Recently in Divorce and Children Category

Gwyneth Paltrow Announces her Split from Chris Martin

April 19, 2014

paltrow-divorce.jpgAfter ten years of marriage, actress Gwyneth Paltrow announced her separation from Coldplay star Chris Martin. According to Paltrow's website, the couple was working hard (separately and together) on their marriage for the past year without any success. Although neither party has officially filed divorce paperwork, the media speculates that a divorce is well underway. Some celebrities such as Kim Kardashian have litigated their personal family law matters in the public eye. However, more private celebrities tend to keep their personal issues out of the public court system.

Private mediation is a great option for celebrities who want to keep the details of their divorce confidential. Although private mediators are available for any family law litigants, not just celebrities, they tend to be too expensive for most cases. Private mediators in San Diego often charge between $400 and $750 per hour for their services. In addition, when you factor into the cost of private mediation the hourly rate for two attorneys (at least one for each party), the cost of private mediation can cost each party thousands of dollars per day. Some cases inevitably drag on for months or even years because the parties have reached an impasse on one or more issues. In those instances, the parties might agree that private mediation is worth the cost.

The media is buzzing with speculation regarding the Paltrow-Martin split. A lot of the dialogue surrounding this divorce is focused on how simple the dissolution process can be when the parties agree to avoid litigation. Media outlets claim Paltrow and Martin will simply put a rubber stamp on their premarital agreement and end their case. However, the divorce process is not that easy - even for celebrities. In California, family law litigants are required to exchange disclosure documents (consisting of an Income and Expense Declaration and Schedule of Assets and Debts) at the outset of the case. In cases where the parties' income and/or assets are complex, the exchange of disclosure documents can be a lengthy and expensive process. Inevitably, celebrities will spend a significant amount of money up front on attorney fees incurred for the preparation of their disclosure documents.

In addition to spending large sums of money and a lot of time in order to adequately complete their disclosure documents, celebrities will also inevitably require extremely specific and complicated settlement agreements - even if a valid and uncontested premarital agreement is in place. Each divorce case must end either by trial or through the filing of an agreed-upon judgment. Preparation of the judgment will likely require multiple drafts and settlement conferences between attorneys. Due to the complexity of celebrity divorce cases, it is not uncommon for celebrities to walk away from their marriages with six figure legal bills.

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Technology Fosters Cooperation in Modern Divorces

April 18, 2014

child-skype-visitation-002.jpgWe have previously blogged about different ways technology can be used to gain an advantage or gather evidence in a dissolution proceeding. However, ex-spouses are now learning how to use the advances in technology to foster cooperation and harmony post-separation. Many divorcing couples would prefer to sever the ties between them completely after their divorce is final. This goal is unattainable for ex-spouses who will continue to share custody of minor children for years after separation. The new trend called "joint custody - at a distance" encourages splitting couples to communicate electronically rather than during "in person" exchanges in order to reduce the emotional tension during a "drop off" or "pick up".

Many parents have found that they fight and argue less in front of their children if they are able to express their emotions through other outlets. E-mail communication, online calendars and a number of other online resources are all available to conflicting parties who share children. By sharing an online calendar parents can easily coordinate a child-sharing schedule. All of the child's activities and plans are readily available to view and change without any need for in-person or telephonic communication between the parents.

Our Family Wizard is a common solution for parents in conflict. A judge may order parties to use Our Family Wizard, a program which tracks all communication, expenses, and even sends notices to the parties regarding their obligations. Because the communication between parents can be supervised by the judge and attorneys involved in the case, the parties are incentivized to speak civilly to each other. This form of communication can take away the aggravation and emotional side of child-sharing and ease the tension and stress for the children involved. The program can be purchased for approximately $100 per year.

Another form of technology frequently appearing in custody orders is Skype. Skype is a free program that allows two or more people to have an online video conversation. In cases where both parties cannot easily see a child frequently, the court may order "Skype visitation". During a Skype visit, a parent can have a video conversation with the child. Skype also permits conversations to be recorded and can ensure that the visiting parent is getting enough video time with the child. Additionally, a parent may be ordered to purchase a cell phone for the child in order to avoid any telephonic communication between the parties. This way, if a parent wishes to speak to his or her child during the child's scheduled time with the other parent, he or she can reach the child directly.

