01 Mar Adelaide Family Law – Children’s Matters
Bad mouthing, Denigration and other games people play that harm the children
When families separate they often complain about each other exposing the children to derogatory comments about the other parent. Sometimes parents do bad mouth the other parent to the children and sometimes they bad mouth them in front of the children. Sometimes extended family members participate in this as well.
This behaviour is very damaging to children who are already going through enough difficulty coming to terms with the fact that mum and dad are no longer together. Sometimes we are quick to be critical of parents who behave in this way but it is helpful to understand that although the behaviour is inappropriate, it sometimes comes from a place of hurt and high emotion at a time when the parent is struggling to manage their emotional state. This is not said to condone this behaviour but is said to try to understand it.
The solution, if the matter is before the Family Court, is for the Court to make injunctions which are Orders directing a person not to denigrate the other parent to or in front of the child or children and not to allow others to do so.
Whilst this seems like a solution, in reality a Court Order is a piece of paper and if the behaviour continues it is often hard to prove – if the other parent denies it – and in any event it costs money for the complaining parent to take the matter back to Court for the Court to deal with the contempt of its Order. Lawyers tend to revert to seeking injunctions as this is the solution that they know.
In reality what is preferable is for parents to be educated as to the harm they are causing and to choose not to continue with this offensive behaviour. They should be encouraged to get the help of skilled Family relationship consultants, therapists, psychologists. They should engage with a Collaborative lawyer, as they are trained to have a deep understanding of the family dynamic at this difficult time.
If the offending parent won’t or can’t change their behaviour, then the other parent needs help to deal with their own responses when they are confronted with this situation. They realistically cannot change the other persons behaviour they can only change how they deal with it. That is the sad reality
A family relationship consultant who we work with often in our Family law and relationship breakdown cases, Rachel Jolly had a very wise and empathetic response to one of our clients who was reporting denigration behaviour and I want to share Rachel’s wisdom as it struck me as being so helpful to understanding the difficulties that parents face when they are newly separated.
She said “ This has obviously been a very distressing day for you and the children and I’m so sorry that this is your, and your children’s’ experience of this family life cycle transition.
Uncertainty, frustration, feelings of exasperation and hopelessness are all very common in a situation where a parent feels the other is using the children as a pawn. I have been wondering if this may be kind of how you are feeling? Sadly, it is almost impossible to “gag” a parent from saying harmful things (whether directly or indirectly) to their children. One can only appeal to a person’s best intention. The good news is that this is not the template for the future, although, at this point in the journey, it can feel like things will never change. However, for the majority, this is not the case. For a family system separation is a time of crisis. Typically, people do not behave well in a time of crisis, because, largely, they are not operating with the rational/problem solving part of their brain switched on. Therefore, the participants are reactive, not responsive. Also, how a person deals with a crisis depends on many things, including their life experience from birth to the present. This time won’t last forever ( although I have a hunch that you feel like you have existed this way for more than a lifetime). “
If your family is breaking up don’t let it break down. Get help. For more information or to see a Collaborative lawyer call Belperio Clark