Ironically, Breezy Mama Martha has learned a lot about divorce from being married… to a BIG D attorney. Recently, we were at our three year olds’ sports day and were told about a friend of a friend who is being taken advantage of after her husband decided to leave her and Martha said to me, “You need to tell moms how to protect themselves!” Breezy Mama turned to divorce attorney Jim Ratzer – a.k.a. Martha’s hubby – to get advice for moms either for themselves or to help out a friend who may need it and to our Go-to Psychologist Dr. Gordon Caras to discuss the best approach to take with the kids. Plus, Jenny of Perfectly Disheveled gives her firsthand account on life as a single mom.
Advice from attorney Jim Ratzer
What are some common mistakes moms should be aware when getting a divorce?
The biggest mistake you can make is not fighting for what is yours. The second biggest mistake is letting your emotions control your decision making in your case. You need to be reasonable with any demand you make in your case. If your emotions are not under control you will not be reasonable. This will hurt you if you end up asking [a Judge –who is a stranger–] to make decisions in your case. Remember, the Judge does not know you or your spouse. When they are looking for information to help them make their decision it is easy to rule against the unreasonable party. You compound these mistakes by not getting good advice. Get good advice. Consult an attorney who only practices family law.
Can you give moms tips on protecting themselves financially?
Moms need to get out and get good advice. They need to be organized and collect important documents like account statements, tax returns, and business records before those documents disappear from the house. They need to be familiar with every income source. If their spouse owns his own business they need to learn as much as possible about that business because as soon as they need support, that business will be going out of business. If they contributed any separate property to any marital property they need to secure documents proving the contributions. Being organized and having information will allow your attorney to get you that temporary support order now, not later.
What’s the best way for moms to find a divorce attorney?
The best way to find a divorce attorney is by referral. If you cannot find a referral you can call your local bar association and ask if they have a referral program. They will give you the name of several lawyers you can meet and interview. Another idea is go to the courthouse on different days and watch attorneys presenting their cases. Schedule interviews with those that are organized and have good presence in the courtroom.
What should they look for in an attorney?
You should look for an attorney who is competent and will pay attention to your case. Your perfect lawyer will be very skilled and have time for your case. Pay attention to whether you have access to the attorney. If you can’t reach them directly on the phone before you give them your money, you definitely will not get them to take your call after you give them your money. Beware of an attorney who says they will represent you then immediately gives your case to a different less experienced lawyer in their office.
You want to work with an attorney who only practices family law, like a Certified Family Law Specialist. This is important because most family law decisions are reviewed on appeal under an “abuse of discretion” standard. You need to work with an attorney who goes to court and knows the Judge assigned to your case. Your attorney needs to be able to tell you how your Judge applies his or her discretion to issues like those in your case. That attorney can handicap the issues in your case. This will help save you money and keep you out of court on issues that should be decided out of court. The importance of working with an attorney who only does Family Law cannot be overstated.
What are the pros and cons of mediation?
The main “pro” of mediation is to assist husband and wife in making their own decisions about their divorce. The goal is to obtain mutually agreeable results. This is most important when children are involved. In mediation the parties have the opportunity to work together to identify the best solution to their problems. In litigation you go to court and ask a total stranger, your Judge, to use his or her “discretion” to make decisions for your family. The result can be one neither party wanted. Another “Pro” is Mediation costs are typically much less than litigation fees. Both parties can use one mediator and save the expense of each having their own attorney.
Mediation will not work if one party can overwhelm the other. If there is not a balance of power within the mediation process, it can result in an unfair decision. In addition, if one party is fighting for an unfair result that favors that party, and tries to bully or intimidate through the mediation process, then a judge in a litigated setting may order a more fair result.
What sort of alimony should a mom who is not the bread winner expect?
Judges have broad discretion in their ordering spousal support. The amount awarded to the supported spouse is a complex determination based on a variety of factors including each party’s income, the length of the marriage, each party’s age and health, each party’s marketable skills, the marital standard of living, each party’s respective education and more. There are two types of spousal support, temporary and permanent. Typically, the temporary order is for a higher amount than the permanent order. That means the non bread winner should seek a temporary support order, either through mediation or litigation, at the outset of their case.
