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Also see Mistakes Mothers Make in Child Custody Litigation

Before Divorce Happens

Mistake 1. Thinking that "equality" means that each of you should be an equal breadwinner and equally share the housework. Assuming this is possible (the former is more likely, but the latter is unlikely), will the two of you also be alternating which of you gets pregnant? If only one of you is going to get pregnant and suffer the hits to your career and the risks to your physical health (and also have the consequent primary attachment to the children), dividing everything else in half is not "equality". Reproduction is not equal and never will be.

    (a) Falling into the "role reversal" trap. If you are the primary breadwinner as well as the gestating mother in the couple, not only are you are setting yourself up to lose custody in the event of a divorce, but even if a divorce never happens, you are putting your family at financial risk. Pregnancy does involve physical and medical risks, and even a healthy pregnancy can result in permanent repercussions to career and earning capacity. In addition, if you were to divorce and still somehow retain 50% or more child custody, as the primary wage earner, you can pretty much forget about getting child support or alimony. (See the Myths and Facts pages, as well as the financial articles in the Mothers' Rights Section.) In fact, if you've largely been doing it all, upon a divorce, unless you are among the relatively small percentage of women with a very substantial career, being the primary wage earner means that you could end up in a financial situation post-divorce that is far worse than less-educated, less-employed women: upon a divorce, half of your accumulated assets could be distributed to him, and then you also could end up paying child or spousal support, and even his legal fees. (And that's assuming that a court doesn't award him custody.)

Mistake 2. Using two incomes to pay for major fixed costs such as housing, insurance, automobiles, and related recurring expenses that cannot be substantially reduced in the event of disability, job loss, or divorce. If it takes two people to pay for basic expenses, then as a couple you have doubled your chances of suffering an event that wipes out your family's financial security. Couples that manage to live on the income of only one of them (the husband, see item #1), are at far less financial risk. While married, even if he loses his income, yours is then available as a supplement. Even if you are a stay-home spouse, you remain available to pitch in and get a job if need be. And, of course, upon a divorce, you are in a far better position to retain custody and also obtain financial assistance, while also still being able to get a job at that point. You may not be able on your own to cover the same fixed expenses if his income was substantially more than yours -- but neither would you be if these expenses depended upon a contribution from both of you. If you do work while married, but your income generally goes only to savings and extras, and other flexible costs, then it still will be available to cover basic fixed expenses in the event of an emergency.

Mistake 3. Having joint credit cards and other debts. Just don't do it. Keep these separate. It may not be possible to not jointly sign on to home mortgage debt (do not obtain a loan so large that it requires your income), but generally it is possible to avoid other kinds of joint debt. Maintain your own good credit and minimize your risk of being jointly and severally liable for the debts he is paying with his income. In times of financial trouble such as his illness or job loss or business losses, or in the event of a divorce, you will be very glad you did. No matter what any court says about who is responsible for paying debts, that doesn't bind third party creditors. If you are a supported, dependent spouse, then be a permitted user on his credit card for convenience, if you both want that, but make sure you are not liable as a co-signer or co-owner of that card. Have your own cards, and don't use them for anything your own income wouldn't easily cover.

    (a) Not having both joint and separate assets. The rule about debts doesn't apply to assets. There are some advantages in tenancy-by-the-entireties ownership of assets in case creditors seek to come after only one of you for your separate debts. However, you also do want to keep some separate assets too. These include, among possible others: exempt assets (e.g. savings in IRA accounts), financial accounts you inherited or accumulated and owned before you were married (and don't add to these with income earned after you are married -- keep them separate); and your own motor vehicle. Do make sure, however, that if you have children you are a joint owner on the house. The exception to this might be in those few states that protect homes from creditors, in which case, it may be better for you to be the sole owner of the house, particularly if it's a second marriage and he's not the father of one or more of your children, or he's the one with the risky business issues, or in the fairly common situation in which it's your savings or your parents who made a hefty down payment. (Check with a lawyer before deciding how to hold title to larger assets, and don't do things just because that's how most people just do it, or for the romantic notion that you're in looooove and have to share everything.)

    (b) Not knowing and maintaining knowledge of what assets and liabilities each of you has, and each of your incomes and expenses. Keeping debts and some assets separate doesn't mean you don't share information. In the event of death, disability, divorce or other emergencies, you will need to know this information. In the event of a pending separation or divorce, you also will want copies of all important legal and financial documents.

Mistake 4. Working for free in his business. If his income is high, there may be tax advantages to doing this, but if that's the case, then consult with a lawyer about whether you can and should be a co-owner of the business, or in some other way document your hours worked and your interest and efforts in the business. There may be other advantages, both tangible and intangible, in this kind of joint effort, but there also could be disadvantages to you if you are working under circumstances in which this does not further your own career while still taking you away from the home, hearth and children. Too many women think that a business is "ours" that turns out upon the death or divorce of the spouse to be only "his".

