From Heartbreak to Triumph: Navigating Legal Abuse in Divorce with Lisa Johnson

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Episode Description

In this episode, Lisa Johnson, co-founder of Been There Got Out, shares her story of going through a high-conflict divorce with an emotionally abusive husband who lived a secret double life. Lisa's divorce ultimately cost her over $80,000 in legal fees to resolve - and that was just the beginning of her legal journey.

Lisa then spent 10 years fighting to enforce her divorce judgment after she was divorced. Because she couldn't afford a lawyer, Lisa learned how to navigate the legal system herself, while her ex fought her every step of the way. She coined the term "legal abuse" to describe what happens when someone weaponizes the legal system to control, harass, intimidate, and impoverish their ex-spouse.

Lisa now works to educate and support others who are embroiled in abusive, high-conflict legal situations so that, they too, can take control of their case, without going bankrupt in the process.

Show Notes

About Lisa

Lisa is the co-founder of Been There Got Out, a high conflict divorce coach and certified domestic violence advocate who has successfully represented herself through scores of court appearances. Her case, published in the Connecticut Law Journal, is being used as legal precedent. Her live testimony helped pass Jennifers’ Law in Connecticut, the third state in America to expand its legal definition of domestic violence to include “coercive control.” She and her partner, Chris, the male half of Been There Got Out, coach people in high-conflict relationships, divorce, custody battles, and co-parenting hell so they have the chance of the best outcome in family court and beyond. They also offer a weekly Legal Abuse Support Group for those dealing with narcissistic opponents in legal matters. Their book, "Been There Got Out: Toxic Relationships, High-Conflict Divorce, and How to Stay Sane Under Insane Circumstances'' was released in March 2023.  

Connect with Lisa

You can connect with Lisa on LinkedIn at Been There Got Out or her Facebook at Been There Got Out.  You can also find Lisa on YouTube at Been There Got Out, listen to her Podcast Been There Got Out and follow her on Instagram at Been There Got Out, TikTok at @been_there_got_out and Twitter at BeenThereGotOut

To learn more about working with Lisa visit her website at Been There Got Out where you can also sign up for her newsletter to keep informed of her upcoming events and her upcoming FREE webinar on what parental alienation / coercive control / abuse by proxy / poisoning the well looks like…and what you can do about it.  The best way to contact Lisa is by email at [email protected].

Key Takeaways From This Episode with Lisa

  • Lisa Johnson is a high-conflict divorce coach and domestic violence advocate who successfully represented herself through many court appearances after going through a difficult divorce. Her case has been published as case law in Connecticut.
  • Lisa co-founded Been There Got Out, which provides coaching and support for people going through high-conflict divorces. She represented herself pro se in her own contentious divorce case after initially hiring lawyers.
  • She was in a 20-year marriage and thought it would be an amicable divorce when she discovered her ex was living a double life. But he abandoned their kids emotionally and refused to cooperate with the divorce process. The legal fees skyrocketed to $100,000 as he dragged things out.
  • After getting a divorce agreement, Lisa's ex still didn't comply. Her lawyer advised her to start representing herself pro se, as hiring lawyers would financially devastate her.
  • Lisa spent years going back to court repeatedly as a self-represented litigant to try to enforce the orders. Judges kept giving her ex chances rather than consequences. It took 9 years, but eventually justice was served through enforced orders.
  • Lisa highlights the concept of "legal abuse" where an ex uses the legal system to control, harass, intimidate and impoverish their former partner. Support like her weekly legal abuse group helped Lisa keep perspective.
  • She stresses the importance of education on the process, learning court expectations, not relying on hearsay from others, and having proper support to get through the trauma of a high-conflict case.

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Share the love so more people can benefit from this episode too!


From Heartbreak to Triumph:  Navigating Legal Abuse in Divorce with Lisa Johnson


legal abuse, support, control, harassment


Karen Covy, Lisa Johnson

Karen Covy Host00:10

Hello and welcome to Off the Fence, a podcast where we deconstruct difficult decision making so we can discover what keeps us stuck and, more importantly, how we can get unstuck and start making even tough decisions with confidence. I'm your host, Karen Covey, a former divorce lawyer, mediator and arbitrator, turned coach, author and entrepreneur. And now, without further ado, let's get on with the show.

With me. Today I am pleased to have Lisa Johnson, and Lisa is the co-founder of Been There Got Out. She's a high conflict divorce coach and certified domestic violence advocate who successfully represented herself through scores of court appearances. Her case has been published in the Connecticut Law Journal. Her live testimony helped pass Jennifer's law in Connecticut, the third state in America to expand its legal definition of domestic violence to include a worse of control.


