Divorce or a breakdown of a cohabitation relationship is an extremely emotional process. While divorce is a personal matter the emotional impact can spill over into the workplace suddenly making it a public affair. There are so many unknowns about divorce that people are often confused, filled with fear and unsure of how to navigate the process. And that is one reason the impact of divorce in the workplace can be detrimental to an organization.
In an effort to better heal and deal with the divorce process privately, many individuals seek individual counseling. However, not all therapists are equipped to help their patients understand the specifics of divorce to alleviate many of their concerns i.e. the legal process, financial impact or child custody and visitation issues.
As a result, an individual’s world is temporarily turned upside down, triggering unsettling and distressful emotions. The effects of the emotional distress in the workplace can be devastating.
On a classic rating scale of stressful life events, divorce consistently ranks No. 2, second only to the death of a spouse or child. The process of getting divorced is an emotional roller coaster which can impact people’s ability to be mindful on the job.
Although divorce is primarily a personal heartbreak, the effects spill into the workplace; at the extreme costing one to lose their job not to mention a good portion of their wealth, and it can even affect the organization’s reputation. People often feel overburdened and lack confidence; it is not surprising how many buckle under the pressure.
The Impact of Divorce in the Workplace
It is well documented that divorce reduces worker productivity. If one were to do a cost-benefit analysis of the effects of divorce in the workplace, one would find that the financial costs to the organization can be enormous. Research indicates that:
The average cost of divorcing employees to an organization is $83, 171 per year*
Child custody issues can create a significant cost for employers which include administration of health care, absenteeism, time off for court dates and shortened work hours for the divorcing.**
It can take up to 5 years for employee productivity to rebound after divorce**
Workers in domestic disputes become unavailable for travel or extended hours**
In addition, if key executives are faced with marital separation and/or divorce this situation can have a much more dramatic impact on the organization such as taking important people away from the workplace and can have a very disruptive effect on the organization’s business.
When employers are able to help employees through this difficult, potentially distracting, and all too common situation, it can pay valuable dividends for both. When people are distracted, they make more mistakes and work more slowly. If they’re feeling depressed, their creativity will be down. If they’re feeling angry, they may project some of that anger onto co-workers or even customers.
To help overcome these issues, there needs to be a greater understanding of this new phase of life, the new family structure, the superior parenting skills required, and the shared parental responsibility necessary.
By educating employees about the impact of divorce and how to effectively manage the divorce process, it will lead them to a greater understanding of what needs to be done. This will successfully help employees divorce with focus, hope, and confidence, thereby enabling them to contribute more effectively to their job; and for their employer, to see a return on their investment, as employee productivity is not diminished as significantly.
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When a relationship ends in a divorce or separation, two of the most important issues the court will take an interest in are the child’s living arrangement as well as child support. Once these issues are litigated and judgments pronounced, both parties are required to obey them.
If your ex falls behind on child support, it can be tempting to think that they no longer have a right to see their child. However, they do. Trying to deny your ex their court-ordered visitation and parenting rights can land you in trouble.
Child support and parenting time are distinct issues
Texas law treats parenting time and child support as two separate issues. You cannot limit a parent’s access to their child because of failure to pay child support. Doing so can attract the following penalties:
Modification of the existing custody arrangement to make up for missed visitations
Fines and requirements to pay attorney fees
Permanent modification of the custody and visitation order
Incarceration and/or change of primary custody in extreme cases
Enforcing Texas child support orders
There are several options at your disposal if your ex has fallen behind in their child support payments. First, you and your ex can agree to modify the existing child support amount and deposit the agreement in court. However, if this is not possible, you can petition the court to enforce the existing order. Some of the strategies the court can use to enforce a child support order include:
Issuing a lien on their property
Garnishing their paycheck
Intercepting their tax refunds
Revoking their driver’s license
Criminal prosecution and incarceration in extreme cases
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By its very nature, divorce is not a pleasant experience. Involve divorce attorneys and Family Court Judges and the unprepared person, the situation becomes much more stressful. In most cases, a person is so emotionally worn down by the time they decide it’s time to divorce they’ve not had the wherewithal to consider what the legal process of divorce entails.
Once the legal wheels start spinning, there may be no turning back. The moment those papers are filed, everything you’ve worked for sweated for, and planned for during your marriage is at risk. The wheels spin fast at first, then slow down to an agonizing pace. Days can seem like weeks, even months!
You find yourself smack in the middle of the divorce process with the sinking feeling that things might not go as planned. That great idea that you had…to divorce and move on with your life might not have been so great after all. In fact, it has turned into an absolute disaster.
Welcome to the wonderful world of divorce and its cast of supporting characters…lawyers, judges, interrogatories, continuances, custody disputes and high expectations. Most parties to a divorce have never been involved in legal litigation, used an attorney, or been inside a courtroom. For them, divorce is their first sobering involvement with the world of legal litigation. Divorce is both an end to a marriage and the beginning of an education in family law.
If you aren’t emotionally prepared to maneuver the choppy waters of the legal divorce process, you are not ready to divorce.
