Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Taking your children through the divorce process

No, I don't mean divorcing your children, although I am sure that sometimes that is tempting.

But it is a challenge to get a divorce, deal with the change in your family set-up, and dealing with the changes that the children are going through.

I came across this really good advice, and thought I should share it with you:
http://movingpastdivorce.com/2013/07/how-to-prevent-scarring-your-kids-during-and-after-divorce/

I especially like the advice about making sure the children understand that they are not to be blamed for the divorce.

The only thing I would add is that you need to reassure the children that you both still love them and that you will both make sure that they are cared for.  Don't make specific promises, because it is unlikely that you will be able to deliver on them.  Don't promise that they will stay in the house, or school district, or that visitation will be set up a certain way.  Even if you and your spouse do not see eye to eye, you can certainly tell them that you both love them and that you will make sure they are cared for.  That is all they need to know.

I always tell parents that when children ask about the divorce, they just want to know the general concepts.  Yes, we are getting a divorce.  Yes, there will be changes, but we both love you and you will be taken care of.  Other than that, they probably do not really want to know if someone had an affair or what the current financial picture is.  If they are asking that, someone may have put them up to that.  I always tell parents to respond by saying that those are adult issues and that you and your spouse (or in post-decree cases, former spouse) will be taking care of those matters.  If you are arguing, you can admit that you do not agree on everything, but do not include the details of the argument.  Overall, most parents report to me that the children are satisfied with this answer.  If not, you might want to consider counseling, since there is a concern that the child or children are being too involved in this process.

This is probably one of the most difficult issues with respect to divorce, followed by dealing with the financial fallout.  Hopefully this article is helpful.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Being flexible

How do some parents end up in court with a holy war, while others just drop in to finalize paperwork and then get on with there lives?  There are probably a fair number of cases that deserve to be fought out, either because one parent or the other has taken a truly untenable position.  However, there are so many cases that are in Court and really shouldn't be.  My observation is that this comes down most frequently to flexibility.  And by flexibility, I am not referring to being flexible about a schedule.  I am referring to thinking in a flexible way.  For example, it is Friday at 6:00 and you are waiting for the other parent to pick up the kids.  You have, appropriately, made other plans for 6:30, so you are anxious because there is no other parent in sight at this point.  When the other parent shows up at 6:15, you are upset, maybe even angry, because you did not get a call and you are going to be late.  This is a big deal, and how come the other parent doesn't get it.  As any attorney will tell you, there is always another side to the story.  Maybe the delay was caused by work, a sick spouse, a jealous spouse, a family situation, or just forgetting the time.  Maybe a call wasn't made because it was known that the reaction would only be hostile, and why put up with that on the phone as well as in person.  That's two times.  Just go for the one big blow up.

In this case, both parents are more concerned about their own personal situations, and not the other party.  How to solve this?  Parents just have to be flexible in their thinking.  Give the other person a chance.  Yes, it is rude to not call, and, yes, you should explain to the other parent that not calling is upsetting, but do so calmly.  Yes, the anger builds up when there is no communication, but maybe you need to own up to the problem, especially if you are chronically late, and suggest a schedule that works.

The problem is that people get stuck in a relationship and do not understand that things have and will change.  Once you are no longer together as a couple, you will have many forces pulling on you that really make things difficult.  Taking a little time to understand that this is happening to the other party, too, will go a long way.  One of you has probably been the one to be primarily responsible for the children.  There is a learning curve.  But let me ask you this.  If you child was late and did not call, would you be angry or would you be worried?  Why? Why a different reaction?  Probably because you care about your child.  If you child were chronically late, would you just yell and him or her every time, or would you try to get to the root of the problem.

