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Shared Custody

As a family mediator I help divorcing parents to create child/parent visitation schedules that would work for them as well as for their children. The trend that my colleagues and I are noticing is as follows: while in the past it was the most common for the kids to stay with their mothers with occasional visits from the fathers, now more and more parents realize that kids need both of them and both parents need their children. It is very difficult to present the actual custody data because states do not keep records of custody outcomes. Also sometimes parents come up with one custody plan in mediation and then implement something different in reality. However, shared custody is definitely the preferred choice for many divorcing parents nowadays. The definition of “shared parenting” is fluid. An arrangement might not be strictly 50/50 – one week at mom’s place and the other at dad’s. Parents sometimes come up with very creative, unorthodox solutions for their shared custody plans. The main purpose of these plans is giving the opportunity to the children to spend a lot of times with both parents. The rise of joint custody is attributed to a variety of factors, including changing gender roles, women taking on careers and men becoming more involved in their children’s upbringing. There are few points that parents need to take into account when they want to implement shared custody arrangements. Ideally, they should live in close proximity to each other, and each parent must be extra-organized. Parents should also realize that it will take time for them and for their children to adjust to their new and hectic schedules. Once these barriers are overcome, the benefits will over shine the challenges. Research shows that children in shared custody arrangements showed fewer behavioral problems and had better relationships with both parents which is crucial to children’s development. There is only one caveat – parents should get along. High-conflict environment, especially when it places children in the center of parental arguments, is detrimental for children. It completely nullifies the benefits that the dual residence arrangement can provide.

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Mediation: a shift in paradigm

A simple fact about divorce is that, in the absence of a custody dispute, there is only one issue that needs to be resolved, and that is finances. All of the impossible disputes in the relationship become miraculously moot. The complicating fact of divorce is that without the practical realm in which emotional conflicts are ordinarily expressed, the unresolved feelings compress into the single question of money. And so, money becomes everything. The insight of mediation is that neither party's satisfaction bears a definite relation to the settlement's dollar amount, and therefore the mediator should not focus on a monetary figure -- as litigators do -- but on how money figures. For example, one of my couples while in mediation went through a mental shift: instead of thinking that her husband is plundering her savings, she choose to imagine that she will give him a supplement for a certain length of time for his expenses so that he could continue the lifestyle they had developed together. The turning point however occurred when they both realized how tragic divorce was for both of them and that they both were overwhelmed by the enormity of what happened. Therefore coming to terms with something they thought was unfair and move on, was powerful and liberating for both. The number on the mediation agreement was one neither of them would have chosen, but one both of them could live with, precisely because they did choose it. They both agree that had a judge given them that same number, they each would have felt cheated and would have blamed their attorneys. For them as for many other divorcing couples, mediation became not only a better alternative to litigation, but also an experience that changed their perspective on what have happened to them and allowed them to get on with their lives.

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Mediation Became a Feasible Alternative to Litigation

American matrimonial law is punitive — protracted, expensive, confusing, damaging. Yet a divorce is now an ordinary outcome to a marriage. Over the last two decades, the proportion of failed marriages had held stable at around 50 percent, but (while national data lags) some experts suggest that the rate may be tipping over half. Historically, periods of economic hardship tend to keep couples together; the current economic downturn, however, appears not to have had that effect. A survey by theAmericanAcademyof Matrimonial Lawyers found that 78 percent of divorce attorneys say that their caseloads are steady or increasing. Several studies, according to The Wall Street Journal and others, show that divorce filings have increased in many areas and, moreover, that there is an increase in the number of contentious divorces. Mediation became a feasible alternative to litigation began in the 1970′s, it is now beginning to reach a critical mass. My hope is that someday soon people may look at litigation as a last resort only for unusually contentious divorces (cases in which one partner is abusive or absent), rather than the norm. Litigated divorce inherently fosters enmity. In litigation, dialogue immediately ceases: the first rule a lawyer conveys to the client is literally to not talk to his or her spouse. Mediation, by contrast, relieves couples of the need to badmouth each other. Couples employing mediation have been shown to be significantly happier with both the process and the results than couples using litigation. As an article inSt. John’sLaw Review noted, one study found that 73 percent of those in mediation were satisfied or highly satisfied. Trials yield little satisfaction, and even attorney-negotiated settlements were satisfactory to only 23 percent of divorcees. In mediation, you have the opportunity to tailor the law to your own needs. Mediation, as a process, teaches both parties to make the right choices, communicate to each other, respect each other’s opinions and handle issues fairly without any overwhelming feelings of guilt or shame. During a mediation process a couple will hopefully acquire knowledge not to depend exclusively on professionals, but rather be creative and come up with their own decisions, negotiate fairly and in good faith, learn how to experience and express their anger rather than act it out. Therefore, frictions can be avoided, thousands of dollars can be saved, and both of you will be able to enjoy your children’s birthdays together for many years to come.

