Adapted from Presentation Given by Lisa Scott at the Father’s Rights Seminar, Sponsored by FR Investigations, August 4, 2004, Auburn, Washington
Even though this talk is directed mostly at men, everything that can happen to a man in this system can happen to a woman. Women should not be complacent, or even gleeful, when these things happen to men. They could be the next to be falsely accused — suffering criminal arrest, incarceration, removal from home and denial of access to children.
Women should not make men the enemy, any more than men should make women the enemy. Women should stop and think, how would I react if I was taken away from my children and told I should be happy to get to be with them every other weekend?
Repeated studies show that children of divorce are most damaged by high conflict between their parents. If parents would just call a truce and agree to do what’s best for their children, there would be a lot less fighting.
Unfortunately, the system tends to encourage custody battles because the winner not only gets the kids, but usually the house and, of course, child support. Plus, the parent who has the children most of the time has the most control over what happens to them. As long as the winner is rewarded with the goodies, there will continue to be wars fought over the children.
The first thing for men to understand and accept is this.
Gender Bias is a Reality in this System
Despite the fact that our family laws are generally written in a gender-neutral way, they are often carried out by people in a system that has been steeped in gender-biased stereotypes and outright lies about men and women.
Police, prosecutors, judges, social workers, psychologists, parenting evaluators, counselors, et al, have been indoctrinated with propaganda by certain women’s and victim advocacy groups that men commit 95 per cent of all domestic violence, are more likely to abuse their children, and that they are little more than sperm donors who care not about their children but about how they can get out of paying child support.
If you think that sounds harsh and unfair to these groups, I apologize, but it is my opinion based on 17 + years of family law practice and 7 + years of family law reform activism.
So, whenever you put your freedom, your access to your children and your property and assets in front of an authority in the system, you are vulnerable to being treated in a biased way. Not everyone is biased, but it is the norm for most players in the system.
That is why you are much better off staying out of the system — that is, resolving your disputes through negotiation — and not letting yourself be at the mercy of someone who knows nothing about you, and has a tremendous tendency to treat you as a member of a group, not as an individual.
As I often tell clients, if you have to fight for your rights in front of a judge, you’ve already lost.
Every man is vulnerable to getting run through the ringer in this system. Any time you get involved with a woman, you are subject to court and legal intervention. The only way to avoid it is to never get involved with any woman, and go live the rest of your life in a cave. I’m guessing most of you won’t take that route, so I’m here to give you some tips on how to avoid problems before they escalate.
Always Be On Your Guard
The first thing to remember is always be on your guard. Always be thinking about how things can get out of hand, and how something you do can be twisted around to make you look sinister.
There are many phases of personal relationships, and different things to do depending on which phase you are in. In general, there are three major ones:
- Pre-Divorce: (while you are still living together).
- During Divorce: (after separation, prior to the final divorce).
- Post-Divorce: (after the divorce, until all your children are over 18).
Some of these tips apply to all three phases, while some apply only to one or two.
In any case, always be thinking of where you are, and what you want to accomplish. Have goals and a plan on how to reach those goals.
Set Child Custody Goals
The first thing you need to do is decide, what is it that I want with regard to my children? Do I want majority time with them, shared parenting, or just regular access?
Men have to want to obtain shared parenting or majority time before they have any chance to accomplish it. Gender bias is a reality in this system, but sometimes GENDER BIAS BEGINS AT HOME.
If a man is not totally committed to getting the most time he can with his children, no one else is going to fight for him. It’s not impossible; in fact it is more and more common for men to have majority care or shared care of their children.
Once you have decided what you want to achieve, don’t let yourself be talked out of that goal, or let things get out of control so you lose any realistic chance of reaching that goal.
For example, I hear many stories of men who have been involved in a domestic violence incident with their wives, where both people have engaged in an act that could get them arrested. Or it is unclear who is the aggressor.
911 is called, and the police say, well, we have to arrest someone, who will it be? And the man volunteers to be arrested!! It may seem like the chivalrous thing to do at the time, but it is devastating to your parental rights.
Sometimes the hardest thing to do is stand up for your rights as a father, and not be a “good guy.” In the heat of a custody battle, when have you ever heard of the mother volunteering to be the one arrested?? Never.
Possible New Relationships
SCARED DATELESS: Now, before we go any further, let’s talk about a phase not mentioned above, but which all of you have gone through and probably will again: beginning a new relationship. Many of you are divorcing, or perhaps divorced, and will be getting involved with another woman in the future.
