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Friday, November 15, 2013

What is Your Co-parenting Relationship Vision?

Cooperative means, at minimum, a cordial and respectful relationship - like the United States and Canada - those Canadians are just a little bit too nice to fully trust! Conflicted means one or both of you - at least some of the time - are reactive, controlling, and/or intrusive - like the relationship between Israel and Palestine. Parallel means there is a clear line of demarcation - like the line between North and South Korea - between the two homes with separate rules and little communication and no mutual cooperation. For those of you caught up in battle or stranded on the other side of the great divide, where you start and where you end up CAN be different. It requires one co-parent who is willing to be proactive, trust in the love the other parent has for the child, and share control of the situation. A personal example: My ex and I got through our divorce with the usual emotional bumps and bruises and were doing 'okay' within about six months in terms of the emotional, economic and community divorce aspects -- refers to Bohannan's Six Stations of Divorce, for those of you are interested. Our co-parenting divorce was a disaster. It was clear that we were not able to develop new patterns of childcare and living arrangements that adequately supported our child. So, I called my ex and made a proposal. Would he be willing to meet with me with a neutral third party knowledgeable about divorce, co-parenting and the needs of a 3 year old to help us make some positive changes? And, before he could say NO, would he be willing to find the neutral third party? He said yes. The director of our child's preschool was willing to sit down with us. We were able to negotiate a schedule and, most importantly, a process for co-parenting that worked well for the next 8 years. It broke down when he got engaged but that's another story not pertinent here. What matters is that our son had 8 years of calm, peace, respect, and routine because his Dad and I were able to care more about him than we did about our own sense of control. The deep-down, super-serious question you need to soul-searchingly ask yourself is "does my co-parent love OUR child?" And the second question . . . "Do I love OUR child?" Obviously not that simple because there is more to the question, ". . . enough to trust in that love for the sake of OUR child?" You are the only one who can make a difference in the co-parenting relationship. If you make the decision that the other parent is in charge, that you are helpless and powerless, that you have no responsibility, then you are teaching your child and modeling for your child what it means to you to be a parent, to be a grown-up, and to be a co-parent. What is your co-parenting relationship vision? Look at it from the eyes of your child, then answer that question. NOTE: There are grown-up issues that can block healthy adjustment, for some co-parents: domestic violence, substance abuse/addiction, mental illness. If you are in a relationship with these kinds of issues, then seek support and education and counseling to do the very best you can, whether you are the one with the problem or the one trying to co-parent with the person with the problem.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Right of First Refusal in Family Law Cases

Right of first refusal (ROFR or RFR) is a contractual right that gives its holder (the parent) the option to enter a business transaction with the owner of something (the child/ren), according to specified terms, before the owner (the parent/s) is entitled to enter into that transaction with a third party (extended family of origin and family of choice).

In brief, the right of first refusal is similar in concept to a call option. An ROFR can cover almost any sort of asset, including real estate, personal property, a patent license, a screenplay, or an interest in a business.........wait just a minute! Where are children in this list? Hmmmmmm. . .

It might also cover business transactions that are not strictly assets ....okay, then, here it comes... such as the right to enter a joint venture or distribution arrangement. . . Huh?! Again, where are the children??? Where do they fit?

In entertainment, a right of first refusal on a concept or a screenplay would give the holder the right to make that movie first. Only if the holder turns it down may the owner then shop it around to other parties. Geez...I am just not getting this!

Because an ROFR is a contract right, the holder's remedies for breach are typically limited to recovery of damages. In other words, if the owner sells the asset to a third party without offering the holder the opportunity to purchase it first, the holder can then sue the owner for damages but may have a difficult time obtaining a court order to stop or reverse the sale. I get it!

So, if I ask my best friend to trade overnights for our children so that we can each have some grown-up time, I can be sued by my coparent to recover the damages done I am lost again. What are the damages? My child loves my best friend and her children so that can't be where the damages occur. My child can't wait to have my best friend's children spend the night at our house as soon as possible so that can't be where the damages occur. I get a little grown-up time which allows me to replenish myself, feel awesome about my life, and excited to reunite with my child, so that can't be where the damages occur. 

However, in some cases the option becomes a property right that may be used to invalidate an improper sale. This makes no sense at all! How in the world is somebody going to go back in time and take away the experience of fun, happiness, and joy my child experienced when he got to spend the night at his friends' house!?

I don't know about you but I am thinking that this whole concept of a Right of first refusal (ROFR) is completely inappropriate in the context of Family Law.  First of all, children aren't property, and second, coparenting is not about the rights/ownership of the parent; it's about the well-being of the child!
Hannah's House has FREE support groups for Moms and Dads who are co-parenting 2-home children. Child care is provided. Dad's Group is Monday night from 6-7 pm and Mom's Group is Friday night from 6-7 pm. The groups are open to any Mom or Dad with 2-home kids!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

It Doesn't Necessarily Take Two...

Family law cases are often designated "High Conflict" because of repetitive litigation and a chronic state of seemingly high tension between the co-parents. Sometimes though, the tension exists within just one of the co-parents rather than between them. In these case, the unmitigated negativity in one of the parents gives the entire case/family the "feel" of a high conflict situation. Thus, one parent may continually be swept along in the tumultuous currents of emotion and tension generated solely by the other parent.

