CHILD CUSTODY SECRET NUMBER ONE: HOW TO LAY THE GROUNDWORK BEFORE REQUESTING COURT ORDERS

As promised, here is the second installment on my series, Best Child Custody Advice Ever.  This advice is mostly for non-custodial parents who want more time with the children.  I don’t generally consider myself a “father’s rights” attorney—my philosophy is that each co-parent after a divorce or separation brings something unique and important to the parenting table.  My hope here is that non-custodial parents will be able to use  these techniques to get more parenting time, and that custodial parents will gain understanding of how courts view disputes over parenting time.

The biggest mistake most child custody litigants make is believing that filing in court for custody will automatically change your situation.  Though this is sometimes true, the reality is, you generally have to create a change in circumstances before you file.

Remember, the parent-child relationship is king.  Before filing, do whatever you can to establish and nature that relationship, and keep a diary of how the children are doing each time you see them.  Here are some thing you can do to lay the groundwork for a successful request to change the custody or visitation schedule:

  • Take any additional time with the children that he/she is willing to give you.  Don’t worry that the extra time isn’t in the court orders; as long as you have agreement with the other parent, you can do whatever you want.  Raising kids is tough sledding, and believe me, she’ll (he’ll) need a break sometime.  Be “Johnny on the spot” to step in when the other parent needs extra help.

 

  • Get involved with education and extra-curricular activities.  The courts want to see that you are “child-focused,” and they are very concerned about the child’s education.  Make sure you go to orientations, meetings and parent-teacher conferences with your children’s teachers.  Ask that the school send you the child’s report cards directly.  Volunteer in the classroom—teachers always need help.  If the teacher sees you as an involved parent, you’ll stand head and shoulders above most parents who want the school to do all the heavy lifting.  One side benefit is that a teacher is a great person to write a declaration in support of your request for more parenting time.

 

  • Move closer to the other parent.  Distance is often a barrier to being involved in the children’s lives.  Yes, it’s not fair that a custodial parent can dictate where you live.  But if you rearrange your lifestyle to be in the children’s school district and be close, you’ll score points with the court.  I have had cases where the willingness of a parent to move closer to the other parent was the change of circumstance that got my client more parenting time.

 

  • Disengage from conflict.  The second biggest mistake I see in child custody cases is parents sending nasty communications to each other, trying to get the other parent to do some act (such as alter the visitation schedule) or filing repeatedly in court on minor issues.  This is generally counter-productive.  A better strategy is to take the time you have and focus it on your children.  Make “dad’s world” or “mom’s world” an awesome place to be a kid.  Any energy focused on the other parent (with whom  you’ve presumably broken up) is a waste of time and effort.

Once you have taken steps like these, you’ll have a record that justifies an increase in parenting time, or transition to overnight parenting time or even joint physical custody.

Stay tuned for more great advice on how to increase your parenting time.  Until then, I remain…

Very truly yours,

Thomas D. Ferreira, Esq.
Disclaimer: Thomas D. Ferreira is an attorney licensed only in the State of California. The information set forth in this blog or on our websites are not intended to create an attorney-client relationship, nor are they intended as legal advice on your specific matter. This information is not intended to apply to cases or jurisdictions outside the State of California, and those viewing this information outside of California, or having business before jurisdictions outside of California, should consult a local professional or lawyer. The information in this blog is not a substitute for the advice of competent counsel, and is not intended, nor should it be construed, as a guarantee, warranty or prediction regarding the results of your legal matter

THE BEST FREE ADVICE ON CHILD CUSTODY EVER—3 WAYS TO TIP THE SCALES IN YOUR FAVOR

This is Thomas Ferreira, your divorce and child custody mediator serving Carlsbad, Vista, Oceanside, San Marcos, Escondido and surrounding areas.

Today, I want to address a specific situation where you get child custody and visitation orders that are restrictive of your visitation, don’t give you enough time with your kids or are just plain and unfair.

First off, don’t just file yet another Request for Order with the same concerns you had last time. Unless you find out that she’s beating the kids or subjecting them to sexually explicit material, or something similar, the court is not going to change custody.

What you need is a change of circumstances, that is, something that’s different now that would persuade the court to give you more time. Now that you have orders, it’s time to execute a plan for getting more time. You can do it, and it’s never too late.

Here are 3 tips that will move the dial in your direction to persuade the court to give you more time:

  • Lay the groundwork before you file in court. Too many self-represented parents think the court will solve their problems. Usually that’s not the case. Take the parenting time you have and be a great parent with that time. Document in a diary when you have had visits with your kids and how the visits went.
  • The parent-child relationship is king. The goal of each visit will be to build a relationship with each of your children. The court will see your efforts toward this and reward them with more time.
  • Creating anticipation: your most powerful weapon in any custody battle. Creating anticipation simply means giving your child something to look forward to the next time they see you. This can be a craft session, a tea party or a camping trip, depending on the amount of time you have.
    In our experience, it is usually best for separated and divorcing parents to focus on the positives in their world rather than the negatives in the other parent’s world.

These points are so vital to succeeding in child custody court that I’m going to discuss each one separately in the next few days, in a separate post. Until then I remain…

Very truly yours,

Thomas D. Ferreira, Esq.

