Child Support Calculation in Virginia – Rebutting the Guideline’s Amount

April 8, 2014

moneyIn Virginia, the Child Support Guideline amounts come from a table which is set forth in the Virginia Code §20-108.2. That Guideline’s Table dictates the “presumptive amount” of child support to be paid in various situations. (See http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+20-108.2) That child support obligation (a single dollar amount that Virginia says your child will need in order to “make it” in the world based on his/her parents’ financial status) is then divided up between the parents, based on their percentage share of income produced and, in certain situations (see last bullet point below), the amount of time that the child spends with each parent. The parent that earns the most money is usually the parent who ends up actually paying child support to the other parent (though not always, depending on the custody share arrangements).

To calculate the presumptive amount of child support, you need the following information (which become the variables for the calculation):

  • gross monthly income for both parents (usually pretty simple except in cases of small business owners and sales professionals);
  • the actual cost of health insurance for the child (not the entire family);
  • the costs of work related childcare (though this is often factored outside of the calculation);
  • and, in cases where the child spends greater than 90 days (24 hour periods) with the non-primary parent (which also includes 50/50 custody cases), the number of days the child spends with each parent per year;
  • and, in cases where there is also a spousal support obligation, that amount, too, is usually put into the calculation.

The best way to calculate child support is with a professional – a divorce mediator or attorney. Unfortunately, most clients leave out key information or miss a variable when they try and figure their own child support amount with online calculators. At least, that has been my experience. It’s never a bad idea to get some preliminary numbers, but a professional should really assist before you get committed to (or get upset by!) a child support amount.

Once the parties agree/the judge determines what the correct variables are to run a Virginia Child Support Calculation (i.e. gross incomes, cost of health insurance, etc.), the amount calculated is presumed to be correct. However, in certain situations, a parent(s) does not agree with that number – and therein lies a big problem.

A battle over whether or not to apply the presumed child support amount in a Virginia divorce – whether in terms of ratcheting that number above guidelines or pushing it below guidelines – is one of the areas where the flexibility and low cost of divorce mediation should be considered. The “legalese” for this modification of the presumed guideline’s child support number is “deviation.”

Anyone considering deviating from the Virginia child support guidelines amount (especially if that parent is seeking a below-guideline’s number) needs to be aware that courts tend to like formulas. That means that if you do not think that the Virginia guideline’s calculation suits your family’s needs best, you will need to prove it. That means evidence. And that means lawyers and big money (if you choose to litigate instead of mediate).

Further, judges who follow the letter of the law must be very particular about the details of the evidence presented. Child-related matters are highly sensitive – and no judge wants to deny a child the basic support that is presumed needed (at least as far as the Virginia General Assembly is concerned) for anything less than a very, very good reason. (It is notable that the receipt of child support is the child’s right and not the custodial parent’s right. So, technically, even the custodial parent does not have the right to waive child support/agree to a below guideline’s amount of child support on his/her own since it is not that parent’s right to waive the child’s right to financial support!)

Courts are required to abide by the following protocol and criteria if and when there is a request by a parent to deviate from the Virginia Child Support Guideline’s Presumed Amount (pursuant to §20-108.1 of the Virginia Code):

The Court must make written findings that:

A. The application of the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate in a particular case; and

B. There is justification as to why the child support obligation ordered by the court varies from the presumed guideline amount based on relevant evidence pertaining to: The ability of each party to provide child support and the best interests of the child, as follows:

1. Actual monetary support for other family members or former family members;

2. Arrangements regarding custody of the children, including the cost of visitation travel;

3. Imputed income to a party who is voluntarily unemployed or voluntarily under-employed; provided that income may not be imputed to a custodial parent when a child is not in school, child care services are not available and the cost of such child care services are not included in the computation and provided further, that any consideration of imputed income based on a change in a party’s employment shall be evaluated with consideration of the good faith and reasonableness of employment decisions made by the party, including to attend and complete an educational or vocational program likely to maintain or increase the party’s earning potential;

