The problems caused by a manipulative ex
Conflict with an ex is always painful and especially so if you’re fighting over children, but with a manipulative ex it can get you into a world of pain as they try to manipulate you and your children, perhaps for years after you separated. The worst possible outcome is that you and your wider family lose touch completely with your children because of false allegations and/or parental alienation.
Learn more about how the courts and professionals handle parental alienation and child manipulation cases here. By understanding more about such cases are handled, you will be better able to help yourself.
Discover more from this highly informative podcast we did with Jan James. Jan has been at the forefront in drawing attention to the appalling experience of parental alienation and conflict with a manipulative ex, whether perpetrated by mothers or fathers. Poorly understood and very poorly addressed by the family court, she argues that it should be properly recognised as emotional abuse of children, blighting their childhoods and adult lives. Jan has worked pro bono to put the message out, drawing on her experience in marketing to prepare ‘The Survival Guide to Parental Alienation’ and Study Package.
Sometimes your wider family can be drawn into the torment of dealing with a manipulative ex too and there are plenty of grandparents who are missing out on seeing their grandchildren, sometimes for years and even for all time, due to the manipulation of the other parent.
If you are a relative who is being excluded from seeing your family, here’s a useful podcast we did with Jane Jackson. Jane founded the Bristol Grandparents Support Group, which champions grandchildren’s rights across the UK and beyond.
How should you deal with conflict with a manipulative ex?
Start keeping a record straightaway
Always notice and heed the warning signs of trouble ahead in conflict with a manipulative ex and start to keep a record of all that they do. This can be hardest thing to do because you may still be strongly influenced by your ex and unused to standing up to them and challenging their lies. On the other hand you will know how your ex behaves and you may have learnt some ways to deal with the things they do and say. Standing up to your ex, perhaps for the first time, can cause a crisis because it shocks them so much. They may have threatened you in the past and now the risk of them acting on those threats may be much higher. But don’t wait for something bad to happen. Start keeping records of what they do and say straight away, so that you are ready for any trouble they may plan to cause later. It will give you peace of mind because you are starting to take control. This is particularly important because sadly courts can be persuaded to make bad decisions by people who have particularly manipulative personality traits, for example narcissistic traits or narcissistic personality disorder both of which make them very convincing and persuasive. Judges and lawyers can be very naive. Reputations and family relationships can be lost if the court makes a bad decision based on misleading and false evidence. When you are in conflict with a manipulative ex you need to think about what you can do to prove the truth and show what you’ve actually done to maintain stability and a safe home for the children.
Try to stay calm and balanced. Don’t be provoked.
As difficult as it is, try to step back from the heat of the emotional reaction and keep calm. Decide what you want to achieve, make that your aim and then stick to your plan. It’s tempting to lash out verbally or physically in upset or rage but that can simply make you look unstable yourself. Try to stay balanced in your reactions and don’t get drawn into losing your cool. Keep careful and detailed records of what you do day by day so if things go wrong you’ll have your evidence to rely on to try to set the record straight. Don’t wait to hear the lies, just record everything you think might be important so you have evidence of what you’ve said and done on each occasion as they happen, such as at all contacts with the children and discussions with your ex, at meetings, texts and so on. Never meet your ex alone. Always take a witness. In essence record everything that happens good and bad throughout the period so you can refer to it when the accusations start.
Be sympathetic to your children if their loyalties are torn
Think about what the children must feel like in the middle of conflict with a manipulative ex. Older children will know what your ex is like, but their loyalties will be torn. Even very young children can sense these things and will have learnt what role is expected of them by the manipulative parent. These kinds of problems can produce lifelong bad consequences for the children in terms of mental health problems and an inability to form normal adult relationships. So keeping records is essential for them as much as you.
Don’t assume professionals will understand what is happening
Don’t assume that the professionals in these situations will understand the problem or see through the lies. The nature of the problem, manipulative behaviour by your ex, causes some gullible professionals to make poor judgements. Some professionals might even think that you’re the problem and in their decision making become part of the problem themselves. This is known as ‘splitting’ the professionals because it puts the professionals at loggerheads with each other. ‘Splitting’ is not something judges understand or know much about nor do CAFCASS officers or social workers. That’s why some of these cases get dealt with so badly.
Learn more here about how inadequate CAFCASS assessments can be. If you get wrongly labelled as an abuser and get told you need treatment, learn here about the problems with the Domestic Abuse Perpetrator Programmes (DAPPs). David Eggins and Denise Knowles, of Temper Domestic Violence (temper.me.uk) are very experienced providers of Domestic Abuse Perpetrator Programmes (DAPPs) and talk candidly about their experience.
