Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hearing Voices

Joe Stack is the latest husband gone mad.  He's the guy who flew his plane into an IRS building in Austin, Texas.  Apparently he burned down his house first.  Reports have it that his wife took her daughter to a motel the night before so that they could be safe.

Stack lost control.  He's not the first; he won't be the last.  His loss of control was particularly newsworthy, but many spouses lose control in less spectacular ways.

From time to time, a client will tell me that their spouse is crazed.  My first job is to determine the accuracy of that characterization.  Is this just an angry spouse talking or is there some substance there.  If my client tells me, "he's crazy because he doesn't discipline our child," I'm thinking he's not crazy, he just has a different standard.  If my client tells me, "he's crazy because he hears voices and calls me up from work in the middle of the day, crying on the phone when he doesn't know why," I'm thinking there's probably something there.

I'll try to get as many specifics as possible.  Not just, does he suffer from mood swings, but are they dramatic?  What does he do when he goes through mood swings?    How do you know that he hears voices? What voices does he hear?  What do those voices tell him? 

When I'm satisfied that there's something there, my job is to get my client ready to explain it to the judge, who is always skeptical.

Testimony about specific conduct is essential.  Conclusions will never work.  Everyone contends their spouse is crazy.  Even more valuable than the client's testimony is independent evidence of conduct such as eye witnesses or the spouse's writings.  Audio or video recordings of the extreme behavior are excellent so long as they don't run afoul of any prohibitions against making the recordings. 

A history of psychiatric treatment is beneficial though, often people who need help don't seek it.  Psychiatric records are well protected but a party can always waive the protection.  The party is then faced with a grave choice, waive the record and air the issues fully and candidly, or maintain the protection and let the judge assume the worst.

When the matter involves custody or visitation, I want a psychological evaluation.  The process of establishing the sanity or insanity of the party should be about getting an objective view, not a subjective view.  Too many experts want to testify to what the paying party wants to hear.  I feel strongly that objective data is essential from an expert.  I've known experts to spin normal behavior to suit their benefactor's purposes.  I've had one psychological expert testify that he saw himself as nothing more than a Washington spin doctor.  I've even known experts to make stuff up.  I want the truth, not what an expert thinks I want to hear.  And I can trust objective data much more than subjective opinion.

Cases involving emotionally impaired spouses are the exception.  That is why so much additional work needs to go into getting the judge's attention and assistance in gathering the information necessary to establish the truth of the matter.

Bottom line: when you are trying to protect yourself and your children from an emotionally impaired spouse you need witnesses, you need evidence, you need fairly specific instances of conduct that bear out your claim before the judge will understand that your claim is something more than sour grapes or an attempt to gain an advantage. 

When you are trying to escape from an emotionally impaired spouse, you need help.

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