Lisa and her partner Chris, the male half of Been There Got Out, coach people in high conflict relationships divorce, custody battles and co-parenting hell, so they have the chance of the best outcome in family court and beyond. They also offer a weekly legal abuse support group for those dealing with narcissistic opponents in legal matters. Their book Been There Got Out: Toxic Relationships, High Conflict Divorce and How to Stay Sane Under Insane Circumstances was released in March 2023. Lisa, welcome to the show.

Lisa Johnson Guest02

Thank you, Karen.

Karen Covy Host00

Okay, with an intro like that, I just have to start with your story. How did you get into the world of high conflict divorce? Tell us a little bit about your situation and your story. Start wherever you want to start,

Lisa Johnson Guest02:12

Okay, brace yourself. No well, was not one that ever since I was a little girl, I dreamed of being a high conflict divorce coach. I was in a relationship with my ex. We were together for 20 years, which is half my life, and I never thought that we would ever get divorced. It wasn't the typical abusive relationship. I didn't understand emotional abuse and there's something called lying by omission, which was basically that my ex lived a double life for our entire relationship and I found out about it a few years before.


We separated and did everything I could to keep the relationship together. It didn't work and finally left the marriage, thinking it would be amicable because we I thought that he was a wonderful person who had done some bad things and it was the opposite. So, jumping ahead, he basically stopped his relationship with our children and we have been in court for now I'm going into my 10th year, even though this past year 2023, justice was finally served very, very nicely. I had been prevailing in family court for years, but I couldn't get enforcement, and I finally got amazing enforcement which has changed the whole trajectory of the dynamic of getting paid finally and getting justice, so it has been wonderful to see karma occur in a situation where someone got away with a lot for a long time and now is not anymore.

Karen Covy Host03:50

Oh my, there is a lot packed into that little bit of conversation. Let me jump in. When you say he was living a double life, what do you mean?

Lisa Johnson Guest04:03

Let's just say that I got married pretty young and things came out towards the end of the relationship like patterns of behavior that he had been doing all along, starting from documented during our honeymoon him soliciting other women and I learned that that had been a pattern the entire relationship. A lot of stuff happened online and I'll just say you can imagine the horror of learning that the person you've been with for nearly half your life has been not who you expected at all and then figuring out how to make sense of that and what to do with the children, and when your life has been very settled and one home and one city for a long time, to be like, oh my gosh, how am I going to move forward? And I thought I don't want to get a divorce, I don't have $10,000, and it ended up costing $100,000 and taking a year, and that doesn't include a lot of the post court matters. So I've saved myself at least a million dollars going pro se. I know that.

Karen Covy Host05:20

Wow, all right. So the question that I know so many people have when they're in your situation is how did you figure it out? Like if somebody else was in a situation where they were starting to have some suspicions about their partner, shall we say, what could they do to figure it out?

Lisa Johnson Guest05:41

Okay. Well, I think it depends. A lot of people have some level of, I think, denial, but 2020, hindsight, 2020, all the time right. So there were signs in the beginning that I didn't pay attention to, but I thought, well, part of it was the grooming he used to say he was seven years older than me and he would say relationships are hard. And he also, like, when I met him, I had been backpacking around Europe, I had been living overseas, I had come back and was like, oh, you know I. And then I met this man who was settled in with a job and not like a man child, like the other men I had dated, and I thought, okay, I should really grow up, like at 2020, I should really be an adult now and start to get involved in more mature relationships. So, him saying relationships are hard. I think I assume that that anything that happened after that was supposed to be part of the commitment that I made to the relationship. So I let a lot of things slide, thinking, well, it's because relationships are hard and maybe this is what marriage is supposed to be. And so I think a lot of people are in those situations where you think, well, I made a vow and nothing is ever perfect. But then where is the line between not perfect and awful? How much do you really tolerate so little things here and there, like we didn't used to fight. I didn't feel like we didn't really fight. We'd have disagreements occasionally, but it was very peaceful relationship. But every once in a while he would say you know, I'm really miserable in this relationship and I'm thinking of leaving you and I was like what? Like out of the blue, just nothing. So I and then and then it would be like it would settle down again and I was kind of like I don't.


I always felt like I never really knew him and he was a software programmer, so he spent a lot of time online. And this is back in the nineties when, you know, online stuff was really new. There were chat groups on AOL and he used to tell me that that he was spent a lot of time online because he was so smart that a lot of people didn't understand him. So he would, you know he could relate better and that he had had some kind of abuse in his past and so I would never be capable of understanding. So he was talking in these groups online and I just was busy with my own life. So I was like, okay, you know whatever, which is stupid. But I didn't know again.


Like I was really, really young and he was older and I just trusted him, because that's what you think when you get involved with somebody, and somebody who expressed that he wanted this relationship. You know how people like that, they rush it. So he wanted me to move in with him fairly quickly. He's the one who said he wanted to get married. So I thought, well, he said he wanted it, so that's what he wants. Like why would I be suspicious and think, oh well, he's really juggling me and God knows how many other people online. So the online thing was always in the background. And then we, you know, we got married. We were together for years and years. We had our two children. My daughter is now 20 and my son is almost 24.


