NEW CASE LIMITS JUDGE’S ABILITY TO MAKE DECISIONS FOR PARENTS

It came on like a silent earthquake. You didn’t see it coming. You never felt it when it hit. But now the foundation of the place where you live has shifted. The cracks in the walls are becoming visible. And nothing will ever be the same.

That is the effect of the 2018 Arizona appellate court case of NICAISE v. SUNDARAM,

Before Nicaise, the Family Court was the final arbiter of disputes over matters like education, medical, religious, or other decisions that parents make. If the parties couldn’t agree on an important parenting issue, one of them could take the matter to court and, after a trial or a hearing, the judge would make the decision for them.

But not anymore.

The Court in Nicaise ruled that a judge “may not substitute its judgment for that of a parent and make parenting decisions for them when they are unable to agree.” So now, when parents disagree, a judge can no longer decide which school a child will attend, or what doctor can treat her, or whether she will participate in therapy, etc. Those are parental decisions, and the Court no longer has the authority to intervene and “break the tie.”

For a number of years, the trend in divorce, legal separation, paternity, and other Family Law cases has been for the courts to award the parents joint legal decision-making authority (formerly called “joint custody”). But the Nicaise case is likely to slow down that trend, or even stop it in its tracks, in cases where people have trouble co-parenting.

Previously, the courts would sometimes enter a joint legal decision-making order, but give one of the parents the “Final-Say” in the event of a disagreement. It required the parents to at least discuss the issue, and each parent had input. But that has changed, too. The Court, in Nicaise, determined that “an award of joint legal decision-making that gives final authority to one parent is, in reality, an award of sole legal decision-making.” So now, if parents cannot seem to agree, then instead of awarding them joint custody with one parent having “final say,” it is likely that the judge will simply award one parent sole legal decision-making authority. This might make the other parent feel as though his or her parental rights have been stripped away. And it could set the stage for less co-parenting, and more fighting, in the future.

The effect of the Nicaise ruling is that if a mother and father are unable to make decisions together, the Court will have to appoint one parent to make all the decisions; or it might split up the decision-making authority so that, for instance, one parent is in charge of making educational decisions while the other has the authority to make medical decisions.

The Nicaise case represents yet another major shift in how Family Law cases are decided in Arizona. It may take years for the repercussions of that ruling to become clear. But this we do know: There is no longer a reason for a judge to order that the parents have joint legal decision-making authority with one parent having the final say. And when parents appear to be unable to make decisions together, it is likely that a judge will grant one parent or the other sole legal decision-making authority. This could derail the decades-old trend of Arizona courts giving divorced/separated parents joint decision-making responsibility, and expecting them to be able to co-parent.

How will the Nicaise ruling play out in the future? – It may result in pitched court battles between parents, with each of them seeking “sole custody,” and it could turn divorce and custody litigation into a high-conflict, winner-take-all contest. This makes it even more important for moms and dads to try to work together and co-parent effectively. And, where they are unable to do so, it will be worthwhile to consider peaceful options, such as mediation and settlement negotiation. Because if those efforts fail, and litigation becomes the only alternative, it is likely that one parent is going to win, and one parent is going to lose. And sometimes that is not the best outcome for the children.

 

 

At the Law Firm of Gary J. Frank P.C., both Gary Frank and attorney Hanna Juncaj are strong litigators and compassionate counselors. Gary Frank is a Family Law Attorney with over 30 years of experience as a litigator and mediator. He has also acted in the capacity of a Judge Pro Tempore in the Maricopa County Superior Court, and served on the Governor’s Child Abuse Prevention Task Force.  Hanna Juncaj is a highly-skilled attorney with a passion for Family Law and children’s issues. She has extensive courtroom experience, and is also a certified mediator. In addition, Hanna is an active member of her County Bar Association.  We handle Family Law cases in the areas of divorce, custody (now called “Legal Decision-Making and Parenting Time), relocation (move-away), division of property, spousal and child support, modification and enforcement actions, grandparent and non-parent rights, and all other matters pertaining to families and children. If you are in need of a consultation, call us today at 602-383-3610; or you can contact us by email through our website at www.garyfranklaw.com.   We look forward to hearing from you.

 

 

 

Working Dad’s Journal – Thoughts on Father’s Day

May 31, 1985

To My Little Girl (6 months old):

Since you were born, I have undergone a gradual transformation. What has changed is my entire definition of self – the way I view myself.  The change is imperceptible to others.  I look, dress, and act the same as I always have, but I feel different.

