ARIZONA CUSTODY LAW UPDATE – IS ASSUMPTION OF EQUAL PARENTING TIME AND DECISION-MAKING AUTHORITY UNFAIR TO CHILDREN?

  In 2012 I wrote an article on our law firm’s blog entitled “Say Goodbye to Custody,”, in which I discussed the brand new, and highly debated, revisions to the Arizona Family Law statutes. These laws, which guide the Court in making custody decisions involving children, have given rise to an assumption of equal parenting time and decision-making authority that has become the starting point for the Court’s analysis in every contested custody case. In my opinion, this approach hurts children more than helps them, and is unfair to both mothers and fathers. In this article, I’ll explain why.

Among the changes to the law were the following:

  • The word “custody” was replaced with the terms “Legal Decision-Making” and “Parenting Time.” (A.R.S. §25-403)
  • A provision was added providing that the court shall adopt a parenting plan “that provides for both parents to share legal decision-making regarding their child and that maximizes their respective parenting time.” (A.R.S. §25-403.02)
  • And in determining custody, whereas the Court was previously required to consider which parent had historically been the primary caregiver for the children, that was removed from the list of factors in the statute and replaced with a requirement for judges to consider: “The past, present, and potential future relationship between the parent and the child.” (A.R.S. §25-403 [1], Emphasis added.)

At the time, there was much discussion as to what these changes would mean. Some experts believed that the revisions were mostly “semantics” and that not much would change. Others argued that the revisions would lead to a “sea-change” in how the courts determine custody (now called Legal Decision-Making and Parenting Time) in the future.

Now, more than five years later, the answer is in. Has there been a big change? Yes. The change has been enormous. It is a seismic shift in the way judges determine parenting time and legal decision-making authority. And, in my opinion, the change is not necessarily a healthy one.

The law still provides that the “best interests of the child” standard should be applied when making “custody” and parenting time decisions, but today, many judges interpret the statutory changes as requiring them to start with the assumption that both parents should be given equal decision-making authority, and equal parenting time. And, in many cases, that trumps the best interests of the child. It wasn’t that way before the law was changed. But, increasingly, it is the reality today.

Why do I think this is not a healthy approach? Well, I’ll get to that in a minute; but before I do, I need to explain a few things: The latest studies show that children do better, and are happier, when both of their parents are loving, active and involved. When a divorce or breakup occurs, the courts should work to make sure that loving, active and involved parents share in decision-making, and that the children get to spend plenty of time with both of them. In fact, Arizona law provides that:

It … is the declared public policy of this state and the general purpose of this title that absent evidence to the contrary, it is in a child’s best interest: (1) To have substantial, frequent, meaningful and continuing parenting time with both parents; (and) (2) To have both parents participate in decision-making about the child.” (A.R.S. §25-103) 

So that’s the policy. And it’s true that equal decision-making and equal parenting time are good for children when both parents are loving and capable caregivers. But here’s the catch: Not all parents are equal. Some parents have never been meaningfully involved in their children’s lives, and never will be. And I’m not necessarily talking about “bad” parents. There are parents who love their children but are just too busy, or maybe not interested enough, to be involved. If a parent isn’t available to spend time with the children; and rarely or never attends doctors’ appointments, or school functions, or extracurricular activities; and if that parent doesn’t know the children’s friends; and isn’t tapped into their children’s likes and dislikes, their strengths and weaknesses; their abilities, or disabilities; their medical conditions; etc., then how can that parent be trusted with making critically important decisions for those children? – But all too often today, these types of parents are awarded 50/50 parenting time and equal decision-making authority. And why? – Because of an unwritten assumption that a parent is entitled to it under Arizona law.

This is where I think the new law, as currently interpreted, goes off the rails and can hurt children. It places “Parents’ Rights” ahead of “Children’s Rights.” It assumes that in every case the Court should start its analysis with the proposition that both parents will receive equal parenting time and decision-making authority. And, by doing this, the best interest of the child has been made secondary to the best interest of the adults. Proponents of the law will not agree with my opinion. They will point out that there is no legal presumption mandating equal decision-making and parenting time — but that argument rings hollow. Because while it is true that overcoming a legal presumption requires a higher level of proof than a mere assumption, there is often little difference between the two in actual practice.  Try explaining the difference to a mother or father who has always been the sole caregiver, but whose children will now spend half their lives with a parent who never changed a diaper, never got up with a baby at night, never took care of a sick toddler, or attended a parent-teacher conference, or a school play, or a Little League game.

