Monday, January 31, 2011

YOU ARE THE ADULTS – KEEP THE KIDS OUT OF YOUR DISPUTE … PLEASE!

Mister Rogers (talking to a young boy whose parents are going through a divorce):

“I think one of the toughest things for children is for their parents not to be getting along, and so divorce feels like it’s just ripping a piece of cloth apart, and for children to try to understand that is sometimes way beyond their capacities.  So you really need somebody to help you know that both your mother and your dad love you.  It wasn’t your fault that your mom and dad don’t live together, and it won’t be your fault if they get a divorce.  As a matter of fact, you are probably one of the best things that has ever happened to your mom and your dad.  And they’ll love you as long as they live – and even longer.  But for a little child to have a mom and dad that don’t like each other, it’s very important for you to know that they still love you.”*

A divorce can be devastating for a child.  But it doesn’t have to be.  Studies show that where the parents keep the children out of the middle of their dispute, and where they are able to find a way to co-parent (in spite of their differences), then the children will likely turn out just fine.  However, this is easier said than done.  When a relationship falls apart, it is a difficult and emotional time, even for the strongest and best of us.  Fear, sadness, and anger are human emotions, and to struggle with these feelings during a divorce or separation is normal and natural.  But remember that while you, as an adult, are able to make sense of the situation and understand your feelings – a child (even a teenager) is not capable of doing so.  He or she is helpless, confused, and scared.  A child is likely to feel that the problem is, somehow, his or her fault, and often those confused feelings and a deep sense of hurt will result in defiant behavior.  Or worse.  Children who are placed in the middle of their parents’ dispute can sometimes turn that anger and defiance inward, which may cause them to think or act in self-destructive ways.

While in the midst of a crumbing relationship, it is easy for even the most loving, caring parent to be temporarily blinded by fear and anger.  Arguing in front of the children, talking bad about the other parent in their presence, sharing inappropriate information about parental problems or a divorce case, forcing children to choose between parents, demonstrating violence – these are all things that can occur during a difficult divorce or separation.  But you, as a parent, must understand that this type of behavior can have long-term negative consequences for the children.  In fact, it can cause irreparable damage and change the course of their lives.  So, what can you do to prevent that from happening?

HOW TO KEEP CHILDREN SAFE AND SECURE

As difficult as it might be during this time of extreme stress, it is up to you to constantly remind yourself that you are the adult – you are the parent – and it is your responsibility to protect the best interests of your child.  Obviously, pretending that nothing is wrong is not the answer.  That would be dishonest and not-at-all helpful.  Your child knows that something is wrong.  Most experts will tell you that the best approach is to talk to the child in a reassuring and age-appropriate way.  The key is to let the child know:  “This is not your fault.  We are your parents and, even though we are having some grown-up problems right now, we both love you and we will always be there to take care of you.”  This is a message that every child needs to hear.  It provides a sense of protection and stability that will help the child to get through this difficult experience.

But what do you do if the other parent is incapable of protecting the child and keeping him or her out of the middle of the dispute?  Answer:  Then you be the adult.  Studies show that as long as there is one stable, responsible parent who is protecting the needs of the child, then that child will likely turn out fine.  You can be that parent.  It is difficult, I know, but somebody has to take on that role – so it might as well be you.

HELP IS OUT THERE

For a parent going through a difficult divorce, separation, or custody case, please be assured that there are places you can turn for assistance and support.  Therapeutic counseling, for you and/or the children, is often extremely helpful.  For a parent facing an acrimonious split, it can feel like you are the only person in the world who has ever experienced such a thing.  But a good therapist has helped hundreds or thousands of families with similar problems, and he or she has developed a broad range of solutions that can help you, too.  Your church or synagogue can be an enormous source of support.  And there are many divorce support groups out there with people who are going through the same thing that you are now.  Through these groups, you can receive not only ideas and support, but you may also develop lasting friendships.  If your child is having problems, it might be helpful to notify the school and let them know that the family is going through a separation or divorce.  An understanding teacher or administrator can be very supportive, and many schools have psychologists who can counsel the child at no cost to you.

