Top 3 Questions That Family Lawyers Hear…Daily

In the course of practicing family law, divorce, and custody for close to 2 decades, I have come to realize that the same questions tend to reappear in most domestic cases…and few of them have simple answers.  It often seems that callers and potential clients believe that domestic fights are solvable like math equations…that a clear answer exists if the numbers are plugged in correctly.  That belief is not accurate and is likely the result of our human desire to have clarity in life–an understandable goal.  As someone facing a custody battle, a divorce, or other difficult domestic case, I would like to help in preparing you for what your lawyer of choice wants you to know.  I have been through a personal custody battle and won, but it was stressful and taxing in more ways than one.  Here and the most common questions we receive, and some of them are not what you might expect.

Q-1:  Would it help to speak to my ex/husband or wife about what terms they would agree to?

A:  Absolutely…the cost of separating and children being involved will depend on how many issues you cannot agree on, the conversation is mandatory to save costs.  MAKE SURE that insurance (health and life insurance on the payor of support) and college costs are a part of the conversation, and these expenses would be in addition to state mandated child support.  This matters are seldom agreeable between people who are already financially squeezed (98% of the population at least).

Q-2:  My spouse and I agree to a divorce but do not agree on who keeps the house/pays the debts/gets the kids/amount of child support (this list can literally go on forever).  Can we not just agree to a divorce and make it simple?

A:  It likely won’t save you any money or time to simply agree to a divorce, although you can resume single life and join the dating world again if that is the path you prefer.  The court could and will grant a no-fault divorce under most circumstances but you still have a long row to hoe if there are financial and custody issues on the line.  It seems like the divorce would simplify those matters, but it will not in most cases.

Q-3:  Why is it fair that he/she is a terrible parent but I have to spend my money to prove that to the court?  Is there a way I can just show the judge my evidence and make this all go away?

A:  Unfortunately no.  This one reminds me of the old saying, “The best and worst thing about the judicial system is that everyone can have their day in court”.  The rules for presenting evidence are very strict and formal, and there would not be so many lawyers if in fact we could casually show the court one side and get a result.  You would not be happy if your ex did this and the shoe was on the other foot.  The bottom line is that the court should and will start with no assumptions about you or your significant other.  They serve one role…neutrally deciding matters brought  before them.

What are my big picture takeaways from these three common questions?   A few things, but most importantly is that people in a state of denial about the complexity of child custody, the financial ramifications, and the difficulty of severing a marriage will continue to languish and may very well stay married for a long time.  It is crucial to get past the fiction of looking for a simple answer. 

Realizing that you have a complex problem is always the first step in addressing it–head on.  And, without any exception, lawyers like myself realize that without putting some pressure on the opposition (the more the merrier), you will have no option but agreeing to whatever they offer.  In the end, trying to agree to fair terms is always best…but not everyone is entirely reasonable, particularly when they are in a highly stressful and emotionally draining situation.

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