The Dangers of Domestic Violence

“Why doesn’t she leave him?” This was the topic of a Ted Talk that I watched recently. In that talk, Laura Morgan Steiner shared her story of being abused by her first husband. The abuse not only included physical beatings but also having loaded guns held to her head as he threatened to end her life. She stated that she did not initially view herself as a “victim of domestic violence” but as someone who deeply loved a man struggling to overcome his demons from an abusive past. She thought she could help him. She finally left him after a “sadistic beating” one night and then she told everyone who would listen. In the final minutes of her talk, she lists some tips on how to help your family or friends leave.

The first thing to know is that it is incredibly dangerous to leave an abuser. The final step in the domestic violence pattern is “Kill her.” Laura Morgan Steiner stated that over seventy percent (70%) of domestic violence murders happen after the woman ended the relationship. Other outcomes include long-term stalking, denial of financial resources, and manipulation of the family court system to force the children to spend unsupervised parenting time with the man who regularly beats their mother. There are steps you can take to help your family member and friend leave an abusive relationship even in the face of danger or the prospect of unsupervised parenting time for their children.

How Can You Help the Abused?

The first step is to support her confidence in her ability to leave and to leave safely. I have recently spoken to several individuals trying to break free and the reason that they say that they lack confidence to leave is access to financial resources. Abuse is not physical but includes control over finances. If your friend has been restricted from working, understand that this was a way to control her financial freedom. In order to know that she can leave, she must be confident that she can financially support herself and her children without living on the street as he will have repeatedly told her that she could not survive without him. This fear of being worse off without him than with him is what may be preventing her from having the confidence that she can leave.

The second step is to develop a clear and safe plan for her to leave. This might not happen on your timeframe. She may need to save money, often a dollar here and five dollars there to build up enough funds to leave and not worry about the money. She will need to know how to leave safely, where she can go, what she needs to do to keep him away, and what can she do. All this planning will be scary for her. Offer to help research what is available in her area. Help her set up a secret bank account where she can deposit funds. Research what she needs to do to file a personal protection order. She may have spent years to be told what to do, what to wear, and where she can go. Breaking free and making her own decisions will frighten her. Remember, as she plans, she will need her confidence buoyed up by your loving support and not judgmental statements of contempt for her circumstances or choices.

The third step is developing a commitment to leave. Leaving is frightening. Your friend will remember everything that he said he would do if she left him or how inept she is and cannot make it on her own. She will need you to bolster her commitment to leave. Ask your friend why she wants to leave and when she wavers remind her gently of her words that she said for wanting a better life. She may have told you that if he hits her one more time. Do you know if those words were her commitment to leave or words that she said to pacify you? Unless she has begun planning to leave the relationship, you cannot be certain of her level of commitment to leave. It is not uncommon for the level of commitment to waver as she struggles with the love that she feels for him and her need for safety. This is not a black or white situation for her, your friend is seeing the relationship in shades of grey that are affected by his words and actions as well. The best thing you can do for her is to not bully her into leaving or offer ultimatums to her.

The final step in deciding to leave is the exercise of courage. This will take time for her to muster and exercise. She may test her own courage in small steps, such as developing a plan, confronting her abuser, seeking out professional help, saying something to a friend about what is happening, or saving money in secret. If each one of these steps works out for her without repercussions, then she will move forward toward leaving him. But if she fails in any exercise of courage, it could reinforce what he tells her about how weak or stupid she is. If your friend comes to you and tells you of the abuse that she has been enduring, do not judge or tell her what to do. Ask what you can do to help her. Reaffirm her worth as a person. Offer to be a safe shelter for her, if you can or research where she can go after she leaves. With nearly 20 people every minute experiencing domestic violence by an intimate partner. This equates to about 10 million women and men each year. It is bound to affect someone that you know and love. She may not have the courage to tell anyone, but she needs to know no matter what you are there for her. Since October is domestic violence awareness month, take one action to learn more about domestic violence and what you can do to help a friend in an abusive relationship.

Who owns the child’s clothing, toys, equipment, and personal effects? This is a question that is asked quite often. Arguments are made that the children’s property belong to the parent who purchased the items for the child. This is often followed up with statements that the purchasing parent can prohibit those items from being taken to the other parent’s house. I have heard stories of children wearing a designated outfit on exchange days due to prohibition of taking anything from mommy’s house to daddy’s house and vice versus.

