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Want to resolve your Texas family law case outside of court? Remember these rules of engagement

Want to resolve your Texas family law case outside of court? Remember these rules of engagement

Originally published by The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC Blog.

Going to court to resolve a family law case is not a fun experience for anyone involved. You probably didn’t need me to tell you that, but it is the absolute truth. There is nothing glamorous about it. You will not have the moment in time where you get to call out your ex-spouse for the bad behavior he engaged into the delight of your family watching in the audience and the shock of the judge. If you are after truth, justice, and the American Way, then a family court is not the place to go.

What you are more likely to experience is a judge who is engaged but not sympathetic and an opposing party who is slinging mud at you based on issues that may or may not have ever occurred. Do not expect your ex-spouse to be contrite in response to any of the accusations that you hurl at him. I’ve seen enough men and women who have done bad things go on the offensive against a “victim” ex-spouse enough times to know that family court doesn’t deliver results in the way that you may anticipate.

With all of that said, it would make some sense to attempt to appeal to your spouse’s reasonable side and attempt to settle any family case outside of the courtroom. Mediation is a great resource for parties and attorneys alike when it comes to attempting to reach a middle ground on the important issues of your case. The nice part is that the judge in your case will likely require that you mediate your case at least once before you get anywhere near a courtroom. Odds are good that your case will settle and a potential courtroom drama can be averted.

What happens from the beginning part of your case until you get into mediation can have a lasting impact on the chances of your case settling. When it comes to co-parenting with a person who you may not see eye to eye with, getting along may not be an option. In these high conflict family court cases can you do anything to avoid disagreement and disaster?

Today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan will seek to answer that question. We actually took up the issue at the conclusion of yesterday’s blog post and we will continue to run with it in today’s blog. This is an important subject that you need to know about sooner rather than later. Learn what will work when it comes to co-parenting and avoid problems before they occur.

Be accountable to your co-parent

Whether you were married to your child’s other parent or not, you now have a sizeable amount of history with that person. You should feel some degree of responsibility to be held to your word. Basically, you should do the things that you say that you’re going to do. Just as importantly, you should avoid doing the things that you have said that you will not do. That shows that you take seriously the responsibility you have in raising a child with this person.

Even if you couldn’t care less how your child’s other parent views you, remember that everything you do in this case should be done to benefit the life of your child. Do not put your child in a bad position because you cannot be trusted or because you think it’s unimportant to be held to account for your actions. Taking the easy way out may seem better at the time (especially if doing so could harm your ex-spouse) but remember that in a co-parenting relationship you will often find yourself facing similar circumstances down the road.

Although you cannot control what your child’s other parent will do in response to your actions in the future, you have complete control over how you act at the moment. If you say that you are going to do something- do it. It’s as simple as that. Even if it means going out of your way or doing something that doesn’t seem like much fun if you said something your actions need to back those words up.

Keep a journal of interactions with your ex-spouse

If you are not a big fan of organization you may want to pay particular attention to this section of our blog post. Keeping notes of what you say and what your ex-spouse says in relation to your child is an important trait to pick up. For one, it will help you to remember better what was said so that you do not operate under mistaken assumptions and memories of things that did not occur. We’ve all been there- absolutely sure something happened, but as it turns out nothing close to that having occurred.

Before you consider filing a family lawsuit- whether that is a modification or enforcement lawsuit- I would recommend that you review those notes to determine how your memories line up with the reality of the situation. You may find that your emotions are not justified by past events as they actually occurred. It is a good practice to be able to check yourself by keeping notes of your meetings, interactions, phone calls, etc. Better to know exactly what took place than to run off to an attorney for no good reason.

Mediate, and mediate again (if necessary)

As I noted at the outset of today’s blog post, your case will very likely be decided in mediation rather than in a courtroom. Family court judges in most courts will mandate that you mediate your case at least once before stepping foot into their courtroom. When you and your ex-spouse find yourself facing a situation that is too big for you to resolve on your own, it is a good idea to push your attorneys to schedule a mediation early in your case.

