How Important is Legal Custody?

*The following is a repost from 8/12/11

Most lawyers will tell you that legal
custody isn’t very important. They will also tell you that you’ll never get
sole legal anyway. They will brush it aside and move on to other issues. My
first lawyer told me, “it doesn’t mean anything. It just means that the
father has the right to information about their education, medical care and
religion.” Oh, well, that sounded OK, I was going to have sole physical
custody so that was the main thing, right? Wrong. That could not be more wrong.
Unfortunately, that is how the court views it for the most part. Also, lawyers
telling you that you’ll never get sole legal? That is probably a sad fact.

Joint legal custody cost me, my kids
and my ex, 8 years of our lives, tens of thousands of dollars (although I lost
track during the custody trial, it may have hit 6 figures) and left my kids
with a few emotional scars. I did finally go for sole legal custody after about
6 years of nonsense and bad or delayed decisions that were actually dangerous
to one of my children’s health, literally.

It is a misnomer to say that legal
custody is only about information regarding the education, health care and
religious upbringing of your children. You already have that in <a href="/files/5/1/5/2/0/309915-302515/Appendix_A.pdf”>Appendix A, which is attached to every Minnesota
Dissolution case that involves children. Why then would someone need legal
custody if it is the same thing? Why even bother with a thing called legal
custody? Why not just assign physical custody and then add a caveat that gives
each parents the rights spelled out in Appendix A?

Legal custody is much more than just
information. You and the other parent have to come into agreements about the
children in regards to school, where they attend, for instance, what doctor
they see, and even when they’ll go, who gets the responsibility to take the
children, and many other crazy things. I have even heard of legal custody being
used to take a parent to court because they allowed the child to pierce their
ears without the father’s permission. Now, if you and the other parent have a
good, cooperative relationship after divorce, these things won’t be very
problematic. You will both have the best interest of your child in mind and be
able to agree. What if you and the other parent don’t get along? What if it has
always been a very dysfunctional relationship, once that has always involved
the blame game and one ups-manship
and always trying to get revenge?
This spells big trouble. It will be a long term and very costly problem and it
could have dire consequences for your children. Think long and hard about
stipulating to joint legal if your relationship is not a cooperative one. If
your lawyer insists that you will never get sole custody, it would still be in
your and your children’s best interests to try. Maybe if the other parent knows
you are serious and they haven’t yet learned the power that joint legal gives
them over you, maybe they’ll agree to give you sole legal. Most likely, they,
too, have been told that joint legal is not important.

If you cannot get a stipulation
(agreement), then you may have to put it on the back burner, but if there is
any nasty game playing that interferes with your child’s well being, be
prepared to go back and get it. It can be a scary proposition though. If you
lose, you could lose physical custody as well. This is the main reason why some
parents would rather put up with years of emotional hell for themselves and
their child than risk losing physical custody. That is something only you can
weigh in your mind and determine your best action. The best time to get sole
legal is in the beginning of the court process, stipulated would be best, or
after a few years or more where you can prove the other parent is interfering
with your child’s well being. If you are not able to prove this, it would not
be wise to take the issue to court. In my case, the parenting consultant’s
summaries and memorandum’s laid out the case pretty nicely, but then I got
saddled with an incompetent custody evaluator. I will need to tell you about
that sometime!

Our parenting consultant was a
meddler. I have said that before. She really didn’t want me to win sole
custody. She tried everything she could to scare me and stop me from going
through with it, but my mind was made up, so I pressed on.

Below is a really sick, deranged
proposal she sent to the attorneys for us to try and settle the legal custody
issue out of court. She sent this craziness the day we had a settlement
conference in my attorney’s office. She was not there, but still found a way to
meddle. She wanted to scare me, I’m sure, but instead, she made me mad. She
made me decide that I would not give up, give in or lose custody of my
children. Thank you, EA! Read the crazy crap over and keep in mind that with her
proposal, I would still have sole physical, the children would be living with
me, but the dad would have sole authority over one child. Read that rubbish and
then try and figure out how that would have worked? She was basically splitting
our kids into a his and a hers. Can you imagine this? We would have needed an
assistant just to try to remember who had to do what, when and how. UGH! Does
that sound like it would solve any problems or create more? Does that sound
like we would develop a more cooperative relationship or hate each other’s guts
even more than we already did? Oh, and how would the children feel being a his
and hers? Mine already hate that fact when it comes to the deduction on the
taxes. Much of what she proposed would have been illegal, too, and I could not
have been prevented from attending school events for my child and things like
that. This from an intelligent woman, who went to law school, and she would
come up
with this load of crap?

Read it and weep! Names and certain
info has been removed for privacy reasons.

