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The Advisory Guidelines: Especially at the Holidays

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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30 Days of Thankfulness (Condensed Version)

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

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

    My boys with me at my law school graduation

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

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

    Tim&Wyo

    My hubby & Wyoming…a twofer

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

    View from the front porche 2015

    The view from the front porch…with mountains.

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

    MyPiano

    My piano

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

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

Fear

Fear makes the wolf bigger than he isAs a noun, fear is defined as “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.”  As a verb, to “be afraid of (someone or something) as likely to be dangerous, painful, or threatening.”  Fear can be a huge motivator to either do, or NOT do, a particular thing.  Sometimes fear is based in reality; sometimes, just in the perception of reality.  Fear can be crippling, can prevent one from taking necessary, reasonable action, or can motivate one to take actions that are unreasonable, dangerous, or out of proportion to the circumstances.

So what does that have to do with the law?

Family law actions are emotional things.  While the divvying up of assets, assignment of debts, allocation of custody and parent time, and awards of child support and alimony are black and white things, underlying the entire process is a mess of emotions, largely unpleasant ones.  Anger, pain, rage, desperation, panic, despair, sadness, frustration, helplessness, hopelessness….Swirling in with that horrible mix is Fear.

Fear is a huge part of any major life change….fear of the unknown–what happens with my budget when I’m limited to x amount of dollars a month?  What happens to my retirement goals when I have to pay out x dollars a month?  Why should I have to pay money to this person who is hurting me?  When will I get to see my kids?  What if my ex makes my kids hate me?  How will I pay all the expenses I need to for my kids?  What if I can’t pay the rent on this child support/alimony amount?  How am I supposed to get a job and take care of my kids at the same time? Who’s gonna hire me???  Is anyone ever gonna want to be with me again????

I would suggest that much of the reason people behave irrationally, do dumb things, say dumb things, try to avoid legal action, or any of the thousands of different ways people end up hurting themselves in family cases is out of fear:  “If I avoid the process server, they can’t serve me, and this will all go away.”  “He said there’s a warrant out for my arrest if I try and show up to court….I can’t get arrested!”

Mark Twain CourageWhile legal proceedings can be scary, the best way to deal with them is through Knowledge.  Be proactive–don’t wait until the last minute to seek legal advice.  If you’re scared about a threat made by the Other, ASK someone who knows or can find out about whether there’s any truth to the threat.  If you married a bully, be ready to deal with a bully.  Is it scary?  Hell YES it is.  But avoiding it, hiding, pretending it’s not happening, remaining willfully ignorant will do more to hurt you in the long AND short run than squaring your shoulders and addressing the situation.

Case in point:

I got divorced in 2005.  At the time, I’d been a stay at home mom, had 4 kids, the oldest of which were 8 year old twins, and had no money to my own name other than what my husband brought in.  My marriage had come apart, and my mental health was deteriorating.  I couldn’t stay married and live.  And No, I’m not being dramatic when I say that.  I was scared to death.

So how did I handle it?

I rolled over and died, in a manner of speaking.  My husband hired a lawyer, who drafted an agreement taking everything away from me except for some really minimal bits of Stuff.  I didn’t fight to get custody of the kids I’d been primary caretaker of for their entire lives.  I didn’t even attempt to stay in my house, or get alimony, or ask for half of the rest of our marital, not-insignificant assets.  I signed my husband’s agreement.  That became the terms of my divorce, and gave him custody of my kids.

I flat out gave up.  Out of paralyzing, crippling Fear.  Everything my husband said about how miserable he’d make me if I tried to get even statutory minimums under the law for ANYTHING, I believed.  All the little demeaning, demoralizing comments he threw out at me, I believed.  I was terrified–terrified of a legal fight, terrified of my kids getting hurt any worse than they already were, terrified of losing my mind before it was all said and done…Terrified.  Scared.  Panicked.

And so, out of blind, crippling, numbing, paralyzing fear, I gave up.  Everything–my kids, my home, any portion of 10 years of marriage…all of it.  Without a fight.

Ask me how much I regret that.  And when you do, bring tissues, because I’m going to cry my eyes out on you, even though it’s been nearly 13 years since all that happened.fear-is-the-mindkiller

DON’T YOU BE LIKE ME.  You be BRAVE.  Find your support people.  Face your fears, even if you have to face them quietly, by seeking out help online, or at a victim’s crisis center.  Get real information.  Do a little research.  DON’T GO DOWN WITHOUT A FIGHT!  For the love of all that is good and holy, I am begging you, do not let fear take your life from you.  You can do it.  I swear, it’s hard as hell, but you CAN.  And you Must.

A final Scene from the story of fear in my life:  I am at my Aunt Nancy’s house, curled up on the floor in her bathroom, sobbing out of fear and the misery that came from letting my fear cripple me when it counted most.  She is sitting next to me, on the floor, knees pulled up to her chest, her arm around my shoulders.  She is saying, “I wish I could poor courage into your spine so you can stand.”

I say to you–Imagine me pouring courage into your spine.  Stand up. You may be afraid, but don’t let it control you.  You are not alone.

Be Brave.

…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.

 

 

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