Archive for Life

The Irreplaceable Dad: The Importance of Dads Stepping Up In Co-parenting and Moms Letting Them Do It

This article was originally posted in 2013.  We have received such a positive reaction that we are reposting it.  It was the subject of Shawn Weber’s upcoming interview on the Real Talk San Diego Facebook Live program on March 28 at 1:00 PM PDT.  Watch it here: https://www.facebook.com/yourwealthhour

Some dads aren’t so great

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Let me preface this post by noting that there are a lot of terrible fathers. Many of them are abusive, punitive and cruel. Many are irresponsible and fail to take their role as parent seriously. Some simply abandon and neglect their families. In such cases, it may very well be better for the kids if these dads weren’t around. Such men are not “fathers”. They are unworthy of the title. My heart goes out to their victims. But, there are good dads out there and in many cases, their role can be unnecessarily marginalized. I am only talking about the good dads in this post. Women, please don’t hate me.

Every time Father’s Day approaches, I find myself contemplating the role of a dad in the family- in particular, given my career as a family law attorney, the role of a dad in a post-divorce family. I grow increasingly frustrated with the term “single parent”, which is so often bantered about unnecessarily. We are told of how hard the single parent has to work. Often we are treated to images of single moms struggling to make ends meet with kids at home and a dad nowhere to be found or, at least, not involved. For many of my clients, that is the case. To be sure, there are a lot of dads out there who don’t step up.

Co-parenting is better when possible

In most cases, however, single parenting isn’t necessary. Co-parenting is the better way to go. After the demise of some marriages, one parent does everything possible to eliminate the other parent from the equation. I have heard moms say that they would be happy if their kids’ dad would just go away. Some even say they would prefer their ex-husbands to be dead. Such sentiment is surprisingly common. “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

There are dads who check out and neglect their families, refusing to pay child support and refusing to take responsibility as fathers. There are dads who are abusive. It is only natural that a woman may feel uneasy about the man who beat her up. I am not talking about the bad apples here. However, there are many dads who do not deserve the level of scorn they receive.

Divorce can be nasty. When people get to my office, things are usually pretty bad. Folks don’t make the big decision to get a divorce unless they are very unhappy with their spouse. However, all too often, a wife can unnecessarily extend her hatred of her ex to his relationship with the children. These women, not realizing the damage they inflict on their children, will stop at nothing to minimize or even eliminate a dad’s involvement in the family. While they are very happy to maximize the child support they receive, they are relentless in removing dad from the parenting equation. This is not ok. Kids need their dad and although a wife’s experience of her ex-husband as a spouse may be less than perfect to say the least, this man still has an important role with the kids.

I have had a number of cases recently where a mother decides, for whatever reason, to relocate out of the state. These women have reasons for their decision to relocate. Sometimes the reasons are good. Many times they aren’t. Perhaps they are moving closer to family. Perhaps they feel they can get cheaper housing. Universally, they minimize the impact on the kids’ relationship with dad. They, wrongly, believe that they are the only important parent in their children’s lives.

What they fail to understand is that this man, with all of his imperfections, is still their kids’ dad. He is a part of them. They love him. Yes, they even need him. One prominent psychologist told me that the moving parent almost in every case fails to understand how devastating moving the kids away from the other parent can be. In family law, move-away cases are not about what is in the child’s best interest. Rather it is about minimizing detriment. It is rarely in the child’s best interest to move away. As participants in the legal process we are then asked to determine whether it messes the kids up more to lose their dad or to lose their mother. Judge’s hate these kinds of cases.

Dads matter to kids

I have seen grown, tough men weep openly in my office as they explain to me how hurt they are that the mother of their children cares so little for their contribution. One such parent lamented that with his wife moving, he would no longer be able to attend Cub Scout meetings or coach the soccer team. One father told me how upset he was that his son would miss out on campouts and fishing trips. Another dad told me how tragic it was that he and his daughter would miss their regular basketball scrimmages at the local park.

