names have been omitted
or changed in this post
It seemed unbelievable that someone could spend an entire day in court enduring their trial regarding the custody of their two children.... it was a picture perfect day outside. As I stood at the floor to ceiling windows looking out over the city from a third story view at a stark blue sky with perfectly whipped white clouds, I wistfully wished I was out there too... it was by all means a beautiful summer day with the sun shining full force. Thankfully the temperatures had dropped slightly due to the recent rain and now hovered around the eighties. As I watched traffic and people move about down below I spotted college aged girls in brightly colored tanks and running shorts laughing and chatting with their girlfriends as professional men and women in suits rushed by holding briefcases heading to the court house. It was close to one thirty and my stomach grumbled not at all satisfied with the mere bag of chips I'd inhaled from the vending machine. Leaving for the building for our lunch break had seemed like more effort than it was worth and sitting alone with my mother in the empty conference room after the stressful morning in court was preferable to noisy crowded streets and fetching the car from the garage nearby just to scarf down a hamburger. The quietness of the courthouse was comforting, the ability to wind down a moment and just regroup from all the testimony heard that morning before the Judge.
We wouldn't finish until six thirty and when we did the cleaning crew had begun their rounds, their machine making a whirring sound as it cleaned and polished the floors throughout the courthouse leaving them sparkling. Walking through the heavy glass doors to the concrete jungle outside and the setting sun, the humidity hit us and yet I gasped with relief the tough day was coming to a close... my long length gray skirt flowed around my boots and even though it was July I was glad I had dressed for fall that day, as the courtroom temperature had been cold. Retrieving my vehicle from the now empty garage and paying what I owed in parking we departed onto the city street headed to buy something comforting for dinner that I knew would have to include some chocolate.
Over the past nine months I have learned a lot although I wish I could say that it hadn't been necessary to learn these lessons to begin with... and that the events that led up to me filing for divorce had never happened. But yet here we are and in everything that has happened I can say I have walked away knowing much more than I did nine months ago when this process began back in October 2012. Having acknowledged that I also see where I could have handled the situation better and yet also where I believe I handled it completely on target. It's these things that have prompted me to write this post... I want to share what I've learned with other women and for those of you who are going through divorce and child custody or may in the future I would hope that by my sharing some of what I have learned will help you in your own case. I also know that with child custody issues, we as parents are never truly "done" and there will inevitably come a time in the future that my now ex-spouse and I will go back to court to present new issues or evidence showing that our current arrangement is not working, etc.
10 TIPS FOR MOMS:
1. Make An Effort.
It's really important to make every effort you can to reach an agreement. Generally speaking, it's best to choose your battles wisely. Learn to compromise on the little things and decide what your big issues are that are absolute deal breakers. What issues are weighing on your heart and most important to you? It's important to choose these and realize getting worked up and fighting about every little issue is going to cost you not just financially but emotionally as it becomes more and more taxing as the process goes on and you become wearier. The more you can agree on then the last few issues left that you want to present to the court will be fewer... and if you can show that you have been very reasonable throughout the process the Judge will look more favorably upon you seeing that you are not trying to cause waves and create chaos. This will help your case.
2. Don't Text.
This was one of my biggest issues during my process. A simple text can come back to bite you later. Personally, I would not have any text communication with your soon to be ex during the divorce process at all. It's too risky and if you lose your temper and send a caustic text telling your soon to be ex exactly what you think of them... trust me, everyone will receive a copy of it later in court and you will be held accountable for it. You may feel justified for sending a little zinger to them in the heat of the moment and no one for a minute does not see the hurt that has been inflicted upon you yet.... yet you will still have to explain yourself on the stand. In that though.... if the opposing counsel begins badgering you about your less than stellar conduct in your text you sent and even speaks of how "that was incredibly immature behavior, don't you think?" you can first point out your soon to be ex's behavior whether it's been cheating, lying, drinking, endangering the children, etc and THEN agree that your text was immature. Whatever you do... when dealing with the opposing counsel cross examining you... do not simply answer yes or no to any of their questioning. First and foremost make your point and THEN answer the question. This does two things... one, it balances your answer by pointing out your stance and then two, it ruffles the feathers of opposing counsel because it is in fact likely annoying them that you are bypassing answering their question first. If you can do this very calmly and in a neutral tone they will often become exasperated which in turn the Judge will not like as they may become more aggressive and harsh in their questioning of you. It worked for me and very likely may work for you. In the future I will not have any text communication with my ex. By knowing what your weak spots are and where your ex can use ammunition against you... then you can make the necessary changes to head them off and prevent bigger problems down the road.
