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 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


What the Judge Sees: Child Custody and Visitation

August 20, 2013

No one has it easy as a marriage comes to an end.  But things become even more complicated – and the potential for immense emotional pain only grows – when a child is involved.

Our legal system has set up standards that remove the emotion from custody decisions. The judge is expected to act in the best interests of the child as that judge perceives the situation.  So, if your hope is to persuade your judge to protect your child as you would like, you need to know the criteria all Virginia judges must use when making their decision.

Have a look at the code, and let’s discuss the ten provisions your judge will be using to determine your case:

§ 20-124.3. Best interests of the child; visitation.judge

In determining best interests of a child for purposes of determining custody or visitation arrangements the court shall consider the following:

1. The age and physical and mental condition of the child, giving due consideration to the child’s changing developmental needs;

-This is exactly the kind of calm and reasoned assessment you want when a judge is considering where your child will be living and how much time the other parent will have to spend with that child. It is to be applauded.  But, you know better than anyone else what your child needs – so talk with your lawyer if you believe the strength of your relationship with your child is less easily observed by outside viewers and needs pointing out.

2. The age and physical and mental condition of each parent;

-If you’re worried that your spouse might harm your child (and fears of neglect or a parent’s  incapacity to care for a child are just as legitimate as fears of abuse or the presence of addiction), then speak up.  Tell your lawyer your concerns.  This is the time, but be careful that these potentially harmful behaviors are not turned towards the one pointing the finger, too.

3. The relationship existing between each parent and each child, giving due consideration to the positive involvement with the child’s life, the ability to accurately assess and meet the emotional, intellectual and physical needs of the child;

-This is the provision that notes who has put in the time in the raising of a child.  It makes room in the decision to honor the parent who focused on being the steady daily support in a child’s life, even when the other parent can show the judge a big salary and a large house.

4. The needs of the child, giving due consideration to other important relationships of the child, including but not limited to siblings, peers and extended family members;

-You can see how hard the State is trying to act in your child’s best interest; they are looking beyond the relationship that you and your spouse have with your child.  Your judge will try to ensure that all the influences in your child’s life are taken into account.  It is not a sign of weakness to tell your lawyer if you have a strong support network to help you raise your son or daughter; the court will appreciate knowing you have help and that your child will have loving support in addition to you. If you have concerns about members of your spouse’s family or other network, bring those up, too.

5. The role that each parent has played and will play in the future, in the upbringing and care of the child;

-By law, your judge has to look past what is best for your child today and consider what will be best for your child throughout his or her childhood.  That means, for example, that the physical closeness of a breast-feeding mother to her infant will not necessarily determine custody of the child once he or she is weaned.  Present your case for custody accordingly.

6. The propensity of each parent to actively support the child’s contact and relationship with the other parent, including whether a parent has unreasonably denied the other parent access to or visitation with the child;

-If you have ever kept your child away from your spouse, it’s going to come up in the case – so make sure your lawyer knows why you took that action.  If you acted to protect your child, the judge can take that into account.

7. The relative willingness and demonstrated ability of each parent to maintain a close and continuing relationship with the child, and the ability of each parent to cooperate in and resolve disputes regarding matters affecting the child;

-Your judge will be looking for two things here: the parent who is prepared to remain an ongoing part of a child’s life even if he or she does not get full custody; and the parent who demonstrates the greatest ability to act cooperatively to protect and care for the child.  A divorce is an emotional roller coaster and your nerve endings are raw – but show the judge you can at least be civil to the person you’re divorcing and the judge will be more likely to ensure that both mother and father remain a part of your child’s life.

8. The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of reasonable intelligence, understanding, age and experience to express such a preference;

-The idea that your child might choose your spouse over you—and your child’s possible anguish over having to voice such opinion—seems brutal.  But this provision will be used carefully; your child may never be asked for his or her opinion.  It will only happen when the judge thinks a discussion with your child will be helpful.  Don’t panic if it happens; most people would advise you not to coach your child, either, but we all know that this is done every day. If you believe your spouse is influencing your child’s testimony, tell your lawyer.

9. Any history of family abuse as that term is defined in § 16.1-228 or sexual abuse. If the court finds such a history, the court may disregard the factors in subdivision 6; and

-If you know of or suspect abuse of your child, that is probably already a part of your case.  If the alleged abuse is substantiated by evidence, a judge may disregard the non-abusing  parent’s unwillingness to allow contact with the other parent when determining matters of custody.  Abusers do not have the same rights as normal parents. Again, the Code of Virginia provision is a live link; click on it to read.

10. Such other factors as the court deems necessary and proper to the determination.

-This is the “just in case” provision.  If the judge sees something that he or she feels is important to consider, but that is not covered by the first nine provisions, it is within his or her rights to consider additional factors in the custody decision…and rightly so.  You want the best for your child; so does the state of Virginia.

The judge shall communicate to the parties the basis of the decision either orally or in writing. Except in cases of consent orders for custody and visitation, this communication shall set forth the judge’s findings regarding the relevant factors set forth in this section.

-By law, the process has to be transparent; you’re entitled to know why your judge decided as he or she did.  And, remember, matters concerning minor children are never closed.  If you feel that you have repaired whatever was found lacking in terms of your parenting skills, if you “lost” a “custody battle”, you are almost always permitted to re-petition for a review of that order and show the judge that things have changed and that it would be in the best interest of your children for a change in the custodial care arrangements to be ordered.

If you are going through this type of litigation, we know that it is one of the most painful processes in modern life.  A divorce with custody issues leaves everyone angry, frightened, and anxious.  Remember to take a deep breath, be kind to yourself, and work to protect and love your child.

