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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/

Mediating Your Divorce When the Other Party Is a Bully

San Diego Divorce Mediation when the other party is a bully, Shawn Weber

I will often receive a call from a potential client interested in a San Diego divorce mediation, but who is a little apprehensive because their spouse has had a history of coercion, manipulation and bullying.  The question then arises as to whether mediation is really the appropriate venue to resolve the case.  Many of my peers may disagree with me, but a good mediator can successfully resolve almost any case.  Here are some points to consider for a successful divorce mediation when your spouse is a bully:

Check to make sure you have a well-trained mediator.

Mediating a case where there is a history of coercion or manipulation is advanced work and not for the faint of heart.  You need to make sure that your mediator has the skill, background and personality to ensure a level playing field.  It may be a good idea to bring up your concerns in a  caucus session so that the mediator is aware.

Make sure you consult with an attorney.

Mediation is actually without risk because the mediator makes no decisions in your case.  She can only help facilitate the discussion.  Nothing becomes binding until you sign the marital settlement agreement.  You would be wise, however, to work with advising counsel throughout the mediation process.  Come to mediation sessions armed with knowledge of your rights and what the law may or may not provide.  Under no circumstances should you ever feel pressure to sign any documents without first having had the opportunity to review it with your attorney.  If you continue to feel uncomfortable, you may want your attorney to attend mediation with you.

Consider hiring a divorce coach or a therapist.

You need to bring your best self to the mediation sessions.  To avoid falling into the same old patterns where you may have been manipulated or coerced in the past, it is wise to meet with a mental health professional knowledgable in divorce issues to prepare you for the sessions so that you can avoid getting your buttons pushed.  You can find divorce coaches by looking up your local Collaborative Practice group.  In San Diego, you can go here: http://www.collaborativefamilylawsandiego.com.

Demand Full Financial Disclosure.

In successful mediation, disclosure is essential.  Make no decisions without having had the opportunity to thoroughly review all material financial information.  A financial disclosure should also include back-up statements and documents.  Like in the cold war, it’s “Trust but Verify.”  You may consider having a financial professional such as a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) review the disclosures to uncover any “red flags” deserving additional investigation.

Stand Your Ground.

Bullies often bluster and threaten.  More often than not, the threats are empty.  If you prepare yourself, you need not be intimidated.  Often times, abusive relationship involve a sort of abuse dance.  You don’t have to dance anymore.  You are getting divorced.  You are intelligent.  You are certainly not stupid.  Stand on your own two feet and rely on your support system to be strong.

If there is physical intimate partner violence, think twice.

It is one thing to be a bit of a blowhard and a verbal bully.  It’s entirely different when the situation involved physical violence.  Do not trifle with domestic violence.  If that is happening, mediation is very difficult.  However, even in such situations, mediation can be appropriate with safeguards in place.  For instance, you can be in separate rooms at all times or you can demand anger management counseling.  In any case, make sure you have trained professionals who know what they are doing.  If for one moment, you do not feel safe, you can withdraw.  However, as a general rule, physical intimate partner violence presents a huge red flag.

San Diego Divorce Mediation, San Diego Divorce Mediator, San Diego Divorce Mediation, Solana Beach, Shawn Weber, San Diego Divorce Attorney

SPLIT … a film for (and by) kids of divorce

I came across an excellent video about children going through a divorce or custody battle.  It is “[a] candid, poignant, and often humorous film about kids and divorce… from the kids’ perspective.”

This is an excellent film and should be required for any party going through a custody battle. It’s so important to see it from the kids’ perspectives.

Here is the link:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1074778576/split-a-film-for-and-by-kids-of-divorce?ref=live&goback=%2Enmp_*1_*1_*1_*1_*1_*1_*1_*1_*1

 

 

It’s Official: Parental Alienation Syndrome is NOT a Psychological Disorder

So it’s official.  The American Psychological Association has made it clear that Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) will not be included in the forthcoming DSM-V as a psychological disorder.  Frankly, I am relieved.

