Attorney Explains How Mental Health Issues Affect Family Court was last modified: October 30th, 2019 by Howard Iken
Video ThumbnailCrystal Phillips Interview - vimeo Video

Attorney Explains How Mental Health Issues Affect Family Court

Video Transcript

Tom Lemons:        

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in five Americans live with varying degrees of mental illness. When substance abuse and mental illness are combined, it can have a devastating effect, not only for the user but for their loved ones as well. Either factor can strain a relationship to the point of divorce. And when that happens, attorneys find themselves caught between doing what’s best for their client and finding solutions to help the underlying issues. Ayo and Iken attorney Crystal Phillips is with us today, and she’ll talk about these issues and how women are affected by divorce and child custody. I’m Tom Lemons and this is the Ayo and Iken Report.

Hi Crystal, how you doing?

Crystal Phillips:     

Hi Tom. Thank you.

Tom Lemons:    

Good to have you here.

Crystal Phillips: 

Thanks for having me.

Tom Lemons:            

You’re welcome. So I hear that you’re passionate about a few things other than just practicing law, here at the Ayo and Iken Law Firm. That you are very interested in mental health issues, and also working with women’s issues in general.

Crystal Phillips:  

That’s right.

Tom Lemons: 

Tell me a little bit about that.

Crystal Phillips:  

Yeah. So my background is in psychology and in social work. And initially I wanted to go to school to become a psychologist and work in the mental health field. But after working in the field for a while with victims of domestic violence, I felt that I might be able to help victims and other people, in other ways rather than just in counseling.

Tom Lemons: 

Right. So you felt that becoming an attorney would give you that option to, when you have people that are suffering through things or you may be able to help them, twofold, right?

Crystal Phillips: 

That’s right. Yes. And I’ve had experiences, too, with divorce and so I’m able to help them, I feel, to see the positive aspect of it and help get through the most difficult time in their life.

Tom Lemons:   

And that is, and that was one of the things we’re going to start talking about first. Because you as a family law attorney, you deal with divorces with both men and women. But in general, what I want to talk about today is how do women, what happens to a woman when they’re going through a divorce, what kind of issues do they run into? Not necessarily with the mental health issues or those types of things, but touch on that, too. But what kind of things do they go through?

Crystal Phillips:  

Well, I think that men and women go through just a really bad time whenever you’re going through a divorce, no matter what. I think some of the issues vary with women. I think sometimes, and it’s not always, they may have experienced some kind of abuse in their lives or in their relationships. They may have also been subjugated some and so maybe they don’t have some of the opportunities that the men have had before, but it’s changing.

And so women are making more money and they are becoming more educated, and I see that with my clients as well. But there are other things that I think that women can kind of share as shared experiences, and are able to bond and be able to connect better with other women. And so that’s what I see a lot and I just think that sometimes we need more encouragement, and I think that having that other person there who’s been through it really helps.

Tom Lemons:  

Well, if you could talk a little, you mentioned a little bit about like the wage gaps and things like that, that women have had to deal with over the years, and you say it’s probably gotten a little better at least, for women in general. But tell me maybe some more specific things, that when you meet a woman for the first time that comes in looking, she has to go through a divorce, maybe she’s filing or she has been filed against, what things do you look for that may be, that you could help this woman through this trial?

Crystal Phillips:    

Mm-hmm (affirmative). well I see them struggling a lot, and so just encouraging them and letting them know that I’m going to be there for them. Whether it’s a man or a woman, I’m going to see them through it and fight for them when they need to have someone fighting for them, advocating for them, and guide them through the process. And sometimes it’s not … is an animosity process. So sometimes it’s a little more congenial between the parties and we can work things out, but sometimes I experience opposing parties, and sometimes even with my clients, who might have some kind of a mental illness or challenges that makes them more high conflict, family law issues. And then that’s where I’m able to draw on my background in psychology and social work, to be able to work with those people and know how to work with them, and work within the court systems.

Tom Lemons:

Right. Now, if there were any things that you could say should be improved on in the court system, and again, we’re just right now we’re talking about just the women’s issues. Obviously there’s, men have the same, probably the same types of problems going through a divorce, but what would you say should be improved on? I mean if we’re just talking about the judges or the system in general for family law?