Many times I will encourage clients to mediate their case even if an agreement is in place before the case is filed. Let me explain. Suppose that you and your spouse are getting a divorce. You know that you are getting a divorce- there is no chance to reconcile with your husband and divorce is the only alternative that you can seek at this point. You feel good that you all sat at the kitchen table and hammered out an agreement that will allow you to avoid having to go to court.

The next thing one of you does is walk into our office and tell one of our attorneys that you have an agreement for your divorce. All you are looking to do is have a lawyer draft order based on the agreement and you will be on your way. This sounds reasonable and in many ways is exactly what you should have done before coming to see a lawyer. However, I will add one thing to this discussion that should encourage you to seek advice from an attorney and mediator.

Here is that information- even if you have an agreement with your spouse in place for a divorce settlement, there is nothing guaranteeing that your spouse will stick to their word and honor that agreement. A lot can happen in between the time you all agreed to something at the kitchen table and the time where a judge can sign an order. An order has to be drafted, both sides must review the draft and signatures from you and your spouse must be collected. We’re talking at least a couple of weeks.

In the event that you or your spouse change your mind on the terms of your agreement, there is nothing to protect you. You could come up with an agreement only to see your spouse change their mind at the last minute. As long as he hasn’t signed the divorce decree he can turn his back on the process. This is completely legal and happens all the time. Before you start to worry, here is where mediation can solve this problem.

By going to mediation and resolving your issues there, you assure yourself of two things. For one, any agreements that you reach are going to be memorialized by a Mediated Settlement Agreement (MSA). You, your spouse and your attorneys will sign the MSA along with the mediator. This is significant because once it is signed there is no going back. I will tell clients that you cannot call me the next morning in a panic and tell me that the MSA needs to be tossed out because you realized you made a mistake of some sort. The final decree of divorce will be drafted off of that MSA.

Next, not only will you have an agreement in place that is unbreakable, but you also will ensure that you have accounted for all of the areas that are necessary for a divorce. Divorces can be complicated and touch on a range of issues. By coming up with your own settlement you are possibly missing out on a number of subjects that you had failed to account for. By having multiple attorneys and an experienced mediator look at the MSA you are almost guaranteed of having an agreement that takes into account all the areas you needed to account for.

What happens if you cannot agree on compromises after an order is established?

Once all the parties and the judge have signed off on an order it is set in stone. In the future, if there are any disagreements between you and your ex-spouse you can go back and refer to the order to see what your responsibilities are. That is reassuring to have a guidepost like that, but it can also be frustrating due to the fact that your family may “outgrow” the order.

In the future, you and your ex-spouse are free to resolve issues on your own without even filing a lawsuit. This is what judges assume will happen- the two of you will work together and resolve problems on your own without too much difficulty. You will save money and time by not filing a lawsuit and in the end, you will reach conclusions that are better tailored for your family than anything a family court judge could have come up with.

In the event that you have a problem that cannot be solved by negotiation and compromise, remember that the order is what controls the situation. Think of the order as your fall back provisions. Whatever you cannot agree upon means that your order takes center stage. As long as have a mutually agreed upon solution to a problem, you can go off of that solution. However, once one of you no longer agrees to abide by the compromise you must go off of what the order has to say.

This is important for you to know since you cannot be assured that you will always be able to come up with solutions to your problems on the fly. So, what you should take away from this discussion is that your orders had better be workable for your family- both now and in the future.

Questions about visitation problems? Come back to our blog tomorrow to find out more

As children age, and as your own circumstances evolve it may become apparent to you and your child’s other parent that your visitation orders need to be re-worked. What can you do in situations like this? If you find yourself in this sort of position, I would recommend that you return to our blog tomorrow. We will spend some time discussing this subject and how you can work around problems like this.

