Negotiating parenting time in a divorce before court
February 21, 2012 6:03 PM   Subscribe

Very shortly, I will have the once in a lifetime opportunity to sit down with my soon-to-be ex-wife and discuss between ourselves the terms (and therefore set the tone) of our final divorce (married about 15 years). If this conversation fails to get us on the same fundamental page, it’s off to a mediator or even a trial. And I’d love to avoid that, but I don’t know the best approach for having the conversation I want to have.

The details are not necessary here. What is important is that we both want to be the primary parent in our two pre-teen kids’ lives. We have a temporary agreement that makes her primary, because when we first started living under that agreement 8 months ago she was unemployed, having been the primary caretaker (by time, but not by involvement) for the past 10 years. I currently get 5 out of 14 days.

My position is I am just as suited to be primary, because I have a flexible work-from-home job and have been an involved dad since they were born. I can continue to support them, pick them up from carpool, do all their events with them, cook with them, etc. She still has no job, but when she gets one, it’s pretty much a given that it will be nowhere near as flexible as mine.

The fundamental issue is that she feels she is automatically entitled to being that primary parent, either because she’s a woman, or because she’s been the stay at home caretaker, or both. She was the one who initiated the divorce, yet does not seem to grasp that she’s going to have to bust her butt to support herself, doing what she *has* to do rather than what she *wants* to do. We each have issues with the other’s parenting style, not unlike this. Because she’s the permissive one, she is trying to minimize my ability to parent them and save them “stress” from having to comply with my rules, and has appointed herself the protector. For the record there is no DV, no abuse, no witnesses, no evidence, nothing. Just an “angry dad” assertion with nothing to back it up.

I am willing, should we be able to negotiate a deal ourselves, to take 50/50 parenting time in lieu of dragging everything through court.
Several counselors have said our kids would do great under a true 50/50 plan, but she refuses to accept their opinion on that. All the experts say kids to the best when they have maximum exposure to each parent, and the only way to accomplish that is with 50/50.

We both have attorneys, and hers is a particularly adversarial one who is, quite frankly, a bully. I understand her motivation is to fight for her client, but some of the stuff she’s done is over the top. Her attorney likes to argue and has positioned me as a control freak. Last I checked, that’s not the same as an abuser, but nonetheless they probably plan to claim my soon-to-be-ex was forced to file to end the marriage, and as such deserves more parenting time and lifetime alimony.

So it boils down to these questions:

How can get it through to my soon-to-be-ex that If we go to court and both make strong cases to be primary, we’re likely to wind up at 50/50 anyway?

How can I get her to realize listening to her attorney is not in the best interest of the lifetime health of our families?

How do impart this knowledge to her without sounding accusing, demanding and controlling, which would automatically make her discount the information?

How do I not say something that, should we go to trial (where I’d have to seek primary), she could bring up to the judge, as in “Your honor, my husband is asking for primary in court, but previously had suggested 50/50, he has changed his position” ?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (36 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Honestly, your tone here does sound a bit controlling and dismissive of her. You don't have much leverage if she is willing to go to court, so you are not going to win by sheer force of your opinion; and her lawyer, correctly, will not let her get pushed around by you. Mediation might be a good first step instead of pissing your wife off and making her harden her position. But if you don't enter mediation with some respect for her and humility about your own opinions, then it probably won't work.
posted by yarly at 6:18 PM on February 21, 2012 [10 favorites]


I thing this is mostly unanswerable, but this part is easy:

How do I not say something that, should we go to trial (where I’d have to seek primary), she could bring up to the judge, as in “Your honor, my husband is asking for primary in court, but previously had suggested 50/50, he has changed his position” ?

Either don't suggest 50/50, or don't seek primary. Actually decide what you think is best for the kids and pursue that. Your kids shouldn't be prizes to be won in a marital fight.
posted by jon1270 at 6:24 PM on February 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Short answer? You can't "make" or "get" her to do anything. She's fighting for what she thinks is right for her kids, just as you are.

Long answer? I'm not sure what state you're in, and IANAL/IANYL, but depending on the age of the children, if you go to court, there is no guarantee of you getting 50/50 custody - and the younger your kids are, the less likely you'll get 50/50. As the mother of an 8 year old who is remaining in the primary home, my ex-husband would not have gotten 50/50 if he'd taken me to court - he has 50/50 now because it's what's best for our son.

Your best bet is to try to work with a mediator to come up with an equitable solution - but assuming that you'll go to court and "probably get 50/50 anyway" is foolhardy.
posted by dotgirl at 6:27 PM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


The OP is feeling attacked, as many soon-to-be-former spouses might when their counterpart decides to seek divorce and primary custody. Taking him to task for his tone is not helpful.

