February 1, 2018

Dominance, Submission, and the Sturm Und Drang of Family Law


Artwork © Samantha Keely Smith

Over the past years, I’ve had the unique if not undesirable opportunity to put my finger directly upon the pulse of American family law—one of the most contentious hells of legal Jeopardy there is. It’s a busy intersection where deeply personal, near endless quarrel between blackened hearts meets exploitative lawyering in the firmament of the judicial system. It’s a realm where bizarre, unpredictable things tend to happen, where logic isn’t necessarily relevant and facts can be less important than fiction—a realm made even more bizarre and unpredictable when you dare throw D/s lifestyle practices into the mix. My story and expressed opinions in this article, which involve exactly those things, begins in a little town in the United States, where a particularly unhappy woman—let’s call her Lisa—found herself having quite enough of the mental and physical abuse she claimed to have suffered at the hands of what we might objectively call a narcissistic sociopath. In her headstrong and subsequently wayward youth, Lisa insisted on doggedly pursuing a relationship with this man, ignoring the many recurring warnings from others to do otherwise out of the mistaken belief that his manipulativeness and cruel treatment amounted to good dominance in a male. Many years and three kids later, she finally realized that her husband (who, among many awful and despicable acts, allegedly kicked her in the stomach when pregnant with his own daughter and even threatened to kill her) was unfit to stay with any longer. I’m not certain when the line was finally crossed for her, but when it was, she plotted to move out when he was off at work one day. And so she quietly slipped away, taking very little of her possessions to begin a new life away from her husband, at any cost.

Lisa lived in a new house and suddenly had a new life. Part of that life involved slowly loosening her social freedoms from their atrophy. One day, she ventured upon a man whom she would later come to love quite deeply and serve with all her heart and soul. In case you’re wondering, the new guy in this story is yours truly. With yours truly, she had the dominance and leadership she always wanted. She also realized the immediate difference between a man like myself and her soon-to-be ex. I write this not as a boast, but as a statement of fact. To be frank, if Lisa were to randomly throw a dart on the dating board, wherever it would land she’d find a man several times more human than her ex would ever be. I hope this helps to further illustrate how negative her relationship was with this man.

One day, I finally flew out and visited Lisa, staying at her home for a few days. For the first few visits, in fact, we kept things low key and of course didn’t get into the ordeal of introducing me to her children, who tended to stay with her more. On the day that introduction finally happened, there was positiveness and acceptance, and more still over the two next visits that would come. After that, things got funny.

I’m not going to bore you with the insanely long, dramatic details of how the conflict between the two parents went down, but I will provide a brief overview of how a deeply troubling familial conflict with kids trapped directly in the middle went from zero to sixty in no time at all. The daughter, as it turned out, had been secretly following her mother’s adult online activity prior to me even being in the picture, so it was not surprising, then, that she ran to her father for support, unfortunately.

She felt like she could only sit and watch as her children were gradually brainwashed by their father into thinking their mother was crazy and I, the Anti-Christ.

I say “unfortunately,” for the level of alienation, drama, and brainwashing (for lack of a better word) that would follow was beyond what could be described as despicable, albeit not entirely unexpected, given the nature of the marriage. Hindsight makes that quite clear today.

For starters, the ex found within him the cojones to break into the mother’s house with his own daughter while the mother was away, snooping around for any dirt he could find, or so it was claimed by Lisa when she got to the bottom of things. Somewhere between these covert visits, a whip was found (this was corroborated in reports later on), as was a piece of notepaper in the mother’s bedroom with an assigned mantra inscribed upon it. This became the pretext to harbor the children at his house indefinitely under the pretense of protecting them. While he kept them, Lisa would get nasty calls from her daughter at night, telling her how awful she was, reminding her of her “duties as a mother,” and how much of a failure she was. Evidence seemed strong that these were the results of divorce poison from the father, but realizing this possibility didn’t matter: hearing her kids act and talk this way caused a great deal of distress in Lisa. She felt like she could only sit and watch as her children were gradually influenced into thinking their mother was crazy and I, the Anti-Christ. They stayed at his house more and more often, likely through a skein of fear, paranoia, and what psychology describes as False Memory Syndrome of events. The conflict and dysfunction palpably increased, as did the demonic mythology surrounding the relationship this innocent woman had with me.

Right before Lisa’s divorce proceedings were in full swing, she was visited by the Department of Social Services (DSS) after they received an intake call from the father’s side making the most outlandish accusations about her behavior around her children. After having read the report, I insisted on being there to discuss the matter with the DSS worker directly and explain that what was reported (locking the kids downstairs, parading their mother in front of them like “a hooker,” me using their mother as an ottoman in front of them, etc.) was absolute fiction. The social worker, a bright and pleasant young lady, documented our statements and proceeded to the ex’s house for his part of the interview. Days later, the DSS report, which involved a covert visit to the children themselves at school (something to keep in mind), revealed that nothing in the statements were tenable, and so the case was neatly filed away as closed/unfounded.

But this was only the beginning of Lisa’s ongoing legal drama with her ex. In the months to come, the court, concerned by the rhetoric of the father and the saber rattling of his high-priced divorce attorney (the father is connected with a wealthy family), appointed a CFI (Child/Family Investigator) to the case. For more than five months, this investigator, a seasoned, overworked, and somewhat opinionated older woman with a background in law and psychology, selectively poked around family members, friends, households, and the children themselves to get, supposedly, to the bottom of things. Her long, drawn out investigation concluded that, while Lisa has been careless with her Internet history, no real harm had been visited upon the kids, and that all the family members should pursue counseling. She recommended that since there was no wrongdoing present, the kids should be reintroduced to me with the oversight of the counseling process and what is called a Parenting Coordinator/ Decision Maker (PC/DM).

