Welcome

I wrote this material in over a span in 2003 to help me get over a divorce. It started as a jounal I was keeping to take with me to court, and ended up being something valuable to others. I started selling this online and have sold many, many copies over the years. Customer feedback made it into the guide, and it is still regularly updated.

The original side was DadWon.com, and I learned a lot from the experience.

Introduction

First of all, I want to thank you for reading this guide. It will be time well spent and I am confident that the information contained on these pages will save you a lot of time, energy and money.

Secondly, I must tell you that every divorce case, although similar in many regards, is different. This is a very emotional time for you. You are probably running a range of emotions from pissed, stressed and depressed to elated. You will experience one or all of them at different times during your separation and subsequent events leading up to the filing of your final decree. This guide contains my experiences of going through a separation, custody battle and the drafting and execution of the final decree.

My goal in writing this is to save you time and money by presenting the information I gathered while going through my own contested divorce and custody dispute. I am going to tell you what happened to me, what I did and how it might have had a positive impact on my case. I also highlight things I did wrong and actions you can take to show the court you are the better parent. This will give you the best chance of prevailing in your divorce and and gaining or retaining custody of your kids.

A lot of this information is for parents that want to be the primary custodian. I am not writing this to give a leg up to the person that thinks of the kids as marital property or wants to get the kids to hurt the spouse. You have to understand that you are making a long-term commitment and life altering change of being a single parent.

Bear in mind that these are actions I took and things that happened to me during my case. It was a scary, confusing and lengthy process but I held strong and grew more determined over time. In the end, I was awarded sole custody of my son and child support. And I am a man.

This is not legal advice by any means. I am not a lawyer and cannot offer legal advice. No one can or will guarantee that you will prevail. There are so many factors that are taken into consideration that even your lawyer will not (and is ethically unable to) guarantee that you will win.

Read this guide, speak with your lawyer and above all else remain as calm and collected as possible.

The Calm Before the Storm

back to the top

I arrived home from work around 7:00 PM. Let the dog out and went upstairs to see if anyone was around. After changing out of my work clothes, I went back downstairs to get dinner started. It was normal for no one to be home around that time. Our busy and often hectic household schedule revolved around taking care of our young son, school activitites and work " a typical American lifestyle.

The phone rang around 7:30 PM and I picked it up:

Hello?
Hey, it's me. I'm calling to let you know that I moved out today and I'm at my mothers.
Do you have Zack with you?
Yes.
Well bring him home.
No, you come pick him up.
Its too late, I'll get him in the morning.
OK.
Click.

That was the last conversation I had with my wife ‐ and it was the kickoff of the most bitter and frustrating episode in my life I hope to ever know. I knew I had to act fast. If she decided to not bring our son back home, or to let me pick him up, I was going to be in a difficult situation. In hindsight, I should have left to pick up my son as soon as I hung up with my wife. But I held steady and waited until the next day and picked him up in the afternoon.

This was a risky move, but put out the message that I trusted her to make a level headed decision. The first night she was gone was a terrible one for me. Fitful sleep full of sweat and nightmares it was a very long night! More lng nights were to follow in the months to come. I realized that wanting a divorce is one thing, but when the first strike occurs you are really not quite ready for it.

During the weeks leading up to the big event, I sat down in the evenings with my wife and we prepared a list of items to include in a property settlement and custody agreement. We both signed the document after several sessions of lengthy and emotionally draining negotiations. I then left it up to her to take it to a lawyer to have it written up and submitted to the court.

Neither of us had retained a lawyer prior to, or during, the creation of this agreement. We did not sign the document in front of a notary. Even though I thought I had everything covered, I should have been the one to take the document to a lawyer. This was the greatest, potentially damaging mistake that I made right out of the gate. Hindsight is 20/20, first lesson learned.

It would have been a smoother process, and cost significantly less, if the agreement we drafted together had been enforceable. Unfortunately, she hired a lawyer right after executing our agreement. Her lawyer found all of the mistakes and weaknesses of the document instead of drafting it into a form that could be submitted to the court. My former spouse experienced "buyers remorse" right after closing our deal.

So what I thought was going to be an amicable separation and divorce ended up costing me over $40,000 in legal and associated expenses. Even though the outcome regarding custody and several other matters ended up in my favor, I still had to pick up part of her legal expense. Unfair? Who cares! It was worth every penny. The most unfortunate result of the expenses incurred over the course of litigation was that we could have split the money and used it to raise our child and start our new independent lives.

