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Fear

Fear makes the wolf bigger than he isAs a noun, fear is defined as “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.”  As a verb, to “be afraid of (someone or something) as likely to be dangerous, painful, or threatening.”  Fear can be a huge motivator to either do, or NOT do, a particular thing.  Sometimes fear is based in reality; sometimes, just in the perception of reality.  Fear can be crippling, can prevent one from taking necessary, reasonable action, or can motivate one to take actions that are unreasonable, dangerous, or out of proportion to the circumstances.

So what does that have to do with the law?

Family law actions are emotional things.  While the divvying up of assets, assignment of debts, allocation of custody and parent time, and awards of child support and alimony are black and white things, underlying the entire process is a mess of emotions, largely unpleasant ones.  Anger, pain, rage, desperation, panic, despair, sadness, frustration, helplessness, hopelessness….Swirling in with that horrible mix is Fear.

Fear is a huge part of any major life change….fear of the unknown–what happens with my budget when I’m limited to x amount of dollars a month?  What happens to my retirement goals when I have to pay out x dollars a month?  Why should I have to pay money to this person who is hurting me?  When will I get to see my kids?  What if my ex makes my kids hate me?  How will I pay all the expenses I need to for my kids?  What if I can’t pay the rent on this child support/alimony amount?  How am I supposed to get a job and take care of my kids at the same time? Who’s gonna hire me???  Is anyone ever gonna want to be with me again????

I would suggest that much of the reason people behave irrationally, do dumb things, say dumb things, try to avoid legal action, or any of the thousands of different ways people end up hurting themselves in family cases is out of fear:  “If I avoid the process server, they can’t serve me, and this will all go away.”  “He said there’s a warrant out for my arrest if I try and show up to court….I can’t get arrested!”

Mark Twain CourageWhile legal proceedings can be scary, the best way to deal with them is through Knowledge.  Be proactive–don’t wait until the last minute to seek legal advice.  If you’re scared about a threat made by the Other, ASK someone who knows or can find out about whether there’s any truth to the threat.  If you married a bully, be ready to deal with a bully.  Is it scary?  Hell YES it is.  But avoiding it, hiding, pretending it’s not happening, remaining willfully ignorant will do more to hurt you in the long AND short run than squaring your shoulders and addressing the situation.

Case in point:

I got divorced in 2005.  At the time, I’d been a stay at home mom, had 4 kids, the oldest of which were 8 year old twins, and had no money to my own name other than what my husband brought in.  My marriage had come apart, and my mental health was deteriorating.  I couldn’t stay married and live.  And No, I’m not being dramatic when I say that.  I was scared to death.

So how did I handle it?

I rolled over and died, in a manner of speaking.  My husband hired a lawyer, who drafted an agreement taking everything away from me except for some really minimal bits of Stuff.  I didn’t fight to get custody of the kids I’d been primary caretaker of for their entire lives.  I didn’t even attempt to stay in my house, or get alimony, or ask for half of the rest of our marital, not-insignificant assets.  I signed my husband’s agreement.  That became the terms of my divorce, and gave him custody of my kids.

I flat out gave up.  Out of paralyzing, crippling Fear.  Everything my husband said about how miserable he’d make me if I tried to get even statutory minimums under the law for ANYTHING, I believed.  All the little demeaning, demoralizing comments he threw out at me, I believed.  I was terrified–terrified of a legal fight, terrified of my kids getting hurt any worse than they already were, terrified of losing my mind before it was all said and done…Terrified.  Scared.  Panicked.

And so, out of blind, crippling, numbing, paralyzing fear, I gave up.  Everything–my kids, my home, any portion of 10 years of marriage…all of it.  Without a fight.

Ask me how much I regret that.  And when you do, bring tissues, because I’m going to cry my eyes out on you, even though it’s been nearly 13 years since all that happened.fear-is-the-mindkiller

DON’T YOU BE LIKE ME.  You be BRAVE.  Find your support people.  Face your fears, even if you have to face them quietly, by seeking out help online, or at a victim’s crisis center.  Get real information.  Do a little research.  DON’T GO DOWN WITHOUT A FIGHT!  For the love of all that is good and holy, I am begging you, do not let fear take your life from you.  You can do it.  I swear, it’s hard as hell, but you CAN.  And you Must.