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How Your Divorce Grief Can Affect Your Children

April 16, 2014

divorce-grief-children.jpgA divorce may be hands down one of the most difficult things a person can go through. Just like the loss of life, a divorce is a loss of a relationship, the loss of stability, and the loss of life as one has known it to be. Consequently, individuals going through a divorce typically experience some or all of what is known as the five stages of grief. These stages include: (1) denial; (2) anger; (3) bargaining; (4) depression; and (5) acceptance.

In the denial stage of grief, an individual going through a divorce is typically attempting to deny the reality of their situation and begins to develop a false, preferable reality. Children under the age of 6 years old are typically not affected by their parents experiencing the "denial" stage of grief because they believe that the situation is only temporary. Grade school children may be affected in the sense that they will come up with their own "magical" explanation for what they perceive is going on. Teenagers are affected differently in that they tend to want to act as the caretaker for the parent who is experiencing the denial stage.

In the anger stage of grief, an individual going through a divorce recognizes that their sense of denial cannot continue and instead they manifest anger with themselves or with others, especially those who are close to them. Children under the age of 6 years old are significantly affected by their parent(s) experiencing the anger stage because they tend to assume that the anger is directed towards them. Young children especially think that their parents' issues are their issues too. Grade school children are the most developmentally vulnerable to alienation while their parent(s) are experiencing the anger stage of grief. They tend to form an alignment with one parent. Teenagers are affected in that they tend to identify with the parent who has been wronged in the divorce. Teenagers begin to form their own opinions and may reject the anger by trying to stay away from it.

In the bargaining stage of grief, an individual going through a divorce typically hopes that they can somehow avoid or undo the cause of the grief. This stage of grief has the most differences in its affect on children, based on their age group. Children under the age of 6 years old are typically aware of who is or is no bargaining. They may find it frightening because they perceive the parent, who they are so dependent on, as being weak. School age children, on the other hand, get excited about bargaining because they tend to believe in the chance of reunification. Teenagers try to act as a mediator. Teenagers also tend to distance themselves from the weaker parent and align with the parent who will provide them with what they want.

In the depression stage of grief, an individual going through a divorce begins to understand the certainty of their loss and may become silent and spend much of their time crying and upset. Surprisingly, children under the age of 6 years old are not typically impacted by their parent(s) experiencing depression. Grade school children, however understand it and expect the other parent to "rescue" the depressed parent. Teenagers, on the other hand, perceive their parent's depression to be dangerous and typically don't want any part of it.

In the acceptance stage of grief, an individual going through a divorce begins to come to terms with their loss and typically has a more objective view and stable, calm mindset. Children under the age of 6 years old are positively affected by their parent(s) going through the acceptance stage because they sense the hope and positivity. Teenagers, however, want to get the most of their parents who experiencing this newfound positivity and typically seek minimal supervision.

Although not everyone experiences the five stages of divorce (or experiences them in a different order) it is important to remember that how a parent deals with the divorce can have a direct correlation to how the child deals with the divorce, depending on the child's age.

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Free Speech Restrictions Imposed by Family Court

March 25, 2014

Steve-Nash-divorce.jpgThose born and raised in the United States tend to have the understanding that they are free to say anything they wish behind the protections of the First Amendment. However, courts have put a number of restrictions on free speech such as prohibitions against defamation, obscenity, and harassment. In a recent family law case involving basketball star Steve Nash, family courts placed another restriction on the First Amendment. In the Nash case, the Arizona Court of Appeals placed a muzzle on social media communications in family law proceedings.

In nearly every child custody and/or visitation order the judge (or the parties through agreement) will include the following language:

Neither parent shall make negative statements about the other in the presence or hearing of the children or question the children about the other parent. The parents shall communicate directly with each other in matters concerning the children and shall not use the children as a messenger between them. The children shall not be exposed to court papers or disputes between the parents, and each parent shall make every possible effort to ensure that other people comply with this order.

