modify child custody agreement

Can I Modify My Child Custody Agreement Myself, Without Going to Court?

modify child custody agreement

 

As an experienced Somerset, NJ divorce and family law attorney, I can tell you that the answer is yes, of course! But I don’t advise it, because when you and your ex alter your child custody arrangements on your own, you are creating more problems than you are solving.

Who suffers? Ultimately, your children.  Read on to find out how you can best protect your children and your parental rights.

Can I Modify My Child Custody Agreement?

The Child Custody Agreement

How a child custody agreement is reached varies by state, but in general, it is negotiated as part of your divorce and a court decree is entered setting forth the child custody terms. When parents agree on what living and legal arrangements are best for their children, the process goes smoothly.

When parents disagree, this is where the court steps in, attorneys negotiate, and a compromise is reached. Most often, compromise satisfies neither party and there are continuing ill feelings. But at least there is a court order in place, and either you or your ex could ask the court to step in if one of you fails to comply with it.

Generally, the initial child custody agreement will establish who has physical and legal custody, and whether there is joint custody shared between the parents or one parent has sole custody.

Physical vs Legal Custody

In most states, legal and physical custody are different rights. The child lives primarily with the parent who has physical custody. Either parent or both may have the right to make decisions for the child, and this is called legal custody.

When parents are married, both have physical and legal custody of their children.  When married parents divorce, these rights must be either divided or shared.

Joint Custody vs. Sole Custody

These are what they say they are:  where children live with both parents, this is called Joint Custody. In this situation, both parents as a practical matter often retain joint legal custody.

Sole Custody is the term for when one parent has both physical and legal custody of a child. Usually, for the other parent to lose these rights, there is a hearing and the judge will make that determination based upon factors that vary by state.

Asking the Court to Alter The Child Custody Agreement

Parents who change the terms of child custody through the courts are doing the most they can to protect their rights as parents because the court issues an order memorializing those changes.  Thereafter, the new child custody terms can be enforced by the court should one party fail to keep to them.

Altering the Terms of Child Custody on Your Own

Of course, you and your ex can agree to change the child custody arrangement outside of court.  It’s quick, easy (assuming you both agree), and cheap in that there no attorney fees or court filing fees. But beware of the following pitfalls of changing the child custody agreement on your own:

The court will not and cannot enforce your new child custody terms.

If your ex wakes up one day and decides not to stick to the new child custody arrangement, there is nothing you can do about it. Only a court order is legally binding on your ex. There is no way to enforce your informal agreement with your ex.

Your ex can get the court to enforce the terms of the original child custody agreement.

You might be acting in good faith and sticking to the changes you and your ex worked out.  But your ex could still haul you in front of the judge and demand that the court enforce the original child custody order.  That would be well within his rights, and the court would find that you are the party who violated the order.

Changes in child custody may work out at first, but if you allow one informal change, where does it end?

It is common for an ex to take advantage of the situation when you are willing to make informal changes, either planned or on-the-fly.  Your life could become a hell of variables and resentment, with your ex constantly demanding little changes to the child custody schedule and you feeling powerless to say no because you allowed such changes in the past.

In short, making informal changes to child custody might seem convenient and harmless at the time but you end up laying the groundwork for future conflict between you and your ex. Didn’t you go through the pain of divorce to end that conflict? Your children also suffer, not only from the revived conflict between you but from the uncertainty in their parenting schedule. Parents who remain civil, a calm, stable environment, and a predictable schedule all help children heal from divorce.

Let the court help you and your children, and your ex, move forward in an orderly and predictable way by memorializing any needed change to a child custody agreement with a court order.

The post Can I Modify My Child Custody Agreement Myself, Without Going to Court? appeared first on Divorced Moms.

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Child Support Custody And Visitation

Guidelines The Court Uses To Determine Child Support, Custody, And Visitation

Child Support Custody And Visitation

When going through a divorce with minor children or determining paternity, one of the many decisions you will need to make is how much time each parent will spend with the minor children.

It is important to note that the amount of time spent with the children can also affect child support.

The goal of any agreement affecting children should be to protect the children’s best interest.

However, due to the emotional nature and financial implications of custody and visitation, many parents struggle to reach an agreement.

In the event parents are unable to find an agreeable solution the Court will intervene and create child custody and visitation orders based on several factors, including the children’s best interest.

Once the Court determines child custody and visitation, it will then use guidelines dictated by statutes and a child support worksheet to determine which spouse owes the other child support.

Determining Child Support, Custody, And Visitation

Child Support

In California, both parents are financially responsible for minor children. However, child support can be ordered to help provide for the children’s housing, clothing, food, extracurricular activities, and other needs.

Child support is based on several factors including each parent’s gross income, mandatory deductions, tax deductions, amounts paid for healthcare, time spent with each parent and more.

Most often, the higher-earning parent will pay child support as they have more disposable income. For families who have 50/50 or close to equal timeshare with the children, the parent who claims the minor children as dependents could be ordered to pay the other parent support.

With so many factors and variables in determining support, it is important to speak with a professional to review all available options and develop the best child support agreement for you and your children.

Imputing Income

If you or the other parent is unemployed or underemployed, the Court can still order child support. In either situation, the Court will review employment records and education history to determine if gainful employment is feasible and determine what their earning capacity may be.

The Court may also consider other factors, including the length of time you have been out of work and the current state of the job market.

If the Court finds one parent is underemployed or willfully not working, the Court could assign income to that parent based on previous salary or current earning capabilities determined by work or educational experience.

The assignment of income, also known as imputing income, can result in Court-ordered child support.

If a parent fails to meet their financial obligation and does not pay child support as ordered, arrears will accrue, and the parent could face additional penalties.