Those favoring an assumption of equal parenting-time and decision-making will argue that the Court is still required to consider all relevant factors, and that while “equal” may be the starting point in the analysis, a judge can give a parent less time, or no decision-making authority at all, where it is deemed to be in the best interest of the child. And that is true. But I would remind them that Arizona law was also changed in a way that makes such an outcome less likely.

Arizona Revised Statutes, Section 403 contains a list of factors that the Court shall consider in determining Legal Decision-Making and Parenting-Time. Before the law was changed, that statute contained a factor which required a judge to consider whether a parent had historically provided primary care for the child. But that factor was removed from the statute and replaced with this: “The court shall consider all factors that are relevant to the child’s physical and emotional well-being, including . . . (1) The past, present and potential future relationship between the parent and the child.”

So now, in making the all-important decision on where the child lives and who will make major decisions, the judge is required to consider a parent’s unproven “potential.” Instead of giving primary consideration to which parent actually took care of the child throughout his or her life, the Court must give equal weight to the other parent’s “potential.”

But here’s the problem — How many people do you know who never lived up to their potential? How many athletes were top draft picks but never became stars? How many employees were promoted but never became effective managers or supervisors? — How many moms or dads were excited when their baby was born but never became active and involved parents? In my opinion, it is a huge mistake to emphasize “potential” over actual experience, or even to give it equal weight. Because past history is the best predictor of future behavior. Thus, by putting too much stock in “potential,” the danger of a bad outcome is evident. And in the end, when a father or mother is awarded equal parenting-time and decision-making authority and never lives up to his or her potential, it is the children who suffer.

Of course, there will be parents who were stay-at-home moms or dads during the marriage, but will have to work full time after the divorce – and the fact that both parents will now be working should be taken into consideration by the Court in formulating a parenting plan. In that sense, the other parent’s potential to become a competent caregiver would come into play. However, it should be just one of many factors the judge considers in determining what is in the best interest of the child.

Fathers’ rights advocates maintain that an assumption of equal parenting time and decision-making is necessary because mothers were previously favored in custody disputes. Hey, I’m a father, and nothing is more important to me than my children. And, yes, it is true that there was a time when mothers typically received custody of children. But that was during an era when women were faced with societal and social barriers that made it difficult for them to obtain a college education or executive-level employment, or even a decent-paying job, and which practically forced them to be “housewives” and stay-at-home caregivers of children. Today, many of those barriers have been knocked-down, and glass-ceilings are being shattered. Recent studies show that over sixty-percent of all college students today are women. This means that in the future more mothers will be the family breadwinners; and more fathers will become stay-at-home parents. Therefore, for a judge to make a blanket assumption of equal parenting time and decision-making authority is unfair to both Mothers and Fathers.

In Arizona and other states across the country, the growing trend in custody cases is to award the parents equal decision-making authority and parenting time. That’s not a bad thing, so long as the parents are equally involved in raising their children. The experts agree that it is best for children to have both parents actively involved in their lives, and that effective co-parenting helps to ensure that children will grow up to be healthy and productive adults. But to make custody decisions based on a simple assumption that both parents are equally capable – when they may not be – is a colossal mistake. One that can harm the children in the long-run.

The care of children is too important to make broad assumptions, let alone instituting legal presumptions, regarding decision-making and parenting time. In the real world, parents are not always equal caregivers. Sometimes the mother is the more responsible parent; sometimes it is the father who is the nurturer and is in a better position to provide for the children’s needs; and in many cases both parents are loving, capable caregivers who are willing to co-parent their children (that is, obviously, the best scenario).

Rather than making assumptions, the Court should start with a blank slate when crafting a parenting plan. The judge should carefully examine the capabilities of each parent, the factors contained in Arizona’s custody statute (A.R.S. §25-403), and all other relevant factors. The judge should take a close look at who has been the child’s primary caregiver, and also consider the potential future relationship between the parents and the child. But the needs of the child should always come first. By taking this approach the Court can ensure that the best interest of the child is protected.

 

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. 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 maintenance and child support, modification and enforcement actions, grandparent and non-parent rights, and all other matters pertaining to families and children. To learn more about our firm, check us out on Facebook, Linkedin-Gary Frank, and Linkedin-Hanna Juncaj. 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 through our website at www.garyfranklaw.com.   We look forward to hearing from you.

 

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 

AS A FATHER’S ROLE HAS CHANGED, SO HAS THE LAW


It’s Father’s Day, and I plan to celebrate.  My children are now grown, but while they were growing up I was the type of father who changed diapers, stayed up with a sick kid in the middle of the night, attended every school conference and event, and went to all doctors’ appointments.  I helped with homework, coached my kids’ baseball and softball teams and, regardless of my workload, I made sure to spend lots of time with my family, including one-on-one time with each of the children.

