Parenting Plans for Preschoolers

July 10, 2017

Parenting Plans for Preschoolers

When faced with determining parenting plans (aka custody arrangements) for preschool aged children, most courts will use the “best interest of the child standard.” This standard is most often determined based on the environment which will best provide healthy opportunities for the child’s physical, psychological, and emotional development. In most states, there are several determining factors laid out with room for individual interpretation by judges.

According to leading human development specialists and child psychologists, the four most important factors for determining this best interest standard are:

(1) parent-child attachment,
(2) sleeping arrangements,
(3) maintaining relationships, and
(4) parental cooperation.

Best Interest Factor #1: Parent-Child Attachment.
Key factors for consideration are:

  • The relationship between the child and the caregivers
  • The critical components to child development – emotional availability, commitment, protection, organized structure, responsiveness to needs, teaching, appropriate play, and discipline
  • Provision of a safe and responsive emotional environment (i.e. caregiver helps to comfort children in responses to emotionally charged situations)
  • The bond between the child and the caregiver
  • Ability of the caregiver to properly act as a primary caregiver

Best Interest Factor #2 – Sleeping Arrangements
This factor requires a balance between the sleeping arrangements between the caregiver and the child with the development of the child as an independent person. Many experts agree that:

  • Allowing a child to sleep in a parent’s bed on a short-term basis, for emotional comfort, is not necessarily harmful
    • Permanent changes to a child’s sleeping arrangement, however, may foster developmental regression
    • Sleeping alone is a developmental achievement for children that fosters a sense of independence, autonomy, and competence
  • Regular overnight visits have been associated with better adjustment throughout divorce by toddlers and young children (Pruett, Insabella & Gustafson, 2005)
  • Parents involved pre-divorce who are denied overnight access post-divorce are prevented from establishing a stronger and deeper relationship with their children

Best Interest Factor #3 – Maintaining Relationships
This factor is a complicated determinant because it weights the potential social and development concerns for the child throughout the divorce process.

  • Children have a higher risk of losing significant relationships with friends, family members, and the non-primary parent after the divorce
  • Restricted visitation times, geographical constraints after moving, new parental relationships, and remarriage contribute to a diminished relationship between children and their non-primary parent

Best Interset Factor #4 – Parental Cooperation

  • Parents need to support the other’s parental role and not undermine the former spouse’s authority with the children
  • Parents must not expose the children to parental fighting or embroil them in conflicts
  • Parents must not make children choose between the mother or father, but should encourage them to be close with both parents
  • Parents should encourage others to take a neutral stance regarding the divorce, including grandparents, teachers, and other significant adults
    • Children need to be able to receive support from people with neutral standpoints in order to not take sides or place blame on an individual parent
  • It is necessary to weigh the importance of keeping both parents involved in the child’s life against the detrimental effects of exposing children to parental conflict

Preschool aged children are in one of the most significant developmental periods of their lives. They are learning how to be independent, while also developing relationships with adults, peers, social groups, and family members. It is crucial to think of the most important, if not all, of the determining factors when considering how these children’s parenting plans should be arranged. Without proper consideration for the child(ren)’s needs, they may fail to reach certain developmental milestones, or develop unhealthy relationships with their parents and peers . . . and you do not get a do-over with your kids.

By Lyndsea Seril, Human Development Specialist and
Steven Seril, Mediation, Marketing & Research Assistant


Helping Children Through Divorce

April 11, 2017

For people who are not going through the trauma of divorce, keeping children outside of the fray seems easy. But, when you are in the middle of your own family splitting apart, you can sometimes say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing before you can stop yourself – even when it negatively effects your children.