Disclaimer: Thomas D. Ferreira is an attorney licensed only in the State of California. The information set forth in this blog or on our websites are not intended to create an attorney-client relationship, nor are they intended as legal advice on your specific matter. This information is not intended to apply to cases or jurisdictions outside the State of California, and those viewing this information outside of California, or having business before jurisdictions outside of California, should consult a local professional or lawyer. The information in this blog is not a substitute for the advice of competent counsel, and is not intended, nor should it be construed, as a guarantee, warranty or prediction regarding the results of your legal matter

THE NBA LOCKOUT: THE SKILLS OF A DIVORCE MEDIATOR MIGHT HELP

What would a lawyer handling child custody cases and divorces at the Vista, North County courthouse know about how to settle the National Basketball Association’s lockout of the players, and possibly save the 2011-2012 NBA season?

Plenty. As a basketball fan and as a Carlsbad divorce attorney and mediator, I simply cringe when I see statements from Billy Hunter or David Stern. I see parties hopelessly polarized, stuck in their “positions,” and willing to endure losses far greater than any gains they could “force” through litigation.

When couples with children divorce, they can become similarly polarized, as they hire agressive divorce lawyers to punish their spouse. Whether you’re married and divorcing, or whether your other parent was your parnter and you’re breaking up, the lesson to be learned here is that a skilled mediator, specializing in child support, child custody and property issues, can mean the difference between success and failure.

Let’s apply the principles of a certified mediator or a lawyer specializing in divorce or child custody to the NBA situation. Even if you don’t use a mediator, this example shows the pitfalls of trying to negotiate on your own.

DON’T BE CHILDREN; GET OFF YOUR POSITIONS:

What jumps out from the numerous press accounts of the lockout is the zero-sum, win-lose nature of the negotiations. In my divorce and child custody cases, I try to shift the parties’ stance from a win-lose to a win-win paradigm (see Steven Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People).

NBA Commissioner David Stern has characterized the Players’ Association’s behavior as “unreasonable” and contrary to the player’s interests. He then points out all the places where the owners have compromised, such as letting go of the hard salary cap, mandatory salary reductions and shorter contracts.

The Player’s Association’s child-like posturing is typical of parties polarized by litigation. NBPA’s win-lose stance is typified by a statement from its player-president Derek Fisher: “Yesterday the owners gave us an opportunity to back down. We refused.”

A PROFESSIONAL DIVORCE MEDIATOR WOULD FOCUS ON ISSUES, NOT POSITIONS:

Let’s see what the common intersts are between these parties, aside from splitting the revenue:

1. The players have an interest in maintaining their star power and visibility, and owners have an interest in maintaining that star power to put booties in the seats.

2. The owners are on a roll, with very successful playoff seasons for the past 3 years and increasing season ticket sales. There is huge money to be lost if the season is cancelled, and decreased value of the franchises. Players stand to lose huge money in salary and have their names fade from public attention.

3. The NBA brand will lose value, as will the value of player product endorsements, if the season is lost.

4. Players and owners alike have enormous investments at stake. The owners have invested in their teams, taking the risks inherent in any business. The players have litterally invested their lives in hours of practice and workouts, have overcome astonishingly long odds, and have foregone other professions and education to play at this level.

5. Both players and owners face competition for other entertainment outlets such as College hoops, movies, theatre or other sports.

6. Players and owners benefit from parity between the large city teams and the smaller markets (the rationale behind salary caps and luxury taxes), because even superstars need high caliber competition.

I could go on, but you get the picture. The parties here are going for “lose, lose,” saying that if you won’t come off your position (the revenue position is separated by a mere 3 percent of total revenue), we will blow up the whole deal. Add to that the costs of the many lawsuits, and you have a situation where all parties will lose much more than the value of the 3 percent revenues currently dividing the parties.

I would advise these parties immediately to call my office, or to hire a mediator with a “win-win” mentality. There are so many common interests here that this deal should be done. Either “position” is much worse than the alternative, a lost season.

And, if you are facing divorce, please do your best to stay out of court. We can help with mediation to resolve your property, child support, alamony (spousal support), child custody and visitation issues. We can help with getting more time with your kids. Let us be in the middle, not your children!

I remain …

Very truly yours,

Thomas D. Ferreira, Esq.

Disclaimer: Thomas D. Ferreira is an attorney licensed only in the State of California. The information set forth in this blog or on our websites are not intended to create an attorney-client relationship, nor are they intended as legal advice on your specific matter. This information is not intended to apply to cases or jurisdictions outside the State of California, and those viewing this information outside of California, or having business before jurisdictions outside of California, should consult a local professional or lawyer. The information in this blog is not a substitute for the advice of competent counsel, and is not intended, nor should it be construed, as a guarantee, warranty or prediction regarding the results of your legal matter.

