EDITOR’S NOTE: There is a perception that Divorce Attorneys are all about making fees and prolonging divorce proceedings. My personal experience has been that there are too many attorneys out there who are like that, but there are also many good divorce attorneys out there who are truly concerned about the best interests of their clients and their families. Really good family law attorneys are also concerned about the impact of the divorce on children. Howard Iken is one such attorney, and in this article he offers advice based on his personal experiences on how parents can help to keep their divorce civil for the sake of the kids. We would like to thank Howard for submitting this guest article.
Ok, two people you know or two people you are helping out have been having trouble in their marriage. As things have gotten worse, these two people have taken a really big step and filed for divorce and both sides have hired divorce attorneys. Adding to the seriousness of the situation is the fact that these two people have children.
The divorce attorneys they hired are not just paid, legal help, but are the equivalent of generals in a no-holds barred war. The children are caught in the middle but are not just children. They are place markers for money, real estate, and power. It may not seem like that but that is how the attorneys and clients may be looking at it. This is all out war and the attorneys (generals) are issuing the marching orders. The two people you know and their children may have become nothing but foot soldiers in the war for supremacy – bitter soldiers, but foot soldiers just the same.
If you have never witnessed a bitter divorce, the above description may seem absurd. But many friends, advisors and professionals can relate to that description. It is real, and it plays out every day in households and courts throughout the US. So what is wrong with that picture? The fact is that most divorces do become a bitter war and the children are caught in the middle. If a couple is unlucky enough to hire the wrong attorneys, the description of those attorneys as battlefield “generals” becomes the absolute truth. Many attorneys drive cases to extremes. Many friends, family members, and peers cheer the process on. The whole scene becomes nothing more than an emotional and financial bloodbath. Parenting? Throw it away and use the kids for maximum advantage!
At the beginning of a divorce, friends, family and advisors are in a unique position. They can choose to “whip up” both sides or become a calming influence. I have seen both. The “whipped up” divorce parties all have one thing in common: their case is amazingly damaging and you can count on seeing them back in court over and over again for the next decade. The “calmed” divorce parties also have something in common: they are relaxed, spend less money, have children that love them both, and most likely never have to visit an attorney again in their lifetime. At a very critical time, an outside person can tilt the divorce toward one branch or another. That is a huge responsibility. And hopefully the divorcing couple will have someone with the courage to do the right thing and influence the divorce in the right direction.
Any divorce with children should start with recognition that children can be damaged, children are fragile, and that children are the overriding priority in any divorce. When a parent starts to look at children and only sees child support that is a danger sign. Likewise, when children become a method of retaining the marital home, the divorce has gone astray. A civil divorce that protects children always starts with a sit down discussion about what is best for their children, and how to avoid damaging the children.
One of the parental assumptions that frequently get in the way of child-centered divorce is that one gender or another is best for the children. That is a vestige of ages-past but still survives in the minds of many people. Parents do not seem to realize the basic need of every child: the ability to grow up with both a Mother and Father. A very old concept in many states is the “tender years doctrine.” This is a theory that very young children are best off with their Mother. In most states, the tender years doctrine has been eliminated by statute. The latest trend in many states is for children to spend equal time with both parents. That eliminates beginning presumptions and also removes a frequent reason for bitterness. If you know a divorcing couple, the most damaging thing you can do is to suggest one sex or another is better equipped to raise children. Both Mothers and Fathers love their kids. And kids that have a balanced life need both their parents in equal quantities.
If you are in a position to counsel, advise, or affect a divorcing couple, they should be reminded of the important things in their life – namely their children. Life is too short to spend a significant part of it with attorneys. And instead of spending all their money on attorneys, the money could be used for children. The most positive thing you can do is to not “whip up” a divorcing couple. You can do them a tremendous favor by becoming a calming influence. Your short-term actions can lead to a more civil divorce, a better life, and happy, healthy children.