Following my divorce in July 1998, I became a pro se litigant, seeking the Court to compel earlier orders for therapy and visitation which my children's mother was loathe to comply with. I returned to Court regularly, seeking the wisdom and protection of the Court in their understanding what was indeed correct for the children.
For five additional, futile years, the Court did nothing to uphold my continuing presence in their lives. I was vilified in my efforts as intrusive. During an initial forensic evaluation, my eldest at 14 told the psychologist that she and her younger siblings "didn't need him, didn't want him, didn't love him." Quite a tall order for young teen to speak in behalf of her then 10 and four-year-old siblings.
Fifteen years ago, I became an child advocate, working in Washington with the preeminent joint custody specialist, David L. Levy, founder of the national Children's Rights Council. Prompted by my personal outrage with a legal system that did not protect my children's rights, I turned my anger into a serious, detailed program of services for parents who are journeying through separation and divorce.
For sure, this has been an arduous journey. My initial dependency on a family attorney to litigate for my continuing desire to parent my children became an expenditure for two additional attorneys, one, the attorney for the minor child to actually be the voice of the children in court, the other, an attorney serving as Guardian ad Litem who is to make recommendations to the Court as to what is in 'the children's best interests'. This GAL knew nothing about child development, nor did he seem to care.
I find that such efforts yet remain a large toll on our clients, our society. It has taken a very big toll on me, physically and emotionally. I continue to see the bloodshed and the animosity when child support is not enforced and when parents struggle to pay enormous legal bills or lose custody of their children because they have lost their ability to survive and to parent.
Today, motivated by my personal experience, I now have an earned Ph.D. in Family Studies and over 12 years working with parents in conflict. I have become a Certified Family Court Mediator, a specialist in high conflict divorce, and child custody consultant. It is so difficult to create lemonade from the lemons of such traumatic losses. Yet, I have struggled to help others by guiding them in the relationship with the other parent, working with their counsel, and helping them with their children's relationships.
Everyday, for 15 years, I have lived with the memory of my children, my desires for contact, for interaction, for love. I have lived with the rejection of my oldest, the likely sadness of my youngest and the bitterness of the middle child.
A perfect parent I am surely not. I loving parent, yes. So, how does this happen?
This article today is not about the how's of such alienating behaviors. Rather, this article is to call upon each of the readers to take action. Action through information, education and support.
The role of the Family Courts has changed in many jurisdictions. Some provide legal assistance through a designated self help area. Some Court clerks provide sample documents for writing motions. Yet, these are not enough. The Court is not a place for emotional help, for spiritual guidance, for a legal roadmap. For many people, the Courts remain an unforgiving place for battle and for intimidation.
For instance, in the most liberal of states, one would think there be requirements for family mediation around the issues of divorce and child custody. "It ain't necessarily so." That's why, after studying family mediation in Florida (2008), I decided to create a holistic approach of court and therapeutic services through a one stop shop named for my mother, Toby Lundy Roseman.
The Toby Center is one of the first nationally to bring a myriad of court services, therapy, and support so that both parents have the opportunity to work towards a new homeostasis. These parents need an outlet to express their anger, their depression, their loss and their hopes along with obtaining services that will help them emotionally and also, practically.
In the three years that we have been operating, we have found it will valuable to replicate the integrated service model of the Toby Center and bring it to many metropolitan areas where there are resources to allow for treatment and services of our population of single, separated, divorced and never-married parents.
Now that School is starting, it will be good for school guidance counselors to understand the emotional and financial challenges that separated and divorced parents face. It is almost impossible to expect that children will function 'normally' when there is dysfunction, anger, hostility and fear at home. It will therefore be most valuable if professional school personnel introduce protocols for communicating with parents, and for offering community resources for these parents.
As preeminent child psychiatrist, Karl Menninger said in the 1930's, "what children see at home, they will do to society." It will be so good for each of those reading this article who find the messages herein to resound within themselves to consider who would be valuable participants and supporters of bringing such a significant model to their community.
For the last ten years of her life, neither my mom, Toby nor my father, Sid see their grandchildren. There was no reason for this, as there was no reason for them not to have time with their father. But alienation and child estrangement occurs in nearly 1/3 of all families when parents separate and divorce. The effects of this -- truancy, ADD/ADHD medications, teen pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse, juvenile crime -- can all be mitigated.
I ask the reader on the 15th anniversary of my divorce, to take actions to help our society from the grossly damaging effects which I call the divorce implosion.
Let us work towards creating more harmony by instituting further changes in practices in the Courts and in our communities. Together we can, for it does 'take a village.'