In the meantime, if you have any questions about today’s blog post or anything another subject in family law please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys can schedule you for a free of charge consultation six days a week. These consultations are a great opportunity to ask questions of our experienced attorneys and to receive direct feedback about your particular circumstances.

Curated by Texas Bar Today. Follow us on Twitter @texasbartoday.



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Texas Court May Not Ignore Stipulations in Property Division in a Divorce Case

Texas Court May Not Ignore Stipulations in Property Division in a Divorce Case

Originally published by Francesca Blackard.

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Generally, a trial court in a Texas divorce case has the discretion to divide marital assets.  A trial court can, however, abuse its discretion if it divides property without reference to guiding rules or principles and without evidence to support the ruling.  An appeals court recently found that a trial court abused its discretion by mischaracterizing separate property as community property and improperly divesting the husband of his separate property.

Both parties had been married previously, and both asserted throughout the trial that they had separate property.  They each pled and testified that they had separate property and submitted documentation showing they had separate property.  Additionally, each submitted sworn inventories and filed proposed property divisions admitting the other party had separate property.  Neither party ever disputed or contested the other’s claims. There were only two disputed issues before the court at the time of the trial:  how to divide the wife’s retirement account and whether there were any reimbursement claims against the separate property.

The trial court, however, issued a letter ruling dividing all of the assets as though they were community property, despite the various agreements, stipulations, and uncontested submissions.  The husband moved for reconsideration, and the wife filed a short response in opposition.  The appeals court noted she had received the majority of the husband’s separate property under the letter ruling.

 

Following a hearing, the trial court denied the motion, stating that neither party proved their separate property by clear and convincing evidence.  The court entered its final divorce decree in accordance with the letter ruling.

The husband appealed, citing three issues.  He argued the court erred in failing to confirm separate property to which the parties had stipulated, that the trial court improperly divested him of his own separate property, and  finally, that the court failed to make a just and right property division.

The wife argued the appeals court should uphold the final decree because the parties had not rebutted the presumption of community property by clear and convincing evidence.

There is a rebuttable presumption that property owned at the time of a Texas divorce is community property. If a party claims assets are separate property, he or she has the burden to prove they are separate property by clear and convincing evidence.  The evidence does not have to be undisputed or unequivocal, but it must be sufficient to give the trier of fact a firm belief that the property is separate.

Texas law identifies certain property as separate, including property that was owned prior to the marriage or property that was received by one spouse by gift, devise, or descent.  In Texas, the marital estate only includes the community property, and the trial court does not have the authority to divest a party of his or her separate property in the divorce decree.

Parties may stipulate certain issues.  Stipulations are agreements, concessions, or admissions made by the parties in a court case.  If issues are excluded by stipulation, those issues are excluded from the court’s consideration.  There is no need for proof on an issue that is stipulated.  A stipulation of fact is conclusive as to the issue it addresses and is binding on the court.

Both parties stipulated that they did not dispute the other’s claims for separate property.  They filed sworn inventories.  They each submitted proposed property divisions or final decrees requesting the other’s separate property be confirmed as separate property.  The appeals court found that the trial court did not have the discretion to issue a ruling contrary to the stipulations, admissions, and undisputed evidence.

The appeals court found the trial court had unjustly divided the marital estate.  The trial court had mischaracterized separate property as community property, and then it had awarded the wife a large percentage of that community estate.

The appeals court found the trial court abused its discretion in divesting the husband of his separate property.  The appeals court affirmed the divorce but reversed the rest of the judgment and remanded for the trial court to confirm the separate estates in accordance with the stipulations, admissions, and undisputed evidence and to divide the marital estate in a just and right manner.

This case shows that courts sometimes act beyond the scope of their discretion.  If you are facing a high-asset divorce, a skilled Texas divorce attorney can help protect your rights and your assets.  Call McClure Law Group at 214.692.8200 to schedule a consultation.

 

Curated by Texas Bar Today. Follow us on Twitter @texasbartoday.



