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The Advisory Guidelines: Especially at the Holidays

I’ve written a number of blog articles about parent time and the holidays, but in the interest of making sure you are in the right frame of mind, I thought I’d do another one this year.  The holidays can be a really lovely time with your kids, if you and your ex can be grown ups about it.  I’ve mentioned this a few times before as well.  You have a parent time order in place; follow it.  You and your ex have family holiday parties going on that may or may not coincide with your particular parent time schedule; work with each other so your kids can be part of both of their parents’ family fun.

In Utah this aspirational “working together” thing has actually been made part of the statutes.  It’s called the Advisory Guidelines, and they’re found at UCA 30-3-33.  Some specific portions that are important to follow during the holiday season:Treat them as good as you are

(3) Special consideration shall be given by each parent to make the child available to attend family functions including funerals, weddings, family reunions, religious holidays, important ceremonies, and other significant events in the life of the child or in the life of either parent which may inadvertently conflict with the parent-time schedule.

(17) Each parent shall be entitled to an equal division of major religious holidays celebrated by the parents, and the parent who celebrates a religious holiday that the other parent does not celebrate shall have the right to be together with the child on the religious holiday. (emphasis added)

Note the “shall”s in those parts of the statute.  That means that this working together and being nice for the sake of the kids is mandatory.  And you should think it’s mandatory anyway, without having to have the law tell you how to be a good parent. Because honestly, that’s all the advisory guidelines are–the law telling you to be a good parent, not jerk the other parent around, do what you can to make your child’s life and experiences as full and peaceful and normal as possible, even though his/her parents are divorced.  Be a good person.  Communicate about the kids.  Think about how what you’re doing and how you’re interacting with your ex will affect your kids.  These are not hard things.  And if you’re the only parent doing it, STILL DO IT.  Somebody’s gotta be the grown up.  Take it upon yourself to Be the Grown Up.

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me….

 

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30 Days of Thankfulness (Condensed Version)

A lot of my friends do the “30 Days of Thankfulness” thing on social media in November.  While I haven’t consistently gotten into that, there is much to be said for stopping for a minute each day and pondering the good in our lives, and what we have to be grateful for.  I don’t do the Write An Essay Every Day thing.  Quite frankly, some days it’s really hard to raise up my head enough to do anything besides keep moving forward and breathing in and out.  I’ve mentioned my struggles with depression and anxiety a bit on this blog before, but just suffice it to say that when we hit the holiday season, those two near constant companions of mine shift into overdrive.  But today, right now, I feel pretty good.  So here are 30 things I am grateful for, in no particular order.  And we’ll call that the condensed version of my 30 Days of Thankfulness.

  1.  My husband.  I have known my husband since we were both in the 6th grade at Harding Gibbs Middle School in Firth, ID.  We were friends, but not Friends.  We ran in different circles entirely going through school.  I saw him just twice in person between our high school graduation in 1991 and May of 2014.  But what a difference a couple of decades+ make!  The timing was awkward, but I don’t regret getting together with him.  I love him to pieces. He makes my life easier.  Which was a totally new concept for me in being in a relationship with someone.  I am ridiculously grateful for him, and I hope I let him know that enough.
  2. TSW
  3. MTW
  4. CMW
  5. JDW….who are
  6. My kids.  I have four sons, and I will tell you right now–they are the reason I have survived as long as I have.
    BoysLawschoolGrad

    My boys with me at my law school graduation

    From the “in honor of” note that I put in my law school graduation program: “IHO…my incredibly gifted and attractive sons.  I would not have come here (to law school) had I not needed to for you.  You are my reason for being.  I love you!!”  The only thing that’s changed since then is I love them more.  They’re pretty incredible young men and adults, and I’m beyond thankful for them… That’s why they get 5 spaces on this list 😉 .