And finally, what do you think your children are observing?  They aren't watching a drama play out and then rooting for the good guy, which you probably presume is you.  They are looking at both of you and saying, oh, so that's how adults communicate with each other when they are mad at each other.  You should overhear some of the things that children say about parents who are in conflict constantly. Most of them do not understand why there is conflict, nor do they want to.  And they do not want to take sides.  They just want peace.  Give them peace.  Be flexible.  Try to approach each problem with a willingness to understand and resolve the problem.  Utilize a counselor if that will help.  Or a mediator.  Maybe this could lead to fewer court cases!  Or at least fewer protracted court cases!  Bad for lawyers! But good for kids!

What are some of your thoughts or experiences with this?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Talking to the other parent, Part II

Okay, I realize that I have strongly encouraged parents to talk to each other about their children.  I know that good co-parenting happens when there is open communication.

However, the other day I witnessed a very sad situation.

We were out to eat at an Arby's after watching our Hartley Hawks win the semifinals for the State Championship in volleyball.  We were elated but tired, wanted a quick meal and then planned to head home.  After placing our order, we headed to a booth away from the crowd.  When I sat down, I noticed a young man, about 13 years old, very tall and slim, sitting next to his dad in another booth.  He was looking longingly at his father, who was on the cell phone having a very intense conversation.  It was not angry or hostile, just intense.  It seemed to involve a scheduling issue.  Eventually it became clear that he was on the phone with the child's mother, discussing scheduling issues for the next week.  It was the usual scheduling things that most parents deal with when you have teenagers who are very involved in activities but can't drive yet.  I know, from listening to his side of the conversation, that the son had to be picked up from school at a different time every day and these two parents were trying to juggle a somewhat difficult schedule.  Okay, hurray!  They were actually communicating and figuring things out.  And then little things, little angry things, got sprinkled into the conversation.  He said, "I can't just take off from work like that," and "she works full-time, too," and "next time, try to give me more notice."  Okay, these are legitimate concerns.  After nearly 30 minutes on the phone, he flipped the phone shut and turned to his son to say, "We have to go.  I have to have you home in a half hour."  Ah, ha!  My suspicions were confirmed.  This was that famous mid-week three hour visitation in the flesh!  And then I thought, how sad this is.  Yes, the parents are talking.  Yes, they seem to be working things out.  But this was the son's time to talk to his dad, not to listen to his parents talking about his schedule.  Fortunately the slight show of anger did not escalate (probably because the son was sitting right there) but it was clear that it could.  So, why did they have to have this conversation right now?  Why not drop off the son, and then call after mom has had time to talk to him a little bit and send him off to bed?  I don't know who initiated the call, but if it was the mom, shame on her for imposing on her son's time to visit with his father.  If it was the dad, shame on him for wasting his precious time with his son on this conversation.  Was the conversation urgent?  Of course it was, but not so urgent that it couldn't be handled later in the evening.

And maybe this is the problem with cell phones.  Everyone is so accessible, it is ridiculous.  You just push a button on your phone, and you are able to rouse up a friend instantly. Why wait until later to find out something when you can call right now?  And people feel so compelled to answer the phone when it rings.  Very few people are able to ignore a call.  I am sure that everyone has experienced having someone tell you to hold that thought while they respond to the phone.  Even if they decide to not respond, it is still an annoying distraction.

So, yes, please talk to the other parent.  But when you are having a special time with your son (or parent or sibling or friend) seriously consider turning the phone off so that it does not distract you and you are not distracted by the compulsion to call someone.  If your child brings up something that raises some questions for you, and you want to talk to the other parent about it, good for you, but make a mental note to call later.  Believe me, without distractions, your time with your child will probably result in learning more about him or her than you will ever learn with the constant interruptions.  After all, this may be your parenting time, but for your child it is time to spend with a parent, and maybe the child has something on her or his mind that needs to be communcated without interruption.  So, keep talking to the other parent, but do so when it is not trampling on your special parent-child time.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Talking to the other parent

A friend of mine did a very thoughtful blog, in which he suggested that we have parents refer to one another as the co-parent rather than the ex.  Nate Riggs had some very good insight into this issue: http://nateriggs.com/2011/01/23/the-thing-about-ex/  Nate is a very smart guy and has some excellent insight into the situation.  Also, I recommend you follow him if you are interested in learning about marketing and social media.

