PERMISSION TO LOVE: HELPING CHILDREN COPE WITH YOUR DIVORCE

If you ask children in a divorced family what they wish for, they usually say that they wish for their parents to be together. Togetherness is family; it’s security; it’s love to a child. The problem with divorce is that togetherness ends. A parent moves out. New partners may move in.  New kids may move in with them.

Divorce is not a single isolated episode in in your child’s life. For you, divorce can mean the end of an unhappy marriage and a new start, but to your child it means something entirely different. For your child, it affects their daily life on most basic levels. Divorce continues to affect their lives far into the future; at every recital, school play, soccer game, graduations, holidays, their birthdays, vacations.

A child sees and interprets the situation through their eyes. They often take the blame for their parents’ break up. They wonder what they did to cause it. They feel torn between the two homes.

So what can you do to make it easier on your child?

·        Explain why you split (in child appropriate ways without blaming anyone)

·        Answer their questions

·        Explain what is going to happen now

·        Reassure that both parents still love them and support each other in parenting

·        Include them in problem-solving discussions (in age appropriate ways)

·        Talk about two homes and how they would like to have them set up

·        Limit the back-and-forth between the two homes

·        Establish the same lifestyles so that the child feels secure

·        Reassure your child that if s/he misses the parent who is not there, s/he can always call/go over to the other parent

·        Give them permission to love the other parent

·        Give them permission to love the significant other of the other parent

·        Forgive your ex so that you can move forward as co-parents

 

Open communication with your children leads to a creation of inclusion and a new sense of security. Communication, however, does not mean just talking. If you ask your child how s/he feels about your divorce, usually you get an “ok” and the conversation is over. Kids protect themselves by clamming up when the emotion is too overwhelming. So, when they don’t want to talk, you know that it may mean they are really hurting. If you can give your child permission to continue loving both parents as before the divorce, your child can start accepting the new situation.

Communication can happen on many levels…eye contact, a hug, joining the child in an activity they are doing. If your child experiences strong negative emotion like anger or hate, don’t turn away and don’t shut them out.  Anger, feelings of hatred, and other intense emotions are a gateway to a real connection. Instead of telling your child to go to his/her room after s/he just talked back to you, connect! If you embrace them in their darkest moments and pour love in, there will be a connection.

 

A Simple Answer to a Complex Problem: How to unblock a divorce impasse?

Simple Answer to a Complex Problem:  How to unblock a divorce impasse?

Most couples reach an impasse over the issue of custody/parenting plan for their child(ren). Parents fight over their child(ren) but in the process deeply hurt them psychologically and emotionally. The severity of the conflict may cause a parent to kidnap their child or even resort to violence. Escalating anger, distrust of one another, anxiety…and inability to look at the conflict from the perspective other than your own lead to enormous attorney fees, court hearing that go nowhere, more conflict, and a very unhappy child. So, what can be done?

The answer is quite simple but one that requires a skilled mediator to implement. Couples at an impasse must look at the conflict through the eyes of the child. However, before an honest look may occur, each parent must confront their own issues of trauma, loss, and abandonment.  You have to acknowledge your own suffering

Most of us have been hurt at some point in our lives; either as children or somewhere along the way. Most of us left those hurts unresolved, but pain from a trauma, loss, abandonment (i.e, betrayal) takes a front and central seat in our psyche. It sleeps most of the time until there is a trigger. The pain of divorce/separation triggers a past pain in a way that can make one lose all common sense, rational thinking and perspective.  Since past and present pain affect self-esteem, child custody battles become battles of the egos. If you think you are fighting in the name of “best interest” of your child, you are only kidding yourself. Nothing is done to take care of your emotional suffering and everything is done to destroy emotional well-being of your child.

A skilled mediator can effectively help conflicted parents look at their own pain and its roots leading to an understanding of their actions, their triggers, and their reactive approach to the problem. Parents can then start shifting their attention from themselves to their children in a true and honest way. They can start looking at their child through his or her eyes. Instead of burdening the child with conversations about the divorce, court hearings, judge’s decisions, etc., you can start really talking with your child about their feelings about what they are experiencing. Your child’s loss, fear, anger, despair is as real as your own. Children perceive our emotional states and process emotions in their own way using information available to them at their current mental development.

When both parents can acknowledge their child’s emotions without projecting their own feelings a true transformation is possible. The issue stops being a tug of war between the parents of who gets the child when but instead the issue becomes one of logistics i.e. what can we do as parents to help our child through this? what does our child need at this moment to feel better?