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What does being a joint managing conservator mean in a Texas family law case?

What does being a joint managing conservator mean in a Texas family law case?

Originally published by The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC Blog.

If you are involved in a
family law case in Texas then you are likely interested in knowing what you need
to do in order to best position yourself within the case. Certainly your
concerns lie mainly in being able to spend as much of your time with your
child as possible and to have a hand in making important decisions in
your child’s life. The rest, as they say, is just details.

The reality is that you need to know how to prepare yourself within your
case in order to be able to make credible arguments regarding your future
role in your child’s life. Although there is a presumption in place
under Texas law that both parents of a child should be named as joint
managing conservators of that child you will still want to have the evidence
available in your case point towards you becoming the primary managing
conservator if your case were to go to a trial.

Let’s take that assumption one step further: assuming that you and
your child’s other parent are going to be named as
joint managing conservators of your child, what are the biggest areas of disagreement that you can
expect to encounter in a negotiation or trial? In today’s blog post
from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC we will discuss the subject of what
questions really matter in a Texas child custody case.

Designating the primary residence of your child

This is the big one that parents in child custody and divorce cases alike
get up in arms about- with good reason. Being able to designate the primary
residence of your child means three things. The first is that you are
able to live with your child during the week when school is in session
and for most of the summer. As a result you are awarded more time with
your child. Under a Standard Possession Order (SPO) this means that you
will likely be able to spend 55% of the year with your child, if not more.

Next, you have the right receive
child support from your child’s other parent. If you have one child at issue in
the custody/divorce case this means that 20% of your child’s other
parent’s income is on the hook for child support. Child support
is intended to even the scales a bit since the other parent does not see
your child as often and will not be responsible for much of the day to
day costs associated with raising the child. Keep in mind that child support
is not intended to allow your child to live the lifestyle that he has
become accustomed to or anything like this. It is meant to care for the
base essentials of daily life.

Third, being named as conservator with the right to designate the primary
residence of your child means that you are able to also be awarded superior
rights as to your child as well. It is typical that the parent with the
right to designate the primary residence of the child also is able to
have superior rights to being able to make educational and health care
related decisions as well. This is not always the case but it is often
times the case.

What about a geographic restriction on where your child can reside?

Even after the conclusion of your child custody case the court will retain
jurisdiction over the case so that a judge will be able to issue additional
orders in the future if the need arises. A typical restriction that is
put on families after a child custody case is that of a geographic restriction
on where a child can reside. While you are no longer subject to the jurisdiction
of a court, your child will be until he or she turns 18 or graduates from
high school. As such a court can regulate where your child lives until them.

The purpose of a
geographic restriction is to allow both parents of a child to develop and maintain a relationship
with their child after a child custody case. The thought is that if there
would be no geographic restriction that is put into place a mother or
father who is the primary conservator of a child could move away from
Texas after a case ends causing the other parent to need to move as well
in order to keep up. A geographic restriction states that you as the primary
conservator of the child must live within a certain geographic area. It
could be Harris County and any county that borders Harris. It could be
within a certain zip code. Or it could be within the boundaries of a certain
school district.

A geographic restriction is usually lifted in the event that the non-primary
parent moves out of the geographic area where the parties are restricted
to living. For example if your child is restricted to living in either
Harris or Montgomery County and after two years you decide to move to
Waller County then the geographic restricted is automatically lifted.
Your ex-spouse can move with your child wherever he or she wants. The
reasoning behind this is that the geographic restriction is intended to
benefit you, and if you decide to make a decision that does not coincide
with the order then you should not expect your ex-spouse to have to live
by the order either.

How is time with your child going to be divided up when your case concludes?

A Standard Possession Order (SPO), as its name implies, is the most typical possession schedule that is
handed out in a family law case in Texas. Its details can be found in
the Texas Family Code, but it basically involves the non primary parent
being awarded possession on the first, third and fifth weekends of each
month as well as a Thursday night during the school week. Holidays are
alternated on a yearly basis with the other parent. Summer vacation means
extended time to spend with the non primary parent as well.

