Posts tagged ‘Divorced Dads’
By Jeffery M. Leving
It’s easy to make mistakes at the very beginning of the divorce process, especially if you’re dealing with someone who is highly manipulative, abusive or just plain irrational. Even if you are divorcing a reasonable person, it’s tough to think clearly and make the right initial decisions. Most people are so angry, upset or anxious at the end of their marriage that they’re not thinking logically about what they should do to protect themselves or their children from an unfair settlement.
In the past, the prevailing emotions during a divorce were usually sadness and regret. Today, anger is the dominant emotion: People are angry at their spouses, their spouses’ parents, at their spouses’ new partners, etc. All this anger translates into words and deeds that make the divorce process more costly, stressful, frustrating, lengthy, and an all out war. It doesn’t have to be that way, even if you are divorcing the most irrational of humans. Below are the 10 most common mistakes men make in divorce. If you can learn to place your emotions in check and avoid these mistakes, you can alleviate some of the pain that comes with any divorce.
#10 – Using Your Children as Pawns
Threatening to limit or deny visitation is a powerful threat, and it can terrify a parent who loves his child(ren). Often, parents who are the primary caregivers, but who lack the financial resources, feel that they must use this threat to gain sufficient financial support.
As painful as these threats are, do not respond in kind. Don’t issue threats of your own. Instead, recognize that in most cases, the truth will come out. If you’ve been a good, responsible parent, your spouse likely cannot deny you a chance to see your kids on a regular basis. More to the point, the court won’t allow it in most instances.
#9 – Thinking Romance First, Divorce Second
The most common factor that turns a normal divorce into an abnormally contentious one is bringing another woman into the mix. The situation is already potentially volatile, and all it takes is the mention that you have a new lover for your spouse to become infuriated.
There are several reasons you may want to announce your new relationship-revenge, one being to show her that someone finds you attractive and you’ve even found happiness. Try to keep a new relationship out of the conversations with your spouse and especially your children. The best decision is to wait until the divorce is concluded before you engage in a new relationship.
#8 – Allowing Your Spouse to Convince You to Not Hire An Attorney
If your spouse has hired a lawyer, you need to hire one quickly. If you don’t, you are an amateur playing against professionals. One underhand tactic is for a spouse’s attorney to offer to represent both parties to save time and money. Not only is it unethical, but it also creates a conflict of interest.
The process is designed to be adversarial, and there is no way a lawyer can fairly represent you both. The odds are that your spouse has something to hide or something she wants, and she knows that if you hire a lawyer it will be more difficult to achieve that goal.
#7 – Using Verbal Abuse
Just about everyone who gets a divorce argues. Not everyone, however, engages in continuous verbal battles in which threats and vile accusations become routine forms of communication. Being on the receiving end of this abuse is demoralizing, especially when the threats raise the possibility of physical harm to you or your children.
You need to discuss any threats of this type with your attorney, who can advise you on how to deal with them. Furthermore, if it is you who’s engaging in the verbal abuse, remember that your spouse can easily obtain an order of protection and any violation of this order can land you in jail. There is a myth that men do not endure verbal or even physical abuse from their spouses, but it is just a myth. Abuse is not gender specific.
#6 – Rubbing Salt In the Wound
If your goal is to avoid a court battle and the high costs that go with it, then you want to avoid any accusations of personality flaws. Be aware of your spouse’s sensitivities and avoid inflaming them. Compromise is the essence of divorce negotiations, and if you say and do things to encourage your spouse to dig in and be inflexible, you’re asking for a war.
No matter how much you despise your spouse; no matter how many ways you feel you’ve been wronged, don’t make a bad situation worse by identifying your spouse’s vulnerabilities when trying to reach a settlement. Always try to negotiate before you litigate.
#5 – Using a Difficult Attorney
Lawyers can turn good divorces into bad ones and bad divorces into nightmares. It’s not just divorcing spouses that are difficult. Certain lawyers are intent on churning fees, and they can cleverly manipulate situations to their financial advantage. The result is couples who will fight over the big and little things and invariably wind up in court and broke.
Do not fall for the myth that you have to find a take-no-prisoners attorney, someone who is ruthless and will use any tactic necessary to “win” the case. When there is one difficult attorney, the odds are the divorce will be costly and unpleasant. When there are two difficult attorneys, the divorce will be a total nightmare.
#4 – Becoming Passive
The last thing you want to do when your spouse announces she wants a divorce is to become completely acquiescent. Many people are manipulative, and if they think they can manipulate you into getting what they want out of the divorce, such as money, property or custody, they will do so.
If you are stunned or saddened, you may agree to anything and everything your spouse recommends. Don’t confuse passivity with being reasonable. My experience is that the shock of divorce soon wears off, and once it does, you’re much less vulnerable to making this mistake.
#3 – Arguing About Who Gets What
In most divorces where couples have been married for a number of years, disputes about property arise, and sometimes these arguments are perfectly understandable. These arguments, however, can become completely irrational and vengeance-based. I had a client say, “I would rather incur 10 times in legal fees what the painting costs than allow her to have it!”
These arguments can be draining emotionally (not to mention financially), but it helps to recognize that no matter how your spouse uses these objects in the bargaining process, the court generally divides property fairly if both parties have competent attorneys.
#2 – Serving Your Spouse with Divorce Papers in Embarrassing Places
Having an officer of the law serve your spouse at home or business should be reserved for cases where they refuse to file an appearance or accept service of process, or where great conflict exists between the two parties.
There is nothing more embarrassing than having a police officer serve you with papers at work, and nothing more unnerving than hearing the doorbell ring at 2 a.m. and seeing a policeman at the door (and having your neighbors see him as well).
If your spouse uses this tactic on you, as obnoxious as it may be, remain calm.
#1 – Responding to An Impending Divorce With Anger
The early stages of the divorce process can be a highly emotional time when people say things they do not mean or act in unusual or uncharacteristic ways. Divorces “blow up” legally when one person responds to anger with even greater anger, creating an escalating war of attrition that otherwise would have been a brief skirmish.
Therefore, allow a bit of time to pass before you do anything. Your spouse may settle down after blowing off some steam, and you can continue to move forward in a reasonable manner.
American Society has declared war on crime. All wars generate collateral damage and, in this case, the damage consists of families of those who bear the burden of the public’s wrath with crime. This is particularly true of the most vulnerable and defenseless members of society – the children of imprisoned men. These children, through not fault of their own, are often denied spiritual and emotional nurture by their fathers. Never forget: incarcerated fathers are parents, too. Fathers are not “social accidents” as many people have been incorrectly taught due to negative male-stereotyping.
As an advocate for fathers’ rights for over two decades, I’ve long understood that positive father involvement is vital to the stability of our society because fatherless children pose a high risk for addiction and crime, as documented in my book “Fathers’ Rights.” Children are the future of our society, and this is no less true of the children of incarcerated men. Children of incarcerated parents should not be abondoned. Their positive parental relationships require support to break the cycle of criminality caused by father absence. The most reliable predictor of crime is neither poverty nor race, but growing up fatherless.
Several years ago I represented an incarcerated father I will call Bob. Bob became embroiled in a divorce and visitation dispute that was as bitter as it was high-profile. Yet I was able to reunite him with his children and keep him connected to them while incarcerated. This required aggressive and strategic litigation on my part, but it was worth it. I pursued visitation for Bob and did not give up until he had it. The court even ordered specific dates and times for phone visitation. Upon release, he was reunited with his family.
Obviously, visitation is more difficult for incarcerated fathers. However, it is possible. Often a letter from a law office motivates reluctant caregivers to let fathers back into their children’s lives so bitter legal battles can be avoided. But, sometimes they are necessary. My goal is never to use the law to make mothers’ lives miserable, but to maximize positive father contact for the child. In Bob’s case, I had to fight hard. Successful litigation kept this father connected with his kids and he lives with them now.
A critical reason for maintaining visitation, even if only by phone, is to attempt to prevent the possible termination of parental rights. One possible problem for incarcerated fathers is the threat of court-ordered termination of parental rights in an adoption. Failure to write, telephone or otherwise communicate or take an interest in his children can constitute a basis to attempt to terminate those rights. This sets the stage for adoption of his children.
If you feel your parental rights may be threatened, familiarize yourself with the laws of your state and, if it becomes necessary, find a family law attorney in your state to protect those rights. More importantly, make sure you educate yourself in the art and craft of parenthood. The law can be hard on incarcerated dads; it’s harder on those who give up.
I believe many incarcerated men are ready, willing and able to contribute to their children’s lives. There is a significant social cost to a narrowly punitive policy, which may not take account of the needs of the children of incarcerated fathers. If we recognize and change this policy, we may achieve a reduction of crime without requiring new taxes by simply promoting positive father-child involvement.
And in a similar vein, incarcerated fathers need to understand and protect their parental legal rights. Incarcerated fathers are parents, too.
Jeffery M. Leving is one of this country’s leading family law attorneys and the co-author of the Illinois Joint Custody Law. His book, “Father’s Rights” on which these columns are based, is regarded as a definitive work on this important subject.
By Beth Neuman
When a dad’s relationship with his children’s mother ends, there are only two ways for him to (legally) ensure that he will remain an active, involved parent: a negotiated custody settlement or successful litigation. In either situation, the father must be prepared to demonstrate his competence, character and commitment as a responsible parent. No court will approve a sole or joint custody agreement, unless the custodial parent provides a clean, safe home and effective and attentive child care. So, despite the emotional chaos and legal wrangling that surrounds him, divorcing dads must find the time and energy to maintain or strengthen their relationships with their children.
For many fathers, the advice to become more involved in child-rearing is unnecessary. These dads have been significantly involved in every aspect of their children’s growth and development. Unfortunately, economic forces, misplaced priorities, or outdated notions of fatherhood have kept some dads from proving they can be effective parents.
There is no official checklist or magic formula for fathers seeking to prove they can be responsible caregivers, but there are some basic do’s and don’ts for any newly single father:
1. Spend time with your children and get involved in their after-school activities, such as athletics, music, dance, etc.
2. Take an active role in the children’s academic development by helping them with their homework and meeting with their teachers regularly.
3. Foster positive moral development and encourage attendance at church, synagogue or mosque.
4. Assist in helping solve your children’s problems, whether they be large or small.
1. Lose your temper in front of your kids. Despite the stress of divorce, you must try to control your emotions.
2. Try to be your children’s buddy. Impose and enforce (but not with corporal punishment) reasonable rules of behavior.
3. Interfere with the children’s relationship with their mother.
The bottom line is: get involved. If you have been hovering at the edges of your children’s lives, it’s time to get down on the floor or out in the park with them. Meet their friends and their friends’ parents. Take the kids biking, to the zoo, ballgames, to plays. Read to them, play games, fly a kite, go sledding. Reinforce a sense of belonging together. To the extent possible, share your hobbies with the kids and become involved in activities that interest them. Adjust your schedule to spend more time with your children. Talk, and listen to them.
Prepare for single fatherhood right now, even if you are still living with the children’s mother. Improve (or develop) your performance of child-care chores, such as cooking, laundry, housework, and grocery and clothes shopping. Learn by doing, or enroll in one of the numerous parenting classes at a community college or an adult education center.
The work and responsibilities of solo parenthood sometimes can cause a father to lose heart and doubt his parenting skills. These anxieties can lead to fathers accepting the role of a secondary parent with limited involvement in their children’s lives. But research shows that fathers need not worry. Several studies comparing the child-rearing skills of single fathers with those of single mothers found no difference between the two groups. If you think you can’t be an effective parent because you are a man, think again!
Many divorcing fathers will find that the transition from married dad to single dad can be accomplished with only a minor increase in effort and commitment. For others, a major realignment of priorities and lifestyle. In either case, when compared to the value of fatherhood to children, to fathers, and to society, the price is small.