North County San Diego Divorce Lawyer/Mediator Weighs In On Domestic Violence Massacre in Seal Beach

As a human being, I was shocked and dismayed to read about a shooting spree at seal Beach hair salon yesterday, an unspeakably horrible crime that left eight people dead and one clinging to life. As a San Diego, North County divorce, child custody and support lawyer and mediator, I was not surprised to learn that shooter Scott Dekraai’s ex wife of three years, Michelle Dekraai, was among the slain. The situation became even clearer when I read that on Tuesday the estranged couple had been in court on a scheduling conference regarding custody of their eight-year-old son.

One thing that did cause me to raise my eyebrow was a detail in one article, a report that Ms. Dekraai had sworn out a temporary restraining order, fearing domestic violence.

Please don’t mistake me. Judging from the results, Ms. Dekraai had every reason to believe that she was in danger for her life, and under the circumstances I would advise any person in fear seek a restraining order from the court. Such restraining orders will allow the police to intervene if the restraining order is violated.

Sadly, Ms. Dekraai’s restraining order (assuming it was actually filed) did not protect Ms. Dekraai from the ravages of her ex-husband’s homicidal rage. Particularly salient is the evidence of significant premeditation, specifically, that Mr. Dekraai wore a bulletproof vest when he was arrested half an hour after the shooting.

I take several lessons from this incident, if you are considering a domestic violence restraining order.

Lesson one: consider whether a domestic violence restraining order will escalate minor postdivorce conflict into major postdivorce conflict.

While I can’t predict what will happen in your particular case, I can say in general that one isolated violent act during custody or divorce litigation is not a likely precursor for a more severe violent act. Remember the divorce proceedings are upsetting under the best of circumstances, and sometimes people will act out of character.

On the other hand, studies show that most repeated acts of domestic violence occur when the perpetrator has a history of repeated or ongoing domestic violence, ongoing child abuse or drug and alcohol abuse.

Remember, the act of filing and serving a restraining order can itself be a source of pain and frustration, which can in turn escalate conflict between divorcing spouses. Therefore, use common sense in deciding whether you are really in danger, and whether it is necessary to invoke the court’s power to restrain your coparent.

Lesson two: if you have ongoing or repeated abuse, or if your children are in danger, act decisively to seek protection.

You may have cause to believe that your ex or soon-to-be ex-spouse Will hurt you. If he or she has made an extreme threat, such as murder, or if his or her behavior represents a pattern of ongoing physical or mental abuse, or circumstances would indicate that your children are in danger of harm, I recommend seeking the order, and also moving to an undisclosed location, such as a shelter or the home of a friend or family member. The law allows you to keep your location confidential from the restrained person pending the hearing.

Resources for domestic violence protection can be found on the San Diego Superior Court website. You can also find information on shelters and other help by going to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Make sure you keep a copy of your restraining order on your person at all times, and within easy access where you are staying. If you have to call the police, tell them that you have a restraining order and show them the copy. It is a criminal offense to violate the restraining order.

In cases of real danger and complicated relationships, and is often a good idea to retain counsel to represent you in these cases. However, the San Diego Superior Court does have easy do-it-yourself forms. Go to www.SDCOURT.ca.gov, and of your mouse over the family button. Go to the forum section and look for the domestic violence packets. Or, these forms can be obtained at the local Superior Court office itself. There is no filing fee to obtain a domestic violence restraining order, and you don’t need to give the restrained person advance notice.

However, I would emphasize that you should use this remedy judiciously, and make sure that you have some recent incidents of violence to put in your declaration. If you don’t really need the protection, filing restraining order will likely do more harm than good.

Wishing you a safe holiday season, I remain…

 

Very truly yours,

California Divorce: Staying Out of Court and Out of the Poorhouse

CALIFORNIA DIVORCE: STAYING OUT OF COURT AND OUT OF THE POORHOUSE

Please join the founder of Divorce Life Solutions, Thomas D. Ferreira, Esq., and Tammy R. Ferreira, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst™ for an information-packed seminar on how to do your divorce right.

At this seminar you will learn:

  • How to cooperate in raising your children after divorce
  • How to save huge money and avoid nasty litigation
  • How to ensure short-term and long-term financial security after the divorce
  • Basic pitfalls of California divorce and how to avoid them
  • What actions you can take to insure long-term protection for you and your children

Mr. Ferreira will answer common family law questions and suggest strategies for coping with divorce.

Date and Location: Saturday, September 24, 2011, 9am-12pm. Please register by calling (760) 990-4752 or by using the following link: http://activenet11.active.com/venture/

THE FIVE “DS” FOR DIVORCING YOUR SPOUSE WITHOUT DIVORCING YOUR BANK ACCOUNT

This is Tammy R. Ferreira, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst™ with some tips on how to divorce well while saving your money and your bank account. At Divorce Life Solutions, we understand that saving money is a priority. But saving money won’t do you any good if you are unable to protect important assets, or survive financially after the divorce. Whether you decide to go it without a divorce lawyer, or decide to hire the lawyer to the stars, your results will depend to a large extent on your own preparation and care in proceeding with your case.

1. DESIGN YOUR POSTDIVORCE FINANCIAL PLAN.

We commonly see this situation: you struggle and struggle to make your marriage work, then finally decide that the problems just can’t be fixed. You are to be congratulated on making a tough decision, but that’s just the first stage. Now you’ve got to do some thinking: What is my postdivorce life going to look like? How am I going to support myself and the kids? What am I going to need in terms of support and property to retire with dignity?

