Going to court is extremely stressful. Enduring court when there is children involved is nothing short of traumatizing! In this post, I desire to give comfort and practical tips to those that are involved in family court. Both from personal and my professional court advocacy experience, I know court dealings can be confusing, drawn out, and stressful. While I hope that you personally never experience a court hearing, unfortunately, for many families it is a reality. Here is some practical advice for surviving the emotional toll of family court.
You are in a marathon. This is not a sprint. Court is long and drawn out in most cases. It is not quick and resolved with a hearing or two as you often see on TV. Prepare for each hearing and take them seriously, but try not to put too much weight on any one proceeding.
Find ways to de-stress and take care of yourself. You may need to learn to manage an increased amount of stress while you are going through the court process. If you have children, they still have needs. So you will have bear up under the weight of all your concerns about court while still caring for them.
Look for healthy ways to cope and acknowledge what is happening while giving yourself permission to “drop” the court topic mentally for hours at a time so you can focus on the day to day tasks.
Since court does go on for so long we don’t want it to bleed into every area of our life. Or to shut down living for the next 2 years. Have times when you talk with a friend to vent about what is going on with court. But also have occasions when you go out to dinner with friends and just “forget about it” for the evening!
Make the Most of Mediation
Courts are typically big on mediation. Most families will be sent to mediation to see if they can work through things and make some agreements.
Make the most of this opportunity. While it can stick in your craw to try to “agree” with someone you feel has betrayed you, try to look beyond this. There is so much at stake if there are children.
Before you go to mediation think about what is THE most important thing to you. Once you step into the court, rarely does any one person “win.” So it is not about winning or losing.
Mediation is an opportunity to try to agree and walk away with that ONE or two things that mean the most to you. So make a list of all the things you are hoping to achieve. But make sure you are crystal clear on what you can’t live without.
You may also wish to use this time to count the cost. There is a cost to staying in a marriage and making the sacrifices and compromises necessary to join two lives. And there is a steep price for divorcing. So make sure your eyes are open and that you have exhausted every avenue so you feel more at peace about your decision.
Find a Lawyer who Understands Your Unique Situation
Take your time with this step. Lawyers are just people. So find one that is very capable. And who wants to win and treats each case uniquely.
And remember your lawyer will represent you in the courtroom but also in closed chambers where you will not see or hear what was discussed.
So find one that you connect with and that understands your unique situation.
What do I mean? Most people that go to court try to slant things to their point of view. That is natural. We all want to be portrayed in the best light in the courts or to think that our point of view is the most important one. Unfortunately, sometimes you are dealing with people that step way beyond that. Abusers, Narcissists and Sociopaths are not your typical people. If you are going to court against such a person you truly need a lawyer that understands.
I am using the terms Abuser, Narcissist and Sociopath (Antisocial Personality Disorder) in their medical definition, not as a personal slam. Read here about Domestic Violence, here for Narcissists and here for Sociopaths.
As some general examples, a spouse who has been abused will struggle to trust their own instincts and opinions because they have often been told for so long that their thoughts and feelings are wrong. This spouse may need a lawyer who can work with their client to give them the courage to stand up for what they want. And a lawyer who has knowledge of the cycle of abuse.
Great topic Bill, that follows on from your post relating to children’s mental health. That topic was on my mind this morning, as I was walking in the local forest. The Hague convention states that should a child be abducted, proceedings, including professional assessments, hearings and appeals, must be heard within 6 weeks. So we know that the family court has the ability to hear and process complex and emotive cases in weeks, not years. It’s got to be said, that judges are responsible for allowing these family law cases to drag on and this compounds the trauma faced by everyone. In relation to your discussion around narcissists and those with personality disorders, the courts are clueless. And the term narcissist is a red flag for most judges and solicitors. My ex, is, without doubt, a malignant narcissist. I was introduced to the term a few years ago, and when I researched the topic, I actually burst into tears. Have a look at this video, and tell me how to explain this to a judge, who hears the term narcissist each and every day. I dread even using the word... The scariest thing is, that I have been told not to engage in any therapeutic intervention, such as mediation, relate etc, How do you even begin to deal with this ?
i wouldn't place blame purely on the courts. its the parents that start the mess in the first place. just because their relationship broke down, kids are badly affected. the courts do try to wind things up and shorten the process where possible. i had my 2nd hearing recently. was expecting it to go to round 3. but judges said theres no need, and it was sorted. and they told me they don't want to see both of us in court again. once is enough
problem is when a parent makes allegations about abuse/violence, the courts will have to be cautious and investigate. and thats when process starts dragging on.
yes i see this issue about narcissist/psycho ex partners are difficult to deal with or expose in court. their personality disorder can make them completely 2-faced and seem very normal when dealing with courts and social workers.
Not sure who I blame. Judges, solicitors, barristers all know that the process if flawed, they all earn a living and the more hearings, the more reward. I would imagine if solicitors were told they were being paid per case, not per hearing, that the process would speed up quite a bit. If your ex refuses to adhere to the court order you will be back in court, again, and again. If they make a false allegation, you can expect to spend years there. I am sure you have read recent posts by those who thought there situation was resolved, fell away from the forum, and are now here again as they now have no contact with their children. This is not unusual. It’s not that I blame solicitors barristers or judges, but I do feel they know the system is flawed. I do however think they have a responsibility to change the system. Family law effects mental health, it effects schooling, crime, it effects the community at large, sometimes for generations. If barristers and judges do not speak up and force reform, who should ?
The system is flawed insofar as there is no financial penalty for lying to court, or for not complying with orders - if the party who flouts the regulations had to pay the legal expenses of the other party, then matters wouldn't drag on anything like as long.