While divorce ends a legal marital status, it does not end the co-parenting relationship that exists between mothers and fathers. Understanding that your ex-spouse will still be involved in your life when you have children together can be the hardest thing for our clients to grasp. In all other aspects, divorce is about cutting the ties to the ex-spouse. You are dividing property and debt and making one spouse responsible after the entry of the judgment. However, children are not divided by a judgment of divorce and the communication to co-parent the Divorce does not make communicating with the spouse any easier. 

In some cases, one party did not want the divorce, and may have been surprised by the filing. This party is slower to work through their feelings of the end of the relationship. Often times, the feelings bleed into the communication with the other spouse during and after the divorce proceedings. However, there are steps that you can take to keep the communication with your ex-spouse civil and open during and after the divorce proceedings. I have discussed the five most common that I see in my practice. 

First, realize that the relationship is no longer the same. Even if you still love your spouse, she no longer loves you. Keep any thoughts or feelings of love for your ex-spouse to yourself. These thoughts are not appropriate to share. However, if you think your spouse may be open to the idea of reconciliation, recognize that you had a role to play in the breakdown of the marriage. Examine what that role was and if it is possible to repair the damage done in the past to save a marriage. I have seen clients take this action and save their marriage. However, many of them required the assistance of marriage counselor to have a long-lasting impact to their relationship. 

Second, no matter what button your spouse pushes with what he says, do not react with hostility or anger. I have read many emails and text messages where it is clear that feelings of anger are still in play. One wrong word or something read out of context starts a barrage of hateful comments. Your children can read or soon will be reading. If your child found the text messages or emails, would your words demonstrate the type of person you want your children to be? If the answer is no, then sending the quick reply back is ill-advised. There is no requirement to quickly respond to every text or email from an ex-spouse. If his words set you off, have another person read the message. Do they read the same thing you have read? Listen to what they say about the message and then respond using the high road. There is no need to engage in a battle of slinging hurtful things, such as “I will take the kids from you” or “My children will never be with you again.” I have not even mentioned the use of profanity, but just do not use it.  

Third, if you cannot exchange the children without a verbal fight occurring, then agree to exchange the children at a public place halfway between homes. If your children are old enough to walk to the other parent’s home or car, allow them to walk without leaving your car. If you have to get out of the car to help get belongings together for the children, speak only to your children and say how much you love them. Remember to be polite in front of the children. If you cannot speak, just smile. 

Fourth, if your relationship and communication is almost impossible to keep civil, consider using a communication tool. There are many out there from Our Family Wizard to TwoHouses to AppClose. Some of the tools for parents to use charge an annual fee. Others, like AppClose, are free. Several will allow the addition of stepparents, attorneys, or court personnel. Most of the communication tools have additional features such a calendar for sharing schedules and appointments, expense reporting for medical reimbursements or messaging. The use of the communication tool may require a court order that both parties communicate using a particular program as the tools will only work if both parties are using the same one. 

Fifth, give the other parent time to respond. I have seen pages of texts or emails where one party inundates the other’s inbox with messages sent seconds if not minutes apart. This quick fury of messages often indicate that one party cannot wait for the other party to respond. As I read the barrage of messages that had been sent, I see the assumptions and accusations that have been made. As a third party reading the conversation outside of the heat of the moment, I can clearly see which part took the wrong action in the conversation and where it broke down. If I can see it, so will the judge or referee who has been assigned to the case. Text messages and emails sent between two parents can be used in court to prove how one parent is not following the court order. There is no way to prevent them from not being introduced and the words said in the heat of the moment can make a loving parent look controlling or selfish. If what you read makes your blood boil, B-R-E-A-T-H-E. Slow down the conversation and take five deep long breaths. Control your emotions and responses.  

Remember while a divorce ends a legal marital status, it does not end a family. Divorce has changed the way your family lives and interacts. As a parent, it is your job to do what is best for your children. This may include shielding your children from the acrimony that parents have for one another.  If your ex-spouse continues to feed the hostility, contact our office for help. 

