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Atty. Robert “Chip” Mues

 This topic is an exceedingly broad one, but I will try to share my insights from the perspective of a practicing family law attorney for the past 34 years.  These suggestions are written in hopes of being practical and helpful (even if they might appear somewhat cynical).  The original idea to write this article was that of Connecticut psychotherapist, Donna Ferber.  I thought it was a great idea to tackle this subject separately with us writing from both a therapist and lawyer’s perspective.

When divorcing parties have children, while it might be desirable, it’s impossible to apply a “no contact rule” and completely disassociate themselves from their ex-spouse.  The parties have to come to some sort of arrangement when they have children and when there is parenting time with their ex-spouse.  Ideally, parents should develop a direct channel of communication with each other and not use their children as messengers. Obviously, research clearly shows that it is in the children’s best interest for both the mother and father to be cooperative in the parenting arrangement.

 It is important to realize that Domestic Relations Courts view their job as disentangling the parties.  Don’t expect the Court to “fix” parenting issues with an uncooperative Mother or Father.  In the Court’s view, the parties didn’t get along very well or else they’d still be married.   Courts generally do not view it as surprising that many parents won’t even agree on what day of the week it is.  Recognizing that philosophical perspective of the Court is very important. If you do, it shouldn’t be a surprise that judges and magistrates typically view trying to solve post-decree parenting issues as virtually impossible or beyond their “job description.”

If you’ve not had an opportunity to check out www.ourfamilywizard.com, I would suggest that you do.  Hundreds of family law judges in over 44 states and 4 Canadian provinces are ordering families to use the Our Family Wizard website in contested cases.  The reason for that is quite simple and that is that families who typically use the wizard approach do not return to Court nearly as often, and in some cases, never again.  The Wizard provides parents with tools to empower them to handle the situations and issues for long term solutions for their children.  The Wizard puts all family information at both parents’ fingertips, including private and shared calendars, a message board, notifications and reminders, a journal, expense log, etc.  There is a charge of $99.00 for a one year subscription per parent.  That amount might seem high, but it is miniscule compared to the costs that would be incurred in returning to Court on a post-decree motion.

 When a client comes in to see me with a significant issue pertaining to an uncooperative ex-spouse, oftentimes I will suggest sending a letter to that individual outlining the problems.  Sometimes, it is wise to try to get the opposing party to agree to engage in family counseling or to utilize the services of a co-parenting counselor.  Many times, the uncooperativeness is a residual from the divorce action.  If both parties genuinely believe that it is important to prioritize the children’s best interest, then family counseling or utilizing a co-parenting counselor is often helpful.  Both sides get to “air” their positions, and the “expert” will work with them to improve communications and smooth out those parenting problems.

In our Courts in southwestern Ohio, it is typical in post-decree motions pertaining to parenting issues to request the appointment of a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) to make independent and objective recommendations as to what is in the child’s or children’s best interest.  This information can be extremely helpful to the Court as it attempts to sift through all the conflict and problems between the parties.  The Guardian ad Litem will typically interview each parent, stepparent or significant other, and talk to the children separately.  Depending upon the age of the child, the Guardian ad Litem may want to observe interaction between each parent and child in a simulated play-type situation.  Of course, all this depends on the history the GAL receives regarding the issues the parties are having.  In Ohio, in order to get a GAL involved, a motion has to be filed for either contempt, or clarification of parenting issues, along with a request to appoint the Guardian ad Litem.  It is not unusual for a period of a month and a half or two months to pass after the GAL is appointed to allow him/her to complete the investigation.

Another thing I often suggest to clients coming from a high-conflict divorce is to become familiar with the diagnosis of a borderline personality disorder (BPD).  Is your ex-spouse just being difficult or is that individual exhibiting classic traits of a BPD individual?  Learning strategies to deal with individuals who suffer from a borderline personality disorder can work wonders.  To learn more about the borderline personality disorder, click here. (www.squidoo.com/difficult_ex)

As unsettling as it may be, you may need to come to the realization that co-parenting with a high-conflict, abusive or mentally ill ex-spouse may be impossible even after multiple post-decree Court proceedings.  If that should end up being the case, then you need to establish the mind-set of doing parallel parenting.  Perhaps Donna can write a supplemental blog article at some point about tips for moving forward with a parallel parenting relationship*. Parties transition at different speeds after a divorce.  Perhaps a parallel parenting approach makes sense now, but with time, healing and growth a more cooperative approach might be possible. 

In summary, Courts really don’t want to become involved in the haggling of parents after the divorce is finalized.  As harsh as it may sound, Courts have large dockets and want to finalize their cases and complete them rather than repeatedly trying to fix issues that oftentimes will never be solved.  That backdrop is important for individuals to understand because many clients have the misconception that the Court will do everything necessary to facilitate a child’s healthy emotional state after the divorce. 

All the suggestions Donna had made in her prior blog article are excellent ones that I whole heartedly recommend.  Everything that can be accomplished on an out-of-court basis should be considered and attempted before resorting to the filing of a motion with the Court; that is, assuming you’re not dealing with an ex who has abused your child, had significant mental health or borderline personality disorder issues, or who has jeopardized the safety of your child.  In those cases, of course, you need to contact your lawyer right away.  Don’t wait!

So, in summary here are my top seven (7) suggestions:

1.      Document, document, and document – It is exceedingly important for a party who is having difficulty with their ex-spouse to journalize and document everything related to the parenting strife so that information can be presented to the Court at a later date.  Start today! Don’t try to reconstruct it after the fact.  This would include keeping a journal with contemporaneous entries as to what had occurred, dates, times, difficulty, etc.  In addition, if possible, commemorate the issue in a short, civil email to the ex.  We want to try to avoid as much as possible the “he said, she said” stalemate.  Remember, your lawyer can only present at Court what you provide to him or her.

2.     Get your child into see his/her own counselor – If you end up in Court, it is imperative to have a report or perhaps testimony from a psychologist/therapist as to how the parenting  strife is negatively impacting your child’s best interest. That expert testimony might well carry the day!

3.     Try to get your ex to utilize the services of a trained family therapist and/or co-parent counselor – Try to do that yourself without the assistance of an attorney; but if you’re unsuccessful, your lawyer may be able to send a letter to try to encourage that resolution rather than returning to Court.

4.     Our Family Wizard – Check out www.ourfamilywizard.com and see whether you think it might be helpful to you.  There are other competing websites that offer similar type of assistance.  Again, discuss this with your ex and try to get an agreement to give it a try.  I believe ourfamilywizard.com offers a 30-day free trial.  If you can’t get cooperation, this may be another area that your attorney may want to include in a letter to your ex or include in the motion in Court.

5.     Learn more about mental health issues – Spend time learning about mental health issues, such as borderline personality disorder (BPD) and bipolar disorder.  Many articles are available online as are numerous books to help you discover techniques to coexist with your ex-spouse.

6.     Consider parallel parenting – Read and learn more about how parallel parenting can be the most effective arrangement in many cases for moving forward with a totally uncooperative ex-spouse.  Does that mode of parenting at present make more sense than continued head-banging in Court?

7.     File a post-decree motion in Court – When all of the out-of-court steps have not been successful and there is a decent likelihood of making the situation between you and your spouse better rather than worse in Court, have your lawyer file a motion for either contempt of the prior order or for clarification of parenting issues.  Also consider requesting the appointment of a Guardian ad Litem.

Be sure to consult with a family law attorney to discuss your specific parenting problems. Courts and their perspectives vary. Advice as to the manner to proceed can be predicated in great part upon the tendencies of the specific Judge who will hear your case.  An experienced divorce lawyer can evaluate your options and make the appropriate recommendations as to how to move forward in a constructive positive manner.

 

About the author:

Robert “Chip” Mues- Attorney “Chip” Mues has been focusing his legal practice on family law matters for over 33 years.  He has been the managing partner of the Dayton, Ohio, law firm of Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues since 1998.  Mr. Mues is a strong advocate of utilizing a holistic multi-disciplinary approach in divorce and family law cases.  He regularly includes psychologists, therapists, accountants and other professionals as part of the client’s “team”.  Chip is particularly proud of being the publisher of the acclaimed Ohio Family Law Blog since 2007.  The scope of his blog is much broader than most family law blogs which usually focus just on divorce topics.  The Ohio Family Law Blog regularly publishes informative articles including tips about strengthening relationships, parenting advice, tax and other non-divorce issues.  Martindale-Hubbell recognizes Robert L. Mues as an AV® preeminent rated attorney, the highest such rating available to any individual lawyer. You can read more about his work at http://www.hcmmlaw.com and follow his worthwhile blog at http://www.ohiofamilylawblogspot.com

*Next week-Following up with Chip’s suggestion, I will discuss Parallel Parenting. As always many thanks to Atty Mues for his expertise and time. His contribution to this blog is greatly appreciated.

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6 Comments

  1. CJ Golden on the 26. Feb, 2012 remarked #

    All of this hinges, of course, on the ability of the parents to relate to each other in a manner that allows the best interests of the children to remain their number one priority. This takes compassion, sensitivity, creativity and good old common sense. ‘Tis a shame that one or more of these qualities are often subjugated to the personal hurt and anger they feel towards each other.

    • Donna Ferber on the 27. Feb, 2012 remarked #

      Absolutely. Which is why next week’s blog on Parallel Parenting may be helpful. Many couples who want the best for their kids are so angry or hurt, that regardless of how hard they try co-parenting it is fraught with similiar conflict as was the marriage.

  2. Wendy on the 05. Mar, 2012 remarked #

    These are all great suggestions and I followed all but #4 above. The only reason I didn’t use #4 was because it wasn’t available yet.

    That being said, I still spent an untold number of hours in court as well as an astronomical amount of money.

    The ONLY thing that saved me from losing my mind, was the suggestion of the third Family Services worker. She wrote in her report that I should start sessions with a licensed drug and alcohol counselor and/or attend Al-anon meetings. (My ex and his new bride had multiple substance abuse issues.) She also wanted them to attend AA. But you know the old saying, “You can bring a horse to water…”

    I did seek the services of a LACD (Donna) and became familiar with the disease model of addiction. And under her guidance, I attended Al-anon. These two things literally saved my sanity and my life.

    Therefore, I would add to your list above: If one or both of the parents have substance abuse issues it should be mandatory for parents to work with an LDAC and attend AA or Al-anon or Narc-Anon.

    Furthermore, all court personal (including judges)should be knowledgeable in the disease model of addiction.

  3. Cremilda on the 05. Mar, 2012 remarked #

    thanks very much for this great post! i had a lot of interesting thoughts while reading this which i might just put into action right away. thanks!

  4. Chip Mues on the 15. Mar, 2012 remarked #

    I appreciate each of your comments and suggestions. Wendy, great idea and I will include your suggestion if there are addiction issues! Excellent!

  5. family counseling on the 07. Aug, 2012 remarked #

    These are great insights on how to deal with an uncooperative partner when settling a divorce. Those who are dealing with a similar situation will surely find this article helpful. Thanks for sharing.

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