Blending families is not an easy task with children. It will take time and patience as well as lots of love. I learned lessons from when I remarried and from my children years later. Here are the top five tips that I learned while working on blending two families into one.

  • Communicate. Each child will have his or her own attitude about the new family. Consider the age and relationships that have been built prior to living together as one under one roof. Ask your children individually what sacrifices the child expects to be made during the initial months and by whom. If you need to consolidate two households’ belongings have a family meeting to clearly discuss what is expected; what can be kept; what must be discard, sold, or donated; and what will replaced with new. Talk with your ex-spouse about any expectations and try to reach an agreement for the children calling the new parent “Mom” or “Dad.” This early conversation can minimize any hurt feelings, when the children start referring to the new stepparent as “Mom” or “Dad.” If both of you agree that the children should not refer to new parent as “Mom” or “Dad,” then share that information with everyone. Discuss your expectations surrounding discipline by the stepparent. While you are having this conversation, this would be the time to discuss what each of you expect the new parent’s role to be when it comes to making decisions for the children.
  • Allow the children to decide. When it comes to stepparents, each child will have their own pace on accepting the new parent. Allow the child to move at his or her own pace. Do not force any names that the child is not comfortable with. Remember the children already have a mother and father that the children love and have bonded with. Do not be hurt if your child does not love your new spouse as much as you do. This is someone you choose to start the next chapter of your life with. Do not allow your children’s cautious affections toward a new parent to determine how you feel. I learned that the older the children are, they may never decide to develop a parent-child relationship with you as the new parent but may embrace one of friendship.
  • Insist on respect. This would apply to all family members. Everyone needs to show one another respect. Respect in privacy, boundaries, and time frames. If you are the stepparent, it may be important to the older child that you ask if it is alright for you attend something that a parent typically attends. Insist that while your children may not feel the same as you do about your new spouse that the children always show respect.
  • Limit your expectations. Do not set a time frame for how quickly your children will warm up. For some, it will be quick, and others will take a while. Your blended family is not the Brady Bunch. Do not expect that the parenting styles will mesh easily. When I remarried, we had different expectations on parenting the children. I expected that I would continue my parenting style since only my children were at home and he expected that I would adopt his ways. This would have been easier if we had followed the first tip and communicated well in advance.
  • Make new family traditions together. This is important around the holidays. Each family will have traditions and blending those traditions into new ones will be important. When I was blending families, we had a tradition of opening one present on Christmas Eve. But as holidays are shared, this may not always be possible. Communicate with the children and have family councils to determine what the new traditions for the blended family will look like.

When you give everyone an opportunity to voice his or her concerns, fears, or expectations, then work together to find common ground everyone will have felt like they were heard and valued as a member of the new family. Just like marriage, a blended family takes work. The only difference is now that there are more than two people working on the process of blending two separate families into one.

Because I have heard of many issues surrounding communicating between parties, I want to share with everyone some tips on how to communicate with the other parent. In the past 11 and a half years of practice, the one thing that I have seen predominantly across all divorces with children is a problem in communication between the parents. Let us face it, there is a reason people get divorced. There is a reason one of the parties filed first, or maybe both parties came to the agreement that this marriage is not working, and the best thing is to end the marriage. That decision was communicated to the other parent.

But during the divorce even when the parties agree it is what they need to do, there is one thing that I see commonly. There are raw emotions going on. Someone feels wronged. Someone feels hurt. Someone feels like he or she is about to lose everything. Communicating properly can really go a long way for setting what the rest of parent’s life with the children will look like and I’m talking to the rest of both parents’ life, not until the children turn the age of eighteen or not until the children graduate from high school.

Let us face it, parents are going to be at weddings together. Parents are going to be at the high school and college graduations together. Perhaps, parents will be attending graduate school graduations. Parents do not want their children having to go through life figuring out, especially on their wedding day.  Especially if we are talking about a daughter, she does not want to be asking, “Where do I sit my mom? And where do I sit my dad because they do not like each other, and I do not want to deal with the drama.” It is a wedding day and it should be all about the bride. That that is her big day. Loving parents do not want that to be something that overshadows their daughter’s special day. So, it is key to learn how to communicate.

I am going to share with you on every Tuesday a tip on how to communicate that I have learned, either through my own divorce, watching my parents get divorced and handle life afterward the judgment entered, or what I have learned from helping my clients navigate to what it looks like in a post-divorce world. So, the first tip I want to share with all of you is find a method to communicate that works well.

If you have a high conflict divorce, one where the two of you just cannot talk without it turning into a fight. Picking up the phone and calling is probably not your preferred method. Perhaps what you need to do is use text or emails, or even use some an app or program that will help you communicate, so you do not have to talk directly to one another. Understand just because you are co-parenting, does not mean you need to speak in person, or on the telephone to each other. You can send an email, you can send a text, but if both of you have a hard time controlling your emotions on that think about using a program like Our Family Wizard.

