Dealing with the stress of a court process which may take time?
May 1, 2015 12:28 PM   Subscribe

We are involved in a court process which may take some time to complete. The stress is getting to me. How can I deal with this better?

The short version: my husband has a child from a previous marriage who lives, not by his choice, in another city. I have been involved with him since this child was very young and have a good relationship with the kid. I fully support all of his parenting efforts and we enjoy our time with the child and also enjoy regular Skype time with him.

Their initial visitation agreement was intended to be adjusted on a yearly basis. The time has come for An adjustment, and his ex is not cooperating.The delays have been numerous: first. Her grandmother was sick; then her other grandmother (not the sick one) died. Then she agreed to a small modification for the holidays, but in the context of a swap and not an outright increase.

This has been going on since mid-December. Finally last month, my husband asked his lawyer to file papers to get in front of a judge. The preparation of those papers took several weeks. Now, they have been filed and we are waiting for word on the court date. And then before the court date, we have to do a settlement conference...

It just seems like this is going on forever. Everything takes time to prepare. Everything has delays, or steps we must do first, or offers and counter-offers. I know this is how the process works, but the feelings of living your life in a sort of limbo is a terrible one. We need to make plans for some of these visits. They involve transportation arrangements, hotel arrangements and so on. We have to save money based on how many there will be. There are family events we have to rsvp for and we don't yet know if the child will be joining us. I am getting pressure from my family to commit our attendance, and I can't do it until this process is done.

The stress is getting to me. I have seeing my husband so torn up emotionally about this. He just wants the chance to be with his son. I am a child of divorce myself and I suffered from having a father who was not as involved. If I had a father who wanted me as much as he wants his son, it would have been a very different childhood for me.

I am also finding my own anxieties coming into play as this drags out ever-longer. I have nightmares about it. I worry about paying the lawyer bills. My husband is getting a modest inheritance this year and all his money is going to this. It seems like such a waste to me. It feels like she is dragging this out because making him spend money is the only way she can punish him. The access time he is asking for is so modest, but she simply will not cooperate.

We are facing several more months of this. How can I cope better with a stressful process that feels like it will go on forever?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
We are facing several more months of this. How can I cope better with a stressful process that feels like it will go on forever?

Take the long view. Honestly. That's the only thing I could think to do. This is going to be a long, multi-year process. It will never end, so much as just sort of fade away as the child ages.

I had a countdown in my head of how many days until my son turned 18. It gave me a lot of pleasure to feel those numbers diminish.

Also, you can often get agreements on events ahead of time ahead of having a larger settlement deal. Put together a reasonable offer, and have your lawyer forward it on with an expectation of when to respond. If she won't cooperate, then that sort of looks bad for her and if she does, you win.

And I know it's hard as hell, but don't ever talk bad about mom. Be the better human in all cases. Hopefully, that is hard for you - in my case, his mom made being a better person so very easy, and that was a suboptimal outcome for everyone. Keep your chin up.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:41 PM on May 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

Pogo_Fuzzybutt: "Take the long view. Honestly. That's the only thing I could think to do. This is going to be a long, multi-year process. It will never end, so much as just sort of fade away as the child ages. "
Yes, this. Unfortunately, these situations (where one party refuses to co-operate in the best interests of the children) never really go away until the kids are old enough to choose for themselves.

Not an easy task, but one thing you could do to lessen the overall impact is to ditch the lawyer and do the work yourselves. Lawyers generally don't really care about the outcome or the impact on people and have something of a vested interest in making things longer and more complicated than necessary. Or find a lawyer that will assist you with advice on the technicalities and do the actual leg work yourself (which is a huge component of the legal cost). Learning more about the process and understanding what is going on better may make you feel less stressed about the whole thing. Dramatically lower expenses would reduce the financial impact, although the stress of making sure you do everything correctly may be significant at first.

Consider whether it's possible to ditch the yearly review thing and set up a longer-term agreement that, for example, includes more visitation as the child gets older (if that's the issue/goal). Potentially more pain up-front, but that may allow the legal stuff to fade into the background over time.

In the shorter term, tell your family to back off. It sounds like they're being a bit unfair expecting you to make firm commitments when you have no real control over the circumstances.

This stuff is never easy for anyone. Hang in there.
posted by dg at 3:48 PM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is a good question, and I wish I had a better answer. I'm afraid my answer boils down to "get used to being miserable and angry." Hopefully someone whose court limbo experience was more mild than ours can provide more constructive suggestions.

The best thing I did was learn to expect the absolute worst. The other party dodged service and wouldn't respond to anything. The court would give them a six week extension to continue refusing to respond. Once I started expecting that no progress would occur and nothing good would happen, it was easier.

You say you are facing "several more months of this." For us, it took two years. Are your expectations low enough? If you knew now that you wouldn't know for another nine months, would that change how you handled the RSVP situation?

Another thing that helped was to learn the pattern of stress. E.g., on court days, I generally took off the remainder of the day if I could. Once I started preparing for the fact that I'd want to spend the rest of the day walking around speechless with impotent fury, it made it much more tolerable. :) That settlement conference may well really suck. (Ours did.)

The financial stress caused by legal fees was incredible. Our lawyers had almost no willingness to even be attentive to this, e.g., to even notify us when we'd reached X number of hours for that month. I have no ideas there. At least you have some inheritance that can help pay for it.

You're right that your entire life ends up feeling in limbo, occupied by boring tasks, financially vulnerable, and under siege. If your situation is less all-consuming than mine, you might be able to find solace in moving forward on other goals. But for me, it was all-consuming. I hunkered down with a few close friends, watched a lot of dark movies, and stopped expecting myself to accomplish as much because all our energy was going to this.

I'm sorry to sound so negative. Maybe someone whose situation was less all-consuming can say more hopeful suggestions. But one day it will end, and your life will go back to normal. Hopefully you'll look back and realize it was an experience that made you more sensitive to others' hardships and made your relationship stronger.
posted by slidell at 3:58 PM on May 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

A couple things:

1) Your husband may want to talk to his lawyer about the availability and appropriateness of mediation for this case. It is sometimes amazing how well mediation can quickly (and cost-effectively) resolve disputes that are similar to what you are describing in your question.

2) The settlement conference might help resolve this quickly, because this may be an opportunity for the other party to get lectured by the judge, if the other party is being unreasonable, and it may encourage a settlement agreement. You husband can ask his lawyer about what happens at settlement conferences, and this may help resolve some of the concerns about how long the entire process may take.

3) This does not have to be drawn out for years - high-conflict cases often take a long time, but there is nothing in your question that suggests you have that type of case (e.g. no police involvement, no restraining orders, no CPS, no substance abuse, etc.). Your husband may want to talk to his lawyer about whether ongoing delay tactics by the other party can serve as grounds to modify the current order that permits adjustments every year. My guess is an order allowing yearly adjustments presumes good faith by both parties and implicitly recognizes that drawn-out disputes are not in the child's best interest. It may be worth the expense to permanently change the order now and then be able to prevent yearly episodes of this kind of stress.

4) I suggest RSVPing to include the child. It seems a lot easier to withdraw the RSVP than to add it later. I imagine that people will understand, and in general, people RSVP and then don't show up for all kinds of reasons. As soon as you know that the child can't attend, then revise your RSVP. While it's not ideal, RSVPing now would allow you to be sure to include the child once this case is resolved.

5) Your husband may also want to talk to other lawyers for additional opinions and to better understand his options, if your husband feels that his current attorney is not responsive to his questions or talking about how to save legal fees with alternatives like mediation. Information about how to find an attorney is available at the MeFi Wiki Get a lawyer page, including links to state-specific resources. An attorney won't be able to promise an outcome, which can definitely increase the stress for clients, but talking with attorneys about how to limit the time and expense may be worthwhile in this situation.
posted by Little Dawn at 6:48 PM on May 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

I have found accepting that some aspects of the legal drama are out of our control helps lessen the impatience. Don't expect any particular court date to be the end of it.
Mediation may well help. Also ask the lawyer if there's anything you can do to manage the costs.
Plan for the best (kid with you for holidays, events), but expect the worst (endless legal fees, minimal kid visit).
It is all an investment in spending time with the kid. And as you seem to know, that's really valuable.
Also, keep up the contact with the kid.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 8:18 AM on May 3, 2015

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