Crystal Phillips:      

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well that’s a good question. So I’m not sure if it would be more generalized towards women, but in total of, to have the opportunity to be able to provide information from different types of expert witnesses and we do have that opportunity. So that’s one of the reasons why a person should retain an experienced attorney, so that we can help guide them through the system.

Tom Lemons:

Right. Great. Great. And again, that is very important. And I think, if it is affordable for a person and even if they have to do things to make that happen, I’m sure you would urge them, “You need to get an attorney in these cases or you could end up losing things like your children,” in some cases I would imagine.

Crystal Phillips:  

Yeah, exactly. And there are time limits on certain things and if the client doesn’t know how to respond, because they’re representing themselves, they could mess everything up and then it’s very difficult to change something once it’s been ordered by a judge.

Tom Lemons:   

Right, right. Yeah, that’s, I’ve heard some sad stories myself, in these cases. So kind of, in the same area of, we were talking about the issues that women go through, or men both, but you again, you said earlier you work or have at least a passion for the mental health issues that go on with people in general, but especially with your clients. Let’s say your client comes in and you, as you get to know them, you notice something may be going on with them that could hurt their case. Can you give me some examples of some things you may have or you have experienced and what you’ve done to resolve it?

Crystal Phillips:      

Yes, I could. I have plenty of examples there. So sometimes I will recognize an issue that my client may have that’s going to not go so well in court. And so I’m very honest. That’s one of my best qualities, I think, I’m direct with my clients. So even if I see they have an issue, I’ll bring it up to them, raise it to them and suggest things. So if it is a substance abuse issue, for example, then I will raise it with my client and encourage some kind of a evaluation for substance abuse. Same thing with psychological evaluation, and so that they are encouraged to seek treatment and that looks very good in the eyes of the court.

So a lot of times I’ll see from the opposing side, saying that my client has a problem, and they get that in there first and blame the client for issues. So that’s what the judge sees, and we want to be proactive if it is indeed an issue and if it’s not, we want to be prepared to rebut any of the allegations from the opposing party.

Tom Lemons:

Right? If it’s just a false allegation of some kind, right?

Crystal Phillips:     

Yes. Which happens a lot in high conflict, family law cases. So the opposing side will bring something up and maybe they’re even scapegoating my client or they’re putting it on them and blaming them, because they may have a personality disorder themself. Or they might have a substance abuse issue themself. And then they accuse my client of it. And so we just have to be prepared in any way. So if my client does have a substance abuse issue, I will encourage some kind of a treatment program. If they don’t, then we’ll have an evaluation for them.

Tom Lemons:  

Right. And I imagine like you said in high conflict divorces, I mean you probably see a lot on both sides. I mean, maybe it’s not mental illness every time, but do you sometimes find yourself working with the opposing counsel in saying, “What do we do with this case?”

Crystal Phillips:   

Right. Yes, I do all the time and I have a few of my cases that I’m thinking of right now, that I work with opposing counsel. So it’s not always necessarily that you should be aggressive with opposing counsel. Assertive, yes. But sometimes it works to work with opposing counsel, because we can come to a resolution where you didn’t think that it was going to happen in the past. And with children, it’s especially important. There are certain factors that the court’s going to look at and that being one of them, the ability for the parents to work together.

Tom Lemons:   

Right. And that, I mean, that’s probably one of the most serious issues right there is when the children are involved and, if it’s just a divorce about property and money and alimony and things like that, it’s not as serious as when a child’s involved or more children.

Crystal Phillips: 

That’s right.

Tom Lemons: 

So I imagine that that even makes you more, not aggressive but inclined to be watchful, for issues with your client and the other side, too.

Crystal Phillips:  

Oh, yes. Yes. Because their behavior from the beginning can affect the very ending of it. It’s the first impression that they get, the judge receives. So we want to make sure that the judge knows we’re always working towards some peaceful resolution for the children’s best interest.

Tom Lemons:  

Right. Now, when we talked before, you had mentioned some specific disorders that are more serious than just maybe things that are circumstantial, that are going on because of the divorce, but what are some more serious, behavioral or emotional issues that someone may be experiencing?

