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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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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.

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!

From the FB Archives: April 16, 2013

Is it really about what we do with it?

Life is not perfect; I think we all know that.  I’ve had a rough couple of days.  I was up working until 11:00 last night (Yeah! E-filing! Damn YOU!!!! E-filing!!!)  I woke up with the knowledge that I had another full day, but at least my first “You must wear clothes and look presentable” appointment wasn’t until 11 a.m.  Before that, I got an email from a client thanking me profusely for the teeny tiny itty bitty thing I had done for him, and a phone call from an older lady who has called me no less than a dozen times in the past 3 months, thanking me for helping her.  I did precious little for her; I just answered the phone when she called.

This afternoon I had two new client consultations.  Not difficult stuff.  One may become a new client; one can probably handle things on her own.  The first one was distraught….Have ya’ll noticed I’m a big fat cry baby?  I try really hard not to cry with my clients, but damn it!  I suck at that…

I had other work that I did, work that pays, work that will hopefully protect my client from BigLaw’s nasty allegations come next Monday when I have to be in SLC at 9:00a.m. for a hearing.  I hope I did enough.  I hate responding to BigLaw’s filings.  They really suck.  But then there is this Woman, my client, with a child.  And I am again emotionally sucked into it without even wanting to be.

I have gotten better.  I don’t cry with all of them anymore.  I can pat their shoulders, squeeze a hand, and give them reassurance, while telling them what to expect.  I can walk away, relieved that they can’t afford a lawyer because I just KNOW they would turn into Super Needy client who runs out of money and becomes the most demanding at that point.

I had some personal distress this week as well.  And this morning, as I was sunk in the Lows of that, I had the Highs of my client and this old lady telling me that I am definitely OK.

It’s a weird place to live, my head….My therapist thinks I’m great.  He doesn’t have to deal with my neurosis….

carrying-too-much

Like the poor jackass pictured above, it’s possible I was carrying a little too much…

From the FB Archives: January 20, 2012

*Note:  In this case it turned out that my client had probably screwed over the second ex wife while he was still competent…He more than likely got what he deserved when this was all said and done.  But when I knew him, he was just a nice, very confused, little old man.

little-old-man

Exemplar Little Old Man: not an actual photo of my client…

So in a way, being old and senile is good…

I went to Vernal, UT, today.  Not my favorite place in the world, but not my least favorite either.  I had a pre-trial hearing in a divorce case.  My client is in his 80’s.  He suffers from dementia; possibly Alzheimer’s, but no firm diagnosis on that.  We actually bifurcated this case back in November, after mediation, when the other side said they wanted to take everything my client had, I declined, and they determined they wanted a trial.  Whatever.  Point being, we agreed to split the case and have a divorce entered as to the parties at that time, and then work out the property settlement later.

My client was in the courtroom today.  He had no idea what was going on, but seemed very pleasant and un-bothered by the whole thing.  When we were done in the courtroom, we went out into the hall.  My client’s now ex-wife was out there.  When he saw her, his face lit up.  He went over to her, smiling, put his arm around her, and told her how lovely she looked.  She leaned her head on his chest and he kissed her forehead.  They chatted for a few minutes until his daughters ushered him away so that we could discuss what had happened and where we go from here.

I watched this little exchange between these people in their 80’s who should not have gotten divorced, and it made my heart hurt.  Ache, actually.  Had to really work on not crying for awhile on the way home.  And then I thought how very lucky my client is–he doesn’t know he’s divorced.  Hell, half the time he doesn’t remember ever marrying this woman (30 years ago) and confuses her in his mind with his first wife.