And so about 10, 11 years ago, I discovered a picture of somebody that was to me from teaching high school, like basically teenager, he was 50. And when I questioned him about it, I had that feeling, like that feeling you know in your stomach something is really wrong and somebody's lying to you. And it came out that he had met this person online and she lived in Europe, supposedly, and that he considered her his soulmate and that he loved her, even though he loved me, and that he wasn't sure what he was going to do. And I was like, wait, wait, wait, wait, like what? And we have these two teen and tween age kids. And I said, what, like what does this mean?


He's like I don't know, like I'm thinking of moving her here and living in one of my dad's apartments and while I figure out what to do and I was like, well, what about? What about our kids? Like what about everything? And he's like, oh, I don't know, you know, I just want to be happy. That was the moment I'm like, oh, we're done. Like that, like someone who is this delusional, that thinks someone that they met online, who's like a kid, is their soulmate, and they're like I just that was the end, even though I tried for the next two years to do whatever I could to make him see you know, we try and make someone see the truth and that this is crazy, and all the hours a day of spinning and spinning, and anyway it didn't work out and I did think that, like I said it would be amicable and he's just basically kept me in the court system by failing to comply with our divorce agreement.

Karen Covy Host10:26

Okay, so let's talk about that, because so many people, when they are in the position that you were in, where you realize that your marriage is not working out, you got to have a divorce, Everybody wants to believe that their divorce is going to be amicable. How did you, what happened in your situation that made you go oh, and then that that took the case from what you thought was going to be 10,000 to 100,000?.

Lisa Johnson Guest10:52

Okay. So first I was excited to get weekends to myself. I was like, oh, we're going to have a schedule where, like, he takes the kids sometimes and I finally get a break, because, you know, for many of us we've even though the other person's been there, we've basically done almost everything with the kids and he just kind of left. He just left and was like I'm going to go off and be happy and I'm like, well, what about the kids? And he just wasn't there. He wasn't responding to their emails, he wasn't responding to their phone calls and they got very angry and I kept saying, like we need you know what's going on Like kind of helped me deal with the kids, and he wasn't. He just wasn't there. And by the time he came off his delusional dating thing for a little while the kids were. They didn't want to deal with him. We tried to have therapists involved. So that was something that was very different. Like him just abandoning emotionally abandoning the kids was like devastating, because I felt like I was left picking up the pieces. I couldn't even think about my own feelings. I was dealing with these two teenage adolescents who were like what is going on? Because it was like the math didn't just drop with me, it dropped with them. So he kind of walked out of their lives.


And then him just refusing to cooperate with the mediation process. I got a parenting plan done in mediation with him. Thank God I did it on my own. I had hired a divorce attorney. He said I'm going to consult with you. Let's not make it clear that my presence is here. I'm going to give you an idea which was so brilliant.


So my ex didn't have an attorney. The two of us just went into mediation and let the mediator lead the process. Of course I had the benefit of an education from my wonderful divorce attorney and I did really well. And my attorney said great, like you just saved yourself at least $10,000. But my ex would show up with nothing in his hands with finances. So everything was always money and we know with these people that money is what matters often, like money is what they value. So it just went on and on.


He switched to turn when his first attorney started cooperating with my attorney with giving the financials. That's when he fired him and he hired this woman, this attorney, who was impossible. My attorney called up and said this is like the one attorney I cannot work with. This could go to trial and then within three months the bill shot up to like $80,000. And it was just awful. A lot of it was wasted.


Negotiations, back and forth, and back and forth and again it's just like narcissistic supply. They love having your attention, but then when you have lawyers with the back and forth, that's what really runs up the bills. So that made my case very different and at the end of the divorce, my one again. I love my divorce attorney. He said your ex is not gonna comply with this order. You are gonna have to do it on your own. So let's start preparing you. I'll be here if you need me, but you can't afford me and if you go back to court with an attorney, he's gonna devastate you financially just like he did. So let's see what you can do yourself and that's what paved the way for me to go pro se effectively.

Karen Covy Host14:01

Wow, I'd like to jump forward a little bit, because you clearly have a lot of experience with the legal system, right, and you said that justice was finally served. What does that mean? Give me a hint.