What do I need to know before hiring a divorce attorney?
Who has to move out of the marital home?
What is divorce mediation?
If you are confused by the above questions, you are not ready to enter the legal process of divorce. You’ve got some learning to do! And until you’ve done your homework, believe me, you don’t want to find yourself tangled up in the legal process of divorce.
There are 3 things you should do when it is time to divorce.
Once you’ve come to terms with the emotional ending of your marriage and gotten yourself financially prepared, you will need to do the following:
1. Understand Divorce Law:
Most will tell you that your legal education begins with a divorce attorney. I strongly disagree! No one is prepared to hire a divorce attorney until they have an understanding of their state’s divorce laws which will give them a better understanding of what they should and should not expect from a divorce attorney.
Divorce in the United States is governed by laws that are particular to each state. State divorce laws deal with all aspects of the divorce process, from residency requirements to child custody to the division of marital property.
2. Be Prepared:
There are documents a divorce attorney will need to get your divorce underway. Gathering these documents and having them ready before you hire an attorney can help keep those “wheels” spinning and allow you to feel more prepared.
This is not fun, but you will be glad you took the time to compile these documents at the beginning. You will need copies of tax returns for the last three years. If you filed separately, you will need copies of your tax returns and your spouse’s tax returns. Make copies of all bank accounts, joint accounts, and individual accounts for the last year.
Credit card statements for accounts held jointly and separately should be copied and provided to an attorney. You will also need at least three paystubs or proof of monthly income for yourself and your spouse, a list of all monthly expenses, a list of all marital assets and debts, and a brief description of how parenting duties are handled between the two of you. Once you’ve put together these documents, you are ready to hire a divorce attorney.
3. Hire a Divorce Attorney:
This is the person who will promote your best interest during the divorce process. You won’t find a divorce attorney who has as much invested in your divorce as you do BUT with a little research, you can find one who is invested enough in his/her legal reputation to make sure that you are legally protected.
A look at the divorce process
Below is a loose outline of 8 things that happens during the divorce process. I say loosely because each state and local district handles divorce differently. Regardless of your state’s laws and your district’s legal procedures, you will experience each step in some form or another.
1. File for Divorce:
A divorce or dissolution usually begins with the filing of a form, typically referred to as the original petition for divorce. This must be filed with the court that deals with marriages in the county where you live, which may be called the Family Law Court. After the petition has been filed, a copy must be served on (or delivered to) your spouse.
2.Divide Marital Property:
You will need to either work out an agreement on how your marital property is to be divided or argue about it in divorce court. Courts prefer that the parties work things out for themselves, and some states or counties require mandatory mediation, which means meeting with a neutral third party who will help you resolve conflicts over who gets what. If the parties can’t agree on a way to divide their property, the court will decide.
3.Distribute Marital Debt:
Debts incurred during the marriage need to be divided between the spouses along with the property. Joint debts may be deducted from the amount of property the spouses own together, or some debts may be considered the responsibility of only one spouse. This depends on the system your state uses for dividing marital debt.
4. Negotiate Spousal Support:
Support paid by one ex-spouse for the support of the other used to be called alimony but is now often called spousal support or maintenance. The laws for spousal support vary a great deal from state to state, and you should be sure you know what your state requires. Spousal support can be awarded to both husbands and wives.
5. Decide Child Custody/Visitation:
The single most important thing parents need to work out in a divorce or dissolution is the way they will continue to raise their children and what kind of custody they will use, and it’s always best if they can work out this plan cooperatively. Some states call this a parenting plan and no longer use terms like custody and visitation.
There are many questions that must be resolved, such as where the children will live, how much time they will spend with either parent, where they will spend holidays, or which parent will make decisions about the children. One or both parents might make legal decisions, such as where the children will go to school and what medical care or medication they will receive. Parents also have to resolve issues about the religious training and activities of the children.
If the parents can’t agree on these issues, the court will consider the best interests of the children in resolving the conflicts. The court will look at the gender of the parents and children, their physical and mental health, emotional bonds, the effect on children of changing their living situation, and—if a child is around 12 years or older—the child’s preference.
The court also considers practical matters such as the ability of the parents to provide the necessities of life, such as shelter, food, and clothing. Court orders involving children are never final. They can always be changed if the best interests of the children require it.
6. Calculate Child Support:
After a divorce or dissolution, both parents remain responsible for supporting the children. Divorcing parents need to negotiate child support or the courts will use state guidelines to do so. There are several factors to consider in working this out, such as the income and assets of the parents and whether one parent has primary childcare responsibilities. If the parents can’t work this out agreeably, the court will make the decision and order the parents to comply.
Divorce mediation is a process where the divorcing parties sit down with a mediator (a neutral third party) to work out and resolve conflicts over property division, finances, debts, and support and/or child custody/visitation. If the state is paying for the mediation, the mediator often reports back to the court with information about the mediation session(s).
The parties can also arrange their own privately paid mediation sessions, which will be completely confidential. Decisions reached in mediation aren’t legally binding but can be included in the court’s final order or decree. Attorneys usually don’t attend mediation sessions, though they may be available to advise the parties on legal issues.