How can ONRECORD help me gather evidence of my manipulative ex?
ONRECORD gives you everything you need to start building your case in any family conflict matter.
Sadly it can be difficult to prove that you’re being lied about. If you need to prove something is a lie you have to produce the evidence. Fortunately, there are a lot of situations where some form of evidence is available to support what you’re saying.
Here are 3 tips for using ONRECORD:
Prove where you were and when by making records and taking photos:
Perhaps, in an attempt to show you’re unreliable and not putting the children first, you’re accused of being late for contact with the children or even that you fail to attend. This is a common problem in contact cases and an easy accusation to make. Make sure you can prove it’s untrue by making a careful record. On each occasion arrive a bit early to give you time to make a record with a photo of where you are, such as in the street outside the house where you’re collecting the children. Upload it immediately. Photos taken using the app cannot be manipulated and are therefore reliable evidence of where you were and when. ONRECORD will automatically verify your location as well as the time you uploaded your record but you can also use an EXIF (Exchangeable Image File Format) app with your photo to verify the location (as long as you have location turned on), date and time of the photo itself (beware: some of these apps use the American dating system so don’t get confused). You can screenshot this EXIF information and upload it to your record along with the original photo you took.
You can also prove where and when you returned the children in the same way. You might even want to video the return of the children in order to counter any allegations that they were unhappy or poorly cared for. But if you are running late, text to let your ex know and explain why, then screenshot the text exchanges and upload them with a record.
But please remember, you must be discreet about taking photos to confirm your location and you shouldn’t let the children know you’re doing it because it would involve them in your dispute and you might be criticised.
There are lots of other situations where taking a photo and making a record to show where you were and when might be necessary. For example you might have been accused of taking the children to somewhere that’s not agreed, such as a new girlfriend’s/boyfriend’s place. You might have actually gone to the seaside miles away. Keeping records of what you did and where you went can prove your ex is lying when the accusations come in.
Be resourceful and thorough in collecting evidence. You may never need it but it could be the difference between being believed and not.
Have a credible witness to support you:
You may have a relative, friend or other witness who can confirm something you’ve done, something you’ve said or where you’ve been. They might be able to prove that the children had a lovely time during contact and enjoyed it when it’s being alleged they spent the whole time upset and crying. If you have a reliable friend or relative who the court will respect and who will back you up, that’s really helpful.
Make records discreetly (don’t brag about them) and give it time:
Usually you will only have learnt how difficult your ex is after getting to know them well over time. The same is going to be true for the social worker, the CAFCASS officer and the court, so be patient with them. Over time, (1) stay polite, cooperative, calm and sensible and (2) keep records but don’t make it obvious that you are doing so and certainly don’t boast about it or tell your ex you’re doing so. Your ex is likely to start to show his/her true colours over time so don’t give them warning of the evidence you are gathering. He/she is likely to get overconfident and the lies are likely to get less and less believable. If you can record the evidence to show that your ex is lying then you may swing the case in your favour.
Two exceptional and forthright lawyers:
These American attorneys are well worth listening to. You really get a candid conversation about how bad things can get in conflict with a manipulative ex and what you should do. What they say is as true in the UK as it is in the USA.
Melissa Isaak is an attorney from Alabama who specialises in representing men in the family court. She has a wonderfully direct approach to false allegations and, unlike lawyers in the UK, is willing to speak openly and frankly about her experience, her views and the advice she gives her clients. Duane Robert, who does a regular podcast, ‘Dad Surviving Divorce’ has kindly allowed us to share his interview with Melissa. We have edited it down to 8 minutes of pure gold – completely relevant to British as well as American parents of either sex who may be facing false allegations. We suggest listening to Melissa’s comments several times so that you can note and learn from all the advice she is giving. You can see Duane’s full interview of her here.
No British lawyer seems prepared to talk like this. Why not? Christine Gille gives frank, blunt, sensible, straightforward and encouraging advice relevant to anyone who is a party in the family court in the UK as well as the USA. She explains how to present your evidence, how to write your statement and how to behave and argue your case in court. She is a family solicitor in California so some of the legal terms she uses are foreign, but what she says is absolutely right both for UK litigants in person and for those represented by a lawyer.
Duane Robert has kindly given us permission to show you an edited version but his whole interview is available here.