How Divorce Affects Adolescent Children

November 18, 2014

Getting divorced is difficult. Getting divorced when you have teenagers… Well, it can feel impossible. Luckily, a lot of very smart people have said a lot of incredibly useful things to help you navigate these tricky situations. A must-read is by Carl Pickhardt, a psychologist and writer, entitled “Surviving Your (Child’s) Adolescence.”unhappy teen

He starts by describing the difference between the way a child who is under 9-years-old and a child who is 9 or older reacts to the divorce of their parents. While the younger child will tend to cling and show anxiety, the older child begins manifesting signs of independence and pulling away. Since it is already typical for an adolescent to test their independence, this confluence can be destructive, rather than developmentally beneficial for the child.

Pickhardt runs down the ways in which a divorce can affect the adolescent. They can put off committing to their own relationships, or keep things overly casual, in order to forego the same pain they saw in their parents’ relationship. It can make them uncertain about their own feelings toward a romantic partner, if their new frame of reference becomes, “Well, I thought my parents loved each other, but now I’m not sure.”

To avoid these mires and pitfalls, Pickhardt suggests what he calls “The Ten Articles of Consideration;” a list of ways that parents can interact positively with their adolescent children and assure them of their continued love, devotion, and foster trust. I highly recommend you check it out for yourself, especially if these problems sound all too familiar. As always, Fairfax Divorce Blog will be here to continue giving our own advice and pointing out helpful articles whenever we find them!

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.

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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.


Single Parent Dilemma: When To Introduce Your Children To Your New Boyfriend/Girlfriend

January 14, 2014

So you’ve decided to start dating again . . .

shutterstock_59758651_666_838_kids-difficulties-when-u-date-after-divorce

That idea, in and of itself, can make some people wild with anxiety.  Add to that the decision of when and how to introduce your children to your new love, and you have a lot on your plate to deal with.

Surprisingly, there is almost universal agreement by psychologists, social workers, and other experts who work with divorcing families, that you should not introduce your children to your new boyfriend/girlfriend until you have been in a committed long-term relationship for a minimum of 6 months to 1 year. Of course, all situations are unique, but this 6 months to 1 year standard is a good place to start.

Gary Neuman, psychotherapist, rabbi, and author of Helping Your Kids Cope with Divorce the Sandcastles’ Way, suggests waiting a year from separation from your spouse before introducing one’s children to anyone.  He feels that children need at least that much time to adjust to their new family dynamics.  That “one year” rule is pretty common, in psychology, because it allows a person who has been affected by a trauma to get through all of the major events, holidays, seasons, etc. at least once before attempting to move on to a new way of life – analogous to a period of mourning.

Parents, the experts counsel, should keep their dating life under wraps until, and if, their new relationship becomes serious.  There are a couple reasons for this. First, if your children tend to attach to everyone you date, and your introductions are made prematurely, your children may suffer loss and feel hurt when that person is no longer in the picture. Second, children are often not very friendly to people their parents are dating . . . and why would you want to expose your new friend to that sorry treatment any sooner than necessary? (If you are a parent, you know how kids can be when introduced to new people.  Need I say more?)

It is also a good idea for parents to self-assess why they feel the need to introduce their children to their new boyfriend or girlfriend.  Of what value will that introduction be to the kids?  What is the purpose of that introduction?  Will the children’s lives be enhanced by the inclusion of your new love into their lives? Are you preparing the children for your significant other to be a permanent fixture in your lives? (And, if so, that would probably take a while to decide anyway and, for most people, be well within the 6 month to 1 year framework).

Peter Sheras, clinical psychologist at the University of Virginia, and the author of I Can’t Believe You Went Through My Stuff!: How to Give Your Teens the Privacy They Crave and the Guidance They Need, advises divorced parents to look first toward the quality of the dating relationship before worrying about how or when to introduce children. “The commitment is the most important piece because, when there’s commitment, that becomes obvious to the kids.”

Know, too, that children should not be put in the position of helping you choose/approve a mate.  That type of decision-making is strictly grown-up business.  Something as serious as choosing a partner can only be done by the person who will be having the intimate relationship with the new person. Once again, it is up to the dating parent to choose a boyfriend or girlfriend that is appropriate, kind, kid-friendly and truly loves him or her.  There is a lot to be said for children’s intuition when it comes to people, but assessing the strengths and weaknesses of your new beau is usually not a good place to test your child’s EI (emotional intelligence).

Best Advice: Take things slowly and give everyone the time they need to adjust to their new family dynamics, first.  Then, once the dust has settled, take the matter of introducing your children to your significant other slowly and thoughtfully.  After all, it won’t do your children any harm to be in the dark when it comes to knowing who you spend Saturday nights with when they are with their other parent.  Usually, they could care less and it just  won’t matter to them. . . at least until it looks like your new significant other might be coming into the family in a big way.

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.divorcehelpforparents.com/dating-after-divorce.html

http://www.education.com/reference/article/parenting-divorce-introduce-new-partner/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/03/dating-with-kids-5-ground_n_1911152.html

http://everydaylife.globalpost.com/effects-single-parent-dating-children-4570.html

http://singleparents.about.com/od/datingadvice/a/introducekids.htm


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.


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.

settlement


Nesting

September 17, 2013

In recent years, parents seeking a divorce have been trying out a new and unconventional living arrangement to maintain what some of them feel is a higher level of stability for their children. This arrangement is known as “nesting”. In most cases, nesting involves the parents rotating in and out of the family residence, while the children remain in the family home full-time.nesting

            Parents may decide to nest for a few different reasons. Some feel that it is in the best interest of their children to keep them in a familiar environment in both home and school. Also, some parents have chosen nesting because the current market makes it economically unattractive to sell the family home. Nesting allows them to “buy time” without either parent moving out full-time.

            Nesting has the potential for creating less disruption in the children’s routines than traditional custody plans that have the children going and back and forth between their parents’ homes.  However, this means that both parents have to travel back and forth between their two homes, which has its own set of stresses.

            Nesting can also be expensive.  If there are no acceptable, free or inexpensive living arrangements for the parents during their “off time” (time not in the family home with the children), the nesting family may end up paying a mortgage and two rents. To avoid these costs, some nesting arrangements involve one parent living permanently in the family home while the other spends occasional nights in a guest bedroom or on the couch.

            That type of nesting, however, has its drawbacks.  First, it can be confusing to children.  Second, there are legal and tax issues with this second type of nesting, such as your state’s definition of “living separate and apart” for purposes of meeting the criteria to get divorced, and the fact that the IRS will not allow alimony payments to deductible for divorced former spouses if they are living under the same roof.

            When considering nesting, parents will need to decide what is in the best interest of the family in both the immediate future as well as long term. While it is good to maintain a familiar environment for children, nesting is often too expensive, too stressful or not a good idea from a legal or tax standpoint.

            Graine Mediation would love to hear from successful nesting parents—leave a comment!

Posted by Zia Meyer, 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.

Resource

Sklarew, Renee. “Bridging the Gap Divorced Parents Share Space”.


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