Author Archives: Shel Harrington
Author Archives: Shel Harrington
After divorce, it’s often difficult for both parent and child when one household becomes two. The child sees each parent less, each parent sees the child less. Add in relocation of one parent to the mix, and a tough situation gets tougher. Not only do the parents have to figure out how transportation is going to work for physical visits, the long-distant parent has to figure out how to stay connected to the child during the long gaps between being together. Skype, Facetime, and other digital options allow for more satisfying long-distance interaction than the limitations of traditional phone calls, and text messaging can help child and parent have spontaneous interaction. But let’s get a little creative about how you can be there for your child when you can’t physically be there. Here are 10 ideas to help you rock being a long-distance parent:
Even though it is tough for you and your child to be so far away from each other for much of the year, the “distance” doesn’t have to mean “disconnect.” With a little creativity you can close up those miles, enjoy quality time with your child even when you can’t be in the same place, and rock being a long-distance parent!
Sure the thought counts, but the gift itself matters, too. Some gifts present a clear and present danger when bestowed upon a spouse and should be avoided at all costs. Here are 10 gifts that could be hazardous to your marriage:
2. Sexy underwear (or anything else you’re dying to see them in ). Nothing says “It’s all about me” more than gifting something that makes you happier than the recipient.
3. Exercise equipment. This category includes gym memberships and healthy-eating cookbooks. Unless you are providing something they specifically requested, your well-intentioned gift may not be well-received!
4. Home improvements. Even if one spouse has been wanting a bigger bathroom or modernized cabinets, making the project “a gift” sets up the recipient to be responsible for any mishaps or frustrations that might be part of the process. (Just because it doesn’t make a great gift, doesn’t mean you can’t still use the big home-improvement announcement to earn additional spousal-brownie-points!)
5. Gift card. Think about it – how different is that from just handing your spouse some cash and telling them to go buy their own gift? Well, there is one difference – you are now dictating exactly where they must buy their own gift from.
6. Anything on your own wish list. See #2, above.
7. Perfume or cologne they’ve never worn before. First of all, there may be a reason they’ve never worn it. Second, what it smells like on the paper tester isn’t necessarily what it’s going to smell like on someone’s body. Unless indicated otherwise, assume your spouse wants some say about how they smell.
8. That item you have both been planning and saving for. Do NOT “surprise” your spouse by making the final decision on the vacation you have been debating for the last few months or picking the recliner that will sit for years to come in the living room. And examine the reasons you would even want to – is it intended to delight, or put an end to a discussion you are tired of having? If you immediately responded: “to delight, of course,” you need to realize that might not be the same conclusion your spouse reaches.
9. Nothing. Even if that is what they ask for. Gift-giving is about putting yourself out there to do something kind for the one you love. “Nothing” does not serve that goal. Nor does it honor your mate. “Something” does not have to be expensive, extravagant, or even wrap-able. It just has to be a little more thoughtful than “nothing.”
10. Anything that comes with payments. Yes, this is worse than nothing. It is the exact opposite of “the gift that keeps on giving.” It is the gift that keeps depleting. No gift should come with a bill.
It’s arrived! That wonderful crisp fall weather that makes you want to break out the cozy sweaters and head out with your mate to do something fun. There are some activities that are uniquely autumn entertainment and others that are enhanced when done in the fall. So grab your mate and celebrate the season with some of these great fall date ideas!
You didn’t really think you were going to get all the way through an article about fall without seeing the words “pumpkin spice” did you??
Divorce is rarely easy and rarely cheap. But there are things you can do to make the process less difficult and less expensive. After two decades of practicing Family Law and hearing other Family Law attorneys express concern (read: complain) about the same things, I’ve compiled a short list of things your divorce lawyer wants you to know so you can help them better serve you.
Looking for a great gift for your husband, your dad or that special father in your life? Skip the predictable shirt, tie and golf balls and go right to the fun stuff! No matter what your budget is, you’ll find a gift from these 10 Fun Father’s Day Finds guaranteed to make him smile!
