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. 

 

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. 

 

Handling the Holidays after Divorce

Christmas is for children but when Mom and Dad have separated or divorced, it can be a difficult time. I remember how difficult it was my first year after separation. I was devastated. Now, many years later, we schedule our "Christmas" any time between December 22nd and December 28th. The actual date does not matter... it is the joy of spending the day together. 

Here are links to two past blogs I did about the holiday season Part 1 and Part 2

Our guest blogger, Marvin Hoffman from the Houston, Texas law firm Holmes, Diggs and Eames, PLLC offers some very good advice for parents.

The holidays can be a difficult, anxiety-filled, and frustrating time for anyone, regardless of your situation. It’s a time when a lot is expected of you, from buying presents to traveling from place to place, and it seems as if there is less time to get it all done. However, after going through a divorce, the holidays can be even more difficult, particularly when children are involved. Depending on a divorced couple’s custody and/or visitation agreement, the holidays can be an especially complicated time, as parents are trying to juggle who gets the children during which holidays, how long they have them, and what to do about the myriad of other holiday arrangements that need to be made.

Making it through the holidays as a divorced parent doesn’t have to be as difficult as many make it sound, though. With careful planning and taking a few tips into consideration, a divorced parent can more thoroughly enjoy the holidays and make them fun for the kids.

Tips for Divorced Parents

You want to do more than just survive the holidays after a divorce – you want to enjoy them fully. Although being a divorced parent can certainly put more pressure on you, making this a harder task, it’s not impossible. In fact, you may be able to make the holidays much easier to handle by keeping the following tips in mind:

  • Make very detailed and specific plans – whatever you and your family are doing for the holidays, try to make the plans as detailed as possible so arguments and problems do not arise, particularly with your ex-spouse. The more planned you are, from the time you’re leaving for a vacation to exactly which days and times you’ll have the children, the more you’re likely to reduce potential frustration and fighting.

  • Plan well ahead of time – by making plans as far in advance as possible, you can allow your ex-spouse, children, and family to plan better and more accordingly, which also helps prevent more arguments from arising at inopportune times. This way, you can also make arrangements with your ex-spouse and vice versa.

  • Find out what’s most important – decide what holidays, traditions, and arrangements are most important to you. This way you will know what you can compromise on and what you should ask for.

While these tips are not the only ones that can help you through the holidays (and if you are looking for more, consider talking with a Houston divorce lawyer about tips and options), they can dramatically decrease your frustration with the holidays, helping you to enjoy your family and loved ones during this special season.

If you are in the Simcoe County, Muskoka or York Region, you can get good advice from our lawyers. Here is our website and our contact information.  We can help you get it sorted out... so you can just enjoy the holiday season. 

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

 

No Child Support for Adult Children Living in the Basement?

More and more children are no longer able to leave home when they become adults, or are returning home to live with their parents even after completing post-secondary education. There are fewer "empty nests" these days.

There are many reasons for this new trend. What is alarming for divorced parents is that in Ontario you cannot get child support for an adult child living at home unless the child is unable to obtain employment because they are ill or are in school full time. The adult child who is under-employed and is a costly boarder does not warrant child support. So, if your child returns to your home after graduating from university and  is only able to get a job at McDonalds, you are stuck paying the bills. 

We have several articles dealing with the issues of child support, custody, and the sharing of expenses on our website. But, alas, there is nothing about seeking child support for the under-employed adult child sleeping in your basement. Sorry. There is no relief for you. 

 Here is an interesting graphic about the impact of adult children living at home. Thanks to www.CollegeAtHome.com for this graphic. It is amazing! 

Costly Kids - Worth Every Dime

Below is a fantastic graphic about the cost of kids. I have four of them and can say, without a doubt they are expensive and worth every dime. They truly enrich my life. 

 

Costly Kids
Created by: EarlyChildhoodEducation

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.

Surviving Holidays Without Your Children

Suchada, also known as Mama Eve, did an excellent blog  about what to do when you don't have your children for the holidays, especially for the first time.

She is honest, insightful and offers hope about how to cope without your children. 

Divorce sucks. You have a choice how you respond to its challenges. You can make it worse or you can take Mama Eve's good advice and make the most out of a difficult situation. 

In time, it gets better. Truly... it does. Hang in there. 

Here is her blog

 Acouple of days ago my children left on their first trip without me.

 

My husband and I separated earlier this year (I will write more about this later, and yes, it’s one of the reasons I didn’t keep up with my blog for a while). While much of this has been difficult, nothing has been harder for either of us than being away from the kids for the holidays. I got them for Thanksgiving, and he took them to see his family in Ohio for Christmas.

It sucks.

However, I try to make the best of even the worst situations, so here goes: my top 5 ways to survive being away from your kids for the holidays.