Joint Legal Custody and Children’s Property

In Michigan, when parents have agreed to or are granted joint legal custody, language is typically added to the Judgment of Divorce to define what joint legal custody means. One of the paragraphs defining joint legal custody states as follows:

That the child’s clothing, toys, equipment, and personal effects shall be the property of the child and not the parties. This means that the child’s clothing, toys, equipment, and personal effects may move back and forth with the child between the parties’ respective residences as the child so desires and neither party will impede this process. Furthermore, neither party may enter the residence of the other to retrieve any property belonging to the minor child.

I Bought the Children’s Property. Can I Restrict It’s Movement?

This language attempts to settle the question of who owns the child’s clothing, toys, equipment, and personal effects. There is no restriction on the child on which house property can be moved to. The child decides and neither parent should do or say anything to hinder the child from freely moving property. If you are having disagreements over the children’s property, pull out your Judgment of Divorce or custody order and see what it says. Do you find the above language in your judgment? If so, then the property belongs to the child and she can decide where to take it. If you cannot find the above language or something similar in your judgment, then contact an attorney to find out what you can do to resolve the dispute and minimize the conflicts around the child. If you need help, contact us today for a free 15-minute telephone consultation.

You made the decision to file for divorce or you just received divorce pleadings, what do you do next? While most people understand that the next decision should be to consult with an attorney, they forget the second step to take. That step is to take a vacation – from all social media accounts. Social media has become the telephone of today. We are able to share our joys, struggles, and sorrows quickly and with all of our “friends” at once. The problem is that sometimes the filter on what to share and what to keep private is lost. So, when you receive or file papers filed with a courthouse, take these following steps.

Where Are You Logged Into Social Media?

First, log off all social media accounts at your work. I have heard stories of people being fired because of the drama in their life. The last device you should be logging into your social media accounts from is the office computer. Not only can your employer download software to the computer to monitor everything you do on company time. But when you are logged into your social media accounts, the employer can review those accounts.

Second, log off all social media accounts on every device that you logged in. It is easy to just “stay logged in,” but when everything you do and say is subject to scrutiny. Do not make it easy on yourself to post something because you are frustrated or angry.

Control Your Social Media Posts!

Third, stop posting everything on social media. Many people do not realize that anything you say when you are a party to a court proceeding is admissible in court. You said or wrote it and there is no hearsay exception to keep it out of court. This means if you left your account signed in on someone else’s device and they posted to your account as you, it is admissible and you will have to prove that those words were not yours, which can be hard to do. If you posted something out of frustration, it can have a negative effect with the judge. Remember, what you post on the Internet is out there forever. If you have a new significant other, now is not the time to share it with the world.

Fourth, unfollow and block your spouse from your accounts. The fact that you received court pleadings shows that there is a breakdown in your relationship. I guarantee that their attorney will ask for screenshots of everything you post that is negative. Do not make it easy.

Fifth, do not accept any new friend requests. Your spouse or ex-spouse may have their friends or family trying to “friend” you after you remove him from your friend list. The person may have created the account with a false name and photo. If you do not know the person or recall how you know them, do not accept. If it is a long-lost friend trying to reconnect, think twice before hitting that accept button. It may be a good idea to wait a few weeks before accepting the request. If you have not talked in years, a few weeks will not make a big difference.

Finally, do not delete the accounts or anything already posted. Deleting content or the account can be viewed negatively by the court as if you destroyed evidence. Just because you deleted it does not mean that it is gone forever from the Internet. A good attorney will know which resources to pull it back up. Screenshots capture posts and preserve them even after it has been deleted. If you feel like a post may be damaging, share it with your attorney. This will give them a heads up and the attorney can start to plan what to do about it.

If you have been served with divorce papers and are worried about your social media accounts, call our office today for a free fifteen minute telephone consultation.

Occasionally, I have seen judgments that contain language for parenting time as being “reasonable and liberal upon agreement with the parties.” While the goal of this type of parenting is promotion cooperation in setting up a flexible parenting time schedule, it should only be agreed to under thoughtful consideration of several factors.