 

Maybe being senile can be a good thing…

UCCJEA: Jurisdiction part 2

Some time ago, in a different blog post, I mentioned the UCCJEA in terms of child custody jurisdiction.  UCCJEA stands for Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act.  This is a uniform law that was drafted at the federal level, in the interest of creating consistency among the states in regards to an issue that can cross state lines–custody of children and custody determinations of children.  All but one state (Massachusetts) have adopted the uniform law in substantially the form is was drafted originally.  In Utah, it’s located at Title 78B Chapter 13 of state code.  The whole point of the statute is to determine which state/jurisdiction has the right to exert its authority over individuals who are trying to enter court orders about custody of children.  One of the purposes is to make sure that a jurisdiction that would be most appropriate for the court case to happen is the one that is making it happen and enforcing the orders that come out of that case.

The basics:

A child must have been present in the state with intent to remain for at least 6 months prior to a custody action being started in that state.  If no custody orders have been entered as to these children ever, being in the state 6 months gives that state home state jurisdiction.  If a parent takes the kids and leaves a state that WOULD have had home state jurisdiction, the other parent can file in court for a custody determination in the state that WOULD have had home state jurisdiction.  In easier language:  If I live in Utah, and my spouse takes my kids and moves to Colorado, I can file for a divorce with custody in Utah any time within the first 6 months the kids are gone, because until they’ve been in Colorado for 6 months, Utah still has home state jurisdiction.  OR, if I’ve been living in Colorado, but take my kids and move to Arizona, and no action for custody determination is filed within 6 months in Colorado, I can file for custody in Arizona.  My kids being in Arizona for 6 months changes home state jurisdiction from Colorado to Arizona.

home-sweet-home

Not always so clear…

Sometimes a child may not have a home state.  In that case, a parent can file where he/she lives for a custody determination, so long as another case hasn’t been filed in the state where the child is currently located.  An example:

I had a case where parents were not and had never been married.  ORS in Utah had opened a child support case for the child, as both parents lived in Utah.  Both parents and the child lived in Utah for 5 years, with dad and his family having significant contact with and interaction with the child.  Mom then moved to Colorado with the child.  She had been in Colorado 11 months when she relocated  with the child to New Mexico.  Dad filed for a visitation order in Utah; by then, child had not lived in Utah in the previous 6 months; HOWEVER, the child technically did not have a home state at all, because she hadn’t been in New Mexico long enough for it to have home state jurisdiction (she’d only been there a couple of weeks).

Colorado would have been the home state, but because neither parent nor the child lived there, and no action had been filed in Colorado, it wasn’t an appropriate state to make a custody determination.  We had a hearing regarding jurisdiction in this case.  The court found in favor of my client, since there were not competing court cases involved (mom hadn’t filed in NM), dad was located in Utah with the intent to remain, and the child had significant connections in the state of Utah.  The Utah court had the right to, and was inclined to, take jurisdiction over the custody determination of this child.

Notice I said the court in Utah “was inclined to” take jurisdiction in that case.  A court CAN decline jurisdiction if it feels that it’s not appropriate to take jurisdiction–like if neither parent lives in that state anymore, but it would still be the home state. Example:  I live in North Dakota.  I move with my kids to Idaho; dad of kids also moves to Idaho.  After being in Idaho long enough for me to file for divorce–which is 60 days–I file for divorce.  Technically Idaho isn’t the home state, and wouldn’t have jurisdiction to make the custody determination.  But none of us, meaning neither parent nor the kids, live in North Dakota anymore.  So ND would likely decline to take jurisdiction, choosing instead to allow Idaho to handle the case, since Idaho is a more appropriate jurisdiction to determine best interests of the kids, etc.

Some cases are fairly cut and dried, like the ones I noted above.  Others….”ees grey area.”  What if the parents were both located in, say, Oregon when they got divorced, but since that time, both parents have moved to other states.  Could the non-custodial parent change the jurisdiction of custody to his state?  Sure.  So long as the custodial parent doesn’t challenge that action, or file her own action in the state that WOULD have home state jurisdiction.  Will it hold up under court scrutiny?  Maybe, maybe not.  The arguments exist to both support it and deny it.  A lot of it comes down to the inclinations of the court, and whether another state has been asked to take jurisdiction over child custody.  And whether Oregon, in this example, will relinquish its right to continuing jurisdiction. Lots of “ifs,” thus “grey area.”