I had a beautiful childhood.  I felt safe in the knowledge that my parents loved me.  This was, for me, a protective shield.  My memories of those days are vivid and happy.  I can still remember jumping in bed with my dad on Sunday mornings and the way he would turn and smile and wrap me up in his massive arms.  I remember him lifting me gently and carrying me off to bed at night, and clinging to him, my head on his shoulder, pretending to be asleep.  I remember our baseball games in the backyard and how proud I was that my dad was the one teaching us how to hit, field, and throw.  I remember our man-to-man talks and how important I felt as my dad listened intently to my thoughts.  In my eyes, my dad was of heroic proportions, fearless and strong, yet kind and wise.  Today I not only remember those times with my dad, I feel them.

 Now I walk into your room.  It is dark and you are crying.  You reach for me and I lift you out of your crib and hold you in my arms.  You cling to me.  Although you are still whimpering, you smile.  I talk to you softly and turn to gaze into the mirror on your closet door.  Through the dim light, I look at myself and see my dad.

CO-PARENTING vs. PARALLEL PARENTING – WHICH IS BEST FOR YOU?

In every divorce involving legal decision-making and parenting time issues, parents must strive to keep the needs of the children as their #1 priority.  Children benefit most when they have relationships with both parents and tend to adjust better to divorce when:
·       They have healthy and happy relationships with both of their parents;
·       Parents don’t argue in the presence of their children;
·       Parents don’t place their children in the middle of disputes; and
·       Both parents are responsive to the needs of their children.
CO-PARENTING
“Co-parenting” describes a situation where the parents are not married, cohabitating or in a romantic relationship with one another.  Co-parenting often involves a parenting situation in which two separated or divorced parents communicate and work together to take care of their children.  Co-parenting can also describe a situation where, after a divorce, the child’s parents desire to maintain equal or equivalent responsibility for their children’s upbringing.  When successful, Co-parenting is a wonderful opportunity for children of divorce to still have access to both parents and retain a sense of family dynamic.  To come to a workable co-parenting arrangement, the parents must consider various factors, including:
·  What decisions need to be made? These commonly consist of decisions regarding education, extracurricular activities, medical treatment, sporting and social activities, religion, etc.
·      How will you make the decisions?  Will you meet in person to discuss decisions?  Will you communicate over the phone?  Email?  Text?
·     How will you share schedules?  How flexible do you want to be in scheduling?  When will the children see each of their parents?  What if one parent is late —  how will you deal with this?  Will the schedule remain the same as the children get older?
·     How will you handle discipline? How can you try to be on the same page when it comes to discipline? How will you communicate when a problem arises? Will each parent handle discipline on his and her own? If a child misbehaves at mom’s house, should he be disciplined by both parents or just mom?  If a child misbehaves in class, should she receive discipline from both parents or just the one she is returning home to?
·   What will happen in an emergency?  Have you provided your ex-spouse with all emergency contact information?  Will the parents notify one another before emergency medical treatment?
·      How will you handle disputes? If the parents cannot agree on a disciplinary issue, how will you deal with it? Is there a mutually-trusted family member or a friend who can help you discuss the matter? If the disagreement involves a medical decision, can you ask the doctor for guidance and advice? Or, if the dispute is an especially difficult one, will you seek the help of a professional mediator?
Because parenting involves a substantial number of decisions in all aspects of the child’s life, it is helpful to draw up a chart listing certain decisions and who should make them.  Here’s a brief example:
Who makes decisions regarding:
Mom
Dad
Together
HOUSEHOLD RULES & CHILDCARE
Allowances
Bedtime
Clothing
Grooming
Computer, software, and video game use
Television shows (which shows, what time)
Cell Phone, Computer, & Internet use
Meals
Toys
Handling behavior problems
RESIDENTIAL
Living situation
Transportation
SOCIAL LIFE
Dating
Driving
Friends
Sports & Social Activities
Sharing Cost of Activities
EDUCATION & MORAL TRAINING
Morals, values
Religion
Choice of Schools
Helping with homework
After school care
Extracurricular Activies &
Expense Sharing
HEALTH
Dentist
Doctor
Medication
Major medical issues
Psychological counseling, if applicable
Unfortunately, harmony cannot be achieved in every case despite both parents’ best efforts to cooperate.  When parents are unable to co-parent in a healthy, effective way that is in the best interests of their children — or when one of the parents refuses to cooperate — it can be a source of great conflict and stress for everyone involved. Many studies have found that most children of divorce grow up to be healthy, well-adjusted adults; however, children who are raised in corrosive, high-conflict parental situations are at risk to develop emotional problems that can last a lifetime. Sometimes, divorced or separated parents simply cannot work together, despite all their efforts. When that is the case, they should consider using a technique known as “Parallel Parenting.”
PARALLEL PARENTING
Parallel Parenting is a type of parenting arrangement that is best in situations of high conflict where parents have different parenting styles and can’t see eye-to-eye on even the most basic issues.  It is a form of co-parenting where a mother and father reduce the level of conflict through disengagement.  Specifically, they have limited direct contact with each other. And when they do communicate, it takes place in a more structured manner, such as through email.  Each parent sets rules for his/her own household (bedtimes, homework, TV or computer times, discipline, etc.), without concern that they may be different than the rules that are in place in the other parent’s household.  Some principles to keep in mind include:
·       Parents must never use their children as messengers to communicate back and forth;
·       All communication must be business-like in nature and relate to information relevant only to the children’s well-being;
·       Schedules should be shared via a calendar or in writing;
·       No changes to the parenting-time schedule should be made without written agreement.
Parallel parenting, if done the right way, can provide children of divorce or separation with the same sense of fulfillment and happiness as a healthy co-parenting relationship.  Because parallel parenting is normally employed when parents disagree with one another to the point that they cannot communicate effectively, those in parallel parenting arrangements should remember that their exes are their children’s parents and, for that reason alone, they deserve respect.  Keeping differences with one’s ex away from the children will open opportunities to move beyond divorce in the future.

