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Posts Tagged ‘family law’

…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….

Breaking Up is Hard to Do…

I spent last Friday in a divorce mediation.  The marriage spanned two decades; the parties have 5 kids.  By my client’s account, it was not a happy marriage, and the miracle was that it had not ended sooner.  broken heart

The agreement we mediated was about as good as it gets in terms of being a statutorily equitable split.  My client WANTS to get divorced, but she’s still very upset about the whole thing.  It’s just not really fair, even if it’s equitable. And Why?

Because it will never BE “fair.” Because she did not get married to get divorced.  Because she has 5 kids who are heartbroken and disillusioned and upset about the situation their parents are in.  Because she had planned on a Future, that didn’t include getting divorced, that may have included kids’ graduations from high school and weddings and grandkids, with all the traditions you see in an intact family.  Because at one time, she had a Dream of what life as a married person would look like.

And that Dream is dead, not to be resuscitated. No divorce settlement will ever be able to make all the pain ok or right or fix it.  Getting divorced Hurts.  Bad.  Even when it really NEEDS to happen.  Getting divorced is like running head-on into a wall.  Boom.  Turn around.  Start over.  Somehow.  And a lot of times that “starting over” is from less than Scratch.  Like, no retirement left, no job experience, kids and expenses but not enough income to pay for everything AND maintain any kind of actual life.

You’ve gotta take some time to grieve after a divorce…Maybe a long time.  Because getting divorced is the ULTIMATE break up. And we all know breaking up is hard to do.

They say time and mercy heal all wounds.  The challenge is surviving the passage of time, ya’ll.  So be gentle with your divorcing and newly divorced friends.  It’s a pretty horrific thing they’re going through.

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.

More Myths from Divorceland: The DisneyLand Dad

We’ve all heard the term–Disneyland Dad.  This is the father who doesn’t have to be involved with the kids on a day to day basis, who “gets” to just be the one who the kids have fun with, the one with “no responsibility,” because he doesn’t have to do blah, blah blah Hard Stuff…  Generally we hear about Disneyland Dads from custodial moms who are more than a little bitter.  But there are some problems with this categorization, which land it into Myth status.

Problem #1:  The assumption here is that it’s dad’s CHOICE to only spend time with the kids every other weekend, a few hours on a weekday (if that), and some time during the summer and at holidays.  Mom makes it sound like Dad is skipping out on the day to day parenting, the homework, the colds, the trips to the doctor, all of that Parent Stuff.  And why would that be?

It’s that way because Dad is the non-custodial parent.  That’s all he’s been allowed to be by a court order…And a lot of the time that court order put him in that position because that’s what Mom insisted on, sometimes just so she can be in control and force Dad to pay child support.  And why wouldn’t Dad want to take what little time he has to be with his kids and have fun with them?  That only makes sense.  I’m not saying it’s always this way, but it definitely IS this way some of the time.

Problem #2:  If Mom is really interested in Dad carrying more of the substantive responsibility, guess what?  She can involve him more.  If the parents live in close proximity to each other, there’s no reason Mom can’t do this. She can actually co-parent with Dad, as opposed to cutting him out of any part of the kids’ lives that she isn’t court ordered to allow.  I mean, if both mom and dad work, why SHOULDN’T dad take a day off work to stay home with a sick kid, or take them to the doctor every now and again?  Why should mom be the one to always take on that responsibility?  It doesn’t have to be that way.  And if it is, it’s more than likely because she is insisting on it, because “kids need their Moms,” and she needs a little more fuel to justify her assertion that her ex is a Disneyland Dad.

Problem #3:  Sometimes Dad’s are too far away to even get that every other weekend, and being there for doctor visits, etc., is a practical impossibility.  Why do you suppose that is? Sometimes it’s because Mom decided to relocate.  There are legitimate reasons for her to relocate, for sure, but if you’ve got a Mom who’s all about moaning about her “absentee” father of an ex, or goes on and on about how he’s just a Disneyland Dad, or a deadbeat who doesn’t have to do the “hard stuff in parenting,” chances are she lives far away from Dad specifically to keep the kids away from him.  Again, when he DOES have a chance to be with his kids, it only makes sense that he’d want to do fun things with them, and make those memories that Mom has prevented him from making on a day to day basis.

So next time you hear some Poor Single Mommy whining about her ex being a Disneyland Dad, who never has to do the Hard Parenting, consider that it’s highly likely that what she really is is a Martyr Mommy–and is doing her damndest to make her ex looks like a jerk not only to the rest of the world, but to her kids.  Which constitutes child abuse.

Maybe consider that before making a judgment about that Dad you know nothing about.

**Side note:  I was gonna post some quippy memes on here, but DAMN, PEOPLE!  There is some super cruel stuff out there!  Depressed me just looking for a pic.  Maybe if we could all just grow the hell up and act like decent parents blog posts like this wouldn’t be necessary!

Fathers’ Rights….Why is this even a thing?

Unless you’ve been blessed with the perfect, family-law-free life, you’ve heard about the fathers’ rights movement.  And I have to say–Why is this even a thing??  In this age where we are so concerned with equality under the law, when fathers are being told they need to step up, when it’s been scientifically proven that children with an active father in their lives fare better emotionally and socially, WHY are fathers still having to effectively beg to have an equal part in their children’s lives?  Or in some cases, ANY part in their children’s lives?

In 2014, UCA 30-3-10 was enacted with language specifically stating that the court “shall consider the best interests of the child without preference for either the mother or father solely because of the biological sex of the parent…” (emphasis added.)  How that will be used in the courts remains to be seen.  I have not as of yet seen any caselaw from the Utah appellate court (the appeals system) that mentions the issue of bias based on whether one is the mother or father.

The legislature also enacted statute in 2014 that states what the policy behind any child custody order should be.  This is embodied within U.C.A. 30-3-32, and states in part that,  absent a showing of actual harm to a child, “it is in the best interests of the child of divorcing, divorced, or adjudicated parents to have frequent, meaningful, and continuing access to each parent following separation or divorce; each divorcing, separating, or adjudicated parent is entitled to and responsible for frequent, meaningful, and continuing access with his child consistent with the child’s best interests; and it is in the best interests of the child to have both parents actively involved in parenting the child.” (emphasis added.)

Generally the standard used in determining what type of physical custody arrangement will be in place in any proceeding involving children is Best Interest–as in, what will be in the best interest of the child.  In Utah, best interest has been defined by statute, located at U.C.A. 30-3-34.  These are the factors that the court is to focus on, at the very least, in making a custody determination.

Until fathers are being given at least the same deference as mothers, we have a problem. They are SUPPOSED to be, per our law that was proposed and adopted by our elected representatives.  It is our JOB as citizens to actively engage in making sure changes that have been put in place by the legislature are actively followed by our courts.  Because to quote the Lorax,

lorax

 

For other references and support, check out the Father’s Rights Movement.  

 

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