Not surprisingly, this language was included in the Nash joint custody agreement. Following the issuance of this standard admonition, Nash's ex-wife, Alejandra Amarilla, was alleged to have made disparaging remarks about him through her social media account, Twitter. As a result, Nash petitioned the court to intervene arguing that his former spouse was violating the non-disparaging clause. Amarilla defended her actions citing the First Amendment's freedom of speech clause in support of her case. The First Amendment has frequently been expanded to include "speech" in the form of electronic communication.

In the Nash case, the court held that Ms. Amarilla's conduct was not protected by the First Amendment and made an order prohibiting both parties from making disparaging comments about each other on social media sites. The court based its decision on the fact that Steve Nash is a highly public figure and therefore the comments made by his former wife were likely to reach their children. The court also noted that social media comments or postings cannot be adequately controlled or maintained to prevent exposure of improper conduct to the children. Ms. Amarilla appealed the trial court's ruling and the Arizona Court of Appeals determined that the trial court did not abuse its discretion and upheld the earlier ruling.

Since the Nash case was recently decided, its effect on other family law matters is unknown. However, a good argument exists for the position that the Nash case is inapplicable in ordinary divorce matters because the parties' social media sites are not as prolific as those of celebrities.

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Beware of Steep Fines for Violating the ATROS

March 24, 2014

divorce-cost-fines.jpgThe moment a divorce commences, automatic temporary restraining orders ("ATROS") take effect and they remain in effect until entry of the final judgment. Specifically, the Petitioner is bound by the ATROS once he or she files the Petition and Summons and the Respondent is bound by them after he or she is served with the Petition and Summons. The ATROS can actually be found on the second page of the Summons.

According to California Family Code Section 2040(a), these ATROS restrain both parties from doing the following:
1) Removing their minor children from the state without prior written consent from the other party or an order from the court;
2) Transferring, encumbering, hypothecating, concealing, or in any way disposing of any real or personal property (even separate property) without the other party's written consent or an order from the court. There are, however, exceptions if the action is within the usual course of business, for the necessities of life, or to pay reasonable attorney fees;
3) Cashing, borrowing against, canceling, transferring, disposing of, or changing the beneficiaries of any insurance or other coverage (i.e. life, health, automobile, disability, etc.) held for the benefit of the parties and their children for whom support may be ordered; and
4) Creating a nonprobate transfer or modifying a nonprobate transfer in a manner that affects the disposition of property subject to the transfer, without the other party's written consent an order from the court.

Despite being aware of and bound by the ATROS, parties going through a divorce often ignore them, thus disregarding the potential penalties for their violation. Perhaps if the parties were aware of how steep the penalties for violation of the ATROS can be, they would think twice before violating them.

Violation of the ATROS can result in some pretty hefty fines and even time behind bars. (See Family Code Section 233). Specifically, Penal Code Section 278.5 provides that "every person who takes, entices away, keeps, withholds, or conceals a child and maliciously deprives a lawful custodian of a right to custody, or a person of a right to visitation, shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or both that fine and imprisonment..." Willful and knowing violators of any of the other orders may also be subject to a $1,000 fine, imprisonment or both pursuant to Penal Code Section 273.6.

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Talking to Your Children About Divorce

March 22, 2014

children-divorce-custody.jpgThroughout San Diego County, custody and visitation is a highly litigated family law issue which causes turmoil within local families. The court system and family law attorneys encourage parents to take whatever steps necessary to ease their children through the divorce process. One of the most important steps a parent can take to help their children through the transitional period of a divorce is to have a conversation with them early to explain what is going on. The nature and depth of the conversation will depend on the age and maturity of the children involved; however, it is always important to reassure children of their security and stability within the family. The following is a list of questions commonly posed by parents who have recently decided to divorce.