HOW TO AVOID FUTURE PROBLEMS

I am a big believer in counseling during – and after – a divorce.  I often recommend “Post-Divorce Counseling” for my clients.  Co-parenting after a divorce can be a new and sometimes challenging experience.  There will be times when your child is spending extended periods of time with the other parent and, while you were able to be there to supervise when you were living together, you will now be unable to intervene or even know what is happening in the other parent’s home.  This can cause the fear and stress level to intensify, which can lead to anger and miscommunication.  The best remedy, in my opinion, is “Post-Divorce Counseling.”  This is where the parents meet with a counselor on a regular basis – maybe every 6 months or every year – to discuss issues regarding the children, and to make sure that the parents are “on the same page.”  I have found that this type of counseling can help parents feel confident that they are being heard and that the children’s needs are being addressed.  It also helps the parents avoid future disputes -- an all-to-common problem that often results in more trips to the courthouse, which can be time-consuming, expensive, stressful, and destructive.   

MAKE SURE YOUR CHILDREN WILL BE OK

So, there is a reason to be optimistic.  Being the child of divorced parents is no longer a stigma.  Today, it is the norm.  If you will just make the effort to assure your children that they are loved, and that their parents will be always be there for them (even if the parents are no longer living together), then it is likely that the children will grow up healthy, happy, and well-adjusted.  If you are able to co-parent, or at least keep the children out of the middle of any disputes, then their future looks bright, indeed.

Gary J. Frank is an Arizona attorney and former Judge Pro Tem with over thirty years of experience in dealing with custody and parenting issues in Family Court.  If you are in need of a consultation regarding divorce, child custody, or any other area of Family Law, please do not hesitate to contact us by telephone (602-383-3610) or by email through our website.  We look forward to hearing from you. 

* From the book “The Simple Faith of Mr. Rogers” by Amy Hollingsworth

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

ALIMONY STATISTICS

Here are some interesting Alimony Statistics from “The New Art of Alimony” by Jennifer Levitz for the Wall Street Journal November 4th, 2009, via the Maricopa County Bar Association Family Law Section Newsletter:

  • Americans paid $9.4 billion in alimony to former spouses in 2007. (IRS) That’s up from $5.6 billion a decade earlier. (IRS)

  • 97% of alimony-payers were men last year (2008). (U.S. Census)

  • The percentage of women supporting ex-husbands is increasing. (U.S. Census)

·         Women made up 46.7% of the work force in 2008. (DOL) That’s up from 41.2% in 1978. (DOL)

·         Women, 45 to 54 years old, earn 75% as much as men the same age.

In Arizona, Alimony is referred to as Spousal Maintenance (there is a more thorough discussion of spousal maintenance on my website).  In deciding whether to award spousal maintenance; and in determining the amount and duration of payments, the Court looks to the factors listed in Arizona Revised Statutes, Section 25-319.  There are no guidelines for awarding spousal maintenance, and every case is determined on its own merits, based on the factors listed in the statute.  These can be complex cases which require an analysis of the parties’ lifestyle, the financial needs of the spouse seeking maintenance, and the other party’s ability to pay.

I have handled spousal support cases in Arizona for thirty years. If you are in need of a consultation regarding the issue of Spousal Maintenance then do not hesitate to contact the law firm of Gary J. Frank P.C. for a consultation.  You can reach us by telephone at 602-383-3610 or by email through our website at http://www.garyfranklaw.com/.   Contact us today.

ALIMONY STATISTICS

Here are some interesting Alimony Statistics from “The New Art of Alimony” by Jennifer Levitz for the Wall Street Journal November 4th, 2009, via the Maricopa County Bar Association Family Law Section Newsletter:

  • Americans paid $9.4 billion in alimony to former spouses in 2007. (IRS) That’s up from $5.6 billion a decade earlier. (IRS)

  • 97% of alimony-payers were men last year (2008). (U.S. Census)

  • The percentage of women supporting ex-husbands is increasing. (U.S. Census)

·         Women made up 46.7% of the work force last year. (DOL) That’s up from 41.2% in 1978. (DOL)

·         Women, 45 to 54 years old, earn 75% as much as men the same age.