 

Whether one decides to co-parent or try out parallel parenting, the main concern should always be what is in the children’sbest interests.

Gary Frank & Jacinda Chen

 

At the Law Firm of Gary J. Frank P.C., both Gary Frank and attorney Hanna Juncaj are strong litigators and compassionate counselors. Gary Frank is a Family Law Attorney with over 30 years of experience as a litigator and mediator, which includes having acted in the capacity of a Judge Pro Tempore in the Maricopa County Superior Court; and serving on the Governor’s Child Abuse Prevention Task Force. Hanna Juncaj is a highly-skilled attorney with a passion for Family Law and children’s issues. We handle Family Law cases in the areas of divorce, custody (now called “Legal Decision-Making and Parenting Time), relocation (move-away), division of property, spousal and child support, modification and enforcement actions, grandparent and non-parent rights, and all other matters pertaining to families and children. If you are in need of a consultation, please do not hesitate to call our office at 602-383-3610; or you can contact us by email at gary.frank@azbar.org, or through our website at www.garyfranklaw.com.   We look forward to hearing from you.

 

“COUNCIL ON SHARED PARENTING” CONCLUDES THAT SHARED PARENTING IS GOOD . . . REALLY?


What’s wrong with this picture? . . . 

The First International Conference on Shared Parenting” has published a “Research Consensus Statement” following a July, 2014 conference organized by the International Council on Shared Parenting (ICSP).  In their report, the experts concluded that shared parenting is in the best interest of the majority of children whose parents divorce.  Psychology Today refers to the study as “groundbreaking” . . .
Really?  Should be we surprised that the “International Conference on Shared Parenting” would conclude that shared parenting is a good thing?  Isn’t that a little like the “Conference for Legalization of Marijuana” concluding that marijuana should be legalized?  It doesn’t mean they’re wrong.  It’s just that their conclusions are . . . well . . . not all that astounding.  I mean, hey, is the Council on Shared Parenting going to say that shared parenting is harmful? 
I’m all for shared parenting.  But I also believe that in determining an appropriate parenting plan, the Court should make its decision on a case-by-case basis, without the use of blanket presumptions.  Where children are involved, a one-size-fits-all approach is not always wise.
This “groundbreaking” conference was organized by the “International Council on Shared Parenting” – that, in itself, could lead one to believe that the findings may have been tainted by bias. 

. . . Just saying . . . 

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/co-parenting-after-divorce/201407/research-consensus-statement-co-parenting-after-divorce


 The Law Office of Gary J. Frank has been a fixture in the Biltmore area of Phoenix, Arizona for over thirty years.  Gary Frank is a Family Law litigator, a mediator, and a former Judge Pro Tem.  Our firm handles a wide array of cases, such as divorce, domestic partnerships, custody, relocation, paternity, child and spousal support, division of property and businesses, modification and enforcement actions, grandparent and non-parent rights, and all matters relating to families and children.  If you are in need of a consultation, please do not hesitate.  Contact us today.  You can reach us by telephone at 602-383-3610, or by email at gary.frank@azbar.org, or through our website at www.garyfranklaw.com.  We’d be honored to help 

PARALLEL PARENTING CAN HELP HIGH-CONFLICT MOMS & DADS PARENT EFFECTIVELY

I’m going to tell you three things that every divorced parent should know:

  • When a mom and dad are able to effectively co-parent following a divorce, their children have an excellent chance of growing up to be healthy and well-adjusted adults;
  • On the other hand, children who grow up with parents who are openly angry and hostile toward each other can develop long-term emotional problems that will plague them throughout their lives and could adversely affect their own relationships.
  • But the good news is that parents who find it difficult or impossible to co-parent cooperatively can still raise happy, emotionally healthy children by effectively using a technique known as “Parallel Parenting.”

