WE Blog

Carol and Mike Made Blended Family Parenting Look Easy

December 1st, 2017 by Wanzer Edwards

The Brady Brunch was a classic 1970’s sitcom showing Mike and Carol Brady seamlessly co-parenting their large blended family.   The girls never told Mike, “You’re not my real dad!”  The boys never told Carol they wanted to go live with their mom.  Mike and Carol knew their role was to support the actions of their spouse.  However, step-parents cannot all be Mike and Carol.  Sometimes step-parents overstep their role, or are given a greater role by the parent to whom they are married, with unfortunate results.

Can a step-parent volunteer at the school party?  Sure, so long as both parents have been given the opportunity to volunteer and are unable to do so.

Can a step-parent attend medical appointments?  It depends.  If the spouse of the step-parent cannot attend, and the other parent plans on attending, it may or may not be a good idea.  If information needs to be relayed regarding how to do a breathing treatment, or monitor the progress of ADHD medication, for example, and it would be helpful to have the same information heard by someone in both households, so long as the relationship with the other parent will not negatively impact the doctor’s ability to treat the child or create a scene, the step-parent may attend.  It’s important to note, however, that a step-parent cannot make medical decisions for the child.  Only parents can do that.

Can a step-parent attend a child’s sporting event?  So long as the step-parent behaves appropriately and does not embarrass the child to create drama with either parent, yes.

Can a step-parent provide childcare for the child if the parent who should be exercising parenting time will not be home for parenting time?  Unless there is a court order that states that parents must be personally present for parenting time, if the step-parent and parent live together, then yes.  If a household family member related by blood or marriage resides in the home and is available to provide the care, which would include a step-parent, then they may do so.  However, if the parent is going to be gone for most or all of the parenting time in question, common sense would suggest that perhaps the parent who will not be home should offer to switch weekends with the other parent for a time when he or she will be home, if possible.

Can a step-parent discipline a child?  If corporal punishment such as spanking the child, especially with a belt or switch, absolutely not.  If parents discipline with timeouts or taking away privileges, this may be best left to the parent to set out the punishment; however, the step-parent may assist with administering the consequences and/or not giving in until the punishment period is over.

Obviously, if a step-parent has a good relationship with the parent to whom they are not married, then of course they may be included in as many school activities, extracurriculars and medical appointments and even discipline as the parties find appropriate.  It’s only when the step-parent creates conflict with the other parent or between the parents and does not facilitate a positive experience for the child that rules and boundaries need to be discussed or even included in a court order.

Editor’s Note: This article, authored by Elisabeth Edwards, appeared on October 18, 2017 on the Family Law News Tip of the Week on the Indianapolis Bar website.  

Most family law cases will end up seeing the inside of a mediator’s office at some point.  Love it or hate it, mediation is required in many counties and can even be a prerequisite to getting a trial date.  Whether you have a full day mediation scheduled or are taking a case to a Marion County Modest Means mediation with a three-hour limit, there are ways to make it more likely that your client’s case will settle.  Having mediated more than a few cases, I offer the following advice on making mediation date more productive and valuable for the benefit of your client.

  1. Clue In Your Mediator. Send your mediator something that resembles a Confidential Mediation Statement.  While you don’t have to put together a multi-page statement with 12 attachments including the full 62-page GAL report (Please don’t send that!), sending some sort of statement as to what’s going on with the case will be helpful.  Or if you don’t have time (or your client can’t afford anything fancy), call your mediator!  A 5-minute or less telephone call can make all the difference.  The most valuable information you can give your mediator includes the basic legal issues and the “elephants in the room” that are not necessarily legal issues or facts that will be relevant at hearing, but which need to be addressed at mediation.  If you have a client with whom you have been “keeping it real” about his chances at court and he refuses to listen to you, let your mediator know that.  If there are allegations of an affair and there are issues of shame, denial, anger and hurt, that information is important to share.  It helps your mediator understand the dynamics of the parties and the mediator can structure negotiations accordingly.

 

  1. Do Some Basic Prep Work. Show up to mediation ready to address the issues that are being mediated.  While that seems obvious, it is actually common to see attorneys come to mediate a child support modification without paystubs, tax returns or any information about income for their clients.  It’s also common in divorce mediation to find that neither attorney has made a basic list or spreadsheet of the assets and debts to be divided.  Your mediator doesn’t necessarily mind being the conduit for information if something was overlooked or has changed.  However, when you spend the first 4 hours of a full-day mediation just trying to pull together enough information to calculate child support or create a list of marital assets, there is less time to talk settlement.  These are the cases where clients end up upset that they “wasted their day” and disgruntled that they still have to pay their attorney and the mediator.  Carve out time ahead of your mediation to make sure the case is properly worked and that your opposing counsel has what he/she needs to move the case forward.

 

  1. Don’t Just Pencil Mediation on Your Calendar. Treat mediation like you would a full-day trial.  You and your clients need to block the full day and be prepared to stay and work.  Everyone has experienced the havoc of a last-minute emergency hearing or other unknowable event.  However, if you are leaving a hearing or other appointment on your calendar for a day that your client, the other party, the other attorney and the mediator have all blocked to work on this case, you will quickly get a reputation you don’t want.  If something last minute and unmovable comes up on your calendar, RESCHEDULE your mediation.  It’s that simple.  Treating mediation seriously sends the message to your client that it is indeed serious.  When you spring on your mediator at noon that you suddenly have to leave at 12:30 P.M., there is a good chance that your client’s case will not settle.  This is unfortunate for your client who took the day off work to be there.  Springing a “scheduling conflict” on everyone the day of mediation is, frankly, rude and disrespectful.  It makes you look disorganized and gives your client the impression that her case is a low priority for you.

