Consumer — 08 October 2013

Special to American News Report

When a couple is planning to divorce, it can become very contentious over “who gets what”. Often the financial consequences of the divorce are the cause of a lot of arguments.

If there are children in the marriage, that can increase the contention level significantly.

Alan Fishbein

Alan Fishbein

“I always ask my client right at the beginning, ‘what do you want?’,” says Alan Fishbein, who has been practicing law in Ellicott City, Maryland for nearly 40 years. “When it comes to the children, it is especially important to know what the client is trying to achieve.”

Fishbein starts his reasoning at a good place – that all parents love their children and want what’s best for them.

“That’s why it is so frustrating to watch a divorce unfold where parents will use children as pawns in the war they are fighting with each other. That’s not very pleasant,” he added.

There are a number of ways to approach custody.

There is joint legal custody where both parents will share custody of the child unless, as Fishbein says, “there are valid reasons why they shouldn’t be”.

Those reasons can range from a history of domestic violence to indifference on the part of one parent. The courts are obviously sensitive to making sure that the child is put into the best possible situation – ideally where both parents can be a part of their lives – but it’s not always possible or appropriate.

Assuming everything is normal, joint legal custody is where both parents are involved in raising the child, making decisions about where the child goes to school, what religion they are going to practice, and what sports they are going to play after school.

While the cost of alimony can vary, Fishbein says, “We can predict the cost of child support almost to the penny.”

It has to do with shared physical custody, which is the number of overnight visits to the non custodial spouse. In Maryland and most states, there is a dividing line. If there are fewer than 128 overnight visits, the non custodial spouse will pay more. How much more depends on a number of factors, but think in terms of 15 to 20% more.

And yet, Fishbein warns, there are times when joint custody is not the answer.

“And it’s the attorney’s job to tell his client that,” said Fishbein. “It isn’t always easy but it’s always necessary.”

For instance, he says, a parent who travels for business may not be able to be as involved in his or her child’s life. Is a parent willing to change his or her lifestyle or even his or her job in order to maintain joint physical custody?

“Usually they can’t or won’t,” Fishbein said.

The rancor over the divorce will usually ultimately cool, and the children will continue to be in the lives of their parents.

Helpguide.org has some great suggestions on how divorced parents can successfully “co-parent”.

  • Feel secure. When confident of the love of both parents, kids adjust more quickly and easily to divorce and have better self-esteem.
  • Benefit from consistency. Co-parenting fosters similar rules, discipline, and rewards between households, so children know what to expect, and what’s expected of them.
  • Better understand problem solving. Children who see their parents continuing to work together are more likely to learn how to effectively and peacefully solve problems themselves.
  • Have a healthy example to follow. By cooperating with the other parent, you are establishing a life pattern your children can carry into the future.

“When the people who are divorcing can put aside the conflict and remember the children, it has a great effect,” said Fishbein. “As attorneys, we find ourselves often reminding our clients of that fact.”

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Special to American News Report

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