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Dallas-Fort Worth Family Law Blog

Divorce mediation: Know your goals before starting

You don't get married with the idea that you will one day go through the divorce process. Even so, many people find themselves in this position every year.

If divorce is in your future, you may want to learn more about mediation. Contrary to popular belief, litigation is not always necessary. If you and your spouse are willing to work together to put your divorce in the past, mediation could be the answer.

Misconceptions can lead to poor decisions in divorce cases

Texas couples who are ending their marriages often need to make a number of important decisions, and making a poor choice can sometimes cast a long shadow. Spouses in need of direction often turn to close friends or family members or acquaintances who have been through a divorce themselves, but the advice they are given is often based on poor information, misunderstandings or misconceptions.

Divorcing parents are sometimes told not to waste their time with child support negotiations because these awards are based on rigid state rules, but judges can choose to stray beyond these guidelines when strict adherence would be unfair or not in the best interests of the child. Spouses are sometimes surprised when evidence of their infidelity or other misconduct is introduced during child custody or spousal support hearings. This is because it is a common misconception that no-fault divorce laws render marital misconduct inconsequential, but that is not the case.

Changing perceptions of fatherhood

Some Texas fathers may be among the 52 percent who say they struggle in balancing their family life with their work life. In 2015, Pew Research Center conducted a survey that looked at fathers' attitudes about being a parent and found that while there are fewer fathers who are also the sole breadwinners compared to previous generations, fathers spend more time with their children. In 1970, in nearly half of couples with children, fathers were the main breadwinners. By 2015, that percentage had dropped to just over one-quarter. In 2015, fathers also spent almost three times as much time caring for their children weekly compared to 1965.

A majority of both fathers and mothers consider being a parent an important part of their identity at 57 percent and 58 percent respectively. Despite these figures, there is still a perception that mothers are better caregivers. More than half of respondents said that mothers were better at caring for a new baby than fathers. However, 45 percent said both parents did well.

A prenup to plan for a blended family

Texas families come in all shapes and sizes, and so have the blended families resulting from remarriages. Blended families have their own set of issues to deal with and resolve and one of these is how to plan for the financial health of the whole family when these two sides combine. One way to do this is by drafting a prenuptial agreement.

Many people still believe prenups are only for wealthy or famous people, but the agreement can bring many benefits to all types of marriages. In a blended family in particular, where each side might have separate assets such as owning their own homes and where there might be unequal wealth, a prenup might help define the financial health and future of the new family and avoid the conflicts that could arise later on.

Fathers still often not awarded primary custody

Although there have been major advances in gender equality, men in Texas and elsewhere are still not generally being awarded physical custody of their children following a divorce. In fact, the mothers are being awarded physical custody approximately 80 percent of the time.

A 2015 study from Stanford University showed that men were responsible for initiating less than 33 percent of all divorces. However, the mother is still often awarded custody of the children as she may still be seen as the primary nurturer while the father is still often seen as the primary disciplinarian. This also means that some courts may give higher regard to the mother as a result. Many fathers often choose to avoid going to court over custody issues.

Alimony: Several things you need to know

At some point, you may realize that your marriage is no longer working. In this case, it's only natural to look into divorce.

As the divorce process moves forward, you may need to answer questions related to child custody, child support, property division and alimony.

Making a child support agreement outside of court

Texas parents who are ending their marriage and who have one or more minor children might want to consider negotiating a child support agreement instead of going to court to have a judge make the determination. They may do this in informal negotiations by themselves. Another option is for their respective attorneys to take the lead.

Parents who would like to be more involved in the process of conflict resolution might consider mediation or collaborative law. These alternative dispute resolution processes help parents work together to reach a compromise they may both be more satisfied with than they might be with a decision the judge arrives at through litigation. Arbitration is another option although it is more formal and not used as much in family law. This involves having a third party listen to evidence and positions on both sides.

Nesting as a form of physical custody

When going through a divorce, it is especially important for Texas parents to be mindful of how ending their marriage can impact their children. While changes will occur, there are many ways parents can make the process easier. One option they could consider is a nesting arrangement.

From a psychological standpoint, it is typically better for both parents to have a relationship with their children and a significant involvement in their lives. Perhaps because of this, courts feel the same way. While shared custody provides the contact with both parents that a child needs, moving between two locations can be disruptive. To avoid this, nesting allows the children to stay in one location while the parents switch places instead.

Coping strategies for children to deal with divorce

Good communication can be an important tool for Texas parents who want to help their children adjust to a divorce. Parents should try to talk to children about the divorce early on because children will notice signs such as parents sleeping in separate bedrooms or one parent moving out. They need reassurance that the divorce is not their fault and that their parents will still take care of them. Their questions should be answered, and if children do not ask questions, parents should regularly check in with them and keep the lines of communication open.

Children may be grieving in their own way. In some cases, this might require a therapist, and parents should not hesitate to get outside help if necessary. This extends to themselves as well. Self-care for parents is important so that they have the resources to continue helping their children.

Husbands who work are less likely to get divorced

Changes in attitudes toward marriage since the 1970s have made it easier for women in Texas and elsewhere to split from their husbands. Economic independence has also made it easier for women to leave a marriage that does not meet their needs. However, a study from a Harvard professor published in American Sociological Review suggests that the success or failure of a marriage may hinge on whether a husband is employed.

In a given year, a man who has a job has a 2.5 percent chance of getting divorced. This is compared to a 3.3 percent chance of an unemployed man getting divorced in a given year. One explanation for this statistic is that women still expect their husbands to be breadwinners even as they enter the working world for themselves. If a husband isn't making money, it could put strain on the relationship as a whole.