with the advice you go through CL and CN, my lawyer also tried to convince me to say that my then-husband was a “good father.” I laughed out loud, and said no. Then my lawyer read me the statues about what constitutes a “decent parent” in my state, the standards were so appallingly low I got where my lawyer was coming from. From then on, I resorted to stating the statutes as a baseline for parenting instead of sharing what I believed was sane parenting… That helped me come across as a fact-based and knowledgeable person instead of devolving into discussing my X’s character.

      I think some call it “choosing your battles,” I call it the best evidence for the need to rebrand the “justice department” to “the harm reduction bureau.”

      Stick with the facts FTSL, and let your silence and calm be the figurative rope your X will use to incriminate herself further. Hard as hell, but the only way to set up the foundation of your next chapter as the sane parent… Best of luck!!

  • I´ll tell you, there sure is wisdom in the words “sane parent”.
    As disordered as they are, all the more sane, balanced, unemotional and factual you have to be.
    The disorder will shine through since you are as calm and rational as you can be.
    Yes, it may be a lie that she is a “good parent”, but you will win no brownie points by pointing that fact blatantly out.
    What the court sees is one parent that is sane and thinks IN THE BEST INTEREST OF THE CHILDREN, and one parent that DOESN´T.
    Rest assured, when you keep your cool and are the adult, the court will see that.
    The court will also see the immaturity and selfishness of your X.

  • It is my personal opinion that you cannot be a good parent while you are fucking around on your spouse and family. Period. My ex sure as hell wasn’t. The only thing he could think about was getting in some whore’s pants, even during the time he was “playing daddy’ with our child. Being on the phone/email/text with a whore while she should be interacting with your child makes you a piece of shit not worthy of the title parent.
    I would not lie. She is a shitty parent. Just present the facts and anyone who thinks that shows she is a good parent can deduce that on their own.

  • Best piece of advice I read in these comments so far is to not only document time and money spent but to SUMMARIZE this information. I just went through my notes and did a quick summary. Wow! The impact the summary will have is greater than all the details. When it shows the number of parenting times my STBX has skipped and the sheer volume of appointments he has just let me handle, frankly there is no need for me to state whether or not he is a good father. It will speak for itself.

  • Thanks CL and CN…

    I received the original story right before |I went in to meet my lawyer, so it gave me the “grounding” I needed for the meeting. The lawyer noticed how much calmer I was today, so it all seemed to go well.

    I almost feel bad taking some of your advice… I just have a regular flavoured difficult person with a lot of narcissistic traits – Tracy’s ex (and some of the other cheaters on here) is a whole other flavour of crazy, so I am also grateful that I “only” have relatively minor inconveniences to deal with.

    Am now all set for the next hearing on kids (next month) and money (next week)!

  • I would also like to give people hope with small kids.
    When they hit about 11 / 12 they can legally choose for themselves.
    The disordered do not really want them, and it becomes ever more apparent.
    If you possibly can, just relax. The children while wanting to see the “odd” parent, really end up with who cooks them dinner, who is interested in their homework and who is reliable.
    Who goes to parents evening, who knows the teachers, who buys them clothes and who cares?
    These idiots start with all guns blazing, but it wears off.

    • Seriously? These were the comforting words I needed to hear right now as my youngest is 12 and this is our life.

      I just sent an email to opt out of therapy with a therapist my Stbx is seeing to “help with his relationship with the children”. I asked my lawyer what to say because I do not want anything to jeopardize custody for me. As usual his words were a home run. That’s why he gets the big bucks.

    • I would add a caveat that the age that the courts say is determinative for when a child can decide for himself about visitation and custody issues varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In my part of Ohio it is 13. That age varies even in different courts in Ohio.

  • I’m an attorney. Document and state the facts. Keep opinion and feeling out. That includes your feelings re her parenting. Unfortunately stating that she sucks as a fact will be construed as feeling charged opinion.
    However if you have journaled all visits expenses interaction etc the facts will paint her out as what she is.

  • Please bear with me here…

    I’m not a parent so this was never an issue for me. However I am the daughter of a narcissist and have had a hellish and damaging relationship with my father.

    One thing I will be eternally grateful for is the fact my mum was always there, always supportive and always very beautifully closed mouth on the subject of my father – until the time came when I wanted to talk about how bad he made me feel. I was about 17 by then and making independent decisions about things like going away to uni and driving etc. the fact my mum never attempted to colour my thinking about dad. Never bad mouthed him to me, never spread words of what a monster he was meant I could formulate my own opinion by myself in my own time, and I ALWAYS knew mum was safe, sane and fair. Dad has tried many times over the years to demonize her but from where I stand there are no grounds for this. He just looks like a vicious arse.

    Had she played me against him, bitched about him, said stuff I’m sure I would have been very confused and very alone and disappointed in her too.

    I guess what I’m saying is play the long game for your kids’ mental health too (unless they are in danger) and let your x shoot their own foots. Don’t be on record being anything less than the sound, signified person you want your kids to perceive you as. Be their solid force. Don’t add to their confusion and don’t give grounds for future bad feelings or resentment. Let THEM figure stuff out. They will thank you in the long run.

