We’ve talked about the importance of writing down your marriage history and what to include. As the name suggests, a marriage history is a look back at what went on during your marriage.
It’s also critical to record key facts and events that happen after you separate. Unlike a history, which tends to be written in paragraph style (maybe Cliff’s Notes, maybe a novel), you can record what goes on post-separation simply by keeping a log.
As a family lawyer, I understand how important keeping a post-separation log can be. But my knowing something’s important and you doing it are two different things. My dentist knows that flossing my teeth is important, but that doesn’t mean I do it. (Sorry Dr. Hoppe!)
We’re much more likely to actually do something - and do it consistently - when we both understand its importance and find a way to make it a routine in our lives.
So let’s talk about the why, the how, and the what. Because as much as you might not want to do it, keeping a log of the things that happen post-separation can be really important for you. Even more important than flossing.😁
Why do you need to do this anyway?
Keeping a post-separation log creates a record of the things - big and little - that may be important in your divorce. A log memorializes the facts and events you might need to share with your attorney, mediator, or the judge. It’s also helpful for you to refer back to, like if you and your ex are disputing what day something happened.
I’ve used logs in court to show how much time my client spent with the child compared to the other parent, how often a parent was late picking up the children, and how much money someone was owed.
Keeping a log isn’t just important while you’re divorcing. It’s incredibly helpful post-divorce too. A log is a great way to track issues you’re having with co-parenting, in case you end up wanting to make changes to your custody plan later.
Keeping a log is also liberating. It lets you get the facts out of your head and safely stored, so you can free your mind to focus on other things. Like nailing that presentation at the office tomorrow. Or finding your keys.
Now that you know why, how do you keep a log?
The format you use is up to you. There’s no right or wrong way. The best way is the one that’s convenient enough for you to stick with.
A few common options:
· Good old fashion paper and pen. I have clients who keep their logs in spiral bound notebooks that they deliver to me when they get full. As long as your handwriting’s legible(ish), this works. The risk of course is that you’ll misplace it, or someone else will find it.
· On a calendar. Using a calendar is great for showing visually who has the children when (especially color coded). But a calendar’s not as easy to actually write much information due to limited space.
· Apps. There are a number of divorce apps on the market, with varying functions and costs. Most of them include some kind of journal or log feature. If you go this route, make sure you can give your lawyer access, and also make sure their security and privacy are top notch. And that you can create a backup, in case the app goes away. Examples include Custody X Change, Talking Parents, and Our Family Wizard.
· On your computer. There are many ways to do this, like using a simple Word document or creating an Excel grid organized by date and event. If using Excel, make sure you use “wrap text” so you don’t limit the amount of info you can fit into each cell. If you create a word key, you can easily search for past entries (e.g. use the word “late” every time you receive your support check late, so you can find and sort those common entries later).
As for how you record the information, you can use shorthand, abbreviations, code words, whatever makes sense to you. Though if you’re going to share it with your attorney or use it in court, it’ll need to be clear enough to understand (or you’ll want to translate it down the road).
Ok, you’re convinced you should do it and you’ve picked the method that’ll work best for you. Kudos! So what should you be logging anyway?
As a general rule, try to log facts and events that stand out in your mind, that are atypical, that highlight whatever point you’re trying to make, or that go against your (ex) spouse’s claims.
This is not supposed to be a play-by-play of your day! I’ve seen articles online that say you should record “everything” - both significant and insignificant facts. No wonder people’s heads are spinning - no one has time for that! (And no one else has time to read it, either.)
Here are some of the major categories to jot down. Not all of them will apply to you. Use your judgment about what you think matters.
1. Late payments, e.g. child support or alimony. Make sure you write down the date you actually received it.
2. Expenses you pay that your (ex) spouse is required to reimburse, such as uncovered medical expenses, utilities, etc.
3. If you’re in the divorce process, you might want to keep a log of various categories of spending to prove your budget, and have your bank and credit card statements as backup.
4. Verbal criticisms/comments made to you, especially in front of the children. Write down what you said back - that's important too.
5. Concerning behavior. Include the date and place and who else saw or heard it.
6. Changes to the parenting schedule - even if by agreement, e.g. if you swap weekends.
7. Parenting “fails”: The other parent being late or early for exchanges, no shows, interfering with your parenting time, etc. Also whether the other parent attends events like doctor appointments, parent-teacher conferences, school plays.
8. Things your kids say, such as repeating what the other parent said.
9. If you’re still living together, you might want to log more details of parenting functions that go on in your home, like who made breakfast, drove the kids to school, and put them to bed. These things are often disputed. Also, if the other parent is absent from the home a lot, record what time he/she leaves the house and comes home (this can show (un)availability to parent).
10. Anything else that feels important enough to write down! The worst that happens is you never look at it again. But if you don’t write it down, you risk forgetting the details. (We talked about how common it is to be forgetful during this and any other time of stress in part 1).
Just getting in the habit of logging important or unusual things can make a big difference in your life. You’ll feel more organized and in control. You’ll save time and energy not trying to recreate what happened in your mind. You’ll save legal fees by handing your lawyer an organized log to read. And you’ll seem more credible - remember that communication experts say that details tend to make what someone says more believable!