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10 Ways to ROCK Being a Long-Distance Parent

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:

  1. Mail a card or letter. Yes, “snail mail.”  Sending cards for major holidays – Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays – may be obvious choices, but are always welcome. Receiving cards for lesser holidays – think Valentine’s Day, Halloween, or an obscure National Donut Day – will be a pleasant surprise. Even more unexpected, a card or hand-written note just to say: Hi! I’m thinking of you! Who doesn’t like to receive mail with their name on it? If it comes in a bright envelope, or contains stickers, even better!
  2.  Gift a magazine subscription. There are  magazines for just about any hobby or interest one can come up with. Find one that corresponds with your child’s interests, and send him a subscription. Every month when he receives the latest issue, he’ll be reminded that you love him and care about what interests him.
  3. Talk to teachers. It’s easy to get out-of-the-loop when you’re not local – especially if your ex was the parent who dealt more with school relations prior to divorce. Make an effort to have first-hand information about how your child is doing in school and any academic or social problems she may be having. While it’s not fair to ask teachers to do everything twice, make sure the teacher has your email address and request that you be included on emails that are sent out. You can also ask if it is possible to schedule a parent/teacher meeting via phone or digital  means. Check the school’s website on a regular basis to stay in-the-know about policies, upcoming events, and other helpful information.
  4. Subscribe to the hometown newspaper. This will keep you informed about the local sports, give you a heads-up about upcoming events that might be relevant for your child’s visitation or give you gift ideas, and can give you topics of mutual interest to chat with your child about.
  5. Record yourself reading. While it’s enjoyable to read a story to a child during a virtual visit when you can see each other’s face, it ends with the call. Sending your child an audio or video of you reading a favorite story allows her to experience a missing-parent-fix even when you’re not available. Have fun with it – maybe a story of the month? Or an ongoing story that has weekly installments?
  6. Clip pictures, cartoons, articles to share. Pop them in the mail with a post-it note that says “this made me think of you,” take a picture and text it  with a “thought this would crack you up,” or attach it in an email with “this reminded me of when we . . . ” I still have a couple of comics my mother snipped out of a Sunday paper decades ago and gave me because they reminded her of amusing exchanges we’d had. Those (now yellowed) comics still have the power to put a smile on my face and make me feel special!
  7. Watch a TV show together. This can be done in real-time, with phone calls during commercials to compare notes on the show’s progress. Or record it, watch at the designated time, texting comments during the show with a phone call to trade reactions to the ending. If a weekly series doesn’t work in the schedule, maybe a virtual movie date fits the bill – complete with bowls of microwaved popcorn at each home prepared directly prior to the coordinated screening!
  8. Start a book club.   Take turns picking out the book-of-the-month, then coordinate how many pages will be read during a specific time frame. Keep a joint online book log of the books you read, how you both rated them, and any comments each had to make about the read. It will be fun to watch the list grow! The personal book club also works well with multiple children if the children are close enough in age and/or reading ability.
  9. Collaborate on a volunteer project.  Working with your child, in spite of the miles between you, to accomplish the common goal of doing something kind for somebody else is a precious bonding experience. There are many charities that appreciate hand-crafted donated items that bring comfort. Here’s some examples: For sewers: each of you could make cloth doll or teddy bear parts, then assemble and stuff when together and donate to shelters or child foster care programs. For knitters: each knit or crochet individual squares that can be pieced together during physical visits and donated to homeless shelters or for prizes for fund-raising charity events. For the young artists: You provide cardstock or construction paper, your child makes greeting cards with hand-drawn pictures and well wishes (he can show you his growing collection during virtual visits!), and when you’re together you deliver them to a children’s hospital or mail them to service members. Click HERE for more kid-friendly volunteer projects from Parenting.
  10. Give something that grows. Whether it arrives in the mail or accompanies your child home after a visit, something that grows delights and is a lovely reminder of how your love for the child grows daily. There are fast-growing options for almost any environment. For outdoors, seed packets for wildflowers or cucumbers work. For indoors, try an Amaryllis in a pot or a windowsill herb garden kit. And, for anyone, anywhere, anytime, the ever-popular and timeless Chia Pet. Yes, they still exist! From dinosaurs, to cartoon characters, people to animals, and lots of strange stuff in between, there is a Chia Pet that will correspond with your child’s interest! (Check out some of the options HERE!)

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!