Many jobs in this country are dependent on the divorce rate remaining fairly consistent. Social services workers, lawyers, judges, and psychiatrists. They know the tricks and the pitfalls. For them, the process is routine. For us it is painful and confusing. Once you are caught up in the process of litigation, don’t expect it to end quickly. The longer it takes, the more they can bill. (Although I eventually learned that the delay can be a good thing, more on that later.) The court dockets are full, family counselors are booked and the list goes on.

I spent the months following her departure pouring over everything I could find on the subject of divorce and custody trying to sort this all out. Countless hours searching and browsing sites after my son was in bed. I bought loads of books, subscribed to newsletters, and researched historical case information. On top of what I spent on legal fees and other costs associated with the litigation, I spent over $1000 on materials covering the subject.

I discovered that a lot of the books are not exactly what I was looking for. Most were general custody books, and the few I read that were supposed to be specific for Dads didn’t provide that much specific information. Others were full of general questions, forms you can fill out (which may or may not be binding and your lawyer will rewrite anyway), sample pages for journal entries, etc. Some contained things that I would have ended up having to spend more money on, but did not steer me in any particular direction.

I was growing tired and getting frustrated with all of the various custody books I was reading. I gave up and relied on my own hard research. I was totally freaking out and needed some reassurance that I was not fighting a losing battle from the start. I found out that it is not impossible for a good Dad to win a contested custody battle. I discovered that the common misconception that "Mom will always win" results in a lot of Dads just giving up and walking away without a fight.

The web is a great free resource for doing research but you have to be careful. I am glad that I was able to find so much publicly available information, but validating it was very difficult. It takes time to weed through the garbage to find the stuff that is really helpful. I spent most of my research time trying to find cases that were similar to mine and reading the outcome and opinions from appeals courts. I applied applicable information, but above all else I eventually learned to consult with, and take the advice of, my lawyer. You are paying your lawyer to do more than file paperwork; you are buying an expert opinion that can walk you through this maze. What else did I find out?

I found statistics that indicate that the outcome of custody battles is moving towards 50/50, then another that Mothers win more, then another that Dads win more often when they actually contest custody. Very frustrating research indeed and nothing that was giving my confidence a boost. But there was still a nagging voice in the back of my mind. What can I do to improve my chances? Can she just take my son during one of her visits and not return him to me? Should I work and put him in daycare? What if she snatched him and leaves the country? These are the sorts of questions that would haunt me.

When I found something useful, I took careful notes so that I could refer back to the information. I have a nasty habit of self-doubt. I would begin to get confident and start feeling good about my situation. Then an hour or so later, I would start having grave doubts about my chance for success.

Maybe it is a good thing to be somewhat doubtful and afraid of the unknown. Either way it is enough to drive you mad - Although this fear did keep me on my toes. Laying your life out in front of lawyers and a judge and letting them determine how you are going to live it is scary. Remember the old adage that courage is controlled fear. Fear can be good - Be scared but strong.

You are going to need courage and strength because you could be in for a long process. Sometimes it seemed like nothing was happening. She was gone, I was in the marital home with our child and I wanted it to be over and done with. My state requires a 12 month separation before a divorce will be granted if there were children born as a result of the marriage. I think this is a built in cooling off period to see if you might be able to resolve your situation and stay together. Take the period and cool off, but don’t let your guard down. If you are separated, there is probably a good reason.

After the initial dust had settled, I realized that I should have had a plan of action to follow.

A Note of Caution

back to the top

Do not share this information with anyone. No one needs to know what you are planning and how you are going to accomplish your goals. You never know who knows whom in this world. If the other side is tipped off to your plans, they will know how to counterstrike.

I would assume that lawyers in particular are not too fond of this sort of book. They are professionals that get paid based on billable hours. If you are confused, they have to explain things to you and they bill for that time. A lawyer is a valuable (unfortunately necessary) tool in your divorce and custody case. Listen to your lawyer, but do not let them completely run the show – you need to provide your input.

Never EVER tell your spouse what you are going to do! This will derail your plan faster than anything else. You can never assume that you have the upper hand in this battle.

Treat this information like any of the other confidential material you have stored away in your brain and act accordingly.

The Groundwork

back to the top

Preparations

back to the top

It is impossible to script your life, but you must plan when thinking about major life altering events. One recent weekend, I took a trip to visit some friends and we were discussing events that have happened over the past few years. Things have happened in our respective lives that none of us could have anticipated. My favorite observation out of that discussion was “Life is what happens when you are preparing for something else.”

