Category Archives for "Divorce and children"

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!







Divorce: How You Can Help a Friend Going Through It

How You Can Help During DivorceOften 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!

When making an offer of help, be specific. While saying things like Please call if you need anything  or Let me know if I can help, may be sincere offers, they’re generally not helpful offers. Such statements shift the obligation. They require the person needing assistance to initiate contact and request a favor. Many are not comfortable with one or both of those actions. Here are some suggestions for specific offers to make and actions to take during the different stages of divorce that can lighten the load a bit for the divorcing friend – whether male or female – you seek to help.


  • Encourage your friend to see a counselor if she seems to be struggling emotionally. Whether your friend wants the divorce or not, there is much to deal with and process. Not only her own feelings – which may include combinations of sadness, grief, fright, guilt, abandonment, loneliness, depression, confusion, bewilderment, anger, rage, jealousy, vindictiveness, relief, happiness, optimism – but the feelings of her children, friends and family members have to be dealt with. Even if your friend seems to have a good support system of friends and family, it is helpful to have someone to talk to who is not vested in the situation. In other words, a counselor doesn’t love your friend. He’s an objective ear trained to listen and provide feedback and tools to help one navigate evolving situations. A counselor doesn’t start out with a bias about whether or not a divorce or reconciliation should take place, and he doesn’t have an existing opinion about  a spouse. Counselors have the ability to assist from an objective viewpoint – something family and friends often aren’t able to do.
  • Encourage your friend to seek the advice of a Family Law attorney. Just because you get information from an attorney doesn’t mean you have to get a divorce. It is a way to understand what one’s legal rights are with regard to custody, child support, property division, alimony and, in cases where domestic abuse exists, protective orders. It’s also helpful to understand how the process of divorce works in the legal system so that one can have realistic expectations if matters go forward. In addition, an attorney can provide helpful tips regarding behaviors that help or hurt a case during the process. For tips on finding a good Family Law Attorney, click HERE.
  • Offer to go with them to a consultation. Meeting with an attorney can be intimidating for some. Your friend might welcome the moral support of your presence – and a second set of ears can be an asset. It’s easy to miss information offered if one is still processing what they have heard previously, are focused on what they will ask next, or are dealing with their own nerves.
  • Focus on faith. If prayer is meaningful to your friend and something you are comfortable with, ask what she would like you to pray specifically about. The answer may surprise you – as well as give you insight into additional ways you might be able to assist.


  • Go with your friend to observe a similar court proceeding, conducted by the Judge assigned to his case, prior to his own matter being heard. Seeing the courtroom environment ahead of time, witnessing the judge’s demeanor when the focus is on other parties, and seeing how the process works can help alleviate fear of the unknown and diminish trial day jitters.
  • Ask if they would like you to attend their hearing to be moral support in the courtroom. Such hearings can get personal, so you should ask if they would be comfortable with you there, but often those who would normally be their moral support are also witnesses who will not be allowed to stay in the courtroom with them.
  • Offer to babysit. There is a lot going on for parents during the divorce process that can be even more challenging when they don’t have child care assistance for activities that are not part of their regular routine, such as:
    • Meetings with their lawyer
    • Attending counseling or support groups
    • Attending divorce-related parenting classes
    • Attending mediation
    • Needing some alone time
  • Take their children for an outing. During a divorce, a parent may have to sort through property that is going to be divided and/or pack up belongings. Some of these chores are less difficult to do when the children are not present.

  • Provide an easy meal – something that can be warmed in one container or frozen if not eaten immediately. This is a gesture that will be well-received on long work days, court days, or as a “thinking of you” gesture.
  • Let them know you remember. A quick phone call, text, email, etc. on court day or the night before to let them know you are thinking of them and/or praying for them will be appreciated.
  • Gift them comfort. Provide a small object they can feel in their pocket to remind them they’re not alone, such as a medal, worry stone, cross, shell or an inspirational saying.
  • Gift them whimsy. Drop off or send a whimsical lift-your-spirits gift such as a flowering plant, funny book (The Best of Herman is hard to beat!), or a silly refrigerator magnet.
  • Check the dates. Find out if there any special dates coming up – birthday, anniversary – that might be especially difficult or lonely for them. A lunch outing or enjoying a light movie together might be a welcome invitation.


