Archive

Archive for the ‘Learning New Things’ Category

Convicted Felons CAN Vote (in most states)

Something I learned today…while a felon loses his/her right to vote upon conviction and incarceration, the right to vote in Utah is restored as soon as they start probation, or are granted parole, or are released from incarceration for whatever conviction they were sentenced under.  It’s in the voting code, located at UCA 20A-2-101.5.  Honestly, this makes me very happy.  To take away someone’s voice in our governmental system is a really horrible thing.  I am THRILLED that that voice is restored.

The law varies by state.  Check out this blog for information regarding your state’s laws.

And tell your friends ;).

Votes

You don’t vote, you don’t get to complain about your elected officials 😉

Advertisements

Termination of Parental Rights & Guardianship: How & Why

I had opportunity to volunteer last night at a free legal clinic.  The beauty of volunteering is that not only do I get to help people, but I also find out where my knowledge of my claimed “specialty” in the law is limited, and then I have something to research to bolster that knowledge.  It’s a win-win.

Last night I consulted with a woman on guardianship of a child.  Her circumstances are such that she’s in a temporary guardianship situation, but because the child’s mother is not making any efforts to become a fit parent, and there is a constant underlying threat that mom is just going to swoop in and try and take the child home with her to “be the mom”, the woman expressed an interest in a more permanent arrangement.  We discussed a few different options, including filing a petition to terminate mom’s rights and then filing for adoption of the child, and a permanent guardianship.

bad parenting

Hopefully this is NOT this kid’s parent…

I am familiar with the statute regarding termination of parental rights, and I’ve read a good chunk of caselaw recently about termination of parental rights, but I could not for the life of me find the statute last night when I was talking to this woman (it’s a little tricky to pull/find/read on a 4 inch iPhone screen, btw.)  SO. Today I found it, on a desktop computer.  Statute that governs parental rights termination is located at Utah Code Title 78A Chapter 6 Part 5.  Any interested party, including a foster parent, can file a petition to terminate rights of a parent (UCA 78A-6-504).  Grounds for termination are located at UCA 78A-6-507.  You’ll note that only ONE of those grounds have to be shown/proven to terminate rights, which include abandonment of the child.  A parent can be found to have abandoned their child if they’ve only had “token” contact or communication with a child.  So if mom hasn’t seen a kid in 2 years, and then suddenly shows up and takes him to McD’s, or sends a card with $5 in it, that doesn’t constitute enough contact or support to prevent a court from finding that the parent has abandoned the child.

The statute spells out what needs to be in the petition to terminate, and also states what the process is (serving the parent, timeframes for having a hearing, etc.) at UCA 78A-6-504 and -505.  While I’m not finding any forms for terminating someone else’s parental rights (NOT voluntary relinquishment of rights–those forms and information are here), the statute is specific enough that one should be able to put together their own petition and get service of process done without them (or with some limited consulting with an attorney.)

Like I said, I’ve read a raft of caselaw recently regarding the process of terminating someone’s parental rights (here are just a few examples:  In re K.W., In re A.J., and In re B.A.).  A parent is entitled to a court appointed/state paid for attorney in termination proceedings if they can’t afford to hire a lawyer, but the parent is not required to have a lawyer–meaning, if the parent is offered but refuses counsel, they can’t come back later and say they were deprived of due process.  And the courts really do only require the showing of ONE of the statute’s grounds for termination.  ONE.  Though quite frankly, all the cases I’ve read where the appellate court affirmed the juvenile court’s decision to terminate rights have had a bucketload of grounds that more than justified termination.  All that said, the court MUST put into findings of fact actual facts that support the court’s decision to terminate rights….and they can’t be terminated just because a parent doesn’t strictly comply with a DCFS family plan.  (For an example/more explanation, see the court case In Re E.A., from May of 2018.)

The whole point behind a parent having rights to their child removed is for the welfare of the child.  This is not something to take lightly, but if you’re looking at a situation where a parent is NOT getting their act together, is consistently behaving in ways that make them an unfit parent (see the statute for what those ways legally are), and this behavior is threatening the ongoing stability of their child, terminating rights may be the best thing to do for the sake of that child.  Terminating parental rights opens up the child for adoption (which you’d file at the same time as the petition to terminate rights, just to cover your bases–but that’s another blog post.)  Adoption generally equals stability, and the chance to grow up better adjusted and more normally.  Best interests of the child are key here.

