You decide not a stranger
The range of emotions that arise when a family with children splits up can be overwhelming. Complex decisions have to be made around the lives of children, which can cause among other things, anxiety, anger, stress, and resentment. Depending upon the age and developmental stages of the children they may be more or less attuned to the changes happening around them. Even the youngest of children is aware of stress and knows when mommy and daddy is, or is not, around. As the children get older, they may feel confusion or “caught in the middle.” Normalizing decisions around custody and keeping a sense of control and harmony over this difficult situation is essential to the child(ren)’ s well-being.
Unaware of the potential or possibility of mediation in custody matters, many families begin a case by filing for custody and the matter ends up in court—before a master or a judge. We suggest that keeping custody cases out of court, whenever possible, is perhaps one of the kinder and wiser things you can do for your family. Afterall, who knows your child or children better than you? How can a judge who does not know your children or the quirks of your family possibly be better at deciding what is better for your children than you?
Private mediation is a viable and underutilized option in custody. There are many things that can be decided by parents in a safe setting with appropriate guidelines. Among these are the obvious:
- custody – how the child’s time will be split between two homes, and when each parent will have time with the child(ren);
- Vacation and holiday schedules;
- Changeover times and places can be agreed to, including transportation arrangements.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Once the initial details are agreed to, parents in mediation can discuss and reach agreements about the things that are just superficially addressed in other settings. These are what we call the rights and responsibilities. Even if parents have reached an Agreement or a Custody Stipulation in the traditional arena, we find the nitty gritty details are not fleshed out because the document was written by lawyers. In mediation, Parents set the rights and responsibilities agenda and fully discuss issues and reach agreements. Among the topics, they may discuss:
- rules for each house- bedtimes, use of electronics, when children can be left alone, etc.;
- information sharing- medical information, school reports, events;
- communications- how will they talk with each other, how will the children talk with the parents, when, how often, on what devices;
- changes to routines;
- travel plans—family travel, business travel;
- changes in family makeup- introducing new “friends,” can someone move in, remarriage;
- new children etc.
In a custody mediation, parents should be asked to identify their goals, and perhaps to think about Continue Reading
Conflict is an inevitable and pervasive part of human psychology and social relationships. The traditional approach to conflict is a flight or fight response. The kinds of emotions that trigger this response are hurt, anger, fear, vulnerability and pain, the triggers that can bring a couple or a relationship to the brink of separation and divorce. When the level of conflict is high the fight or flight leads to a situation where the disputants want to fight and win. If someone wins, then naturally the other person loses.
While in the midst of intense feelings it may be hard to believe that things will change, or that one has the power to make a difference. Some parties may flee and seek the courts and/ or an attorney for a remedy. Some may feel stuck and remain in a negative situation until it becomes unbearable. Regardless, the conflict is dealt with, either through avoidance or more directly through a form of dispute resolution. For couples, when avoidance no longer works, mediation should be considered because the possibility of a win/win is better than the alternatives.
Mediation is attractive because it allows the parties to take control of their situation and the resolution of their dispute. In the marital arena parties can go to mediation for division of property in divorce; to work out child support and spousal support; to work on parenting issues around children; to work out custody; and for all of these. Mediation allows a forum for the parties to air their concerns and grievances, to talk honestly and work out solutions that they craft together. Mediation provides a safe place to come to a negotiated agreement and resolve marital conflict in a positive way. When parties can work together to craft either a division of property, or a custody schedule or a support plan this, most importantly, allows for a positive relationship going forward into the future Continue Reading
Divorce if never easy, but if you have children, the issues are complicated in a way that differs from economic issues. Spousal and child support and division of property involves mostly you and your spouse, if you have children, however, they are affected at every stage of your divorce. And how you deal with your children from the very start of your separation through the children’s adulthood can have profound impact.
Oftentimes parents think they can protect their children from the struggles of their parents. Unhappy couples may stay together for the sake of the children. Child psychologies differ on whether, in fact, this does children well. Children are extremely sensitive and pick up upon the tension, anger, and hurt that parents may be experiencing even if parents may be “putting on a good face.” Thus, the idea of “sticking it out” until the kids are grown, while well intentioned, may not be the best choice—especially if the level of discord between the parents is high.
If you have decided to separate, involving your children in suitably in the separation and divorce process is exceedingly important. Child development experts agree that being upfront with children and telling them what is happening is important. Edward Kruk, PhD., advises that you should talk with your children about divorce.
Recently, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania provided some helpful clarification for custody litigants. The case, R.L.P. v. R.F.M., involved a custody order which was delivered orally by a Judge sitting in Montgomery County. This means that the Judge explained the Custody Order on the record and subsequently let the transcript of the hearing serve as the order. The Superior Court’s opinion clarified that all custody orders have to be delivered in a separate, written order.
This is important for several reasons. Custody Orders are frequently complex, and rightly so. Parties should walk away from a custody trial with no confusion as to how they are going to co-parent their children. In R.L.P. v. R.F.M, the transcript of the trial (which subsequently became the order) was 46 pages long, and included corrections and confusions. The Superior Court noted that when an order is confusing or contradictory, it is significantly harder to enforce.
When a Judge explains the intricacies of a Custody Order in the courtroom, oftentimes it becomes difficult to then enforce that order. In this case, the Superior Court noted that in order to understand the terms of the order, one had to read the transcript several times. A separate, written order gives both parties a tangible document to look to for guidance if a disagreement regarding the children presents itself. A Custody Order delivered orally on the record is just one example of a very dangerous phenomenon in family law: vague orders.
ANGRY EMAILS? … HOSTILE TEXTS? … NASTY LETTERS?
Consider the BIFF RESPONSE® METHOD
Have you been the recipient of angry tests, nasty emails, and ugly outbursts in public? Has your ex said nasty things about you on a social media site? Has the parent of your child said bad things about you? Have the things said made you angry, embarrassed, humiliated, or infuriated? Have you reacted and then perhaps regretted your reaction. Have you found yourself in a hearing with the threat that nasty texts between you and your partner were going to be presented to a judge? In our family law practice we come across all kinds of situations and people. The cases that present the most conflict, however, often involve one party who seems to thrive on hostilities. Our philosophy is to minimize conflict. Our goal is to reduce the anger and angst of family matters, so when a case presents with communication difficulties between the parties—especially unkind, nasty, accusatory messages– we seek out ways to help clients learn skills to deal with the high conflict people who engage them and the attendant situations. Thus, we are sharing the BIFF Response Method of Conflict Resolution here.
Divorce never is easy, but if you have children the issues are complicated in a way that differs from the economic issues. Spousal and child support and division of property involves mostly you and your spouse. If you have children, they are affected at every stage of your divorce. ..and how you deal with your children from the very start of your separation through the children’s adulthood can have profound impact.
Oftentimes parents think they can protect their children from the struggles of their parents. Unhappy couples may stay together for the sake of the children. Child psychologies differ on whether, in fact, this does children well. Children are extremely sensitive and pick up on the tension, anger, and hurt that parents may be experiencing — even if parents may be “putting on a good face.” Thus, the idea of “sticking it out” until the kids are grown, while well intentioned, may not be the best choice—especially if the level of discord between the parents is high.
If you have decided to separate, involving your children suitably in the separation and divorce process is exceedingly important. Child development experts agree that being upfront with children and telling them what is happening should be a major consideration. Edward Kruk, PhD., advises that you should talk with your children about divorce.
- Provide facts about what is happening between mommy and daddy without going into the reasons. You can let your children know that their parents have differences and will no longer be living together, but you do not have to give the reasons why.
- Allow children their questions, and answer them honestly. This is essential. Your children may want to know what will happen to them; where they will sleep, will they still see their friends and family, whether they will have to move. Be clear about what will happen in your children’s lives.
- Remind the children that both parents love them and that the cause of the parent’s split has nothing to do with the children this is critical.
Children may fantasize that parents will get back together. It is best to not let them indulge this fantasy to excess.
Dr. Fran Walfish a family and relationship psychotherapist and the author of The Self-Aware Parent: Resolving Conflict and Building a Better Bond with Your Child adds the following tips for the newly divorced or divorcing parents: Continue Reading
Custody, In Loco Parentis and Reproductive Assistive Technology
With more couples building families through reproductive assistive technology, custody questions may become an issue if the original family is no longer is intact, if the parents never married, and/or if the non-biological parent did not adopt the child. More and more courts are being asked to determine custody in these cases. There are steps that couples can take to help avoid or minimize this intervention. The facts and result in a recent Pennsylvania case are instructive.
In the case of C. G. v. J.H., J.H. conceived a child by artificial insemination. C.G. and J.H. were not married and Florida (where they resided) did not recognize same sex marriage at that time. J.H. was the biological mother. The child, J.W.H. , was born in Florida in October 2006, while C.G. and J.H. were living together as a same-sex couple. C.G. and J.H. continued to live together for about five more years. The relationship, however, began to wane and J.H. moved with the child to a separate residence in Florida and then moved to Pennsylvania in July 2012.
About three years later, in 2015, C.G. petitioned the Pennsylvania Court for shared legal and partial physical custody, alleging that she, C.G. “also acted (and acts) as a mother to the minor child …[and] the minor child was conceived by mutual consent of the parties with the intent that both parties would co-parent and act as mothers to the minor child.” Since C.G, was not the biological parent, J.H. alleged that she did not have “standing” to bring the matter at all. Because the parties were not married at the time of conception, and because C.G. did not adopt the child, the trial court held extensive hearings looking into the roles of each party to determine whether there was sufficient status for C.G, to raise the claim for custody.
As might be expected, the testimony conflicted. Just as in a traditional custody case, the parties presented extensive evidence including who attended to the child’s “[p]hysical, [e]motional, and [s]ocial needs.” Testimony including facts of day-to-day life was considered by the judge, as were facts regarding decision-making about the child’s medical and educational needs, child care, financial support and other items.