Family Law Decisions: Do It Right the First Time

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There are a lot of good reasons to work cooperatively with your spouse or your child's other parent and compromise to reach agreements.

It builds goodwill and saves time, money and stress—leaving you both with more resources to help your family move forward productively. However, it's often much harder to change a poor agreement later than to work for the better option the first time around.

One parent explained that her 15-year-old son's father was leaving him alone to play video games for hours at a time, late into the night. This was the father's attitude during the marriage, and the boy was still doing fine in school. The boy started asking his mom why he couldn't just stay with her, since his dad didn't do anything with him. The mother had agreed to 50/50 custody to get the divorce finalized. She planned to raise her concerns later and change the parenting time to something better for the child.

Another parent signed an agreement providing for her 18-month-old's father to see him for three hours, two evenings a week, and every other weekend from Friday to Sunday. The parents followed this agreement for a few cycles, even though she was still nursing.

A third parent was concerned after his divorce because his name was still on the mortgage to the home where his ex-wife and children lived. The ex-wife was making the mortgage payments, but he wanted freedom from potential responsibility for that debt, even though he had not secured her promise to refinance as part of the property settlement.

These three parents have reasonable requests, but the requests could have been made at a better time.

By agreeing to what the other party wanted, no matter what the reason or plan, these individuals have huge—perhaps insurmountable—obstacles to achieving their goals. The court process likes "resolution," and reopening disputes that have been resolved is very difficult and purposefully designed as such.

Hiring a lawyer is not required in a divorce or custody case. Forms and neutral mediators are available and cost less than traditional legal representation. But even with these aids, it is still important to consult with an experienced lawyer before agreeing to anything related to your children and family finances to be sure you are content with the outcome and understand its implications over time.

New rules specifically allowing "limited scope representation" let lawyers listen, ask questions and offer advice without involving themselves in every detail of your case. Even without a lot of money, you can get advice from an experienced family law attorney before committing yourself to an undesirable situation.

Written by Elizabeth Bransdorfer, Member and Chair of the Family Law Practice Group at Mika Meyers PLC.

Photo courtesy of Mika Meyers.

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