At the end of this foolishly long and involved legal process, and many thousands of dollars later, the assigned psychologists and the PC/DM huddled together more than once to arrive upon a decision. Among them was Dr. Klein, the key therapist for the planned reintroduction between the kids and I. Her diagnosis of the kids and particularly the daughter concluded they were “traumatized from what they had seen.” When pressed over the details of what the kids had supposedly seen, the good doctor couldn’t possibly provide an answer. Indeed, all parties, including the kids themselves, had previously agreed that the kids had seen nothing, save what they had gleaned in their mother’s Internet history or likely had pummeled into their heads through what I strongly suspect was the influence of their father. In a meeting of the minds, I challenged Dr. Klein to justify her use of the term “trauma” when nothing traumatic had been proven experienced by the children, but no satisfactory answer was forthcoming.

The presiding PC/DM, standoffish and a fair bit absent-minded during the case, came to the astounding conclusion that nothing had really been resolved, and that the kids were saying different things to different people. This was, of course, correct, if not painfully obvious at this point. But where her conclusion was painfully obvious, her remedy was egregiously unjust. After making yet another home visit to see the kids and talk to them for the umpteenth time (three years after the initial vaporware drama started), she concluded that the children were “too disturbed by their mother’s deviant relationship” with her significant other, and recommended that the kids could perhaps be allowed to see me when they reach college age. This effectively became an enforceable court mandate that legitimized discrimination against our adult practices under the pretense of protecting children from fictional offenses. It granted legal legitimacy to the idea that the kids not interact with me, despite there being absolutely no material wrongdoing ever perpetrated against them. The only “wrong” in this case on our side was the dominant-submissive lifestyle their mother had chosen with another man, and, despite the mounting obviousness of foul play coming from the ex’s side, no one seemed particularly interested in looking into it.

There is so much more to this story—enough to fill the pages of a small book, in fact. The bizarre twists and turns to this case that continually defied common sense was nothing short of absurd. But I’d rather not continue on with that, because this one story isn’t the real focus of this article. Instead, I’d like to outline some of the valuable lessons I learned along the course of this dysfunctional conflict between mother and father, with children trapped in-between.

Confusing narcissism with actual love is not entirely uncommon, however. Confusing it with good dominance happens quite frequently in the D/s world, too.

My objective is to prescribe a series of recommendations to those who may find themselves in a similar situation with an angry and vindictive ex who may be using the children against you or potentially could do so. I’d like to point out some of the major lessons learned in dealing with what appeared to be the bias of the courts and therapeutic system over the thorny subject of consensual female submission, children, and the predatory maze of family law (and it is absolutely predatory). I’m not an attorney, though I know I’m empirically qualified by experience alone to make the recommendations you’ll read ahead. Take them seriously. I can’t stress that enough.

 

Divorcing a Mentally Ill Person isn’t Easy.
Scratch a lover and find a foe, the saying goes. Divorce a narcissist and watch him regress into a vindictive child.

There are certain expectations we have as adults living in an adult world. One we often brazenly insist upon is that a mate’s internal sense of worth isn’t tied to how much we cater to their delicate, controlling egos. Confusing narcissism with actual love is not entirely uncommon. Confusing it with good dominance happens quite frequently in the D/s world, too, but narcissism is in reality neither love nor good dominance. Narcissism is an unhealthy inward focus on one’s own ego and sense of entitlement. It’s a deep-seated craving for admiration, support, and affection due to an inherent self-centeredness that does not distinguish between people and objects. Here are some additional signs of a narcissistic personality. Three or more matches of the following would indicate the strong likelihood of narcissistic personality disorder:

  1. Has a grand sense of self-importance. Exaggerates his virtues and often works hard on being seen as superior.
  2. Zero true empathy. Seems unwilling or unable to relate with the feelings or needs of others.
  3. Takes advantage of people to get what she wants and will use manipulation and/or intimidation to do so.
  4. Often secretly envious of others and simultaneously claims others are envious of him.
  5. Noticeably self-centered and self-serving to those who know her well.
  6. Manipulatively courts approval of others with a likable facade that’s often opposite of his real personality.
  7. Cannot tolerate criticism and rejection well. Highly retaliatory and can hold a grudge for a long time.
  8. Drawn to power, wealth, and “bling.” Deeply personalizes her sense of status and image.

Though he or she may play the part well, the narcissist generally lacks real sympathetic skills and operates with an overblown sense of entitlement. Narcissistic behavior can be labeled as sociopathic or borderline and takes many different forms, but the common flaw of all narcissists lies their inability to tolerate contradiction, rejection, or criticism. Divorcing them is about the most severe form of rejection and criticism there is, as it’s a rejection with high social visibility and cost. The reaction to follow will be one of swift and harsh retribution: a campaign of character assassination driven by soul-sucking anger. Children will easily be drawn into its vortex.

It’s best to plan for the reality that he or she will be making moves intended entirely to benefit his position and sabotage yours, all the while looking great while doing so. Every veiled attempt at revenge will have a plausible rationalization behind it when presented to others. Among other things, he or she may claim his “only concern is about the kids,” when the truth is the kids are convenient objects to exploit in the conflict. The smoldering rage a narcissist keeps inside can poison your children and turn them against you, possibly for many years—sometimes even permanently. And make no mistake: his or her character assassination will spread far and wide. He or she will attempt to influence family members and friends to believe you are the source of trouble, too. Be prepared for an uphill battle and expect the worst. Don’t assume that the manipulative, self-centered, and vengeful behavior of your ex’s past will die simply with you filing for divorce or moving out of the house. It will likely increase in intensity, since he or she sees your departure as a deeply insulting act of war and can’t possibly look at it any other way.

 

Forethought and Stealth is Essential, Especially in the Beginning.
Securing information about your adult lifestyle is absolutely vital. Guard it with your life—especially from your kids.

As we navigate life, we come to realize that the people we meet often come with “baggage”—burdens and impediments accrued through time that complicate human relations. The potential for complication over said baggage is true enough for so-called “normal” relationships, but even more so for relationships involving dominance and submission, which, by their very nature in the climate of our current culture, must avoid premature disclosure (or in many cases, any sort of disclosure at all). It’s not always clear where the hidden problems are beneath the surface. Quite often, trouble comes not from within a relationship, but from everything surrounding it. Family, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances connected to our lives can unwittingly (or wittingly) make what was intended to be a private adult relationship a very, very public affair. Like cutting open a down pillow and letting the feathers scatter into the wind, carelessness with information security makes something meant to be secret unmanageable and forever irretrievable.

