Archive for Children

Back To School Shouldn’t Be A Battle in Divorced Families

Can you believe it's back to school time already? Divorced parents need to make some specific preparations for a successful school year. Photo Wokandpix/Creative Commons License

Can you believe it’s back to school time already? Divorced parents need to make some specific preparations for a successful school year. Photo Wokandpix/Creative Commons License

Can you believe it’s already time for 60 million American kids to go back to school? Didn’t we just start summer?

Mixed feelings are natural at this time of year for everyone. Kids are sad about summer being over so quickly. But they are likely to be excited and happy to see friends and get involved in favorite activities like athletics, music, or robotics.

But if you are a divorced parent navigating co-parenting, back to school is a little more complicated. Who pays for what? What activities will the child get to be involved in? Who does the school call if there is a problem? Who gets to chaperone the field trip?  What school will your child will attend, near Dad’s house or Mom’s house?

The phone starts ringing at Weber Dispute Resolution at this time of year. Parents having trouble solving these issues come to us for help mediating their conflicts. We are glad they do, instead of taking their problems to court. If you need the same help for yourself or your clients, we hope to hear from you.

We offer these tips to help you start working through problems and considering your options.

Get on the same page about routines.

Get on the same page about school routines. Photo: Luci/Creative Commons License

Don’t make school any more complicated than necessary. Kids do better if you and your co-parent agree on routines, and so will you. Meet before school starts without the kids in a neutral location to discuss the routine details first. Some areas for discussion:

  • Emergency contacts and emergency procedures
  • Instructions about academics and schoolwork
  • Disciplinary issues
  • Transportation and pick-up
  • After-school activities

Once you agree, write it all down and share the plan with your children.

Deal with school expenses up front.

Custodial parents usually find themselves paying up front for back-to-school wardrobes and school supplies and then ask for half of the expenses. But even when parents agree to split the cost, sometimes one parent has very different ideas about how much to spend on things like clothes. Set a budget up front you can both live with. Keep copies of the receipts so you have a record of what you’re owed.

Share school supplies information.

You may be the parent in charge of school shopping, but your ex might want to be involved. It’s not uncommon for a divorced dad to take his child out and buy a hot pair of sneakers, backpack, or electronic device. Make sure you have talked in advance about whether Jim or Jane gets a cellphone or iPod. Purchases like this on a whim rarely end up without an argument and upset parents and kids.

Figure out what extra-curricular activities will be added – and paid for.

Are your kids into sports? Drama? Robotics? After school activities take time and money. Be sure you agree which parent is contributing both. Photo: KeithJJ/Creative Commons

Outside of the classroom, many kids want to participate in sports, music, drama, debate, student government, robotics or other science competitions. These activities can build valuable skills and develop passions your kids may follow into careers. But they also put a strain on your schedule and your budget. When time and money aren’t unlimited, you and your co-parent have to decide up front what’s realistic for your child and what’s not. Who is going to provide the transportation, and pay the fees?   

Coordinate everyone’s calendars.

There are going to be lots of events when school starts: sports and music practices, meets, science fairs, concerts, etc. And you think your workday is busy! Coordinate the school calendar with your parenting schedule. You want to make sure your child is able to attend important events. Have calendars in each house, one in your child’s backpack and give one to teachers or coaches to show which parent he will be with.

Negotiate attendance at school events.

Agree in advance to be courteous to one another at school events so you can attend at the same time. You can suck it up for the hour it takes every few months. If this is really, truly not possible, arrange to attend on different nights or at different times.

Meet the new teacher.

Meet your child’s teacher and stay in communication. Photo: Kevin Lopez/Creative Commons License

Divorced or not, it is always good to meet with your child’s new teacher. Let her or him know your child comes from a divorced home or a shared custody home. Children of divorce and separation often act out at school, have emotional moments, or just a bad day. Your child’s teacher should know what’s going on. But keep teachers and school personnel out of any conflicts between you and your former spouse.