If your case makes it all the way to a trial then a judge would likely
award the non primary parent a SPO barring evidence showing that it would
not be appropriate. Things like family violence, drug or alcohol abuse
are examples of situations that could lead to a SPO award not being made
by a judge.

If you are a parent to a young child under the age of three then you should
be aware that a SPO does not apply to you or your child. A judge would
need to take your specific situation into consideration when handing out
an order for possession. Obviously the needs of a child under the age
of three are considerably different from older children. What typically
happens is that a “stair step” order goes into place which
allows the non primary parent to be awarded more time with your child
the older the child gets.

If your family has a unique circumstance involving a child with a disability
or a factor that we have not covered today the best advice that I can
provide you with is to contact an experienced family law attorney in order
to discuss your circumstances in greater detail. There is no substitute
for being able to get practical advice from someone who has dealt with
cases like yours before. While you can receive advice from anyone, the
advice isn’t worth much until the advice giver has seen and experienced
what you are going through in particular.

Questions about family law matters in Texas? Contact the Law Office of
Bryan Fagan

The attorneys with the
Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC appreciate your time and interest in today’s blog topic. If you
have any questions or seek clarification on anything that you’ve
read today please do not hesitate to
contact our office. We offer free of charge consultations six days a week in our office.
A licensed family law attorney would be honored to meet with you and answer
your questions and concerns in a pressure free environment.

We post to our blog every day of the wee and we hope to see you back here
tomorrow as we continue our discussion into relevant and important family
law topics.

Curated by Texas Bar Today. Follow us on Twitter @texasbartoday.



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Arbitrator’s Evident Partiality in Texas Divorce Case

Arbitrator’s Evident Partiality in Texas Divorce Case

Originally published by Kelly McClure.

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Many couples facing a Texas divorce seek alternative dispute resolutions, such as arbitration or mediation.  Parties to an arbitration are entitled to an impartial arbitrator.  The Texas Arbitration Act requires a court to vacate an arbitration award on the application of a party if that party’s rights were prejudiced by “evident partiality” of an arbitrator.  The award should be vacated if the arbitrator does not disclose information that might give an objective observer a reasonable impression that the arbitrator is partial.  The requirement to disclose applies whether the conflict arises before or during the proceedings.  The nondisclosure itself establishes evident partiality, regardless of whether there is actual partiality or bias.  Texas courts have acknowledged that extensive experience in the area of law related to the dispute will result in a need for the arbitrator to disclose prior dealings with parties or attorneys.  However, the parties should be informed and have the opportunity to evaluate the potential bias ahead of time.

In a recent case, a wife challenged an arbitration award based on the arbitrator’s failure to disclose his connection to the husband’s attorney.  The parties agreed to arbitration pursuant to their pre-marital agreement. In the initial status conference, the arbitrator said he did not have a material relationship with either party or their attorneys beyond normal professional relationships. He did not supplement his disclosures after a new attorney filed a notice of appearance on behalf of the husband as co-counsel.

When the arbitrator failed to issue an award within the time frame set by the court, the husband’s attorney requested a ruling.  In her email, she stated, “You know how much I think of you as a friend and a lawyer . . .”   The arbitrator issued the award several days after the email, ruling in favor of the husband and against most of the wife’s claims.

The wife moved for a continuance, stating she had evidence of an undisclosed social relationship between the arbitrator and the husband’s attorney.  She asked to conduct further discovery and moved to vacate the arbitration award on the grounds she was prejudiced by the arbitrator’s partiality.

The husband filed an affidavit signed by his attorney.  The attorney stated she had known the arbitrator for more than 30 years.  She stated they both practiced in the same area of law and were both active in state bar activities and CLE programs.  She stated she and other family law attorneys had attended three or four cookouts associated with the state bar at the arbitrator’s home.  They had each spent the weekend at a mutual friend’s ranch, along with their respective significant others and other Houston attorneys.