4. Any child care costs incurred on behalf of the child or children due to the attendance of a custodial parent in an educational or vocational program likely to maintain or increase the party’s earning potential;

5. Debts of either party arising during the marriage for the benefit of the child;

6. Direct payments ordered by the court for maintaining life insurance coverage pursuant to subsection D, education expenses, or other court-ordered direct payments for the benefit of the child;

7. Extraordinary capital gains such as capital gains resulting from the sale of the marital abode;

8. Any special needs of a child resulting from any physical, emotional, or medical condition;

9. Independent financial resources of the child or children;

10. Standard of living for the child or children established during the marriage;

11. Earning capacity, obligations, financial resources, and special needs of each parent;

12. Provisions made with regard to the marital property under § 20-107.3, where said property earns income or has an income-earning potential;

13. Tax consequences to the parties including claims for exemptions, child tax credit, and child care credit for dependent children;

14. A written agreement, stipulation, consent order, or decree between the parties which includes the amount of child support; and

15. Such other factors as are necessary to consider the equities for the parents and children.

At Graine Mediation, we follow similar protocol to the courts when clients are considering a deviation from the Virginia Child Support Guidelines. However, in the Fairfax and Northern Virginia area – where lifestyles tend be quite expensive in terms of the stepped-up extracurricular activities, tutoring, overnight camps, etc. that children are involved in – there is rarely a case where a below-guideline’s child support obligation is agreed to by parents in mediation. (Remember: The guidelines were developed by the Virginia General Assembly for state-wide application – and most Fairfax/Northern Virginia families do not live the lifestyle or raise their children, in terms of dollars spent, like most of the families in other parts of Virginia.) Thus, below-guidelines agreements are rare in my mediation practice. However, above-guidelines deviations are often discussed but, even then, obligating parents to above-guidelines monthly child support amounts are often disregarded in favor of other more practical and creative solutions to award the support necessary while, at the same time, satisfying (as much as possible) each parents’ need for financial stability and control.

Posted by Robin Graine, JD, Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.


Conscious Uncoupling

April 1, 2014

“Conscious Uncoupling” is the new buzzword for celebrity divorces. This is due to Gwenyth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s (lead singer for Coldplay) recent announcement of their pending divorce and the parade of recent of appearances and interviews by Ms. Paltrow and her mentor, Dr. Habib Sadeghi.

Conscious Uncoupling really just means getting a divorce without being nasty. It is code for “compassion”. That is what I help people do every day at www.grainemediation.com.   In Gwenyth Paltrow’s brand of conscious uncoupling, there is a little twist of spirituality, too. Though that doesn’t exist in the secular mediation room, it is completely up to the clients how they choose to put into action their decision and desire to keep the divorce process as free from ugliness as possible.

Graine Mediation applauds these celebrities for setting a good example. The decision to get a divorce is not necessarily a battle cry for both sides to bring out their big guns. Instead, the desire to be consciously as kind as possible throughout the process, while also doing your best to step into each other’s shoes and “see how it feels” and see where the fears lie, is what is always best for human beings. After all, most of us do not thrive on negativity, emotional assaults, and having our pocketbooks emptied by zealot-lawyers.

Divorce is hard enough. The financial repercussions are almost always calamitous and divorce takes a heavy toll on all parties, including the children. If you want to call an amicable divorce “conscious uncoupling,” fine. If you want to stick with “amicable divorce,” that is fine, too. Just see if you can stay out of court and don’t ever go for headline news in your divorce!

Posted by Robin Graine, JD, Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.


The How-To’s of Online Dating for the Divorced and Middle-Aged Crowd

March 4, 2014

Online dating has almost been talked to death on the internet and the media, but that doesn’t mean everyone is doing it. When you’re divorced and middle-aged, it can seem a bit more harrowing than watching all those kids in their early 20s find a fun, flirty fling with ease online. Whether you’re looking to polish your dating skills after letting them rust in your marriage or seeking the person you’d like to spend your post-divorce life with, online dating may be the best place for you.