If you are divorced, it’s likely that you and your former spouse didn’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of things while you were married.  Communication is a difficult matter to begin with, and it doesn’t always get easier when a couple separates or divorces.  In a high-conflict parenting situation – where every phone call or text message can become a spark that ignites an angry explosion – communication after a separation or divorce often becomes worse rather than improving.

So how can a mother and father in a high-conflict relationship learn to effectively communicate after their marriage has ended and they are living apart?  Obviously, there is no easy answer.  The road might continue to be rocky in the days ahead, and you may never be able to communicate as well as you’d like — but by employing a concept known as “Parallel Parenting” you can learn how to communicate better, and co-parent more effectively.

WHAT IS PARALLEL PARENTING?

Parallel Parenting is a form of co-parenting where a mother and father learn how to reduce the level of conflict by disengaging from each other.  They actually communicate less, and the communication takes place in a more structured manner, such as by email.  Often, in a high-conflict child custody litigation, the Court will step in and order the mom and dad to abide by a parallel parenting arrangement.  But parents are also free to employ this method on their own, without a court order.  Typically, a parallel parenting arrangement includes some or all of the following:

  • Communication between parents must be by email, rather than by phone, text message, or in person.  This allows the parents to think first and avoid making a knee-jerk comment that may be hurtful or angry — which is wise, because any remark you put in an email could later be read by a judge, and it might come back to bite you.
  • The parenting-time schedule must be in writing and strictly enforced.  No flexibility.  No trading days or weekends.  No negotiation.  Just stick to the schedule.  Since both parents know that they must stick to the schedule there is less opportunity for conflict and hostility.
  • The parents may keep a log of the children’s activities and/or medical issues during their scheduled time.  Then the parent who has the children will then give the updated log to the other parent at the end of his or her parenting time, when the children are exchanged.  Sending a log back and forth is a good way for the parents to keep each other informed about how the children are doing, while at the same time minimizing personal contact.  But the hard-and-fast rule for writing a log is this:  No editorializing.  No sarcastic comments.  No put-downs.  Just stick to the facts.
  • Each parent is responsible for obtaining information from the children’s school, including report cards, schedules, etc.  The parents should attend parent-teacher conference, performances, and events separately and have as little contact with each other as possible.
  • The parents should take turns having the children for birthdays; or split the day so that each parent has his/her separate time with the birthday boy or girl.  Parents should not attend birthday parties together if they cannot get along — and if they do they should remain cordial and have as little contact with each other as possible, so as to reduce conflict and spare the children the disappointment of having their special day ruined by their parents fighting.
  • Each parent must come to terms with the fact that during the time the children are in the care of the other parent they may be on a different schedule, have different bedtimes, eat different foods, participate in different activities, and be disciplined in a different manner.  Obviously, neglect or abuse by a parent cannot be tolerated.  But, short of a dangerous situation, you may have to accept that your “ex” has a much different parenting style than your own, and that it’s OK.  If you parent consistently, then the children will know what to expect when in your home.
  • It can be helpful for the parents to meet on a regular basis (monthly, quarterly, or every six months) with a counselor, a child psychologist, or a Parenting Coordinator to discuss problem issues and/or to learn how to stay on the same page in parenting their mutual children.  An expert can provide useful information and ideas, while helping the parents learn to communicate better and reduce the level of conflict
  • Above all, the parents should not place the children in the middle of their marital or post-marital problems.  Parents should not argue in the presence of the children.  They should not badmouth the other parent to the children.  They should not talk to them inappropriately about their legal case or show them court documents.  And they should not use the children as messengers or go-betweens to communicate with the other parent.  Remember, you are the parent.  Your job is to protect the children.  So, let the kids be kids, and keep them out of your adult disputes.

Parallel Parenting is often the best and sometimes the only way for high-conflict couples to co-parent.  It is not uncommon that, with the passage of time, the conflict between the parties will calm and the situation will improve to the point where they are able to communicate without anger and begin to co-parent cooperatively.

If you are caught up in a high-conflict situation and want to increase the odds that your children will grow up to be happy, healthy, and well-adjusted adults then you should consider learning the technique of “Parallel Parenting.