8. Final Judgment of Divorce:
The final judgment of divorce is the final order of the court that legally ends the marriage. The final judgment can also contain legally binding orders about other issues, such as child custody, child support, visitation, spousal support, property division, and how property division is to be carried out. It can also restore the pre-marriage name to one or both spouses.
Filing for divorce means stepping into the world of the Family Court System.
It is a world of legal rules and, at times, extreme emotional stress. It can change the way you live, the way you think, and the way you do things. Ignorance of what takes place in the system and how to take care of yourself can be the mistake that kills your chances of a successful post-divorce life.
I’m sharing with you information about the divorce process and the negative aspects of the legal process not to dissuade you from leaving your marriage. My concern is that you fully understand the process before putting yourself in the middle of the process.
Knowing when or if it is time to divorce means having a comprehensive understanding of exactly what it means to divorce. Unless you are in a situation where divorce can be handled in a civil manner between you and your spouse having full knowledge of what to expect in a conflicted divorce scenario is the only way you will be able to protect your legal rights.
The steps that I’ve shared above may seem simple, cut and dry but if you are divorcing a spouse who is angry, hurt over your decision to divorce or is unable to accept the idea of divorce you will become involved with a system in which no one wins but the system.
I’m not someone with “standard” views on marriage and relationships. I do however have traditional views when it comes to choosing to divorce once you’ve committed to a marriage. It is my opinion that if you get married you should put in the appropriate time and attention to the marriage and do everything possible to save the marriage before making the choice to divorce.
When you take the vow, make the promise to stay with someone for the rest of your life, “for better or, for worse,” it is no small thing. I’m keen on folks keeping promises but for every promise made there is a price to pay and when the price you pay in your marriage becomes too high it is better to break your word than do harm to yourself by keeping it.
Here is the problem as I see it…people get married for a lot of foolish reasons. Some marry because they think society expects it of them. Some marry because they think it will solve some problem they are grappling with. Some believe marriage is the natural end to any relationship, that something is wrong if a relationship doesn’t culminate in marriage vows. Some marry because marriage confirms them as a person.
None of us marry without the expectation that the marriage will last “until death do us part.” But, that doesn’t always happen; our expectations about marriage are not always met. Nothing is more evident of that than the 40% divorce rate we experience in this country. In my business as a marriage educator and divorce consultant I often wonder why people don’t take more seriously the high rate of divorce. Could it be they don’t because there are some very, very good reasons to divorce?
The decision to divorce should only be made if something is radically wrong in the marriage. What do I mean by radically wrong? Well, there is abuse, infidelity, broken trust, disrespect to name a few examples of marital problems that might not be overcome with hard work.
We don’t take lightly the decision to marry; we should not take lightly the decision to divorce!
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My divorce never hit me. I was contently past all the stages of grief on the day of my divorce. I was free and so eager to start anew. (I even agreed to attempt reconciliation with my ex post-divorce, but that’s a story for another day.)
Some months later, I moved back to the town I had grown up in. My boys, then seven and eight, moved with me. It felt great to be starting fresh and to be surrounded by family and my childhood girlfriends again.
My boys and I did get the I’m-so-sorry-face from everyone we knew. But despite the catastrophe that others saw, I was relieved, happy, and shame-free to be divorced. I could breathe again, and my life was my own again. Or so I thought…
Given my move, I had agreed to my ex-husband, aka WASband, seeing our boys virtually every weekend and agreed that he could have the boys visit him at his home 400 miles away on any given weekend.
Child Visitation After Divorce
My ex abused my trust.
My WASband turned our flexible visitation agreement into a nightmare for my boys. He insisted that every visit be in Los Angeles in his world. I had agreed to this and he had a legal contract to enforce it.
So, our children traveled from San Francisco to Los Angeles and then back again three to four weekends each month during the school year.
He didn’t care that virtually every Friday his children spent four hours or more traveling to him and four hours or more on Sundays traveling back.
He didn’t care if the children were sick.
He didn’t care if they missed the one and only birthday party they got invited to.
He didn’t care if they weren’t making friends at their new school.
He didn’t care if our son cried and cried over not being able to compete in his once-a-year Tae Kwon Do championship.
He didn’t care if their Friday flight was canceled by the airline. He made them take the 6:00 am flight on Saturday morning only to fly back on Sunday.
He didn’t care if the children were exhausted from all the travel.
He didn’t care if they couldn’t join the basketball team because of weekend games.
He just didn’t care. It was a zero-exceptions contract that I had agreed to.
My WASband’s words were, I am NOT willing to spend my custodial time in Northern California. There was intense hatred towards me in that single sentence. Each time I asked for some flexibility for our children, those words were written back to me in bigger, bolder font along with, My position hasn’t changed.
I had made a huge mistake.
I had willingly given a narcissist full discretion to decide where and how he spends time with our children assuming that he would be reasonable when it came to the children.
I don’t know if he saw their tears. I wiped them.
I don’t know if he heard their screams. Some days that’s all I heard.
He denied their pain. I couldn’t.
