Three custody and divorce mistakes to avoid

Navigation of custody and divorce is complex, but the greatest priority should always be the well-being of your kids. Even the most well-intentioned parents can make serious mistakes in the midst of a separation. It is important to be conscientious of how you are treating your kids throughout the process and how they are adjusting to the changes that are taking place.

These are three of the most common faux pas that parents can make when going through a divorce or custody battle. If you want to help your kids get through the transition of a divorce smoothly, it is imperative that you avoid these and other careless mistakes.

Making the child a messenger

According to the Huffington Post, this is one of the most detrimental mistakes you can make. It is never your children’s responsibility to act as agents between you and your ex. Putting them in this position imposes extreme stress and pressure on them, and it sends the message that their parents are not mature enough to communicate. 

Unintentionally manipulating kids

Even if you are not intentionally badmouthing your ex, you can subtly manipulate children to favor you, and it is even possible to do so unintentionally. Asking loaded questions or reacting negatively to a mention of the other parent are just a few ways you can affect your kids’ perception and unfairly influence them to think ill of your ex. 

Bad-talking your ex to them

Sometimes parents unintentionally manipulate their children, but other times, it is nothing short of deliberate. No matter what events preceded your separation, it is never ok to badmouth your ex in front of your child. Doing so puts them in the position of having to disregard your opinion or continue interacting with a parent they think less of. This also models poor communication and resolution skills at a time when positive modeling is imperative.

Tips for setting up a visitation schedule in the best interest of the children

One of the top stressors in a divorce is sharing the children. When a judge must decide child custody because parents cannot work out the arrangements, it almost always fuels the conflict after the divorce. Working together to set up a visitation schedule is much more effective not only for the parents but also for the children. Still, it can be quite difficult to navigate this issue with someone you are divorcing. Here are some tips to help you find solutions.

Keep the children out of the middle

Children will adjust to different schedules better when parents work together to reduce conflict. It may not be ideal to live in two homes, but having access to both parents who are supportive and caring will be better for the child. Adults may need to learn new communication skills, but more importantly, you both will have to remember to keep your child out of the process. You should present a united front. Do not use children to send messages to each other.

Remember the child’s age and needs

Toddlers may benefit from shorter transitions, maybe two days at the maximum in each household. This is so the child feels secure that each parent will be available. However, by the time children reach their teenage years, having to transition too much will affect their security. A 14 or 15-year-old child might benefit from two weeks in one home, then two weeks with the other parent. Of course, the distance between homes will need to be evaluated. A long commute to school might be detrimental to the child if he or she has to lose sleep to get up earlier.

Encourage contact with the other parent

Parents who share 50/50 custody should remember two key things. First, it is going to be quite difficult to share time exactly at 50 percent. You both are going to need to be gracious and accommodate special plans and activities at times. Second, just because the child is with you does not mean they should forget about the other parent. As the parent, you are going to have make arrangements for telephone calls and contact when the child is with you.

Special Circumstances

Remember that these suggestions may not be appropriate in certain circumstances, such as where child abuse or domestic violence has occurred. If the child has special health needs, that will have to be taken into account. But finding an alternative to an adversarial divorce is almost always better for everyone involved. Talk to a lawyer who is interested in finding solutions.

Elements to include in a parenting plan

There are many decisions to make when getting divorced. If you have children, one of the most important things you have to decide is how to share the time with your kids. Hopefully, you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse can consider what is best for the child. Creating a time-sharing schedule is just one aspect of a parenting plan. Here are some of the things you might want to include in your own parenting plan:

  • How is parenting time split? Remember to include holiday and special events.
  • How will the parents communicate with each other? There are apps designed for divorced parents to document communication and share a calendar together.
  • How are children dropped off and picked up? Generally, it is better if the parent with current physical custody take the children to the other parent’s home. This means the kids aren’t interrupted when they are in a game or the middle of dinner.
  • What rules exist in both homes? For example, homework must be completed before television or game time.
  • How will parents handle disputes? Who makes the final decisions? When should a mediator get involved?
  • How will the plan adapt to the growing needs of the child? When children begin to play sports, who is responsible for getting the child to games and to practice? What happens when the child takes a job or has band practice after school? Your parenting plan will need to change with the child’s needs, and should address this.