Below are 15 points to keep in mind so that your children are spared, as much of possible, the feeling that they are stuck in the middle of an emotional hurricane:

  1. Put your children’s welfare first. Never use your children as a weapon against your spouse.
  2. Be sure your children have ample time with the other parent. They need it.
  3. Don’t introduce your children to your new romantic partner until the children have adjusted to your separation and your new relationship is stable.
  4. Don’t bring your children to court or to your lawyer’s office.
  5. Keep to the schedule. Give the other parent and the children as much notice as you can when you will not be able to keep to the schedule.
  6. Be considerate. Be flexible. You may both need to adjust the schedule from time to time.
  7. Giving of yourself is more important than giving material things. Your children need your consistent love and attention.
  8. Do not use your children as spies to report to you about the other parent.
  9. Do not use the children as couriers to deliver messages, money or information.
  10. Try to agree on decisions about the children, especially matters of discipline, so that one parent is not undermining the other parent’s efforts.
  11. Avoid arguments or confrontations while dropping off or picking up the children and at other times when your children are present.
  12. Don’t listen in on your children’s phone calls with the other parent.
  13. Maintain your composure. Try to keep a sense of humor. Remember that your children’s behavior is affected by your attitude and conduct.
  14. Assure your children they are not to blame for the breakup, and are not being rejected or abandoned by either parent.
  15. Don’t criticize the other parent in front of your children. Your children need to love and respect both parents in order to love and respect themselves.

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.


April 4, 2017

1. Bonding. You need a custodial care schedule that provides enough time for your child to develop and maintain a strong bond with both parents. Strong bonds are the best assurance that your child will have the skills necessary to develop strong relationships with other people throughout his or her life.

2. Influence & Teaching. You need a custodial care schedule that provides enough time for both parents to:

  • have an influence on their child;
  • teach their child lessons important for everyday living and for life’s larger aspects; and
  • to role model what that parent feels is important for a “life worth living”.

3. Joy & Security. You need a custodial care schedule that provides enough time for the child to feel the joy and security of being an integral part of both his or her parents’ lives.

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.

Resiliency: 8 Ways to Bounce Back After Divorce

March 28, 2017

“Resiliency is a quality in objects to hold or recover their shape, or in people to stay intact. This is a kind of strength.” (definition from

The concept of resiliency has been trending in the pervasive “how to be happy” media genre. I find the concept of resiliency to be particularly important when attempting to bounce back after the trauma of divorce. If you want to be happy after your divorce or break-up, you will need to sharpen up your resiliency skills.

The key to resiliency is to not let failure overcome your life. Resilient people have the ability to fail, time and time again, and still manage to succeed and recover from the setbacks. In a divorce, being resilient allows you to more readily heal from the sadness, trauma, guilt, fear and having the rug yanked out from under your life.

If you don’t have a naturally resilient personality, don’t worry. Your resilient self is there. It is in your DNA. Sometimes, though, that part of our genetic make-up gets a little dusty and we need to clean it off. This can be done by anyone who truly wants to feel good and get on with living a happy life (assuming you do not have a diagnoses that disallows happiness or self-satisfaction).

Finding resilience in yourself is a matter of developing behaviors, thoughts and actions that support resiliency. It requires changing some of you habits. But, how will you find the energy to change your habits and become resilient after a divorce? Because now your changes will be for you. You are in charge. Everything you do to build up your resiliency will be to become a happier person. What have you got to lose?

8 Factors that build resiliency and reduce the time that it takes to bounce back after divorce include:

  • Optimism

Your marriage could not have been good, or you wouldn’t be getting divorced (whether or not it was your idea). Freeing yourself from a bad marriage is liberating and opens doors. Start planning for a bright future.

  • Positive Attitude

There are often silver linings to divorce. For example, divorce can enable to you be more authentic in your personality and in how you parent your children.

  • Smile and Laugh

Don’t be afraid to have a good time. Encourage your mind, body and soul to feel joy. Smiling (with teeth!) is a good idea whether you feel it or not – you will do better socially and you will feel better, too. This is natural “medicine” with no side effects.

  • Be Flexible

Training yourself to be resilient will require a flexible persona. If you are not a fan of change, you will need practice at gently pushing yourself to accept new situations as simply “different, not bad”. Accept that change is part of life and that, often times, you have very little or no control over the biggest changes that occur in your life.

