WE Blog

Failure to Plan is a Plan to Fail

August 1st, 2017 by Wanzer Edwards

What happens if you are unable to make your own medical or financial decisions?  Who will make those important decisions for you?  If you have not considered the answer to those questions, giving the issue some thought is time well spent.  There is a legal way for you to designate the person of your choice as the individual who makes your medical decisions or your financial decisions.  This legal method is called a power of attorney or POA.

The name can be admittedly confusing.  Some people believe that you must pick sometime who is a licensed attorney to make these decisions because the document is called “power of attorney”.   This is not the case.  Instead think of a POA as a “Chosen Decision Maker or Manager”.  Many people choose a family member or trusted friend as long as that family member or friend is an adult.

Choosing a person to manage your money and property is an important step to making sure you are protected if you become ill or are unconscious from an accident.  If your doctor says you are unable to make your own decisions, your chosen manager a/k/a POA can make financial decisions for you.  That means the person you designate can pay your bills and take care of important financial tasks for you until you can do so yourself.  The document which gives the person you choose the power to act for you is called a General Durable Power of Attorney.  Asking an attorney to prepare one is not very expensive and can help ensure that the person you choose and trust is in control of your money when you cannot be.

If you are unable to make your own medical decisions, it is probably important to you to have a person making those decisions who knows you well and understands your wishes.  You can ask an attorney to prepare a Medical Power of Attorney (also called a Health Care Power of Attorney) which gives a chosen person the right to make medical decisions if you are unable.  Using a Medical Power of Attorney you can also inform your chosen decision maker about your wishes if you are in a vegetative state from which you will not recover or if you are being kept alive through artificial hydration or nutrition.  You may have strong beliefs about these issues and wish for your decision maker to understand and follow your choice.

It is not pleasant to think about a time when you would be unable to make your own decisions.  However, facing that issue long before it could ever happen will give you peace of mind that you have taken care of important issues like your health and finances.  You will also help your loved ones take better care of you.

Long-Distance Relationships

July 1st, 2017 by Wanzer Edwards

The Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines (“IPTG”), Section IV recognize that parents may live too far from one another for parenting time to occur with great frequency, such as every other weekend.  When the distance is too great to transport the child during the week or on weekends, parents may opt to provide parenting time for the non-custodial parent during Spring Break, Winter Break, whenever the non-custodial parent is in the area where the child resides, and with the bulk of parenting time occurring in the Summer.  If Mom moves to Florida and Sally wants to finish high school in Indiana, we can all agree that distance is factor, and Mom’s parenting time would likely be limited to school breaks.

However, what if Mom just moves to Louisville, Kentucky?  Is that far enough?  In short, the answer is, “it depends.”

The IPTG do not provide a benchmark for how long of a commute between parents’ households constitutes “distance” which would trigger the Section IV, “Parenting Time When Distance is a Factor” provisions.  Four hours seems like it’s far enough, but what about two hours?  Again, we can all agree that given that midweek parenting time per the IPTG is for 4 hours, or overnight if appropriate, that if a parent lives 2 hours away, it is unreasonable for a child to drive 4 hours round trip for a 4 hour parenting time opportunity.  And spending the night for a midweek is unreasonable if the child will have a 2-hour commute before school in the morning.  But what about weekends?

Most parents agree that a 2-hour commute for weekend parenting time is not onerous, given that the parties may elect to meet one another halfway.  However, when a child is involved in activities in the community where the custodial parent resides, either the non-custodial parent’s time will be cut short in order to allow the child to participate in the activities, or the non-custodial parent will be travelling to see the activity, or little Sally may end up missing her activities every other weekend.  Given the child’s age and the activity, this may not be impactful.  However, if Sally is part of a team sport, she will be letting her team down and the older she gets, she may end up being punished or benched if she fails to show up every other weekend.

While time spent with each parent is ultimately most important, also important is the child’s opportunity to grow up unaffected by her parents’ divorce, engaging in important social and physical activities and developing normal friendships with her peers.  Careful attention should be paid to any decisions not only to require parenting time outside of the child’s home community, but also to enroll the child in activities which would compete with weekend parenting time.  While distance isn’t legally a factor, it is a practical factor that must be considered, with the child’s time and childhood experience to be of top importance.

The Hills Have Eyes . . . and Ears

June 1st, 2017 by Wanzer Edwards

It’s Friday evening at 5:45 p.m. and Sam’s Dad arrives to pick up Sam for weekend parenting time.  Sam hears the doorbell ring, hears his Mom answer and then hears the voices get louder and louder.  He goes downstairs and sees his parents in the foyer.  They are yelling at each other and he hears his name several times.  Dad is mad that he’s not ready.  Mom is mad that Dad didn’t bring a check for medical bills.  Dad is accusing Mom of always starting arguments.  Mom is mad that Dad is fifteen minutes early.  Sam hides in another room feeling ashamed that he makes both his parents so unhappy and that he is the cause of all their fights.

