How Do Fathers (or Mothers) Get Custody of their Children?

There is a myth that fathers never get custody. This myth is based on the historic fact that most children traditionally were raised by mothers and that fathers were the bread-winners. As a result, in those days, it made sense that the courts assumed it was in the best interests of the children to be primarily in the care of the mother.

Now, many families have two bread-winners and two caregivers;  mom and dad share in both responsibilities. As a result, the courts in Ontario are more inclined to determine that an equal time sharing regime makes sense for families in which both parents are equally involved in child care.

If you are a father and want to have custody of your child, you need to prove that it is in the child's best interests to be in your care. A strong argument for you having custody is if you can prove that historically you have been the primary caregiver and that you are willing and able to continue to provide the care your child deserves. 

Custody court battles are nasty, take a lot of time to resolve and cost thousands of dollars. Often it is the children who suffer most from a court battle. We prefer to help our clients negotiate a settlement using a process called Collaborative Practice. This is a way to resolve your parenting issues and other separation-related issues with the help of professionals so as to minimize the impact on your children and keep costs down. 

We help both fathers and mothers resolve parenting issues every day. If you would like a consultation with one our lawyers, please click here. We can help. 

What is the Difference between Joint Custody and Sole Custody

The term custody refers to how parents make decisions for their children. Joint Custody means that the major decisions are made by the parents together. Sole custody means that one parent makes the major decisions. If the other parent has sole custody, you have a legal right to access information about your children from caregivers, health care professionals and educators but you don't have the ability to give them instructions regarding your child. If you share joint custody, both parents need to make decisions together and instruct caregivers, health care professionals, educators and anyone else involved in your child's care together.

A common mistake is thinking that Joint Custody means the children are with both parents about an equal amount of time. The term used to describe an equal time sharing of the children is "Shared Custody". "Joint versus Sole Custody" is not about how much time the children spend with each parent but rather how decisions are made. 

Day-to-day decisions related to the care of your child are made by the parent in whose care the child is at the time. Only "major" decisions are governed by the "joint or sole" designation. For example, major decisions related to health care, spiritual upbringing, education are made together. Of course, deciding which decisions are "major" can sometimes be a source of conflict. 

If you are unable to make a decision together, you can try working with a mediator to resolve the issue or you can go to court. A third option is to hire an Parenting Coach to help you work out a resolution. A Parenting Coach can work with you to resolve the issue without going to Court. Unlike a mediator who must remain neutral, a Parenting Coach can offer advice as to how best resolve the issue for the sake of your children. 

The Courts of Ontario tend to assume it is in the best interests of the children that both parents are involved in decision-making but if there is clear evidence that joint custody would result in the children being in the middle of constant arguing and fighting they will order sole custody. 

When you need help determining custody issues, please contact us for a consultation. We are here to help. 

 

How To Reduce Stress for Children of Divorce

Daily structure and routine can help your children feel more secure.

Children often find school stressful.  Add to that the anxiety and worries of a recent separation and it can be a very difficult time for children. 

Giving your children a solid foundation of daily activities can help alleviate stress, anxiety and help with the psychological well-being of both parents and children alike. 

Create a time table for your children so they know the routine. It may include getting ready for school, doing homework, personal time, transportation to and from each parent’s home, special activities such as organized sports and taking time just to be together. Set aside time for fun activities like a board games, sports and just hanging out together.

The bedtime routine might include taking a bath, brushing teeth and reading books.  As long as it is consistent and predictable, it will give your child a sense of security.

Even though your teenage children may resist you imposing a routine on them, they will benefit from some structure and routine in their day. You just might not get thanked for imposing it on them.

For some children, it is helpful is to let your children know in advance where they will be and what they will be doing in the future.

I used to post on the fridge a calendar showing “mommy days” and “daddy days”. I also inserted special activities such as their sports and special family events, birthdays and other activities on the calendar.

I remember finding a copy of the schedule in my son’s pocket one day. He said it made him feel better just being able to know what was happening next.  

Often during separation children demand a lot of attention from their parents. Give them the time they need. You likely have to share your time with the other parent so focus on your children when they are with you.

You can also normalize your child’s anxiety and fears. Let them know that it is okay to feel bad some days. It will get better one day.

If your children are really struggling, you may need to get them help of a Child Specialist who can offer your children individualized therapy and professional support.

Providing routine, consistency and letting your children know what is coming next will help to decrease their anxiety and fears.  Of course, if you ask your children they might suggest some ice cream will help too. Not a bad idea.  

Our lawyers can answer your questions about how to reduce your stress. Book a consultation today

Children and Divorce - How You Can Help Your Child Adjust

A child of divorce writes on how to help your child during divorce. What better source? Thanks to Melissa Farrell a freelance writer who lives in Kansas for her insights.

Speaking as a child of divorce, every situation is different. My parents were high school sweethearts and were together for over 10  years before they decided to call it quits. And when they finally divorced, they tried their best to make sure it didn't affect me negatively. I was too young to really remember anything, at four years old, but I do remember they were always nice to one another around me.

So how can you help your child adjust to divorce?

Explain the Situation

If at all possible, both of you should sit down and explain in the simplest, most straightforward way why you decided to get divorced. Explain that it is in no way the child's fault, but that you don't work together any more. A possible conversation could be "Mommy and daddy fight all the time, which isn't good for anyone. We've decided to live in different houses and not be married any more." Calmly answer any and all questions your child might have and reiterate the fact that it was not his or her fault and you both still love your child.

Throw Around the Idea of Therapy

Sometimes children feel more comfortable expressing their feelings to a third party, someone who will listen to them and not judge. Find someone who can help them express their feelings and work through their struggles. It may be your pastor, a family coach or someone else who is trained to work with children of divorce. 