1. Stay busy

There was no question that when my boys got tickets to Ohio, I was getting a ticket to somewhere. I didn’t want to stay at home by myself and be lonely. So I’m flying to Florida to see my parents, and I’ve packed my schedule full of activities I love to do. If I’m bored I know I will wallow in my loneliness and guilt, so my goal is to not let it happen. And on the positive side, it’s been more than three years since I’ve had time to myself anyway, so I’m going to take full advantage of it with things that aren’t easy to coordinate with two little ones – like scuba diving and sailing and some nighttime fun.

2. Be flexible

While I would love to get on the phone and Skype with my little ones during the times it’s convenient for me (when I wake up, before I have dinner, a quick minute between errands), I have to remember they’re busy with their dad and his family. They have their days filled up with relatives who haven’t seen them in years, and grandparents that want to play with them, and sightseeing trips to all kinds of exciting destinations. If I want to talk to them and see them, I need to remember to be ready for when they have a moment, and not count on them to squeeze in regular appointments during a special trip like this.

3. Make memories

Since I know it isn’t easy to coordinate regular phone calls and Skype sessions, I decided to port myself to where they are, on demand. I made video recordings of me reading a stack of their favorite books, and then posted them to YouTube, and also a video just to tell them how much I love them and miss them. It’s not the same as interacting with them, but at least if they get lonely they can see my face and hear my voice reading something familiar anytime, anywhere (thanks to laptops and smartphones). Another benefit is it allows them to keep up part of their bedtime routine in an otherwise unfamiliar environment.

4. Remember it’s not all about you

This was the hardest thing for me as this situation unfolded, but once I accepted it, it’s been the most freeing. My kiddos are having a big adventure with a capable parent, surrounded by a big family that adores them and is thrilled to see them for the holidays. I miss them terribly, and I want to cuddle with them and smother them with kisses, but they don’t need to know how painful this is for me. What’s going on between their dad and me is an adult problem, and my boys don’t need to feel the weight of it. While I would do anything to be with them, I can’t change it, and moping and reminding everyone of how sad I am doesn’t make it a better holiday for anyone (including me).

5. Find joy in what’s around you

While my ideal situation would be to spend the holidays with my boys, I can’t pretend there aren’t a lot of positives to my Christmas plans. I will be with my parents, and my sister and her family, in a beautiful location with many friends. I will be able to go on adventures that aren’t easy to coordinate with two little ones, and I have friends and family who love me, and are thinking of me and praying for me. I know not everyone is so fortunate when they’re away from their children, but I believe something good can be found in even the dreariest circumstances. Even if it’s rock bottom, it means better days are coming.

I hope you all have restful holidays with people that love you, and I will see you again in the new year. Merry Christmas and lots of love!

 

 

Your First Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzza Since Divorce? Ugh.

Santa letterAre you dreading Christmas? Will it be your first  special holiday since your separation?  Are you depressed about not having your children for New Year's Eve, or Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or some other special day. Whatever the holiday, you are not alone.

I remember the first Christmas that my three boys were with their mother Christmas Eve and Christmas day. I cried and felt depressed most of the day. The time seemed to creep by so slowly. I felt all alone and like a failure.

I should have taken my 6 year old son's advice.

A few days before Christmas, he knew he would spend Christmas Eve and Christmas day with his Mom because that's what we agreed. So, he asked me to write a letter to Santa and ask him to come to my house on December 26th instead of the 25th. My son said that Santa comes to Steve's house (Steve is my friend who is divorced with kids too) on the 26th so he was sure he wouldn't mind coming to our house then too!

Of course, Santa did come on December 26th, even without a letter, but I think the message my son unwittingly was giving me was that it does not matter when we celebrate Christmas...lets just make whatever day we have together full of love, gratitude, Santa and fun. He knew Santa (and joy) would arrive whenever we wanted them to arrive. We just had to schedule it.

To help make your holidays special, here are ten things you can do:

  1. Ensure your schedule is specific. You and your ex spouse should confirm well in advance when each of you will have the children. If you don't have specific times already agreed, negotiate the days and times as soon as possible. There are too many other sources of stress in December so try to nail down your times with your children now.
  2. Don't fight over which days you have your children. Whenever you have them, make it special. If you really need particular days, offer to trade days with your ex spouse or give your ex spouse those special days next year. Treat your ex they way you would like to be treated, even if it isn't reciprocated.
  3. Do something special for yourself. I make myself some of my favorite food, pour myself some wine, watch some basketball in front of the fireplace and wrap presents all day on December 25th. Actually, I look forward to my day spent all by myself. I am totally relaxed and ready when the boys come over on December 26th.
  4. Support your children having a good time with their other parent. If you need to speak to someone about your sad feelings, talk to a friend or therapist - not your kids.  The children don't need to hear it. They need to hear that it is okay to have fun with their other parent too.
  5. Create new traditions. This is a new beginning for you and your children so don't try to replicate the past. Find new ways to celebrate the event. You can preserve some of the past traditions but find new ways of celebrating too. My parents always put a maraschino cherry on the top of our grapefruits Christmas morning so I continue to do the same now. Change things up too... I started singing Christmas carols after our Christmas dinner.
  6. Get outside. Go for a walk or ski or snowshoe. There is nothing more rejuvenating than being outside with nature and your family. When your kids are with you, take them outside too. A good snowball fight can really build up an appetite.
  7. Give of your heart. If you have just recently separated, money is likely short so don't try to spend like you did in the past. Do something special for the people you love. Maybe you can write a special little poem for each of them or list twenty ways you appreciate them. Gifts often don't have lasting meaning. Can you even list five gifts you received last year or the year before? It is the feelings of love and appreciation that last forever.
  8. Stay sober. If you over-drink,  you run the risk of crumbling into a pile of self-pity and depression. Nobody wants to see that and certainly your kids don't need to see it. Have fun but be careful so you can keep it together emotionally, especially during your first Christmas since your separation.
  9. Surround yourself with positive, supportive people. If your family or friends are negative, remind them the season is all about gratitude, love and appreciation. Park you own negativity and search for the positive in everything and everyone, even your ex spouse.
  10. Relax. Know that in time the holidays will become easier to get through and more fun. Just take a deep breath and get through your first set of holidays. Next year, it will be better. Trust me.