What cannot be underscored enough is this: information is power and that power can be extremely dangerous in the wrong hands. When personal details are given away, you give others—including children, by extension—power to disseminate and manipulate it for their own agendas. We learned the hazards of being careless with secrets among our peers early on in childhood at school and in our neighborhoods. We not only learned how viral gossip is, but how distorting it can become in a short while, for by the time the tale comes back around to you through the grapevine, so to speak, it’s often massively skewed and sensationalized, usually to the benefit of an adversarial party. You realize, then, that your personal information needs to be protected from certain people and that you must manage your own information so that others won’t take it and manage it for you. You learn that the smallest crack in your shield of secrecy can easily open up into a yawing breach before long. You learn social caution.

Protecting the nature of your D/s relationship from family and friends is no different. It is absolutely imperative that you guard who knows about your relationship carefully and with plenty of forethought. You may think society has become more tolerant of the sort of personal relationship you have, but do think again: accidental disclosure and carelessness about its dynamics can cause an incredible amount of trouble for you, as Lisa discovered when she was careless with her Internet activity. That one slip decompressed into nearly three years of legal squabble, with children stuck in the middle and suffering throughout. Don’t be careless and sloppy with keeping your information safe. A single mistake can be costly, unraveling into a nightmare as you are demonized for your interests. When in doubt, ere on the side of too much rather than too little caution. Think ahead and try as hard as you can to preempt the worst-case scenario. Some things to watch carefully in the beginning of a D/s relationship when you’re in the midst of a divorce and with kids:

  1. Guard your Internet history. Site history, passwords to email accounts, passwords to social accounts, and contents in your browser cache must be absolutely secured. The best way to do this is create your own user account on a computer and make sure you password-protect your account with a password impossible to guess. Do this whether or not the computer you use is shared with your children. The premise is understandably disturbing, I realize, for it suggests you cannot and should not trust your children to respect your privacy, but it’s a precaution worth taking. To some, this may seem less disturbing and more like common sense, but many parents are quite naive about their kids. Don’t be. You may think your kids are innocent and uninterested in snooping through your Internet activity, but you may be surprised. Especially when things aren’t going well between their parents, children are known to turn into little investigators. No matter how sure you are that your children would never pry, block the temptation to do so by keeping your Internet passwords and history absolutely out of reach 100% of the time. The slightest mistake with your digital footprints can start an avalanche of family drama leading, ultimately, to exploitation by your ex. Carelessness in this area is foolish and costly, and there is never an “undo” button.
  2. Keep your phone to yourself. Often, children like to borrow their parents’ phones to play games, take photos, surf the Internet, and text. Being curious and technically inclined in the modern age, children have a tendency to inadvertently snoop, and when that inadvertent snooping leads to a find, their morbid curiosity becomes purposeful. Children don’t always have the rationale or the maturity to put what they see in context: a nude picture here or a prurient text there might alarm them terribly. The problem is, they might not discuss the finding with you, specifically. Instead, they might choose to say nothing and go to your ex about it first, and if that happens, they might be employed to spy on you further at the behest of your ex to gather more “dirt.” Avoid this by password protecting your phone and other devices; never leave them unattended or unlocked.
  3. If you have one, remove your “adult side” Internet footprint as much as you can. Writings, photos, videos, and social site activity that is erotic/sensual in nature can (and likely will) be used against you in court, as childish and moronically puritanical as the prospect sounds. This includes the things you’ve written in social forums about BDSM and D/s, specifically. It’s disappointing and irritating to have to censor yourself in this way, but it will pay dividends later on when your ex and his or her accomplices (including your own kids, possibly) hit the web searching for things they can use against you. Don’t underestimate the power of a picture of you kneeling with a slave collar on or eating out of a dog bowl. Clever and unscrupulous lawyers can use those images to build a narrative and scare courts.
  4. In the beginning of a D/s relationship, or any relationship for that matter, it’s important to keep the children far away from what you’re doing until you’re certain the person you’re with is a reliable fixture in your life. Even then, the way you introduce him or her to your kids is important. While it would be advised to wait until your divorce is well underway or complete by the time you do this, life isn’t always that simple. Nonetheless, you must integrate your new romantic interest with your children in a way that is natural feeling and non-threatening. Create a unified front in being “normal” and unintimidating. And once again, information is power: control its flow so that fearful illusions about you cannot sprout in their minds. Assume the ex will look for any chink in your armor to exploit. Don’t offer them up.
  5. Keep your children from snooping around in your room or personal belongings. During a divorce, or when the children sense a change in the relationship between you and your ex, their snooping factor increases. That mantra you have written on notebook paper can’t be left out on the dresser. That whip you have tucked away deep in the closet might not be tucked away as well as you think. Keep all evidence of your burgeoning new relationship beyond prying eyes, or you may pay a hefty price when the children inform your ex of what they find, looking to him or her for “comfort.”

By preempting trouble before it begins you effectively remove the possibility of conflict. This, inevitably, is a matter of controlling the flow of information to subdue the trouble your ex can cause you. Done well enough, you will avoid many arrows and remove the need to release many of your own.

“To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.” —Sun Tzu

 

If You Do Step Into the Legal Muck, Don’t Go It Alone.
Truth alone, I found, simply won’t be enough. Get competent representation or you’ll go down in flames, no matter how right and innocent you may be.

Some tend to think of the legal system as a carefully wrought system of sensible and fairly applied laws, where the scrutiny of the court and its due process will inevitably pierce the cloud of deceit and misinformation wrought by your antagonist. Some believe that at the end of the day, truth will rise up from the din of argument and discord and all agents of the system, being just, noble, and sensible, will honor what is right and what is wrong. Surely, anyone can see how obvious your argument is, for your case is easy to see. But this sense of security, built on one part hope and another part rational expectation, can be a grave mistake, sadly. You may rummage through state statutes and indeed find laws and legal precedents that clearly favor your position, and you may think that your position is obvious to anyone with a reasonably functioning intellect. It might be tempting to dismiss the dark horizon ahead of you by asserting that “the law is the law,” and this is a clear-cut case. But while laws are easy to cite, they are not necessarily properly invoked, and that is the crux of reliance upon law: a statute is only effective when it’s contextualized correctly. The arbitrary bias of a lawyer (including your own), judge, court investigator, or “expert witness” like a psychologist can remove the protections that laws afford if they would rather not see your case as having relevance to such laws in the first place. That is the simple and disappointing reality: a rational argument only goes so far in the deeply venal court of law.

And so this is why hiring a competent and driven lawyer is so incredibly important. They know the dirty tricks, as they’ve likely played such tricks themselves at some point in their careers. They know the laws of their legal study, when to summon them, how to do so, and where the points of creative flexibility will likely be along the way in your particular case. Without a lawyer by your side, the course of your struggle will very much be like walking down a dark path with nary a candle to light your way. You’ll trip over roots and fall into ditches before long, not because your argument is wrong or that truth isn’t on your side, but because you didn’t have proper representation to bend truth, manipulate data in the right way, or seize systemic opportunities in the legal arena.

While it’s well within your rights, the option of self-representation (often taken due to lack of funds to hire legal help) is looked down upon by the courts. Though they would never admit it outright, your decision to represent yourself, as courageous as it may be, is an affront to legal professionals who have spent their entire lives learning the system and adhering to its discipline. Your arguments filed with the court clerk may be well crafted and your points painfully obvious, but that will only further incite contempt of your irreverence to the elite legal establishment. In hiring legitimate representation, you avoid that invisible bullet. Don’t wing it by thinking for a moment that the court will respect your choice to do it all by yourself. Find some way to pay your attorney fees, even if you have to borrow from a relative, put it on a credit card, or take out a personal loan. If you attempt representing yourself, you will lose.

 

All Lawyers Aren’t the Same. Most Are Varying Degrees of Horrible. A Few Are Decent.
Good representation will get you far, but first, choose wisely, or you might as well just surrender everything to your ex.

When Lisa had decided to finally get a lawyer, it was much too late. I remember standing in her living room warning her of the dangers inherent in waiting too long to find one. As poetic irony would have it, I was in the midst of that very lecture when we heard the doorbell ring. The door was opened, revealing a courier who handed her an envelope: she was served her divorce papers right there and then. Per orders in the letter, she had to respond to the letter’s requests within X amount of days.

Now the situation was urgent. Lisa was taken off-guard and a little panicked (and I was suitably annoyed). We scoured the Internet and called around in a quick brainstorm to find representation, and after an hour or so, we settled upon an affordable law firm several towns away. She called, described her situation, and we set up a consultation. The office was in a particularly grungy town and their building wasn’t anything special. The lawyer who would represent her was far too busy to attend the consultation, apparently, so his paralegal took the meeting instead. She sounded convincing and open enough, and they were affordable. We hired the lawyer and got him up to speed quickly enough, hoping he’d provide some sort of leverage in our case.

So how did her lawyer do? He basically filed paperwork and only half-listened to her during meetings (Lisa had the feeling he was juggling far too many clients). He helped us through the CFI hiring process, though insisted that the CFI who was assigned to the case at the time was, and I quote, “A successful and accomplished woman, and no successful and accomplished woman is going to understand the lifestyle you’ve both chosen for yourselves.” Long story short, the strange, slowly increasing hostility from Lisa’s own lawyer ended up putting her in the hospital due to a panic attack one evening. It also resulted in us firing him and selecting another for her in the middle of her case. At this point, things were going from bad to worse for her representation. The (expensive) lack of support and absent professionalism she was encountering was disturbing, to say the least. Once again in desperation, we finally settled upon a so-called “kink-friendly” attorney who turned out to only be marginally more effective. This is a story unto itself and I’d rather not bore with the details, suffice to say that the attorneys we twice chose due to being pressed for time turned out to be little more than burnt out, over-glorified scam artists with law degrees. All they wanted was money in return for very little effort.

“A large number of lawyers are decent and talented people, as many of them as of other occupations, and some are exceptionally so. But most of them are superfluous, and by their swarming numbers and ceaseless magnification of their task of legitimate oppression, they are a societal pestilence, and a squandering of human resources that would be more productively employed in more useful occupations that actually add value.” —Conrad Black, founder of the National Post

What I learned from this terrible succession of bogus lawyering was clear: researching good legal representation is so very, very important. Don’t skimp out on the due diligence needed to find a lawyer who is right for you. They are not all alike. In fact, there are many bad lawyers out there who will talk a good game during consultation, but fail miserably to deliver the results they promise. What lawyers want, foremost, is your money. That’s it. Thinking they actually care about your plight to any larger degree is folly. So again, we come back around to the vital nature of forethought and preemption: it’s better to make moves to avoid having to go through the dangerous and costly process of finding a helpful parasite that will lead you through the Devil’s woods in the first place.

 

Get Everything in Writing.
Verbal events are impossible to prove in court. Get as much in writing as you can.

As tensions rise in a divorce, some particularly revealing things come to light from what is said. Sometimes, the things said at the height of passion can pass under the bridge without notice, but when serious conversations happen and more serious threats are being made, they need to be documented. The best way to do that is in text messaging or emails. When you have it in writing, you not only have proof of what was said, but a physical copy for your own reference, too. In the blurring exchange of passionate argument, things said sometimes go unnoticed. With a copy of everything in writing, you no longer have to rely on your own memory. It may be difficult to do this at first. Couples—even couples bent on destroying each other—are used to the casual familiarity of verbal exchange. Try to counter this as quickly as possible, especially if your ex is particularly manipulative, abusive, and controlling.

