Whether your split is amicable or not, if you’re separating from a mentally stable, otherwise reasonable person, there are steps you can take to keep it from going completely off the rails. Conversely, there are ways that the system is set up to be sure that it does… and all those ways benefit the system itself.

When I first split from my husband I consulted a divorce attorney—a litigator. I wanted to educate myself on my rights before going into the process. California is a no-fault state, so no matter who did what to whom, the laws are pretty clear: 50% of all assets or debts incurred during the marriage would be mine. The state even has a calculating program called the DissoMaster for figuring out support based on percentage of custody and the incomes of both parties.

Makes sense, right? My ex made more money than I did (I was a stay-at-home-mom, so he actually made all the money), so he would have to pay me child support and spousal support for a time.

Except then the litigator began to show me that if we slid the custody bar of the DissoMaster over, my support would increase. More custody for me meant more money from my ex. When I told the attorney that I wanted my son to see his father 50% of the time, that he was a great dad, and that I didn’t want to take my child away from him, he scoffed.

He began throwing out scenarios in which I could disparage my ex in court so that I could get more custody, thus more money.

In the process, the attorney was going to make gobs of money off of me and the fight he was about to stage between me and my ex.

I didn’t go down that road, and instead sought out a mediator who asked us an important question that set the tone for our entire divorce and mediation proceedings:

Do you want to put your son at the center, or in the middle, of your divorce?

This episode tells the story of how that all came about and how I gave up my house in service of my son.