I’m not alone.  There are plenty of dads out there who do the very same thing for their children.  And the courts are beginning to take notice.  Over the past year, Arizona and many other states have made revisions to their Family Law statutes to make it easier for involved fathers to obtain equal decision-making and parenting-time rights with their children.  

For decades, courts across the country almost automatically gave custody of young children to mothers, often applying what was known as the “Tender Years Doctrine” – a sexist legal theory based on the philosophy that mothers are, by nature, nurturers and fathers are breadwinners.  This viewpoint was not only flawed – it was discriminatory against both sexes.  It was unfair to the many loving, nurturing, fathers who were involved in every facet of their children’s lives, yet were not given equal parenting-time and decision-making rights.  It was also unfair to mothers, since this ignorant belief was used as a basis for oppressing women and depriving them of formal education and equality in the workplace.   

But society is changing.  Today’s fathers view themselves differently than fathers of past generations.  More and more, fathers today see themselves as equal partners in parenting their children. Fathers of my generation were locked into their role as providers.  They worked all day, and often late into the night, to support their family.  When they came home, they typically played with the kids and helped with discipline, but it was the mother’s responsibility to raise the children.  However, many of today’s fathers are different – they still play with their children and discipline them when necessary, but modern fathers also nurture their offspring and share in child care responsibilities.  A recent Pew Research study determined that there are currently more than two million stay-at-home dads in America — a number which is certain to grow as women continue to achieve equality in the workforce.  And that figure is dwarfed by the number of fathers who care for children in nuclear families, and single (divorced or never-married) fathers who co-parent with the children’s mother.

Study after study has been published over the past several years demonstrating the importance of fathers in their children’s lives.  Children without the benefit of involved fathers have a higher incidence of poverty, criminal activity and mental health problems.  Children whose fathers are part of their lives tend to graduate from college in higher numbers.  The importance of a father’s impact on his children cannot be overstated. 

Increasingly, today’s fathers are stepping up to the plate and sharing the responsibility of raising their children — and in response, modern divorce and custody laws are changing to reflect a father’s contribution.  Now, when fathers have been significantly involved in their children’s upbringing, they are much more likely to be awarded equal decision-making and parenting time by the courts.

Happy Father’s Day! 



Gary J. Frank is a Family Law Attorney, a litigator, and a mediator with over thirty years of experience in dealing with divorce, paternity, custody, and parenting 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.

IS ARIZONA’S NEW “CUSTODY” LAW HURTING CHILDREN?

During the past year, Arizona Family Law statues were revised.  Some legal experts believe the changes reflect a trend in Arizona, and in many other states, to use 50/50 decision-making and parenting-time as a starting point in assessing the parenting arrangement. 

In Arizona, the new revisions removed the word “custody” from the Family Law statutes entirely, and replaced it with the terms “legal decision-making” and “parenting-time.”  Other significant revisions to the law were made, as well.  For instance, both the old statute and the new one provide a list of factors that the court shall consider in deciding legal decision-making and parenting time.  For many years, the judge would consider “whether one parent, both parents, or neither parent has provided primary care of the child.”  But that factor was removed when the statute was revised.  Now the judge is required to consider “the past, present, and potential future relationship between the parent and the child.”  
The reason this is important is that while, in the past, the judge would consider which parent had actually provided “primary care” of the children, the new statute places an emphasis on other parent’s potentialfor being able to care for them.  There is some logic to the change.  When two people are married they may have the luxury of being able to have one parent stay at home, or work part-time, and provide primary care of the children; however, after the divorce both parents will probably have to work full-time, and each will become a “single parent.”  If both parents are working full-time, then an equal parenting arrangement might make sense.  But, in my opinion, there is a danger in making a blanket assumption that such an arrangement would be best for the children.  Examining a parent’s capability is fine; but relying on a parent’s “potential” can be speculative, since it is based on supposition and not fact.  The reason one parent was primarily in charge of parenting during the marriage may have had less to do with work schedules than the fact that the “other parent” was not as interested in, or not as capable of, being an active and engaged parent.  To give that parent equal decision-making, and equal parenting-time, would be contrary to the children’s best interests.
The big question is whether Arizona’s statutory revision will have the effect of making 50/50 the “default” parenting arrangement, or the “starting point” in the Court’s analysis.  In my own experience – and according to attorneys with whom I have spoken — that is exactly what is happening in many cases.  Today a judge might start with a 50/50 arrangement in mind, and move from there to more parenting- time and/or decision-making for mother, or for father, depending on the facts and circumstances of the case. 
The change brings Arizona in line with many other states, but I believe this shift in philosophy is a mistake.  While “best interests of the child” is still the deciding factor in a judge’s decision, I am concerned that courts are increasingly moving in the direction of a “template” decision that applies across the board and will be ordered unless a litigant can prove that using the template would be harmful to the children.  Rather than using a “template,” or a “starting point,” or “default” option, the Court should judge each case on its own merits, without any preconceived notions.  To do otherwise could lead to a decision that does not truly serve the “best interests” of the children.  It might even lead to a decision that hurts them.
We must keep in mind that “Children’s Rights” should always trump “Parents’ Rights.” 

