Friday, April 2, 2010

What Divorce Law is Doing to Marriage Part 12

More from the words of Jed Abraham

Your growing sense of helplessness won’t fully squelch your rage. Isn’t there any way to fight this?

Your lawyer will show you why you shouldn’t. Let’s say that you fight, even that you win. It’s certainly a possibility. What will the court do? It will hold your wife in contempt of court for violating its order. Then, it will threaten to put her in jail unless she stops interfering with your visitation.

But the court doesn’t really want to put your wife in jail: that’ll just scare the wits out of the kids. And what will the court do with them while she’s behind bars? It doesn’t want to fine her either: what court wants to take money away from the children’s custodian? In fact, the court may be more than mildly annoyed that you put it into such a predicament.

In the meantime, your wife will tearfully tell the court that she only had the best interest of her children at heart, and she will nobly agree to make up your lost visitation and do whatever else the court asks. So the court will gratefully allow her to “purge” the contempt it found she committed, and it won’t impose any punishment on her.

You may think you came out of court as a big winner, but you actually set yourself up for a big loss later. Remember, what you really want is a meaningful relationship with your kids after your divorce. You’ll be fighting soon for custody, or more probably for joint custody, the law says you have to demonstrate that you and your wife are able to cooperate with each other and encourage each other’s continuing involvement in the care of the children. If you go running to court now, complaining your wife is not cooperating with you, the court will have a harder time granting you joint custody late-even though the lack of cooperation is entirely her fault. The court may still think she’s the better parent overall. Remember, she’s the mother. So the court will grant her sole custody and give you visitation every other weekend. But if you grin and bear it now, you strengthen your position for later. Your accommodation of the children’s needs, as the court sees them, will be a plus for you.

Unfortunately, there’s a big fly in this ointment. If we don’t settle the case or get to trial pretty soon, the court may not want to upset what has become the children’s settled and stable routine: a lot of time with your wife, but hardly any time with you. So, even if you show cooperation to the court, and even if the court thinks you’re a pretty good dad after all, it’ll award permanent sole custody to her-all in the “best interest” of the children.

You will ask the familiar question: Isn’t there anything we can do?

Your lawyer will tell you that he has considered asking the court to appoint a “guardian ad litem,” a special attorney for the children. The guardian’s job would be to investigate the children’s living conditions and provide the court an independent recommendation about their custody. The appearance of a guardian in the case may caution your wife not to toy with your visitation.

But you will probably be ordered to pay most of the guardian’s fees. And besides being a big added expense, a guardian is also a big added risk. The guardian may not care about you, your needs, or your feelings any more than the court. So if your wife can convince the guardian that the children are not going to pieces in her custody, the guardian may well recommend that she continue to have custody, even if your visitation continues to be a mess. It’s only the “best interest of the child” that counts.

For now, the best you can do is bring along a friend when you go to pick up the kids. Your friend can be a witness if your wife doesn’t have the kids ready. If she keeps up the interference, we can build a case from there.

But in the end remember: the visitation you have now is only temporary. Unless your wife totally torpedoes it, you’re better off saving your money for the trial, for the real thing. We’re both going to need it.

More on this chapter on the next summary