“No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it.” – H.E. Luccock
“Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is a success.” – Henry Ford
While reflecting on the events that took place in 2020, the year that brought hardship to a lot of families, including some of our clients and friends, one thing I really want to write about is the importance of working together. To a lot of people, 2020 brought isolation, financial difficulties, including losing jobs and being furloughed, losing houses, losing health, losing family members. There is no guarantee what the next day will bring, and that’s why working together, relying on each other and helping each other makes all the difference.
When I talk to my clients in custody cases or when I talk to the parents as a guardian ad litem, I always try to emphasize the importance of co-parenting and being flexible with each other while raising children. O.C.G.A.§ 19-9-3 (a)(2) states: “The judge may take into consideration all the circumstances of the case, [ …], in determining to whom custody of the child should be awarded. The duty of the judge in all such cases shall be to exercise discretion to look to and determine solely what is for the best interest of the child and what will best promote the child’s welfare and happiness and to make his or her award accordingly.” The same statute (O.C.G.A.§ 19-9-3 (a)(3)(N)) also lists the factor that a lot of judges indicate as one of the most important factors for deciding custody- the willingness and ability of each of the parents to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent, consistent with the best interest of the child. When parents work together and co-parent, it immediately shows. There is nothing better for the children of the divorce than their parents to continue working together. The benefits for the children whose parents co-parent are immense. When the goal is to do what’s best for the children, big egos and desire to hurt the other party or prevail at any cost cannot take place. To make sure that the children are fed, have a roof over their heads, health, happiness and proper education is a goal that co-parenting parties work together for.
Some time ago I attended an emergency hearing on temporary custody in person (a rare thing in 2020) and the hearing took place on a very cold day. The order called for the child to be present in the courthouse at the time of the hearing. Each party argued why the child’s custody should be awarded to him/her and each parent’s story was compelling – I could see that the judge was going back and forth. At some point of the hearing, after the decision was announced, the party that did not get custody of the child requested to have five minutes with the child before turning the child over to the other party. Everybody in the courtroom assumed it was to hug and console the child and to say goodbye. However, the real reason this party requested time with the child was to take the child’s warm clothes and winter boots off so the other party could not get the clothes. I still remember the judge’s face and the people’s in the courtroom’s reaction when they had realized what was happening. One parent chose to send her own child outside without shoes and clothes on the coldest winter day rather than to allow the other party to have the child’s clothes. The judge’s words were: “you just told me the most important thing I need to know about this case.”
On the other hand, we saw numerous times in 2020 when ex-partners stepped up and helped their ex-spouses in situations when one of the parties contracted COVID or lost a job. Family law lawyers can draft pages and pages of parenting plans, but the reality is that we cannot write in every single thing. Life is unpredictable and complicated, and nobody is invincible. We cannot write in being flexible, compassionate, kind, cannot write in an ability of people to see a big picture and make sacrifices for the benefit of the children. It is up to each person, including new spouses, extended family members and friends.
Lets be more flexible and kind to each other, and whatever 2021 will bring – we will be able to deal with it. I am sure of that.