If you are at the beginning stages of your divorce or separation, I urge you to do some hard thinking on these questions. As a CDFA™ I can give you some solid advice on what assets to ask for, how much support to ask for and what you may be entitled to.

It is vital that, at a minimum, you prepare a budget for your post – divorce life. Include a war chest of at least $5000 to hire an attorney or financial advisor. If you haven’t figured out how to make it on your own, you might not be ready to end your relationship.

2. DEVELOPE A THOROUGH UNDERSTANDING OF YOUR RIGHTS AND OBLIGATIONS.

Many divorcing people mistakenly believe that they can simply hire an attorney, throw all their divorce problems in the attorney’s lap, and hope that everything will turn out okay. I know this is a tough time in your life, but proceeding this way is opening the door for you to get ripped off by the unscrupulous and to be denuded of the cash you’ll need to survive.

I strongly advise you to take a trip to the law library or the bookstore to read about your financial rights and obligations. There are also excellent seminars available, such as the Second Saturday Workshop or the Divorce Life Solutions Quarterly Workshop held at Palomar College.

Consulting with a lawyer without a basic education is like taking your car to a mechanic when you know nothing about cars. Unfortunately, many attorneys will point you to the most expensive option, when all you need is a minor repair.

3. DELEGATE TASKS YOU ARE NO GOOD AT.

So now you have a plan, and you’ve researched your rights and obligations. Now, it is important to know your limitations. Many people are excellent at standing up in court and are doing their own case, but are poor at writing. If you don’t use an attorney for anything else, it is a good idea to have an attorney draw up your pleadings, declarations and settlement agreements for submission to the court.

Some excellent family attorneys offer their services as “unbundled services.” This simply means that the lawyer can handle a piece of your case, rather than representing you for every aspect. For example, an attorney can write your declaration regarding support, and can help you to incorporate the report of your CDFA™ as expert evidence.

The biggest advantage of unbundled services is that you won’t have to shell out a large retainer. You simply pay the attorney as you go.

If you have little or no experience in budgeting, a CDFA™ can help you learn this vital skill. Remember, you are going to be on your own soon, and those things that your husband or wife used to do will still need to get done.

4. DISENGAGE FROM CONFLICT OVER MONEY.

Discussions about money tend to lead to conflict, because money is about survival. If your soon–to–be–ex is in acute shock over the announcement of your divorce, negotiations with him or her might be difficult. You may wish to suggest a professional mediator to assist you in obtaining agreements about support and property, at least to get you to the next stage of the process.

Mediators are trained to keep the conversation about the business at hand. I myself am a Divorce Life Solutions mediator, assisting is a financial consultant as well as a conflict resolution specialist during mediation. In that first session of mediation, I can show the nervous parties how they will get through the next several months, and also assist them to plan their postdivorce lives.

Even if you don’t choose mediation, see our website for some important tips on negotiating. Negotiating temporary and permanent financial agreements are where many divorces go off the rails and into high conflict.

Remember, high conflict is expensive conflict.

5. DIRECT ATTORNEYS AND OTHER PROFESSIONALS.

Whether you use attorneys for unbundled services or to represent you throughout your case, it is important that you take an active role in protecting your own interests. Take charge by obtaining important documents, such as tax returns, bill and credit card statements, pay stubs, retirement account statements and other financial documents.

I recommend that you see a CDFA™ before you see the attorney. Seeing a CDFA™ will help you to walk into that attorney’s office with the ability to communicate your goals, desires and needs.

Although it is important to listen to your attorneys recommendations, the more legwork that you can do, the more money will save on attorneys fees, and the better witness you will make it the case has to proceed to trial.

I wish you good luck as you go through this tremendous transition of divorce.

Tammy R Ferreira

Disclaimer: Tammy R. Ferreira is certified by the Institute of Divorce Financial Analysts as a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst™. Ms. Ferreira is not an attorney, but has a background in divorce financial analysis and planning. The information set forth in this blog or on our websites are not intended to as a substitute for consultation with CDFA™, lawyer or other professional. This information is not intended to apply to cases or jurisdictions outside the State of California, and those viewing this information outside of California, or having business before jurisdictions outside of California, should consult a local professional, financial analyst or lawyer. The information in this blog is not intended to be an evaluation of any particular asset, support amount or other legal position, and should not be construed as a guarantee, warranty or prediction regarding the results of your legal matter.

UNBUNDLED LEGAL SERVICES – A SELF-REPRESENTED DIVORCEE’S BEST FRIEND

In this tough economy, many divorce litigants are turning to self representation to save money. Proceeding without a lawyer can be a great way to save money, especially when the divorce is fairly amicable. Unfortunately, self representation often goes off the rails when there is conflict between the spouses, or when one spouse obtains an aggressive family attorney.

When no lawyer has appeared on behalf of either you, getting legal advice can be tricky. If your spouse finds out that she went to a lawyer, or if a lawyer enters an appearance on your behalf, this can be a perceived breach of trust. To avoid this, I recommend that you consult with the family lawyer behind the scenes, preferably a lawyer with the background in mediation or conflict resolution, as opposed to an aggressive litigator. If your case involves contested child custody issues or large items property (such as an IRA or 401(k)), I recommend that you schedule a 1 to 2 hour consultation with the family lawyer to find out your rights and obligations.

