Regularly, I am asked the question of whether our firm, Sodoma Law, represents more men or more women in divorce, support and custody cases. When the questioner finds that Sodoma Law represents the genders almost equally, the questions that follow tend to address the common stereotypes and misperceptions -- particularly when it comes to child custody and parenting schedules.
Generally speaking, by the time a male client makes the phone call and walks into a family law practice, he has made up his mind that divorce is the answer. There is no turning back. The discussion is typically practical and business-driven. For a family law attorney passionate about parenting, the best part of those conversations can be teaching a stereotypical breadwinning father about how to better parent and how to stop relying on their soon to be ex-wife for reminders about the children's doctor's appointments, soccer practices and more.
Generally speaking, by the time a female client makes the phone call and walks into a family law practice, she is still getting used to the idea of the separation, what the holidays will be like, how to uphold family traditions and whether she should move from the marital residence. For a family law attorney passionate about finances, the best part of those conversations can be teaching a stereotypical homemaker about how to discover more about their budget, their assets and debts, figure out who carries their car and life insurance and how to focus on what is important.
For the outliers, who are able to work collaboratively as a no-court alternative, decisions are made together for the greater good -- the ability to think forward, acknowledging each other in the children's lives, and foster relationships in a healthy way for the long haul. In the spirit of accountability, it takes two to get to the point where the marriage no longer works and two to make sense of the separation, particularly if there are children involved.
What is clear? It is the end of a partnership. Regardless of your gender and what position you held in your marriage, change is inevitable and managing your response to that change is going to be critical for you and your family.
For both men and women, decisions about finances are increasingly difficult. The challenges will be plenty. You will ask yourself about the reality of how to divide your once combined income into two homes and you will air the frustration of why your neighbor paid more or received more than you. Will you be able to save for retirement? Go to the dry cleaners? Buy a new dress? While both men and women may approach this challenge differently, their concerns are often the same.
The parity between women and men who have claims for custody is even more surprising. For decades, to successfully argue a child custody case, the most compelling evidence typically reflected the child's routine prior to a separation. If the child had transitioned well through the separation, with good grades and only those natural behavior patterns that one would expect to follow change, then the Court would review the precedent, work and school schedules, and likely continue it through the course of the child's life. For example, if the child was accustomed to the same parent through morning routines, homework routines, etc., and the other parent was at work full-time and mostly involved on the weekends, then it would be likely that the Court would follow suit with a similar parenting schedule (also known as custody and visitation).
Around the country, however, we have seen that pattern change. For the North Carolina family law practitioner and in most jurisdictions, there is no longer the presumption that moms are better parents than dads and that in cases where moms have served as the primary day-to-day caregiver, that those routines should be followed after separation and divorce. In some states, regardless of the child's routine prior to separation, those secondary parents are being given the chance to be an equal parent even if only for a temporary period of time.
By the time men and women get to the place in their relationship that the partnership is ending, it is often too late to recognize the similarities of their decision-making and to balance the equation. A good family law attorney will provide the high-level perspective that will help parents create an agreement that best benefits their children and their financial circumstances. This agreement may or may not conform to their stereotypical expectation that they had when they first walked into the door of a family law practice. Changing the roles they had during the course of their marriage may be intimidating, but more often than not it is a welcomed approach as the family begins its new chapter.