Read about it here:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/21/parental-alienation-is-no_n_1904310.html

I have seen some very alienating behavior over the years in my family law practice.  It comes from both genders and every time it comes up, a child is harmed.  Sometimes it is driven by emotional issues such as addiction, abuse or even a personality disorder.  More often than not, however, it is just because someone is being mean by putting their poor emotionally defenseless child in the middle of their divorce.

To get an idea of what Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is, here is an article from PsychCentral.com:  http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2008/02/13/what-is-parental-alienation-syndrome-pas/

PAS has not been well received in the California courts.  For one thing, the science is not very good and is not deemed as sufficiently reliable for use in custody proceedings.

Here are some links to sources by skeptics of Parental Alienation Syndrome:

I have had many potential clients call me wanting to launch a legal campaign in family court based on PAS.  I try to explain that the science is considered unreliable.  However, these parents often feel so convinced that they are victims of PAS that they won’t hear anything else.  When I start to explain that PAS is not a recognized psychological disorder, I am quickly written off.

I try to explain that the BEHAVIOR, without talking about the label, is what counts.  It is universally accepted that exposing children to alienating behaviors is harmful to them.  We can hang our hats on that concept in court rather than getting caught up in the label of a so-called syndrome.

As a caution, experience has also shown me that many parents who complain of PAS often miss the point that it is quite possible that the child is alienated because the alienated parent truly IS terrible for that child.  It is not uncommon for an abuser to complain that the other parent is alienating. But that’s a discussion for another day.

My recommendation to all parents in difficult custody cases is to focus on the undesirable behaviors and not assign psychological labels.

My brother, in describing how he can spot an emotional problem without being a trained psychologist, relates the story of how a mishap on a swing resulted in his own self-diagnosis that his arm was broken.  How was this child able to diagnose his fracture without being an M.D.?  He simply looked at his arm and noticed that it was bending at a forty-five degree angle the wrong way.  No medical books required — his arm was broken!  It’s not much different in figuring out that there is a serious problem in a custody battle.

I have observed that most cases where alienating behaviors occur often involve psychology that is more reliable than the very unreliable “unscience” of PAS.  For instance, there is often abuse of a parent or the children.  Very often substance abuse is involved.  Perhaps one or both parents suffer from a personality disorder.  I don’t need the en vogue diagnosis of a psychological disorder to show the court that there is a problem and that a child is suffering.  Just like my brother’s childhood diagnosis of his own broken limb — Judges don’t need it either.

Here’s an idea. When there is bad behavior in a custody battle — the Judge should simply call it out and put an end to it. You don’t need a DSM diagnosis to conclude that it is bad for kids if one parent is on a campaign to alienate the other parent.  It’s just rotten, nasty and mean behavior. Period. This is not about gender, because I see rotten behavior from moms and dads equally. Where I practice family law in San Diego, it is almost standard in every case that there is an order that neither parent shall speak negatively of the other parent in the hearing or presence of the child. I believe a child has a right to draw his/her own conclusions about a parent without being subjected to either parent’s mean-spirited histrionics — no DSM diagnosis required. As Bob Newhart would say, just “stop it!”

 

Divorce Custom: 7 Post-Split Rituals From Around The World


So many of my divorce clients describe the anti-climactic feelings they experience when they receive their divorce decree in the mail. I have heard several different divorce practitioners and mental health professional recommend a ceremony of sorts to mark the event. After all, this is a the closing of an important chapter in one’s life. Marking the occasion is a great idea. I often recommend a walk on the beach or writing an entry in a diary or journal. Some of these ideas are a bit off the wall though. I wonder what everyone else thinks! 😉
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Judith Wallerstein Death: Read Her Top 10 HuffPost Blogs


Very few people have had as much affect on Family Law jurisprudence in California as Judith Wallerstein. She will definitely leave very large shoes to fill.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost