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.

There are dangers now in allowing our children to play outside unattended. Neighbors may call the police because your school-aged children are walking alone to the park or the local bakery. It started in Maryland in April 2015. A couple decided to allow their children, ages 10 and 6, to play at the local park unsupervised. The police responded to the call and the parents began a fight with Child Protective Services (“CPS”). The news media dubbed them “free-range” parents. Maryland law at the time prohibited children younger than eight years old from being left unattended in a dwelling or car but did not reference young children playing outdoors. The parents appealed the findings of unsubstantiated neglect by CPS. In June of 2015, CPS cleared the parents and closed the case. In an email responding to requests for comments, DHR spokeswoman Paula Tolson said, “A child playing outside or walking unsupervised does not meet the criteria for a CPS response absent specific information supporting the conclusion that the child has been harmed or is at substantial risk of harm if they continue to be unsupervised.”

The search for parents arrested for allowing their children to play outside unattended, walk the family dog alone, or walk to the neighbor grocery store resulted in more than ten pages of results across the nation. With this trend to accuse parents of neglect for allowing their children to play outside unattended, we are quickly becoming a nation where are children are not free to play as children and grow from their mistakes. But what can you do as parent, who wants their child to be able to play outside without constant supervision?

First, know the laws of your state. In Michigan, child neglect is defined under MCL 722.622(k) as “harm or threatened harm to a child’s health or welfare by a parent, legal guardian, or any other person responsible for the child’s health or welfare.” The law further clarifies that this can occur by either failing though financially able to do so or failing to seek financial or other reasonable means, to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter or medical care. The also says that neglect can occur if the child is placed in an unreasonable risk of harm to the child’s health or welfare when the responsible person failed to intervene to eliminate the risk or has or should have knowledge of the risk. While Michigan does not say that children playing outside unsupervised places them at an unreasonable risk of harm to the child’s health or welfare, a parent must assess the known or reasonable scenarios that can arise from allowing your child to play outside unsupervised. Some obvious risks of harm include crossing streets, darting onto a busy street to chase a ball or other object, known criminal activity in the area, or traffic flow through residential neighborhoods.

Second, determine what is safe for your child to be able to play outside and teach your child from a young age what to do. While it is not advisable to allow a toddler to play outside unattended, consider allowing the child to play in their own yard with brief moments of running into the house while keeping an eye on the child to retrieve a glass of water or a toy. Stress the importance of not darting into streets or blindly walking across the street. Teach your child to never leave with a stranger even if they were told that you sent them. This should include anyone in uniform. Provide your child with a means to communicate easily with you, such as a cell phone. Consider sending an older child with your child to watch them. However, what is a suitable age to supervise another child, babysit should be followed. In Michigan, CPS recommends that a child as young as ten years old can be left home alone and there is no law saying how young a babysitter must be. It is decision that each parent needs to make. Jeanne Hannah, an family law attorney in Traverse City has written, “The State of Michigan Child Protection Handbook discusses ‘Improper Supervision’ and states: ‘According to the Child Protection Law, there is no legal age that a child can be left home alone. It is determined on a case by case basis but as a rule of thumb, a child 10 years old and younger is not responsible enough to be left home alone. A child over the age of 10 and under the age of 12 will be evaluated but the case may not always be assigned for a CPS investigation.’”

Finally, do not allow your children the age of ten to play outside without some type of supervision. For your children over age of 10 and under the age of 12, be cautious about what they can do outside without supervision. For children over the age of 12, encourage them to put down the remote controller to their favorite video game and go outside and play. If your child loves video games, consider starting a neighborhood live action role play group. This allows the children to dress up as their favorite video game character and play the game with other children. Of course, restrict the live action role play to non-violent video games. Start a neighbor football game, basketball, or baseball game. If your child loves to skateboard or do tricks on a bike, consider building an area that allows them to practice.

If you have encouraged your child to go outside and play, then find CPS knocking at your door. First, you do not need to let them in your house without a warrant. Often, they will be accompanied by a police officer, but they either need a warrant or your consent to enter your home. Second, be polite and respectful. Third, inform the worker that you would be happy to schedule an appointment to speak with them with your attorney present. Then immediately call an attorney knowledgeable in the child protective laws to be your voice. If you need an attorney, we can help you find one.

When it comes to getting a divorce, there is difficulty in keeping the matter between the husband, the wife, their respective attorneys and the court. A divorce is a matter of public record. In addition, extended family and friends will soon realize what is happening, especially after one spouse leaves the marital home. However, there is one group of people that need to be shielded from the as much of the divorce process as possible. That group is the children of the divorcing couple, regardless of their age.

Children have no place being in the middle of their parents’ divorce. However, children are often dragged into the divorce by parents or extended family. While a parent cannot control what other people do, there are things a parent can do to avoid dragging the children into the middle of the divorce. The first thing to do is agree to have a “child-centered divorce.” This means that the children are intentionally shielded from the emotions and drama that arise during the divorce process. This involves hiring attorneys whose practices support child-centered divorces and creating a plan together as parents that prioritizes the needs of the children over the parents.

The second step to take is minimize all conversations and arguments that children can potentially overhear. This includes telephone conversations where the children are nearby and not in the same room. As parents, we are not always aware of what children can hear when we are not actively paying attention to them. In fact, children can be quite sneaky in walking into a room their parent is in. I know that my children and grandchildren have surprised me many times by being right there when I thought they were somewhere else. What a child could overhear can have long-lasting effects. I still recall the arguments my parents had when I was a young child and the pain is just as real today as it was when I overheard my mother threaten my father to withhold his parenting time. Although she had sent us to our rooms, she forgot how the sound traveled through the walls. The therapists have said that the conflict children overhear during divorce proceedings can have long-lasting mental health ramifications.

Another important step that parents take is to minimize the negative impact to children is to avoid speaking badly of the other parent or allowing others to verbally bash the other parent. Children identify with both parents and can internalize these comments.  Other steps include to avoid asking the children to take sides, sending paperwork or messages back and forth with the children, asking the children to keep secrets or lie to the other parent, asking the children about what happened at the other parent’s house, or threatening to withhold parenting time because of an argument or non-payment of child support.

When parents take these steps to have a child-centered divorce, they are teaching their child how to resolve conflicts without drama or emotions. This is not to say that there is not emotions or drama, but the individual arises above the emotions and dramas and is able to make hard decisions that benefit and prioritizes the needs of another person. If you are looking for a child-centered divorce attorney, then look no further. It is my mission to change the way parents approach the divorce process in Michigan that creates a positive and loving environment that children can thrive and openly love both parents. Contact us to your first meeting with the team today.