The trial court found the motion for continuance was not filed timely and signed a final decree pursuant to the arbitration award. The wife moved for a new trial, or, in the alternative, to vacate, modify, correct or reform the decree.

The husband’s attorney testified the arbitrator had mediated her cases five or six times and arbitrated an issue in one case several years ago.  She also testified she had arbitrated a case he was involved in but did not remember the details.  She said she had gone to the ranch as the guest of her significant other.

The arbitrator testified he had known the attorney for about 30 years.  He said he had been mediator in her cases “maybe five” times and had been “clean up arbitrator” in a telephone arbitration.  He said he only remembered one cookout.  He also testified there were six to eight couples at the ranch that weekend.

The trial court denied both motions.  The wife appealed, arguing the failure to disclose the personal and professional relationship with the husband’s attorney showed partiality that warranted vacating the award.  She pointed to the attorney’s presence as a guest at cookouts at his home, the weekend both spent at the ranch, and the previous arbitration and mediations.

An arbitrator does not have to disclose trivial relationships.  The appeals court found, however, these were not trivial interactions and the two did in fact have a social relationship.  Furthermore, the arbitrator had previously been mediator and arbitrator for the attorney in multiple cases.  The husband argued the interactions were limited and they had merely a trivial social relationship. The appeals court it must review the facts from the perspective of an objective but found these connections could give an objective observer the reasonable impression that the arbitrator was partial.

The husband argued the trial court had resolved any questions of fact regarding evident partiality in his favor.  The appeals court noted the issue was a matter of law, not fact.  A trial court can resolve conflicts in the evidence, but there were no material conflicts requiring a factual finding.  There were some differences in the recollections of the attorney and arbitrator, but the appeals court ultimately found the differences were not material.

The appeals court also rejected the husband’s argument the wife waived the partiality complaint by not raising it earlier.  The appeals court found the email from the husband’s attorney did not constitute a full disclosure of the relationship.

The appeals court found the arbitrator’s failure to disclose the relationship constituted evident partiality.  The court affirmed the portion of the decree granting the divorce, but reversed the rest of the decree and remanded.

If you are facing a divorce, a skilled Texas divorce attorney can assist you.  The attorneys at McClure Law Group are experienced in both arbitration and litigation.  Call us today at 214.692.8200 to discuss your case.

 

Curated by Texas Bar Today. Follow us on Twitter @texasbartoday.



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Court May Order Battering Intervention and Prevention Program in Texas Custody Case

Court May Order Battering Intervention and Prevention Program in Texas Custody Case

Originally published by Robert Epstein.

By

In Texas custody cases, the best interests of the child are the primary consideration, and the court uses broad discretion in determining them.  If the court finds it is in the child’s best interest to do so, it may limit a parent’s visitation with the child or increase a parent’s time with the child, but only if certain conditions are met.  A father recently challenged a court’s order that he would have to complete a Battering Intervention and Prevention Program before the possession schedule could change.

The parents lived together with the child until the mother moved out of the home.  The father filed suit, asking to be named joint-managing conservator and to have the exclusive right to designate the child’s primary residence.  A jury found the parents should be joint-managing conservators. Although the jury gave the father the exclusive right to designate residence, it placed a geographic restriction on that right.

When the court issued the order, it left the temporary orders for possession in place until the father finished a Battering Intervention and Prevention Program. The mother was granted the exclusive right to consent to invasive medical procedures, make decisions regarding the child’s education, and possess the child’s passport.  The father requested findings of fact and conclusions of law, then appealed.
Continue reading →

Curated by Texas Bar Today. Follow us on Twitter @texasbartoday.



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The Costs of a Child Custody Conflict Case

The Costs of a Child Custody Conflict Case

You can help yourself by researching and understanding the process as well as the costs of a child custody conflict case.

The post The Costs of a Child Custody Conflict Case appeared first on Divorce Magazine.

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Standard of Practice: 2007 Documentation of Court-Involved Case Management

Standard of Practice: 2007 Documentation of Court-Involved Case Management

I want to share something with you. Actual progress notes from therapy, not with this pathology of complex family conflict surrounding divorce, but from therapy with abused children in the foster care system. 

The physical and sexual abuse of these children was confirmed by the Department of Children’s Services, and they had placed these children in foster care.  For treatment, they were sent to my clinic.  I was the Clinical Director for a three-university collaboration treating the impact of childhood trauma within our foster care system.

In my role as the Clinical Director, I supervised interns and post-docs, which meant I signed off on their chart notes.  I also trained them in how to do trauma therapy with children, and how to document the therapy in their chart notes.  Over time in my training role as Clinical Director I de-identified some of the notes that came across my desk to use in the training of interns and post-docs regarding treatment, and treatment documentation.

When I left to enter private practice I apparently kept a file of these de-identified sample notes from actual cases tucked in a file cabinet in my garage.  I had forgotten I had them.  My goodness, they’re from 2007, tucked in a file folder in a file cabinet in my garage.  I now recollect thinking that these de-identified chart note samples might be useful if I ever entered another supervisory training role, as training examples of child trauma therapy and therapy documentation.

I’ve been going through and organizing the stuff in my garage.  My last round of doing this was with my books, this time is with my journal articles and folders.  I’m clearing my emotional-psychological decks for action; opening the gun ports in preparation for the upcoming ship-to-ship engagement, so to speak.  In going through stuff folder-by-folder I came across my folder of sample notes, and I started to read them.

Interesting stuff.  Not to me.  It’s just work stuff to me from 2007, long before I came to work with families of court-involved divorce.  But these notes reveal important stuff about professional standards of practice, because they are not created for this pathology of post-divorce family conflict, and they are not related to anything controversial.  They are just standard of ordinary practice from 2007.

At the time of these notes, and at the time they were archived away in my files, I had plans to die happily in complete obscurity, and having never even heard of anything called “parental alienation.”   In 2007, I had never heard the term, “parental alienation.”  This note is from trauma.  These are the actual notes for therapy with young kids in the foster care system. 

This one documenting court-involved case management is from a post-doc psychologist.  It’s a case-management note for billing her report for the guardian (probably grandparents) regarding treatment progress which will be submitted to the court.  I’ve been a court-involved clinical psychologist before, just not a divorce-involved one.  I’ve been trauma and child abuse court-involved clinical psychologist.

You know how the pathogenic parent is so concerned about the supposed “abuse” of their child?  I am exactly the psychologist that you want to send an abused child to.  I am that psychologist – except now I’m here with divorce-related pathology.  But I am an abuse and trauma clinical psychologist.  Foster care.  Early childhood, ages birth to five, up to eight…).

For all of these kids discussed in these actual chart notes, the pathology is confirmed physical or sexual child abuse, often including parental drug use, and possible prenatal exposure of the child to drugs and alcohol.  Anything that gets a child from birth to age 6 into the foster care system; that was our client population; the child and the siblings were our client, along with the (hopefully) recovering parents, the grandparent guardians providing kinship care, the foster parents with four to seven children in their care, adoptive parents adjusting to trauma in children, the social workers in child protective services, and the court.

Been there.  Here is a case management note.


Case Management with the Court

Purpose of Case Management

For the courts to make an educated decision regarding <child name>’s future , it is necessary for the court to consider the child’s mental health and functioning in her current placement.  Consultation and linkage with the client guardian’s legal counsel is meant to facilitate the continued stability and progress of the client.  The legal proceedings regarding guardianship will determine <child name>’s contact with her biological mother, which would have a direct impact on her behavioral and emotional functioning.