Q: Who should tell the children about the divorce?
A: If possible, both parents. It is important to present a "united front" right from the onset when initially discussing divorce. This can reassure the children that they will still have both of their parents and are still part of a family unit. Parents can also brainstorm possible questions their children may ask and come up with agreed-upon answers.

Q: When should we tell the children about the divorce?
A: As soon as possible after you have conclusively decided to get a divorce.

Q: What should we say to the children about the divorce?
A: The truth. While explaining to the children why their parents are separating it is imperative that both parents refrain from any comments which might turn the children against the other parent. An honest explanation regarding the reason for the divorce will encourage the children to come to their parents with their feelings and thoughts on the subject. The first conversation regarding the divorce is also a good time to explain to the children that it is normal to feel upset and sad.

Q: How can we minimize behavioral issues during this transition?
A: Stick to the program. Children experience many significant changes in their lives when their parents are going through the divorce process. Therefore, maintaining established parenting styles is crucial for encouraging behavioral stability. Although tempting, parents should avoid overcompensating their children with gifts or relaxed discipline. This continuation of routine will prove to your children that not everything will change as a result of the divorce.

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Consequences for False Allegations of Child Abuse

March 21, 2014

In family law, especially cases involving custody and visitation disputes, it can be tempting for litigants to make false allegations in order to get ahead in their cases. However, false accusations have no place in family law and in fact may be severely punished. San Diego family law judges take allegations of child abuse seriously and tend to err on the side of caution if there is any doubt to an allegation of abuse. There are three main statues which stand to deter litigation tactics involving false allegations of abuse by providing the following remedies to the falsely accused.

dollar-sign.jpgSanctions: Family Code section 3027 provides family courts with authority to impose monetary sanctions upon any witness, party or party's attorney who knowingly makes false child abuse or neglect accusations during custody proceedings. The amount of the sanctions imposed will be calculated based on all costs incurred by the accused as a direct result of defending the accusation plus fees and cost associated with bringing the sanction request. It is important to note that the court may impose monetary sanctions in addition to (not in lieu of) any additional remedies requested. The requesting party, however, must be sure to bring their claim for sanctions within a reasonable time of their exoneration.

Supervised Visitation or Limited Custody/Visitation:
Family Code section 3027.5 provides that the court may order supervised visitation or limit a parent's time with the child if the court finds that that parent made knowingly false accusations of child abuse against the other parent. In order to prevail on a claim brought under this code section, the accused parent must also show that the accusations were made with the intent to interfere with the other parent's lawful contact with the child (particularly during the pendency of a custody proceeding). The court will also take into consideration whether supervised visitation or limited custody/visitation is necessary to protect the child's health, safety, and welfare balanced against the child's interest to have frequent and continuing contact with both parents.

Mandatory Reconsideration of Custody Order: A parent falsely accused of child abuse or neglect has the option of pursuing criminal charges against the accusing parent. If the accusing parent is convicted of a crime in connection with false allegations of child against the other parent, the falsely accused parent may move for reconsideration of the existing child custody order. A parent's motion for reconsideration of such an order must be granted under these circumstances.

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Shannon Miles, San Diego Family Law Attorney Passes the CFLS Examination.

March 18, 2014

photo__1910961_p_shannon_miles.pngThe Law Offices of Nancy J. Bickford would like to congratulate SHANNON MILES, on passing the CFLS examination.

Born into a military family in Quantico, Virginia, Ms. Miles attended California Western School of Law, graduating in 2006. While at Cal Western, Ms. Miles studied Family Law and Community Property. Ms. Miles clerked for a family law firm and civil litigation firm while in law school. Ms. Miles also served as a judicial extern for the military judges at Camp Pendleton.

