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…and Time Waits for No Man…

Tomorrow is the first day of school for my kids.  I have a freshman and a senior in high school, starting Tomorrow.  The first day of school is always a little bittersweet.  It’s exciting to see my kids getting older, growing, all those great things that parents so enjoy, that we are lucky to be able to witness.  But it’s also just another marker of time, and my children growing up, and not being Children anymore.

First day of School 2010

First day of school 2010…they’re not little anymore…

I have been there for the first day of school every year since my divorce was final, 12 1/2 years ago.  Whether I lived 2 minutes away or 7 hours away.  There were a lot of years that I’d hug my kids, see them off on the bus, then drive away and cry for hours.  I don’t have to drive away and cry anymore–tomorrow, for the first time EVER, school is starting during MY parent time week.  Not that it really matters much anymore…I’ve lived within 3 blocks of my ex-husband for going on 3 years now, so even if he has the kids for the week, I’m just a minute away.

The hard part for me is the Looking Back that we tend to do at the beginning of a new school year.  And I’m not over all the loss from the past years enough yet to do that without becoming an emotional mess.  You know what they say–Time and mercy heal all wounds.  Still waiting on time and mercy….

Breaking Up is Hard to Do…

I spent last Friday in a divorce mediation.  The marriage spanned two decades; the parties have 5 kids.  By my client’s account, it was not a happy marriage, and the miracle was that it had not ended sooner.  broken heart

The agreement we mediated was about as good as it gets in terms of being a statutorily equitable split.  My client WANTS to get divorced, but she’s still very upset about the whole thing.  It’s just not really fair, even if it’s equitable. And Why?

Because it will never BE “fair.” Because she did not get married to get divorced.  Because she has 5 kids who are heartbroken and disillusioned and upset about the situation their parents are in.  Because she had planned on a Future, that didn’t include getting divorced, that may have included kids’ graduations from high school and weddings and grandkids, with all the traditions you see in an intact family.  Because at one time, she had a Dream of what life as a married person would look like.

And that Dream is dead, not to be resuscitated. No divorce settlement will ever be able to make all the pain ok or right or fix it.  Getting divorced Hurts.  Bad.  Even when it really NEEDS to happen.  Getting divorced is like running head-on into a wall.  Boom.  Turn around.  Start over.  Somehow.  And a lot of times that “starting over” is from less than Scratch.  Like, no retirement left, no job experience, kids and expenses but not enough income to pay for everything AND maintain any kind of actual life.

You’ve gotta take some time to grieve after a divorce…Maybe a long time.  Because getting divorced is the ULTIMATE break up. And we all know breaking up is hard to do.

They say time and mercy heal all wounds.  The challenge is surviving the passage of time, ya’ll.  So be gentle with your divorcing and newly divorced friends.  It’s a pretty horrific thing they’re going through.

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.

More Myths from Divorceland: The DisneyLand Dad

We’ve all heard the term–Disneyland Dad.  This is the father who doesn’t have to be involved with the kids on a day to day basis, who “gets” to just be the one who the kids have fun with, the one with “no responsibility,” because he doesn’t have to do blah, blah blah Hard Stuff…  Generally we hear about Disneyland Dads from custodial moms who are more than a little bitter.  But there are some problems with this categorization, which land it into Myth status.

Problem #1:  The assumption here is that it’s dad’s CHOICE to only spend time with the kids every other weekend, a few hours on a weekday (if that), and some time during the summer and at holidays.  Mom makes it sound like Dad is skipping out on the day to day parenting, the homework, the colds, the trips to the doctor, all of that Parent Stuff.  And why would that be?

It’s that way because Dad is the non-custodial parent.  That’s all he’s been allowed to be by a court order…And a lot of the time that court order put him in that position because that’s what Mom insisted on, sometimes just so she can be in control and force Dad to pay child support.  And why wouldn’t Dad want to take what little time he has to be with his kids and have fun with them?  That only makes sense.  I’m not saying it’s always this way, but it definitely IS this way some of the time.

Problem #2:  If Mom is really interested in Dad carrying more of the substantive responsibility, guess what?  She can involve him more.  If the parents live in close proximity to each other, there’s no reason Mom can’t do this. She can actually co-parent with Dad, as opposed to cutting him out of any part of the kids’ lives that she isn’t court ordered to allow.  I mean, if both mom and dad work, why SHOULDN’T dad take a day off work to stay home with a sick kid, or take them to the doctor every now and again?  Why should mom be the one to always take on that responsibility?  It doesn’t have to be that way.  And if it is, it’s more than likely because she is insisting on it, because “kids need their Moms,” and she needs a little more fuel to justify her assertion that her ex is a Disneyland Dad.

Problem #3:  Sometimes Dad’s are too far away to even get that every other weekend, and being there for doctor visits, etc., is a practical impossibility.  Why do you suppose that is? Sometimes it’s because Mom decided to relocate.  There are legitimate reasons for her to relocate, for sure, but if you’ve got a Mom who’s all about moaning about her “absentee” father of an ex, or goes on and on about how he’s just a Disneyland Dad, or a deadbeat who doesn’t have to do the “hard stuff in parenting,” chances are she lives far away from Dad specifically to keep the kids away from him.  Again, when he DOES have a chance to be with his kids, it only makes sense that he’d want to do fun things with them, and make those memories that Mom has prevented him from making on a day to day basis.

So next time you hear some Poor Single Mommy whining about her ex being a Disneyland Dad, who never has to do the Hard Parenting, consider that it’s highly likely that what she really is is a Martyr Mommy–and is doing her damndest to make her ex looks like a jerk not only to the rest of the world, but to her kids.  Which constitutes child abuse.

Maybe consider that before making a judgment about that Dad you know nothing about.

**Side note:  I was gonna post some quippy memes on here, but DAMN, PEOPLE!  There is some super cruel stuff out there!  Depressed me just looking for a pic.  Maybe if we could all just grow the hell up and act like decent parents blog posts like this wouldn’t be necessary!

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