I have also seen children in pain that one of their parents is being cut out of their lives. One teenage boy told me that he misses his father terribly and doesn’t understand why his mother speaks negatively about him. He says, “He’s my dad. When she bad mouths him, it is like she is talking bad about me. It makes me cry. I don’t show her though; I just go in my room and punch my pillow.” Another twelve-year-old boy told me that while he loves his mom and understands that she had her reasons for leaving his father, he feels like a piece of him is missing. He said, “My uncles are great. But they are not my dad. Why can’t I just have my dad around.” Then with tears in his eyes he said, “I just wish I could still hang out with him.”

Dads, you need to step up

Not just to pick on the moms, I have had many mother’s complain that they wished that their ex-husbands would be more involved fathers. They try to encourage dad to participate, but he refuses. Sometimes dads just “check out” as parents after the divorce. This is not ok either. Dads, you need to step up.

I am a strong believer that it takes two genders to be most effective in parenting. To be sure, there may be someone out there who will take me to task and wrongly accuse me of sexism. I am just noting, that as much as we would like to say that there are no differences, men and women are, in fact, different. These differences, rather than seen as a way to divide families, should be embraced and celebrated. As a father of five children, my wife and I have had many conversations about how important we believe the gender differences are in our parenting. We each bring different parenting styles and different approaches to the table. These differences enrich our children and bring them balance.

father parent child

The best co-parenting I see is when both parents are deeply involved

While the parents may have deep and real differences that led to a divorce, they don’t show their children these differences. Rather they present a unified front to the kids. They both encourage a relationship with the other parent. They seek the other parent’s guidance and counsel about issues with the kids. The kids benefit greatly from having both parents as active and equally important parts of their lives.

(Just an aside, it is equally damaging when fathers eliminate mothers from the equation. But we are talking about dads here. We also see more cases where the dads get pushed out then the other way around. But the inverse does happen.)

So what is the lesson?

Moms, unless your ex is truly one of the bad apples I mentioned above, you should probably go out of your way to include him in the parenting of your kids. Remember, he is part of who they are as individuals. That is meaningful. Encourage him to be involved. Encourage your kids to reach out to him.

Dads, it’s time to step up if you haven’t already. You are vital and irreplaceable. You are more than a convenient source for child support. You are far more important than a mere sperm donor. Make SURE that your children know that you love them. Demonstrate your love by word and deed. Be responsible. Be involved. Tell your kids that you love them. Show an interest in their activities. Don’t give up. Don’t just blame your ex if you have a terrible relationship with your kids. Step up and take initiative. Those kids of yours are precious and they need you.  You are their father!

To both parents, minimize your conflict.

Spend less time fighting about stuff in court and more time working together in a mutually respectful manner. I encourage the use of mental health professionals, mediation or Collaborative Practice to help folks work together. I know the split up probably hurt. Now, be the grown-ups. Swallow your pride. Find a way, if at all possible, to work together for your kids.

mother and father co-parenting

 

Read also:

6 Tips for Successful Holiday Co-Parenting

3 Great Tips to Give Your Kids a Voice in Your California Divorce

Five Tips to Have a Miserable Divorce

Forgiveness During Divorce: A key to finding peace

You can control how angry and hurt you remain after your divorce.  Using principles of forgiveness during divorce will help you control divorce emotions and move on.

Let Go to find forgiveness during divorce

Almost every divorce involves a situation where somebody did someone wrong.  Or… at the very least, someone feels like someone did somebody wrong.  Sometimes I feel like I am living the B.J. Thomas song, “Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song”.

The reality is that divorce sucks.  It hurts a lot in fact.  As a California divorce mediator, I used to hide behind the excuse that California is a no-fault state and what happened to lead to the divorce is legally irrelevant.  But the no-fault concept misses the point that divorce is more than just a legal process; it’s a human experience.

Divorce Causes Real Pain:  The Need to Control Divorce Emotions

The parties to a divorce are real people with real pain.  Often a case just won’t settle until the parties can process their divorce emotions, hurt, and pain.

I don’t mean to minimize the pain of divorce emotions because I know it is very real.  However, one can find that place where a person can let go of the anger and hurt in order to move on.  Forgiveness during divorce and after really is possible.