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13

7 Things Your Divorce Lawyer Wants You to Know

7 Things Your Divorce Lawyer Wants You to KnowDivorce 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.

  1. Give me the straight scoop on your parenting. Don’t exaggerate the amount of time you spend with the children or the frequency that you bathe, feed, tutor, or otherwise care for them. I get that when both parents live in the same house, the division of labor often results in one parent being more hands-on with the children than the other. If the other parent was the primary care-giver, I need to hear it from you, not opposing counsel in front of the judge. Whether you weren’t as attentive as maybe you could/should have been or you weren’t available because of employment/school/health issues/etc., the result is the same. If you want to have a strong parenting role after the divorce, we have to address the changes that need to be made and available resources for making those changes. On the other hand, don’t minimize the other parent’s parenting role. Unless there are safety issues, the children are going to be spending significant amounts of time with the other parent. The more accurate the information you provide me, the better able I will be to help you craft a proposed custody arrangement that takes into account the strengths of the other parent and the real weaknesses that need to be addressed.
  2. Being organized saves you money. If I ask you to bring me a summary and documentation of your bills, debts, and expenses, please don’t drop off a shoebox stuffed with documents. Especially dog-chewed, coffee-dribbled, food-splattered documents. (Think about how you would feel if I sent you a document smeared with a bit of my breakfast jelly or that had a bit of squashed bug on it from when I used it as a fly-swatter. Disgusting, right?) Don’t pay me to sort through your stuff – or for the gloves I might have to purchase to do so! Organize all in chronological order, substitute copies of what is too gross to touch, and attach a typed summary so I know what I’m looking at. The same goes for text messages, emails, and notes that you have made for the case.
  3. Don’t take it personally if I interrupt you. I’m not saying it’s okay for me to be rude and I’m not saying I don’t care about your history. But I am very aware of the fact that every minute we speak costs you money. While I do need to have all relevant information regarding your circumstances, if our conversation is going off on a tangent, is repetitive, or otherwise not serving you well, I’m going to move things along.
  4. Don’t let me get you more than you want. If you don’t think you can do a 50/50 parenting schedule because of your own conflicts or how you think it would affect the children, make that clear to me. Just because I can obtain a more expansive visitation arrangement doesn’t mean that is what is best for you or your children – help me understand the dynamic. And the same goes for property – don’t get caught up in arguing for half the stuff, then “winning” a property dispute to get something you don’t care about or have to pay to store. That’s not really a win. Help me help you save money by only pursuing what is really important to you.
  5. Know that I’ve heard it all before. Don’t “spare me” the uncomfortable points. While I’m not asking you for intimate details, it is relevant if you engage in an alternative lifestyle, have addictions, phobias, or any other situation that you are embarrassed about. I can’t properly advise you and help you navigate through situations  I am unaware of. And to make matters worse, if such topics come up for the first time from your spouse’s attorney or, worse yet, in front of the judge, you suffer the humiliation you were seeking to avoid as well as damaged credibility.
  6. Tell me if you don’t understand. And don’t apologize for what you do not know or this being your “first time through this.” Hopefully, it will be your only time through this – I’m not interested in helping you get good at it. I’m interested in helping you get through it with the least amount of difficulty possible given the circumstances. Remember: I know nothing about how to navigate in your world. Whether you teach school, make shoelaces, or clean teeth, I would have a hundred questions to ask you if I were trying to understand and help you do your job. If I have explained it and you don’t understand something, ask for clarification. As many times as you need to. Just like I need to understand your circumstances and your goals in the matter, you need to understand the procedure and what I’m doing. We are a team – it takes both of us to get this done and we have to be on the same page.
  7. You have to tell me the truth. If I’m going to be able to do my job and obtain the best legal results possible given the facts, I have to actually have the facts. All of them. Don’t lie to me. Ever. About anything. Don’t sugar coat, share information selectively, minimize the negatives or exaggerate the positives. Just give it to me straight. And I promise I’ll do the same in return.

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12

Child Custody: 5 FAQs Answered

5 FAQs about Child Custody AnsweredChild 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.

  1. At what age can a child decide which parent the child wants to live with?

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.

  1. Are mothers more likely to be awarded custody than fathers?

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.

  1. Will the judge split up siblings?

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.

  1. Will the child have to testify in court?

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.

  5. Can a custody order be changed in the future?

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.

If you found this article helpful, you might like:

Divorce Through a Child’s Eyes      

Divorcing Parents, Listen to the Judge      

5 Myths About Divorce