When the Other Parent Is Hostile
It’s all very fine to talk in terms of spouses working together in a divorce for the good of the children. But civility is not always easy, and divorcing spouses can be hostile and abusive. How can you reduce stress for the kids when your soon-to- be-ex is acting out?
This scenario happens more often than one would like to think. But it doesn’t mean you throw up your hands—your kids need you more than ever. Instead, get some help. You have more options than you may realize to get the divorce back on the civil track.
An Experienced Attorney Will Guide You
If your spouse doesn’t want a divorce, he or she may be hostile toward you. Do not consider going it alone if this is your case. It’s naïve to think that a bitter divorce will have a smooth landing. And one parent’s bad behavior impacts the kids.
Your first, best resource to find your way through a hostile divorce is your attorney. Choose your lawyer with this in mind. You want someone experienced and tough, but not a grand-stander or a bully. The right person will reassure and guide you through the process, step by step. He or she is there to answer questions and find solutions when your spouse is aggressive or nasty.
One of the first matters a good divorce attorney discusses with you is help available inside and outside the court system.
Courts Offer Help
Many court systems, including the family law courts in Arizona, offer help to families going through divorce. This can include mediation and parental coordination.
Arizona family courts offer mediation, and many require it for disputes involving the kids. In mediation, the parents meet with a neutral trained mediator to discuss the law, the kids and the options. The parents may meet the mediator together or separately. The kids may or may not be included in the sessions. Neither party is forced to compromise in a mediation. Nobody can force you to agree to a parenting plan. But hearing a neutral third party discuss the law and how it applies to your case can be persuasive. It often helps convince a belligerent spouse to act more reasonably.
Parental coordination is another source of help. It’s an underutilized, yet highly effective resource for parents in a high-conflict custody case. The court appoints a parenting coordinator to help the parents resolve child-related issues.
Usually a parental coordinator comes in after the court enters final orders in the case. The coordinator assists with interpreting and enforcing the orders. Sometimes a court appoints a parenting coordinator before the final orders.
The parenting coordinator is an invaluable resource in resolving disputes about your parenting plan. It is well worth your consideration in managing the post-divorce period of a high-conflict case.
Private Mediation or Arbitration
You and your spouse can arrange for private mediation or arbitration. Many firms specialize in providing these services, including a number of family law firms. Your attorney will very likely offer recommendations of mediators he or she has worked with.
Arbitration differs from mediation. The mediator acts as the voice of reason, getting parents to talk over the issues calmly and reasonably. An arbitrator hears each side then rules on disputed issues. Both alternatives are cheaper and easier on the kids than a bitter divorce trial.
Therapy for You and Your Children
If you notice your kids wilting under the pressures of the family break-up, they may need individual therapy. Many trained therapists are available in urban areas, and some specialize in working with children.
Divorcing parents can need help too. Talking to a trained professional about your fears, anger, doubts and concerns as your marriage ends can help. While some therapists are very expensive, others charge sliding fees depending on your income. This is a good way to keep yourself moving forward in this difficult time. And the better you handle the divorce, the better it is for your kids.
When Hostile Turns to Abusive
Note that hostile behavior toward you is different than abusive behavior toward you or the kids. If your spouse is bitter and angry about the divorce, that is one thing. An emotionally or physically abusive spouse is another.
If your spouse hits or threatened you or the children or erupts in rage that frightens you, tell your attorney. The court has procedures for dealing with abusive divorcing parents and partners, including protective orders.