Our Family Wizard has been out for as long as I have been practicing law. It is a program designed to help you co parent and communicate. It has a new feature out called ToneMeter. Now, ToneMeter is a new feature on Our Family Wizard.  I have recently seen it in the last few years as a feature in their program. What it does is help parents re-evaluate the tone of the conversation before hitting send. It allows parents to evaluate what is the tone of the message?  When someone is writing in all caps, it means that the person is yelling. So, turn off the caps lock. Learn how to use proper punctuation. Write everything in complete sentences and paragraphs as if you were writing a letter to the judge. It is not helpful to write everything in one big block of text without breaks and commas and punctuation and paragraphs. A lack of proper sentence and paragraph structure makes it difficult to understand the thought process. It is basic communication. When writing something to the other parent, put each thought into a separate paragraph. Use punctuation. Take the time before hitting send to re-read the message. Does it sound and communicate the tone that is not hostile? If so, hit send. If not, maybe let it sit. There is no rule that says a message must immediately be replied to when the other parent is first to communicate. Silence is acceptable and delays are not bad.

I’ve known clients who have a “three rule.” They will tell the other parent once thing starts going downhill, especially on the phone, “Ok, I’m going to hang up the phone if you cannot calm down.” The message is repeated three times before they hang up the phone, because they do not want to engage in a fight. Sometimes when on the phone with the other parent, the children will be around or capable of hearing. So, when parents cannot communicate without resulting to a verbal disagreement or fight, it best use something like Our Family Wizard. Many of the available programs have an app that can be downloaded on an iPhone or Android. Look in the App Store or Google Play for a co-parenting app. There are many different program options out there. Some do charge, and some are free.

It is essential for both parties to agree to on how to communicate with one another. The parties should agree which program to use and how will they to use it? Sometimes when I am helping people redesign their family through divorce and I realized that this case is going to be high conflict. I will make the recommendation to them to use one of the available programs. I will present options to the parties, and we will draft that agreement into a judgment or an order so the parties will know what they are supposed to do.

So again, first step with communication is find a method that works to communicate with each conversation becoming a hostile one. Come back next week and I will have another great tip for you on how to communicate. It is possible to have a better life and for the children to feel like they are not caught up in the parents’ adult drama.

Your Judgment of Divorce has been entered with the court. But the entry of the Judgment of Divorce has not stopped the issues with your ex-spouse that led to the divorce first place. Now, you are being denied parenting time or being left in the dark on decisions about medical care, schooling, or childcare. How far back in time can you go to help the court understand the issues you have been having?

The courts are limited in what they can do by what the statutes and case law have said about modifying previous orders. For child custody and parenting time, there are statutes and case law that controls the actions and the sequence of those actions that a court can implement.

First, the courts are instructed by statute that a previously entered order cannot be modified unless proper cause or a change of circumstances has been shown. MCL 722.27(1)(c). The party seeking the modification only needs to show one or the other and not both.

Proper cause has been defined as an appropriate reason for the court to change custody currently exists. This would be something that is serious enough to have a significant impact on the child’s well-being. It would also be relevant to at least one of the best interests of the child factors. The moving party will likely to have to prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence (51% certainty or more likely than not).

Change of circumstances requires proving that since the date of the last custody order, the conditions surrounding the child, which have or could have a significant effect on the child’s well-being, have materially changed. Any problems that existed prior to the last order that was entered are not relevant. In addition, the change must be not one that can be seen as a normal life change in a child’s life, such as changing schools, participating in extracurricular events, or the other parent remarrying. Evidence must be presented that the change of circumstances has had or most certainly will have an effect on the child. An effect to one parent or the other will not be enough as the court looks at the best interests of the child. The court will determine each case on its fact and how those facts relate to the best interests of the child.

Change of circumstances is the requirement that clients struggle to understand fully. Some common substantial change of circumstances may include the following: a loss or gain of employment, a sudden change in either party’s finances, a relocation of the parties or children, or a death. The key phrase we emphasize to client is that the conditions that could have a significant effect on the child’s well-being have materially changed. This means the change is not temporary or agreed to by the parties.

Understanding the two grounds for seeking a modification of an existing order leads us to the answer. Generally, the courts will only consider events that have happened since the entry of the last order to determine if the court will be able to decide on requested modification can be heard. This is the first step in seeking a modification in a current custody or parenting time order.

Child Support. It is one issue that can slow down a divorce case. But there are five things that you should know about child support before you bring your divorce to a standstill over the amount of child support being proposed or ordered.

Child Support is controlled by statute.

In Michigan, child support is codified in law. It is known as the Support and Parenting Time Enforcement Act, MCL 552.601 et seq. It was enacted in 1982. It has been modified six times since being enacted with the last amendment happening in 2001.

Child Support is not modifiable retroactively.