Crystal Phillips:     

Yeah, so a lot of times people have anxiety issues or depression issues and those are pretty common. Even bipolar is a very common disorder, and so it’s treatable and most of the issues are, but we see a lot of times personality disorders. Personality disorders are much deeper. They are pretty much lifelong. And so, you can have treatment for it, but most of the time those who are suffering from it don’t recognize it and they may not be diagnosed with it. So, narcissistic personality disorder is one of the common ones I see. And borderline personality disorder is another one. There’s also antisocial. Sometimes they go in there.

So narcissistic personality disorder, they have different traits and I sometimes will diagnose it, not being an expert on it, but I will see the behaviors of another side. Sometimes even with my clients, that they may exhibit. And when those, they’re very difficult to deal with. They’re really manipulative and that’s something that they’ve probably done in the relationship before. They see people as objects and as possessions, their children and their wife or their husband in the cases. I see it more with males and narcissistic personality disorder.

Borderline personality disorder, I see a few more females that have it, and it’s really not that much of a difference between those, statistically. But with borderline personality disorder, there’s very extreme behaviors. Mood swings. It makes it difficult to co-parent, and whenever they get in court, they feel threatened and often prolong litigation. Same thing with NPD. So-

Tom Lemons: 

What was that again?

Crystal Phillips:     

NPD. Narcissistic personality disorder.

Tom Lemons:  

Okay.

Crystal Phillips:     

So with both of those it seems to run up legal fees. They tend to file more motions, want to win. And many times blame the other person.

Tom Lemons: 

Right?

Crystal Phillips: 

And then also say that they’re the victim. So they may file something with the court saying that they’re a victim, for an injunction, something else that may harm the case. They may say-

Tom Lemons: 

Right? So they may find things that are just, I mean, the person, let’s say you’re going against this other litigant and you see them, this pattern of behavior with them. I mean, it’s got to make you frustrated to know that there’s nothing you can do about the other litigant. But what do you do? Let’s just say the the other litigate files, just keeps filing these motions but then can you do anything as far as legally, any type of motions that you can make that can stop the behavior if it becomes serious?

Crystal Phillips:   

Yeah, there are ways to ask for attorney’s fees and so many times we’ll ask for attorney’s fees. We have to prove it, so we have to a lot of times go by whatever their allegations are and try to defend ourselves, or my clients, or we just have to be prepared for it. If their allegations are true, like I said earlier, then we’ll encourage the clients to get help in any way possible. But we will file, well, may ask for a psychological evaluation of the other party. We may ask for treatment for the other party. There are lots of different options and a pro se load against somebody who’s representing themselves, won’t know about these options and sometimes there are deadlines.

I see often where one of the other sides in a high conflict family law matter may file an emergency motion and have the judge hear it. That’s ex parte in most cases. So the judge only basis his or her judgment and order on what, that the other side has said and they lie.

Tom Lemons:  

Right.

Crystal Phillips:     

So there’s no way to defend that if you are a pro se litigant, and a lot of times you might miss the deadlines for it, but we know what to do and we will go on the offensive then, defensive and offensive in that case.

Tom Lemons:     

Sure. And like again, going back to the fact that you should get an attorney because you know what to do and others might not. There’s a lot more to practicing law than going in and telling your side of the story, right?

Crystal Phillips:      

Right. Unfortunately, I’ve had clients come to me after an emergency motion has been granted and an emergency pickup order, which means that the judge will sign the order telling law enforcement to go and pick up the child and remove the child from the custody and the timesharing of my client, and return them or put them in the care and custody of the opposing side, based on his or her sworn affidavit that it’s true, when it’s not necessarily true. And then we have to file motions, different motions and get back into court and it’s, just becomes a nightmare. Especially when it’s a young child and they’re in school.

Tom Lemons:    

So you’re also very involved in, well as far as substance abuse is related, it’s kind of the same as with the emotional and behavioral issues. Right? Do you notice your clients, is it something that’s obvious when someone comes in and you notice they have a substance abuse problem?