Our society increasingly favors instant gratification. Tired of your car? Get a new one. Tired of your house? Move. Getting a divorce is a serious matter and should not be entered into lightly, but some people treat their marriage just like the other things in their life. You can’t just wake up one morning and decide, “I think I’ll get a divorce.” Some people do seem to do it though, and they exit the marriage just as quickly as they entered.

Surprise is a terrible thing and I really feel bad for you if you are still in love with your spouse, but know they want a divorce. If this is the case you need to get to therapy right away. Suggest to your spouse that the two of you get some counseling. Maybe there are issues that your spouse does not want to communicate to you directly. If there is a neutral third party helping the conversation along, you might find that the marriage can be salvaged. Hell, you two married each other. It will be a lot cheaper if you can figure out a way to live happily with each other.

You must take your blinders off and understand that the signs are going to be there if your spouse is unhappy or considering a divorce, you need to look for them. I knew almost right away, but my situation was totally nuts. There were signs that I should have never married her, but I did anyway thinking that things would get better over time.

If your marriage is having problems, go to a marriage counselor. There is bound to be one local to where you live. This will serve a couple of purposes. First, the two of you might actually figure something out and decide to work on things. Staying together has obvious benefits. Second, if you are pretty sure that things are not going to work out you still need to go to a marriage counselor. This will send the message that you tried everything to keep the marriage intact. Save all appointment records and be sure keep the receipts.

If you go to a marriage counselor be sure to stay involved, listen to what the person has to say and keep the lines of communication open. You must be cooperative, and are there for the benefit of your family, etc. Do not get angry when the counselor spends more time listening to your spouse and seems to take their side. Never get into an argument in the room, do not be confrontational at all. You are a good person and a friend to everyone.

I brought up the subject of marriage counseling with my wife. We decided that it would be a good idea, and agreed that we would leave it up to her to make the appointment. I thought there was no point in me both bringing up the subject and making the appointment. It would have been a completely one-way street. I wasn’t going to force her to do anything she didn’t want to do. In the end, she never made the appointment and we never went to speak with a professional. I made sure to document the fact that I brought up the subject, we agreed and it was up to her to make the appointment!

Did my wife know that I wanted to divorce her? Probably, but I am positive that she wanted to divorce me as well. Most men will stay married for the benefit of the kids; I was no different in this regard. Women are more likely to harbor resentment brought about from feelings of “growing apart” or “not feeling appreciated or wanted.” If you notice signs that your marriage may be on the rocks, bring it up. However, if you want to divorce even though things are OK around the house, you might want to get some therapy on your own to try to figure out what may be causing these feelings.

You have to stay calm and cordial during the period leading up to the separation. I was able to manage to stay friendly because I got it into my head that my life was going to change in a drastic way and there was little I could do about the coming change. There is nothing you or I can do about change, the only thing you have control of at this pre-separation point is your actions.

You must remove emotion from the process so you can think clearly.

I know this might sound ridiculous, but you are going to have to remove all emotion from the process. You remain passionate about your kids, but the rest falls by the side. Be prepared to lose, or negotiate away, all assets other than the marital home. And as far as the sexual relationship with your spouse, ditch it -- forget about it. Gone. You will not get together with your spouse during the separation for any “sleepovers.” Your concern at this point is retaining what assets you can, keeping your house and keeping the kids.

You must plan for your separation well ahead of time to minimize your risk up front. If things look like they are not going to work, and after you have exhausted all options, put your plan into action.

The first step of your planning stage is to create a documented agreement with your spouse.

The pre-separation agreement

back to the top

My wife and I drafted a list of items that we wanted to include in a property settlement and custody agreement. This will not be the official separation agreement (as I learned the hard way) but it is a valuable tool.

Take the agreement that you and your spouse draft to a Notary Public. BOTH of you sign it in front of the Notary.

In our document, we addressed all assets that the two of us had accumulated during the marriage to include savings and checking accounts, the house, any rental properties, all furniture and the cars. We itemized our debts and who would be responsible for paying them. We addressed childcare arrangements and support payments; including child and spousal. I made sure to get entries in the document specifying where our son would live, who was to be the primary custodial parent, a visitation schedule and indicated that I would like to share legal custody of our son. What I didn’t do was take it to a notary in our community (bank or realtors office) and have both of us sign it in front of the notary. This was a huge mistake so I will say it one more time: take the agreement that you and your spouse draft to a Notary Public. BOTH of you sign it in front of the Notary.

The second step of your planning stage is to locate a great lawyer.

Finding a lawyer

back to the top

Find a lawyer before any physical separation.