I don’t know if he realized their isolation. I saw it.
Over and over I begged a father to accommodate his children’s needs. Each time he refused.
There came a time when my children cried, I know the answer is no. The answer is always no. Then came a time when they no longer asked.
My ex now controlled the boys with custody.
Spending his time with his children in Los Angeles trumped all else. He was blind to their physical health, their social development, and their emotions. He had to have control: It’s okay for [our son] to miss a birthday party in order to spend quality time with his father.
Of course, nothing was preventing this father from accompanying his son to this one and only birthday party that his son had been invited to all year.
And my ex also controlled me with custody.
When I mailed out a birthday card over summer break and asked my WASband to give the card to our son, my ex responded, “You should do that personally, meaning during your own custodial time.”
This was emotional abuse at its worst.
The control and emotional abuse I thought I had escaped resurfaced like a newer, stronger virus. This time, while aimed at me, it was infecting our children. The children weren’t doing well socially or emotionally. Despite multiple pediatricians’ recommendations for immediate therapy for our children, my ex refused to consent.
Since the divorce and move my older son had begun to break out crying and screaming for no apparent reason. Of course, I knew the reason; he wasn’t coping well with his parent’s separation.
He was eight-years-old at the time and completely non-verbal about our divorce. He didn’t want to talk, or discuss, or listen to anything related to his mom and dad no longer living together.
Over the course of a year and a half, even after two pediatricians independently witnessed my older son have such an emotional meltdown including throwing himself around the room, my WASband maintained that my son didn’t need therapy.
The emotional outbursts became more frequent, became more intense and shifted from crying and screaming to also verbally threatening his family and physically hurting those around him.
That journey through Court was long, expensive, and made unreasonably longer and more expensive by my ex on the other side. (During our eight-year marriage my ex had been in constant litigation all eight years; he sued all his business partners from multiple businesses, a dentist who voluntarily admitted a mistake, and an employee of a Fortune 500 company knowing the company would pay him damages just to avoid litigation).
I should have known better. My ex had no qualms or limits in abusing the legal system. He was an eye-for-an-eye man once he convinced himself that you had slighted him.
So, my ex showed up in Court with thick, oversized, zero-prescription eyeglasses and a bow tie to complete his geekiest Caltech persona. A charming serial entrepreneur with 20-20 vision (the one I had married) now sat disguised as a nerdy engineer in an effort to explain away his complete inflexibility in co-parenting his children.
He claimed he was an engineer who was scrambling to make ends meet and whose employer had been loaning him money for personal expenses. The fact was that he owned the company he worked for!
He showed virtually no income and no assets all the while affording private flying lessons, affording aircraft rentals, and paying his parents and extended family from business profits.
And so, a game of poker with the judges ensued. The first judge had enough common sense and provided temporary relief for the children from all the travel. This judge saw the thousands of pages of written communication between my ex and me as a complete breakdown of communication.
But he retired. Then a second judge with a completely different common sense, had me pay my ex’s attorney fees and didn’t bat an eye at the amount of travel our children were doing between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
This new judge wanted proof to correlate sickness to excessive travel. Common sense wasn’t good enough. This new judge saw the thousands of pages of written communication between my ex and me as normal negotiation.
This judge saw my wealth against my poor Caltech-graduate WASband with his fake glasses and bow tie, who had no car in his name, no property in his name, who for years had paid his company’s profits to his extended relatives.
In retaliation to me going to Court, my ex had convinced himself that he needed $30,000 per month to support our children. And since he could afford neither a car nor housing, he wanted me to now support a new lifestyle for him, complete with private jet travel, five-star hotels, and much more.
A third judge put an end to my ex’s non-sense; my WASband got his child support but an amount which I proposed to the Court based on facts instead of exaggerations. Disappointed with this outcome, my ex filed two more cases trying to get exorbitant amounts of money from me.
Those cases, while dismissed, still took an emotional and financial toll. I’ve learned now that it’s a matter of time before my WASband sues me again.
Court was a two-year war. And war is never good.
One of my sons got therapy after two years of jumping through all the Court’s hoops. My children’s travel was slightly reduced and many smaller issues were resolved. Yet the Court was fooled by a narcissist.
The Court didn’t approve therapy for my younger son because I didn’t have any evidence for its need. So, now a year later when my younger son says, “I will kill myself,” and my WASband still refuses therapy for him, am I to return to Court?
The Family Court that deals with divorced families and children couldn’t see this coming? I could.
This Court that also ordered my ex to spend the first weekend a month in Northern California because it coincided with the Tae Kwon Do schedule didn’t think to make it an order that my WASband actually take the children to these Tae Kwon Do events.
The Court couldn’t catch the narcissist in disguise. How am I to point out this mistake to the Court? With another trial and 2-year battle? No thank you.
Life, Uh, Finds a Way.
For nearly three years now, my children have been traveling between San Francisco and Los Angeles nearly every weekend. Yes, it’s hard and unheard of, but the one weekend each month we have together is better than ever.
We miss most of the special school events, but we did go to one dance last year and I caught my boys on camera doing the Floss with their classmates!
