Archive for parents

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.

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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

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

Holidays After Divorce – Bring Peace on Earth to Your Kids

holidays after divorce

For many of my clients, the holidays after divorce can be a difficult time.

Many are keenly aware of the loss they have suffered as the result of their divorce and will go to great lengths to preserve a sense of family.  The changes to the family, for many, are in stark contrast to the ideal Norman Rockwell Holiday memories they want their kids to have.  People also, quite reasonably, want their children with them on those special days.  All of that is reasonable, but when the wish to have your kids with you on a special Holiday turns into conflict between you and your ex, your kids can suffer.

It’s a bit ironic that in this season when we are supposedly celebrating peace on earth, some of the greatest interfamily conflict can occur and if you’re not careful, your kids will be right in the middle of a holiday visitation disaster.  Here are just a few ideas about how to bring “Peace on Earth” to your kids for the holidays after divorce:

Consider Celebrating Some Part of the Holiday Together with Your Ex.

I know, you worked hard to get away from your former spouse, but your kids didn’t.  For their sake, consider putting the past behind you and let your kids open presents with both of their parents.  That said, if you just can’t be in the same room with the other parent without it devolving into a slug fest, then reconsider.  But if you both can keep it together long enough for the kids to have a nice holiday, you will have done something very kind for them.  This is the season of giving after all.

Coordinate Presents with the Other Parent.

Much of the holidays after divorce conflict we see is when the parents compete with each other over the present giving.  Don’t let that happen.  Rather, spend some time early coordinating the gift giving with the other parent.  Perhaps consider purchasing joint gifts. Don’t let something as beautiful as gift giving turn into an ugly competition.

Don’t Project Your Own Emotions About the Holidays After Divorce Onto Your Kids.

Holiday visitation stirs up all kinds of feelings and emotions.  Regret, guilt, anger, resentment, loneliness- these are feelings that can pop up in spades during the holidays.  However, if these are your emotions, they might not necessarily be what your kids are feeling.  We have a tendency to project our own feelings and frustrations onto others, when that is usually not appropriate.  Be aware of that and keep your expression of emotions in check.  Stay selfless and make the holidays about others and what their needs are.  Be mindful, that your kids’ needs will likely include time with the other parent.

Plan the Holiday Visitation and Travel Schedule Early.

Don’t just assume that your ex will be aware of or will cooperate in fulfilling your expectations for the perfect holiday with the kids.  Communicate early and plan ahead with your kids’ other parent to reduce confusion or frustration when the holiday comes around.  Don’t assume anything about the schedule.  Don’t wait until Thanksgiving to talk about the holidays.  Start talking and coordinating in July – or even earlier.  That way, when the holiday comes around, there will be no surprises.

In summary, the holidays after divorce can be a time when cherished memories are created.  However, they can also be a time of heartache and terrible memories if not done properly.  Don’t let problems with holiday visitation be a flashpoint for your kids to remember how badly you and your ex behaved.  Let it be “Peace on Earth” for your kids.  That means that you need to take responsibility to be a peacemaker with the other parent.

These are just a few ideas.  Maybe you have some ideas or tips.  Share them with me!

Divorce Options Workshops

Forgiveness During Divorce: A key to finding peace

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

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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/

What Divorcing Parents Must Do When Spring Break and Teenagers Mix

What Divorcing Parents Must Do When Spring Break and Teenagers Mix – Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego Blog http://ow.ly/jgowS