Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Retaining Custody - Step Two

Okay, so what it step two? Well that is a little bit more difficult. It is largely dependent on where you are in your case. Are you simply talking about divorce, have you moved out, have you filed any papers...

Visit this website uptoparents.org and complete the exercises. Take this seriously and ask your ex to do the same. If you both go through the exercises before a court battle begins it will help you both focus on who really suffers when a family breaks-up. Hopefully it will also help prevent full out war.

My gut instinct is to say not to leave the home unless court ordered. However, with the myriad of circumstances and emotions surrounding each individual case, this may be impossible. If you do leave the home, make sure to have a schedule set up to see your children beforehand. For court purposes you want to demonstrate that you have continued to be paramount in their lives and have remained intrinsically involved with them after the separation. See your children as often as possible, attend all functions, let their teachers know how you can be reached, etc...

It is also very important to stay upbeat for the children who will undoubtedly be confused and extremely upset about your separation as well. Never speak negatively about your ex in front of the children and refrain from discussing anything about the divorce or custody arrangement in front of the children.

If you have or will be leaving your home, particularly if you are afraid things will get nasty between you and your ex, make sure you have copies of all relevant marital paperwork. This may include bills, loans, titles...whatever. It is also a good idea to work out an immediate plan with your spouse to separate financials. Get separate credit cards, work out a repayment arrangement on jointly held debts, decide who will pay the house, utilities, insurance, etc... Do not assume, work something out and try to put it in writing. Your credit rating does not have to go simply because your marriage is.

Discuss with your attorney how things should be split during the separation and what options you have to protect yourself financially. I realize this may be the last thing on your mind right now, especially if your divorce is amicable, but believe me, they go down hill very fast and if you have separated you MUST have some separation of finances.

You also want to have copies of anything they may be potentially detrimental to your case. I won't go into what they might be but anything that could be brought up against you. You want to aware your attorney of these factors immediately. Your attorney can advise you as to how damaging they might be and what you can do for damage control.

You want to be completely upfront with your attorney. They will not be happy if they are surprised in court with information you have neglected to share, nor will avoiding issues be helpful to your case. If your job required you to travel frequently, resulting in less time with your children than you may have liked, then you be the first to bring up the issue. Explain that while the job required you to be out of town at times you took it because it provided X for your family (whatever X may be... a better home/neighborhood, private schools, your ex to not work...). If you are upfront it becomes less of an issue than when you ex stands up in court and cries about being abandoned for your job. I am not guaranteeing that will be the linchpin to your case but you will always look better to the judge if you are forthright and honest. And your attorney will be better served if they understand all the factors of your marriage and divorce.

If you have to move, try to relocate into the same schools your children currently attend. If they can ride a bus to either home it will alleviate some of the scheduling difficulties. If you cannot, have a proposal in mind as to how you will get them to and from school on your days. MAKE SURE YOU CAN FULFILL THIS PROPOSAL. If your children are not yet in school, research the schools in your area and try to move into the best possible district. Have the documentation to show why your residence is in the better school district.

The most important thing is to try and remain civil with your ex. If there is no chance for reconciliation, grieve on your own. As much as you may blame them or hate them, remember your children. They don't want you to get divorced, but if you have to they don't want it to be contentious. They love you both and attacks on each equate to attacks on them. Their identify comes from their parents, they have grown up hearing how they have someone's eyes or coloring or temperament... if you attack each other they find fault in themselves. Continue to refer to your ex in the positive ways they contribute to your child. Do this even if your ex is unable to do the same for you, your children will be grateful they have somewhere to go that is not a war zone. Obviously, you and your ex will disagree at times, but what is important to remember is to keep the disagreements from becoming personal attacks and to never have any type of contentious discussion in front of your children.

Try to institute a plan for joint custody as quickly as possible. If you go into court, your best case scenario is joint legal and physical custody. If you can make an agreement without going to court you will both save countless dollars and emotional turmoil. The best thing for your children is continued, meaningful contact with both parents. Start reading up on joint custody and prepare some type of arrangement to propose to your ex. If you have managed to stay civil it will probably be better received. If you allow things to become heated and divisive between you and your ex it is much more likely they will want to go to court, in some sort of attempt to "punish you."

I will make step three information on joint custody. In the interim I will try to find relevant and helpful sites concerning joint custody.

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