 

 

Gary J. Frank is a Family Law Attorney and Mediator with over thirty years of experience in dealing in divorcecustody, legal decision-making, and parenting-time issues. For many years he acted as a Judge Pro Tempore in the Maricopa County Superior Court, which gave him an insight into the inner workings of the courts that many attorneys lack.  In addition to representing Family Law clients in litigation, we are also willing to help people by working with them on a Limited-Scope or Consultation-Only basis.  Our office is located in the Biltmore area of central Phoenix, with satellite offices in Scottsdale and Paradise Valley, Arizona.  We can be reached by telephone (602-383-3610); or by email at gary.frank@azbar.org.  You can also reach us through our website at www.garyfranklaw.com.  If you are in need of a consultation regarding any area of Family Law, contact us today.  We’d be happy to help.

 

VACCINATE YOUR CHILDREN AND SAVE THEIR LIVES

I grew up at the tail end of an era when killers of children lurked around every corner.  We knew who they were, but we couldn’t stop them.  We lived in dread, and when we left the house and went out into the world there was nothing we could do but pray.  These killers had names like Polio, Whooping Cough, Measles, Mumps.  They took the lives of thousands of children each year in one epidemic after another. 

When I was a kid, everyone knew a family who was the victim of one of these monsters.  A parent whose child died of whooping cough.  A neighbor whose children had the measles.  And, worst of all, someone whose child was paralyzed, and in an “iron lung” battling for his or her young life due to having been infected with polio.  The word “polio” struck fear into the hearts of parents and children alike.  On every school yard you could see children who limped on withered legs from a battle with polio – and these were the lucky ones – they survived.  In 1952, the year I was born, there were 60,000 cases of polio, and 3,000 deaths.

Whooping cough (Pertussis) is another killer of children.  It is an upper-respiratory disease that attacks babies, and it can be deadly.  It strikes without warning and can last several weeks.  Its calling card is a horrifying wheezing-type cough that chokes its little victims, sometimes to death.

But during my childhood, a seeming miracle happened.  Doctors found that through the use of a vaccine, children could be given immunity from certain illnesses.  Thereafter, school children all over the country were vaccinated en masse, and by doing so, these deadly diseases were unable to spread.  By creating what is known as a “herd immunity,” polio, whooping cough, measles, and mumps were eradicated.  They practically disappeared from the face of the earth.

But now they’re back.

Why?  Because of the mistaken impression – unsupported by the evidence but spreading like wildfire throughout the internet – that these vaccines actually causechildren to contract the diseases, and that they create other problems, such as autism. 

In a January 4, 2012 editorial, the Arizona Republic newspaper points out that increasing numbers of parents are obtaining “personal belief exemptions” to Arizona’s vaccine requirement for children.  In fact, the use of this exemption has more than doubled during the past decade.  As a result, “vaccine-preventable disease” is also on the rise.

The editorial warns that according to a recent study by the University of Arizona College of Public Health, there are now schools in Arizona with rates of unvaccinated children that exceed what public-health professionals say is necessary to provide “herd immunity.”  That same study found that parents who send their children to charter schools are more than twice as likely as traditional public-school parents to opt out of vaccines – and schools with lower vaccination rates have a higher proportion of White, middle-to upper-middle income students.  The newspaper concludes, and doctors agree, that these parents are making a dangerous choice.

Whooping cough once killed 9,000 children a year in the U.S.  Polio, measles and mumps were also prevalent killers of children.  Those diseases were brought under control through the use of mass vaccinations.  But now, whooping cough is up 67 percent from 2010, and the number is steadily rising.

We have been vaccinating our children, in this country, for decades.  Vaccinations are proven to be safe and effective.  But they can only remain effective if enough children are vaccinated to create a “herd immunity,” thereby preventing the diseases from spreading.  By allowing themselves to be frightened away from vaccinations by unsupported “evidence” on internet sites that lack credibility, today’s parents are opening the door and allowing these killers of children – polio, whooping cough, measles, mumps, and other dangerous diseases – to regain a foothold and threaten the next generation.

As the Arizona Republic so aptly points out:  Why would parents reject something that could save their children’s lives?


Gary J. Frank is an Arizona attorney and former Judge Pro Tem with over thirty years of experience in dealing with parenting issues in Family Court.  If you are in need of a consultation regarding divorce, child custody, or any other area of Family Law, please do not hesitate to contact us by telephone (602-383-3610) or by email at gary.frank@azbar.org, or through our websiteat garyfranklaw.com.  We look forward to hearing from you. 

THE ROLE OF FATHERS IS CHANGING

I have good news, and bad news.

Here’s the bad news, and it is truly troubling:  According  to a new Pew Research Center analysis of the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), children in the U.S. living apart from their fathers has grown from 11% in 1960 to 27% as of 2010. Among fathers who do not have a high school degree, 40% live apart from their children.  This compares with only 7% of fathers who have a college diploma.

Twenty-two percent of fathers who live apart from their children say they see them more than once a week.  29% say they visit with their children at least once a month; 21% say they visit several times a year; and 27% do not see see their children at all.  For all groups, communicating by phone or email is more prevalent than face-to-face contact.

