Harry's Gang: It may look easy, but it never is
July 21, 2023
Practicing family law can be far more difficult than expected. “This should be an easy one,” potential divorce clients tell me all the time. “We pretty much agree on everything.” Of course, that might be true, but they usually don’t understand what “everything” is. Did you discuss parenting time? Income tax issues? Where will the kids go to school? Or the myriad other issues that need to be addressed? The answer, usually, is: “Gee, we never thought of that.”
One of the most complex issues in a divorce is custody of the children. Children are people, after all, but the court treats them as dependents with a dash of chattel dropped in. This means that kids are both dependent upon and owned by their parents. I try telling that to my kids all the time, but they seem to listen to only the first part. The courts, though, pay attention to both parts and that can make custody issues very messy.
The courts are obligated to consider what is best for the children when making custody decisions. Parents often don’t quite understand that. It doesn’t matter how terribly the husband treats the wife, or how awful the mother is to the father. Unless it affects the parenting relationship with the child, that’s not relevant. The courts look at custody decisions from the perspective of the children: what is best for them?
Sometimes, it’s easy. An absentee father, or a neglectful mother, and the courts will order the obvious custody arrangements.
But more often, it’s a tough decision, and the parents aren’t able to agree on custody issues. That’s why we have divorce lawyers, I guess. When parents can’t work out custody details on their own, we have the ability to file an action in court.
But even the court prefers parents to work out their own issues. So, the first thing the courts do is schedule a quick hearing with the judge, to see what the stumbling blocks to a settlement are. Based on this quick hearing, the judge will probably steer the parents to mediation or an evaluation, using people experienced in those particular issues. It’s expensive, but it’s a lot cheaper than going through a whole trial. This process, often using retired family lawyers, was championed by the late judge Sally Tarnowski, and has a success rate of over 80 percent in our area.
And some of those retired lawyers sure make it look easy. At the end of mediation, we often have a binding agreement that settles all the divorce issues — even issues the parents didn’t realize they had. As they’re giving their credit cards to the mediator to pay for their services, I often hear parents thanking the mediator profusely. All it took to finalize this “pretty simple” divorce was to have someone who made it look easy.
Pete Radosevich is the publisher of the Pine Knot News community newspaper and an attorney in Esko who hosts the cable access talk show Harry’s Gang on CAT-7. His opinions are his own. Contact him at [email protected].