The National Parents Organization welcomes back Jeremy Lanning. He's posted to our site before. Here's his invaluable take on how to negotiate divorce and child custody.
There is a difference between those who handle their divorce well and those who do not, especially when children are involved. Often what it means to “handle things well” is to handle them with help and guidance.
As a Licensed Professional Counselor and Psychotherapist I once ran a support group years ago for isolated and alienated parents. Unsurprisingly these were all men in various stages of divorce. There were 18 of them in all. Most strikingly, there was a distinct difference between those fathers who had help and guidance through their divorce and those who didn't. To put it simply, the men who went at it alone and by the seat of their pants were in the same relationship with their ex-spouse they were in prior to their divorce but with barely any time with their kids and they were often fleeced financially. The other men were not.
I can speak to this subject personally as well. After almost 19 years of marriage I found myself in a bitter divorce full of false accusations, parental alienation, and all around awful conflict. My children at the time were 4, 8, and 10.
My goal is to offer you my professional and personal insight into this subject matter, not legal advice or treatment. To be clear, ultimately this information is for any parent going through a divorce. It’s most certainly applicable to the non-custodial parent, or the parent with the right to visit his or her own biological children. You could easily replace the word father with mother in the following text if that is your situation. Fathers are overwhelmingly and alarmingly those forced to visit their own children while financially supporting two households.
As with any list of guiding principles you’re free to add and remove items. These are simply the most important things to consider when you find yourself a parent within the crisis of divorce.
1.Lean on trusted professionals. This means your counselor and your lawyer. Immediately find a family practice attorney in your area and schedule a consultation. Avoid anything that is free. Prepare your questions and tell your story. This is a valuable step. It will help you reject threats and untruths.
2. Do not confuse the fight for custody and visitation rights with the fight against child support, they are not related. Preserving you and your children’s time together is what is most important. Save the rest for later. It also takes away the weapon of “you just want more time so you can pay less.”
3. Make the decision to be a full time father, no matter how hard, no matter what obstacles. This is philosophical and essential.
4. Put together a plan that demonstrates you can manage your children when they are with you. School. Appointments. Daycare. Etc. You can’t rely on the other parent any longer. You can’t ask for what you can’t handle.
5. Wherever you live, make it your home. It’s better to live in your own place than with someone else. Figure out what you can do and do it. You are their home. You can’t forget that.
6. Document everything with a timeline and a journal. Include all your actions and reactions as well and keep it organized and easy to read. Live with nothing to hide. This is work you can do instead of paying your attorney’s office to do it.
7. Don’t choke. Conduct yourself as a dignified and genuine person with full time fathering as your primary goal. You make one mistake and everything false about you becomes true.
8. Immediately retain a family practice attorney familiar with the judge that will be hearing your case. I know it costs money, but you have to do it. It will cost you so much less in the long run. Never settle for less than what the court considers standard.
9. Do every ounce of legal work that you can. Communicate this desire with your attorney.
10.Visit the family courtroom and watch hearings with the judge on your case and take notes. What do they like? What makes them mad? I can’t stress this one enough.
11. Always show up on time to pick up your children, even if you know that you will be denied. Bring a witness and call the police. Document everything.
12. Always pay your child support on time and any money paid needs to be paid through the Office of the Attorney General so that it is documented.
13. Do not disparage your ex-spouse in any way, ever. No matter what. Talk to your counselor and your lawyer and vent to limited, trusted individuals. Your ex is one half of each of your children. Remember that.
14.Stay off social media.
15.Tell the truth. It’s the easiest story to tell. It requires no effort to maintain and it will rally trustworthy support.