Quite often during a divorce when the wife wants sole custody of the children, she will go so far as to completely mitigate what the father does. Sometimes, women who exert this behavior are stuck in their situation—mired in bitterness and the feeling that somehow they’ve been wronged. To her, the husband does nothing. When I ask more detailed questions and parse out the facts, I’ll find out that he does things like make the kids’ breakfast every morning and take them to school. That is not called doing nothing!
The wife will say she doesn’t care about child support so long as it means he will be out of her life. This is a perfect example of a client making overly dramatic, large-brushstroke statements in the beginning. This quickly changes when the numbers get crunched.
For example, one client initially told me she would accept significantly less in basic child support than the Child Support Standards Act dictates. She would also agree for her husband to contribute a lot less than his pro-rata share towards add-ons such as the children’s:
•uncovered medical expenses;
•child care; and
Her hope was to make the settlement offer so attractive to him that he would agree to sign. In exchange, he would relinquish custody to her and she would get him out of her life as far and as fast as possible. He was not particularly a bad guy, and the parties even had a fairly decent rapport; she just did not like living in the “neither here nor there” in-between zone of divorce. She wanted resolution and closure to move on.
Over the next few days, she began doing her homework, crunching numbers and calculating how much she would need towards her children’s child care alone in subsequent years, and realized there was no way in the world she could shoulder it alone. She looked at her daughter’s smile at dinner one night, and all she saw were big, disproportionate buck teeth. She realized her kid would need braces, and that she would need help paying for that as well. With that, my client landed back on planet earth and out of the window flew her ideas about proposals that were unrealistic for her.
Knee-jerk emails often flood my inbox in the wee hours of the night when the kids are sleeping and clients don’t have the day’s activities to distract them—the anxieties surrounding their divorce and future envelop them. By the morning, they see the light and have often come up with their own solution. When a client is going through a catastrophe, they are overly sensitive to everything in the moment. My replies have to be carefully calibrated to help diffuse the immediate stressor.
I often tell my mediation clients that I am the facilitator: They have to reach their own agreement; ultimately, they both have to live with it. During the divorce, these couples are still quite familiar with the other person’s lifestyle. They are oftentimes the most equipped to come up with their own solutions.
I similarly remind my litigation clients that the agreement has to be palatable to them. They will usually be living with the consequences for many years to come. They need to prudently weigh and consider the agreement and not sign in haste and desperation.
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