Lesson 5 of 7 - Evolve a high-nurturance family

Avoid or Resolve
Legal Battles Among
Family Members

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW

Member NSRC Experts Council

The Web address of this article is http://sfhelp.org/fam/legal.htm

Updated  03-19-2015

      Clicking underlined links below will open a new window. Other links will open  an informational popup, so please turn off your browser's popup blocker or allow popups from this nonprofit Web site. If your playback device doesn't support Javascript, the popups may not display. Follow underlined links after finishing this article to avoid getting defocused and lost..

      This brief YouTube video by the author previews part of what you'll find in this article:

      This is one of a series of Lesson-5 articles on improving family functioning. The series extends the concepts in Lessons 1-4 so study them first.

      This article assumes you're familiar with...

      One sign  of the lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle that is silently weakening American families and society is the epidemic of personal legal suits. The existence of "family law" in our  judicial system demonstrates that many such suits are among family members.

      From 36 years' study and clinical experience, this article proposes typical surface and actual causes of court fights, and options for avoiding and resolving them. The article is written to disputants, attorneys, mediators, and judges, and the professionals who train and evaluate them.

colorbutton.gif What's the Problem?

      Our legal system exists because some people are unable to negotiate "fair" solutions to their conflicts without outside authority and intervention. Common conflicts among family members include... 

Divorce settlements;

Domestic violence and boundary violations (stalking and harassment);

Disputes over child visitation, custody, financial support, health, education, religious practices, alienation, adoption, emancipation, abduction, and parental rights. A specially divisive case involves "parental alienation;"

Alleged child or elder abuse and/or neglect;

Disputes over money and assets - e.g. debt and property ownership and contested wills;

Family business disagreements;

    and sometimes legal suits are used to...

Punish, control, and/or get revenge. 

      A secondary problem is that legal combat usually amplifies family-relationship problems. This is partly because it's adversarial, and partly because of the well-intentioned, expensive interventions of lawyers, mediators, and judges who don't know what you'll read in this Web site. Legal battles always lower a family's nurturance level, and wound dependent kids. The resulting bitterness, hurt, distrust, disrespect, and resentments can take years to heal. 

      While the family problems above are real and stressful, I propose that none of them are the primary stressors.

colorbutton.gif Primary Causes of Legal Combat

      Premise - Three things cause all legal battles:

  • public unawareness of the [wounds + unawareness] cycle and its toxic effects;

  • inherited psychological wounds, including denial (reality distortion); and...

  • litigant's ignorance of these topics - specially of effective communication.

Notice your reaction to this premise. Paradoxically: if it applies to you, you may not know it (unawareness), and/or you'll deny or minimize that it applies (reality distortion) - and take no action.

colorbutton.gif Choices

      Short term: if you feel some family adult or child is clearly in imminent danger, seek help from the police, child protective services, and/or other local and/or state appropriate sources. If false selves control you, what you're sure is "imminent danger" may not be what you think (reality distortion).

      Long term - if you're involved in, or considering, legal action with another family member, you can...

  • ignore what you just read. Initiate or continue the lose-lose legal process, notice (or deny) the toxic results over months or years, blame other people, and suffer guilt and regret for not acting;

      or you can...

  • accept responsibility for changing your half of the combat;

  • try to interest the other person/s in the options in this article for all your sakes - specially if kids are affected. and...

  • ignore uninformed advice from people who don't know the three causes of the conflict (above). This includes lawyers, mediators, counselors, clergy, authors, bloggers, and other well-meaning supporters.

      So - for your integrity's and family's sakes:

__  Do what you can to stop or delay the legal proceedings. If you have a legal advisor, ask him or her to read this article and discuss its implications for you all. For extra credit, ask the advisor to assess for psychological wounds. a high percentage of people in human-service positions are GWCs, and don't (want to) know it.

__  Adopt a long-range outlook, patiently study Lesson 1 here with an open mind, and assess yourself  honestly for psychological wounds. Ignoring this step suggests you're dominated by false selves, which puts you all at risk of increasing family stress. Studying and applying Lesson 1 has many benefits beyond avoiding legal combat and costs!

      __  Tailor this example to form a Bill of Personal Rights for yourself. Then see if you acknowledge that your "adversary" has exactly the same human rights as you do. If you say "Yes, but...", a false self probably dominates you. This is a far more serious problem than your dispute!

