Mike McNeil, the writer of this month’s Perspectives column.

This month’s Perspectives column was written by Mike McNeil from Graydon Head & Ritchey LLP.

I have been happily married for 17 years, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the advantages of single living. In fact, as a divorce lawyer, I often remind clients that one hidden benefit of the process is that both parties typically end up with some free time for themselves. Recognizing the value of that arrangement doesn’t mean you love your children any less. It’s just an opportunity to focus on your kids when you have them, and on yourself when you don’t. Most married couples don’t enjoy that luxury, although I have occasionally (and foolishly) tried to sell the idea to my extremely patient and understanding wife.  

In the same vein, being single and successful doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t want to be married or have a family. On the other hand, in my experience, the longer people are single and successful, the more likely they are to be concerned about what they might be giving up by getting married. Individuals who have accumulated significant real estate equity, investments, retirement accounts and other assets often worry about how these items will be divided in the event of a divorce. Premarital planning, which may or may not include a prenuptial agreement, can alleviate many of these concerns.  At the very least, it’s best to have the difficult conversation about financial expectations and concerns before the wedding, while there is still time to reconcile different viewpoints and priorities.  

In addition, while marriage is certainly not a prerequisite for a happy family, marital status can have significant legal consequences for parents. In Ohio, mothers are the sole custodial parents of children born out of wedlock, until a court establishes the father’s parental rights and responsibilities. Fathers who don’t establish these rights because they have an informal agreement with the mother often find this out the hard way when the cooperation ends abruptly, sometimes many years after the child is born. Unwed parents resolve these issues in Juvenile Court, while married parents seeking a divorce or dissolution typically do so in Domestic Relations Court.

In Hamilton County, the resources available in the Domestic Relations Court include mediation, early neutral evaluation (ENE) and parenting coordination, as well as a team of trained parenting specialists (licensed counselors or social workers) who perform investigations and make recommendations. In Juvenile Court, the investigative process is typically handled by a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL). In most cases, GAL’s are attorneys who have been trained and certified to perform these services for the court. The Juvenile Court also offers mediation services. Both courts focus on the best interests of the children, but at least for the time being, the Domestic Relations Court has more resources and alternative dispute resolution processes to help parents achieve a better outcome for their children.

I’m not suggesting that couples should get married in order to gain the advantages of Domestic Relations Court jurisdiction in case of a divorce, any more than I’m saying people should stay single or insist on a prenup so they can avoid losing half of their assets to a greedy spouse. Marriage has its benefits and so does single life. In both cases, a little patience and planning goes a long way. I took full advantage of my single years, and didn’t get married until I was 36. At the time, I had been practicing family law for more than 10 years, so I knew what I was getting in to. I did it anyway and it’s been the best decision I ever made. I’m not completely convinced my wife would agree, but she’s too nice to say otherwise.