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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.

…and Time Waits for No Man…

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

First day of School 2010

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

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

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

Bitching on Social Media: KNOCK IT OFF

This is gonna be a little, short post, but it’s gotta be said.  STOP airing all your grievances on social media!  Keep your snarky little comments OFF Twitter!  Keep your personal, thinly-veiled jabs at the other party off Facebook!  You’re. Not. Helping.  Being pissed off about the ex boyfriend or ex husband or ex wife or ex girlfriend in a public forum is ugly, dumb, and completely immature.  ESPECIALLY if you have kids who have access to your vitriol about their dad/mom.

If your child support isn’t being paid, I’m sorry.  Stuff happens in people’s lives, and sometimes they CAN’T pay you AND keep the lights on.  And even if they’re just being hateful and refusing to pay?  Public shaming doesn’t make them any less hateful.  For real.  You’re not solving your problem.  You’re simply ramping up the conflict, creating drama, and adding more tension to BOTH of your lives.

If you and your ex are engaged in some sort of court case, DON’T GO SPEWING ALL OVER YOUR FB PAGE.  You look like a vicious b*tch–and that term applies to men who do it as well.  And then you provide evidence to the other person that they can simply blow up 16″x 24″ on a poster in court to show how horrible you are.  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve advised a client to SHUT UP on Facebook or Twitter.  You’re only hurting yourself with that kind of behavior.  You think your page is totally private?  Maybe it is, and maybe someone is seeing stuff and passing it on to the ex.  You will sink yourself, and you’ll have no one but yourself to blame. Because in the words of my Uncle Terry, and the Great John Wayne,

229378-Life-Is-Hard.-Its-Harder-If-You-re-Stupid

 

 

Parent Time: This is not a “pay to play” thing.

I’ve had this question come up a few times in the past few weeks, from a few different places.  A friend from way back asked if it was legal to withhold parent time for non-payment of child support, because he knows a guy (who lost his job, and got behind) who is experiencing that right now with his ex.  And I advised a couple that their daughter cannot keep her kids away from dad because he’s not paying child support (even though that dude is actually refusing to work specifically so he doesn’t have to pay–but that’s a topic for another day.)

So why CAN’T a custodial parent keep the non-custodial from having parent time if that person isn’t paying his/her child support?

Let’s start with the focus of the issue:  The kids need to have a relationship with BOTH parents.  Parent time is not something that is doled out based upon one’s ability to pay, or even their willingness to pay child support.  Studies have shown that children in divorce do better emotionally and socially when they have both parents actively involved in their lives.  A parent time order is designed to do just that–keep both parents involved with the kids.  Keeping a child from a loving parent, just because that parent isn’t paying the other one, disrupts the child’s relationship with that parent, and really could constitute emotional child abuse.

Mrs Doubtfire

One should never have to cross-dress just to have access to their kids.

“But it’s not fair!”  I hear this a lot (I hate the “F”–fair–word).  Why should the non-custodial parent get the benefit of having a relationship with the child when he/she isn’t even financially supporting the kid? I’ll tell you why–this is NOT about you, and it’s not about the money.  It’s about the kids.  Kids. Need. Both. Parents.  Even if one parent is a deadbeat (and for the record–I do not believe all people who don’t pay child support are deadbeats).  As (retired) Commissioner Garner of the First & Second Judicial Districts here in Utah was wont to say, children are half of each parent.  Denying a child from being with a parent is denying half of the child.   In the words of Natalie Hillard, the littlest child in Mrs. Doubtfire, “we’re his goddamn kids too!”

The divorce code specifically states that the other party not complying with the parenting plan provisions or child support order does not mean you can not comply, too.  (See U.C.A. 30-3-10.9(9)).  Parent time is part of the parenting plan provisions.

So yeah, it’s illegal.  But it’s also criminal.  If you keep a kid from a non-paying parent during the time he/she is supposed to have visitation, just because they’re not paying child support, you are committing a crime.  It’s called custodial interference, and the statute is found at U.C.A. 76-5-303.  Nothing in the statute makes an exception for non-payment of child support.  Unless you honest to God believe your child is in danger of abuse at the hands of the other parent, you cannot keep a parent with a visitation order away from his or her kid(s) during the time they have been awarded by the court.