Share information about your child’s education and progress.

Don’t play games or create obstacles for the noncustodial parent to get information. Unless you have a protective order, give permission to the children’s teachers, counselors, and medical professionals to share school information with both parents.

Arrange for duplicate notifications.

Information should be shared with both parents. It can be useful to arrange for separate, duplicate notifications about academic progress and school activities so one parent is not responsible for copying and sending information to the other, including anything like schoolwork or forms your child brings home; Do NOT make your child the responsible party.

A written record can help keep legal issues straight and problems from escalating. If you have a contentious relationship with your co-parent, why fan the flames at all? Arrange up front for a neutral third party like a mediator to be the point of mutual contact between you to ensure civility and cooperation.

Remember who school is for. It’s not a battleground to establish who is the better parent.

Remember, school is for your kids – not a battleground for you and your ex. Photo: Ernesto Silva/Creative Commons License

It’s great for you to be involved with your children, but don’t get into a competition with your former spouse. Your child is still dealing with your divorce no matter how long ago it happened while juggling the demands of school. Let school be your kid’s refuge, a place for him or her to have fun, learn, achieve and excel, and forget about difficult family issues.

No matter what, you can’t go wrong making a decision if you stop and ask yourself this: what’s in the best interest of my child? You get an A-plus.

READ MORE: Is Your Child College Bound? Who’s Paying For It?

 

Take the Grinch Out of Holiday Shopping After Divorce

The idealized Norman Rockwell image of the nuclear family holiday shopping isn't the reality for the large number of divorced families in the U.S.

The idealized Norman Rockwell image of the nuclear family isn’t the reality for the large number of divorced families in the U.S.

Happy holiday images depict a perfect family, home and hearth. Norman Rockwell perfected this idealized holiday with a mom, dad, and those above average children gathered around the Christmas tree or lighting a menorah.  Of course there’s a nice fire crackling in the fireplace. Children are spellbound by lights, ornaments, wrapping paper, and gifts.

This ideal is far from reality for many families after a divorce. Unfortunately, some parents make the circumstances much worse than they need to be. One child of divorce confided in me recently. She lamented years later as an adult how the holidays were the worst part of her childhood. Her divorced parents seemed to fight even more than normal.

Do you really want your kids remembering the holidays this way for the rest of their lives? Do you want your kids to celebrate all the joys of the season, or suffer through the Nightmare Before Christmas – and after Christmas, too!

One big source of friction after a divorce during the holidays revolves around buying gifts. Some folks really struggle with holiday shopping. It’s something divorced parents don’t often think about. But it is important to figure out how to coordinate presents for your kids from both of you and both sides of the family together.

Here are some tips from an experienced family law attorney who has seen divorce parents at their worst during the holidays.

Don’t turn Christmas into a competition

The holidays are meant to be a special time for families. You’re missing the point if you turn it into an ugly war between parents trying to outdo the other and literally buy your kids’ affection. If there’s a really special gift your child would like, try to agree to go in on it together and make it a joint gift. It could mean the world to your child if the tag said “from Mom and Dad.” This is the greatest gift to the child of divorced parents.

Make a list together for holiday shopping

I know, it was a monumental struggle to agree on the holiday shopping list when you were married.  How can you possibly work together now? I assure you it’s possible. Make a point before the season starts to exchange ideas about what gifts you’re going to get the kids. It will be a mess if you both buy the same things. Agreeing on a shopping list goes a long way to reduce awkward moments.

Discuss what gifts are appropriate

Try to work together within reasonable limits to make your child's holiday dreams a reality. Photo: Anna Gin/Creative Commons

Try to work together within reasonable limits to make your child’s holiday dreams a reality. Photo: Anna Gin/Creative Commons

Don’t assume you agree on what gifts are appropriate or not appropriate for your child. Talk about it. I’ve seen many occasions where one parent who wants to limit screen time is upset when the other parent bought a smartphone or Xbox for a child. In one case, a parent bought an “M-rated” video game against the other parent’s wishes. Parenting confusion with different expectations confuses kids. You may have different values, but you need to figure out a way to meet in the middle and compromise. This is hard enough for married couples!  If you get stuck and can’t agree, consider meeting with a mediator to find solutions.