State Disbursement Unit (SDU)

In the past, child support was paid directly to the receiving parent. When a child support order dictated automatic deductions, the paying parent’s (payor’s) employer would withhold the amount ordered and send it directly to the other parent.

However, in 1996 the federal government passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Reconciliation Act, requiring states to create a centralized location where parents pay child support. The creation of State Disbursement Units facilitated payment by collecting child support and distributing to the receiving parent.

When a child support order utilizes SDUs to facilitate payment through employers, payors can have up to 50 percent of their wages deducted.

In addition to facilitating payment, the 1996 Act changed how payment was distributed if a payor had more than one child support order.

Prior to the implementation of the SDUs, child support orders were prioritized by date. For instance, if a payor had orders to pay child support for children from a previous relationship and for the most recent relationship, and the amount ordered for the first relationship more than 50 percent of their income, the first family would get the full amount while the second family would receive partial payment or nothing.

After 1996, a paying parent’s child support amount can change based upon how much the payor parent earns or if there are other child support orders or arrearages are owed by the payor parent.

The SDUs can adjust the distribution of child support to ensure all children receive support. This can result in a reduction of child support received if the amount owed for all orders exceed 50 percent of the payor’s income.

However, the original amount ordered is still due and arrearages will build up unless the paying parent pays the difference directly to the SDU.

Child Custody and Visitation

California recognizes two types of custody: legal custody and physical custody.  Legal custody refers to the ability to make decisions that affect the child’s health, welfare, and safety. Legal decisions include what doctors the child sees, what school the child attends, participation in religious activities, when the child can get a driver’s license, and more.

If one parent has sole legal custody, they are not obligated to consult the other parent when making decisions.

However, if parents have joint legal custody, they will both be able to make decisions. Ideally, both parents would communicate and agree on any decisions that affect their children.

Physical custody refers to the time spent with each parent and where the child resides. Joint physical custody, when children live with both parents, is the most common arrangement and the goal of California Courts.

However, it is not the best solution for all families, especially if domestic or substance abuse is an issue. If one parent has primary or sole custody, the other “non-custodial” parent has visitation.

Visitation schedules can vary depending on the relationship between parents and their children and work or school schedules. Common visitation schedules are unsupervised visits every other weekend, bi-weekly visits, alternating major holidays, or supervised visits once a week.

It is highly suggested that both parents work together to create a parenting plan detailing visitation, pick up/drop off times and more.  If you are unable to reach an agreement, a family law attorney can help you create a parenting plan that not only benefits the children but considers the parents’ schedules. In the event, you are unable to come to an agreement the Court can hear your concerns and create custody and visitation orders.

However, court orders will dictate the amount of time each parent spends with the children, which can result in orders that neither you nor the other parent agree with and have financial ramifications for many years.

Custody Disagreements

In some cases, the parents may not be able to come to a custody agreement. Regardless of how you feel about your spouse, you should not bring your children into the argument.

Nor should you try to dissuade your children from seeing the other parent. The Courts will consider this when making a custody decision.

In most cases, the Court will not let a child testify as to which parent the child wishes to stay with as it is not fair to make the child choose.

When determining custody, the Court will review several factors such as the amount of time each parent spends with the children, domestic violence issues, substance abuse, involvement in educational or extracurricular activities, and general care.

Child Custody Evaluations

In some situations, the Court may order a child custody evaluation to help resolve a custody dispute. If ordered, the court can appoint an evaluator, or the parents can choose a private evaluator.

In either situation, both parties are responsible for the cost of the evaluator. The evaluator’s role is not to treat patients, but to provide an objective evaluation with informed opinions to help the Court determine the most appropriate custody outcome. The evaluator will conduct an investigation and interviews to decide which parent can provide the best situation for their children.

Evaluators weigh several factors to make their decision, including reviewing interactions between parents and their children, if the parents allow contact or visits with the other parent, and how the children behave in front of each parent.

Spoiling a child will not get you extra points!  Once the evaluator has completed their investigation, they will submit their opinion to the Court for consideration.

An Attorney for the Child

In addition to a child custody evaluation, or in place of an evaluation, the Court may appoint an attorney for the child, referred to as Minor’s Counsel.

The role of Minor’s Counsel is to protect and advocate for the child’s best interest. As with the evaluator, both parties share in the cost of the child’s attorney. While the Minor’s Counsel generally has wide discretion in their investigation, it often involves multiple interviews with the children, and sometimes the parents.

Upon conclusion of their findings, Minor’s Counsel will present their recommendation and the children’s wishes to the Court for consideration when creating orders.

Following Court Orders

Parents who fail to follow court orders can be in contempt of the Court, resulting in fines or worse.

Parents of children who refuse to visit the other parent according to their visitation orders can also be held in contempt and face financial fines or even jail.

However, the success of contempt charges depends on several factors, including the child’s age and the concept of parental control. If your children are refusing to see their other parent, it is imperative you contact a family law attorney as soon as possible.

An experienced attorney can listen to your situation, advise the proper course of action to protect parental rights, and against contempt charges.

The Best Outcome

Even if you and your spouse cannot get along, it is better if you are able to create a parenting plan with the help of your attorneys.

The focus of any agreement should always be protecting the best interest of your children.

Consistent, cordial communication with your co-parent can help you and your children transition to the new family dynamic.

Additionally, discussing decisions surrounding the children’s health, safety, and welfare together can help avoid the stress of costly court appearances. In the event an agreement can’t be reached, an experienced family law attorney can help you protect your children and your parental rights.

The post Guidelines The Court Uses To Determine Child Support, Custody, And Visitation appeared first on Divorced Moms.