Gary J. Frank is an attorney and mediator with over thirty years of Family Law experience in dealing in divorcecustody, and parenting 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.  His office is located in the Biltmore area of central Phoenix, with satellite offices in Scottsdale and Paradise Valley, Arizona.  He can be reached by telephone (602-383-3610); or by email at gary.frank@azbar.org.  You can also reach him through his website at www.garyfranklaw.com.  If you are in need of a consultation regarding any area of Family Law, contact us today. 

HOW TO USE AN ATTORNEY AS A CONSULTANT, AND SAVE MONEY

It is true that a lawyer can provide useful legal advice, helpful guidance, and strong representation for anyone involved in a Family Law case,  However, not everyone chooses to retain and attorney — and not everyone can afford one.  Fortunately, there are a number of options for obtaining the services of an attorney, and some of those options are very affordable.  One of the most effective, and least expensive, ways to utilize an attorney is to use him or her as a consultant on an as-needed basis.
OBTAINING A LEGAL CONSULTATION
Representing yourself in a contested Family Law action presents an enormous challenge.  Parties to litigation are expected to understand the law and rules of Family Law procedure.  The fact that you are a layman, and not a lawyer, is no excuse for violating procedural rules.  Imagine trying to play in a basketball game without knowing the rules.  The coach calls your name, but when you walk on the court you don’t know how to dribble or pass the ball, or even which basket to shoot at.  That’s the kind of disadvantage you have when you walk into a courtroom as a “pro se” (self-represented) litigant.  You may wind up losing your case without ever knowing why, or how, it happened.  Obviously, it is best to be represented by legal counsel.  But not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to afford to retain an attorney on an ongoing basis.  So, what is the next best thing?  Seek a one-time consultation with an attorney.  In that meeting, which customarily takes place in the lawyer’s office, you will have the opportunity to discuss your specific matter with an expert.  The attorney will describe how the court process works and talk to you about your legal rights. He or she can help you identify the documents (called “exhibits”) and the witnesses that you will need to prove your case.  The attorney can also devise a “game plan” and help you map out a strategy for making a strong argument in court.  This is the time to ask questions, so that you can feel confident going forward.  When the consultation is over and you walk out of that lawyer’s office you should have a much better idea of the law, your legal rights, and how to present your case in the best possible light.
FOLLOW-UP CONSULTATIONS
During the course of the litigation (which can last for several months, or even a year or more) new issues, and new questions, will likely arise.  When this happens, you can follow up by obtaining additional consultations with an attorney, as necessary.  It is important to remember that since the attorney is not representing you in the litigation, he or she will have no obligation to stay updated with the facts and legal issues of your case or perform work on your behalf.  However, by using an attorney to provide you with basic advice from time to time, you will still be far better off than if you were to try to figure things out by yourself, without any legal guidance.

