EMBRACING CHANGE

“Change is constant.  For some people, especially those who come from bigger companies, the constant change can be somewhat unsettling at first.  We must all learn not only to not fear change, but to embrace it enthusiastically and, perhaps even more important, to encourage and drive it.  We must always plan for and be prepared for constant change . . . Never accept or be too comfortable with the status quo, because the companies that get into trouble are historically the ones that aren’t able to adapt to change and respond quickly enough.”


Tony Hsieh
CEO of Zappos.com
from the book, “Delivering Happiness”


The need to embrace change applies to all of us, in both our personal lives and at work.   Over the years, the practice of law has seen enormous changes.  The  most successful lawyers are the ones who not only accept, but embrace, change.  Our attorney, Gary Frank, remains on the “cutting-edge” of Family Law by staying up to date with the latest statutes passed by the Arizona Legislature, and by studying the new decisions handed down by the Supreme Court and Appellate Courts.  He improves his knowledge of the law by attending continuing legal education courses on a regular basis throughout the year.  And he hones his courtroom skills by using the very best litigation practices and strategies.

Many law firms are locked into a particular office location that is often difficult or inconvenient for clients to visit.  But modern advances in technology, such as networked computers, laptops, tablets, smart phones, and the internet, have allowed lawyers to become “road warriors” and provide top-notch representation while being more accessible to their clients.  Therefore, the Law Offices of Gary J. Frank are conveniently located throughout the Valley — in Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, Tempe, and the prestigious Biltmore area of Phoenix — in order to better serve our clients.      

Yes, change is, indeed, constant; and our ability to embrace change has enabled us to be successful.  But, just as importantly,  our attorney, Gary Frank, is also known for embodying qualities that are timeless and enduring:  Experience; Excellence; Integrity; Strong Advocacy; Common Sense; and and a Commitment to always putting his clients first.  We are a modern law firm with old fashioned values.  That’s what sets us apart.

Our attorney, Gary Frank, has been a courtroom litigator in the Family Law arena for over thirty years, and is a strong and committed advocate for his clients.  In addition to being a litigation attorney, Mr. Frank has acted in the capacity of a Judge Pro Tem in the Maricopa County Superior Court.  This has given him an understanding of the inner-workings of the court, and a unique perspective  that most attorneys lack.  He has also acted, for many years, as a professional mediator of Family Law disputes.   We handle a full range of Family Law matters, including divorce, custody, spousal and child support, division of property and assets, modification and enforcement actions, as well paternity/maternity cases, grandparent or non-parent custody and visitation actions, and relocation/move-away cases.  If you are in need of a consultation regarding any area of Family Law, please do not hesitate to give our office a call today at 602-383-3610; or feel free to contact us through our web site at www.garyfranklaw.com; or by email at gary.frank@azbar.org.   We look forward to hearing from you.

COURTS ARE BEGINNING TO RECOGNIZE THE CONTRIBUTION OF FATHERS

There was a time when fathers were typically given “visitation” with their children, and rarely received custody. But things are changing. Today, joint custody is becoming the norm. Courts are beginning to realize that, like mothers, fathers can be nurturers, and that children benefit from the contributions of both parents.

But as the law evolves, we need to take care not to attempt to fit custody cases into a one-size-fits-all model.  For instance, some states are considering a “cookie-cutter” approach that would become the “default” custody arrangement in every case. In my opinion, that would be unfair to all concerned. Every family is unique.  Every custody matter is different.  Therefore, each case should be judged on its own facts; each parent should be judged on his or her own merits; and the Court should fashion a parenting plan that is in the best interests of the children.

Gary Frank is an Arizona Family Law Attorney who has been a fixture in the prestigious Biltmore area of Phoenix, Arizona for over thirty years.  The law Office of Gary J. Frank handles divorce cases, as well as custody, relocation/move-away, spousal support, child support, Paternity, Grandparents’ and Non-Parents’ rights cases, modification actions, enforcement actions, and all other matters related to Family Law.  If you are in need of a consultation, we’d love to talk to you.  Please call us today.  You can reach us at 602-383-3610, or contact us by email at gary.frank@azbar.org.  To learn more about our firm, take a look at our web site at www.garyfranklaw.com.  We look forward to helping you.

IT’S NOT OVER ‘TIL IT’S OVER

It is not at all surprising that when one spouse files for a divorce, the other sometimes continues to hold out hope for a reconciliation, believing that the marriage is not irretrievably broken.  But what may surprise you is that Arizona law gives that person an opportunity to make one last stab at fixing the relationship.