Agree on a budget

I’ve seen too many co-parents compete with one another about who can outdo the other parent.  Agree on a budget and stick with it.

Consider opening gifts as a family together

Consider opening presents together with your kids.  Children appreciate time with both parents.  This might not be a choice for everyone. If it’s too difficult and you can’t keep it together, you may need to decline. There is no shame in this. But if you can pull it off and put your differences aside long enough to get through the holiday, it can really be special for your children. Many years later when they are adults, perhaps parents themselves, your kids will understand the real gift you gave them.

Holidays after a divorce blow up the images of the perfect holiday, making the painful changes in your life even harder to cope with. It’s hard for your kids, too.  But this is the season of ‘Peace on Earth.’  With some effort – maybe a LOT of effort – you can make the holidays into special memories rather than a nightmare haunting your kids for the rest of their lives.

KOGO AM Radio Features Shawn Weber Interview

The KOGO AM 600 Morning News with anchors Ted Garcia and LaDona Harvey featured a live interview with family law attorney Shawn Weber of Weber Dispute Resolution on Wednesday, August 16.

Weber discussed tips from his latest blog post, “Back to School Doesn’t Have to Mean Back to Court,” which offers advice for divorced parents on solving disagreements over their children and their return to school. Conflicts regarding spending over clothing and supplies, communication from school officials, and participation in various extracurricular school activities are common sources of friction between divorced parents. The failure to solve these problems can send parents back to their attorneys, and even back to court.

If you missed the interview, you can listen to it here.

Avoid an expensive trip back to court – contact Weber Dispute Resolution

Back to school sometimes sends divorced parents back to court. Are you fighting over:
  • Responsibility for buying school supplies?
  • Who’s driving the kids to school?
  • After-school activities?
  • Who talks to your kids’ teachers?
  • Emergency contact?
  • Who gets to sit where at the school play?
Call on Weber Dispute Resolution to help you and your clients get an A-plus on school plans that work for the entire family. Weber Dispute Resolution can help you avoid an expensive, lengthy, and emotionally damaging court fight. Call 858-410-0144 to set up a private settlement conference.

READ MORE: Early Intervention: Why Mediation Early In A Family Law Case Can Save a Fortune in Fees and Stress 

Is Your Child College-Bound? Who’s Paying For It?

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For most couples getting divorced, their children are their single highest priority. Child support and child custody are their immediate concerns. When you go through the court system in California and in other states, the judge applies a formula to determine the amount of child support. Courts consider income as well as the tax effects of the parties’ various income.  They then  apply the state mandatory child support guidelines. If this decision goes in front of a judge, he or she has to follow the guidelines to the letter. If you do it on your own, there is flexibility to reach a more creative and equitable solution for your unique situation.

What couples don’t often consider are expenses which seem to be a long way off such as the costs of a college education. This can be one of the single most expensive mistakes couples make if it gets overlooked.

College expenses can be something the parties agree on, but the California Family Code does not require this. The Family Code is only concerned about what happens to your minor children until they reach age 18, or are no longer high school students. This is when child support ends.

Courts will not order parents to pay for college unless the parties agree. Most of my clients don’t choose to include orders in their marital settlement agreements relating to payments for college. You can imagine the problems if something goes wrong. What if the time comes, and you can’t afford to pay for college due to unemployment or disability – but you have a court order that says you must pay? If this occurs, your own child might have a legal cause against you.  That’s not exactly healthy for family relationships.

Most of my clients opt out of having a college expenses provision included in their divorce decree. Sometimes, the parties agree to contribute to a 529 college savings fund, which has certain tax advantages.