The study points out that living with his children makes a huge difference in the amount of time a father spends with them.  More than 90% of fathers who live, at least part of the time, with their children say that they shared a meal with their children, or talked to them about their day, over the past several weeks; 63% say they helped a child with homework or checked homework at least several times a week; and 54% report taking a child to or from activities several times a week or more.  Among fathers who do not live with their children, only 16% say they shared a meal with their child with their child several times a week over the past month; 31% report talking to them about her day several times a week or more; and less than 11% helped out with homework or took a child to or from activities.

The trend toward more fathers living apart from their children is caused not only by divorce,but also by declining marriage rates and an increase in out-of-wedlock births.  According to the NSFG study, 46% of all fathers report that at least one of their children was born out-of-wedlock, and 31% report that all of their children were born outside of marriage. Further, 17% of men with biological children have fathered those children with more than one woman.

But here’s the good news:  The evidence shows that the role of fathers is changing, and that many of today’s fathers – both married and divorced – are far more involved with their children than fathers of previous generations.  The NSFG study shows that in 1965, married fathers with children living in their household spent an average of 2.6 hours per week caring for them.  By 2000, the time spent caring for children by that same group of fathers more than doubled to 6.5 hours per week. The Pew Research Center analysis of the study concludes that “fathers who live with their children (at least part of the time) have become more intensely involved in their lives, spending more time with them and taking part in a greater variety of activities.”

Being a single father may be difficult, but it provides opportunities:  For instance, a father who is willing to “step-up” will have the opportunity to truly care for his children when they are with him, rather than being left on the periphery.  He will have the opportunity to read to the children, help them with their homework, attend school conferences and other functions, watch their little league ballgames, take them on excursions to the park, or to the zoo.  He will have the opportunity to talk to them and really get to know them; and to develop a loving and lifelong bond.  He will be able to give them love, support, and stability, and enrich his own life in the process.

Being a single father is not a sentence, it is an opportunity.  Even if he is not living in the same household as the children, each and every father has the power to reverse the trend.  He has the power to become the dad that his children need; the dad he always wanted to be.

Gary Frank has been an Arizona attorney and Mediator for over thirty years.  His practice is limited to Family Law.  If you are in need of a strong advocate and a compassionate counselor to help you with your Family Law problem, please give us a call today at 602-383-3610, or contact us by email at gary@franklaw.com.  You can also reach us through our web site at www.garyfranklaw.com.  We look forward to hearing from you.

CO-PARENTING IS A TOUGH CHALLENGE, BUT IT’S WORTH THE EFFORT

Co-parenting is often the most difficult challenge that parents face following a divorce.

Poor co-parenting can not only be a source of extreme and ongoing stress for the parents but, worse yet, it can be emotionally devastating to the children.  It can lead to repeated trips back to the courthouse, and many thousands of dollars in legal fees.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Disagreements over discipline, supervision, parental involvement, or parenting styles are factors which contribute to countless divorces.  So, it is not surprising that, in many of those cases, the problem only gets worse when the divorce becomes final.  After all, if the parents could not agree on parenting issues when they were married, why would they expect things to get better after they divorce and are living apart?

Co-parenting is essential, but it is not easy.  It requires placing the best interests of the children ahead of your own needs.  It requires managing your emotions, and finding a way to deal with your fear, anger, and negative feelings in a healthy and positive manner.  Finally,  it requires a commitment to always take the “high-road,” even when the other parent is refusing to cooperate or co-parent.

Taking the high-road is not a sign of weakness.  It doesn’t mean giving in or compromising the safety of your child.  What it means is not “taking the bait” when the other parent is pushing your buttons.  It means not “defending yourself” by badmouthing the other parent to your children when the other parent may be playing that game.  It means not putting your children in the middle of the dispute by forcing them to witness angry or violent arguments.  It means not making a child choose one parent over the other.  It means not using children as messengers or spies, or as weapons to hurt the other parent.  It means not sabotaging your child’s relationship with your ex-spouse, even though he or she might not be such a great parent.  It also means never allowing yourself to become so emotionally needy that your child feels that it is his or her responsibility to take care of you.  Taking the high-road is a sign of strength.  It is something you can do to assure that the child whom you love so much can grow up to be happy and well-adjusted.

The first step in learning to co-parent is realizing that, after the divorce, there will be times when your children are with your ex- and, during those times, you will no longer have control.  Therefore, it is not only in your children’s best interest — but it is to your own advantage to make sure that you and your ex- are communicating when it comes to parenting.