  • View Failure as a form of Helpful Feedback

Learning from mistakes gives people a sense of control and makes stressful situations seem less threatening. Take ownership and learn from your role in the break-up (both parties always have some level of responsiblity). Your new relationships will be stronger and healthier as a result.

  • Be Confident.

Be sure to nurture a positive view of yourself. Trust your instincts. Solve problems. Set small goals so you can feel personal progress.

  • Be Involved. Be Social.

If you have family or close friends, accept their help and support. If you don’t, now is the time to join an organization where you can help others. Civic groups, faith-based organizations and other local groups provide both social support and opportunities to help others. Helping others provides relief from own problems and gives you helpful perspective.

  • Be Strong.

Literally. Get your exercise. It’s hard to be resilient when you are a physical wreck. If you are not fit now, use your divorce as a jumping off point to get healthy. Also, exercise will give your mind a break from your issues, give you confidence and nurture creative thinking.

  • Motivation

If you were not motivated to change bad habits while you were married, your divorce or break-up may be just the catalyst you need to make important changes that stick. And remember, your children are watching everything that you do. The more motivated you are to heal yourself, the more chance your children will have of being resilient themselves.


By Erin Brockman, Mediation, Marketing & Research Assistant &
Robin Graine, JD, CDFA

Age Appropriate Child Custody Arrangements

March 21, 2017

Age Appropriate Child Custody ArrangementsWhen it comes to setting a custodial care plan for children of divorcing parents, there is no end to controversy with regard to what is best. Decision-makers, influencers, researchers and clinicians differ a great deal when it comes recommending the ideal parenting arrangements in a divorce situation.

What all experts do agree on, however, is that children do best when their parents get along well and the children feel that they are being parented together by both mom and dad, as a team.

This handout is not intended to be fully comprehensive, nor is it intended to pre-determine what is best for your child or children. It is, however, a compilation of recent research and conclusions that I have read and heard time and again over the many years that I have been in the family law and mediation field.

Please know, however, that these findings are not necessarily representative of what is going on in the courts. Instead, these findings are more representative of what neuroscientists, human development experts and psychologists are finding to be true about the effect of various parenting arrangements on children of divorce.

When establishing a custodial care plan for your child, it is important to customize a plan that best fits your child’s present needs, bolsters his or her sense of security, as well as helps in the development of the relationship skills for now and the future.

When crafting your parenting arrangements, many clinicians will tell you that children do not count days or hours. They count quality of time. Bickering over make-up time and ensuring a quantifiable 50/50 split, for example, does little to assist your child in becoming a happy, emotionally healthy and balanced human being. They will remember the squabbling; not the number of days missed with Mom or Dad.

They count on whether or not they feel that their parents are always be there for them, without fighting and harsh words to each other, and whether their home life feels somewhat “normal” in relationship to their friends and neighbors.

Infants & Toddlers (0 -2.5 Years):

Infancy is a time for building attachments. Without strong attachments, a child will grow up to have difficulty bonding with and forming relationships with other people. Another primary developmental task for infants is to form trust in the environment, which requires consistency in both the caretaker and the baby’s home.

  • Only about a quarter of an infant’s brain is developed at birth. The actual structure of a baby’s brain is formed in large part as a result of his/her human relationships.
  • Many experts believe that there should be a primary caretaker. This is because infants and toddlers cannot maintain the image of their primary caretaker for long and this can cause extreme stress and confusion to a baby or toddler, who may already have outside caretakers in his or her life (such as daycare, nannies).
  • Many experts believe that the mother is the best choice for the role of primary caretaker. This has to do with the theory that a mother’s brain is better wired to help an infant develop his/her ability to regulate and cope. This is related to the fact that an infant’s right brain (which reacts to deep primitive feelings) is more developed at birth than the left (thinking) side. In other words, many experts believe that mothers have a better innate capacity to” tune in” to infants than do fathers. This comes from new neuroscientific research and is not necessarily accepted by other disciplines or the courts.
  • It is essential that babies and toddlers have frequent time with the noncustodial parent in order for them to bond with that parent—which will be essential when that baby grows into a preschooler. 