Parenting time exchanges are sometimes the only face-to-face time that co-parents get.  The temptation is to use that time to discuss parenting issues, delve into old arguments and exchange payments for parenting expenses.  But that assumes that the parenting time exchanges belong to the parents and can be used for getting the sometimes tense business of parenting completed.  What if the child owned this time?  How would that change how it is used?

It’s true that parenting time exchanges are sometimes the only face-to-face contact between co-parents, but also consider that exchanges are the only times that a child sees his parents together.  If parents use this time to settle differences or discuss difficult issues, the child sees parents who cannot get along.  Worse yet, the arguments are all about the child or issues related to the child.  It’s hard for a child to understand that he is not somehow at fault.

Treating parenting time exchanges as periods of time which belong to the child helps to protect a child from becoming part of and blaming himself for the differences between his parents.  Those differences often spring from issues which originate in a prior romantic relationship between the parents which does not directly involve the child.  Since the child is the reason that former spouses or romantic partners are still in contact, the poor communication and hurt feelings left over from the romantic relationship make their way into the parental communication.  When parents treat the time as belonging to the child, it becomes clear that the leftover feelings from a broken romantic relationship have no place.

There are simple rules that parents can implement for parenting time exchanges which acknowledge that it is a time that is important to and which belongs to the child.  First, parents can ensure that the child is ready physically and emotionally for the parenting time exchange.  This includes packing any belongings which will travel with the child.  It also includes speaking positively about the parenting time about to occur with the other parent.   Lamenting out loud about how much you will miss a child only serves to make the child anxious and unsettled.

The second rule that parent can implement is to always greet one another with a hello and a smile.  This simple interaction between co-parents can put a child at ease and eliminate the tendency of children to worry about their parents or to take responsibility for the moods of their parents.  It is unlikely you would treat a child’s teacher badly in front of your child even if you were not a particular fan of the teacher.  Adopt the same philosophy about parenting time exchanges.  Even if you are not the greatest fan of your co-parent, act cordial.  It goes a long way toward making your child feel safe.

Third, parents can commit to handle all the business of parenting like exchange of money, scheduling and rescheduling and decision discussions outside of parenting time exchanges.  If you prefer to have those discussions in person, schedule a time to have coffee with your co-parent.

There is no reason Sam should blame himself for the poor behavior of his parents, and this is not likely the intention of either parent.  It is up to parents to be the adults and to take the actions necessary to protect the emotional well being of their children. Model good behavior even if you are faking it.  The impact on your children will be worth it.

 

Parents typically try to keep their children out of the middle of their legal disputes.  Sometimes it feels, however, that with Mom fighting for her position and Dad fighting for his position, no one is talking about what the child really needs.  The good news is that there is a way to appoint a professional whose job it is to advocate solely for what is best for the child.  That professional is called a Guardian Ad Litem.

The job of a Guardian ad Litem (or GAL) is to be the legal advocate for a child.  This generally takes a couple of forms.  First, the GAL typically completes a walk-through of each parent’s home and speaks with both parents and anyone else who spends considerable time with the child.  The GAL speaks with anyone necessarily to fully assess the issues which are in dispute and impact the best interests of the child.  Then the GAL makes recommendations to the court about what outcome would be in the best interests of the child.  In addition, the GAL often learns the views, concerns and opinions of the child by talking with the child at home and at school and relays the child’s views to the court.  This eliminates the need to have the child involved in the court process.  The GAL can testify instead of the child testifying in court or meeting with the judge privately.

A GAL is appointed by a court using a special court order which describes the job of the GAL and generally gives the GAL the right to request important records and information like education and medical records.  The GAL can help to look at the big picture of the child’s situation beyond the legal position of either parent.  This outside view is sometimes different than what either parent sees.  The perspective of the GAL can help educate both parents as well as the court about what a child is experiencing and how the situation in the family is impacting the child.

The appointment of a GAL is not automatic and generally requires a request made to the court and the issuance of a court order.  Once appointed, the GAL attends all court hearings regarding the child and advocates for what would best serve the child.  Sometimes this agrees with the views of the parents and sometimes it does not.  At the end of the day, the sole concern for the GAL is the best interests of the child.  The GAL becomes the voice of the child and ensures that the child’s interests are not forgotten while the court decides important legal issues.

Most parents want what is best for their child, and few parents want to involve their child in a court proceeding.  Asking for the appointment of a GAL allows the child’s voice to be present without the scary and scarring experience of coming into the courtroom where their parents may be adversaries.