Don't Let Your Child Be the 'Middle Man'

Although parents know it's not healthy to put the child in the middle, sometimes they just can't seem to help themselves — they roll their eyes or sigh when they talk about their ex, they make negative remarks about the other person in the kids' presence, they ask the children to relay messages to the other parent. DON'T be like those people.

Allow Substantial Time At Both Houses

As a kid, I lived with my mom during the school year and visited my dad once a week and stayed with him every other weekend. During the summer months, I lived with my dad and saw my mom once a week and every other weekend. Every situation is different, but making sure you allow equal time between the both of you is important. Split school breaks and holidays. If it's not your weekend but there's a fun event going on you think your child would love, talk it over and switch weekends. Communication is key.

Avoid Fighting

Children remember when parents fight, argue and yell at one another and it mentally effects them. Although seeing parents fight helps the child understand why the parents can't stay together any more, it is hard on them when they're surrounded by it all day long.

 

Thanks to them I have a  healthy outlook on relationships and marriage and I never saw divorce as this horrible monster. But there are many out there who have the opposite feeling, especially in children who are old enough to understand the situation. Divorce is not easy on anyone and children often feel anger and resentment towards their parents unless you commit to helping your child through your divorce like my parents. 

 

Helping Children Deal with Divorce

Iphoto of father walking with children have four children and my wife is pregnant. Children are the focus of our lives. The first three are from my first marriage. I remember feeling very worried about how they would do when we separated. I did some research at the time and did my best to make it work for them. I can report that they are thriving in spite of their parents' divorce. 

Nancy Parker is this month's guest blogger. She offers some excellent advice for parents going through divorce so you can help your children thrive too. Below is her article and here is her website

There are a lot of innocent victims in a divorce. Many times that includes the divorcees as well as the family and friends but if there are children involved they are the most innocent victims of all. They tend to take on most of the blame as well. I don’t know why but children almost always think that the demise of mom's and dad's relationship is their fault. In their minds someone has to be at fault and if no one else will take the blame they will. It could never be mom or dad's fault, because they are perfect.

When I was very small I thought my mom and dad were perfect, that they knew everything, and that they would never allow anything bad to happen in my life. As I got older I kept seeing things to make me question those ideals. It was truly devastating for me to find out that my parents were not superhuman. After the initial shock of finding this out I learned to love them for who they were. Because despite the fact that they weren’t perfect I realized they loved me the best they knew how and that they were doing the best that they could.

It is hard for children to understand that their parents are just people, people who do not always have it all together. Somehow in their young minds they think that to become a parent means you are some kind of a superhero or that you are closer to God than other people. The reality is far from that. Many parents not only do not have it all together but do not even know where the “all together” store is to buy it! As you have all heard many times before, parenting is the most important job anyone could have because you are molding other lives and there are absolutely no degrees required.

Then divorce comes and lands smack dab in the middle of our already not great parenting. We are struggling to deal with a marriage, our children, a job, extended family, and friends, and then along comes divorce. We are still dealing with all those things plus a failed marriage, grief, hurt, anger, resentment, fear, anxiety, and on and on. Where does this leave the children? People say kids are resilient and they will bounce back. If things are handled right this is a possibility but there are no promises. How many of us actually handle it right when we ourselves are so emotionally compromised? But this is what we must do because we love our children.

As I stated above about my folks, when I realized that my parents were not perfect but I knew they loved me and were trying the best they knew how, I learned to love them for who they were. Here is the key to helping your children get through a divorce: love them the best way you know how and talk to them as much as possible about what is going on. Not the gory details mind you, just give them something to help them understand. If you do not then they will come up with unbelievable ideas of their own usually pointing the blame at themselves.  This is not where the blame needs to rest and we need to let them know.

If you are overwhelmed with the divorce, if it is not a civil time between you and your soon to be ex spouse then you need to appeal to the other parent based on their love for the children in keeping it civil. If that is not possible then you should get help from family and friends. If you are passing the children back and forth between each other then send a trusted family member or friend to deliver the children or be at the door when the other person comes. If you need some time to sort out your thoughts then you need to talk to your children and let them know how much you love them and tell them you need alone time to think. Ask a family member or friend that the kids know and trust to take care of them for a few days. Keep things as normal as you can. Try not to turn the children’s lives upside down because yours is. It is hard enough for them to lose the day to day presence of one parent so do your best to remain calm and mature for their sake. After all, we are the adults. We are teaching our children self control so we must practice what we preach.

Keeping children on the same schedule is important. They need to be able to see the same friends and family members just as always. If they are close to a member of the other parent’s family then do not take that away from them unless that family member is not handling the divorce well. As much as it depends on you however, do not take these relationships away from the children. Try your best to keep things status quo in their lives. Above all keep letting them know how much you love them. But in turn, do not start giving them “things” instead of your time and love. They do not need the things; they do need you and the other parent. Whatever you do, do not use the kids as leverage to manipulate the other person. These are your children, not pawns in a game of chess.

Counseling is always a good idea if you think things are not going well with your children. Family counseling is a good way to start so that you can all talk about how you are feeling and get some new perspective from an unbiased third party. This is also a good place to express your feelings that perhaps you were not able to sort out when talking to your children at home. It is good if both parents are involved, not at the same time of course but every other session. The children need to know that both of you care about what they feel and that you are both still going to be there for them. If one or all of the children seem to be guarded or unresponsive then you can have the counselor try a one on one to see if they can get to the bottom of their feelings. Sometimes other family members can help the children to express how they feel. Once you have found out how they feel do not respond in a defensive posture! They are telling you how they feel, it is not wrong that they feel that way. You can talk to them about their feelings and do your best to alleviate their fears and concerns but do not reprimand them for their feelings. You may never hear another feeling again and these are not the desired results.