Lisa Johnson Guest14:16

Okay. So I got so in 2017, I went back to court because my again my attorney said your ex isn't gonna comply and my kids were. My son was in high school and we had to get what's called an educational support order for college. So in order to finish the divorce for that year, it took my divorce attorney. He said just go back for that. Later I had protective language in my agreement, which my attorney wrote. We always tell our clients make sure you are the one who drafts up the paperwork. So my attorney was really careful and put protective language in there for me about money. That said these figures are based on the numbers provided to us, but if ever we determined that there's other money that was not shown here, that it could be a modification. So when I went back for the educational support order, I just talked to an attorney at court. They had this free resource where you could talk to someone for 20 minutes and the person said something is wrong with this case. It sounds like fraud happened and you should go back for this modification, since you're going back anyway for the college thing. So I went back and that was December of 2017.


It took me a year to get orders as a pro se, a self-represented litigant. It took like nine times in a row where he didn't produce financial discovery. I was so glad I didn't have an attorney with me and I wasn't blowing through thousands of dollars showing up to appointments to say come back again. It was like the Wizard of Oz Come back in a week, come back in three weeks, come back in five days, and I'd be like your honor, you set it up. Nope, we're gonna keep giving him chances. So he fired his attorney and that day the judge said I've had enough, we're starting trial, and I was ready to go. So we had like three full hearings and then she gave her decision in December of 2018, where I got the modifications, I won for everything and I got a good educational support order and then he refused to pay.


So over the next four years I tried everything I could. He hired attorneys in different states. He hired a criminal defense attorney. Covid happened. We tried to move part of the case to New York.


So it just got delayed, delayed, delayed and but during that time I was able to get penalties thrown on it interests. I made proposed orders that the judges signed that were just amazing. It just kept going on and on and I'd have new judges and they'd say oh, you know, Lisa, why don't you just settle, why don't you just take less to finish it? And I said, nope, we had the same conversation years ago. I know what I'm entitled to. I'm getting all of the interest in the penalties. I am not rewarding somebody for failing to comply with your own orders, your honor. So I will wait, I will keep waiting, but I am entitled to the relief that I was awarded in 2018 and that's it.


And so judge after judge would be like oh, and then there was like a quadro and some other nonsense, some balloon mortgage, whatever. But finally, you know, the judge like however many judges in a row had had enough and the time came and I got my orders. And then I had to go back for my daughter's educational support order and got awesome orders there, even though that got delayed for two years. So now everything has been made right and I have deadlines and consequences, which I said to all the judges. I need this because Connecticut doesn't give deadlines and consequences, they just give an order, because and I've interviewed Matt Blumenthal, who is the at the time was the head of the judiciary committee his father is Senator Richard Blumenthal, and he said the reason that Connecticut doesn't give deadlines is because we expect people to follow the law. Most people get it court order. They follow the law.


I said, yeah, but there's this huge percentage well, small percentage huge amount of people who don't. So I need a deadline and a consequence, because if I don't have an order with teeth, then it's nothing, and I've spent years with nothing. So when I went back to Connecticut to do my daughter's order, I told the judge this is what I'm asking for and this is why I'm entitled to it. And look at the history of this case. And she gave it to me. And then some, she gave me a really good deadline and she slammed him with 10% interest, which is higher than the state rate of 6%. So she really sent a message and then he started paying on time Finally. So instead of waiting four years, I had to wait two weeks for the last round of stuff. And now he's I hope I'm not jinxing myself, but he's keeping it in line and I'm just like, wow, it makes such a difference when judges give orders with teeth. But it's up to us as parties to ask for that.

Karen Covy Host18:53

Right, and I think what your story also illustrates is that it's not just up to you to ask for it, but you ultimately succeeded because you played the long game, and that's what I really want people to hear is that you didn't get everything you wanted on the first try. There was court appearance after court appearance after court appearance, and the reason part of the reason you were able to succeed was that, a you were smart and, b you had your lawyer in the background and you were able to do it as a pro-se, because if you had had to pay for a lawyer to represent you in all of those different court appearances, you would have paid a whole lot more than just $100,000.

Lisa Johnson Guest19:40

Yeah, so my lawyer was only there for the divorce. He was not there these past several years but I did have legal like. We have a lot of like legal resources in the background that are far that are lawyers but cheaper than the state. We call it limited scope attorneys. And my dad happens to be a patent attorney. He's in his 80s and so he doesn't know family law, but he helped me learn to write stuff and I learned a lot from opposing counsel as a non-attorney. You just learn like and also just all the practice writing motions and how to do things properly.


But I love how you emphasize that it was not quick. My partner, Chris, used to come with me to court. He couldn't come in a lot of the times but he'd see me. He'd be like today's the day, today's the day. I'm like today's not the day, and then I'd come out and I'd be like I told you. I told you nothing happened. Nothing happened. It was so frustrating.