Co-parenting doesn’t mean that you and your ex- need to be friends.  You just need to be able to communicate in a business-like manner for the purpose of making decisions affecting your common children.  Your communication should be direct and to the point.  No sniping.  No angry comments meant to hurt the other’s feelings.  Stick to the matter at hand.  Don’t bring up tangential issues that have little or nothing to do with the children.  By focusing on the issue before you, and keeping the children in mind, you will be able to communicate effectively, and the children’s needs will be met.  Eventually, all of the emotion arising from the divorce will fade and you will find it much easier to deal with each other — but the time to start working on communication is now.  It’s hard, I know, but it is certainly worth the effort  The end result will be children who feel safe, secure, happy, and loved.

An important part of successful co-parenting is sharing information about the children with the other parent:  “Sally came home from school today with a fever”;  “Billy is in a play next week in Ms. Hollister’s classroom”;  “Meagan has a dentist appointment on Thursday”; “Justin’s high school report card came out yesterday – here’s a copy.”  Sharing information is easy.  If you don’t feel comfortable talking on the phone, then you can do it by mail, email, or a text message.  Sharing information allows parents stay on the same page, and it helps to assure that the children have two parents who are both involved in their lives. 

One of the biggest challenges of co-parenting is when a divorcing couple has very different parenting styles.  This is not only a common problem, but I’d venture to say that it is the case in the majority of divorces (and marriages, too).  “She’s too strict.”  “He’s a Disneyland dad.”  “He doesn’t supervise the children like I do.”  “She’s too controlling with the children.”  “He won’t let the children be children.”  “She doesn’t set limits.”   The fact is that there is no one right way to parent.  You will have to get used to the idea that when the divorce is final, there will be blocks of time when the children are alone with the other parent.  Co-parenting does not mean imposing your will on the other parent.  Attempting to do so will lead to disagreements and anger, and will likely be futile in the end.  But by communicating respectfully and effectively, you can share ideas and avoid many misunderstandings and problems.  Co-parenting may sometimes involve respecting the other parent’s right to do things her/his way when the children are in her/his care.  Obviously, if your child is being abused or neglected in the home of the other parent, then it is your duty to take the necessary measures to stop it.  But where the issue is simply differing parenting styles, you should try to cooperate to the best of your ability and be as consistent as possible; and you may need to let the children know that the rules at Dad’s house are slightly different from those at Mom’s. 

Over the years, I have found that “Post-Divorce Counseling” can be very helpful.  This is not marital counseling, and it is not therapy.  Rather, post-divorce counseling consists of both parents meeting together with a counselor (such as a child psychologist or child-development specialist) on a quarterly basis, or every six months, or once a year, or only as-needed — in order to discuss issues involving the children.  In the sessions, the parents can bring up any concerns they may have, discuss any problems the children are experiencing, and examine different solutions with the help of an expert.

Co-parenting after divorce is an ongoing process.  It can be difficult and sometimes frustrating.  As much as you might like to put the relationship with your ex-spouse behind you and move on following a divorce, you have to realize that the two of you share a child.  You always will.  And by communicating and co-parenting, you will increase the odds that your child — this person whom you both love — will grow up to be  a happy, productive, and well-adjusted adult.

Gary Frank has been a well-respected Custody and Family Law Attorney, and a Family Mediator, in the Phoenix, Arizona for more than thirty years.  The Law Office of Gary J. Frank P.C. handles a wide array of family law issues, including divorce, custody, modification actions, paternity and maternity cases, and other matters involving children and families.  If you would like a consultation, please do not hesitate to call our office at 602-383-3610; or you can contact us by email at gary.frank@azbar.org or through our web site at www.garyfranklaw.com.

YOU ARE THE ADULTS – KEEP THE KIDS OUT OF YOUR DISPUTE … PLEASE!

