If I were to ask you what one aspect of your life you would most want a court to stay away from, what would you say? Your money? Your bedroom? Your kids? What if I told you that in divorce cases the court could enter an order affecting your right to practice your religion? What if I told you that in some states courts can decide what religion your child will be?
In a pending Illinois case the parents are asking a judge to do just that. Before the parents married, the Husband to be converted to the Wife’s religion and, it is argued, agreed to raise their children in that religion. When they separated four years later, the Husband claimed his conversion had been a sham and proceeded to take the couple’s three year old daughter to a church and have her baptized in his former religion. Needless to say, all hell broke loose.
In all Georgia custody matters, the court must enter an order called a “Parenting Plan.” This plan delegates all forseeable parenting responsibilities to one parent or the other. It not only covers the time the children spend with each parent, but also designates one of the parents as final decision maker for the children if the parents disagree on matters of health, education, religion, or extracurricular activities. If the parents cannot decide which parent will be the final decision maker, the court will choose which parent will make the decisions.
When out of frustration parties say, “I don’t care; let the judge decide” they could be giving up their right to participate in these critical parenting decisions. They are giving a stranger control over their children’s interests.
Collaborative practice is a great option for parents who believe they, not a judge, should make decisions about their children. Parents work with a collaborative team, including lawyers, coaches, child specialists, and financial neutrals, to craft a parenting plan that works for their family. The child specialist educates them on their children’s concerns, developmental needs, and any other issues the children may have. The parents then take this information and work with their coaches to put together a parenting plan that best addresses the children’s needs; they also develop problem solving skills so that in the future they will be able to resolve parenting disputes before going to court.
Of course, not all parents can successfully complete a collaborative case. It takes lots of hard work–and a constant focus on the kids’ best interests–to divorce collaboratively. It requires the parents to be adults and take responsibility for their decisions. If everyone could do it, we wouldn’t need litigators. But if parents truly are able to make the children more important than their own emotions, a collaborative divorce may the best way for parents to take care of their children now and in the future.