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The importance of fathers

As the divorce rate rose in the last 30 years (with custody going mostly to the mothers), and births to unwed women soared, social scientists felt compelled to look into social development of the children without live-in dads to see if they fared as well as those who do have fathers in residence. They found that while many children raised without fathers in the home turn out fine, most agree that it is crucial for men to be involved in their children's lives -- unless they are abusive. Some family experts believe that the absence of a father in child’s life is linked to risky behavior in youth due to the lack of a male role model. It has been linked to dropping out of school, early sexuality, substance abuse, criminal behavior and general "acting out." And, generally speaking, any man in the home will not do. Children living with a step-father do not fare as well as those growing up in intact traditional families; children who share a home with the mother's boyfriend do even worse. A study by Duke, Auburn and Indiana university researchers found that girls whose fathers abandoned the family before the child turned 6 were eight times more likely to become pregnant in their teen years than girls who grew up with their fathers in the home. When poverty and existing behavioral problems were factored in, the girls were still five times more likely to become pregnant. Most divorced dads fall into two categories -- those who want to more spend time with their children than was customary in custody arrangements of the past, and those who eventually drift away after divorce. I would like to note that what I am observing a very positive trend: more and more dads want to have a shared custody of their children and be involved in their children’s lives. Some dads even want to have 50/50 physical custody arrangements so that the children would spend equal amount of time in mom’s and dad’s houses. I invest a lot of time with the divorcing couples explaining to them how crucial it is for the fathers to be present in their children’s lives. I sometimes am challenged with mothers’ resentment towards granting shared custody to the fathers. When I dig deeper into this issue, I am mostly finding the feelings of anger, resentment and hurt on mothers’ side. It is not that they feel the lack of trust towards their soon to be ex-husbands, nor because these fathers are abusive. The women use the custody as a means to punish their ex-spouses. In the heat of the moment these women tend not to recognize the fact that, as noted earlier, the fathers’ presence in the children’s lives is critical to their healthy emotional development. To be a mediator for couples when such important questions are discussed, to help these couples to arrive at the decisions that are fair to both of them as well as beneficial to their children is a difficult role that can be challenging at times. Yet, it brings me a great deal of satisfaction when parents are able to put behind their anger, frustration and resentment towards each other and become a united front for their children even after their divorce.

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Splitting Up in a Downturn

Couples are increasingly using 'alternative' methods to get divorces, such as mediation and collaborative law, both of which allow partners to minimize court time and work out amicable agreements. Here are some pointers for parting ways effectively in difficult economic times: Try to meet with a financial professional or a marriage therapist separate from a lawyer to reduce hourly billing legal costs. If possible, consider a co-ownership agreement for a house or draft a strategy to sell it when the market conditions improve. Be wary of a divorce settlement that implies receiving of the shares of family businesses or shares of company stock as the values of those assets may deteriorate significantly. Include health-insurance plans and costs as part of the negotiations. Many divorces provide for child support, but may not specifically address things like paying for college, summer camp, daycare or other extra expenses. If you apply for a loan or credit card, be honest with the application and know that information on it could be used in a divorce proceeding. If a divorce filing lasts for several months, consider a temporary agreement to address financial issues in the interim.

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Social Security Planner for Divorcing Couples

People who are close to retirement age and are going through divorce should learn about their Social Security benefits. If a couple had been married for a period of greater than ten years, each of the spouses will be eligible to receive Social Security benefits on either their own or a percentage of their spouses’ eligible benefits, depending on their own retirement age. The Social Security Administration’s web site http://www.socialsecurity.gov/ offers very useful information. You will be able to estimate your life expectancy and benefits, consequences of early or delayed retirement, how postretirement earnings affect benefits as well as spouse/survivor benefits.

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Social Security Disability Held Not To Discharge Child Support Duties

Just because a parent qualifies for Social Security disability benefits does not necessarily mean he or she is unable to pay child support, a New Jersey trial judge says. A declaration of disability by the Social Security Administration “cannot automatically be interpreted by the family court as a finding … that the party cannot work at all,” wrote Ocean County Family Part Judge Louis Jones in Gilligan v. Gilligan, FM-15-807-02. The ruling, approved Tuesday for publication, places the burden on parents claiming disability to prove that they are unable to pay anything and makes it clear that it is not enough just to brandish a disability award letter.

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Should the divorced parents pay for their children’s college tuition?

What if both parents believe that their children should be responsibility for their own college tuition; what if these parents live in NJ and are in a process of divorce? I find it noteworthy that when parents who believe that their kids should pay for their own college education get divorced, the NJ courts can make them pay for college. NJ holds a minority view in this regard compared with most states. I have had mediating parents tell me that working to provide for their own college education was an important part of their own personal development and family values that they wish to convey to their own children. If you hold a similar view, you need to take certain steps while in divorce mediation. You need to come up with a very detailed agreement stating the following: all the reasons why you choose to shift the burden of college tuition onto your children, provisions concerning changes in your circumstances, living standards, as well as regularly scheduled mutual updates on each other’s financial circumstances. What is the likelihood that either parent, or the child, will file an action to compel a payment of college expenses in the future? If they do, might the court compel divorcing parties to pay for college when they would not have done so had they remained an intact family? No one is immune from such an outcome; however, in my experience parties, who mediate their agreements, honor them in the future. They can revisit the issue and change the terms of their agreement but they will try to stay out of court as much as possible. I often suggest to parents that they raise their children in a culture where from a young age they understand that they will be paying for their own college. It seems less likely that those children would suddenly institute suit against one or more parents for college costs if that was never their expectation while growing up. Who knows what the law pertaining to college will evolve into at any given time in the future. There seems to always be some kind of bills pending that might change the parents’ obligations. But to be able to mediate this issue and not to spend vast amount of money on court proceeding is still the best option that the parents have today.

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