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How to NOT look bad in Family Court.

Hey friend:


When my divorced or divorcing clients ask for my help with a co-parenting decision, they usually say something like. . .


"I don't know what to do, and I just don't want to do something that will make me look bad later."


I've been doing this for long enough that I know the exact words that each client should use when communicating with her ex.  And I would bet my house that, if a client says exactly what I tell her to say to her ex each and every time, then she will not "look bad" later in front of the judge in her case or anyone else.


But my clients cannot exactly borrow my brain every time they need to respond to an email or text from the ex.


Well, clients who are in my coaching program have unlimited email access to me, so they can certainly ask me to draft a response for them whenever they want me to.


But what if there was an even simpler way to make sure that you don't "look bad later"?


And I mean simple.  Not easy, but simple.


Simple as in 2 steps.


Here they are.


Step 1. Establish the floor and the ceiling of options.


Step 2.  Choose one of the options.


Let me explain.


Step 1.  When I say "establish the floor and the ceiling of options," I mean that you need to actually look at the terms of your active custody order, if you have one.


You would be surprised at how many of my clients want to skip this step.  Don't do that.  It's important.


Don't try to remember what the order says.  Don't imagine what the order says, and don't come to me later saying "I thought it said XYZ, but it actually says ABC."


Take out the piece of paper and actually look at it.  This is not hard.


The terms of this order will provide what I call the "floor" and the "ceiling."  Meaning, the order tells you what you are allowed to do, and what you're prohibited from doing.


As an example, the order says that your ex has the third week in July for exclusive summer vacation with the kids this year, and that your ex's vacation week will start at noon on the third Saturday of July and end at noon on the fourth Saturday of July.


So you have to release the children to him at noon on the third Saturday.  You're not legally authorized to withhold the children until 3pm.  He's not legally authorized to pick them up at 10am.


That's your floor and your ceiling.  Again, simple.  Don't overthink it.


But there's a lot of room between the floor and the ceiling for you to "look bad," right?


This is where clients get stuck.


Step 2.  Choose.


So what about when the ex asks if you're willing to release the children the night before the vacation start time so that he can drive to the vacation destination in the evening when there will be less traffic?


You don't have to release them, but you can.


So how do you choose?


By checking the feeling that is driving the choice.


Yes, you read that correctly.  Pay attention to what you're feeling.


When my clients ask me this question, and I say, "well, what do you want to do?, they reply by telling me all of the reasons why they don't want to "be nice" to the ex based on something he did in the past, or how they don't want to be "taken advantage of."


So they want to say no to him, and the urge to say no is coming from a feeling like vengeful or angry.


So I tell them, "you don't need my permission to say 'no' to him."


Of course, my clients are usually not satisfied with that answer, because they know that something is off.  


My clients know they might "look bad" later, because the decision to withhold the children is coming from that negative feeling.  Human brains are super intuitive like that.


So step 2 is very simple.  If the action that you're taking -- which is to tell the ex that you will not agree to release the children early for vacation -- is coming from a negative feeling, then the odds are high that someone might interpret that action as "making you look bad."


If, on the other hand, the feeling is something like calm or confident, then you probably won't look bad later.


That's it.  Just check the feeling from which you would be making the choice.


I'm serious.  This works.  I've seen it thousands of times.


It really is that simple.  Of course, simple and easy are two very different things.


Because your brain will fight you for the other story, the one that drives the urge to "defend yourself."


But there's nothing to defend.  You can do whatever you want.


You don't need my permission to take action from anger, or from a desire to exact revenge, you are an adult human person with your own agency.


So check your feeling.  Be honest with yourself about what feeling your choice is coming from and make the choice.


And then own the choice.  You can't abdicate responsibility to me by asking me to choose for you, because I love you too much to let you do that.  And, seriously, why would you want to?


Take care, friends.  Talk to you soon. 


Janie Lanza Vowles -- Practicing Divorce Lawyer -- Certified Life Coach

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