I’m afraid my husband will fight for custody. Should I just stay?
Fear is a big reason that it takes a lot of women a long time to work up the courage to even begin to gather information about divorce. I constantly hear how scary it is to even start to learn about the process, because it’s the first step towards acknowledging that a divorce – and, ultimately, a custody case – might be on the horizon.
Most moms tell me that the only thing they’re worried about is their kids. It’s not about the house or retirement or support or literally anything else under the sun – its down to the kids, their well being, and, ultimately, their custody arrangement.
Most dads know that this is a tender issue for moms, and I’ve seen plenty of men willing to exploit that fear to get what they want out of the divorce. It can be for any number of reasons – because they’re abusers, because they’re mentally ill, because they’re scared, too, or whatever – but it’s pretty common for a man to lash out about custody knowing that it’ll strike fear into their wife’s heart.
So, what should you do? Should you stay, just until the kids are 18, so that there’s no custody case?
There are rarely absolute right and wrong decisions in a divorce or custody case. Whatever decision that you make – whether to stay or to go – is, I’m sure, an agonizing decision that you make, ultimately, out of respect for the reasons that feel most compelling to you at the time. None of us have a crystal ball or the ability to divine how the situation will work out depending on which road we choose to take, so, at some point, you’ll have to make the best decision you can – and then live with it.
In general, though, I don’t think the best answer is to stay. Kids who are brought up in unhappy homes often suffer more than kids who have two separate but otherwise happy homes. Nasty custody battles cause suffering, too, but it’s not always nasty. In fact, though we have our fair share of nasty custody cases, those are still the exception and not the rule.
Have you considered talking over your concerns with a therapist? Or even having the children start working with a therapist? A lot can be gained by coming up with productive strategies for dealing with the stress of the divorce and/or custody case, which may help you feel a little more confident about the road you’re preparing to go down.
So, I guess what I’m saying here is that there’s no magical answer. But I do think that a man who is willing to make good on his custody threat will just find some other threat by the time the children turn 18. Today it’s custody – what will it be tomorrow? Spousal support? And, by that time, if you’ve stayed at home or otherwise restricted your career to support the family, you’ll be in even more dire financial straits without the support you need/deserve/have earned.
Maybe it’s true that literally no other issue could ever be as scary to you as the threat of a custody case. Maybe after the kids turn 18, that fear completely evaporates. Maybe it makes sense for you to wait. That’s a fine decision to make.
But it doesn’t necessarily follow that, because you don’t have minor children, things will automatically be easier. If he’s the threatening kind, well, he’ll still be the threatening kind when your kids come of age.
If you’re just worried about shared custody, though, or what any potential custody arrangement you might have could look like, you should definitely do some exploring. There are certainly worse things in the world than shared custody. I could argue, even, that shared custody is ideal, because it helps ensure that he does his share of the childrearing, leaving you free to succeed personally and professionally even while you have children still at home.
I know, I know – our children mean the world to us. I’m a mom, too, and I can tell you that I’d certainly struggle with shared custody, or at least the idea of it. That’s not to say, of course, that shared custody is a guarantee. There’s nothing that’s really guaranteed in a Virginia custody case, except that the judge will use the ten best interests of the child factors to decide what will happen if you and your child’s father can’t make that decision on your own. It could mean shared custody, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be shared custody. You could still get primary physical custody!
My best advice? Talk to someone. Talk to anyone. Talk to an attorney. A therapist, one for you and one for the kids. Talk to a financial professional. Get a real idea of what it might look like in your case, and then make a decision – an informed one – about whether you’ll move a divorce forward or stay put.
There’s no sense just worrying about what ifs, when you can take a couple simple steps to begin to get the information that you need to make decisions about how to move your life forward.
For more information or to schedule a consultation with one of our licensed and experienced Virginia custody attorneys, or to download a copy of our custody book, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.