When people get back into the dating game, whether post-breakup or divorce, it’s common to ask your friends to set you up. But why ask someone else to do what you could do better yourself? When you date online, it’s easier to find a more lasting connection based on common interests and attraction. When a friend sets you up, they may just be thinking, “Aw, they’d look cute together,” but not about what you really need out of a partner.love-online-dating

So you’re convinced and want to move forward with online dating, but where to even begin? Here’s a short primer of some how-to’s of middle-age online dating.

1. Find the right service for you

            You’ve seen the ads online and on your computer for the big ones—Match, EHarmony, OkCupid, JDate—but there are dozens of dating sites online. How do you choose?

Talk to your friends to see what sites they’ve had luck on. Do some internet research to see what each site is known for. (For example, OkCupid tends to skew younger in its demographic because it’s a free service.) Figure out how much you’re willing to pay to be on a site. Consider using niche dating sites (like VeggieDate, for vegetarians only, or ChristianMingle for Christians) depending on your tastes.

But most of all? Don’t feel like you have to limit yourself to just one. Whether you try them simultaneously, or one after the other, the key to internet dating is broadening the search rather than narrowing your options.

2. Get comfortable with dating again

            After a divorce or a bad breakup, it can be hard to just dive back into the dating pool. If you think you’re going to find your new soul mate on your first date back out, think again. You need time to readjust to the dance of courtship. If someone seems nice, pleasant, attractive, but doesn’t scream “TRUE LOVE MATERIAL,” don’t discount them—date them. First dates are supposed to be low-pressure; use that time to figure out who you are as a dater now. Trust me, it’s probably not going to be the same person as 20 years ago.

One thing to remember when online dating is that you’re all in the same boat. I’ve spoken to plenty of middle-aged people who are worried they’ll look silly by putting themselves out there again. One man I spoke to said his biggest fear was feeling awkward or having nothing to talk about. Another woman mentioned she was worried it was tantamount to marketing herself, and the idea of that felt wrong. The important thing to remember is that you’re not alone! Hell, sometimes it’s good to even speak to your date about these fears. I can guarantee you both have them, and at least it’ll be something to talk about if the silences get a bit too long.

Also, repeat to yourself: It’s just a date. These aren’t lifetime commitments or marriage proposals; it’s a coffee date, a movie, maybe dinner. At the most, it’s a few hours of your life. At the very least, you will come out of that date with some story to tell.

3. Lower your expectations

            No, it’s not as bad as it sounds. What I mean by that is when you’re scrolling through a list of potential dates, you start to feel entitled to being very picky. Ew, he’s a bit short. Oh no, she enjoys Nicholas Sparks novels. Here’s some advice: Get over it. One of the pitfalls of online dating is that we sit in judgment of someone we’ve never even met. Think back to your last long-term relationship. Weren’t there things you found out later that may have turned you off in the beginning? The difference was that you found out later. In online dating, particularly in the middle-aged bracket, people tend to put their cards on the table, figuring that the more honest they are about themselves, the more easily they’ll attract a likeminded partner.

Suspend your disbelief.  Give a person the benefit of the doubt. Try going out with a different personality type. No matter how it turns out, you’ll end up learning something about what you want and about yourself.

4. Take the pressure off

            It’s a huge step to start dating again, but sometimes it can be discouraging to go on a panoply of first dates, but never a second. Don’t be hard on yourself—this is how online dating works. It tends to be a numbers game. If you’re not out there trying, nothing will ever come of it.

People who are taking control of their life are attractive. By deciding to date again and by using online dating sites to help, you’ve grabbed your own destiny and have decided to steer. Other people around you will start to notice. You become more open to new people entering your life, so don’t be surprised if the person you end up with approaches you at a bar or a party. Dating online doesn’t always lead to a match, but it can boost your confidence to the point where someone in your life may see you in a different way. Online dating helps to take the pressure off and when you’re more relaxed and confident, people can tell. It’s a hell of an aphrodisiac!

