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Separating; Surviving; Thriving.

April 27, 2016

Some of the people I have worked with are truly better at deception, manipulation and lies than I or anyone else at telling the truth.

I would see these folks in the context of contested child custody and access battles.

Their spouses would appear embattled and often defeated. Some would appear almost hysterical against the barrage of allegations against them by former partners who after making their lives a living hell within the relationship next make their lives a living hell through the children upon the dissolution of the relationship.

Some of these folks have been remarkably physically abusive and others have been so adept at psychological, emotional and verbal means of abuse, so as not to leave visible scars but have to none-the-less, cut their former partners to the bone. It is the latter who are the more dangerous. They destroy people in their wake. They assassinate their character. They bury them in paperwork. They use the very institutions meant to serve and protect to  harass and bully. Some are incredibly meticulous and relentless in their dismantling of their former partner. Throughout, they cloak themselves in the role of victim, the victim of supposed atrocities perpetrated against them by their former partner, atrocities that are nothing more than their projections on the other for behavior engaged in themselves.

My role with these persons has been as assessor, mediator and arbitrator. My role entails sorting out truth from fiction, fact from lies. In so doing, I am then tasked to provide the court with a document giving evidence of who is what, who does what and what in the midst of that is best for their children, children who at times are so impacted upon, that they too bear the scars of shell shock. My role involves helping parents in these horrendous situations make decisions about the care of their children between them. My role also included making decisions directly, decisions to mitigate the impact of such nefarious behavior on their children’s well being, physically, emotionally, mentally and cognitively.

As a professional working with such persons, it is difficult to help those outside of the profession to ever imagine how heinous some people can be, how two-faced, how destructive, how manipulative. By the way, the crime of their former partner that so evokes such despicable behavior against them is having fallen for the lies and manipulations and being in love; having been lured into a love that was meant to serve the perpetrator at the expense of the victim. Like persons who have been taken in by con artists, their other crimes include embarrassment and a sense of shame and guilt. They wonder, how could they have been so taken in. Again though, it bears remembering the perpetrators are better at deception, lies and manipulation than their partners are at telling the truth or defending themselves. If there was another crime, it may have been that some of their victims were vulnerable, having pre-existing self-esteem issues, making the attraction of the perpetrator all that more alluring.

Given that the best predictor for the well being of children subject to parental separation is the level of conflict between the parents and given the extreme nature of the conflict between parents in these situations, their children are at great risk of poor outcomes. Their children often appear disorganized, perfectionist, extremely out of control or alternately extremely well controlled, as bullies themselves or alternately withdrawn. In adolescence there is risk of early onset sexual behavior with all that entails, drug and alcohol abuse, truancy, more perfectionism, mental health problems up to and including self mutilation, suicidal ideation and suicidal behavior. And then there are those children who appear well and composed. They seem to skate through unscathed, but concern remains they are the walking time bombs, ready to emerge in their adult relationship with the problems exposed to in their formative years between their parents.

The perpetrators of this family destruction do not take losing or winning well as odd as that sounds. In winning, it is never enough, they always seek more. In losing, they plot their revenge and never rest. Like a junk yard dog on a bone, they relentlessly pursue their prey and seek to make right their version of a perceived wrong if having lost the battle. To regain power, they do so by trying to undermine those whose actions are felt to have thwarted their goals. They next plot against the service providers, the courts, the judges and even their own lawyers. If they can kill the prior messengers and decision makers, they believe they can undo the previous outcome and still reach their goal. It is as if they do not rest or sleep. When their former partner thinks it is all over, the tactics re-emerge but there is a difference. In their re-emergence, the perpetrator is now that much more sophisticated in their strategy having learned from their previous attempts. They are more dangerous than before. Their deception, manipulations and lies are even more believable given practice over time. Their partners continue to swim against that tide.

These are the 1% to 3% of situations that tie up the 90% of court time and all other resources. Unfortunately, the court system can exacerbate these situations. Few professionals will ever admit it, but these situations are the stage four intractable cancers of parenting conflicts. These are not situations to be solved, just as some cancers are not to be cured.

The better outcome may be in learning how to manage and cope and live with dignity in the midst of chaos and destruction. That may better serve the children, who rather than being embroiled in the noise and confusion of events, can still find peace with at least one parent who may let go a battle to serve better at a later date. This may require a leap of faith that this produces a better outcome although admittedly, the outcomes will likely not be as hoped for, just not as worse and it could be.

I see those parents who against their better judgement, let go their battle to appease the oppressor in the hopes the child will be spared. These parents are courageous yet much misunderstood. Others may look and ask how they could ever relinquish their child to such a person. They do so after considering the alternative: no peace ever and the child’s destruction in the battle or some semblance of peace even given the child will still be subject to the influence of the other.

I stopped working in the court system and stopped providing arbitration involved services well over a year ago. I have been the victim of these persons’ wrath and I recognize the futility of the court system in addressing these situations. I too have been subject to the use or manipulation of institutions as means of abuse. I have been cyber bullied. These persons have tried to undermine my livelihood. I recognize the futility of making arbitration decisions with persons who will never accept the outcome but in turn will next target the messenger.

Despite the above, I continue to serve. My services include being available to discuss such challenging situations on a one-to-one basis and offering a suite of services to hopefully peacefully produce better outcomes than those imposed through court or arbitration. I also provide consultation service to other family law professionals as well as mental health professionals.

Thankfully, the vast majority of separating parents do not face such dire circumstances. My services provide an alternative to the court system which if taken at the beginning of a separation can help stave off in some situations, the fall-out experienced by many from going the court route.

At the end of the day, all that is sought by most separating parents is a peaceful transition to a new family structure where both parents and children can adjust and move forward. I would be pleased to help you with that and I appreciate the fear imposed through any process that involves your children’s well being and your relationship with them. If you are separating, I am here and I would like to help.

If you know someone who might benefit from this information please scroll down and share this article. Help get the word out that help is available.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

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Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas and Georgina Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships

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