By Attorney Jennifer Schulte: Divorce is similar to surgery. There is a major procedure that is costly. Sometimes it is in patient (trial) and sometimes it is out patient (settle outside of court). There are emotional highs and lows throughout the process. Often, when the procedure is complete one must learn how to walk, speak, move again (something is different and the body needs to recuperate). In a divorce, when the final judgment has been entered, many people find they have forgotten how to walk, speak, move about. Their entire life that was crafted together around another individual or family is broken. They need to figure out how to relate to this person that at one point they adored and said “I do”. Now that same person dragged the personal and confidential stories through a very public courtroom…the inside jokes became a mockery of themselves. That same person is perhaps a fellow parent to some very troubled and sad miniature versions of yourselves. There will be traditions that will get set aside to accommodate two households. There will be expectations of a car for the 16 year old son and a graduation trip for the 18 year old daughter that cannot come to pass (no money left after the battle mommy and daddy went through).
Divorce is expensive – no really…it is very costly and not just paying the lawyers. While the parents made ends meet on two incomes in one household, there will now be a lesser standard of living for each parent. The parties will attempt to have the same Scooby Do comforter and bedroom set at two separate households, two separate PlayStation with all the games, two separate chore lists with/without allowance. There will be two birthday parties and two Christmas celebrations (at least). There will be two parents trying to buy the affection and forgiveness of their children. There may (and usually should) be counseling/therapy for the parents and children to cope with the aftermath of the aforementioned battle. There will be the fights over how the children can continue with their riding lessons, their extra-curricular sports…how will they get to practice and who will pay for the uniforms.
Parents will find they become the worst possible version of themselves or the very best. Some parents will send birthday or holiday cards to the other parent “from the children”. I generally advise my clients to help the little kids out by taking them to Hallmark to pick out a card for the other parent (and pay for it). I also, jokingly (but seriously) advise the parent to not get a “Sorry for your Loss” or similarly inappropriate style card for someone’s birthday..etc. Use common sense and remember, the steps you take now may positively impact the future relationship you have with the mother/father of your children. If the children sit on Santa Clause’s lap for the holidays and you get a cute photo of little Johnny, make a copy for Mom. If you are doing a routine physical for Sarah at the Dr. office prior to the volleyball season starting, send the details of the dr. appointment to Dad prior to (not minutes before) the appointment so he can move his work schedule around to be present. Despite how ugly the divorce is/was, it is and remains the parent’s responsibility to facilitate an ongoing relationship between the children and the other parent. And I would venture to state that this “responsibility” does not end at high school graduation.
I have had clients where there is a modification of alimony and/or child support at stake because one parent is making less money now (big surprise with the way the economy is going – sarcasm). Unfortunately, all too often the payee spouse uses the financial strain to alienate the child(ren) from the payor spouse. For example, the Father is not paying support to the Mother due to his real estate employment not producing income. The Mother tells daughter that because mean daddy is not giving money that he is court ordered to pay, the daughter cannot go on the field trip. Mother tells daughter that she, Mother, would LOVE for the daughter to go on the field trip but daddy has all the money and is being greedy. Then Mother puts daughter on the phone with daddy to tell him how mean he is and why is he not paying poor mommy? Another example is when the Mother starts dating again and daddy convinces the five year old that he does not want a “new daddy” around. So the five year old tells mommy that as long as the boyfriend is there he will not spend time with her. The Father is allowing a five year old to “parent” himself? No court will accept a parent’s argument that the child doesn’t want to go over to the other parent’s home as a reason for denying contact with the other parent.
When the divorce is final (just like major surgery) there are responsibilities, financial or otherwise, for the patient/client. Some of these responsibilities involve a new routine and ensuring that loved ones are taken care of (depending on the outcome of the proceeding). Prior to a major surgery a patient may execute a Health Care Surrogate. After a final judgment of divorce, the party should execute a will (or amend the current one), look into a life insurance policy (both parents if there are children despite which parent is paying child support), and more. Very often, at the conclusion of a trial or divorce proceeding the attorney will simply “disappear”. It is imperative that both the client and attorney sit down for a meeting post final judgment to discuss the “next steps”. The attorney is a wealth of resources for a client post dissolution. We can recommend local agencies and services in the community to assist the client with the after-math of divorce. We can provide lists of support groups and therapists. We can recommend financial advisors and assist with redrafting a Will or other legal document.
Just as there is a follow up visit with your surgeon/doctor post operation to make sure that your body is healing well, there should be a follow up visit with your attorney to make sure you know how to comply with the final judgment . You don’t want to simply put the paperwork in your bottom drawer and then act on what you feel like doing. Your attorney can assist you when problems creep up or refer you to a Parent Coordinator (to assist with parenting decisions) or other professional. It is prudent to build on your professional relationship with your attorney so you have a ready TEAM waiting for you. The great majority of our clients have come back to us for further legal assistance (in various legal scenarios) and/or referred friends and family to our firm. That speaks highly of the relationship we have cultivated with our clients.