In Arizona, Alimony is referred to as Spousal Maintenance.  In deciding whether to award spousal maintenance; and in determining the amount and duration of payments, the Court looks to the factors listed in Arizona Revised Statutes, Section 25-319.  There are no guidelines for awarding spousal maintenance and every case is determined on its own merits, based on the factors listed in the statute.  These can be complex cases which require an in-depth analysis of the parties’ lifestyle, the financial needs of the spouse seeking maintenance, and the other party’s ability to pay.

I have handled spousal support cases in Arizona for thirty years.  If you are in need of advice regarding the issue of Spousal Maintenance then do not hesitate to contact the law firm of Gary J. Frank P.C. for a consultation.  You can reach us by telephone at 602-383-3610 or by email through our website at http://www.garyfranklaw.com/.   Contact us today.

Friday, January 21, 2011

PARENTING CLASSES ARE FUN AND HELPFUL


I know a woman who has a degree in Early Childhood Education & Child Development.  She graduated from college with high honors.  Yet, she attended parenting classes throughout the entire time she was raising her children - classes on parenting toddlers; young children; "tweens"; and teenagers.  She could have taught the class.  Why did she join a parenting group and continue to classes go all those years?  The reason – because it made her a better parent. 

WHAT CAN A PARENTING GROUP OFFER?

There is a common misconception that parenting classes are for bad parents.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  People who join parenting groups are generally excellent parents who love their children enough to want to become even better.

I recommend to all my clients that they consider joining a parenting group and signing up for a class.  Once they’ve done it, the reaction I usually get is:  I love this group!  I’ve met some great new people who have kids the same age as mine.  They’re really supportive and we're becoming friends.  And the class is so interesting -- and FUN!”

Parenting classes are not like going to school.  (No boring lectures.  No homework.  No tests.)  Instead, it's a chance to get together with other parents who are going through similar experiences with their children.  It's a chance to talk and share ideas.  

Many of the best Valley parenting groups meet for an hour or so, once a week or every other week, at times that are convenient for parents.  Some classes are held at night.  Most of the parenting groups provide babysitting and serve food or refreshments.  The groups are generally run by a child development expert.  A different topic is covered for each class period (such as how to deal with tantrums, how to get your kids to do their homework, kids and computers, etc. – the range of topics is wide open, and many are suggested by the parents, themselves).  The “teacher” will give a brief overview of the topic, and then the rest of the session will be an open-ended, free-flowing discussion with the parents sharing their ideas and input.  It’s exciting to know that other families are dealing with the same issues that you are.  You can get some excellent tips on what works, and what doesn’t, from other parents – and you can make suggestions of your own.  This is a great way to learn new ideas and make new friends.  Both Mothers and Fathers are welcome.

HOW A PARENTING CLASS CAN HELP YOU IN A CONTESTED CUSTODY CASE

As a Family Law Attorney, I sometimes have an ulterior motive for recommending a parenting class to a client (even for the ones whom I know are excellent parents).  In a contested divorce and/or custody case, the power to decide which parent will be awarded custody rests in the hands of the Family Court Judge.   It is the Judge who will determine which parent is the “better parent” for custody purposes, and whether it would be in the best interests of the child to live with Mother or Father.  The Judge will decide whether joint custody or sole custody is the best arrangement; whether there should be a "primary residential parent," or whether the parenting time should be shared equally; whether one parent or both parents should make medical, educational, religious, and other major decisions affecting the child, etc.  By joining a parenting group, you are not only going to gain new skills that will make you a better parent – but you will send a message to the Judge that you are a highly motivated parent, and that you care enough about the children to make an extra effort.  So, it’s a “Win-Win” situation.  You can enhance your chances of impressing the Judge and, at the same time, become a more skilled, competent parent.  What could be better?

