Divorce strategies, or how we approach divorce, develop from listening to the client, understanding their needs and desires, and looking at the law. Once we know the needs of the family, we can decide in which direction to move.
When it comes to divorce strategy, at Transitions Legal, we consider whether Mediation, Litigation or Collaborative Divorce will best serve the client. I prefer to leave Litigation for last, as it offers the least control to the attorneys and the clients.
Sometimes the strategy depends on factors outside my control, like which attorney my client’s spouse chooses. If it’s a difficult, litigious lawyer, then we are likely to land in court before a judge and have a pretty acrimonious and costly path.
That affects my strategies in terms of cooperation and communication. I might be more guarded if I know the other attorney makes everything difficult or won’t easily share information. That’s a strategic decision.
Nonetheless, I prefer to have control over how we will go forward. I like to have choices to present to my clients, let them decide which way best serves their needs and goals.
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I love when the other attorney is cooperative, and we know and trust each other. Then, we’re going to be more open and collegial, not question every move and tactic.
If having the kids more time is important to a client, then I think strategically about how to frame everything in terms of Parenting Time and Custody so that it serves the children through this transition.
Even in the Collaborative context, a process strategy might be, ok well I think I’m going to guide you more to talk with the divorce coach about your needs and desires.
Strategy depends on a lot of factors – the client’s needs and values, the opposing counsel, the type of case, the law, and more.
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Even background, details-while-married, factor into the divorce strategies. For instance, if you suspect your spouse is having an affair, that will likely drive the case. Once I have a full picture, I can recommend the strategy that will best serve a client. Then, we have options.
We can strategize where to put a client’s money – investigator or therapy? For instance, if your spouse spent a lot of time away from the family, leaving you alone to manage your children and the household – were they having an affair?
Investigating an affair is usually only important if the spouse spent time away from family, lying, when they were needed to help with the children, or were with the other person while also being with their children or they spent marital funds on this other person.
Divorce strategies weigh and measure what to spend our time, and resources, on. So perhaps my client is better off spending money on individual therapy rather than a PI so they can get stronger and healthier by dealing with their own emotions as they transition to their new phase of life. All of these details inform how we will move forward. And this is just one example of many!
And it really does differ from client to client. At Transitions Legal, we focus on serving our clients’ needs toward their best outcome. We do not believe in a one-size-fits-all approach to practicing family law. We innovate based on listening to our clients, understanding their values, and applying information to inform our divorce strategy.
I’m not saying divorced parents should throw out the parameters they established for co-parenting. I’m saying that when kids are out of school, some attending camp, others at home during the day, it’s important to be “giving” with your ex so that Parenting Time can flow with your children’s schedule changes.
If we look at Parenting Time as “the kids’ time” and are not possessive of our children’s time, it can be easier to just let it flow with their schedules.
Think about if you were still married – you would take into account that your kids go to camp, or have a job, or have another out-of-the-ordinary schedule and you would try to balance the time that they’re home so that you can enjoy them as their schedules allow.
Summer is also a good time to try a different schedule. For instance, if you’re thinking of moving toward a more equal parenting time schedule, it’s better for your children if you and their co-parent can try it out during the summer months to see how your children adjust rather than doing so for the first time at the beginning of the school year.
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Just letting it flow in the summer means parents can plan some good down time when the kids are not bound by school and extracurricular demands. That doesn’t mean they have to go away on a vacation; it’s an opportunity to spend more time with them, if you can arrange it with work schedules, doing fun things, creating memories.
As a working mom, I found summers stressful because I had to find activities for my daughters when they were young, schedule camps they would enjoy and find caregivers. There were hours during the day I needed to be at work and my husband’s schedule was not flexible, so it was important to plan ahead and to be organized because my job doesn’t take a summer vacation!
Imagine how much harder that can be when you’re divorced!