So I have really been thinking about this idea lately as I try to help clients navigate the difficult waters of custody and visitation.  So today, when I was grabbing lunch at my favorite Subway, I was nearly brought to tears as the man sitting at the table across from me got into a very hostile confrontation over the phone with what is to apparently be his ex-wife.  I felt bad for him, because I think he originally called just to confirm or change a pick up time for the kids, and he was probably not expecting this battle.  But the whole thing escalated to the point that they seemed to be arguing over when to have the exchange for the children - 7:30 or 8:00.  I couldn't believe it!  He was saying, "I will do this," and "You will do that."  I was afraid he was going to his something, as his face turned redder and redder.  Obviously, communication was not going well.  If I had known him, I would have tried to take his hand and give him a reassuring look to help him calm down.  But then, as if he was suddenly aware that people could hear this going on, he stormed out of the place, but only to step out onto the sidewalk.  We could still hear him, but could not make out the words.  Then I thought, how can we change this system?  And I realized we can only do it one step at a time.  So I decided to pack out and head out to talk to him.  I did not have very far to go, and he had just wrapped up the call.  So I said to him, "I understand if you want to tell me to shut up, but I couldn't help from overhearing and I just wanted to share something with you."  He was more than willing to listen.  I told him about Nate's post, about co-parenting, and about saying things like "Can we exchange the kids?"  instead of "I" will do this and "you" will do that.  I told him that I was sure that they knew how to push each others buttons, which used to be a good thing, but now is a terrible thing.  We chatted a bit about the situation.

After we parted, I felt hopeful that those kids might have a chance at having both of their parents parent them.  The man seemed very sincere and earnest and really willing to try to make it work, but he was very frustrated because he could not get himself out of the pattern of the relationship he had with his wife, which was obviously not good.  I still want to cry about this, but I am feeling hopeful.

What do you think?  What do you think we need to do to change the system?  How can we make this work and really start co-parenting practices in the best interests of the children?  Let's get a dialogue going, shall we?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My Musings on custody matters

I do a lot of custody cases where the parties are not married, and these can be the most difficult cases.  With a divorce, the parties loved each other at one time, have developed a relationship, although it is obviously not healthy at the time of the divorce, but they are used to the idea of working as a partner with that particular person.  The partnership may not be healthy, but the dynamics of a partnership are present.

In juvenile custody matters, the parties are typically not married, and likely had very little if any relationship to work on.  Usually they were dating and they were boyfriend and girlfriend, but they were just having fun, not worrying about paying bills together, saving money together, planning a future together.

And then a baby comes along.

Now you have two independent people who have to carve out not only a relationship, but an unexpected relationships that is guaranteed to last at least 18 years, whether they can stand each other or not.

And this is where the ability to compromise becomes essential.

Of course, it is not appropriate for one parent to "compromise" by giving in to all of the demands of the other party, but it is important for the parties to figure out how to work together.

But there are so many barriers to this.  For one thing, one or both of the parties may feel abandoned or ignored by the other party, or they just may feel embarrassed about the obvious - that they had a sexual relationship with that person and birth control failed or was not used.

Both parties are not used to the idea of partnering with another person to make important life changing decisions.  Until the baby came along, they were deciding where to go to dinner or where to spend a vacation together.  They were not trying to figure out how to clothe, feed and educate a child.

The new parents are also not used to the idea of deferring gratification for the benefit of another.  Usually these parents are young and they are still being told that the future is whatever they want to make of it, that they have opportunities, that the world is their oyster.

These barriers can also serve as an impetus to change and grow.  The future is still whatever you want to make of it, you just have to remember that your child needs to be part of that future.  You can still reach out for your dreams, as long as your other hand is holding your child's hand tightly.  The world is still your oyster, you just have to share it with your child.  AND you have to keep the other parent involved as well with regard to issues involving your child.

