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Bitching on Social Media: KNOCK IT OFF

This is gonna be a little, short post, but it’s gotta be said.  STOP airing all your grievances on social media!  Keep your snarky little comments OFF Twitter!  Keep your personal, thinly-veiled jabs at the other party off Facebook!  You’re. Not. Helping.  Being pissed off about the ex boyfriend or ex husband or ex wife or ex girlfriend in a public forum is ugly, dumb, and completely immature.  ESPECIALLY if you have kids who have access to your vitriol about their dad/mom.

If your child support isn’t being paid, I’m sorry.  Stuff happens in people’s lives, and sometimes they CAN’T pay you AND keep the lights on.  And even if they’re just being hateful and refusing to pay?  Public shaming doesn’t make them any less hateful.  For real.  You’re not solving your problem.  You’re simply ramping up the conflict, creating drama, and adding more tension to BOTH of your lives.

If you and your ex are engaged in some sort of court case, DON’T GO SPEWING ALL OVER YOUR FB PAGE.  You look like a vicious b*tch–and that term applies to men who do it as well.  And then you provide evidence to the other person that they can simply blow up 16″x 24″ on a poster in court to show how horrible you are.  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve advised a client to SHUT UP on Facebook or Twitter.  You’re only hurting yourself with that kind of behavior.  You think your page is totally private?  Maybe it is, and maybe someone is seeing stuff and passing it on to the ex.  You will sink yourself, and you’ll have no one but yourself to blame. Because in the words of my Uncle Terry, and the Great John Wayne,

229378-Life-Is-Hard.-Its-Harder-If-You-re-Stupid

 

 

Parent Time: This is not a “pay to play” thing.

I’ve had this question come up a few times in the past few weeks, from a few different places.  A friend from way back asked if it was legal to withhold parent time for non-payment of child support, because he knows a guy (who lost his job, and got behind) who is experiencing that right now with his ex.  And I advised a couple that their daughter cannot keep her kids away from dad because he’s not paying child support (even though that dude is actually refusing to work specifically so he doesn’t have to pay–but that’s a topic for another day.)

So why CAN’T a custodial parent keep the non-custodial from having parent time if that person isn’t paying his/her child support?

Let’s start with the focus of the issue:  The kids need to have a relationship with BOTH parents.  Parent time is not something that is doled out based upon one’s ability to pay, or even their willingness to pay child support.  Studies have shown that children in divorce do better emotionally and socially when they have both parents actively involved in their lives.  A parent time order is designed to do just that–keep both parents involved with the kids.  Keeping a child from a loving parent, just because that parent isn’t paying the other one, disrupts the child’s relationship with that parent, and really could constitute emotional child abuse.

Mrs Doubtfire

One should never have to cross-dress just to have access to their kids.

“But it’s not fair!”  I hear this a lot (I hate the “F”–fair–word).  Why should the non-custodial parent get the benefit of having a relationship with the child when he/she isn’t even financially supporting the kid? I’ll tell you why–this is NOT about you, and it’s not about the money.  It’s about the kids.  Kids. Need. Both. Parents.  Even if one parent is a deadbeat (and for the record–I do not believe all people who don’t pay child support are deadbeats).  As (retired) Commissioner Garner of the First & Second Judicial Districts here in Utah was wont to say, children are half of each parent.  Denying a child from being with a parent is denying half of the child.   In the words of Natalie Hillard, the littlest child in Mrs. Doubtfire, “we’re his goddamn kids too!”

The divorce code specifically states that the other party not complying with the parenting plan provisions or child support order does not mean you can not comply, too.  (See U.C.A. 30-3-10.9(9)).  Parent time is part of the parenting plan provisions.

So yeah, it’s illegal.  But it’s also criminal.  If you keep a kid from a non-paying parent during the time he/she is supposed to have visitation, just because they’re not paying child support, you are committing a crime.  It’s called custodial interference, and the statute is found at U.C.A. 76-5-303.  Nothing in the statute makes an exception for non-payment of child support.  Unless you honest to God believe your child is in danger of abuse at the hands of the other parent, you cannot keep a parent with a visitation order away from his or her kid(s) during the time they have been awarded by the court.