There are sites that help with this sort of communication. Talking Parents, for instance, is a good platform to exchange emails on (it requires both parents to create accounts on the system). Once established, both parents can exchange communication and rest assured that all records of communication are intact. They are admissible in court, in fact.

Sometimes your ex will thwart your every attempt at pinning them down in black letter. If he or she calls you incessantly, find a way of recording the conversations (check with local laws first). If he or she shows up at your door, don’t open it. If you do, record what he or she says with your phone. And this doesn’t just apply to dealing directly with your ex. This applies also to meetings with legal professionals, court investigators, decision makers, and counselors. The more you have on record, the easier it is to prove what was said, when it was said, and why. Relying too much on verbal discussions, agreements, and the memories of these things (and more importantly, the joint cooperation of the memories of others) will eventually bite you in the rear.

 

Stay Organized and Keep Physical Records.
Order and simplification are the first steps toward having a fighting chance.

If you’re going to get everything you can in writing, you’re on the right track, but that only pays off if you are organized and capable of filing information away for efficient use at another time. Invest in a lockable file cabinet or safe where you can store your records and copies of agreements, statements, reports, forms, emails, receipts, and notes. This will give you an increased efficiency in looking up information, filing motions, and referring back upon legal verbiage in an agreement or court order.

Be extremely careful about where you store your sensitive data. It’s not at all beyond possibility that your children may be employed to poke around and even remove things from your home. This is, in fact, something that happened with Lisa regarding a mantra she had written, as well as banal possessions, like the kids’ clothing, toys, etc. While this was aggravating, it wasn’t tremendously damaging to her defense. She was very aware, however, of how things “magically” disappeared in the house, and how she was often late in realizing something was gone.

With the tinkering of a young but very curious child programmed to do the alienating parent’s bidding becoming real and present danger, we knew the records, notes, and evidence we kept had to be put in a safe place, lest it to be subject to audit and possible removal. For additional back-up, we scanned/digitized many of our notes and records on password-protected computer accounts. These precautions weren’t enough to compensate for Lisa’s previous bad moves, ultimately, but they did help stave off further problems.

 

Caution at This Time in Your Life is Urgent. Stay Aware and Watch Your Back.
In this world of advanced technology and surveillance, it’s prudent to think around corners. Your security starts at ground level in the home.

Before a contentious divorce is underway, ex’s are known to stealthfully hire private investigators to monitor your activities and whereabouts. They’ll even go as far as planting GPS trackers on your car, bugging your phone with eavesdropping software (we covered phone security already), or following you with drones to gather information on you that they can later on use in court. They may even break into your home when you’re not there to investigate what you’re up to.

Let me make this very clear: if your ex ever attacks you, stalks you, or threatens you in your home, do not hesitate to file an EPO with your local police department. Indecision can cost you the one chance to get the crazy behavior of your ex on record, and without that behavior on record, your fight to prove the validity of your words becomes a steeper uphill climb.

Needless to say, your home needs to be kept secure. If you now live on your own and do not have a security system like ADT or Cocoon, I highly recommend you purchase one and use it consistently, until its use becomes habit. Lock your doors when you’re away and when you go to sleep. In fact, it’s good practice to keep your doors locked when your home, too. Be vigilant about your locks and about your children taking copies to the other parent. Keep track of where your keys are at all times.

Be aware of the grounds around your home, as well. Cut down pockets of bushes or privacy trees that make it easy to hide close to the house away from view. Keep your garage door closed, even when you’re at home. Consider getting a weapon for home defense, as well (you never know). Have emergency numbers—particularly for the police—documented and entered in your phone, should the need arise to make a call. These precautions are good general practice for home security, regardless of conflict with a vindictive ex.

If you feel that an ex’s timing is too convenient, or that he/she seems to know things they shouldn’t, consider the possibility, however remote, that your home has been bugged. Today’s devices are so small and cleverly disguised that the untrained eye will have a hard time spotting them. Call a bug sweeping company to go through your home (or your car) to do a thorough search. Properly trained technicians with specialized equipment can discover what a layman’s search can’t. It may seem paranoid to think this way, but it’s certainly not going to hurt your security by any means. You may, in fact, discover something quite unexpected.

 

If You are Threatened or Assaulted, File Emergency Restraining Orders. Now. Not Later.
A burst of violence, a particularly scary threat, or aggressive home invasion are grounds for calling the authorities and getting stuff on record IMMEDIATELY. Make sure you do. It may be your only chance at proving Mr. Snuffleupagus’s alter ego actually exists.

When I was leaving one afternoon for the airport on my return home, I told Lisa that if her ex came over after I leave and invited himself into her house, (he had an uncanny knack for doing this), I wanted her to immediately call the police after he left and file an emergency restraining order. She humbly nodded and promised me she would. No sooner had I landed in Boston on that snowy night that I got a call from her: a mere hour after I was gone, her ex barged into her house and started screaming at her, making violent threats and ultimatums. I asked her if she called the police, as she had been told. She said meekly, “no.” By now, nearly four hours had passed since the incident. I was livid, not necessarily for the fact that her ex invited himself into her house and threatened her, but for the fact that, despite being told specifically what to do, Lisa froze and decided that regressing into inaction was the best decision.

Having lived a life of abuse with her ex, Lisa was accustomed to avoiding conflict and not “upsetting him further.” This learned behavior was essentially what froze her that night. I told her to make the call to the police while driving home, and though she did, her call wasn’t effective in the end. Her safe, lackluster description of events apparently resulted in their suggesting a general warrant, which was to be filed with the court. But what she actually needed was an Emergency Protective Order (EPO). This is an emergency order issued by the police when a person in danger cannot wait to file through a court because the possible harm is imminent. An EPO expires after a handful of days, so it’s important to follow up with filing the proper paperwork with the court.