This may not sound much like legal information, but these issues need to be addressed early on in an custody or paternity case, because the way we decide to handle this matter will impact everything about the child.

If the parents can figure out how to make shared parenting work, for example, then they are both assured of having full involvement in the raising of that child.  If both parents have their own ideas of how the child should be raised and cannot reach a middle ground, there is a risk that they will always be competing and might even risk alienating the child from one or both of them.

Often a new parent will tell me all of their dreams for their child, and I am happy that they have dreams for their child, but I also know that the child is going to reach an age where the child is going to start having his or her own dreams, and as a parent we have to learn to nurture those dreams and let our child know that the future is whatever he or she makes of it and the world is his or her oyster.  I usually don't say anything, though, because I think the new parent sitting in front of me will probably have to find that out on his or her own, much as I had to do.

In the meantime, legally, we have to make decisions, such as custody, visitation or shared parenting, that will have a long lasting impact on the relationship between these three people at a time where the parents are usually not ready and the child is a complete unknown.  For example, it breaks my heart to have to remind the parents of an infant that we need have flexibility in a shared parenting plan because we do not know if the child will actually be able to attend a particular school that the parent wants guaranteed.  Maybe that school won't work because a parent has to move outside of the school's district or the child won't be able to cut it or their might be a special need that the school cannot address.  When you have an infant, you look at these comments as negative.  Once you have raised a child, you understand that these challenges are all part of the joy of raising a child and you revel in the joy that you were able to guide your child through that difficult time so that your child was able to overcome those obstacles and strike out on his or her own.

And this probably explains why I love doing this work.  Even when the parents are fighting, I know that this is just part of the process that can result in a win-win situation for the child.  My goal is to help the client navigate to a position where the child is protected and my client-parent feels that he or she has a voice in making decisions for the child and in raising the child.  This is usually a struggle, and sometimes is more of a struggle than other times, but it is a noble goal and I am happy that so many clients agree to let me be part of the mechanism that helps them get there.

Anyway, enough for musing.  Back to work.

Friday, January 8, 2010

What Columbus CEO Monthly left out....

I was recently quoted in Columbus CEO Monthly about special needs trusts for disabled adult children. While I appreciated the recognition, I was sad that so many of the things that I had raised were not included, so I thought I could include them here.

If you have a disabled adult child, there may be many services available to him or her that will help reduce the financial burden for you and give your child the independence that she or he needs and deserves. Your child may be eligible for SSI. You apply for this through the Social Security Administration, and you can do it on line by going to http://www.ssa.gov/

If in Ohio, and maybe in other states as well, your child may be eligible for services through the local board of developmental disabilities. There is one for every county. The state web page for ohio is http://dodd.ohio.gov/ The list of county boards and other related links can be found at http://dodd.ohio.gov/contacts/countyboards1.htm

With regard to support, keep in mind that if your child is disabled, then you may be entitled to receive long term child support indefinitely beyond the traditional age of 18 under the Castle case. The citation for that case is Castle v. Castle (1984), 15 Ohio St.3d 279 Here is a comprehensive article that explains it in great detail. http://www.divorcesource.com/research/dl/childsupport/97oct188.shtml

There are many more things that can be done with adult disabled children, but these resources are a great way to get started. In addition, as with any disability issue, it is a good idea to look at the Ohio State Legal Rights website to understand your legal rights. Here is the cite to that:

Hope some of this helps. As always, feel free to call me if you need more information.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Ohio Supreme Court case

I've been very busy lately getting ready for my Ohio Supreme Court oral argument, regarding whether the county board of developmental disability has the authority to intervene in a guardianship. While this may not sound like the most interesting case to you, it was very interesting to me. Here is a summary of the case from the Ohio Supreme Court website: