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  • John Susko

Children and Divorce: Making the Kids Your #1 Priority

Children can sometimes become collateral damage in a divorce case. The impact on the kids can do a lifetime of damage unless the divorce case is managed with the intent of prioritizing the needs of the children. When a divorcing couple make the decision have a child-centered divorce, it creates a dramatically better outcome for not only the children but for the parents as well. The best process for a divorce to be child centered is Collaborative Divorce.

I currently have a case where there are four pre-teen boys. The father is a disabled vet and had not been the caretaker for these boys for a long time. The mother is understandably possessive of the boys because she has raised them. The dad was in the military, but he wants to have memories with the boys that both he and the boys will remember. He wants to take them on trips, go fishing, play ball, etc.

During a break in one of the collaborative meetings, he told me that although he was retired from the military for psychiatric reasons, he was deemed competent for daily life. The mother contends that he would forget things the kids needed him to do. The facilitator suggested that she should try making a list of things that the dad needs to remember. That’s when it hit me that it was probably the first time in my 40 years of practice that such a list would go into a marital settlement agreement. It’s a great idea. The kids will grow up knowing what the rules and expectations are at each house, and the rules will be consistent. What an eye-opener! And it is because it was a Collaborative Divorce case that the solution emerged.

About Children Testifying

I disagree with parents who want their kids to testify in their divorce case. It happens in traditional divorces, primarily because they think the kids will say something to help their case. However, that’s rarely what happens. It’s a terrible situation in which to place the kids. Adults rarely know how to talk to kids in the adversarial system. With Collaborative Divorce, we get away from asking the children to take sides in the divorce. It’s a win-win situation for the kids and the adults.

When Clients Don’t Think About The Children

I have another case where the couple has been in litigation for six years. The only issues are the custody of their one child and alimony. It should have been easy. However, a recent scenario went like this. The mother gets a pickup order and calls me. I explain to her that she received an order and the husband has a right to see his child. The father doesn’t have a lawyer. So, I called him to arrange a time and place for the exchange. He suggested the county courthouse or police station. I advised against using the police for the exchange, but he didn’t listen. When she did not show up there, he got the police involved and as a result the child now has a memory of the police coming to arrest his mother. That’s an awful memory for a kid to hold onto and should not have happened.

That’s why I’m still working hard at age 67. I’m waiting for a client who comes to my office saying they want to throw their spouse under the bus. I will tell them that if that is what they truly want they need another lawyer. However, I also will tell them that if they are willing to work toward a good solution using Collaborative Divorce, I’ll represent them.

My hope is that somewhere on down the road they’ll call me and ask if I remember them. They will say, “Remember when I came into your office and said I wanted to throw my wife under the bus? Remember when you talked me out of that? Remember that we then tried Collaborative Divorce? Well, this weekend was my Daughter’s wedding. I gave her away on behalf of her mother (my ex) and me. I sat in the first row with my ex and her new husband and my new wife. At the reception, I danced with my ex-wife. I had a great time. My daughter had a great time.” When I get to that point, when I hear that story, I’m going to retire. I’m going to rent a horse and ride out of town. That’s why I do this and why I’m so passionate about Collaborative Divorce. Because when it is done right, you will dance at the children’s weddings and they will have a good memory that they will never forget!