Throughout my own personal struggles, one thing that has been a tremendous help along the way is having documentation of the experiences that were often “bad” in my relationship with Jane. Of particular help has been documentation that Jane has written. Voice mails are just extra help. While it has never had the “earth-shatteringly positive” effects I had often hoped it would have, it has helped, particularly when it came to defending myself against the never-ending and ever escalating false accusations. Without it, it most certainly would have been my word against hers, the all-too-common “he-said, she-said” and when up against a person who can act and cry on a moment’s notice and play the victim role worthy of an Academy Award – I would have suffered so much more, of that I’m sure.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where some parents have the ability to use any means necessary to their advantage, no matter what. Attorneys, judges, custody evaluators, conferences officers can be and often are – duped by the dramatic presentation, the flow of tears, and facing a parent who “only wants what’s best for her children.” She is vulnerable. She is in need of help. Fathers are often behind the proverbial 8-ball before proceedings ever start.
Whether you are the ex-wife or the ex-husband, the personal issue with which you’ll struggle is: when do you start the documentation? Most people live their lives working to save loving, happy memories. They don’t set out to save unhappy memories and bad times. It’s unnatural. It’s not normal. It’s also difficult when you’re doing so while continuing to try to work to save the marriage. You’ll feel sneaky. You’ll feel as though you’re “setting him/her up.”
You’ll also need to get over it. There is too much at stake to take a flyer on things working out. You’re going to need all of the help you can make for yourself.
It’s very likely that you’re here much further along in the process. You may already be divorced and involved in the custody portion of the fight. That doesn’t matter. It’s never too late to compile evidence that occurs from today on. If you think about it, you may be able to find stuff that will help you in boxes, scrap-books, on video, etc.
Knowing divorce was inevitable, I saved every nasty email and letter and exchange starting years before Jane actually pulled the plug on the marriage. I did so only because despite my belief that things had changed for the better for fathers (boy, was I wrong) – I knew Jane’s penchant for embellishment and flat-out fabrication was a finely honed skill. No one would believe any story I would tell them because her private persona was so radically different from her public one (well, excepting the rare public meltdown). I had no choice but to start saving the evidence that would either exonerate me from whatever accusations would be forthcoming and/or to show people the “real Jane.” Even with all of the documentation, there were disbelievers, I assure you. It will be a great challenge to show the world and expose a master manipulator for who they truly are. The fall-back position is being able to show the world who you truly are not.
History can be your friend if you are dealing with a manipulative woman. Chances are that you have known each other for a decent period of time. Over the period of your life that you have been involved with this person you should have had a chance to see her in action. Throughout your relationship she has probably learned how to push your buttons just as much as you have learned to push hers. This intimate knowledge can be turned into strength for you.
In terms of your relationship, healthy or otherwise, be conscious of her actions. More importantly, be conscious of your own! Realize what she is trying to do when she behaves badly or appears to be pushing you for a bad reaction. She may be doing her best to make you look bad while keeping a log of every wrong step you take. Any incident could just as easily come back to haunt you during the custody proceedings. In every situation, you must remain as calm and rational as possible. You must not escalate. Never forget, anything you put in writing can be used for the same ends. If you engage in long back-and-forths via email, always be the calm one. No foul language. No insults. No threats. You best always be doing the right thing no matter what. This is easier said than done and requires a great deal of self-discipline.
Whenever possible, turn the tables. Be very diligent about keeping a journal or some sort of record concerning her aggressive, manipulating, or baiting behavior. The tables are turned when you use her own attempts at manipulation to make her look bad and prepare yourself to have those moments come back to haunt her.
What Should You Save?
- All written correspondence of the nasty or abusive variety;
- Instant Messages! Just save the page as HTML.
- Text Messages.
- Handwritten Letters.
- Screen Shots of Blog Posts.
- Voice Mails – record them to a digital voice recorder and transfer them to the computer.
- Videos of bad situations, should you actually have any!
- Police Reports.
- Arrest Records.
- Child Protective Services Documentation (in your favor, obviously).
- Driving Record , if you think it’s so bad it will help you.
- Any available treatment records for drug and/or alcohol abuse (any substance abuse).
- Any available treatment records for mental health issues that are of serious concern to you.
Like it or not, women have the decided advantage in a custody fight. Even a woman who is not normally manipulative has an advantage. If you truly believe that it is in the best interests of your child(ren) to be under your care, you must be realistic and know that the battle will likely get quite ugly. As sad a reality as this is, you may have to become manipulative in your own right in order to expose that “dark side” and accumulate the documentation you need to help yourself and your children.
A father has to do work very hard to come out of a custody battle with a high-conflict spouse and have any meaningful amount of custody of his children, let alone sole- or primary-custody.
When do you start saving the documentation? If you’re already divorced, you start right now. If you’re fearful that your current strained marriage is destined for the scrap-heap, well, you start right now. Only you have the answer to that question. Our suggestion? Start right now. If you’ve been doing it all along, even better. Even in a perfect relationship, those few times where your partner went “off the deep end” and wrote you a vile nastygram, assaulted you and admitted it during an email exchange, wrote you about suicidal thoughts or actual attempts – whatever it is – it may be worth stashing away in an email folder.
My choice came when, after years of struggling and trying to mend the ills within our marriage, I knew it was a lost cause. Fortunately, I had more than 4-years worth of documentation prior to her pulling the plug. Hell, even telling her from the outset of what I was doing and why never stopped her from going berserk.
You may not be that “fortunate.”
Trust me when I tell you that I know that this article is one that will be difficult to digest. Suggesting that one might consider saving such things, even in a great marriage, flies in the face of what we believe about hope, love, faith, trust… I’ve even had the bizarre thought that two people should have a mutual agreement to save such items. If nothing else, it could help to keep both parties rather civil during disagreements!
Good for us that Lexi and I don’t have the sorts of disagreements that were the bane of my existence with Jane!
With custody evaluations, evidence can be a double-edged sword. In my case, the wealth of organized documentation, which included Jane’s own handwritten letters talking of suicidal thoughts, along with hundreds of pages of bizarre arguments and filthy, vile correspondence from her, ended up being turned around on me in the last of our three custody evaluations.
Rather than explore the content of all of this evidence, the fact that I had collected it and saved it for my own defense was portrayed as me being:
Keeping in mind that this was a custody evaluation that was supposed to be centered around parenting skills and abilities, I went in thinking that:
- Suicidal thoughts and ideation.
- Multiple offers for me to have custody of the kids because she “couldn’t handle them.
- Constantly requesting my parenting help and assistance.
- Deferring to me for all disciplinary issues both pre- and post-separation.
- Much more…
…would have given the evaluator serious pause when it came to considering how effective a parent Jane would be as primary custodian to our children. However, it was not to be.
Do not let this dissuade you from gathering the evidence or even offering it to an evaluator!
You see, in my case, that documentation would still help me in many of the future court proceedings and expose Jane for the unstable person that she so oftentimes is. I’m certain that having this wealth of evidence is the reason why I managed to get 50% custody of the children after initially being relegated to non-custodial status.
Gather the evidence. Let’s discuss what may prove useful for a forthcoming court date, custody evaluation, conference, whatever proceeding may be facing you. Just be sure as you compile it – keep it organized, accessible to only you (keep it safe), and ready to go when the need arises.