Originally published by The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC Blog.
Family law cases are among the most difficult of all areas of the law because of how intimate the subject nature is. True, you may not be worth millions of dollars like a multinational corporation but your family case deals with subjects that are more important than money. Your marriage, your children, your personal behaviors and that of your spouse are all relevant in a family case. While an investment banker’s work habits may require some embarrassing information to be disclosed in a trial, nothing compares to having to discuss your marriage to a room of strangers in a divorce trial.
Sometimes the material that is relevant in a family law case is more than just intimate or embarrassing. On occasion there is subject matter that relates to family violence, the safety of your children and even mental health disorders that become a huge part of family law cases. In these situations, you need to be able to know what to expect to encounter when dealing with problems associated with matters that are best kept private but are nonetheless relevant to your current family law case. Whether you are concerned for the well-being of your kids, yourself or even your soon-to-be ex-spouse I want to share some tips on how to handle these sorts of circumstances in your own family case.
What to do when you are worried about the safety of your children
If you find yourself worried about the safety of your children there is no time to waste in attempting to do something to remove those concerns from your life and theirs. Imagine being in a position where you had suspicions or thoughts about a hazard in your child’s life but did nothing to remedy that hazard. The next thing you know, something bad happens to your child and you end up blaming yourself for having identified a problem but having done thing to stop that problem from impacting your child.
This happens all too regularly with family law cases, I am afraid to say. For some reason our instincts as parents are inhibited by all of the hoopla associated with a family law case. This is ironic because at the core of what you are doing, no matter if it is a divorce or child custody case, is a desire to improve the lives of your children. The best advice that I can give to you is that you can improve your child’s life by addressing any concerns regarding safety immediately after you learn about them.
First and foremost, concerns about your child’s safety should be addressed by police and Child Protective Services (CPS). It is probable that the police will contact CPS anyways, but you should see to it that the police are aware of any concerns that you have for your child’s well being. If your child comes home from their mother’s house and tells you that her friend is acting inappropriately, your first step should be to talk to your child about any incidents that have occurred. Next, contact the police if that voice in your head tells you to. Better to be safe than sorry.
You need to know that if your spouse has a history with CPS, that will be an especially relevant bit of information that will need to be discussed with the judge. Family violence is a serious subject as judges want to, above all else, keep your children safe. Any words that you or your spouse use towards one another that could be construed as violent or threatening can and will likely be brought up again.
What does this mean to you on a practical level? Well, for starters, you need to get into the mindset that anything and everything that you say can be recorded and documented. This means those words can be taken out of context, potentially, and used against you and to the advantage of your spouse. Meaning: choose your words carefully. Especially choose how you text and email your spouse. Take a moment before responding to a particularly mean or nasty email to consider how your response can be utilized against you by your spouse.
Next, certainly never put your hands on your spouse for any reason. Even if you are justified in touching your spouse do not do it. Remove yourself from any situation that may rise to violence, animosity or anger. It is not worth it to you to be involved in any discussion that is heated. Use your attorney to convey difficult messages if you don’t believe that your spouse can be respectful of you and your opinions. Even if you are merely defending yourself, it can be a disaster to your case if you were to injure your spouse (especially if you are a man).
One thing that I have seen in recent years is people fighting over cell phones. Grabbing for a phone to see if someone has contacted your spouse or for any other reason can be dangerous. Mostly because those sort of actions can quickly escalate and lead to further use of violence or at the very least coarse language. Nothing contained in that phone is worth potentially losing time with your kids over- or even going to jail for. Be aware of your surroundings and do what you can to de-escalate any situation that you believe could lead to heated tempers.
Is protective order relevant to your situation?
A lot of clients ask about protective orders at the beginning of a child custody or divorce case. The thought being that one could potentially serve the purpose of de-escalating potentially dangerous situations. A protective order can serve a purpose when family violence has occurred in the home recently and that the violence is likely to continue but for the obtaining of a protective order.