  • Acknowledge a final Order doesn’t mean finality. Often the moral support team drifts away after the “crisis” is over. But changes for those who are recently divorced are ongoing. There may be financial struggles, parenting issues and other challenges which result from one person running a household that used to be run by two. The occasional just-checking-in/thinking-of-you/praying-for-you type communication will be appreciated.
  • Remember them on holidays. If they didn’t have children and local family, some of those first holidays can be lonely. If they do have children, the holidays the children spend with the other parent can be very difficult.
  • Babysitting needs are ongoing. Especially for parents who have the children full-time because of the other parent’s unavailability due to court restrictions or geographic distance. Some of the weekend or after-daycare-hours needs for childcare help include counseling sessions, support-group meetings, and educational pursuits. The ultimate gift for those recently divorced parents may just be whisking away their kids for a time, thus enabling the parents to revel in the luxury of having their home – and potentially an uninterrupted bubble bath – to themselves for a few hours!

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  



Divorce and Holiday Visitation – 5 Ways to Make it Easier

Divorce and Holiday Visitation - 5 Ways to Make it EasierOne 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.

You may be interested in this related post:

What Children Want Their Divorced Parents to Know About the Holidays


Children and Divorce – How it SHOULD Be

Children in Divorce - How it SHOULD Be

I have written plenty about what parents do during divorce that negatively impacts their children. So I am delighted to give you some input about, and a wonderful example of, putting children first in spite of the parent’s divorce.

Judge Robert Davis shared an anecdote a few years back that left me feeling compelled to share it with every custody-battling parent and warring stepparent I have encountered since. Judge Davis was sitting in a high school auditorium. He was applauding the graduating class in the small town where he had lived and been a Family Law attorney prior to being appointed to the bench. He looked around and saw numerous former clients. Some were clustered in groups with the mom, her current spouse and family, and the dad with his current spouse and family. Others still exuded the animosity that was present during their actual divorce and sat, with their current spouses and families, on opposite sides of the auditorium. He said after each student received their diploma, they stepped down from the platform and scanned the audience. Those whose families were clustered together headed right over to the applauding loved ones. Those whose parents were separated by self-focus and distance stood uncertainly, a sudden damper on their big day, and tried to figure out which group to walk to first. With no words spoken they were being asked to pick a parent. Some could not, and instead walked straight to the familiar smile of Judge Davis.

With the same spirit as the family groups clustered together, one man recently provided a shining example of a parent who really gets it. Todd Bachman was all set to walk his precious daughter, Brittany, down the aisle to give her away to her future husband. But before taking his daughter’s arm, he grabbed the hand of her astonished stepfather, a man Todd generally didn’t get along with, and pulled the man toward Brittany. Todd told the stepdad that he, too, had participated in raising the bride and he should participate in giving away “their” daughter. According to photographer Delia Blackburn, who took the pictures below, there were a lot of moist eyes – including her own!

Kids in Divorce - How it SHOULD be DoneChildren and Divorce - How it SHOULD Be Done




There was also a lot of moist eyes during the Today Show coverage of the event. To hear their two minute coverage of this heart-warming story and see some Today Show hosts passing the Kleenex, click HERE.

If you are a divorced parent, it’s not to soon to be thinking about how you can make it easy for your child to decide which direction to head toward on his or her special day.


Should Children go to Jail for Refusing to Visit a Parent?

Should Children go to Jail for Refusing to Visit a Parent?

