Resolving Child Custody Issues
Kathy and Tim had been married for nine years. Kathy worked part-time as a teacher’s aide earning about $20,000 per year. Tim worked in the computer industry earning about $120,000 per year. They had twin boys: aged 6. Tim worked long hours in the past and left most of the parenting to Kathy. But as the children grew older, Tim showed more interest in spending time with them.
Kathy and Tim had been separated for a couple of months before Kathy sought a Collaborative Attorney. Tim was very upset with the separation and wanted to reconcile. Kathy said that Tim was often upset when he came over to pick up the children. He would be crying and begging Kathy to take him back – in their presence. This was upsetting for everyone, but mostly for the children. Kathy said they did not want to go on visits with their father, as they were closer to her and were upset seeing him so visibly shaken.
Tim chose to retain a collaboratively trained lawyer as well, and both attorneys discussed Tim’s reluctance to divorce. Kathy would not entertain any possibility of reconciliation. So it was agreed that Tim would likely benefit from a Divorce Coach. It was recommended that Kathy also retain a Coach to help her understand her emotions and to develop some strategies to best cope with the situation.
After Kathy’s first meeting, and with her approval, her coach had a brief conversation with her attorney. By doing this, Kathy’s attorney was able to learn more about the dynamics of their marriage, including how to approach Tim during the four-way meetings. This discussion helped to avoid triggering Tim’s emotions in subsequent meetings.
At the first meeting, the Participation Agreement was reviewed and signed. It was also decided that retaining a Child Specialist would be helpful in working through the parenting issues. The Specialist was chosen jointly, and payment arrangements for her services were determined. Then a joint letter was sent to her, asking her to meet with the children to add their voices to the process. Everyone also wanted her insight about the children’s developmental needs.
The Child Specialist met with the children several times. She also met with Tim and Kathy individually and together. When meeting together she shared her insights and thoughts about the children. She helped them work out several pressing parenting issues, such as attendance at extra curricular activities, the introduction of new partners (Kathy had started dating,) and how they were going to communicate on issues around the kids from time to time.
Kathy, Tim, the two lawyers and the Child Specialist then met to coordinate when the children would be in Tim’s care. The Divorce Coach (and perhaps also the passage of time) helped Tim to accept Kathy’s decision to separate. He was far more emotionally stable around the children. And though they were still having a difficult time leaving their mother, things were improving.
The parties reached an agreement for the children to see their father every Sunday afternoon for the first couple of weeks; the whole day for the next couple of weeks; and then finally for a full day and overnight. The Child Specialist would then meet with the children to see how they felt about their time away from their mother. The gradual increase in time would also give Kathy a chance to adjust to having the children away from her.
In a little over a month, there was another five-way meeting (lawyers, clients and the Child Specialist). The Child Specialist shared insights on the custody arrangement, and the parties were able to agree on a time-sharing schedule for the children that met everyone’s needs. A Separation Agreement was drafted and signed by Kathy and Tim.
They both knew that the agreement they signed that day might have to be adjusted as the needs of the children changed and the circumstances of their own lives changed, but they had developed a good plan that worked. The children were adjusting well and Kathy and Tim were starting to develop a new relationship based solely on working together as parents. They were moving in the right direction. It was an excellent resolution for everyone, especially the children, whose voices and needs were respected and met.