It is also helpful to have a family lawyer draft complicated documents, such as declarations, pleadings, motions and applications. Family law judges respond to certain buzzwords, and it is important to get some advice on what to say in court.

If you don’t want to pay $5000-$15,000 for the initial retainer of an attorney, I suggest unbundled services. As a California-licensed attorney practicing family law in Carlsbad, I am willing to handle certain pieces of your case, allowing you to save money by handling those aspects of your case where you do not need a lawyer. I can draft your moving documents to ensure that they are sufficient for you to obtain certain relief, such as a support award. I can edit your declarations to make sure that you didn’t inadvertently say something that will rub judge the wrong way. I can’t even lodge an appearance on your behalf for an order to show cause hearing.

To take advantage of unbundled services, you need not notify your spouse that you are “lawyering up.” The Rules of Court allow me to “ghost write” your legal documents, and you do not have to disclose that a lawyer assisted you in writing them. You can present them as your own writing.

While some judges will allow a certain leeway for unrepresented parties, San Diego Rules of Court require that you plead your case just as a lawyer would. Rule 5.5.1 states that “Litigants representing themselves without an attorney … And all attorneys will be held to the same standards of practice and procedure.”

Family law is complicated, even for those of us who’ve made it our career. When court proceedings involve your children or your financial future, the best rule is to consult with a family law attorney if you have any doubt.

Wishing you the best of luck, I remain…

Very truly yours,

Thomas D. Ferreira, Esq.

Disclaimer: Thomas D. Ferreira is an attorney licensed only in the State of California. The information set forth in this blog or on our websites are not intended to create an attorney-client relationship, nor are they intended as legal advice on your specific matter. This information is not intended to apply to cases or jurisdictions outside the State of California, and those viewing this information outside of California, or having business before jurisdictions outside of California, should consult a local professional or lawyer. The information in this blog is not a substitute for the advice of competent counsel, and is not intended, nor should it be construed, as a guarantee, warranty or prediction regarding the results of your legal matter.

POST-DIVORCE FINANCE AND MONEY-HAVE A PLAN

Too often I see people rush head-long into divorce without a plan.  As a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst(tm), and as the office manager, co-mediator and wife (current, thankfully) of a top-notch divorce attorney and mediator, I can help you plan ahead, and make our financial transition to your post-divorce life a smooth one.

At the outset, please understand that I am not an advocate of blind-siding your spouse with a divorce announcement, and then taking advantage of his/her fragile emotional state to get an advantage in litigation.  At Divorce Life Solutions, our philosophy is to emphasize disengagement from conflict and, if possible, cooperation early in the divorce process.

In my experience many women take the decision to divorce too lightly, going into it without a plan as to how you will survive.  Here are a few tips:

1.  Before you make the announcement, do some real soul searching.  It may help to talk to someone who is going through it already.  You can find these people everywhere, but it may help to attend the high-conflict workshop withDr. Deena Stacer, Ph.D. You’ll meet people in the thick of their divorces and custody cases, and get a good picture of the struggles divorcing people face on a daily basis.

2.  Think about how you will share your children.  As men, what kind of father do yPOou want to be?  How will you balance family life and career?  Think about how you intend to support your husband or wife after the divorce in the enterprise of parenting, and how you will talk to your kids.

3.  Write out a plan.  Keep your journal in a safe place where it won’t be discovered, but it always helps to write out what you want your separation and divorce to look like.

4.  Get  financial advice.  A Certified Divorce Financial Analyst(tm) (CDFA(tm)) can help you to prepare a comprehensive financial plan before you announce your intentions.  While discussing the intent to divorce is always painful, you will feel empowered if you know that you have a plan for your own future, and what to do.

5.  Get educated on your rights and obligations as a separated and divorced parent.  Our next workshop is scheduled for Saturday, September 24, 2011 at 9:00 am.  My husband and I co-teach this seminar, giving you the nuts and bolts of the court process, your basic financial rights and obligations, and how to think about parenting plans.  There are other seminars out there as well, and some great information at the San Diego County Law Library.  The clerks there will steer you toward the resources you need.

Divorce and separation are hard for you, your spouse, your children, and everyone else involved.  Having a plan going in helps to take some of the anxiety out of the equation so that you can be more level-headed and make good decisions in this time of crisis.

Best of luck in your new life,

Tammy R. Ferreira

Disclaimer: Tammy R. Ferreira is a Certified Divorce Financial analyst and, while supervised by attorney Thomas D. Ferreira,  is not an attorney licensed in any state. The information set forth in this blog or on our websites are not intended to create an attorney-client relationship, nor are they intended as legal or financial advice on your specific matter. This information is not intended to apply to cases or jurisdictions outside the State of California, and those viewing this information outside of California, or having business before jurisdictions outside of California, should consult a local financial adviser or lawyer. The information in this blog is not a substitute for the advice of competent counsel, and is not intended, nor should it be construed, as a guarantee, warrantee or prediction regarding the results of your legal matter.