5. Have fun!

            It’s not oral surgery. It’s not a funeral. It’s a date. All you need in order to have fun is a good, open attitude. Even if the other person is a drag, I promise there is some fun to be had—it’s just up to you to find it!

Written by Jane Baber, Mediation Assistant

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.


Soothing a Broken Heart Through Desire

February 11, 2014

istockbrokenheart-300x245Day in and day out, I deal with people who are suffering from broken hearts.  It is incredibly sad.  At the same time, however, I view these heartsick, soon-to-be divorcees as people who truly have a second shot at happiness.  The fact is, most people going through a divorce are in unchartered emotional territory when they come into the divorce mediator’s office.

The way I see it, if there was not enough love to hold the marriage together, then that union was, for all intents and purposes, already over.  The final straw (an affair, acting out, complete withdrawal, pushing away, out of control “isms” (e.g. alcoholism, workaholism, etc), and emotional neglect) is often just the catalyst for the ultimate break-up (or complete break-down) that the marriage was headed for, anyway.

So, what can a broken-hearted person do to feel better? The secret lies in DESIRE – the desire of the downhearted person to heal his or her own broken heart.

In order to get over a broken heart, the desire to move through and over that pain must be so large that it actually gobbles up space —  in both your mind and in your daily schedule — that was once otherwise reserved for other thoughts and activities.  That is OK.  If you are committed to moving on with your life, and becoming emotionally secure, you can toss aside some non-essential activities and thoughts that might be getting in the way of your progress.  You will need to pare down distractions for this extremely important journey in your life.

It is too bad that there is not a foolproof, step-by-step guide to getting over a broken heart.  There just isn’t, though, and that is why a commitment to a full-hearted desire to feel better is your best hope for pushing through despair. In other words, the formula for successful emotionally healing does not really matter so much as the desire to heal.  The details will sort themselves out.

I do believe, too, that there is always much to look forward to even after the trauma of divorce – if that is your desire.  For example, most psychologists agree that we all need close, loving relationships in order to be happy.  Loving relationships, they say, create a sense of personal safety that allows us to move from survival mode to a secure place where we are comfortable in exploring our world and building other relationships and experiences.  In other words, loving relationships provide the qualities that make life worth living.  If you were in a dead marriage, congratulations.—you are now free to pursue a loving relationship that fills your heart and makes you believe in love again.  It may take a while, and I’m not suggesting that you speed-date to get there, but the opportunity is out there and may be just what your heart needs (once the fissures and bruises have mended a little J).

It is always a good idea to remember that you cannot change things that have happened to you, but you can chose the way that you feel about them (or at least you can try . . . and that is an excellent start!).  We forget, sometimes, that we have a choice about how we feel.  Ask any happy person how they stay that way and they almost surely tell you that it is a choice that they make every day.  Good advice.

Posted by Robin Graine, JD, Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.


How To Tell Your Children About Divorce

January 28, 2014

Father comforts a sad childThere is no easy way to tell your children about divorce.  At some time, though, most divorcing parents need to have this uncomfortable and heartbreaking conversation.  When preparing to have that talk, experts recommend that you consider the following:

(1) Parents should aim to be together when the children are told about the divorce. 

(2) Children need the truth, but not all of the details.  Answer your children’s questions truthfully, but there is no need to respond with absolute precision or to share the sordid details (if there are any) of your break-up.

(3) Children need to be prepared for how their lives will look – in tangible terms.  Tell them about the schedule.  Tell them about their new room(s). Tell them about their new neighborhood(s).  Talk with them about which one of you will be taking them to their activities, etc.

