Avoiding Legal Trouble

Family Court: What's A Name Got To Do With It?

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but names can really hurt you–people who've gone through a divorce often know just how abusive and destructive name-calling can be. Name calling is a form of emotional abuse, which is a factor in divorce about 24% of the time for men and about 55% of the time for women. Name-calling also has the potential to drag you back into court, long after the final divorce decree is written. If you want to avoid that possibility, consider the following:

Keep the commentary to yourself when making support payments.

You may not mind paying child support for your children, but a lot of people resent having to pay spousal support to their exes, even for short periods of time. That's understandable–spousal support is a drain on your financial resources, and it leaves you economically tied to your ex even after the marriage is supposed to be over.

However, putting mean or snarky comments in the "memo" line of the check when you write out the spousal support payment each month is just going to keep adding ammo to the hostilities between you and your ex. It can also pull you back into court. A man in New Jersey is currently suing his ex-wife for writing things like "bum" and "loser" on the alimony checks she sent. He's claiming that his ex-wife is intentionally inflicting emotional distress on him. If the lawsuit is successful, the ex-wife could end up writing a lot more checks down the line than she would have if she'd remained civil.

Don't go to war over what the kids call the grownups.

If you and your ex have minor children, there's a good chance that at some point a step-parent is going to get involved (if you or your ex re-marries). The question of what the new step-parent is to be called by the minor children is bound to come up and names like "Mom" or "Dad" can become the equivalent of emotional bombs.

If you're the new step-parent, you probably enjoy the idea of being called "Mom" or "Dad" by the little people you're helping to raise. If you're the divorced parent who just remarried, you're probably relieved that the kids are accepting your new spouse. On the other hand, if you're the original "Mom" or "Dad," you may feel like the new step-parent is trying to move in on your territory and undermine you with your own kids. You may not want to share the name with someone who came along well after the children were born. However, what can you do to stop it?

The best thing that you can do is try to negotiate with your ex and his or her new spouse about the situation and come up with an alternative that you can all agree on and then, as a unit, gently nudge the kids into using that name for the new step-parent. You might be able to find a variation on the traditional "Mom" or "Dad" that's suitable. 

If that isn't something you can work out, however, don't look to the court to put a stop to it. A recent ruling in New Jersey sets the tone for this sort of post-divorce action, ruling that the child, not the adults, gets to decide how to address the step-parent. The court is unlikely to step in and order your children to address their step-parent in any particular way.

It's always smart to pick and choose your court battles. If you're divorced with young children, you could find yourself in some protracted and emotional battles with your ex over the next few years. Before you take it to court, however, talk the situation over with an attorney like Susan M Caplin to see if there isn't some other way to settle it. You also want to get your attorney's take on how likely you are to be successful in court before you spend a great deal of time, energy, and money on the issue.