I must say that child custody and visitation cases are my favorite because I get the opportunity to make a significant difference by carefully working with my clients to determine what is best for their children. Divorce is hard on parents and even harder on children, which is why I make the following recommendations for all family law clients with minor children.
Before commencing your divorce, make certain you have tried (really tried and not just gone through the motions) marital counseling. If the marital counseling has not worked, or even during the marital counseling, secure a good counselor for yourself and for your children. Your children need to establish a connection to a counselor soon and often because they will need someone to talk with before the divorce is commenced and during. You need a counselor too because you do not need to discuss your divorce with your children, friends and family; especially not your children. Only recently, after years of searching, have I found a decent book that I feel comfortable recommending: Parenting After Divorce by Philip M. Stahl, Ph.D. In addition to counseling, you may want to purchase this book.
Once the divorce process is commenced, I recommend that either the parties agree to participate in a co-parenting class or get a Court order for one. I also recommend that parties enroll in an on-line co-parenting tool such as OurFamilyWizard.com to assist with child custody issues. My recommendation for a co-parenting class and for an on-line co-parenting tool is based on years of seeing family law parties fight because they have too much access to each other. Another scenario for my recommendation is family law parties who start off being “amicable” and able to co-parent until one of the parties gets a boyfriend or girlfriend or spouse. My favorite are the folks who try the “bird nesting” scenario, which works out well until someone finds a Victoria’s Secrets receipt or the like. Bird nesting, in my opinion, is the equivalent of collecting evidence/ammunition for World War III between divorcing parties.
Co-parenting classes teach parties how to work with each other and set up healthy boundaries. OurFamilyWizard.com and similar services limit contact between parties and maintain focus where it belongs after a divorce – on the children, only. Too often, I see parties engaging in texting warfare because someone forgot to exchange the child with a particular item of clothing, failed to pay something…etc (Philip M. Stahl, Ph.D. has an excellent chapter on dealing with this). Inevitably, the children will be involved in this texting warfare because one, or both, of the parties will end up doing it in front of the children and talking about it in front of the children. Incessant texting with the other party also makes it hard to start a new and healthy relationship because it will inevitably interfere with, or undermine, the development of something meaningful. This parade of horribles can be limited, and hopefully avoided, with the use of focused services like OurFamilyWizard.com.
Another recommendation I make to family law clients is a neutral exchange location, such as through the school or extracurricular activities. Exchanges at the house are awkward, especially when a spouse has moved on. Fights and less than ideal comments can take place at house exchanges as well. Whereas, when the school is used, or the location for extracurricular activities, then the parties have less contact with each other and less opportunity to engage in hostile behavior. Restaurants and coffee shops are also good places because the parent can share a treat with their children while waiting for the other parent. Police stations are less than ideal places for exchange locations, unless in extreme circumstances, because (1) police officers have far more compelling problems to deal with than parents who cannot set their personal feelings aside for the sake of their children and (2) such exchange locations are hard on the children and might often cause the children to associate exchanges with “being in trouble” or worse. You want the exchanges to be positive for your children so they can focus on things that kids need to focus on like school, making friends, enjoying their extracurricular activities and spending quality time with the other parent.
Counseling, co-parenting classes, services like OurFamilyWizard.com and neutral exchange locations are just some of my suggestions for a more peaceful co-parenting relationship. Even in “amicable” situations, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This is by no means an exhaustive list or a list guaranteed to solve all problems between divorcing spouses. Some people just like to fight and be at war with each other, while, others, truly believe that with the right tools and safety nets in place they can successfully raise their children together despite lack of success in sharing a relationship with each other.
This material is provided for educational purposes only. Providing this information does not establish an attorney/client relationship. None of the information contained in this blog should be acted upon without first consulting with an attorney. Should you have questions about the content of this blog, please arrange to discuss via a consultation.