Be smart and use common sense in any dealings with a potential romantic interest:
1. Don’t get involved with someone too fast
It goes without saying that, the less you know about that other person, the more potentially could go wrong if you get involved too quickly. For a man in this system, a bad break-up can mean not only the loss of the children from the relationship.
Even if you don’t have children with a woman, it can mean the loss of your freedom. You can be falsely accused of domestic violence or stalking, and be arrested and charged and incarcerated. DV allegations from a new relationship are often used against you to take away children from your prior relationship.
You can also lose your right to own firearms if you are convicted of any DV offense, even a misdemeanor. Men who are police, security officers, gun collectors or hunters be especially aware. If the woman knows you are an avid gun enthusiast, or have to carry a gun in your career, a DV protection order or charges can be highly devastating.
Even a few dates with a woman can form the basis of her getting a restraining/protection order against you if she decides you did something wrong. I often say, a man is only one date away from losing his liberty (and children, career, home, etc).
2. Watch out for the professional victim
It is a major red flag if she claims she was abused by a past husband or boyfriend (or father, or mother, or grandparent, or sibling, or family pet). Maybe she was really abused, or she wasn’t, but used false allegations against the guy to get a better deal.
Either way, she likely knows the system and knows how to play the victim for her benefit. Many men find out only later that the former husband or boyfriend she claimed abused her did nothing of the sort, and that the false claims she is making against you now are the exact same things she claimed one or several former partners did to her.
Now, let’s talk about some practical things you can do when involved in divorce proceedings. Most apply to during, but some apply before and after.
Do’s and Don’t’s to Help You Avoid Trouble
OK, I lied, there aren’t any DO’s, they are all DON’T’s! (almost).
DON’T EVER, EVER, GET INTO ANY PHYSICAL CONFRONTATIONS.
Even if she hits, punches, slaps, scratches, kicks or bites you, do not respond. Just shield yourself with your hands and try to get away. Even the act of pushing her away, or holding her arms to stop her from hitting you, can be chargeable domestic violence.
Run, run away if she comes at you. Lock yourself in the bathroom, the garage, or get in the car and drive around the block. Do anything to de-escalate the situation. (If she loves the dog more than you, hold the dog in your arms while you have a discussion with her. This will probably avert a frontal assault).
EVERY SINGLE CASE OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HAS MANY CHOICES LEADING UP TO IT THAT ONE OR BOTH PARTICIPANTS COULD HAVE MADE TO AVOID ESCALATION.
Don’t let yourself get out of control to the point where it involves physical actions or threats or gestures of physical force. DV assault can be as minor as blocking her egress from a room or grabbing her wrist to get her to stay and talk. DON’T DO IT!
DON’T GET BAITED INTO BAD BEHAVIOR.
No matter what she says to you, or screams, or does, do not respond in kind. Do not argue, yell, raise your voice, get mad, swear, gesture, threaten, or even glare at her.
Don’t leave nasty, angry or profane messages on her voice mail (or anyone else’s). Do not express any angry thoughts to anyone but your attorney. Even counselors can be subpoenaed to testify about what you said.
Don’t throw things, break things, hit things or even make movements as though you are about to. DO NOT smash your fist into the drywall (ouch) even if you are the only one hurt by it. This behavior can be considered domestic violence (threat of imminent harm, malicious mischief). Even if it is YOUR PROPERTY, do not do any violence to it. Even if you’re not angry, and just wanted to break something to see what happens, or find out what’s inside, DON’T. It can be used against you later to prove you are violent and out of control.
Do not ever, ever, slap your spouse even if she asks you to. Some guys have done that and learned the hard way she was hoping you would do it so she would have justification to have you charged or get a protection order.
GET IN TOUCH WITH YOUR INNER WIMP.
I’m not kidding. You cannot show anger or negative emotions. Be a robot, do not respond even if she hits you (literally or figuratively) below the belt. Always be more willing to switch than fight. Your new motto is: “Yes Dear.”
If you truly have trouble controlling your anger and emotions, get help from someone, before you do something irreparable.
STOP AND THINK WHENEVER YOU SEE THINGS GETTING OUT OF HAND. DE-ESCALATE AT EVERY OPPORTUNITY.
DON’T EVER let her or anyone else provoke you into violence.
Stop and think, what would your attorney advise you to do (call and ask if you can). Since you can’t always call in every situation, I sometimes tell clients: Think WWLD: What Would Lisa Do? (apologies to you-know-who).
If you are not convinced how bad it can get, read one of those DV brochures and their lists of what they consider domestic violence. Such common relationship attributes as jokes, insults, put-downs, disagreements, etc. are listed as escalating all the way up to assault and murder.