A good child therapist or family law attorney might have ideas and resources to help you through this. In my role as a divorce attorney, I don’t limit myself to the law. If I can help parents with ideas for summer camps based on my own experiences, I do so! Sometimes working parents don’t have resources to help them navigate the summer months, and we as attorneys and professionals can be that resource because we’ve had experiences, both professionally and personally.
Either way, if you can be looser in the summer to allow some flexibility for your children, do it. You won’t be sorry!
It’s like a pendulum swinging from one extreme to the other, and I hope to eventually see it settle in some middle ground with the focus solely on what is best for the children.
This change began when I started my career in family law in the early 1990s. I cannot remember a case where it was an automatic win for the mom. Yes, moms were still favored, but it wasn’t automatic.
Over the last 20 years, it’s really intensified, as newly-elected judges brought their perspectives on the idea of parenting time to the bench. Sometimes it feels like it doesn’t matter what the law says.
You can walk into one judge’s courtroom and know that they are a “50/50 judge,” which means they start from an assumption of equal parenting time and if you want it to be something different, you better show a good reason why. It is really difficult to get them to move.
Litigation in such a courtroom is quite challenging when you know there is a good reason to skew the amount of time children spend with one parent or another, or even just where they will lay their heads at night. Sometimes it’s as simple as the roles parents played while they were married. You can’t draw a sharp line in the sand when you split, making everything change immediately.
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When one parent has been the primary caregiver, it’s uncomfortable not only for the parent but for the children, to suddenly be ousted from their job or role and the whole family thrown into a very different routine.
It’s challenging, too, for the non-primary caregiver, who may have no idea about a lot of what goes into taking care of a toddler or school schedules or carpooling and they’re forced to step into a very different role without guidance or transition. They may be too proud to ask for help.
A divorce is often not the most collegial of processes, which means parents on both sides may feel uncomfortable asking the other for guidance in their new role. Which is exactly what they need.
When you get into court, you’re positioned against each other so instead of recognizing these natural human elements, it becomes a fight, where they won’t talk about or look at options.
If we want to move towards promoting more equal parenting time, then depending on the real life situation, it may be best to move toward that point in stages.
That way, it’s less disruptive for the children, while giving time for both parents to transition into new roles.
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Depending on the ages of the kids, I recommend giving six months or a year to make a change, giving both parents space to learn about their new role. The kids also can gradually transition into the changes.
In the divorce world, most attorneys fail to and some even refuse to talk about the impact of all of this. The focus is instead on the outcome . I wish we recognized how kids bear the brunt of adult decisions. For instance, they’re the ones shuffling back and forth between two homes – not the adults who initiated the divorce!
I yearn for a time when divorcing parents can put their hurt and anger aside in exchange for a focus on their children, who didn’t ask for any of this. This means not just talking the talk, but showing it by the compromises and agreements they make. Parenting time must be about the children – not about the parents!!
I prefer to look at parenting time as the parent’s opportunity to spend time with that child, on the child’s schedule. Whether you’re a mom or a dad, you can and should be more involved in school, spend more time with your children doing things of interest to them, and cherish this time, even if it’s not an overnight.
It takes humility on both parents’ parts to recognize their strengths and weaknesses, and cooperation to work together, but in this model the focus is completely on the children. Which is how it should be.
There should be a level of cooperation between parents, whether that means flexibility so children can attend special events with the other parent on one parent’s parenting time, or agreeing on extracurricular activities.
Those are some examples of quality co-parenting. Others might include striving to have some of the same house rules – the same bedtime or the same ideas about food and snacks. Of course, it’s unlikely that divorced parents are going to do things together or even necessarily in the same way.
But similar overall structure for your kids is important because it sends a message of consistency. I know this is hard. In a divorce, obviously, you ended your marriage because it no longer worked. You did not want to be together. Perhaps you could not get along.
So how can anyone expect divorced parents to be in agreement on how to raise their children?
