I just heard from a client I worked with in June. She and her husband were in a very difficult situation. They owed much more than their house was worth, they could not sell the house for a couple of years because of a complication in the way they bought it, there was very little money in any retirement account, they had other debts, and they couldn't afford for one of them to move out even though they had not been living as husband and wife for a long time. Over the course of four meetings, with a lot of phone calls and emails between meetings, I help them examine their options and develop a feasible plan that each thought was fair. They both thought it would be a good plan for their child, too. I wrote it up as a Memorandum of Understanding about Separation and Property Settlement and encouraged them to check with attorneys before signing it. They signed it near the end of June, the mom filed for divorce on her own, the dad waived service of process, and they are now divorced - less than a month after signing their shared plan. A tremendous amount of pressure has been relieved. I think both parties are happy with the outcome. And, important to me, they have a good foundation for co-operating as parents and taking good care of their child, not putting the child in the middle of conflicts between the parents.
Some people I work with remind me a lot of the months after my first husband and I separated. There was so much fear and anger. Spinning around much of the time was a horrid mix of blaming him for the failure of our marriage and what it was doing to our kids, blaming myself for the same, huge worries about how I would manage to live on the tiny amount of money available to me, despair about how I could protect my kids from the damage we were doing, and anxiety about how long it would take each of us to begin to recover.
There was no magic pill for dealing with the financial issues or the emotions quickly. What did help was finding support from others who had lived through or were living through their own similar nightmares. If you already have lots of friends and relatives who live nearby and are willing to listen to you for hours and help you calm down, build your strength and confidence, find ways to work constructively with an ex you may hate, that's great. Your kids really need you to do that. If not, I recommend looking for a divorce support group. Most areas have them available, often free or so nearly free that you can manage it. Obviously, it both members of an ex-couple want to do this, they need to find separate groups. If you don't like the first group you try, check out a couple more. Links to some support groups are on my "Resources" web page. You may easily enough find others through other sources.
After mediation failed to produce an agreement about visitation, I recently sat through a court hearing to see what the judge would decide. The dad did not see his daughter for about four years because he was in jail. Then he saw her for a few hours every other weekend for about three months, occasionally missing a visit and occasionally, with the mother's consent, having an extra long visit, including one overnight stay. The mom thought that the child was not yet consistently comfortable with the dad and should not be compelled to spend more than a few hours with him every other weekend. Later, when she knew him better, overnight visits could begin. The dad wanted the child to stay overnight on Saturdays, as his home was at least an hour's drive from the mother's. If he was going to spend so much time driving, he wanted more than a four-hour visit. In addition, he wanted the mom to do half of the driving. He didn't think it was fair for him to have to do it all. The mom wanted him to do all the driving, as he had no other responsibilities and she had another young child to take care of and another baby on the way.
I had no guess about what the judge would decide. She listened to both parents and then gave the dad more than he had asked for: 48-hour weekend visits, not just one overnight, every other weekend, with the mother required to do half of the driving after she recovered from delivering her baby.
A different judge might have made a different decision. For all I know, the same judge on a different day might have made a different decision. The inference I drew was that the judge did not want to waste time. It's your father, visits have been going pretty well, and you (the child) should get to know him. No one had suggested that the child was in any danger with the dad, so the judge saw no reason not to jump into an ordinary visitation schedule. And she ordered that, in a spirit of cooperation about supporting the child's relationship with the other parent, the mom should do half of the driving.
I have had several cases this year in which the mother, who had sole custody, did not want to push a child to spend time with the dad because the child was angry at the dad or did not like the dad or just did not feel comfortable with the dad, but the dad wanted real visitation rights. I am getting the impression that a lot of judges agree with the dad in this situation. They want the custodial parent to communicate to the child that the child’s relationship with the noncustodial parent is important.
A lot of moms do things that are really hard -- driving long distances and giving up holidays so that their kids can also have their dads fully involved in their lives, tolerating the presence of dad's new girlfriend in their children's lives, keeping quiet about all the awful things the dad did to the mom because the mom does not want to damage the child's relationship with the dad, etc.
That stereotype about African American men leaving single moms with all the work and little child support is contradicted by a number of dads I have worked with. They have been fighting to be allowed to be full-fledged parents, keeping their babies half of each week, supervising older kids' homework, taking care of dinner, bath time, bed time, and getting the children to school in the morning, etc.