    **sisclaimer regarding the chumps I have read on here whose kids abandon them in favour of Narc ex. I realise you are the anomaly here.

    • Thank you, ZHUCHI.

      Very important to hear the child’s POV in divorce settings that involve co-parenting with an ex partner who exhibits disordered personality traits.

    • Zhuchi, I find your post very interesting because I now realize that my mother had many narcissistic traits which would make it more likely that I end up in a relationship with a narc (which I did). My dad was the one who empathized in our family and the one to spackle. If there was any issue involving emotion, dad handled it. If me or my sister were upset, it was dad who consoled while mom went in her room and closed the door. I grew up feeling nothing I did was ever good enough for mom. Dad never bad mouthed my mother nor would he ever say that her behavior was out of the ordinary. Maybe he didn’t know,but it left me feeling crazy. That said, I don’t know that I would have wanted him to bad mouth her, but I would have wanted him to let me know her behavior wasn’t normal. Mom was certainly quick to point out faults in dad.

      I do point out my stbx’s mistreatment to my children and tell them it isn’t right. I want to end this cycle which goes back at least to their great grandmothers on both sides. I tell my kids that they are being mistreated by their selfish father because to me anything else is gaslighting. My mom passed away 3 years ago. We had a very tumultuous relationship and it took finding out my husband is a cheater leading me to learn about narcissism to understand my experience. I love my kids so I can’t say I wish I had never married my husband but I don’t want them to suffer all the craziness if I can help it so if it means a little bad mouthing of a cheater, so be it.

      • I guess I need to clarify that mum was always consoling and would acknowledge what was happening wasn’t right or fair. It was a DV household so when we were very small she would stand in front of us and take the majority of the brutalising. When she wasn’t there she was quick to soothe and make sure we knew we were loved (it’s difficult to know how well that would have neutralised the horror – probably minimally but she was always solid). I suppose what I’m referring to more is after he left. She wouldn’t sit there and say “he’s a piece of shit, he’s not normal, he’s evil” or whatever but if WE concluded that and brought this conclusion to her she would validate. There was a big difference. If she had done this, I think we would have looked at the both of them and thought: “who the fuck is in charge here? Who’s the dependable, reasoned, strong force who can guide us?”

        I don’t think I can ever clearly articulate it but I am amazingly grateful to mum who was violated, endlessly chumped, trapped and brutalised, coping with all that within herself AND somehow in amongst that she didn’t add to the poisonous rhetoric even though I’m sure she itched to.

        Talking to her now, woman to woman, Chump to Chump, I can see how in her shoes she probably never saw the reality while it was so close up and in the skein. She, like us, has only the benefit of time, distance and no contact to truly see what was at play.

        Sigh, the intergenerational stuff is so complicated. I really admire all of you who parent through this. I was so afraid of continuing the familial gene of violent sociopathic narcissism, I chose not to have them. Married one instead. ??

      • I don’t consider it bad mouthing if you are being truthful. One of the things I vowed when separating from narcopath ex was that I would no longer lie to anyone – especially our boys – either to cover up for him or to make him look good (or better than he really is). No more spackling! If the truth about his behavior and poor life choices is less than flattering, it’s on him, not me. I do not seek opportunities to point out the unflattering truth either…left to his own devices, he creates opportunities for our boys to see the selfish, disordered person that he is. Of course, my boys are older (13 and 19) so they are quite capable of reaching their own conclusions without much input from me.

  • Look, I can’t offer any advice because I don’t have children. But please accept my admiration for all of you getting through the custody battle with dignity and determination. It has to be pure hell to battle the ex and worry about the well being of your children. You are all mighty.

    • As a parent, I would also like to bow down to the mightiness of chumps whose spouses have already proven to be shitty parents. My STBX was a shitty husband, but he has not shown himself to be a shitty father. Our divorce will be “amicable” (I’ve had some choice words for him), but it will be hard to remain level headed at all times, knowing what he has done to me and the poor example of a husband he has proven to be for our daughter (who, as a toddler, knows none of this yet, and I hope does not have to know for a while). While I have to shoulder this burden, I have been fortunate to not to have to contend with a spouse who has already thrown in the towel on parenting, and either refuses to be there for their children or demands to be involved when they are only doing so out of delusion/image management/spite. My hat is off to you all. Parenting is already challenging enough without all of this shit. Lots of love and hugs.

  • I ended up saying that my desire was for the children to have a healthy relationship with their father. Because I didn’t want to subject them to that evil narcissist. But if he could be miraculously cured of NPD then he would be capable of a healthy relationship with them. That would be wonderful. I never ever said he was a good father.

  • Wondering if your state uses Guardian ad Litems to help sort out custody issues? Always….always…..always….keep your cool in front of GALs and other court officers. Be pleasant……be affable… but be as honest as possible when expressing your concerns about her shitty parenting skills.

    I would not like an attorney who asks me to lie in court- that’s called “perjury.”

  • The narcissists usually fade away……out of the kids’ lives. Who wants a needy, whiny kid clinging to you while you are trying to be hot and sexy?

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