There are several wonderful blogs about surviving the holiday season after divorce. 

Now, my youngest son is 12 years old and he says the best thing about Mom and Dad having separated is that he enjoys "two Christmases, two Easters and two Thanksgivings!" He says "if you like that kind of food, it's great!" Let me assure you... he certainly does like "that kind of food!"

So make it a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Kwanzaa or whatever special holiday you are celebrating this year. Joy will come whenever you schedule its arrival. It is up to you.

Kids in Divorce. What Do They Need?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is a link to a fantastic set of articles about children and divorce. It includes the following:

  • What children of divorce need
  • Age level reactions to loss
  • 10 Commandments of Divorce
  • Steps for Recreating a Strong Single Parent Family
  • Four Types of Parental Relationships Post-Divorce
  • Plus more..... 

It was put together by Rainbows which is a non-profit organization committed to helping children and teems grieve and grow after loss. Go to www.Rainbows.ca

Rainbows offers peer support for children of all ages who are grieving a loss. Since 1983, it has served over 2.5 million kids working through schools, faith communities, agencies and other organizations. There are 7 age-specific programs that really help kids express their feelings, learn and grow through their parents' divorce. It is an amazing program. 

I recently met the founder of Rainbows, Suzy Yehl Marta, at the Annual General Meeting of Rainbows Canada. She is an amazing person and Rainbows is a great organization. I am so proud to be on the Board of Directors for Canada. 

If you have children and you are going through a divorce, let Rainbows help them get through it. Learn more at www.Rainbows.ca

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.

Parental Planner: A New Communications Journal for Separated Parents


The Parental Planner is a new way for separated parents to communicate with one another. It is a essentially a communications journal that is passed between parents at the time of exchanging the children.

The advantage to using a communications journal is that it avoids face-to-face confrontations. You can also ensure all the pertinent information is exchanged. It also serves as a record of communications between parents. It helps parents who are separated to try to maintain some consistency in their parenting between homes. I also like that it has plastic folders in it so that documents such as health insurance cards can go back and forth easily. 

It is best to keep it available so that you can jot information into whenever the need arises. 

Although it not intended to be shared with the children, it should be written in such a way that if your children do stumble upon it, you will be proud of what you have written in it. So don't criticize the other parent. Always be respectful of one another in your communications. 

Don't forget to also share positive events in the children's lives such a milestones and achievements. 

If you are angry at the other parent, put the journal down! Let your steam off some other way and then, when cooler heads prevail, you can write in the journal. 

The Parental Planner is simple and yet comprehensive. 

Learn more about it at www.ParentalPlanner.com

And it's Canadian! 

 

How to Schedule Summer Access

Summer is fast approaching. Now is the time to begin to work on your summer access schedule. 

Some separated families have the summer schedule set for every summer. Mom will have certain weeks every year and Dad will have other weeks. There is very little negotiation or planing involved. This is a nice arrangement, if you can manage it. The disadvantage is that life is not static. Sometimes the opportunity to negotiate the children's schedule gives you a chance to accommodate the varying schedules and attend special events that arise each summer. 

For most families, there is a lot of negotiation and compromise involved in scheduling the summer schedule.

Here is how to do it. 

Find a clean calendar you can work with to develop a plan. 

First, write down any dates on the calendar  that are carved in stone. For example, if your holidays are determined by your employer and you can't change them, write those dates on the calendar. If your children have any activities that cannot be changed, write those down too. 

Next, write down the preferred dates or activities you would like to have but can live without. Use a different color so it is clear that these are not "carved in stone" dates. 

Then do the same for your ex spouse. If you know of any "carved in stone" dates for your ex, write them on the calendar. If you are aware of any preferred dates for your ex, write those down too. 

Now you just have to start carving up the time. Remember, you are trying to reach an agreement so you have to try to come up with something you think your ex spouse can live with too. You both can't get every favored date. So make some compromises. Share the favored dates. 