Preschoolers (2.5 – 5 Years):

This is a time of continued growth and individuality. This is typically the age where time away from the primary caretaker should increase, and overnights with the noncustodial parent are recommended to become more frequent and regularized (if the child is being raised in a primary-caretaker style).

Some parents begin 50/50 custody at this age. This type of arrangement needs to be carefully considered in terms of the child’s personality, how well the parents get along and how close the parents live to one another.

  • As preschool-aged children start becoming more and more curious about their physical world, many experts believe that lots of time with their fathers is essential to help their preschoolers explore, take risks and investigate their body’s relationship to their environment
  • Preschoolers’ have much greater development of the left side of their brain than do infants and toddlers. This makes it easier for fathers to “tune in” to their children. Fathers and toddlers, some believe, are “wired” to be together and this is the time when the lack of a father can be hard on children in terms of meeting their development needs.

Children (6-8):
This period of development is focused on peer and community relationships. It is important during this stage of development for the noncustodial parent (if that is the parenting arrangements) to be part of the activities that his or her children are involved in. At this stage, children thrive on consistent contact with friends, school, and extra-curricular activities.

  • In non 50/50 custody arrangements, many experts believe that the parenting plans should include multiple overnight visits per-week with the noncustodial parent.
  • However, if a child is distressed by being away from the other parent, it is recommended that the time away should be decreased to a tolerable level, at least for a period of time.
  • If a child tolerates the stress of living in two homes, however, this can be best in terms of his or her opportunity to form strong bonds with both parents.
  • Time spent in your child’s “orbit” is important. Children at this age are watching everything you do. More often than not, children learn more by being around you and seeing how you handle life than they do from what you try and teach them directly.

Pre-Teens (9-12):

During these years, children develop their academic, athletic, and artistic skills. The noncustodial parent (if that is the parents’ arrangement) is advised to schedule time with their child, as much as possible, within the orbit of the child’s home base. In 50/50 custody situations, children still tend to have a “home base” — in terms of schools, activities, friends and where they feel most “at home” — and the other parent will need to develop a comfort level with spending time where the child has built his or her world.

  • Parent-child time needs to allow for the pre-teen’s social life, academics, sports and other extracurricular activities.
  • Parents often find themselves more of a “chauffeur” than a parent at this stage of their child’s life; but driving your children to their various activities is often a good time to talk and share. Volunteer for carpools – you will learn a lot about your children’s friends this way and also get to know the other parents in your children’s circle.
  • It is important for both parents to maintain a strong role in their pre-teen’s life. This fosters a healthy and lasting relationship with both parents. Strong parental bonds are key to a child’s ability to form relationships with others, both now and throughout their lives.

Teenagers (13-18):

This period marks the beginning of psychological emancipation as children rapidly begin establishing their personal identify. Though parents are usually settled into a routine of care for their child at this age, that may change as these teenage children seek to have input into their parenting arrangements. The priorities for these young people are their social lives, academics, and their extracurricular activities. Spending quality time with Mom or Dad is not on their minds, like it may be for their parents. The pressure of having to make space in their busy lives for “quality time” with two parents, in two separate homes, may be a source of irritation and resentment for your busy teenager. Creativity is key at this time in order to stay in tune with your child, while at the same time respecting his or her need to grow-up.

  • The custodial care schedule will need to be flexible in order to work with the teenager’s complex schedule.
  • It is important to consider the teenager’s need for his or her own agenda, as this is a part of maturing and establishing independence.
  • It is important to stay involved in the teenager’s activities such as academics, sports, arts, etc. This is important in order to maintain a healthy relationship with your teenager, show that you care, and know the people who your child is spending time with.

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.

Signs Your Marriage is in Big Trouble

March 16, 2017

Through my divorce mediation practice, I have witnessed many things that signal big trouble or the end of a marriage, other than the typical affair. When you work with married couples every day, you see the same disturbed relationship and communication patterns over and over again. Marriages die on the vine as a result.