Let love be the reason for everything you do. This is from the Bible and is not only spiritual but practical advice for everyday life, not only in a divorce but for everything and everyone. If your main goal is to do whatever you do for the good of others then you are on the right track. Think back how you felt as a child: your anxieties, fears, needs, and desires. What could someone have done to help you? Did you have misconceptions growing up? Sometimes we forget what it was like to be young because the cares of this world strangle that innocent part of our life out. Be kind, loving, and gentle. Treat your children the way you want to be treated. They are people with valid feelings and they will grow into whatever kind of adult you train them to be. Love is the key. Don’t let your emotions cloud your mind so much that you forget who you are. Your children will stick by you and love you all the more if they realize you are doing the best you know how and that you absolutely love them no matter what. Stay strong and hold on. This time in your life will pass and you and your children can grow and be better off than ever before. That is if you do everything you do for their good and with lots of love.

Author Bio

Nancy Parker was a professional http://www.enannysource.com/ and she loves to write about wide range of subjects like health, Parenting, Child Care, Babysitting, nanny background check tips etc. You can reach her @ nancy.parker015 @ gmail.com

 

Four Steps to Take with Your Child After Divorce

divorced couple with babyHelping your children adjust after your divorce is essential. Heather Smith offers excellent advice on what you should do to help you child after the dust settles.

 

Here is Heather's blog: 

 

 4 Steps to Take with Your Child After Divorce

You have sat your child down and given the dreaded speech that you never thought you would have to make. Mom and Dad are getting a divorce are some of the most difficult words a child will hear from their parents mouth. There are a few things that will help you and your child during this time; here are 4 things to consider doing:

Get them a counselor: Once you have shared the unfortunate news with your child it is important that no matter their age, you get them a counselor to speak with. Weekly sessions are best for them. It gives them one day a week to discuss and work out their thoughts and feelings. Children have a difficulty opening up to parents and need that third party when it comes to dealing with the divorce. It is a life change for them as well and you need to provide them with help.

Keep quiet: No matter what you do, keep your thoughts to yourself. Do not speak negatively about your former spouse in front of the child. Keep your arguments and frustrations away from the child. Do not share details of the divorce. It is so important to keep that out of the child’s life. Children already feel a sense of responsibility of the parents’ divorce and hearing things like this will only push them further into that belief. As hard as it can be to keep your feelings in, just do it.

Remain positive Make the transition easier on them by remaining positive. Most likely parental rights and visit have been established and now come the difficult part for child, spending time in two different homes. When you drop off and pick up, be sure you remain positive. Be interested in their time at the others house and respond with a smile. You want this to be easy and comfortable for the child.

Get them involved and active: If you child isn’t already part of a sports team or involved in a hobby, be sure that you start them in something. There are all sorts of emotions for your child during this time and having a sport or hobby is a great for them to express it without doing harm to themselves or others when they act out. Sports teams are great because they require practices and game days. They are exercising and socializing with peers their age and can act like a child that they are. Hobbies like painting, learning a musical instrument will stimulate the child’s need to share their emotions. Try a few things out and allow your child to make the decision on what makes them the happiest.

Your divorce is what you make it. It may be a difficult and stressful time for you, but remember you aren’t the only one feeling that pain. Remain positive, get your child involved, find them a counselor and always keep your negative thoughts to yourself. Don’t allow your child to feel like it’s their fault, because it is never the child’s fault.

Author Bio

Heather Smith is an ex-nanny. Passionate about thought leadership and writing, Heather regularly contributes to various career, social media, public relations, branding, and parenting blogs/websites. She also provides value to nanny service by giving advice on site design as well as the features and functionality to provide more and more value to nannies and families across the U.S. and Canada. She can be available at H.smith7295 [at] gmail.com.

How To Tell Adult Children About Your Separation

Separation and divorce is hard on children. Frankly, it's hard on everyone, adult children included. Often separating couples see their adult children as being more able to cope with their parents' separation than younger children. I am not sure this is true. 

Erica Manfred is the author of "He's History, You're Not: Surviving Divorce After Forty." and recently authored an interesting article in the Huffington Post about how to tell adult children of your divorce.

She offers eight "rules": 

  1. Give the news in a compassionate way. Don't just email, text or phone them. Do it in person. 
  2. Don't lie. Tell them the truth about your marriage. 
  3. Show empathy. Try to support your children.  It's hard for them too. 
  4. Don't put them in the middle. Don't ask your kids to take sides. 
  5. Don't depend on your children for advice. This is another way of putting them in the middle. Let them love both parents. 
  6. Don't ever tell them "you're the reason we stayed together". This can make your children feel guilty and feel that their whole childhood was a sham. 
  7. Call a truce with your Ex. You will always be connected with your spouse through your children so try to get along. 
  8. Don't shove your new boyfriend or girlfriend down your kids' throats. It is just too awkward and could lead to resentment. Give them time to adjust. 

I agree with all of these suggested rules except for the second one. Erica suggests that you should tell your adult children the reasons for the divorce. She says if there was an affair, be honest about it. 

I feel that telling your children about the reasons for the marriage ending will likely cause the children to take sides. This is not helpful to your children. They ought to be able to maintain a relationship with both parents. The problems you two had has nothing to do with their relationship with each of parent. Telling them about the affair can only lead to more strife and the children feeling caught in the middle. 

Some may argue that adult children are better able to cope and understand their parents' separation yet I argue they are still your children. Let me give you an example. Intellectually, your adult children know that you have a sex life whereas when your children were young, they had no idea. Young children walking in on their parents making love is shocking. Walking in on mom and dad having sex would be just as awkward and disturbing to the adult child. Just imagine it for yourself! Yuck!

Likewise, learning the sordid facts around the breakdown of your marriage would be at the very least awkward and at the worst, repulsive. Simply put, I don't see how it could benefit your children. They will tend to take sides and "divorce" one of their parents. Don't make your adult children casualties of your divorce. 

Otherwise, I like the advice offered by Erica. Be sensitive to your adult children when you tell them you are getting a divorce. Treat them the same way you would if they were still your cute little bundles of joy even if they are now your adult, money-sucking, know-it-all children. Either way, they are still your darling children.