6. Sriracha key chain – For the guy who eats on the go and doesn’t like to be without his heat, this little handy-dandy refillable sriracha bottle keychain serves a dual purpose. Don’t forget to have a bottle of sriracha handy to fill from – you don’t want to be like the gifter who gives the toy without the batteries! (Starting from $5 for a single on up for sets)
10. The Cooper Kit – For the dad with children from 5 to 9 years old – the one who’s still a kid-at-heart himself – the Cooper Kit might be the perfect gift. It’s a subscription to a mini adventure. Every 3 months a box arrives full of fun for dad and offspring to work on together. A bit of a splurge at $260 for the four deliveries, it turns Father’s Day into Father/Child year!
Often when we hear about a friend or loved one getting a divorce, we just don’t know what to say or do. We want to be supportive, encouraging, helpful – but struggle with being presumptuous or intrusive in our attempts to offer assistance.
Recently I was invited to speak at a Stephen Ministry meeting when the group was going through training on how to minister to and assist people in the community who are dealing with divorce. The group leader asked me to help them understand the process of divorce and suggest ways to help those going through it. After two decades of practicing Family Law and working with men. women and children who are going through the process, it wasn’t difficult to come up with a list of challenges that divorcing parties often need help with!
PRIOR TO A DIVORCE ACTION BEING FILED
WHILE THE DIVORCE IS PENDING
AFTER THE DIVORCE
Child custody battles are often the most difficult part of divorce proceedings. Property can be divided or sold, debts can be assigned to one party or the other, but how custody/visitation plans are structured is much more complex. As mothers and fathers contemplate divorce or (if not married to each other) paternity actions, they often find themselves with numerous questions. They want to know how things work legally, what their rights are regarding the children, and what rights the children have. After 23 years of practicing Family Law, I have worked with hundreds of divorcing parents and noted some concerns are universal. Here are 5 questions that most parents have about custody.
Hopefully no parent is actually asking a child to make the decision of which parent they would like to live with. That’s like asking them to pick which parent they like better – it’s a lousy position to put a child in even if they have a clear preference. Having said that, most states have an age where a child can express what their preference is, but ultimately the judge still makes the final decision. The judge is not bound by the child’s request if he or she does not feel that it is in the best interest of the child to place the child as requested. The judge will take into consideration the ability of each parent to care for the child, what the environment of each is, and the reasons the child has a preference. The older a child is, the more likely the judge is to honor the child’s request if it is not detrimental to the child to do so. While each state can make its own laws regarding custody and the age at which the court gives deference to a child’s preference, many states take the position that by the time a child is twelve years old they have the maturity to express a preference and their reasons for having a preference with regard to living with one parent or the other. Even states with a stated age usually have provisions in their laws which allow the judge to make a decision contrary to the child’s request if the child does not have the maturity to properly express a preference and/or if the request would not be in the child’s best interest.
There was a time when the answer to this question would have been yes, but that is generally no longer the case. While there may be individual judges that have gender biases, most judges start with the premise that a child should have as much contact with both parents as is possible. While fathers are awarded custody more often than they once were, the general trend is toward co-parenting options. Whether it is called joint custody, co-parenting, shared parenting or another name, the intent is to ensure that the children have access to both parents and that both parents are allowed to actually parent versus being someone the children simply visit. If the parties are unable to cooperate, one parent has a history of addiction or abuse, or the parties are unable to communicate because of work or geographic hindrances, the judge will award custody to one parent and an appropriate visitation schedule to the other taking into account the specific circumstances.
Most judges try to protect children by keeping things as stable as possible in the midst of divorce and will not split up siblings casually. But custody is determined on a case-by-case and child-by-child basis. Some situations when a judge might consider splitting up siblings are (1) if children of a certain age request it, (2) if there is substantial/destructive conflicts between siblings, (3) the children have different needs that can best be met by a particular parent, and (4) other facts specific to the case that would result in it being in the best interest of the children to do so. Even if custody of the children is divided between the parents, visitation can still be synced in a way that the siblings are together on weekends, holidays and summer school breaks.