<a href="/files/5/1/5/2/0/309915-302515/PC_cover_sheet.pdf”>fax cover sheet

<a href="/files/5/1/5/2/0/309915-302515/Email_to_Mothers_attorney.pdf”>Email

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I was afraid the opposing attorney
would use this as evidence to the court as a recommendation for what should be
in the court order. I told my attorney of my fear. He said, “We are going
to put this into evidence to show how absolutely insane this is.” Well, he
did just that and it did show lunacy and helped my case.

Anyway, as you can see, legal custody
is very important and it encompasses many aspects of you children’s lives. You
would probably never even be able to know everything that comes under the
designation of “legal custody” because it is always open to
interpretation, yours, your ex’s, your attorney’s, your ex’s attorney’s, the
parenting consultant’s, the judge’s, pretty much everyone has a different idea
of what is and what is not legal custody. You won’t know until someone
complains! Don’t take legal custody for granted. Some people will manage joint
legal very well, but if you are certain that you and your ex do not function
like a cooperative couple and most likely never, you owe your children the
sanity of having one clear thinking parent making those decisions.


Family Court Survival Strategies

The following is a repost from 7/12/11

1. Don’t do it for the court.  Do it for yourself.

If you are considering going to counseling, AA, Anger Management, Dialectic behavior Therapy or any other program, don’t do it just as a court strategy, do it for your life and your future.

You can learn ways to move on and leave your ex in the dust.  Your ex can see you blissfully happy without them and wonder why you are so happy.

In any program you enter, you will get something positive out of it.  Go into it with a good attitude and an idea of what you want it to help you with.  Courts can send you there and may have an agenda, but you get to direct your therapy.  If you want to spend the time there learning how to have healthy relationships in the future, do it.  If you want to use it to help you in your work life, do it.  Not everything that is a feel good thing to the court actually has to serve the court’s purpose.  Put any time spent in these programs to work for you.  All the court needs to know is that you go and make progress.  They don’t need to know exactly what you work on there.  Do it for you.


2.  If possible, make orders reciprocal.

Oh, the ex always thinks they are the smartest person in the room.  They will always have all kinds of ideas for what the court should make you do.  Everything will be better if you are ordered to do this, that or the other, for them.  They love the idea of you going to anger management, but would they still love it if you said, Ok, I will go to anger management, but Mr./Ms. Hypocrite needs to go, also, your honor.  I will agree to attend Anger Management if they also agree.  Judges don’t care who goes to anger management, as long as someone goes, and they seem more than happy to order BOTH parties into it.  Turn it around on the ex.

Also, if the ex wants you to have to allow him to call the children on a certain day or time, agree that you will do that, provided you get the same courtesy during their parenting time. 

The ex wants you to agree that you won’t date anyone while the children are in your care, well, that sounds like a good plan for the other parent, too.  Then they can focus on the children, right?

Anything the ex wants you to do; they should also be willing to do.


3. Take time outs.

No, I’m not talking about your children taking a time out.  You will be the one taking the time out.  Carve out time that you will not deal with ANY court issues.  NONE.  If it is the weekend where the children will be with the other parent, you will have fun or relax or anything you want as long as it doesn’t involve talking to the other parent, a lawyer, or court authority or writing anything about your case to anyone, or doing any research on the internet.  Watch movies.  Go out dancing with friends, work out, do anything that makes you feel good and makes you forget about your problems.  Choose not to answer the phone.  If your ex sends an email, don’t read it.  Save it until Monday.  If the ex has the kids a certain weeknight, find something to do that night just for you.  If there is a true emergency, your ex will leave a message to say so.  If you want, you can tell them that you have plans and will be unavailable for the weekend (watch the stunned face) and they should only contact you in the event of an emergency, but my experience is that if you tell a hostile ex not to bother you, they will spend all weekend trying to bother you.  Don’t let them.


4.  Give your space a new look.

If you are still living in the marital home and everything reminds you of your ex, give it a new look.  Paint your bedroom any color you want.  Go wild!  Change the look in every room.  Rearrange the furniture.  Better yet, if you can move, find a new place and make it your own!  Where ever it is you live, put your personality into it.  Switch rooms with one of the kids.  Do something you have always wanted to do, but didn’t do when you were married.  Want to turn the storage room into an exercise room?  Want to make a little home office in a section of the living room?  Want to get a pool table?  Get different gently used furniture?  Go for it.  There are some good finds on  You don’t have to spend a lot of money to do it.  You can get some great deals at thrift stores also.  Turn your home into a place that you love to come home to.