A final Scene from the story of fear in my life:  I am at my Aunt Nancy’s house, curled up on the floor in her bathroom, sobbing out of fear and the misery that came from letting my fear cripple me when it counted most.  She is sitting next to me, on the floor, knees pulled up to her chest, her arm around my shoulders.  She is saying, “I wish I could poor courage into your spine so you can stand.”

I say to you–Imagine me pouring courage into your spine.  Stand up. You may be afraid, but don’t let it control you.  You are not alone.

Be Brave.

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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

 

 

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.

From the FB Archives: March 20, 2013

Law school was tough.  Like, if you just had to do law school, without adding to it trying to still pay my bills and see my kids and deal with the weather in Wyoming when driving, it would still suck.  So I hunted for inspiration.  This was something I found inspiring…

It’s not just about being a Man

I was hunting on my computer today for my address labels document/template (what exactly DID I name that thing anyway???) when I came across this poem by Rudyard Kipling that I’d found years ago and loved.

 

If

by Rudyard Kipling; 1865-1936

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too:

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

If you can think—and not make thought your aim,

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two imposters just the same:

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings:

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss:

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much:

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—you’ll be a man, my son!

 

Kipling wrote this with respect to becoming a Man, but I would propose that one does not need testicles to Become the thing one would If he/she could do all of the things noted above.  This is about being a solid human being.  Hoping that I can become Kipling’s ideal “Man” someday.

file_000

My dad, his sister, and his brother…These are those who have become Kipling’s ideal “Man”.  May I be as much in my life.

….and it’s the holidays. Again.

christmas-over

My mom, dad, sisters, and I have an ongoing conversation via text message that my brother in law dubbed the “Tatter.”  Back just after Halloween I was bemoaning on the Tatter how Walmart already had Christmas stuff up and how much I hated it.  The response was quick– “I love it!”  “I can’t wait to get on with Christmas!”  And then there was me, Queen Grinch herself, grinching about how Christmas is depressing, wears me out, and that I generally can’t stand it.  Bah Humbug.

My mom commented that I just need to focus on the Reason for the Season, the birth of Christ.  And that part I’m totally ok with…It’s just all the Pressure.  The stress, the expectations I cannot and never do meet, the crowds and traffic and noise and PEOPLE EVERYWHERE.  The Reason gets drowned out in all the madness.

Then there’s the inevitable Dealing With The Other Parent.  As I’ve said, my situation with that is generally no problem at all, it’s the Other one that we have to deal with.  There’s always Trauma Drama in that department, and the anxiety in thinking about it just puts me into a panic.

I have generalized anxiety disorder.  And panic disorder.  And major depressive disorder, and dysthmia (having symptoms of depression for 2 years or longer).  I’m on medication to address the more pronounced symptoms of all this Crazy, because I still have to function.  Some days are worse; some days are better.  But Christmas….UGH.

Maybe in another post I’ll go into what it means to have a brain that wants to kill me, but for today, I’m tired, I’ve been on the verge of tears all day for no reason, I have the shakes, and I’ve had pain in my chest now since Monday with Christmas looming and an empty bank account.  So please do forgive the Bah Humbug.  I’m working on it.

Something Utah got WAAAY Right: A Family Law Help

So I’ve mentioned before that while I think family law is a disaster in Utah, the Utah state statutes for child custody and parent time are fan-frigging-tastic.  I have recommended the use of them to many other people who are in other jurisdictions, just because they’re so orderly, specific, and DETAILED.  And the holiday division makes life SOOOO much nicer for everybody involved during all of the holidays.  However, there are those who are getting static because the other party is saying something like “we’re not in Utah, and I don’t have to follow Utah law, so suck it!”