We both have attorneys, and hers is a particularly adversarial one who is, quite frankly, a bully.

You need an attorney who is both competent and sufficiently aggressive. One or the other won't cut it. If your wife is bringing her attorney to this meeting, you must bring yours. If you don't have confidence in your attorney's abilities to advocate forcefully and persuasively on your behalf, hire one that will.

How can get it through to my soon-to-be-ex that If we go to court and both make strong cases to be primary, we’re likely to wind up at 50/50 anyway?

You're in the posturing stage; nobody concedes to an opponent anything like this at such time unless they privately estimate that the odds are 75/25 of a holding against them. I apologize for making your kids a number, but the reality is that both of you are looking to maximize leverage to bias the results of any settlement.

How can I get her to realize listening to her attorney is not in the best interest of the lifetime health of our families?

Non sequitur. Her attorney is there to protect her interests; the family is not his or her client.

How do I not say something that, should we go to trial (where I’d have to seek primary), she could bring up to the judge, as in “Your honor, my husband is asking for primary in court, but previously had suggested 50/50, he has changed his position” ?

This is a question for your attorney. Suffice it to say that in many jurisdictions offers of settlement or oral accounts thereof are not admitted into evidence.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:36 PM on February 21, 2012 [12 favorites]


What does your attorney think? Is s/he being a good advocate for your parental rights?

Your tone is a little off-putting as others have mentioned. Obviously divorce is quite difficult on people and I understand if you're feeling a little bitter etc. toward your soon to be ex, but I'd recommend letting your attorney do the talking for you if you feel you can't clamp down on this. If her attorney is playing a little underhandedly, she may try to provoke your rage to back up her "controlling and angry" argument. If what you really want is 50/50 custody, you need to keep shrug off any needling that might come out during this process. Let your attorney argue for 50/50 as has been recommended by professionals.
posted by asciident at 6:43 PM on February 21, 2012


OK, there are a few things that come to mind. First of all, if what you want is what's best for your kids, and you think 50/50 is what's best, than that is what you should say. If it goes to court and they ask what you want, tell them the exact same thing. Regardless of your partner's situation, what is best for your kids is equal time between both of you. If you ask for, or even imply that you deserve more than that, than you are no longer doing what is best for your children. If she had some mental illness or was abusive, or something like that, the situation might be different, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

Secondly, if you really want to do this amicably and peacefully, than do not say anything negative about your partner. If she is out of work, don't bring that up. Don't talk about anything that is negative. As soon as she feels you are attacking her, she will get defensive. Make sure that nothing you say is about how you feel you are better than her. Everything should be about how you want what is best for the kids. If your lawyers decide to bring up the negatives about the other party than so be it, but none of those words should come from your mouth. Even if she is talking negative about you, do not try to turn the tables by talking negative about her. The goal here should be to act like adults and figure out what is best, not to try to convince other people which of you is better.

Lastly, in your situation, I would also be a lot less concerned about stuff and money than you might otherwise be without children. You admit that her situation is not as good as yours when it comes to money. You should not be fighting about stuff like the TV. If she asks for more than what you would like, but it sounds reasonably fair and keeps things civil, than just go with it. In 10 years you aren't going to be kicking yourself if she got the furniture, but if she gets full custody of the kids you are going to regret it for the rest of your life.

I guess in essence I'm saying you should go into this acting like an adult. Not like a real life adult, but like the adult you would want your children to grow into. Someone who can look past their emotions to see what is right and fair, can hold their tongue when someone else is badmouthing them, and has respect for their partner's views, even if they are very different than their own.
posted by markblasco at 6:44 PM on February 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


Brother, let me ask you: Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?

Because I gotta tell you, this is a classic case of those two things being mutually exclusive.

I think your kids would benefit from a solution like the following: They wake up at mom's house during the week, you arrive to make breakfast, pack lunches, and drive them to school. After school, you pick them up and ferry them to activities, etc, before dropping them at mom's house for dinner and bed. They hang out with you on the weekends. Maybe eventually this transitions to mom helping them in the mornings and you hanging out with them at night while they sleep over at your place and mom taking them back on the weekends when she's not stressed out with work. Or what if they sleep at mom's, but your ex clears out for three or four hours each night while you cook dinner, help with homework, put them to bed, generally enjoy their silly little selves?

