The North Carolina Court of Appeals recently handed down an opinion reviewing a child custody case from Wake County that highlights the horror of parenting disputes in court.
First, the horror of the cost. The Court of Appeals noted that the trial court did not appoint a parenting coordinator because the parents could not afford one. Yet, the attorneys on appeal were from two of the most expensive firms in Raleigh. There was a custody evaluation ordered. The custody trial took five days. And there was an appeal. It’s only a guess, but I’d be shocked if the attorneys’ fees for each parent were less than $75,000 and they could easily have topped $100,000.
Second, the horror of never-ending litigation. The first custody order for these parents was entered when the child was two years old. When the Court of Appeals handed down its recent decision, the child was eight. It’s unlikely the parties are finished fighting in court, even with this Court of Appeals decision. There will inevitably be another effort in the future to change the custody arrangement. Even a decision by the Court of Appeals doesn’t end a custody battle. Either parent can try to show a substantial change in circumstances at any time in the future until the child is 18. A motion to modify custody, and the custody dispute is back in court.
Third, and worst of all, imagine the horror for the child of increased conflict between the parents. The conflict that forced the parents into court originally has not been addressed. Research indicates the worst thing emotionally for children of divorce is conflict between their parents. But, the court’s ability to deal with and heal conflict is similar to a surgeon who has only one tool—a tomahawk. No matter how much the court wants to help, the tools it has are not up to the job.
In this recent Court of Appeals case, the court’s decision was to take the eight year-old child from Mom, with whom the child had been living since the child was born, and send the child to live with Dad and the new wife in Virginia. Mom was upset with Dad before the court decision and we can only imagine how she feels now. But again and most importantly, the child has—and will continue—to suffer from the parental battle, spiral of fighting, and intense animosity.
If you or someone you know is facing divorce and is scared or angry enough to be contemplating custody litigation, be the voice of reason for yourself or someone you care about. Learn more about collaborative divorce at Springfield Collaborative Divorce.