We do miss most of the special Tae Kwon Do events, but every now and then the stars line up and we get to go to the one we get to go to!
We do miss most family get togethers, so now many of my nine first cousins go out of their way to have our children meet.
For over two years now, my WASband has been telling our children: Your mom is a liar. Her entire family lies. It’s her fault; she’s the one that divorced me. He shows them snippets of court documents to prove his story with evidence.
Sadly, my nine and ten-year-old children are versed in court vocabulary including evidence, exhibits, credibility, and legal contracts. My WASband tells my older son: You go to therapy because you have mental problems. Your mom forced you to go to therapy.
You’ll be in therapy for your whole life.
You need to lose weight. You need to get in shape.
Are you trying to gain weight?
He tells our children: Do you have any Indian friends? I’ll arrange a playdate [on my visits to San Francisco] if your friends are Indian.
This type of abuse attacks every aspect of their lives. There may never be a respite from this.
My children began coming back to me on Sundays, especially after long holidays, and telling me: You’re a liar. A big fat liar because you don’t have any evidence. Daddy has evidence. I was caught off-guard, hurt, and defensive.
My co-parenting counselor (not to mention others) advised me to open up to my children, but mostly all I could say was: These are adult issues. Children shouldn’t be worried about these things. I will tell you when you’re seventeen or eighteen. Your Daddy loves you, but some of these things he is doing and saying are wrong. And he may never change. You have to be stronger.
After two years of this, there are still new frustrations, more confusion, and deeper wounds but my children are finding their way. They tell me: Mommy, you have to be stronger!
And I am stronger because I chose to be free. My marriage was bad and the aftermath of my divorce worse, but I am free. I’ve begun to learn to allow myself to resign all outcomes to a higher power when I need to.
I’ve learned that there’s nothing that can break me. I’ve been shattered more than once, and I’ve gotten up to collect and put myself back together each time. I don’t hate my ex; it’s as if my body or mind or soul has decided that this person doesn’t deserve even my hatred.
I pray for his peace of mind, I tell my children to send love towards Daddy, and I’ve never been one to pray. Whenever I remember, I tell my children to say something nice about someone else each night.
I’ve learned to hug and cuddle. My children wonder: Why have you gone all lovey-dovey. I suppose it’s because love is all that remains for me.
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Do you find yourself having difficulty letting go and relaxing about what your children do while they are with their other parent? Focusing too much on your children’s time or activities at your ex’s house can potentially damage your relationship with them and undermine their connection with both parents. When a parent communicates anxiety and becomes too vigilant about custody exchanges (or parenting time) they may be taking on the role of a gatekeeper.
What is a gatekeeper mom?
According to child custody expert Robert Beilin, P.h.D., a gatekeeper is a term often used in a negative way to describe how parents (usually a mother) attempts to control their children’s time with the other parent. Since traditionally mothers tend to be gatekeepers, this article will focus on mothers but the term could apply to fathers as well.
According to author Kerri Kettle, the term “gatekeeper” is generally brought up in child custody cases. Kettle, an attorney, advises mothers to beware of being a gatekeeper and to avoid adversarial interactions with their ex. After all, it could lead to additional legal costs and have a negative impact on children. She writes, “If you think you might be acting a little like a gatekeeper, try saying “yes” more often than saying “no” for a while. Start with something small, like giving up a few hours of your custodial time for a special occasion or simply not asking questions about what happened at their dad’s house.” She also advises parents that they will save legal fees by being a cooperative co-parent.
Let’s face it, it’s easy to see how a parent could slip into the gatekeeper role. After my divorce, I had trouble adjusting to our co-parenting schedule and I found myself overly concerned about what my children did when they were with their father and the amount of time they spent with him. It took several years for me to realize that this was my way of trying to gain control over the situation. While I never did anything consciously to sabotage my children’s relationship with their dad, my questions, and concerns about their activities with him didn’t demonstrate confidence in our parenting plan.
Further, children have a way of sensing tension and worry and so a mother’s fear or concerns about time spent away from her may be a red flag that heightens their anxiety. Without awareness, a parent could be bringing undue stress on your children without intending to. My research shows that the two variables that had the most negative impact on children of divorce into adulthood were limiting their access to both parents and experiencing high conflict between their parents post-divorce.
A crucial aspect of healing after divorce is realizing that you can’t control what goes on with your ex and so need to respect the decisions that he makes regarding his time with your children. You can’t change him and are wise to let go of unrealistic expectations. For instance, you might not approve of him taking your eight-year-old to a movie rated PG 13 – but in the end, it’s not going to make or break their emotional development. So it wouldn’t hurt to simply let it slide sometimes.
On the other hand, if you have legitimate concerns about activities that your kids participate in with their father, it’s a good idea to send him a friendly, business-like e-mail expressing your concerns. Divorce expert Rosalind Seddacca CCT writes, “If you’re intent on creating a child-centered divorce that strives for harmony between you and your ex, you need to initiate the conversation and model win-win solutions. If your ex doesn’t want to cooperate, that’s when your patience will certainly be tested. Look for opportunities to clarify why working together as co-parents as often as possible will create far better outcomes for your children.”