The Four Factors of Flexible Parenting Time

First, reasonable and liberal parenting time can allow for flexibility in scheduling parenting time for both parties, especially when one parent has a changing work schedule that will not work with specific parenting time. This type of flexibility can allow the children to be with one parent who is not working in lieu of attending childcare. But in order for this flexibility to work both parties should commit to adopting a flexible schedule and deciding that denial of parenting time will be limited to issues of child safety, stability, or health. The issue with having parenting time contingent upon the agreement of the parties is that the potential exists for one party to control the parenting time of the other by arbitrarily deciding to deny requests for parenting time. Such a parenting time arrangement can increase conflict between the parties, particularly when one party is consistently denying requests for parenting time.

Second, reasonable and liberal parenting time can result in frequent changes in the parenting time schedule. Young children may need a specific schedule that they can count on spending time with each parent. Frequent changes in parenting time schedules can disrupt young children’s sense of stability and result in emotional issues. Before agreeing to reasonable and liberal parenting time language, parents must be confident that the children are capable of handling the frequent changes in schedule.

A third factor to consider is what will the custodial or primarily physical custody parent (“primary custodial parent”) says that reasonable and liberal parenting is. If the primary custodial parent says that reasonable and liberal parenting time means two hours for a weeknight, alternating weekends, and specific alternating holidays, then that could be the schedule the court upholds. The primary custodial parent can change the meaning of what reasonable and liberal parenting time means as conflicts increase between the parties. If there is a potential for ongoing post-judgment conflicts between the parties, then adopting a reasonable and liberal parenting time schedule is not advised.

A fourth factor should be the needs of the children in developing strong and healthy relationships with the other parent. Consistency can provide the foundation that young children may need to form their own opinion of what is healthy development of bonds to each parent.

If these identified four factors or other factors that are relevant to your situation give you pause to think about adopting a reasonable and liberal parenting time schedule, then consider the adoption of a specific parenting time schedule. While some parents view the rigid details of a specific parenting time schedule to be harsh, it can provide the children and the court with details to know what is expected from each parent and at what time. It removes the potential for unilateral control and can minimize the post-judgment conflicts between parents.

Can I Change Parenting Time After My Judgment?

Parenting time is not something that once it is written into a divorce judgment is set in stone. It is modifiable while the children remain under the age of eighteen (18). While the children remain young, parents can agree to modify or change the parenting time to benefit the needs of the children and submit their agreement to the court for entry and to supersede a prior order. However, if the parents cannot agree on a modification to the schedule, then either party can move the court to enter an order modifying the schedule.

If you have a parenting time issue and need assistance in resolving it, contact our team and learn more on how we can help you move forward to positive parenting time with your children.

The beginning of the school year can be an exciting time for children. They are excited to learn who their new teacher is and if any of their friends are in their class this year. They may look forward to the annual school clothes shopping sprees or want to pick out their new school supplies. However, when parents are divorced, the new school year can bring about anxiety for children, especially when their parents do not get along amicably. Here are the best tips I have discovered to start the new school year off on a positive note for children.