Having not filed an EPO, and further having described her situation so softly, the court denied her request for a temporary restraining order. Lisa’s indecision and poor description of events not only resulted in her not having the protection of a restraining order, but made her miss a golden opportunity to file a record with the court regarding her ex husband’s aggressive behavior. That misstep would continue to haunt her throughout her divorce, in that she unfortunately never collected any documented evidence of the abuse she suffered. With that effort in successfully filing the restraining order botched, she missed her chance to demonstrate his true behavior—a chance she would never get again, as fate would have it. Shortly thereafter, her ex changed his bold behavior, no doubt due to the advice of his attorney.

Let me make this very clear: if your ex ever attacks you, stalks you, or threatens you in your home, do not hesitate to file an EPO with your local police department. Indecision can cost you the one chance to get the behavior of your ex on record, and without that behavior on record, your fight to prove the validity of your words becomes a steeper uphill climb.

The places where you can apply for a restraining order may vary depending on the state or county you live in. Generally, you can request a restraining order by filing a request at your local courthouse. If you are facing immediate potential harm, you should call 911 to contact the police. A law enforcement officer should be able to advise you about getting an EPO. Alternatively, you may want to file assault charges with the police. Make certain you retain witnesses to the event who will speak on your behalf if you do. To press charges against an ex who took things much too far, you will either need to speak with officers summoned to your residence or go down to your local police department to write down the details of the assault. The police will ask you for the pertinent information they need. With the assault report filed, the court will contact you about your next step. You will likely be granted a protective order and a trial date.

It’s important to remember that if your ex violates an EPO or general protective order in any way, you must call the police and immediately report it. Don’t delay, and certainly don’t whitewash events. Be honest and describe what happened to you so that further records can be made documenting the pattern of your ex’s behavior.

 

Parental Alienation is Real, but Not Taken Seriously, Even by Those Who Should Know Better.
Yes indeed, children can be turned against their parents to say a host of rotten things, but don’t expect anyone else—even psychologists—to take their alarming metamorphoses seriously.

Among the divorce poisons that affect children, there are perhaps none more vile and damaging than a parent purposefully manipulating his or her children to hate the other parent. This is obviously an incredibly selfish and damaging thing to do to children, though it happens quite regularly in contentious divorces. Hatred toward a parent is not a natural emotion for children; it is surely taught. Make no mistake: parents who engage in alienation represent a serious danger to the mental and emotional health of their children. The alienating parent usually rationalizes such manipulation as “just wanting to be honest with their children.” They will often blame the other parent for all the troubles related to the divorce, even involving the children directly in the conflict by encouraging them to attack. We tend to think of alienation as an effort by one parent, but other family members, friends, and even professionals involved with the family (including psychologists and judges), may unwittingly contribute to the process.

Miraculously, Parental Alienation Syndrome is not recognized as a legitimate disorder by the medical or legal community.

The culmination of this hurtful and damaging influence is to force the child to pick a side during the divorce. This puts the child in the unenviable position of having to choose one parent to support and the other to dislike, causing a tremendous amount of pain and stress for the child in the process.

At its core, parental alienation is a form of brainwashing designed to strip away a child’s affection and psychological attachment to a mother or father (whoever is the target). It’s certainly a real phenomenon and thousands of people have been estranged from their children as a result of its use. Miraculously, Parental Alienation Syndrome is not recognized as a legitimate disorder by the medical or legal community. According to Dr. Darrel Reiger, vice chair of the APA task force that outlined the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5, Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) can’t be defined as a mental disorder since it isn’t particular to one individual. Instead, it’s framed as relationship dysfunction between the parent and child. Because of this attitude, vindictive parents with no scruples are able to fly under the radar with this form of abuse and not be called out on doing something abusive by strict DSM standards. But the effects of PAS are indeed real. Any parent who has been alienated from their children knows full well the level of discord and suffering that arises from its influence, as they’ve had front-row seats to its effects.

This leaves the alienated parent in a bind, legally limited in his or her ability to prove the obvious wrongdoing since there is no particular effort from the legal or psychotherapeutic world to recognize its presence or validate it as something that needs investigating. As for ways to fight against parental alienation, one is once again well advised to look ahead into the future and engage in preemptive moves to avoid this from happening in the first place. Sometimes this form of manipulation is a new low that you never saw coming from in your ex, but quite often the alienated parent knows that they should have seen such a nasty trick coming.

Know your ex. Be aware. Hope for the best, yes, but certainly plan for the worst so you will be prepared for whatever happens. Forecast your ex’s moves and keep close tabs on your kids and how they are behaving. Communication and togetherness is important during these times of transition and conflict; don’t let your ex harbor the children over at his or her house for long periods of time, where they can be isolated and subtly brainwashed. Don’t get into mudslinging back and forth, of course, but don’t allow mistruths to go unchallenged in the minds of your children, either.

Signs of parental alienation:

  1. Children suddenly have strange “out of the blue” ideas about you and/or your new significant other and are troubled by them.
  2. The alienating parent harbors the children over his or her place for extended periods of time without your consent.
  3. Your are blamed by the alienating parent for splitting up the family or having a new romantic partner in front of the children.
  4. The alienating parent listens in on the children’s phone conversations they have with you, and may even quietly coach them on things to say.
  5. The children are constantly interrogated, either overtly or subtly, about their life with you.
  6. The alienating parent asks them questions meant to make the children feel insecure and in “danger” when over your house. For example, calling up the children and asking them “is everything is ok over there?” or, “call me if you feel strange or need to talk.”
  7. Children are employed as “spies” by the alienating parent and used to gather information about you and your activities. The alienating parent might even be bold enough to break into your house with the child and go through your belongings to “figure out what you’re doing.”
  8. The children are pressured by the alienating parent to choose one or the other parent, even though he or she may deny the accusation, even from the children themselves.
  9. The alienating parent shuts you out of school records and schedules of activities, then insinuates to the children that you weren’t aware of such things because you don’t care about them.
  10. Arranges trips and events that interfere with your visitation rights and benefits.
  11. The alienating parent acts hurt to the children whenever learning of them having a good time with you.

