Divorce and the sleepover with the new boy-/girlfriend: When is it ok when there are children in the house?

The divorce process can take years, literally. In addition, in many cases, the relationship is long over by the time the couple pulls the trigger on the divorce paperwork. In the Bay Area – in California – the waiting period is six months, which means that a couple cannot be divorced earlier than six months after the divorce Petition is filed. But some divorce cases – I had one recently out of San Ramon – can be resolved in a matter of weeks, and the paperwork is just a little slower. Other divorces – like one client I have from Oakland – can go on for years and years.

So, with those varying timetables, in many cases it seems inevitable that one or both parties will move on into other relationships. Also inevitable is what the parent is to do when faced with the dilemma of when to allow the significant other to sleepover or, perhaps more difficult, when to allow the ex’s significant other to sleep over. Here are some tips to consider:

1. Just because it’s too soon for you may not mean it’s too soon for your ex or your child(ren).
2. Making it a big deal makes it a big deal.
3. Try to understand your child’s point of view, and then determine how to react. Children can be very adaptable, so the change from dates to overnights may not make much difference to the child.
4. If you can, get to know the significant other. And don’t interrogate your child to do so. Simple, non-threatening questions about whether your child likes the significant other, and why, what they do together, how much time they spend together, and what they talk about will be sufficient. Don’t make it an agenda about your ex! Make sure you’re asking to determine the relationship the significant other has with your child, because this is the important part.
5. Take into consideration the age of the child, as well as the child’s maturity, always bearing in mind that it is likely to be much more traumatic for you than your child.

It’s inevitable that it will happen sometime, so you might as well make it an easy transition now. Plus, the better you react, the more likely your ex will react well when it comes time for you to have a sleepover.

Estate planning for same sex couples in California

California has made some strides toward equality for same sex couples, but it cannot be said that there isn’t still a long way to go.  As unfair as it is, same sex couple have to do more: prepare more documents, plan for more contingencies/eventualities, update more frequently – than their heterosexual counterparts.  The worst thing that a same sex couple can do is bury their heads in the sand, hoping or assuming it’s ok not to put anything in place – that somehow, some way, it’ll all be taken care of should something go wrong.

Uh, no.

Even in the best of circumstances, what you effectively do when you don’t plan is place an enormous burden on your loved ones; the ones who have loved you and cared about you the most, and the ones you have loved and cared about the most, are going to be put in a horrific situation should something happen to you and you haven’t planned for it.  And this horrific situation, not only does it come at a time of grief for your loved ones, but it is entirely avoidable.

Some tips to get you started:

  1. With no estate plan (will, trust), you die intestate (i.e. the government decides your estate plan) and the government’s plan discriminates against same sex couples.
  2. Without powers of attorney in place, the parents who threw you out of the house when you came out could be making medical and financial decisions for you if you’re incapacitated.
  3. Being a Registered Domestic Partner in California, or married, does not change these points in their entirety.
  4. Holding your property in joint tenancy with your property will not avoid the problems here, plus they could work to DIS-inherit your children and/or cause additional problems down the line.
  5. Not choosing a guardian for your child(ren) could mean they end up in foster care should something happen to you.
  6. Without a living trust, probate fees could take up to 10% of your gross estate (your estate not taking debt into account) and take 2-3 years – if not more – to resolve.

The best way to take care of your family when you are a same sex couple is to put an estate plan in place.

Estate planning for new parents

Your bundle of joy has arrived, and now you’re trying to figure out the new schedule and when you’ll ever get any sleep again.  Also, in the back of your mind, you know that you should probably “do something” about your will or figure out what will happen should you pass away.  Now there’s another life to worry about!  But time passes, you don’t know what to do or how to do it, or who to ask, so it gets placed on the back burner.  Suddenly Junior is 14 and you’re dealing with the death of your parents.  What are the things you wish you had known when Junior was a baby?

  1. The time to do your estate planning is NOW.  Should both parents be in an accident and hospitalized for a period of time (or, obviously, if you die), Junior could end up in the court system and/or in foster care.  If you do not choose who will care for your child if you cannot, then the court will decide.
  2. Having the court decide who will be the guardian for your child is NOT what you want.  When the court decides, the court does not have the time or ability to distinguish between your crazy Aunt Rose, who you have not seen in years, who lives in a small town in Arkansas (not that there’s anything wrong with Arkansas) and can’t seem to keep a steady job, and your sister and brother-in-law who are close to the entire family and would be the perfect guardians.  If YOU don’t decide who is going to raise your child, a stranger will.
  3. Not being able to decide on who your guardian will be it not a good excuse for delaying your estate plan.  A good estate planner will help you decide.  In addition, while you may not have decided definitively, you have probably narrowed the field among the options.  Remember, the court won’t know who you have ruled out.  I can help you to know what to think about, what to consider in making the decision, how to make the decision, and how and when to change it.

Don’t wait.  Once you have a child, it’s time to put your affairs in order.  You love your family and you love your child: it’s them, not you, who will suffer if you neglect these very important tasks.

