Christmas

The end-of-year holidays are upon us – a time for food, time off work, and loved ones. The extra time spent with family and friends often enriches and strengthens relationships. Gift-giving and cooking family meals afford an opportunity to be selfless and to focus on others.

Unfortunately, not everybody’s holiday experience is positive.

Holiday gatherings often mean spending time with spouses, exes, in-laws, and others whose presence reignites former and current tensions. Going from one relative’s house to another in a short period of time can create a “pressure cooker” environment that widens cracks in already-strained family relationships. Some relationships simply don’t survive the season.

For family law attorneys, the last part of November and the month of December can be a strange time. Like an eerie calm before a storm, many couples with crumbling marriages try to will themselves to “make it through Christmas together.” Some are truly committed to repairing the relationship; others are consciously prolonging the inevitable.

Likewise, many parents struggle during the holidays with their custody arrangement. Tensions build with the other parent and tempers sometimes explode. In these cases, “Merry Christmas” turns into “I’ll see you in court!” In January, our office sees the aftermath, a swell of prospective clients.

To be sure, I’ve seen individuals act in ways they never would have if not for the holiday pressure. Arguments get more extreme and threats come into play. Sadly, in a lot of cases, law enforcement has to intervene.

When relationships can be mended and custody issues resolved without conflict, it’s nearly always the best option. But what if you know there’s no resolving the issues? What if there’s no saving the marriage? In these cases, tempers can run hot, and you may feel like you have to do something, anything, to make a change.

If you know that you may be headed for divorce or a custody case, here are some proactive steps you can take instead of losing your cool:

1. Start researching lawyers. The internet is a great resource, but so are friends and loved ones. Until you ask, you may not be aware that someone you know has had dealings with a particular attorney. Look for a lawyer who is competent, but also for a lawyer who shares your values and will understand your goals for your case.

2. Gather your information. Documentation is key in most divorce and custody cases. Start gathering tax returns, pay stubs, photographs, notes, and anything else that may relate to your case. I always tell my clients that I would rather have more documentation than I need than risk not having enough.

3. Think through your payment options. You know representation isn’t going to be free, so don’t wait until you’re at the consultation to think through what you can afford. Think about what money you can get together up front and what you can do in the long run. Some lawyers want all their fees up front, but others will work with you on a monthly payment plan.

4. Get a consultation. It’s vital to speak with a qualified family law attorney. Many lawyers offer free consultations during which they estimate costs and discuss the process and possible outcomes, giving you an idea of your options. Knowing what to expect often makes things easier, rather than letting your imagination conjure up your worst fears.

5. When in doubt, try to step back and take a breath. Family matters like divorce and child custody can make us feel like the world is literally crashing down. Keep in mind, though, that the actions you take today will almost certainly impact your future. Bad actions can be used against you, while planning can give you the advantage.