If you experience any of combination of the above signs during a divorce, seek the immediate help of a lawyer to temporarily secure your visitation and custody rights. Waiting will only make the problem worse. Don’t let it snowball until you cannot repair the damage to your image in the eyes of your children. Once the cement is hardened, so to speak, it’s pretty hard to break. It might become a lost cause for the rest of your life.

 

Psychologists and Court-Appointed Investigators Often Aren’t Any More Professionally Objective than the Person Sitting Beside You in Traffic. 
You may think the professionals who are paid handsomely for their opinions have a better handle on your situation than the average person. You may be terribly disappointed with that assumption in the end.

“Don’t worry. When we meet, I’ll be able to see right through him. I know his type,” Dr. Klein assured Lisa about her ex during an interview. The doctor headed a trauma clinic and met with Lisa to discuss Lisa’s case and possibly hiring her to be the lead psychologist in carrying out the orders of the parental agreement. At this point, Lisa was weary and skeptical. She had heard such things said before by cocky professionals, only to see the weather change afterward. “You don’t know him, though. He’s charming when he wants to be. He’s very convincing in his role as some innocent foreigner who just wants the best for his kids,” she answered back. But Dr. Klein again assured Lisa that she’d meet with her ex and get to the bottom of everything.

By the time Dr. Klein had met the kids and Lisa’s ex, Lisa’s fears were realized. Dr. Klein, influenced by Lisa’s ex and the manipulated bias of the kids against her, pivoted on Lisa and began framing the counseling in terms of her problems with the kids and her lifestyle that was upsetting to them. Worse yet, the father’s role in alienation didn’t just go unnoticed: it was willfully dismissed as unfounded and inconsequential (despite the fact that the CFI mentioned evidence of him “misrepresenting” the mother in the eyes of the kids). Our concerns and warnings were deflected, waved away, and wholly ignored as the therapist tried particularly hard to (but couldn’t) uncover any sexual trauma that had been visited upon the children—particularly the daughter.

Do not delude yourself into thinking that accomplishments, accolades, books, awards, and special authorities attributed to professional figures gives them better balance or a keener eye; it only gives them more clout, essentially, to screw with your life.

Despite not having evidence of anything of the sort, Dr. Klein insisted that the daughter was traumatized, nonetheless, and that the orders of the agreement for her to eventually reintroduce me to the children were not fair to pursue. For six months, she dragged on fruitless therapy sessions that only racked up bills and further reinforced the idea that something was deeply, unsettlingly wrong with the children.

It’s not that she wasn’t right about the idea that the children were troubled. They were anxiety-ridden and deeply biased about their mother and the adult lifestyle their mother had chosen. What Dr. Klein could not or would not see was where the true source of the trauma was coming from. This was due, I believe, to the following reasons:

  1. Bias. It seemed that Dr. Klein, an older woman with older values, could not bring herself to honor our relationship as morally valid. This made it easy for her, internally, to softly discriminate against us. It’s important to note that, while this discrimination existed in her and can easily reside in any psychologist, it’s virtually impossible to call them out on it—especially when your cooperation has such an obvious incentive; rock the boat, and you’ll never be awarded a fair shake. Rock the boat while being given a rotten hand, and you’ll get an even worse one.
  2. Insufficient training. Had Dr. Klein educated herself about D/s relationships and acquired the proper training, she would have been capable of balancing her opinions with fact, not poorly veiled confirmation bias. Instead of recognizing the gravity of the case and bowing out of taking it on due to lack of proper education, she took it on anyway. This was, in my opinion, unwise and counter-professional, but no one was there to call her out on it. After all, she was an established professional. Who can call her out on it?
  3. Profit motive. This is a bit of a pink elephant in the room that no one ever seems to want to talk about regarding psychologists (especially the psychologists themselves), but to speak plainly about it, the allure of such “complex” cases lies in the many months of billable hours they represent, and there is no real incentive to stop that gravy train, aside from the psychologist’s own arbitrary scruples. By comparison, Dr. Klein’s intern, a bright and helpful young lady, made much more progress with the two male children (Klein handled the female child) in one month than Klein made with the female child in six months.

Remember that psychologists, even with special law degrees and authorities invested them by the court, are not somehow infallible. A distorted diagnosis followed by an irrelevant pathway of treatment can lead to working on a “problem” that never truly existed, or would have resolved itself without intervention. In Dr. Klein’s example, coming to a decision too soon and based upon superficial evidence lead to accepting a diagnosis before it had been fully verified. The consequences of the bias were best reflected in the maxim ‘‘when the diagnosis is made, the thinking stops.’’ And this was certainly the case: the failure of the lead therapist to probe any further and get to the bottom of things was abysmally apparent.

Do not delude yourself into thinking that accomplishments, accolades, books, awards, and special authorities attributed to professional figures gives them better balance or a keener eye; it only gives them more clout, essentially, to screw with your life. Like an unpredictable animal, their authority can easily turn on you and it will be nearly impossible to resist the gravity of their poor decisions and sloppy thinking. It is for this reason that you must choose a psychologist or investigator with extreme due diligence, if you must choose one at all.

 

Where Professional Opinion is Concerned, Youth is Your Friend.
Older psychologists can be rife with outdated opinions and biases. Find young minds more in sync with the times (or in the very least, the latest iteration of the DSM), or you may be subject to thinking from a bygone age.

Experience is a commodity only as good as the observer’s ability to glean true understanding from it. Years of experience with something can still lead to incorrect information if framed in subjective bias. Acquiring clinical experience is a major part of improving one’s knowledge and skills, but only if it’s approached with intellectual discipline and objectivity. We often tend to think older people have it over on us in that effort. We want to believe that the old wise one on the mount has “seen it all” and therefore knows what’s really important in the big picture. We trust older, more experienced practitioners in any given field will know better. This is a rational assumption to make. After all, the longer we live on this planet, the wiser we become. Right?

