Divorced with kids headed back to school? Tips to avoid craziness with your ex

The most important tip to highlight is a critical concept for ALL divorced and divorcing parents:  Do not use your child as a messenger.  In general, involving your child in your divorce or in your relationship with your ex in any way is severely damaging to the child.  Many courts even say that giving your child a note to give to your ex is a no no.  I mean, really, in today’s world, just send an email!  In addition, email provides you with a record so the other parent can’t say, “I never got it.”

Another issue that comes up is the activities, homework, excursions, practices, and myriad of other things that parents want and need to know about a child’s school.  Whn you have one parent who is “primary,” sometimes that can mean that the other parent gets left out of the loop.  I mean, if you only see your child every other weekend, then it can be tough to keep up on homework and teachers.  Especially since you may be focused on maximizing the time and not focusing on things like homework.

So we try to put in place provisions to ensure that both parents are actively involved with the child’s school.  This can place a burden on the ‘primary’ parent, but it’s a burden that’s in the best interests of the child and well worth the effort.

We used to suggest creating a notebook – just a spiral bound notebook that passed back and forth between the houses – that kept track of homework, permission slips, activities, etc.  I still think it’s a good idea, but perhaps a quick email is better – that way we avoid the child as a messenger.  One way to systemize this is to send a weekly email – it doesn’t have to be long or overly wordy – but it should include any and all information the parent writing it would want to know about the child’s school (homework, notices, upcoming events, school pictures, field trips, expenses) if the shoe were on the other foot.  It can be a simple list.

To avoid drama and arguments, you can exchange your child at school.  First, exchanging at school (after school, for example) instead of at the other parent’s house, can be a great way to avoid conflict between the parents.  This takes away all interaction at the exchange, so there’s no chance for fighting.  Second, there is no inconvenience to one party if someone is late or the schedule changes, since only one parent is involved and the focus is on retrieving the child.  Third, if you have trouble with fights at school activities, then there is a solution:  If you have a child with activities, and you and your ex can’t be in the same football-field-sized area together without causing a scene, here are some suggestions:

  1. If the practice or game is during your custodial time, you can attend.  If not, you need to avoid it.  This is not always possible, so…
  2. Generally activities have practices and games/events.  Either pick days (Mom can attend events – whatever they are – on Wednesdays, and Father on Tuesdays) or you can alternate events (Mom can go to the game on 9/10, but Dad can go on 9/17).  Obviously, this takes some planning, but isn’t it worth it if it (a) keeps your child out of your arguments, and (b) keeps both parents involved in your child’s activities?
  3. Alternate activities.  Many children are involved in a number of activities, and sometimes one parent gravitates toward one, while another parent gravitates toward another.  Mom may be an assistant soccer coach, so she get to attend all those functions, while Dad is keen on photography, so he spends time working on that and attending those shows and events.
The important thing to remember is to keep your child away from the conflict and to be present at their activities.  Sometimes it’s just the way it is, when parents can’t get along, but the parents have to acknowledge this and work to find a way around it that doesn’t hurt their children.  If you keep your eye on what’s important – the health and well-being of your child, then you’ll be able to find a solution to any problem.
What has been your biggest concern about your kids going back to school this year?
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Child custody and visitation in California divorce

In California, there are several aspects to the care and control of your child.

The first is custody, and there are two kinds: physical and legal, and for each there are two options – joint and sole custody. Physical custody is where your child lives. If your child lives with you and your ex, then you will have joint physical custody, even if one parent just has one or two nights a month. Only if one parent has a very limited amount of time with your child will one parent have sole physical custody.

Many parenting plans (custody and visitation orders) have a designation of “primary custodial parent,” which is commonly referred to as the parent that has more time than the other. Some parents are adamant that they want this designation. Legally, however, there is no significance to this term. It means nothing, and in my opinion is a potential point of contention that should be eliminated in agreements and orders.

The other aspect is legal custody. Legal custody is the responsibility for the decisions regarding the health, welfare, and education of your child. In the vast majority of cases, this will be joint instead of sole custody, unless, again, one parent is simply absent from the child’s life. Legal custody means that you have to make joint decisions with your co-parent regarding your child’s education (public versus private school? Religious training?), health (surgery? braces?), and can even encompass things such as haircuts (shaved heads and spiked designs come to mind), piercings (sometimes ears, but more often eyebrows and belly buttons), and tattoos.

A common desire by some parents is to simply eliminate them from their child’s life much as they are eliminating the other parent from their life. This is not likely to happen. If a parent wants to be involved, even intimately involved, with their child, then that is to be encouraged. It is understandable that one parent may want to put some distance between themselves and their ex, but the legal reality is that if you have a child with someone, then your life is going to be entangled with the other parent until that child is an adult, and often beyond that.

How to get through your divorce with money, your sanity, and hope for the future: Law, strategy, and everything you need to know but no one tells you

This is the working title of the book I am putting together primarily for divorcing parties in California, but there will be general application for those outside of California.  I am targeting a release at the end of the month and want to be able to help the widest audience.

The topic will include: what to do and think about when you’re thinking of divorce, the initial process, the overall process, emotions involved, hiring a lawyer, the things they don’t tell you that you need to know, finances, child custody and visitation, child and spousal support, property division, debt, negotiation strategies, settlement conferences, trial, specific issues that come up frequently (substance abuse, moving away, for example), completing your case, post-divorce considerations, and where/how to get help.   Each topic will include the “hard” law and strategy as well as the emotional and logistical, common sense aspects and the things no one tells you but you need to know.

Sound worthwhile?

I’ve been thinking about doing this for a while, and this blog is one way of getting the information out there.  But now, I don’t see that there is another publication that combines everything: law, strategy, emotions and all the little things you don’t expect.  Many publications have some of these, but none have all of them together.  I think it’s time to give access to the divorce process to everyone who needs it, and not just those wealthy enough to spend tens of thousands of dollars on attorneys.

What do you think?  Is there a topic you would like me to include?

Back on Board: New Series

Wow! Nearly two weeks without a post, and me here with the commitment to write each weekday… Yikes!

It’s been an unusual start to the year, with technological challenges (Windows Vista finally making me crazy and my web site hosting deciding not to forward my emails), so I have had to move my attention to fixing those little problems. I also spent some time adding material to my web site (here), including FAQ, posting several very informative articles, and creating a way for clients to pay for consultations with a credit card online. I decided to give a discount for anyone looking for four hours of time with me, reducing the fee for that by more than 15%. Finally, I am working on two final projects: completing the transfer of my Mediation, Trusts & Estates (MTE) web site from it’s old (and complex and frustrating) hosting to the new (wonderful, easy, customizable and pretty) hosting, and putting together a newsletter for MTE that includes several ‘cross-over’ articles on the intersection of estate planning and family law. I’ll be posting that next week.

And that brings me to my new series, which will also be on the intersection of family law and estate planning. It’s a long series, about ten articles, so I may take a couple detours here and there to veer off to other subjects. I am excited about this series because it brings together my two passions: family law and estate planning. There are some nuances to the overlap that are critical. Further, too many family law clients either do not get counseled on the importance of estate planning post-divorce, or they are counseled but are too exhausted by the time their case is over.

Estate planning affects all aspects of a family law case, including custody and visitation (the need to have a Nomination of Guardian), the division of property (the need for a living trust and will as well as to change your beneficiaries, divide property and move on once it’s over), and the emotions of a family law case. I look forward to diving into this series, and hope you enjoy it too!