Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Child Custody and Religion, Pre-Holiday Edition

Can you be held in contempt for baptizing your child, when you've previously agreed with your divorced spouse that you won't make "major religious decisions" for your children without agreement?   Maybe.  

Thanks and a tip of the pre-Good Friday/Passover hat to Religion Clause.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Some Additional Ideas About Maximizing Your Success In Custody Cases

From Joseph Cordell on HuffPo

Very similar to, although not as detailed, as my California-specific advice:


1.   Exercise all your time, plus more

If you go to court for a review of your custodial situation, the Court will be more interested in what the parents actually are doing, than in what any prior court orders say they should or must be doing.  Use all your custodial time that you are financially,  physically, and logistically able to use.    If you can accommodate the other parent's scheduling by offering to have the child(ren) with you, more than the order says you “must”, do so.   This is not “baby-sitting”, it is spending time with your kid(s), i.e., parenting.   Some of the time may not necessarily be spent going to Disneyland.  

2.    Exercise your rights (and responsibilities) beyond the custodial time-share.

Parenting is different from running a dormitory.  There is more to parenting than whose house your child sleeps, on which nights of the week: 

    A.    Education:  Request scheduling information about all your child's pre-school/ school functions, and attend them whenever possible.  Whether or not the other parent provides you with copies, take independent steps to arrange with your children's schools to receive scheduling information, report cards, etc.   If you get any of this information, and have any reason to think the other parent did not, send a copy.

Know your kids’ teachers.  Make sure that your kids' teachers, and school personnel, know you. 

Make sure you are on all parental notification, and emergency notification cards. Keep your notification information on those records absolutely current.

If your child is having any sort of trouble in school, find out from the school (not just from your child or the other parent) what is going on, why it is happening, and what can, or must,  be done to fix it. 

The days (in California) when you could deliver your child to a public school, starting in September, do nothing besides going  to two parent-teacher conferences during the year, and expect to have your child pop out in June with another year’s worth of education, are long gone.  Both public and private schools are now hands-on efforts for parents. 

The more time you spend volunteering in your child’s classroom, fund-raising for your child’s school, running computer cables through the walls at your kid’s school, coaching soccer or helping to build sets for the school play, the better the education your child will get, and the more you will know about what kind of education she is getting, and how.  Incidentally, your community will also be better off.

    B.     Health care:  When (not if) your child needs health care, find out what is going on, whether it is a regular dental check up or physical exam, the treatment of a cold or earache, or an ongoing course of treatment for a serious chronic condition.  There is no better way to stay informed than to take your child to the doctor yourself.   If you can’t, ask the other parent regularly for information.   Again, if you get any of this information, and have any reason to think the other parent did not, send a copy.

If you have any questions or concerns, discuss them directly with the health care provider.    Medical school studies reveal that the doctors’ advice that patients hear and understand is significantly different from what doctors think they have said.  The other parent is not your best source of this information; the child is an even poorer one.

"Health care" does not just mean your child’s pediatrician.  It includes the dentist, the orthodontist, the chiropractor, and any psychotherapist or counselor.

Know who is paying for health care, who’s carrying the insurance, and who is entitled to reimbursement.   Keep records.

    REMEMBER:  Even if you do not have joint legal custody, under California law you are entitled to information about your child's education and health.  As a joint legal custodian, you have both a right and a responsibility to keep informed and to be involved in decision-making.   If you don’t participate in decision-making, the Court may conclude that you have no further interest in having a hand in decision-making.
3.    Behave, in all of your transactions with the other parent, as if everyone was watching you; ultimately, they are.
Assume that at some point in the future the Court, and any Court evaluator, will consider both the content and tone of all your communications with the other parent, and the other parent’s new spouse or significant other.   


Be appropriate.  Not only shouldn’t you use your child as a telephone (“Tell your mother you can’t spend the whole weekend next weekend....”)  you shouldn’t use your child as a mail-carrier, or send messages to the other parent via your child’s e-mail, or telephone.

Be polite.  Send and say nothing to the other parent you wouldn't want the judge in your case to read now.   Send nothing to the other parent that you wouldn't want your children to read, twenty years from now.    Even if the other parent is acting like a jerk, don’t act that way.

If scheduling changes need to be made, give more notice than the minimum amount required, whenever it is possible.   If you are running late, even a little bit, call.

If you need to make logistic arrangements (different clothing, school books and materials, sports gear, etc.)  communicate with the other parent the need for those arrangements.

Confirm your conversations with the other parent by short, polite notes, or the electronic equivalent.  Do not include in any such note any discussion of the other issues of the case, discussion as to why the relationship or marriage failed, blame for any events which have happened in the past, etc.  Like a telegram for which you are charged by the word, these notes should be the bare minimum number of words necessary to convey the information, plus "Please", "Thank you", and "You're welcome".  Even if the other parent is acting like a jerk, don’t act that way.

4.   Your children are not the parents/litigants, you are; don't treat them as if this is THEIR case

It is appropriate to discuss resolving your case with  the other parent, or between the attorneys.  Children, however, are not  litigants: they have no obligation to settle their parents’ cases. 

    Children should not be burdened with any discussion of the financial aspects of the case,  ever.    Your financial responsibility to your kids is yours; it is not dependent upon the other parent’s, or how well the other parent meets that responsibility.

Your children have no obligation to tell you, or discuss with you, their preferences regarding custodial arrangements.  They do not even have an obligation to have such a preference.  Your children should never be obliged or expected to decide their own custody arrangements, although you should consider their wishes.

5.   Remember: this is your custody case, not everyone else's.

Unless there is no other appropriate way to communicate directly with the other parent, don't use anyone else as a messenger. (Except in an emergency, this will almost never be the case.)  Your relatives, your new spouse or significant other, the other parent's relatives, your friends (mutual or otherwise) and your child's friends are not obliged to take sides, or act as tie-breakers.  Don't ask them to.  Don't expect them to.