And so we tell our own clients that often it's not that they lose, it's that they give up too soon. And we talk about the marathon mindset and not just that it's gonna take a long time, but there's so much training, mental training that gets that's involved in dealing with this. People always come to us and say, okay, I get it, I get it, just tell me what I can do to make it end. And I'm like it's not gonna end fast. We cannot make it end, but we can help you turn it into background static Because even though now, like I said, this has been my 10th year and my daughter's still in college and I know I'm gonna have to go back again to enforce this last order, but that during this time I've continued to live my life, I've met the love of my life, who is my business partner. I've developed this amazing business. My kids are okay, I socialize, I exercise, I do creative things, I have fun.


People think they have to put everything on hold. You can't, you can't. You have to figure out ways to get proper support to get through this really, really awful time and it's a roller coaster and there's still times, like when I see emails from anyone involved with the other side, that my heart goes like you know you can't help that. That doesn't go away. But I know I have support where I can call some and be like, okay, okay, just talk me through this. Just, you know I'm. Luckily I have my partner, Chris, as he's also a coach, and so he's my coach and I can be his coach, and then we have other people who support us in the background, but the trauma does stay with you. It gets a lot better, but knowing that who you can speak to to kind of get you through even years later is so helpful and so necessary, absolutely.

Karen Covy Host22:15

And so what would you say to someone who is caught on the hamster wheel of going back to court? Going back to court, it seems like they're. Maybe they're not losing, maybe they are losing, maybe they're just not winning, but it's never ending. And you know how do you keep someone who's in that situation from making their legal case their entire life?

Lisa Johnson Guest22:40

Yeah, that's really hard. I mean like not to toot our own horn, but I have to because we have this weekly legal abuse support group. That started before we started doing the coaching because I myself was like my life is crazy, like what is this? And that's when I learned the term legal abuse. This was a few years, maybe three years ago, when nobody was writing about it and I discovered it in like a judge's manual from the state of Washington and I thought this is my life, we need to start a support group. And being trained as an educator, I was like I know how to manage a class, I know how to manage a support group. I was trained as a crisis counselor in college, so I can do this and let's see. And even if two people show up, then I will feel I can learn from it. And then the first week we got 12. So from all over the world, not just from the country we say different laws, same issues, and so that support group really helped put a lot of things in perspective.


And I think other people like being in the group. They're always like, oh my gosh, mine is awful, but that person has it worse and that's bad. They're always saying mine's not that bad, but it's really helpful to have a supportive group of people who get it, because divorce is pretty broad, high conflict is a very small percentage of cases and so you can feel isolated in a standard group because people be like whoa, that's crazy, but in our group it's like, oh yeah, of course, like we get it. So when you're in the right support group, you heal faster, you heal better. So it's important to get to people who understand what you're going through but also have the experience where they're detached enough from it. They're not just keeping you in that trauma loop of like, oh my gosh, the family court's so bad. Like I always tell people we don't spend time on our page but on our social media or in our support group talking about how broken the court system is, because that doesn't help anybody. We strategize and then we deal with the bigger issues, which often involve children, like how are my kids gonna be okay and how do I co-parent with somebody who's really, really difficult? So that's what's helpful. And I also think it's important for people to understand the agency that they have over their cases and their lives.


And just because you're female, just because you don't have a lot of money doesn't mean that it's an automatic loss. I'm living proof like it's not true, and having my case now case law for the state is this tremendous honor. I'm not an attorney, you know, and that happened, and so that's something I never planned on. But experiences like this, even though they are torture, there's such opportunities for personal growth along the way. And the other thing is and somebody just mentioned this to me recently is because my background is in education, I'm qualified to teach. Like there's so many people have lived through this, but they're not qualified to teach properly. Not that nobody, you know, not that people who are not educationally trained can't teach. But this is my profession, so I am an educator, so I've used my education to do well in court. Now I'm using my education to teach what I've learned to others to help them do well in court.

Karen Covy Host25:54

What is I mean? This is all so fascinating to me, you know, as someone who has. You know, I am a lawyer, I've got the legal background, I've been all the things, and usually pro-se. You know, pro-se litigants don't tend to do as well and yet you have not only done well, but you've overcome a lot of, as you put it, legal abuse. So let's talk for a moment about what is legal abuse and how do people deal with it.

Lisa Johnson Guest26:28

Oh, okay, big question. So legal abuse is basically well, there's several names for it. So legal abuse also called litigation abuse or paper abuse, because sometimes people just file so many motions. That's why it's called paper abuse. Sometimes it's called stalking through the courts, because that's what your ex is limited to doing. Since they don't have you in the day to day, they stalk you through the courts. It's also called judicial terrorism.


And then there's certain types of legal abuse that are called vexatious litigation or frivolous litigation. That's when your ex is filing tons of motions against you and you have to take time, energy and money away from the rest of your life to respond to them. So my legal abuse that I dealt with is that my ex wouldn't comply with our order, so I was forced to take time, money and energy to take him to court to try to get these orders enforced. So legal abuse and all of those labels are basically when somebody weaponizes the legal system. They use the legal system to control, harass, intimidate, coerce and impoverish a survivor. So that's essentially the definition and, like I said, there's ways they do. They either attack you with all the paper, they hire people who just are constantly filing motions, or your ex is not complying and it's on you. You have the burden of taking them to court to enforce the orders.