Don't follow your
spouse to another country without legal advice and careful consideration Mistake 5. Relocating to follow him to a foreign country, or a state in which you do not have friends and support systems or job opportunities, or to any other isolated or remote locale in which you are unsure you may want to stay. Don't do it thinking it will be a try-and-see, especially if it's for his possibly temporary job relocation. If your marriage breaks down in the new location, you and the children may be stuck there for a very long time. (And if you have minor children, do not ever, ever, ever move -- or bring them even temporarily for a visit -- to any country such as Saudi Arabia with Muslim sharia laws in which, because you are a woman, your freedom to travel, and your authority over your own children, including leaving with them, can be restricted.) Don't have a baby in an iffy new location, a state (or country) in which you may not want to live for the next 18 years. The state where you give birth has initial jurisdiction over your child, and once you've lived in a new location for the jurisdictional period of time (as short as six months), that state also has jurisdiction over you and your other children born elsewhere. Let him get an apartment and go back and forth for a while, while you maintain your and the children's home, your driver license and voting registration, and your life in the original locale, until you are very, very sure.

more coming...


  • Joint Custody Research: The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions
  • Or maybe not. Joint Custody Studies (multiple research citations)
  • What the Experts Say about "Shared Parenting"
  • Myths and Facts about Fatherhood: What the Research REALLY Says
  • Myths and Facts about Motherhood: What the Research REALLY Says
  • Myths and Facts about Stepmothers and Mother Absence: What the Research REALLY Says
  • Misplaced Blame and Simplistic Solutions by Margaret Martin Barry
  • Protecting Battered Parents and Their Children in the Family Court System by Clare Dalton
  • Judge Gerald W. Hardcastle on joint custody and judicial decisionmaking
  • Attachment 101 for Attorneys: Implications for Infant Placement Decisions by Willemsen and Marcel
  • The Case Against Joint Custody (Ontario Women's Justice Network)
  • The "Responsible Fatherhood" movement by liz

  • Violence against motherhood: surrogacy, egg donation, international adoptions and child trafficking, exploitation of women's 

  • Research: Joint Custody Studies
  • Research: Joint Custody Just Does Not Work
  • Myths and Facts about Fatherhood  What the Research Really Says
  • Myths and Facts about Motherhood What the Research Really Says
  • Myths and Facts about Stepmothers and Mother Absence
  • Child Custody Research: What the Experts Say Scholarly Review


    The Child-Centered Divorce A common theme underlying nearly all the problems in the family courts is the sloppy float away from the "rule of law" to "rule of man". The "rule of man" describes such things as dictatorships, decision-making by whim, discretion without oversight, vague standards that cannot predictably be anticipated or applied, faux-expert recommendation-making and opining such as with mental health professional parenting evaluations, and the panoply of therapeutic jurisprudence interventions such as parenting coordination and special mastering. All of these abrogate due process, and the fundamental principles on which our system of jurisprudence was founded. The ideas have been pushed by the mental health lobbies and by individuals who either don't understand or don't care about some higher priorities.

    "Rule of man" is a concept that we ditched with the formation of this country in favor of "rule of law". Our founding fathers recognized that there is no way to regulate or oversee individuals given too much discretion or dictatorial authority. With regard to the family courts, I keep hearing and reading what are essentially inane pleas to fix the various misguided ADR programs via "guidelines" (aspirational only, and with immunity from sanction for misfeasance), and for "trainings", and for getting rid of those who are "incompetent" -- all of which suggestions exhibit an astonishing lack of appreciation for the stupidity inherent in these extra-judicial ideas -- ideas which Thomas Paine and our founding fathers would have abhorred (see, e.g. Common Sense). Dictatorship cannot be permitted not because there couldn't (theoretically) be some wise and beneficent dictators who would be better and more efficient than the messy system of due process and checks and balances we idealize, but because under that dictatorial system we inevitably and primarily will suffer the fools, the tyrants, and the corrupt. And that's without addressing the panoply of other constitutional defects. Besides, no scientifically sound research actually establishes "harm" from the adversarial system -- or benefit to families' well-being from applied therapeutic jurisprudence. These ideas were invented in mental health trade promotion groups as lobbying talking points. (If you doubt this, feel free to contact me for more information.) Yikes. What are we doing. To the extent we've been sold a bill of goods, swampland, snake oil and the voo doo of "expertise" by the mental health professions, at least until relatively recently, the stuff wasn't harming our legal system. Now it is. Wake up, and wise up.

    What we do need are some realistic changes in the substantive laws addressing divorce and child custody. What we don't need is a revolution in procedural rules and the overthrowing of individuals' constitutional rights.

    For my list of rants, see the index to the section of the website on parenting coordination.

    -- liz

         Our favorite mottos:

      Civium in moribus rei publicae salus
      ...will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do


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