Don’t Be a Monkey

Perhaps you have heard of the fable of the monkey trap.  Apparently, you can take a jar with an opening large enough to fit a monkey hand and fill the jar with cookies.  The monkey then comes along, inserts his hand through the opening to grab a cookie.  However, because his fist with the cookie is now larger than the opening to the jar, the monkey can’t remove his fist and is trapped.  Rather than rationally letting go of the cookie, the monkey will remain trapped indefinitely.

There is at least some truth to the story as shown by this video about a hunter capturing a baboon with a similar strategy:

Similar to the monkey who won’t let go, we tend to hold onto our grudges.  By holding onto our hurt and anger with a clenched fist, we can become trapped until we figure out to let go.  Similar to the monkey, it’s hard to escape a divorce situation without learning to also release the clenched fist.  A person might finish her divorce, but will still carry the pain into the post-divorce life and even into the next relationship.

Forgiveness during divorce is an important way to release anger.

Buddha said, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”  Anger and the search for revenge rarely help anything.  They certainly don’t bring peace.

If you find yourself consumed with anger when you think of your ex, consider letting go.  Make a conscious decision to forgive the other person.  Notice that I am not suggesting that you allow anyone to cause you harm again.   I simply suggest that forgiving and letting go of the anger will help to control divorce emotions.  It will go a long way to finding peace.

Remember, forgiveness during divorce is an exercise that only the injured person can control.  It does not require the wrongdoer to pay for what he did to you or to apologize. The other person does not even need to be sorry.  Your forgiving and letting go is entirely up to you.  It’s not easy, but it is completely within your control.

If you find forgiveness during divorce difficult to achieve and find that it gets in the way of moving on, consider discussing the issue with clergy or a mental health professional.  Until you can control divorce emotions and let go of the anger, you, like the monkey, will be stuck.

If you think forgiveness during a divorce is too hard, you are wrong.  It is reachable.  There are tons of examples in the world of people who forgave the unspeakable and made their lives better.  See the examples below:

See also:

How to Forgive and Why You Should: http://health.usnews.com/health-news/articles/2012/08/29/how-to-forgive-and-why-you-should

Man Exercises a Year of Forgiveness After a Drunk Driver Kills Wife, Two Children:  http://www.deseretnews.com/article/695239655/A-year-of-forgiveness.html?pg=all

Forgiveness: Letting go of grudges and bitterness: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/forgiveness/art-20047692

How much does it cost to go to divorce mediation?: https://weberdisputeresolution.com/divorce-mediation-cost/

How can we divide personal property without going crazy?

Sometimes it is most difficult in divorce cases to divide personal property —the “stuff” accumulated over the years of a relationship. When people share their lives with each other, they also share and accumulate a lot of personal property. Sometimes the task of dividing the household furniture, furnishings and appliances can be a real struggle. Not only can it be difficult to physically divide and value the assets, it can be a real emotional rollercoaster.

I mediated for a divorcing couple recently, who had their most difficult struggles dividing the pots, pans, furniture, washer, dryer, stereo and those little knick-knacks they picked up at the swap meet over the years. Worse they were on the “pack rat” side of things so they accumulated a lot of things together. Each item represented something important. One piece of artwork reminded them of their romantic vacation in Mexico. The silver they had purchased together to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. The little statuette on the mantel was a gift from their child. All through the house they saw many symbols of their relationship and all that they had invested in each other. As a result, a task to divide personal property was extremely painful.

Here are some tips to help you divide personal property:

Understand that the court would only award a household asset at garage sale value.

divorce, personal property, divide personal property, san diego divorce attorneyUnless it is a Steinway Grand Piano or a rare piece of artwork, the chances are high that your stuff is not worth nearly what you may think. While you are looking at the values of things, think of what you would, as an objective outsider, pay for the item at a garage sale or a flea market. Be careful not to allow emotions to “inflate” in your mind the value of the flatware or the coffee maker. Yes we know that the teddy bear collection is absolutely adorable, but honestly, what would a third person really want to pay for it. Use common sense and don’t allow your emotions to cloud things for you when you divide personal property.

Do it yourself.

