Deciding to get a divorce will most likely be one of the toughest decisions of your life. When there are children involved, the decision becomes even harder, as more lives will be affected by your choices. By the time you are searching for a lawyer, you’ve usually tried everything to save your marriage… but nothing has worked. Finally, you’ve decided that it’s causing the family more damage than good to stay in the marriage, and it’s time to separate and try living apart.
With kids involved, you will now be raising them in two different homes, but the fact that you are still a family… Father, Mother, and children, remains. Almost universally, parents don’t just give up their relationships with their children, and in fact, California law won’t terminate parental rights except under very extreme circumstances and most likely that’s not your case. So, even though you’re divorcing, you are still “stuck” as co-parents and will need to continue on in a relationship to raise your children together, albeit in two separate residences. It’s good to come to terms with this idea from the beginning.
If you think that, by divorcing, you will finally be free from the person who is causing you so much heartache and suffering, you need to start to find the acceptance in your heart, that if you have kids together, your ex-spouse will continue to be a part of your life (albeit cast in a smaller role). This is a healthy step toward finding peace and helping to establish a good foundation upon which to build the rest of your life. It also will help your kids enormously. Kids still need two parents, a Dad and a Mom. It was designed this way for a reason. Moms and Dads bring different things to the table, and the more you can present a unified front, the more strength you have in guiding your children toward a happier and healthier future. You will need this strength, especially when your kids are teens because if they sense that you are not united in your parenting, they will (as all kids do) easily manipulate both of you and play you against one another to achieve their own teenage (and childlike) goals, which are often not in their best interest. So it is very important to begin as early as possible to co-parent with your former spouse and to communicate effectively about your children.
Of course, sometimes (many times) effective co-parenting isn’t possible (especially at first). You’ve no doubt been through a lot, with both sides holding on to a lot of hurt feelings, grudges, and pain which is blocking effective communication. Nobody is good a divorcing and in fact, it probably brings out the very worst in the relationship and in each individual. But once some light can be shined on our issues, with the help of perhaps counselors, or even a good lawyer, each party can begin to “put down their weapons” and focus on healing their own hearts and therefore their lives and the lives of their children.
Other times, co-parenting isn’t effective because one or both parties are experiencing addiction issues, anger issues, domestic violence issues, etc. There are many reasons which surface during a failing marriage and divorce that make one (or at times, both) parent(s) not an appropriate caregiver for their children. These issues need to be addressed, or they escalate and create even more problems as time goes by, for everyone involved. Fortunately, you’re not alone. The court sees these issues day in and day out and has developed many programs to assist people and families who are suffering in this way. Sometimes, protections such as restraining orders, drug testing, anger management classes, and supervised visitations with the children are required to give a parent the assistance he or she needs to keep everyone safe and to help the family to become healthy again.
Finding a lawyer who cares more about people, rather than money, is possible. Actually, there are many such lawyers out there, so spend some time getting to know your advocate and make sure that they are a good fit for you. If an attorney is very aggressive toward your ex-spouse, be cautious. This could end up costing you a lot of money. When the lawyers fight, usually the only one who wins is the lawyers. The more he or she can keep you fighting with your ex-spouse, the more money that lawyer makes off of you. In my opinion, a good lawyer is one that helps you find closure in the relationship that you are ending, and this includes peace of mind and healthy boundaries while protecting your interests. If you feel that you need a “shark” attorney because your ex and/or their lawyer is that way, I want to offer you an alternate opinion. You don’t win or lose your case by pleading it to your ex or to their attorney. You win or lose your case by pleading it to a Judge. And trust me, Judges are reasonable. Almost universally. They hate drama (we get so much of it in the courtroom), and when attorneys add to the fire, add to the drama, are insulting or unreasonable… they lose. And you lose. You lose your resources (in attorney’s fees and even in assets) and your self-respect.
Here is an example of one Orange County Judge’s written “Policies and Best Practices” from their courtroom: “Do your part to keep the hearing low-key. Avoid ad hominem attacks toward opposing counsel and/or the other party; address all comments to the court… The court’s goal is to resolve all issues in a fair manner, without unnecessary drama, delay, or expense. The court is unable to redress or soothe unresolved emotional issue(s) following a failed adult relationship.” An attorney who follows these guidelines, inside and outside the courtroom, will be a great asset in helping you through this most difficult time in your life.