Be creative. Be open. Decide before you walk in the door for this meeting that you want your children to see both of their parents as much of the time as possible way more, one thousand trillion percent more, than you want to be right. Because that's the only way this is going to work.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 6:47 PM on February 21, 2012 [12 favorites]


Courts everywhere tend to favour the mother in such situations, so you are starting from behind. If you really believe that 50/50 is best for the kids, build a strong case for that and argue from the kids' perspective. If you try to argue for a higher level of custody on the basis that you don't like the mother's parenting style, you are never going to win and will appear vindictive. Given that the current situation is she is the 'primary caregiver', courts will always err to preserving the status quo unless there is a reason to do otherwise, so arguing to turn that around completely is going to be somewhere between tough and impossible. Again, if you believe 50/50 is right for the kids, build a case and stick to it.

You're on the back foot here in a couple of ways and your absolute best bet is a mediated agreement because, if you go to court, you are not likely to get anything different to what you have now unless you can prove that the current arrangements go against the welfare of the kids.

If you go to mediation, dial the attitude right down and, ideally, let your hired mouthpiece talk for you. If you speak up, remember 'respond, don't react'. Play it calm, polite and respectful no matter how angry you feel inside.
posted by dg at 6:48 PM on February 21, 2012


Reading this I can feel how angry you are, how much you resent your wife's decision to divorce, and how little you think of her parenting ability and her prospects for a stable future. I can feel your desire to keep your children in your life as much as possible, and your desire to keep them away from her. I can feel that you do not want her to be rewarded in any way for hurting you. I can feel that you do not want her to "win."

No one wins in a divorce, dude. She wouldn't have asked for a divorce if she didn't feel already that she'd lost.

What do your kids want? What will be best for them? I am not talking about what experts you have consulted say. Experts do not know your children or your situation as well as you do. What do your kids want? Do you really think they want what you described here as your ideal -- you in charge as their primary parent, and their mother in their lives only as a visitor? Do you think they want it the other way around?

As the child of parents whose divorce was UGLY and whose custody battle didn't end until after my childhood did, and as a mother myself allow me to suggest a thing to you:

Go into this meeting saying "I love our children and I want to do what's best for them. I want to minimize the divorce's impact on them. I do not want them to feel that their lives have been upended. I do not want them to feel like the rope in a game of tug-of-war. I want them to know that no matter our differences, we both still love them, we both want to parent them, and we both want to give them the stable, loving environment they deserve, whether that happens in one home or two. I want them to spend half their time with me and half their time with you in order to ensure that they know they are still loved by both parents, and minimize the disruption in their lives. I want to shield them as much as possible from the fallout of any disagreements you and I have with each other. Will you work with me on this?"

I hope you won't just say it. I hope you'll mean it, too.
posted by BlueJae at 6:53 PM on February 21, 2012 [38 favorites]


What state is this in? Some states more or less default to 50/50 unless one parent can demonstrate a convincing case for primary custody. Also, do you think your soon-to-be-ex is likely to seek spousal support? What about child-support if she gets primary custody? These could be potential motivating factors. If there's a likelihood that your future ex is going to use having primary custody as a way of getting spousal and child support from you, then there's just no way she won't fight you on it.

The reality is that if you come in with a good plan and good reasons why there should be 50/50 shared support, there is a good chance that this is what you will get. This is nice for the court because they then don't have to order and maintain/enforce various payment schemes. The fact that you are employed (whereas she is not) and have a flexible work schedule weighs heavily in your favor.

All the foregoing said, it's also true that these things tend to be heavily biased towards the mother when it comes to custody. That's just how it is. You might as well forget getting primary custody. On the other hand 50/50 can be a pretty good deal, and if you come into the proceedings as the "reasonable one" there's a pretty good chance you can get it versus having either of you assigned as primary.

Also: if you have a lawyer who knows the system and knows what he's doing, listen to what he tells you.


(NB. I'm not a divorce lawyer, but speak from some amount of vicarious experience in this via friends who have gone down that road.)
posted by slkinsey at 6:55 PM on February 21, 2012


You need a lawyer who can stand up to her lawyer. If you attempt to do this by yourself, you will lose.

I should also say that every child I knew growing up whose parents attempted a 50/50 split were totally miserable. Not because they didn't love their parents and benefit from spending time with them, but because if you never live in one place for more than a few days at a time, you don't actually have a home. You're constantly stressed about where you're supposed to go afterschool and where you left your soccer cleats and you never actually get to relax and feel at home anywhere. A friend of mine in middle school, after a year of a 2-5-5-2 schedule with her parents, ended up breaking down and refusing to see her father at all because she just couldn't take the stress of moving. And her shrink had also previously said she'd do best with 50/50 custody. The point is, make sure that in your (understandable, natural, laudable) desire to spend time with your kids, you don't overlook how stressful it is for them to shuttle between houses, and that you make sure they have a real home that they can feel is stable and permanent and theirs, even if it doesn't end up being with you.
posted by decathecting at 7:10 PM on February 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


Mod note: Folks? Less JudgeMe and more helpful answers please? Thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:11 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I realize you are not on Texas, but if your state is anything like Texas as far as Family Law goes, you will be damn lucky to get 50/50. In my case, I do the whole court ordered every other weekend during the school year and then vice versa in the summer, where I have my son most of the time. But, THAT'S OK. Sure I pay child support, but no big deal, my ex uses the money to support our child, if he lived full-time with me I would no doubt be spending the same amount of money, probably more.

