Originally published by The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC Blog.
Going to court to resolve a family law case is not a fun experience for anyone involved. You probably didn’t need me to tell you that, but it is the absolute truth. There is nothing glamorous about it. You will not have the moment in time where you get to call out your ex-spouse for the bad behavior he engaged into the delight of your family watching in the audience and the shock of the judge. If you are after truth, justice, and the American Way, then a family court is not the place to go.
What you are more likely to experience is a judge who is engaged but not sympathetic and an opposing party who is slinging mud at you based on issues that may or may not have ever occurred. Do not expect your ex-spouse to be contrite in response to any of the accusations that you hurl at him. I’ve seen enough men and women who have done bad things go on the offensive against a “victim” ex-spouse enough times to know that family court doesn’t deliver results in the way that you may anticipate.
With all of that said, it would make some sense to attempt to appeal to your spouse’s reasonable side and attempt to settle any family case outside of the courtroom. Mediation is a great resource for parties and attorneys alike when it comes to attempting to reach a middle ground on the important issues of your case. The nice part is that the judge in your case will likely require that you mediate your case at least once before you get anywhere near a courtroom. Odds are good that your case will settle and a potential courtroom drama can be averted.
What happens from the beginning part of your case until you get into mediation can have a lasting impact on the chances of your case settling. When it comes to co-parenting with a person who you may not see eye to eye with, getting along may not be an option. In these high conflict family court cases can you do anything to avoid disagreement and disaster?
Today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan will seek to answer that question. We actually took up the issue at the conclusion of yesterday’s blog post and we will continue to run with it in today’s blog. This is an important subject that you need to know about sooner rather than later. Learn what will work when it comes to co-parenting and avoid problems before they occur.
Be accountable to your co-parent
Whether you were married to your child’s other parent or not, you now have a sizeable amount of history with that person. You should feel some degree of responsibility to be held to your word. Basically, you should do the things that you say that you’re going to do. Just as importantly, you should avoid doing the things that you have said that you will not do. That shows that you take seriously the responsibility you have in raising a child with this person.
Even if you couldn’t care less how your child’s other parent views you, remember that everything you do in this case should be done to benefit the life of your child. Do not put your child in a bad position because you cannot be trusted or because you think it’s unimportant to be held to account for your actions. Taking the easy way out may seem better at the time (especially if doing so could harm your ex-spouse) but remember that in a co-parenting relationship you will often find yourself facing similar circumstances down the road.
Although you cannot control what your child’s other parent will do in response to your actions in the future, you have complete control over how you act at the moment. If you say that you are going to do something- do it. It’s as simple as that. Even if it means going out of your way or doing something that doesn’t seem like much fun if you said something your actions need to back those words up.
Keep a journal of interactions with your ex-spouse
If you are not a big fan of organization you may want to pay particular attention to this section of our blog post. Keeping notes of what you say and what your ex-spouse says in relation to your child is an important trait to pick up. For one, it will help you to remember better what was said so that you do not operate under mistaken assumptions and memories of things that did not occur. We’ve all been there- absolutely sure something happened, but as it turns out nothing close to that having occurred.
Before you consider filing a family lawsuit- whether that is a modification or enforcement lawsuit- I would recommend that you review those notes to determine how your memories line up with the reality of the situation. You may find that your emotions are not justified by past events as they actually occurred. It is a good practice to be able to check yourself by keeping notes of your meetings, interactions, phone calls, etc. Better to know exactly what took place than to run off to an attorney for no good reason.
Mediate, and mediate again (if necessary)
As I noted at the outset of today’s blog post, your case will very likely be decided in mediation rather than in a courtroom. Family court judges in most courts will mandate that you mediate your case at least once before stepping foot into their courtroom. When you and your ex-spouse find yourself facing a situation that is too big for you to resolve on your own, it is a good idea to push your attorneys to schedule a mediation early in your case.