Who Drives The Children For Access Exchanges?

When you become a parent, nobody tells you that you will become a personal taxi driver for your children! You will drive them to their sports activities, their music lessons, their friends' homes and, if you have separated from the other parent, you might have to do some driving to and from their other parent's home. 

I enjoy driving my children around to their activities. I view it as an opportunity to talk about everything going on in our lives. Sometimes we talk about something they hear on the radio (news, sports or opinion pieces). Sometimes we talk about the daily events of their lives. Sometimes we just talk about the weather or maybe someone will say "hey, that's a nice looking car". It doesn't matter what we talk about... the point is we are talking. 

When parents separate, the question often arises: who should do the driving when the children move from one parent's home to the other?

If you and the other parent cannot work out an agreement on your own, here are the general principles used by most judges in Ontario: 

  1. If the children reside primarily with one parent, the other parent should do the pick up and drop off of the children. The reason for this is that it is assumed that the primary parent does more driving of the children to their activities since they are with them more often.
  2. If the parents share about equal time with the children, they should share about equal driving responsibilities.
  3. If one parent, moves far away from the other parent, the moving parent will usually have to do most of the driving for access exchanges.

Often clients argue about who has to do the driving. Neither wants to do it. At the high price of gasoline these days, I can understand their desire to minimize the amount of driving. On the other hand, the opportunity to spend time with your children, without the distraction of the television and the computer, is precious. I say "Don't argue too hard."

Take advantage of the opportunity to spend time with your children. Soon they will be leaving home and you will long for hours spent together going somewhere.... anywhere..... together. 

 

Stay Connected With Your Children After Divorce With Facebook

Communication with teenagers can be difficult at the best of times. When you are separated, it can be even more difficult. 

I am always looking for ways to be part of my teenagers' lives. I enjoy Facebook and am friends with my three teenage boys on it. It gives me some insight into their lives without having to ask awkward questions. The key to staying their friend is to not make comments on anything they post. If you do, you will quickly embarrass them and will soon be de-friended. (One son blocked me from reading his wall. Yikes - that hurts! ) 

I have also taken the bold step to invite my sons' friends and even girlfriends (past and present) to be my friend on Facebook and, surprisingly, I have never been turned down. This gives me even more insight into the lives of my children and teenagers in general. 

I think the boys are a bit more careful about what they post knowing I am their friend which, frankly, is a good thing. It prevents them from posting something that could bite them in the butt down the road when they apply for a job. 

The New York Times has a great article about how Facebook can be used as an excellent conduit for communication with your teenagers. An interesting comment about the article is found at  www.allfacebook.com. They have some great stories from other people's experiences. 

I text with my boys. I email them. I speak to them on the phone. I Skype with them. And I spend as much time with them as possible. It's great being a dad in the 21st century. There are so many ways to stay connected with my kids. 

Ooops.. Gotta go. My Blackberry is buzzing and vibrating... now just to figure out how it works so I can respond!! 

Custody: Sole, Parallel, Shared, Split - What Does It Mean?

Are you confused by the different types of custody? You are not alone.  Most people find the terms confusing. 

Many people think joint custody means the children spend equal time with both parents. Actually it means that the parents make decisions together. It has nothing to do with the amount of time the children spend with each parent. Day-to-day decisions are made by the parent in whose care the children are at the time. Major decisions such as those affecting the children's health, recreational activities, religious training and education are made together. For example, the parents do not discuss daily homework assignments but they should discuss whether to change the children's school. 

Effective co-parents discuss problems with the children's education, milestones, upcoming assignments and events. The degree of communication is up to you.

Sole custody means that one parent makes the major decisions. Of course, consultation with the other parent is usually wise as it keeps both parents feeling involved but if the parents cannot speak to each other respectfully, it may be limited. The other parent has a right to information about the children from all educators, health care providers and others involved in the children's lives.

Parallel custody is another type of decision making. In parallel custody the decision making is divided between the parents. For example, one parent may make the health care and educational decisions whereas the other parent may make the recreational activity and religious decisions. The purpose of parallel custody is to minimize the need for the parents to communicate but to keep both highly involved in the parenting. In reality, I'm not sure if it works. Sounds awkward or artificial somehow.

Shared custody is not about the decision making process but rather is based on the children's schedule: the children are with each parent about equal time. This can have implications on the amount of child support paid. To learn more about the impact on child support read this article.

Are you confused yet? One more term to go.

In split custody arrangements each parent has at least one child in their primary care and they usually have access to the other children who reside primarily with the other parent. Often the arrangement is that the children are together on weekends alternating between their parents' homes but they live separately during the week with one or more with each parent.

These legal terms are important but what is more important is that you and your ex find a way to parent peacefully, keeping the best interests of the children paramount.

Computer Game for Children of Divorce: A Great Tool

There is a new website for kids whose parents are going through a divorce. It's called Changeville.  It teaches kids what happens when their parents separate in an entertaining, online way. The tour says "A walk through Changeville will tell you what to expect and help you deal with all the different feelings you might have and along the way there's all kinds of fun games and activities!"  

Legal words and how kids are looked after is explained on Legal Street. On Break Up Street, kids learn what can happen during the process when their parents are going through rough times. There also is a section where kids can create some art.

What a great tool for kids.

 

Should Equal Parenting Time be Presumed?

 Hilary Linton, LL.B., LL.M. (ADR), Acc. FM.Hilary Linton is a well respected mediator, trainer and lawyer in Ontario. She writes a provocative blog about whether there should be a presumption of 50/50 in custody cases. I have reproduced her blog for you below. The Riverdale Mediation Blog always is an interesting read. 

In response to Hilary's blog below, I feel the movement toward a presumption of 50/50 in custody cases is in response to the traditional, unspoken presumption held by some traditional judges that mothers are best suited to care for children.  Of course a true "best interests" test would be best but unfortunately it seems the pendulum is, once again, moving in the opposite direction.  Thanks Hillary for your excellent, thought-provoking blog.  