 

  1. Set Your Client’s Expectations. Your mediator is prepared to do some “reality testing” with your client, but that should not be the first time your client is hearing how absolutely unreasonable his position is and how the possible legal outcomes include things that are very undesirable.  Don’t set up your mediator to be the sledgehammer on your client all day because you have not reviewed the scope of possible outcomes before walking in the door.  This causes your client to think your mediator is being positional, when your mediator is merely trying to move both parties to a place somewhere in the middle.  Unqualified victory at trial is promised to no one, and sometimes your client’s worst day in court is something with which she can’t live.  Educate her before you walk into mediation so that she is not unreasonably stuck before even starting.

 

  1. Start Typing. Just because there is general agreement as to all the issues, the mediation is not over.  You still need to put all of the agreed-upon terms into an agreement that the court will accept.  If possible, take a laptop and a skeleton of an agreement to the mediation.  Throughout the day, update the agreement as terms are agreed upon.  Let’s face it, mediation generally contains sufficient down time to get this done while the mediator is in the other room.  When full agreement is reached, email a draft agreement to the mediator or hand over a thumb drive.  This simple step will save lots of time at the end of the day.  Since time is money in mediation, your client will appreciate the effort.

While not all mediations result in settlement, some cases which should settle don’t settle because of the actions of the lawyers.   With these tips in mind, please help your mediator help you.  These simple tips maximize the generally very expensive time that your client is spending in mediation and make it more likely that mediation will result in an agreement.  As always, keep the best interests of your client at the forefront.  Your client’s family law matter is perhaps the most important thing happening in his or her life at that moment.  Treating mediation as a crucial part of the case progress helps your clients resolve important issues and helps you develop a reputation as a prepared and competent advocate.

 

A Pox Upon Which Household?

October 23rd, 2017 by Wanzer Edwards

Frequently in an intact family, one spouse has a more flexible job (or works from home) and is the “go-to” parent if the dreaded call comes that Maddie has a fever and has to be picked up from school.  That parent then usually takes Maddie to the doctor and stays with her until she is able to return to school.  But what happens when co-parents are no longer together?

If one parent has a more flexible job and/or the ability to work from home and is okay continuing to be the “go-to” parent if a child is sick, then he or she should continue to do so.  But if not, then parents should perhaps take turns staying home.  Parents may elect to insert language in their settlement agreements detailing when exactly their parenting time begins on a given day.  For example, Dad’s time does not begin until 5:00 P.M. on Tuesday, so if the child is ill that day, Mom must stay home that day because it’s still her parenting time.  Should the child be out sick again on Wednesday, Dad would be staying home that day.  This careful language can avoid putting all of the responsibility and work absenteeism on one parent.

However, what if the child is sick and either doesn’t want to leave the house for parenting time, or you don’t think the child should be out and about?  If the child has been to the doctor, ask the doctor what his or her recommendation would be.  If the child simply has a cold, he can still have parenting time with the other parent.  But if the child is actively vomiting, feverish or recovering from surgery, remaining in one place may be the best and most practical option.  But remember: the decision whether to have parenting time due to illness is not the child’s decision.  It should be made after discussion between both parents as to the level of the child’s illness, and presuming that both parents are capable and able to monitor the child’s health and provide all medications and treatment as the doctor has prescribed.

Providing a Smart Phone Without Being Dumb

October 1st, 2017 by Wanzer Edwards

As soon as the first child in elementary school gets a cell phone, odds are that your child will come home and ask for one as well.  But should you get one?  Do they really need it?  If not now, then when?  The answer to this question is different for every family.

If your child will be riding the bus home to an empty house, a cell phone would be extremely useful in the event they cannot get into the house.  If you, like many families, no longer have a landline and the child will be home alone for ANY amount of time, a cell phone is absolutely required.  If a child will not be alone and will have access to a landline and/or a parent’s cell phone to contact the other parent, then a cell phone may be premature.

So, you’ve decided to purchase a cell phone for the child.  Just as there is no requirement to get Johnny a Cadillac when a Honda Civic will do – or even to purchase a car for Johnny at all! – there is no requirement that parents provide the latest version of an iPhone.  Parents may select a phone that does not support apps or the internet; instead, a parent may simply opt to provide a phone in case of emergencies.  Parents may also opt to purchase a phone with pre-paid minutes, so that the child’s data use is limited.

BUT, parents who are no longer in an intact family should discuss providing a phone to the child before one parent unilaterally provides a phone.  Especially if a non-custodial parent provides the phone without discussion and agreement, the custodial parent may, at best, view the phone as an interruption or, at worst, an attempt to monitor the child’s, and possibly the other parent’s whereabouts or communications with the child.  Both parents should discuss rules in both parents’ homes such as time when the phone will be off limits each evening, where the phone will be charged (such as a common area and not in the child’s bedroom after hours), and if it is acceptable to take away the child’s phone as punishment.

Ultimately, the best time to allow your child to have a phone is when you and your co-parent both decide it’s time.