Going through a divorce is never easy. Breaking up can be financially devastating due to increasing legal fees, overcrowded court calendars and the reduced values of homes, investments and retirement accounts. But as it often occurs, out of desperation comes inspiration.
The legal system was not designed to settle family matters. The legal process is adversarial, extremely complex and difficult to follow, protracted and extremely financially costly. The most visable purpose of the judicial system is to protect people's rights and liberties, and it is responsible for the fair and efficient administration of justice in crimanal cases. In family matters, responsibility is the key word, not just rights and liberties. Parents have responsibilities that cannot be legislated. Each parent has equal responsibility. It is not a matter of choice. If you are a parent, you have responsibilities to your child(ren). there is no question about it. Furthermore, if a parent embraces his or her responsibilities receptively, a miraculous thing happens - the parent's life is recreated.
I have worked with the Family Court system throughout my thirty years as a professional. I am in private practice for twenty-seven years. During the first twenty years, I worked directly with numerous Family Court judges and attorneys on custody disputes, best interest evaluations, divorce mediation, and parenting education, For the past fifteen years, I shifted my focus to helping parents settle their issues outside the court system. Under my guidance, many divorcing families are intact and raising their children together while others divorced, but are working together cooperatively in the best interest of their children.
I have tremendous deference for the Family Court realizing that what the court does matters enormously. The court has the power to protect children from being hurt or to increase their suffering. I believe that too often the court system along with the rest of society has increased the suffering of children because they are reluctant to pay genuine attention to children during and after divorce. Decisions that reflect the court’s giving priority to parents’ rights are further damaging to children who already are traumatized. It is saddening when I read court documentation where one parent is the plaintiff and the other the defendant where parents are caught in a custody struggle with little regard for the needs of their children. Through the continued conflict, they fail to realize that their children need both parents. One parent is not “more important” than the other parent is. Mothers are not entitled to custody regardless. History (recent and past) of both parents is relevant in deciding the best interest of children. The developmental needs of the children, the distinguishing needs of children of different ages, and giving an older child a place at the table and recognizing his or her voice as a participant are paramount.
Many years of research and experience tells us that the moral dilemma is that many people divorce because they have come to despise the lifestyle and values of their partner. They leave because they do not want their children to be subjected to the toxic influences of the other. Men and women alike leave marriages because of their partners’ dishonesty, manipulative relationships, violent behavior, drinking, infidelity, or overall irresponsibility. They divorce for serious reasons to escape a delinquent or demeaning life only to find themselves in a system that reinstates and even strengthens the values and lifestyle from which they fled.
I do not have an instant solution, nor do I think that conducting a protracted investigation of every alleged misdeed will benefit anyone. On the contrary, such an investigation will be financially and emotionally costly with no guarantee of a real and lasting remedy. What matters most is whether the shared parenting arrangement accurately reflects the needs and wishes of the child(ren), the mental health of the parents, the parents’ stability, the quality of the parent-child relationships, and the degree of open anger versus cooperation between the parents, plus the age, temperament and flexibility of the child. What also matters is the extent to which parents are able and willing to put their wishes aside for the best interest of their child(ren). A healthy shared parenting plan depends on parents giving priority to the child’s changing capacity and needs. With older children, it also depends on asking their opinion and taking it seriously. The bottom line, as research shows, the amount of time each child shares with a parent is unrelated to how well that child copes with life in the family, at school, or on any other measure of social and psychological adjustment. Quality time makes the difference.
“Two are better than one because when one falls he/she does not have anyone to help them stand.” Ecclesiastes 4:9 Life takes unexpected turns often when we are least prepared. Misfortune, which strikes one parent, may visit the other parent at another time. Therefore, it would behoove all parties to be supportive and non-judgmental when one or the other parent falls on hard times or falters in their responsibilities due to poor judgment or cumulative negative circumstances.
Putting a child’s best interest forward and honoring what is best for the child is extremely hard to do in many post-divorce families. It requires parents to stand apart from their raw, hurt, jealous, competitive feelings and take an objective, compassionate look at what life is like for their child(ren). If parents are angry and unable to cooperate or communicate well with each other, the children do not trust either mother or father. Children feel insecure everywhere. Both parents need to be respectful and supportive of each other. Do not place the children in the middle or badmouth each other.
Divorce is the end of an era, the severing of the ties of a partnership that once was strong and full of hope, and too often, personal devastation for one or both parties. Although the partnership is broken, the family remains though it is shattered and shaken. A father, mother and child(ren) always will be a family. A legal divorce document cannot sever the union of parents and their children. If parents will realize and accept this fact, though they are divorced, they always will be concerned about the well-being of one another regardless of circumstances, time or distance. Too often, the conflict and breakdown of communication that characterized the marriage continue. Too often, bitterness, blame, and anger go unresolved preventing closure and new beginnings. It takes a heightened awareness, a lot of on-going work and a high degree of moral, psychological, and spiritual courage including forgiveness to end a marriage in a sensitive and cooperative manner. There are exceptions when it is impossible to epitomize a compassionate divorced family system, but these exceptions are rare.
A legal solution to a family's conflict may relieve temporarily the anxiety and struggles of the couple for the short-term, but it will not give them insight into the "real" issues, which drove them apart, and which will follow them for the rest of their lives. The aftermath of divorce often lies dormant for many years until it is surfaces in family court again when daughter or son stand before the judge to end their marriage and decide the fate of their child(ren).
If the legal system is used to assist divorce, surely, the job of the court is to give priority to the children's needs over the demands of the parent.
I had endured many years of a long, painful divorce and ongoing legal battles with my former husband and his current wife. When I met Elane, I was going through a custody fight with my ex over our children. I was terrified and frantic. I was ready to fight back legally--because I felt sure that was the only way. I was quite distraught and skeptical when Elane told me that families should NEVER go to court. That there should not be winners and losers in a family--but this was the only way I could imagine a change could happen. I had a lot to learn.... As I worked with Elane, I began to trust her wisdom and realized certain important things must go through a process for them to work out and last. I learned a great deal of patience as I "stood still" waiting for the craziness to quiet down. During this time, I was able to look inward, breathe, make needed changes and prepare for the wonderful day when everything came full circle and fell into place the way I wanted them to be. Elane went above and beyond as she worked with both sides in our situation and provided an unbiased report to help us come to a new agreement. I feel there is a perfect combination of wisdom and spirituality that inspires Elane. With her help, my faith has been restored -but most of all I have found my inner peace. I am now at a point of strength in my life! Thank you!