5.  Let go of stuff.

If you have been fighting to hold onto material things in your divorce, let it go.  Tell your ex they can have that old crappy furniture.  Is it worthwhile to pay thousands of dollars on a lawyer to get an old chair?  Like I mentioned above, you can get furniture through twin cities free market or at thrift stores.  Don’t forget Craig’s list, too.  It is shocking what some people give away!  You could also use tax refunds to buy a piece here or there.  Before you know it, you’ll have an overabundance of furniture!  Most times, the stuff people fight to get in court just reminds them of their ex, or the battle to get it, anyway.  These things are often given away after a while so why battle over stuff?  Unless it is something of great value that cannot be replaced, let it go, and enjoy buying something that fits you and you alone.


6. Get a pet.

If the house seems too empty and you feel too alone when the kids spend the weekend at the other parent’s home, get a pet.  Dogs are great companions and will keep you busy.  They also make people feel protected from burglaries and other crimes.  If you are not hom
e enough to care for a dog, try a cat.  You’ll feel calm when the kitty wants to sit on your lap and be petted.  If those pets are not a good match, there are birds, guinea pigs, gerbils and many more available.  If you are not sure what would be a nice pet for you, visit your local Humane Society and ask them for a recommendation.  Just think how you may save your pet from their loneliness and give them a home.  Many times we don’t adopt the pet, the pet chooses us!  A pet will give the kids something to think about other than the divorce as well.


7. Make resolutions.

Not just at New Year’s either.  If you have been turning into a crazy person from all the stress, resolve to change some of your ways.  Make a list of the things bad habits you have developed.  For example, you never used to swear and now expletives just fly out of your mouth.  Make a list of the words you want to stop using and think of words to replace those with.  I know someone who, instead of saying, “Shut the F-ck up!” they will say, “Shut the front door!”  Have fun with it or make it rewarding.  Go to the bank and get some quarters.  Each day you successfully stop yourself from uttering a swear word, put a quarter in the jar.  Save up to get yourself a massage or go out to dinner and a movie with a friend.  If nothing else, it will give you a real idea of how much you were swearing.


8.  Stop knee jerk reacting.

If your relationship with your ex is extremely volatile, take time before reacting to them.  If they send you an upsetting email, write a response up in word.  Do not send a response right away.  Sleep on it, then in the morning read what you wrote.  If you think it is the right response, send it, but if you realize that you were very angry when you wrote it, come up with a more appropriate response.  Do not email it until you feel comfortable with it and would not be ashamed if the judge ever saw it.  When your ex calls, screen the calls.  Caller ID is a wonderful thing.  Allow your ex to leave a message so that you can hear what they want without having to talk to them yet.  You should always get back to them in a decent time frame, but you don’t have to rush a response.  For all they know, you are out of town and haven’t checked email.  Don’t ignore their requests forever, no matter how much of a jerk they are, but always leave some time and a second look at your response before sending it.  Emails are forever.  Once you send it, your ex can do all kinds of things with it, so always be respectful and business like.  A little time will help you stay focused.  If possible, have a friend weigh in on what you have written or what you want to say to your ex.  Have them be impartial and honest.  If they think it’s too harsh, ask for their help in writing or practicing a response.

9. Get comfortable with a worst case scenario.

If you are going through a custody battle or you are waiting for a decision from the court authority about an issue, think about the worst case scenario of that event.  For example, you could lose custody.  Can you think of any positives in that case?  Can you make yourself understand that it is only until the children turn 18?  Nothing is the end of your world.  Nothing.  The court battles do not go on forever.  At some point the children will be adults and they will be the ones to judge you.  If you can continue to be a loving parent to them, no matter what happens with the Family Court System currently, they will know that you are a loving parent and will want much more time with you when they are free to do what they want to do.  If the worst happened, what else could you focus on to fill up the time?  Do you want to return to school and make more money?  As odd as it sounds, there are some negatives in any situation you might face, but you have to let yourself know that none of it is forever.  If you conduct yourself in a loving manner when you see the children, they will know that you love them no matter what happens and no matter what some bitter, angry person might try to tell them.


10.  Trust your children

If you are being beaten down by an ex or the Family Court System, don’t get overly emotional or defensive.  If you are a good parent, but court evaluators and the judge have misperceptions about you, the children will know.  They are really the only ones whose opinion matters.  Be a parent.  Don’t try to buy their love.  Don’t bad mouth the other parent.  If the other parent is a louse, they will see it as they get older.  Kids are much smarter than people give them credit for.  Also, if someone else keeps bad mouthing you, shrug it off.  Be loving and attentive to your children and they will know that you are not crazy, or angry or any of those things.  If you do get angry, apologize to your children and tell them that you are not angry with them.  You are frustrated with the court process and sometimes it overwhelms you.  Be honest with them, but also reassure them that you love them and this all will pass one day.