How much do divorce attorney’s charge?
Divorce attorney’s typically work on an hourly rate basis, billing their time out in six or ten minute increments. Hourly rates depend on your location. In San Diego County most divorce attorneys charge between $200 per hour on the lower end and $500 on the high end. You need to meet several attorneys and discuss their qualifications, how they would handle your case, and their hourly rate in order to decide what rate is appropriate for your case. There are many very qualified attorneys in San Diego County with hourly rates in the $300-$350 range.
What are a mom’s custody rights?
Moms and dads have the same custody rights. Those rights are decided under a “best interests of the child/children” standard. If both parents can guarantee the health safety and welfare of the child/children, they should have equal time with the child/children. Moms who have been home with the child/children may be determined to be the “primary” caretaker and be awarded more time than the other parent. However, most parents need the other parents help with the child/children so they can work to support themselves in life after divorce.
What is the best way to tell kids their parents are divorcing?
It is best for both parents to jointly inform their children that they are
divorcing. This way, it presents a unified front to the children on a
decision that understandably will be a life changing event for the entire
family. This also models to the children that the parents, although no
longer choosing to live together, are still conducting themselves in
mutually respectful, civil way toward one another. Research has shown that
what is most damaging for the children in the long run from a divorce is
when the parents continue to demonstrate their hostilities and divisiveness
toward each other, or when they try to alienate the children from the other
parent, whether in open or covert ways.
Is it better or worse for parents to stay together for the sake of the kids?
It depends on many factors, whether or not the parents should stay together
for their children’s well-being. This can only be determined on a
case-by-case basis. Remember, there are always tradeoffs, both for the
parents and for the children, whichever way the parents choose. That is,
the parents may be unable to contain and inwardly resolve sufficiently
their resentments, hostilities, disappointments or whatever other feelings
may be related to their situation. If so, this can only create a home
environment that lacks the necessary qualities for children to optimally
thrive. On the other hand, if the parents can make the internal adjustments,
sufficiently accept their own and each others failings, and somehow pull off
a respectful way of relating as merely partners-in-parenting, this has its
own benefits–but certainly ones accompanied with many costs.
How can parents best prepare their kids for going back and forth between their parents’ homes?
Having a regular schedule, structured and well organized, between the two
homes is optimal. The children should know when and how they will travel
back and forth. More critically, the more that the two households uphold the
same rules and values in child rearing, the easier it is for the children to
adjust to the back and forth flow. Related to this, children will often
play off one parent against the other in order to serve their own interests,
like a later curfew. Also, children of divorce commonly provoke parents by
citing how the other parent runs the household differently– better, more
leniently. When this occurs, it is best for parents to inform their children
that the households are two separate but related homes, each with its own
rules and operations to which the child is required to adjust accordingly.
This adjustment takes time, the back and forth first being a reminder of the
wounds from the divorce, the injuries that the children and parents all
bear, ones often saturated with guilt, abandonement and resentment. However,
when the parents demonstrate civility toward each other and their own
emotional adjustments to the new arrangement, while staying empathically
attuned to their children’s experience, this facilitates the children
eventually coming to terms with the seismic changes brought about by
divorce, including the back and forth flow, over time.
When a parent starts dating again, what’s the best approach for introducing a new boyfriend?
Although there are some differences of opinion, many psychologists say that it is best to wait at least a year before introducing “a new one” into the children’s lives. With that said, an advisable approach is to bring the new partner into the children’s lives gradually. For a while, it is best not to show affection outwardly, like hugging and kissing the new partner in front of the children, until the children have had time to become familiar with the new partner’s presence and way of relating–and even begin to develop their own relationship with the “new one.” You don’t want to shock the children or overload their adaptive capacities. Also, it is important at some point for the parent to let the children know that the new partner is not there to replace the other parent in any capacity. It is critical, for that matter, to stake out the ground rules with the new partner on what their role will be in terms of parenting. Of course, this is subject to change, depending how the new relationship develops. Finally, it is very helpful, when the time is right, for each parent affirm to the children the other parent’s legitimate need to eventually have a new partner. This acceptance by each parent of the other’s separate life will pay off in the long run in terms of the children’s emotionally growth.
