April 10, 2013

Experts say courts improperly handle custody disputes

Michigan family courts do not make child custody decisions based on a strict set of rules, allowing judges to exercise discretion regarding whether divorcing spouses are fit parents. This system is designed to allow flexibility and to represent the best interests of the children at the center of child custody disputes, but some experts are concerned that family court judges are failing to properly respond to high-conflict cases.

Author and divorce writer Tina Swithin explained her own ongoing divorce and child custody battle with her husband, who she described as a narcissist. While court officials see him as a responsible father who is fighting for his children, especially compared to abusive, alcoholic or drug-addicted parents, she contends that he is less concerned with his children than he is with winning the case and gaining control over his wife.

A mediator, therapist and legal professional who heads the High Conflict Institute agreed with Swithin, saying that the court’s lack of education and familiarity with narcissistic personality disorder and similar conditions makes them ill-equipped to handle high-conflict divorce and child custody cases. He explained that the “adversarial process” that family court often encourages can cause parents to be aggressive and motivated primarily by the desire to beat their former partners by lying, obscuring assets from the court and other unscrupulous methods. This potentially endangers their children and removes the focus of their custody case from where it should rightfully be.

Swithin asserts that in many cases, two healthy and responsible parents should be able to come to a basic agreement regarding the best interests of their child. She contends that courts need to be more aware when this does not occur and spouses are bitter and hateful toward each other, as this potentially allows them to extrapolate ideas about a party’s personality, parenting ability and priorities.

Source: Huffington Post, “Why Our Family Courts are Failing,” Tina Swithin, March 27, 2013