It is really not cost effective to pay your attorney $300 plus per hour to fight about who gets which couch or who gets the bath mat. If it’s a high dollar asset such as expensive artwork or collectable antiques, you may want to use your professionals. But, for most things it makes more sense to save the money and do it yourself.

Do an inventory first.

It’s a good idea early in the process and before you start dividing things to make a list. If time is a problem, I often recommend going through the house with a video camera and speaking about each item as you tape. You can then go make your list later.

Make a list to divide personal property.

In fact, make several lists. I suggest four columns. Column 1 means he gets it. Column 2 means she gets it. Sell everything you list in column three and divide what money you get equally. Column 4 is for those things in your closet to throw away or donate like the polyester suit in the closet, your old beta video tapes or the pile of Louis L’Amour novels that you haven’t read in twenty years. Notice, I am not including a list for items about which you cannot agree. I am a big believer in using the old Solomon method. If you can’t agree on who gets it, then sell it or donate it. You simply can’t afford, for most items, to spend the time arguing and spending money on your attorneys. One idea, if you are stuck, is to just take turns picking items you can’t agree on until they are gone. Another idea is to give extremely sentimental items as gifts to your children.

Make a plan for photographs and videos.

I recommend that you choose a date when each of you will make photographs and videos taken during the marriage available to the other. The person making the photograph or video available will allow the other to choose which ones her or she would like to duplicate. There are services available that can duplicate these items and even restore some of them for you for a reasonable fee. With today’s computers, scanners and printers, you may be able to do a lot of this yourselves. Each of you should share equally in the duplication costs.

Pets, according to the law, are property.

I have had many clients tell me how their pets have become nearly as important to them as children. They are often surprised to learn that the court deals with them not as living things so much as property. Few courts will entertain a pet “custody battle.” Remember, a court has the ability to truly play Solomon with your pets and order them sold. I advise parties to do everything they can to work it out relating to the pets. Do everything possible to consider your pets’ needs and do what is best for them rather than allowing them to become an issue of property division.

Be careful if there is a history of domestic violence.

In cases where there has been domestic violence, sometimes it is difficult to sit together and divide personal property. In such instances, it is probably advisable to go ahead and use your attorney as at least a go between. Naturally, if there are restraining orders in place, it would be impossible to meet face to face. But the same ideas described above apply. It is just you will need to make arrangements to inventory the house without the other being present and with proper legal arrangements. Don’t violate a restraining order just to get some stuff out of the house.

I have had many clients tell me that the process of dividing the personal items was a healthy cleansing process.

One client told me, it was nice to get rid of some of our old, useless stuff and start over for a fresh, clean break. If even after following these steps, a couple still finds it difficult emotionally, I recommend making use of a divorce coach, who can even come to your home while you do the division. Typically using a single divorce coach is much more cost effective than using your attorneys to divide household items.

If both parties approach the task to divide personal property with a fair, patient and open mind they will likely be successful in doing the division with little to no attorney intervention. The court’s are particularly happy when parties can reach agreements on their own. Parties should be careful not to allow the division of things bring unnecessary conflict. Remember, they are just things and not people.

tips to divide personal property, san diego divorce, san diego divorce attorney, Shawn Weber, san diego divorce mediator

Doing your Divorce with a Child Specialist

child specialist san diego divorce

My friend and colleague, San Diego Divorce Attorney Fran Setzer, wrote a great post about using a neutral Child Specialist to help with divorce proceedings.

A neutral Child Specialist, who is a mental health professional experienced with children and divorce, can be an excellent resource for parents and really puts the needs of the children front and center.  I am a big fan of bringing the right specialized resource to the right situation.  A Child Specialist is the perfect tool when considering the needs of kids in a divorce.

Read Fran’s post at the Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego Blog here: http://collaborativefamilylawsandiegoblog.com/do-you-need-a-child-specialist-for-your-divorce/ 

3 Great Tips to Give Your Kids a Voice in Your California Divorce

kids and divorce

Do you want to give your kids a voice?

Issues involving kids and divorce can be tricky.  One of the great things about using consensual dispute resolution options like Mediation and Collaborative Practice in your California divorce is that you can give your kids more of a say in how the parenting plan will turn out.  This is not to say that you leave the decisions to the kids. It does, however, mean you can hear their voices, which can mean a lot to them, especially if they are old enough to thoughtfully express their preferences.