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Financial Advisors Can Help Prevent Divorces

Couples who disagree about money once a week are twice as likely to divorce as those who disagree once a month or less. And there can be added difficulties for couple who are at least $10,000 in debt…and once in which one spouse disapproves of how the other handles money. What to do: Focus on both the financial and relationship issues. On the money side, consider working with a credit counselor-find one through the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (www.nfcc.org). On the relationship side, try a marital-education program from PREP (www.prepinc.com) or PAIRS Foundation (www.pairs.com).

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Child Visitation Challenges

There are few problems that can arise with regards to child visitation schedules. Let’s review a few scenarios. 1. Let’s assume that you have successfully mediated your divorce and it seems that everything is in place now. Property Settlement Agreement is signed and filed to court; you have separated and are eager to follow your agreement. All of a sudden on Friday morning you receive a call from your ex-spouse that your child wouldn’t want to see you this weekend. You get the explanation that your child is busy, overwhelmed, tired, etc. and that the custodial parent will not want to push him/her to see you. They will also try to explain to you that your divorce had a very traumatic effect on your child and that you need to give him/her some time/space, etc. All of the above seems like a very reasonable explanation and you might want to let it go this time. Will there be another time like this? Should you give in again next time? Should you let your child to decide whether he/she are to see you or not? What should you do if presented with such a situation? While it is very important to listen to your child and assess his/her emotional wellbeing, both of you need to understand that spending time with non-residential parent should not be optional. Your child needs both of you and, even though he/she might indeed feel tired or just lazy, he/she still needs you. By letting your child to get away with the breaking of the schedule, you are sending them two very dangerous messages. First, your child would understand this as if you don’t miss him/her and don’t care to see them. Second message is that your child would learn how to manipulate you and get from you what they want. It is very important if such situation develops to show the united front and to explain to your child again and again that you both love him/her and care for him/her, you both want to be in their life and in divorce the only way to assure this is to strictly adhere to the established parenting schedule. It is also very important to be consistent and let your child know the schedule well in advance. 2. Let’s consider another scenario: your child calls you and asks not to be picked up by you because he/she was invited to a sleepover party with friends. You are put in a very uncomfortable position. On one hand you would like to spend time with your child; on the other hand you don’t want to ruin a weekend for your child who is clearly looking forward to spending his/her weekend with their own friends rather than with a parent. It could also happen that your ex-spouse has already allowed your child to spend your parenting time with their friends without consulting you. Again as in scenario # 1, your child needs to learn that spending time with a non-residential parent is not optional. There are plenty of solutions to that particular situation, but your child needs to clearly understand that he/she needs to address all their plans for a particular weekend with that parent who has parenting time with them on that particular weekend. Both of you need to help your child and direct him/her, but siding with your child or letting him/her make plans not on your weekend is extremely damaging to your child. One of the messages you are sending to your child is that you don’t respect your ex-spouse and therefore, your child doesn’t have to respect him/her either. You are also teaching your child to manipulate you. Once your child learns this skill, he/she will be using it on both of you. It is very important to understand that, even though you are divorced and you live separately and apart, you have children who love you both and need you both. By co-parenting you will help your children to regain the balance in their lives that was shattered when you were in the painful process of divorce. By co-parenting you will help your children learn that they can rely on you both in difficult situations. By co-parenting you will allow your children to grow into emotionally healthy and productive adults who will maintain relationships with both of you in the future.

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