This is where most people really screw up their case. Lawyers are professionals, and just like any professional they have specialty areas, as well as strength and weaknesses within those areas. Do some research and find one that has specific recent experience with custody cases. Family law is a huge profit center for the people surrounding the process and the laws are constantly under revision.

You do not want to have 2 men fighting 2 women in court.

Your spouse is going to get a female lawyer if they are smart. You need one as well! Find a great female lawyer and pay her whatever she wants.

If you and your lawyer can negotiate a property settlement and custody agreement with the opposing party without having to litigate do it!

There are going to be points that you feel are "deal breakers" but make sure they really are that important. You will have to evaluate every one of them and make sure it is really in the best interest of you and your child to litigate.

Meeting with your lawyer

back to the top

The first meeting with your lawyer will be stressful for you, but just relax. This was a hard lesson for me to learn. I spent a lot of time during my “flipping out” phase on the phone with her. She kept telling me to just relax and wait. I had never been to court for anything other than a traffic ticket about 8 years ago. So learn this lesson fast:

You need to relax and stay calm.

You hire a lawyer to help you win YOUR case. You must help them towards this end. Lawyers are just people and will react much like anyone else if you are always annoying them. Sure they love the billing, but having to drop things to pick up your call takes time away from other clients. They will bill you for every phone call, and the billable time will be about twice the length of the call. Why twice the length of the call? Because they have to put down what they are doing, speak with you, take notes about the call, and then get back to what they were doing. This adds up fast!

Help your lawyer out by providing the facts surrounding your case in small manageable chunks of information. Provide all documents that you have collected as well as copies of relevant pages in your diary. You may want to go over everything on your own a few times to make sure the notes you have taken are clear and follow a distinct timeline.

Present your lawyer with clear manageable chunks of information.

Do I bring anything with me?

back to the top

When you go to meet with your lawyer for the first time to discuss your situation there are certain things you will want to bring. Ask what you should bring to the appointment while you are on the phone setting it up.

You must be honest and direct with your lawyer. They need to know everything about your situation so they can help you as best they can. There can be NO SECRETS and NO SUPRISES. Correcting such things cost money, time and possibly your case.

Be sure to provide the following information to your lawyer (They can filter out anything they do not need):

  1. Anything your lawyer specifically directs you to provide.
  2. Your diary and calendar.
  3. Any notes related to your case.
  4. Documents related to any real estate owned.
  5. Receipts from any therapists or marriage counselors.
  6. Recent pay stub and employment information for you and your spouse.
  7. Recent statements from checking, savings and brokerage accounts.
  8. Most recent tax return.
  9. Receipts for childcare or school.

Questions to ask your lawyer

back to the top

  1. What is your hourly rate?
  2. Do I have to keep a balance on account with your firm?
  3. What arrangements that can be made for payment of your services?
  4. Under what circumstances should I have phone conversations with my spouse?
  5. Should I attempt to tape record in-person conversations with my spouse?
  6. Should I let my spouse know about routine medical or dental care appointments I make for the kids?
  7. Should I provide my spouse with copies of documents I receive from the medical appointments?
  8. Should I hire a private investigator?
  9. Should I let my child’s school administrator know what is going on?
  10. Should I change the locks on the house?
  11. Does a custody dispute need to go to trial?
  12. What are the guidelines for spousal and child support?
  13. How is child custody decided?
  14. Should I have someone evaluate my relationship with my child?
  15. Should I have a psychological evaluation done on my spouse?
  16. Should I have social services perform an inspection on the residence of my spouse?
  17. What if my spouse attempts to alienate the kids from me?
  18. My kids want to live with me. Will their wishes be considered?
  19. What is a custody agreement? Do we need one?
  20. What is a property settlement agreement? Do we need one?
  21. Should I talk with my kids about where they want to live?
  22. How will a visitation schedule be created?
  23. Should we decide upon a neutral location for visitation exchange of the children?
  24. When can the judge deny visitation rights?

Who are the kids living with now?

back to the top

Status Quo is a powerful factor when it comes to custody decisions. The longer the kids have been in one place the better.

This probably THE most important factor when a judge is determining who is going to be awarded physical custody.

Judges do not want to move kids out of a house unless there is convincing evidence that they would be better off somewhere else or are in danger.

If the kids are in danger you need to do something about it ASAP.

If you are posing a threat to your kids, you should not be reading this book. Remove yourself from the home and get help right away.

If your spouse poses a threat to your kids, take action to have your spouse removed from the home immediately by calling the police.