It is not likely. Judges have the discretion to speak with a child in their chambers if they want to receive information from the child and/or a child or parent has requested that the child’s input be received. Depending on the state, attorneys, the child’s Guardian Ad Litem,* or a court reporter may be allowed to be present while the child is being interviewed. The judge tries to balance the parents’ rights to due process with protecting the child from the pressure of testifying in front of parents and any repercussions that might result from testimony that displeased a parent.
Yes. There are two ways a custody order can be changed. First, if a parent believes that the judge made a legal mistake with regard to the custodial decision made at trial, the ruling can be appealed if done so within the time frames set forth in the state law. Second, and more common, is if there is a change of circumstance since the original order that affects the best interest of the child. Typical changes that could warrant modifying the custody order include a problem arising with the custodial parent, a parent relocating, or a child getting older and expressing a preference. In either case, a Family Law attorney should be consulted to ensure that the parent understands what needs to be proved, what the legal procedure is, and the chances of being able to accomplish the desired modification.
*A Guardian Ad Litem is a representative for the child who serves the dual role of representing the child's position and advocating for what's in the best interest of the child even if it conflicts with the child's preference.
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Are you looking for the perfect way to express your love to you favorite Valentine? Something that says I am SO grateful I have you in my life? Something that has more impact than chocolates and more staying power than flowers? Maybe the best gift you and your spouse can give each other is Project Valentine.
You and your mate know that you are loved – that each of you think the other is special. How about joining together to create that same wonderful feeling for someone else? There are so many people who don’t have a Valentine – and you both are in the perfect place to say: “Will you be mine?”
Use the funds you would have spent on each other for over-priced flowers (you know costs double for V-day, right?) and unnecessary chocolate (no excuses to sabotage those New Years Resolutions!) to buy Valentines or sweet treats for somebody who could use some love.
Here are some Project Valentine ideas:
Project Valentine is the perfect gift for you and your spouse to give each other. What better way to express your love than by helping others feel it first hand?[Note: Project Valentine could be one of those experiences that ends up being one of those “jar moments” referred to in the last post!]
No excuses on this one. It’s not too late for you and your spouse to make a New Year’s Resolution. If your annual New Year’s Resolution is to not make one, make an exception this year. If you think you have already made enough/too many resolutions, I promise you there is room for this one, too – and it just may be the only one you actually keep!
Here’s how it works:
As we sat down to read on New Year’s Eve, I knew I’d find notes summarizing the wonderful visit we had with my folks in Florida, the articles I’d published, the award my husband received, the visitors we’d enjoyed, as well as a few challenges we’d encountered. But I’d forgotten so much! Like the night we had friends over for cards and one silly joke had the four of us doubled over with laughter, eyes streaming (which, of course, had Steve and I laughing all over again!) And the special day we had spent with Steve’s mother – one where signs of her dementia were minimal. And the movie that sparked a conversation between us that we would not have otherwise had.
While it would be pretty hard to screw up “The Jar” resolution, here’s a few tips that we found made it work:
An unexpected benefit of the project was the mindfulness we developed about looking out for special moments in our daily lives. As the year moved on, we actually referred to having “a jar moment,” said “there’s one for the jar,” and had friends ask us if an outing we enjoyed together was “going to make the jar.” While it took only seconds at a time to do throughout the months, we ended our year with a lasting gratitude as we unfolded and read reminders of a year filled with blessings.
What other New Year Resolution could you make that cost no money, takes almost no time, and has such an uplifting result??
