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

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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.


CHILD CUSTODY: THE 3 GOLDEN RULES

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.


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.) http://www.bgsu.edu/ncfmr/resources/data/family-profiles/eickmeyer-divorce-rate-us-geo-2014-fp-15-18.html

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.” https://www.bgsu.edu/ncfmr.html

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.


The Effects of Parenting By Role Modeling

July 14, 2015

report-card-parents-happyAll parents want to raise, happy, healthy, successful, and altruistic children.  While there are many ways to impact and influence a child’s future, role modeling is one of the far most important factors.  There is a clear link between the effects of role modeling on children’s futures.  Statistics show:

  • Parents with good self-esteem tend to raise children with more secure self-esteem.
  • Parents who succeed in education tend to have children who meet and even surpass their parents’ accomplishments.
  • Children of divorced families are more likely to divorce (Parenting Exchange)

Children’s behavioral habits are shaped by not only being told what is correct, but also by observing correct behavior.  Whether or not a parent realizes it, his or her child is always watching, listening, overhearing, and observing a parent’s actions.  It is easy for parents to throw out don’ts like “don’t drink”, “don’t smoke”, and “don’t lie”; it is harder for parents to practice what they preach.  For example a parent may tell his or her child that smoking is unhealthy and that he should never smoke.  Sure, the child may understand that smoking is unhealthy, but if the child sees a cigarette hidden in his mom’s purse or smells smoke on his dad, the child will wonder how unhealthy can smoking really be, if his parents do it when he is not around?

Parents can work on modeling through his or her own actions by considering how you:

  • Handle stress and frustration
  • Respond to problems
  • Express anger and other emotions
  • Treat other people
  • Deal with competition, responsibilities, loss, mistakes
  • Celebrate special occasions
  • Take care of yourself (what you eat, how much you exercise, balance your commitments) (The Center for Parenting Education)

Looking back on my childhood my parents always were always positive role models.  Despite being the mother of two children, my mother worked my entire childhood.  This did not stop her from getting us involved in sports, clubs, and providing us with a healthy dinner every night. My dad worked just as hard as my mom. I would often wake up in the morning finding that he had already left for work and he would not return until I was getting ready for bed that evening.  From a young age I realized that my parents worked this hard for my brother and I to provide a promising future for the both of us. This made me value my education similar to the way they valued their careers.

My accomplishments reflect the impact my parents had on me. I graduated from Virginia Tech in 3 and a half years, was moved out and living independently from my parents by the age of 22, and now I am headed to law school this August.  My parents not only pushed me verbally to work this hard, they showed me that working hard pays off, as they are both comfortably retired in their 50’s.   I aim to be just as successful, if not more, as my mom and dad.  When I do reach their level of success, I know I will thank them for always being the two most influential role models in my life.

Citations:

http://www.easternflorida.edu/community-resources/child-development-centers/parent-resource-library/documents/parents-powerful-role-models.pdf

http://centerforparentingeducation.org/library-of-articles/focus-parents/role-model-promise-peril/

Written by Jessica Wilds, 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.


Child Custody In a Virgina Divorce: Legal Custody & Physical Custody Defined

June 9, 2015

child custodyWhen discussing various parenting arrangements with clients and prospective clients, I have learned that most people who are in the midst of a divorce/separation, or are contemplating such an event, make similar mistakes when it comes to Virginia “custody terminology”.

Such vocabulary faux pas are hardly indicative of a parent’s heartfelt desire to spend time with his or her child.  However, it is usually helpful to clients when they begin to get a handle on how the Commonwealth of Virginia goes about assigning labels in the context of divorce and co-parenting.  (Co-parenting refers to any situation when two parents are raising a child, in two separate households, whether or not those parents were ever married).

Of course, your mediator or divorce lawyer should certainly be able to figure out what you mean – no matter how you phrase it – when it comes to your desires for your child’s future parenting arrangements.  Not all mediators or divorce lawyers, however, do a good at explaining legal terminology.  The same goes for clients’ ability to absorb and process information in such a stressful and confusing time.

As a result, I have seen plenty of post decree (after divorce) situations where basic misunderstandings of the custody terms in the parties’ Final Order of Divorce (aka Divorce Decree) kept them fighting about their child several years after their separation and divorce.

To help alleviate this unfortunate and rampant misinformation about various custody terms in Virginia child custody cases, here is my “Virginia Custody Dictionary.”