Echoing what Snarl Furillo said above, I see plenty of my son by doing things with him during the week. Going to his sporting events and school activities. What's important is that my ex and I put aside all of our personal issues with each other (and there were a metric shit ton) and focused our energies on what is best for our son. And though we have the court ordered custody agreement, as long as my ex and I agree, he can come and go with each of us as he or we please. Getting along with your ex is important. If she is someone who you think will be flexible with you as far as time with your kids goes, then I would suggest all going with a standard type agreement because it will save both of you money fighting this in court, your kids won't be dragged through court proceedings and there will be less animosity between you two adults
posted by holdkris99 at 7:22 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm a family lawyer. A lot of the above information is jurisdiction specific or incorrect.

You are paying your lawyer a lot of money to give you both practical and legal advice for getting the best resolution of your divorce.

Either talk to your lawyer about this and get on the same page with your strategy, or get a new lawyer who is going to work with you in the way you want and need.

To answer your direct question, with the level of animosity you show in this post (which is normal during a divorce), there is probably no way to get what you want without the help of a mediator or a judge.
posted by freshwater at 7:41 PM on February 21, 2012 [11 favorites]


How do impart this knowledge to her without sounding accusing, demanding and controlling

Based on the tone of your post (which others have spoken to pretty accurately, in my opinion), as long as you think of this conversation as an argument in which one of you wins and one of you loses, you will never be able to do this.

Once you start to think of it as a problem (and a big one, admittedly) that can only be solved by working together, then you can both win. (Do you recoil at the idea that she can win as much as you can? There's your problem right there.)

Note that the solution you two can come up with together with will almost certainly not resemble identically what your "winning" scenario presently looks like in your mind. But what if that's actually the better option for your kids? Do you want to win by beating your (soon-to-be) ex-wife? Or do you want your kids to win by having two co-parents who can work together for their sake?
posted by scody at 7:46 PM on February 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


I agree with pp that there might be a financial motivation in wanting a bigger share of custody- would offering her financial support in the form of alimony make the 50% custody arrangement work? Are you open to that? Because if it 50% custody of your children you want then you might have to make a concession like that.

The other thing to realize- again I think this is dependent on your location- but the reality of co-parenting after divorce is that it works best when there is fluidity and flexibility and any agreement in regards to children is never written in stone and can (and will )be revisited.
posted by momochan at 8:07 PM on February 21, 2012


You might want to ask your children what would suit them best. You will be surprised at how well a eight or ten year old can reason and judge.
posted by francesca too at 8:22 PM on February 21, 2012


For your own sake you need to be clear what you're doing for yourself and what you're doing for your kids. Quite often in custody cases, what gets done "for the sake of the children" is only disguised selfishness. You don't want to be that way. It's not about martyrdom or even doing the right thing. It's about your not wanting to regret what you do now in the future. It's about not creating a situation in which your children could ever, ever second-guess your motives in their family life, and your stake in it.

Whatever happened in your marriage cannot be undone. But what happens in the days, weeks, and months to come is yours to choose. Even if your wife proceeds to behave abominably, you don't have to.

In terms of your (direct or proxy) approach to your wife, I think your goal is starting by finding points of agreement with your Ex, and then proceeding from there. Also, consider:

1) Your children need a home, as other commentators have pointed out. A home is singular, not plural, and 50/50 splits are, to my mind, the height of selfishness. Maybe ... maybe ... they work in that rare case of deeply civilized exes who live within walking distance, but even then, children need one main place to live, that they can call their own, and take for granted. In 50/50 splits, parents are setting their kids up for stress and guilt. Stress because they're always forcing kids to figure out the where and the when, and as kids get older and more independent and have responsibilities of their own there are things they'll want to do other than make sure one parent gets his or her 50%. Guilt because the 50/50 ethos is by nature competitive, and kids are just trying to keep everybody happy. This leads me to my next point....

2) If you really really care about your kids, never, ever, ever, do or say anything against their mother. Always treat her with respect in front of them. Don't make them choose. Don't make them defend. Don't make them second-guess. Don't stress or guilt them. Avoid self-indulgence; be a role model. Find something good to say whenever the need arises, make sure it's true, and then say it.

3) Mediation doesn't pack the emotional punch of court. If you absolutely can't figure this out between you, find a well-recommended mediator with a psychological background who can work with your attorneys. Don't find a mediator with a background in litigation. The litigation angle only encourages conflict.

Certainly, I can promise you, you don't want to go to court. It will be hideous for you, hideous for your wife, and superhideous for your kids. If you need to give up full-time access to avoid a trial, do it. Trials take forever, and the psychological toll they extract is higher than anyone can count.

4) Finally, if all this ends with your wife having primary custody and your needing to pay child support, do it. It's important that your children not see one parent as impoverished either independently or as a result of the behavior of the other parent. The ideal is that both homes be roughly equitable in their level of comfort and basic (emphasis on basic) amenities. That rough equity will also lift worry and consternation off the backs of your children.

Good luck.
posted by Violet Blue at 8:28 PM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think your goal is to starting by finding points of agreement with your Ex, and then proceeding from there.
posted by Violet Blue at 9:26 PM on February 21, 2012


Unfortunately, there isn't a way to convince your wife of something by following a certain technique. It sounds like you see this as a very logical case, and that it's a matter of wanting your wife to see your logic, but (1) I don't think that all of the facts you present are necessarily true (ie that a judge will probably give you 50/50 - though IANAL) and (2) your wife probably isn't going to see your logic. Not when it contradicts what she feels. And if she already sees you as being controlling/demanding, she's gonna be on the defensive, quick to disagree with whatever you present as 'fact'.

You could reframe this argument though, by being open-minded and talking about all the possible scenarios in an unbiased way. Rather than saying "let's try 50/50", say something like, "What would it be like for the kids if we did 50/50? What would be the pros and cons?" Come into the conversation with lots of potential ideas (keeping your own preferences out of it - avoid language like "I think this plan is best..." or "I want us to do this plan..." if you're worried about it being used against you later on) and try to keep the conversation focused on what's good and bad for the kids in each of the situations, rather than what an attorney said is best. If your wife makes comments about your parenting style, instead of either attacking her style right back, or trying to defend yourself, refocus the conversation back on potential plans.

No matter how upset you feel, or how upset your ex gets, do your best to stay calm. Good luck!
posted by violetish at 9:37 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


My ex and I have been divorced and co parenting our daughter for 12 years now, since she was two. We've slipped up along the way, but here's what she'll tell you we did right.

We don't fight. We split things 50-50 on paper, but the reality is that we are both 100% committed to being flexible for her, and to a large extent, for each other. She will never know we got divorced because of his affair with the woman he's now married to. I try really hard to hide my irritation that he doesn't pay for many of her daily expenses now that his wife stopped working and he can't afford it. At some level, I feel like there are similarities to being married-we do best for her when we put her needs first and never undermined the other.

So, do what your kids need and want. And, if their cousin is getting married on "your weekend", for the love of god, let them go. Since your wife wanted the divorce, not you, it's hard to make the argument that she was a crappy or unsafe parent. You're probably both loving and flawed people, trying to do your best.
posted by purenitrous at 9:38 PM on February 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


Have you thought about the day to day of how you will split your time? My parents divorced when I was a baby, and they said for the first few years, they actually handed us off to each other every day, so that they could each work (and not put us in childcare). When I was older, they did a 2-5-5-2 split, with things like birthdays and holidays negotiated separately. (Birthdays were generally together at one house or the other, Christmas was together when I was small, but shuttled back and forth when I was older. As in, Christmas Eve at Dad's, then at Mom's, sleep at Mom's, Christmas morning at Mom's, back to Dad's for another Christmas morning.)
It worked well for fourteen years (as long as I was doing it with my sister), and then it got a bit much and I stayed at one house most of the time.

What made this work best was my parents making a commitment to live near each other-- close enough to walk or a quick drive, so that things forgotten at the other house are less of a big deal. Until I was 8, my Dad lived one block away. If you can do something like that, it would help your kids a lot. Good luck finding a solution.
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:54 PM on February 21, 2012


Just as input on the 50/50 thing--there's a few ways to skin it. From ages 9-14, my parents shared 50/50 custody. Rather than the 2-5-5-2 plan, I'd switch every 2 weeks, which was a nice balance between seeing both my parents regularly without the moving around being too disruptive.
posted by kagredon at 10:23 PM on February 21, 2012


If you were okay with her being the primary caregiver for the past decade very few judges will believe you when you say you have suddenly decided she isn't a good parent and you should have primary custody as well as your full time job. I don't know where you live, but because where I live the amount of child support is tied to the amount of access a parent has, a father trying to get primary custody away from a stay at home mom is assumed to be motivated by the desire to control the flow of money. One way to reduce that argument is the offer the maximum amount of child support and alimony to her regardless of custody, and then try to negotiate increased access. In my jurisdiction a parent (especially a mother) that has stayed at home for a decade would not be expected to have full time employment for several years and the CS/alimony would reflect that (fifteen years of marriage is getting close to lifetime alimony in the guidelines); what has your lawyer said is the worst case scenario for you? Eight months is still pretty fresh and you have an agreement that works now with you almost getting 50/50 access; maybe a better choice would be to let sleeping dogs lie and let everyone's high emotions cool down. If you are conflicting with her lawyer than have everything go through your lawyer to avoid making it personal.