Have a conversation about college funding as part of your divorce

Whatever you decide, it’s important to have a conversation about college funding. Sometimes, this might mean you agree to meet at a future time, closer to your child’s decision about college. The choice of college can be crucial. What if one parent is paying for college, and the other is encouraging the child to go to a private, out-of-state college that’s not necessarily affordable?

Simply because the family court isn’t going to order a couple to do something in the future doesn’t mean the expense isn’t going to come up. Discussing everyone’s individual expectations is crucial. Parents and their children may have different values about the college choice and the college expenses.

We recently worked with divorcing parents who had completely opposite opinions about college financing. One parent said, “I had to work and scrimp and save and take out loans, and I appreciated my college education more for it.”  The other parent said, “No, this is our responsibility as parents to take care of our child’s college education.” This is an important conversation they needed to work through.

It’s often helpful to bring in a mental health professional to work with the parents when they have different values about what’s going to happen with college expenses. That’s exactly what we did, and in the end, the parents were able to reach an agreement.

Get expert advice on college expenses from a financial professional

For practical reasons, couples may also want to confer with a financial professional about their financing options. Does it make sense to set up a 529 account? Are loans or grants practical? What can they truly afford? What is the best vehicle to save for college?

Alternative dispute resolution options such as mediation or Collaborative Practice are ideal when divorcing parents need to work through complex financial decisions which may affect their family in the future, even years into the future. As any parent of a college student will tell you, those years pass by much more quickly than you realize. It’s best to talk now and come up with a plan.

Call on Weber Dispute Resolution for help in starting your family’s conversation about making college possible and practical for your children even after divorce.

READ MORE: How Much Is Child Support In California?

 

6 Tips for Successful Holiday Co-Parenting

By Shawn Weber, Family Law Attorney and Mediator

holiday co-parenting cookies

When we think of the holidays, we think of family.  Our traditions are all about bringing the family together and celebrating togetherness. We have Norman Rockwell style images in our heads of the family (and children) gathered around the table with something delicious.  Whether it’s lighting the menorah or setting out cookies for Santa, the Holidays inspire hopes for greeting card type scenery and happy times with our children.  After all, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

However, for single parents, the holidays can be especially trying.  As a family law attorney, I typically see an uptick in custody and visitation disputes prior to every major holiday.  It makes sense that the most emotionally meaningful calendar dates for people sometimes lead to the most emotionally driven family disputes.

It is always amazing to me that a time of year for celebrating peace on earth can be so full of conflict.  Often I will get a frantic call right before a special day.

Examples are:

  • “The kids were with my ex last year. Now he wants to take them again!”
  • “I have been planning a visit with my kids to see my parents in another state and now she is ruining our plans!  I already bought plane tickets!”
  • “He is trying to buy the kids with expensive gifts.  It makes me look terrible!  He knows he doesn’t pay me enough support and I can’t keep up with him!”
  • “She is threatening to show up right in the middle of our holiday dinner.”

Below are some tips learned through years of trial and error as a family lawyer to help co-parents get through the holidays:

Tip #1:  Be Specific In Your Holiday Co-Parenting Plan 

There is a reason why lawyers write everything down.  When you have your agreement in writing, there is less opportunity for playing games.  When I draft custody orders, I try to include a written holiday schedule with specifics about when the kids will be with each parent for which holiday.  For example, a provision might look something this:

“In every even-numbered year, Sarah shall be in the Father’s care at 10:00 A.M. on December 24 until 10:00 A.M. on December 25 and in the Mother’s care from 10:00 A.M. on December 25 until 10:00 A.M. on December 26.   In every odd-numbered year, this schedule shall reverse.”

(As an aside, notice that I split up the Christmas holiday in a way that lets both parents share in the fun.  This is a very typical type of provision to consider including in your holiday co-parenting plan.)

