The following is guest post by Steven Koense, Esquire of Gallagher, Schoenfeld, Surkin, Chupein, and DeMis.
When Lauren asked me to write an article for her blog, I was more than happy to offer some words of advice.
I graduated from Widener School of Law in 1997. I spent two years working for legal aid clinics in Dover, DE, gaining some valuable legal experience. In 1999, I began practicing law in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. I focused my practice primarily in the area of Family Law/Domestic Law, which encompasses: divorce, equitable distribution, alimony, child/spousal support, Protection from Abuse, and of course custody.
In 1993, I married my college sweetheart, brought a house in Newark, DE, and had two kids by May 2001. Unfortunately, by 2004 we were separated and ultimately divorced by October of the same year. It was tough. Divorcing with two minor children, a house, and 11 years worth of “stuff”! But, here is the thing – and what I wanted to stress – we never stepped into court to fight over anything. The Court system should never be your first resort.
That is not an exaggeration so much as it is the truth. Knowing what I know as a practicing Family Law Attorney, there simply was no reason to burden the court with arguments about the furniture, the house or any other marital asset worth dividing. If I could live without it, I did. If it was something that could lead to an argument, we argued; but, outside of court and with respect for each other. We ended up dividing all of our assets without any court intervention.
And, how did we resolve our custody situation? The same way – we never fought over custody. Not once have we needed to go to court to resolve any issues about being a parent, or when. I was knowledgeable enough in my abilities as a parent to recognize that a 50-50 custody schedule would not work – I just knew I could not do it. So, we settled on a typical custody schedule: joint legal custody, primary physical custody to my ex-wife, and every other weekend to me. If I could make it down during the week, I did. Again, this was done without any court telling either of us how to raise our children. If we wanted to change days, times, or re-arrange holiday/summer schedules we did it. Why? Because we kept one thing in mind: what is best for our kids? We knew them better than anybody else, and it only made sense that we make the decisions that affect our kids. Not a black-robed stranger.
So, when I meet a client for the very first time and they have custody issues and questions, I tell them there are truly only two ways to go through this: the easy way or the hard way. And, I relay how I was able to resolve my custody issues by avoiding court. “But”, they say, “I want somebody who is going to fight for me . . . !” A lawyer can do that – when it is absolutely necessary. You should fight if the other parent wants to move far away, or if the other parent simply refuses to let you have any visitation. But, fighting over whether little Johnny gets to play t-ball where father lives or where mother lives? Fighting over whether Sally comes over to daddy’s house on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day? That is ridiculous. If you fight for those reasons, you have lost sight of what is in your child’s best interest.
You need to pick and choose your Custody battles. Children are not pawns to be played against the other parent. They are fantastic little people who are observant, smart, and truly want to be with both parents all of the time. Don’t make them choose. Don’t say it is a bad idea for them to spend more time with the other parent. Don’t argue in front of them. Don’t bad mouth the other parent to them. Be an adult. Be a parent. And, let the kids be the kids.
Steven Koense, Esquire
Gallagher, Schoenfeld, Surkin, Chupein, and DeMis
25 West 2nd Street
Media, PA 19063
Lauren Napolitano, Psy.D.
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