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best interest of the child

What Does a Judge Taking Into Consideration When Deciding “The Best Interest Of The Child?”

best interest of the child

 

The judge considers many factors in determining child custody during divorce. Most important is “the best interests of the child.” To determine best interests, the judge may look at the following factors:

When Deciding The “Best Interest Of The Child?”

Home Environments. This refers to the respective environments offered by you and your spouse. The court may consider factors such as the safety, stability, and nurturing found in each home.

Emotional Ties. The emotional relationship between the child and each parent may include the nature of the bond between the parent and child and the feelings shared between the child and each parent.

Age, Sex, and Health of the Child and Parents. Louisiana no longer ascribes to the “tender years” doctrine, which formerly gave a preference for custody of very young children to the mother. If one of the parents has an illness that may impair the ability to parent, it may be considered by the court. Similarly, the judge may look at special health needs of a child.

Effect on the Child of Continuing or Disrupting an Existing Relationship. This factor might be applied in your case if you stayed at home for a period of years to care for your child, and awarding custody to the other parent would disrupt your relationship with your child.

Attitude and Stability of Each Parent’s Character. The court may consider your ability and willingness to be cooperative with the other parent in deciding who should be awarded custody. The court may also consider each parent’s history, which reflects the stability of his or her character.

Moral Fitness of Each Parent, Including Sexual Conduct. The extent to which a judge assesses the morals of a parent can vary greatly from judge to judge. Sexual conduct will ordinarily not be considered unless it has harmed your child or your child was exposed to sexual conduct.

Capacity to Provide Physical Care and Satisfy Educational Needs. Here the court may examine whether you or the other parent is better able to provide for your child’s daily needs such as nutrition, health care, hygiene, social activities, and education. The court may also look to see whether you or your spouse has been attending to these needs in the past.

Preferences of the Child. The child’s preference regarding custody will be considered if the child is of sufficient age of comprehension, regardless of chronological age, and the child’s preference is based on sound reasoning. Louisiana, unlike some other states, does not allow a child to choose the parent he or she wishes to live with. Rather, the court may consider the well-reasoned preferences of a child, at any age. Typically, the older the child, the greater the weight given to the preference. However, the child’s reasoning is also important.

Health, Welfare, and Social Behavior of the Child. Every child is unique. Your child’s needs must be considered when it comes to deciding custody and parenting time. The custody of a child with special needs, for example, may be awarded to the parent who is better able to meet those needs.

The judge may also consider whether you or your spouse has fulfilled the role of primary care provider for meeting the day-to-day needs of your child.

One tool to assist you and your attorney in establishing your case as a primary care provider is a chart indicating the care you and the other parent have each provided for your child. The clearer you are about the history of parenting, the better job your attorney can do in presenting your case to the judge.

Look at the activities below to help you review the role of you and your spouse as care providers for your child.

Parental Roles Chart

Activity Mother  Father
Attended prenatal medical visits
Attended prenatal class
Took time off work after child born
Got up with child for feedings
Got up with child when sick at night
Bathed child
Put child to sleep
Potty-trained child
Prepared and fed meals to child
Helped child learn numbers, letters, colors, etc.
Helped child with practice for music, dance lessons, sports
Took time off work for child’s appointments
Stayed home from work with sick child
Took child to doctor visits
Went to pharmacy for child’s medication
Administered child’s medication
Took child to therapy
Took child to optometrist
Took child to dentist
Took child to get haircuts
Bought clothing for child
Bought school supplies for child
Transported child to school
Picked child up after school
Drove car pool for child’s school
Went to child’s school activities
Helped child with homework and projects
Attended parent-teacher conferences
Helped in child’s classroom
Chaperoned child’s school trips and activities
Transported child to daycare
Communicated with daycare providers
Transported child from daycare
Attended daycare activities
Signed child up for sports, dance, music
Bought equipment for sports, music, dance
Transported child to sports, music, dance
Attended sports, music, dance practices
Attended sports games, music, dance recitals
Coached child’s sports
Transported child from sports, music, dance
Know child’s friends and friends’ families
Took child to religious education
Participated in child’s religious education
Obtained information and training about special needs of child.
Comforted child during times of emotional upset

Domestic Violence. Domestic violence is an important factor in determining custody, as well as parenting time and protection from abuse during the transfer of your child to the other parent. If domestic violence is a concern in your case, be sure to discuss it in detail with your attorney during the initial consultation so that every measure can be taken to protect the safety of you and your children.

The post What Does a Judge Taking Into Consideration When Deciding “The Best Interest Of The Child?” appeared first on Divorced Moms.

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child custody & vacation

Child Custody & Vacation: How Can Travel Plans Affect Your Custody Agreement?

child custody & vacation

 

Traveling as a family isn’t very complicated. As a duo, you were able to decide on the best location, dates, budget, meals, and packing strategy. In a divorce, traveling with children is a whole new ballgame. Suddenly your plans require extra steps and the law can get involved.

Traveling plans affect custody agreements in a variety of ways. Depending on traveling plans, custody agreements are subject to modification. If you have concerns about your custody agreement and are in search of a divorce lawyer, please refer to your local directory and get the answers you need regarding child custody.

Local lawyers will fight for you and your child’s best interest and will provide you with unique and individualized attention. While there are little-to-no ways of avoiding traveling issues between you and your ex, there are steps that can be taken to ease the process.

Please consider the following step by step maneuvers when dealing with child custody and vacation:

Have a Written Agreement

Needless to say, upon divorce there must be a written document in place that addresses child custody arrangements. There are no defined rules for custody and you and your partner are allowed to modify pre-established agreements. Within this agreement, should be a section designated to special occasion custody circumstances. When undergoing a divorce, it is critical to have in writing, under what circumstances one parent is allowed to travel with the child.