The divorce process in California

When I first started practicing family/divorce law in California, I wanted someone to walk me through the process, start to finish, so I could understand it as a whole.  What is troublesome, unfortunately, is that all divorces differ in many ways, so looking at the process in general can be tricky.  But let’s try…

In California, the first step in getting a divorce is to file a Petition.  It’s fairly easy, and it doesn’t matter at all which spouse files the Petition (or files first).  There’s no advantage or benefit to filing the Petition over the Response (though there may be some advantages/disadvantages to filing sooner or later, but see an attorney on this…like me!).  To file a Petition in California you have to have lived in California for six months prior to the filing and in the county where you have filed for three months prior to the filing.

Once the Petition is filed (and the UCCJEA if you have children), you may need to file for an immediate court order regarding support, child custody and visitation, property or debt division, or some other urgent manner.  To do this, you file a Request for Order.  For any issues regarding support, you much file an Income and Expense Declaration, showing your – you got it – income and expenses so the court can calculate the appropriate support.

To complete your divorce, not only do you have to agree on child and spousal support, child custody and visitation, asset and debt division and any other issues you may have, but you have to complete your disclosures and obtain a Judgment.  The disclosures are forms: the Income and Expense Declaration and the Schedule of Assets and Debts (which is, you guessed it, your assets and debts), as well as a form showing you delivered these to your soon-t0-be-ex-spouse.  These are required in California, so you must be prepared to share all of your income, expenses, assets and debts with your spouse to get divorce.

You’re now in the home stretch: to obtain a Judgment, once you have everything resolved, you have to file a number of documents with the court.  It can be confusing, and most courts have packets at the clerk’s office to help you complete it.  Of course, a Family Law Coach can always help if you get stuck.  Need more detailed help? Click here to make an online appointment.

Parenting well in divorce

Thinking of divorce?  Just filed?  Mired in the process that seems endless?  Been divorced for years?  Here are some tips to be a better parent during divorce, and these tips are both to help your children and to help your case.

  1. Stop the arguing in front of the children.  There was probably enough of that when you were still together.  Now that you’re separated, cut it out.  It hurts your kids and it makes the judge mad.  Don’t make the judge mad.  Disengage.
  2. Cope how you need to cope, but if drugs or alcohol is your mechanism of choice, keep either far, far away from your children.  There’s nothing – other than domestic violence – that’s going to lose your kids for you faster than drug and alcohol abuse.  Is it a problem?  Acknowledge it and get help immediately.
  3. Move as quickly as you can past the intense emotions when dealing with your ex.  Try to think of your relationship as a business deal, and treat it as such.  This is extremely difficult, but also very valuable and will help you in the long run.
  4. Save the trash talk for a dinner out with friends.  Don’t let your children know how you are feeling about your ex.  This only causes them to be conflicted in their feelings for their other parent.  Don’t make them feel guilty for loving their parent, which is how they will feel if you tell them how awful your ex has been to you.
  5. Jump into another relationship if you must, but keep the children away from it for far longer than you want to.  The blush of infatuation – and feeling wanted again – may be something you want to shout from the rooftops, but your children will be confused and perhaps angry by it.  Give it time before introducing a new special someone.
  6. Similar to saving the trash talk, don’t think you “owe it” to your children to let them know why you are divorcing.  They don’t need to know.  What they need to know is that you and your ex love them very much, and that the divorce is *not* their fault.  This may need to be repeated again and again.
  7. Expect that your children will act out during the divorce.  Grades will slip, tantrums will intensify, and some tough love may be in order.  What you must keep in mind is that your children need you, and that the acting out is normal and not some reflection of how poorly your ex parents.  Instead of taking the bad behavior and using it as ammunition against your ex, understand that it’s your children that need love and attention, and perhaps punishment.
  8. Understand that the divorce is really tough on your children, just like it is on you.  They’re going to be confused, angry, depressed, hurt, and disoriented.  Do what you can to keep their lives as normal as possible.  Don’t move if you don’t have to, don’t change their schools or activities.  If you’re the one in a new location, try to make it as normal and comfortable as possible.  Your kids will thank you … later.

Divorce is tough on everyone.  Remember this and you can help to not make it worse than necessary for your children.

The continuing struggle for women – motherhood and career – exacerbated in divorce

A complex issue in divorce is when one parent – yes, generally the mother – is a stay-at-home parent for a length of time prior to the divorce. California law provides that parents need to become self-supporting as quickly as reasonably possible, given her health, education and experience.  But if a parent’s experience in the last 10-15 years has been out of the workplace, where is she to begin? Courts do try to strike a balance of equity to each party, but unfortunately the end result is often both parents feel unfairly treated and taken advantage of.  Here’s one author’s exploration of this topic.

Kids say the darndest things, even in divorce

During divorce, any and all encouragement is lapped up like water to a divorcee in the desert.  Here are some of those words of wisdom and strength coming from kids.

What did your children say to you to help you through?