Eileen Coen, an attorney, and trained mediator states that one reason mothers tend to be gatekeepers is that trust is often lost in a marriage. Other reasons cited by Coen are economic and a lack of confidence in their ex’s parenting skills. However, she cautions us that on-going conflict between parents is the primary reason why mothers are gatekeepers – making it virtually impossible to have adequate, healthy parenting time with their children.
Studies show that kids benefit from access to both parents. There is evidence that cooperative co-parenting actually reduces conflict between divorced parents – which has a beneficial impact on children into adulthood. Scheduling appropriate parenting time for both parent’s post-divorce and keeping lines of communication positive can be a challenge but it’s paramount to building resiliency in your children. When a parent takes on the role of gatekeeper, they communicate discomfort and anxiety to their children and diminish their sense of belongingness with both parents.
Joan Kelly, a renowned researcher who has conducted decades-long studies on divorce, found that the more involved fathers are post-split, the better off the outcomes for children. Children benefit from strong relationships with both parents post-divorce. According to Linda Nielsen, author of Between Fathers and Daughters, the child’s relationship with their father is often the one that changes the most after marital dissolution. Sadly, Dr. Nielsen notes that only 15% of fathers and daughters enjoy the benefits of shared parenting.
There are many compelling reasons why mothers are wise to encourage their children to have strong bonds with their father post-divorce. Studies show that these reasons include: Better grades and social skills, healthy emotional development, higher self-esteem, and fewer trust issues. Lowered self-esteem and trust wounds are especially a concern for girls who may be more vulnerable to the breakup of the family home because they are socialized to be nurturers and caretakers. Your kids may also have better access to extended family members and therefore intergenerational support if they spend close to equal time with both parents.
Here are 4 Reasons to avoid the gatekeeper trap:
1. Your children will gain trust in both parents and feel more confident about their relationships with both of you.
2. You will build trust in your ex’s ability to effectively parent your children.
3. There’s a possibility you’ll have the added benefit of more leisure time – when you can relax and worry less about your children’s well-being.
4. You’ll create a new story for your life built on reclaiming your personal power rather than letting your divorce define who you are or the choices you make.
Focusing your energy on what’s going on in your home and encouraging your children to have a healthy connection with their father will pay off in the long run. Another important reason to avoid being a gatekeeper is to respect your child’s and ex-spouse’s boundaries. When your children are with your ex, honor their time together and try not to plan activities or partake in excessive communication with the other parent (phone, text, etc.). Since parental conflict is a factor that contributes greatly to negative outcomes for children after divorce, keeping disagreements to a minimum is a key aspect of helping your child become resilient. You owe it to yourself and your children to avoid playing the role of a gatekeeper.
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For many people, the holiday season is a time to relax, spend time with friends and family, and engage in various religious or secular traditions. If you are a mother that shares custody of her children with their father, however, it is important that you consider the fact that the holidays can present a virtual minefield of custody issues that can be difficult to navigate.
Fortunately, by recognizing these issues and planning ahead, you can usually avoid them and have a holiday season free from any conflicts or fights related to child custody and parenting time.
Here are some of the most common issues that mothers who share custody should consider as the holidays approach.
3 Custody Issues that Can Arise During the Holidays
1. Not Having a Plan
One of the worst things you can do as the holiday’s approach is failing to make a plan as to how the kids will spend them. This is a recipe for disaster and a ruined holiday season. If your current custody order does not specify how custody is to be divided over the holidays, you should address the matter immediately, either informally or by requesting a modification to the order.
Some of your options include assigning fixed holidays to each parent (for example, you get Thanksgiving and their dad gets Christmas), alternating holidays, or splitting a holiday in half. The arrangement that works best for you will depend largely on the specifics of your living arrangements and the things most important to you.
2. Traveling Out of State
If you are considering traveling out of state this holiday season to see friends or family, it’s critical that you ensure that you check the terms of your custody arrangement prior to making firm plans. In some cases, your child custody arrangement may require you to obtain permission from your kids’ father in order to travel out of state – but it also may not.
Even if your child custody order does not require you to obtain their father’s permission to travel out of state, it’s not a bad idea to discuss the matter with him anyhow. First of all, it’s a show of good faith that you are willing to engage in open communication and co-parenting; secondly, it can work in your favor should a dispute arise in the future.
3. Unusual Custody Schedules During Winter Break
Unfortunately, an existing holiday custody schedule does not always make things go smoothly during this often hectic time of year. First of all, a departure from normal schedules can be hard on children, so it’s important to keep them aware of what’s going on and why. Furthermore, there are often logistical issues regarding holiday custody schedules.
For example, if your arrangements involve your children spending more consecutive nights with their father than they normally do, make sure that you pack enough clothes and discuss any issues that may arise with their other parent. Similarly, your normal schedule for dropping off or picking up the kids may not work because of holiday commitments, so make sure that these potential problems are discussed ahead of time.
