Many divorce actions are highly contentions because emotions are high and feelings are hurt. When a relationship ends, there are often feelings of abandonment, anger, mistrust, and sadness. Divorce is not only a business / legal proceeding to divide the assets and debts and determine custody of the children; it is a grieving and healing process as well. Often litigants, in attempts to “win” or get their spouse back for the hurt that is caused, will bring personal matters into the arena of the courtroom. Many of these issues, which can be legitimate, will affect a parents’ ability to obtain custody in a contested custody matter. Whether you feel the “skeleton” is extremely egregious, or not a big deal, you should disclose it to your counsel, so that your attorney can head off a defense or minimize the damage of bringing this highly sensitive personal matter to court.
Here are five common skeletons that come to light in divorce actions:
1. Substance abuse.
Whether non-prescription or prescription medication, or recreational or regular use, if you use any types of legal or illegal drugs, your spouse may trump up how often you use it, or how it affects your abilities to function (especially in taking care of the child). Be prepared for this to come up. If you are taking illegal drugs, clean out your system, as drug tests are often ordered in cases where there are allegations of substance abuse. If you are on prescription medication, check with your doctor to make sure that you are not taking too much, set up a monitoring program, and have your doctor be prepared to testify that you need the medication and it does not affect your functioning.
2. Mental health issues.
Especially when it comes to child custody and parenting time, litigants will often bring to light their estranged spouses’ mental health diagnosis, or suspicion that a mental health problem exists. When this occurs, if the allegation is strong enough, a court may order a mental health evaluation. Courts will often air on the side of caution with respect to placing children, and will want to know all the facts, or rule out any mental health issues. If you do have a mental health diagnosis, it is important to be forthright and open, and continue to follow recommended treatment plans.
3. Major points of contention during the marriage:
Clearly when a couple decides to end a marriage, there are reasons, generally long occurring disagreements or incompatibility with respect to major life choices. Some common reasons many be disagreeing about money (he’s a spender, she’s a saver), disagreeing about whether to have children (she wanted them, he did not, now they have children and he is not involved), how to raise children (types of punishment, educational course, etc.), religious preferences (he’s Catholic and she’s Jewish), etc. These differences can continue to drive emotions during the divorce. If money was an issue, the property settlement may become a battleground. If decisions about whether to have children, or child rearing were the issues, custody and parenting time could become a battleground in a divorce action.
4. Trust issues:
Most commonly trust issues can often arise when one spouse had an affair or one spouse has spent money in secret (gambling or drug problem). These problems will trust will flow into the divorce proceedings, as inherently, every move the other spouse makes, the spouse who has been betrayed will feel it is an extension of the betrayal, which can make an amicable settlement hard. Showing remorse for the misdeed will help in building the bridge towards a more trusting divorce action.
5. Loss of job.
If the economy in the recent years has not taught us, job loss, unemployment, and inability to find another job easily are all very distinct realities. However, if someone has a tenuous work history, meaning they hold a job for less than a year, are unemployed for long bouts of time just to obtain another job that is held for less than a year, this is often a pattern that could be brought to light during a divorce action that would go to the issues of stability for children in the home, ability to care for children, or dissipation of assets (maybe a spouse cashed out a 401k during his or her unemployment and did not tell the other spouse). Job loss, or inability to keep a job for long, can become an issue a divorce action.
We hope that you have found this information to be helpful in understanding some issues that could be brought to light in a divorce action. This is not intended to be legal advice. If you have questions or concerns about your specific case, Dixon & Moseley, P.C. can help evaluate your specific case. This blog post was written by Attorney, Lori B. Schmeltzer.