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Author Topic: How Personality Disorders Drive Family Court Litigation - Eddy  (Read 1220 times)
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« on: April 07, 2007, 02:24:33 PM »

AUTHOR: William A. ("Bill" Eddy is Senior Family Mediator at the National Conflict Resolution Center in San Diego, California. He is a Certified Family Law Specialist in California with thirteen years’ experience representing clients in family court. Prior to becoming an attorney in 1992, he was a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with twelve years’ experience providing therapy to children, adults, couples and families in psychiatric hospitals and outpatient clinics.

ARTICLE: How Personality Disorders Drive Family Court Litigation

I was first exposed to the concept of personality disorders in 1980 when I was in training as a therapist at the San Diego Child Guidance Clinic at Childrens Hospital. The DSM-III had just come out and Axis II of the five diagnostic categories required the therapist to diagnose the presence or absence of a personality disorder. (The current DSM-IV uses the same approach.) I quickly learned (often the hard way) that the presenting problems on Axis I (e.g. depression, substance abuse) were simply replaced by new ones, if an underlying personality disorder was not addressed in therapy.

Now that I have completed five years as a family law attorney, I have frequently witnessed the same underlying issues in hotly contested family court litigation -- yet these remain undiagnosed and, therefore, misunderstood. As those with personality disorders generally view relationships from a rigid and adversarial perspective, it is inevitable that a large number end up in the adversarial process of court. Since more flexible and cost-conscious people nowadays are resolving their divorces in mediation, attorney-assisted negotiation, or just by themselves, those cases remaining in litigation may be increasingly driven by personality disorders.

The Nature of a Personality Disorder

Someone with a personality disorder is usually a person experiencing chronic inner distress (for example fear of abandonment), which causes self-sabotaging behavior (such as seeking others who fear abandonment), which causes significant problems (such as rage at any perceived hint of abandonment) -- in their work lives and/or their personal lives. They may function quite well in one setting, but experience chaos and repeated problems in others. They look no different from anyone else, and often present as very attractive and intelligent people. However, it is usually after you spend some time together -- or observe them in a crisis -- that the underlying distress reaches the surface.

As interpersonal distress, fear of abandonment, and an excessive need for control are predominant symptoms of personality disorders, they place a tremendous burden on a marriage. Therefore, intense conflicts will eventually arise in their marriages and the divorce process will also be a very conflictual process. In contrast to people who are simply distressed from going through a divorce (over 80% are recovering significantly after 2 years), people with personality disorders grew up very distressed. It is the long duration of their dysfunction (since adolescence or early adulthood) which meets the criteria of a personality disorder.

Usually they developed their personality style as a way of coping with childhood abuse, neglect or abandonment, an emotionally lacking household, or simply their biological predisposition. While this personality style may have been an effective adaptation in their "family of origin," in adulthood it is counter-productive. The person remains stuck repeating a narrow range of interpersonal behaviors to attempt to avoid this distress.

A personality disorder does not usually go away except in a corrective on-going relationship -- such as several years in a counseling relationship. Until then, the person may constantly seek a corrective experience through a series of unsatisfying relationships, through their children, or through the court process. In a sense, untreated personality disorders don't fade away -- they just change venue.

Personality Disorders Appearing in Family Court

Probably the most prevalent personality disorder in family court is Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) -- more commonly seen in women. BPD may be characterized by wide mood swings, intense anger even at benign events, idealization (such as of their spouse -- or attorney) followed by devaluation (such as of their spouse -- or attorney).

Also common is Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) -- more often seen in men. There is a great preoccupation with the self to the exclusion of others. This may be the vulnerable type, which can appear similar to BPD, causing distorted perceptions of victimization followed by intense anger (such as in domestic violence or murder, for example the San Diego case of Betty Broderick). Or this can be the invulnerable type, who is detached, believes he is very superior and feels automatically entitled to special treatment.

Histrionic Personality Disorder also appears in family court, and may have similarities to BPD but with less anger and more chaos. Anti-social Personality Disorder includes an extreme disregard for the rules of society and very little empathy. (A large part of the prison population may have Anti-social Personality Disorder.)

