Despite the struggles you have experienced as you’ve walked this path of familial destruction, one thing that will be a tremendous help along the way is having documentation of the experiences. The documentation includes voice mails (transcripts and the actual recordings), emails, faxes, letters, etc. Of particular help will be the documentation which is written by the high-conflict ex herself/himself (they will be used interchangeably on this page).
While it will not always have the tremendously positive effects one might hope it would have, it can help, particularly when it comes to defending against the never-ending and ever escalating false accusations. Without such documentation, issues will most certainly be your 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 – you may be susceptible to suffering far more damage than you will with documentation to support yourself.
No one goes about teaching others that in divorce & family court a parent has the capability to use any means necessary to their advantage, no matter what. Attorneys, judges, conferences officers can be and often are – duped by a dramatic presentation, the flow of tears, and facing a parent who “only wants what’s best for her/his children” when in reality all they want to do is minimize the time the target parent has with the children.
The personal issue with which you’ll struggle is determining when 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 her up.” You’ll also need to get over it. There is too much at stake to take a chance on things working out or for things not to get so much more nasty than they have already been in your relationship. You’re going to need all of the help you can make for yourself.
All I can tell you is what prompted me to begin the documentation saving in my own situation: I started saving everything when I realized that I was not going to be able to improve things and that I believed that it was only a matter of time before the marriage would end. None of the counseling worked. Moving didn’t work. Changing myself didn’t work. It was one hurdle placed after another. Add to the mix the many times “Jane” had actually left or threatened to leave during our relationship, and there was simply nothing else to conclude. It was going to end. It was just a matter of when. About 4-5 years before the marriage would actually end, I saved every nasty email and letter and exchange. I did so only because despite my misguided belief that things had changed for the better for fathers in family court – 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 a wealth of documentation, there will be 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 [ex-partner]. 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 them in action. Throughout your relationship s/he has probably learned how to push your buttons just as much as you have learned to push theirs. This intimate knowledge can be turned into strength for you.
In terms of your relationship, healthy or otherwise, be conscious of his 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. He may be doing his 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, which we recommend against, 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 his own attempts at manipulation to make him look bad and prepare yourself to have those moments come back to haunt him.
Like it or not, women have the decided advantage in a custody battle. 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. Your ex-partner may do things that you never thought them capable of. As sad a reality as this is, you will 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 work very hard to come out of a custody battle with a high-conflict personality and have any meaningful amount of custody of his children, let alone sole- or primary-custody.
When do you start saving the documentation? Only you have the answer to that question. 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. Especially if it’s something you couldn’t prove otherwise.
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. She still hasn’t stopped to this day.
You may not be that “fortunate.”
Trust us when we tell you that we know 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!
WAYS TO ORGANIZE DOCUMENTATION:
- If you want to get really organized, treat evidence the way lawyers do: Print everything when it comes it, give each page a number in order. For voice mails or text messages create a page that explains what is included, and give it a number, text messages can be photographed if you cannot print from your phone or order prints from your service provider.
- Create an excel spreadsheet with the date it came, what page number it is, what the main categories are (custody, sports issues, doctor, alienation, etc) and a longer note section for any information you need to remember about it.
- Then you can just search the file for things you need, copy those page numbers when it’s time, and you are done.
- We often suggest two sets of “books.” One that is simply chronological and one that is arranged by “issue” as described in the third bullet point. Issues are handy to have during hearings when issues you hadn’t specifically prepared for are questioned.
- Keep a journal – Write in it each day, if they kids are with you describe what you did and any issues that arose. If they kids are with your ex describe any communication attempts you made and whether they were accepted or returned if no answer.
- Separate Phone Log – If phone calls are a huge issue, create a log that records when you try to call, whether they answer, or if calls are returned, as well as any notes about being cut off or interrupted by your ex.
For more documentation tips and suggestions, as always, visit the forums and post your issue.