What Do You Want to Spend Your Energy on?

*the following is a repost from 8/7/11

It takes a lot of energy to hate.  It also takes a lot of energy to fight.  There are times that you do have to go to battle and fight with all you’ve got, but there are also times when you have to realize you did the best that you could, it didn’t go the way you had hoped, and now it’s time to let go of the fight.

Some people cannot let go of the fight, even after they have exhausted all avenues and there is nothing left to try.  I’m not sure if they can’t let go because they don’t want to admit they have reached the end or if they continue the fight because it is all they know.   Is it a matter where they know the enemy, the players and the terms of the battle, but to try something new they have to fear the unknown? The devil you know being better than the devil you don’t know?

If you are one who continues to rage on, do you ever get tired? Aren’t you just exhausted?  Do you want to use all that energy on a never ending battle until all of your energy is gone, or could you learn to use you energy in positive ways? I can never know what’s in your heart and why you have to continue to do battle. I do give you credit, however. It takes a great deal of courage to get out of bed every day and face what you face.

If you stop to think about the incredible amount of energy that you are extracting, it is enormous. Just think what you could do if you put that energy to use not against someone, but for someone. What if you used it for you?  Have you been telling yourself, “I can’t”, when it comes to stepping into a new career?  Have you been telling yourself “no” when you think that maybe you should go back to school?  Do you tell yourself that “it’s impossible” for you to meet someone new and fall in love?  That’s silly.  Look at all you have done and are doing!  Look at your drive that gets you out of bed every morning!  Look at how you excel at single parenting? Look at how amazing you really are to be going through the things you are going through and not hide under the covers until the kids turn 18. You really can do more than you think you can.

Can you try to move away from the negative place you are stuck in and move toward the positive? Sometimes it just takes a short break away to help you see your way to the light. Try this exercise for a week:

Pick a day that you will start and then take a week off.  Off from what?  Off from any and all facets of the battle. For this one week, you will give no energy to the battle, whatsoever. You will answer no phone calls, answer no emails and have no discussions about the battle during the entire week.  None.   Not with anyone.  If you can physically go away somewhere for a week that would be the best thing to do, but I know that some people cannot do that. During this week, think of how you would really like your life to be and start envisioning that life.   Do something fun for yourself and plan a fun day or evening for you and the kids, and again, no discussions about the battle.  If the kids bring it up, tell them that you are all on a break and the plan for the week is fun, nothing angry, nothing sad, nothing complicated.  This one week out of your life is to relax and enjoy life.  You may have forgotten how to do that!  Keep everything positive this week.  Watch some uplifting movies like, The Pursuit of Happyness.” Read some uplifting books like, Chicken Soup for the Soul.  Listen to uplifting music.  Nothing angry, nothing sad, nothing depressing for one whole week.  You can do it.

Once you experience joy again, you’ll naturally want more of it.  My hope is that if you try it, you’ll start getting back into the light of life instead of the darkness. Give it a try. If it works even a little, make plans to do it again. Start to replace the negatives with positives here and there. Pretty soon, the negatives won’t be attractive to you at all.  If you can put most or all of your energy into positive changes in your life, you will be amazed, and you won’t want to put so much energy into negatives anymore.


Why Do They Fight So?

The high conflict couple in divorce was most likely a high conflict couple in marriage.  The difference is in their marriage, they kept up appearances of a happy family so that the kids, extended family members, friends and neighbors would not know.  These types of families are not being served well by the family court system because the courts believe that the children need to two parents in cooperation for their children.  It’s doubtful that high conflict couples ever had cooperation on anything.  Why would it be expected of them now, at a time of high stress?

First off, we don’t know what is underlying the relationship.  While the family courts think they understand what is going on, thinking it is due to mental illness of one or both parties, the reality is that they have no clue and wouldn’t believe the people if they told them the exact cause of the relationship conflict.

Many of these cases have chemical dependency issues on going.  They always have and they always will.  Some of these couples have abuse issues to them.  Something has happened to make these people not trust each other or to blame one another for the problems.  All of them have had a destruction of the relationship’s level of trust.  Maybe there has been infidelity.  Maybe one person has had to do the heavy lifting of all the parenting for the children throughout the marriage and resents the hell out of now having to “share” the children.  Maybe one or both of them resent the hell out of having constant hand holding by court authorities or maybe the court expects them to “hand hold” their ex and that is something they stopped doing long ago for good reason.