Custodial Interference - 2016

…though it IS located in the criminal code under kidnapping…

A first offense is a Class B Misdemeanor; doing this twice in a 2 year period raises that to a Class A Misdemeanor.  Removing the child from the state when it’s supposed to be the other parent’s time is a third degree felony.  Class B misdemeanors may be punishable by a fine of up to $1000 and prison not to exceed 6 months; Class A–fine up to $2500 and not more than one year in prison; and third degree felonies may be punishable by a fine up to $5000 and up to 5 years in prison (see U.C.A. 76-3-301; 76-3-203; and 76-3-204).  The legislature was serious about parent time.  You should be, too.

So what can you do if this happens to you?  First off–you should be communicating clearly and in writing with a parent who is withholding your kids from you.  Email and request confirmation of the parent time schedule for the week, or the month, or the summer, or whatever.  Be civil.  Keep any responses.  Text the other parent about parent time.  Be civil.  Keep all responses.

If you have a statement from the other parent saying that they will NOT give you the kids for your parent time, call the police.  Request a civil standby, and go to the ex’s place to pick up your kids at the appointed hour.  When the other parent and the kids aren’t there, or if the other parent refuses to allow you to take the kids, make a police report.  Get copies of the police report. Request law enforcement refer the case to the local prosecutor.

File a motion to enforce your parent time order with the court.  This is called an Order to Show Cause.  It does not cost you anything to file, and you do not have to have a lawyer for this.  You can find forms on the Utah courts website to do this.

The caveats on enforcement:  Police and prosecutors won’t always want to charge a parent with custodial interference.  But if it were me, I would make a pest of myself until law enforcement took me seriously.  We’re talking about your relationship with your kids.  They won’t always be kids; you miss out on their growing up, and you can’t get that back.  If they don’t know who you are because the custodial parent is horrible, and you didn’t try harder, that’s partly on you.  Be the adult.  Be brave.

They’re your goddamn kids too.

The Verified Declaration of Paternity: Getting a Bio Dad Legal Rights from Birth

Baby Daddies

Baby Daddies are NOT disposable.

Because I have either (a) been living under a rock, or (b) have only interacted with unmarried parents when they were fighting, I was not aware of an option biological fathers have to gain legal rights to their children:  They can sign a voluntary declaration of paternity.  If you and your significant other are on good terms when having a baby together, but NOT married, this is a way for the bio dad to be legally recognized as the child’s father right from birth.  What this means is that bio dad has the same rights and responsibilities in relation to his child as bio mom does, as opposed to having ZERO rights in relation to his child.  The parents’ status is as though they were married when the child was born.

What this does NOT mean: A voluntary declaration of paternity does NOT put in place custody and parent time for the parents, any more than being married gives one parent or another automatic custody and parent time orders.  If you and your significant other break up, and you want to have something enforceable to address who gets to see or have custody of your child and when, you WILL need to go through a court action, just like if you’d been married and get divorced.  These are called Custody and Paternity actions (even though paternity is already established).

Dad&Diaper

Dad’s aren’t just for Disneyland, ya know…

An example of the benefits (or hazards, depending on which side you’re on) of having a voluntary declaration of paternity in place:

I recently became aware of a woman who had had a child with a former boyfriend.  They had never been married, and dad hadn’t even been around for most of the kid’s life.  Dad hadn’t paid child support ever, had moved out of state, and went long periods of time without any contact with the child at all.  BUT, when the child was born, mom and dad were still in love, and they signed a voluntary declaration of paternity at the hospital, along with all the other forms they have you sign when you have a baby in a hospital.  It was done in conjunction with the form that you fill out to get a birth certificate issued.

Dad and Mom hadn’t been together in years.  Mom was living with a new boyfriend; Dad was living with a new girlfriend.  An incident occurred in Mom’s life that caused DCFS to get involved with the child.  The State was NOT going to take the child out of Mom’s custody over this, however.  But Dad got wind of it, showed up at the child’s school one day shortly thereafter, picked up the kid, and left the state with him.  He could legally do that because of that voluntary declaration of paternity.  He has just as much right to his child as Mom does; and because there was no court order spelling out custody and parent time at that time, there was absolutely nothing Mom could do about it.

I don’t tell you this story so you can go out, sign a voluntary declaration, and then break up with Mom and steal the baby.  That’s a bullshit move if ever there was one.  But as a biological father, this truly is the best way to gain legal standing in your child’s life from the beginning…and the legal part is actually FREE if you do it at the hospital following the child’s birth.