Not all kids should be given the same level of input.  How much you let your kids sway your decision making is up to you.  You will want to consider such factors as the child’s maturity level, age, ability to articulate and emotional needs.  But if you decide that giving the kids a voice is what you want to do in your family, here are some tips.

Let Your Divorce Mediator Talk to the Kids.

With kids and divorce, it is important to give children a voice.  As a mediator, sometimes I will talk to the kids.  I only do it if both parents agree that it will be appropriate.  Importantly, I never ask the kids, “Where do you want to live.”  But, I will give them the chance in a non-threatening environment to say what is important to them.  Writing their responses on a whiteboard and then, with their permission, I boil their thoughts down into a report to share with the parents.

It’s amazing what useful clues I can learn from the kids.  In one case, the teenage kids told me that they worry their father will die from his alcohol abuse.  In another situation, an over-scheduled child shared that he felt it was hard to relax because of his very busy schedule.  He said that he had a hard time “just being a kid.”

Another child volunteered that his complex and confusing parenting schedule made it difficult to adjust to the move from one house to another.   As a result, he felt his grades suffering. He expressed that because he was bouncing back and forth so often, he didn’t ever have time to feel at home in either household.

Before I talk to a child, I will get a release to speak to the child’s therapist if available.  This gives me the insight to ensure that I spend time with the child appropriately given the child’s emotional circumstances.

Have a Joint Session with Parents and Therapist.

Another option for kids and divorce is to allow the child to articulate her feelings in a  joint session with a therapist and parents.  The therapist can help everyone find ways to work together for the good of the child.  You can also trust that a mental health professional will take care to prevent the talk from becoming inappropriate.  It can be a safe way to promote healthy dialogue and to appropriately empower your child.

With Kids and Divorce, Use a Collaborative Child Specialist.

In Collaborative Practice, we use neutral child specialists to make sure that the parenting plan will protect the child’s needs.  The child specialist is a mental health professional experienced in helping kids through a divorce.  In essence, the child specialist becomes an advocate for the child’s needs.

In the Collaborative Practice model, the work is confidential.  As a result, it cannot be used later in court. Everyone can trust that they can be open and frank while working towards solutions.  Children in divorce often tell parents what the parents want to hear and not necessarily how the children really feel. But kids will open up to a child specialist, giving her the ability to articulate the children’s unvarnished needs and worries.  I have often used neutral child specialists even outside of Collaborative Practice.  In my humble opinion, it never hurts to give kids an advocate.  Using a trained child specialist is often the perfect solution.

Summary

There are many ways to give your kids a voice.  These are just three.  While it is generally not a good plan to let the kids feel like they are in charge, it never hurts to give them an opportunity to be heard.  You may be surprised what your kids can teach you as you go through your divorce.  Often the kids are ahead of the parents in dealing with the heartache and emotions of the split.  Considering the kids’ needs and really, truly listening to their point of view can provide tremendous insight and great rewards.  Most importantly, your kids will appreciate that you took the time to pay attention.

 

Read also:

Doing your Divorce with a Child Specialist: https://weberdisputeresolution.com/do-you-need-a-child-specialist-for-your-divorce/

Why “Fair” is the F-Word in Divorce Negotiations: https://weberdisputeresolution.com/why-fair-is-the-f-word-in-divorce-negotiations/

Five Tips to Have a Miserable Divorce: https://weberdisputeresolution.com/five-tips-to-have-a-miserable-divorce/

How much does it cost to go to divorce mediation?: https://weberdisputeresolution.com/divorce-mediation-cost/

Forgiveness During Divorce: A key to finding peace: https://weberdisputeresolution.com/forgiveness-during-divorce/

Reducing Reactivity in Divorce

Sometimes a divorce or family law case can be like a perfect storm.  The fissile material of fear, hurt and anger can lead people to make terrible choices as they navigate a very difficult legal process.  This video offers tips on how to reduce reactivity in divorce to help encourage a peaceful, cost-effective and amicable divorce.