Updated: Mar 4
Divorce court is real- couples go through it every day. What makes the following court proceeding so interesting? It is a teaser, a clue for what is about to become a “high conflict divorce.” “High conflict” rarely occurs IN the courtroom. That’s where every one has their best mask on. The “high conflict” part begins away from the eyes of the judge or attorneys… So, you may ask, what exactly is a “HIGH CONFLICT DIVORCE?”
Mentalhelp.net defines a high-conflict divorce as a situation “where marriage ends and war begins.”
Who are the participants in a high-conflict divorce?
As you read this transcript, pay attention to these questions:
Can you see ways the court failed to recognize warning signs?
Which person appears to have a high-conflict personality?
Do you believe the judge treated the wife with respect?
Do you believe the judge treated the husband with respect?
Does this look like justice or does it look fair?
As a reminder: this is PART 2 of a 4 Part Series: Part 1 is an unadulterated overview of the last 30 minutes of a divorce hearing. Part 2 is what “Mom” thought and felt during her interrogation of the last 30 minutes. Part 3 is what “Mom” thought and felt during “Dad’s” interrogation of the last 30 minutes. Part 4 is what “Mom” thought during the Judge’s recommendations.
Let me set the stage:
This is the last 30 minutes (thus the time referrals- it begins at 1:38pm in the afternoon) of a 2 day divorce hearing.
The judge is speaking to the wife (Mom) first, and then the husband (Dad) “equally” to review what the judge believes are the core issues in their relationship and offering his advice on what they can do moving forward.
Put your seat belt on and get ready to enter the mind of “Mom”. The seemingly innocent line of questioning she endured was anything but innocent…
MOM’S TURN Her thoughts are in BOLD
TIME 1:38pm Judge: Ms. Smith, let me ask questions of you first. Some of my questions will be challenging. I will have similar challenging questions for Mr. Smith. (Ok- this is weird but I’ll go with it. Maybe the judge understands trauma and betrayal! I’m hopeful.) In your discussions in a general sense with Mr. Smith, what is it that disturbs you the most? that he just sees things differently from you, calls you names or just doesn’t seem to listen to what it is that you have to say? Or any of those or none of those? (YEAH! The judge gets it! I’d say all of those but I’ll just pick one…) Mom: I must say that he doesn’t seem to listen or respond to the questions that I have. Judge: Ok. And when you don’t feel listened to, can you tell me what sort of emotion that evokes with you? (Wow, this is going great. What kind of judge asks about my emotions!?) Mom: In relation to the children- frustration, grief, worry, fear. Judge: little bit of anger (Well, duh, but again, I can’t believe this judge is so insightful!) Mom: Yes, sir Judge: You would feel more respected if you felt listened to? (Duh again. Doesn’t everyone think that? My stomach is starting to feel a little sick right now.) Mom: Yes. Judge: Now, when this case started, well, first off, um, you are the one who filed for divorce. Had there been discussions about mutually ending your marriage? (I just spent 2 days telling you he can’t communicate. I’m not even sure what that means- mutually end.) Mom: No. Judge: Ok. You tell me whether you agree or disagree that that likely evoked a certain emotion in Mr. Smith? (Uh-oh. I’m not sure where the judge is going with this. Again, this is another no brainer question.) Mom: Agree. Judge: You are named the temporary residential parent of all 4 children. Do you believe that would have evoked a certain emotion in Mr. Smith? (Well, I’ve just spent 2 days telling you he’s not reliable. Wouldn’t it make sense I be the responsible party?) Mom: Yes. Judge: Positive or negative? (This is not going good. I’m feeling cornered. I do not understand what is happening…) Mom: Negative. Judge: Can you see from his vantage point that that would have given you an element of control? (I’m confused. If I’m more reliable, why is that a problem?) Mom: Yes. Judge: And did I hear you say that when it came to the signing up of Annie for cheer, you did that without his agreement? (Yup, now I’m the bad guy because my sweet daughter wanted to do cheer and as we already said, Dad can’t communicate well, so why would I ask him?) Mom: Yes. Judge: By putting the children into counseling, you did that without his agreement? (I’m attentively trying to refrain from rolling my eyes now- Where on earth is he going with these questions?) Mom: Yes. Judge: And, um, did you regularly keep him up to date with what was going on with their schooling? (Well, at least I got this question right.) Mom: Yes. Judge: Ok. Well, with respect to just the ending of your marriage, this temporary designation as a residential parent, you leave room for the reality that that could have left him on the outside feeling like he is always looking in? (Did you miss that he chose to be on the outside when he cheated on me? And traveled constantly? I thought we went over that yesterday… I feel like I’m gonna throw up…) Mom: Yes. Judge: Ok. From your experience in knowing Mr. Smith, is that a position he is comfortable being in? (Do you think this is my fault?) Mom: No. Judge: Do you regard him as a soft spoken, non-caring, sort of just a wimpy type person? (You have met him, remember? He’s right over there.) Mom: No. Judge: And so you can appreciate when you take certain actions and we’ve heard the term “unilateral” a number of times, that is destined to evoke a certain response from him, isn’t it? (I’ve been living with his manipulation for 16 years. He had no problem making “unilateral” decisions when he was with his mistresses. My brain is now checking