Once a child support has been entered by the court, it cannot be retroactively modified except for limited circumstances. MCL 552.603(2). This means once child support is due, which is the first of a month after an order has entered, it cannot be modified after that due date. However, there are some exceptions to this rule. The first exception is when child support is ordered under a temporary order. MCL 552.603(3). Another exception is when the parties agree to a retroactive modification and that agreement is approved by the court. MCL 552.603(5). Another exception is when the individual required by the Friend of the Court knowingly and intentionally fails to report, refuses to report, or knowingly misrepresents his or her income. In this situation, the court may retroactively correct the amount of support after notice and an opportunity to be heard. MCL 552.603b.

Filing a motion and providing notice to the other party can create a date for retroactive modification.

When you have a need to modify your child support order and the other party refuses, you can file a motion to modify child support and provide notice to the other party. This date becomes the first date that child support can be modified. This means that the court can retroactively modify the child support order back to the date the motion was filed, and notice was provided to the other party. Therefore, whenever there is a change in your circumstances that warrants a child support modification, you need to file a motion as soon as possible to preserve the date for retroactive modification.

Child support runs into the future.

A child support order runs into the future, but it is set on current factors. When determining a child support order amount, your current situation will be used. Your current income; ability to work or work more hours, if unemployed or underemployed; any childcare expenses; any medical insurance premiums paid, filing status on tax returns, and number of overnights exercised are all taken into consideration. However, life is never static, and neither should your child support order remain static. If there is a change in your circumstances, such as the number of overnights or if your employment changes, it is time to consult with an attorney to determine if you need to seek a modification. If childcare ends or medical insurance is no longer paid, then those amounts should be dropped from the child support calculations and the order revised.

Child support is for the support of your children.

Remember, child support is paid to help support your children. Refusing to pay your child support impacts the lives of your children. If you are having difficulty in paying your child support, be upfront with the other parent. Open communication with the other parent may make requesting a modification in support easier.

If you need to modify your child support order, call us today to learn about the different packages available to assist you.

When it comes to children and divorce, there can be confusion on legal custody, physical custody, parenting time, child support and medical support. Each one of these is a separate issue that must be resolved before the Judgment of Divorce is entered. This blog is introductory on what each one is, and we will explore them in further depth in upcoming blogs.

Legal Custody.

First, legal custody means that a parent has the right make important decisions about your children, such as where they go to school, what religion they are, and major medical decisions. There are two ways this is handled in Michigan. The first way is that the court can award sole legal custody to one parent. This is become the exception more than the rule. The second way is that the court can award joint legal custody to both parents. This is when both parents would have to work together and agree on each of the decisions. If the parents cannot agree, then either one can petition the court for a decision.

Physical Custody.

Physical custody is who the child lives with after the divorce is finalized. If parties can agree, then the physical custody can be one that consider both parents’ work schedules, distances to school, ability to transport back and forth to school for each parent, extracurricular activities of the children, and any unique of the children or parents. The schedule should promote what is best for the child and not necessarily what is the most convenient or desired outcome for either parent.

Parenting Time.

Parenting time is the time the non-custodial parent (the parent who does not have the child living with him or her most of the time) spends with the child. For parents with joint physical custody, this would be the time the child spends in his or her house. Each county has a version of standard parenting time. However, the parties can craft a parenting time schedule that is best for children and considers work schedules, distance to school, ability to transport the child to school, need for childcare, and extracurricular activities. For some parents, parenting time may be supervised for a period of time and would be dependent on the circumstances for those parents and children. Parenting time cannot be denied if child support is not paid.

Child Support.

Child support is money a parent pays to help meet his or her child’s needs when the parent is not living with the child. The court orders the support based on the Michigan Child Support Formula. Support may include payment of the expenses of medical, dental, and other health care, childcare expenses, and school expenses. If either party receives state assistance in any form, then the parties cannot deviate from the child support formula. Child support cannot be denied if parenting time is not occurring.

Medical Support.

Medical support is a form of child support that is often provided through an employer’s health insurance plan. Child support agencies will send a National Medical Support Notice (NMSN) to the employer to order coverage for an employee’s children. The medical support language is contained within the Uniform Child Support Order. It will designate if one or both parents will maintain medical insurance on the children. It will also set a limit of the parent’s income to be used to obtain the medical insurance. If the cost of medical insurance exceeds the limit, the parent can petition to not have the insurance. If both parents are carrying medical insurance on the children, then one parent’s insurance will be primary, and the other’s will be secondary. The order will determine how much each parent will pay toward any uninsured medical expenses not covered by the insurance.

Each one of these areas are considered separately from the others. Although some areas can affect another area. For instance, the number of overnights exercised by a parent for parenting time will impact the amount of child support. However, which parent has legal custody will not change the outcome of child support including medical support.

If you have minor children and are considering divorce, call us to learn more about how a divorce will impact your children and what you can do to minimize that impact.