'It's only a gray area if you've got a good lawyer.'

Maybe 😉

Clear as mud?  If you’ve got questions, feel free to message me, and hopefully I can clear that mud to at least dirty water ;).

 

From the Archives: FB Notes September 25, 2012

*It’s always odd to look back to the same dates from years ago…Some things have gotten easier; some, not so much.  My number of moves since my divorce is up to 15… but hopefully I’m where I’ll stay for at least the next 5 years or so.

Wouldn’t Want To Get Too Comfortable…

In the first year I was divorced, I moved 3 times and held 3 different jobs (2 at the same time, then a new job altogether).  Not trying to be flaky, just trying to hold it together financially, so that I wasn’t always being strangled, get into housing that worked with my kids (when I had them), and trying to work my work so I could still see my kids ever.  In the second year, I moved twice and worked a regular job, a bunch of temp jobs, and finally a regular job again.  In the third year, I moved again, this time to Laramie to law school.  I moved back to my parents that next summer, then into a different place in Laramie in the fall; to Yellowstone the next summer, then back in the fall; to Utah and in with friends while I studied for/took the bar exam the next summer, then to my aunt’s after that, then to the house I’m in now.

 

All told, I moved 13 times in the first 5 years after my divorce.  I worked at least that many different jobs, and drove nearly 200,000 miles so that I could see my kids on a regular basis through all this.  Since moving back to Utah in 2010,  I’ve worked for 5 different law firms/attorneys…some with better luck than others.  My most recent, Feller & Wendt, was really great.  And then it was really stressful.  And then they cut me loose.

 

That was a week ago.  Today I went into the office to do the whole “wrap up” thing with business with them.  They are truly leaving me better than they found me.  They cut me loose because they don’t want to do domestic law AT ALL, not even in their peripherals, so I am taking all but the most horrible of the domestic cases (less than a half dozen) lock, stock and barrel–all monies due and owing to date become mine, and all monies earned going forward are mine.  100%.  Which is a helluva deal.  But they wanted me to lease my office from them for more than I can afford, and it’s 15 minutes away from the courthouse, and 20 minutes from my house, and all in the wrong direction from the locations of all of my out-of-valley cases (better than half of them).  Not really worth it to pay more than I can afford for space that doesn’t really work for me.

 

So I’m taking my practice back home.  Which is good and bad.  Good because I go back to being able to work in my jammies ;).  Bad because I am ALWAYS at work, and I have no place to bring clients or meet new consultations.  I have to do my own billing/accounting, etc., again, which I hate.  And I am again alone.  No one to commiserate with/to, no one to bounce ideas off of.  I hate that too.

 

What I LOVE is the autonomy.  No one breathing down my neck.  No one telling me when I have to be in the office.  I have other obligations in life that are NOT work related, that are really more important, and now I can be, again, more available to those people who matter most to me:  My boys.  But still;  I only lasted 9 months.  It’s extremely disappointing.  I was so looking forward to being a Real Lawyer, in a Real Firm, for a Really Long Time.  It seems in my life, nothing stays the same for longer than a few months.  Which is why I say it’s a good thing I am so damn flexible.

 

flexibljuggling

This, but without the smiling…

I’m gonna cry about this for a little while, because I’m so tired and so not wanting to move my office/make another major transition on top of **The Face issues, but whaddaya gonna do? Suck it up and move on, that’s what.

 

Finally, a quote I saw on a mug several years ago (and ended up buying):  “Just when the caterpillar thought it was the end of the world, it turned into a butterfly.” (anonymous)  Am I a butterfly yet???

**“The Face” issues–I got a staph infection in my face, which turned into a nightmare, all at the same time as this was happening.

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