Archive for the ‘Parenting Coordination’ Category

The Hills Have Eyes . . . and Ears

June 1st, 2017 by Katia Hatter

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.

Holy War

March 1st, 2017 by Wanzer Edwards

Divorced or never married parents can disagree on lots of things.  But few things cause major conflict more than fundamental decisions about their children. For people who consider themselves a member of a religion, the stakes are high.  Many parents who devoutly follow a specific faith feel that the souls or salvation of their children depend on particular behavior or adherence to faith traditions.  So what happens when parents don’t agree on religion?

The rules about making religious and other decisions for the child of formerly married parents comes from a court order or settlement agreement entered by the parents at the time of divorce.   For never married parents who have established the legal paternity of the child, the court order establishing paternity usually controls.  Making decisions about issues like health, education and religion is a concept called “legal custody”.  Indiana law recognizes two main types of legal custody.  Sole legal custody involves one parent making the decisions about health, education and religion for the child and informing the other parent what decision was made.  Joint legal custody involves both parents discussing health, education and religious decisions and agreeing on the right choice before either parent takes action.  So, for parents who disagree about religion, the first question is: what kind of legal custody applies to decisions for this child?

If joint legal custody applies, the parents are required to discuss and agree before implementing any of the available decisions.  This means for religious decisions, one parent acting alone cannot change the religion or denomination of the child or complete any sacrament or ritual without agreement by the other party.  For example, one parent cannot have the child baptized without the agreement of the other parent.

If the parents are of different religions, these choices are certainly more difficult.  It becomes important that parents carefully write the rules for making these decisions when negotiating their settlement agreements.  For example, the parents could agree that the child will be exposed to both religions as a young person and that the child will be permitted to choose one religion over the other when he or she reaches a certain age.  (Keeping in mind the child might choose neither faith).

Conflict sometimes arises from the fact that one parent is a member of a religion and the other is not.  This often presents itself as a dispute on how a child’s time will be spent on days during the week which are important to a specific faith.  As an example, if one parent typically attends a religious service on Sunday morning and the other prefers to spend Sunday morning at home making waffles, the parent who attends worship services and desires the child to adhere to that faith tradition may feel that he or she can take the child to worship services weekly regardless of which parent is exercising parenting time on the particular weekend.  The reality is that each parent has the right to structure his or her parenting time activities as he or she sees fit.  The parent desiring the child’s participation in worship services will be able to ensure the child’s attendance during that parent’s parenting time, but will not be able to do so during the other parent’s time.

If parents disagree about a religious decision and are unable to make that important decision by agreement, those parents have some options.  The parents can attend mediation to talk through their disagreement with a trained neutral person who can help bridge the difference.  Parents can also present both sides of the issue to an arbitrator to receive a quick binding decision.  Finally, parents can ask a judge to decide the issue.

Could a Parenting Coordinator Help Your Clients?

January 27th, 2017 by Wanzer Edwards

As family law practitioners, we have all had clients who disagree with their co-parents about everything. Some of the issues are major, but more often than not, they are daily squabbles about how the child will return from school, if she will be signed up for yet another travel softball league, or when it’s time to let him stay home alone.  As an attorney for one of the parties, you know how much time and fees are at stake to try to reach consensus on these issues.  Could there be a more streamlined, cost-effective way to manage this?

Parenting Coordinators, to the rescue!

A Parenting Coordinator, or “PC” is a family law attorney or mental health professional who is appointed by the court to assist parents after a divorce or paternity decree. Most PCs also have significant mediation experience and some have attended a 2- or 3-day training specifically for Parenting Coordinators.

If parents regularly suffer from poor communication and frequently engage one another in unproductive ways during their attempts at co-parenting (also called “high conflict” parents), a PC may be useful. The specific job of the PC is unique to every case and depends on what the court has ordered, but generally a PC can assist with communication, mediate disputes and serve as a tie-breaker when parents have reached an impasse on child-related issue.  PCs may also be directed to monitor and direct medical care or set up counseling. PCs are NOT counselors, however, and no communications with the PC are confidential. A PC can be called to testify in Court in some cases.

PCs frequently assist co-parents in setting a parenting time schedule and mediating disputes that may arise from joint legal custody, such as school choice, medical treatment or religious training. Once appointed, the PC is available to the parties – usually via email or phone – and can usually provide guidance or resolution within days or weeks, rather than waiting months to get guidance from the court. This not only conserves the parents’ attorney fees, as the PC’s hourly fees are split between the parents, but it helps the parents resolve issues and move forward, rather than festering and further deteriorating the co-parenting relationship.

No topic is too small for a PC to address. A court is generally concerned with what it perceives to be “major issues” relating to the child, such as school, religious training, medical care, payment of expenses and child support, custody and parenting time. However, the PC can address more day-to-day issues such as disciplinary techniques in both houses, timing of scheduling medical and counseling appointments, presence of step-parents at appointments and events, and the like. Have a dispute as to where a parenting exchange should occur? Take it to the PC. Have a dispute as to whether cosmetic surgery should be divided between the parties? Take it to the PC. Have a dispute as to when a child should get a phone and whether it’s acceptable to take it away as punishment? Take it to the PC. Any issue that gets in the way of clear communication and co-parenting between parents can be addressed and resolved with the help of a PC so as to get back to productive and peaceful co-parenting.