 

Strategies to Reduce Conflict Between Co-Parents

Co-parenting is a difficult enterprise under the best of circumstances. It is likely that if you and your co-parent were able to agree on basic issues such as parenting, that you would not have divorced or separated. The problem is, the family courts expect parents to co-parent, especially where the decree or agreement awards joint physical and legal custody, as happens in the majority of cases. It is ironic that judges and court mediators often expect people who couldn’t make their marriage work find mature, win-win solutions to their basic parenting issues. But it can be done, and this article explores some techniques and strategies you can use to reach agreement on the parenting of issues.

1. Separate the person from the problem.

Your child has an interest in baseball, but many team practices are during your co-parent’s visitation time. Your co-parent is late for pickups and drop-offs for your parenting time. Or, your child has an illness and needs your co-parent to administer his medication properly. These are just three examples of issues which come up during co parenting.

Conflict often erupts because people, by nature, have a hard time separating the issues from the people involved. Divorce or separation often magnifies these problems, as the emotions of divorce make clear thinking extremely difficult. If you are not the party who wanted the divorce, you may feel deeply betrayed or angry. You may feel that you should not be in the position of having to co-parent with someone who is not your wife or husband.

When such emotions flare, we tend to revert to cognitive distortions. These are ways of thinking which personal the problem, such as “he’s always late with the children” or “she’s so selfish that she’ll never take Johnny to baseball practice during her parenting time.”

Notice how, in each example, the problem is personalized. The problem is the co-parent’s selfishness or bad habits. When issues are framed in this way, they offer the other person the role of the victim, and the natural human response is for the other parent to become defensive. In short, this is a recipe for conflict.

We advise that you plan co-parenting communications ahead of time, and that you couch them in such language that the problem is separated from the person. Then, invite your co-parent to suggest some possible solutions to the problem. In the above two examples, you could frame your communication like this:

Instead of “you’re always late with the children,” you could say, “There is a problem with consistency of drop-off and pick-up times. Do you have any suggestions on how this might be resolved?”

Instead of, “you need to take Johnny to baseball practice during your visitation time every Tuesday,” say “Johnny is having so much fun on the baseball team this year. Some of his practices are on Tuesdays. Do you have any suggestions as to how we could get him there on time?

Getting into the habit of depersonalizing issues and problems will help your co-parent remain level headed and get him or her thinking about how to resolve the issue, instead of how to defend herself from attack.

2. Change from a message delivery stance to an information gathering stance.

Most of the difficult conversations we have in life involve some message we want to deliver. Your neighbor’s dog barks all night and you can’t sleep. You tell him that if he doesn’t do something soon, you’ll report him to the homeowner’s association or take legal action. This strategy may or may not deal with the barking, but it is sure to upset your neighbor.

Of course, if you don’t care about having a relationship with your neighbor, delivery of your message may have the effect of influencing his behavior. But you can be sure that he won’t be offering you a hotdog at the next block party.

As co-parents, we are forced to have relationships with the very people we were unable to stay married to. For the sake of the children, why not build some trust and good will into that relationship? You can do this effectively by changing from a message delivery stance to an information gathering stance.

In the previous example on late drop-offs and pickups, you could ask your co-parent if there are any difficulties with pickup and drop-off of the children. What are those problems? Is there anything I can do on my end to help? Get her talking about the problem from her perspective. Often such conversations can yield a win-win solution that neither party considered.

The best attitude for this type of communication is one of kind curiosity. Try to appear helpful, and communicate to your co-parent that you wish to attack the problem. If your co-parent becomes defensive, try one of the disarming techniques (acronym) discussed below.

When communicating from your information-gathering stance, it is best to avoid questions beginning with the word “why?” People often see this as a rhetorical question, or an accusation framed as a question. For example, “why haven’t you been able to drop of the children at the proper times in our agreement?” or worse, “why can’t you ever pick up Johnny on time?” These are not really information-seeking questions, but merely accusations framed as questions. Again, they extend to your co-parent an opportunity to play the role of the accused, and they invite defensiveness.

To avoid this accusatory stance, attempt to state the problem in neutral language. Ask questions of your co-parent which are likely to produce information useful for problem solving. Your co-parent may say that his boss was expecting unusually long hours during tax season, or that it is not realistic for him to get from work to your home by the time set out in the parenting plan.

3. Frame your communication in neutral terms.

In building the relationship of trust necessary for co-parenting, a good habit is that of framing communication in neutral language. Neutral language attacks the problem, and is as free as possible from any accusatory implications.

Reframing communication in this way takes practice. Divorce Life solutions can help you by reviewing your communications to see if they are neutral, and to ferret out any accusatory implication.

One technique is to detach from the situation emotionally, and try to look at it from the perspective of a disinterested third party. If this party were mediating your issue between you and your co-parent, how might she frame the issue? What might she say to each of you to stimulate creative solutions?

Here are some examples of neutral language:

An issue has arisen regarding the schedule of pickups and drop-offs” instead of “why are you always late?

There seems to be some inconsistency in the rules between our homes” is much better than “You have no standards for Johnny, and I have to do all the discipline.