Can the child and parent leave the country? Will they be unsupervised? Is the other parent allowed contact with the child during the vacation? All these concerns and more must be addressed in writing to avoid disputes and serious legal complications.

What is a Controlling Document?

Specific conditions related to travel should be included in a controlling document. There are basic provisions that should be clarified within the document, such as whether the parent must be notified if the parent is taking the child out-of-state.

More specific issues should be clarified as well. If one parent has pre-decided custody for a certain holiday, but the other parent wishes to take the child on vacation during the same holiday, the protocol for those circumstances must be made clear.

Who is allowed to travel with the child and parent and who is not? This should also be included in the document. Who will provide proper travel gear for the children and who will store this equipment? Is the child allowed to miss school days for vacation time? All of which must be addressed in advance. An important issue that must be decided upon divorce is which parent will store travel papers and official documents and how soon must they provide the other parent with that information.

Travel Rules

If your ex successfully takes the children on vacation and then begins violating your previous agreements, you are allowed to sue them for breach of contract. If your ex does not allow you to speak to the children on vacation, you can file a motion with the court and have your former spouse held in contempt of a court order. This notifies your ex that if they continue to breach the agreement, you will take legal action – just because they are not physically reachable, they will face consequences.

Don’t Wait, Contact A Divorce Lawyer Who Can Provide Assistance

There is no way to completely prepare for every possible scenario that may occur upon traveling. The more issues you and your ex are able to address and reach consensus on prior, the better. If you are in search of a qualified divorce lawyer and want legal guidance on custody issues, contact a legal team to schedule a meeting with a passionate professional today and ease your custody concerns.

The post Child Custody & Vacation: How Can Travel Plans Affect Your Custody Agreement? appeared first on Divorced Moms.

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equal parenting

 6 Things Fathers Should Think About if They Want Equal Parenting

equal parenting

 

Before and during the divorce process each parent has the same legal right to custody of a child. Mothers and fathers are on legal standing until one or the other gives up or is denied full custody rights.

What does this mean? It is complicated! Even more complicated if you don’t know your state’s child custody laws. Bottom line, until you have signed a custody agreement or a judge has handed down a custody opinion, each parent has the same legal rights when it comes to where a child lives, who the child lives with and anything regarding the child.

I’ve found that most fathers do not have a clear understanding of their legal divorce rights where the children are involved. And in most cases will give up custody out of fear of losing in court due to a gender “bias.” Which is a myth perpetuated by men’s rights organizations. A father has as much chance of winning custody if he pursues custody as a mother.

For example, I received an email from a father who was separated from his wife. He wrote, “My wife moved out with our children, and is refusing to allow me to visit with them. I found out the other day that my youngest daughter had been hospitalized for a minor illness and I wasn’t informed. What should I do?”

It is heartbreaking to hear from a father who, for some reason has come to the belief that his wife has more legal rights over the children. This father has the legal right to pack his children up and bring them home. He has the legal right to contact school personnel, pediatricians and anyone else who may have contact with the child and let them know he is being denied his legal rights and demand to be notified of anything concerning his children.

The longer he allows his wife to make the rules about how or if he can parent his children, the more likely he is to lose an extensive amount of parenting time with his children in divorce court. In my opinion, this is the biggest mistake fathers make during the divorce process. They do not take the necessary steps needed to retain equal parenting time or full custody of their children.

According to DivorcePeers.com, the majority of child custody cases are not decided by the courts.

  • In 51 percent of custody cases, both parents agreed — on their own — that mom becomes the custodial parent.
  • In 29 percent of custody cases, the decision was made without any third party involvement.
  • In 11 percent of custody cases, the decision for mom to have custody was made during mediation.
  • In 5 percent of custody cases, the issue was resolved after a custody evaluation.
  • Only 4 percent of custody cases went to trial and of that 4 percent, only 1.5 percent completed custody litigation.

What do the above statistics tell us about fathers and child custody?

For some reason, the vast majority of fathers are behaving in a way that is not in their best interest or the best interest of their children. Fathers may be giving up equal or shared custody because they’ve heard there is a gender bias, that mothers always win custody. They may give up more custody because they’ve been taught that “children need their mother.”

Here is the truth, you don’t know if there is a true gender bias in the divorce court system if you don’t go to court and fight for equal time with your children. And children need fathers just as much as they need mothers.

If you are a father who wishes to have equal parenting time with your children you are doing yourself a grave injustice if you give up without a fight.

If your attorney tells you, you don’t have a chance at equal parenting time with your children, look for another attorney. Don’t hire an attorney until you find one who tells you he will help you fight for that time you deserve as a father. And, don’t buy into the argument that the courts are biased in favor of women until you’ve proven to yourself that it is true.

6 Things Fathers Should Think About if They Want Equal Parenting Time After Divorce

  1. Do not allow your wife to dictate when, where and how often you will see your children. Document every time your ex keeps you away from your children and then use the court system to hold her accountable for interfering in your parenting time.
  2. Immediately hire an attorney or file a pro se petition with the court to establish equal parenting time with your children.
  3. Do not allow what you hear on father’s rights websites to dissuade you from attempting to gain equal parenting time or full custody. Just because one man was not able to obtain equal time or full custody of his children does not mean you won’t. You don’t go to work and do your job based on what others tell you, you are and are not capable of doing, do you? Then, don’t give up on your children based on what a few angry men say online.
  4. Do not let the financial cost associated with a child custody battle keep you from fighting. Which is more important, saving money for a child’s college education or fathering your child during their informative years and beyond?