  1. Use technology to share information. With the choices we have today, co-parenting can be made easy and information shared openly, even when you do not want to talk with the other parent. There are apps for the phone and computer that allow parents to communicate without having to have face-to-face conversations. Parents have the option of using a shared Google calendar, Our Family Wizard, CoParenter, AppClose, TalkingParents, WeParent, 2houses, or Truece to share information. The key to all these apps is that the parents agree on which one to use and both have signed up for an account. Some of the apps charge yearly fees and others are completely free. Some of the apps will allow parents to add third parties to the group, such as the children, grandparents, or professionals that are assisting the family. If you do add a professional, notify the other parent of who has been added. Do your research and agree on which application to use to communicate. Reach an agreement for a deadline to respond by, so everyone is clear on what is a reasonable time to expect a response, if one is needed. By using an agreed upon method of communication, parents can send messages or upload information for the other parent without worrying about interrupting work.
  2. Review your court order.  The start of the new school year is a good time to pull out your judgment and review its terms. If you have had post-judgment issues resolved during the previous school year, pull out those orders as well. If you have joint legal custody, remember that the other parent needs to be include in decisions regarding the child’s education. Decide if the school should be provided with a copy of the judgment or order. This may be necessary if one parent has restricted or supervised parenting time, the court has limited one parenting from picking up the children, etc. If the school should have a copy, provide it with the completed school forms.
  3. Plan for attending school activities in a positive manner. When parents do not get along or fight every time they talk, plans should be made for attending school activities. Decide if the parents will alternate months on helping in the classroom or attending field trips. Talk to the teacher about options for parent-teacher conferences. Are the teachers willing to have two separate conferences? Ask if a parent can attend by telephone, if that parent does not live close to the school district? For school concerts and plays, both parents can sit on opposite sides of the room and not speak to one another. The important thing to remember is that the child can experience the support of both parents without feeling like the child has to choose or is waiting for a blow-up. For some activities, each parent may have to decide to put their differences aside for a few hours.
  4. Properly fill out school forms and alert school personnel to our family dynamics. When filling out the school forms, list each parent’s name in the appropriate slot with their known contact information. This lets the school know who the legal parents are and how to reach them. If you have remarried, identify your spouse with the appropriate title. It can be helpful to let the teacher know how the child prefers to address stepparents. Agree on who the emergency contact individuals will be.
  5. Plan to share the cost of school supplies. Start discussing how to share the costs of supplies after the Fourth of July, if it is not clear in your court orders. Will costs be shared equally, or pro rata based on the parties’ incomes? Understand that the items being purchased are for the children and not property of the parents. The children should be allowed to freely move their school supplies between houses and school as the child needs. Discuss on the requested supplies for the classroom will shared. There should be discussions and an agreement as to whether one parent will do the shopping and the other parent will reimburse or if each parent will separately purchase their share.
  6. Allow the other parent to enjoy the first day of school. Discuss with the other parent if they would like to jointly attend sending the child to the first day of school. It may not be possible due to work schedules or distance between homes but be willing to extend an invitation. If the other parent cannot join in sending the child off to the first day of school, then share photos from the first day in a shared account or in social media that the other parent can see. Remember this is a day for the child.
  7. Discuss ahead of time what extracurricular activities the child can participate in throughout the school year. The start of a new school year is a good time to discuss how many and which extracurricular activities the child can participate in. A good starting point is what is written in the court orders regarding activities. Discuss with the other parent if there is a limit to the amount of funds that you can contribute toward extracurriculars. Extracurricular activities can include sporting teams, dance, after-school clubs, scouting, band, orchestra, or music lessons. If there is a disagreement about the child participating in a winter or spring sport, now is the time to bring the matter before the court for its assistance in resolving the dispute. If you wait until the start of the season, the child may not be able to participate that year.
  8. Decide how to handle school emergencies and unexpected school closings. Discuss with the other parent what information to communicate to the school on who to contact when there is an emergency or school unexpected closes. The discussion should include how the unexpected school closing impacts the parenting time schedule and an agreed upon time to exchange the child if one parent picks up from school outside of his or her scheduled parenting time. Decide now if there will be a group chat that will be used when an emergency or unexpected school closing happens.
  9. Sync up the afterschool and bedtime routines. Both parents should be open to establishing the same routines for after school and at bedtime. Providing your children with joint routines and rules for both houses will minimize the time it takes children to re-acclimate to each parent’s house rules and expectations.
  10. Talk to your children.If your children are old enough, ask them what extracurriculars that they want to do. Find out what routines work best for child to accomplish everything that the child needs to get done. Hold your older child responsible for transporting schoolbooks and supplies between both houses.

The important thing to remember about starting off the school year as divorced parents is that your children still have two parents who love them and want to support their education. If you have joint legal custody, you need to work jointly with the other parent on education decisions. Minimize the number of third parties that are brought into your discussion until it is necessary. Then those third parties should be brought in to either elicit their input or to provide information that the third party needs to perform their role.

If you are experiencing unresolved conflicts with your ex-spouse, do not hesitate to contact our office at (248) 329-0344 for assistance in reaching an agreement that is best for your children.

When you are served with a motion from your ex-spouse after the entry of Judgment of Divorce, there are five action you need to make immediately to protect yourself. If you fail to make these actions, the judge or Friend of the Court Referee will make a ruling on the motion and typically grant your ex-spouse the relief requested in the motion.