Get your ideas for the summer schedule over to your ex spouse as soon as you can. 

I always suggest that you send to your ex spouse a couple of options so they have something to consider. If you send just one choice, it may feel like you are trying to impose your wishes on your ex spouse. Put a short explanation for the dates you have chosen and the compromises you willing to make. You don't need a long narrative. Short, factual and clear is best. 

Google calendar is a free internet service and is an excellent way of sharing a calendar with your ex spouse. You could create one that is only accessible to you and your ex. You could put your suggested schedule for the children over the summer on it and then seek input from your ex. In fact, the Google Calendar is a great way of keeping track of busy kids all year long. You can get alerts when changes are made to it. 

When you get  a proposal for the summer schedule, respond in a timely way. Waiting to hear just causes unnecessary stress for everyone. I know trying to figure out the summer schedule is frustrating but just do it anyway. 

Once you have it nailed down, stick to it. Don't be changing it except in the event of some urgent arising. The idea of setting these dates in advance is to allow both parents to plan in advance. Last minute changes makes planning impossible. 

If you can't resolve it, don't just run off to court immediately. Court is too expensive, slow and you lose control over the outcome. Court will take the fun out of summer. I suggest you work with a mediator or a Family Coach to find a compromise that works for the whole family. 

One last thing... enjoy the summer time. This is when you have a great opportunity to spend some quality time with your kids. But don't forget the suntan lotion! 

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.

Keeping Healthy Boundaries While Co-Parenting

Co-parenting after divorce is not easy. It's like walking a tight rope at first. 

You want to be cooperative and communicate well but on the other hand how close is too close with your ex spouse?

Karen Buscemi wrote a great blog in the Huffington Post about keeping boundaries with your ex spouse. Karen says there are five things you should not do:

1. Don't give your spouse that sexy look.

2. Don't hug your ex spouse.

3. Don't give your spouse too much attention at social events.

4. Don't stay too chummy with your ex spouse's family.

5. Don't use your ex spouse's friends.

There are two sides of the coin. I fully agree with Karen but would add the following:

1. Don't give your ex spouse that dirty look like you are disgusted by them. How would you feel if you saw one of your parents give the other parent that kind of look?

2. Don't push your ex spouse away. If you need a hand, ask for help. If your ex needs a hand, help out. Treat your ex like a good neighbour.

3. Don't pretend that your ex spouse does not even exist when at social events. Occasional eye contact is polite. Maybe you could even say "hi" .  It wouldn't kill you.

4. You don't have to be enemies with your ex spouse's family. You can still be friends. There are a lifetime of events you will share so reach out and try to break the ice. It is awkward but worth some effort to make things comfortable for everyone, especially your children.

5. Your friends can be your ex spouse's friends. It isn't fair to ask them to keep secrets so remember that what you say or do may get back to your ex spouse. If you have something to hide, be careful. But, hey, who has something to hide?

Striking the right balance is a real challenge. Working with a Family Coach or Divorce Coach (both are therapists with special training to help clients move through the emotional stages of divorce) really helps. 

Walking on a tight rope is challenging at first. You might fall from time to time. Your spouse might fall too. Be patient. Put in supports to catch you when you fall such as a Family Coach. Raising kids is like being in a circus. Co-parenting is just another act! You can do it... one step at a time! 

Do I Have Shared Custody? Counting Hours...

Photograph of John Ewen

Guest post by our lawyer John Ewen

People will often say to me when I first meet them for a consultation “My ex and I are trying to figure out a fair amount of child support, but we’re stuck. Do we just use the Table?”

As with many questions about the law, the answer is: “It depends”.

The ‘Table’ refers to the table of Federal Child Support Guidelines. This is essentially a big chart that shows what payments parents make based on their income level and the number of children they are paying support for.

When Child Support is Paid

But when do you use it? The answer is, when children are considered to be residing ‘primarily’ with one parent (60% of the time or more), the law assumes that parent is bearing most of the costs of raising the children.

The idea behind the Table is to determine an amount the other parent (who has the children less than 40% of the time) should pay to make their ‘fair contribution’ to those costs of raising the kids.

But what happens if the children reside more than 40% of the time with both parents? How is child support determined then? Do we still use the Table?

Well, the answer is yes, but often times the Table amount is modified (reduced). This reflects the fact that when children live with both parents more than 40% of the time, they really have two homes, often with similar expenses (both homes need groceries for the kids, beds, furniture, toys and so forth).

Both of those households will have expenses in raising the children. That’s why having one parent pay the full Table amount in this situation isn’t always fair. To find out how child support is calculated in this situation, go to this article

How Do We Count 40% ?

Okay, so we know there is a threshold of 40%, and if your children live with you more than that, it’s ‘Shared Custody’ – child support is dealt with differently than the Table.

But who determines what 40% really means? How do we count it?

A lot of people ask me this. I get questions like:

“My children spend 3 days a week with me – 3 days out of 7 days in the week is 43% - isn’t this Shared Custody?”