Society still views mothers as caretakers and fathers as providers. I believe that one reason fewer men fight for equal time with their children has to do with their fear of legal fees and being left financially strapped and unable to provide for their children. When it’s all said and done, your time is the most important thing you can provide for your children. Don’t let money fears stop you from providing them with time with their father.

  1. Do not agree to less time with your child without first going through the mediation process or, if push comes to shove a full out custody battle.
  2. Do what you know, in your heart is right for you and your children. Don’t allow your head to become muddied with opinions from naysayers or those who’ve been there before you. When it comes to time with your children, you must let your heart lead what actions you choose to take.

I can’t tell a father what his chances of winning in a custody battle are. I can tell a father that if you aren’t willing to exert your legal rights your chance of winning equal or full custody with your children is zero. The questions you have to ask yourself is; how important is this issue to me? How important is it to my children?

If it is important then don’t allow fear of the myth of a “gender biased” court system keep you from pursuing your right to parent your children.

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The "Best Interest" Doctrine Fails Our Children

How The “Best Interest” Doctrine Fails Our Children

The "Best Interest" Doctrine Fails Our Children

 

During divorce, a judge will use a doctrine known as “the best interest of the child” to determine issues such as child custody and visitation of any minor children. It is a subjective, discretionary test, in which all circumstances affecting the child are taken into account. The word discretionary is important because, although states have laws defining what is meant by “best interest” of a child a judge has great leeway in determining the above issues.

For example, in the state of Tennessee custody and visitation provisions state, “In taking into account the child’s best interest, the court shall order a custody arrangement that permits both parents to enjoy the maximum participation possible in the life of the child consistent with the factors set out in subdivisions (a)(1)-(10), the location of the residences of the parents, the child’s need for stability and all other relevant factors.”

Those “other relevant factors” are:

  1. The love, affection and emotional ties existing between the parents or caregivers and the child;
  2. The disposition of the parents or caregivers to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, education, and other necessary care and the degree to which a parent or caregiver has been the primary caregiver;
  3. The importance of continuity in the child’s life and the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment.
  4. The stability of the family unit of the parents or caregivers;
  5. The mental and physical health of the parents or caregivers;
  6. The home, school and community record of the child;
  7. The reasonable preference of the child, if twelve (12) years of age or older;
  8. Evidence of physical or emotional abuse to the child, to the other parent or to any other person; the court shall include in its decision a written finding of all evidence, and all findings of facts connected to the evidence. In addition, the court shall, where appropriate, refer to any issues of abuse to the juvenile court for further proceedings;
  9. The character and behavior of any other person who resides in or frequents the home of a parent or caregiver and the person’s interactions with the child; and
  10. Each parent’s or caregiver’s past and potential for future performance of parenting responsibilities, including the willingness and ability of each of the parents and caregivers to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and both of the child’s parents, consistent with the best interest of the child.

How The “Best Interest” Doctrine Fails Our Children

As you can see, the majority of the factors used by a judge to decide custody and visitation arrangements are quite subjective. A judge’s personal feelings and opinions are more than likely what will determine a case, not a true legal standing in family law.

When the application of “best interest of the child” ends up being based on nothing more than judicial discretion it only makes sense that those who argue the need for a new standard in determining these legal issues may be the ones who are, in reality, the only ones concerned with the “best interest of the child.”

The standard is supposed to promote uniformity and take into account the rights of a child to a loving relationship with both parents. Instead, it is often criticized because it is easily manipulated by family court judges. Some who argue against the “best interest” doctrine say that it is nothing more than an excuse for the courts to interfere with private family issues and has little to do with the welfare of children.

Regardless of the broad discretion given to judges and the potential for its abuse the underlying goal of the “best interest” standard in family law shouldn’t be ignored. It is, after all, all we have at this time in family law that attempts to advance the rights and welfare of our children.

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if you abandon your child

If You Abandon Your Children, I Don’t Want To Hear About Your “Father’s Rights”

if you abandon your child

 

A couple of years ago the Huffington Post ran an article the day before Father’s Day that got the Father’s Rights guys a bit upset. But when a woman writes an article about a less than perfect father those guys normally respond with dismissal, disdain, and disregard so that was no big surprise

In their mind, if you say something unpleasant about one father you have offended every father. And, they love to make excuses for deadbeat or absent fathers and that excuse normally runs along the lines of, “its all moms fault.”

One comment caught my attention due to its astounding show of immaturity and it’s representation of how I feel some men attached to the Father’s Rights movement respond to divorce and custody issues.

I had printed out the comment and came across it again while Marie Kondoing my house. It still, to this day has the same impact on me.

“Divorce court is a woman’s court. Your man bailed out is probably just like me, it is far better for the children for the father to disappear than to be used as a punching bag by the mother, courts, society, and in the end, the children.”

Granted the grammar is bad but if you try hard you can make sense of it. Evidently, this comment was made by a father who has chosen to “bail” on his children, as did the father who was the subject of the Huffington Post article.

If You Abandon Your Children You Have NO Excuse!

What I find astonishing is the reason the commenter has bailed. He didn’t want to be used as a punching bag by the mother, the courts or society. I had no idea until I read that, that paternal instinct, fathering and loving one’s children was depended upon a mother’s actions, the court’s actions or the actions of society.

No one forced him to leave his children. Nothing happened to cause him to lose his role as a father. He may have had divorce forced upon him along with a custody agreement he wasn’t happy with but, really, is that any reason to choose to no longer father your children?

It’s like saying, “you people were mean to me so I’m taking daddy away from my children.” The guy actually punished his children by withdrawing from them as a father for something someone else did to him. And, in his mind, he thinks he has done his children a favor.