Crystal Phillips:

Sometimes it is. Sometimes it is, and sometimes those are allegations that are made by the other side and I may notice it a little more of being more cognizant of it, when those allegations have been made. But yes.

Tom Lemons:   

It does happen.

Crystal Phillips:   

And I am thinking about certain cases.

Tom Lemons:  

Oh, yeah. So it’s more common than not, right?

Crystal Phillips:

Yes. Yeah, it can be, and some of it is prescription and I know that’s a problem nationwide anyway.

Tom Lemons: 

Sure. Oh, I’m glad you brought that up. Because prescription drugs obviously is a major issue in our country. And just to throw in the divorce or a child custody case, just inflames the issue and probably leads to people doing more of these, abusing their own prescriptions. Are drinking more or maybe they’re going to other drugs. Is that that what you find?

Crystal Phillips: 

That happens. Maybe not so much other drugs, but alcohol and prescription drugs. That’s a coping mechanism. People do that, it’s not uncommon. So it exasperates a situation when you’re going through a contested family law case, it’s a very stressful time.

Tom Lemons:   

Oh, yes. And I’m sure a lot of people out there know exactly how that feels, but it doesn’t help to throw in something that’s going to make things worse. Right?

Crystal Phillips:

No, not an addiction. And sometimes it is an addiction. Yes. So it takes a very strong person to overcome that and yeah, and hopefully just me being there for them and letting them know they don’t have to worry as much in the family law case that it might help.

Tom Lemons:  

So Crystal, you have, you’re working with different nonprofits and organizations around the area, Tampa Bay area. Can you tell me a little bit about what you’re involved in?

Crystal Phillips: 

Sure. Well, I relocated recently from Wisconsin. I am from Florida originally and when I relocated here, I began working with some organizations here. But in Wisconsin, I was much more involved in the community and I plan on getting involved here. So I was a board member for the YWCA, which is an organization that helps victims of domestic violence. I also helped found a group called, Girls Night Out, which is a very fun group where women get together and support each other. Our main goal is just to support each other and encourage each other. I think that’s very important for not only women, but men too. But if you can find a group like that, that’s good.

So we would meet each month at a different venue, a bar or restaurant, and raise money for a different nonprofit organization. And so not only were we providing support to the community, but support to each other. And I think that’s just essential. I don’t want to stereotype, but I think that women really do need support of other women, because we’ve had those experiences and we can help them, guide them, maybe in some of those experience or just let them know they’re not alone.

Tom Lemons: 

Right.

Crystal Phillips:  

Same thing with men, too. Maybe they do it in a different way, but it’s really important to be able to bond with others and have that support.

Tom Lemons:

Yeah, you need to be able to relate to someone who’s gone through the same experience. And I mean there are differences in how men and women handle things. So, it’s good that someone like you is out there, not just being an attorney, but being a friend and being involved in the community, and helping other women through their own issues. Right?

Crystal Phillips:     

Yeah. I think it’s important to encourage everybody, encourage each other, lift each other up and support each other and just love. Spread the love out there.

Tom Lemons: 

Absolutely. So Crystal, if you need to reach an attorney, maybe she’s a perfect fit for you. You can always go to our website@myfloridalaw.com. You can find her bio there. Learn a little bit more about her. Also, you can reach the Tampa office with number (813) 774-4529. So you can and find all that contact information on our website and Crystal, listen, it was really great talking to you today and having you in the studio.

Crystal Phillips:  

Thank you, it was great talking to you, too.

Tom Lemons:   

Okay. Have a great one.

Crystal Phillips: 

You too.

Tom Lemons:     

You’re welcome.

Ms. Claudia Blackwell is a new attorney on our case, from the same law firm of Ayo & Iken, due to our current attorney being on maternity leave. My case is a couple of years old, and Ms. Blackwell has only been on this case for a few weeks. However, the way she represented me in court yesterday, is the exact way I wanted to be represented. She showed the same passion and tenacity me and my family feel towards this case. From the day we met, to the communication in the interim, and finally her representation in the court room. The services from Ms. Blackwell are superb to say the absolute least. Thank you, Claudia!

Gerry – Avvo

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