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.


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.


Providing for Custody & Visitation With Teens

April 30, 2013

Raising teens is never easy, but it becomes even more complicated when they are involved in a two-household family. Teens are going through a lot of changes, and having to navigate two completely separate households often adds stress to their already too-busy and somewhat volatile emotional lives. Teenagers usually prefer that their families blend into the background while they do their teen-thing.  But, when a kid is going back and forth between houses, due to a divorce, the family and “family time” often becomes a focal point of the teenager’s life (like it or not!). Of course, that is not all bad.  There are plenty of people who will tell you that their divorce is what made them finally realize the fleeting nature of their children’s youth and was, in fact, the impetus for ensuring that they spent time with their children before it got to be too late.

                  It is important for parents of teenagers to remember that, just because your child doesn’t see you much — due to everyone’s busyness — that doesn’t mean that your teenager will want to hang out with you when he or she does not have a scheduled activity.  Teenagers want to be with their friends, usually, and any parent who makes it a point of getting in the way of that for “visitation time”, might be asking for trouble. The older they get, the tougher it is to maintain a regular schedule of time with your kids – but they are always happy to have you drive . . . and pay! But, it is often those drives, after all, when you will at least get to know your children’s friends and that is, many parents find, a delight!  Try and keep a balance between making sure you and your children spend time together and allowing your teen to have a social life that is not over-prescribed by your and your ex’s divorce situation.

                arguing-family  John Hartson, PhD. And Brenda Payne, PhD recommend, in their book Creating Effective Parenting Plans: A Developmental  Approach for Lawyers and Divorce Professionals, that people working on parenting plans for families with teenagers be mindful of teenagers’ differing needs at the various stages of adolescence.  For example, with 12-13 year olds, Hartson and Payne note that there are many physiological changes going on during this time, in addition to the big move-up to middle school.  Often times, they assert, it is best to leave the custodial care schedule as it is and not add any more changes to the mix, unless there are serious problems.

                  For older teens, those entering high school and later, it is often wise to include them in discussions regarding where they will be/want to be spending their time.  At this point, for many teenagers, it tends to be more about “where” than about “with whom” they will be spending time.   For example, some teens express strong desires to spend greater amounts of time in one home over the other, not because they desire to be with one parent more than the other, but their choice is often greatly influenced by which home has greater proximity to friends, activities, and the convenience of having all of their stuff in one spot.

                  Remember that teens, like children of all ages, are still watching everything that you do.  You are still their role model in many ways, as is their other parent.  They need to see you and your ex function in everyday life so that they can learn what is important in your family culture, how you “get it all done”, what are your priorities, how your values effect your choices, etc.  This is your last shot at parenting, for the most part, and you want to try and get it right.  That will mean that you have to find a way to both spend time with your teenager, while keeping a healthy awareness of his or her need for some level of independence.

                  Your teenager will be gone before you know it.  Enjoy your time together.  Listen to your teen.  Try and accommodate his or her needs and desires, but don’t cave in to every whim. Watch for classic divorce manipulation between you and your ex.  Let your teenager know how much you love him or her every day.  Cross your fingers . . . and be confident that you are doing the best that you can, which is all anyone can really ask of a mom and a dad.

Posted by Kristina Duncan Hoeges, Freelance Paralegal 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.


Interview with Fairfax County Guidance Counselor: Patterns Seen in Children of Divorce

September 2, 2011

Divorce affects the entire family, not just the two separating parents.  Just ask Kathy Wilds, a Fairfax County, Virginia Guidance Counselor for over 25 years.  She has seen, first hand, how divorcing parents’ behaviors affect their children. Ms. Wilds has observed that many children of these parents exhibit similar patterns: “First comes sadness, then anger.  Finally, resignation is reached.”  Divorce doesn’t have to end in despair, however.  Be aware of where your are children are in the process and be patient with them. Encourage them to talk and do everything you can to make them feel safe and loved.

Ms. Wild’s has some advice for divorcing parents: Do your best to never involve the children in ways that “put the wrong idea in their minds; it could make the children feel resentment toward the other parent, or cause feelings of guilt.  This does not help the children move forward.” Don’t make disparaging remarks about the child’s other parent and do what you can to nurture the child’s parent-child relationship with both parents.

Ms. Wilds makes a point to emphasize that “children are resilient.  The younger they are when the divorce happens, the better adjusted they are.”

Ms. Wilds (who I have observed to be a very good mother) also recommends that you “call your child every day just to say hello or goodnight.  It is important that the children feel safe.”  Giving children structure and schedules, as much as possible, helps ensure their feelings of security.  Act civilized around your soon-to-be-ex, but not corporate.  Overly business-like behavior confuses children and does not ease the pain of divorce.   Ms. Wilds also advocates that parents ease their children into counseling groups that deal with “changing families”. This helps the children learn “that they are not the only family going through divorce, and they can see that it is not their fault.”

Key warning signs that your child is not doing well in a divorce situation and needs more help include: “crying in school, anger towards self or others, and not obeying a parent at home.”

If your child is going through a tough family situation, like a divorce, let the school know.  Your child’s counselor may be able to help.


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