Dependent Personality Disorder is common, but usually is preoccupied with helplessness and passivity, and is rarely the aggressor in court -- but often marries a more aggressive spouse, sometimes with a personality disorder.

Cognitive Distortions and False Statements

Because of their history of distress, those with personality disorders perceive the world as a much more threatening place than most people do. Therefore, their perceptions of other people's behavior is often distorted -- and in some cases delusional. Their world view is generally adversarial, so they often see all people as either allies or enemies in it. Their thinking is often dominated by cognitive distortions, such as: all-or-nothing thinking, emotional reasoning, personalization of benign events, minimization of the positive and maximization of the negative. They may form very inaccurate beliefs about the other person, but cling rigidly to those beliefs when they are challenged -- because being challenged is usually perceived as a threat.

People with personality disorders also appear more likely to make false statements. Because of the thought process of a personality disorder, the person experiences interpersonal rejection or confrontation much more deeply than most people. Therefore the person has great difficulty healing and may remain stuck in the denial stage, the depression stage, or the anger stage of grief -- avoiding acceptance by trying to change or control the other person.

Lying may be justified in their eyes -- possibly to bring a reconciliation. (This can be quite convoluted, like the former wife who alleged child sexual abuse so that her ex-husband's new wife would divorce him and he would return to her -- or so she seemed to believe.) Or lying may be justified as a punishment in their eyes. Just as we have seen that an angry spouse may kill the other spouse, it is not surprising that many angry spouses lie under oath. There is rarely any consequence for this, as family court judges often believe the truth cannot be known -- or that both are lying.

Projection

Just as an active alcoholic or addict blames others for their substance abuse, those with personality disorders are often preoccupied with other people's behavior while avoiding any examination of their own behavior. Just as a movie projector throws a large image on a screen from a hidden booth, those with personality disorders project their internal conflicts onto their daily interactions -- usually without knowing it. All the world is a stage -- including court.

It is not uncommon in family court declarations for one with a personality disorder to claim the other party has characteristics which are really their own ("he's manipulative and falsely charming" or "she's hiding information and delaying the process", and do not fit the other party. Spousal abusers claim the other is being abusive. Liars claim the other is lying. (One man who knew he was diagnosed with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder claimed his wife also had an NPD simply because she liked to shop.)

How Family Court Fits Personality Disorders

Family Court is perfectly suited to the fantasies of someone with a personality disorder: There is an all-powerful person (the judge) who will punish or control the other spouse. The focus of the court process is perceived as fixing blame -- and many with personality disorders are experts at blame. There is a professional ally who will champion their cause (their attorney -- or if no attorney, the judge). A case is properly prepared by gathering statements from allies -- family, friends, and professionals. (Seeking to gain the allegiance of the children is automatic -- they too are seen as either allies or enemies. A simple admonition will not stop this.) Generally, those with personality disorders are highly skilled at -- and invested in -- the adversarial process.

Those with personality disorders often have an intensity that convinces inexperienced professionals -- counselors and attorneys -- that what they say is true. Their charm, desperation, and drive can reach a high level in this very emotional, bonding process with the professional. Yet this intensity is a characteristic of a personality disorder, and is completely independent from the accuracy of their claims.

What Can Be Done

Judges, attorneys, and family court counselors need to be trained in identifying personality disorders and how to treat them. Mostly, a corrective on-going relationship is needed -- preferably with a counselor. However, they usually must be ordered into this because their belief systems include a life-time of denial and avoidance of self-reflection.

Family Code Section 3190 allows the court to order up to one year of counseling for parents, if: "(1) The dispute between the parents or between a parent and the child poses a substantial danger to the best interest of the child. [or] (2)The counseling is in the best interest of the child." Even short-term counseling can help.

Therapists, in addition to being supportive, need to help clients challenge their own thinking: about their own role in the dispute; about the accuracy of their view of the other party; and about their high expectations of the court. Further, therapists should never form clinical opinions or write declarations about parties they haven't interviewed.

Likewise, attorneys need to also challenge their clients' thinking and not accept their declarations at face value. More time should be spent educating them to focus on negotiating solutions, rather than escalating blame. The court should make greater use of sanctions under Family Code Section 271 for parties and attorneys who refuse to negotiate and unnecessarily escalate the conflict and costs of litigation.