“R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me.” Aretha Franklin sang these words in her 1967 song, “Respect.” In a custody case, respect is defined by the judge or the Friend of the Court Referee. But even they have been given guidance in how to define the words. The legislature wrote down twelve factors for determining what is in the best interests of children when a court considers custody or parenting time. One of those factors, MCL 722.23j, addresses the “willingness and ability of each of the parties to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent or the child and the parents.” 

In a nutshell, this factor evaluates how much each parent shows respect to the other parent. When the court evaluates a parent’s willingness to promote a close bond with the other parent, the court is looking at how each parent acts towards the other parent or what that parent is saying in front of the children. The court looks to prior case law where other parents behaved badly toward one another for guidance. Here are three behaviors that demonstrate to the court that a parent lacks respect for the other parent. 

The first behavior is vindictiveness. When a parent is being vindictive, it is apparent that the parent has or is showing a strong or unreasoning desire for revenge. This can be outright attempting to destroy the bond between the other parent and child. Some behaviors that might demonstrate to the court that this is occurring are scheduling activities or allowing the child to schedule activities during the other parent’s parenting time or berating the other parent in front of the child.  

The second behavior is informing the child about court proceedings. Often, when one parent is sharing details of ongoing court proceedings, it is done with the intent to place the other parent in a bad light with the child. I have heard of parents communicating to their children, “Well, Daddy is trying to take you away from me” or “Mommy does not want us to have any fun.” No matter who is sharing, it is emotionally harmful for the child to be dragged into adult proceedings.  

A third behavior is showing an uncooperative attitude toward parenting time. It can be the little things done consistently over time that demonstrates this is occurring. A parent can be late in returning the children or having them ready for parenting time. A parent can unilaterally decide that parenting time should be canceled because of weather, the child’s activities, or illness. This parent will often talk using “I know” or “my child.”  

If you are experiencing any of these types of behaviors from the other parent, the solution is not to retaliate. Instead, team up with the attorneys at Melissa Pearce & Associates to find a respectful way to address the problems. Call us today to schedule your pre-engagement meeting. 

This past Sunday was the Mother’s Day. I recall how hard Mother’s Day was when I was divorced, especially when my children were little. They did not have the resources available or the ability at times to do anything special for me for Mother’s Day. After the children started school, Mother’s Day was about the special art projects they made for me in school and to this day, I treasure each one of them. I recently had a conversation with a recently divorced mother of children under the age of four. The day was equally as hard for her and she was fighting back feeling angry at her ex-husband.

This mother was already planning to help her children do something special for their father on Father’s Day. Her frustration arose out of the fact that he did not do anything to help their children do anything special for her for Mother’s Day. What she was feeling is not unusual for many of our clients with young children. The other spouse does not consider what can be done to help the children show their gratitude to a parent. I have heard some individuals justify their actions by saying that the former spouse is no longer their spouse, so why should they do anything.

Celebrating Mother’s Day or Father’s Day is not about the spouse or former spouse and the relationship that they have with. It is about honoring our parents for their sacrifices and the hours that they devote to their children. Just because you are no longer married does not diminish the role the ex-spouse plays in your children’s lives. Ben Affleck took the time to honor Jennifer Garner on Instagram this Mother’ Day by posting “Happy Mother’s Day to the two incredible mothers who have shown me the meaning of love.”  I am not saying that you should show up at your ex-spouse’s house and make breakfast in bed or post on social media a tribute. However, take some time to see how you can support your children in how the children want to honor their parent.

The actions you take can be as simple as helping the children make a card for the other parent, coloring a flower pot and planting a simple flower for mom, purchasing something for dad that supports his favorite hobby, or buying a gift card to a restaurant so the children can take their parent out to eat. The actions should be suitable to the children’s ages and own desires. For your younger children, under the age of 5, you may have to make some suggestions on what the child can do.

When you take the time to help your children honor their other parent, you teach them how to respect other people even if they are not liked. Your children will pick up on how well their parents get along after a divorce. The time and effort you spend helping your child honor their other parent is a life lesson that only actions can teach. Your actions will speak louder than the words you say to your children. Ben Stich, a mediator and licensed social worker, says you can minimize the negative effects of divorce by going “out of the way to make sure their child honors the other parent’s birthday and Mother’s and Father’s Day.”

If your family has blended with another family after divorce, respecting the new stepparent will create the same lesson on how to treat others. It may be difficult to watch your child shop for a “new mom” or a “new dad” but showing your child how to love more than one person is invaluable. In addition, you are demonstrating to your child that changes in life do happen, and the new spouse deserves respect just as much as you do. Write a new rule for honoring your ex-spouse as you help your child show love and gratitude to the other parent on special holidays. It can change how your children view marriage and divorce as they grow into adults.

I spent eleven years a single mother and learned through the eyes of others just how strong I was at that time. Those outside observations and my reflections have shown how my inner strength as a single mother shaped my children into who they are today. From those observations that I had been told, I am able to encourage clients about to become single parents. I have listed seven of those observations to help you become a stronger single parent.

Be focused and goal oriented. Know what kind of life that you want to provide for your children and achieve them. Friends would tell me that they admired my focus and drive. Back then, I did not fully understand what they were seeing. I had visions for myself and my children. I knew where I wanted to raise my children and what beliefs I wanted to instill in them. This was my focus and I did whatever it took, including swallowing my pride, to achieve them. It was not easy, but the visions would motivate me to keep moving forward and to not allow the financial struggles or daily setbacks to halt the progress forward. Today, I watch my adult children set their own personal and family goals that are focused on building a better life for their children.

Be well-organized. Schedules and planners were my best friends as single parent. I allowed my children to follow what their passions were and that meant that I would to coordinate five different schedules. Our days were planned from the moment that we woke up to the moment we went to bed. I had established time frames for doing homework, having dinner, getting ready for bed, when to put away toys and belongings for the night, and quiet times in the house. For some of the children, the schedule helped them thrive and for others, it allowed them to know what was expected.

Be flexible. Having four children to raise on my own meant that something would not go as planned. Sometimes, the bus would be late to drop off a child from an out-of-town game. This would mean finding ways to communicate when the bus was back in town in enough time to minimize wait time in a car with siblings that were tired and needed to go to bed. Appointments would go longer than expected. Life would just happen, and I had to be willing to adjust and pivot quickly.

Be involved with your children. While my children played sports or participated in other extracurricular activities, I was always involved with them. Sometimes, I would volunteer to coach a team, which minimized the financial costs. Other times, I made a point to be at every game that I could attend and cheer for my child. There were times my children did not appreciate my sideline encouragements and requests were made that I not be so loud, but I was present in their lives. But I watched them grow and develop their own independence and confidence.

Know when to be independent and when to ask for help. I learned how to repair my car, re-caulk a tub, and many other tasks that typically live on a list for husbands. I did not allow my gender to be a reason for why I could not do something. However, I knew when something needed the right person to do the job. When my son’s baseball bat catapult went through a window, I was able to reach out to friends who knew how to replace the glass in an older wood-framed window and where to obtain the glass. I would exchange babysitting with other single mothers to be able to run errands or do my Christmas shopping.

Believer in yourself. There will be many times that doubt will creep in and try to convince you that you are ruining your children’s childhood. But if you act with their best interests in mind, they will know it. While you are one parent in a child’s life, know that it is enough. You are not perfect, and you will make mistakes. But from those mistakes, you will learn how to be a better parent. Keep a journal and document your journey. You will amaze yourself on how much you can accomplish whether out of necessity or because you want to.

Give back to others. This will be difficult on days you are exhausted or when money is tight. But find small ways to give back to others. Do not be afraid to let your children see your generosity. Let your children observe what a charitable heart looks like and why it is important to lift others up in their times of struggle.