Legal Custody:

Determines which parent has the right to make major decisions concerning their child.  Legal custody has nothing to do with where the child lives.

There are two types of Legal Custody:

    (1) Joint Legal Custody –  

        Major decisions must be agreed to by the parents.

    (2) Sole Legal Custody –

        Major decisions need only be made by the parent who is granted Sole Legal Custody.

  • The term “Legal Custody” is not intuitive to most people and problems often arise, down the road from when the settlement agreement is signed/Court order is entered, over the parents’ often diametrically opposite interpretation of the term “major decisions”.
  • Mediators encourage clients to jointly define the term “major decisions,” as part of the settlement of the custody issues in their particular case, to help save them from possible trouble down the road.
  • On the other hand, divorce lawyers tend not to focus on crafting an agreed client-interpretation of the term “major decisions”. Instead, they leave it up to the Courts to decide, should there be a problem in the future, whether a decision made, or to be made, by a parent is, in fact, “major”.  Ultimately, the Courts do have final decision-making power; but, a meeting of minds between parents is usually enough to end bitter battles before they start.
  • Examples of “Major Decisions” – Those decisions which are generally agreed by divorce lawyers and courts to be “major decisions”:
  1. Which school the child will attend;
  2. Whether the child will be required to undergo an elective medical procedure (e.g. plastic surgery on a scar);
  3. Whether braces will be placed on a child’s teeth for purely cosmetic reasons;
  4. Whether a child will be required to engage in psychotherapy;
  5. Who will be the child’s substitute caretaker necessary for the parents to earn a living (known as “work related childcare”, aka WRCC); and
  6. Choice of sleep-away camps.
  • Examples of “Gray Area Decisions” – Where decisions may or may not be considered “major”:
  1. Which week or two-week long camp a child will attend in the summer (not sleep-away camps);
  2. Which extracurricular activities a child will participate in during that parent’s custodial care time.
  3. Whether a child will participate in a specialized academic program during school hours (remedial or enhanced learning);
  4. Whether a child will participate in various in-school clubs, groups and activities;
  5. Choice of classes (middle school and high school);
  6. Choice of basic disciplinary techniques;
  7. Choice of how much to give a child for allowance/spending money; and
  8. Choice of vacation destinations with children (within reason);
  9. Choice of children’s playmates.

Physical Custody:

Determines where the child will live and the amount of time the child will spend with each parent.

Physical custody pertains to which parent (sometimes both, sometimes only one) has the primary responsibility for the care and control of the child on a given day.

  • Day to day decisions, of a routine nature, are made by the parent with whom the child is being cared for on that day.

 

Sole Physical Custody:

  • In Sole Physical Custody situations, that parent is granted all (or almost all) of the custodial care rights and responsibilities for the child.
  • The other parent is not usually involved in day-in-and-day-out responsibilities that come with raising a child.
  • The other parent is usually permitted “visitation” with his or her child (except in cases where that parent would present a danger to the child);
  • In Virginia, even in cases where one of the parents is granted Sole Physical Custody, the other parent still has the legal right to review the child’s medical and academic records (with exceptions);
  • To add to the confusion, when calculating Virginia Child Support Guideline Obligations, the “regular” calculation is called the “Sole Child Support Calculation”.  This poorly named calculation simply means that the non Primary Custodian cares for the children fewer than 91 days per year,2  even though the caretaking duties may clearly be shared between the parents.
  • Advocating for the denial of a parent to be involved in major decisions concerning his or her child is serious. It generally means that there is something very wrong with one or both of the parents’ ability to care for the child and/or use sound judgment when making decisions concerning the child.
  • In cases where one or both of the parents thinks that a child should have no or very little custodial care time with the other parent, it is often advisable that those parents litigate (hire a divorce attorney) and not mediate their cases.

Shared Physical Custody:

  • In Shared Physical Custody situations, it is presumed that both parents are involved, to a much greater extent than in a “Sole Custody” situation, in the day-in-and-day-out responsibilities that come with raising a child.
  • However, Shared Physical Custody does not, necessarily, mean 50/50.  It does, however, mean that there is a discernible sharing of parental caretaking duties for the child.
  • The term “Shared Physical Custody” is not clearly defined in Virginia law in terms of custody and parenting arrangements.
  • To add to the confusion, when calculating Virginia Child Support Guideline Obligations, there is a special calculation available for situations where a “non-primary custodian” cares for a child 91 or greater days per year.  That calculation is called the “Shared Child Support Calculation.” The Virginia Shared Child Support Calculation is able to accommodate various ratios of caretaking duties (e.g. 50/50 custody, 60/40 custody, etc.).