The court must realize that the parties are often not equally at fault. One or both parties may have a personality disorder, but that does not necessarily mean both are offenders (violent, manipulative, or lying). A non-offending, dependent spouse may truly need the court's assistance in dealing with the offender. The court should not be neutralized by mutual allegations without looking deeper. Otherwise, because of their personality style, the most offending party is often able to continue their offender behavior -- either by matching the other's true allegations for a neutral outcome, or by being the most skilled at briefly looking good and thereby receiving the court's endorsement.

The court is in a unique position to motivate needed change in personal behavior. In highly contested cases, counseling or consequences should be ordered. Professionals and parties must work together to fully diagnose and treat each person's underlying problems, rather than allowing the parties (and their advocates) to become absorbed in an endless adversarial process. Because their largest issues are internal, they will never be resolved in court.
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« Reply #1 on: April 09, 2007, 03:14:44 AM »

This is a really outstanding encapsulation of what BPD is and what it's all about. Better than many I have read.


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« Reply #2 on: April 17, 2007, 11:55:03 PM »

I actually gave a copy of this article to our attorney last summer.  It is very good in the sense that breaks down personality disorders and how individuals suffering with a personality disorder may use the courts as their playground.  Since it is written by an attorney, other attorneys may assume it is more credible than other information you may present them with.  Credible sources are so important when attempting to "enlighten" others to the ways of bp's.

Sm04
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kazatri
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« Reply #3 on: June 08, 2007, 12:30:40 PM »

Thank you!

I am going to give a copy of this article to my lawyer.  This is exactly what I have been looking for.  I am also considering having a conference with my lawyer and Bill Eddy to make sure the working of the divorce petition is appropriate.

Any comments?
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« Reply #4 on: May 18, 2011, 01:32:39 PM »

Great article, I've passed to my (possible) lawyer also.
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« Reply #5 on: November 17, 2011, 02:05:49 PM »

this was great to read cuz it fits my boyfriend's BPD ex to a "t". has anyone else experienced the "hold-up" phase of the divorce process from a BPD? i know in the situation i've been witnessing, she has lied about receiving settlement offers, complained about a mile and a half of driving distance to the pick-up/drop-off location, argued over small amounts of money, etc, all in efforts to continue to tie up the divorce. it's unreal! the papers finally had to be enforced by the judge because the ex has continually been caught in so many lies regarding insurance policies, etc. ironically, each time she holds up the process, objecting and bombarding the judge, my boyfriend's lawyer, and the mediator with ranting emails (all of which go ignored), she blames my boyfriend for stalling... .i've just never seen such... .perseverance. she's gone from stalking and harassing us to stalking and harassing family law practitioners!  Smiling (click to insert in post)
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« Reply #6 on: April 20, 2012, 05:54:04 PM »

Great article!
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kj1234
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« Reply #7 on: May 15, 2012, 06:11:30 PM »

Very good.  We need more like this.  It seems so rare that someone will mention problems of the courts so plainly and with recommendations that the courts, and other players in the legal process, actually consider making some changes in the way they do things.
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« Reply #8 on: May 15, 2012, 07:30:08 PM »

Essential reading and essential for those in the medical, mental health, law enforcement, legal and judicial professions. There are too many cases where justice is not done. I cannot see my son due to being painted black and I know my ex relies on having her lies turned into truth by the family court. I want video cameras on both of our lives until an accurate determination can be made. Of course, I'm not suggesting doing away with civil liberties but is it fair to alienate a child in his formative years based on the gossip of people who cannot hold down a job? Being able to detect a PD should be of paramount importance in an era where media is polarised and social networking pushes the envelope.
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« Reply #9 on: August 11, 2012, 01:31:59 PM »

Thank you, the article was so interesting & helpful.

I never fully understood why my uBPDm felt the need to go to court with her siblings over $10K after their mother died.  She "won" the case, which of course proved how right she always was, and how wrong and evil they all were, etc, etc. I still remember being in court with her, and then later going out for dinner "celebrating" her win.  Mom then went NC with her entire FOO (including all nieces, nephews) and sis and I were instructed to follow suit, othewise we were betraying her.  We did keep in touch with our fave aunt, and when mom found out she'd rage, pop a valium, and then not speak to us for months.