Here are some of the key signs of a marriage on its way out:


  • When you no longer truly care whether or not you’re making your spouse happy. When we get married, most of us find great joy in making our significant other happy. In fact, it’s generally one of our primary goals. When that desire is no longer there, most likely, neither is the love that brought you together.


  • Complete exhaustion dealing with your spouse when your relationships with other people seems so easy. Do you find that even the thought of having a conversation with your spouse is exhausting? Sure, you dealt with 15 issues at work today with no problem. But, the thought of discussing who will run to the grocery store with your spouse seems daunting.


  • Feeling anxiety or impending doom when you’re headed home from work to see your spouse. After a long, stressful day at work you just want to go home and seek reprieve. However, instead of looking forward to being comforted by your spouse’s embrace, the thought of that actually increases your anxiety and you dread dealing with them both physically and emotionally.


  • Dread going to social events with your spouse. Your close friend or relative is getting married and as much as you’re looking forward to the blessed event, you are dreading having to go and spend hours of time looking “happy” with your spouse. You’d rather go alone or stay home than put up a front.


  • Finding excuses to stay away from home when you know your spouse will be there. When you know your spouse is at home, you suddenly come up with numerous errands to run and things you need to do that are anywhere but….home.


  • Simple communication becomes nearly impossible. Communication is key in any relationship. Chances are you didn’t make it to the alter if you didn’t have some semblance of decent communication with your spouse. However, you are now at a point where the two of you can’t say “good morning” without getting into a fight. Maybe you are feeling stonewalled, shut down, and not given the opportunity to express your view. Maybe one of you is using angry words that instantly puts the other on the defense. There are innumerable communication pits people can fall into. But, if you find yourself in one and don’t do anything about it to get back on track, it can be the beginning of the end.


  • You come at issues from opposing sides instead of working as a team. Working as a team is essential in a marriage. That’s one of the main reasons to get married; to “do life” with a partner. At some point in the marriage, a couple may find themselves pitted against each other and coming at what were once mutual goals, from opposing sides. They may be viewing the other as a competitor instead of a partner.


  • Irretrievable resentment towards your spouse. Resentment is something that grows over time. It grows slowly, but once it’s established, it is very difficult to eradicate. It’s so important to communicate to your spouse things you are having an issue with before it gets to this point. Additionally, once negative, resentful things are said to your spouse, it is almost impossible for him or her to erase those hurtful things from their mind, causing even more resentment.


By Erin J. Koffman, Attorney & Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator

What to Expect in Divorce Mediation

March 7, 2017

When shopping for a good mediator, here is what you should be looking for. Mediators who settle cases efficiently and fairly do the following:

  1. Key Issues. Help you figure out what the real issues are and focus in on these matters.
  2. Goals. Help you formulate your goals and keep you on track towards reaching these goals.
  3. Fair Process. Ensure that the settlement process is fair for both parties by evening-up the playing field in terms of power and knowledge.
  4. Documents and Information. Assist in formulating a list of necessary documents and information so that you do not get overwhelmed at this emotionally difficult time.
  5. Sorting and Categorizing. Assist in the efficient sorting and categorizing of key facts, laying out the family financial picture, determining which issues are emotional/personal versus matters which can actually be settled in mediation, and determining which battles are worth fighting.
  6. Education. Educating and informing you with regard to relevant legal, financial, tax and child-related matters.
  7. Negotiation Techniques. Use of time-tested negotiation facilitation techniques (e.g. neutralizing language, focus of needs versus strategy, ensure key information is understood, focus on problem solving versus punishment).
  8. Property Settlement Agreement. Provide excellent skills in writing up your Property Settlement Agreement. This is the court-ready document that sets forth your entire divorce settlement agreement. An experienced lawyer-mediator is usually best when it comes to writing up such a document.

