Obviously, requesting that the police do wellness checks on children who are legitimately at risk in the care of one of their parents is, sadly, a necessary action. For example, when one parent is proven (with verifiable evidence, not she said/he said) to be an active alcoholic or addict, has chronic relapses, or has a history of violence and neglect yet has somehow managed to retain custody rights. In these situations, there may be times when a wellness check is genuinely necessary. However, in my counseling practice, wellness checks are often just another way for a high-conflict ex to abuse and harass the other parent.
A person the high-conflict parent hates beyond all reason. A person they hate more than they love their children.
It would be interesting to see data regarding the percentage of annual wellness checks police departments conduct in which children are deemed safe vs. in genuine peril. Many of my clients’ high-conflict, personality disordered exes (narcissists, borderlines, histrionics, psychopaths, paranoiacs, dependent personalities) have abused law enforcement wellness checks to the point it has become a form of harassment and abuse of my clients. Also consider how scary it is for most children to have the police randomly show up at dad’s house and want to see them. Not to mention the embarrassment of the neighbors seeing the cops parked in front of the house. Again.
In my experience, wellness check abuse often occurs after one or more baseless (i.e., malicious) restraining orders or orders of protection against my clients have been dismissed and/or proven to have been based on demonstrable lies. Triggers for unnecessary wellness checks typically include:
- Dad doesn’t immediately drop everything and answer calls, texts or emails the very second they arrive.
- Dad won’t agree to custody time exchanges.
- Dad has special outings or events planned for the kids. Mom feels jealous and insecure and tries to sabotage dad’s plans.
- Dad refuses to admit the ex into his home.
- Dad begins dating and introduces the new girlfriend to the kids.
- Dad refuses to share the daily minutiae of where and what he and the kids are doing during his custody time.
- Dad confiscates phones and tablets because mom is texting non-stop, which causes anxiety and other problems during his custody time.
There are other triggers, but these are the most common. There’s a consistent theme that becomes evident. The high-conflict mom is told no, is not permitted to intrude on dad’s custody time or slams into other boundaries that deny the narcissist or borderline mom control, which really, really, really pisses them off. It doesn’t scare them; it enrages them.
To be clear, the trigger for the harassment wellness checks isn’t fear, it’s anger. The ex is angry the other parent is exercising reasonable, healthy boundaries. The ex is angry dad is refusing to have his parenting time intruded upon and controlled. The ex is angry that they aren’t being allowed to make unilateral decisions and arbitrarily change the custody order at their whim. The ex is angry that dad has any custody time at all.
Of course, there are high-conflict, personality disordered fathers who abuse wellness checks, too. However, the majority of my clients are men, so in my experience it’s often the high-conflict mother who employs this kind of harassment campaign. High-conflict, personality disordered individuals usually don’t stop this kind of crap until they experience consequences. A judge wagging his or her finger at them and telling them, “Now stop doing that, tsk, tsk!” simply doesn’t work.
The most consistently effective consequence I have observed is when the court levies fines and requires the high-conflict parent pay the other parent’s court fees. Again, scolding them does not work. Taking their money does. In fact, there’s a body of research that shows a rewards-punishment model is an effective behavioral management tool with sociopaths in prison populations. Taking away their money/token economy is about the only thing to which these inmates respond.
Holding high-conflict parents who abuse wellness checks accountable by ordering a $100 fine per bogus wellness check might be a a reasonable measure. If that doesn’t work after several violations, in my opinion, the other parent should be given primary custody. Just a suggestion.
Meanwhile, if you’re on the receiving end of this kind of harassment, there are some things you can do to make life easier for yourself.
- Have a copy of your custody order within easy reach at home and in your car at all times.
- Make time to go to your local police department to introduce yourself to the desk sergeant and explain the situation.
- Be polite to the police when they arrive. Invite them in and apologize for the waste of their time.
- Figure out what to tell the kids in advance, so they’re less likely to be scared. My client’s younger kids usually respond by wanting to show the police their toys or their room. It’s a bit more challenging with older kids who understand more.
- Ask the police for a copy of the report or call.
- Ask the police if there’s anything else you can do if this becomes a repeat occurrence.
- Start saving your money to go back to court. Ask your attorney how you can use this harassment and documentation to get the outcome you want when you inevitably end up back in front of the judge.
- When you go to court over something manufactured by the ex, always, always, always ask for court costs and attorney’s fees. Every. Single. Time.
- When you despair of ever having a normal life remember that the kids won’t be kids forever and this will eventually come to an end.
Meanwhile, try to focus on the positive, hang in there and good luck!
Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD helps individuals work through their relationship and codependency issues via telephone or Skype. She specializes in helping men and women trying to break free of an abusive relationship, cope with the stress of an abusive relationship or heal from an abusive relationship. She combines practical advice, emotional support and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Schedule a Session page for professional inquiries or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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