What the Judge Hears

Now try to put yourself in the judge's robe for a few minutes. What information do these affidavits provide? What information is missing? If you had to issue a temporary parenting plan, what additional information would be helpful? The judge will probably interpret these affidavits — based on considerable experience with divorcing parents — something like the following.

The Judge's Assessment

The parties are clearly angry. Dad has used his affidavit to take shots at Mom by attacking her skills as a homemaker and a mother. Mom's response shows she is stung by his criticism.

The parties have very different perspectives about their marriage. Taking their affidavits at face value, it sounds as if the children are on their own most of the time. Dad's working long hours and Mom's out partying. It's more likely that the events both parties describe as everyday occurrences happen once in a while, not all the time. It's likely that Dad works some long hours because he is the primary wage earner, and that Mom goes out with her friends now and then because she is lonely.

Mom has raised the issue of alcohol abuse. While she has provided no hard evidence, it would be a good idea to address this issue immediately. A chemical dependency evaluation of both parties will either confirm Mom's claim and, perhaps, get the abuser into treatment or put it to rest so it doesn't keep showing up in later affidavits.

If your ex-spouse or former in-laws badmouth you to your children, resist the urge to do the same. If your children witness a name-calling battle, they may feel as though they should choose sides. If the badmouthing doesn't subside, try to talk it out with your spouse or former in-laws.

Both Suzie B. Qwik and Jack B. Nimble want to be involved with their children. This is good. Dad is just realizing how important his children are to him, and it would not be surprising if he decided to cut back on his work hours to spend more time with the children. While the children will certainly benefit from more time with their father, the resulting income reduction may make finances precarious. If Dad's salary is reduced, Mom will probably have to go to work, which will mean she'll be less available to the children.

The parties have not provided useful information about the real routine in their household before the separation. The only way to get this information may be to get a custody evaluator involved. In this case, the judge may issue an order maintaining the status quo until the evaluator provides more information about the family and recommends an ongoing parenting plan.

The parties have provided little financial information. However, it's clear that somehow they've managed to survive financially until the hearing. The judge may issue an order designed to keep the mortgage paid and food on the table until a custody evaluation is completed. The judge will probably order the parents to provide specific financial information at the next hearing.

Miles Apart

What the parties thought they said and what the judge heard is miles apart. It was clearly very important to Dad to tell the judge his spouse is behaving badly, that she was not fulfilling her role as spouse. It was important to Mom to tell the judge her husband was not fulfilling his role as parent and companion. But neither party told the judge what he needed to know. How do they really parent their children? What kind of schedule would work for the family, taking into account everyone's activities, the distances between the parents' homes, and the demands of work and school?

Decisions That Please No One

The judge now has the impossible task of forming a schedule with no useful information. Many judges sidestep this task by sending families to an arm of the court. Depending on the state, it may be called court services, family services, or social services. Courts in counties with small populations probably won't have these services available, so the parties will have to hire someone in the private sector to work with them.

While this order may be called a temporary order, do not be deceived. Unless circumstances change dramatically, a judge may not change a temporary order after trial, particularly if the children are doing well. The temporary order has a good chance of becoming permanent.

If a judge can't avoid making a decision, the judge will probably do one of two things: Either give Mom sole legal custody of the kids with an every other weekend visitation schedule for Dad, or give the parents joint legal and joint physical custody. This would be a temporary order until trial.

Mom and Dad didn't want either one of these options, but now they're stuck with the judge's decision unless they can persuade the judge to change his mind. The kinds of things that make a judge change an order are primarily negative, for instance if one parent abuses the other or the children. Without some dramatic change, the order will stand for the duration of the divorce, unless the parents themselves can agree to a different arrangement.

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