Arizona Revised Statutes, Section 25-329 provides that the Court shall not hold a trial, nor finalize a divorce, within sixty (60) days from the date that the divorce papers are served.  Attorneys and judges often refer to this as a “cooling off” period, since it is intended to prevent people from angrily rushing into a divorce that they might later regret.  This mandatory “cooling off” period allows the parties to take some time to reflect, to talk, and to consider other options, such as marital counseling.  This sometimes leads to the parties getting back together and dropping the divorce action.  Just today, in the news, was a report of basketball player Kobe Bryant and his wife putting their California divorce “on-hold” after having used the statutory “cooling off” period to work on their problems.

A spouse wishing to avoid a divorce has another alternative under Arizona law:  A.R.S., Section 25-381.09, states that a person who wants to try to salvage his or her marriage may file “a petition invoking the jurisdiction of the Conciliation Court for the purpose of preserving the marriage by effecting a conciliation between the parties.”  Filing a motion under this statute will result in the case being transferred to the Conciliation Court.  The divorce case will be placed on hold for a period of time, and the parties will be required to attend what amounts to a marital counseling session.

Arizona is a no-fault divorce state.  Thus, if one party to a marriage wishes to be divorced, there is little the other spouse can do to prevent it.  However, the statutory “cooling off” period, and the ability to ask for a transfer of the case to the Conciliation Court for counseling, are ways in which a spouse can make one final effort to repair the relationship and put the marriage back together.

Gary Frank has practiced Family Law in the prestigious Biltmore area of Phoenix, Arizona for over thirty years.  In addition to representing clients in divorce, custody, paternity, enforcement, modification, move-away, grandparent rights, non-parent rights, and other Family Law matters, Mr. Frank has also acted as a Mediator and a Superior Court Judge Pro Tem.  If you are in need of a consultation, please give us a call today at 602-383-3610.  You can contact us by email at gary.frank@azbar.org, or through our web site at www.garyfranklaw.com.  We’d be happy to help 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.

THE TYPICAL ARIZONA FAMILY LAW TRIAL LASTS LESS THAN ONE DAY

Here’s something I’ll bet you don’t know:  While a trial in a criminal or a personal injury case, or even a contract dispute, may lasts days or weeks, or even months, litigants in a typical Arizona Family Law Trial are rarely allowed more than one day to present their entire case.  Family Law trials are often high-conflict matters involving multiple complicated issues such as divorce, contested custody, parenting time, child support, spousal support, and division of property and debts.  Sometimes they involve domestic violence issues.  Other times they entail dividing stock options, determining the value of a business, or selling real estate – all of which may require appraisals and expert testimony.  Sometimes they involve hidden assets and forensic accounting.  These are not easy cases.  Judges have the authority to allow a multiple-day trial, and sometimes they will do so; however,  litigants in Arizona Family Law courts will typically be given one day or less for trial; and each party is allotted one-half of that time in which to present his or her side of the case.      
What does this mean for you?  It means that in order to properly present your case, you will benefit from the help of an experienced attorney; someone who is organized and focused; who knows the rules of the game.  Someone who can take your family history and get right to the very essence of the problem.  Someone who can spot the most pertinent issues; then take the facts and distill them into a concise and persuasive argument.  You need someone who has excellent writing and research skills, since cases are often won by rock-solid arguments made in written motions which are submitted to the court before the trial.  You need someone who knows how to cut directly to the heart of the matter in the courtroom, using a strong cross-examination, or a powerful oral argument.   What you need is a skillful and experienced advocate who is capable of presenting the strongest possible case in the shortest of time frames.   

Our attorney, Gary Frank, has been a courtroom litigator in the Family Law arena for over thirty years, and is a strong and committed advocate for his clients.  In addition to being a litigation attorney, Mr. Frank has acted in the capacity of a Judge Pro Tem in the Maricopa County Superior Court.  This has given him an understanding of the inner-workings of the court, and a unique perspective  that most attorneys lack.  He has also acted, for many years, as a professional mediator of Family Law disputes.   If you are in need of a consultation regarding any area of Family Law, please do not hesitate to give our office a call today at 602-383-3610; or feel free to contact us through our web site at www.garyfranklaw.com; or by email at gary.frank@azbar.org.   We look forward to hearing from you.

OUR MISSION STATEMENT FOR 2012

Here is our mission statement for the new year: 
Gary Frank is a Family Law Attorney who cares about his clients.  Whether they are going through a divorce, or dealing with contested custody or other family law issues, we understand that our clients are in the midst of a difficult period in their lives.  By accepting their case, we have made a commitment to be there for our clients; to help them, to support them, and to fight for them.  We will apply the legal knowledge, litigation skills, and powers of persuasion, gained over thirty years of Family Law experience, to tenaciously protect our clients’ interests.  Mr. Frank will work with each client to creatively explore options for settling the dispute in a healthy, amicable, and inexpensive manner if possible.  These options could include the use of mediation, settlement conferences, collaborative divorce, or other dispute resolution measures.  However, if a fair settlement cannot be achieved,  then Mr. Frank can always be counted on to aggressively assert his clients’ rights, utilizing the skills he has honed over his many years as a courtroom litigator.  Our goal is to protect our clients; to preserve their relationship with their children; to assure that they receive a fair division of assets; and, when necessary, to obtain the financial support they need to provide for a secure future.   Gary Frank will continue to be a caring, compassionate attorney, and a fierce advocate for the best interests of his clients.

Gary Frank is a Family Law Attorney with over 30 years of experience in the areas of domestic relations, divorce, custody, division of property, support, modification actions, enforcement actions, Grandparents and non-parents 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.