Ms. Miles started with our firm in 2012. Prior to joining The Law Office of Nancy J. Bickford, Ms. Miles worked for the law firm of Moore, Schulman & Moore for four years, practicing exclusively in the area of family law. She is trained in Family Law Trial Advocacy and is a graduate of the San Diego Family Law College of Trial Advocacy. She also holds a degree in Communications from the University of California, San Diego. Ms. Miles participated in Cal Western's Consortium for Innovative Legal Studies and attended law school abroad at Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic and at the National University of Ireland in Galway, Ireland. While in Prague, Ms. Miles studied International and Comparative Law. While in Galway, she studied Human Rights and International Criminal Law at the Irish Centre of Human Rights. Ms. Miles also spent a semester abroad while at UCSD in Alcala de Henares, Spain studying Spanish Literature.
Ms. Miles is a member of the State Bar of California, and the San Diego Family Law Bar Association. Ms. Miles is presently an Associate Member of the J. Clifford Wallace Inn of Court and prior to that, served for two years as an associate member of the Fiorenzo V. Lopardo chapter of the American Inns of Court.

Professional & Bar Association Memberships
State Bar of California
San Diego Family Law Bar Association
J. Clifford Wallace Inn of Court

Continue reading "Shannon Miles, San Diego Family Law Attorney Passes the CFLS Examination." »

How to Prepare for Your Day in Family Law Court: Part I

March 14, 2014

family-law-court.jpgDuring a dissolution case, also known as a divorce, you will likely be required to attend a court hearing at some point during the process. Regardless of what type of hearing it is, getting oriented with the family law court and properly preparing yourself for your day in court is half the battle.

Mental Preparation

Whether or not you are being represented by an attorney, it is important that you come to court well-rested and ready to participate in the proceedings with a clear mind. Family Court hearings can be quite stressful and emotional draining so getting the proper amount of rest will surely help your mental well-being.

If you have not been to the courthouse before, be sure to get proper directions, figure out how long it will take you to get there and look into the parking facilities. Knowing where you are going and giving yourself enough time to get there will help alleviate some of the stress that you will inevitably be feeling. Also, it is important to make sure that you have any necessary paperwork ready to go the night before so that you don't have to worry about rushing on the morning of your court date.

What to Bring and What Not to Bring With You

Courts require payment by the parties for the Court Reporter on certain days and for certain hearings. Be sure to have your checkbook with you when you come to court so that you are prepared if a payment needs to be made for your share of the Court Reporter's charges.

On the other hand, be sure to leave anything that might be considered a weapon at home as most courthouses have metal detectors at the front door.

What to Do When You Arrive

If you are represented by legal counsel make arrangements with your attorney where to meet once you get to court. Typically, attorneys will meet their clients in the hallway outside of the courtroom where your hearing is taking place. If you are not currently represented by legal counsel then go directly to the courtroom designated for your hearing. A calendar will be posted right outside of the courtroom which will list the cases scheduled for that day. Confirm that your case is listed on the calendar to make sure that you are indeed at the right courtroom.

Once you are inside the courtroom you might be interested in orienting yourself with the court personnel and order of events. For detailed information, please read "How to Prepare for Your Day in Family Law Court: Part II", which will be posted March 18, 2014.

Continue reading "How to Prepare for Your Day in Family Law Court: Part I" »

Child Custody and Visitation - Holiday Timeshare: What Can I Expect?

December 19, 2013

Child Custody Visitation Holiday TimeshareFor most litigants in San Diego, divorce is a heart-breaking and devastating process. Much of the fear, anxiety and turmoil are created by the many "unknowns" a divorcing spouse faces. If a person is getting divorced for the first time, he or she generally has no idea what to expect with regard to finances and child custody and visitation. Local divorce attorneys can provide a road map of the divorce process but cannot offer solid guarantees for the future. In the beginning of a divorce case where custody and visitation is at issue, many parents ask: "What is normal?" Although there is no general consensus of "normal" in family law, a number of arrangements have become "typical".

With the holidays approaching many divorcing parents are anxious to find out how that first holiday season should be handled. Every set of facts is unique and how the holidays proceed is generally dependent on the relationship between the parties. In some cases the parents are proceeding with an amicable divorce and agree to share the holidays together with their children. Although this might not be the most comfortable arrangement for the parents, it reinforces stability for the children during this tumultuous time. If the parents cannot get along, it may not be advisable to spend holidays together in the presence of the children. Another alternative for parties capable of working productively together is to share the children on each holiday. For example, the children might spend Christmas morning with their mother opening gifts and then later go with their father to enjoy Christmas dinner.