(4) Do everything you can to make the children feel secure and loved.  More hugs than usual might be needed when you are in the process of separating.  Realize that children don’t always express their feelings, needs, and fears “on schedule”.  Be prepared for spontaneous eruptions of emotion and, at least while the children are in transition, give them your undivided attention when it looks like they are ready to talk.

(5) Assure your children that the divorce is not their fault. Even though this may seem intuitive, lots of children make the mistake of assuming the divorce is their fault.  Sometimes the leap is not drastic, either, if the children have heard and/or seen their parents argue over matters involving them.  As always, fault (of the parents) is irrelevant here in terms of both parents assuring and reassuring their children that the divorce has nothing to do with them or anything they have done or said.

(6) Don’t give your children false hope of a reconciliation.  Many children have a secret (sometimes not so secret) dream that their parents will magically reconcile.  Though giving your children hope that you and you ex will one day get along better (if you are not presently experiencing an amicable separation) is often a good idea, leaving the door open, in terms of hope, that there will be reconciliation can, however, lead to tremendous disappointment and even disillusionment about family, love and security.

(7) Children process information in their own unique way.  Before you sit down to talk with your children about your impending divorce, think about how your particular child hears, absorbs, processes and utilizes information.  Remember: Just because a big expert in the field says that “x” is what your child needs to know, that advice may not work with your particular child.  Be sensitive and try and put yourself in your child’s shoes.

Understand that, no matter the age, children will never forget the moment that they are told that their family, as they know it, has come to an end.  Each child will react differently.  Denial, fear, regression, anger, apathy, and fear of abandonment are normal reactions.  It is these reactions that you will want to be prepared for when you tell your children about the divorce.  Their reactions may be instantaneous or delayed.  Regardless, it is your children’s reactions to the separation and divorce that you will want to be focused on in terms of finding the best ways to alleviate their anxiety and help them settle into their new lives.

Posted by Robin Graine, JD, Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator and Elizabeth Downing Revell, Mediation Assistant

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.

 

SOURCES

http://www.helpguide.org/mental/children_divorce.htm

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-older-dad/201105/mom-and-dad-have-something-tell-you-six-tips-talking-kids-about-divorce

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/natalie-gregg/how-to-tell-your-children_1_b_1792700.html

http://www.babycenter.com/0_how-to-tell-your-child-youre-getting-divorced_3657051.bc

http://kidshealth.org/parent/positive/talk/help_child_divorce.html


Do Infants Fare Well in Shared Custody Arrangements?

December 3, 2013

sleeping-babyA recent national study from researchers at the University of Virginia found that infants who spent at least one night a week apart from their primary caretaker (almost always the mother in cases of parental separation with infants), with the non-primary caretaker, formed less secure attachments to their primary caretaker, compared to babies who had fewer overnights away from their primary caretaker and/or were cared for by their father (in this case) during the daytime, only.

Attachments are defined as an enduring, deep, emotional connection between an infant and caregiver that develops within the child’s first year of life.  According to the researchers, a child’s attachment to the primary caretaker, formed during that critical first year, will serve as the basis for that child’s ability to form healthy attachments and relationships later in life.

The researchers also clarified what most of us instinctively know:  Babies have an innate biological need to be attached to caregivers – their parents being the obvious “first choice”.  When both parents are always there, this attachment is formed, in great part, by simple consistency.  That is why, when parents split up, the baby’s instinctual drive to attach to a consistent caretaker(s) might be best met by facilitating consistent caretaking during infancy. In other words: No overnights with the non-primary custodian when the child is still an infant.  This is certainly not what many fathers argue for in court and mediation when it comes to sharing the care for an infant child.  Parents in the middle of a divorce or custody battle that involves a baby, however, should be aware of the latest research on the effect of split custody arrangements on children – whether they agree or not.

The researchers of this study advocate parenting plans (custody & visitation) “that evolve, where daytime contact with father’s occurs frequently and regularly, and overnights away from the mother’s are minimized in the early years, then are gradually increased, to perhaps become equal in the preschool years.”

