Nancy S. Caplan, Esquire

Nancy S. Caplan, Esquire
Bend Don't Break- Mediate!


Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Shock of Divorce and Making Child Custody Decisions in Mediation

During separation and divorce, child custody and visitation negotiations are very, very painful. Except in exceptional circumstances, separation and divorce require that the parties share custodial time the Children, including for vacations and holidays.  Don't underestimate the shock that comes from the reality that a parent will not get to parent the Children all 365 days each year.  The reality that a parent may not see their Children every Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter or even on their birthdays can cause rage and despair.  The idea that the Children may take vacations without a parent is likely a foreign concept.  Until now.

A person is vulnerable to clouded decision-making during such trauma. It is challenging to make decisions that meet the Children's best interests when the decision-makers are in the middle of an emotional and sometimes a financial emergency.   The process of child custody, child support, and/or divorce mediation is intended to de-escalate the fury and sadness, in stark contrast to adversarial attorney-led negotiations,    More importantly, the calmer, non-adversarial environment of family law mediation, may help people think more clearly resulting in sound choices for the Children.  Those choices and results will have an impact on the parents and the Children for the rest of their lives. Making important decisions when a person is traumatized is hard. Making important decisions when a person is traumatized while being subjected to the other party's adversarial attorney required zealous advocacy makes it harder.

With parents at their most vulnerable, most states, including Maryland, have figured out that in most cases, handling child custody decisions with the help of a mediator is more likely to produce a thoughtful and logical schedule. The courts often require mediation for child custody disputes. When parties negotiate face to face, they get a better "feel" for when to compromise and when to hold firm.  The parties know each other.  Adversarial attorneys often say things or write things that parties would never dare say or write to each other. Especially when it comes to negotiating a Marital Settlement Agreement custody provision, mediation is a far more appropriate forum to create a plan that both parties can live with and which reflects the best interests of the Children.  People who are in shock or at their must vulnerable will not think more clearly under the attack of the adversarial attorney. If you are looking for reason, look to mediation to make child custody decisions during the shock of separation and divorce.

Still not sure? Since the Maryland court system often requires the parties attempt a custody settlement in mediation, you are not wasting your time and you're not taking a risk; Mediation is non-binding until the parties' agreements are turned into a signed written agreement.  There is no excuse not to try to achieve peace or at least a truce through mediation.  You owe it to yourself to not take a bad time and make it worse.  Bend, don't break.  Mediate.

Mediation with Nancy S. Caplan Mediation Divorce & Legal Services is accessible and affordable. Business and evening hours are also available each week.   Make your own life a little bit less hard. Mediate.

Child Custody - Location Location Location

Is there any subject more difficult than Child Custody in a divorce?  Whether you are getting divorced in Maryland or elsewhere, the focus of Child Custody is the best interest of the Child.  After 11 years of separation and divorce mediation practice in Maryland, I've mediated hundreds of case where Child custody was in dispute. If I had to choose the best predictor of successful post-divorce custody sharing it would be the parties' geographic proximity to each other.  The closer the better within reason, of course. 

Even where the parties have torn their co-parenting relationships to tatters, the logistical simplicity of living close to each other goes a long way to reduce potential conflicts. A pair of forgotten boots creates less conflict when the boots are only 10 minutes away.  

When co-parents live close to each other, they are each close to the Child's school and activities. They both live close to their Child's classmates.  More importantly, the most important person to your Child lives close to your Child - his or her other parent! 

Parents who try Child Custody nesting learn faster than others how difficult it can be to have your clothing, personal items, etc., located in two different homes. (In nesting the Child stays in one home and the parents rotate into a different residence when the other parent has custodial time with the Child in the home.  Most often nesting is done in the early stages of separation.)  Your Child will have the same issues living in two different homes.   "Where's my favorite shirt" on picture day or "I forgot a part of my school project at Mom's" is most easily resolved when you live close to each other.

This all may sound like a huge "duh", of course it's easier to live close to each other.  Most people get it.   What people who are getting separated and divorced don't realize is the opposite- how truly difficult life becomes when you live too far apart from each other.  The well of disputes that arise from inconvenient logistics is endless.  Boots, favorite shirts, school projects are just one aspect.  The back and forth on weekends and holidays, traffic issues, being on time for school or work, being able to attend short events in the middle of work day, the list goes on and on.  The complexity increases when a parent's employment is anything more than a short commute. 

So how far is too far?  It depends on the physical custody/visitation schedule. Suffice it to say, less than 15 minutes is ideal.  Up to 30 minutes is tolerable.  After that, logistics impacts each party's regular access to a Child in many cases.  After 30 minutes, dropping in on soccer practice or popping in for the Child's Halloween parade at school is less likely.  

Regardless how the parties feel about each other, most parents realize that a parent's absence from events where most parents attend is not ideal for their Child.  They know it is ideal for a Child to feel as if both parents are engaged and involved in their lives and activities. 

When you are in the midst of the trauma that a separation and divorce cause it may be hard to see the benefit of anything other than distance from your spouse.  But distance from your co-parent is a self-inflicted wound, including the Child's negative reactions to the logistics problem. 

Attending mediation to discuss physical custody as a family is a sensible choice to explore the future living arrangements and locations of each party's home.  If the family home is to be sold, this controlled, mediated discussion is even more urgent because both parties will be relocating at a time where communication between the parties may be at an all-time low.  Using attorneys to discuss where everyone wants to live is very cost-ineffective and attorney-led discussions are intentionally adversarial.  In mediation the parties can freely discuss the options, and better yet, each party gets a close-up view of the other party's relocation ideas. If one parent knows for sure where he or she will "land" after the home is sold, the other party may act accordingly.   Discussing residential options and school district choices before permanent relocation often avoids school district conflicts. 

Planning your post separation and divorce relocation together in mediation is a controlled way to avoid co-parenting conflict in the future, and it is likely that each party will be anxious to end the conflict and move forward to a less stressful stage of life.  Bend, don't break. Mediate to a brighter resolution of your conflicts with Nancy Caplan Divorce Mediation and Legal Services. 

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