Kids calling the stepparent “Mom” or “Dad”

Mother with Child

Ending a relationship or marriage is tough for most parents. It’s especially painful when your children refer to your spouse’s new significant other as “Mom” or “Dad”.  These parental labels may be at the urging of the parent or inadvertent by the child.  Either way it can be hard for the real “Mom” or “Dad” to accept and there isn’t much that can be done about it.

Recently, one biological “Mom” in New Jersey decided to seek the Court’s help in restricting her ex-husband’s fiancé from also being called “Mom” by the parties 8-year old son. In that case, the parents shared legal custody but Father had primary physical custody of his son. Both Father and Father’s fiancé was a actively involved in the child’s life.

The Court, however, refused to regulate the 8 year old’s word choices. “At this challenging point in his growth and development, he certainly does not need his parents, or a stepparent, or the court, hoisting further unnecessary burdens upon his fragile shoulders by micromanaging his words and thoughts, or commanding him how to address his stepparent in order to please his mother or father,” stated the Court.

Father also sought the court’s permission to have his fiancé more involved in the child related decisions. Mother objected to this request and the Court agreed and ruled that only the child’s parents should be involved in the decision making process.

Do you think the Court made the right decisions? What if Father was pressuring the child to call his fiancé “Mom”? Would that make a difference?

Pet Custody Disputes

pet custody German Shepherd

For many people, pets play an important role in the family: protector, children’s playmate, exercise buddy and best friend. When a couple can no longer make their relationship work and living apart is inevitable, the pets are often caught in the middle.  According to American Veterinary Medical Association, in 2012 there were more than 43 million households with dogs and 36 million households with cats in the United States. That doesn’t include households with bird, horses or other types of animals.

In Arizona, Courts regard dogs, cats, fish, birds, horses and other pets as property, despite the importance and value we place upon them. Courts are increasingly faced with the task of determining where the pets will be placed and with whom when couples split up. This is especially true if each person claims to be the owner of the pet and requests the Court to award it to them. If “ownership” isn’t clear, some Courts have attempted a “joint” or shared ownership similar to a child’s parenting plan. With a pet custody plan, the owners would have the pet with them for certain days or weeks and then the pet would alternate to the other owner. Those arrangements are often short lived and eventually one party will be declared the owner of the pet.

Marital Dissolution and Feelings of Anger

A marital dissolution is upsetting, especially if one spouse has cheated. Add in the legal formalities, which include the division of assets and debts, and custody issues if there are children, and you have a nerve-racking situation.  Arizona is a no-fault state, which means the courts don’t look at the reason for the breakup, they only require that the union be irretrievably broken.

The legal aspects of the divorce process are often stressful because as the parties involved, you aren’t just splitting up property. All those things which you owned together, whether they are dishes, furniture, jewelry, or vehicles, probably signify happier times, and have sentimental value attached to them. If there are children involved, the court may be called upon to help work out parenting time schedules and custody issues which may seem intrusive. When one or both of the spouses brings strong feelings of hurt and anger into the legal proceeding, it can become emotionally draining and financially costly.

What not to do:

A Minnesota woman recently made headlines when her ex-husband’s belongings were placed in a big pile on the front yard with a sign saying “X-HUSBAND SALE” and “FREE”.  Not only that, his GMC Yukon SUV was spray-painted with obscenities and the word “Cheater.”

Many splitting couples have probably thought or dreamed about doing something similar. Thankfully, however, not many people act on these fantasies.  Lashing out and destroying property or other acts of violence could make things more difficult for you when it comes to the division of assets, child custody and parenting time. The roller coaster of emotion is not uncommon but if you can’t move past the anger, seek the help of a professional.

Children and the Housing Crisis

It’s no surprise that a recent report found Arizona children have been hit hard by the foreclosure crises and recession.  Twelve percent (12%) of Arizona kids live in households that have already lost their home to foreclosure or are likely to go through a foreclosure sale in the near future.

Losing a home to foreclosure can be devastating to the whole family, but the loss can affect children in ways we may not have realized.   According to the Brookings Institute Report written by Julia Isaacs, some of the negative effects of foreclosure include:

  1. Kids do less well in school.  Frequent moves or changing schools, especially at certain ages, may results in lower math and reading skills and may be connected to higher dropout rates as children struggle with social and academic adjustments.
  2. Stressed out parents.  When a family is in financial crises, the tension and strain is evident in the interaction between parents and children.  Parents tend to clash more and be less patient and supportive of their kids.
  3. Neglected physical and mental health.  Unfortunately, parents may skip the routine medical and dental checkups for themselves and their kids, sometimes even going so far as to cut back on essential medications in order to pay other necessary expenses, such as food, gas and the mortgage.
  4. Environment impact.  The foreclosure wave leaves neighborhoods riddled with vacant homes which can lead to more crime and less neighborhood unity.

If you or someone you know is fighting to keep their home, please give me call. I have been able to help homeowners save their home with the foreclosure sale just hours away.  We were able to negotiate a meaningful loan modification without having to bring the loan current or pay all the late fees and arrears up front.

Tips for Divorcing Parents

Parenting plans that focus on the kids

Let kids be kids. Parents who are able to minimize drama and work together to be effective co-parents will be better off, and so will their kids.  Find ways to show support for your kid’s academic and athletic talents, and create parenting time schedules respecting the children’s activities and goals.

Technology and You – Parents and kids are busy, so remember to use all the great mobile devices and tools such as iPhone, Blackberry, and Google Calendar to keep track of family time and events.  Sync your custody and parenting time schedules on a regular basis and remember to update contact information for spouses, grandparents, friends and other care providers, and all other emergency contacts.

Tips for divorcing parents

Divorce is tough on all family members, parents and children alike. There are things you can do to help lessen the impact on your kids.  Dr. Marilyn Wedge, Ph.D., says divorce doesn’t have to be damaging to kids and offers suggestions to divorcing parents.

  1. Don’t recruit you child to side with one parent or the other.
  2. Don’t bad mouth your ex in front of your kids.  Remember, your child loves and relies on that other person, and if possible, try to mention the others spouses positive qualities.
  3. Do work with your spouse to establish rules for the kids –bedtimes, homework, chores and activities.  Try to establish a civilized co-parenting relationship and focus on your kids and support their goals and activities.  You don’t have to be best friends, but each of you will want to share your child’s milestone events. Your children’s birthdays, proms, graduations, college, and weddings should be celebrated by the whole family.
  4. Do reassure your child that he or she did not do anything to cause the divorce and that both parents love them.
  5. Do seek help if you are weighed down by continuing anger or grief.  Allow a professional to guide you to better times.