Posted by Prudence Bovee, Guest Writer

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.


Military Divorces 101, Part 2

May 15, 2013

Military divorces present unique challenges and far-reaching ramifications for our clients.  This area of law is a complex mixture of several Federal and State statutes which are balanced against the servicemember spouse’s particular branch procedures and the standards and practices in your jurisdiction.  At Graine Mediation, we know the jargon, understand the issues, and are skilled at making sure that both parties have all the information they need in order to make the best settlement choices they can mutually agree upon for themselves and their children.

In this special, three-part blog post, we’ll try to demystify this process for you.

child-support

CHILD SUPPORT

Child Support is Calculated Using Virginia State Minimum Guidelines: At Graine Mediation, minimum guidelines child support is calculated using the Virginia State Guidelines.  Our software used for calculations, “VADER”, is the calculator used by most attorneys and judges in Northern Virginia. The various branches of the military, too, have their own minimum family support calculations.  However, the military child support guidelines tend to be lower than state guidelines and are really only intended to provide a temporary solution in an emergency situation.

Gross Income: Child support is based, in large part, on the parties’ gross monthly incomes.  For a servicemember or retired servicemember, the Leave and Earnings Statement (LES) and the Retiree Account Statement (RAS), are essential to determine gross monthly income.  In Virginia, the courts broadly interpret the term “gross monthly income”.  That means that just about every form of income that a servicemember receives is includable in the gross income variable for the child support calculation.  For military clients, the gross salary variable used in the Virginia Guideline’s Child Support Calculation includes, but it not necessarily limited to:

  • Base Salary
  • BAH (Basic Allowance for Housing): A housing allowance calculated using location, family commitments, and the servicemember’s pay grade
  • BAS (Basic Allowance for Subsistence):  All servicemembers receive this form of pay when on tour ($150-$300/month)
  • FSA (Family Separation Allowance-II): An allowance for mobilized servicemembers who have been separated from their family members for more than 30 consecutive days (approximately $250.00/month)
  • HDP-L (Hardship Duty Pay): The amount of HDP-L depends on the servicemember’s deployment location.  ($50-$150/month)
  • HF/IDP (Hostile Fire/Imminent Danger Pay): Often referred to as “combat pay”.  When HF/IDP is used to a servicemember in certain designated combat zones, HF/IDP is tax free. (approximately $225/month), see CZTE, immediately below
  • CZTE (Combat Zone Tax Exclusion):  This is a monetary benefit for certain designated zones where a servicemember may be deployed.  CZTE releases a servicemember from paying having to pay Federal and State tax on his or her Base Salary and HF/IDP.
  • Travel Per Diem: Since servicemembers are usually provided housing when on tour, there is only a small per diem travel allowance (approximately $3.00-$3.50/day) for living expenses.
  • In Kind Compensation: This is non-cash compensation in the form of housing, meals, and other nonmonetary compensation (not found on the LES).

Even non-taxable pay is factored into a Virginia child support calculation as part of the servicemember parent’s gross income.  Because so many servicemembers receive various forms of compensation as tax-free pay, the LES, and not income tax returns, is a much better source of information to use when determining a servicemember’s gross income.

Deployment:  When a servicemember deploys, goes on a mission, goes on tour, etc. (hereinafter referred to as “deployment”), he or she is compensated with one or more special pay benefits (as listed immediately above in the “Gross Income” section).  When a servicemember is deployed, child support is often recalculated, since the main variable – gross income – will surely change.  Some clients, however, choose to defer a complete recalculation of child support, particularly when the deployment is thought to be of short duration, and instead opt for a “per diem” calculation based on the servicemember’s special compensation.

Per Diem:  Per diem child support calculations, which may be initiated upon a servicemember parent’s deployment (depending on how the Settlement Agreement is drafted) are sometimes used by our clients for the following two reasons:

(1) The parent who is stationary (not deployed) is effectively responsible for 100% of the childcare tasks and expenses.  There is “no break” in the childcare costs and duties because the children are always with the stationary (not deployed) parent.  This makes caring for the children much more expensive; and

(2) The increased custodial care responsibilities of the stationary parent may demand time away from income earning pursuits and, as a result, the stationary parent’s income may decrease.

As a temporary solution to account for these circumstances, some parties choose a per diem (per day) calculation based on an agreed upon percentage of the servicemembers various special compensation benefits. That percentage, in our cases, is never below what the Virginia minimum guidelines would have provided the stationary parent if a recalculation was done, but allows for a temporary solution to the deployment-related financial issues in a co-parenting situation.  Also, depending on how your Settlement Agreement is written, this can be a “self-executing provision” (meaning that you do not need to go to Court to effect this temporary per diem child support obligation).

Per Diem as Relates to a Shared Child Support Calculation:  When child support has been calculated using the Virginia Shared Child Support Calculations, a per diem is usually not the best reflection of the parties changed circumstances.  Since Virginia Shared Child Support Calculations factor in the actual time the children spend with both parents into the financial calculation, a situation where a parent is deployed is not appropriate for a shared calculation.  In most cases, the Child Support Calculation will need to be redone using the Virginia Sole Child Support Calculation. Depending on how your Settlement Agreement is written, this can be a “self-executing provision” (meaning that you do not need to go to Court to effect this temporary recalculation).

More Information: For more information on Virginia child support guidelines, generally, email Robin Graine (grainemediation@gmail.com) for an advance copy of her blog article “How is Child Support Calculated in Virginia?” (not yet published as of May 2013 on http://www.fairfaxdivorceblog.com)

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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