Avoiding Custody Issues Now and in the Future
Fortunately, these and other issues related to child custody can usually be avoided with some simple planning and communication. If you and your child’s father have an amicable relationship and are able to talk, it’s not a bad idea to try and work out a holiday custody schedule yourself. In the event that your relationship is not so good, it may be necessary to petition the court to modify your custody schedule and assign holidays to each of you. In either case, it’s highly advisable to discuss your custody goals with a family law attorney in your jurisdiction.
Making New Traditions
One regular concern for mothers – especially those who are newly divorced – is how to maintain the family’s regular traditions for the holidays. The reality is that you might not be able to keep all of the same traditions, but the good news is that you can make new traditions with your children.
While you might normally have a special breakfast you make for Christmas morning after your kid’s open presents, you might be switching off Christmas morning with your ex-spouse. This means that you might miss the morning tradition, but maybe you can make a new special-breakfast-for dinner tradition for Christmas Eve.
That being said, if you have a special tradition with your family that your ex-spouse does not have with his family, you might want to negotiate to ensure you can continue that tradition since it means more to you.
Find Support with Family and Friends
No matter how well you plan ahead for custody issues, the holidays can still be difficult when you are not always with your children. It can be difficult to adjust, so you want to make sure that you have the support you need emotionally. When you do this, you can ensure you are in the best possible position to celebrate the holidays when your children are with you. If you need to adjust custody for the future, never hesitate to seek legal support from a trusted attorney, as well.
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According to Alan Kemp in his book Abuse in the Family, domestic violence is defined as “A form of maltreatment perpetrated by a person with whom the victim has or had a close personal relationship.” (Kemp, P.36)
Furthermore, the clinical and textbook definitions and categories of child psychological maltreatment found in Table 3-1 of Alan Kemp’s book, Abuse in the Family, on pages 72-77, can easily be applied to show it as a horrific form of domestic violence via psychological maltreatment.
This book is just one of many textbooks used to teach students and professionals about psychological maltreatment and the categories that make it up. Whether one believes in the term parental alienation or not, the following criteria help to show that certain behavior perpetrated by a parent can cause a child to withdraw their love from the other parent. For the sake of this article, we will term this abuse as aggressive parenting.
9 Signs of Aggressive Parenting:
Denying essential stimulation, emotional responsiveness, or availability
Unreliable and inconsistent parenting
Mental health, medical, or educational neglect
An Explanation of the 9 Signs
By deliberately isolating the child from other family members and social supports, isolation is occurring. The whole premise of aggressive parenting is to isolate and distance the children from the targeted parent or any other individual who supports the targeted parent.
If the aggressive parent uses threats or denigrating tactics, to force the child to comply, this can be seen as terrorizing. As well, verbal denigration, harassment and exploitation of the targeted parent is very prominent and a key indicator of aggressive parenting.
In addition, domestic violence includes the exploitation and use of the child for personal gain.
Thus in aggressive parenting, when the child is used to destroy the targeted parent by denying visitation or a relationship between the other parent and the child or is used for monetary gains such as excessive expenses beyond child support, they are in effect committing domestic violence. It is for these reasons that aggressive parenting or isolating the children from the Targeted Parent can be considered as a form of domestic violence.
Let’s take this a bit further in its application. When a parent rejects a child because the child shows any love or affection for the targeted parent that is a form of abuse. This is not only a form of rejection but terrorization. In fact, a child’s refusal to come to the targeted parent’s home for fear of losing the aggressive parent’s conditional love is fear and fear is terror.
When an aggressive parent refuses to comply with court orders and tells the child they do not have to either, this is corrupting. It is teaching the child that they are above the law and therefore immune to the court’s authority. When a parent files false allegations of abuse and convinces the child to do the same, this is corruption.
When an aggressive parent tells the child lies about the targeted parent, and that anything having to do with the targeted parent is illegal, immoral and disgusting, this is corrupting. In fact, this is a form of discrimination and prejudice, which corrupts the child’s minds.
Denying Essential Stimulation, Emotional Responsiveness, or Availability
By refusing to allow the children to have a relationship with the targeted parent, for no reason other than their own need to control the ex-spouse, the aggressive parent is denying them the basic elements of stimulation, emotions, and availability with the targeted parent. In fact, the targeted parent has little to no opportunity to defend themselves against false allegations.
Though they will have you believe that they or the children feared for their lives and that the targeted parent was abusive, this is usually unsubstantiated or proven by the courts to be a fabrication. With no basis for this denial, the aggressive parent refuses their child a warm and loving relationship with the targeted parent.
Unreliable and Inconsistent Parenting
Since the children have been denied a relationship with the targeted parent, they have also been denied a reliable and consistent parenting situation and the aggressive parent has proven that they cannot parent consistently and reliably in the supporting of a two-parent relationship with the children.
Mental, Medical and Educational Neglect
When an aggressive parent refuses to comply with numerous separate court orders for counseling, they are denying their children’s mental health. Thus mental neglect has occurred as defined in the DSM IV as Malingering.