ASSISTANCE IN PREPARING FOR MEDIATION OR SETTLEMENT NEGOTIATIONS
Parties to a divorce or custody dispute would be well-advised to explore the possibility of resolving their issues through mediation or settlement negotiations, rather than fighting it out in court.  No matter how strong your case may be, there is always a risk that the judge might see things differently, and you may lose.  Resolving the case through negotiation gives you the opportunity to carve out the terms of your own agreement, rather than allowing a judge to decide what is best for you and your family.  People who are able to negotiate their own agreement tend to be happier with the arrangement.  Why?  Because it is their agreement.  They made it.  And they “own” it.  It wasn’t imposed upon them by a judge who is a stranger to the parents and the children.  
Although mediation (or a settlement conference) is a great alternative to battling it out in court, many people reduce their chances for success by walking into the negotiation session without proper preparation.  This is a serious mistake.  In that meeting you will be dealing with crucial issues, such as custody of children, legal decision-making, parenting time, financial support, and division of property.  Lack of preparation could cause you to overlook things that are important, or it could lead you to make compromises that are not in your best interest.  Not being prepared could also cause you to become so fearful of making a bad deal that you are unable to make a deal at all — and then you miss an opportunity to avoid a contentious trial and reach an agreement that is fair for everybody.  These types of mistakes, due to lack of preparation, can have drastic long-term consequences.   As the old saying goes, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”
For an affordable fee you can obtain a consultation with an attorney to help you prepare for your upcoming mediation or settlement conference.  The attorney will review your legal paperwork, financial documents, and/or other important information, and talk to you about the facts of your case, as well as your needs, your goals, and your wishes.  The attorney can also help you formulate your settlement position and devise a negotiating strategy.  By the time you walk out of that lawyer’s office, you should feel more confident in your ability to negotiate on your own behalf.  
USING AN ATTORNEY TO HELP YOU PREPARE DOCUMENTS
For someone going through a simple uncontested divorce, the Maricopa County Superior Court Self Service Center provides forms that can be downloaded online, for free.  These forms can be found at www.superiorcourt.maricopa.gov/ssc.  Hard copies of the forms can be picked up at the courthouse.  However, figuring out how to fill out those forms and navigate your way through the court process can be a daunting and confusing task.  A certified document preparer can fill out your forms but is not allowed to give you legal advice. On the other hand, for the price of an affordable consultation, you can meet with a licensed attorney who will not only check to make sure you have filled out your forms properly, but will also explain your legal rights and describe how the court process works.  You may not have the resources to retain an attorney on an ongoing basis in your Family Law matter, but by using an attorney from time-to-time as a consultant you will have an expert to help guide you through the process.
YOU CAN AFFORD AN ATTORNEY
Utilizing an attorney as a consultant on an as-needed basis allows you to control your costs.  For someone who does not wish to hire a full-time attorney, or for someone who cannot afford one, obtaining legal consultations from time-to-time can pay great dividends.  The attorney can assist you in many ways, including explaining the law; advising you of your legal rights; guiding you through the court process; assisting you in planning your strategy; drafting motions or other documents that you may need to file; and helping you to prepare for mediation, court hearings and/or the trial.  Using an attorney as a consultant is an affordable option, and a very good one.
Gary J. Frank is an attorney and mediator with over thirty years of Family Law experience in dealing in divorcecustody, and parenting 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.
  
        

TEN TIPS FOR SURVIVING YOUR DIVORCE — AND THRIVING

This year is coming to a close.   If you are in the middle of a divorce – or if you are getting ready to go through one – the next twelve months could be tough.  So, here are some simple guidelines to make the journey less difficult.

1.   Keep your children out of the middle of your dispute

Research shows that children of divorce can grow up to be happy, well-adjusted adults.  However, the research also shows that children of high-conflict divorces can develop emotional problems that last a lifetime.  It can be devastating for a child to be caught in the middle of a dispute between parents.  You love your children.  That’s a given.  But loving your children is not enough.  You need to protect them from the emotional turmoil that you, as parents, may be going through.  This is an enormous challenge.  The key is to keep the children out of the middle of your dispute.  Don’t use them as messengers.  Don’t make them witness angry arguments between the parents.  Let them know the divorce is not their fault, and that both parents will continue to love them and take care of them, even after the divorce.

2.            Allow your child to love the other parent

When a marriage comes apart and emotions are at a boiling point, it is easy for a parent to make the mistake of voicing his or her displeasure with the other parent to the children.  Sometimes this leads to a war of words, with each parent feeling the need to “defend” himself / herself by badmouthing the other.  But here’s a warning:  Clinical research shows that this type of behavior can cause serious emotional problems for children.  They need to be able to love both of their parents.  So give them your permission.  You would probably place your life on the line to protect your children from a stranger who tried to hurt them.  Then why wouldn’t you make every effort to protect your children from your own anger and toxic feelings toward their other parent?    

3.            Don’t give your child too much information 


Of course, it is important to be honest with your children – but giving them information that is not age-appropriate, or talking to them about details of your divorce that they are incapable of emotionally processing, can be harmful and destructive.   Don’t talk to your children about the legal issues of your divorce.  Don’t show them your court paperwork.  Don’t share adult information with young children.  If you need to vent or get your feelings off your chest, turn to a trusted friend, a family member, or a therapist.  Keep your children out of the loop.  Let them be children.    

4.            Try to be flexible 

Parenting-time disputes can be the cause of much stress, especially during the holidays.  You can save yourself a lot of grief by trying to be flexible.  Being flexible is not a sign of weakness.  It sends a message that you are willing to compromise.  Extending an olive branch often leads to the other parenting being willing to compromise, too.  Parents who refuse to be flexible can find themselves locked in a never-ending battle; and instead of being able to solve their own problems they tend to return to court over-and-over again, putting their fate in the hands of lawyers and judges. 