Karen Covy Host27:50

That is fascinating because I never really thought about all of the different ways that someone could abuse the legal system to harass, intimidate, control and all the things another person. So what I'm hearing you say is that legal abuse isn't just one thing, it's not just, oh, they don't do ex, or they do do, why it's. There could be a whole laundry list of ways that someone can harass, intimidate and control you.

Lisa Johnson Guest28:21

That, and especially impoverish. We always say at the beginning of every legal abuse support group that your ex's goal is to wear you down and bleed you dry financially. And that's actually taken from an order that one of the judges gave to me when she said I kept saying, look what he's doing. He keeps distracting from the issue that he hasn't paid. And so she said it's noted that the defendant is attempting to wear the plaintiff down by creating confusion where none exists so that she'll give up. And that's what he did. And so when we talk about false allegations, all the time we, Chris and I with our clients, will say you know you want, your job is to try to keep putting the spotlight back on the issue, because they'll make a lot of noise about all kinds of other stuff. You gotta keep coming back to that issue. And sometimes you don't have the opportunity to talk and and you know people say things like well, the judge is friends with my ex's attorney.


I had that experience. I had an experience in New York where my ex's attorney and the judge had been in the military together, and so my opposing counsel would wear like a military button and use like, like laying military jargon as if they were close friends. And so he got more airtime than I did for quite a while. And then it took several hearings and I finally was like your honor, can we just please look at the orders themselves? Like, please, can we just, can I have a turn? And then, and then the judge had me read at that point it was eight different orders into the record from Connecticut into New York, and the other attorney kept trying to interrupt and the judge said no, no, and that really progressed the case.


It just took that time and I think a lot of people would have just said, uh, forget it. You know they're friends, I'm gonna lose. But I was like no, no, and you know another thing, because we have a lot of attorneys that are our friends. And one attorney said to me, yeah, because I said well, what happens to you?


You guys are friends with the judges, so don't you do better? If you're, you know your clients do better. And she said look, lawyers and judges play volleyball on each other's lawns. We have parties together, but in the end a judge has to follow the law because of the legacy that's created, if a judge is not gonna risk their whole reputation on some kind of favor for a friend that's an attorney, because if somebody appeals the case because they didn't follow the law properly and wins the appeal, they look really bad, so people can say it all the time but it actually doesn't, it's not the way it seems. And you'll see on social media all the judges corrupt all the stuff, like okay, maybe, but most lawyers we talk to say no, there's other factors involved that people just don't really understand.

Karen Covy Host31:00

Yeah, 100%. I mean everyone. That's the easy answer. Oh, the judge ruled against me. They must be in bed with the opposing lawyer, or they you know they have it out for me or they're corrupted or whatever. And, like you said, does it ever happen? Yeah, I mean sometimes, but by and large, for the most part, judges are just they're doing the best they can with the information that they have, but they also have to follow the rules. They have to follow the law, and the problem that most people in your situation have is that they don't take the time to figure out what the rules are. They don't take the time to figure out what the law is and therefore, when they stand in court representing themselves, they get slammed because they're not doing it properly. So I've got a question, though, like what you've done, what you've been through is just it's jaw dropping right what you thought I love to be here.

Lisa Johnson Guest31:59

You say that especially as an attorney.

Karen Covy Host32:01

It is just. You know, I've seen a lot of pro-se litigants in my, let's say, few decades as a lawyer, but and most of them don't do well, because they do get frustrated, they do give up. They don't know the rules, they don't know the law, they don't do the work that you've done and you've done a ton. So how does somebody who's starting I mean, in your case, everything, in the end it all worked out right, but it took you a long time to get there how does somebody else who's in a similar situation answer the question will this be worth it?

Lisa Johnson Guest32:41

Right. The cost-benefit analysis.

Karen Covy Host32:43

The cost-benefit analysis. If I put in all this time and fight to get what I know I'm really entitled to, is it worth it for me? How does someone make that decision?

Lisa Johnson Guest32:54

Yeah, I mean and that's a personal choice you have to when people think about the costs, like the cost-benefit analysis, it's not just the legal costs, it's the costs to your life, it's how much time you're taking away from work to work on this case, how much time you're taking away from your family and your kids, your emotional energy, like there's a lot of cost involved to this. I mean, I think it really depends on what there is to gain. For my own situation Again, it's personal, but for me I thought, well, if my ex is not capable of being a parent and he's walked away from these kids, the least that I can do is make sure he honors his financial obligation to them. I cannot make him be there for them, but this is something I can do. And after a while it was almost like the money doesn't matter, it's justice. And I've come this far and I've learned so much along the way too, that I'm just gonna see it to the end.


