In a perfect divorce world, each spouse would be able to separate from the marriage with fond and respectful feelings for each other. They would be able acknowledge each other as good parents, even though their own relationship did not work. They would be happy that their child has a loving and close relationship with the opposite parent. Here, there’s nothing to report about the other parent and both are a healthy part of the child’s life. That’s the goal, or better yet, the dream.
As many of you know, most divorces are not tied up in a neat little bow like what I described. Many of us have been in situations that leave us questioning our ex’s behavior or mental status. Perhaps there is drinking and/or drug use going on. Maybe your ex has mental health concerns that they are ignoring. There might be poor parenting choices happening that are not classified as abusive, but also not in anyone’s best interest. I can say from experience, that I have been there and this is a very scary place to be. It feels like there are wrong things happening in your life and the lives of your children, yet they don’t qualify as “wrong enough” to have legal action taken to alter the separation agreement or parenting plan. Unfortunately, after several long (and costly) phone calls to my attorney, I realized that while I may not approve of him allowing the children to never brush their teeth on the weekends they were with him, that doesn’t classify as neglect. I may disagree with his decision to take them to a hotel bar during his visits in town, but it was technically a restaurant establishment and they weren’t driving anywhere. Several missed visits left the children angry and crushed, but it wasn’t breaking any sort of parenting law in the court’s eyes. He seemed to always get the benefit of the doubt and another chance.
Here’s where the natural instinct to document EVERYTHING kicks in. I fell victim to this idea and thought that if someone else could see what I was seeing, maybe they could help. If you are like me, I was keeping myself up at night and doing very little else with my free time except documenting my ex’s behavior. While I may have ended up with the makings of a good book, it had very little, if any, effect on my overall divorce.
We all know the importance of documentation, especially when it comes to supporting a case in court. This information can be the key evidence that will help you to prove your case. When the stakes are high and feelings are hurt, we must first examine the motives behind the documentation. Why are you documenting in the first place? This is the time where you need to stop and do a self evaluation of your motives. An honest look at the intent behind the documentation can save you time and money in the long run.
Will This Matter In Court? If you are reviewing your documentation and realizing there is no legal malice behind what your are recording, chances are your are letting your emotions drive your process. While your documentation might support your reasoning for being angry at your spouse, the courts will not make ruling based on issues that are not of a legal basis. While the scorned ex spouse may care what the ex is doing in his/her free time, the courts will not (unless it is an infringement of the law).
Is This in the Best Interest of the Children? Our feelings of bitterness, betrayal, anger, and resentment can drive us to make decisions that are not healthy in the long run. We can get tunnel vision and solely focus on getting revenge in any way possible. This may come in the form of trying to prove that he/she doesn’t deserve their time with the kids or wanting others to see their flaws. You might even feel as if you are winning if you air the other person’s faults. When divorce reaches this level, nobody end up the winner, especially the children.
When deciding what is important to document, you must first educate yourself. It is imperative that you know what laws you are dealing with and the basics of those laws. If a specific issue comes up, consulting your attorney is helpful as well.
Financial Misconduct– Money is always a difficult topic. It might be a main reason for the divorce in the first place! With emotions running high, it is easy to get caught up in feeling like we deserve more or that one person is cheating the other person out of money. This obviously happens and there are many laws regrading these issues. If you believe that there is a monetary legal infraction involved, such as misappropriation of marital funds, you must become familiar with the terms of that law. This will help ensure you are documenting correctly to make your case.
Child Abuse– It is absolutely imperative that we keep our children safe when it comes to abuse. These claims must be taken seriously. Claims of child abuse cannot and should not be used to seek revenge or try to keep the other person from seeing the children. Any and all child abuse claims should be dealt with immediately and not in the form of documentation that we are discussing here. If you have a child abuse claim, it should be reported to your county’s children’s services immediately.
Much of this may seem like common sense, but when you feel threatened or powerless, the lines tend to blur. You can save yourself time and money by doing your research.
How to Document
Separate your issues. It is best to keep separate documents for each category or issue you are documenting. For example, keep financial issues separate from custody issues. The more specific you are with you categorization, the easier it will be to find what is needed if necessary.
Use bullet points rather than writing in narrative form. Bullet points help keep your thoughts organized and narrow down the important facts. Narratives drain your time and energy, as well as make it difficult to find information.
Use a tally system to track specific behaviors rather than explaining each case. For example, if you are wanting to document evidence that your ex cancels/no shows for visits with the kids, keep a tally of dates rather than writing each instance.
Keep receipts and bank statements with the written documentation. This allows for an easy way back up your documentation, as well as cross reference.
Screen shot all texts and send them to your email. This will allow you to have all of the written text communication in an accessible place that is easily forwarded on if needed.
Store all of you emails in a Documentation file. This will allow you to file the information away and not worry about it getting lost in your email feed. This makes for quick and easy reference.