If you are a parent looking to arrange a more long-term child-sharing schedule for the holidays, you might consider the following options:

Alternate Holidays Every Year

Frequently parents set up an "alternating system" in order to fairly distribute holiday time. In this type of system one parent will have the children on certain holidays (for example Christmas and Easter) in even numbered years and have the children on the other holidays (for example Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve) in odd numbered years. The other parent will have the children on the same holidays alternating years. By breaking up the holidays the parties ensure they both have some holiday time with the children each year.

Exchange Holidays Within the Year

In some cases, the parties have different holiday priorities and are able to agree to a holiday schedule wherein they have time with the children on all holidays which are important to them every year. This is possible in situations where one parent celebrates different holidays (Hanukkah) than the other (Christmas). Some families emphasize Christmas Eve while others focus on Christmas Day. The most obvious example of this option would be where the children spend Mother's Day with their mother, and Father's Day with their father. Parents are encouraged to discuss these possibilities when determining an ongoing holiday schedule. In all cases, if a holiday schedule exists, it does take precedent over the general timeshare plan.

Continue reading "Child Custody and Visitation - Holiday Timeshare: What Can I Expect?" »

Who is on the Hook to Pay For Kids' College After a Divorce?

December 10, 2013

Paying for college after divorceThe cost for a college education can be astronomically high these days. Of course, most parents are still eager for their children to get a college education. However, a major concern for divorcing parents with children is not only how they will pay for college once their child graduates high school, but who exactly will pay for all of the expenses that come with a college education. For some divorcing couples, this might not be an issue if money has already been earmarked for college. For other divorcing couples, the thought of their child being accepted to college can cause bittersweet anxiety.

Generally in California, child support payments will cease when the child reaches the age of 18. Beyond that, divorce attorneys will advise that there is typically no legal obligation for either parent to pay for the child's college education, unless so ordered by the courts. So what happens, for instance, when one of the divorcing parties plans to remarry and ends up having other children who have their own tuition needs? Will he/she even chip in when it comes time to pay for college?

The best way to ease anxiety and secure payment for college expenses from your soon-to-be ex-spouse is to include such an obligation in your Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA) that addresses college support in addition to any child support agreements. An MSA is an agreement between divorcing spouses that addresses issues such as custody, support, and property division. A provision in a Martial Settlement Agreement regarding payment of college expenses will typically include details such as what percentage of college expenses each parent will be responsible for, restrictions on which types of college the provision will apply to (if any), and exactly which expenses will be covered (this may include tuition, room and board, books, extracurricular activities, etc.).

So while there is no legal obligation for one or both of the divorcing parents to pay for their kids' college, absent a court order, it's advisable that the parties not overlook the possibility of including a provision regarding college expenses in their Marital Settlement Agreement. This might serve to save a considerable amount of financial worries down the road and encourage divorcing parents to start setting aside funds for their portion of the future college payments.

Continue reading "Who is on the Hook to Pay For Kids' College After a Divorce?" »

Understanding Parental Alienation in California - Part 2

September 24, 2013

What is Parental Alienation pt 2As we have previously blogged in "Understanding Parental Alienation in California Part 1," parental alienation can be extremely detrimental to the children and alienated parents involved. Luckily, there are ways to combat parental alienation and attempt to reunite the child and alienated parent who have been affected by parental alienation.

How Courts Deal with Claims of Parental Alienation

Courts have found ways to address claims of parental alienation and seek remedies that will repair broken relationships and help establish both parents as having a role in raising the child. In mild to moderate cases of parental alienation, a child custody evaluation will typically be performed by an expert to determine how severe the problem is and what kind of therapy and child time sharing should be recommended to help improve the relationship between the child and "alienated" parent.