Should children go to jail for refusing to have a relationship with one of their divorced parents? That’s close to what happened recently in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Oakland County Circuit Judge Lisa Gorcyca, seeming to be at her wit’s end with three children, ages 14, 10 and 9, who refused to comply with her order to have lunch with their father, were found to be in Direct Contempt of Court. They were sentenced to do “time” in a juvenile facility until they comply with the judge’s directive or until further order from the court – which Judge Gorcyca stated may stay in place until the children are eighteen.

I don’t know Judge Gorcyca  or any of the participants in this case. Like most others who see the headline about children being thrown in jail for not wanting to visit a parent, I was shocked enough to do a double take. As a Family Law attorney, I immediately asked myself: “What’s the REST of the story here?”

Reading the article at Yahoo Parenting and hearing the Detroit’s Fox Station report still left me with more questions. How could a family law judge who cared about children throw them in jail just because they felt strongly about not visiting with a parent? Especially when one, the 14-year-old, states that he has seen his father be violent and hit his mother?

It was only when I read the transcript from the actual proceedings that I started to get the bigger picture. It was clear this judge had been dealing with this family for years. She believed the children had been brainwashed by their mother who, apparently, has consistently been negative about the children’s father and has reinforced and encouraged their hostility toward him. “Parent Alienation” is a term often used to describe such conditioning. Not being a psychologist, I’m not going to try and explain that term with regard to any psychological criteria it may involve, but as a Family Law attorney who frequently represents children as a Guardian Ad Litem, I can tell you I have had first-hand experience with such damaging parental behavior.

From what I have witnessed, one parent deliberately undermining the relationship between the children and the other parent is often a result of a parent hating the other spouse to the point that they can’t (or choose not to) see the damage their venomous behavior has on the children. They hate the other parent more than they are concerned with the emotional well-being of their children. Although most parents engaging in such behavior will swear that they are doing it for their children, to protect their children from that other horrible parent. The deliberate creation of the “us against him/her” culture can be a bonding force between children and a parent which the offending parent selfishly enjoys. When the outcast parent is a good person who really loves the children, it is a devastating loss for children.

If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, following are examples I’ve heard from parents talking to children I have represented. Imagine each being said over and over in different ways and reinforced by other like sentiments:

  • He doesn’t love you, he’s only trying to get custody so he doesn’t have to pay child support;
  • She’s only trying to get custody to get back at me because she knows that I can’t live without you kids;
  • I’m the one who has always been there for you and cared for you – he wanted me to have an abortion and I refused because I loved you so much;
  • Mommy would be so, so sad if you had to go live with him, I would cry every day that you were gone – and he’s trying to take you away from me.

So, when someone with years of experience in dealing with such-minded people sees the damage being caused to children who are being taught to harbor hatred toward someone who loves them, is there any way possible they can undo that damage? Apparently Judge Gorcyca fervently hoped that if the children just had lunch with their father, there would be potential for the relationships to take a turn. But the kids weren’t having it. Even though the mother (apparently for the first time) was encouraging the children to do as the judge was ordering, the children just would not. Even in a desperate moment the mother couldn’t undo the conditioning she had fostered that, the judge implied, had gone on for years.

Defying a judge’s order while in court is, indeed, Direct Contempt of Court – punishable in most states by both fines and incarceration. The judge in this case actually sentenced each of the children to be housed in a juvenile facility called Children’s Village, emphasizing they would have to use public bathrooms, lose all comfort, and not see their mother or their siblings. At the time of the article, the children had been incarcerated for two weeks and their mother (and anybody on her side) was prohibited from visiting.

Is this going too far? What are the alternatives if counseling doesn’t work and the offending parent will not cooperate in facilitating a relationship between the children and the other parent? From the children’s point of view, doesn’t it seem like this is just one more horror that is the father’s fault, thus, increasing their animosity toward him? Is there a way to punish the offending parent without punishing the now-defiant children?