The more specific your order, the less confusing your holiday co-parenting will be on the day of the holiday.  Remember, confusion and ambiguity breed conflict and disagreement.

Tip #2:  Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute.  Discuss and Agree to Holiday Co-Parenting Plans Early.

Planning a trip to North Dakota with the kids for winter break?  Then make your holiday co-parenting plans and get your ex’s agreement early.  I can’t tell you how many times I have seen a party make plans and buy non-refundable tickets only to have those plans dashed at the last minute because they didn’t consult with the other parent.  Talk about it early.  Agree on travel plans.  Get it in writing.

Tip #3:  Talk to each other about gifts.

It can be very awkward when both parents buy little Susie a Big Hugs Elmo.  So, make an effort to coordinate.  And please, don’t make it a competition.  It’s about your child after all.

Tip #4:  Control the Relatives.

Your child does not need to hear anyone speaking ill of the other parent over turkey, even if he really is a big jerk.  Make sure that relatives and family members refrain from bad mouthing.  Remember, that’s your child’s other parent they’re talking about.  When you allow other people to speak ill of the other parent in front of your children, it only hurts the kids.

Tip #5:  Don’t be selfish.  Share!

There is a real temptation to want to keep all of the holiday fun for yourself.  Avoid that type of thinking.  When you are co-parenting, you simply may not get to spend every holiday with your child.  It’s the season of giving—remember?  However, you may consider (if you are up to it) spending a holiday together with the ex.  Why not do the Santa thing together? It can really make a holiday special for your child if you can pull it off without fighting.  Be realistic about it, though.  If you really can’t get through an evening with your ex without throwing your egg nog at him, then go the separate route.

Tip #6:  Respect Boundaries.

If it is your ex’s year to have the kids on a holiday, remember to be respectful of her time with the kids.  Don’t interfere.  Do not try to show up at the house unannounced during dinner.  Don’t worry.  I know it may be really difficult to be away from your little ones during a special holiday, but it will be okay. Don’t let your kids be the subject of a tug of war on a day that is supposed to be merry and joyful.  Let them experience the holiday without being placed in the middle of your struggle.  Just let go—at least for the holiday.  Your ex will be grateful and will be more likely to return the favor when it’s your year.

Holidays After Divorce – Bring Peace on Earth to Your Kids

My Second Appearance on “Real Divorce Talk”

real divorce talk divorce information

I was happy to appear again on the Facebook Live program Real Divorce Talk. This time, I co-hosted with my good friend Bryan Devore. The potential for this program as a divorce information resource really excites me.

About Bryan Devore

Bryan Devore co-founded Divorce Home Solutions.  There, he helps people gather needed facts to make tough choices (including whether to sell their home or to stay).  They provide helpful services along with access to trusted divorce pros guiding folks through the divorce transition.

Bryan and his partner, Jami Shapiro, also sponsor a  Separated and Newly Divorced Meetup support group.  They meet every two weeks on Tuesdays in Carlsbad from 6pm – 8pm.  Because each session is led by a therapist specializing in divorce, it’s a time for folks to learn and share.  Sharing experiences helps people realize they aren’t alone.

Watch Episode 2 of Real Divorce Talk for Relevant Divorce Information

This week’s Real Divorce Talk show featured Certified Divorce Financial Analyst Carlie Headapohl, divorce mortgage expert Eric Billock, nationally recognized author of The Good Divorce Dr. Constance Ahrons, and “Lemonade Divorce” attorney and mediator Allison Patton.

Today’s Topics: co-parenting, divorce emotions, divorce finances, mortgage lending during a divorce, divorce mediation, the Good Divorce, and Lemonade Divorce.

If you like what you see, then be sure to “Like” the show and follow.

For more divorce information, check out:

Forgiveness During Divorce: A key to finding peace

Watch my appearance on Real Divorce Talk on Facebook Live

We Don’t Get Along Very Well. How Can We Possibly Mediate Our Divorce?