However, in severe cases of parental alienation, sometimes the only solution is to remove the child from the parent who is alienating the other parent and to instead place the child with the alienated parent. But, before a judge will change the custody arrangement, they will typically require that a psychological evaluation to be done. Unfortunately, such evaluations can take anywhere from three months to a year to complete. In addition, some evaluators will simply argue that the detriment caused by parental alienation can simply be cured with therapy and thus the evaluator will not recommend a custody change to the alienated parent, but instead will recommend a reunification plan involving therapy. If it appears that reunification is not working then the court will typically want the same or new psychologist to re-evaluate the situation, which will take additional time.

Reuniting Alienated Parents with the Child

Reuniting alienated parentsAs an alienated parent, reuniting with your child can pose several challenges. As a result of the parental alienation the relationship with the child is likely very fragile and must be handled carefully in an attempt to repair what has been broken.

However, with proper psychological care, time and patience it is possible to attempt to reverse the effects of Parental Alienation Syndrome and mend your relationship with your child.

It is also advised that the alienated parent not retaliate against the other parent. Rather, if the alienated parent acts reasonably then the parent who is causing the alienation will hopefully be influenced to do the same.

Continue reading "Understanding Parental Alienation in California - Part 2" »

Understanding Parental Alienation in California - Part 1

September 23, 2013

CA Parental Alienation 1While broken marriages can be stressful and emotional for both spouses involved, it is typically the children who end up suffering the most throughout the parents' continued divorce battles. One prime example is where children end up suffering from "parental alienation syndrome," which is commonly associated with child custody battles that occur during and after divorce. Parental alienation can be extremely detrimental to the child and the alienated parent alike.

What is Parental Alienation?

Parental alienation occurs when one parent acts in a manner that attempts to cause the child to reject the other parent by undermining and thwarting the child's relationship with the other parent. The purpose of such alienation is usually an effort by one parent to gain or keep custody of the child.

The following behavior will typically lead to claims of parental alienation:

  • Not allowing the other parent to see or visit the child;

  • Refusing to allow the child to talk to the other parent on the phone;

  • Mis-informing the other parent about child's special events so that it appears that the other parent chose not to attend;

  • Creating a perception that the other parent is dangerous;

  • Discarding mail or gifts sent to the child by the other parent;

  • Creating expectation that the child must choose a side; and

  • Bad-mouthing the other parent.

Parental Alienation's Effect on the Children - PAS

What is Parental Alienation pt 1Parental Alienation Syndrome ("PAS") is a form of psychological injury to the child as a result of the above behaviors, wherein the child becomes "brainwashed" or manipulated into viewing the alienated parent in a negative light. As a result, the child adopts negative views of the other parent which in turn causes the child to reject the other parent and choose no longer want to spend time with that parent.

This can be extremely detrimental for any child. However, it is important to note that Parental Alienation Syndrome is not recognized a psychiatric diagnosis, but rather it is a theory that was developed by Dr. Richard Gardner. Nonetheless, there is even scholarly consensus that parental alienation (which leads to Parental Alienation Syndrome) is a form of abuse to children.

Parental Alienation's Effect on the Parents

The impact of parental alienation is not only detrimental to children involved but also to the alienated parent, who involuntarily loses contact with the child, which in turn impairs his/her relationship with the child. In severe cases of parental alienation, the love and bond that the alienated parent once had with the child may be completely destroyed beyond what seems possible to repair.

In Understanding Parental Alienation in California Part 2 we will explore ways that courts deal with claims of parental alienation and tips for reuniting the alienated parents with their children.

Continue reading "Understanding Parental Alienation in California - Part 1" »

Child Custody and Visitation - Madonna & Guy Ritchie Lead by Example Post-Divorce

August 20, 2013

In January 2009, Madonna and Guy Ritchie finalized their divorce after eight years of marriage. At the time of their split, many rumors surfaced regarding an acrimonious divorce and possible affairs. Madonna is often cited as the source of the "adoption trend" for celebrities. In fact, as a mother of four children, Madonna only has one biological child with Ritchie, their son Rocco. In July 2013, Ritchie had his bar mitzvah at the Kabbalah Centre in New York City. Despite any lingering bitterness between Madonna and Ritchie, both parents attended their son's bar mitzvah and behaved admirably.