Here is Hillary's blog. 

Should equal parenting time be presumed?

The always-hot topic of post-divorce parenting time is once again in the news.

The Canadian Bar Association is speaking out against a Conservative bill that seeks to make 50-50 time sharing for children of divorce the norm.

Such a presumption, of course, puts the rights of parents ahead of the best interests of their children, but is hard to get the advocates of such legislation to understand this.

Without question, a 50-50 time sharing arrangement is often best for the child. But not so in all cases. The only way to arrive at the best possible plan for each child is to look at all the circumstances, in each separate case, of both parents and the child and tailor the parenting plan to meet that child’s needs.

To legislate any particular parenting plan as the presumptive norm would eliminate the “what is in the best interests of this child” analysis. And that would put children at risk of not having their needs met.

There are many cases where a 50-50 is not the best for the child. This does not make one parent better than the other. Nor does it mean the child will be estranged or alienated from the parent who is less involved in the day to day upbringing. Research is clear that a child’s bond with his or her parent is determined more by the quality of the time spent together than by the amount of time.

To presume that it will always be in the child’s best interests to live equally with each parent could seriously jeopardize the stability and well being of a child, especially a young one, who has formed different kinds of attachments to the parents. A presumption of a 50-50 arrangement ignores the possibility that what will be best for the child is a gradual change to allow the child to develop the kinds of safe attachments necessary to be parented differently from what the child has grown accustomed to.

It is unfair to the child that the onus of proving that any particular arrangement is NOT in the child’s best interests should fall on the parent who may in fact understand the child better but not have the resources to fight a legal battle. That is why mediation is almost always the best way for parents to determine, together, what will be in their child’s best interests.

The system is not broken. The “best interests of the child” test is the only one necessary and it works. Leave it be.

Should Step-Mom Sandra Bullock Start a Court Battle for Custody or Consider a Collaborative Lawyer?

Have you ever believed that Hollywood stars live charmed lives? They seem so powerful, beautiful, rich, and confident. Yet, Academy Awardreal pain and disappointment can creep into their lives - just like it does in our lives. They have choices to make, just like you and me.

Academy Award winner Sandra Bullock must have felt thrilled when she won an Oscar for her performance in the blockbuster "The Blindside". Yet, within a couple of weeks of her big win, her husband admitted to acts of infidelity.

Wow! Can you imagine the impact; she went from being on top of the world to the depths of despair all within a few days. But that's life. Whether you are a Hollywood or just regular guy or gal.

The question for Sandra Bullock is whether she will be able to maintain a relationship with her husband's children. According to a story in Jeffrey Cottrill's blog at the Divorce Magazine website, Sandra relished her relationship with Jesse James' three children. She was especially close to his six year old daughter Sunny.

Micheal in Niren and Associates Blog explains what would happen if Bullock and James were living in Ontario and Sandra Bullock sought an order for custody of Sunny in Court here:

If Bullock and James were Ontario residents and Bullock requested custody of Sunny,  the courts would look at whether Bullock provided financially for the child, the nature of their relationship and whether Bullock had maintained in both private and public life that she was Sunny’s parent and acted in such a manner. After determining whether Bullock was indeed a parent to Sunny, the courts would have to look at other factors to determine how custody between Bullock and James would play out. His behavior may not make him an unfit parent by default, but it may be considered if it hurt Sunny in any way or affected his ability to act as a parent.

Both Bullock and James would then have to make their case as to their relationship with the child, their willingness to raise and take care of the child and how they plan to do so, the stability of their homes and other factors. Blood relations are also considered, as is the choice of the child herself.

Frankly, the outcome is difficult to predict. Biological parents are generally preferred over step- parents but if the Court believed it was in Sunny's best interests that Bullock have custody, it is possible she would win. Surprisingly, Sunny's biological mother is rumoured to be willing to support Bullock if she starts a court battle.

Court is a battle. As a former litigator, I remember I was either "chucking or ducking". Chucking mud at the other side or trying to duck from the lobs coming my way. Everyone hated Court. The animosity between the parents usually escalated and in the end often the parents could not even imagine parenting cooperatively . It was a mess. The biggest loser was the childreTug of Warn. Kids suffer when their parents are fighting whether face-to-face or through lawyers in Court.

Mr. Justice Harvey Brownstone, is in his stunningly brilliant book entitled "Tug of War: A Judge's Verdict on Separation, Custody Battles, and The Bitter Realities of Family Court", strongly attacks the court system declaring it should be the place of last resort to resolve custody and access issues... and this is from a judge who has been presiding over family law cases for over 14 years. 

Justice Brownstone asks in his book "how can two parents who love their child allow a total stranger to make crucial decisions about their child's living arrangements, health, education, extracurricular activities, vacation time, and degree of contact with each parent?"

If Bullock and James take their case to Court with traditional lawyers, it will be a huge mess. It will take months or even years to resolve. Can you imagine the turmoil, pain and grief for their little girl? She will be in the spotlight for months as the matter creeps through the court system. Her biological mother, a former Penthouse model, is presently in jail for tax evasion. What a start to life for little Sunny. Fighting. Pain. Anger. Jail. Court. Ugh.

If Sandra Bullock came to me, I would recommend the Collaborative Team Process.

Mr. Justice Brownstone describes the Collaborative process in his book as follows:

In the Collaborative family law process, the parents and their lawyers work together as members of a settlement team, rather than working against each other as opposing parties....The parents learn to focus on their common interests, understand each others perspective and concerns, exchange information, treat each other with respect, and explore the widest possible range of choices.

I would represent Ms Bullock's interests and Jesse James would retain his own Collaboratively trained lawyer. We would find a Divorce Coach for them who would help both parties work through the huge emotional issues related to the end of their marriage.

