Divorce isn’t easy and you are trying your best as a father to care for your kids while battling emotional upheaval that naturally comes with the divorce process. While it goes without saying that you have your children’s best interests always at heart, it can be easy to encounter pitfalls as you attempt to navigate through some tough times. What missteps should you be on the lookout for? Here are four key divorce mistakes dads often make — and what you can do to avoid them.
Avoid the belief that judges favor mothers
Long ago, New Jersey and the majority of the United States, subscribed to the idea that children, especially very young kids, needed to be exclusively in the custody of their mothers. This ideal, known as the Tender Years Doctrine, has long since been abandoned. Psychological experts and judges now understand and support the notion that children need the extensive input and involvement of both parents in their lives regardless of gender. And, with the rise in same-sex couples having kids, the issues of gender has been rendered moot. Child custody laws in New Jersey are specifically written as gender neutral and are aimed only at what is in the best interests of the children. So, if you believe that you are able to have a shared parenting arrangement or even residential custody of your children for the majority of time and that this would be in their best interests, go for it. But, be sure that what you are seeking is reasonable and truly a good arrangement for your children. If you have a very demanding job that keeps you out of the house for 80 hours a week, then residential custody or even a 50/50 split with your ex may not be realistic. If you honestly evaluate your request and find that your children may not completely thrive in your proposed arrangement, rethink you position.
Automatically leaving the family home
If it is possible, and you and your spouse can live reasonably and without constant arguing under the same roof, consider staying in the family house during the divorce process. Staying in the home allows you to continue to have day-to-day involvement with your children and provides them with a little bit more stability during the process. Also, even if you move out, there still may be expenses tied to the marital home that you may have to share, such as the mortgage payments or maintenance costs. Coupled with a rent payment for your new apartment and other new living expenses, you may find yourself financially stretched thin. Finally, remaining in the home will naturally speed up the process and you both seek to finalize the divorce and move on to your new lives as quickly as possible. If you wish to keep the house after the divorce, your staying during the process may afford you a little leverage. If you simply cannot coexist with your spouse, at least insist on putting in place a solid custody and parenting time plan so that you are affording as much time with your children as possible.
Viewing custody in “all or nothing” terms
As angry as you may be with your spouse or as hurt as you may feel, it is never a good idea to dig your heels in and refuse to negotiate simply because of your emotions. Remember that family court judges, if they have to make decisions about your kids, will only do so based on what they believe is in their best interests. If you adopt an approach that your spouse will never see your kids again or that you want sole legal and physical custody because you want revenge, you will quickly find yourself in court, in front of an angry judge and spending thousands on attorney’s fees and custody experts. There is no “winning” in a custody battle and, unless there are extreme circumstances such as abuse or neglect, the court will surely favor liberal and continued involvement of both parents in your kid’s lives. If you find yourself approaching your divorce from an angry or hurt place, talk to a counselor who can provide you with a safe space to vent all of your negative emotions.
Not considering the future
If you are divorcing with very young children, your custody or parenting time agreement may not age well along with your children. If at all possible, when negotiating with your spouse, try to consider future issues that may arise as your children get older. Who will be responsible for college costs? What about extra expenses for extracurricular expenses such as sports or dance classes? If, down the road, an issue does arise that your agreement did not cover at the time, you may need to seek to modify the agreement. For example, if you move two hours away from your children to take a new job, your parenting time arrangement may need to be changed because of the new geographical distance. Or, you may discover that your spouse received a substantial raise and, as a result, you may be entitled to more child support. In the end, being as complete and forward thinking now will help you avoid uncertainty as your children get older and their needs naturally change. If trouble begins to arise, such as your ex continually dropping of the kids late or failing to pick them up on time, keep a log, so that if you do need to go back into court, you have a record of why you are asking the judge to revisit your parenting time or custody agreement.
Above all, remember that your children need you in their lives and you need them in yours. It is always in their best interests to have you around them, guiding them through their futures. Do not be intimidated by your children’s other parent or led to believe that they are “better off” with them than they are with you. Fighting for the right to be involved as much as possible with them will pay off and they will thank you for being such an important part of their lives.
If you are having custody or parenting time issues or if you need further information on your rights or responsibilities, we can help. Please call us at 888-888-0919 or use our email form to schedule your free consultation with one of our compassionate and skilled family law attorneys.