      __  Take responsibility for and identify your attitudes about the other person and their values and actions. Critical, disrespectful, bigoted attitudes by either one of you can make effective win-win problem-solving impossible. Such attitudes are always a sign of a disabled true Self.

      __  Use your new knowledge and Lesson-1 checklists to assess your conflict partner/s for significant wounds. If you conclude s/he is a Grown Wounded Child (GWC):

  • change your attitude from scorn, disrespect, and hostility to compassion and respect. The other person didn't cause their (or your) wounds, and isn't aware of them and their toxic effects.

  • study and apply these ideas on relating to a GWC and notice how their behavior changes.

  • invite the wounded person to read this and this, and then assess themselves for psychological wounds. If s/he is a parent, suggest doing this will help the kids. If s/he won't read and discuss these articles, use these guides and avoid trying to "make" the person "see" their wounds. You can't, any more than you can convince an atheist to believe in God.

      Focus steadily on your own healing and learning, and on alerting other affected adults to what you're learning here.

__ Remind yourself that the basic reason people use legal force is because they don't know how to (or don't want to) negotiate disagreements - and may blame each other for that. So accept that probably neither of you know how to think, communicate, and problem-solve effectively. To test this, take this quiz with an open mind, and then see if you two use any of these common communication blocks. Then...

      __  Commit to improving your thinking and communication with your conflict partner. Think of someone with whom you have consistently satisfying communication with, including resolving disputes successfully. Use that as a model to imagine effective problem-solving with your "adversary." Your goal is to free your true Self to guide you as you learn to practice effective communication skills.

      __  To learn the many options you have for more effective communication, read this and ask your "adversary" to read and discuss it. Ignoring this probably means false selves control one or both of you.

      __  Patiently invest time and effort in studying Lesson 2. It will explain specifically why you two have been unable to negotiate your differences, and how to change that. When your true Self guides you, ask your conflict-partner to study and discuss this Lesson with you so you each can get your needs filled well enough without resorting to legal force

      __  Now study and apply these options for resolving values conflicts and divisive relationship triangles. It's highly likely these are part or most of your disputes!

      __  If someone has already hired a lawyer of filed suit, give a copy of this article to the professionals involved. Then invite them to study this article to learn how to break the lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle.  

      __  If you've been though a legal battle with family members, all people involved - including kids - need to forgive themselves and each other for the stress you all endured. I hope meditating on this article will help you appreciate what caused the battle and forgive and heal you all.

If You're Divorcing or Re/marrying...

      Divorce usually means that both mates and their relatives are significantly wounded and unaware of the topics in this Web site. That implies that the families have clusters of relationship problems. Legally-married mates must use attorneys to formally end their spousal responsibilities and negotiate property settlements and parenting agreements.

      For several reasons, this legal process can increase resentments and hostility between former partners and their family members. If you're in a divorcing family, read and discuss this for extra perspective and options - specially if kids are involved. If you're embroiled in a lose-lose-lose "parental alienation" conflict, read this after you finish this article.

      Most U.S. divorcÚs eventually remarry. If they're parents, they form or join a stepfamily, Typical multi-home stepfamilies are far more complex and stressful than average intact biofamilies. They often become embroiled in battles over child custody, visitation, education, parenting, adoption, and loyalties. When stepfamily members can't find workable compromises, the may seek solutions by using lawyers.

      Most such litigants and legal professionals are untrained in stepfamily problems as well as what you're reading here. If you're in a stepfamily (or may be), read and discuss this quiz, and invest time in studying Lesson 1-7. For incentive, note that most sociologists report that well over half of American stepfamily mates re/divorce psychologically or legally. None of them expect this.

 colorbutton.gif Recap

      Family court exists in the American justice system because many thousands of people are unable to negotiate stable compromises to family role, relationship, and asset disputes by themselves. The expensive, adversarial legal process inevitably amplifies family relationship problems, and lowers family nurturance levels.

      This Lesson-5 article summarizes common surface disputes, and proposes three unseen primary reasons for most family (and other) litigation:

  • public unawareness of the [wounds + unawareness] cycle and its toxic effects; and...

  • epidemic psychological wounds, including denial (reality distortion); and...

  • litigant's ignorance of these topics - specially of effective communication .

      The article offers specific suggestions for lay and professional people on how to combat each of these three core problems - primarily by studying and applying the Lessons in this online self-improvement course. This includes suggestions for people in divorcing families and stepfamilies, which are specially prone to family conflict, litigation, and stress.

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

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