Dena's Journey

"In my legal career I became convinced of two things: first, that I – as an “officer of the court” and active member of the family law bar – was in some real measure complicit in the damage that I saw the court system inflict on my own clients and their children; and second, that there must be a better way."

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MY PROFESSIONAL JOURNEY

My passion is helping people build and recover strong, loving relationships with their kids. I wear a couple of different hats as a professional that gives me a broader perspective in helping parents who find themselves amidst a contentious separation or divorce. I am both a practicing family lawyer (for more than 25 years) and certified high-conflict strategist for Pathways. If you are coming to Pathways because you’re frustrated with the traditional legal system or are looking for a better way to resolve your high conflict divorce and/or child custody situation, especially for the sake of your children, you and I have much in common. I have met hundreds of parents and step-parents at what is quite possibly the most stressful time of their lives – dealing with divorce and custody issues while trying to make sense of a “justice system” that is often anything but “just”.

In my legal career I became convinced of two things: first, that I – as an “officer of the court” and active member of the family law bar – was in some real measure complicit in the damage that I saw the court system inflict on my own clients and their children; and second, that there must be a better way. Finding that better way, and in some sense to atone for my previous lawyer “sins,” has been a personal and professional journey with twists and turns, successes and failures, and people. I believe that people come into our lives as they are meant to do, in a time and a season ripe for the meeting: enter Monique and Jenna and Pathways Family Coaching.

I chose to work with Pathways Family Coaching because Monique and Jenna are two smart, relentless, and caring advocates and guides who are dedicated to finding and delivering a better way. The Pathways model is both child-centered (which comports with the professed “best interest of the child” legal standard) and evidence/expert-based (which helps a court objectively see behind, around, or through the manipulations of the alienating parent). Their method has given me tools as a coach and a strategist that I wish I had known in my decades as a practicing family law attorney. I love my role as a Pathways coach and consultant because I am able to draw on my many years of experience in and out of the courtroom to help clients communicate more effectively with their own lawyers and help your lawyers understand the real life dynamics of what you’re going through.

MY PERSONAL ALIENATION STORY

Parental alienation can happen to adult children and grandchildren, too, and it very much is a cyclical trauma. Before meeting Monique and Jenna, I had, of course, heard of the term “parental alienation,” but as family lawyers often are, I was leery of the concept. In my training to become a Pathways coach and strategist, I learned for the first time about the link between generational trauma and alienation, and it was through this lens that I recognized my own story – and how my father’s own alienation story played itself out in my life and the lives of my own children.

The triggering event for my story was not divorce but the deaths of my grandmother and mother, who passed away within a little over a year of each other. While my grandmother’s death came at the end of a long and painful illness, my mother died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage. My mother’s death hit our family very hard. My dad, who had been with my mom for over 40 years and who was probably still grieving the loss of his own mother with whom he had been very close (in an attachment bond I realize now to have formed between divorced, alienating parent and child), was suddenly a widow. My dad and I were very close, but he had a deep-seated fear of being alone that he desperately needed to fill. Within a couple of weeks of my mom’s death my dad began dating a woman who would within a few months take on the role of my de facto, adult-child step-mom. She made a few attempts to ingratiate herself with me and my children, 11 and 15 at the time, but when these efforts were rebuffed – we were still rawly grieving the loss of my mother and their grandma – she began a calculated campaign to cut all of us off from my dad. She would make up lies about me and my kids and my brother to tell my dad, and he would believe her and not me! If he expressed any wavering in his affection or loyalty to this woman, she would make a big show about packing her things and threatening to leave him (a behavior I had seen my own grandmother – my dad’s mom – threaten many times when I was a child).

Eventually my “step-mom” convinced my dad to push me out of our family business and a major part of my livelihood, and in came the lawyers. Lawsuits, a bankruptcy, my own divorce, and much trauma followed. This left me experiencing the failings of the legal system from the inside, as well, not just from the outside as a lawyer. The worst day that I remember was, having spent two days in an expensive mediation and working out an agreement that I thought would make us a family again, realizing that the woman that people called my “step-mom” had no intention of following through with the terms of the agreement. I stood on the back steps of my parent’s home, with my dad looking at me through a half open door and telling me, “I can’t let you in, and she says I need to take your key.” That was the last time I saw my dad for ten years, until the woman’s death. My kids lost their grandpa that day, too. Because, you see, they weren’t needed anymore. The woman had her own grandchildren, and my dad was now “grandpa” to them.

From what I’ve learned through my work with Pathways, I now recognize this “step-mom’s” actions toward my dad and our family as classic alienating behaviors. My children and I are still working through the trauma of those years and the void caused by a parent/grandparent who inexplicably cut himself off from the family we thought we were, shattering us in the bargain. I realize now that the impact on my dad being the child of a divorced and absent parent, in a conflict-filled abusive home, sowed the seeds for the trauma, nearly 75 years later, when his own abandonment schema was triggered by first his mom’s and then his wife’s passing. Being a mentor coach has helped me find closure and is beginning to help my now-adult children heal.