Not necessarily. Take, for instance, the existence of elderly people who are deeply racist and have built upon years of carefully cultivated confirmation bias. Have their years of experience in life brought them closer to reality? No one who adheres to casual objectivity would say so. What about the old-fashioned approach to medicine among older doctors, which requires that they maintain an image of professional and faultless behavior? Does this mean senior doctors are always correct in their diagnoses and methodologies? Of course not, and anyone who would trust blindly in their competence would be misguided.

Indeed, the reality is that being “older and wiser” can actually be a detriment due to the overconfidence bias it tends to produce. Overconfidence bias, a tendency to believe we know more than we actually do, is common in older people who pride themselves in sitting upon a self-made throne of knowledge. Putting tremendous faith in her intuitions or “experienced hunches,” an older psychologist may (and often does) place too much faith in her opinion instead of objectively gathered facts and evidence.

Throughout the course of the custody battle I observed, one thing became obvious to me regarding psychotherapeutic “help:” wherever the older professionals had input, there was often behavior that indicated bias—no matter how softly injected—or in the very least, indecisive policy that kept the path ahead in the bland half-light of the middle road. The younger investigator from DSS and the younger intern psychologist, on the other hand, arrived at sensible, accurate conclusions much sooner, and with far less drama. The young have an open-mindedness that gives them the capacity for continued learning and for recognizing their own faults. They are more in tune with modern sensibilities and the undercurrent of modern thinking. What is scandalous to the old is banal to the young, not just because the young lack experience, but for the simple reason they did not grow up in a past era where bygone preconceptions blinkered them. Even in the microcosm that is psychology, a clear example of the difference between young and old can be found in the attitudes expressed in different iterations of the DSM, where in one iteration, BDSM and D/s is described collectively as a pathology, and in the most recent is depathologized. The implication this has for the population of psychologists and the society they reflect is clear: those who have labored under previous ignorance longer in their professions are apt to perpetuate such ignorance long after it has been officially corrected in books. The old will still cling to outdated biases long after that ink is dry, whereas the young are introduced to the newer fruits of research, which also reflect the changing attitudes of society. This is not to say all young psychologists are free of ignorance and bias, but it is to say that younger minds have not been poisoned by the misinformed policies and generational myths of the past.

 

Any Counseling Authority You Deal With Must be Properly Educated About Alternative Lifestyles and D/s Relationships.
You would never want a veterinarian to perform neurosurgery on your brain. Likewise, you wouldn’t hire sexual trauma counselor to mitigate a divorce involving a D/s relationship.

Knowledge about D/s and BDSM relationships is critical in any psychologist you commit to seeing with your children. If the counselor in question is not sex-positive and does not have any familiarity with BDSM relationship models or sexual minorities, absolutely avoid using them. Their ignorance most certainly will hurt your chances of getting a fair shake in discussing custody and your fitness as a parent.

For an example of how to do it wrong, we’ll again turn to Lisa’s case. Despite her impressive credentials, Dr. Klein didn’t have any experience with BDSM, and despite her many years working as a psychologist in her field, she had absolutely no clue about what Lisa and I really did in our private adult lifestyle. She seemed to have little to no understanding of this facet of human sexuality, and no desire to honor it, much less advocate its normalcy.

In hindsight, Lisa consenting to hire her was an enormous misstep. The bias (or in the very least, ignorance) in Dr. Klein was quite evident as the weeks turned into months and no solution was in sight. In fact, her counseling sessions only seemed to exacerbate and extend the disharmony between Lisa and her children, playing right into the hands of her ex.

Just like being careful in picking a lawyer, you must also exercise extreme caution in picking a counselor, investigator, or any so-called expert witness who will be charged with validating how “normal and safe” you are. Without any education in BDSM and D/s psychology, without having read the many published studies and papers on how mentally healthy BDSM practitioners tend to be compared to the mean population, a counselor might be inclined to use common intuition and moralistic reasoning to guide her diagnosis and opinions. In Dr. Klein’s case, her poor judgement and discrimination came partly from this and the narrow, if not extreme slant of her occupation. When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail, as the saying goes. Similarly, when you’re a “sexual trauma” expert, you tend to see sexual trauma in everything—even when the real danger in the room is the seemingly kind, benevolent parent who is secretly alienating the kids from the other. In Lisa’s case, this is exactly what happened. When everyone is too morbidly concerned about the spectacle of the typically demonized BDSM elements of a D/s relationship, the true source of trouble is passed over. Counselors—even highly qualified celebrity figures in the field—can easily commit this error, and a costly error it can become.

 

Recognize Your Own Part of the Conflict.
Relax your hate and learn to let go of what you can’t change in order to move on with life.

There can be a point where you’ve achieved some progress in your defense, but fail to appreciate it due to your own anger issues. The resentment, betrayal, and disgust over your ex’s vindictive moves may seduce you into aiming past your mark. Don’t let the emotional torture and harassment take such root in your mind that you are locked in a cycle of predictable retaliation. That tendency to bite the hook can be used against you, and so it is for this reason that you must strive to retain your mental sovereignty over the baits and ploys of your opponent. Try to fight the reflex response you’re inclined toward whenever you get a hostile email, nasty voice message, or hear boneheaded, hurtful propaganda regurgitated mindlessly by your kids. Step back and evaluate the situation and try to think logically, not emotionally.

Hate can be an anchor that keeps you rigidly stuck in life. You have to let it go to move on to bigger and better things than the suffocating shrine of endless war your ex would rather pull you into. Remember that the goal is to wrest free of your past life’s influence and return you and your children to a normal, healthy state. This cannot be done if you are investing as much acrimony and antagonism as your enemy into the divorce. Doing this will only extend the suffering. Look ahead to see the big picture, and make moves toward your end goal, not every devil in the details.

Some useful resources:

The NCSF’s “Kink Aware Professionals” Directory

Divorce Poison, by Richard A. Warshak (exellent read about parental alienation)

Talking Parents

The American Psychological Association

Psychological Characteristics of BDSM Practitioners (study advocating psychological health of BDSM)

The ACLU (to report civil rights violations)

AVVO (find legal representation)

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