There are way more questions than answers here. Indefinite incarceration for children who are behaving as a parent taught them to behave doesn’t seem to be a good answer. But in spite of the fact that I think the judge got this ruling wrong, I see the emotion that drove her there – my guess is it started because of how much she cared for children.

If you want to refer to this as a rant, know that it’s not a rant about a judge who screwed up and, in my opinion, should modify a particular ruling. It’s a rant about selfish parents who get so consumed by their own animosity for the other parent – whether justified or not – that they cruelly take away the child’s other parent by deliberately alienating the child from that parent. They let their children think that one half of the team that created them is scum. What, long term, does that child think of himself? How does that prepare daughters and sons to have healthy relationships with future spouses and offspring? How does it accomplish anything good for anybody – except maybe creating satisfaction for the parent who “won” by getting his or her children to hate the ex-spouse with the same intensity that he or she does?

This article has nothing to do with domestic abuse and other terrible situations spouses sometimes find themselves in – circumstances that require they protect their children. This article is about parents who use society’s loathing for such situations to their advantage by manufacturing facts and manipulating children to accomplish their end goals of punishing their exes – or just getting those exes out of the picture any way they can so they don’t have to share the children.

Who should REALLY go to jail under such circumstance??


Divorcing Parents, Listen to the Judge

Divorcing Parents, Listen to the JudgeIn case you’re wondering whether or not judges care about the orders they issue regarding your children, I’m here to tell you that, from what I have seen in over two decades of practicing Family Law, most of them do. That’s not to say they’re not thoughtful about the rulings that affect you and your soon-to-be ex. It’s just that you and your spouse chose to be married, and at least one of you is choosing not to be. The children had no choice in either matter. And yet they are the ones who are going to have to go back and forth between two homes. And they are the ones who have to see the two people they love more than all else in turmoil. It rocks their world.

Although there are ways to reduce the world-rocking, there is no way to unrock it no matter how necessary the divorce may be or how well everybody is getting along. But there are ways to rock it so violently that it tips right over. Sometimes in the midst of the raw emotions that go with divorce, parents don’t notice the effect on their children when they talk badly about the other parent. Judge Michael Haas noticed. And many other Family Law judges have noticed. I don’t know the now-retired Judge Haas,  but I have witnessed the truth of the words he shared in the timeless article* below:

Divorcing Parents, Listen to the JudgeSo, as my buddy over at Brockmeyer Law Offices says:

Divorcing Parents, Listen to the Judge*Thank you, Maria Polson Veres for sending me this article!


Divorce Through the Eyes of a Child

Divorce Through the Eyes of a Child

17 Things Teachers Want Divorced Parents to Know

17 Things Teachers Want Divorced Parents to Know

Children of Divorce: 5 Things Parents Should NEVER Say to Them

Children of Divorce: 5 Things Parents Should NEVER Say to Them



17 Things Teachers Want to Tell Divorced Parents

17 Things Teachers Want Divorced Parents to Know (but can't tell you themselves)Teachers can be a Guardian Ad Litem’s best friend. When I represent a child whose parents are going through a custody battle, charged with the duty of investigating for the purposes of making recommendations to the Judge about custody and visitation, I look forward to talking to the child’s teacher.

After reviewing all the court documents, getting as much information as possible from each parent, and spending time with the child, I find it helpful to get the perspective of somebody who cares about the well-being of the child but who is not vested in the outcome of the court battle. Who better than a teacher – the individual who spends time with the child daily, interacts with the parents, and has a birds-eye view of how the child interacts with others.

Most of the teachers I have contacted over the years have been very generous with their time when it comes to looking out for one of their students. Often giving up lunch hours or planning time, meeting me before school or inviting me to call them at home in the evening, they contribute unpaid hours to giving feedback that is invaluable to helping an outsider get the bigger picture with regards to what’s going on in a child’s life.

After over two decades of such interaction, one of the things that kept coming up is what teachers would like to say to warring parents and stepparents, but are prohibited from doing so because of school policies or professionalism. After over two decades of teachers making my job less difficult, I want to return the favor and be a voice for them. Following is a compilation of what I have heard from many a teacher over the years.