“My kids spend more waking hours with me than with their other parent. That meets the test, right?”

“Whose custody are they in when they are at school or activities? If at the end of the day they are sleeping over at my house, isn’t all of that day considered time with me?”

The answer is, there is no clear answer! Different lawyers and Judges determine Shared Custody in different ways. Some Judges count only where the child puts their head down to sleep at night, some count the hours spent with each parent, some include school time or time spent at extracurricular activities, some just count the actual time spent at that parent’s home.

Many cases are disputed very far in our Court system because of this ambiguity. The Ontario Court of Appeal released a decision in 2005 called Froom v. Froom. This was an appeal from a Trial Judge’s decision to a higher Court.

The father had won at the Trial level because the Judge found he met the 40% threshold based on the number of days his children resided with him. On the appeal though, it was acknowledged that if the Trial Judge had counted the hours, and not days spent with the Father, he would not have met the 40% (and so would have paid Table support).

But the Court of Appeal upheld the Trial Judge’s decision – they said that there is no universally accepted method for determining the 40%. They said the Trial Judge’s method (counting days instead of hours) was consistent with what many Judges do – try to avoid rigid calculations and instead look at the bigger picture.

What does this mean for the rest of us? It means there is no right or wrong way to calculate the 40% rule. If you and your spouse are not able to reach an agreement on whether you have Shared Custody, a judge may have a lot of discretion to in deciding it.  

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.

 

How Do We Tell Our Children We Are Divorcing?

Are you dreading the idea of having to tell your children that their parents are divorcing? Do you want to minimize the pain and confusion for your children?

I remember the day when my ex and I told our children we were getting a divorce. It was a sad day indeed. We got some good advice from some experts before we did it so we did it right. Suzy Yehl Marta is an expert and has some great ideas.

Suzy Yehl Marta, a divorced mother of three boys, gave up the security of her three jobs to do something she knew in her heart had to be done for our youth who were grieving a life-changing loss.  She established Rainbows, now the world’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated solely to helping families cope with loss. Over the last 27 years, Rainbows has served nearly 2.5 million youth throughout Canada, the United States and 17 countries. Suzy has conducted 100+ media interviews and her book, Healing the Hurt, Restoring the Hope, was published to help guide youth through times of divorce, death or crisis. To learn more, please visit 

the Canadian website at www.rainbows.ca or the website for the head office at www.rainbows.org  or join Rainbows on Facebook and Twitter at www.facebook.com/rainbowsforkids and www.twitter.com/rainbowsforkids

I fully support Rainbows and recently was asked 

to serve on its Board of Directors for Rainbows Canada. The head office for Rainbows Canada is 

in Barrie so it was a perfect fit. I was happy to accept the invitation.

Suzy answers some questions about how best to tell your children about your divorce. 

1.      What is the best way to inform a child about divorce? How do you explain the situation to them; and should this differ according to age? How much information should you actually give, and what should you perhaps leave out?

Informing the Child:

As soon as the decision to separate or divorce is made, both parents need to sit down with their children to discuss how the family will be changing. Having both parents present 

makes a statement that while mom and dad will be living separately, t

hey are still your parents and family issues are being handled together. This may not be true initially, but this can offer comfort to the children. If one parent refuses to participate, then the other must be emotionally strong in front of the children, not accusatory of their estranged spouse, and able to answer the questions an

d respond to concerns. I recommend parents to begin the discussion in a familiar setting that is free from distractions.

While this is 

a painful conversation to have with children, keeping the situation from them instills fear of the unknown and makes them believe that the two people they trust the most in the world are not truthful with them.

When talking with children, parents should consider their ages. Younger children require fewer details. I recommend parents stress again and again that the divorce is not their fault, it is a grown up problem. Over time weave into conversations as it will take hearing this more than once for the children to really “hear” it in their minds and hearts.

As parents talk through the changes, they should ask if the kids have questions or concerns. If there are questions that cannot be answered at the time, tell them so. Most children and teens want to know the logistics of where everyone will be living, how their lives will change, and how holidays and other celebrations will be handled.   In most cases, those decisions will not be known at this time. As the divorce process continues, it is wise to ask the kids for their thoughts or wishes. This allows them to feel included.

Does age matter?

With any significant event, age might not always be able to define the emotional maturity of the child. It also depends on the family’s ability to communicate and the event itself. No matter the age, the two people they love most in world do not love each other anymore and are ending their couple relationship. It is critical to assure children that mom and dad will always be their parents.  

Here are a couple examples on how different age groups usually are affected by divorce:

Birth to age 5: It is difficult for this age group to understand what divorce is and how it will affect their future and family. If there are other families they know who are divorced and handling it well, it is OK to use them as an example. Since this age group cannot grasp the concreteness of the divorce, they will seemingly recover quickly. As they mature though, the questions and concerns will surface and need to be addressed.