By Erin Brockman, Mediation, Research & Marketing Assistant
Robin Graine, JD, CDFA

Child Tax Exemptions, Deductions & Divorce

February 28, 2017


Q: What is a dependent exemption?

  • As applied to your child, the dependent exemption is an amount of money that you are permitted to subtract from your adjusted gross income. The dependent exemption reduces the amount of income on which you will be taxed (in effect, an exemption operates the same as a deduction).
  • In 2016, the dependent exemption is $4,050 per child. The right to claim exemptions, however, phases out at higher income levels. In 2016, the phase-out begins at $259,400 for single parents and $285,380 for single parents who claim head of household status.

Q: How is the right to claim a child’s dependent exemption determined in a divorce situation?

  • Only one parent may claim a dependent child on his or her tax return in any given year. The parent who claims that child as his or her dependent is also the parent who claims that child’s dependent exemption.
  • According to the IRS, the default parent, in terms of claiming the dependent exemption for a child in a divorce situation, is the one with whom the child lives for greater than 50% of the time during that tax year. (Note: The IRS refers to the parent with whom their child lives for greater than 50% of the year as the “custodial parent.”)
  • In 50%/50% custody situations, the default parent is the parent with the higher adjusted gross income.


Q: Can the non-custodial parent ever claim a child’s dependent exemption on his or her tax return?

  • If the divorcing parents agree that the child’s dependent exemption may be claimed by the non-custodial parent, the IRS will allow this.
  • Such an agreement should be clearly stated in the parents’ Property Settlement Agreement (PSA) and Final Order of Divorce/Divorce Decree.
  • The custodial parent will need to complete and sign IRS Form 8332 each and every year that the non-custodial parent is permitted (by the PSA) to claim that child’s dependent exemption. The non-custodial parent must attach this form to his or her tax return every year that he or she claims that child’s dependent exemption.
  • Parents also have the option of alternating their child’s dependency exemption on an every-other-year basis, or as they otherwise agree.


Q: Are there other tax benefits that are attached to the child’s dependent exemption?

  • The parent who claims the child’s dependent exemption is also the parent who is eligible for the child tax credit (if applicable, depending on the parent’s income).
  • The parent who claims the child’s dependent exemption is also the parent eligible to claim that child’s educational tax credits, also known as college credits and, as of 2015 the American Opportunity Credit (if applicable, depending on the parent’s income and other factors)


Q: Are there tax benefits that remain with the custodial parent (despite the non-custodial parent claiming that child’s dependent exemption)?

  • The custodial parent remains the only parent eligible to claim the earned income tax credit.
  • Also, only the custodial parent (not necessarily the parent who claims that child’s dependent exemption) is eligible to claim the child and dependent care tax credit (also known as the day care credit).
  • Note: The same rules apply if a parent is eligible, through his or her place of employment, for a Flexible Spending Account (FSA).
  • If the parents share the child’s custody 50%/50%, the IRS defaults to the parent with the higher adjusted gross income, i.e., the parent with the higher adjusted gross income is treated as if he or she is the “custodial parent.”
  • In 50%/50% custody situations, parents often negotiate which one will have the custodial parent benefits for income tax purposes (as opposed to letting the IRS default dictate the outcome).
    • This is custom, but not specifically addressed by the IRS.
    • The IRS reasoning: There are 365 days in a year (an odd number). Therefore, a true 50%/50% custody share is impossible.
    • NOTE: Only one parent may claim the earned income tax credit and the child and dependent care tax credit.


Q: Which parent is eligible to file as Head of Household?

