This is a survival and sanity guide for the most painful part of a contested divorce—child custody.

Some people believe if two adults just sit down for a mature discussion about ending their marriage, they’ll be able to work everything out, including an ideal plan for custody of little Suzie and little Johnnie.

This actually happens. Once in awhile.

Some divorce lawyers don’t like to talk about winning or losing a divorce. Their theory holds that terminating a marriage should not be a big fight, but rather an orderly administrative process during which everyone stays calm and no one gets upset. They want everyone to win at the end of this type of proceeding.

Despite good intentions, the fact of the matter is that divorce is a zero-sum game. If little Johnnie lives with Dad, he can’t live with Mom. If Mom gets the house, Dad can’t have it. Skillful counsel and mature clients can create a win-win solution so long as each party doesn’t want to win the same thing. Unfortunately for good intentions, where kids are concerned, often Mom and Dad each want to win the kids.

The most common reality is that, while a divorce may start off peacefully, there are bumps in the road. For anyone other than a robot, divorce is an emotionally stressful experience. Everything stays calm until Husband picks up the kids for the weekend driving a new Mercedes with a sexy blonde in the front seat. That’s the end of peace and calm. Wife takes a shot at Husband and he shoots back and an emotional war is on.

One sure way to have a non-contentious divorce is for either Wife or Husband to be a floor mat. A floor mat doesn’t care what happens to them or to their kids or how often they get stepped on. I don’t advise being a floor mat, but if you really don’t care, a divorce may proceed just the way your spouse wants it to.

Hurt feelings are everywhere. One of the parties may be having a mid-life crisis and only does what the yoga instructor advises. If it’s a second marriage, there always seems to be a crazy ex who takes advantage of the turmoil to relitigate the first marriage. In-laws provide a new suggestion every ten minutes and want Grandma to get the kids every Christmas Day and Grandpa to have them every Thanksgiving.

Most difficult for everyone is that the kids can become depressed or flip out or both. Some kids believe they get to choose where they’re going to live and start playing the parents off against each other in a game of who can pay the biggest bribe. Little Suzie gets a tattoo, little Johnnie is expelled from school for fighting and each parent blames the other.

Many people say divorce is one of the hardest things they’ve ever experienced, maybe the hardest. But you already know people who have survived divorce. You also know people who married the wrong person and discover a much better life after that marriage is over.

How do you survive financially?

How do you survive emotionally?

How do you keep your divorce from ruining your children’s lives?

How do you choose a good attorney?

What if the judge doesn’t like you?

What if your ex takes the kids to Texas?

From long before any divorce papers are filed through battles that can continue for years after the judge bangs the gavel, former divorce attorney Clarence Acheson talks about the realities of each step in a custody fight – legal and human – and what works and what doesn’t with visitation.


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