Small issues in Virginia custody cases

Posted on Aug 19, 2016 by Katie Carter

It’s easy, in a divorce, to lose sight of the forest for the trees. There’s a lot at stake, and so many different elements involved, that it’s easy to become fixated on something to the exclusion of almost everything else. Sometimes, it’s something big—like custody—and other times, in other cases, it’s something that, to me at least, seems small.  Don’t focus so hard on the small issues in your Virginia custody case that you don’t focus on the bigger picture things.
The other day, I was talking with a woman, Melissa, who seemed fixated on something small. She told me she was worried because, originally, her husband had used his salary to purchase food for the family. As a stay at home mom, she doesn’t have any independent income, so she was more or less dependent on him purchasing the food the family needed. They had grown accustomed to eating certain things, and then, when Melissa told him she wanted to separate, he quit buying those things. “He’s not buying the food we’re accustomed to,” she told me. “We like different food, and he won’t buy it.”
Her husband filed for divorce pretty quickly after learning that Melissa was ready to separate, and a pendente lite (temporary support) hearing was scheduled. Melissa told me that she heard from a friend that something similar had happened. After separation, the family’s standard of living changed and, according to Melissa, the judge basically ruled that by not raising the issue in a timely enough fashion, that her friend had given up her right to receive something that she had previously received. Melissa was vague on the details, but she was terrified that she’d give up her right to something she formerly received by failing to raise it now. The food, she told me, was just not what they were used to.
I’m always surprised when I hear something new; sometimes, I think that I’ve done this for long enough that nothing can surprise me. Worrying about the food was, for me, a new one. I’ve had clients who worried about how they’d put gas in their cars to get to work or buy food to feed the kids, but this was the first time I was told that the provided food just wasn’t good enough.
I think this is a classic example of missing the forest for the trees. Though, certainly, in the meantime, the family situation isn’t structured the way Melissa would like it, the food in the pantry isn’t the biggest concern. As long as the kids are fed in the meantime, we can negotiate the rest.
Don’t get so distracted that you fail to focus on the most important issues at hand. In Melissa’s case, there were big things to discuss—custody, spousal support, retirement, and homeschooling the kids, for example. Still, she spent at least 15 minutes talking to me, worrying over the food in the pantry not being what she was used to having.
While that’s legitimate—a person’s feelings are always legitimate—it’s not the most important issue here. I tried to explain to her that, in a case like this, the judge (if indeed her case did wind up in front of the judge) would care less about the contents of her freezer than the information provided to him in the form of the income and expense sheet, the evidence of income we present, and the evidence provided to the court. In a case like this, based on the facts presented, the judge will make an award of spousal and child support that is appropriate, and then each side will be forced to survive off of that. Whether organic or vegan or whatever other kind of food is or was being purchased before, both parties will have to adjust and live within the means allowable by the support awarded (or, in Melissa’s husband’s case, the support he’ll have to pay).
Even the big concerns require you to step back and look at the big picture. Sometimes, I see women so consumed with what’ll happen to their kids that they forget to think about anything else. The rest just doesn’t matter. Though, as an extremely devoted dog mom, I can certainly understand the impulse to think of them before anything else, that’s just not a sound decision when it comes to your divorce.
Remember that custody, visitation, and child support (anything relating to minor children) is always going to be modifiable based on a material change in circumstances. Advocating for custody now is important, of course, but it’s not the only thing you should have your mind on as your case progresses.
I’ve heard horror stories of moms who were willing to give it all up just to get custody. Think about it. You give up your right to everything—but, then, how will you support yourself (and your kids, to boot)? And remember how I said custody is always modifiable? What happens when you’re trying to make it work and dad petitions for a change in custody after he got more of the valuable financial assets? Say he’s remarried, too, just to put icing on the cake. So, while you’re struggling to make ends meet, he’s financially stable. He’s in a long term relationship. He has a white picket fence. He has the money to give the kids the things they need. Will the judge take custody from you and give it to him? Not necessarily—but, still, you shouldn’t give up everything just to get custody. It could come back to bite you later.
Whether you’ve been a stay at home mom or have a career of your own, it’s harder to make it financially after divorce than it was before divorce. Why? Because now you’ll have to manage two separate households on the same income that you used to use to run just one. So, now, rent or mortgages, electric bills, gas, groceries, internet and cable are all separate. I don’t say this to scare you, I just want you to keep a realistic perspective.
You can’t become so focused on any one thing that you lose perspective on all the other things. A divorce is the single biggest transaction of most adult’s lives, and it’s important to make sure that you keep your focus on all the things that will allow you to have the best brand new start possible.
Whether it’s something big or small, focusing on one thing to the exclusion of all others is never a good method.
There’s a lot at stake in a divorce. What, exactly? If you’re wondering about divorce, how it works, what your rights are, and what you might reasonably expect to receive, it’s a good idea to do some research. A great place to start is by ordering one (or more!) or our free books. They’re chock full of up to date, Virginia specific information that will help you start to plan your divorce process.
What Every Virginia Woman Should Know About Divorce
• What Every Virginia Military Wife Needs to Know About Divorce
The Women’s Custody Survival Guide
The Woman’s guide to Selecting an Outstanding Divorce and Custody Lawyer
For more information on each book, or to request your free copy now, just click on the link above. Immediately after you request a copy, you’ll receive a downloadable e-book version and then, if you live in our immediate area, we’ll send you an email with a form to fill out to request a copy of your free hardcover book. Either way, it’s an awesome way to get up to date, Virginia specific information about divorce and custody cases so that you can begin to see the forest instead of just the trees.
There’s no question this process is complicated, but you can help make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible by getting the information you need to make choices—now, and as your divorce progresses.
Need more information than you can get from a book? Consider attending one of our seminars for more information on your divorce or custody case. An added bonus? Each seminar is taught by one of our licensed and experienced Virginia divorce attorneys, and you can use the time to ask your questions (keeping in mind, of course, that it’s not a confidential forum like a one on one appointment would be). It’s a great time to gather information and get together the facts you’ll need to begin making decisions.
• Second Saturday: What Every Virginia Woman Needs to Know About Divorce
• Custody Bootcamp for Moms
For more information on any of our seminars or to find out what you’ll learn at each, just click on the links above.
It’s always our goal to make sure Virginia women have the information they need to make the choices they’ll need to make.
Don’t miss the forest for the trees; prepare yourself now to make the decisions you’ll need to make.  Don’t focus so much on the small issues in your Virginia custody case that you forget to focus on the bigger picture.  Though you’ve got priorities, you’ll begin to find a way to balance your priorities and keep in mind a plan that will make sure you accomplish your goals and move your case forward effectively. For more information, or to schedule an appointment with one of our attorneys, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.