And now, being a role model, like in these last couple of years since we started the legal abuse support group, my own son was like mom, you don't need, it's okay, you don't need to keep going to court for us. And I said, no, I do need to go. I'm gonna finish this off. I've made it so far already and there were times when I didn't. I mean I know I prevailed most of the time, but sometimes I didn't get exactly what I wanted, and I certainly didn't get it when I wanted it, but certain things that didn't go my way. Often later, once I had calmed down from what we call the gut punch of court, that day I could understand, like I could understand, how a judge could have seen it differently, and so I thought maybe I can change my angle. And also in court I could see. Watching the judge's body language, as you know, is so important. There were times when I'd be arguing, I'd be going through like a financial affidavit and she's just like this and I thought, all right, I better get right to it.


Because I'm one of those people being like a writer and former English teacher, I would go in with these five-page speeches and I'd start off and they'd be like okay, just tell me what you need. So now when we train our clients, we say go in and think what are you looking for? Because sometimes, just like I want the judge to know, I'm like, but what do you want the judge to do? So let's start with this is what I want. Here's why I'm entitled to it. And then you've got your case and then the case law and if you have your lawyer, then you put that together or you hire other people to help you. So your original question like what do people do? How do they know it's, how much are you willing to devote to this?


With the original divorce with that year, we hadn't said, we didn't settle till. Like two weeks before the year was up we had a court date and my attorney said look, you can take this settlement and kind of go on with your life, but you might do better in court, because my ex had a lot of money and property. So it's not really fair. But I thought about something my friend told me who had gotten divorced years ago. She said if you can get away and have a roof over your heads and you and your kids are safe, just take it.


And so I thought, even though it's not fair, I'm gonna do it. And my lawyer said, is it worth like another year minimum in the muck with this guy, another minimum of $50,000, minimum just to go to trial and not have any guaranteed results? Like, is that what you really wanna do? Or do you wanna take the 50,000 plus that you would be spending on me and invest it in your children's education, or do something else and just go on with your life? And so I took the settlement and I don't regret it ever. And I was able to still go back for the modification.

Karen Covy Host36:42

So so, yeah, you have done extraordinarily well, but I really want people to hear what's in your story that they may just sort of gloss over. Your ex had money to go for. You weren't just fighting for justice, whatever that means, in a case where you're not going to get money, where all it's going to do is bury you financially for the rest of your life. All of that also has to go into making the decision of what do I do. Do I go for this? Do I fight for whatever I can get? And what is it that you're going to get? Is it worth it? It's all part of the same thing.

Lisa Johnson Guest37:28

Right. I mean, I knew what I was entitled to initially like with the education support order and I knew that the modification based on speaking to an attorney, not just me in my head thinking, oh, I deserve this money it's like I knew I had a good chance of getting it. My lawyer had put that protective language in the agreement. I understood how to use that language and I did, even though my ex's attorneys would argue that it wasn't. You know, it wasn't what it was, but I did prevail. And as I was prevailing, I thought I'm gonna get somewhere. I don't know when I'm gonna get it, but I am. It does look good. And then I kept doing well in court, even though it didn't feel like I was doing well. Sometimes could the judge like rebukes everybody, and right Gary. But I just kept thinking I'm making progress. So I'm not gonna give up. I'm just gonna keep going Because I'm doing well, even though it's  a horrible experience. And now, looking back, it's like I always say I got my education in the trenches, so this was the best education that I could have gotten, because Chris and I can also bring what's called radical empathy to the table. I've  gone through this. I know those feelings, I still Experience those feelings and I get it. But yet I am detached enough to say like we finally got paid. Like this is a big deal.


And I don't know if I mentioned, but my ex also sued us not this past fall, but in fall of 22 for four million dollars in defamation in civil court. Yeah, it was like the day that the judge in New York said you finally are getting paid lease after four years. They handed me papers saying we're suing you, starting a whole new frivolous litigation and that took a few months. But luckily Chris and I on our own got that thrown out with, you know, with some help from our people in the background. But I was like how am I gonna spend a thousand dollars an hour on an attorney? But I don't want to go to civil code, like I don't know civil court, family courts a circus. But civil court is different. But luckily we took care of that too. But wow, it's just like a terror campaign. They just but that. That also silenced him for a while.