Primary Physical Custody:

  • The parent who is the “Primary Physical Custodian” is usually the parent who cares for the child greater than 50% of the time.
  • The term “Primary Physical Custodian,” however, is not well-defined in Virginia law.  There are situations where parents have less than a 50/50 custody share (exp. 60/40, 70/30), but where a settlement agreement/Court Order show that the custodial care plan is “Shared Custody” (even though there is, by most standards, a “primary parent”).
  • Some divorce attorneys are concerned that a judge may allow a parent, who is referred to as the “Primary Custodian,” in the settlement agreement/Court Order, to have more potential influence in possible future battles involving the child (e.g., moving away with the child).
  • If a parent is referred to in a settlement agreement/Court Order as the “primary custodian,” a school district may defer to that document when determining which school a child should attend.  (See previous Blog article: https://fairfaxdivorceblog.com/?s=prince+william )

In certain situations, and if there is no tax planning as part of the parties’ settlement, The IRS automatically awards certain child-related tax benefits to the “Custodial Parent”.  The IRS does not use the term “Primary Parent”.  The “Custodial Parent,” in terms of tax law, is the parent who cares for the child greater than 50% of the time during that tax year.  If the settlement agreement/Court Order conflicts with the actual caretaking schedule, this could present a problem if both parents wish to claim the child as their dependent exemption. This is not a problem, however, if parents insure that the settlement agreement/ Court Order matches their actual caretaking activities and if they make sure that tax planning is a part of their settlement (as it should be). (See previous Blog article https://fairfaxdivorceblog.com/?s=tax+custody )

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 and Your ADD/ADHD Child

February 24, 2015

ADHD_classroomIf you are in the midst of a separation or a divorce, and have a child with diagnosed ADD or ADHD, there are things you can do to make the transition easier for him or her.

First, recognize that your child especially needs structure and order to best perform. As you go through your separation or divorce, it may feel like life has been tipped upside-down to your child. They may be spending time in two households, instead of one. Their daily routine may be interrupted and changed. It may feel harder for them to know what their schedule is on any given day.

Because of this, separating parents should be actively focused on effective co-parenting. Make and enforce similar schedules, so that your child has consistency. Psychologist Judith Glasser, Ph.D., suggests imposing similar bedtimes and amount of screen time allowed.[1] Consider setting up a shared Google Calendar account, so that your child’s schedule will be in one centralized location.

Second, be mindful of the amount of conflict your child is exposed to. While this is good general advice during a divorce, conflict is especially disruptive to a child with ADD/ADHD. This kind of disruption can actually exacerbate the symptoms of their condition.

Psychiatrist Mark Banschick, M.D., describes this in his article for PsychologyToday.com. “Children with ADHD have trouble regulating their emotional responses and the turmoil of a divorce may lead to volatility.”[2] That means your child, whose symptoms were otherwise being managed effectively, may now be acting out more than ever. A good way to mitigate the effects is by considering mediation over litigation. Studies have pointed to the idea that divorce mediation reduces conflict, while litigation increases it.[3]

Third, recognize that your attention may be diverted at times by your divorce, and you will need help. Reach out at the beginning of the process instead of waiting until you feel you’re underwater and you don’t have time to help your child manage his or her ADD/ADHD. This may mean more than just asking friends and family for help. Consider speaking to parenting or family counselors who can help you with your child’s specific needs.

And finally, keep your child’s special needs in mind when drafting your financial agreement. Again, Judith Glasser: “The cost of specialized services for children with ADHD should be considered as parents make decisions concerning child support and spousal support. Children with ADHD may need specialized services such as psychiatric care, individual, group and family psychotherapy, tutoring, coaching and private school. These are expensive and need to be considered in the financial agreement.”

These are good general guidelines for helping your child with ADD/ADHD cope with your divorce. However, every family is different. It is up to you to be proactive and find the help that is right for your situation.

Posted 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.

[1] http://www.childandfamilymentalhealth.com/adhd/adhd-and-divorce/

[2] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-intelligent-divorce/201304/adhd10-helpful-tips

[3] Robert Emery, Ph.D. The Truth About Children and Divorce, 2006


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