 

5.            Don’t rely on “legal advice” from your friends 

Don’t believe everything your hear, especially when it comes from a friend or family member who is trying to give you advice about legal matters.  Everyone knows a friend whose own divorce was a nightmare and promises that your outcome will be terrible, too; or one who insists that your judge will give you everything you want because your custody case is a “slam-dunk.”  Receiving legal advice from a friend or family member can be a huge mistake, since tends to give you false expectations.  If you want good, solid legal advice about your divorce or custody case, talk to a lawyer who specializes in Family Law.

 
6.            Choose a lawyer wisely 


One of the most important decisions you will ever make is finding the right attorney.   Many people who are embroiled in a family law dispute say, “I’m going to hire the meanest, most aggressive, attorney I can find.”   That usually works – for the lawyer.  If the lawyer is only mean, or only aggressive, then the result will probably be a long, contentious, and expensive litigation.  That means more money for the lawyer.  Your money!  What you really want is a highly qualified attorney, one who is looking out for your interests.  The best attorney is someone who is skilled and experienced; someone who will fight for your rights — but who is also looking for ways to resolve the matter peacefully, if at all possible.  Most importantly, you should select an attorney who is a good match for you, and who makes you feel comfortable and confident.

 

7.            Be willing to compromise


Court litigation is, by nature, an adversarial process.  It can take a long time and cost a lot of money – and in the end, the final decision will be made by a judge who is a stranger to both parties.   Therefore, in any divorce or custody litigation, your goal should be to negotiate a solution that meets your needs and the needs of the children.  You can save yourself a great deal of time and money, and avoid much stress, by being willing to make reasonable compromises.  People who are able to negotiate a fair resolution of their dispute tend to be much happier with the arrangement in the long run.


8.            Talk to someone you can trust


A person going through the turmoil of divorce or custody case can benefit from a strong support system.  If you are struggling with a divorce, or if you are caught in a highly contested custody case, find someone to talk to. Whether it is with a family member, a friend, someone from your church, or a therapist, talking about your feelings is a healthy outlet.   There are also many divorce and single-parent support groups in your community that will welcome you and help you understand that you are not alone.  

9.            Take care of yourself

You can’t take proper care of your family if you don’t take care of yourself.  So take time to exercise.  Join a yoga class.  Meet a friend for dinner.  Or just spend some “down-time” relaxing at home. — Good nutrition, vigorous exercise, plenty of sleep and relaxation, lots of love and laughter — these are the keys to surviving a divorce and thriving.  Taking care of yourself will help you get through this tough time in your life.  It’s a wise investment.

 

10.         Know that there is life after divorce


It may not seem like it now, but rest assured that there is, indeed, life after divorce – and it can be great.  It will certainly be an adjustment, and it will take a commitment on your part, but getting out of an unhappy marriage, making new friends, and taking control of your physical and mental health, can give you a new perspective and lead to a happier life.

Best wishes for a healthy and happy New Year!

 

The law firm of Gary J. Frank P.C. offers strong advocacy for clients involved in all areas of Family Law, including disputes involving divorce, custody (legal decision-making), parenting time, interstate custody or visitation, grandparent and non-parent custody and visitation, division of property and businesses, spousal and child support, modification of existing orders, enforcement of orders, relocation / move-away cases, paternity, guardianships, and other matters involving children and families.  Gary Frank is also an experienced Family Law Mediator who can help you resolve your dispute without the need for fighting in court.  With more than thirty years of experience as a courtroom litigator, as well as a mediator and a former Judge Pro Tem, Mr. Frank brings skill, compassion, and a depth of understanding to each matter he handles, and each client that he represents.  Our office is located in the Biltmore area of Phoenix, Arizona, and we have satellite office in Scottsdale and Paradise Valley to more conveniently serve our clients.  You can reach us by telephone at 602-383-3610 or by email at gary.frank@azbar.org.  You can also check us out on our web site at www.garyfranklaw.com.

YOU CAN OBTAIN A DIVORCE WITHOUT EVER STEPPING FOOT IN A COURTROOM

For many people, the scariest part of getting a divorce is having to walk into court and appear before a judge.  But did you know that there is a way to obtain a divorce without ever stepping foot in a courtroom?  It’s true.
When I began practicing law, it was impossible to obtain a divorce without at least one party appearing in court and providing testimony.  Even when a couple had reached an agreement on all their issues, one of them was required to appear before a judge and testify under oath.  But that is no longer necessary.