This article really helped me understand the motivation behind my mother's behaviour.  Thank you.
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« Reply #10 on: October 01, 2012, 09:57:35 PM »

Just read it again.  Excellent.  Also encouraging, considering that it is so rare to have anyone, including--or especially--anyone within the judicial system, say anything like this, or not dismiss someone else who does.
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« Reply #11 on: October 02, 2012, 09:05:47 AM »

The ex appears to be "stalking" me or trying to project that I am stalking her by popping up in places online where she knows I am, but she is not trying to contact me. This has happened several times since the RO expired. It is sick. All of a sudden, her life is partially visible again but tightly controlled. She is more than likely baiting me, hoping I will react. I am concerned that this will accelerate. Since she is not contacting me, she is not doing anything wrong. This type of personality is insidious. An article such as this is long overdue.
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« Reply #12 on: October 19, 2012, 10:02:41 AM »

I had already read this article before I found it here ! Love it ! I see some other people passed it on to their attorney , I may consider that.

I did explain to her today that I fear he will leave the jurisdiction with the child because he said I had threatened it, when I never said anything close to it, and have no car and no license. (classic projection)

Any thoughts?
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« Reply #13 on: December 09, 2012, 10:43:10 AM »

Thank you for the article. It helps to understand that my hwBPD's actions are common among people with personality disorders. I continually feel surprised, yet not surprised by his behavior and take it all so personally. My goal is to not take personally and to remain detached from his accusations.

Currently in month 9 of the divorce process and I'm fairly certain it will be drug out as long as possible because of my hwBPD's need to prove his perception is accurate. I'm surprised by his attorney's cooperation in his outlandish claims. I started out with an inexperienced lawyer and quickly learned she was no match for his shenanigans (he had me thrown out of the house & called the police on me). I now have an excellent attorney with an hourly cost to match but I at least feel protected. Recently, I shared with him that my husband has a personality disorder but I don't know if it makes a difference to him at this point, hopefully, it will help him understand this nickel and dime stuff my husband keeps harping on about.

For the most part I've retained NC with husband except for family related needs. My husband has claimed I am making the divorce process more difficult and costly by not agreeing to communicate with him and he tells everyone that as well but I cannot trust him or myself enough to work it out between us.

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« Reply #14 on: May 15, 2013, 10:20:44 PM »

I hope you are doing better now. It is surreal how some people attempt to create a fabricated truth out of a litany of lies. Mine surfaced long enough for me to know she was "all better now." She got married recently. If I never hear from her again, then she must have never been BPD. That is of course, if you disregard her regular suicide attempts, promiscuity, consecutive RO's against guys, false filing of police reports, arguments over minor issues, rewriting of history etc etc. Relationships should be about people, not a court.
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« Reply #15 on: April 27, 2014, 05:52:54 PM »

Great article!  Having just gone through a divorce with an uBPD, I can say it's maddening, and that's without kids or community property.  I got a TRO against my husband and he lawyers up with this expensive firm. They were basically highly paid babysitters.  He kept finding ways to harass me that just barely didn't violate the TRO.  At one point I got so furious and frustrated when I tried to file a motion for contempt on my own that I consulted a really good family attorney. She told me I didn't need her and to just ignore him and let him blow his money to prove he's "right" and be the one to file the divorce. He was trying to prove I had an affair (I didn't even come close) and they dropped that. In fact, the lawyer who did the TRO (I was unrepresented in the divorce action) told me that even if I had an affair, it would have had no bearing on the divorce because we have no children and nobody was asking for alimony and our money was never mixed.  It was a total nightmare and he drug it out longer than necessary, all the while paying these pricey lawyers to handle his crap.  I really am curious how much he ended up paying in legal fees. I spent $275 on the consult and that was it, oh, and another $60 for a process server, which was a waste.  Then there was the emotional toll which made it harder for me to work and make a living and it will be years before I'm fully recovered from this short marriage that only lasted about a year.  Going through the legal process put such a bad taste in my mouth I doubt I will ever marry again.
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