Who should move out?

back to the top

To that end, you have to do whatever you can to get your spouse to move out without the kids. If you are a father, the deck is stacked against you; you have to do whatever you can. Stay within legal boundaries but get your spouse out of the house. Suggest that she go stay with her parents or a friend for a while to cool off, get her a hotel room, send her on vacation or wait until she is on a business trip.

Getting your spouse to leave you is the hardest part to accomplish, but you have to get her out of the house without the kids.

If your spouse moves out and the kids are with you in the house, drag things out as long as you possibly can. Lawyers must work together to schedule things for the convenience of each other. If you found a good lawyer, she will have “things on her calendar” for months. You want to be the “primary caregiver” for your kids for as long as possible before you get to court.

If she moves out and takes the kids before you can get her to leave on her own you have to act fast. Ask your lawyer what the best action would be and how you can get the kids back into the house.

The first course of action might be to ask her to bring the kids back to the house, and work out a visitation schedule. If that fails, you need to file a motion for an emergency custody hearing.

Press the point that the kids are not the ones divorcing and that they were taken from their home and must be returned pending litigation.

You NEVER, ever leave the house alone with the intention of not returning. You cannot leave without the child. The person that leaves, and leaves the kids with the spouse, is sending a message that the other is just as capable or being a good parent as you are.

The bottom line is that I was preparing for a war with a woman that came into my life under happy circumstances. We had a child together and had attempted to build a life together. Once things started to unravel, they went downhill fast. I knew that she was capable of coming up with any sort of story in an attempt to gain custody of our son and to get me on the hook for alimony and child support. If I did not act fast and take any measure she would have won.

I knew it was a matter of timing. I was prepared to take my son and move out if something didn’t happen fast. You have to be prepared to do that as well. The most important thing to me was the safety of my son and the desire that he would grow up in a secure, stable and nurturing environment.

My wife did eventually move out without giving me any notice. I changed all of the locks after all of her stuff was out of the house. Took pictures of the house right after changing the locks.

  • Be sure to document any damage that was caused while your spouse was moving out.
  • Photograph empty closets and dresser drawers.
  • Take a photo inventory of the house.
  • Document anything of value around the house that was left behind.

Change the locks, make entries in your diary and photograph everything after she has left and taken her personal items out of the house.

Dirty Tricks

back to the top

Most divorce lawyers will resort to any means necessary to win their case. In my case, they tried a number of things.

Before we had gone to court for a hearing to decide on issues while the case was pending (“pendite lite”) I did not let my wife exercise visitation unless both lawyers had signed a document specifying the exchange date, duration, time of exchange and exchange location. I am confident that her lawyer was capable of any trick she could think of in an attempt to gain some sort of competitive footing. Up to and including taking my son for a visit and not bringing him home.

I discovered that my spouse was taping all of our face-to-face conversations. They hired a PI to follow me around.

In her crossbill she presented allegations ranging from murder to alcoholism, verbal abuse, threats of physical violence and that she left the marital home out of fear.

Never underestimate the lows that some people will sink to!

Speaking of worst-case scenarios, the worst possible situation that you can find yourself in, and a common tactic a wife and her lawyer will use, is abuse. Their claim will be that you are a physical, sexual or mental abuser. Be ready for it. They might claim “constructive desertion.” (When you have acted in such a way as to have abandoned the marriage but still live in the same home.)

Judges are beginning to tire of this same story, but you still have to make sure you are covered. You must keep a log of your every activity. Think of it as a running alibi, it could save your butt.

More than one spouse has fabricated a story by bashing her head on a wall, then calling the police. The spouse appears before the magistrate, gets a warrant for your arrest and an immediate restraining order is entered. You didn’t do anything, but when you come home they arrest you. You are out of the house and are officially hosed. Following that there will be an emergency custody hearing and you will be stripped of the kids and your house. You will pay child and spousal support, the mortgage payments on the marital home, and any all debt payments.

I was terrified that she was going to pull this trick on me. I would call my parents in the morning to talk for a little while. I took notes of my departure and arrival times. I actually made diary entries for each and every thing that I did during the course of my normal, uneventful life. This is a huge point.

Be sure to record in a diary or log everything that you do during the day.

You have a true fight on your hands if your spouse pulls dirty tricks on you. Avoid this situation at all cost and make sure you have your butt covered. If you are hit with any of these sorts of false allegations, remain calm and contact your lawyer ASAP.

Do not overreact and provide validity to their claims.

It will take some extra work, but your lawyer should be able to handle these types of situations since they occur so frequently.

And keep this in mind:

There is no need to resort to dirty tricks or tactics. Judges see them constantly and more often than not they come back to haunt the accuser.