An issue has arisen as to how our parenting plan should be interpreted” is preferable to “Why can’t you follow the agreement?

4. Become an active listener.

Strong emotions and underlying agendas can be communication blockers. One such blocker is the feeling by a person that they have not been heard. You can be sure to build trust with your co-parent if you can meet this basic human need.

Here are a few techniques to help you remove this communication blocker and help your co-parent feel understood and heard:

Validate his feelings. You don’t have to agree with how he feels. Validation helps the person feel that they have been heard and helps them move on to problem solving. Validating statements reflect the emotion in the other’s statements and body language. Examples include, “I can see that the traffic during the drop off is a source of frustration for you.” Or, “That must be very upsetting for you.” Or even, “I can see how you feel that way. If I had that perception I might feel exactly as you do.

Acknowledge understanding. It is not necessary that you agree with everything your co-parent says, but it is important to demonstrate that you understand her. Statements such as, “I can see how you might have that interpretation,” “you could be right,” or “many people share that opinion” acknowledge what the person is saying without agreeing.

Paraphrase. “What I hear you saying is that you have difficulty getting to my house due to traffic. Did I understand you correctly?”

Ask clarifying questions. “What do you mean by ‘rush hour traffic’.”

Steven Covey has pointed out that being heard is like giving psychological air to the other person. Such air tends to build trust in relationships, and will help you to diffuse conflict during co-parenting.

5. Get rid of your but.

Our final recommendation in this article is address to the concern that we should not be doormats, but should be assertive with our requests. I am not advocating that you give in every time, one way to communicate effectively while not giving in is to change your “but” stance to an “and” stance. The “and” stance acknowledges that the other’s concern might be valid, and also asserts your concern.

An example of the “but” stance might be this statement:

Johnny might be interested in baseball, but I can’t take him to both baseball and soccer practice.
Notice how the entire tenor changes by changing just a few words:

I’m glad that you support Johnny’s interest in baseball. And, I feel spread very thin when Johnny plays 2 sports. How might we solve this problem?

The problem with the “but” stance is that it sees all situations as a zero-sum game. In other words, if you win on an issue, I lose. The “and” stance validates the interests of both co-parents and the child’s interests, and asks for creative, win-win solutions.

CONCLUSION

Joint problem solving is difficult under the best of circumstances. Divorce and resulting parenting plans add a dimension of difficulty, because of highly charged emotions, which prevent clear thinking. Some of these emotions can be diffused through the communication techniques mentioned in this article. These techniques help co-parents to depersonalize the problem, separate the personalities from the problem, and to encourage a spirit of cooperation between co-parents. Whatever your differences with your ex, you can almost always assume that they love the children and want the best for them. Moving from a message delivery stance to an information gathering stance will empower you and your co-parent to create win-win solutions to any co-parenting difficulties that arise.

Copyright © Thomas D. Ferreira, all rights reserved.

Non-Coustodial Fathers are Important

Many readers will be surprised to learn that throughout much of American history, the law presumed that children of divorce would be placed with fathers, not mothers. This presumption lasted through the late 19th century, with the advent of the industrial revolution. After that, society and the courts increasingly saw fathers as the source of financial support and mothers as the source of nurturing and parenting.

Today we are witnessing the consequences if this thinking, which in my view is misguided. Fathers are portrayed in our media as at best unnecessary, and at worst as bumbling and incompetent. Meanwhile, the absence of fathers in the lives of children is leading to delinquency, poor school performance, criminal activity and substance abuse.

I have no intention here of pitting the sexes against one another. I take as a given that children do best when they are bonded with their mothers as well as their fathers, and receive nurturing and deep connection from mother. My personal belief is that each sex brings important characteristics to parenting, and that both are vital to a child’s well being.

The harm has come as, throughout the 20th century, courts, mental health professionals and other decision makers were influenced by the “tender years doctrine” which held that mothers were more crucial to development, while fathers were seen as a source of economic support. This has led to mothers being the custodial parent in the overwhelming majority of divorces, with fathers limited to daytime visits in many cases. My message to both men and women is that fathers are extremely important to a child’s healthy development. My goal here is to persuade custodial parents to allow as much time with non-custodial fathers as possible. Courts are beginning to acknowledge the importance of the non-custodial parent, and in particular fathers, in positive parenting outcomes. I also wish to encourage fathers to get in the game of parenting. Don’t sit on the sidelines; your participation is vital to the happiness and wellbeing of your children, no matter what their age.

EARLY INVOLVEMENT CRITICAL

Attachment is critically important to the health and well-being of children. Studies have suggested links between early attachment problems in infancy, with life-long personality and relationship problems. During the first year of life, healthy children develop attachments to their primary caregivers, and exclude others. They will use a small group of caregivers, usually mothers and fathers, as a “home base,” from which to explore the world. When threatened or challenged, healthy infants retreat to their primary caregiver for security, and then venture out when they feel safe.

Such attachments develop early in life, and therefore I would encourage fathers to become involved as early as possible, and to seek visitations and overnights with their infant children. Feeding times are excellent bonding experiences for baby and parent. Mothers who are breastfeeding can express milk, which can be sent with the child during overnight visits with dad.