I agree with the other posters though that I have never seen 50/50 custody work well for the children, especially if it is a high conflict couple (which you two seem to be from your description). And I have never seen it work long-term, especially when the children become teenagers and independent. It is also really hard on everyone else that is involved with your children's lives and may lead to missed information and miscommunication. Nobody wins in a divorce with children, even if divorce is the best thing for everyone.

I think your best strategy for this meeting would be to go and really listen to her. What are her concerns and how can you help alleviate them? Your relationship isn't ending, it is changing, and both of you have to change along with it.
posted by saucysault at 10:30 PM on February 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


How can get it through to my soon-to-be-ex that If we go to court and both make strong cases to be primary, we’re likely to wind up at 50/50 anyway?

You don't. If she doesn't get that, she'll have to learn the hard way. Your job is not to teach her, or instruct her, or protect her from her own bad decisions.

Your job now is to protect yourself as best you can from her bad decisions.

How can I get her to realize listening to her attorney is not in the best interest of the lifetime health of our families?

Her attorney is serving her best interests. And her attorney doesn't get shit if you don't go to court. And she trusts him more than you. See my comment above about her bad decisions.

How do impart this knowledge to her without sounding accusing, demanding and controlling, which would automatically make her discount the information?

You cannot. This is impossible.

How do I not say something that, should we go to trial (where I’d have to seek primary), she could bring up to the judge, as in “Your honor, my husband is asking for primary in court, but previously had suggested 50/50, he has changed his position” ?

It doesn't matter. You're allowed to change your mind and to see things a different way. "I said that then. I say this now."
If her attorney asks why...
"I had this thought, or this thing happened".

You see from my history that I've been through the wringer. If you want to MeMail me, I'd be happy to share more.

My main advice - calm down. Try to let the small stuff go. Nobody gives a shit if she gets the TV, or the coffee table.

Just be the better human at all times.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:36 PM on February 21, 2012


My position is I am just as suited to be primary
kids do the best when they have maximum exposure to each parent, and the only way to accomplish that is with 50/50

If you are trying to win her with "logic" then you should recognise you are presenting two conflicting statements; is what is best for your children, that you are primary, or that you share custody? They have very different supporting arguments and switching from one to the other in negotiations weakens your credibility for both.
posted by saucysault at 10:55 PM on February 21, 2012


Because she’s the permissive one, she is trying to minimize my ability to parent them and save them “stress” from having to comply with my rules, and has appointed herself the protector. For the record there is no DV, no abuse, no witnesses, no evidence, nothing. Just an “angry dad” assertion with nothing to back it up.

Wait a minute-- is she actually accusing you of being abusive (rather than just having a different parenting style)? It's the "no witnesses, no evidence" part that makes me wonder. Forgive me, but it almost sounds like you think she has a point but can't prove it. "Your honor, I didn't do it and she has no evidence" does not sound that strong.
posted by BibiRose at 3:43 AM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm really impressed with how amicable the divorces of some of posters on this have managed to be. However, I think this is definitely not the norm.

Courts are likely to rule for status quo, unless they find compelling reasons otherwise. That means the OP does have a lot of reason to try to make a pre-trial or no-trial situation 50-50. If he walks into a trial with an existing 50-50 arrangement and says, "I want to keep it that way", courts are often happy to preserve the status quo and keep from having to make the decision of Who Gets All the Children. Honestly, you're almost undoubtedly looking at shared legal custody anyway, and hugely shared vacations and holidays. Courts love to share custody even when it's /not/ a great idea, because that's the current model they're working off. They flip models every 30 years or so.

Don't walk into a court and say you want primary if you don't. If you say you want primary, and she says she wants primary, the judge is not going to "compromise" on 50-50, he is going to decide both of you can't get along, and give custody to both of you (probably her).

Things I've seen work that other posters have mentioned:
1) Offering financial support regardless
2) Waiving requesting child support
3) Being the reasonable one.