News: Just heard from a friend today. His wife just pulled the abuse claim on him last week. He went to work in the morning and came home that evening to find a deputy in the driveway and the locks changed. My friend had to call another friend to go into the house and get his stuff out for him! This does happen and it happens frequently! It is the same crap played out over and over again. Motivate yourself to fight and do it. If you want to keep your kids and your house (and possibly out of jail) get your spouse out of the house. Some men are actually wising up and pulling this in reverse by calling the cops on their wives. Use your head.

Filing for divorce

back to the top

I knew I had to file first and fast; my lawyer and I went straight to the top and filed a bill of complaint in circuit court. Skip Juvenile and Domestic Relations, it’s a waste of time. I’m not going to offer details on my opinion on JDR court; you can do a web search or talk to friends that have been pulled through that court on a leash.

Try to settle out of court

back to the top

After the initial complaint is filed, attempt to settle often. Wait for the opposing lawyer to come to the table first. You must file for the divorce first! In your bill of complaint you state what you are requesting from the court. Now you just need to lay low, do not rush anything at this point.

Never be the first to offer up any sort of settlement or attempt to sit down. Let your spouse come to you through her lawyer.

Once litigation begins never talk to your spouse on the phone or face-to-face about anything other than the welfare of the kids.

Stay calm and collected

back to the top

Never get angry!

If you are mad you are not going to think clearly. I made the mistake of being goaded into saying something once to my spouse during an exchange. It came back to haunt me, but in the end did not hurt my case. It was just one more thing to cover, which generated letters between lawyers, and questions during the deposition and trial. I blew a couple hundred dollars because I slipped and made a stupid comment.

When you find yourself getting angry, meditate in whatever form works for you. You might want to just sit back in a comfortable chair, take a walk, or lie flat on your back on the floor and think about something that makes you happy (or at least something that will divert your mind from the matter.)

Do not get depressed.

Sure it sucks to have the carpet pulled out from under you, but deal with it. Life is interesting when it gets thrown up in the air. Call old friends, re-establish relationships that have fallen off, depend on your family. You will have to find someone that will listen to you rant. But make sure that is not the basis of every conversation or you will find that that person starts screening their calls. Be a friend and you will find friends.

Keep a diary and a phone log

back to the top

I touched on keeping a diary earlier, but it is worth further explanation.

You must document everything!

You are building a case, so start your log entries while you are still living with your spouse. Keep your journal up to date; be sure to make an entry every day. Things to pay particular attention to are:

Before the Separation

  • Time you went to work,
  • What you did at work;
  • When you left work;
  • What you did after you left work;
  • Time you arrived home;
  • What you made for dinner (Yes, you need to start making dinner);
  • What time the kids went to bed;
  • What bills were paid;
  • What bank deposits made;
  • When you had sex with your spouse;
  • Things the kids said;
  • Things your spouse said.

You must document every aspect of your life. Once you separate from your spouse it is even more important to document everything.

After the Separation

  • Time you went to work,
  • What you did at work;
  • When you left work;
  • What you did after you left work;
  • Time you arrived home;
  • What you made for dinner (Yes, you need to start making dinner);
  • What time the kids went to bed;
  • What bills were paid;
  • What bank deposits made;
  • Things the kids said;
  • Every phone call between you and your spouse;
  • Strange things your kids say;
  • Visitation exchange time and place;
  • Anything your spouse says to you.

Note: The "after separation" list contains everything from the "before separation" list EXCEPT FOR the log entry indicating sex with your spouse.

Your Social Life

back to the top

Opinions about when you should date vary from shrink to shrink. Your first thought might be to get out in the world and enjoy your “new found freedom.” Well think of ways to enjoy it without dating. Do not date right now. You are probably being followed by a Private Investigator. You are not emotionally ready to deal with a new relationship. You have sex, you break up, and since you were being followed the opposition knows whom the person is. They serve her with a subpoena to show up at a deposition, she is pissed at you anyway and spills the beans. Congratulations! On top of everything else you now have to deal with being accused of adultery. Your lawyer will not be pleased. Sure her billing will ramp up, but with the increased risk of losing the case, and not being able to rely on you to be honest with her, your lawyer will not work as hard for you and even worse might withdraw. Not good.

It is perfectly natural to have friends. You will need a friend and if that friend happens to be of the opposite sex so be it. It will be good for your kids to see you with friends, both male and female. But with your female friends do not hold hands, no kissing in public, and no public displays of affection whatsoever. The dreaded PDA will come back to haunt you.