Many times I will encourage clients to mediate their case even if an agreement is in place before the case is filed. Let me explain. Suppose that you and your spouse are getting a divorce. You know that you are getting a divorce- there is no chance to reconcile with your husband and divorce is the only alternative that you can seek at this point. You feel good that you all sat at the kitchen table and hammered out an agreement that will allow you to avoid having to go to court.
The next thing one of you does is walk into our office and tell one of our attorneys that you have an agreement for your divorce. All you are looking to do is have a lawyer draft order based on the agreement and you will be on your way. This sounds reasonable and in many ways is exactly what you should have done before coming to see a lawyer. However, I will add one thing to this discussion that should encourage you to seek advice from an attorney and mediator.
Here is that information- even if you have an agreement with your spouse in place for a divorce settlement, there is nothing guaranteeing that your spouse will stick to their word and honor that agreement. A lot can happen in between the time you all agreed to something at the kitchen table and the time where a judge can sign an order. An order has to be drafted, both sides must review the draft and signatures from you and your spouse must be collected. We’re talking at least a couple of weeks.
In the event that you or your spouse change your mind on the terms of your agreement, there is nothing to protect you. You could come up with an agreement only to see your spouse change their mind at the last minute. As long as he hasn’t signed the divorce decree he can turn his back on the process. This is completely legal and happens all the time. Before you start to worry, here is where mediation can solve this problem.
By going to mediation and resolving your issues there, you assure yourself of two things. For one, any agreements that you reach are going to be memorialized by a Mediated Settlement Agreement (MSA). You, your spouse and your attorneys will sign the MSA along with the mediator. This is significant because once it is signed there is no going back. I will tell clients that you cannot call me the next morning in a panic and tell me that the MSA needs to be tossed out because you realized you made a mistake of some sort. The final decree of divorce will be drafted off of that MSA.
Next, not only will you have an agreement in place that is unbreakable, but you also will ensure that you have accounted for all of the areas that are necessary for a divorce. Divorces can be complicated and touch on a range of issues. By coming up with your own settlement you are possibly missing out on a number of subjects that you had failed to account for. By having multiple attorneys and an experienced mediator look at the MSA you are almost guaranteed of having an agreement that takes into account all the areas you needed to account for.
What happens if you cannot agree on compromises after an order is established?
Once all the parties and the judge have signed off on an order it is set in stone. In the future, if there are any disagreements between you and your ex-spouse you can go back and refer to the order to see what your responsibilities are. That is reassuring to have a guidepost like that, but it can also be frustrating due to the fact that your family may “outgrow” the order.
In the future, you and your ex-spouse are free to resolve issues on your own without even filing a lawsuit. This is what judges assume will happen- the two of you will work together and resolve problems on your own without too much difficulty. You will save money and time by not filing a lawsuit and in the end, you will reach conclusions that are better tailored for your family than anything a family court judge could have come up with.
In the event that you have a problem that cannot be solved by negotiation and compromise, remember that the order is what controls the situation. Think of the order as your fall back provisions. Whatever you cannot agree upon means that your order takes center stage. As long as have a mutually agreed upon solution to a problem, you can go off of that solution. However, once one of you no longer agrees to abide by the compromise you must go off of what the order has to say.
This is important for you to know since you cannot be assured that you will always be able to come up with solutions to your problems on the fly. So, what you should take away from this discussion is that your orders had better be workable for your family- both now and in the future.
Questions about visitation problems? Come back to our blog tomorrow to find out more
As children age, and as your own circumstances evolve it may become apparent to you and your child’s other parent that your visitation orders need to be re-worked. What can you do in situations like this? If you find yourself in this sort of position, I would recommend that you return to our blog tomorrow. We will spend some time discussing this subject and how you can work around problems like this.
In the meantime, if you have any questions about today’s blog post or anything another subject in family law please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys can schedule you for a free of charge consultation six days a week. These consultations are a great opportunity to ask questions of our experienced attorneys and to receive direct feedback about your particular circumstances.