Most of the teachers stated they found it helpful to know if something significant is going on in a student’s life such as a custody battle or dealing with the loss of an absentee, sick or deceased parent. It helps them understand new behaviors and allows them to better assist the child during challenging times. What they don’t find helpful is unnecessary drama.

Here are 17 things teachers would tell divorced parents – if they wouldn’t get in trouble for doing so:

1.  I’m happy to provide feedback about any concerning changes and/or progress your child is making during challenging times. However, my focus is on your child’s welfare, not your court action – and I don’t want to be dragged into the latter.

2. Don’t badmouth your ex to me. I’m not going to take sides. And frankly, that behavior makes me wonder more about you than the person you’re complaining about.

3. Please don’t start (or end) a sentence with “Don’t tell my ex.” I’m not your confidant.

4. Don’t tell me what to tell your ex, either. I’m not your go-between.

5. Don’t ask me to “fudge” if your ex asks something.

6. Don’t put words in my mouth, misquote me, exaggerate information I provided, or use me in any other way to support your position on any given child-related issue. I don’t want to be in the middle of your feud.

7. I don’t want to testify in court. Your child is important – but so are the other 20 left sitting in the classroom with a substitute teacher who is unfamiliar with the lesson plan of the day while I sit around at the courthouse waiting for “my turn” to be questioned and challenged about my observations regarding your child.

8. I see the sadness in your child when you talk about their other parent in a negative way.

9. Don’t have your child give me messages about the other parent. It hurts them to do so.

10. Don’t embarrass your child by being ever-present so that you can assert in court you’re the better parent. I appreciate your help in the classroom, rotating with the other parents. Don’t overdo it.

11. Don’t over-provide in hopes that your child will see you as the fun/special parent. If you are asked for a bag of candy, don’t bring six. If you are asked for a dozen cupcakes, don’t show up with aprons for the whole class. This “fairy godmother” syndrome makes your child stick out and makes the other children feel their contributions are less significant.

12. Don’t increase my work load by asking for daily reports in hopes of finding something to use in your custody battle against the other parent.

13. I don’t keep score on how many times each of you has been in to ask a question or participate in an activity. I recognize that many parents work during the day and the fact that one does some things more than the other is typical –  and you won’t get me to say otherwise.

14. Let your new spouses know that parenting is not a competition. If they know the bio parent is chaperoning a field trip, do they really need to be there, too? Is their purpose to show off to the parent how close they are to the child? If there is tension, jealousy, or any other sort of conflict, it ruins the outing for your child. And it is distracting for the other adults who are trying to focus on the children.

15. Don’t make me do everything twice. Unless there are safety issues involved, I’m going to copy you both on emails. And please use our school website to stay abreast of activities.

16. I do notice if your child is suddenly disheveled, smells, is habitually late, is falling asleep in class, has an attitude change, has behavioral changes, seems depressed. When I pass on such info, it is to alert you to a problem, not to provide intel, pick sides, or make accusations.

17. Your child doesn’t want to haul his overnight stuff around in his backpack. There is limited space in my classroom and things like that have to be stowed behind my desk. And think about it – how would you feel if you opened your briefcase in a meeting and your pajamas popped out?



Children of Divorce: 5 Things Parents Should NEVER Say to Them

Children of Divorce: 5 Things Parents Should NEVER Say to Them

Divorce Through the Eyes of a Child

Divorce Through the Eyes of a Child

What Children Want Their Divorced Parents to Know About the Holidays

What Children Want Their Divorced Parents to Know About the Holidays


What Children Want Their Divorced Parents to Know About the Holidays

What Children Want Their Divorced Parents to Know About the HolidaysChildren anticipate the holidays eagerly – gifts, special food, no school – what’s not to like?  They are often oblivious to the stress adults may experience this time of year. Unless they have to divide their holidays between two warring parents. Nothing sucks the joy out of the season for a child faster than having to listen to divorced parents bickering about whose turn it is for visiting days, when the time should start, when the time should end, what their expectations are, and what their current (less than pleasant) opinion is of the other parent.

