Thursday, June 10, 2010

Staying Together for the Kids...

It has become increasingly more common for people to stay in bad marriages “for the sake of the kids.”

You might expect children of divorce would be less likely to get divorced, knowing what they went through as a child. My experience, however, indicates the opposite. It seems that people whose parents remain married after 30, 40, or 50 years are the ones more hesitant to leave a marriage—whether or not they view their parents’ marriage as a “good one.”

When people believe their parents have a good marriage, they seem to believe that staying together is the only choice—regardless of the quality of the marriage. Perhaps because they haven’t personally experienced divorce, they believe it to be awful that they cannot imagine exposing their children to it. If their parents are miserable, they seem to believe that being in a miserable marriage is normal…rationalizing that their parents “did it for them” so they should make the same sacrifice and stay married for their children.

Adults who were children of divorce seem to have a lower tolerance for being miserable. For most of us, we have experienced our parents’ divorce, and though it wasn’t easy, we realize that we survived it just fine. This experience often teaches children invaluable life lessons of toughness and resolve. All marriages are different—some are in constant conflict, have arguments, and are volatile. Others are quietly miserable, resigned to the circumstances and belief that true happiness is not an option. Regardless of the type of marital misery, these circumstances are not good for children—even when parents have the best intentions.

Personally, while I hated my parents’ choice to divorce at the time, I soon realized (at a very young age) that it was best for me. My family experienced constant conflict. There was no physical abuse, but there was rarely a conversation not involving my parents screaming at each other. I remember hiding in my closet with pillows over my head to muffle the sound of arguments. It was awful; yet I thought it was normal. In my view, one of the biggest things people overlook in deciding to “stay together for the kids” is that doing so shows children a poor example of marriage. It gives them a false sense of “normal.” If you are miserable in your marriage, for whatever the reason, don’t you want your children to look for (and believe in) something better?

My parents’ divorce taught me to be independent and self-reliant. I realized that I didn’t want to depend on someone else to take care of me, and that motivated me to work hard and do well in school so I could take care of myself. My parents’ divorce also taught me that there is more to marriage than what they had. Both remarried into much better relationships, and, accordingly were much happier people. Technically, I had less time with each parent than when they were together, but the time I had was much better quality time. They were better parents to me, and better people generally because they were happier, less stressed, and less miserable.

I want to be clear that I’m not advocating for divorce. I’m a firm believer in working through hard times, seeking marriage counseling, and doing everything possible to make your marriage work. I’m simply saying that if you are staying married only for the sake of your children, you may be doing them (and yourself) more harm than good.

Divorce doesn’t have to be a horrible situation. Like anything else, your divorce is what you make of it. When two people are committed to co-parenting and keeping the best interests of their children at the forefront of their minds, divorce can be a very healthy alternative to staying in an unhealthy marriage.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Alternatives to a “Dirty Divorce”

Divorce and family law cases can be some of the most emotionally and financially draining circumstances people ever encounter. Traditionally, when people divorce, both spouses hire attorneys and the battle begins. Perhaps because so many of us experienced the divorce of our parents, our generation seems much more inclined to find more amicable legal avenues for the divorce process. Don’t get me wrong—divorce is never easy. But now there are now alternatives to ending a marriage so that you don’t have a “dirty divorce.”

1. Settlement conferences are really just informal meetings between parties and their attorneys to see if the issues can be resolved without seeking the assistance of the court or another person. Parties are in control of their respective futures, as both have to agree to terms of the unresolved issues, and it can also be more cost-effective because there is no additional cost of a mediator/arbitrator.

2. Mediation is a frequently used tool wherein a neutral third party is employed by the clients to assist in reaching an agreement. The mediator generally charges an hourly rate, does not give legal advice, and must remain neutral.

3. Pro Se Mediation is just mediation when the parties are not represented by attorneys. As a result of a recent change in our trial rules, mediators can be more helpful for parties, and can now assist them in drafting (and filing with the court) the settlement agreement, divorce decree and all necessary documents required to make the divorce effective.

4. Collaborative Law is a relatively new method of resolving divorce issues wherein the parties are represented by attorneys, and they enter into a collaborative law contract, agreeing to try to resolve their divorce issues via collaborative practices. They may not go to court without voiding the contract. Any party may quit at any time, which also voids the contract, but the attorneys may not represent their clients in any litigation of the divorce issues once the contract is void.

5. Binding Arbitration is when parties refer unresolved issues to a third party arbitrator who reviews the case and imposes a decision that is legally binding for both sides.

The path your case takes depends on your personal circumstances. Regardless of the means by which your case is resolved, your circumstances should be evaluated, and your attorney should provide you with all of the information necessary to determine which path is appropriate for you. Our firm encourages these non-litigation alternatives because it is often in our clients’ best interests. It is important, however, that you never feel like you are being forced down a path pre-determined by your attorney. Unfortunately, not all cases can be resolved amicably. Be sure your attorney is prepared to passionately advocate for you in court should the need arise.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Beware of the Bulldog

Many people believe they need to hire a "bulldog" attorney when going through a divorce. Recently, in my own practice, I have seen bulldogs at their best...or worst, as the case may be. Last week, for example, I met with a client who was getting along great (all things considered) with his soon-to-be-ex-wife...that is, until the other lawyer (a.k.a. bulldog) got involved. The opposing counsel convinced my client's spouse that the parenting time plan that the parties had previously agreed was best for the children, would not give her the amount of money she thought she "deserved" in child support. Suddenly, these two people, who were once working together to do what was in their children's best interests, were at each other's throats over money...all because of the attorney. At the attorney's advice, my client's spouse unilaterally reduced his parenting time from nearly 50% to alternating weekends. My client suddenly, and for no reason whatsoever, went from having his children 7 out of every 14 nights, to 2 out of 14. He was devastated...the kids were sad...and the battle began. The attorneys’ fees have sky-rocketed in a few short days. These two people that were once cordial and doing a great job of co-parenting cannot even speak. Further...the money they have spent on attorneys’ fees, just since this ridiculous battle began, could have been used for their children. So, because of the bulldog attorney, the kids are upset and confused, this great father has lost time with his children (at least until we can get into court), both parties have spent WAY TOO MUCH money in attorneys fees, leaving less to be distributed between them or on their kids, the parties are fighting, not communicating, and saying things to each other, out of anger, that will cause hurt feelings and animosity for years to come. Now, the kids, the husband and even the wife are all being harmed in one way or another by the ridiculous advice of this wins? Well, the attorneys, of course, because all of this fighting and drama and turmoil for this family results in more money for the lawyers. People---PLEASE BEWARE OF THE BULLDOG!!! Healthy divorces really are possible!!