Karen Covy Host39:32

I mean, we knew that it was nothing, but it's still terrifying, oh yeah, I mean when you see your name on a piece of paper, that's a court document that says you know somebody versus you and the you know the prayer for relief, the you know the bottom line at the end is I want millions of dollars from you. That's, that's pretty horrifying, even if you know that it probably will get thrown out. Until it does get thrown out, you're living in limbo, I know, in fear, yeah, in total fear, and it sounds like a lot of the Reasons why you've gotten to the point where you haven't it been as successful as you have is because of support, and I know you put together a webinar, a free webinar, on parental alienation Course of control, all the things right. Can you tell people a little bit more about that and about where they can get the support that they need if they're truly in a Horrible, high-conflict situation?

Lisa Johnson Guest40:31

Okay, so I'll start backwards, so I don't forget the second part of your question. So what people can get support like this is the thing we specialize in. Legal abuse and also this webinar is dealing with how to handle when a toxic ex Turns the children against you in court and in life, since this is one of the biggest issues that we deal with in our community, and so we wanted to address it. So the way to the best way to get in touch with us if you need help in general is just to go to our website,, or find us on social media, especially Instagram, and just DM, dm me, because I'm the one who checks everything, unless we get like super, super famous and then we have to hire someone else, but right now it's just me and I read everything and respond myself. But support is very, very important.


This, this webinar, this is the topic of the current book, like I said, that we're working on, and I think people often get Accused of parental alienation and being a domestic violent advocate. It's almost like oh, I hate using that term, but that's the term that most professionals used, and so we think it's so important to understand what those cases are built on. I've interviewed Dr Amy Baker. The Baker model is used. There's 17 Factors which we've kind of condensed into five or six that we now are teaching our clients. We go over often like what the custody factors are in detail, and now we're going over what we call the alienation factors so people understand and are not inadvertently doing things which might get twisted Against them but also to start building a case against their ex, because it's often the people that accuse you of you of that that are doing things. So I think again, as an educator, education is the number one thing you can do to start protecting yourself, but education from the right places and the right people.


There's a number of Accounts, or a couple in particular on social media that are just ranting and raving and hosting horror stories and About family court and we encourage our people not to look at that stuff. It's called we call it doom scrolling, because they're already traumatized and it's re traumatizing. It's like reading about a plane crash and thinking that all planes crash. So it's better to stay away from that stuff and start learning, like About how to behave in court, what things are expected, what things are connected with your Individual case and your motion, and not to use what's called barstool counsel, which means talking to somebody else and they said oh, this is what I did in my case.


You should do it because that can be devastating and those people don't know your case and they don't understand the situation, so they're not the people that you should be listening to. So, yeah, there's, there's a lot involved, but we, Chris and I, definitely offer support. We have that weekly legal abuse support group, the webinar on parental alienation, slash abuse by proxy. We're gonna be doing more with that because, again, it's so important for people to understand how to deal with it when it's a court case, how to protect yourself, but also in real life, when your partner is brainwashing your kids, how you can try to establish a close relationship so they're less susceptible to that.

Karen Covy Host43:47

Wow, this is just. This is amazing stuff, and Clearly, we have to follow this up with a part two at some point, because you have been a wealth of information and this is all. Like you know, not everyone is involved in a high conflict divorce, but when you are what you, you know, the information that you've just given, the education that you've given the listeners just now, is Gold. So, Lisa, thank you so much. Tell people when can they find you if they want to learn more, what's the best place?

Lisa Johnson Guest44:18

Super easy. Just Google been there, got out. Our website has Our social media on Instagram is at been there, got out, with little underscores.   We have a YouTube channel. We have a podcast called been there, got out. We're on tick tock. We're on LinkedIn, pinterest, maybe X. Just  search been there, got out. But On our website you can sign up for a calendar of events that we send out once a month and just talks about like what's coming up. We have links to interviews where we and Karen ,gonna be interviewing you this month.   Links to all of our interviews with professionals that have contributed to my education? That's, that's the basis of our first book With how to stay sane under insane circumstances. This is not just my personal experience. This is the experience of many professionals that have helped me do so well and therefore Indirectly helped our clients. So, yeah, just just look up, been there, got out and find us and we'll always respond.

Karen Covy Host45:24

Lisa this has been amazing. I hope people got as much out of the interview as I have, and I am a lawyer.

Lisa Johnson Guest45:30

So I'm so flattered, Karen.

Karen Covy Host45:34

So thank you, thank you so much, and for all of those of you who are out there listening or watching. If you like this, if you want more of this, please do me a favor, like Subscribe. It makes a world of difference, and I look forward to talking with you again next time.

Head shot of Karen Covy in an Orange jacket smiling at the camera with her hand on her chin.

Karen Covy is a Divorce Coach, Lawyer, Mediator, Author, and Speaker. She coaches high net worth professionals and successful business owners to make hard decisions about their marriage with confidence, and to navigate divorce with dignity.  She speaks and writes about decision-making, divorce, and living life on your terms. To connect with Karen and discover how she can help you, CLICK HERE.


divorce process, divorce tips, high conflict divorce, off the fence podcast

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