  7. Also from my “in honor of” from my law school grad program: “IHO My phenomenal family and friends: For money deposited regularly (and sometimes surreptitiously) into my checking account; for car maintenance, tires, and tanks of gas; for innumerable pep talks; for cash stuffed into my purse and sent in the mail; for places to stay; for being there for my kids when I couldn’t be; for facilitating me being The Mom to my boys; and for flatly refusing to allow me to quit when it was too hard for me to go on.  I will forever be grateful.”  The only thing that’s not the same as it was then is that my family and friends have given me MORE support over the years.  I am so grateful for them!
  8. Cars that are (currently) running.
  9. Gas prices under $3/gallon.
  10. An actual Job, with direct deposit, paid vacation, paid holidays, and health insurance.  It’s pretty awesome, especially having NOT had one for a really long time.

    Tim&Wyo

    My hubby & Wyoming…a twofer

  11. Wyoming.  Wyoming has been very good to me.  In particular the Bank of Star Valley and the University of Wyoming.  Much kindness has been (and continues to be) poured my way in my difficulties, particularly from the Bank.  Those are awesome, solid people.
  12. Humidifiers to ease a cough at night.
  13. Bathtubs and epsom salts soaks.
  14. My nail lady and her fantastically long-lasting shellac nails that are so lovely and so inexpensive that I can afford to look at my hands and see pretty things 🙂 .
  15. My stepchildren.  I have 5 of them.  They’re good kids, and I’m learning a lot about being a better person from them.  So thanks, guys 😉 .
  16. Wide calf knee boots.
  17. Spandex in jeans.
  18. Air conditioning and central heat.
  19. Smartphones.  What did we do without smartphones???
  20. My cats.  They’re weirdos, for sure, and they shed like mad, the one is a diva, another is kind of a jerk sometimes, and the third is downright Odd, but they really do make my life better, and I’m very glad I get to share my home with them.
  21. Prisms and rainbows.  I’ve gotten a little obsessed with them…

    View from the front porche 2015

    The view from the front porch…with mountains.

  22. My home.  My husband and I moved into our house in July of 2015.  At the time we found it, it was for sale, but we didn’t qualify for a home loan.  So we talked the owners into doing a lease purchase agreement on it; we closed on September 30, 2016.  My dad co-signed on the mortgage for me.  I love my house.
  23. My piano.  I just recently inherited this from my mother, as she has just inherited HER mother’s piano.  It’s 111 years old, and it’s seen better days, but it’s been a fixture in every Home that has ever felt like Home in my life.  I love it.

    MyPiano

    My piano

  24. My family in law.  My husband’s family has welcomed me into their world with open arms and a little bit of sarcasm to boot.  They’re fantastic.  I’m grateful for them all.
  25. Facebook and Instagram.  Social media can definitely be a double-edged sword, but it’s how I keep in touch with people I wouldn’t otherwise ever see.  I love that I can share in my brother’s life, even though he lives in Malaysia, on a day-to-day basis.  And I’ve met some fantastic people in the far-flung reaches of the country that I love getting to have friendships with, that I otherwise would never have met.  I’ve reunited with old friends, and truly appreciate the circle of support that comes with social media.  So with all its many flaws, I’m grateful for it.
  26. The Bloggess, aka Jenny Lawson.  She has a blog that has been a huge boon in the lives of thousands of people.  My first experience with her writing was a post about a giant metal chicken named Beyonce.  Her books have made me laugh my tail off, and cry my eyes out.  She is an asset to all of us who have dealt with the Invisible illnesses.  I’m thankful for her. (You can read that first post that hooked me here ).
  27. My garden, especially homegrown tomatoes and basil.
  28. My washer and dryer.
  29. Electricity.
  30. Mountains.  For most of my life I have lived near mountains.  They are grounding and settling and orienting, and they give me peace.  Thank God for mountains.

Yeah, that was a pretty random list.  But life is random, and I am grateful for so many Random things.  I will use this list to help me maintain my personal peace as this holiday season crashes in on me….there is much to be grateful for.  Weirdo cats and all.

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.

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.

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