  • A parent who is single and has a dependent child living in his or her home may be eligible to file taxes as “head of household.
  • Only the custodial parent – the parent who cares for the child greater than 50% of the time – is eligible to file his or her taxes as head of household.
  • Unlike the dependent child exemption, the right to file as head of household is not exchangeable between parents.
  • The head of household tax status, versus filing as “single,” often lowers your tax bill (but phases out at higher income levels).
    • Head of household status often lowers your tax rate, thereby lowering your tax bill. .
    • If you claim the standard deduction (versus itemizing your deductions), that number will be higher, thereby lowering your tax bill.
  • The specific criteria follows:
  • Your spouse did not live in your home for the last 6 months of the year for which the taxes are filed (this applies to parents who are separated, but not yet divorced).
  • You will not be filing a joint return with your spouse (this applies to parents who are separated, but not yet divorced).
  • You paid over half the cost of maintaining your home for that tax year.
  • Your child lived in your home over half the year, i.e., you are the “custodial parent” (even if the other parent claims that child’s dependency exemption).
  • Your child is considered a “qualifying child”, meaning he or she has not turned 19 by the end of the tax year (if not a full-time student), or is younger than 24 at the end of the tax year (if a full-time student for at least 5 months during the tax year), or is permanently disabled.
  • In 50%/50% custody situations, parents often negotiate which one will have the right to file as head of household (as opposed to letting the IRS default – that only the custodial parent is permitted to file as head of household – dictate the outcome).
    • This is custom, but not specifically addressed by the IRS.
    • The IRS reasoning: There are 365 days in a year (an odd number). Therefore, a true 50%/50% custody share is impossible.
    • NOTE: Only one parent may file as head of household (as it related to a child).
    • With more than one child, in a 50%/50% custody situation, parents sometimes each care for a child greater than 50% of the time and, as a result, each parent is potentially eligible to file their taxes as head of household.


Q: At what age is a child no longer considered a “dependent”

  • To qualify as a dependent, your child must be under the age of 19 on December 31 of the tax year in question.
  • However, if your child is a full-time student (as defined by his or her school), he or she may be your dependent for income tax purposes as long as he or she is under the age of 24 on December 31 of the tax year in question.
  • If your child is permanently and totally disabled, there is no age limit.

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.

Valentine’s Day Special: 6 Tips for Dating After Divorce

February 9, 2016


Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, so I’ve prepared a post-divorce dating survival cheat sheet for you. Here are 6 tips to keep in mind while dipping your toe back in that pond.

  1. Pay attention to everything your date says.  Most dates will expose their “skeletons” by at least the third date.  If you’re falling for that new guy or gal, though, the tendency is to not hear what your date is telling you.  Don’t let this happen. If you spot a red flag – a very difficult personality, a messed-up family life, an inability to hold a job, or another scary situation, do not ignore!  Once, I went over to a date’s house (after we had a few dates and I felt safe) after dinner and noticed that he still had family pictures up in the common areas of his house.  Nice, right?  But, every image of his wife had black tape over her face!  Imagine his little kids having to look at that picture of Mommy with tape over her face every time they spent time at Daddy’s house.  It was creepy – and alarming.  Goodbye, masked man.
  2. Be yourself.  If you’re not being true to yourself, you’ll probably not be able to do a very job at “scrutinizing” your date, either.  It’s a lot of work to pretend to be someone you are not . . . even a little bit.  Your intuition will be sharpest when you are relaxed.
  3. Go with your gut.  If you think your date is jerk, or a narcissist, or a phony, or whatever else you might not like, you are probably right.  Don’t make excuses for your date’s behavior or tasteless conversational choices.  Move on. 
  4. Leave your rescuing persona at home.  If you are the type of super-empathetic person – perhaps a true caretaker by heart — who tends to rescue others in need, you do not want to date until you put your own boundaries firmly in place.  People who have been through a divorce need nurturance; not more trouble.  Know your boundaries and keep them firmly in place. 
  5. Be ready for rejection.  If you can’t deal with rejection – or even mild criticism — , stick with going out to dinner with trusted friends.  Dating takes thick skin . . . and it might take a good, long while after your divorce to have the emotional fortitude to deal with the rough-and-tumble of dating.
  6. Chemistry is Key.  Attraction is either there or not.  There was one sweet man I went to dinner with who was smart, open-minded, a good conversationalist and well-liked by friends and colleagues.  But, when it was time for a goodnight kiss, I struggled.  I actually felt grossed out!  Let’s be honest.  You can’t fake romantic attraction and, even if you tried to just to have the company of another, it would most surely end in disaster for one or both of you.  I moved on . . . and you should, too.

