I’ve been throwing around the term, “Crap Shoot” a lot this week as a way to explain to people why they do not want to go to Family Court to deal with their custody matter. I started to worry that I sounded rude, or just too darn negative, so I looked up the definition, and there you go, my use of the term was confirmed. “Something that could produce a good or bad result,” according to Merriam-Webster dictionary. Another definition was, “something that has an unpredictable outcome.” I especially like that the antonym is, “A sure thing.” One thing Family Court never ever is, and that’s a sure thing.
“Divorce” and “Family Court” seem to naturally go together in people’s minds. That is something that needs to change. We just don’t seem to think it through, the bizarre concept of having a Judge make decisions about how you and your ex are going to “split” the children. Think about it. Who do you have in your life right now that you trust to make life altering decision about your kids? Your parents maybe, a best friend, your siblings…but a Judge? You don’t even know that person and they certainly don’t know you, or your kids.
I was in Court the other day on a divorce case. The Judge looked right at Mom and Dad and told them that if they couldn’t settle on their own, he was going to make a decision, “and then go home and have a sandwich.” They, meanwhile, would be living with his decision for many, many years. He didn’t mean he didn’t care, because he does. But its his job, not his life.
Okay, just as an aside…absolutely yes, sometimes Court is necessary. I’ve been in court fighting it out more than once. Cases involving literally mentally ill, or addicted, or abusive, or fundamentally mean or clued out parents who will not negotiate and who are bound and determined to disregard the needs of the children just so they can get what they want, while inflicting the most damage possible, go to Court. If that’s the situation you are in, then you may need an attorney and a Judge and the whole Family Court system to deal with that impossible person. With a good attorney, who works hard, listens attentively, understands you, and most importantly writes really, really well, you may be able to paint a sufficient enough picture of the hell on earth you’ve experienced living with that other parent and maybe, just maybe, a Judge will get it. But most cases don’t need the entire incredibly expensive system to reach a conclusion. In fact, only 10% of all divorces filed actually go to trial, and that’s because those cases involve truly nutty folks (not a scientific term), and can only be concluded with the bang of a gavel. And hey, if you’re that person who refuses to settle, see the above description of, “truly nutty” and make sure it doesn’t apply to you.
Here is the thing. What a Judge will give you is a decision on “custody.” What you actually need is a Co-Parenting Plan. A working Co-Parenting plan establishes a sustainable, child-centered plan that sets forth how your family is going to transition from one home with two parents to two homes, each with one parent. A Co-Parenting Plan doesn’t have to say that the kids are split down the middle with everyone receiving exactly 4382.5 hours a year with the kids (half of 8765, which is how many hours there are in a year, give or take an hour or two. I love Google). A Co-Parenting Plan doesn’t have to say that you and your soon to be ex must stay friends, or have weekly meetings, or discuss every single detail of your children’s lives. It’s about agreeing about where the kids will be when, and with whom, and how each parent can provide stability, consistency and support for their children. It’s a living, breathing document that will be revised and fine-tuned depending on the changing lives of each family member…kids grow up, do we really think that the Order the Court enters when a child is 3 still works when that child is 12?
Let’s spread the word on creating cooperative, sustainable and child centered Co-Parenting Plans. Then maybe we’ll stop being so comfortable with a system that is best described by a term that refers to a roll of the dice.