The researchers were clear in that either the mother or father could be the primary caregiver, but the point would be that the child ideally would be in the care each night of a loving and attentive caregiver and that there may be something disruptive about an infant spending nights in different homes.  (Of course, the “something disruptive” is hard to put your finger on . . . but it has to do with an infant’s ability to attach – which must be consistent, and is intertwined with the home in which the infant sleeps at night.)

Journal Reference:  Samantha L. Tornello, Robert Emory, Jenna Rowen, Daniel Potter, Bailey Ocker and Yishan Xu. Overnight Custody Arrangements, Attachment, and Adjustment Among Very Young Children. Journal of Marriage and Family, 1 JUL 2013; Volume 75, Issue 4, August 2013

Posted by Robin Graine, JD, Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.


Head of Household Requirements – 2013

November 26, 2013

taxesThere is no getting around the fact that divorce triggers lots of tax questions.  One of most befuddling of those new tax dilemmas for divorcing couples is the availability of the Head of Household filing status.  To clear up some of the mystery, here is some up-to-date information to help you decide what you should be negotiating for in your divorce settlement:

You can only claim Head of Household if:

You are unmarried or considered unmarried (see below under “Terms”) on the last day of the year,

  • You have paid more than half the cost of keeping a home for the year,** and
  • One or more qualifying persons lived with you in the home for more than half the year.

There are two exceptions to the residency requirement for temporary absences and for dependent parents:

Temporary Absences: During the period of temporary absences due to “illness, education, business, vacation, or military service,” the taxpayer and the qualifying person are still considered to be residing in the same household. To count as a temporary absence, “It must be reasonable to assume the absent person will return to the home after the temporary absence.  You must continue to keep up the home during the absence.” (IRS Publication 501)

  • Dependent Parent(s):  A parent can be a qualifying person even if the parent does not reside at the same home as the taxpayer.  The taxpayer must pay more than half the cost of keeping a home that was the main home for parent(s). (IRS Publication 501)

TERMS:

Unmarried: Taxpayer is legally separated (no such thing in Virginia), a decree of divorce/final order of divorce or a decree of separate maintenance has been issued by the court [IRS Code §7703(a)].

Considered Unmarried: A taxpayer may be “considered unmarried” for the purpose of qualifying for Head of Household tax status if:

  • he or she has a child, stepchild or foster-child residing at his/her home for more than half of the year for which he or she is entitled to a deduction (pursuant to IRS Code §151, 152) (even if deduction is given away with IRS Form 8332) [IRS Code §7703(b)(1)]
  • he or she provides for more than half the cost of maintaining a home for him/herself [IRS Code §7703(b)(2)], and
  • he or she is legally married, but has lived in a separate residence from spouse for the last six months of the year (July-December) [IRS Code §7703(b)(3)]

Deductions: A married person who files as Head of Household may choose either the standard deduction or itemized deductions (regardless of which method is used by the other spouse, if still married, which is the opposite of how the IRS does things when spouses file as “married filing separately” (where the two spouse’s choice of standard of itemized deductions must match).   (IRS Publications 501 & 504)

  COMPARISONS:

 Standard Deductions:

Single or Married Filing Separately: $5,950

Married Filing Jointly (or Qualifying Widow with Child): $11,900

Head of Household: $8,700

Tax Basis Comparisons

$30,000 Gross Income

Single 15%      HH 15%

$40,000 Gross Income

Single 25%      HH 15%

$50,000 Gross Income

Single 25%      HH 25%

$60,000 Gross Income

Single 25%      HH 25%

$70,000 Gross Income

Single 25%      HH 25%

$80,000 Gross Income

Single 25%      HH 25%

$90,000 Gross Income

Single 28%      HH 25%

$100,000 Gross Income

Single 28%      HH 25%

$125,000 Gross Income

Single 28%      HH 25%

$150,000 Gross Income

Single 28%      HH 28%

 

Posted by Elizabeth Downing Revell, Mediation Assistant and Robin Graine, JD, Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.


