Stop Seeking Justice in Family Court-- It's The Wrong Fight
Often I hear other parents experiencing divorce and separation exclaim:“It’s not fair! The judge didn’t even look at my forms! I brought evidence. Why didn’t my attorney refute that?” While they flail about with a spinning head my heart breaks for them.
I get it. During a custody conflict the experience feels wrought with tension and a need to get much deserved justice. I mean… that’s what courts are for… JUSTICE! It’s been my experience family court centers on delivering rulings each party must learn to live with not what you “deserve.”
Judges have a snapshot of time to review evidence provided, attorneys juggle a variety of cases, and the next case waiting to be heard waits in the hallway outside the courtroom. They don’t have time to hear about a lurid affair or the questionable decisions of your ex. And only if they knew the monster your former spouse transformed into maybe they would change their ruling? Probably not.
It’s not that the judge doesn’t care about you or your child. The issue lays in the fact the judge absolutely cannot stay abreast of your previous 5 years of custody issues. You are a case number and a quota—they have a big job and need to keep things moving. So what’s a judge to do? Focus on finding a solution everyone (including your child) must live with. Justice isn’t the focus, a workable solution, is. The judge can't make your feelings of resentment go away in a ruling, he/she can't mend the fences in a trial-- the judge can assess as best as they can.
In the end, everyone feels the pangs of inconvenience: less time together, tighter schedules, less money for living expenses the list goes on. Family court simply doesn’t prioritize what you think is fair because the reality nothing about it is fair. It hurts. It aches. And whatever semblance of control you wanted you most likely won’t get.
Nothing about cashing out your retirement, questioning the ability to meet each month’s expenses, and worrying every night feels fair. Losing precious work hours to stay home with your sick child and going to work when you have the flu doesn’t seem quite like a partnership with a co-parent. Assuming all the costs of presumably shared expenses and filing court fees for compliance certainly creates a lack of confidence in the system.
A stipulation is a piece of paper and the non-cooperative party knows that--- for it to have teeth you are burdened with the responsibility to enforce it. Enforcement comes at a cost. And are you willing to forgo groceries to pay an attorney to compose a letter?
No wonder so many parents give up the fight. The emotional and financial toll hardly feels worth it when bills need paid. Seriously you may have to face the most impossible of choices and the court system doesn’t delve into your reasoning unless you have an attorney that is dedicated to you.
Court isn’t fair. But neither is the situation for your child. They suffer while you hash out details and worry about what’s owed to you. Court for many is about working within the system to regain/maintain power. For instance, a woman wronged by her husband’s affair and his pilfering of their finances. She is seeking control of her situation because her husband unilaterally made decisions that would impact all their lives without her consent. I truly liken this to emotional and financial rape. You never recover from that violation—it sticks with you.
And the husband--- he wants a life outside of this woman. He craves independence and he wants the power to make his own decisions and still be a parent. He doesn’t want to be marginalized for not being the mom in this situation. And regardless of what she thinks... he hurts too. So… they fight. Efforts concentrate on winning when honestly family court isn’t designed anymore for winners and losers. It’s a stalemate system.
So what’s my advice after years of embroilment in the system: set a realistic expectation of what court will do for you. And honestly ask your attorney to give you the skinny and tell your attorney how aggressive you need them approach matters. Why? It’s a waste of money to spend time negotiating back and forth for the umpteenth time--- have your money go to what matters like proving why you need sole decision making or determining the amount of support needed using actual financials. And then tell yourself it’s not about creating a list of demands.
Be willing to give, but don’t give in. You spent a small fortune getting here and if you need the court’s help to enforce the best interests of your child, see it through.
Follow your attorney’s advice too; they know what courts need. If you think your attorney isn’t getting anywhere—they might not be. Fire a bad attorney. Sincerely the attorney client relationship needs to work like a well-cared for marriage. Neglect it and you end up in two different rooms. Nurture it and they will move mountains for you; it’s not just a paycheck they get from you. When the relationship ends they want you to walk away feeling good and singing their praises. You generate confidence in the relationship by caring for it.
Think positive. Divorce and custody conflict deplete your reserves. Practice patience, make lists, color, pretend to craft a bullet journal, take 5 minutes to meditate, invest in paper plates. And get a therapist. A really good therapist. Why? Because the jockeying for control and the manipulation tactics will mess with your mind. Your need to regain a sense of control can cause you to spiral and the depression from this loss occupies your brain almost constantly. Even if you wanted your marriage to end a very real grief accompanies the relief.
And remember, thinking positive isn’t planning your victory. It’s reconciling what you’re willing to live with and making peace with that discomfort. Every decision, every step towards a better direction, must have what’s in the best interest of your child. Keep your child’s discomfort top of mind so that you can check your ego and work for them every second of the experience. You may not leave with all the custody time you envisioned, the support amount may seem unreasonable, but leave that courtroom with a piece of paper you are committed to helping your child live with. Because in the game of fighting for control, poor kid didn’t even get a chance.