As a family law attorney, I have seen many people go through bitter and contentious divorces. While it is our firm's philosophy that no one benefits from these situations, as it is far better to work together to problem-solve instead of to simply butt heads, this is especially true in cases with children. In many divorce or paternity cases, the parties are so angry with each other that they don't always realize that they are causing their children pain. Police involvement over insignificant disputes, arguments at the children's school, and making negative or derogatory statements about the other parent in front of the children are a few of the ways that this happens.
There is a couple that I know who has a child together but who are no longer in a romantic relationship. They have an equal parenting time schedule with each parent having a week. They do the exchanges on Sundays at the gym that I frequent. They way it works is that one parent exercises; then he or she meets the other parent, who has the child. The parent who is done with his or her workout leaves with the child, and the other parent stays to exercise. As a Sunday afternoon gym regular, I have witnessed this go smoothly many times.
Last Christmas Eve day, I was at the gym, and witnessed the same couple exchanging their child. The little boy, about 7 or 8, arrived with his father. I assume that this family's holiday schedule gives one parent Christmas Eve and the other Christmas Day, regardless of their regular parenting time schedule. I watched as the parents, no longer together as a couple, met and exchanged an overnight bag. The child jumped up and down excitedly and sang a song about Santa. Dad informed mom that his sister would be picking up their son the next afternoon on her way to his house. Mom and Dad hugged briefly and wished each other a Merry Christmas, and mom left with the child to celebrate. I knew based on the conversation that the child would celebrate again the next day with his father.
If you are going through a divorce, ask yourself if you want your children to see the police coming to your house to force you to comply with the parenting plan. Ask yourself if you want your children to think that you harbor dislike and resentment for the other parent. Or ask yourself if you want to be like the couple I described with a child who is happy and excited to have two Christmases because his parents have set aside whatever issues they have with each other for the sake of their son.
The couple I described is no longer in a romantic relationship with each other, but they are still inextricably linked as the parents to a child. They are a family, albeit one that does not live under the same roof, but a family just the same. I greatly admire the way they are parenting their child and unless there are extraordinary circumstances, such as substance abuse, mental illness, or domestic violence, urge people with children who are going through a divorce to always put their children first.
At Karp & Weiss, our philosophy of family law is to help our clients move forward with the understanding that coparenting is essential to raise healthy children. Everyone benefits when the stress level and level of animosity between the parties is lowered, especially the children involved. After all, isn't family what it's all about?