The one hitch in this:  Both the biological father AND birth mother MUST sign the paternity declaration.  This is not something bio dad can do if mom is not on board with it.  But the point is this:  Getting paternity declared or otherwise legally determined is a big deal when it comes to having the right to be involved in your child’s life, or to even have custody of your child if something happens that keeps mom from being able to care for the child (like dying, becoming incapacitated, going to jail, etc.)  For an example of HOW important it is, just check out my post about Jose Vargas and his fight for custody of his daughter against the State of Utah (DCFS).

Now that you’re convinced that you need to get paternity legally acknowledged, here’s more information about how to actually get it done:

This is a link to a brochure produced by the State of Utah with steps to take and contact information for the agencies you need to work with to make a voluntary declaration of paternity, as well as what it costs if you don’t get it done at the hospital immediately after the child’s birth.

The Utah Courts website also has information about the various ways to get paternity legally acknowledged for the purpose of Dad having rights to his kid, even without a voluntary declaration…you can find that here (and you don’t have Mom on board to do all of them).

And the statute in Utah, the Voluntary Declaration of Paternity Act, can be found here.

Dad reading to kids

Kids need their dads involved in their lives.  Let’s not cut them out, mmmkay?

The reality is that bio dads do not automatically have rights to their kids unless they’re married to bio mom (and she can give away your kid, too, without even telling you about it, if you’re not fast enough off the line…check out this poor guy’s situation).  The state can put you on the hook for child support and you still wouldn’t have any right to see your babies.  If you really want to be involved with your son or daughter, you’ve got to get the legal stuff taken care of.  This is the most serious case of “you snooze, you lose.”  Do it for yourself, but more importantly–do it for your kid.

 

 

Things I Care About: Do Unto Others

Golden Rule Plus

If you’ve read very many of my blog posts, you kind of start to get a feeling for things that I’m passionate about. Like

Fathers’ Rights.  I deeply believe that the best way to keep our kids whole through the divorce process is for them to have BOTH parents in their lives.  In this world of family law, where custody seems to default to moms, we should not forget that there are a lot of really great dads out there who are heartbroken at losing time to just Be around their kids on a daily basis.  While that may not be practical in a divorce,  that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work to keep Dad there as often as possible.  And intentionally keeping a loving father from his kids IS child abuse.  We need the courts to take it more seriously, and we need a general shift in societal thinking that defaults away from thinking that single moms are always saints.

and

Domestic Abuse.  By this I mean ALL forms of abuse.  We tend to think only in terms of physical violence as being abusive, but psychological abuse may be far more pervasive, and can take a helluva lot longer to get over.  Victims of abuse tend to be less likely to have custody of their kids, because they tend also to have less access to resources with which to hire a lawyer in a divorce.  Moms who don’t have their kids could well have been victims of domestic abuse in their marriages, and every day of their lives without their kids is just another stab in the heart by the abuser.  We as a community (especially a community like I live in here in Utah) need to lay off judging moms who did not get custody as though they’re some sort of addict or loser.  Heaping misery on the wounded is cruel; we are better than that.

and

Kids.  It seems like in any divorce action, kids always end up being the Big Losers.  They don’t get any choice in their whole worlds getting thrown into chaos; in Utah, they have no choice, really, who they get to live with.  And even if they DID have the option, how do you choose between two parents you love dearly?  I remember being a freshman in college and having a nightmare that my parents were divorcing, and that I was begging them not to, and they wouldn’t listen.  I woke up sobbing, and had to call my mom to make sure that it was just a really bad dream.  The biggest pain in my life is knowing the MY kids never got to wake up from that Really Bad Dream.  I’ve been divorced nearly 12 years, and I still feel horrible every time I think about it (like now, writing this post, and blowing my nose and wiping my eyes.)

and

Fairness.  and Decency.  and Human Kindness. and Equity.  I mean, seriously….whatever happened to these values?  I see them evidenced in some divorce cases, but way more often it’s as though the parties feel a need to feed the fight, and take whatever they possibly can, and hurt the other person, no matter what the cost.  I know I’m way too sensitive (part of why I can’t do this family law thing full time anymore), but I don’t think it’s asking too much for people to apply a little Golden Rule into their lives, even if their lives include ex spouses.  Do unto others as you would have them do to you, ya’ll.  Or better yet, don’t do things to them that you wouldn’t want them to do to you.Even Better

And if we would all live by just that one little rule, what a wonderful world it would be.

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