One of the first little tidbits of advice people give when relationships fall apart is get a good lawyer. Apologies to all of my lawyer friends, but that’s probably not the best thing for you and your family. There are of course, like most everything else, exceptions to this. Emily Doskow spells out a few of those exceptions in an article on NOLO’s website. They include a spouse/significant other that is a bully, uncommunicative, missing, lacking good faith or has combative counsel. You can read more about them on the website here. However, if none of those conditions exist you are probably better off finding an alternative to family court.
Even if at the very best you find a lawyer and a judge that genuinely care about you and your family and are seeking the best outcomes that they can find, you are still relinquishing decision making control for your family over to a third party. That third party is not completely and totally invested in the long-term outcomes for your family. Again, sorry legal friends. Seriously though, too often legal proceedings have a way of setting up an environment where one parent is pitted against the other.
Maybe one day I’ll be able to talk about my experience here a little more, but let’s just say, it wasn’t fun. It sets a tone for someone winning and someone losing rather than encouraging an environment where, despite all of the emotions you both may be feelings, the two of you can work together to ensure optimal outcomes for the kids.
At the moment I’m operating on the assumption that you and your former partner ultimately want what’s best for your kids. If that’s not the case then we’ve got a little more work to do, but for now let’s assume that I’m right. If I am right, then it is important that the two of you find a way to effectively co-parent. The sooner you learn to collaborate and reach decisions that benefit the kids the better and that all begins with avoiding family court at all costs. That is your first opportunity to take back control and find a way to work together and reach a resolution that is designed to be in the kids’ best interest and not in yours or your former partner’s.
Don’t get me wrong this is not going to be easy. I haven’t come across many people that break up and not have a myriad of feelings that can interfere with their rational thought processes. Remember this though, during this period you’ll both be making critical decisions that affect the future of your children. Your split will be devastating as it is. So as the adults in the situation it’s up to you to ensure you are not adding to their pain. I know growing up sucks, and now more than ever you’ve got to be the grown up. The good news is that there’s lots of help out there for the two of you and this isn’t something you have to take on alone.
So then what should I do? Good question. My advice. Look for a great mediator. You want someone that can facilitate the conversations that you and your former partner will need to have to sort out all of the details surrounding your custody agreement. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. To be brutally honest it will probably be one of the most emotionally taxing things you do, but, it will be the best thing you can do for your kid. Trust me on this. Once all the details are ironed out and in writing is the time to file all of your paperwork with the court. In some places this might require the services of a lawyer, but trust me when I tell you it won’t cost you nearly as much financially or emotionally as a long drawn out custody battle in court. Most judges will be over the moon to see your mutually agreed upon arrangement and will support it wholeheartedly. Whatever course you decide to take, make sure you are working in the best interest of the kids and not yourself… good luck.