When I serve as a Guardian Ad Litem (an attorney who represents the best interest of the children during a custody dispute), one of the duties I am charged with is recommending custody and visitation plans to the Judge. I have had more opportunities than I would have liked over the years to hear about what stresses out children during the holidays that are split between two households. When talking to my children “clients” about their concerns, I often ask: “If you could tell your parents anything you wanted about this, and you knew nobody would get mad or have their feelings hurt, what would you tell them?” Following are some of the answers I hear often.

1. I don’t want to have to pick. It’s not your child’s job to come up with a holiday itinerary. Get with the other parent and have a plan that takes into account the special events you know your child would enjoy participating in even if it requires a deviation from the formal custody plan. Children are often very aware of the tension between the two parents. Asking them to select what activities or time frames they want to be at one house or the other sometimes makes them feel they are being asked to declare which parent they would rather be with. And they don’t want to. They don’t want to hurt feelings, tick somebody off, or create further conflict between the adults.

2. I don’t want to hear you say mean things about my other parent. Truth is not a defense to this selfish act. Badmouthing the other parent or making snarky remarks about their bimbo or controlling significant other is always harmful for your child. Doing so in conjunction with holiday plans robs the child of the joy that should come with such preparation.

3. It hurts me when you tell me what I’m missing out on. If you know the child can’t be with you for a particular event, whether it’s because it just doesn’t work out or the other parent is being totally unreasonable, buffer them from the hurt. Telling them how much they’ll be missed while the others are having fun, or how “but for” that other parent they could join in, doesn’t hurt the refusing parent – it hurts the child. It’s a cruel thing to do.

4. You make me feel guilty for wanting to spend time with my other parent. You should be encouraging a good relationship with the other parent. Undermining the value of that relationship with carefully crafted sentences such as “you have to go to your mom’s” or “we’ll do that when you get to come back home from your dad’s” does not go unnoticed.

5. You make me feel guilty about what I cost. Hearing references (digs?) about the limited gifts/festivities because you pay so much child support out, or don’t receive the amount you are suppose to receive, could have the desired effect of alienating the child from the other parent. But it could also result in the child feeling bad about himself, guilty about the lack you are suffering, and sad that he has to spend more time at your house feeling bad and guilty. Don’t talk about your child support gripes to or within the hearing of your child. Feel free to extend this rule past the holiday season.

6. When you’re late, it causes problems for me. You may not care how long your ex sits parked somewhere waiting for you to show up to the visitation exchange, but your child does. You have created a frustrating transition – your child now gets to hop in the car with a (potentially) angry parent who may be in a position of having to rush to get to specific plans. Not fair. Potentially not safe. Sure there are emergencies and weather issues that cause delays. But often being late is just a result of poor planning or vindictiveness.

7. I don’t like having to leave in the middle of things. Stop the tug-of-war over dividing the actual day if it is not easily divided or breaks into main-event activities. Instead of cutting the celebration short at the other parent’s house, celebrate the holiday before or after the calendar date. Your child does not mind having two celebrations. In addition, being considerate of your child’s time with the other parent gives you an opportunity to emphasize the spirit of the actual holiday – joy, thankfulness, generosity of spirit – that is being observed.

8. It’s not fair that you give me stuff then tell me I can only use it at your house. If it’s new, they want to wear it, use it, play with it and show it off. Having them take it off or leave it behind so that it “doesn’t get left” at the other parent’s is like taking the gift back. It’s either theirs or it isn’t. You refusing to allow them to take it with them (so they look forward to coming back? to ensure the other parent doesn’t benefit from it in any way?) is more about you than the child you gave the comes-with-strings-attached gift to.