If despite numerous court orders or requests and recommendations, the aggressive parent continues to insult, verbally abuse and denigrate the child’s targeted parent in front of the child, this behavior degrades and devalues someone the child once respected and loved and in most cases, secretly wants a relationship with.
This disdain and disrespect for the targeted parent in front of the child is another form of psychological maltreatment as it permanently affects their view of the targeted parent, which transfers to their view of themselves. This creates a distorted sense of reality, of themselves and their ability to trust and accurately judge others.
When a parent deliberately sabotages a relationship with the targeted parent by refusing to allow visits, calls, or any form of healthy communication, with no evidence of abuse, this is called isolation. Furthermore, when a parent has initially allowed continuous contact with the children during the separation and divorce period, but reneges on this, refusing visitation, especially when they find out their ex-spouse has a new partner, this is isolation and abuse.
When a parent uses the children as pawns to get back at their ex spouse for not loving them anymore or to control them further, this is exploitation. When an aggressive parent uses the children and makes false allegations of abuse, terrorizing the children to state they hate the targeted parent, this is exploitation. When a parent uses the children for monetary gains such as child support, but yet does not allow the children a relationship with the targeted parent, this is exploitation.
When you add all these signs up, it is easy to see how Aggressive Parenting, can be classified as child psychological maltreatment in a divorce situation. When you put it all together, the DSM sums up the aggressive parent quite nicely under Cluster B Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder.
The aggressive parent willfully and without regard to the child or the targeted parent’s welfare, or the innocent extended family’s welfare, continually violates their rights and disregards their needs for a relationship. The aggressive parent callously puts their own desires, wants and needs above those of everyone else including their own child.
This all adds up to one thing, Domestic Violence in the form of psychological maltreatment. So why does Child Protective Services refuses to protect the children from this form of abuse when the signs and symptoms are so clearly evident?
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Parenting can be difficult even in an in-tact household wherein even residing together the time spent together as parents, uninterrupted in thought and time for discussion, results in many discussions occurring through text, email and in passing.
Of course, the hustle and bustle of the world we live in as parents leave much room for errors in schedules, forgotten appointments, and confusion as to who is where. This is even more difficult for two parents who do not reside together yet share in one mutual goal- raising and being involved in their children’s schedules and lives on an equal basis.
Productive Co-Parenting Communication
Married or not, raising children takes a lot of communication. Unfortunately, communication in relationships that have broken down for one reason or the other is made even more difficult and can create a host of issues for couples attempting to co-parent absent a close relationship or any at all for that matter. As family law attorneys, we are often faced with questions, concerns and issues from our client stemming from the lack of communication, i.e. the other side not providing information or not being responsive.
Other times, the absence of communication is used to assert control and intentionally keep the other parent out of the loop. On the other hand, some parents utilize communication in a manner which is harassing such as incessantly texting, calling, or making things difficult. Either way, the reality is that communication in strained relationships can be incredibly difficult and as a result, children suffer by missing activities, homework assignments, family outings, etc.
Therefore, focusing on simple ways to communicate, absent the need to involve lawyers and judges, is the most productive and cost-effective way to co-parent when the relationship with the other parent is less than ideal. The reality is that the involvement of lawyers and the court’s not only costs thousands of dollars, but there is also a delay in resolution by virtue of the time needed for everyone to respond.
Therefore, it is simply not practical on any level to require the use of your lawyer to communicate about everyday issues regarding your children.
It is significant to note that communication is one of the primary statutory factors the courts consider in determining custody and parenting time arrangements. Moreover, just not getting along is not enough to prove that two adults cannot communicate in a manner which would cause a court to minimize either parent’s role.
In fact, the New Jersey Supreme Court has long held that joint legal custody is the “preferred” custody arrangement and that this requires sharing the responsibility for jointly making “major” decisions regarding the child’s welfare, developing a productive way of communication is key to the success of not only the co-parenting relationship but the children’s success overall.
That being said, family law attorneys, as well as Judge’s, are mindful of the difficulties parent’s may have communicating during less than ideal times. Therefore, the focus and trend have been to encourage the use of apps that parties can utilize to limit and focus the communication to just the issues versus the text message and/or email chains that seemingly increase in hostility with the back and forth involved.
For example, one method of communication often utilized by co-parents, either by way of agreement or more frequently now being Court Ordered, is Our Family Wizard. Our Family Wizard obviously cannot circumvent the use of communication as a weapon in contested or tension ridden co-parenting relationships, however, it is designed to assist parents by having categories that limit and narrow the issues and minimize the probability of misinterpretation of miscommunication.
Parents can download the children’s schedules, they can monitor parenting time changes in their schedules, and even scan in the children’s expenses, none of which can be altered if needed for use in Court. In other words, it is a protected forum which allows communication between parents about the issues relating to their children and provides clearer documentation in the event that communication (or lack of same) is the overriding issue.
In sum, learning and finding a way to communicate is essential to raising children regardless of the status of your relationship. Utilizing applications such as Cozi, Our Family Wizard, Truece, and other applications which permit scanning, scheduling and limit the opportunity for emotions to supersede the issues is beneficial to everyone’s quality of life, especially and most importantly the children involved.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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