Summary of Case Management/Linkage Provided

In her placement with the current guardians, <child name> has made significant gains in the reduction of anxiety and aggression. This therapist wrote a progress letter at the request of the current guardians and their legal counsel to inform the guardianship proceedings.  Specifically legal counsel was interested in the progress that <child name> has made in therapy while in the care of her current guardians, dates of attendance, and wanted to know if her biological mother had participated in treatment.

Treatment Recommendations/Considerations

Recommended that if client mother resumes caregiving involvement she be required to participate in collateral therapy to prevent deterioration in reported gains.  Noted that <child name>’s progress can be attributed in large part to the current secure and stable caregiving environment.  For specific progress and treatment recommendations please refer to the document in client file.

Care Plan

Goal Objective

By 8/13/07, will reduce the severity of client’s anxious/distressed presentation upon separation from 7 times a week to four times a week as measured by parent report, will reduce client lying about significant events to 3 times per week as measured by parent report, will reduce non-compliant behavior in the home from 3 to less than 1 time per week based on parent report, client will follow caregiver direction with only two prompts 90% of the time based on parental report.

Intervention

Will provide linkage and consultation with the court through the legal counsel for client’s guardian in order to support placement decisions that provide the necessary stability and security needed for client’s continuing treatment progress.

Client Will Participate By

Clinical functioning and progress will be reported to the court through the legal counsel of the client’s guardian.



That’s the note example.

Documentation Standard of Practice

I would estimate that the child described in this note by Dr. Excellent has been physically abused, mother is probably meth-addicted, the child is probably in the 5 to 6 year old age-range.  I can tell all that based on how the post-doc worded things.  I know the post-doc who wrote this, and if it was sexual abuse there would be different sentences.  The treatment goals she describes are consistent with physical abuse, and the lying is probably neglect from a meth-addicted mother (neglect leaves an imprint where the child takes whatever they want on impulse and then lies without remorse; it’s a survival symptom of neglect, particularly characteristic of meth-addicted mothers).

Notice the category headings for the note, these are standard mandated headings for a case management note for county-funded work.  We were county funded, foster-care work.  We had county mandated documentation requirements.  All of these note examples are county-level standard of practice for documentation.

This note is for billing purposes.  The post-doc is doing non-treatment activity and is billing the county under a billing code for case management.  This is her billing documentation note.  She has to justify the time spent.  This starts by identifying the child’s needs that are being addressed by the case management.

Note that she is working with the guardian’s attorney to provide information about treatment recovery to the court.  The guardian is likely the grandparent, and they are probably worried about the potential return of the child to an actively meth-addicted and physically abusive mother (the grandparent’s daughter).  The post-doc therapist is working with the grandparent to help stabilize the child’s recovery.

Childhood Trauma and Abuse

This note is from 2007.  This is the world I come from; the treatment of childhood trauma.

Forensic psychology uses the words trauma and abuse a lot, but they don’t actually ever work with trauma and abuse, just this court-involved divorce related family conflict. 

They don’t actually treat children in the foster care system who have been physically and sexually abused by parents.  I do.  Those are my clients.  I’m that guy,  that clinical psychologist, my clinic, that’s where they sent the abused kids for treatment.  To me.

I’ve worked with the courts before this current family-divorce pathology.  Only back then, I was on the foster care child abuse consultation side.  But I’m completely familiar with court-involved consultation surrounding child abuse, and in my world – this is what a case management note looks like.

Notice the treatment plan documentation.  Standard of practice on every progress note…. progress note.  That’s just on the note, there’s a whole four to six page treatment plan in another section of the chart. 

We do in-house QA on our charts every six months – no fun, Saturdays with pizza, and our charts are audited by the county – at random intervals.  Standard of practice, at CHLA, at Choc, at my clinic in 2007.

This is what I would consider a standard of practice note for case management in my world as a clinical psychologist.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.                             
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857

Director of Psychological Services,
CCPI; Custody Resolution Method

 

 

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