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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California divorce: sharing holidays

The holidays are one of the most difficult times for divorcing or divorced parents because it’s an emotional time with family, and it can be very difficult to work out co-parenting time that suits each family.  I work with my clients to determine the best plan that suits their individual needs as well as the family needs.  If you’re struggling with this on this holiday season, here are some tips.

Child Support Calculations in California

When I first meet with a family law client, if the individual has children one of the initial questions is invariably what child support will be. To my client’s frustration, I am not able to answer that question because child support is calculated in a complex manner in California. In some states, child support is calculated in a straightforward manner, such s simply taking a percentage of income. In California, this is not the case.

California uses a software program to calculate child support (the California Department of Child Support Services has it here: Child support calculator. The program takes you and your co-parent’s gross income, the percentage time share that you spend with your children, certain deductions (mortgage interest, union dues, mandatory retirement payments, for example), then it calculates your taxes and determines the appropriate ‘guideline’ child support by using a complicated calculation that the California legislature adopted years ago. Once the inputs to the program are determined (or ordered by a judge), the number that the program shows for child support is mandatory for the judge to order unless BOTH parties agree to something different (which happens rarely). Even if both parties agree to a different amount, either party may come back at ANY TIME to modify the support to the guideline level.

In California, then, the critical part of negotiating child support is knowing how the input numbers can be modified or calculated to your advantage. For example, take the time share itself. If you calculate using days versus hours, you could come out with a very different result. Bonus or overtime income is also a tricky issue, as it’s not consistent. You have to be careful that it’s not overlooked in situations where, like in construction, some seasons have little or no overtime (and some have a great deal). If you’re calculating support on the outside of a ‘dry spell’ for overtime, then you could miss the upcoming overtime. If you don’t look back twelve months, similarly, you could in November overlook a substantial holiday bonus coming in December.

Finally, as a family law litigant you have to understand that the smallest change – often unknown until the day of your hearing – can make all the difference in the world for purposes of child support. You can plan and prepare as many printouts of the child support program as you can think of, but if you get to court and the payor has lost his job the day before, that will change the situation dramatically. It is extremely important, therefore, to have a qualified professional helping you to do the calculations so that you can maximize the potential benefit to you.

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.

The importance of the Nomination of Guardian: Who cares for your children when you cannot

Say you’ve gone out to dinner with your friends or your spouse or your new beau. The kids are at home with the babysitter, someone you trust but who’s just a teenager. On your way home, the road is wet (as it has been for a while now all over California) and you get into a car accident. When you’re taken to the hospital, unconscious, the police are going to go to your house to check on your children. When there’s nothing in writing saying who should take your children in the event you are incapacitated (I recommend posting this on the refrigerator), then the police will take your children. The Nomination of Guardian can prevent this.

Your Nomination of Guardian states who you want to care for your children if you are not able to. It can be temporary, such as after an accident, or permanent, such as if you pass away. It is critical to have so that you do not have a gap of time in which your children are taken to the police station and sent out to foster homes until the situation resolves itself.

In the case of a divorce or other child custody case, it takes on a new significance because now there are two households involved. BOTH parents should have a custody and visitation agreement readily accessible to them and their child caregivers, and the agreement should be as specific as possible – even if the couple is agreeing and cooperating with each other – to break the “tie” in the event of a dispute. If the agreement/order says, “visitation as the parents agree,” then the police will not enforce that vague order. With a nomination of guardian, if the couple has already chosen one, both parties have to (1) understand that the other parent will be the guardian if something happens to them (unless there are issues of substance abuse, domestic violence, or some other issue that limits custody/parenting time for one parent), and (2) that the person the couple picked when they were a couple might not continue to be appropriate. Because the couple is now separated, there is a significantly lesser chance that they will die together, but that doesn’t mean a nomination of guardian is less important. Each parent needs to decide who THEY think will be the most appropriate person, and create a document memorializing that.

Holidays, kids and California divorce: how to handle splitting the holidays

One of the hardest parts of divorce with children is having separate holidays.  In “A different date isn’t second rate,” one author explains that it really isn’t the date that matters, but having peace, love and a plan.

The heart-breaking, and sometimes appropriate, decision to give up custody

As destructive and debilitating it can be to a family in divorce, parental alienation and bad-mouthing occur all-too-often.  It is extremely difficult to overcome an ex who has the ability to be charming and say all the right things, all the while acting to poison your child(ren) against you.  There *are* things you can do to expose your ex who is acting in this way, but the key is often to start early in the process, which means hiring an experienced attorney to help set the stage.  Also critical is not getting into the trenches with your ex – you have to be “perfect” in the eyes of the court, and this can seem impossible when dealing with craziness from the other side.  Again, this is where expert legal advice from the outset can mean the difference between breaking the pattern of alienation or not, and making the decision this article writer did, to give up custody of her son.

For a reader who is in this position, my experience has shown that children caught up in a situation like this will frequently return to the wronged parent in their teen-age years, when they are able to see and properly process what happened.  So if you find yourself in a position where you’re giving up custody – or even losing it in a legal fight – and you think it’s due to unfair tactics by your ex, you can find hope in the likelihood that your child will see your ex as you have…in time.