Podcast #3: Marianne Howland, Partner, Duffee + Eitzen discusses PREPARING FOR A DIVORCE WITH CHILDREN
Tx courts place a lot of emphasis on the best interests of the child. Today Matthew Eitzen interviews Marianne Howland on what parents can do to promote the Best Interest Of The Child or Children.
In the divorce process, the parents are going to be appointed to be conservators of the child or children. Usually the parents are appointed as joint managing conservators. There is a common misconception in Texas, when a parent will say he/she wants full custody or wants to be the only conservator. That doesn’t typically happen. In cases where there has been domestic violence, or child abuse, or neglect, the court CAN appoint one parent to be the sole managing conservator and then the other (perpetrator parent) to be the possessory conservator. This latter will not have many rights to the child. For the majority of couples, they will be dealing with their co-parent in joint management of the children. Even in extreme cases, the court does not like to terminate the relationship between a parent and child.
In general, what is the court looking at when considering the best of the child?
A variety of things. Mostly who has been the primary caregiver of the child, and if both parents have been acting in the best interests of the child. To get more specific, the court needs to decide who will be the primary conservator. Family code designates one parent as primary joint managing conservator and the other as joint managing conservator. The primary conservator tends to be the one who typically buys the food and prepares meals for the children, the one who dresses/grooms/bathes the children, handles bedtime routines & getting ready in the morning, laundry, homework, dr appoints, teacher meetings, extracurricular activities, spiritual or moral guidance. The courts want to know who is taking these parental duties seriously.
What if the other parent starts becoming involved just as the divorce starts, as a way to play the court system?
That’s an example of doing good because someone is watching, rather than because it’s the right thing to do. Attorneys and judges can spot this sort of behavior, and it doesn’t play out well for a parent who might try this tactic. Again, if we are thinking about our children, we should be thinking that obviously they deserve the parents’ best efforts all of the time.
It is best to keep them in the same school if possible to offer structure and stability. Parents need to have regular communication with the teachers and be helping the children with homework at night. The court pays attention to these things.
Do the courts take into account that the breadwinner might not have the schedule to be the homework parent at night?
Of course, but that parent still needs to be in touch with the children’s teachers and demonstrate that the children’s education is a priority.
How does this extend to medical care for the children?
Like education, this is a very important topic to the judges. Regular checkups are important, and that includes staying on top of regular dental and vision appointments. One thing that is important is that children be insured. Encouraging healthy eating and exercise is also important, and that healthy behaviors are being modeled for the children.
Sometimes in unhealthy marriages, one or both parents might turn away from setting healthy examples, turning toward vices such as drinking, drugs, affairs, gambling, excessive shopping, etc. There will be consequences for these vices. Something else to think about is – fighting in front of the children. Anyone who finds themselves engaging in these sorts of unhealthy behaviors should assess where their marriage is, and whether they want to work on it or part ways for the sake of the children.
Parental Pointers for Divorcing with Children:
1) You still need to foster a healthy relationship between your children and the other parent. To do otherwise is damaging to the children and is a noted red flag with the judges.
2) You should NOT discuss your divorce with the children. They are not your emotional support friends. The best thing to do is to have a conversation with your children and WITH the other parent, to let them know that mom and dad are getting a divorce.
3) If your relationship is not going well, you can be sure that the children are sensing it. It might be a good idea to get the kids into some kind of counseling or play therapy with a neutral third party. If you see the child having any kind of issue from your unhealthy marriage, it is important to get ahead of it by getting the child into therapy.
4) You need to be positive about the other parent to the child. With empathetic boundaries, they will feel safe and feel heard. Saying anything negative about the other parent will only hurt the child.
I think my spouse wants a divorce and may have already consulted an attorney. Any advice?
One thing to keep in mind is that your spouse’s attorney might advise them do some nefarious things like
-record you without your knowledge
– put a tracking device on your car
– put spyware on your computer or cellphone
– take pictures of empty alcohol bottles or of a messy house
So if you feel that your spouse may have gone to see an attorney, just be aware of what you are doing and saying in front of your spouse, where you are going, what’s on your phone. Because if your spouse is willing to do those things, that shows a willingness to hurt you, and possibly hurt the children… just to win in court.
So just be cautious and very aware if you think your spouse has gone to see an attorney who might be underhanded.