Child-focused mediation is the key to resolving impasse and high-conflict situations.  Compassion yet firm guidance during the mediation process can stop the vicious cycle of conflict and lead to a resolution of your child custody dispute. If not achieved in mediation, the alternative of “battling it out” in court will be devasting…to your child.

Most couples reach an impasse over the issue of custody/parenting plan for their child(ren). Parents fight over their child(ren) but in the process deeply hurt them psychologically and emotionally. The severity of the conflict may cause a parent to kidnap their child or even resort to violence. Escalating anger, distrust of one another, anxiety…and inability to look at the conflict from the perspective other than your own lead to enormous attorney fees, court hearing that go nowhere, more conflict, and a very unhappy child. So, what can be done?

The answer is quite simple but one that requires a skilled mediator to implement. Couples at an impasse must look at the conflict through the eyes of the child. However, before an honest look may occur, each parent must confront their own issues of trauma, loss, and abandonment.  You have to acknowledge your own suffering

Most of us have been hurt at some point in our lives; either as children or somewhere along the way. Most of us left those hurts unresolved, but pain from a trauma, loss, abandonment (i.e, betrayal) takes a front and central seat in our psyche. It sleeps most of the time until there is a trigger. The pain of divorce/separation triggers a past pain in a way that can make one lose all common sense, rational thinking and perspective.  Since past and present pain affect self-esteem, child custody battles become battles of the egos. If you think you are fighting in the name of “best interest” of your child, you are only kidding yourself. Nothing is done to take care of your emotional suffering and everything is done to destroy emotional well-being of your child.

A skilled mediator can effectively help conflicted parents look at their own pain and its roots leading to an understanding of their actions, their triggers, and their reactive approach to the problem. Parents can then start shifting their attention from themselves to their children in a true and honest way. They can start looking at their child through his or her eyes. Instead of burdening the child with conversations about the divorce, court hearings, judge’s decisions, etc., you can start really talking with your child about their feelings about what they are experiencing. Your child’s loss, fear, anger, despair is as real as your own. Children perceive our emotional states and process emotions in their own way using information available to them at their current mental development.

When both parents can acknowledge their child’s emotions without projecting their own feelings a true transformation is possible. The issue stops being a tug of war between the parents of who gets the child when but instead the issue becomes one of logistics i.e. what can we do as parents to help our child through this? what does our child need at this moment to feel better?

Child-focused mediation is the key to resolving impasse and high-conflict situations.  Compassion yet firm guidance during the mediation process can stop the vicious cycle of conflict and lead to a resolution of your child custody dispute. If not achieved in mediation, the alternative of “battling it out” in court will be devastating…to your child.

International Child Abduction (The Proceedings): Part II

As I described in a previous blog on the subject, the only question of the Hague Convention proceeding is to determine if the child should be returned to the country of the left-behind parent. Custody is not the question. All custody issues are left for determination in the child's country of habitual residence. 

Preliminary issues:

  • For mandatory return, the petition must be filed within one year of the wrongful removal or retention. A petition filed after a year is discretionary. In those cases, the court will look at the length of time that passed since the removal or retention and if the child acclimated to the new country.  
  • The child must also be  under the age of 16 at the time of the proceedings. Otherwise, Hague Convention does not apply. 
  • All proceedings regarding custody and visitation in either country are stayed pending the outcome of the Hague proceeding.
  • Hague Convention is a summary proceeding to determine jurisdiction only. The court does not determine the child's best interests.  Instead the court determines the child's country of habitual residence and whether the child was wrongfully removed or retained and if so, whether the child must be returned. 

What does the left behind parent must establish? 

The left behind parent must establish by preponderance of the evidence that the child's customary residence for at least six month prior to wrongful removal or retention was in the country of left behind parent. So, the left behind parent must show  the intention of the parent(s) who had the authority to decide about where the child would live. 

The second showing must be, also by preponderance of the evidence, that he or she was "exercising custody" at the time of the wrongful taking or retention. The left behind parent does not need a court order of custody from the country of habitual residence. If, however, such orders exist, left behind parent should provide certified copies with certified translations and register them with the petition.  If the parents lived together at the time of wrongful taking or retention, then the left behind parent was exercising custody. 

The last showing, also by preponderance if the evidence, must be that the child was wrongfully removed or retained. It is wrongful if it breaches the left behind parent's custodial rights provided that parent was exercising custody at the time of removal or retention. The most common defense is that the left behind parent consented.

