July 2005 -
Avoiding the Revolving Courtroom Door
Itís to be expected that you and your ex are going to have
some disagreements as you continue to parent your children together. All parents
disagree and those who are separated or divorced are likely to have differing
views on a lot of things. Having different opinions isnít a problem, as long
as youíre able to find a way to work out the conflict on your own. You arenít
going to always see things eye to eye, and youíre going to have to learn to
compromise and work together somehow.
Some families find that they canít work out these conflicts
together, and so they end up heading back to court. When I was practicing as
an attorney, many of the families I worked with went through the Family Court
revolving door. They would come back again and again, asking the court to help
them sort out their problems. They were recidivists. Some families were back
every few months. And the problems they brought to court were small. The issues
were not changes in the family or big new developments, rather the underlying
problem was that they had no basic conflict resolution skills to use when disagreements
Family Court is there to help you, and there are definitely
times when you have no other option but to go to court and ask for intervention.
However, constantly swinging in and out of that revolving courtroom door does
more damage than good. Some parents use court as payback. ďIf you donít give
me what I want Iíll take you back to court.Ē Some find it hard to imagine working
out a compromise on their own, having been trained to believe that they donít
have the power or the ability to solve family problems themselves. Family Court
does certainly discourage cooperation between parents. Think about Ė you sit
on opposite sides of the room so you canít even see each and arenít allowed
to speak to each other at all, while a man or woman in a black robe listens
to everything you say about your family and then makes a decision about how
your family should be arranged.
Returning to court creates an environment of ongoing conflict
in your family. You and the other parent are always waiting for another court
date, or are about to file papers. Your child grows up believing that mothers
and fathers must always work against each other. Your child never gets the sense
that you and the other parent are working together for him or her. Not only
is this disturbing for your child, but itís incredibly disruptive in your own
life. Itís next to impossible to hold down a job if youíre spending half a day
every few weeks at the courthouse. And all of you are on constant pins and needles
because nothing is certain for any length of time. Thereís always the possibility
of a big change depending on what the judge decides.
You can avoid the revolving door. Follow these tips:
- First, have a meeting with your ex to try to talk through
whatever it is you are disagreeing about. Set some rules about what you will
discuss and how you will treat each other. Hold the meeting for a scheduled
period of time and try again another day if you donít reach an agreement.
Focus on reaching a compromise this means neither one of you gets everything
you want. Instead it means give and take.
- If you get nowhere in person, try negotiating by email
or written notes. This gives you time to think over what youíre going to say
and how to say it, whereas in person some people are more likely to fly off
the handle. Focus not on proving you are right, but instead on finding something
you can both live with.
- Try to develop an attitude that allows you to tolerate
some of what your ex does. Ok, so maybe he drops your child off half an hour
late each week. Is it really worth several months of turmoil and court appearances
to get that changed? Try to live with the small things if you can. Conflict
feeds on itself. If you can gradually de-escalate your battles, you may find
there is less to fight about.
- If you have big problems that canít be resolved, try
going to mediation before heading back to court. Mediation is less expensive
than hiring lawyers and is much faster than going through court. In mediation,
you and your ex make all the decisions and the mediator is there as a neutral
third party to guide you along. Mediation not only helps you resolve todayís
disputes, but it also trains you to handle future disputes on your own.
- If you absolutely have no choice but to go back to court,
tell your attorney you want to work out a settlement. The two attorneys can
meet to hammer something out, or you and your ex can meet along with your
attorneys and discuss your options.
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