1. READ THE MOTION. You need to thoroughly read the motion including the relief that your ex-spouse is asking the judge to do. Start off by slowly reading the title of the motion. If it is long, it may indicate what your ex-spouse is wanting to do. Look for phrases such as “Modification of custody” “modification of parenting time,” “show cause,” or anything that suggest a change is being requested. Most motions that we assist clients on either request a modification to the terms of the last order entered by the court or enforcement of the provisions of the last order. Next, slowly read paragraph in the motion. These should be number and limited to one fact per paragraph. Try not to react to what is being said, as hard as that may be. Your goal is to understand what your ex-spouse is saying. Finally, does the motion and its accompanying paperwork tell you when the court will hear the motion. Be sure to note this date and time.

2. CONSULT WITH AN ATTORNEY. After you have thoroughly read and understand the motion that you were served with, the second action to take is to decide whether you need to consult with an attorney, or can you represent yourself in responding to this motion. If there is some evidence that you may want to present to the court, including text messages and emails, then it may be beneficial to at least request and pay for a consultation with a family law attorney. When you are deciding to consult with an attorney, it is beneficial to find one whose practice focuses on the issue that the motion is addressing. Do not be afraid to ask the reception if the attorney helps clients who have to respond to your exact motion. After you meet with the attorney, you will need to decide if you need this person by your side and advocating on your behalf or if you are comfortable doing this on your own. In order to make this decision, you may need to assess what kind of attorney your ex-spouse has hired, if you agree with what your ex-spouse is requesting, or if you have the knowledge to properly respond and present your position to the court. During your consultation, you should discuss if the attorney provides services outside of full representation, such as just drafting a response for you.

3. RESPOND TO THE MOTION. You have options in how your respond. You can respond in writing. You can show up to the motion hearing and respond orally. You can respond both in writing and showing up to the motion hearing to orally respond. Finally, you can choose to do no response. It is our recommendation to clients that chances of a better outcome can happen when the response is both in writing and at the motion hearing. If you choose to respond in writing, you will need to know the timeframe that judges like to have the response by. Many judges will read both the motion and response prior to the motion hearing. It is our position that having the judge have time in advance to under your position as the party responding to the motion is always better than waiting to the day of the hearing.

Once you have decided how to respond, drafting a proper response will be appropriate. The party filing the motion will need to show the court that he has met the grounds for filing the motion, particularly if the motion is requesting a change in custody or parenting time. Can you clearly identify what is being cited as the change in circumstances or proper cause for filing this motion? If the reason for filing the motion is insufficient, it should be clearly addressed in your response. This is where having an attorney assist you can be helpful. Be sure to respond to each paragraph and address what your ex-spouse addressed in his corresponding paragraph in his motion. After your response is drafted, file it with the court and serve a copy on your ex-spouse or his attorney.

4. ATTEND THE HEARING. Be sure to allow plenty of time to go through security at the courthouse without being late. In smaller courthouses, this may not be an issue. However, if you attend a large courthouse, such as the Sixth Circuit in Pontiac, the lines to get into the courthouse on motion day can be quite long and waits to just pass through security could be up to half hour. Leave your cell phone in your vehicle. Many courthouses do not allow cell phones, unless you are a currently licensed attorney. If there is evidence on your phone, find a way to print it or download to a device that you can take in. When you arrive at the judge’s courtroom, be sure to check in with the clerk. If there are further instructions, the clerk will inform you at that time. In the Sixth Circuit, if a motion involves issues that the Referee could assist in resolving, you will be instructed on where to let the Referee know you are ready to proceed.

5. READ BEFORE YOU SIGN. Thoroughly read any order being entered after the motion hearing before you sign it. If an agreement was reached for summertime only, be sure that it is clearly stated in the order. Many orders entered following a motion will be handwritten by an attorney, the filing party, or the Referee. Do not leave sign this Order until it clearly states what the agreement reached was or what the judge said on record. A word of caution, if the judge made a ruling that you do not agree with, refusing to sign the order will not prevent the court from entering a written order that reflects the judge’s ruling. If you contest the ruling, you may need to consult with an appellate attorney. Remember, never ignore a motion that you have received. Your lack of response can alter your rights and responsibilities. If you want to consult with an attorney on a motion you received, schedule your paid consultation today.