Both parents are important to growing children

The American Coalition for Fathers and Children firmly maintains that children need both parents. Research shows that children who spend at least 33 percent of their time with each parent do better in school and have better social skills than those who are primarily with one parent.

The law has many different factors which determine how to share time. It is important to think about what is best for the child. When two parents can work out a plan together, it is better for all parties than giving the court the last word. It may not be easy to make this plan with someone who you cannot live with, but you are the best people to make arrangements for your child’s needs.

Divorce is not the end of parenting together, but the beginning of co-parenting for the benefit of the child. Work together with a mediator and the other parent to help your child have both parents involved, and talk to your attorney about the legal considerations when creating a parenting plan.

Helping your child adjust to two homes

According to Records.com, Florida ranks No. 7 in the nation for the highest rates of divorced families; about 13.2 percent of families in the state are divorced. The highest rate, in Nevada, is 14.6 percent. Divorce doesn’t have to be messy and angry. A collaborative divorce is possible when both parties can put aside their differences, problem-solve and agree to a settlement and parenting plan.

Still, kids are often hurt in the divorce process and often must live in two households. It’s difficult to have to go from home to home, but both parents can aid in the transition. We’d like to make the following recommendations to help your child adjust to two homes. Work together with the other parent to make your child feel safe and secure no matter where he or she is sleeping.

  • Give the child her or his own space in the new house. Even if your child has to share a bedroom, provide a dresser and bookcase that belong to her or him.
  • Let the child decorate the new room. Kids can help choose paint, wallpaper and décor. Let them feel empowered to have a say in their room.
  • Put up pictures of the other parent in the child’s bedroom. You might include a calendar to help the child know which days they go where.
  • Keep supplies such as toothpaste, toothbrush, hairbrush and pajamas at each home. This makes the child feel more secure, and it saves time when packing up. There won’t be any worries about leaving something behind.
  • Take a few of the child’s favorite toys to the new home or get duplicates.
  • Let your child pick out furniture if possible. Older children especially will appreciate being able to choose their own desk and bed.

Make your child a priority

The experienced divorce attorneys with our firm are wholly committed to a peaceful divorce where both parties work together for the good of the children involved. Sometimes, marriages do not work out, but this doesn’t mean children have to pay the price. Those who have both parents involved in their lives are often better adjusted to life after a divorce. You can make it happen, but it won’t be easy. Our lawyers are here to help you find the solution and keep your kids from becoming a pawn in the divorce. Talk to us to see what we can do for you and your family.

7 topics to discuss with your lawyer when planning for a divorce

Many couples don’t want to take the bitter approach to a divorce. The marriage is over, and they just want to divide up property and work out a parenting plan to move on with their lives. If you’re looking at a collaborative divorce, you should still talk to an attorney before signing any papers. A collaborative divorce is where both parties work with unbiased experts, such as mediators, who can help them through the resolution process without fighting and bitterness. According to the American Bar Association, divorce mediation is often 40 to 60 percent lower than divorce litigation. Here are seven items that should be discussed with your own attorney when you’re planning a divorce to ensure your rights are protected.

1. Financial status – You can’t only think about income, bank accounts and assets. You have to dig deeper and make sure you’ve covered all the loans you’ve taken out. It would be a good idea to run a credit check to make sure you’ve remembered all your financial holdings and debts. Don’t forget stocks and bonds that were bought during the marriage. If you and your spouse are named in a civil lawsuit, this should be on your list, too.

2. Retirement – Even if the retirement account is privately owned by one spouse, it should be discussed during an attorney session. A professional actuary may need to value the plan or work out what was earned before the marriage and after.