Madonna and Ritchie are not the only celebrities to work together for the sake of their children. As we have previously blogged, Charlie Sheen recently spoke out on behalf of his ex-wife Denise Richards in her custody battle with another one of Sheen's wives, Brooke Mueller. Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony announced their surprising split two years ago this summer. However they are often seen together at events supporting their twins. In fact, Lopez and Anthony have even managed to maintain their working relationship post-divorce.

Divorce can be an incredibly difficult time for all parties involved, especially children. It is important for both parents to make every effort to make the transition as seamless as possible for the children. The assistance of a mental health professional may be beneficial for all parties involved. In family law cases, therapists often recommend that both parents remain actively involved in a child's life which may require attending the same events and celebrations. In the interest of promoting stability and normalcy for the children, divorcing parents can decide to continue spending important holidays together with their children. Although the holiday may not be pleasant for the parents, the children cherish time spent together as a family.

Sharing Child Custody at a soccer gameIt is important to consider that in some cases, it may not be in the best interest of the children for divorced or divorcing parents to interact. Where there is a history of domestic violence between the parties or if a restraining order is in place, parents should refrain from all contact.

Additionally, if the parties cannot tolerate each other, engage in arguments in front of the children, or consistently make disparaging comments about the other parent, they should likewise refrain from all contact. Most, if not all, agreements and orders regarding custody/visitation require the parties to co-parent peacefully. Thus, any disparaging conduct may be a violation of a court order.

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Tips to Avoid Child Custody Conflict During the Kids' Summer Vacation

July 3, 2013

child custody summer vacationSchool is finally out and the sun is shining...summer vacation has officially arrived! Unfortunately, child custody arrangements are a hot item for potential conflict during the summer months because the daily routine often goes out the window leaving the possibility for chaos to emerge. Spending the warm carefree summer months battling over child custody issues is not fun for either parent and it is certainly not fun for the kids. Kids look forward to summer vacation all year long so it's important that divorced or divorcing parents deal with summer vacations and child custody arrangements in a cordial way.

Child custody in the summertime doesn't have to be plagued by conflicts! Here are some tips for avoiding those potential conflicts with your spouse and your kids during the three school-less months:

Plan vacation schedules in advance
Agreeing on a vacation schedule is the first step in dealing with child custody during the summer months. A vacation schedule can replace a regular child custody agreement if it is approved by a court and made legally binding. Agreeing on a temporary schedule for the summer vacation months well in advance will help to avoid many potential conflicts.

Foster good communication with the other parent
It is absolutely crucial to communicate with the other parent and notify him or her of any vacation plans and summer activities so that the child's location is known in the event of an emergency. It's always a good idea to also notify the other parent if vacation plans change. Keep in mind that when a parent refuses to disclose vacation plans to the other parent, both parents might end up in court. Unless there is a compelling reason not to, a judge will most likely order the parent to divulge vacation plans for safety reasons. This will cost time, money, and stress which could easily be avoided with open communication.

Be sensitive to your child's emotions
Summer child custody schedules are often quite a big change from the normal daily routine during the school year. Sometime kids are sent to different cities or states to be with the other parent, which might cause an emotional reaction. It's important for parents to be sensitive and understanding even when the child expresses that he or she misses the other parent. It's important to not take the child's reactions personally and to instead focus on the extra time you get to spend with the child.

Read more about the opinion of children in custody and visitation disputes

Don't Skip or Tweak Child Support Payments
A change in time-share over the summer months (and likely resulting change in financial situation) does not mean that support payments can be skipped or tweaked. Unilaterally skipping or tweaking a support payment is sure to cause conflict with the other parent. Instead, a child support modification should be properly sought with the courts.

summer vacation child custody

Keeping these tips in mind this summer when dealing with child custody arrangements is likely to result in a lot more fun in the sun with your kids!

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