I would want Bullock to work through her emotional issues with the Divorce Coach so they won't create an impediment to the resolution of the parenting issues. Many times anger about an affair fuels a fight about the children in court. I would not want that for my client.

Bullock and James would then jointly retain a Parenting Coach who is a social worker with special training in the needs of children going through a divorce. The Parenting Coach would probably meet with Sunny to get to know her needs and meet with Bullock and James together and separately. The Divorce Coach would then discuss resolution of the parenting issues with the parties, sharing the recent researcpuzzle piecesh into the best interests of children in these situations. The negotiations would be difficult, no doubt, but they would be future-oriented, respectful, private and all about finding the best solution for Sunny's future. As in most Collaborative cases, I would expect we would achieve a negotiated settlement.

If there is some aspect of the parenting arrangements that Bullock and James cannot reach agreement on, we would jointly retain someone to act as an arbitrator who would resolve the issue. The arbitrator's decision would be final and binding - just like a court order. No need to go to Court for difficult issues.

The Collaborative Team Practice process has many bumps in the road to settlement but eventually, like in most cases, Bullock and James would work out an agreement that they craft. It wouldn't be decided by a stranger (a judge) but rather by the clients with the help of their team of professionals. It would be a resolution that meets both party's core concerns. The cost would be less than if they went to court and the resolution would likely be achieved faster.

What do you think Sunny would prefer happen: a huge bloody, drawn out, public court battle or a private, respectful Collaborative settlement?

I think Sunny would be proud of her parents if they were able to negotiate an agreement for her sake so if you are speaking to Sandra Bullock... give her my number. I am here to help.

Barrie Divorce Lawyer Explains Parental Alienation

parents stretch childWHAT IS PARENTAL ALIENATION AND WHY IS IT SO BAD?

There is an old African proverb that states “when two elephants fight it is the grass under their feet that suffers”. Similarly, when parents fight over custody and access of their children after a separation it is the children that suffer. In many cases the parents are not even aware of the effect that their custody battle is having on their children and they do not intend to hurt their children. Nevertheless, research shows that children who have lived through a high conflict divorce have a greater tendency to develop mental health issues, addiction issues, are less likely to obtain a post secondary education and have a whole host of other social problems that develop later on in their lives as a result of their negative experience.

In some of the more extreme high conflict custody cases, a dynamic develops whereby one of the parents sets out to sever the children’s ties to the other parent. The American psychiatrist who first coined the phrase “parental alienation” described it as, “a disorder that arises primarily in the context of child custody disputes. Its primary manifestation is the child’s campaign of denigration against a parent, a campaign that has no justification. It results from the combination of a programming parent’s indoctrinations and the child’s own contributions to the vilification of the target parent.”

Some of the symptoms of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) which will be added as a diagnosis under the DSM in 2010, are as follows:

The alienated child:

·         Sees one parent as all good and other parent as all bad;

·         Appears to really hate “bad parent” and hates their family and even their pets

·         Feels no guilt about hating parent or treating him/her badly

·         When they talk about alienated parent appear to be putting on a show – affect does not match their words

·         Worries about non alienated parent and is protective of them

·         Blames alienated parent for the divorce

The alienating parent:

·         Allows child to make decisions regarding access

·         Does not encourage access or contact with alienated parent and gives child silent treatment after access visits

·         Tries to delete memory of other parent by taking away pictures of other parent and not speaking about them.

·         Will not let alienated parent come to door or speak with them alone- treats alienated parent as if he/she is dangerous

·         Does not tell alienated parent about special events or school activities involving child

·         Withholds gifts, mail and voice messages from other parent and will not tell child about it.

·         Rewrites family history sometimes to involve stories of sexual and physical abuse by other parent

·         Involves child in litigation by reading court documents to him/her and or using child as messenger

·         Puts child in position where he/she is forced to choose between their parents

As with most things in life, there is a wide spectrum of severity and the blame usually does not fall on one person’s shoulders only. The “alienated parent” often contributes to the problem by making the child feel guilty, rejecting the child, acting aggressively towards the child or to the other parent or by simply giving up hope and abandoning the child. Also, some children are estranged from a parent prior to the separation and it only gets worse after wards. The alienating parents often act the way they do because they feel that they have been abandoned by the other parent and are very hurt by the separation. They themselves may have been abandoned or abused as children.

Richard Gardner and some of his followers are of the view that the only cure to this problem is to take the child out of the custody of the alienating parent, subject the child to intense counseling to de-brainwash the child and then place the child in the alienated parent’s custody. 

Not surprisingly, there are many family court judges who do not accept that this is the only solution to the problem. Instead, they try to affect a change in the dynamic by making access orders enforceable by the police, making a parent who is withholding access pay a fine or even ordering that the alienating parent go to jail if they breach the access order again.

In the US there are some residential programs available for families with this problem. In Canada, there are therapists who specialize in assisting families with this problem, but there are no residential programs that I am aware of.

In my view the essential thing is to prevent the alienation from happening in the first place. This can be done by identifying the early symptoms and ensuring that there is an access plan in place very shortly after the separation that is strongly enforced by the court. It is also essential that all parties involved get counseling to identify the issues that are at the root of the problem and bring them to the surface and that professionals involved in helping parents who are separating and divorcing are trained to recognize the early symptoms.

There have been recent amendments made to the Children’s Law Reform Act to reinforce the idea that maximum contact with both parents is generally in the best interests of children and that parents have an obligation not only to allow access, but to facilitate that access.

If you are fearful that this dynamic may be occurring in your family, please don’t wait for things to get better. Parental alienation is like cancer- if left untreated it will grow and kill your relationship with your child. Children in families where there is this dynamic are “victims” of abuse and end up exhibiting the same symptoms as children who are physically and sexually abused by their family members. You have a responsibility to protect your children from this abuse, as do all the professionals who are involved in your case.

