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Using Alternative Dispute Resolution after Divorce to Resolve Disputes Regarding Medical Decisions

Parenting plans are usually clear that either parent may authorize emergency medical or dental care for the children while they are in that parent’s care. But what happens when parents have joint decision-making authority over non-emergency medical care and they can’t agree?

This issue often comes up when a doctor or other professional has diagnosed and/or recommended treatment for a physical or mental health condition such as allergies, ADHD, or depression. Sometimes the parents not only disagree about the treatment, but about the actual diagnosis in the first place.

When parents disagree about a diagnosis or treatment, the easiest way to resolve the dispute is to get a second opinion. If the two professionals have radically different diagnoses, you might ask them to consult with each other and then talk to you together about their differences. If necessary, ask the two professionals to suggest a third professional to review their recommendations, evaluate your child and make their own diagnosis. Of course you will have to pay for these consultations, but they are invaluable in helping you resolve your differences.

Some parents hesitate to take these steps because they think it’s too much trouble, they don’t want to hurt the professional’s feelings, or the professional will be annoyed if their diagnosis and treatment recommendations are not accepted without question. Don’t let any of that stop you – professionals understand the need for more information and they do not mind.

After evaluation by two or even three professionals, what if you still can’t agree about what to do next?

First, focus completely on the child and set aside your own personal bias. If anger towards the other parent is getting in the way, find a counselor who can help you work through it so you can focus on what’s best for your child.

Second, rather than starting with the disputed decision itself, think about how you will make the decision. If you can’t agree even about that, take your dispute to mediation, arbitration, or a decision-maker. These forms of alternative dispute resolution can start by helping you figure out what information each of you need to break the impasse.

  • What additional information do you need about specific treatment outcomes?
  • What additional information do you need about the methods used to reach the diagnosis?
  • What kind of information will you trust?
  • Where can you find the information you need?
  • How long will it take for you to gather the information you need?

After you’ve agreed to how you will make the decision, and have had time to gather the information you have agreed you need, but are still unable to reach an agreement, continue with alternative dispute resolution to work out the details of an agreement regarding the actual decision.

Hopefully, these nonemergency medical, dental, and mental health decisions will not need to be made often, but it’s good to have a plan for when they do.

 

© 2016, The Wollard Law Firm PC, dba Foothills Family Law

Try to Think Like a Child When Working On Parenting Issues

 

Parents spend untold hours dealing with parenting issues during and after their divorce or separation. But often this effort has the wrong focus. Instead of looking at these issues only from their own perspective, parents should try approaching them from the children’s perspective.

Here are a few examples of how children might view things differently than you:

Parenting Time

I don’t know why I can’t see Daddy more. I know I spend the night with him two times a week, but each time is so short. It’s not enough! By the time Daddy picks me up from daycare on Tuesday, I barely get time to spend with before I have to do my homework. Then it’s time to go to bed. He drops me off at school the next day and I don’t see him again until Friday night for one more night. I feel like I spend more time saying good-bye to him than I do actually spending time with him.

While working out a parenting time schedule, parents will often pour over calendars, counting up days, hours, and even minutes in an effort to design a schedule they think is fair. They spend very little time, however, actually putting themselves in their children’s shoes to see how the schedule might feel to them.

School Activities

I’m so excited about my concert next week at school. The choir is doing a whole program of patriotic songs and I’m singing a solo! I’m hoping everyone can be there – Mom, Daddy, Nana and Papa, and Grams and Gramps! I’m nervous about singing a solo in front of everyone, but I’m even more nervous worrying about my important people getting along okay. I get so embarrassed when they say mean things in front of other people.

Sometimes, parents and relatives who are still angry and hurt over the separation or divorce don’t know how to stop themselves from acting out with the other parent and relatives, or starting arguments. This kind of public display in front of the child and others is horrifying to children and makes them want to dig a hole and jump in. You might think you are making yourself look better by showing the world and the children how bad the other parent is, but such behavior really makes the children think less of you.

Sports Activities

I really, really want to play baseball! Dad is okay with it and he’s even willing to pay without asking for help from Mom. But, Mom says she won’t let me play games during the time I’m with her, even if Dad drives. If I can’t make it to games, I can’t be on the team. I used to like spending time with Mom, but I hate it when she won’t let me do any of my normal things when I’m at her house. It’s not even like we’re doing other fun stuff together, half the time we just watch TV or I spend time by myself. So what’s the problem with her taking me to my games and watching me play?