Also, keep in mind she's in a really strong position here and is unlikely to move from it. Don't hate her if she doesn't.
posted by corb at 4:04 AM on February 22, 2012


I actually think the best move would be to go to mediation, but first, you need to think about what you truly want and believe you are "fighting" for - either shared or primary custody, and be prepared with a plan to show how this is best for your kids. Because your opinion is not enough, and regardless of whether your combative tone is justified or not, it's not helpful to your cause. And if she's mirroring it, I can see forsee nothing but ugliness ahead.

But if you are determined to try to do this just between the two of you, I'd suggest you consult with your attorney, and not the internet.
posted by sm1tten at 7:37 AM on February 22, 2012


I'm so sorry you're going through this painful, heartbreaking process. It's awful right now, but things will get better! In the families I've worked with over the years, one really positive custody arrangement arose from a situation similar to yours. "Molly" was the primary caregiver for their three kids (5, 9, 10) and also initiated the divorce. "Sam" was a teacher who had moved fairly close to the primary home when they separated.

For the first couple of years, Molly had the kids most of the time, while Sam picked them up from school 2-3 days a week, did the afterschool activities, supervised homework, and had some fun, relaxing times with his kids before dropping them off at their other home @6 for dinner and bedtime. They took turns having the kids on weekends and handling drs appts, etc. This segued naturally into Sam providing afterschool primary parenting daily once Molly was employed full time.

The best thing they did (IMO) was to sit down together with a mediator/therapist and two identical calendars each year and work out all the dates in advance. They called it the family calendar and posted one in each of their kitchens, so the kids could see the plan clearly and updates could happen easily with a phone call or email. That way all of the sometimes difficult negotiations over holidays, vacations, grandparent visits, etc, happened out of the kids' earshot. They also took a parenting class together after everything had settled down, which helped them coordinate boundaries and expectations in the two homes. Things have shifted with remarriages and since their oldest two are in high school now, but that good clear start has helped them deal with changes relatively smoothly. Something similar may work in your situation or not, but the shared planning is what really made the big positive outcome for that family.

Before you go into your meeting, maybe you could try to figure out what kind of specific arrangement you think would work best for you and the kids without worrying about exact percentages of time or getting bogged down in different parenting styles? Talk it out with your lawyer before the meeting, and try to be open to your ex having different needs that may require a compromise to your plans. And please be as kind to your ex, your kids, and yourself as you can manage right now. Your family changed when the marriage ended, but you'll all be connected forever. Best of luck to you.
posted by aisle9nine at 10:00 AM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


By retaining an aggressive ("bully") lawyer, your STBX is throwing down the glove, drawing the lines, and setting the terms of engagement. This is, therefore, war. As much as you (and many well meaning responders) would like to find nice pleasant intellectual reasonable ways to shift her from that position and get her to play nice -- why should she? She wants what she wants and is saying by her actions that the only way she'll get less than what she wants is if you take it away from her by force. Dukes up. Come and get me.

That means doing what I almost didn't do, but am glad I did: Hire the toughest most aggressive bulldog take-no-prisoners lawyer that you can get. Tell him/her what you want and turn him/her loose. Hold your nose and swallow hard because the fur will fly.

You won't get everything you want, but odds are she won't either; in this kind of pitched battle the outcome will fall somewhere in the middle with both of you feeling like you got screwed. Which is a synonym for "divorce."
posted by reacheround at 10:12 AM on February 22, 2012


That means doing what I almost didn't do, but am glad I did: Hire the toughest most aggressive bulldog take-no-prisoners lawyer that you can get. Tell him/her what you want and turn him/her loose. Hold your nose and swallow hard because the fur will fly.

For the sake of your kids, please do not do this.
posted by kagredon at 10:52 AM on February 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't see how having good lawyers can hurt the kids. The OP says the wife has already decided this is a divorce and that she needs a serious lawyer. (Not clear how someone who is not in the work world can afford this. If this is a case where her parents or a new love are handing her blank checks, that's all the more reason for him to have good representation.)

Seriously, OP, it has come to this. There is nothing you can do about that now. Be as professional as possible about the logistics of the split and then take care of your kids.

I understand why you are hopeful about this sit-down, but it might be best if you used this opportunity to make it very clear to the ex that you want what is best for the kids and you will be committed to that. Let the professionals deal with the details.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 12:20 PM on February 22, 2012


No one said anything about not having good lawyers, and I don't understand your implication that the wife's hiring of a lawyer implies antagonism. The advice I'm warning against is treating this meeting or this divorce with aggression or hostility.

OP, this negotiation isn't going to end with this meeting. It's not going to end with mediation or court. It's going to go on for as long as you and your ex are both in your children's lives. I know that sucks. Dealing with custody is never easy or fun; it's pretty much contrary to the nature of the situation, but it's what has to happen.