6 to 12 years old:  Children in this age group can easily be caught in the middle and struggle with loyalty conflicts. They also fear abandonment because they realize they cannot take care of themselves.  

13 to 18 years old: At this point in a teenager’s life, they are trying to separate from their family, but at the same time need the security and stability that family structure provides. Their reaction becomes complex and remains right below the surface. Parents need to be aware that they must never use their children as their sounding board, companion or confidant.                                                                                 

 

2. What questions should parents be ready to answer when talking to their child about divorce?

There are three important questions that children usually have that often are unasked.

·         “Did I cause this?”

o   Even though the child is often times reassured that they did not cause the divorce, they still get that sense of guilt, especially when the arguments of divorced parents often revolve around the children. Children like to believe that their parents are perfect and any mistakes or failures that parents make are canceled out and children quickly blame themselves for the divorce.

·         “Who will keep me safe?”

o   A huge fear that children have is that everything that they depend on will crumple. From an early age, children have the idea that security comes from two people taking care of them. This fundamental anxiety affects all children, especially adolescents.

·         “Is this going to happen to me too?”

o   Children worry that history will repeat itself when they grow up and marry. It is really important that parents let their kids know that everyone at one point in their life will stumble, but it’s so important to just try again. Turning the conversation into a positive discussion about marriage is critical, especially for teenagers.

Thanks so much to Suzy for her insight and advice. I agree with everything Suzy has said and would add to it that it is important to let your children know it is okay to love both mommy and daddy and that they will have time with both parents.

Experts tell me that you should not blame the other parent for the divorce or explain the details of why the divorce is happening. If asked, just say “This is not something I am willing to share with you. Just know it was not your fault.” I understand telling your children the details could cause some serious emotional damage to your children.

Lastly, repeat, repeat, repeat. Your children might be overwhelmed at first so let it sink in initially and then repeat your message until they really get it. I remember my boys saying “Enough Dad. We get it. It’s not our fault, its okay to love both you and mom and we are going spend lots of time with each of you. Okay?”

So… at that point I realized they had received the message loud and clear… and I went back to nagging them about doing their homework, cleaning up after themselves and “watch your language young man!” …. the normal stuff.

Joint Parenting - A Blog by Two Parents

I just stumbled upon a wonderful new blog jointly authored by two parents sharing joint custody of their children. It is honest, heartfelt, insightful and engaging. The authors are New Yorkers Magda Pecsenye and Douglas French. 

Their blog is called "When the Flame Goes Up" . 

Here is an excerpt from a blog posting by the father, Doug French, talking about the state his relationship with his now ex-wife and co-parent (and co-author) Magda Pecsenye. 

... I’m not in love with her anymore, and that ship has sunk.

I don’t say that lightly, because not being in love with the mother of my kids is a drag. Ever since I was a young adult, I had visualized a specific event in my head. It was to attend my youngest kid’s college graduation, look over at my wife, my life partner, plant a big kiss on her and say, “We did it.” We stayed together, we weathered the storms, and we did all we could to raise emotionally stable kids who can function in the adult world.

I spent a long time mourning what I perceived was the loss of that, but when you think about it, it’s still sort of partially possible. All that’s really missing is the kiss, the most expendable pigment in the painting.

Doug and Magda were interviewed by the Globe and Mail about their experience blogging together. It is worth a glance too. The comments are negative. I like the blog. I think it is helpful for someone who is trying to establish their own shared custody regime just to get a sense of the struggle; the ups and downs of co-parenting. 

I think the bottom line message from this couple is that when you go through a divorce and you have children, it's never completely over. You still have to parent together, so you might as well get on with it as best you can. I like it.

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.

How to Make the Most Out of Summer Access

Summer time... and the living is easy....or so the song goes. 

If you are separated, you want to make the most out of your time with the kids. It is tempting to spend lots of money, schedule every minute of the day and do every activity possible with the children. Your time is limited so you want to make the most of it.

I know... because that's my personality too. 

Sometimes it is the mundane time spent together that can be the most memorable. Last summer my 15 year old son had to earn some money to contribute to his expensive mountain bike. Finding work for a 15 year old is nearly impossible so, I had him seal my paved driveway. As you can see by the photos, my 12 year old pitched in too!  

I took the time off work to do the work with him. This clearly was not a good decision economically but it was a great lesson about the value of money to my son.  It was hard work and took forever but over the course of the week, we got it done. Our driveway is now (in our humble opinion) the best sealed driveway in our community! He "paid off" his debt to me for his bike and we had some great time bonding while swishing tar over the driveway in the heat of the summer. 

It wasn't a trip to Disney Land but it stands out as one of the best events of the summer last year. My sons and I were working together. It was great. 

Richard Sharp, a lawyer in England, in his excellent blog called Family Law Collaborative Divorce did a post about summer time access in which he offers good advice for separated parents about summer access. 