Resolving a divorce case can involve having to negotiate many different issues.  These could include division of property, division of debts, legal decision-making (custody), parenting time, child support, spousal maintenance, and other matters.  Parties who cannot come to an agreement have no choice but to battle it out at trial.  This can be a long and expensive process, with the final decision being left to the judge.  However, for those who are able to take matters into their own hands and negotiate a resolution of the issues, finalizing their divorce can be a simple matter.
The Maricopa County Superior Court has a “Consent Decree” procedure which allows parties to submit their final Decree / Settlement Agreement to the judge without having to make a personal appearance in court.  In order to use this procedure, the parties must be in complete agreement on all the terms of their divorce.  A written Consent Decree must be prepared, and it must be signed and notarized by the parties.  The Consent Decree must contain the terms of the parties’ agreement, as well as the necessary jurisdictional language required by Arizona law.  Both parties must have paid an appearance fee to the Clerk of Court, or had the fee waived.  The signed Consent Decree must then be delivered to the judge assigned to the case.  If the judge deems the terms of the Consent Decree to be fair and reasonable then she/he will sign the document, the Consent Decree will then be filed with the Clerk — and the divorce will be finalized without the parties ever having to appear in court.

For couples who are able to negotiate a resolution of their issues, the “Consent Decree” procedure can make divorce a relatively painless process.


Gary J. Frank is an attorney and mediator with over thirty years of Family Law experience in dealing in divorcecustody, and parenting 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.  His office is located in the Biltmore area of central Phoenix, with satellite offices in Scottsdale and Paradise Valley, Arizona.  He can be reached by telephone (602-383-3610); or by email at gary.frank@azbar.org.  You can also reach him through his website at www.garyfranklaw.com.  If you are in need of a consultation regarding any area of Family Law, please do not hesitate to contact us today.


FIVE TIPS FOR MAKING A GOOD IMPRESSION IN COURT

When you walk into a courtroom for your divorce or custody trial, you are literally placing your future, and everything that is important to you, in the hands of a stranger.  The judge doesn’t know you, but over the next few hours she/he is going to listen to your testimony and consider the evidence you present – and weigh it against the testimony and evidence presented by your opponent.  Then the judge will make a ruling that could alter the course of your life in a good way – or maybe a not-so-good way.
Obviously, having an experienced, skillful attorney is critically important.  But is there anything that you, personally, can do to increase the odds of winning your case?  The answer is a resounding “Yes.”
Here are five tips for making a good impression in court:
1.         DRESS NICELY:      All your life, you’ve heard about “the importance of making a good impression.”  It has been repeated so often that it has pretty much become a trite phrase.  But ignore it at your peril – because that old, worn-out saying happens to be true.  Judges are human.  Your judge will form an impression of you, and the initial impression might be based on your appearance.  Whether that is fair or unfair – right or wrong – doesn’t matter.  It’s a fact.  So, why take a chance?  Dress nicely.  You don’t need to (and shouldn’t) look like you’re ready for a walk down the “Red-Carpet” – that would be overdoing it.  Just a clean, attractive attire is sufficient.  Something a judge would see as appropriate and respectful.  Why should you care?  Because it is the judge who will decide your fate.
2.           BE PREPARED:     There is no substitute for being prepared when you take the witness stand.  In Arizona, Family Law cases are tried to the judge.  In other words, your judge will be acting as both judge and jury.  The Family Court judge’s role is not only apply the law, but also to determine the facts.  You can increase your odds of prevailing by being well-organized and well-prepared.  If you are represented by counsel, your attorney will assist you in preparing for your case.  He or she should spend a great deal of time, before the trial, discussing your objectives, and preparing you for your testimony, so that you can effectively tell your story.  The attorney should also prepare you to withstand the opposing attorney’s cross-examination.  If you are well-prepared, you will be more confident, and you will be much more likely to create a good impression.
3.         BE ATTENTIVE:        Paying attention to the proceedings, and listening to what the attorneys and the judge are saying, can give you an important edge in your court case.  Trying to follow what is happening in the courtroom can give you important clues into what the judge is thinking, and the type of evidence that he or she is looking for.  When you know how the judge is leaning, or what she/he wants to hear, then you can make adjustments “on the fly” and tailor your presentation to achieve the best results.  Not uncommonly, it is the client who picks up on something important that her (or his) ex- says on the witness stand – and by pointing it out to the attorney, the client might be able to change the outcome of the case.  An attentive and engaged client can help the attorney immensely.  So be attentive.
4.         CONDUCT YOURSELF APPROPRIATELY:       How you conduct yourself in the courtroom can determine whether you win or lose.  Keep in mind that throughout the proceedings, the judge is sitting up there on the bench looking down at the participants — and watching you.  Your attorney may be making a strong legal argument, but if you are slouching in your chair, signaling to a spectator in the gallery, sending a text message on your cell phone, not paying attention, or acting in a manner that the judge feels is inappropriate, you are undermining your lawyer’s efforts to represent you.  There is one particular type of behavior that judges roundly hate:  and that is when a client sits at the table and makes faces as the opposing party testifies from the witness stand.  If you think that vigorously shaking your head or laughing derisively will help the judge understand that the other party is lying, you are dead-wrong.  This type of behavior is much more likely to turn the judge against you.  So when in the courtroom, conduct yourself appropriately at all times.
5.         CREDIBILITY IS THE KEY.            The most important asset you have in a court case is your integrity and your credibility.  Where two parties to a litigation are telling stories that are contradictory, a judge will tend to rule in favor of the litigant that is the most believable.  Have you ever watched Judge Judy, or another of the TV judge shows?  While those shows are not at all similar to a real court case, there is still something that can be learned from watching them.  The lure of these shows is that when you are watching the people present their cases, it is as though you are seeing the matter from the same perspective as the judge.  Two people come before the Court.  Each has a completely different story and we, the viewers, are the “trier of fact.”  We know that one of the parties is twisting the facts, but we don’t know which one.  We listen intently and try to determine the truth.  If one of the parties is caught in a lie, or if a party is unprepared and doesn’t seem to be consistent in reciting the facts, then we start thinking that this person cannot be believed.  On the other hand, if a party is well-organized and appears sincere, we tend to lean in her favor.  In the end, we will rule in favor of the person who seems to be telling the truth.  And that is what the judge will tend to do in your Family Law case.  I cannot emphasize enough the importance of telling the truth; of being well-prepared; and of dressing and acting appropriately and respectfully.  It all comes down to credibility.  When you step into that courtroom, make sure that you are the one the judge sees as being the most credible and believable litigant.