No matter what you think of high conflict couples, the system does not seem to be helping them.  While coparenting is best for children, the children from homes of couples who fight all the time have never experienced their parents coparenting and so except for court interventions, they, quite frankly would not know any different

There are some couples who are extremely high conflict.  It might be a good idea to let them have the relationship they want, even if it includes having no contact for the rest of their lives.  You just cannot legislate relationships.


Winding Down

Finally, a chapter of my life is finished and I move on to the next chapter.  I just completed my Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, after five long years of weekend college.  I have to say that if I can do it, anyone can do it.

I was a horrible student in high school.  I was bored.  School did not interest me at all.  Eventually, I came to regret not going to college.  I tried some different short courses for certificate programs and even completed a couple of them, but none of the resultant jobs were anywhere near what I had the desire to do.  It was during the ongoing war that was happening between my kids’ dad and I that I wanted a better life and a better income.  I saw the court battle as an obstacle to having anything.  I could not see myself having a successful new relationship with any man.  I could not see myself being able to complete a degree program either.  Everything I wanted to have, to be, to do would be devoured by the struggles of the court battle.  For those of you stuck in it, you know what I mean.  Life starts on an upswing and you start to think, phew, I am finally free.  No more court, no more lawyers, no more parenting consultant or expediter and the only time I might have to deal with my ex is during parenting time exchanges.  You almost start to have hope.  You start settling into your new life and start to feel excited about the things to come, maybe you’ll start dating, maybe you’ll start enjoying your weekends without the children.  Maybe, just maybe, this situation has come to some sort of resolution.

Just as you start winding down, out of the blue, something happens and brings you right back down into the devastation all over again.  It is like getting whacked in the head by a baseball bat, it is back without warning.  Once again events send you scrambling for the money for an attorney.  Once again the battle rages, hotter and more fierce than ever before.  Everything you do is under the microscope of the prying eyes of the court authorities and there is no escaping it.  It has to run its course.

As I have mentioned before, I took steps to free my family from the family court hell that we lived for 8 long years.  It was scary and intense.  I really could have lost everything had one thing not gone right.  We had a trial and then the waiting began.  Court decisions are not usually swift.  You may have to wait 90 days for the judge’s decision.  It was during this waiting game that I started to lose patience with all of it.  I was in a relationship, which was risky at the time.  I kept it pretty much secret because I did not want that to become the focus of the court proceedings, nor did I want the man drawn into my misery.  It was hard to manage the relationship while my emotions were all over the place and I had no idea what my life would be like after the trial.  I was fed up with having my life feel like it was not my own, as though I was not allowed to make my own choices, having to be judged by people who have no business judging me, so when the trial was over and I waited for the decision, I decided that it was time to say, “Screw this.  I am doing what I want when I want it.”  I had put off going to college for a few years, waiting for some end result of the battle.  As I thought about it, with all the fear and doubt I had for what may come, I saw no reason not to pursue that college goal immediately.  I went ahead and enrolled in a weekend program before the decision came.  How sweet that was!  I was all set to go once I knew that I would be able to accomplish this goal without interference.

There were things in life I was waiting for because I felt stuck, but the truth is, my mind was stuck.  I was not stuck like I thought I was.  I am telling this story because I hope that no matter how dire your situation seems, how many times you are blind sided by the emotional cost and financial expense and devastation it can cause, you allow yourself your dreams and make plans and goals and take action.  The best way to get unstuck is to be moving forward in some way.

I am not with the same man anymore, not because of the court battle or my roller coaster ride emotions during that time, but because we found out that we were not compatible and we did not want the same things from a relationship.  That is ok because I am now with the man I have always longed for and my struggles are in the past and I can now relax and enjoy life with him.  I have my degree and it still has not quite hit me what I have accomplished there, although I think it is starting to.  I am using my free time to do exactly what it is I have dreamed of doing for a long, long time.  Hopefully, that will be of benefit to you, too, because the Coparent Coach and Life’s Doors Mediation will keep evolving into what I envision them to be.

If you have been wondering where I went, well, I finished all school assignments last Sunday and I have been exhausted!  It is a wonderful feeling of winding down because I don’t have to rush home from work to write a paper or study for any more tests.  I am catching up on some much needed sleep, but hopefully, starting next week, you will see more posts, more inspiration and more fun on the website and the blog!  Stay tuned.  If you have not yet signed up for the discussion board, what the heck are you waiting for????  Come on!  Make new friends and vent without anyone knowing who you are, plus, I am counting on those of you who are going through the struggle to share some helpful information with others who are coming behind you.  Give them hope and encouragement and understanding to help them through.  I try to keep up on what is new in the family court system, but I don’t always know the new trends as quickly as you do.  So let’s do it!  Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today!

Image: Andy Newson /