If your spouse ever decides to go after you in DV/family court, she will have an army of helpers, DV advocates, counselors, social workers, et al, to help her with the “script” and the buzzwords to use to go after you. Don’t let her have any ammunition against you.
DON’T CALL 911 UNLESS YOU ARE BLEEDING AND SHE STILL HAS A WEAPON IN HER HAND.
Too many men who have called 911 for help have ended up being arrested for DV. Even if she has assaulted you, by the time the police arrive she can cook up a story that you are the real abuser, and she was only defending herself.
Once the police are involved, you have lost all control over the situation.
Even if the police actually do arrest her (and in some areas this is occurring more frequently), the prosecutor may decline to charge her. In which case, she is now as angry as a wounded wild animal. Her next stop is probably the DV advocate at the district courthouse, to file for a protection order against you.
DON’T OPEN YOURSELF UP TO CHILD ABUSE CHARGES.
Don’t spank or use any corporal punishment with the children (possibly for the rest of their minority). During divorce, the spouse can use it to get a DV protection order, and also after. Also the child can accuse you of abuse even if it was reasonable discipline.
Don’t sleep with them or spend more than the absolute minimum time helping them dress or bathe. Make sure the children have their own beds and bedrooms and be firm about them sleeping there. Don’t let them fall asleep with you, even on the couch watching a movie, or come sleep with you in the middle of the night. Lock your door if you have to.
And get that kiddie pornography off your computer. It will come back to haunt you when you least expect it. (Ha ha, just kidding, I hope). Get rid of “regular” pornography. Even though it is legal to buy and look at, it will be used against you in a divorce (she’ll accuse you of having an “addiction” to porn). Don’t visit seamy internet sites, even just out of curiosity. The other side will make you out to be a deviant pervert. And be especially vigilant that the children do not get access to anything inappropriate in your house or on your computer.
DON’T LET INNOCENT BEHAVIOR BE TURNED SINISTER.
Don’t play rough with the children, or with pets. Don’t let the children do so either.
Don’t play rough with your spouse, especially in bed. Don’t ever joke or talk about rape or kinky sex. It will be used against you.
Even if your wife is a veritable Paris Hilton in bed, during the divorce she’ll channel Mother Teresa, claiming you forced her into all sorts of demeaning behavior. (See Jack Ryan case; former Senate candidate who quit after abuse allegations made by former wife surfaced during campaign).
Don’t joke or even talk about violence, suicide, etc. These statements can be quoted and made to sound serious and sinister in court filings.
If you are already separated, do not go to her residence alone (even if it is the house you still co-own). Go with a witness only, or meet her at a neutral location. Do not take her up on an invitation to come over.
If you have to go there, to drop off or pick up the children, or items, go only when she is present, and only go as far as the front door, don’t go inside. Don’t drop off something at her residence when she is not there, even if she has asked you to. She might be setting you up for an allegation that you went there and broke in, rifled through her things, or were spying on her or stalking her.
It should go without saying, but DON’T VIOLATE ANY COURT ORDERS, IN ANY WAY, AT ANY TIME. If you are under court order to stay way from your spouse, take extra care to follow the restrictions, even going out of your way to avoid being near her home, workplace, or wherever she might frequent.
Draw a map if you have to, circle the sensitive areas, and stay out of the HOT ZONE! You don’t need to go to the same grocery store or coffee shop you always have. Find a new area to hang out. If you do run into her, it will be her coming into your area, not the other way around.
Also, never enter her vehicle, even to put something in it for the children. Her vehicle is an extension of herself, and she can claim you were trying to take her things or sabotage the car. Just think if she had a flat tire and you happened to be in the area, she could claim you did it.
If after you have separated you still have a key to her car, give it back to her and get a receipt.
DON’T ADMIT TO BAD BEHAVIOR OR IMPLY YOU’VE DONE WRONG.
While being in a relationship often requires the ability to say “I’m sorry,” once things break down and the war has begun, the other side may be waiting for the opportunity to get you on record confessing to various malfeasance. If you have to apologize for anything, do it verbally, and in a general way.
Do not write a note or letter confessing your sins. Many a divorcing guy has been served copies of his own heartfelt apology letter, “proving” he did everything she accuses him of doing. Many times the woman demands such a letter and the guy complies, having no idea she will use it against him. If you need to get something off your chest, write yourself a letter, then promptly shred it.
DON’T LET YOUR WIFE INTERFERE WITH YOUR BEING A PARENT.