Why can’t I wrap my mind around this justification? Probably because it is irrational and totally out of touch with what his children needed from him REGARDLESS of how difficult he found it to remain in their lives.

Plus, in my experience with divorce, I’ve known of the inability of the Family Court system to deal appropriately with the issues of divorce, custody and all things related BUT, at no time have I formed the belief that that was any reason to bail on my child.

The Problem With the Father’s Rights Movement:

Their seedy underbelly is too vocal and in being so they reflect poorly on the Father’s Rights movement and men who don’t abandon children for any reason. There is a small fringe of this movement that has declared war on women and children and that fringe keeps those who are truly concerned about their rights as fathers from being taken seriously.

Nothing will change in our dysfunctional Family Court until mothers and fathers work together to change the system. As long as some members of the Father’s Rights movement insist on accusing women of victimizing them via the court system and excuse each other for abandoning their children, women and mothers will have no interest in working with them in any capacity.

If men want shared or 50/50 custody of their children they are more likely to change custody laws if they are working in union with women and mothers, not blaming them but working with them. Men, women, and children are harmed during divorce. A lot of that harm comes from a system that is in dire need of reform. That reform isn’t going to take place if fringe elements of angry men are allowed to continue to spew venom and anger from their keyboards.

Let’s face it, as parents, we can’t get what we all want for our children, what is in their best interest until we all come together and stop blaming each other.

The post If You Abandon Your Children, I Don’t Want To Hear About Your “Father’s Rights” appeared first on Divorced Moms.

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4 Ways The Family Court Fails To Protect Women During a High Conflict Divorce

family court fails to protect women

 

My divorce was tame compared to some. There were no domestic abuse issues, no custody battle issues; we went our separate ways with no physical harm done. I can’t say the same about emotional harm but, as I learned the Family Court System is ill-equipped to handle the conflict created when a man has a personality disorder or is hell-bent on using the system to punish their ex.

As a matter of fact, it is my opinion the Family Court System is ill-equipped to protect anyone whose divorce is high conflict. Judges, Attorneys, Psychologists, and other court-appointed personnel EXPECT divorce to be one size fits all and when it isn’t lack the skills to support civility. What you get are platitudes and an attitude that if you are engaged with an ex who creates conflict you must be playing a role in the conflict also.

If I had a dollar for every person I’ve heard from and worked with who felt let down by the Family Court System, I’d be sporting a new pair of Manolo Blahniks.

How the family court fails to protect women.

1. Contempt of Court: If a man fails to pay child support or defies a portion of the court-ordered divorce decree, there is the ability to “petition the court for contempt.” The only problem, it will cost you attorney fees to do so, and rarely is a defendant held responsible when found “in contempt.”

In my years working in the divorce industry, I’ve not heard one story in which a defiant, in contempt man, was held responsible by a Judge. If you are a mother dependent on child support you will find very little protection from the Family Court System.

2. Crushing Financial Expense: If you are engaged in a custody battle or high conflict divorce you will find little or no legal support from the Family Court System. Especially if you are in a “he said, she said” situation that increases the time involved in the divorce process. Judges have little patience for those who stall their docket and divorce attorneys who thrive on prolonging the conflict to enrich their practice do nothing but encourage the conflict.

3. The Best Interest of the Children: The Family Court is set up to protect the rights of both parents, which in turn will supposedly protect the rights of the child. This concept is meant to be in the best interest of the child since the focus is on equitable rights for both parents. But, how do you “equitably” divide a child?

Custody battles take place when one parent feels they are better equipped the care for children than the other parent. Personality disordered individuals will use the Family Court System to abuse an ex-spouse which leaves the children as collateral victims.

Judges are busy, skeptical individuals who have packed dockets and little tolerance for quarreling parents or the personality disordered father. They are more concerned with getting a case “solved” and clearing up their docket than taking the time needed to distinguish between fact or fiction and in the end, doing what is actually in the “best interest of the children.”

4. Domestic Abuse Cases: Abusers use the court system to exert control over an ex-spouse. They manipulate attorneys and judges who end up playing a role in further harm being done to the ex-wife and children born to the couples. The very people who the courts are sworn to protect!

When a mother, the parent most likely to make accusations of abuse of herself or her children enters the Family Court System she and her accusations of domestic abuse are met with suspicion and it has been my experience that judges don’t want to hear it.

Many mothers are tuned out and turned out into the cold with few resources because the Family Court System would rather hear a story of cooperation…the “happy divorce” gets much more attention than the high conflict divorce. After all, happy divorces, those with little or no conflict are quick and easy for a judge to run through his/her docket.

Final Thoughts:

Here is an example from personal history with the Family Court System of how women are viewed if you attempt to use the system to protect yourself and your children. I have a friend who is a divorce attorney. She has been privy to the issues in my divorce that kept my ex-husband and me in and out of court for seven years. She knows how many times he defied our divorce agreement and what that defiance me for the children and I.

I recently posted a comment on a Facebook discussion she was having about something that had occurred in the local Family Court. It is has been years since I’ve been involved in that particular court system but, due to my profession, I remain curious about changes.

When I questioned her about the issue, asking about names and the particulars she replied to me by saying, “Please Cathy, don’t stir the pot.” Stir the pot? Her belief that I am a pot stirrer is based on the fact that my ex defied every aspect of our final divorce decree and I filed petitions for contempt to have him held responsible. I’m the bad guy for holding him accountable!!

In my friend’s eyes, I’m someone who stirs the pot or makes waves because I expected a system that is set up to protect my children and me, to actually protect us. I had the audacity to use the system in the way it was set up to be used. And due to that, I am viewed in a more negative light than the person who defied orders from the judge, emotionally abused his children and caused those he left behind extreme financial and emotional distress.

