There is a myth that has become a new craze all over the news, the internet, social media, in schools, at work, and anywhere else you can think of except-Family Court, that men and women are equal. While men and women are equal, should be equal everywhere, they are not equal in family court. If you handle the situation wrong, you will be on the defensive from day one and here is an example of a dad who did some things right and did some things wrong.
John is a dad of a boy, Tommy, now aged 14. John lived in Hoboken and now lives in Chicago because of a better job. When Tommy was 9, John and his wife divorced. They both lived in Hoboken while the divorce was pending and thereafter for a short period of time. John was to have parenting time with Tommy 3 days a week. This routine went on and went relatively well for about 18 months. John was able to vacation with Tommy in California and Florida. John was paying over $600 per week in child support to his ex-wife. This $600 was not calculated right and he was misinformed when he signed his marital settlement agreement. The correct amount was closer to $425 per week. John did not realize this error until about 6 months after the judgment of divorce, so an appeal could not be filed. Despite this error, a bigger error was about to be brought to life when his ex-wife wanted to move to the Atlantic City area because her soon to be husband had been employed in that area for over ten years. In his marital settlement agreement, the issue as to the distance the custodial parent can move with the child was not agreed to or not even brought up. So while John has parenting time 3 days a week, when the post divorce case went to court, John lost and Tommy was allowed to move more than 2 hours away and start at a new school in September. John was livid, upset, then more livid, then went into a deep depression, like an Abraham Lincoln type depression. With John's work schedule and late hours at work, he was not able to pick up Tommy from the new home until 10pm on Friday night. He then had to go bring Tommy back on Sundays by 6pm. Exhausting and unfair. The error or went wrong at this point is that, John's behavior in court, of shock, rage and the like mad the Judge angry and angering a Judge is never helpful, and it was not in this case. I would have argued and demanded that since she was moving so far, that she would have to handle all the pick up and drop offs. That was not done. When John heard that Tommy would be removed from Hoboken or even Hudson County, John lost all hope and began acting belligerent in court. So matters just got worse and worse.
So after John lost his three days a week in court, John began to try to pick up Tommy every other weekend at 10pm. Sometimes John would arrive at 9:15, 9:30, 10:15, 10:55, etc and his ex-wife would not release Tommy until it was 10pm (again, an agreement or argument in court about a window of 60-90 minutes would be fair considering the long drive and potential traffic. This was not done. Another error. On two occasions, John arrived at 11pm because of traffic due to a bad accident. His ex-wife refused to let him see Tommy. Two weeks later a similar situation took place and his ex-wife did the same thing. John files a motion to alter the exact time of the pick up and drop off along with a motion to enforce. The motion was heard by the same Judge, remember, who was angry, and that was denied as well.
As time went on, John was excluded from major life events and his parenting time because of the actions of the other parent and even more so, the errors John made and the errors his attorney made on his behalf. John became more angry and depressed and only saw Tommy once a month, maybe. Three years after the divorce, Tommy's mother sought to move out of state (Texas). John did not hire an attorney because at this point, he was so sick of the "system" and the treatment he received from the court. Another mistake. Now, John sees Tommy 1-2 times a year.
So while John was a good father, loved his child, still does, had an ongoing relationship with him and so forth, he does not have that relationship now, does not have that same sparkle in his eye that he once did because of many reasons with regard to the court, his ex, his lawyer, the Judge and of course, himself.
John's story is not uncommon, but it does not have to be this way. Men and women are in fact equal and they can be equal with the right attorney and with the right attitude. The Court notice's what you are doing, how you behave, how you look, if you are nice to others in the courthouse, if you are nice to your attorney, etc., etc. Facing a major life change-divorce, a child moving, a major break up, etc is very hard, I know this, trust me I do. All I can tell you as a divorce/family law attorney and a father of two children is that: if you rush your divorce or family law case, you will find mistakes later. You may find these mistakes a long time from now, you may find them one week after you signed the agreement, either way, it is very hard to undo a mistake in your marital settlement agreement. The key is to be patient, be patient with your lawyer, be patient with your spouse, be patient with your children, be patient with the court. Patience will bring you calm and calm can bring you focus. Focus is what you need when you read each line of your agreement, line by line and when you negotiate any errors or terms you did not agree to, and focus to sign the agreement.
While I know what I wrote is easier said than done when tensions arise and your stress levels are as high as ever, but you have to try. The easy way is to wing it. The easy way is to get the cheapest lawyer. The easy way is to curse out your spouse in court. The easy way is to sign a document without reading it and/or asking questions for your attorney. I wrote this blog today because I know the stress you may feel and I know how to help clients get better results, so that their future does not turn out like John's. If you have a family law or divorce case in New Jersey, call us on (201) 228-9815 to discuss your case in our Jersey City Office.