My last blog was called "Five Ways to Resolve Summer Access Scheduling". Richard's blog offers complementary advice.  Richard writes:

Do plan early and commit to decisions made - Plan the arrangements for the summer holidays as early as possible. If you commit to doing something make sure it is followed through. Last minute clashes and changes are not easy to resolve. Children need their parents to make decisions and to stick to them

Do support your child’s contact with the other parent – Be positive about your child spending time with their other parent. Let the children know it is OK with you that they are going away and that you will be OK too whilst they are away. It’s best for kids when both parents can be supportive of their activities and share in their excitement.

Do help children maintain contact with the other parent – Provide the other parent with contact information and details as to where the children are going to be and who with. Let the children communicate with the other parent whilst away.
And

Don’t talk through the children - It is tempting to relay information through the children when talking with the ex is difficult. But messaging between households is a burden children shouldn’t have to bear. Make sure you are the one delivering news about trips you are proposing to take and scheduling needs surrounding them.

Don’t ambush the other parent - When making holiday plans, don’t set the other parent up. “I would really love for you to come with me to Spain, but it’s really up to your Mum to say yes” is neither fair on the child nor Mum. Instead, “A trip abroad would be lots of fun but before we can make plans, I need to talk with Mum to see if we can work out the details.”

Don’t make your kids pay the price - If you make a decision to foot the holiday bill or move your schedule around to make a trip work, don’t make your kids pay the price. Whilst a trip abroad may be a wonderful experience for the child, it probably won’t be so wonderful for very long if the child has to listen to what Dad did or didn’t do to help. Children do not want to take sides – don’t make them.

And finally …..Conflict is the major cause of unhappiness and poor outcomes for children. Let’s have family fun in the sun this summer by focusing on the needs of children.driveway

Summer holidays are a great opportunity for you to deepen your relationship with your children. Enjoy every moment together. Swish some tar on your driveway together.

Don't forget the old saying: "families that spread tar together, stick together!" .... or something like that....

Five Ways of Resolving Summer Access Scheduling

Golf father and sonScheduling summer access can be a challenge. If you are a planner, you'll want to schedule your holidays with the children well in advance so that you can, of course, make plans. If you are a more spontaneous person, planning in advance may seem really inconvenient and unnecessary. Here are some ways of resolving (or avoiding) this annual challenge:

1) Negotiate an agreement as to when you will each exchange dates for summer. The planner will want it to be well in advance of summer whereas the spontaneous person will be happy with a shorter time-frame. Come to an agreement as to the schedule and then both respect it. For example, "Tiger and Elin agree to determine the sharing of care of the children during the children's summer vacation each year before June 1st with each parent having care of the children equally."

2) You can define each parent's share of the summer in very specific and unambiguous terms such as "Tiger has care of the children every July and Elin has care of the children every August, alternating each year".

3) Some parents will simply continue the normal schedule since both are working during the children's summer vacation. So they may agree "The regular rotation of the children between Tiger and Elin's home will continue during the children's summer vacation except that the drop off and pick up of the children will be at the children's daycare or summer camp." In this case, neither Tiger nor Elin will have care of the children for any special summer vacation time.

4) Other parents will agree to a different rotation of the children from the regular schedule. They may have care for the children on a two week rotation during the summer months only. The issue can sometimes be when the rotation begins each year. A special event such as Labour Weekend can be used as a triggering event. For example: "The children will be with each parent on a rotating two week basis such that the children will be with Elin during the PGA Canadian Open in Toronto each year."

5) Often both parents want some time alone with their children for their "vacation" each year with the  remainder of the summer holidays going according to the regular rotation. For example, "Tiger and Elin may each have the children in their care for 14 consecutive days each summer. Tiger must choose his summer vacation dates by May 1st each year and Elin must choose her dates by June 1st each year in even numbered years with the opposite occurring in odd numbered years. The care of the children for the remainder of the children's summer vacation will be according to the regular parenting schedule except pick up and drop off shall be at Elin's home (instead of at the school)."

Regardless of your efforts to plan the perfect summer vacation with your children, you always need to be flexible should special events arise. A teenage child may have to take summer school thus scuttling your plans to go camping. Your spouse's family reunion may be planned during your time with the children. Your child may be invited to a birthday party on the day you planned to go to Wonderland. You may even be invited to play in a PGA golf tournament when you are scheduled to have the kids.

If last minute changes are necessary, treat your ex spouse the way you would like be treated and remember to always do what is best for the children. Consider the issue from the children's point of view. Remember the clichés: "take the high road", "bite the bullet" and "do the right thing" when faced with a last minute change in the schedule. 

Lastly, if you and your spouse's names are "Tiger" and "Elin", I have some clauses ready for your use. Just give me a call.  

Best Laid Plans

rainHave you ever planned a great day of summer activities and then woke up to rain? It's disappointing and upsetting. 

I remember planning an outdoor birthday party for my son (age 7 at the time). I was all ready to host ten of his energetic friends for about 3 hours doing tons of fun activities outside. And then it rained. We had to be inside and I had nothing planned for inside our small home.

