“If you don’t agree to my terms I’ll take you for everything you have.”
“Do what I want, or I’ll sue for custody and you’ll never see the kids again.
Some overly controlling spouses try to intimidate their way to a big win during the divorce process. They come up with vastly unfair terms, and they try to pressure you into signing their settlement offer.
See also: What to Do If You Feel Bullied By Your Ex.
Before you pick up your pen, stop and consider the following.
Divorces that go to court do not result in anyone losing everything.
The way judges calculate the equitable distribution of property and spousal support is complex. But it’s also predictable.
Usually we can give you a ballpark best case scenario and worst case scenario. The final settlement will probably sit somewhere between these two extremes.
Sometimes people who have to pay spousal support and child support certainly feel like they’ve lost everything, and there are certainly situations where judges create terms that are very hard on some people.
But if you have a good lawyer to argue your case you shouldn’t worry about getting yourself into a situation where you’ll be destitute. The goal of the divorce process is to keep both parties as close to their current standard of living as possible.
Sole custody arrangements are rare.
Pennsylvania prefers arrangements that are as close to 50/50 as possible, and there is almost no situation where either party will never see their children. There are situations where you could end up with supervised visitation.
The idea here is that you shouldn’t panic. Instead, gather evidence about what makes you a good parent. Are you the one who drops the child off at school? Who went to the last parent-teacher conferences? Who attended medical appointments? How often do you help the child with homework or play with him or her? Do you take them shopping for clothes?
Document everything, and back it up with additional evidence like school and medical records. Make a note of people who could back up your claims of being involved in your child’s life.
If you focus on what makes you a good parent while the other spouse is busy trying to drag your name through the mud you’ll find the judge is a lot more sympathetic to you than to your spouse. Everyone involved in family law has seen a lot of tricks, lies, and allegations.
Numbers don’t lie.
Before you serve your spouse with divorce papers you should gather up all the documentation on your income, debts, and assets. Gather medical records for both you and your spouse too, if you can get them. If you’re the one who has been served, you should immediately do the same.
If you think your spouse is hiding assets, be sure to tell your attorney. We have ways of finding them.
These statements are evidence, and they can help you.
For example, if your spouse accuses you of domestic violence (this is rare), you can show there were no hospital visits where the spouse was harmed, no medical bills were paid to alleviate any harm, and no police reports were ever filed.
Don’t forget social media, text, and email messages, which can also serve as evidence.
None of this suggests spouses never play dirty tricks.
They absolutely do. And there is a chance your spouse will viciously attempt some. There’s also a chance your spouse will drag out the process as long as possible.
But with a good lawyer by your side, you can survive all those dirty tricks. As mentioned previously, they may even end up working to your advantage.
See also: Can I Make My Ex Pay Legal Fees?
Above all: stay calm, keep the moral high ground, and play your cards close to your chest. Pennsylvania is a no-fault divorce state, which means your behavior isn’t at issue. Your spouse doesn’t have as much ammo as he or she thinks.