How do you know if this is happening to you? The Honorable Donna J. Martinson is a Judge in British Columbia who advocates a change in the overall system to provide High Conflict cases and the children in them the attention they deserve. While Judge Martinson is focused on changes in the judicial approach, some of the ideas she raises are important for each coparent to seriously consider as well.

Sit down with someone who is mature, neutral, intelligent, AND uninvolved and talk with them about your answers to a series of questions. You will notice that these questions focus on your behavior, not the behavior of the other coparent. Be honest and answer these questions as directly and straightforwardly, factually, as possible without explanation or defense.

  • Has your court case becomes the major focus of your life?
  • Are you in battle mode most of the time?
  • Do you blame the other parent, view the other parent with contempt, and see yourself as a victim?
  • Do you want to control the other parent and control what happens when the child is with them?
  • Are you focused on the past, using inflammatory, blaming language in affidavits and/or testimony
  • Are the facts often distorted, either minimized or exaggerated, and your anger palpable?
  • Are the children encouraged to support you in a number of ways including showing them court material, encouraging them to contact the court to support your position, and even bringing them to court?
  • Have you recruited friends and relatives to join in the mudslinging?
  • Do you attempt to delay the proceedings by changing lawyers or deciding late in the proceedings to be self-represented, filing last minute materials, coming late to court, or deliberately being unprepared?
  • Are there highly charged, emotional proceedings in the courtroom, with allegations made, with your supporters gathered to cheer you on?
  • Do you attempt to dominate the process and to treat the other person with contempt?
  • Do you attempt to sabotage professional assessments or interventions by undermining the credibility of the professional(s) by unilaterally involving other professionals and by not cooperating or making accusations?
  • Do you involve the police and/or child welfare authorities when there is no danger?
  • Do you make unjustified complaints about the conduct of the professionals involved,including the opposing lawyer, the assessor, and the judge, to their professional disciplinary bodies?
  • Do you try to involve the media in support of your "cause.”

If you find that you are engaging in these behaviors then you are probably a High Conflict person yourself. On the other hand, if you are the one getting hooked, overwhelmed and swept along, then get some help and support to ground yourself and find some equilibrium.

Each coparent can only control his or her own behavior with the child, with the court and toward the other coparent. So get the focus on yourself and your behavior and make the changes you need to disengage from the conflict. Hannah's House has FREE support groups for Moms and Dads who are co-parenting 2-home children. Child care is provided. Dad's Group is Monday night from 6-7 pm and Mom's Group is Friday night from 6-7 pm. The groups are open to any Mom or Dad with 2-home kids!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Self Care in the Midst of Chaos

Most of us have either given or received this advice: "you need to take care of yourself first or you are no good to anybody else!" Makes sense. It's good advice. The only problem? If someone is saying that to me, or I am saying that to someone's probably obvious to everyone that there is a problem with self-care. After all, most of us tend to cycle through periods of adequate to great self care and periods of slips, relapses, indulgences, too-tired-to-care-about-much-of-anything!

Self-care is one of the greatest challenges of family break-up and family conflict. Self-care by the parents is one of the protective factors essential to the long term positive adjustment and well-being of the little ones. Children need to be cared for and protected from adult concerns to the greatest extent possible and that responsibility lies with the parents. Unfortunately, some parents care for themselves by placing the burden and responsibility for adult worries squarely on the shoulders of the children. Directly: "tell your Mom/Dad that I need the child support or I can't pay for your school pictures." Indirectly: "Oh, sweetie, I wish we could afford to do that, but your Mom/Dad isn't paying his/her child support so we just can't afford it."

We know that inter-parental hostility creates a negative home environment and results in children who experience stress, unhappiness, and feelings of insecurity and vulnerability. Research informs us that that parents who go through a high conflict family break-up are more likely to devalue the importance of the other parent in the life of the child and interfere with the other parent's relationship with the child. Research also informs us that an ongoing relationship with both parents serves a protective function and predicts a child's overall well being. In fact, several studies have found that children in joint custody situations fare better after divorce than children who are in sole custody situations.

Let's look more closely at inter-parental hostility and its affect on self-care and care for the other. It's perhaps the clearest example of a parent putting his or her own emotional needs far ahead of the needs of the child for warmth, care, nurturing, and protection. Hostile parents are stuck in an attitude of opposition, negativity, hatred and loathing toward the other parent and, therefore, toward important aspects of who his or her child is! Hostile parents are not able to love, accept and nurture ALL of who the child is, but only a part. Hostility/negativity as a stuck position for a coparent makes self-care an impossibility, which means that care for the child will be impaired long term and the child lives in a state of vulnerability and insecurity rather than stability and security.

For many parents who survive the earthquake of a family break-up, accepting personal responsibility for the quality of our life and that of our children moving forwards is the key to peace in the family and is at the core of self-care. This doesn't mean that all is forgiven but it definitely means that I take responsibility for my own choices on a daily basis and move toward my own healing and wholeness. Some parents are not able to make the changes needed to truly move forward; mental illness including trauma histories, substance abuse, poverty and other fundamental challenges interfere. The good news for the child is that a stable, loving, healthy parental relationship with just one of their parents can compensate for the impairments of the other parent.