We played charades for about 10 minutes before the kids became bored and started asking "what is there to do?"  I looked at my wife and said "Hmmm.... two hours, fifty minutes to go! Now what?"   Well, we got creative and found lots of indoor things to do but for a few minutes, it was sheer panic.

I wanted to host the best birthday party for my son and made great plans so it would happen. But, as fate would have it, my plans were scuttled.

Has this ever happened to you? Perhaps you planned an activity with your children when your plans were "rained on". Perhaps your teenage child decided to go to a friend's home or your ex spouse called at the last minute to change weekends. Maybe you had to spend "your weekend" helping your son or daughter complete a school project or study for exams when you had planned some special event with them. It's frustrating. When you are divorced, time with the kids is very special and you always want to make the most of it. Right?

Thinking back to that birthday party, I had a choice. I could have become angry and frustrated making the party a disaster or I could have chosen to make the most out of the situation. On that occasion, I chose wisely and made the most out of the day. In the end, it was a great birthday party. Everyone had fun.

I haven't always chosen wisely. Sometimes I listen to the other voice in my head: the negative voice. I seek to find blame, become angry and get very upset. I make the day a disaster by my own attitude.

When you are divorced, it is especially tempting to get all riled up when yourCanoing family of five ex spouse scuttles your plans. I try to remember that when plans get changed that I have a choice: make the most of it or make things worse.

Wouldn't it be great if every time our best laid plans go awry, we choose wisely and just made the most of it?

Tomorrow, we are planning on spending the day canoeing with the kids. I hope it doesn't rain. But if it does...I won't be "ready" but I hope I make the most of it.

Tearful Good-byes

IJustin and Helcin in Invermere shed a tear and held back a million of them. Have you ever had a moment like that?

Maybe it was when you dropped off your son or daughter to daycare for the first time... or said good-bye on the first day of school, trying your best to show a brave face... or the first weekend with your ex spouse....or maybe when you resisted giving them a kiss as they went off to the prom with a date...or when you said "good luck" as they boarded the airplane for an exchange or to head to university... or was it when they had their first sleep over at a friend's home... or went away to camp for the first time. I bet you've had more than a few of those moments.

It's a time of mixed emotions. Fear - that your little one will need you and you won't be there to help. Disappointment - knowing that they probably won't need you. Sadness - of the pending silence now that they won't be around. Pride - that you have done a good job and they are ready to be on their own.

I had one of those moments this past weekend when I dropped off my son and his girlfriend of five Justin as a baby. years at their newJustin as arbourist home thousands of miles away. My wife and I dropped them off at their new home near a ski resort in the Canadian Rockies where they will work and ski for the winter. He is 18 and she is 19 years old.

As you can see from these photos of him, he is no longer a baby.

On top of the normal feelings of a parent saying good-bye to their son, I had another layer of feelings because I am a divorced dad. I felt guilt that his mother wasn't there to say good-bye because we are now divorced. Guilt that he was the child of divorce. Guilt that I wasn't always with him when he was growing up because he was with his mother. I also felt pride that I spent every moment possible with him and his brothers since separation, making them my focus when they were in my care. I also felt good that I had provided him with an excellent role model as to a healthy, loving relationship with my new marriage. I felt happy that I had positively contributed to him becoming who he is today.

Frankly, I could not speak to my wife after we said good-bye to my son. The emotions were too overwhelming.

Eventually, I said to myself "I have a choice. I can focus on the negative emotions or the positive ones." I chose the positive ones. I chose to think about what a great guy my son had become.

Justin is...Justin and Helcin at wedding

1. Caring and sensitive. Justin feels everything deeply. He is the peace-maker in the family always striving to find a just solution and to bring his family and friends together. He has maintained a loving relationship with his girlfriend for over five years in spite of him being only 18 years old because he is so caring, understanding and sensitive. He has many great  male friends too because he is a great friend to them.

Justin is...spork

2. Resourceful. Let me share a story. On a week-long canoe camping trip , I forgot the cutlery. Justin was not discouraged. He simply got out his knife and whittled a spork (spoon fork) from wood for himself. He made the most out of with what he had around him. This is typical of Justin.

Justin is...

Justin violin3. Courageous. Whether mountain biking or snowboarding, Justin is always ready to push himself to great heights without being crazy or reckless. He was never afraid of challenges. He has played the violin since he was 5 years of age and never hesitated to perform for an audience. In fact, he played the violin at my wedding ceremony and at the open house of my new office. There is no fear in that boy.

Justin is... well.... he is all grown up now and I am so proud of him.

After focusing on the positives, I realized that Justin had turned out to be a great young man in spite of, or maybe, partly perhaps because of my divorce. Hmmmm.

If you are going through a divorce, remember to focus on the positive. Don't let the little voice of negativity get you down. Choose to be positive.Justin head skiing

I only shed a couple of tears when I said good-bye and I held back a million. Then I realized that this was a new beginning for my son and, frankly, a new beginning for me. It was a good thing. He will be fine... and so will I.

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!

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.