out…) Mom: Yes. Judge: You could see where he would like to have a feeling of respect also? (I really do not respect you right now. I’m sending my brain to my calm space.) Mom: Yes. Judge: It’s an understatement that you find it difficult to talk with him, one on one? Um, let me ask it this way, by not having one on one conversations with him, harmonious, respectful conversations, has that improved your relationship with him over the last few years or has it made it worse? (You aren’t going to like this answer-) Mom: Improved. Judge: Do you feel he feels more respected by not having direct conversation with you? (Sir, he only feels respected when I grovel at his feet. When is this hell going to end?) Mom: No. Judge: Do you feel more respected by not having direct conversation with him? (Again, you aren’t going to like my answer.) Mom: Yes. Judge: You say that because it doesn’t give him an opportunity to say things about you that aren’t consistent with what your conversation is? (FINALLY- you understand GASLIGHTING!!) Mom: Correct. Judge: Has the time come though that there be some change in the way the 2 of you communicate with each other? (NOPE, NOPE, NOPE… but I’ll give you the correct answer because I’m so tired right now.) Mom: Yes. Judge: I know the answer to this, tell me what you would not do for your children? (Of course you do. That’s a dumb question.) Mom: Put them in harm’s way. Judge: There’s nothing? You would do anything? True or false? Your children are affected by the lack of harmony between you and their father? (Again, dumb question. What you refuse to understand is that he’s creating the lack of harmony.) Mom: Yes. True. Judge: And to find the right method just to have some degree of harmony is going to be very difficult? (I’ve spent 20 years looking for that answer…) Mom: Yes. Judge: But we’ve already established there’s nothing you wouldn’t do for your children so therefore it stands to reason that however difficult it may be, if it is the one most loving thing you can do for your children, the time has come to do that, right? (Here we go again. I’m so tired. Cornered…) Mom: Yes. Judge: Do you expect to go and talk with somebody and within an hour, everything is better? (What are you doing to me? Dumb question, sir.) Mom: No. Judge: Do you expect to be challenged with certain methods that you ‘re going to have to employ? (Got any suggestions I haven’t tried?) Mom: Yes. Judge: And, uh, do you expect it is going to take time with you doing it over and over and over again in order for you to improve it? (Yup- tried that. Doesn’t work. Nearly caused me to kill myself.) Mom: Yes. Judge: Do you leave room for the possibility that this case may not be the most legally difficult case that we have around here? (Where did that come from? Think he’d be offended if I just start responding, “Duh”?) Mom: Yes. Judge: You read Guardian Ad Litem’s report, it’s been a year ago, right? (A year ago. So long ago. Things have changed since then…) Mom: Yes. Judge: And it had a recommendation about seeing “a joint therapist”. Is there a particular reason you didn’t pick up the telephone and call “the joint therapist” to get that started? (No, please, I cannot sit in the same room with him. I’m desperate to get away. Please don’t make me do that…) Mom: (In tears) yes. Judge: What is the reason? (You asked- I’m gonna tell you the truth, Mr. Judge.) Mom: Because I’m afraid of “Mr. Smith”. Judge: Did you, did you contact “the Guardian Ad Litem” to inquire why she would make such a recommendation? (Of course not. Her recommendation is law. That’s what I was taught. Did you hear me say I was afraid of him?) Mom: No, sir. Judge: Did you talk… you realize you could have filed a motion with the court to address how that could be “done” if in fact it was to be attempted? (I just said I didn’t question her decision so how would I know that?) Mom: No, I didn’t find out how it could be “done” differently. Judge: How much weight do you believe I should place on what your children say they would like to do? (Flashes of my sweet children~ holding them as infants, watching them walk for the first time… the wailing of my son when we told him we were separating… Crap. I’m gonna lose my shit. STOP CRYING!) Mom: (silence and crying) Sorry. Authors Note: The judge waited for 30 seconds before he responded to her. To understand the true impact of this moment, have someone stare at you for 30 seconds. Judge: You don’t need to answer that. Can you see that when you want Annie to go from gymnastics to cheer, and she expresses excitement to you, and you don’t diffuse that, you put Mr. Smith in a tough spot with her? (Yes, I realize it is always my fault when I don’t say things right. That has been drilled into my head.) Mom: Yes. Judge: In a similar light, when he hears homeschooling options, from the boys, and he doesn’t diffuse that, or say I need to talk to your mother about that, he puts you in a very tough spot, doesn’t he? ‘Cause you want to walk that fine line between loving your boy, your children and doing everything you can for them, but also saying no when you think it’s appropriate. (I’m sorry to say this but I have no idea what you are saying anymore. I feel like you are Charlie Brown’s teacher.) Mom: Yes. Judge: And you’d like to have his support on that, wouldn’t you? (Actually, I’m not really sure it matters anymore. He will never support me.) Mom: Yes.
Stay tuned for Part 3 as we dive into her experience watching the judge question Dad.
“Trauma creates change you don’t choose. Healing is about creating change you do choose.” Michelle Rosenthal The goal of my “Truth Series” is to educate with truth and infuse that truth with hope. If you have a story you would like to share, please reach out at: firstname.lastname@example.org.