This means not burning bridges with your ex. I get how it might be cathartic to think about hiring a super-aggressive lawyer or verbally rip in to her at the hearing or whatever else. And, shit, honestly? If it was just the two of you, I'd say do whatever you want. But that's not the case here. Even if you were to get everything you want, primary custody and so forth, you'd still have to deal with her on an ongoing basis.

Quite frankly, I don't see your current argument going over very well. She was apparently a good enough mother to be the primary, stay-at-home caretaker while you were married, but now that she's initiated proceedings, she's the most unfit parent to have ever parented? That position is not going to do you a lot of favors. You don't like her, that's fine. You don't agree with how she parents or how much she works, or whatever else, that's fine too. But you have to be willing to respect her and be honest and objective about what she is contributing to the raising of your kids, and you have to be civil, because otherwise you and she and your children are going to have a very difficult time. Not just at this meeting, but for the rest of your lives.
posted by kagredon at 1:13 PM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


How can get it through to my soon-to-be-ex that If we go to court and both make strong cases to be primary, we’re likely to wind up at 50/50 anyway?

How can I get her to realize listening to her attorney is not in the best interest of the lifetime health of our families?

How do impart this knowledge to her without sounding accusing, demanding and controlling, which would automatically make her discount the information?


Well, let me start by asking you something, Anon.

Imagine a scenario where you have made many observations on a particular subject. And you have drawn certain conclusions and strong beliefs, based upon your own observations. These beliefs inform the actions you take.

There is another person who has made many observations of their own on the same subject, but over the course of many years you have frequently disagreed with their conclusions and found their conclusions to be not only wrong but harmful. You find the actions they take to be wrong, harmful, negative.

It is also your opinion that this person has controllingly insisted on their own way even when they are wrong (in your opinion) and just streamrolls over what you think is the right thing to do.

Now let me ask you -- what could convince you to follow a course of action that that other person suggests?

Would that other person speaking to you (or speaking about you) in a condescending way convince you to follow their course of action? How about the other person making personal jabs about your lifestyle, attitude, laziness, etc?

Would that other person acting like they are just obviously right and you just need to get their rightness though your thick skull, convince you to follow their course of action? Would it help convince you if the other person saw giving their wrong (to your perspective) opinion as "imparting knowledge" to you?

Would the person appealing to the opinions of "expert" outside parties convince you, if you believed those experts didn't have sufficient knowledge of the specific situation? Or if you knew you could just as easily find experts who would agree with YOUR opinion?

Would it be convincing if the person told you that you should just listen to them and their opinion on the best course of action, rather than the opinion of their paid, professional, experienced counselor - for no other reason than they believe they are right. Again.

The point of this all Anon, is that I think you will never get what you want in this conversation with your ex by trying to get her to change your opinion to yours. I totally agree that you need to avoid coming off as accusing, demanding and controlling. I think trying to prove that you are RIGHT and she is wrong, misguided, in need of being educated and informed by you, will really give that negative impression.

You can give your opinion without trying to force the rightness of it to be acknowledged. I think in this conversation it would be better to just give it. You can give your opinion without needing to prove that her opinion is WRONG. You can tell her that even when you strongly disagree with her opinions you still respect her right to have them. And you want to do your best to work with both your and her opinions as much as possible, even if they conflict.

If you are suggesting something that will require a change in any of your ex's beliefs, try a different tack because I do not think you will be able to successfully change her beliefs or impart any new ones to her. Instead, start from the things she already believes, that you agree with, when making your suggestions. (For example, if you both believe it's beneficial for you to be at as many of their events as possible.)
posted by cairdeas at 10:23 PM on February 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


BibiRose: ... is she actually accusing you of being abusive (rather than just having a different parenting style)? It's the "no witnesses, no evidence" part that makes me wonder.

As BibiRose does, I find myself wondering this. When someone says "no evidence" I wonder "... of what crime?" But closer to your original point, or, well, that of making things work with your kids (I don't know about lawyering but I know some about being a kid from a divorce):

Several counselors have said our kids would do great under a true 50/50 plan

If you do this, and want to be kind to the kids, give them long blocks of time with each parent. Don't do some "move back and forth every week" bullshit. A month at minimum. Maybe an academic term at a time. Also realize that preteen-becomes-teen is a time when they'll start pulling away from you anyways, and the divorce will both accelerate and modulate the process; time out from under one or the other parent's attention can be a gift at that age. Don't get your pain surrounding that withdrawl tangled up with your pain over the failed relationship with your ex, and don't use the kids as a turf war to fight with your ex over. Your kids are people too. Respect them as people you only get to provide the structure for for half (or less) of their teenage years.
posted by ead at 11:13 PM on February 24, 2012


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