9. Sometimes I’m super tired after leaving your house. But then, maybe that’s your intention? Do you want to start your own holiday visitation with a child who is so tired she’s dragging or crashes half-way through dinner, missing out on family festivities? Probably not. Don’t schedule so much while she is with you, or keep her up so late the night before the exchange, that she can’t enjoy the beginning of her visitation at the other household.

10. I don’t always want to talk to you when you call. He knows you love him. Calling him every day when he’s with the other parent or, worse, calling  multiple times a day, intrudes on the activities of the other household. Setting specific times for daily calls has everybody watching the clock instead of enjoying their time together. I’m not saying never call. I’m saying make it reasonable and recognize sometimes (often?) the call is more for your sake than the child’s.

While most of these points are true at any time, the holiday season often evokes feelings that heighten the usual sensitivities when having to co-parent children from two different households and, possibly, with someone you don’t like. When in doubt about any behavior or words you are contemplating with regard to holiday visitation, ask yourself the following questions: Which course of action benefits my child more? Which creates the best memory for him?

Allowing your children a conflict-free holiday season – one where they are free to love and celebrate at both households – is the best gift you can give them.



5 Ways to Help Your Child Through Divorce

5 Ways to Help Your Child Through DivorceDivorce affects children in a myriad of ways. Just because they don’t seem depressed or their grades don’t crash doesn’t mean they are unscathed by what is going on around them. As a matter of fact, more than one psychologist I consulted with when representing children (whose parents are going through  divorce) has told me that grades going up during this time can actually be a red flag – it could indicate an increased focus on one small section of the child’s world that he can control when there is so much chaos in his environment.

Divorce for adults can be difficult, painful, and confusing. For children, we have all that plus a lack of understanding regarding the reasons or need for divorce and a lesser ability to process life events.There’s not an easy way to get everybody through it. But there are some things you can do to help make it less difficult for your child. Here are five.

1. Let teachers and child care workers know about your family situation. They spend a significant amount of the day with your child and  might pick up on behavioral changes in their environments that they could alert you to. It also allows them to understand changes in your child’s attitude or demeanor which might otherwise be attributed to willful misbehavior.

2. Explore support groups. While counseling can be helpful and sometimes necessary for children, support groups serve a different purpose. There are many good programs available that help children transition through divorce by participating in groups with other children their age that are experiencing the same thing. This is not a therapeutic relationship with a counselor. It is an opportunity for children to see they are not the only ones dealing with this, it is not their fault, and to participate in exercises that educate them about how to deal with some of the emotions they are dealing with. Calm Waters, one such program in Oklahoma City, offers such a program with separate sessions available for the parents at the same time to receive information about the topic being covered in the children’s session. You can find such programs in your own area by asking school counselors, your attorney, or court staff for recommendations.

3. Talk to a children’s counselor yourself. Make an appointment to sit down with a good children’s counselor to get advice. They can educate you on norms and behaviors that may manifest themselves for children of different ages as well as make suggestions for ways to share age-appropriate information about the process. They can also make recommendations for activities and reading materials that may be helpful to your children.

4. Don’t talk negatively about the other parent. The children are dealing with enough negative changes they don’t need negative words, feelings and attitudes heaped upon them, too. If you have it in you, you might take this one step further and go out of your way to be positive about the other parent and the child’s relationship with that parent.

5. Don’t expose them to romantic relationships. No matter how long you have been separated from the other parent or how convinced you are the current flame will be your future spouse. Allow them time to process the changes going on in their own family before foisting new ‘family’ upon them. There are so many negatives that can come from such exposure – confusion, anger, blame, lack of trust, aligning themselves with the non-dating parent – that when to introduce such a person to the children may be one of the topics you want to discuss at your meeting with the children’s counselor.

Related article you might find helpful: Divorce Through a Child’s EyesChildren and Divorce: 5 Things Parents Should Never Say