3. Vehicles – If only one spouse’s name is on the title, or if the vehicle was purchased during the marriage, it falls under marital property.

4. Real estate – The home is probably one of the biggest assets in the marriage. As with vehicles, if it was purchased during the marriage, it should be included in the divorce settlement as marital property. You should consider having real estate appraised for a current valuation. Discuss all properties with your attorney.

5. Children’s assets – Any financial property owned by children must also be addressed in a divorce settlement. College savings plans, CDs, 529 plans and savings accounts should be discussed with your attorney to protect their assets.

6. Going back to college – If you’re planning on taking out student loans to get your education, you should talk about this to your attorney just to make sure there are no barriers to taking on this debt or getting the loans.

7. Taxes – Don’t forget to work out how federal, state and local taxes are handled in your mediation settlement. Understand the IRS regulations for handling child support and which person can claim the children on their end-of-the-year tax forms.

We understand that many people going through a divorce want to be in control of their own destiny instead of relying on a judge to split the assets and determine child custody and support. Our divorce lawyers routinely handle divorce mediation and collaboration to save you stress, time and inconvenience. Call us today to discuss your case and your concerns.

Understanding how Florida courts determine child custody

When establishing or a modifying a parenting plan in Florida, courts consider the best interests of the children. The child’s interests come before those of the parents.

While parents are free to negotiate their own parenting plan, when parents do not agree, a court will decide. In Florida, judges use 19 factors to determine the best interests of the child. This blog post explains the first of those factors, which is, “The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent child relationship, to honor the time-sharing schedule, and to be reasonable when changes are required.”

What do all of these words mean? In a nutshell, Florida courts believe it is in the child’s best interests to have a good relationship with both parents. This is a goal both parents need to work together to achieve.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to determine if you are living up to this factor, which judge use to establish or modify child custody:

  • Are you helping your child feel close to both you and your ex?
  • When your ex asks for a favor, such as picking up or dropping off a child early, are you willing to do it?
  • When the unexpected happens, are you willing to solve the problem rather than blaming your ex?
  • Do you criticize your ex in front of the children?
  • Are you reliable when it comes to picking up and dropping off your child at expected times?

This child custody factor shows how important it is to be flexible in parenting your children after divorce. You may meet the letter of your parenting plan, but if you fail to flexible, you may not be the meeting the goal of the plan, which is to provide frequent and loving contact with both parents

Learn more about the factors that make up a parenting plan in Florida.

Why divorcing parents should avoid child custody litigation

Child custody, known as parenting time in Florida, is one of the most emotional issues in divorce. It is also one of issues that is most commonly litigated.

While litigation may seem like a solution when the two parents cannot come to an agreement, choosing to resolve your differences in court usually begins an odyssey of conflict for the entire family. Children are invariably harmed emotionally and may have difficulties with their own relationships as adults.

What happens when you litigate a child custody dispute

When you litigate a child custody dispute in court, you are putting the outcome of your case in the hands of a judge who does not know you or your spouse. Each side, represented by their attorney, tends to dig into their position and attack the position of the other side.

It addition to being costly financially, the adversarial nature of litigation creates animosity between the parents that lasts long after the divorce is final. The two sides may end up in court again if one side fails to honor the agreement or seeks a modification.

Alternatives to litigation

Through mediation or collaborative divorce, you and your spouse can remain in control of the outcome of your child custody case. Rather digging into positions and communicating through your attorneys, each side can pursue goals and outcomes that are not incompatible with the other side’s goals and outcomes. You may not get everything you want, but you may be able to get an outcome you can live with.

Parents are much more likely to honor a parenting time agreement if they had a hand in negotiating it. By resolving differences through negotiation with your spouse now, you can set a model for how to resolve future disputes when and if they arise.

Sheldon E. Finman, P.A., is a family law attorney in Fort Myers who helps his clients seek less adversarial ways to resolve child custody and visitation disputes.