In Milwaukee, Judge Michael Dwyer advocates mediation, or in other words, he advocates that people stay out of his court room. In my experience, the judges of the Family Court in Australia would agree with him. So there you have it, litigants. Nobody wants you!
Judge Dwyer says, “To me, the court system is set up for two people to fight, and fight as long as possible……which is expensive”.
Judge Dwyer was talking about legal costs, but there are far greater costs attached to being in court than money. The emotional stress for both people is one of the hardest things anyone has to cope with in the court system. Just ask any friends or family who have had that unfortunate experience.
Once you’ve had a fight in the court system with your ex, any shred of hope for having a humane or functional relationship as co-parents, or as two humans comfortably sharing the same planet, is gone. Totally. Out the window. Down the drain. And while you might have your lawyer as your temporary new best friend, when it’s all over, you are the one who will be left with all the debt and the damage.
By far the highest cost of court cases is paid by the children of couples who choose to fight it out there. As Judge Dwyer says, “We know for sure that conflict, parental conflict, harms children and the harm is significant and permanent”.
I’ve never met a parent who didn’t love their children, and who didn’t want to make sure that their children were OK during and after their separation. Sadly, I’ve met many parents who ended up making matters worse for their children, because one of both of them was unable to put aside their own anger and pain to do whatever was necessary to shield their children from that. Often but not always, these families end up as customers of the court system. If they don’t, they may end up in involuntary mediation or cajoled into settlement arrangements and a parenting plan via negotiations between their lawyers.
So. You’ve got parenting and property arrangements to settle. Now how can you avoid court or forcible/involuntary mediation?
Try these steps:
- Decide to stay out of the mainstream legal system. Genuinely decide, that is.
- Communicate your thoughts to your spouse. You may need a wise friend or counsellor to help with this conversation.
- Don’t think about parenting arrangements as something that needs to be mediated. Think about working co-operatively with a child psychologist to help you both understand what is going on for your kids, and how you can respond the best way possible to what they need. A parenting plan that comes from that kind of conversation ends up being about the kids, not their parents. And sorry, but that’s the way it should be.
- Write down your worst fears about money/property settlement.
- Put yourself in your spouse’s shoes when you think about child support, spousal maintenance, property division. What are her/his worst fears likely to be?
- Get help from a financial advisor to understand and plan a settlement.
- Speak to a sensible lawyer about legal information, but decide that you can make your own (supported) decisions, and you don’t have to do what a judge would order you to do. Judges are for people who aren’t smart enough to get the hint that they don’t want you in their court room!
In fact, you know what this all sounds like? It all sounds like the support and advice you can get from a collaborative team.
Maybe try just this one step?
- Contact a collaborative organisation, lawyer, financial planner or psychologist/counsellor. That’s it. No more steps.
(She who knows both systems inside out. And whose mantra and mission it is to keep families out of court.)