When you had your child or children, your life changed from being focused on yourself to having to suddenly consider how all your life decisions would affect the children. This is how it should be. What is best for the child should always be the parents’ top priority, especially when considering divorce. The first thing to know is that our adversarial court system is neither child-centered nor family-friendly. The emotional and financial price you pay when you each hire divorce attorneys separately is higher than you can imagine right now.
Before I became a divorce attorney, I was a special education teacher. My MA is in Special Education, and it focuses on teaching children with severe emotional disturbances, so I came to the law with a powerful bias to act only in the best interest of children. The second important fact to know is how comfortable so many divorce attorneys are spending their clients’ college funds rather than quickly and financially helping the couple negotiate a fair deal. After 8 years of litigation and witnessing the total financial and emotional devastation of too many families, I vowed to take no more adversarial divorces and only do divorce mediation. In the next 3 years, after working with over 150 couples with a 100% success rate, I am convinced that mediation in divorce should be the first-resort solution for 85% of couples who are contemplating the divorce. So the third thing to know is that there is an alternative to divorce court, mediation.
It is easier to deal with a situation where the basic information is already known. In the 8 community property states (Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin) the division of property is quite clear. Everything that was wholly owned before the marriage or received by gift or inheritance is separate property that goes to the spouse who owns it. If partially paid for using wages or income earned during the marriage, the “community” earns interest that can be calculated. The division of property in community property states is one of the easiest issues to tackle because it is so clear. But what about the other 42 states? These states use an equitable distribution system to divide marital property. Each state has its own rules that can be determined before starting the divorce process. Therefore, there is some uncertainty in non-community property states, but an experienced attorney / mediator generally knows what the court will do in most situations and can be a valuable guide for couples unfamiliar with the laws. . The fourth thing to keep in mind is that there is no point in fighting over property division. You can protect your co-parenting relationship and end up with more property by splitting everything up in the way that a neutral third party (mediator) suggests.
In contested divorce cases, child custody and visitation issues can be the most contentious and emotional. If parents can agree to a custody agreement, which they eventually do in 90% of custody cases, they can avoid court altogether. Why should a couple wait until they are on the courthouse steps to make a deal? Only 10% of custody cases are litigated. A couple can always seek the services of a child therapist for advice rather than going to court. Courts often apply a “best interests of the child” standard to determine who should obtain primary custody. Wouldn’t parents themselves be in the best position to decide how their children should be raised? When a couple works together in mediation, they are in control of the end result, not the lawyers or the judges. When the couple intend to co-parent effectively with the best interest of the child always in mind, they will produce a much more satisfying outcome than if a solution had been imposed on them from above. Child custody issues are the most inappropriate issues to be decided within an adversarial system. The win / lose game played on the court always results in tension between parents. Not only will this tension negatively affect the health and happiness of the parents, but the children will find themselves caught in the middle of a battle, dodging verbal and emotional bullets as they fly overhead. The adversarial system does not protect the co-parenting relationship of the parents and should be avoided as much as possible. An emotionally vulnerable client in the hands of a “jealous advocate” who is more concerned with getting rich than helping his client is a dangerous combination. The last thing to keep in mind is that avoiding divorce attorneys and the court should be your number one priority if you want to protect your health, spirit, co-parenting relationship, and pocketbook.