Dear Dr. Alasko: After ten years in a difficult marriage I had an affair. My wife filed for divorce and things rapidly deteriorated. We have two small children, and she's threatened to make sure I see them as little as possible, claiming I'm "a bad moral influence" because of the affair. I'm being forced to hire an attorney to defend myself. I love my kids and know I'm a good father. Do you have any advice on how to deal with this extremely painful situation?
Dear Reader: It’s always distressing to watch one party to a divorce begin a vindictive assault on the other. Attorneys often set escalating attacks into motion that produce absolutely predictable disastrous results for everyone —- especially the children. Let me emphasize: "absolutely predictable."
Here's a fact about divorce: Courts in general do not see one spouse’s having an affair as justification for denying access to the offending parent's children. Claims of “bad "morals" (traditionally known in law as “moral turpitude”) do not influence custody decisions. Imagine if they did! Courts could impose capricious punishment on either parent, and any children involved, because the accusing parent was out for revenge.
I've witnessed so many couples go through this emotional torture and the results are always negative for everyone concerned. There are no victors.
Here's a review of those negative results.
One: most importantly, the children suffer, and their suffering in not minor. Not only do they see their parents distressed and unhappy, they find themselves forced to take sides.
Often the "offended" parent demonizes the other parent (a set of actions legally known as “parental alienation”), which creates debilitating internal tension for the child. But do these facts mitigate the offended parent's need to punish? Usually not. Their need for revenge takes precedence.
Two: Both spouses waste huge amounts of money on attorneys, often putting themselves deeply into debt to pay legal fees, with predictably disastrous financial and emotional results.
Three: The need to punish the "offending" spouse creates tremendous unending stress for everyone. Each spouse must defend against each new legal attack, which often results in counterattacks and a downward spiral of unhappiness.
Four: Paradoxically, the ultimate result of the legal battles over custody is that family courts rarely limit either parent's access to children. One parent can launch years of escalating barrages of scurrilous charges, but the ultimate result doesn't change that much. This is truly stunning.
Years later, when the parents are exhausted, there's been no neat and tidy legal victory for anyone, and the children are seeing multiple counselors and having trouble in school, parents rarely say that their legal tactics were worth the time, money or stress. The situation is beyond sad — it's pathetic.
I hope that the list of realities above will calm the inflamed emotions of everyone involved in your own situation. My advice is to drop all legal maneuvers and engage in negotiations that recognize each parent's equal rights. Collaborate with the goal of reducing tension for your children. Eliminate the motive of vindictive retribution. Your children will be grateful.