HOLIDAY SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR DIVORCED PARENTS

It takes courage. 
Making it through the holidays can be stressful for any family.  But for newly divorced couples, or those who are in the midst of a divorce, it can feel almost traumatic.  The thought of not having your children throughout Christmas, or of being alone on the holidays, can cause feelings of anxiety and despair.  The disruption of what has become a family tradition can cause sadness.  Worries about how the children will fare while in the care the other parent (especially when that other parent was not the primary caregiver) can lead to panicky emotions.  Dealing with the loss of a marriage, and concerns about your children and your uncertain future, can be a recipe for fear and anger.  All too often, these are the types of emotions that come to the forefront during the holidays.  And the result can be arguments, disagreements . . . Conflict.  It is important for you to be able to acknowledge the emotions you are feeling, and decide to take control of them (rather than allowing them to control you).  It takes courage.  But by rising to the challenge, you will be taking your first steps toward building a healthy future for yourself and the children.   
It takes patience.
Not surprisingly, family law attorneys are busy during the holidays.  When communication between parents shuts down, fear takes over.  When moms and dads become unwilling to discuss and compromise, anger flares.  That’s when people turn to their lawyers and the courts.  Sometimes emergency motions and court appearances are necessary, however, in many cases they are caused by a knee-jerk reaction to a perceived slight or threat; something said in the heat of the moment which neither party really intended to turn into an expensive legal skirmish.  In these instances, a little patience can go a long way.  When conflict occurs during the holidays, rather than jumping right in and engaging in a war of words, it helps to sit back, take a deep breath, and consider the alternatives.  This doesn’t mean giving in.  It simply means not “taking the bait” and escalating an already volatile situation.  It means keeping your composure and calmly examining your options before reacting.  Most problems can be worked out when people are able to think clearly and rationally. 
It takes faith.
Statistics show that the vast majority of family law disputes are resolved out of court, before trial.  And following the divorce, most people will eventually settle into a time sharing routine that works for both the parents and the children.  If you can control the panicky emotions now, and make an effort to communicate respectfully with your ex (or soon-to-be ex), then you will be setting the stage for better communication in the future, and a healthier way of handling problems when they do arise.  Try to have a little faith that things will work out.
Here are ten tips for handling the stress and making sure that the children will enjoy the holidays:
1.         Allow yourself to grieve:
If this is your first holiday having to share the children, it doesn’t help to pretend that it isn’t difficult.  You can’t deny your emotions, but you can look for healthy ways to deal with them.  This might include talking to a friend or family member, finding some alone time, looking for a support group, or even seeking the help of a good therapist.
2.         Make time for social activities and exercise:
There will be times when you do not have the children over the holidays.  So, make the best of it.  Spend more time with friends and family.  Look for activities that you enjoy, and do them.  Take time to exercise — it will get your endorphins pumping and help you to feel good physically and mentally.
3.         Plan ahead:
Planning early for how time with the children will be shared during the holidays reduces the chances for miscommunication, and it allows you time to iron out potential problems before they occur. 
4.         Put the needs of the children first:
When putting together a time-share schedule, make sure to consider the age of the children, as well as their developmental and social needs.  The goal is for the children to be able to enjoy the holidays, and this takes precedence over the convenience of the parents.  For very young children, it may be necessary to set up short periods of time with each parent.  For older kids and teens, longer time periods with each parent (such as a week with one, followed by a week with the other, during the school break) may be the best alternative.
5.         Be flexible:
If there is one thing I’ve learned about the holidays, it is to “expect the unexpected.”  It happens every year:  A favorite aunt, uncle, or cousin decides to visit at the last minute; a kid gets sick; plans for a family dinner get changed to an earlier, or later, time, etc.  Despite our best planning, these things happen.  So, be willing to be flexible.  It will not only make the holiday more fun for the children, and reduce conflict between parents, but it will make things less stressful (and more enjoyable) for you.  
6.         Allow for open communication:
Lack of communication between children and a parent is a frequent cause of conflict during the holidays.  “I haven’t been able to speak to my kids for a week, and their mom won’t pick up the phone when I call.” — “Whenever Meagan calls me, I can hear her dad listening on the other line.” —  “My kids told me that my ex won’t let them talk to me on the phone.”   When children are in the home of a parent, they should be allowed to have reasonable telephone contact with the other parent, especially during the holidays.  This eases the children’s fears and shows them that their parents are willing to work together for their best interests. Problems can be avoided if the parents are willing to discuss this issue prior to the holidays and work out a reasonable schedule for phone calls – and, of course, it is important to be flexible.
7.         Don’t try to outdo the other parent:
There is sometimes a tendency for divorced parents to try to outdo each other during the holidays . . .  More fun.  Bigger gifts. Later bedtimes.  Less discipline . . .  Of course, this type of competition is understandable, but it is a trap.  Not only does it make life unnecessarily stressful for the parents, but it is certainly not in the best interests of the children.  Your children love you.  You don’t need to buy their affection.  If you want the kids to enjoy being with you, all you need to do is to give them your love and attention.
8.         Keep the children out of the middle of your dispute:
One sure way to ruin the holidays for your children is to make them feel as though they are in the middle of a battle between their parents.  Don’t make children choose.  Don’t complain to them about the other parent.  Don’t use them as messengers to communicate with your ex.  Don’t let them hear their parents arguing about issues involving them.  They are children, so let them be children.  They deserve to have a nice holiday and, as their parent, it’s up to you to make sure they do.
9.         Allow the children to love the other parent:
Children of divorce can feel torn.  They not only love each of their parents, but they often feel an allegiance and a responsibility to each.  The parents divorced each other, but they did not divorce the children.  Therefore, the children have a right to continue to love both parents after the divorce.  To deny them that right can lead to long term psychological problems.  You are the adult and it is up to you to let your kids know that, despite the divorce, it is ok for them to love the other parent.  You can do that by not badmouthing the other parent; by not interrogating the kids after visits; and by not putting them in the middle of your dispute.  Just taking these simple steps can help assure that your children will grow up to be healthy, well-adjusted adults, and that they will always look forward to the holidays with their family.      
10.       Start a new tradition:                                
One of the hardest things for parents to bear following a divorce is the loss of a beloved holiday tradition with their children.  So, start a new tradition: a party with family and friends; baking holiday goodies together; a fun trip; working with a charity.  The holidays are all about family, and giving.  You can sit down with your children and let them help choose a new activity that will become a beloved family tradition – something they will always remember.
Gary Frank is a Family Law attorney with more than thirty years of experience as a litigator, a mediator, a judge pro tempore, and a children’s advocate.  His practice includes divorce; custody; parenting time disputes; child support; spousal maintenance; actions to enforce and/or modify orders; grandparents’ and non-parents’ rights; move-away cases; division of property and debts; and all other matters pertaining to families and children.  We have offices around the Valley to better serve our clients.  If you would like a consultation, please do not hesitate to contact us by telephone at 602-383-3610; by email at gary.frank@azbar.org; or through our web site at www.garyfranklaw.com.