Being a single parent is not something to be ashamed of. It is a just a stage of your life. Embrace the life lessons that you will learn and the personal growth that you will realize. If you need help finding resources in your community or a plumber, call our office for a referral to a member of our Team 100.  We are happy to recommend local professionals and technicians in the area that we know, like and trust. 

As parents, it is in our nature to protect our children from harm whether physical or emotional. But the truth is, we cannot. Throughout their lifetimes, our children will fall and skin knees. They will develop friendships that cause them emotional pain. Our children will do the very actions that we warned them that will cause harm. Children need to learn for themselves as their individual failures help them to grow. However, some failures need more from us as parents to help our children grow and recover. One of those can be teen dating violence.

As your children grow into teenagers, they will begin to date. I remember when my children started to date. At the different ages of teenage years, “date” meant different things. For the young teens, dating another person was hanging out between classes and texting when home or on the weekends. There were not many actual dates as adults envision. Older teens would begin to go out with friends to the movies. A driver’s license opened the world and risk. I remember hearing after a break-up about all the reasons why. Sometimes, our teens will not share with us those struggles of dating. However, when those struggles of dating involve teen dating violence, we need to be ready to help our teen recover. Here are five tips for you as a parent to use to help your teen.

First, do not blame the teen and remind them that the dating violence they experienced is not her fault. Dating violence, and domestic violence, involve manipulation. Manipulation often accompanies physical and emotional abuse. The other person will blame the victim for the loss of control, the temper, or “making the other person do it.” Reassure your teen that the blame lies with the one who is abusive, whether physically or emotionally. Be gentle as changing this mindset and realizing that they had no control over another will take time. Slowly, your child will rebuild her self-esteem and confidence with your support.

Second, watch out for the emotional triggers. Your teen may not share with you everything that happed in the relationship. They may be embarrassed or ashamed. Take note of the what will trigger emotional outbursts or withdrawals. Respect those emotional triggers during the healing process.

Third, expect the emotional outbursts from your teen. Emotional outbursts for teens in general are expected as they go through the hormonal changes during the teen years. But when the addition of a trauma is added, the outbursts may increase. Work with your teen to understand the root of these emotional outbursts and discuss different ways of coping. Watch your teen for developing signs of anxiety, depression, or extreme mood swings. These may indicate that your teen is struggling and needs more supportive help.

Fourth, explore the option of individual counseling with your teen. While we love our children and want to help through everything, we may not be the person our children want to share the experiences of dating violence with. Your teen may fear how you will react and may believe that if they do not share, then they are protecting you from your reactions. However, they will need someone to talk to and understand the dynamics of the relationship. A counselor can help your teen on ways to recover and how to move forward.

Fifth, be a non-judgmental support system. I know this is easier said than done. But sharing what happened may be difficult for your teen. They need to know that you will listen without going into momma bear mode. They need to know that you will not judge them for not leaving at the first sign of problems or vocalize that you knew this person was bad. Be their shoulder to cry on and the strong arms to reassure them. Let them know whenever they need to talk about what happened or how they are feeling, you are there no matter the time to listen.

If your teen experienced dating violence and is still being harassed by the other party, call our office to explore what legal options are available.

As a parent and a grandparent, I am concerned about the increasing news about teen dating violence. This was not a topic that was talked about when I was growing up or when my own children were dating. But it is a topic that a parent of a teen needs to be aware and understand what some of the warning signs may be. A search on the internet turned up a lot of articles about teen dating violence and some of those articles were drawing links between teen dating violence and the increase in school shootings. As a parent, we need to know what our children’s world is like as it is not the same world that we grew up in.