Mister Rogers (talking to a young boy whose parents are going through a divorce):
“I think one of the toughest things for children is for their parents not to be getting along, and so divorce feels like it’s just ripping a piece of cloth apart, and for children to try to understand that is sometimes way beyond their capacities.  So you really need somebody to help you know that both your mother and your dad love you.  It wasn’t your fault that your mom and dad don’t live together, and it won’t be your fault if they get a divorce.  As a matter of fact, you are probably one of the best things that has ever happened to your mom and your dad.  And they’ll love you as long as they live – and even longer.  But for a little child to have a mom and dad that don’t like each other, it’s very important for you to know that they still love you.”*
A divorce can be devastating for a child.  But it doesn’t have to be.  Studies show that where the parents keep the children out of the middle of their dispute, and where they are able to find a way to co-parent (in spite of their differences), then the children will likely turn out just fine.  However, this is easier said than done.  When a relationship falls apart, it is a difficult and emotional time, even for the strongest and best of us.  Fear, sadness, and anger are human emotions, and to struggle with these feelings during a divorce or separation is normal and natural.  But remember that while you, as an adult, are able to make sense of the situation and understand your feelings – a child (even a teenager) is not capable of doing so.  He or she is helpless, confused, and scared.  A child is likely to feel that the problem is, somehow, his or her fault, and often those confused feelings and a deep sense of hurt will result in defiant behavior.  Or worse.  Children who are placed in the middle of their parents’ dispute can sometimes turn that anger and defiance inward, which may cause them to think or act in self-destructive ways.
While in the midst of a crumbing relationship, it is easy for even the most loving, caring parent to be temporarily blinded by fear and anger.  Arguing in front of the children, talking bad about the other parent in their presence, sharing inappropriate information about parental problems or a divorce case, forcing children to choose between parents, demonstrating violence – these are all things that can occur during a difficult divorce or separation.  But you, as a parent, must understand that this type of behavior can have long-term negative consequences for the children.  In fact, it can cause irreparable damage and change the course of their lives.  So, what can you do to prevent that from happening?
HOW TO KEEP CHILDREN SAFE AND SECURE
As difficult as it might be during this time of extreme stress, it is up to you to constantly remind yourself that you are the adult – you are the parent – and it is your responsibility to protect the best interests of your child.  Obviously, pretending that nothing is wrong is not the answer.  That would be dishonest and not-at-all helpful.  Your child knows that something is wrong.  Most experts will tell you that the best approach is to talk to the child in a reassuring and age-appropriate way.  The key is to let the child know:  “This is not your fault.  We are your parents and, even though we are having some grown-up problems right now, we both love you and we will always be there to take care of you.”  This is a message that every child needs to hear.  It provides a sense of protection and stability that will help the child to get through this difficult experience.
But what do you do if the other parent is incapable of protecting the child and keeping him or her out of the middle of the dispute?  Answer:  Then you be the adult.  Studies show that as long as there is one stable, responsible parent who is protecting the needs of the child, then that child will likely turn out fine.  You can be that parent.  It is difficult, I know, but somebody has to take on that role – so it might as well be you.
HELP IS OUT THERE
For a parent going through a difficult divorce, separation, or custody case, please be assured that there are places you can turn for assistance and support.  Therapeutic counseling, for you and/or the children, is often extremely helpful.  For a parent facing an acrimonious split, it can feel like you are the only person in the world who has ever experienced such a thing.  But a good therapist has helped hundreds or thousands of families with similar problems, and he or she has developed a broad range of solutions that can help you, too.  Your church or synagogue can be an enormous source of support.  And there are many divorce support groups out there with people who are going through the same thing that you are now.  Through these groups, you can receive not only ideas and support, but you may also develop lasting friendships.  If your child is having problems, it might be helpful to notify the school and let them know that the family is going through a separation or divorce.  An understanding teacher or administrator can be very supportive, and many schools have psychologists who can counsel the child at no cost to you.
HOW TO AVOID FUTURE PROBLEMS
I am a big believer in counseling during – and after – a divorce.  I often recommend “Post-Divorce Counseling” for my clients.  Co-parenting after a divorce can be a new and sometimes challenging experience.  There will be times when your child is spending extended periods of time with the other parent and, while you were able to be there to supervise when you were living together, you will now be unable to intervene or even know what is happening in the other parent’s home.  This can cause the fear and stress level to intensify, which can lead to anger and miscommunication.  The best remedy, in my opinion, is “Post-Divorce Counseling.”  This is where the parents meet with a counselor on a regular basis – maybe every 6 months or every year – to discuss issues regarding the children, and to make sure that the parents are “on the same page.”  I have found that this type of counseling can help parents feel confident that they are being heard and that the children’s needs are being addressed.  It also helps the parents avoid future disputes — an all-to-common problem that often results in more trips to the courthouse, which can be time-consuming, expensive, stressful, and destructive.   
MAKE SURE YOUR CHILDREN WILL BE OK
So, there is a reason to be optimistic.  Being the child of divorced parents is no longer a stigma.  Today, it is the norm.  If you will just make the effort to assure your children that they are loved, and that their parents will be always be there for them (even if the parents are no longer living together), then it is likely that the children will grow up healthy, happy, and well-adjusted.  If you are able to co-parent, or at least keep the children out of the middle of any disputes, then their future looks bright, indeed.

Gary J. Frank is an Arizona attorney and former Judge Pro Tem with over thirty years of experience in dealing with custody and parenting issues in Family Court.  If you are in need of a consultation regarding divorce, child custody, or any other area of Family Law, please do not hesitate to contact us by telephone (602-383-3610) or by email through our website.  We look forward to hearing from you. 

* From the book “The Simple Faith of Mr. Rogers” by Amy Hollingsworth