Parenting time is a time for you to parent. That’s why it’s no longer called visitation. Parenting includes letting your children do the things kids do, like participating in activities outside of school and home. If you prevent your children from taking part in sports or other activities, you might gain some one-on-one time, but you risk damaging your relationship. Then, once they’re old enough to choose, they might decide they don’t want to spend time with you at all.

You can gain valuable insight if you allow yourself to think like a child when facing divorce-related parenting issues. The voice you hear might sound very different from your own. Hopefully listening to that voice will help you shape the choices you make in your divorce.

 

© 2016, The Wollard Law Firm PC, dba Foothills Family Law

Divorce – Your Anger Is Hurting You

The anger generated by the separation or divorce process can be so intense and destructive that it makes Hurricane Katrina look like a gentle breeze. The swath of devastation in the path of such anger is hard to fathom and even harder to recover from. The damage to your ex and your children that is caused by your anger is bad enough and often has effects far into the future, but the damage that your anger is causing you is just as bad.

In divorce proceedings, your anger can lead you to make decisions that actually cost you more. As you’re lashing out in anger and trying to make decisions that will hurt your ex, you might not be thinking rationally enough to fully consider how they will affect you.

When you let your anger get the best of you in court, you can come across as combative, rude and unpleasant. You might even antagonize the judge to the point that he or she will decide against you.

In your other relationships, your once strong allies can become wary and less sympathetic, tired of hearing you go on and on about your latest plan to get even with your ex. Your anger may seep out at work, damaging your productivity and reputation and threatening your job security or capacity for promotion.

And on a much more personal level, uncontrolled anger can disrupt your sleep or your appetite, and can even lead to serious health problems and life-threatening disease.

None of this is what you intend when you allow your anger with your ex to linger long after the initial impact of the separation or divorce. In fact, you might not even be aware of the control your anger has over you.

If you find that you are having a hard time letting go of your anger towards your ex, it’s time to get a handle on it. Talk to a trusted friend or family member, research online or at the library, or talk to your doctor or therapist about the resources that are available for help.

 

© 2016, The Wollard Law Firm PC, dba Foothills Family Law

Family Dinners after Divorce

After a divorce or separation, it might seem unusual to keep coming together for family meals. These regular family dinners, however, can diminish conflict, help kids stay connected to both parents, feel more comfortable about the divorce, and strengthen the parenting team.

It’s often difficult and confusing for children to transition from having easy access to both parents prior to divorce or separation, to rarely seeing them in the same place at the same time. Scheduling weekly family dinners after the separation or divorce can ease the confusion for children. The only requirement is that the adults put their differences, hurt feelings, and anger aside once a week and come together without anger or resentment. If you can do this, the children will benefit now and for years to come. Actually, there’s a great probability that your children will thank you far into the future for making the effort now.

Early in your process, family dinners can ease the kids (and maybe you) into the separation. When the dinners continue, even after one or both of you have moved on and into new relationships, the rewards are even greater. Set aside one evening each week for one of you to pick up groceries and go to the other’s house where the family can work together to cook the meal. Even as the kids get older and more involved socially, it’s likely that they will rarely skip the weekly family dinners.

The great thing about weekly family dinners is that they allow the kids to feel connected as a family even though you are no longer living together. They also diminish the conflict the children feel when their parents move into new relationships. By maintaining that weekly family time even as new relationships form, the children can see that you are okay with the new situation so they will feel more comfortable with it. They will know that there is no need for them to guard what they say to each of you because they will be able to see that we are open with each other.

If you are able to manage weekly family dinners, you might also consider spending holidays, the children’s birthdays, and other special occasions together (along with your new significant others). One of the biggest complaints of children of divorce is having to sacrifice their holidays and special occasions in order to satisfy their parents’ needs. That is eliminated when you are able to spend these special times together.

Parental team work is especially important as children move through their teenage years. When your children are teens and having more issues of their own, you can draw upon the good working relationship that you maintained through your family dinners and special occasions. You will be better able to present a united front for the children and guide them through challenging issues as they arise.

All of this takes commitment on your part, but if you are able to create this positive experience for your children now, your children will benefit into adulthood. When they are grown with families of their own, they will share their stories of how much they appreciated those family dinners and holidays so many years ago and possibly help new families follow the same path to helping their children.

 

© 2016, The Wollard Law Firm PC, dba Foothills Family Law

Mum’s the Word: Minimize Conflict by Altering Communication Patterns

Separation and divorce are always difficult for children. But when parents remain locked in conflict for years, the continuous anger and insecurity the children experience can be devastating.

Much of the ongoing conflict during and after divorce can be minimized by altering the communication between the parents. For the most part our communication is automatic, consisting of repeated patterns over and over. To help break the cycle of conflict, parents need to learn new patterns.

One new pattern of communication is simply to not respond. This can be both the easiest and the hardest new pattern to learn. It’s easy because it involves doing nothing. It’s hard because it involves doing nothing – when what you really want to do is defend yourself against something the other person has said, reciprocate with an accusation of your own, or prove yourself to the other person.

If the communications between you and the other parent are difficult, limit your communication to email only. When you receive an angry email or text message from the other parent, try a simple response like, “Thank you for the information”, or “I got your message, thanks”. This kind of simple acknowledgment will eliminate multiple emails or texts asking if you got the first message and asking you to respond. The important thing is to not immediately fire off a lengthy email in return. If there is something in the initial email that really requires a specific response, read the initial email a few times over 24 hours and then respond only as necessary to answer a question or provide requested information.

Toxic communication guaranteed to maintain high conflict between parents takes many forms. Here’s just one example:

Parent AI’ve asked you hundreds of times to send Sally over with enough clothes for her tune with me. This means clothes she can actually go out and play in. She’s outgrown the clothes you send for her and the coat you send is so pathetic it wouldn’t keep her warm in the summer, let alone in the middle of winter. You should be using the child support I pay you to buy Sally decent clothes. What do you use the child support for anyway? I guess I’m just paying you to go out and have fun with your friends because you’re sure not spending the money on Sally. I’ve had to go out and buy her all new clothes to keep over here since you don’t care enough about her to spend any money  on her yourself.

Parent B: I can’t believe you. As usual, you think only of yourself. Sally has lots of nice clothes here, but I send her over with clothes from the thrift store because you never send back the clothes I send. Then I have to go out and replace everything again. Sally hates going over to your house because you always criticize her about everything. She’s afraid of you and begs me not to make her go with you. If you would care more about her than your precious money, maybe she would want to spend more time with you.

Since the issue in this particular post is only concerned with responding (or not) to angry messages, it will not talk about Parent A’s initial message. But here’s an alternate response from Parent B aimed at reducing conflict:  I got your message. Thanks for buying new clothes for Sally to keep at your house. If you will just make sure Sally changes into the clothes she came in before she returns, that will work out great. Granted, Parent B might not be feeling quite as upbeat as this alternate response suggests, but the trick is for Parent B to not get sucked into the destructive communication pattern set up by Parent A.

Start practicing now to change old patterns of communication. Eventually these will become your new patterns and will feel automatic and comfortable.

 

© 2016, The Wollard Law Firm PC, dba Foothills Family Law

Minimize Conflict during Divorce by Eliminating “Fighting Words” in your Communications

There are words and phrases that are so provocative that they are intended to elicit a sharp response from the target. “Lie”, “liar”, “selfish”, “abusive”, “evil”, “uncaring” are just a few such words. These “fighting words” are nearly impossible to pass up responding to, even if you have vowed not to respond to confrontational communication from the other person.

If you’re using words like this in your communications with your ex or soon-to-be-ex, it’s time to stop. Peppering your communication with these kinds of words do not help you make your point, even if you have a valid point to make.

Look at an example of communication using these fighting words:

Parent A: Sally is scared to go to your house because you make her go to bed without a nightlight. This is just another example of how abusive you are and how you don’t care about your child at all.

Parent B: You are such a liar. Sally loves to come over here, but she’s afraid to let you know it. When will you stop trying to turn Sally against me and accept that she loves me? If you weren’t so selfish, maybe Sally wouldn’t have to lie to you about her time here.

This conversation between Parent A and Parent B will likely go on for some time, getting more hostile as it goes. No matter which parent Sally is with at the time of the conversation, she will get an earful if the parents are on the phone, even if the parents think she’s asleep or in another room at the time. The conversation will not accomplish anything other than frighten and upset Sally.

When you are tempted to use fighting words, stop to think what the issue really is. In the example above, Parent A is concerned about the lack of a nightlight at the other house. Rather than send the message above, Parent A might have said, “I just wanted to let you know that Sally has gotten used to sleeping with a nightlight on. I’m guessing she’ll give it up at some point, but for now, she’s really more comfortable with one on at night. Having a nightlight at both houses will probably help make the transition between houses easier for her.

Parent B, on the other hand, is concerned about being accused of being a bad parent and wants to fight off claims of being abusive or selfish. The fact is, that in this example there is really nothing Parent B can say in this situation to satisfy Parent A. The best response Parent B could have made to Parent A’s angry communication above would have been, “Thank you for the information, I will talk to Sally about the nightlight when she’s here next. I didn’t realize it was so important to her.

By addressing the underlying issue without using provocative language, parents can reduce the conflict between them and focus on positive parenting for their children.

 

© 2016, The Wollard Law Firm PC, dba Foothills Family Law

Divorce settlement personality styles – Are you a diplomat or a general?

A diplomat is someone who is tactful and skillful in managing delicate situations and handling people. After assessing the needs and interests of all interested parties, the diplomat uses that information to propose solutions that will benefit all involved.

A general is also skillful in managing delicate and difficult situations, but looks for solutions that will benefit only his or her side. The general focuses more on tactics rather than tact to accomplish goals, and is not concerned with understanding other people’s perspectives or needs.

When working on your divorce and parenting settlements, your underlying personality style will largely dictate the course of the process. So, which are you, diplomat or general?

Diplomats are much more likely to seek out mediation to resolve their family issues. They are comfortable with the give and take they know will be necessary to reach a settlement.  Diplomats tend to look for win-win solutions that meet their needs and are also fair to the other side.

As much as diplomats want to be fair, they also want to be treated fairly. Their willingness to compromise is not a sign of weakness. Even though they would rather determine their own outcome, diplomats are willing to seek the court’s help if they feel they are not being taken seriously or treated fairly.

Generals will usually agree to participate in a process like mediation, but are much more skeptical about whether it will work. They often already have a particular solution in mind and can’t see any other resolution to the issue. They are rigidly attached to their own ideas and are reluctant to discuss other options that might benefit both parties.

Although generals appear to be comfortable with taking their fight to court, they are often the ones who will seek a last-minute settlement. After accepting such a settlement, however, generals often complain bitterly about how unfairly they were treated.

In settling your divorce, if both of you are diplomats you will likely find success with mediation, a process that allows you to explore the many options that will meet the unique needs of your family. If one of you is a diplomat and the other a general, you might consider an alternative dispute resolution process that offers a little more direction, such as early neutral assessment, or arbitration.

Even if you are both generals, you can still consider alternative dispute resolution. It will be much more rewarding if you are successful at reaching your own agreement. You can always go to court if your efforts fail. You have nothing to lose and much to gain.

 

© 2016, The Wollard Law Firm, PC dba Foothills Family Law

Divorce and Custody Agreements: Don’t Ask Why, Ask How

Often during divorce and custody settlements, people ask, “Why?”

  • Why does s/he get to decide where the children will live and when I will get to see them?
  • Why does s/he get to dictate how the assets will be divided?
  • Why does s/he get to stay in the house?
  • Why does s/he think s/he doesn’t need to provide support?
  • Why…….?

The list could go on and on. The problem with “why” questions is that they rarely help move toward resolving these questions.

In divorce or separation, it is important to move the focus away from “why” and onto “how” and “what”.

  • How can the house be distributed to best meet the needs of the divided family?
  • What does meaningful time with the children look like for each parent?
  • How can the children’s time be spent with each parent in ways that will satisfy both the parents’ and the children’s needs?
  • How can the assets and the debt be divided to best meet each party’s needs?
  • What resources are available to meet the support needs of both parties?
  • How can the available resources be used to meet everyone’s needs?

Remember that decisions regarding assets and debts, parenting, and support do not take place in a vacuum.  While it’s tempting to want to go through them like a checklist, in reality they are all connected and need to be approached with a broader perspective.