The advantage of these early overnights is that they provide an opportunity for physical and emotional bonding between parent and child. I encourage visiting fathers to hold their babies, sing lullabies to them, and to communicate with mom about the bedtime routine. Anyone who has toddlers knows how they love to cuddle. This is important for daddy as well as mommy, and will pay huge relationship dividends down the road for any father willing to put in the time.

One objection may be that a non-custodial parent will often be supporting both homes financially. I encourage non-custodial fathers to do whatever it takes to have this bonding time. Talk to your employer about the importance of this time. It may be time to simplify your lifestyle or find work that allows time to bond with children.

I believe judges, family court mediators and others will respond favorably to requests for infant bonding time, as the trend is toward encouraging the involvement of both parents. Fathers, when you go into a family court mediation, be prepared with a detailed parenting plan. Divorce Life Solutions can help you to create such a plan.

In your plan, discuss the vital importance of bonding with your infant child, and how you plan to parent in the future. Take parenting classes, which are available from numerous sources such as the YMCA or health care professionals. Fathers who go in to mediations talking about the “percentage of time” with their children will not fare well with the mediator or the judge. The word “percentage” is seen as a code word for “I want to reduce my support obligation.” Instead, write out a vision for your new family ahead of time, and be prepared to speak about that family in your own words. Be prepared to discuss how you plan to bond with your infant, and why you feel it important to have time with the child from the beginning. Discuss how eventually you will be involved in schooling, helping with homework, athletics or any other ways you intend to nurture your child. Be prepared to talk about what you will do on vacations. Dream about your future, and make sure your child or children are in the center of those dreams.

This is particularly important, as fathers will not get a second chance at this bonding time later on. This bonding is usually well underway by 12 months, and will be all but completed by age 4 or earlier. During this critical time with your infant, fathers, you are laying the foundation for a healthy relationship with your sons and daughters throughout their childhood and teen years.

GET INVOLVED!

It is never too early for non-custodial mothers and fathers to get involved in their children’s daily activities and schooling. Studies have shown dramatically improved post-divorce school performance when there is involvement by both mother and father. There is no need to wait until kindergarten. In most situations, toddlers are in some form of day care so that mother and father can work. Take advantage of this to become involved in your child’s pre-school education. Volunteer to chaperone at the daycare’s next field trip. Go to “show and tell,” and tell the kids about your job. Your daycare provider will be delighted to receive your help reading stories to children or doing crafts. Take every chance you can get to show your child that you love them and care about how they are doing.

TYPE OF SCHOOL INVOLVEMENT CRUCIAL

Studies have shown that good academic outcomes are associated with father-involvement, where this involvement is at a high level. Low-level involvement has been shown to have about the same effectiveness as no involvement whatsoever. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Be there to help with homework. This is important at any age. Don’t do the homework for the child, but be there to lend a hand. Children of all ages feel empowered when they are able to figure out solutions themselves.
  2. Attend PTA meetings, and get involved with PTA. Becoming a board member and participating in meeting planning is helpful.
  3. Get to know your child’s teachers on a first name basis. If your young student is doing poorly in a class, sit in on a class and talk to the teacher about how you can help to improve your child’s performance. Studies are clear that students with active and caring parents simply do better.
  4. Have your school send duplicate report cards to you and copy you on all letters and e-mails. Ask them to call you on attendance issues. Don’t leave this to the custodial parent—get involved. If necessary, give teachers self-addressed and stamped envelopes to give you information. Be a contact person for extracurricular activities and problems, when they come up.
  5. Attend as many games, recitals, performances, or plays as is humanly possible. Children love to impress their parents with these performances.
  6. Offer to be an assistant coach. In this day of budget cuts in education, schools will need all the help they can get to keep athletic, music and art programs running. Offer to drive players to games. Be the “team mom” or “team dad.”

CONCLUSION:

As fathers, we are subject to many social messages that demean our family roles. If you are divorced, you may have experienced having the children you love taken from you involuntarily, with “visitations” substituted for the family time you once had with your children. Or, your divorce may have been a wakeup call for you to be more involved with your children.

Whichever is the case, your involvement is critical. Studies have linked increased crime, drug abuse and risky sexual behaviors to the absence of fathers in the home. The studies also show dramatic increases in academic performance among students with deeply involved fathers. For the good of your children, I urge you not to stand on the sidelines, but to become involved with your children’s lives. Negotiate with your co-parent to obtain overnights with the baby. Chances are she’ll welcome a couple of days off each week. Become involved in pre-school and school activities and help with homework. Become your child’s biggest fan.

When you come before judges and other decision makers, make sure you have a detailed plan as to how you will parent. What is your philosophy on discipline? Take parenting classes. An excellent class which is very popular these days is entitled Redirecting Children’s behavior. Check the Internet for a class near you.

Be prepared to talk about the importance of bonding with your children, and the family life you will create. If you do this well, the family court mediator will have a tear in their eye. Make them understand that your child’s best interests are served by spending time with you, and they will allow a parenting plan with generous time with dad. These professionals want to do what is in the best interests of your children, and you can help them to understand that time with you is in their best interests.