Going to court is extremely stressful. Enduring court when there is children involved is nothing short of traumatizing! In this post, I desire to give comfort and practical tips to those that are involved in family court. Both from personal and my professional court advocacy experience, I know court dealings can be confusing, drawn out, and stressful. While I hope that you personally never experience a court hearing, unfortunately, for many families it is a reality. Here is some practical advice for surviving the emotional toll of family court.
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Surviving the Emotional Toll of Family Court
So here are some things to expect and ways that you can manage surviving the emotional toll of family court.
You are in a marathon. This is not a sprint. Court is long and drawn out in most cases. It is not quick and resolved with a hearing or two as you often see on TV. Prepare for each hearing and take them seriously, but try not to put too much weight on any one proceeding.
Find ways to de-stress and take care of yourself. You may need to learn to manage an increased amount of stress while you are going through the court process. If you have children, they still have needs. So you will have bear up under the weight of all your concerns about court while still caring for them.
Look for healthy ways to cope and acknowledge what is happening while giving yourself permission to “drop” the court topic mentally for hours at a time so you can focus on the day to day tasks.
Since court does go on for so long we don’t want it to bleed into every area of our life. Or to shut down living for the next 2 years. Have times when you talk with a friend to vent about what is going on with court. But also have occasions when you go out to dinner with friends and just “forget about it” for the evening!
Make the Most of Mediation
Courts are typically big on mediation. Most families will be sent to mediation to see if they can work through things and make some agreements.
Make the most of this opportunity. While it can stick in your craw to try to “agree” with someone you feel has betrayed you, try to look beyond this. There is so much at stake if there are children.
Before you go to mediation think about what is THE most important thing to you. Once you step into the court, rarely does any one person “win.” So it is not about winning or losing.
Mediation is an opportunity to try to agree and walk away with that ONE or two things that mean the most to you. So make a list of all the things you are hoping to achieve. But make sure you are crystal clear on what you can’t live without.
You may also wish to use this time to count the cost. There is a cost to staying in a marriage and making the sacrifices and compromises necessary to join two lives. And there is a steep price for divorcing. So make sure your eyes are open and that you have exhausted every avenue so you feel more at peace about your decision.
Find a Lawyer who Understands Your Unique Situation
Take your time with this step. Lawyers are just people. So find one that is very capable. And who wants to win and treats each case uniquely.
And remember your lawyer will represent you in the courtroom but also in closed chambers where you will not see or hear what was discussed.
So find one that you connect with and that understands your unique situation.
What do I mean? Most people that go to court try to slant things to their point of view. That is natural. We all want to be portrayed in the best light in the courts or to think that our point of view is the most important one. Unfortunately, sometimes you are dealing with people that step way beyond that. Abusers, Narcissists and Sociopaths are not your typical people. If you are going to court against such a person you truly need a lawyer that understands.
I am using the terms Abuser, Narcissist and Sociopath (Antisocial Personality Disorder) in their medical definition, not as a personal slam. Read here about Domestic Violence, here for Narcissists and here for Sociopaths.
As some general examples, a spouse who has been abused will struggle to trust their own instincts and opinions because they have often been told for so long that their thoughts and feelings are wrong. This spouse may need a lawyer who can work with their client to give them the courage to stand up for what they want. And a lawyer who has knowledge of the cycle of abuse.
You may also find it helpful to journal or work through some helpful information such as this book and workbook, Take Back Your Life: How to Stop letting Your Past and Others Control You by Stephen ArteburnIf you are going up against a Narcissists in court you really need a lawyer that can be quick on their feet. Narcissists are often known to completely fabricate things so it is challenging to be prepared to provide information to disapprove something that never even happened. And since most people will not typically make up whole stories, you want a lawyer that understands this may happen and be prepared.
Share Sparingly with Others
Save yourself some hurt feelings and only share sparingly about your court battle. Confide in a few close family members or friends. Many people will not understand how stressful and complicated the court process can be. Or they may assume if you didn’t “win” that there was a reason.
While our court system in America is still one amazing system there are so many variables involved that you have little control over in court. There is your lawyer, their lawyer, the judge you are in front of and the area where your case is in court. With people involved on both sides, everyone has personal opinions that slant how they view and handle the case.
Choose wise friends to disclose to who are straight with you, but who also see the real you and have your back 100%. You don’t want to have to do battle outside the court room too!
And you want to protect your family too. Some where down the road you may decide to reconcile with your estranged spouse and you wouldn’t wish everyone to remember only the negatives things about your spouse. Or your children may struggle additionally as they feel put in the middle having to defend their parent to the other parent.
Utilize Court Advocates
If your former spouse has committed a crime or you have experienced domestic violence in your relationship, there are court advocates available to you. A court advocate is someone who is typically not a lawyer who goes with you to court. They can explain some of the steps, help you prepare a victim statement, and be an emotional support to you. They may interact with a judge or lawyer on your behalf.
Sometimes advocates work through the prosecutor’s office while other times they work through a separate non-profit agency that deals with victims of domestic and sexual abuse.
If you have experienced domestic violence during your marriage be VERY careful. Take precautions while you are in the process of separating.
A court battle can be one of the most dangerous times in your relationship as the abuser feels like things are slipping out of their control.
A domestic violence advocate can work with you to create a safety plan and know what precautions to take. They can also help you obtain a Civil Protection Order if necessary.
Documenting is so important! Document any interactions you have with your former spouse. This may include saving emails or texts or voicemails. Write down any exchanges. Try to be as specific as possible with dates and times. Here is one way a clever mom kept track of documentation! Here are some ideas from one dad on keeping good court documentation.
If there has been a history of domestic violence (emotional, mental or physical) you may wish to call the police every time another threat of violence is made. This allows the police to generate a “public record” that they received a call from you. If there is proof of the violence (bruises, ex-spouse still at your house when they show and there is a CPO stating they can’t be there) they may choose to press charges. Read here about filing a police report and here for how police handle whether to charge a crime when a police report is filed.
Good documentation helps to decrease your stress load. Write down a few specific details on what happened and then try to move on with your day. Keeps things factual.
Documentation will help you and your lawyer greatly! Keep thorough records so you can quickly put your hands on the correct documentation.
Know When to Cut Your Losses
There will come a point when you have to decide whether to continue to going back to court. You may feel that your child would truly be better off with you. Or you believe you truly deserve or need more money to live. However, unless something new has changed (drastic change in circumstances or a new judge) be cautious. Chances are, another court battle, will be a huge amount of money spent, emotional stress on your family, and time for little results.
It is not fair and I wish it was different. Believe me, I get it. But we don’t want to allow our children to be so devastated by court battles that is all they remember of their younger years. And it may be better to accept what we have and be a somewhat more relaxed parent than for us to keep going back.
Where that line is on when you should go back to court and when to cut your losses is for you to decide. But it is there. So pray about it, talk with your lawyer, and ask for counsel.
Surviving the Emotional Toll of Family Court
You are not alone. Recognize that you in a very emotionally draining time in your life. Utilize these crucial steps and care for yourself so that you can continue to care for those you love. And believe that life will get better!