Use the divorce or separation process to be creative! Together with your attorney or a mediator, ask lots of “what” and “how” questions.  Really think about your answers before backing yourself into a corner with a position that turns out not to be right for you or your family at all.

For example, parenting time and the primary residence of the children are cornerstone decisions that will also affect housing and support issues. Challenge yourselves to think beyond the old formulas and start asking meaningful questions about these issues.

  • What is best for the child(ren)?
  • How can the parenting plan minimize the effects of divorce on the children?
  • How can the parenting schedule minimize the time the child(ren) are in daycare?
  • What do the children feel about parenting time and residence?
  • How close do the parents live to each other?
  • How can the parenting plan minimize the amount of time the children spend traveling from one parent to the other?
  • How can the parenting plan put the children’s needs and feelings ahead of the parents’ needs desires?

Separation and parenting agreements are not a one-size-fits-all proposition.  Let the questions “what” and “how” guide you to the solutions that will work best for you. A good attorney or mediator (or, ideally, both) can help!

 

© 2016, The Wollard Law Firm, PC dba Foothills Family Law

Staying Involved with Your Child’s School After Divorce or Separation

It’s so important to children that their parents are involved with their school conferences and activities, because it shows that THEY are important to their parents. It’s a parenting basic that is usually second nature in most families.

After divorce or separation, though, parents sometimes don’t get along well enough to participate in these activities together. One or both parents might stop attending school events, especially if they cannot tolerate being in the same room as the other parent. If you find yourself in this situation, there are still ways for both of you to participate in the children’s school activities.

The best solution is to address the issue in the parenting plan at the time of separation or divorce. Specify that both parents will have access to school information and records, and that both parents will be allowed to participate in parent-teacher conferences and attend school activities.

For parents who are getting along well, the plan can include a mechanism for coordinating schedules if you are going to attend together. However, the plan should also include a mechanism for arranging alternate attendance if it’s better to avoid being there at the same time.

Even when you have a fairly amicable divorce or separation, things can come up in the future that puts a strain on your ability to get along with the other parent. Your parenting plan can include a provision that addresses how you will handle school events, programs, and conferences if attending together would cause anxiety for your child.

Generally, schools send home information about conferences and other school activities with the children, often on the same day each week. However, schools and teachers are usually very accommodating to parents who need information sent to both parents separately or need to schedule separate parent-teacher conferences as long as the request is made politely and without providing negative information about why you are making the request.

If you want information sent directly to you, make a request in person or in writing. Because schools are often underfunded, provide them with self-addressed stamped envelopes and an email address to make it easy to send information to you. Build a good relationship with your child’s teachers with regular positive telephone or email contact focused only on the child.

Even if you and your ex are not able to participate in school activities together, take the time to establish your own relationship with the school. Your children will be excited that you take so much interest in them and what they’re doing in school. And you will be the involved parent you want to be.

 

© 2016, The Wollard Law Firm, PC dba Foothills Family Law

Adjusting the Parenting Schedule for Unforeseen Events

If only life were steady and predictable. Then parenting schedules would never have to be altered to accommodate unexpected events. But, alas, life is full of twists and turns that nobody expects. During divorce or separation, we discover that all kinds of plans need to be modified, including parenting plans.

Having to change the parenting schedule from time to time is one of the few things you can count on when co-parenting after divorce. Unforeseen or special events will come up, such as a grandparent’s funeral or a major celebration in the extended family. Although this is often not a problem, especially for divorced or separated parents who are able to cooperate, considering the possibilities when putting together your parenting plan can save you time and frustration in the future. Even cooperative co-parents who generally get along well aren’t necessarily always happy about making the requested changes. But they work together to accommodate these special requests because they know that they too might need to request a change from time to time.

When putting together your parenting plan, it is helpful to include a provision specifying how you will handle adjustments to the plan. Generally, what kinds of temporary changes to the schedule will be accommodated? How far in advance of the requested change will each parent need to make the request? Are there any situations, such as a death or serious illness in the family, for which a request will be automatically granted? When the schedule is changed to accommodate a special request, will the other parent’s missed parenting time be made up? And, if so, how and when?

It’s not possible to think of all eventualities when preparing your parenting plan, but including a provision for handling occasional changes can lessen any conflict or negative impact on the children.

 

© 2016, The Wollard Law Firm, PC dba Foothills Family Law

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