With that in mind, I provide for you here, for your copying and pasting pleasure, the basic, general rundown of parent time in Utah for kids ages 5 and up, without all the statute formatting that you’d get otherwise.  That way it really DOES just look like a great parent time plan.  And if this isn’t exactly perfect for you in your situation, no worries…At least you’ve got someplace to start from.  I have even just used the holiday division in my cases where the parents have joint physical custody, because it just makes planning so much simpler.

S0 best of luck… and may your co-parenting be peaceful.

Parent time/Over 5 years:

One weekday evening, non-custodial parent chooses, from 5:30-8:30p.m., or from the time school is out until 8:30 p.m.  If the non-custodial parent does NOT choose a day, default day is Wednesday.  If the non-custodial parent chooses a different day, then THAT day is THE day—no switching around without okaying it with the custodial parent. (When school is NOT in session, if the non-custodial parent is available, that mid-week visit can go from 9 a.m. until 8:30 p.m.)

Every other weekend, beginning Friday at 6p.m. until Sunday at 7p.m.  OR if the non-custodial parent is available, from the time school gets out on Friday until Sunday at 7.  When school is NOT in session, the non-custodial parent can have the child for the weekend beginning at 9a.m. on Friday, if he is available to be with the child personally.

A step-parent, grandparent, or other responsible adult designated by the non-custodial parent may pick up the child for visitation, so long as the non-custodial parent will be with the child no later than 7p.m. (assuming a 5:30p.m. pickup time).  The non-custodial parent MUST inform the custodial of who will be coming to pick up the child if not the parent.

Holidays:  The non-custodial parent will have the child for holidays as described below.  The custodial parent will have the child on the opposite schedule.

ODD YEARS EVEN YEARS
Child’s birthday on day BEFORE or AFTER, 3pm to 9pm Child’s birthday ON THE DAY OF the birthday, 3pm to 9pm
MLK Day weekend, from Friday 6pm-Monday 7pm President’s Day weekend, from Friday 6pm-Monday 7pm
Spring Break 6pm the day school lets out to 7pm the day before school resumes Memorial Day weekend, from Friday 6pm-Monday 7pm
July 4 beginning 6pm the day BEFORE the holiday until 6pm on the day AFTER the holiday Pioneer Day beginning 6pm the day BEFORE the holiday to 6 pm the day AFTER the holiday
Labor Day weekend from 6pm Friday to 7pm Monday Columbus Day from 6pm the day BEFORE the holiday until 7pm ON the holiday
Fall School break (if applicable) from day school is out at 6pm until day before school starts again at 7pm Halloween on the day it’s celebrated (if not on the 31st) from after school until 9pm, or if NOT a school day, from 4pm until 9pm
Veteran’s Day from 6pm day BEFORE the holiday until 7pm ON the holiday Thanksgiving holiday from Wednesday at 7pm until Sunday at 7pm
The first half of the Christmas school holiday from the 6pm the day school gets out until 1pm on the day halfway through the holiday period if there are an EVEN number of days in the vacation, or until 7pm if there are an ODD number of days The second half of the Christmas school holiday from time indicated in ODD years description until 6pm on the day before school resumes—the point being to equally divide the holiday between both parents
   

Father’s Day always with Dad, Mother’s Day always with Mom, from 9a.m. to 7pm of the holiday for each parent.

Summer extended parent time—4 weeks total for non-custodial parent, 2 weeks of which is uninterrupted parent time.  (During the “interrupted” time, the custodial parent gets a mid-week visit as described above.)

Custodial parent also has 2 weeks uninterrupted parent time, when non-custodial does not have weekends or midweek visits.

**For children under 5:  The only difference is in the extended parent time in the summer. 

18mos-3 years: 2 one-week periods, separated by 4 weeks, at the option of the non-custodial parent, one of which is uninterrupted. (custodial parent has 1 week uninterrupted as well)

3yrs-5yrs:  2 two-week periods, separated by at least 4 weeks, at the option of the non-custodial parent.  1 two week period is uninterrupted. (custodial parent has 1 week uninterrupted as well.)

starting-line

Gotta start somewhere…

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