And don’t forget to have fun!


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.

Divorce Rates at Lowest Level; but So Are Marriages

December 8, 2015

Though it may seem that everyone you know is getting a divorce, the divorce rate has actually declined by 23% since 1970!scissors

This is according to a new report published by the National Center for Family and Marriage Research Family Profile (NCFMR), Divorce Rate in the U.S.: Geographic Variation, 2014 (FP-15-18), issued by Bowling Green State University in Ohio. After peaking in 1979 (22.8 divorces per 1,000 married women), the divorce rate declined until 2000 when it began to rise again. The divorce rate fluctuated between 2005 and 2010, but since 2010, it dropped steadily. In 2014, 17.6 women divorced per 1,000 married women – a 23% drop since 1970. (Data is based on statistics from 1970-2000, National Center for Health Statistics; 2008-2014, U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 1-yr est.)

Married couples do not get along better than they used to . . . couples simply skip the marriage step and head right to parenthood.

If there is no marriage, of course, there does not need to be a divorce. When asked about the declining divorce rate, Wendy D. Manning, co-director of the NCFMR, clarified that “I think it is important to consider that the marriage rate is also declining so there are fewer men and women marrying.”

However, just because a mom and dad do not get married, does not mean that they do not have a relationship, live together, parent together and, from the child’s perspective, enjoy a family life together just like their married counterparts.

“Living together” can have devastating financial consequences to families when mom and dad break up.

From my perspective as a family mediator, parental break-ups – without the “benefit” of divorce —  mean that the children born of those relationships will suffer through the same repercussions as do children whose divorcing parents were married – but without many of the financial protections that are built into the divorce process.  

Often times, parents have spent many years building a life together.  However, unless they are married, there will be very little financial protection for the economic life that they built as a couple.  If both parents are working and make a good living, this is not always the end of the world. But, in those cases where the mom or dad is a stay-at-home parent, such a break-up can be financially devastating to that parent and child.

What is stopping couples from getting married today?

From everything that I have seen over the 14 years that I have worked with countless families in my practice as a divorce mediator, divorce lawyer and family court hearing officer, unless both parties have at least a bachelor’s degree and some money in the bank—or at least access to money—couples are often choosing to not get married in the first place. The traditional “family order” is being reversed at an increasing rate: Kids are being born first; mom and dad may or may not decide to get married in the future; and mom and dad may or may not live together, without tying the knot.  This has become the norm.

Top 3 Reasons Couples Hold Off the Wedding Plans:

  1. Couples are waiting to have enough money in the bank to have their “dream ceremony.”
  2. Couples are waiting until at least one of them has his or her career on track.
  3. Couples have lived through their own parents’ awful divorce—and it scared them to death.

Are miserable married couples staying together in greater numbers than they used to?

Though the statistics are not completely clear, it seems that couples are trying harder to stay together.  In my mediation practice, the vast majority of clients have done of everything in their power to stay together before they make the decision to divorce.

Top 3 Reasons Couples Avoid Divorce:

  1. These days, many married people have already been through a divorce – their parents’ divorce. They do not want to repeat the pain.
  2. Married couples with children (as opposed to parents who are not married) tend have higher levels of education, higher incomes, are older when they have children, and might just be better prepared to weather the storms of marriage and kids.
  3. Divorce is very expensive.

It is not only expensive to get divorced, but it is incredibly costly to maintain two independent households on less money than the couple originally had when they were maintaining only one.   Most couples know this and, for the most part, would rather see their hard earned money and savings be used for their children and building a new life for themselves, rather than disappearing into the pockets of their divorce lawyers.

If divorce is impossible to avoid, settling with a mediator is a much less expensive and emotionally damaging experience than litigating with a divorce lawyer.  Mediation is also an excellent settlement choice for unmarried parents who are working on custody and child support issues.  

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.

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