Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Starting the New Year Right: Tips for a Successful Relationship

First off, Happy New Year! If your New Year's resolution was to work on your relationship, you're off to a good start. Often people try counseling and say it doesn't work, but it will if you put some effort into the relationship.

The biggest thing is to think before you speak. If your spouse says something that upsets you or makes you mad, think about what he or she is saying and why your spouse is saying that. Respond in a normal voice, instead of yelling. If you feel you must yell, take a second and think about your response.

Go on a date night/day. Pick a time when just the two of you can get away alone, even if it's just for a walk in the park. The point is to get away from the stresses of life, and, if you have kids, to get away from the kids for a couple hours. Kids can be a source of stress in a relationship. When you go out, do not talk about your jobs, finances or anything that is a stressor in the relationship. If the kids are a source of stress because you and your spouse do not agree on a certain aspect of raising them, do not talk about the kids.

Create a cute or silly routine. Leave notes for each other in weird places, like the refrigerator. Never go to bed without saying goodnight and always say good morning, even if you are not in the mood. You'll be surprised at how much those two little words could change your day.

Make decisions together, even if they are only small decisions for now. You can work up to the bigger stuff that causes arguments. Always take small steps, then work up to the bigger, more important decisions. Something as small as what to make for dinner everyday should be shared so you can learn to work as a team again.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Making Child Visitation Exchange Easier

During and after a divorce, the children will usually live with one parent while the other has visitation. It is usually hard on the children and parents to have to drop the kids off for the weekend or the week, as the case may be. Often, parents are at war with each other, which makes visitation drop off and pick up more difficult. These tips will make it easier for you and your children if both parents will adhere to them.

1. If you are not on speaking terms, choose a neutral place to exchange the children. You can use a parking lot of a mall, a park, a relative’s home or just about anywhere. Try to avoid using police stations and substations, unless there is a restraining order against one of the parents ordering visitation swaps at the police station.

2. If you are on speaking terms, and are using one of the parents’ homes to pick up and drop off, take turns picking up and dropping the children off. Whether one parent always picks the children up and the other always drops off, or you change depending on your schedules, make sure both parents are involved in the exchange. This makes it easier on the children when they see both parents working together to make sure they see both parents.

3. Do not be late for pick up and drop off times. You may think you want to get back at your spouse/ex-spouse for something, but the only thing you are doing is hurting your children. When you are late, the first thing they think of is, “Mommy (or Daddy) doesn’t want to see me because she (he) is not here to get me.”

4. If you have to be late and cannot help it, call your spouse/ex-spouse and let your spouse/ex-spouse know how late you will be. If need be, you can make other arrangements to pick up the children. For example, instead of the original meeting place, you might pick up the children at home, unless it’s otherwise ordered by the court. If your children have their own cell phones, give them a courtesy call so that they know you haven’t forgotten about them.

5. Don’t make a big deal about picking up and dropping off the kids. If you can’t be civil to each other, a quick hello and goodbye will suffice. If you have instructions regarding medications, have them written down and hand them to your spouse/ex-spouse.

6. Do not use the pick up and drop off times to pay child support or alimony if you are paying directly to your spouse/ex-spouse. Mail it or drop it off at another time. In most cases, child support and alimony is taken out of a spouse/ex-spouse’s paycheck, but there may be some cases where the payments are still paid directly to a spouse/ex-spouse.

7. Make sure you return any items your spouse/ex-spouse requests. If the children bring a computer, favorite clothing, etc., and your spouse/ex-spouse requests that you send it back, do it. If you want the children to have their own computer, special clothing or other special items that stay at your house, then buy them for your children. Withholding items because you are mad at your spouse/ex-spouse only hurts the children, and gives reason for the other spouse/ex-spouse to speak badly of you.

8. Do not talk about your spouse/ex-spouse in a bad manner to the children or when the children are around. Be careful with phone conversations — the children could be within earshot and you may not even know it. Always foster a loving relationship between the children and your spouse/ex-spouse.

Keeping the times you must be in each other’s company in front of the children civil makes it easier on the children. They are already going through a rough time and have to learn to deal with living at multiple households. They do not need fighting parents to add to the stress. Whenever you want yell at your spouse, bite your tongue and think of your children.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Tips for a Successful Mediation

Some counties in Florida require mediation before litigating any issue for relief before the Court. Issues for relief include child support, custody, visitation, alimony/spousal support and equitable distribution. Relief issues also include asking the Court for use of the marital home during the divorce proceedings.

You may not think that you can come to a reasonable agreement on your own or during mediation, but by following a few tips, you could possibly come to an agreement on several, if not all issues.

Go into mediation with an open mind. Listen to your attorney if you have one. Do not discount any offer right away. Take the time to think about it, and if it’s not something you think you can agree upon, think of a counter offer that your spouse may accept.

Never give an ultimatum. This could irritate your spouse further, and cause him or her to just walk out of mediation. Work the issue back and forth to see if you can come to an agreement. The agreement may not have to totally satisfy either one of you, but it should be something you can live with. Don’t forget you are going to have to give up some things in the divorce.

Work on the easier issues first. If you know that you are going to give your spouse custody, settle the custody and visitation issues first. Child support is based on a percentage of each parent’s income. The Courts use a formula to ensure that support paid by the secondary residential parent is fair. Working on an issue that you can probably agree on makes both sides have more confidence; and allows you to work willing with your spouse.

Once you agree on one term, do not renegotiate it. Do not “take it back,” because your spouse won’t agree on something else. Once it’s done, it’s done — move forward with negotiations on other items. You can work out a trade on something else, such as alimony and the use of the home or trading a retirement account for the use of the home or alimony. There are many ways you can split things, which allows you to possibly keep assets instead of splitting everything.

Even though it may be difficult to talk to the other side, be nice to each other. If you absolutely cannot get along, or there are domestic violence issues, tell your attorney and the mediator that you do not wish to be in the same room. The mediator will take the offers back and forth.

It is usually best if you can come to a settlement. If you cannot settle, you will attend a final hearing. The Court will order equitable distribution of all assets, and you may not like what the Court orders.

If you can only come to a partial agreement, that is better than not having any agreement at all. Work at coming to a complete agreement, but if you cannot, sign an agreement for the portions you both agreed to. This is less that has to be litigated in Court. It will save you money, and it usually takes that issue out of the playing field.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Equitable Distribution: Fair Divorce Settlements

You may have heard the term, “equitable distribution,” in conjunction with a divorce settlement or a court order. Equitable distribution is usually enforced in no-fault states. A no-fault state is a state in which the divorce laws do not take the parties’ faults or indiscretions into play when determining custody or the division of assets and liabilities.

If you live in an equitable distribution state, the court may order you to give up a percentage of the marital assets to the spouse. You may get less than 50 percent. On the other hand, you may get more than 50 percent. Only 50/50 is “equal” distribution.

If you and your spouse cannot agree on who gets what assets, the court will decide for you. You may not like the outcome, so it is always better to try to put aside your differences and come to an agreement. If both parties make the same amount of money per year, the division of assets and liabilities will be equal. If you make 20 percent more than your spouse, your spouse will get about 60 percent of the assets.

To further complicate matters, some of these assets may have existing liabilities. A house or a car may still have debt, which devalues the asset for the purposes of divorce. For example, you own a home that appraised at $220,000, but you have a mortgage for $200,000. Only the equity is used when computing asset value. The equity of $20,000 is the amount that is used when determining equitable distribution. If you have a 401(k) that is worth $20,000, your spouse may be able to keep the house, and you would keep the 401(k). This brings it down to 50/50 division. Now, if those were the only two assets you had, the court may order you to pay the spouse part of the 401(k) to make her share of the assets 60 percent, because she makes 20 percent less per year than you do.

Another complication is alimony. Each state has its own “rules” for alimony. In Florida, the court looks at several things, including the length of the marriage. If you were married for a certain number of years — usually more than 10, the court may award alimony to the spouse that has the lesser income. Alimony is considered income for the receiving party, thus that spouse’s income may now be about equal to the paying spouse’s income, which would warrant a 50/50 split on the assets.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Custody Question for Opinions

I want to get people's opinions on the following. If you want to answer anonymously, that is fine, but please specify if you are male or female. Leave your answers in the comments.

Assuming that all things are equal, and both parents make about the same money and equally care for the children, including taking them to doctors' appointments, school functions and other functions, and both parents equally cook and clean for the children, the Courts normally choose the mother as the primary residential parent and the father as the alternative or secondary residential parent when the parents cannot make the decision on their own.

Do you think the Courts should choose the mother to be the primary residential parent if the father equally cares for the children?

If you answered "Yes," why do you think the mother should get primary residential custody?

If you answered "No," why do you think the father should get primary residential custody?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Alienation of Children in Divorce

Alienation could happen when parents separate or go through a divorce. One parent disparages the other. Even if a parent disparages the other in what he or she may think is subtle, or doesn’t realize he or she is doing it, children, who are very perspective, pick up on this. Alienation isn’t just statements. A parent may let children stay up later, even though he or she knows the bedtime rule is lights out at 9:00 p.m. The children start resenting the parent that keeps the rule intact. A parent may even tell the child he or she cannot afford something the child asks for because the other hasn’t given him or her any money.

Children process these actions and statements, and over time, begin to resent the other parent. When you are separating or divorcing, you should always keep in mind that each action has a reaction. When communicating with your children, remember that they are very impressionable, and that you should always think of what is in the best interest of the children, not that you want to look like the better parent.

When you create a singular relationship between yourself and your children, whether you are doing it unknowingly or purposely, you are creating parental alienation. Once a child becomes fully alienated, he or she doesn’t want to have anything to do with the other parent and has lost all feeling for the alienated or target parent.

Parental alienation occurs both ways in many relationships. Each parent tries to look better in the children’s eyes. This is most common in custody battles. Parents who play the alienation game may not realize that they are psychologically harming the children by depriving them of a healthy relationship with both parents. It is in the best interest of the children to have a loving, caring relationship with both parents, even if parents move on to remarry or enter into another relationship.

William F. Hodges, in Interventions for Children of Divorce (1986) states that children need contact with both parents for balanced development. Taking this a step further, it is the opinion of this author that children need contact with not just adults of each sex for balanced development, but with each parent for balanced development.

There are certain times when this may not be possible. If one parent has addiction or other psychological issues, it may be in the best interest of the children to withhold visitation until the affected parent beats the addiction or, in the case of other psychological issues, becomes balanced through therapy and/or drug treatment. In these cases, it is all too easy for one parent to unknowingly alienate the child from the parent with issues. In these cases, it may be best to enlist the help of a child psychiatrist to help explain the ill parent’s problems to ensure that the children do not think it is their fault that mommy or daddy is sick, and to ensure that the children do not think that mommy or daddy is bad.

If a parent is abusive, the other should not alienate the abusive parent from the children. With help from professionals and the courts, supervised visitation could be set up so that the children get to see the other parent. Just because the parent is abusive does not mean that the children do not have feelings for that parent. With psychological help, the abusive parent may become unabusive, and it is only fair to the children to foster a loving, caring relationship once the parent has been “reprogrammed.” It may not be possible to do that if children are withheld from abusive parents. While a supervised visitation scenario is not always the best, it is the lesser of two evils: alienation or knowing that the parent has issues.

Think before you act or react. Watch what you say to your children. You should not be discussing the separation or divorce with the children, other to reassure the child that it is not his or her fault and that the parents simply do not get along with each other any more. You should tell your children that other parent loves them and wants to see them. Allow your children to contact the other parent as often as they wish within reason. For example, you may not want to let them call a parent at work who is not allowed to receive personal phone calls.

Open up all channels of communication, including email, telephone, video conferencing and visitation. The court may give you a visitation schedule, but you do not have to stick to just those days. If the secondary residential parent wishes to see the children for a few hours on a non-visitation day, and it is convenient for both of you, you should allow it. It gives the children a sense of freedom to be able to see both parents or to communicate with them whenever they want.

Even if you cannot stand to hear your spouse’s voice, keep your feelings to yourself until the children are not near you. Bite your tongue and keep the communication channels open for the sake of the children. You can learn to be civil to each other for the sake of the children. Just keep in mind that the children need both of you, and that because you have ill feelings toward each other, doesn’t mean the children should have ill feelings for one or the other parent.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Florida Putative Florida Registry

If your girlfriend is pregnant, and you suspect that the child may be yours, you can register with the Florida Putative Registry to receive notices about court and adoption proceedings.

Often, if a couple is not married and is having problems, the mother may not tell the father that the child is his, and may even put the child up for adoption. The biological father has the right to see his child, and has the right to custody of the child if the mother is going to give the child up. This could lead into some problems:

1. You do not know whether you are the father or not.
2. You may not be privy to court proceedings or adoption proceedings if the mother does not notify the authorities that you are the father.
3. If you are not the father, you could find yourself financially and emotionally responsible for a child that is not yours.

Florida Statutes 63.053 and 63.054 state that an unmarried biological father has the opportunity to claim paternity by filing the appropriate documents with the Florida Putative Father Registry.

You should get a DNA test as soon as possible to determine whether you are the father of the child. If the DNA test shows that you are not the father, you can file a Revocation of Claim of Paternity with the Florida Putative Father Registry.

If the DNA test shows that you are the biological father, you can file a paternity action in the court to request custody or visitation. Make sure you keep a copy of your DNA test for the court.