Custodial Interference - 2016

…though it IS located in the criminal code under kidnapping…

A first offense is a Class B Misdemeanor; doing this twice in a 2 year period raises that to a Class A Misdemeanor.  Removing the child from the state when it’s supposed to be the other parent’s time is a third degree felony.  Class B misdemeanors may be punishable by a fine of up to $1000 and prison not to exceed 6 months; Class A–fine up to $2500 and not more than one year in prison; and third degree felonies may be punishable by a fine up to $5000 and up to 5 years in prison (see U.C.A. 76-3-301; 76-3-203; and 76-3-204).  The legislature was serious about parent time.  You should be, too.

So what can you do if this happens to you?  First off–you should be communicating clearly and in writing with a parent who is withholding your kids from you.  Email and request confirmation of the parent time schedule for the week, or the month, or the summer, or whatever.  Be civil.  Keep any responses.  Text the other parent about parent time.  Be civil.  Keep all responses.

If you have a statement from the other parent saying that they will NOT give you the kids for your parent time, call the police.  Request a civil standby, and go to the ex’s place to pick up your kids at the appointed hour.  When the other parent and the kids aren’t there, or if the other parent refuses to allow you to take the kids, make a police report.  Get copies of the police report. Request law enforcement refer the case to the local prosecutor.

File a motion to enforce your parent time order with the court.  This is called an Order to Show Cause.  It does not cost you anything to file, and you do not have to have a lawyer for this.  You can find forms on the Utah courts website to do this.

The caveats on enforcement:  Police and prosecutors won’t always want to charge a parent with custodial interference.  But if it were me, I would make a pest of myself until law enforcement took me seriously.  We’re talking about your relationship with your kids.  They won’t always be kids; you miss out on their growing up, and you can’t get that back.  If they don’t know who you are because the custodial parent is horrible, and you didn’t try harder, that’s partly on you.  Be the adult.  Be brave.

They’re your goddamn kids too.

The Verified Declaration of Paternity: Getting a Bio Dad Legal Rights from Birth

Baby Daddies

Baby Daddies are NOT disposable.

Because I have either (a) been living under a rock, or (b) have only interacted with unmarried parents when they were fighting, I was not aware of an option biological fathers have to gain legal rights to their children:  They can sign a voluntary declaration of paternity.  If you and your significant other are on good terms when having a baby together, but NOT married, this is a way for the bio dad to be legally recognized as the child’s father right from birth.  What this means is that bio dad has the same rights and responsibilities in relation to his child as bio mom does, as opposed to having ZERO rights in relation to his child.  The parents’ status is as though they were married when the child was born.

What this does NOT mean: A voluntary declaration of paternity does NOT put in place custody and parent time for the parents, any more than being married gives one parent or another automatic custody and parent time orders.  If you and your significant other break up, and you want to have something enforceable to address who gets to see or have custody of your child and when, you WILL need to go through a court action, just like if you’d been married and get divorced.  These are called Custody and Paternity actions (even though paternity is already established).

Dad&Diaper

Dad’s aren’t just for Disneyland, ya know…

An example of the benefits (or hazards, depending on which side you’re on) of having a voluntary declaration of paternity in place:

I recently became aware of a woman who had had a child with a former boyfriend.  They had never been married, and dad hadn’t even been around for most of the kid’s life.  Dad hadn’t paid child support ever, had moved out of state, and went long periods of time without any contact with the child at all.  BUT, when the child was born, mom and dad were still in love, and they signed a voluntary declaration of paternity at the hospital, along with all the other forms they have you sign when you have a baby in a hospital.  It was done in conjunction with the form that you fill out to get a birth certificate issued.

Dad and Mom hadn’t been together in years.  Mom was living with a new boyfriend; Dad was living with a new girlfriend.  An incident occurred in Mom’s life that caused DCFS to get involved with the child.  The State was NOT going to take the child out of Mom’s custody over this, however.  But Dad got wind of it, showed up at the child’s school one day shortly thereafter, picked up the kid, and left the state with him.  He could legally do that because of that voluntary declaration of paternity.  He has just as much right to his child as Mom does; and because there was no court order spelling out custody and parent time at that time, there was absolutely nothing Mom could do about it.

I don’t tell you this story so you can go out, sign a voluntary declaration, and then break up with Mom and steal the baby.  That’s a bullshit move if ever there was one.  But as a biological father, this truly is the best way to gain legal standing in your child’s life from the beginning…and the legal part is actually FREE if you do it at the hospital following the child’s birth.

The one hitch in this:  Both the biological father AND birth mother MUST sign the paternity declaration.  This is not something bio dad can do if mom is not on board with it.  But the point is this:  Getting paternity declared or otherwise legally determined is a big deal when it comes to having the right to be involved in your child’s life, or to even have custody of your child if something happens that keeps mom from being able to care for the child (like dying, becoming incapacitated, going to jail, etc.)  For an example of HOW important it is, just check out my post about Jose Vargas and his fight for custody of his daughter against the State of Utah (DCFS).

Now that you’re convinced that you need to get paternity legally acknowledged, here’s more information about how to actually get it done:

This is a link to a brochure produced by the State of Utah with steps to take and contact information for the agencies you need to work with to make a voluntary declaration of paternity, as well as what it costs if you don’t get it done at the hospital immediately after the child’s birth.

The Utah Courts website also has information about the various ways to get paternity legally acknowledged for the purpose of Dad having rights to his kid, even without a voluntary declaration…you can find that here (and you don’t have Mom on board to do all of them).

And the statute in Utah, the Voluntary Declaration of Paternity Act, can be found here.

Dad reading to kids

Kids need their dads involved in their lives.  Let’s not cut them out, mmmkay?

The reality is that bio dads do not automatically have rights to their kids unless they’re married to bio mom (and she can give away your kid, too, without even telling you about it, if you’re not fast enough off the line…check out this poor guy’s situation).  The state can put you on the hook for child support and you still wouldn’t have any right to see your babies.  If you really want to be involved with your son or daughter, you’ve got to get the legal stuff taken care of.  This is the most serious case of “you snooze, you lose.”  Do it for yourself, but more importantly–do it for your kid.

 

 

Things I Care About: Do Unto Others

Golden Rule Plus

If you’ve read very many of my blog posts, you kind of start to get a feeling for things that I’m passionate about. Like

Fathers’ Rights.  I deeply believe that the best way to keep our kids whole through the divorce process is for them to have BOTH parents in their lives.  In this world of family law, where custody seems to default to moms, we should not forget that there are a lot of really great dads out there who are heartbroken at losing time to just Be around their kids on a daily basis.  While that may not be practical in a divorce,  that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work to keep Dad there as often as possible.  And intentionally keeping a loving father from his kids IS child abuse.  We need the courts to take it more seriously, and we need a general shift in societal thinking that defaults away from thinking that single moms are always saints.

and

Domestic Abuse.  By this I mean ALL forms of abuse.  We tend to think only in terms of physical violence as being abusive, but psychological abuse may be far more pervasive, and can take a helluva lot longer to get over.  Victims of abuse tend to be less likely to have custody of their kids, because they tend also to have less access to resources with which to hire a lawyer in a divorce.  Moms who don’t have their kids could well have been victims of domestic abuse in their marriages, and every day of their lives without their kids is just another stab in the heart by the abuser.  We as a community (especially a community like I live in here in Utah) need to lay off judging moms who did not get custody as though they’re some sort of addict or loser.  Heaping misery on the wounded is cruel; we are better than that.

and

Kids.  It seems like in any divorce action, kids always end up being the Big Losers.  They don’t get any choice in their whole worlds getting thrown into chaos; in Utah, they have no choice, really, who they get to live with.  And even if they DID have the option, how do you choose between two parents you love dearly?  I remember being a freshman in college and having a nightmare that my parents were divorcing, and that I was begging them not to, and they wouldn’t listen.  I woke up sobbing, and had to call my mom to make sure that it was just a really bad dream.  The biggest pain in my life is knowing the MY kids never got to wake up from that Really Bad Dream.  I’ve been divorced nearly 12 years, and I still feel horrible every time I think about it (like now, writing this post, and blowing my nose and wiping my eyes.)

and

Fairness.  and Decency.  and Human Kindness. and Equity.  I mean, seriously….whatever happened to these values?  I see them evidenced in some divorce cases, but way more often it’s as though the parties feel a need to feed the fight, and take whatever they possibly can, and hurt the other person, no matter what the cost.  I know I’m way too sensitive (part of why I can’t do this family law thing full time anymore), but I don’t think it’s asking too much for people to apply a little Golden Rule into their lives, even if their lives include ex spouses.  Do unto others as you would have them do to you, ya’ll.  Or better yet, don’t do things to them that you wouldn’t want them to do to you.Even Better

And if we would all live by just that one little rule, what a wonderful world it would be.

Fathers’ Rights….Why is this even a thing?

Unless you’ve been blessed with the perfect, family-law-free life, you’ve heard about the fathers’ rights movement.  And I have to say–Why is this even a thing??  In this age where we are so concerned with equality under the law, when fathers are being told they need to step up, when it’s been scientifically proven that children with an active father in their lives fare better emotionally and socially, WHY are fathers still having to effectively beg to have an equal part in their children’s lives?  Or in some cases, ANY part in their children’s lives?

In 2014, UCA 30-3-10 was enacted with language specifically stating that the court “shall consider the best interests of the child without preference for either the mother or father solely because of the biological sex of the parent…” (emphasis added.)  How that will be used in the courts remains to be seen.  I have not as of yet seen any caselaw from the Utah appellate court (the appeals system) that mentions the issue of bias based on whether one is the mother or father.

The legislature also enacted statute in 2014 that states what the policy behind any child custody order should be.  This is embodied within U.C.A. 30-3-32, and states in part that,  absent a showing of actual harm to a child, “it is in the best interests of the child of divorcing, divorced, or adjudicated parents to have frequent, meaningful, and continuing access to each parent following separation or divorce; each divorcing, separating, or adjudicated parent is entitled to and responsible for frequent, meaningful, and continuing access with his child consistent with the child’s best interests; and it is in the best interests of the child to have both parents actively involved in parenting the child.” (emphasis added.)

Generally the standard used in determining what type of physical custody arrangement will be in place in any proceeding involving children is Best Interest–as in, what will be in the best interest of the child.  In Utah, best interest has been defined by statute, located at U.C.A. 30-3-34.  These are the factors that the court is to focus on, at the very least, in making a custody determination.

Until fathers are being given at least the same deference as mothers, we have a problem. They are SUPPOSED to be, per our law that was proposed and adopted by our elected representatives.  It is our JOB as citizens to actively engage in making sure changes that have been put in place by the legislature are actively followed by our courts.  Because to quote the Lorax,

lorax

 

For other references and support, check out the Father’s Rights Movement.  

 

Utah’s Continuing War on the Bio Dad

Just in case ya’ll thought that things are getting better for unmarried biological fathers in Utah, think again.  I was recently made aware of an ongoing case in Utah that will be heard by the appellate court NEXT FRIDAY, January 20th, that shows that the state’s vendetta against bio dads is alive and well.  The dad, Jose Vargas, is just trying to raise his daughter.  That’s it.  But the state is bound and determine to prevent that, and to give the child over for adoption.  Why???  Seriously, Utah–What The Fu**???

Jose has a GoFundMe page to try and raise the money he needs to pay his lawyer–who continues to represent Jose even though he’s not getting paid right now, I might add.  Links to articles about the case are below.  And help out with the legal fees as well, if you’re at all able.

This has got to stop.  And it can stop with THIS dad, God willing.

jose

Jose Vargas holds his daughter, Major.  Photo was published in the Deseret News, and provided by Mr. Vargas.

http://www.elle.com/life-love/a40251/father-daughter-custody-utah/

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865670699/I-have-to-try-Father-suing-to-raise-daughter-caught-in-complicated-legal-tangle.html

https://nationalparentsorganization.org/recent-articles?id=23238

 

***UPDATE:  In this case, the juvenile court had adjudicated parentage in Mr. Vargas’ behalf (means:  the juvenile court held that Jose is the child’s legal father, which would give him rights).  The State opposed that order, and appealed it (trying to say the juvenile court wasn’t allowed to make that call.)  The case was argued on January 20, 2017, before Utah’s Court of Appeals.  The court found in favor of the Juvenile Court/Mr. Vargas.  The formal opinion was filed on March 30, 2017.  Unless the State appeals to the Utah Supreme Court (and the Supremes don’t actually have to agree to listen to their case), this case is over, and is a big WIN for Mr. Vargas and bio dads.  So many thanks to his attorney, Caleb Proulx, who went the distance with him!

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