3. Follow Your Mama Bear Instincts.
Hating your estranged spouses behavior is understandable because if you are a mom and have children the last thing we want to witness as mothers is seeing our children suffer. It tends to make our mother bear instincts rear their head and in that we become fiercely protective of our children's health and safety. If your husband has placed the children in any danger such as having them around women who were incapacitated in some way... either through alcohol or drugs or were just plain crazy and were a threat to the safety of your children... as a mother you naturally worry about the toll all of this is having on your children.... especially over time as scenarios of your husband dating (technically cheating) continue like some bad rated movie. Being a protective mom, if he has shown patterns of abuse you may take it upon yourself to take action. I did take matters into my own hands after an incident at our home after I had filed for divorce. My husband got up in my face within an inch screaming at me to write up a receipt for the buyer of our pool table while my children shrank back in horror. When my mother verbally intervened on my behalf he began charging her like a wild bull. Placing a sign outside our home that in reference to the penal code (you can look online for a penal code regarding trespassing) he was not allowed access anymore. In court I faced an extensive line of questioning regarding my decision to do this and yet I stood firm. Opposing counsels stance was I had the sign hung on the mailbox outside the front door where my children could view it. They argued this was a negative action considering the children could see something regarding their father in a negative light. (the truth was, my children and I entered and exited through the back door) I argued that in fact the sign was a good thing because children must be taught that there is such a thing as boundaries.... the fact is we as parents (especially mothers) must teach our children that just because someone is your parent, aunt, uncle, sibling, boyfriend, friend etc... love doesn't include abuse. And that by standing strong and teaching our children that setting boundaries is extremely important. The sign I had posted merely stated my husband's name and the penal code which speaks for itself.... there is no need for any other words. After explaining why I had made such a choice I followed it with "It worked... it kept him out."
4. Another Word On Boundaries.
If your divorce has been contentious you may want to exchange the children somewhere neutral. This is in your children's best interests (and yours) in terms of peace of mind and safety. McDonald's is a popular neutral choice for divorced parents versus choosing your individual homes where a struggle of power and turf can take place like opposing gangs. It may be wise to exchange the children at your local police station if there is a history of abuse especially physical.
5. Keep A Daily Record.
Keep a daily journal of all conversations, incidents etc between you and your estranged spouse and anything negative that happens between him and the children. Get a big spiral notebook and take detailed notes with the date each day. Let's say for example you were emailed the time and place your son's swim class was by your spouse and yet when you get there no one is around.... you realize your spouse purposely told you wrong information so you'd miss it. While you are there take a photo of the swim location and then email the photo to yourself. The email will now have a date and time showing you were there at the time your spouse specified. You also have copies of his email showing the wrong time. Now you have evidence for court.
6. Don't Engage.
Keep as much communication with your estranged spouse to a minimum. It creates less of a chance you will say something inflammatory in the heat of the moment. If you are dealing with someone who is sociopathic in nature and tries to twist your words... use extra caution. If they begin trying to badger you with questions one or two phrases will help to turn the tables on them so you don't feel at the mercy of their power.
1.) "I don't understand."
2.) "I don't know what you are talking about."
7. At some point in time your estranged/ex spouse may apologize to you for his behavior and how he's treated you. Only you know by your situation if there is a chance the apology is sincere and followed with actions of empathy on his part. If there has been zero empathy shown on his part and instead he has continually served up verbal abuse, physical abuse, cheating, stonewalling, manipulation, pity parties, guilt trips imposed upon you and the children etc.... DON'T BELIEVE IT. As soon as our trial was over my then ex-spouse confronted me in the courtroom with an apology and although I sweetly smiled and said thank you I knew it stood on nothing... it had zero actions behind it to make me believe it for a nano-second due to the continual hell he'd inflicted upon me and my children for nine months. Don't get sucked back in... don't give them your trust again because they will take it and then gladly make you regret doing so.
8. The Softie Vs The Pit-bull.
You have hired an attorney because likely you need someone who is experienced in wading through the legal system and all of it's tricky legal lingo and paperwork. It's important to hire someone you mesh with and whose desire is for you to have a favorable outcome in your case. With that being said... if you hire an aggressive pit-bull you may have someone who also unnecessarily ups your costs and your anger fanning the flames in a case that is already emotional and contentious. Likewise, if you hire a softie who is a sweetheart to a fault it can become a detriment to your case as you may feel as if you are having to lead the battle yourself. Both scenarios can have drawbacks. It's important to find someone who has a balanced view and wants to work amicably with the opposing counsel yet also will step up and fight for you when needed.
9. Active Participant.
No one knows your case better than you. When you go to court take a sticky note pad with you and pen. When opposing counsel begins their verbal barrage you need to be ready to hand your attorney a sticky note with your stance on it to voice for you and interject. Being familiar with your case, the facts and details etc can help you when going up against the other side.
If your estranged spouse has continually shown bad judgment regarding his choices in general and particularly regarding his children... as a mother you have to look out for them. Making certain any current or future passports are in your home will keep the power placed more in your pocket versus your estranged spouses. He should have to request the children's passports from you so many weeks in advance and give you a full itinerary showing where he plans to stay during his trip out of the country. In this agreement you can have it stated that you have daily phone contact with the children to ensure they are okay. Putting safeguards like these in place is imperative when it comes to the safety of your children and your peace of mind.
Life is not over...
When we are kids we never dream to be divorced one day... as children we always believe we will have the fairy tale ending and live happily ever after. The good news is our day in court doesn't equate to the end of our life! We can still live happily ever after... we can write a new story and in that we can be a living testament to the grace, power and strength God has given us to get there!
© gps-gracepowerstrength.blogspot.com ~ 2013
image “Judges Gavel” by Salvatore Vuono via FreeDigitalPhotos.net