All too often two parents enter a Family Court but only one leaves. By that I mean that after a divorce the parent that holds primary physical custody over the child (the parent with whom the child lives most of the time, let’s call her “Amy”) determines at some point that the child does not need the other parent (“Mike”) and directly or indirectly, consciously or not, Amy begins to curtail or undermine the child’s communication with Mike, time with Mike, holidays with Mike, and ultimately the child’s bond with Mike. First it’s not being invited to a birthday party. Then it’s being removed from the contact list at the child’s school. Then the other parent’s extended family is excluded, and so on, until methodically the other parent is as far away from that child as can be. Mike suffers, sure, but the child suffers most of all. So many children are not lucky enough to have two caring parents in their lives; don’t deny your child a bond with their other parent. You may not love them anymore but the child sure does. The child shouldn’t suffer because you and Mike divorced…
The four-way conference: a meeting of the parties and their attorneys to analyze and address the issues and concerns of a case, can (if done correctly) be an effective tool in resolution, or at least pruning a matter down to its core issues. That’s if it is done right. If the parties use the meeting as a Jerry Stiller-style airing of grievances – real, exaggerated, and imagined – then expect a long, fruitless meeting. Expect your attorney to check her twitter account. Nothing will get done. Which is an expensive way to spend your retainer. (Best to do your yelling and name-calling out of court, when you’re not getting charged). A conference of mine was quickly lapsing into a rock fight like this (one party insisting the other was, and I quote, “a ballbag”) when I proposed a simple rule. We would discuss anything either party wanted to – but no one was allowed to speak in the past tense. By the time parties to a divorce or child custody case have gotten to court the crimes and cruelties they have perpetrated upon one another (and, indirectly, their children) shock the conscience. And there is no true remedy for it in the Family Court. Make no mistake. You’re not in Family Court to be made whole for being wronged. You’re in Family Court to figure out the rest of your life, not to remedy the past twelve months. Leave the past where it is. If the parties insist on clinging to the past, petty spites nothing will get accomplished. Want to make your family law matter end quickly, inexpensively, and with as little stress as possible? Be willing to come to the table, leave the past where it is, and plan your future.
As I was waiting patiently for my case to be called an argument broke out between two parents about something or other. Even as voices raised and tempers flared I had trouble finding it very interesting. Screaming and gnashing of teeth is all the rage in the Family Court. So I didn’t have much of a context when the following happened (I love that there is a transcript of this somewhere):
Dad: “I don’t know why my son isn’t going to school”
Mom: “He IS going to school! You so stupid!”
Mom: “YUH HUH!”
Mom: “So stupid!”
And so on
Judge: “You two are acting like children. You need to grow up, both of you.”
Silence (for once).
Judge: “You two have to understand that you (points at Dad) chose her and you (points at Mom) chose him! You two chose each other. And now you have a child. So get over it”
Mom looks bewildered.
Mom: “I didn’t choose him!”
Judge: “You did once! You did for one night for three minutes!”
Mom still looks on bewildered. Dad laughs.