© 2013 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.
In my book published in July 2010 (Don’t Alienate the Kids!), I suggest that it is important for children to have two parents – especially to prevent child alienation which can lead to difficulties in adult relationships. This means shared parenting in separation or divorce, even with a parent with a personality disorder, including borderline personality disorder (BPD). Of course, safety issues must be addressed, to protect children from physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect and emotional abuse. In some cases, this means supervised visitation, but in most cases this is not realistic or necessary. This means that there may be more time with a reasonable parent, or even equal parenting time. But this is not an easy question. I have had cases as a therapist and as a family law attorney in which a Borderline has attempted suicide after losing a custody hearing. I have had cases in which a Borderline left town after losing primary physical custody. It is very hard for a Borderline to share parenting, because of their all-or-nothing thinking.
Yet to exclude a Borderline parent is to teach children that all-or-nothing parenting is appropriate. And to seek court orders that exclude a Borderline parent, or takes away primary physical custody from a Borderline, just feeds a high-conflict battle that goes on for years. This is especially true because family courts are generally uninformed about personality disorders, and the adversarial setting reinforces extreme behaviors while minimizing mental disorders.
Borderlines (and I use this term to indicate a condition, not a whole person – just like an alcoholic or diabetic) typically share their all-or-nothing thinking repeatedly with their children, and the DSM-IV (the manual used by mental health professionals) says that the children of Borderlines have a 5 times greater chance of developing borderline personality disorder (BPD) themselves.
This means that shared parenting with a Borderline requires a very reasonable other parent, who can teach the children lessons that will help them not develop the disorder themselves – lessons such as flexible thinking, managed emotions and moderate behaviors. I have had a few cases where this did work, even in a 50-50 arrangement. In some cases, the Borderline has had 60% of the parenting time. In others, the Borderline has had a much smaller percentage, such as 15%, but it has been stable after a lot of work and clear court orders.
I am interested in the points of view of parents who are sharing parenting with a Borderline – whether after a separation or divorce, or even currently during a marriage – and professionals who address this issue in family court. As a parent, are you sharing parenting successfully with a Borderline, or has the Borderline made it impossible to raise your children to be reasonable themselves? As a family law professional, how do you decide what to recommend or what orders to seek?
Can Borderlines really share parenting? I value your opinion so please leave a comment, Let me know what you think.
Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, and mediator. He is the co-founder and Training Director of the High Conflict Institute, a training and consultation firm that trains professionals to deal with high conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books and methods for handling high conflict personalities and high conflict disputes with the most difficult people.