Family hands

Because family isn’t just about blood…it’s about people who care about each other.

Terminating parental rights is not the only way to get a child in a more secure situation, for the record.  I also discussed with the woman last night the possibility of getting a permanent guardianship in place.  This is more of a middle ground solution–it’s not legally Permanent–it CAN be undone at some point.  When a parent’s rights are terminated, it IS permanent.  Even if they voluntarily relinquish their rights.  There are no “I changed my mind” options.  Guardianship leaves open a way for a parent to get their situation under control, get stable, and eventually, possibly, get their kid back.  The Utah Courts website has a lot of info on getting a guardianship put in place, including forms.  Have a look-see.

To the woman I spoke with last night:  Good on you for caring enough to even look into this.  Legal actions are never convenient, and rarely pleasant, but you CAN do what needs to be done to make sure the child you’re caring for is in a stable place.  I wish you the best.

It’s Not Just “Being Worried”: Anxiety

Well Adjusted

I’ve mentioned a few times that I’ve struggled with some mental health issues.  I’ve been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, major depressive disorder (MDD), and dysthymia (persistent long-term depression).  Mental disorders can be debilitating, especially when you ignore them, pretend they don’t exist, and refuse to address them as you would any other illness.  I closed my private law practice in large part because my anxiety had gotten so bad that I was absolutely terrified of checking my email, answering the phone, TALKING to anyone…Getting out of bed was a major accomplishment every day.  Was it all in my head?  Yeah, just like asthma is all in your lungs, and scoliosis is all in your spine.  Stop Having a Seizure

On my better days, I venture the thought of going back into private practice…until the panic hits, and I start getting short of breath just thinking about it.  And I AM medicated.

It’s not something that I can fully control, though I have learned to cope a little better.  My work now is considerably less stressful, and I’m getting paid regularly (!), something that wasn’t happening when I was in private practice, which alleviates a lot of general life stress.  I’m in a much better place.

I’m not the only one who has had their life hijacked by anxiety…Meet Jalen Moore.

 

I work with Jalen’s mom; my kids were wowed by Jalen’s basketball talent in high school.  He’s gonna be just fine, because he’s smart enough to face HIS anxiety head-on, and work toward responsible management of it.  And like any illness, any physical problem, accepting that it’s a REAL problem, and not a weakness that reflects badly on one’s character is where you start in getting healthy again.

physical effects anxiety

The upshot is a panic attack can feel like you are dying…Nothing to worry about, right?

 

For a little musical insight, I give you the Black-Eyed Peas: Anxiety.  With the lyrics, so you can see and FEEL a little what this is like.

 

How to NOT Get Divorced: A Love Story

My parents celebrated their 47th wedding anniversary in January of this year.  47 YEARS together.  They have 6 kids.  They have gone through job loss, major moves, a kid with legal problems, kids with personal life issues, and are now raising my 2 young nieces.  Needless to say, their married life has not been all unicorns and butterflies.  And still, they are married.  And by all accounts, they are HAPPY in their marriage.  And how do we know…?

This morning my mom texted to our little family group message these pictures, with the message “Your dad is still a romantic!! we love him!!”

What you’re looking at is Valentines Day at their house, by 6:30 this morning.  My dad goes big on V Day.  That picture on the left is ALL the stuff he got for my mom and nieces; then you see my nieces with their individual gifts.  (M, child in the middle pic there, saw all this in the kitchen when they walked in this morning and said, “Where does he GO at night?!?!” 😉 ).  My dad does this every year.  He has gone big on Valentines Day for my mom for years; he’s added the Littles since they’ve been living with my parents (most of their young lives).  He’s retired now, but he did it when he was still working full time for the post office, and had to leave for work by 6:30 a.m.  He made sure he decorated my mom’s classroom at the school where she taught 5th grade until she retired last year, stealing her keys and getting in there BEFORE he had to leave for work, just so she and all  her students would walk in and see this huge deal being made of my mother by my dad.  He does this, and has done this even when it wasn’t easy or convenient.

Why???