Keep it in your pants both while you are married and during your separation. Simple advice but a lot of people just cant seem to follow it.

Just because you spouse moved out and the two of you plan on divorcing does not mean you can date or have sex.

Instant sexual gratification can be a blast, but if you feel the need for this rush with people you pick up in bars or online, you must wait until after your trial. Focus on your child; they really need you at this point no matter what age they are. There are many available references on the impact of divorce on children. I have listed a few in the resources section toward the end of the book. Buy one and read it – twice.

Even if you think your spouse has taken on an extracurricular partner, you don’t do it.

Hire a PI to do the legwork for you and make sure he takes good notes and gets some good video or still pictures. Don’t let your emotions take over because that will just get you into trouble. I remember when I started to notice subtle things that led me to believe that there may be something going on outside of our house, I never even brought up the topic. I didn’t want to know. When you get married, you make a contract with your spouse. Outside sexual partners are off-limits. Do not sink to the level of your opposition, it will make you proud of yourself over time and you will have plenty of time to “get back in the saddle” without guilt or worry once you are legally able to do so.

Take some time off

back to the top

Take as much time off of work as you can. A leave of absence for a few months or even more drastic -- quit your job. You have to find a (legal) way to generate income that will allow you to spend as much time with your kids as possible. You are home in the morning, evenings and all night every night. Make sure you “under employ” yourself for the benefit of your children – no other reason.

I ditched my career as a software developer for a year to focus on my son. My job requirements kept me at work long hours and some consulting projects took me out of town for days or weeks at a time. I had to think of something I could operate from the house on a limited budget, while also allowing me to generate income.

My son was 3 and a half when I became his primary caregiver. He had not been to any sort of daycare. I decided, both out of necessity and for his social development, that he be enrolled in a local day school. He was at school from 8:30 in the morning until noon, Monday through Friday.

I took a personal inventory one morning while I was mowing the grass and weeding the beds. I was thinking about my skills. What sorts of jobs are available that will allow me to be home with my son? What will people pay me to do for them? I am good with computers, but was trying to stay away from the crazy schedule and long hours for the time being. Ah HA! Lawn-care services.

The bottom line is that where there is a will, there is a way. I pulled in a couple thousand dollars a month during the summer and fall doing mowing, weeding, aeration and building a few walkways and patios.

Save like a mad man leading up to the separation

back to the top

Everyone needs a rainy day fund. Most financial advice that I have read indicates that you should have 3-6 months of living expenses put aside. You will need instant access to this money. Most institutions affix fees to CD’s and bond funds and might have early withdrawal penalties.

It might be best to put your family’s emergency cash in a safe deposit box or a firebox, which you keep at the house of a family member.

Start putting some money aside for those events that come up in ones life. If you can trust yourself completely, go get a small firebox that locks with a key. Put as much cash away as possible. This will be used for small purchases such as groceries, gas, school lunch money, haircuts, etc.

Pay off or renegotiate debt in your name

back to the top

Credit cards come in handy during a separation. I am a firm believer in staying away from consumer debt, and using credit cards only for emergency purposes. Keep the balance down; you never know when you might need it.

Get to know as much about your neighbors as you can

back to the top

If you haven’t had much interaction with the people in your community in the past, now is the time. Get to know as many people in your immediate area as possible. Have a party. You don’t have to spend a lot of money, just go to the grocery store. Pick up some little smokies, cheddar cheese, peanuts, couple of cases of soft drinks and some instant iced tea.

Look for strange behavior in your neighbors

They might be watching you for the PI. It is a fairly common practice for a good PI to troll the neighborhood asking a few questions. If they can locate a neighbor that might be willing to keep an eye on things and take a few notes it saves them the time of having to monitor the location personally.

Never say anything bad about your spouse to anyone

back to the top

Anything can be said about you in a court document, it cannot be said to another person if it is not true. If you discover that your spouse is badmouthing you to people – and you can get them to cooperate with you – you can file a slander lawsuit against her. But that should come after the custody litigation is resolved.

Never discuss anything related to your marital problems in front of the kids!

Private Investigator

back to the top

I used a PI and he was able to get some good info for me. I didn’t spend too much money and we ended up not using his report in the trial. Did it help? I don’t know but I wouldn’t want to have lost and been left thinking that if I had not hired a PI if it would have helped at all.

Do not get overly paranoid, but a little never hurts. You ARE being followed and photographed, always watch your back.