The new provisions of legislation in Ontario are as follows:

34 (2) If the court is satisfied that the responding party wrongfully denied the moving party access to the child, the court may, by order,

(a) require the responding party to give the moving party compensatory access to the child for the period agreed to by the parties, or for the period the court considers appropriate if the parties do not agree;

(b) require supervision as described in section 34;

(c) require the responding party to reimburse the moving party for any reasonable expenses actually incurred as a result of the wrongful denial of access;

(d) appoint a mediator in accordance with section 31 as if the motion were an application for access. R.S.O. 1990, c. C.12, s. 83.

Period of compensatory access

(3)  A period of compensatory access shall not be longer than the period of access that was wrongfully denied. R.S.O. 1990, c. C.12, s. 83.

What constitutes wrongful denial of access

(4)  A denial of access is wrongful unless it is justified by a legitimate reason such as one of the following:

1. The responding party believed on reasonable grounds that the child might suffer physical or emotional harm if the right of access were exercised.

2. The responding party believed on reasonable grounds that he or she might suffer physical harm if the right of access were exercised.

3. The responding party believed on reasonable grounds that the moving party was impaired by alcohol or a drug at the time of access.

4. The moving party failed to present himself or herself to exercise the right of access within one hour of the time specified in the order or the time otherwise agreed on by the parties.

5. The responding party believed on reasonable grounds that the child was suffering from an illness of such a nature that it was not appropriate in the circumstances that the right of access be exercised.

6. The moving party did not satisfy written conditions concerning access that were agreed to by the parties or that form part of the order for access.

7. On numerous occasions during the preceding year, the moving party had, without reasonable notice and excuse, failed to exercise the right of access.

8. The moving party had informed the responding party that he or she would not seek to exercise the right of access on the occasion in question. R.S.O. 1990, c. C.12, s. 83.

Motion re failure to exercise of right of access, etc.

(5)  A person in whose favour an order has been made for custody of a child and who claims that a person in whose favour an order has been made for access to the child has, without reasonable notice and excuse, failed to exercise the right of access or to return the child as the order requires, may make a motion for relief under subsection (6) to the court that made the access order. R.S.O. 1990, c. C.12, s. 83.

Order for relief

(6)  If the court is satisfied that the responding party, without reasonable notice and excuse, failed to exercise the right of access or to return the child as the order requires, the court may, by order,

(a) require supervision as described in section 34;

(b) require the responding party to reimburse the moving party for any reasonable expenses actually incurred as a result of the failure to exercise the right of access or to return the child as the order requires;

(c) appoint a mediator in accordance with section 31 as if the motion were an application for access. R.S.O. 1990, c. C.12, s. 83.

Scheduling Events When Divorced

CalendarHave you been unaware of an upcoming school event (like the Christmas concert) or an extracurricular event because your spouse forgot to tell you? Isn't it frustrating? And disappointing? It's also embarrassing when you drop the ball and forget to pass on important information.

Scheduling events, holidays and other activities for children can be difficult for any family, but the challenge is even greater for divorced parents. Often parents who have separated or divorced have difficulty communicating with each other at the best of times. Living in separate homes can make it even worse.  But you know that already if you're divorced. So what's the answer?

You need a system.

For many years, I have encouraged clients whose separation is fresh and raw to use a communication book. One of the parents purchases a blank book which is used to discuss any proposed changes to the access schedule, illnesses of the children, milestones, accomplishments, discipline problems and upcoming events in the children's lives. I encourage the parents to decorate the book with photos of the children on the outside of the book (to remind the parents to stay focused on their children's best interests) and to plan on giving the book to their children when they are adults (to encourage the parents to treat each other respectfully and politely in the book since their children will read it one day).

A high tech modern version of the communication book is Our Family Wizard. This is an on-line  calendar and communication tool available through the Internet. It is amazing. You can communicate upcoming changes to the schedule, health concerns, financial issues and any other issues related to your children through your own private website set up for this purpose. Older children can even be given access to the site as can any other third parties agreed to by you and your spouse (mediator, parenting coach, lawyers, grand parents). The cost is $99.00 per parent per year. They even have "scholarships" to reduce or eliminate the costs for deserving families. Third party access is free. Check out Our Family Wizard.

A free option is Google Calendar. It does not have all the bells and whistles of "Our Family Wizard" because it isn't designed for separated families, but it is free. A calendar is set up over the Internet with access restricted to you and your spouse or third parties agreeable to the parents. It's private and available wherever you can access the Internet. You can post upcoming events on the calendar such as the next hockey tournament or dance recital so everyone knows about it in advance.

Ideally, its best if you can communicate openly with one another via meetings, telephone calls or emails but often this is impossible especially immediately after the separation. The emotions are too hot for direct communication. So, try some other system.

Of course, a system works only if you work the system. Even if your spouse doesn't keep you informed or is unreliable, just take the high road, and do it anyway. Some of us are planners and some of us aren't planners. Such is life. Do it anyway.  

Whether you use the old fashioned communication book, Our Family Wizard, Google Calendar, emails, meetings or phone calls, find a way to communicate respectfully and in a timely manner. If you don't make an effort, your children will suffer. Your children deserve parents who will put aside their own personal feelings toward each other and find a way to communicate with each other, for the children's sake... and you don't want to miss another Christmas concert!

Deciding Whether to Vaccinate for H1N1

We are experiencing a pandemic of H1N1 influenza worldwide. As a result, governments around the world are asking everyone H1N1 vaccineto become vaccinated. Kysa Crusco of New Hampshire has recently done an excellent blog about this issue from an American perspective.

Parents everywhere are wondering  "should I vaccinate my child?"  My own opinion is that the benefits to yourself and society far outweigh the risks. I believe you should bare the long lines and get it done.

I recommend you read more about the issue. The Simcoe County Health Unit has an excellent website with information about clinics in the Barrie area and other information about the issue. I especially like the fact sheet. The Government of Canada also has a great website with information about H1N1 too.