Bottom line, the Family Court System fails us by not protecting those who use the system as the system was designed to be used. If you are a mother trying to protect your children, your assets or your legal rights via the Family Court System, the cards are stacked against you.

The post 4 Ways The Family Court Fails To Protect Women During a High Conflict Divorce appeared first on Divorced Moms.

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2 Parenting Styles That Keep Your Children Out Of The Middle Of Your Divorce

child stuck in the middle

 

If you’ve been through a divorce or, you are thinking about divorce one of your main concerns will be how your divorce will impact your children. Study after study relates the ways in which divorce negatively impacts children. It’s no wonder parents worry about their children’s welfare based on common information about the subject of children and divorce.

Divorce can negatively impact children but there are ways to keep that from happening. You should know that the impact your divorce will have on your children dependents mainly on how you and your spouse choose to treat each other during and after divorce and, how you choose to parent.

Children who witness conflict between their parents during and after divorce or, feel as if they have been put in the middle of that conflict are negatively impacted by divorce. If you want your divorce to do little harm to your children, it’s your job to keep down conflict and keep them out of the middle of problems between you and your ex.

You may feel that conflict during divorce is unavoidable or the fault of the other parent, regardless of what you feel, it is imperative that you take the steps needed to keep your children from witnessing conflict and feeling stuck in the middle of two angry parents.

Below are 4 common ways children find themselves stuck in the middle of their parent’s conflict during and after divorce.

  1. When parents use their children as a messenger or a means of finding out information about the other parent’s home, dating life, and social activities.
  2. Negative comments about the other parent made by you, friends or family members.
  3. Sharing adult details about the problems between the parents. Details such as information about infidelity, legal divorce proceedings or the reason for the divorce.
  4. Garnering the child’s favor in an attempt to use the child to punish the other parent.
  5. Talking to the child about money issues. A late child support check, a lack of money needed to pay the rent…adult financial problems that children have no control over.

Steps parents can take to keep from putting their child in the middle of their conflict:

Divorce brings an end to your marriage, it doesn’t bring an end to your duties as a parent. One of those duties is to put a concerted effort into positively co-parenting with your child’s other parent. Below are a few suggestions that will help.

Choosing the parenting style that fits well for you and your ex after divorce

Parallel Parenting After Divorce

If there is a lot of conflict between you and your ex, parallel parenting is appropriate. Why? Parallel parenting allows each parent to remain a part of the child’s life while reducing the need for contact with each other. When parallel parenting, there is very little communication which, in turn, keeps down the conflict and protects the child from being impacted in a negative manner.

When parallel parenting, parents:

  1. Communicate through email, a third party or an app like Family Wizard to stay informed about issues involving the children. Discussions are strictly about the children and no personal issues between the parents. Use of a phone to communicate is only done in cases of an emergency.
  2. Schedules such as visitation, vacations and holidays are strictly kept. There is no negotiating for different days and times to keep down the likelihood of conflicts arising.
  3. There is a set residency agreed upon or ordered by the courts. When the children are in the care of one or the other parent in their residence neither parent interferes with social activities, routines or anything that takes place in the other parent’s residence.
  4. Neither parent has any influence over the other parent and how that parent chooses to spend time with their children. If one parent has an issue with the way the other parent is choosing to parent in their residence, the court is used to settle the issue.
  5. Parenting is treated as a business arrangement. Common courtesy is shown at all times and agreements are honored because the sole purpose of parallel parenting is to do what is best for your children.
  6. When communication or negotiation is necessary, parents can choose to have a third party involved to witness and if needed mediate and conflict that arises.
  7. Child support payments are filtered through the court or a child support collection bureau to keep down any possibility of late payment or conflicts of over payments.

Cooperative Parenting After Divorce

Cooperative parenting works best when there is low conflict between parents and the parents are able to work together for the sake of the children. With cooperative parenting, there is more flexibility when it comes to visitation schedules and residency issues.

When cooperative parenting, parents:

  1. Parents form a friendly business relationship that revolves around the needs of their children. A courteous and polite relationship is one that will go a long way toward making sure children have what they need from each parent.
  2. Parents are able to talk, face-to-face about parenting issues as they arise. They are able to stick to the topic at hand without becoming distracted by old relationship issues.
  3. They don’t expect praise or emotional support from each other. They realize that part of their relationship has ended. But, they are able to show empathy and to support each other during difficult parenting issues.
  4. Keep all discussions about parenting, visitation, schedules and such to themselves and don’t involve the children. They come to a firm decision, as parents, before involving the children in their decisions.
  5. Are able to, at all times, put their children’s needs above their needs and feelings. Their relationship with the other parent is strictly about what is best for their children.
  6. Are able to communicate via phone or in person without engaging in conflict.
  7. Child support checks are mailed directly to the parent receiving the support. Due to their business like relationship, they both understand the importance of meeting their financial obligations to their children.

Whether parallel parenting or cooperative parenting, it is important to remember that one method is not better than the other. Each method will result in lower conflict and, as a result, better parenting. And, that is your goal as parents, better parenting and keeping your child out of the middle of your divorce issues.

The post 2 Parenting Styles That Keep Your Children Out Of The Middle Of Your Divorce appeared first on Divorced Moms.

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I Agreed To Reduced Child Support For My Daughter: Here’s Why

i agreed to reduce child support

 

Child support, the bane of some non-custodial parents’ existence, is ordered for children to equalize the standard of living if there is a great financial divide between households. For the father of my child, it was a tool for harassment, a bullying card if you will until I agreed to impute my own income.