One of the toughest situations to deal with in the aftermath of divorce is holiday visitation with the children. As if the holiday season by itself wasn’t stressful enough, dealing with only having the children for part of the holiday in addition to making sure they get to where they’re suppose to be for the other part of the holiday can send stress levels right off the chart! As a Family Law attorney who often represents children, I field a lot of calls from frustrated parents this time of year – and here’s what I tell them. Whether there are hard feelings to or from your ex or you both get along great, these five tips can make the holiday visitation less stressful for you, your ex, and – more importantly – your children.
1. Transition your child before the doorbell rings. I’m often told by parents that the child just doesn’t want to go to the other parent’s for the holidays, they want to stay right where they are. This may be true, and/or there may be a legitimate reason the child feels this way. But often the reluctance to go is because they are enjoying what they’re doing or are afraid they’re going to miss out on something. To overcome the latter two, prepare ahead of time. Watch how you talk about activities the child won’t be a part of – don’t tell him “how sad” you will be that he can’t be there for them. There’s nothing to be sad about (on the outside!) because he gets to spend time with the other parent, too. Make sure the game being played or movie being watched ends a substantial amount of time before the other parent picks up to avoid the child ending up being resentful that he has to “stop having fun” when it’s time to go.
2. Have the extra packing done, too. Most people don’t wait until the last minute to pack up the child’s visitation suitcase with clothes, nightwear and toiletries. But those little last-minute round-ups that leave the ex cooling his or her heels at the door (deliberately??) are unnecessary. Make a checklist as you think of things the child needs to have with her (medicine, gifts for the other family members, that book for the report she has to write over the break) and make sure they are packed and ready to go well ahead of time. Give your child the gift of a stress-free (or at least less-stressed) transition – one where they don’t start out with an irritated parent annoyed at them or grumbling about you.
3. Limit incoming phone and text message interruptions. Unless there is a court-ordered (or previously agreed-upon) phone visitation time, you don’t have to answer phone calls from the other parent during meals, gift exchanges, movies, family gatherings and other events where it would be disruptive to the child. I am not suggesting you don’t allow phone visitation during your holiday period with your child. On the contrary, I’m suggesting you plan for it. Have the child call the other parent, or answer calls, during times when the child is not engaged in fun events. Initiate (or take) the calls in a quiet place or room free of distractions so that the child can enjoy his chat with the other parent and not “just get through” it.
4. Limit outgoing phone and text message intrusions. Assume your ex has read the paragraph above and try to be sensitive about the intrusiveness of your own visitation calls. While negotiating prior to the visit for set times to speak to the child via phone may seem like a good idea, psychologist Arlene Schaefer says that arrangement is “all about the parents.” She says kids don’t like to be ripped from what they’re doing to have a conversation they often don’t feel like having – which can leave the calling parent feeling slighted and resentful toward the other parent who is perceived as not encouraging the contact. The better arrangement includes flexibility – maybe an agreement for the child to call “after her shower” or in the morning while breakfast is being cooked.
5. Anticipate and plan for the obstacles. Two complaints I hear often from divorced parents is that their ex is always late for exchanges and/or the the child is tuckered out upon arrival. Whether it’s deliberate sabotage or just insensitivity, the result of chronic lateness or turning over sleep-deprived children is the same – conflict, more stress, and potentially ruined plans. You have no power to change the offender – but you can prepare for the offense. Don’t create tight deadlines on yourself by making plans that you can only be timely for if the other parent is timely. Allow plenty of time between pick-up and any event – it’s easier to “kill time” if you’re early than dealing with stress, frustration and resentment that accompany rushing to make it to wherever you’re headed. If your child routinely is tired when she arrives from the other parent’s custody, plan ahead so that she has time to take a nap before heading out for the evening’s entertainment. Or factor in some down-time on the first day of visitation. Or plan for an early evening on the night of arrival so that on the first full day of visitation everyone can hit the ground running. While it may not seem right that you should have to construct your plans around the other parent’s offending behavior, doing so totally annihilates you ex’s power to ruin your plans or create a stressful start to your holiday time with your child.
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