In regard to all these question, remember that the age of the children is a critical factor in how they will understand the divorce, as well as how to
discuss it with them. Children under five have limited cognitive capacities that will naturally shape how they can and will understand the reasons for the divorce. Often, they will require visual aids, like picture story books on divorce, to assist them in grasping this fundamental change in their lives, why mommy and daddy don’t live together anymore. Also, as they move
along in age, children will need to reprocess the divorce with their newly emergent cognitive and emotional abilities that permit them a greater level of complexity in how they understand the reasons for the divorce, how they feel about it, whether or not they blame themselves unconsciously, and more. This reprocessing can find its moorings in those pregnant moments downstream when the child spontaneously asks those recurring questions like, “Why the parents don’t love each other anymore?” or “Why they don’t get back together?” These types of questions, these pregnant moments for now growth, often arise anew when the parent introduces a new partner.
I suggest that parents who are either considering or have recently divorced research materials on ways to assist the children through the process. There are plenty of material that can be obtained on this subject at Amazon click here for some great selections
or local book stores.
At what point did you realize your marriage was over?
Our (second) marriage counselor told us when we first came to him that we didn’t need to make any promises but that what he was going to ask us to do was “peek inside the door (of marriage)” and look into the future to see if this was something that could work… even if things couldn’t change over night… Well, I did “peek.” And had been “peeking” for some time, and unfortunately, I didn’t see the future as bright.
How did you go about telling your child?
My son was only 20 months at the time of our separation, so I didn’t really have a “talk” about what was happening. Everyone, however, was very sensitive to whatever emotions or reactions he may have been experiencing as a result of the change/confusion.
Does he handle the situation okay?
He really seems to handle it well. He’s still so young and I think, though divorce is never a “happy” thing, the fact that he was so young when we separated is a good thing– he has no memory it seems of his father and I being together and seems to be perfectly clear on the fact that mommy lives one place and daddy lives another. There is never a problem going between both homes and he is equally as excited to spend time with us both (separately).
Are you friends with your ex?
I wouldn’t say that we’re exactly best buds, but I think we both try to be civil and a shared laugh or memory every now and again is much appreciated and a nice change from the legal/technical conversations that seem to dominate.
Is it difficult to share custody?
To some degree yes. I absolutely miss him when he is with his dad and I know his dad misses him when he’s with me. But there is nothing I want more than for our son to have a close relationship with his father so I do my best to think positively..
What is your advice for entering back into the dating game?
Ha. I have no idea. Go slow. It’s hard.
Do you think you are better off being divorced?
I think I will be, yes. No matter who makes “the decision” to leave, or who wanted what, it is hard period. But I do think that both of us will have a chance living a happy life.
Do you have any regrets?
Were there in mistakes you wish you knew about or had been forewarned about while going through the process?
My father is a divorce attorney so I actually think I grew up knowing how difficult the process was or could be. Nonetheless, it’s still pretty miserable! Don’t think that any forewarning could help.
About Jim Ratzer
Jim Ratzer is a Certifed Legal Specialist – Family Law, State Bar of California, Board of Legal Specialization. Mr. Ratzer’s office, Ratzer Family Law, is located in Del Mar, California. Mr. Ratzer’s practice is focused on all aspects of family law litigation and mediation. For more information visit, www.ratzerfamilylaw.com.
About Dr. Caras
Gordon Caras, Ph.D., is a Psychologist as well as an Adult, Adolescent and Child Psychoanalyst in private practice in Solana Beach, California. Dr. Caras is also a Senior Instructor at the San Diego Psychoanalytic Society and Institute as well as a Voluntary Clinical Instructor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of San Diego, School of Medicine. He has been a presenter at different National and Regional Conferences throughout the U.S. Dr. Caras works with individuals of all ages, as well as with couples, on a broad range of issues that are roadblocks to achieving their full potential. To contact Dr. Caras, call (619) 687-1590 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
To follow Jenny’s life as a single mom, check out Perfectly Disheveled.