Dissolution of a marriage can be one of the most emotionally traumatic occurrences in a person's life.
When advising and representing divorce clients, the first thing I try to do is sit them down and give them information.
Oftentimes, they are an emotional wreck, and fear of the unknown is perhaps one of the biggest stressors.
A good friend and colleague who specializes in family law once told me that he can call the outcome of a divorce case, with significant accuracy, after a one hour conference.
And while this is not always true, in the greater Kansas City area, on the Missouri side, there are some pretty standard bases for how judges decide these cases, absent fairly extraordinary circumstances.
And while every case is different, and predicting the outcome of any case and any set of circumstances is impossible, there are some emerging trends in such cases, that may be affecting predictability in some ways. Below are some very basic circumstances, though certainly not universal, that I perceive to be trending in this area.
More and more, parenting time is being evened out between parents of children in divorce cases. Where a typical case use to involve most of the time with the mother, and every other weekend and perhaps one evening or overnight a week with a father, more and more we are seeing equality, or near equality, in how parenting time is divided. This can take the form of alternating weeks, or alternating three and four day chunks of time.
And while equal time does not necessarily mean no child support is paid by either party, the trend I see, and what recent changes in the child support rules have caused, generally is that child support paid from one parent to the other on a monthly basis is going down in many cases, as the rules take into consideration the time spent with each parent.
In fact, there is a specific portion of the child support calculation formula that takes parenting time into consideration, and more and more the rules and court decisions have provided for a liberalization in how that provision is applied to take into consideration trends in parenting time, so as to reduce the child support paid in many cases.
Maintenance, what was formerly called alimony, continues to be less than common in divorce cases. Part of the reason may be that men and women now both have careers and work histories in many cases. Plus, maintenance is something that can give rise to later litigation to modify or terminate it, something many judges would prefer to avoid.
Thus, in most cases where maintenance is ordered, it is ordered for a definite and specific period of time, and terminates on a predetermined date, with a specification that there be no modification, extension, or early termination, unless either spouse dies, or the recipient remarries.
The rules and trends have also changed over the years regarding the relocation of children of divorce. There was a time when it was not particularly uncommon for a mother to move with the children to a location a significant distance away from a divorced father.
Over the years, however, the rules on relocating the children have changed, and perhaps more importantly judicial attitudes have also changed. Nowadays, a parent seeking to change the primary residence of a child must give advance notice of a proposed relocation to the other parent, who then has an opportunity to file an action with the court to challenge the relocation. And, more and more, courts are protecting the rights of parents who wish to keep their children close by in these proceedings.
As I say, these are trends that I have observed in many cases in recent years. But every case is different.
My advice to everyone facing a potential family law action is to seek and obtain the advice of good counsel as soon as it appears that such a proceeding may be imminent.
Ken Garten is a Blue Springs attorney. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org