On many initial consultations for divorce, the husband tells me he wants to be more involved with the children, but his wife won’t let him. She even hides soccer schedules, school parent-teacher notices, and doctor visits from him, so she can go by herself and “prove” that he is an uninvolved parent. If your wife engages in these tactics, don’t confront her, just get the information directly from the school, team, doctor, or wherever, and go anyway.
If you find out after the fact that she’s taken the child to the doctor or dentist for some treatment, schedule an appointment and go in and discuss things with them yourself. When you do go in, with or without the children, make sure the chart notes indicate you were there.
Check with the school that you are on the information / emergency contact card. Fill a separate one out if you have to. Ask for duplicate copies of school notices, homework information, etc. to be sent directly to you. Even if your wife has already signed a homework assignment or permission slip, sign too.
Don’t be an invisible parent. Let the teachers know your child has two involved parents. Get e-mail addresses for the teachers and communicate with them regularly about your child. Don’t denigrate your wife or mention the parenting conflicts going on, just find out what you can do and do it.
Remember, everyone you come in contact with during this process is a potential witness, for or against you. Get and keep names and contact information for teachers, counselors, coaches, medical providers, and other parents, so you can get their statements if needed.
Document, document, document. The family court system is gender bias in action. When the mother claims she is the “primary parent,” no evidence is needed. When the father claims he is the “primary parent,” or even an equally-involved parent, the courts demand “where’s the evidence?”
It is not enough to BE an involved parent, you have to PROVE it. Always be thinking, how can I document what I am doing?
DON’T LET ALCOHOL OR DRUGS INTERFERE WITH YOUR JUDGMENT.
If you have a problem with either, get it under control.
Don’t drink, smoke, chew, or use drugs. Even a social drinker can be made to look like a drunk, so the prudent thing to do is not drink at all. After the divorce is over, you can resume your normal drinking binges (ha ha, just kidding, I hope).
DON’T SNOOP OR SPY, BUT IF YOU DO, DON’T GET CAUGHT.
If your wife is having an affair and you catch her, that is one of the NUMBER ONE triggers for false allegations of domestic violence.
Most states have no-fault divorce, EXCEPT IF IT’S THE MAN’S FAULT. In other words, everything she does is OK, but anything you do is bad. Don’t give her any ammo for claims that you are “harassing” her, “stalking” her or “invading her privacy.”
If you happen to read her e-mail, listen to her phone messages, or overhear conversations, just gather the most information you can, but don’t keep copies of anything. She may find it and use it to prove you are snooping.
Always observe good security measures for yourself. Have secure passwords for your programs, and don’t leave them on sticky-notes on the computer.
If possible, only use e-mail for personal communications at your office, not at home (if your employer allows it). Be sure your voice mail code is not something the other party has, or she could be listening to your messages. Even if she moves out of the house, she could still be calling in and checking messages on the answering machine/voice mail.
Always be sure to clearly terminate a call after you have spoken with your spouse or left a voice message. Make sure your cell phone doesn’t accidentally dial or re-dial her number while you’re talking to someone else about her (or anything for that matter), and the entire conversation is getting recorded on her voice mail. This has happened to more than a few people, and when it happens during a heated divorce/custody battle, you will greatly regret it.
Keep any and all documents related to the divorce at a secure, off-site location. Keep a back-up set of copies in case one set gets lost or destroyed. Give a set to your attorney for safekeeping.
DON’T KEEP GUNS OR OTHER WEAPONS AROUND.
Store guns or other weapons at a secure location elsewhere besides the family home. Get a receipt for all guns kept by a third party. If the guns are not there, she will have a harder time claiming you threatened her with one (I said harder, not impossible).
She may also accuse you of turning the children into gun-crazed wackos (just like you). It is best to defer firearms handling, training and target practice until well after the divorce. And for God’s sake don’t take the children out into the woods and kill small, cute, furry forest creatures.
DON’T UNDERESTIMATE HOW BAD THE SYSTEM CAN BE.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking the “justice system” is about “justice.”
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that if the truth is on your side, you’ll be OK. The truth may be out there, but it rarely matters in family court.
You must start well before the case gets to divorce court to have any chance of reasonable success. Making too many mistakes in the process will be irreparable.
DON’T ARGUE WITH YOUR ATTORNEY WHEN HE/SHE TELLS YOU TO DO OR NOT DO SOMETHING.
Follow your attorney’s advice. If you don’t you’ll regret it later.
If you feel your attorney is not giving you this kind of advice, then you may need to change attorneys.