Hiring a strong, experienced attorney to represent you is important — but always keep in mind that you and your lawyer are a team.  You can help yourself, and increase the odds of winning your case, by simply making a good impression. 


Gary J. Frank is a litigation attorney and mediator with over thirty years of Family Law experience in dealing in divorce, custody, and parenting issues. Mr. Frank has served on the Governor’s Task Force for Prevention of Child Abuse, and has received a Volunteer Lawyer award from the Maricopa County Bar Association for his work with children. 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. He can be reached by telephone (602-383-3610); or by email at gary.frank@azbar.org; or through his website at www.garyfranklaw.com. If you are in need of a consultation regarding any area of Family Law, please do not hesitate to contact us today.

WHY IS STEVE NASH TRYING TO STOP HIS EX-WIFE FROM MOVING WITH THE CHILDREN?

At first it sounds like a typical “Relocation” battle:  A father is asking the Court to prevent his ex-wife from moving out of Arizona with the children.  But this is not a typical Relocation case.  This one involves basketball superstar, Steve Nash.  And he isn’t trying to stop his ex-wife from moving the children further away from him – He’s trying to prevent her from moving them to Los Angeles, where he lives! 

Nash wants the judge to prevent the mother of his children from moving the kids closerto his home!

Sadly, this case isn’t about the children.  It’s about money.  You see, when Steve and Alejandra Nash divorced in Arizona, the former Mrs. Nash received millions in the settlement and, therefore, the Decree did not award her child support.

But now the mother of the Nash children wants to move them to California, where their father plays for the Los Angeles Lakers.  Alejandra Nash claims that the children miss their father and would like to spend more time with him.  Steve Nash, on the other hand, claims that the mother is an out-of-control spender, and that she wants to relocate purely for selfish reasons.  He believes that once she settles in Los Angeles, she will ask the California Court for an order requiring him to pay substantial child support, which was not contemplated in the divorce settlement, and which the children do not need.  (Indeed, at a recent court hearing, Alejandra admitted that if allowed to move to California, she will seek child support.)

So, what we have here is a mother who wants to relocate with the children for the purpose of obtaining child support, on top of the millions she already has in the bank . . . and a father who is attempting to keep the children further away from him, so as to prevent their mother from from asking for more money.

In the end, we’re left with one simple question:  
Is anyone thinking about what is best for the kids?”

http://www.azcentral.com/sports/showusat.php?id=2373997



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.