The first thing to understand about teen dating violence is what it is and how common is it. This is a growing problem in the United States and about one-third of all teens involved in a romantic violence will experience abuse of some kind. [1] As parents, we need to think beyond the first images of abuse. Abuse is more than just physical violence. It includes sexual abuse and emotional abuse, which is the hardest to detect.  In July 2011, a study conducted by Priscilla Offenhauer and Alice Buchalter on teen violence stated that emotional abuse is the most common form with 76% of teen reporting teen dating violence.[2]

Since emotional abuse is the most common form of teen dating violence, as parents, we need to understand what it is and how to recognize some warning signs. Emotional abuse is “form of controlling behavior that involves subjecting another person to behavior that causes a diminished ‘sense of identity, dignity, and self-worth.’”[3] Emotional abuse includes isolation, verbal abuse, and embarrassment. It is easy a parent to discount emotional abuse as a just part of growing up or the way people get along, but the psychological effects of emotional abuse can cause as much damage as physical abuse.

There are warning signs that a parent should be able to recognize if a teen is experiencing teen dating violence. The signs include withdrawing interest from ordinary activities, unexpected or unexplained mood swings, demonstrated fear of upsetting their partner, reluctance to do any activity without their partner in fear of retribution, or self-harming or suicidal behaviors. If you recognize some of these signs or other behavior changes in your teen, then set aside to talk with them. Understand that if your teen has a strained relationship with you as a parent, your teen may not be willing to speak about the difficulties in the dating relationship. If this is the case, ask a family member or friend to speak with your teen. As a parent, you should convey to your teen that you are concerned for their safety, both physically and emotionally.

If your teen has been involved in a relationship with teen dating violence and you are not sure where to turn or how to help your teen, go to www.teendvmonth.org/resources/. If you need legal assistance, call us today for a compassionate team to help both you and your teen take control back.


[1] “Most Teens Suffer Emotional Abuse in Their Relationships”, https://www.teendvmonth.org/teens-suffer-emotional-abuse-relationships/ accessed 2/21/2019 written May 30, 2018

[2] Priscilla Offenhauer, Alice Buchalter; Teen Dating Violence: A Literature Review and Annotated Bibliography  https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/235368.pdf accessed 2/21/2019

[3] Most Teens Suffer

February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness month. According to the Domestic Violence Awareness Project, approximately 1.5 million teens experience physical abuse from a dating partner. As parents, educating our teenagers about what is domestic violence is a conversation that needs to happen just as much as we need to talk about birth control. As parents, both conversations are uncomfortable, but they are necessary conversations to protect our children.

In order to educate your teenager about domestic violence, you need to understand what it is. As a young child, I lived in a home where domestic violence was a frequent occurrence. However, I was taught that it was only abuse if someone was being physically hit or attack. But that is not the only type of domestic violence, and it took a long time for me to understand what the forms are. It was only after I reported my ex-husband after he hit me for the first time that I realized domestic violence is more than physical violence. I learned that I do not have to be hit for a spouse or someone I am dating to be abusive.

Domestic violence or abuse is a pattern of coercive, controlling behavior. It is when one person in a relationship is exerting power and control over the other person. Domestic violence takes many forms: physical, emotional, economic, stalking and harassment, and sexual.

Emotional abuse is a behavior that one partner uses to control the other or to damage their emotional well-being. It can be verbal or non-verbal. Some forms of emotional abuse include name-calling, yelling in your face, telling you what to do or where you can go, and placing little value on what you have to say. Emotional abuse can also include putting you down in front of other people or saying negative things about your friends and family. Often the abuser will blame the abused partner for their actions. When phone calls, texts or computer use is monitored or control, this is another form of emotional abuse.

If you do not know how to start the conversation with your teen about domestic violence, start with emotional abuse. Discuss what it is and how valuable your teen is. Let them know that no one, even someone they care about and are dating, should be using any form of emotional abuse against them. Be willing to have an open and honest discussion with your teen. This may include listening to your teen identify some of these behaviors in you or your spouse or significant other. Reiterate that the goal of these behaviors is to control another person or damage their self-esteem. Encourage your teen to come to you, if they are questioning this type of behavior in someone that she or he is dating. Discuss with your teen what steps can be taken to address this behavior before it escalates. This may include breaking up with the person if the behavior continues.

If steps you have taken as a family to end a relationship have not worked, call Melissa Pearce & Associates today at (248) 329-0344 to speak with our team on what you can do next to protect your teenager.