Because My Dad Loves My Mom.  And this is one of the ways he shows her.  No, they don’t always get along.  They irritate each other sometimes, and they argue sometimes.  My dad is a night person; my mom is absolutely a morning person.  And now in their retirement, they have become parents of young children again, which is not how they thought their lives would go.  But they still LIKE each other.  They like spending time together.  They like going on long drives together, just to “see where the road goes.” They are on the same team.  They just like to Be together.

My dad gets Valentines and makes a big deal for my nieces because he wants them to see what it looks like to be treated well by a man.  My dad models being a good husband and father, and what a good relationship looks like to all of us kids.  Which is honestly one of the reasons I knew my first marriage was not okay.  I knew what it was supposed to look like and, more importantly, FEEL like, and mine did not.

Now, does this mean that unless you super go all out for V Day that you’re not a good partner?  Absolutely not.  But this is how MY dad does it.  And he isn’t just a good man on Valentines Day, and my parents don’t just work on being nice to each other on major holidays.  It’s Every. Damn. Day.  Just like anything you want to be good at.  You wanna be a great ball player? You practice.  You wanna be a great spouse?  You practice.

To be clear, doing YOUR best does not mean your marriage will last.  Marriages are made up of two people, and if only one is interested in working every day on it, and making their spouse a priority, that one person can’t carry the whole thing.  Which is really the saddest thing, truly.

But Today, on Valentines Day, here’s an example of how a long marriage can stay happy.  Happy V Day, ya’ll.Keep Trying

An Essay: In honor of my 43rd year of life, a new year, and to try and maintain my sanity insofar as is possible, THESE ARE THE RULES OF OUR HOUSE:

(**A year ago, on my birthday–which happens to be immediately after the New Year–I decided that it was high time that I expressed to my children exactly what was expected of them in our house.  I don’t have a lot of “Rules,” so to speak–Clean up after yourself, help out, be nice, don’t be a jerk…The basics.  By the time I hit my 43rd year, however, I had determined that this lack of actual definition of what the Rules are was being used against me.  And I decided to take action.  The following is a result of that decisionSent via text to those who live and hang out in my house:)Crack that whip

I am not the dishes fairy. If you come into our house and make a snack, get a drink, cook for yourself, etc, you WILL properly take care of the dishes. “Properly take care of dishes” is defined thusly: if you dirty a dish, you wash a dish. You either empty the clean dishes out of the dishwasher and load yours, load yours into an already dirty dishwasher, or RINSE AND NEATLY STACK your dishes ON THE COUNTER. Nasty slimy dishes in the sink is one of my biggest pet peeves, and y’all have lived with me long enough to know this.

You will clean up the counters after you have used the kitchen in any of the aforesaid ways. This means you put away things you got out, properly take care of your dishes (see above for definition), and wipe the counters. You DO NOT leave sticky yack on the counters, or popcorn kernels, popcorn popper, crumbs, any other appliances you may use on the counters.

You WILL properly take care of your dishes that you remove from the kitchen. This means dishes that you may have previously left in other places around the house. (See above for the definition of “properly taking care of your dishes.”)

You WILL clean up your own trash. Wrappers, plastic cups, cup o noodle cups, etc, are to be placed on a proper trash receptacle, NOT left on any surface around the house.

You WILL keep garbage in vehicles cleaned up and in the appropriate garbage sack. When the sack gets full, you WILL take it out of the car, put it into the outside garbage can, and replace the sack. You WILL NOT leave spilled drink yack, dirt, crumbs, etc. in the car after you use it. We are not driving around dumpsters! Every car has wet wipes in it. USE THEM.

Failure to comply with ANY of these rules by ANY person will result in the wifi password being changed, and not given out again until the problem is remediated. So y’all better figure out how to follow the rules PDQ or you’ll spend a lot of time watching basic cable, reading actual books (GASP!), or twiddling your thumbs.

I AM DONE. You WILL act more like responsible adults. I will not let you move off into the world as slobs and assholes who take advantage of those you live with.

Clean house

(The Epilogue:  Things got generally better.  I only changed the wifi password once, however, because as it happens, it’s more of a pain for me than it is for the kids.  Though I did make sure to spread my irritation at the pain to all of them, so they could share in my Joy ;).  And my oldest son moved out and into an apartment with friends last spring.  By December, he was ready to move back in with me…his roommates aren’t the cleanest, and it grosses him out.  Made my mama heart proud :).)

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….

 

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.

%d bloggers like this: