Divorce is hard for anyone, but it’s harder if you have kids. Now, not only do you have to worry about and tend to your broken heart, but you have to do the same with your children. But let’s make one thing clear: kids do better wherever conflict is lowest, so if you and your spouse are fighting often, you’re doing the right thing by separating (in regards to your kids).
Hopefully knowing that separating in a high-conflict situation is best for your kids brings you some peace of mind, but we know that the process is still difficult. The best thing to do for you and your kids is to hire a family attorney – even if you think you and your soon-to-be-ex can work this out alone.
Custody agreements are complex, as are the laws around them. Getting professional legal help will make sure yourself up for co-parenting success.
Table of Contents
- 1 Reframing Custody Agreements
- 2 What is the Automatic Custody Split in My State?
- 3 Do My Kids Get a Choice in the Matter?
- 4 What Experience do You Have With Cases Like Mine?
- 5 What is your Preferred Mode of Communication?
- 6 Do You Foresee Us Needing to Go to Court?
- 7 Do You Have the Time and Energy to Take On My Case?
- 8 Working with a Family Attorney: Be Honest and Open
Reframing Custody Agreements
Many people think about having custody as being a parent separate from their ex, but that’s not true. Unless you have 100% custody and a no-contact order, you’re always going to be a co-parenting team with your ex. You’ll need to consider their opinion when you make decisions about certain things, which you’ll layout with your lawyer.
The better you can work together with your ex, the happier and more well-adjusted your kids will be to this whole process.
That said, there are still some areas where you need to look out for yourself, in terms of custody.
What is the Automatic Custody Split in My State?
Some states will automatically assign split custody to parents unless they contest it in court. These splits are generally fifty-fifty, which may not be fair to you, your spouse, or your circumstances. While you can find this information online, your lawyer will know exactly how to fight these kinds of custody declarations.
Most successful family lawyers have relationships with judges in the area and can tell you what those judges need to see to assign differential custody.
In most states, these automatic splits happen the minute your divorce is legalized, so it’s important to find a good family lawyer and start working on your legal custody agreement as soon as the divorce process starts, even though you probably don’t feel like doing anything at that point.
Unmarried Mother Custody
Another thing to think about, if you’re separating but you’re unmarried, is if your state gives automatic custody to mothers in your state. It differs from state to state, just like automatic splits do.
Do My Kids Get a Choice in the Matter?
Explaining why divorces happen to kids is one of the most difficult parts of the process emotionally, but there are logistical things to consider too. The judge will consider the parental relationship with the children in their custody decision, but the general rule is that kids 12 and older are the ones that will make their own decision about who to live with.
Of course, their opinion isn’t the number one factor – a judge is not going to grant an abusive parent custody, even if the child states in court that they want to live with them. The child’s wellbeing is the priority of the court.
Now that we’ve covered some of the basics about custody itself, you’ll also need to ask your lawyer some practice-specific questions, like …
What Experience do You Have With Cases Like Mine?
Families are like snowflakes, there are no two that are truly alike. Your lawyer knows that, and they know that they’ll have to have a strategy specific to your situation. However, they may have experience with situations that are comparable to yours.
It’s important to ask them about this during your first consultation. You don’t want to be the first case an attorney has ever had who, for example, plans to continue living with their ex after the divorce. You’re paying for their expertise, not what they “think” they can do.
You’re also welcome to ask them for direct references who can speak to what it was like to work with them from start to finish. Your lawyer should be able to provide 2-3 contacts for you to speak to, should you decide to call references.
What is your Preferred Mode of Communication?
As casual as it sounds to those of us who didn’t grow up texting, some lawyers prefer to text case updates to their clients. As long as it’s discussed beforehand and formatted appropriately (with sensitive information redacted), it’s an accepted practice in the legal field.
Others do everything through email, or over the phone. You’ll want to know their preference and communicate yours – as you’re the one paying them.
Do You Foresee Us Needing to Go to Court?
These days, family legal matters are so normal that most custody cases don’t go to court unless the two parties really cannot agree, or there is abuse involved. Your lawyer and your partner’s lawyer will work together to keep everything out of court, or perhaps you’ll agree to hire a mediator.
Most lawyers have a court fee, or increase in their rate for being in court, which is a follow-up question to ask if their answer to the above question is yes.
Do You Have the Time and Energy to Take On My Case?
Finally, the last thing you need to ask a family attorney is whether or not they feel comfortable adding your case to their current caseload. You deserve a reasonable slice of your attorney’s attention – and they should be honest about this with you.
If after your consultation they decide they can’t take you on, they should be happy to provide you with recommendations in the area for someone who can.
Working with a Family Attorney: Be Honest and Open
Before we go, we want to mention that it’s important to be open and vulnerable about your situation. Your lawyer can’t help you to the best of their abilities unless they know the whole picture, even if it involves something you’re not proud of, on your side or your ex’s.
And finally, make sure you like the family attorney you’re working with! You’re going to be spending a lot of time together moving forward.
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