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. 

When I was growing, we did not hear about things that are common today. Some of what was not common for me as a child are peanut allergies, gluten-free diets or celiac disease, or anxiety in children. I am not sure what changed. It could be an increased awareness, genetically modified plants, or several other reasons. But as parents, we can help to reduce the anxiety our children feel and raise our children to be mentally strong individuals. I have found the following seven tips to be helpful in raising children to cope with twists and turns of life.

First, teach your children to handle change and in positive ways. Change is a part of life. Nothing stays static even things that appear to be static. In science, we learn that even the tall tree in our backyard is changing, even if we cannot see the change. The change is often measured when the tree is cut down and its rings of growth are measured. When scientists measure the difference in the rings of growth, they can tell if the tree endured hardships, droughts, fires or had a year of plenty of rain to promote growth. Unlike trees, there is not a clear way to measure how the changes in the world affect our children’s mental health. From a young age, we should be teaching our children how to positively handle the change in their lives.

One way to help children positively deal with change is to teach our children to journal and write down how things are affecting them. Teaching your children to keep a gratitude journal or general journal is another way to prepare them to handle life in positive and healthy ways. By encouraging a gratitude journal, you will teach your child to overcome self-pity and other bad habits and destructive self-talk. It will teach your child to focus on the positives in life rather than dwelling on what is going wrong. Over time, your child will boost their self-confidence and learn pro-active problem-solving.

A third thing to do with your children to promote a strong mental health is to allow the child to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. Teach your child that failure is an option. When I was younger, no one stopped us from building bike ramps or swinging in the tops of neighborhood trees. However, when an injury occurred, we were taught about the consequences of our choices. Discussions focused on what decisions we made and what we should have done different, i.e. don’t swing from the tops of trees like Tarzan. Learning from our mistakes included errors in homework, chores, and play. I remember my brothers fixing the holes that they put in the walls from their roughhousing or fights.

Along with teaching children that it is alright to make a mistake if they learn from it comes teaching your child to take responsibility. Without being able to take responsibility for actions, a child cannot fully learn from their mistakes. Allow your child to explain what they did and thought process, but do not allow excuses for their actions or blaming another for the decision the child made. This was often taught to me by my parents saying, “If Johnny was jumping off the bridge, would you follow him.” While it seems outlandish even today, their point was received. I had to be responsible for my own actions and decisions and not follow my peers.

A fifth tactic is allowing your children to face their fears with minimal interference from you as a parent.  Encourage your child to take small steps in overcoming their fears. Cheer them on when they accomplish a small step toward overcoming the fear. Celebrate their newfound bravery. Recognize the growth in their self-confidence while monitoring for foolish behavior. We often do this when we teach our children to swim. We allow them to float while holding onto their sides and then slowly remove our hands away slight to show the child that they are doing it all on their own. Apply this same technique with any fear your child has whether it is sleeping in the dark, talking to new people, playing outside, or trying a new sport or activity.

A sixth technique is teaching your child to handle loss or losing in sports. When I was a child, every game included a score, a winner and a loser. Now, as I watch my grandchildren play, there is not a scoreboard. Parents are asking if they know the score. Everyone wins and receives a participation trophy. We are forgetting about teaching our children how to lose as a good sport. How to control our emotions when things do not go as we planned. Polarity, or opposites, are healthy. How can your child know happiness if they have never felt sadness? How can your child know the thrill of victory, if they never felt the sting of defeat? How can your child understand how it feels to be first, if they were never last? Teach your child losing a game is not the end of the world or reflection on their abilities. There will always be someone who can do something better, but that does not diminish their value.

A seventh tip is to allow your child to be a child for as long as possible. Often, I hear about children being dragged into adult problems, such as divorce, and asked to weigh in. Your child is only a child once and the wonder of the world as they experience it is so easily tainted by our life experiences. Allow your child to wonder where rainbows end and what is at the end. Allow them to ponder why the stars do not fall from the sky. Refrain from asking which parent they want to live with more or which parent they love best.

If you need further help in finding ways to raise your children to be mentally strong, call our office for links to other blogs or a referral to parenting coach.

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.