Depositions

back to the top

This is where the lawyers get to ask you a lot of questions. They will ask you any and everything they can think of related to your case. I was totally flipped out about the process. Yes, No, I don’t know, I don’t recall. The lawyers will use your testimony from the deposition in the actual trial. Part of their job is to try to impeach your testimony during the trial using your responses from the deposition. It is not helpful for you at all if they can prove that you lied or can cast doubt in any way on your testimony.

Help your lawyer prepare questions that she will ask you during the deposition. You want to bring up a few good points about your spouse and a few bad points about yourself. Do not go overboard; just make sure that you have it on the record that your spouse is not a monster (unless she really is.) Judges do not like to see a spouse attacking the other. It can actually hurt the case of the person making the wild accusations.

During the deposition the opposing lawyer is going to validate information they have received in the production of documents and interrogatory stage of the game. They are also going to ask you questions that may have regarding your lifestyle from factors that may be in a private investigators report. Never assume that they don’t know about something. This isn’t the time to try to be cute or evasive.

Always be direct and to the point when responding to a question. I was evasive on a few responses and that just opened up a new thread for the opposing lawyer to follow to get to the bottom of things. If I had just answered “Yes,” it would have derailed her and we could have moved on. It would have also shaved 30 minutes or more off of the entire process.

Opposing lawyer asks you a question. You must listen to the question. Pause to think about it, give shortest response possible.

Yes, No, I don’t know, I don’t recall.

Remember that they probably know more about you than you think, so be honest. Or short of that, pick a good lie and stick to it. The best way to put that is: “Never change your story, even when faced with evidence to the contrary.” Never, ever change your story.

If the opposing lawyer is worth her fee, she will also ask you considerable questions regarding custody. Expect questions such as these.

  • Q. Do you feel that your spouse is unfit to be the primary custodian of your children?
  • Q. Why should you have custody?
  • Q. What are your qualities that make you a better parent?
  • Q. Do you have anything positive to say about your spouse as a mother?

Make sure you order transcripts from the deposition. Your lawyer should ask that this be done, but you must confirm. This is your fight; keep your head in the action.

Trial

back to the top

If you end up having a full-blown trial congratulations! You are now in the top 6% of all divorce cases nationally. The downside is that you have already burned through a lot of money, and this is going to cost you even more.

Try to stay relaxed. This is the big day you have been preparing for in the event that diplomacy has failed at every turn.

Things to do in preparation for your Trial

back to the top

If you end up having a full-blown trial congratulations! You are now in the top 6% of all divorce cases nationally. The downside is that you have already burned through a lot of money, and this is going to cost you even more.

Try to stay relaxed. This is the big day you have been preparing for in the event that diplomacy has failed at every turn.

Witnesses

back to the top

Remember when I suggested that you get to know as many of your neighbors as possible? Well guess what you have now? You have a list of local credible witnesses that can testify on your behalf. Obviously you will have wanted to be friendly and have developed somewhat of a relationship with these people. Make sure that they are going to speak positively about you and your involvement with your child.

I had arranged for 8 and actually had 5 witnesses come testify for me at my trial. They included the principal of my child’s school, two family friends and two family members.

Photographs

back to the top

Prepare photos of you and your child doing the fun stuff that you do together. The value of a photograph cannot be overstated. I took roughly 20 photographs with me to my trial. I also took the front page of a community newsletter with my son's photo taken while we were attending a community function. This sort of evidence allows the impartial judge that has heard cases similar, if not identical, to your case hundreds of times to place the child in their mind. They see your child at home, play and school doing the things they do every day. They see that you care enough about your child to document his life with photographs.

Summary

back to the top

  • Find a good family law attorney in your area, have a meeting with them BEFORE any physical separation;

  • Sit down with your spouse and attempt to come up with an agreement on your own. Take it to a notary public and both of you sign it in front of the notary;

  • Keep the kids in your physical control;

  • NEVER leave the house with the intention of moving out, unless you take the kids with you;

  • Get your spouse to move out without the kids;

  • Save as much money as possible before the separation;

  • Never resort to anything physical. Do not throw anything; do not hit anyone or anything in the house.

  • Document everything!

  • Do not use foul language in front of the kids;

  • When you get angry, do not say a word. Go outside for a walk;

  • Seek ways to resolve your separation and divorce without litigation;

  • Be a friend to everyone;

  • Become a miser! Hold on to every dime as long as possible and know when and where you spent it;

  • Prepare to be attacked;

  • Do not attack your spouse;

  • Think of good things to say about your spouse;

  • Think of your positive points as a parent;

  • Think of a few negative points about yourself;

  • Let someone very close to you know what is happening and keep them up to date. But do not reveal any confidential information regarding your case. People love to talk!