A MOVIE STARLET’S GREATEST SIN

Judy Lewis died of cancer last week, and the secret came spilling out.  She was the daughter of movie star Loretta Young and acting legend Clark Gable.  That was the secret, one which Loretta Young kept from the world — and even from her own daughter.
In the 1930’s Loretta Young and Clark Gable starred together in the movie “Call of the Wild.”  During the filming of that movie, the two had what would have been considered a lurid affair. Gable was married.  Young was a single woman and a devout Catholic.  When she discovered that she was pregnant, Young went to great lengths to hide the pregnancy in order to avoid a scandal.  A baby born out of wedlock to a Hollywood starlet would have been front-page news.
Loretta Young fled to Europe.  After the baby girl was born, she was kept sequestered with a nurse for months and then turned over to an orphanage.  When baby Judy turned two, she was adopted – by Loretta Young.  The child was never told that she was actually her mother’s biological daughter.  In fact, it was not until 1966, when Judy was 31 years old, that her mother divulged the secret to her — and Loretta Young insisted that her daughter keep quiet about her parentage.  By that time, Gable had died.  Twenty years later, during a heated argument between mother and daughter, Young threatened to sue Lewis if a book ever came out that revealed the truth.  The exchange ended with Young shouting, “Leave this house.  I never want to see you in my house again!”  
But Judy did write her memoir, which was finally published in 1994.  In it, she speaks of “all the years of hurt and abandonment, all the feelings of not belonging, of being an outsider in my own family, years of repressed emotions that couldn’t be contained any longer.”
While Loretta Young was alive, her daughter asked her if she would “ever acknowledge to the world that I am your child and that Clark Gable is my father?” 
The mother replied.  “No. I will never acknowledge what I consider a mortal sin – my mortal sin.”
But which was Loretta Young’s greatest sin?  A baby born out of wedlock – or thirty years of lying to, and deceiving, her own child?  
Gary Frank is an Arizona Family Law attorney with more than 30 years of experience in handling divorce, child custody, and all matters pertaining to children and families.  If you are in need of expert advice in the area of Family Law, please feel free to contact our office by phone at 602-383-3610; or by email at gary.frank@azbar.org; or you can reach us through our website at http://www.garyfranklaw.com/

HOW DOES DIVORCE AFFECT SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS?

We work throughout our entire adult lives and, during that time, most of us are required to pay into the Social Security System.  The payoff comes when we hit retirement age and are able to start receiving Social Security benefits.  But what happens when a person gets divorced?  “How will the divorce affect my Social Security?”  “Do I lose half of my benefits?”  “Am I entitled to my husband’s social security?”   These are questions I frequently hear from my clients.

The answer is that you do not lose half of your Social Security when you divorce — but after that, the matter can get complicated.  If you are widowed, then you may be entitled to social security payments as a survivor spouse.  If you are divorced (not widowed), and you are of retirement age, then you could be entitled to spousal benefits, or to your own benefits.  If you had multiple marriages, then you might have to choose between several different options.

I recently came across a Los Angeles Times article which sheds some light on the subject.  In the March, 2011 article, entitled Divorce can complicate Social Security claims; Knowing the rules involving spousal and survivor benefits can prevent costly errors,” author Kathy M. Kristof makes the following points:

“If you were married for at least 10 years to someone who paid into the Social Security system, you are entitled to a spousal benefit, even if you are divorced from that person.  Eligibility does not depend on whether or not you also worked and paid into the system.”

“Spousal benefits, if claimed at your full retirement age, usually amount to 50% of the wage earner’s full benefit.  If you claim benefits early, the amount you get is reduced.”

“If you worked for 10 years and paid into the Social Security system, you also may be entitled to benefits on your own work record.  In that case you must choose — you cannot claim both your own and spousal benefits.  You can, however, claim the one that gives you the most money.”

“If you remarry before age 60, you lose your ability to claim spousal or survivor benefits based on a former spouse . . . If you remarry after age 60, all of your rights to spousal and survivor benefits based on your former spouse’s record are retained for your lifetime.” 

“If you are single now but were married to more than one person for more than 10 years each, you may be eligible for spousal benefits based on the earnings records of each of those former spouses . .   You don’t get to add up all the benefits, of course, but you do get to choose the benefit that’s best.  So, if one spouse was an executive with maximum Social Security earnings, the next spouse was a low-wage earner, and the third worked in a job that didn’t earn Social Security credits, you can claim the benefit from the first spouse, which is likely to amount to the most money.”

“But what if spouse No. 2 died before you claimed Social Security benefits?  Then you would be entitled to spousal benefits on spouse No. 1 or survivor benefits on spouse No. 2.  Because survivor benefits are 100% of the working person’s entitlement and spousal benefits are just 50%, the survivor benefits may be more generous, even if spouse No. 2 didn’t earn as much.  You can claim the one that pays the most.”

Social Security is an important part of your long-term planning for retirement.  In the event of a divorce, you are given choices, but those choices aren’t always easy.  Having the assistance of a legal counselor and/or a financial expert can go a long way in helping you to properly plan for your future.

Gary Frank is a Family Law Attorney with over 30 years of experience in handling division of property, retirement assets, and all other matters arising out of divorce and/or legal separation.  If you are in need of a consultation, please do not hesitate to give us a call at 602-383-3610, or you can contact us by email: gary.frank@azbar.org; or through our website at http://www.garyfranklaw.com/.

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.