The thing is, all of this is a choice. We choose to divorce, and we chose to become parents. We do not stop being parents when the marriage ends, and it is wholly unfair to the children – and sometimes even damaging – to throw innocent children into the chaos of emotional decisions and acting out by adults who are trying to start over. I really don’t think it’s asking too much to have some meeting of the minds of what children need.
Now I am going to contradict everything written above to acknowledge that there is also a school of thought that parents are never going to get along, even when they are married. They will always do different things with their children, even when they stay together and remain in a loving relationship.
They might teach their kids different things – one might do homework with them in the morning while one leans toward evening. Over the past year, I’ve seen parents who have different perspectives on COVID-related questions – one parent thinks it’s ok to have a pod of friends over or that the child plays with outside, but the other parent does not believe that’s wise.
Frankly, in neither situation might the children be harmed, but the risk may go beyond the children to the other parent, grandparents or other caregivers who also spend time with the children. It becomes complicated during these interesting times.
Generally, even when parents don’t agree, when they engage in what is called parallel parenting, they still do what they believe is in their children’s best interests. It is more difficult to look beyond their own inner circle.
I just believe the ideal to strive for is co-parenting. Then that “inner circle,” is more inclusive and encompassing, and does consider the effect their decision may have on the other parent and his ability to parent their children.
In the end, we must remember that even if you stayed married to the other parent, you would not have been in complete unison. We have different styles. A relationship is comprised of two individual people who bring different perspectives and inclinations to the partnership.
It can be as simple as how you give a child a bath. One parent lets the child wash his hair himself while the other parent sees it as great bonding time and massages the shampoo into the child’s hair. Either way, the child still gets clean; and each parent has their own individual experience building their own relationship with the child.
The Effect of Divorce on Adolescent-Parent Communication
Recently, I came across a fascinating article by Canadian mental health advocate and Huffington Post writer Patricia Tomasi and felt compelled to write to her about this concept of whether teens whose parents divorce are affected in the ways that they communicate with their parents. (There’s lots of great research in the article, so check it out!)
I wrote to Patricia, and I am awaiting her response. I’ll include it in a future blog when I hear from her.
In a nutshell, the research suggests that post-divorce, especially daughters experience difficulty communicating with their fathers. This makes sense to me, and here’s why.
Fathers often rely on mothers to serve as buffers between them and the children. In a two-parent home, fathers often spend less time with the children, or take less time to understand their children on a personal level, relying on their wives to do that important work for them.
It’s a problem, definitely! And especially when research reveals that children often unconsciously learn how to have relationships based on the relationship they have with their opposite sex parent. So if a daughter has trouble talking with her dad post-divorce, this can have immense repercussions on a variety of levels.
In our society, many men still discount what women and girls have to say, which inspires a trickle-down effect that fathers may play out unknowingly with their daughters. Discounting feelings, not considering a daughter’s needs that may be different from their own, and other unconscious behaviors create long-term negative effects – which become glaring when the buffer of a mother’s love and understanding are removed from the family relationship.
It’s become more common to aim for equal parenting time for mothers and fathers in divorces, and I’m happy to see many fathers stepping up, becoming more involved and more attentive post-divorce when it’s all on them.
There are many fathers, however, who continue with the status quo, and if children are with them half the time, that’s a problem.
I’d love it if we could have automatic reviews of the parenting time schedule, like we do with child support. In Michigan, every three years, the Friend of the Court reviews the child support amounts at no cost to the parents, and makes adjustments as needed.
However, if a parent wants to change parenting time, and the other parent does not agree, they must file a motion with the court and meet difficult legal standards.
It’s a costly, arduous process which most often yields no change, and pits parents against one another in an adversarial process. That ill will does not help the co-parenting relationship, and it does children a disservice.
Ultimately, I believe divorce should be an ever-evolving situation where we take stock and amend the parameters on a regular basis for everyone’s benefit. That way, children and adolescents can ease into new relationships with both parents at a pace that is measured, reasonable and comfortable for them.
We want children to have good, healthy, communicative relationships with both parents. What is the best way we can assure this happens?