This story has been told by judges and family division masters in Montgomery County many times but it bears repeating. A couple stands before the judge in a highly disputed child custody case. The judge turns to the mother and says, “Ma’am, do you love your child?” To which she replies, “Of course I do!” He then turns to the father and asks the same question. “But of course I love my child.” The judge turns to them both and says sternly, “Well I do not. Why in the world you would want someone like me making decisions for you and your child is beyond me. Now go outside and try to work this out between you like adults and parents or else I am going to make a decision that I guarantee you neither will be happy with.”
Typically, no one is happy when the court has to decide who a child gets to live with and when the other parent can see the child and under what circumstances. It is almost always better for the parties to agree between them as to these matters rather than leaving it to the court. The system itself is set up to strongly encourage settlement between the parties. There are court facilitators available at no cost after the scheduling conference to try and assist the parties in coming to an agreement. The court often orders mediation as well to try and get the parties to agree. And the whole point of what’s known as collaborative law is to remove the court from the process and rely upon the parties to fashion their own parenting plan addressing custody and visitation.
I had a recent case in which both parties strongly felt that each should have custody of the minor child. They put all their eggs in one basket and relied on the findings of the court to make this terribly important decision that would affect their lives and that of their child for many years to come. Sadly, the court arrived at a solution that neither party was happy with – much like the story above. Each walked away blaming the system without stopping to consider that it was within their power to have fashioned an agreement of their own choosing. They may not have gotten all they wanted but much of what they would have gotten would have been better than what they ended up with.