I recently attended a session with a referee where we were discussing procedures in a divorce. Custody is involved in the case and the referee made a very telling remark that I want to share with you. She said that words hurt. In prior blogs I have stated that once you go to trial, you will be saying things to and about your soon-to-be former spouse that you can never take back. She told me about a good friend of hers, who is now in her 50s. Many years ago when this lady was a teenager, her mother told her that she had set aside money in a special fund for a nose job. To this day, these words have cut deeply despite the fact that this event happened well over 40 years ago.
Things that we say to our spouses, to our children, whether in an off-hand moment, and especially in trial, are things that can never be taken back.
I tell clients to avoid denigrating and speaking ill of the other, especially in front of the children. Words cut and so do gestures. Our children see and mimic us. Quite frankly, they see a lot more than we give them credit for. A glare, a dirty look, or an obscene gesture, when you think your children are not watching -- guess what, they are.
What can you do about this? How can you avoid these words that cut and leave wounds, sometimes for a lifetime?
In my custody cases, I try to have my clients step back. I ask them to think about what will happen if they go to trial. I try to have my clients think about the fact that once something is said it can never be taken back, especially in a public forum such as an open court room where everything is on the record, transcribed, and can be looked at again and again. Is this what you want for your children? Do you want to make things so hurtful that you can never co-parent? How do you avoid this? Here are some thoughts:
1. Going to trial should be a last resort, not a first resort.
2. I often send people to mediators or parenting coordinators to work through some of their issues with regard to the children.
3. Sometimes it is better to count to 10, or think about what you are saying before you say it. Something said in the heat of anger or as a means to get back is going to be hurtful and not helpful.
4. Don't you want your children to be free to love your soon-to-be-former spouse? Don't you want to be able to go to school events, sporting events, and be able to communicate? Isn't that more important than "oneupmanship"? Is that extra overnight or two worth a war?
5. It is important to remember that no matter what you do, no matter what reason there is for the divorce, you will always be parents for the rest of your lives. How important is it for you to share religious events, marriages, consecrations, confirmations, bar mitzvahs, and graduations? Think of this. Don't you want your children to feel free to love each of you? Isn't that the most important thing that you can achieve? In most states, custody is based upon the best interests of the children. It is not the best interest of you or your spouse. Think about that.
These are some of my thoughts on this hurtful issue; what are yours?
By HENRY S. GORNBEIN
Family Law Attorney & Legal Correspondent
40900 Woodward Avenue, Ste. 111
Bloomfield Hills, MI 48304-5116
248/594-3444; Fax 248/594-3222