I believe that all of us should become vaccinated, not only to protect ourselves from illness but to minimize the spread of the virus to other people, some of whom might die from it. I feel it is my obligation to the Canadian society to be immunized even though the likelihood of a serious bout of flu is minimal. In fact, I believe so strongly about this issue, I have given my staff up to five hours off work with pay so that they can get their H1N1 vaccination shot, should they choose to do so.

That's my opinion but vaccination is voluntary. You have to decide for yourself and your children whether to get vaccinated.

If you are separated or divorced, you should consult with your ex spouse before making this type of decision. That is, if your ex has any involvement in the children's lives and you can discuss issues without a battle.

I always remind my clients ACBD: "Always Consult Before Deciding".

If you share joint custody with your ex, you have an obligation to make all major decisions affecting your children together. This includes major medical decisions.

Whether to vaccinate your child is a "major decision" requiring you to discuss it  and decide with your co-parent, if you share joint custody. 

I suggest you call or email your ex and offer these links so your ex can become informed too. Avoid it becoming a power struggle. Stick to the facts and the best interests of your children.

Even if you don't share joint custody, it is a good idea to consult with your ex before proceeding so that your ex spouse feels involved. Your children benefit from having two involved parents and participation in decision-making helps make a parent feel involved.

If you believe that consulting with your ex will lead to a battle and you have sole custody, you can make the decision alone. It is important to minimize conflict, for your children's sake, so avoid the conversation.

Now... go wash your hands and try to stay healthy!

Interview with Nancy Newton of Rainbows

Nancy NewtonNancy Newton is the Executive Director of Rainbows. It is described on their website as "an international not-for-profit organization that fosters emotional healing among children grieving a loss from a life-altering crisis. These losses, among others, include separation, divorce, death, incarceration and foster care."

I believe Rainbows really helps kids deal with the emotional journey of their parents going through a separation or divorce. It does not replace a therapist as it is a system of peer support for the children. It's kids talking to other kids about their feelings.

Rainbows has their national head office in Barrie, Ontario.

Here is my interview with Nancy.

Continue Reading...

Why Dads Suffer in Court

Susan Piggs recently had an excellent article in the Toronto Star entitled "Divorced Dads Can't Catch a Break" . She outlines the many grievances of fathers who feel mistreated by the Ontario Court systemgirl clutching man. It's sad to read the stories of so many aggrieved fathers.

Many of these fathers believe that judges are intentionally against men and will do everything in their power to keep men paying support and keep men away from their children. I don't blame the judges: I blame the adversarial system. And I certainly feel sorry for the fathers who have suffered.

When it comes to children, judges are mandated to ensure that the best interests of the children are paramount. Judges struggle with their decisions. They truly want to do what is best for the children and generally start with the principle that it is in the best interests of the children to maintain a meaningful relationship with both parents. If they are faced with overwhelming evidence that limited access or supervised access is the best approach for the children, what would you want them to do? I would prefer they err on the side of protecting children rather than risking harm to them. No doubt, the judges get it wrong sometimes leaving fathers without access unjustifiably.

The adversarial process assumes that both parents will put forward their best case and the judge will somehow miraculously determine "the truth" and will dispense "justice" accordingly. Often parents don't intentionally lie but rather see the world from a different perspective than the other parent. The judges have to discern the truth. It isn't an easy job. Sometimes they get it wrong.

The whole adversarial process pits one parent against another. It creates an atmosphere of "winner take all" which exacerbates the conflict. Increasing the animosity between the parents often leads children to suffer. Ironically, judges are supposed to be looking after the best interests of the children yet the adversarial system itself can make things worse.

I believe that most cases can be resolved without going to court. In my experience having mediated hundreds of family law cases and helped many families resolve their situations using the Collaborative Process, I believe parents are usually able to resolve their parenting issues on their own with just a little help and advice from well meaning collaboratively-trained professionals and mediators.

In the Collaborative Team Process, parents  work with a neutral Parenting Coach who will help them craft a parenting plan that is best for their children having regard to the children's needs, the research on the developmental needs of children and the ability of each parent to meet those needs. The parents are empowered to problem-solve in the Collaborative Process instead of being encouraged to fight as is the case in the court system.

I have met many men who blame judges for their plight. Maybe some of them have legitimate grievances but having appeared before many judges over the years, I believe most are well-meaning men and women who are just doing the best job possible given the restrictions of the adversarial process.  Frankly, I don't believe it's the judges' fault... it's just that the adversarial system is not the best way of resolving parenting issues.  

Supervised Access is an Option

Supervised access means that  access to the children can only occur in the presence of someone else. The purpose is to ensure that the children will be safe.

There are supervised access centers run by the government that will provide supervised access at their facilities in some cities including Barrie. Often the supervisor is a family member or friend instead of the government so as to avoid the costs and to be able to have the supervision on site.

Supervised access is unusual. The Court has to feel that the children are at risk of harm if access is not supervised. For example, if the access parent has been abusive of children in the past or has attempted to alienate the children from the other spouse, supervised access may be ordered.

Sometimes there simply needs to be supervised exchanges of the children to ensure the parents are not hostile toward each other in the presence of the children. Instead of going to a supervised access center, some parents will agree to exchange the children at a public location such as the local Tim Horton's, so as to minimize the likelihood of a nasty exchange. 

In a recent case called Smith v. Morrison [2009} O.J. No 3529, the court ordered supervised access to the mother because she had a drug addiction and suffered from depression. A lot of people suffer from depression but apparently this mother was not actively seeking treatment for it. There were other facts too working against her. In the end, the court felt that the children were at risk of being harmed if left in the mother's care without supervision. Normally supervised access is imposed on a temporary basis but, as in this case, it can be made a permanent order.

Supervised access is always an option to be considered in high conflict situations.