Q&A Topic: Divorce and Child Custody, Prenuptial Agreements & Assisted Reproduction
Elizabeth A. Douglas, Esq.
Q: How can I avoid a messy child custody battle and develop a parenting plan we all can live with?
A: Facts trump emotions when dealing with custody issues, and gathering them comes down to being organized—keep track of what’s going on by using your smart phone and taking notes. Even though the romantic relationship between you and your ex is over, your relationship with your children lasts forever. Remember that there will be college graduations and weddings in the future that you and your ex will both attend. Your children should not have to choose between parents or feel uncomfortable at family functions because of your behavior. Divorce can be emotionally detrimental to children, so be straightforward and honest in an age-appropriate manner—never give your kids false hopes.
Figure out if you need to battle your case out in court, or not. Knowing what you want to achieve from custody proceedings and then matching your expectations with the reality of your situation is essential. Be honest with yourself and share your expectations with your attorney so they can provide valuable perspective on your desired position. Maintaining an informed and clear picture of the reality of your overall situation will help to conserve your emotional and financial resources.
You and your ex know each other, your situation, your family, and can either choose to work together or let a judge with thousands of cases make decisions for you. You know the unique details—like the fact that your child enjoys the Wednesday night swim class better than the Thursday night group, etc.—and that’s number 1. These days, there are no automatic presumptions of custody being awarded to the mother.
Decisions are based on facts, such as work schedules, history of physical/mental abuse, how you communicate with your child, where the children will live and if there are other kids in the house. Oftentimes , an Attorney For The Child (AFC) will be assigned by the Court to be the child’s voice so the child won’t have to personally appear in court and be traumatized. In more complex situations, forensic evaluations might be conducted for both parents, and the child will be interviewed, the house will be examined and so on.
You need to know your goal and targets from the beginning. You shouldn’t use litigation to hurt your ex, and never put your child in the middle. Don’t make your child feel badly about spending time with the other parent: We’re all human and sometimes we do so subconsciously with sighs or facial expressions, but remember that children can be fiercely loyal. Take care of yourself—rest, eat, exercise and so on—and don’t paint your ex as a monster and yourself as a saint. Judges see through that. Abide by court orders until the final order.
Q: What is getting divorced like in New York?
A: There are two types of divorces in New York—uncontested and contested. In an uncontested divorce, there are no outstanding issues, like division of assets or custody that the Court must resolve. If you and your ex can agree on the basics—where the children will live, what support will be given for their needs, how you’ll divide marital assets—your attorney can draft the appropriate divorce paperwork and file it with the Court. An uncontested divorce takes less time and is much cheaper than a contested divorce, which requires a significant amount of the Court’s intervention. Contested divorces are much more complex, require more time in Court, strategizing, and can be an expensive investment. However, sometimes it is absolutely necessary to litigate significant issues in Court.
Our Firm believes that no two families are the same and our job is to ensure that each client gets a custom tailored plan. Most of our cases are contested divorces involving complex custody challenges and high net worth asset distribution. We also offer mediation, which can be a good option for couples that work together and want to avoid litigation.
It’s really important to do your homework when selecting a divorce attorney. Check their background and take the time to figure out if their objectives meet yours. Think of choosing a divorce attorney like a first date: You’re both checking each other out. If you move forward, your legal team will spend a lot of time with you, so make sure you feel comfortable that they will deliver on their promises. Ask lots of questions, and don’t be afraid to share your honest thoughts. You should feel comfortable, confident and secure that your attorney can and will meet your needs.
Q: We are happy. Why do we need a prenup?
A: Prenups help couples to make important decisions about their future while they are happily on the same page. Think of it as getting “financially naked.” Prenups reassure your partner that no matter what happens, they will be protected, with a solid plan for The Six D’s (disability, disease, destruction, debt, divorce, death). People tend to avoid these subjects, saying ‘it’s not romantic,’ but it’s easier to make decisions when you’re in love than later when things aren’t going well between you. A prenuptial agreement forces you to speak openly about money and make major decisions about health insurance, joint purchase of a home, who has access to certain funds, household accounts, estate planning, who will take care of the children and more. If you’re a young couple, one of you might have a ton of student debt: If your spouse dies or you get divorced, why should you inherit $200,000 in school loans that weren’t yours?
Q: What advice do you give to couples considering assisted reproduction?
A: Life is about options and making those options work for you and your family. Today it’s the norm for families to think outside of the box and stray away from ‘traditional’ roles. Assisted reproduction is a new area of the law that is striving to catch up with the needs of the modern family. Challenges with conception, professional women starting families without a partner, same sex partners wanting to expand their families, freezing eggs, in vitro—there are many possibilities. What’s important is that any agreements reflect the intentions of both parties and outline the end goal(s). Clarity is the biggest factor in enforceability, and having a contract means there will be no misunderstandings.
The Law Offices of Elizabeth A. Douglas, PLLC is a boutique matrimonial and family law firm located in White Plains. We believe that each family deserves the respect, time and attention necessary to resolve their challenges in the best way possible. We believe that ‘happily ever after’ looks different to different people. We believe it takes a village. We believe that the end of a relationship is not the end of a person’s life, but rather an opportunity for a new beginning. We believe it’s important to have a plan. We believe it’s essential to take care of one’s mind, body and soul. We believe that you should have the very best. We believe that it’s OK to be fancy. Our legal team uses an innovative and modern approach to the practice of divorce litigation, divorce mediation, uncontested divorce, separation agreements, family law (child custody, visitation, support, adoption), pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements, and co-habitation agreements.
Elizabeth A. Douglas, Esq.
Managing Partner & Certified Divorce Mediator
Law Offices of Elizabeth A. Douglas, PLLC
245 Main Street- Ste. 610
White Plains, NY 10601
Protecting What's Most Important to You During Divorce and Family Law Matters