Defending parent establishing an exception to prevent an order of return

The other parent must establish an exception to stop an order of return by proving that:

1) a return to the country of habitual residence would violate human rights and fundamental principles (rarely used exception) 

2) The child is of an age mature enough and refuses to return

3) there is a grave risk that the child's return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation i.e. domestic violence (the most commonly used exception)  

If there is an allegation of domestic violence, the court must allow an evidentiary hearing to determine grave risk of harm (Noergaard v. Noergaard 244 Cal. App. 4th 76 (2015). The objecting parent must show by clear and convincing evidence that domestic violence occurred. However, the court in Noergaard, did not conclude that domestic violence automatically trigger the exception. So, even if the court determines that domestic violence occurred, the court must still determine whether the country of habitual residence has sufficient resources and can safeguard the child from domestic violence. Working with an expert from the country of habitual residence to show how the laws and resources protect children from domestic violence would be essential in countering the objecting parents attempts. 

If the child is ordered to return to the country of habitual residence, the left behind parent can request the costs relating to the return including legal fees, transportation fees, etc. 

For abductions FROM the U.S., see our Filing a Hague Application page for more information.

For abductions TO the U.S., see our Filing a Hague Application page for more information.

Globalization and International Child Abduction: Taking a child on a "vacation" with a one-way ticket-PART I

The global exchange of human work force has been on the rise in recent years. More US companies hire international workers from countries like China, Japan, Pakistan, India and others, and send US citizens aboard. Parents take their children with them and when their relationships fall apart, one parent often decides to return to his/her country of origin with the child(ren) without the consent of the other parent. International child abduction issues are complex and require in-depth knowledge of the law. 

When a parent never returns the child from the so-called "vacation," as it is often the case, the first step is to determine whether the country where the parent took the child(ren) is a signatory to the 1980 Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction ("the Hague Convention.") (22 U.S.C. Sections 9001, et seq.) List of signatory countries: https://travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/country/hague-party-countries.html. The goal of the Hague Convention is to prevent international child abductions by a parent between countries that have signed the treaty and to create an expeditious proceeding to ensure prompt return of the child to the country of habitual residence. The proceeding's goal is to determine proper jurisdiction to then determine custody and visitation. 

Attorneys in California can help those whose child(ren) has been wrongfully abducted or withheld in the US and more specifically in California, as well as, those whose child(ren) has been wrongfully removed from the US to a Hague Convention country.

If a child, whose habitual residence is in a country (signatory to the Hague Convention) and one of the parents takes that child to California, the left-behind parent must first of all contact the District Attorney Child Abduction Unit in the counties where s/he believes the other parent is with the child. Second of all, the left-behind parent must also file a Hague Petition for Return of the Child with the Central Authority of the country to where the child was take . Information on the United States Central Authority: https://www.hcch.net/en/states/authorities/details3/?aid=279. S/he should also report the abduction to their local law enforcement and contact their Central Authority to initiate the petition. 

The Petition Process

A private attorney can prepare the Petition and file it in family court in a county where the child was found. However, the left-behind parent can save legal fees (drafting, serving the Petition, translating it, etc.) when the office of the District Attorney prepares and serves the Petition. The Petition can be filed in state or federal court. District Attorney will always file it in the state court and is not allowed to represent either parent. Either parent may then remove the case to federal court. Hague Convention cases are the only family law cases heard in federal court, which may or may not be a advantage. On the one hand federal judges are very familiar with jurisdiction questions but on the other hand may be less familiar family law issues state court judges handle daily. 

If the left-behind parent elects to have the District Attorney draft and file the Petition, her/his private attorney should determine if any Supplemental Affidavits must be filed. Supplemental Affidavits may be drafted for the left-behind parent and contain additional facts, or for witnesses from the country of habitual residence such as doctors, neighbors, teachers, caretakers, family members, etc. All documents must be submitted to court with certified translations. However, hearsay does not apply in a Hague proceeding. There is not need to further authenticate any documents either. 

The Proceeding

The proceeding has only one objective: to determine if the child should be returned to the country of habitual residence. The court will not look at the merits of any custody dispute. Therefore, the left-behind parent must prove by a preponderance of the evidence what the child's habitual residence country is. Habitual residence is the child's customary residence for at least six months prior to wrongful removal or retention. A further description of the proceeding will follow in Part II. 

Get Ready for School: How to Make Your Divorce Stay Out of Your Children's Schoolwork

Get Ready for School: How to Make Your Divorce Stay Out of Your Children's Schoolwork

Summer is nearing its end. Many schools now start mid-August, which means you have even less time to get the school issues resolved. It is best to plan ahead by negotiating a good parenting plan that resolves most school issues such as which school will the child(ren) attend, who will be responsible for homework and how parent-teacher conferences will be assigned.