Finding gratitude in divorce

One article I read recently says, “Divorce has not made me a victim; instead it has given me the gifts of courage, strength, creativity, self awareness, gratitude, love, and control over my destiny.”

I think it’s fair to say that no one walks down the aisle or says “I do” with the thought that the future would hold court filings and “irreconcilable differences” in it.  We don’t expect divorce, generally, and so it can be a difficult adjustment.  Moving past the hurt, anger and grief, however, can be quite liberating and joyful.

Have you moved on?  How did you do it?  What’s the best thing to come out of your divorce?

The heart-breaking, and sometimes appropriate, decision to give up custody

As destructive and debilitating it can be to a family in divorce, parental alienation and bad-mouthing occur all-too-often.  It is extremely difficult to overcome an ex who has the ability to be charming and say all the right things, all the while acting to poison your child(ren) against you.  There *are* things you can do to expose your ex who is acting in this way, but the key is often to start early in the process, which means hiring an experienced attorney to help set the stage.  Also critical is not getting into the trenches with your ex – you have to be “perfect” in the eyes of the court, and this can seem impossible when dealing with craziness from the other side.  Again, this is where expert legal advice from the outset can mean the difference between breaking the pattern of alienation or not, and making the decision this article writer did, to give up custody of her son.

For a reader who is in this position, my experience has shown that children caught up in a situation like this will frequently return to the wronged parent in their teen-age years, when they are able to see and properly process what happened.  So if you find yourself in a position where you’re giving up custody – or even losing it in a legal fight – and you think it’s due to unfair tactics by your ex, you can find hope in the likelihood that your child will see your ex as you have…in time.

How to save money in divorce

Divorce can be very expensive.  Not only are you separating households, now working with the same funds but supporting two homes (and two rents/mortgages, two sets of utilities, expenses of duplicate furniture, etc…), but you may be taking time off work (unpaid, of course) for court hearings, spending money on filing fees, and – of course – hiring a lawyer.  And lawyers?  Can be very expensive.

I do what I can to keep the costs down for my divorcing clients, from offering flexible options for payment (no, not monthly payments but I generally try to “break down” the case into more financially-manageable pieces for the client), family law coaching, and divorce mediation, but the cost is not entirely under my control.  What my clients do – or don’t do – essentially drives the path and cost of the divorce.  So, regardless of whether you have an attorney or not, here are some ways to keep the costs of your divorce down:

  1. Manage your emotions.  Divorce is incredibly difficult even in the best of circumstances.  It is likely that you have some strong emotions around it.  But the court and legal process generally will not be concerned about these emotions, and the more  you bring them into your divorce, the more you will likely pay.  Whether it’s spending excessive time with your attorney discussing the emotional issues or pursuing a losing issue because of an emotional attachment, emotions can bankrupt you when they take center stage in your divorce.
  2. Get professional help. As a part of managing your emotions, get the support you need for them by finding qualified mental health professionals to help you through it.  Your lawyer, your family, and your friends will be a great support during this time, but do not mistake any of them as qualified advice helping you through the roller coaster of emotions in divorce.  Find a therapist if you need one.
  3. Get – and get rid of – qualified professional help when appropriate.  Hire professionals who are going to work with you, for you, and who are on the same page as you.  If you feel like your lawyer doesn’t care, or is gouging you, or won’t pay attention to you or return your calls, then get rid of him/her.  Your divorce is yours, and you should have legal counsel that you feel comfortable with, who understands what is important to you, and who is reasonable and professional about fees.  Same with your therapist.
  4. Play fair.  The court and legal process in California has no patience for bids for revenge.  Mud-slinging and nasty declarations for the purpose of hurting the other party can not only rebound and hurt you, but can cost you unbelievable amounts of money.  They also drag on the process, increase the hostility between you and your spouse, and ultimately hurt your children.

Secrets of winning child custody

I have many clients that come into my office and say they “want custody” of their children.  What does this mean in a California divorce or paternity case?

In California, there are two kinds of custody: physical and legal.  Physical custody involves where your children live.  If they live with both parents, as in most cases, then custody is shared jointly.  In the case where one parent is not involved at all with the children or has domestic violence or substance abuse issues, then one parent may have sole physical custody.  The norm is shared joint physical custody.  Legal custody involves which parent has the right to make the decisions about your children’s health, education and welfare.  Again, this is generally joint except in the instances mentioned above.

What most clients are talking about when they say they want custody is the parenting plan.  This is the schedule of when your children will be with which parent.  I am often asked what a “normal” schedule is, but the reality is that schedules vary as much people do!  The important part of creating a parenting plan is to keep your children’s needs in the forefront of your mind.  They are adjusting, too, and the transition is difficult on everyone.

Second, be reasonable.  You may despise your ex, but that doesn’t give you the right to cut him or her out of your children’s lives – they remain a parent even though they are no longer your spouse.  A judge will frown on an unreasonable request made for no good reason.

Third, pick your battles.  Remember the adjustment period?  Well, that often translates into dropping grades, acting out, misbehaving, sleep problems, and overall a difficult mood or behavior from your children.  This doesn’t mean it’s all your ex’s fault, and it’s not your fault, either.  It’s just a natural part of the process.  Now, if your spouse is acting inappropriately, such as not properly feeding or dressing/grooming your children before school or harming them, then you should see the judge immediately.  But normal acting out in a divorce is, well, normal.

Finally, remember that it will pass.  At some point the custody fight will end and you will settle into a routine.  I mean, you can fight until your children are 18, but do you really have the time, money and energy to do that to yourself and to your children?  The sooner you can get to that normalcy, the better for everyone.

Child custody in California: Why it doesn’t mean what you think it means

Here is a video I have done about child custody in California – legal and physical – and why it doesn’t mean what you may think it does.

The importance of nominating a guardian for your children

Here is a video about the importance of nominating a guardian for your children.  The nomination of your guardian happens in your will, and is a key component of any estate plan.  You leave your children vulnerable to going to foster care should something happen to you and your spouse.  This is a common mistake made by many parents – if you knew what could happen to your children if you fail to take this critical step in your estate plan, you would make your estate plan the top priority in protecting your family.

How to change your parenting plan post-divorce (or –Judgment)

I frequently get questions about problems with child custody and visitation after a couple has gotten a divorce, or completed their paternity suit and gotten a Judgment. One parent is constantly late or absent, one parent keeps changing the parenting plan, or one parent has a new boyfriend or girlfriend, and the new significant other is causing problems, or there is some problem with the child that one parent thinks is the other parent’s fault.

The answer is that there is a solution to these issues. Once your divorce is completed, or you have a Judgment, any of your orders can be modified upon a showing of a “change in circumstances.” A change in circumstances is some change from the time of your divorce/Judgment that has caused the problem. It could be a work schedule change, a new partner in your ex’s life, a change in residence, a change in the child’s school performance or behavior, or just a change in the situation. Most courts are pretty lenient when it comes to what kind of change is required.

But you do have to file a motion with the court if you can’t get an agreement with your ex about the change. I always recommend starting the easy way, which is sending a letter or email about the change you want, why you want it, and what steps you will take if the ex doesn’t agree. The steps you take may include going back to court, and you have to make that decision before you put it in writing.

If you have been through a divorce, you probably know how tough the court system can be on your wallet, your nerves, and your relationship with your ex, so think hard about whether you want to open up that can of worms.