WHERE DO I FIND A GOOD PARENTING GROUP

There are a number of excellent parenting groups around the Valley.  Two of the best, and most well-established, are:

Scottsdale Parenting Group 
http://www.scottsdaleparentinggroup.com/
North Central Parenting Group
http://www.ncpgaz.org/


If you are interested in having fun, meeting new people with like-interests, and becoming a better parent, look into joining a parenting group today.


Gary J. Frank has a wealth of experience dealing with parents and parenting issues in the Family Court.  If you would like some ideas on parenting classes, or if you are in need of a consultation regarding any other area of Family Law, please do not hesitate to contact us by telephone (602-383-3610) or by email through our website.  We look forward to hearing from you. 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

HOW YOU DRESS FOR COURT DOES MATTER

According to a recent article in the ABA Journal, judges across the USA are cracking down on people who come to court wearing skimpy and sloppy clothing.  Some courts have even instituted dress codes.  After a woman came to court in her pajamas, a Delaware court adopted a dress code banning saggy pants, exposed undergarments, bare feet, curlers, gang clothes, muscle shirts, tank tops, halters, bare midriffs, and hemlines more than inches above the knee.  Is this fair?  Maybe not, but it doesn’t matter what I think.  It’s the judge, not the lawyer, who will decide your fate.

I always encourage my clients to dress neatly and professionally for their day in court, regardless of whether the court has a “dress code.”  Why?  It's simple.  You are going to appear before a judge who holds your future in his or her hands.  And that judge is human.  All judges are trained to be impartial, and to apply the facts to the law in an effort to reach a fair result but, being human, each judge has a background and life experience which may color his or her perspective.  Maybe your judge will focus strictly on the facts and won't give a second thought to your appearance – but, on the other hand, maybe she or he will view your tee shirt and jeans as inappropriate and a form of disrespect for the judicial process.

When I was in law school and working during the summer as an intern at the Orange County Public Defender’s office, I saw how the manner in which a client dressed could affect the judge’s view of that person -- and the final result.  During my pre-trial interviews, I would suggest that the client dress neatly and appropriately for court.  I often received a surprised or angry reply.  “Why should it matter?” the client would ask. “This is me. Take it or leave it.”  Here was my response:  “You’re right.  It shouldn’t matter.  And to me it doesn’t.  But I’m not the one who is judging you.  Your future is at stake.  And the person who is judging you – the one who holds your freedom in his hands – may not feel the same way I do.”   

Your clothing doesn’t need to be expensive, and you certainly shouldn’t try to dress “over the top” (you’re not walking down the red carpet at the Academy Awards).  But a neat, professional, attire will send the message that you respect the court process.  It will show that you care.

The impression you make on the judge counts, and your appearance is an important factor in forming that impression – so why take the chance?   

Friday, January 7, 2011

DEALING WITH DEADBEAT PARENTS

What do you do when the non-custodial parent owns his own business and is chronically late in paying child support?  If he had a job at a company, it would be easy --  the Court would enter an Order of Assignment, and the support monies would be paid by his employer to the Court Clearinghouse and deducted from his paycheck.  But when the person owns his own business and controls the purse strings, how can the Court make sure he pays his support?  Here's one way:

Arizona Revised Statutes, Section 25-503.1 provides that "on a showing of good cause, the court may order that a self-employed parent who is required to make child support payments forward an amount equal to not more than six months of child support to the department to hold as security." 

This section only applies when the self-employed parent is behind in his child support payments for three months or more.

There are other remedies for making a deadbeat parent pay child support, and we will be discussing them in future blogs.

If your life is being made difficult because you are not receiving your child support, we can help you.  Contact us for a consultation through our website at http://www.garyfranklaw.com/ or give us a call at 602-383-3610.
 

This blog is presented for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice pertaining to your particular case, nor should it be considered to have created an attorney-client relationship. For matters involving child support enforcement, it is recommended that you contact an attorney for a legal consultation.  At the law firm of Gary J. Frank P.C., we have 30 years of experience representing people in all matters pertaining to Family Law, including both litigation and mediation. For more information on our firm, take a look at our web site: www.garyfranklaw.com.