If you get a protective order against your spouse that can be severely detrimental to his case in a divorce or child custody matter. You would need to decide whether or not to pursue a protective order that protects you and your kids or just you. While in today’s world we do not ordinarily consider these situations all that often, the fact is that men can be abused, as well as women. Think about all the information we are told about how women are reticent to come forward with details about abuse that they have suffered. The same can be said for men. Men are typically even less willing than women to come forward with details about abuse that they have suffered.
Handling issues regarding mental health in conjunction with a family law case
These are two subjects that come up all the time in family law cases. In some cases they are the primary reasons why there are child custody issues or circumstances that have led to discussions about divorce. Whether your spouse has been diagnosed with having a mental impairment or other mental health difficulty, or you suspect him or her of having a condition like this, mental health problems shine through brightly in many family cases.
Do you suspect your spouse of being bi-polar, having anxiety or being depressed? Some clients of mine in the past have commented that their spouse must be bi-polar considering how hot and cold he/she is. One minute they could be having a conversation together, and the next minute that same spouse could have grabbed a knife to attack our client. Behavior like this that is inconsistent and aggressive can be downright dangerous.
Another problem that clients frequently run into are issues related to a parent’s inability to take their medications as prescribed. The result is comments that relate to how good a parent your spouse might be when he or she is taking their medication, but if that medication is not taken as prescribed your spouse may be the most disagreeable person on earth. It is understandable to not want to take medication when those medicines cause you to feel out of sorts, but that concern needs to be balanced against the desire to keep your safe.
Finally, you need to speak to your attorney about your own history involving drugs and alcohol. The reality for many parents is that if there is a history of drug or alcohol abuse, you probably do not want to share those details with anyone. However, the worst thing that you can do is to keep that history a secret until a mediation or hearing date. Having your lawyer blind-sided by an opposing attorney who disclosed a history of drug and alcohol abuse is not a good plan to have.
Beware of back and forth bickering
Sometimes it is inevitable that you and your spouse will get into an argument. That happens even in the best functioning of marriages. Those arguments usually go nowhere and just leave everyone involved stressed to the max and angry that the discussion was ever started in the first place. Many times, we can see these discussions/arguments happening ahead of time and it takes a little bit of self-control to simply avoid them altogether.
There is nothing more awkward and potentially detrimental to your case to get into an elaborate game of bomb throwing in a courtroom. It typically will happen like this: both you and your spouse have allegations that the other acted inappropriately, was emotionally abusive or generally did something that was harmful to the kids. You then use your time on the witness stand to defend yourself and then hurl a few bombs her way.
What this ends up being is a back and forth game of unsubstantiated allegations. Instead of using your time productively to testify credibly for yourself and against your spouse, you are going to alienate your judge and distance yourself so far from the facts of your case that you may have trouble getting back on track. I have seen this happen many times in other cases and even in my own cases. Emotionally it may be satisfying to fire back at your spouse when he or she makes allegations against you, but in the long run that sort of behavior rarely if ever turns out to work to your advantage.
The people in your life that you trust are there to be your support system
We all have moments in our lives that require the support of others. Whether it is during a difficult family law case, a death in the family or the loss of a job, we cannot always be at our best. It is during those times that we rely on others to prop us up and support us. With that said, keep in mind that there is nothing wrong with doing so. At some point in the future it is likely that you can repay that person by being there for him or her when they need you.
Remember, also, that your mental and physical well-being matters. Staying in a marriage for the sake of your kids is noble, but ultimately self-defeating. Your kids deserve a parent who is at their best. You cannot be at your best when you are involved in a marriage that is emotionally
unfulfilling or worse yet- violent. We will discuss this topic when we pick up where we left off today in tomorrow’s blog post.
Questions about family law cases in Texas? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
The attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan would like to express their sincere appreciation for your interest in today’s blog post. We post articles like this every single day in order to share some of the knowledge that we can have gained through serving people in our community just like you.
In order to speak to one of our licensed family law attorneys about your case, please do not hesitate to contact us today. A consultation at our office is absolutely free of charge and can go a long way towards helping you better understand your circumstances and how to help your family and yourself.