He threatened to take me to court because I wanted to use the calculation worksheet using actual income figures. I am in a fortunate situation where I can still provide the necessities and more for my child at this point. So even though his income is four times greater than mine, I agreed to a reduced child support — to avoid court and the stress that brings and to take away the power play he has wielded for the past 11 years.

In other words, I agreed to reduced child support to avoid his continual attempts to manipulate.

Child support is for the child’s expenses and considered the right of the child. He preferred to pay a lawyer thousands of dollars to find unscrupulous ways to reduce it. It always baffles me when fathers would rather pay to support their lawyer’s children than their own. I liken it stealing from his own flesh and blood.

His lawyer told me he wanted to deduct from her child support the gas money it cost him to drive the 15 miles to start his parenting time. He took it off the table when I told him it was ridiculous and I agreed to impute my income.

I have no clue from what depths a person’s mind must sink to come up with that kind of deduction. I am not a psychologist and make no claims to be able to evaluate someone’s mental health, but when I read an article about covert narcissists, I thought of him.

We started the parenting journey together in an unconventional way — I posted an ad on Craigslist looking for a sperm donor and was open to co-parenting. Before my daughter was born, we spent about a year getting to know each other to make sure we could get along, had similar values and ideas about how to raise a child and quite frankly figure out if the other was crazy. You never know on Craigslist. There are plenty of horror stories and no one wants a horror story to also be a lifelong commitment.

When we first met, he told me he was 45 but I soon learned he was over 50.

He apologized and although my intuition screamed RED FLAG, I forgave him. That was a “fool me once” I should have taken more seriously.

When my daughter was around six months old, I decided to go back to work part-time. I then received this email from him:

“You are being paid a substantial amount of money above the Support Guidelines to be her full-time caregiver. Until our permanent orders are approved or there is a change in our temporary orders, you must continue to provide her full-time care during your parenting hours.”

They may just be words but within them contain the essence of how he viewed me — as a vessel to house a fetus and then as a paid caregiver once she was born. If she had been born around the time The Handmaid’s Tale came out I’m sure he would have given me a red dress and white bonnet.

Yes, he supported my daughter with child support he had willingly agreed upon before I gave birth, but it was not enough to cover everything — rent, utilities, food, her expenses, and my personal expenses. It was time to go back to work at least part-time to help make ends meet. But in his mind, the child support — money used to equalize the standard of living in households (he made over $100k per year) — was a salary he paid me as if I were his employee.

Our initial arrangement was for me to live in his house for a year so I could be a stay at home mom and then move out and go back to work. We thought this was in the best interest of our child and I was grateful for this arrangement. Unfortunately, it lasted only six weeks. Living with him was unbearable — without an income, he gave me money for necessities but he required an itemized list of expenses.

When my mom came to visit for the birth and stayed with us, he chastised me for allowing her to sleep in the room with me. When he was home one day I asked if he could “watch” our baby so I could spend some time out with a friend (I was with her all week) and he not only screamed at me but the next morning before leaving for work slammed all the doors in the house to wake up me (and the baby).

The list goes on and so I found an apartment not too far away and in a sense, escaped.

Because I moved out of the city he lived in (about 11 miles away), parenting became “inconvenient” for him. Although he worked out of state all week, he wanted both her daycare and pediatrician to be within his city limits.

In court, the judge asked him if he was willing to pick up our child from daycare on Fridays after he returned home from work to start his parenting time. He replied, “No”. The judge told him, “Then I guess you won’t see your child” and he was forced to concede her daycare and pediatrician would be close to where I live as the custodial parent.

To punish me for his “inconvenience”, he threatened to reduce child support every few years. When he found out I paid a babysitter to go out once a week, he bullied. When I refused to pick her up on Sundays at 3 pm instead of the court ordered 6 pm (he only took her 1 night per week), he bullied.

He didn’t only bully with money. When she was about two months old, he smugly told me he was going to have her baptized (he told me he had no interest in religion before she was born) even though we previously agreed she would be raised Jewish and I was planning her Jewish baby naming ceremony.

Being a single mother to a baby or toddler is chaotic on its own.

He added to the chaos by agreeing to something and then changing his mind just before the twelfth hour. I often felt like I was drowning in an ocean with my baby in one hand and my other holding onto a raft for dear life while he was standing on the raft squishing my fingers so they would release. I didn’t know if he would let us both drown or try to save her as I sunk to the bottom.

When we had joint decision making on her daycare in our temporary order and I was going back to work, he would agree to a provider and then rescind. A couple of times when I knew he’d be in town instead of working out of state, I offered him to take her an extra night.

Each time he would email me how he works hard all week and I lack understanding for his need to relax. Instead of viewing an extra night with his child as a gift, he saw it as a potential favor to me.

His game of retaliation usually began with chaos, followed by a threat involving money. My income, never again at the level I made in New Jersey where I’m originally from, was too low to compensate for the rising housing and food costs in my area. Unfortunately, until recently, I was dependent on some extra support.

I take responsibility for posting the ad on Craigslist and can only caution other women from agreeing to a co-parenting arrangement with a sperm donor. Parenting is hard enough with two adults in a relationship who love each other. We walked into a minefield, both of us naïve to the realities of who the other person is. I honestly have no idea the breadth of his need for control, but I know he used his money and our daughter to push it to the limit.

For some, an alternative arrangement like ours might work out fine. However, I advocate the traditional way — go to a sperm bank and use an anonymous donor. You don’t know the complexity of someone’s psychology if they only show what is on the surface. What triggers them, how they respond, any longstanding psychological or personality disorders they have — you’ll never see until a child enters the picture. If you plan on becoming a single mother by choice, do it with the one person you know the best — yourself.

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