Another frequent issue that we encounter with people in a high conflict child custody case is settling under duress.  However, the source of the pressure might surprise you.  Very often it comes from one’s very own attorney and is done in tandem with the judge.  The pressure is often applied to a non-custodial parent, usually the father, despite the fact that they may have a very compelling case for a shared parenting (50/50 child custody) or a change in the existing child custody arrangement.

The reasons are always logical on the surface for the parent who is not the high conflict or disordered personality involved in the child custody litigation.

My attorney told me that the chances of me getting what I asked for aren’t good.

The judge has indicated to my attorney that they are going to rule a certain way and settling may be the best option.

My attorney says that the matter isn’t going to be resolved today and will cost me thousands more in legal fees if it continues.

If you settle now, maybe s/he will stop being so high conflict.

There are many more common, often pre-determined reasons that judges and attorneys, including your own, make back-room deals to get you settled and out of their court room.

In nearly every case we’ve seen, all settling does is give you a bad deal.  Now, there is never a guarantee that you won’t come away with a worse deal if you continue with your hearing.  However, that’s what you pay a tidy sum to your attorney to ensure doesn’t happen.  It also prolongs the agony because with every high-conflict personality, there will always be something else to litigate down the road.  Settling only prolongs the agony for you and sets a precedent now that you are going to have much more difficulty undoing down the road when it’s apparent that your goodwill has done nothing to make the conflict subside.  It also ends up being decidedly more costly in the long run.

Once the money is allocated for the hearing and the schedule is made… stopping and starting again is going to be more costly. The reality is that you can litigate now and you can litigate later.  Your high conflict ex ensures that will be the case.  However, settling does two very troubling things, too:

  1. It lets your attorney off-the-hook and not do their job to protect your interests and the interests of your children’s relationship with you.
  2. It lets the judge off of the hook because their potential ruling and the reasons behind it never become part of the record.   You were told that they “may” rule a certain way and your settling let them off the hook.  You’ve eliminated any chance at appeal.  You are 100% responsible for this outcome without recourse.

Often, judges and attorneys force the normal parent’s hand after a long history of willful violation of the child custody order by the high conflict parent.  The custodial interferer is given chance after chance after chance to “do better” or they believe that with time and a stern warning, they will suddenly become a better parent or more cooperative co-parent.  That simply doesn’t happen.  In fact, they leave the courtroom believing that they’ve “won” and it serves to reinforce that their behavior pays off.

The court’s objective is not to make your high-conflict ex a better parent.  Their objective should be to protect the children from harm, though if you’re reading here, you probably have seen more than your fair share of head scratching rulings that have doomed children to a lifetime of negative outcomes. Too many rulings leave children in a harmful environment while someone is expected to change after a lifetime of being hostile and aggressive.

Our parental advice is that if you truly believe in your case, you make the powers that be justify their actions, their words, and their rulings.  You don’t let them off the hook because someone told you that they “may” rule a certain way or your chances aren’t very good for your best possible outcome.  Settling ensures you aren’t getting the best possible outcome.  Continuing on always means you have a better chance.  These people, despite the parade of people through their courtroom, don’t live what you live.  They don’t see what you have seen on a daily basis.  Despite all of their experience, they don’t truly know because they haven’t lived it.

More advice from a colleague:

I can tell you this: that damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t bullshit is the family court’s favorite game. They strong-arm you into the deal they want so the child support machine remains intact.  Then later, when you finally get that long-promised day in court, they look askance at you and say “Why on earth are you here? You voluntarily AGREED to this!”

I can’t say what I would recommended in any particular case, I am not on it, and I only know the details once they’re shared. What I can say, knowing now just how often judges pull this “but you agreed to it” bullshit, I’m a lot more inclined to recommend that my clients go back with at the very least a counter-offer.

I also always, always strongly recommend to all of my clients to go into court expecting that the “back-door deal” is going to get struck and to have a plan in hand already how they will handle it. That’s why you see me here, telling you folks to prepare for court by knowing what your bottom line outcome is.

There is nothing wrong with looking all of that strong-arming right in the eye, and calming stating:

“I absolutely know, rock-solid, that this solution is not in my child’s best interest. We need to continue negotiating or discussing this until we can get to something that will work. If we cannot negotiate our way to an acceptable outcome, then yes, I must insist that this court hear my case, and I hope that you, M. Attorney, will successfully advocate for me and my child to the full extent of the law.”