Some Things Never Change

November 19, 2013

changeThinking you can change your partner is a classic pitfall in many marriages. Though you can sometimes learn to deal with the foibles and flaws of your partner, some disagreeable habits and personality traits of your spouse can become too much to take, and you wind up in the divorce mediator or lawyer’s office.  If only your spouse could just change a little . . .

Don’t bet on it! Most psychologists will tell you that it is only in the rarest of circumstances that a person will change because of something you say. Chances are, they’ve already been told by others what their flaws are, and your gentle nagging is unlikely to be sound any different. Often, it’s those preexisting problems that ultimately lead to divorce, when you come to the realization that they aren’t changing.

As individuals, it’s important to remember that we can only control our own actions. We can hope to effect change in others, but it’s no more than a wish or a prayer. This is particularly important to remember when divorce proceedings begin. For ultimate success in a divorce settlement, it pays to be goal-oriented and to divest yourself of any notions of that you can change your partner’s behavior. A person is only going to change if they want to (but that’s what marriage counseling is about, not divorce mediation). Once you are in the mediator’s office or the courthouse, it’s usually too late.

This may sound grim or harsh, but it’s important to understand the reality of human nature so that you can best move forward. Accepting that the only person you can change is yourself will help you move through the divorce mediation and settlement process more efficiently. You can take the time you would have spent obsessing over how your partner needs to change to think, instead, about how you might implement some changes to become a happier, healthier individual in your new single life.

Posted by Jane Baber, Mediation Assistant and Robin Graine, JD, Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.


50/50 Joint Physical Custody: Effect on School Enrollment in Northern Virginia

November 5, 2013

appleFairfax County Public Schools (FCPS)

Parents may register a child to attend a particular FCPS if the student spends the majority of his or her “school nights” with the parent who lives within that particular school district.  (This policy also applies to situations where the child’s custodial care time is split between a parent who lives in Fairfax County and a parent who lives outside of Fairfax County.)

Fairfax County defines “school night” as overnights on Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.   For FCPS to consider that a child spends the “majority of his or her school nights” with a particular parent, that child must spend at least 3 nights with that parent.

If FCPS suspects that they are receiving less than an honest accounting of the custodial care plan for a child enrolled in one of its schools, they are not shy about sending out someone to monitor the comings and goings of the people at the residence in question.  FCPS will sometimes allow a child to stay in a particular FCPS school, even if he or she spends less than 3 school nights per week with the out-of county parent; but, in such a case, they may charge tuition to the parents of that “out of county” student.

FCPS bifurcates parental responsibilities for enrollment and registration: The “enrolling parent” is the parent that lives in Fairfax County and/or resides in the particular school district where the child goes to school/intends to go to school.  The “registering parent” can be either parent.

Prince William County Schools (PWCS)

PWCS does not have a specific rule with regard to school enrollment for a child who resides, part time, outside of  Prince William County or outside of the particular district where the child attends school/intends to attend school.  In order to enroll a child in PWCS, a parent need only show proof of residency.  The county trusts the parents to provide the accurate information to PWCS.  This policy applies to both in-county parents and parents who both reside in Prince William County, but in different school districts.

Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS)

LCPS leaves it up to the parents (if both reside in Loudoun County) to decide upon the preferred district for school enrollment for their child.  When only one parent resides in Loudon County, the LCPS still leaves it up to the parents to decide whether their child will attend a LCPS or a school in the other parent’s county.  The determinative factor for which school is the child’s “home school,” in Loudon, seems to be whichever parent registers the child first.  In other words, if there is a conflict, after a child has been registered, Loudon’s policy is that the child will stay in the school in which he or she is currently enrolled, until the parents reach an alternative agreement (or the court intervenes).

Posted by Elizabeth Revell, Mediation Assistant

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.


Tips for Writing a Child-Centered Parenting Agreement

October 29, 2013

In cases where parents choose to share the custodial care of their children, it can be tricky to map out the best way to split up your children’s time between both parents. The hackneyed “every other weekend” may have worked in the past, but I rarely see this as a desired outcome for my clients in my mediation practice.   We now know so much more about the positive aspects of children having two involved parents – and both parents usually have work obligations outside of the home – that having both parents involved makes the most sense. When deciding how best to share the custodial care of your children, there are a lot of variables that you should take into account before committing to those parenting arrangements in the form of a court enforceable Settlement Agreement.

1. Should you get your child involved?  You know your child better than anyone, so ask yourself, “Are they mature enough to formulate an opinion on this matter?” Sometimes it is good just to let them know they are being heard, even if you ultimately don’t follow their wishes. In your conversation with them, let them know that they are important, but that the parents are going to have the final say in what’s best for them.

2.  Will the arrangement allow for the child to develop strong bonds with both parents? Children who have strong bonds with both parents seem to do better in life; at least in terms of their ability to form strong relationships with other people and, in particular, in their own marriages and romantic endeavors as they grow up. In order to form these parent-child bonds, it is important that children be given adequate time to bond with both parents. Sometimes, this means planning quality time rather than focusing on the quantity. For instance, a 60+ hour a week professional parent may not actually have the time to be a weekday custodial caretaker.  That parent may only see his or her children off to school, but won’t be home until long after they are in bed. Perhaps in this case, it is better to focus on the quality time, ie. Being a “weekend parent” when there is free time to be attentive.  (Note: There is a lot of discussion in mediation about whether a hard working parent’s mom (“grandma”) is a good substitute when that parent is unable to get home from work.  Though this may be good for everyone, it doesn’t meet the goal of “bonding” with a parent and these types of situations must be considered on a case-by-case basis.)

3. Is the arrangement conducive for the child’s learning and growth? If your child is always stressed out because he or she feels bounced around between locations, their ability to absorb both your and the school’s teachings may be adversely affected. It is true that children need structure, the key reason behind writing a Parenting Arrangement in the first place. But stress can be cumulative and take some time to show in your child; that is why it is necessary to be on the lookout for it from the get-go.  Parents who choose to have their children live in two separate homes must be on the alert to whether the stress caused by living in two different homes is balanced by the benefits of having two involved parents in the child’s life.   Sometimes it is; sometimes it is not.

4. What kind of children do you have? This is the type of question that the courts do not have the resources or time to answer. You and your ex-spouse need to ask yourselves these kinds of questions: Do each of your children need to be on precisely the same schedule?  Would a somewhat divergent schedule based on the children’s age, etc. allow for needed one-on-one time with each parent? Is your child organized? A little scattered?  Can he or she handle the back and forth and keep track of his or her homework? Do your kids have a great need for down-time?  Do they roll with things easily?  Does it take them a while to get settled in to do their homework?  Are they anxious?  Carefree?  With whom do they talk about their problems (if either of you)? Do they need a lot of discipline?  Who is the disciplinarian? Is your child more bonded to one his or her parents than the other? Would spending days away from one or the other of you be devastating to them?

It can seem like a lot of work to figure out a good parenting arrangement agreement, because it is. Be aware that it should be a flexible agreement as you monitor your children and their responses. While kids can seem resilient, what happens to them as children will shape them as adults. If they don’t get the chance to bond with one of their parents, it may manifest itself in romantic relationship problems later in life. Moreover, their stress may keep them from growing in school, which is a possible foreshadowing of how well they may do in the job market.

None of this is said to frighten you, but rather to give you some tools to effectively craft a Settlement Agreement with your soon-to-be ex-spouse that is in the best interest of your children. Every family is different in the details, but if you offer your children love, a sense of safety, and emotional support, the odds are in your favor that your children will do just fine.

Written by Jane Baber, Mediation Assistant, and Robin Graine, JD, Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.

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