Monday, June 12, 2017

Spurious claims, accepting responsibility, and high conflict child custody cases

When I encounter a parental archetype that relates to child custody, especially who not to be, I endeavor to share anecdotal accounts so you may contemplate the outcome of his or her experience. By not having to learn from personal experience but, instead, by example you and your children may benefit from those shortcomings of others.

For this latest example it is helpful that you have a working understanding of the personality of this character. I will first provide an account of the encounter and then a situation that should encapsulate the psychological make-up of the parent.

Midday Friday I set up camp with a book buyer in the parking of a book distributor who was having a sale the next day. Of the thousands of people who attend we managed to be first in line. That evening we were joined by some of the ten other people he employs to assist him. That evening during the course of general conversation a man so employed mentioned something to the effect of gender bias in the application of Indiana's Civil Protection Order Act.[en1]

His claims ran the usual gamut of long ago dispelled notions. This included that the DVPO was unconstitutional, that it transferred property without hearing or due process, that the exclusion of an owner of property from the real property was the criminal act of conversion[en2] , that men are ordered to pay child support -- even if they go to prison -- and can't get out of it, that women never have to pay child support, and, of course, that parenting time should be 50/50 and deviations from that are an unconstitutional abrogation of a father's rights. The claim that the 13th Amendment was unconstitutional and we don't legally have to pay federal income tax was probably in there too.

My arguments to the contrary were met with broad disputations not on point to my claim but rather generalized to a constitutional argument such as the "general welfare" clause[en3] or that the "corrupt courts" were biased against fathers.

Two things occurred to me at this point. The first being that it was highly probable that he has not watched child custody or DVPO proceedings in at least 50 different courts throughout Indiana. Secondly, and more notably, this is the guy to which the book seller has occasionally mentioned over the past three or more years as a friend who is "going through a horrible custody battle" and could use my assistance.

At this point I should have painted a clear image in your head of this person. The one who broods about his situation, attributes fault to others, and may post on Facebook ad nausea about his case. It's a personality trait which is considered a deficiency in the wellness schema for fit parenting.

Here is how the book sale goes. We go into a pen that houses a grid of about 200 crates containing 500 or so books each. Our group spreads out in a preplanned course in pairs or trios. There is a picker, such as me, who decides which books to purchase. Then there is a packer who receives the books or is told to pull them from the bins. This person or another may act as a runner who takes the books to a check-out area and then returns with another empty packing box.

The particular parent who is the subject of this posting mostly acts as a picker but floats as needed. After accumulating about 2000 books [80 boxes] we were done and all proceeded to check-out. Well not quite all. One person wasn't there.

During the frantic rush as we pour over these books each of us comes across a few titles that we want for ourselves. For efficiency those get tossed in with the books for the book seller. Well, instead of being at check-out with the others, someone was off at a staging area sorting through about 10 boxes which had not been taken to checkout to be tabulated.

While nine employees stood by idly the book seller complained to me that he needs to get those 10 boxes to check-out and we will sort through them at the shop. So I go tell our dear protagonist to get the boxes to check-out so we can get going. Further, that he will be able to retrieve his titles at the shop when we sort them there.

The response to me was simply put, "No, I am not going to do that. That doesn't work for me. You can just wait, I am going to get my books out here." The result is that the book seller is paying 10 employees an hourly wage for the time this guy picks out his books.

Well, I have never been to a hearing involving this guy. I have never seen the custody order, the petitions, or the CCS. I don't even know who the mother is or anything about her. I haven't been contacted by him for his necessary counseling.

But there is one thing I do know about the case. That this custody case, which began in the womb, continues to this day because he insists that it do so.

At this point, if you have observed my previous admonitions, you can imagine the proceedings and identify the major contributing factor to the ongoing high conflict. This man is a child parading as a parent who when he doesn't get his way is going to take his toys and go home. But the "toy" in this case is a child under the jurisdiction of the court. What that means is that court procedure is applied and done so [or supposed to be] according to statute and applicable case law.

It is the absence of a judicial officer conducting the proceedings according to statute and applicable case law -- as is supposed to be the case -- which perpetuates the conflict. That is the perception of this father as I have observed. However, his position that the general welfare clause is applicable to protection orders and that he hadn't heard of Lambert v Lambert[en4] relating to child support payments being reduced for incarcerated parents demonstrates his misapplication, misunderstanding or ignorance of law.

What doesn't go over well in these proceedings is the proposition that the judicial officer is a conspirator in a vast anti-father scheme, that there is a constitutional mandate to order 50/50 parenting time, that the court acts criminally, and that this is not a matter for a court to decide. All made without supporting evidence or historic reference.

The reason I long ago expanded from providing just trial strategy assistance and appellate preservation to providing cognitive behavioural therapy directed toward child custody proceedings in because underlying perceptions direct behaviour. That is, you act according to your thoughts.

If an argument is to be made in court regarding the custody or parenting time of a child then it should be valid and comport to established procedure and law. Courts are a venue for logic and law to be applied. Thinking otherwise is the foundation for behaviours destructive to a case. Philosophical arguments to the contrary should be saved for another venue like the legislature, academia or less formal popular culture. And while on the subject of philosophy our protagonist may be well advised to examine Heidegger's proposition that we are engaged in the world.

notes
1] IC 24-26-5 et seq
2] IC 35-43-4-3 A person who knowingly or intentionally exerts unauthorized control over property of another person commits criminal conversion, a Class A misdemeanor.
3] Article I, section 8 of the U. S. Constitution grants Congress the power to "lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts, and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common defense and general Welfare of the United States."
4]  Lambert v. Lambert,. 801 N.E. 2d 1176, 1180 (IN. 2007) Prior to Lambert, Indiana was one of the states that held the position that commission of a crime was a voluntary act which resulted in imprisonment and as such was voluntary underemployment. Thus, support payment orders should not be modified to reflect the reduced earnings during incarceration. The Lambert decision held that the decision to commit a crime was so far removed from intent to get child support reduced that it was therefore improper to base child support payments on anything other than current incarceration income.

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©2008, 2014 Stuart Showalter, LLC. Permission is granted to all non-commercial entities to reproduce this article in it's entirety with credit given.

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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

A cognitive schema for seeing what is before your eyes

At age 48 it has now been about eight years since I noticed deterioration in my vision. It was 10 years ago when people began to mention to me the pitfalls of growing older and how at around age 40 a marked decline will become apparent. Whether a truism or a self-fulfilling prophecy, sure enough some gray hairs appeared on my head, my cycling speed was down from 20 years earlier and . . . I started going blind.

It was clearly my perception that my vision had deteriorated significantly. Texts that had once been clearly legible at a half foot from my face were still blurry at twice, now thrice, that distance.

Obtaining corrective lenses has been relegated to the level of importance near that of getting draperies for my windows. It would be an admission that my body is deteriorating which is something I vigorously resists. Nonetheless, I have pledged that by age 50 I will succumb to admitting that the forces of nature have bested my will to the contrary and will relent by using eyeglasses.

Towards that end, last week when presented with an opportunity for a free eye screening conducted by members of the Lions' Club I availed myself. I quickly rattled off the first six lines of letters accurately until encountering some ambiguities among the characters on the seventh line. When all was said and done my right eye showed a deficiency on the near-sighted screen registering 20/30. All others were 20/20.

This revelation sparked a thought about self-perception and why so many parents get blindsided in a child custody case.

Essentially, parents perform their own fitness analysis as I had done with my eyesight. This leaves them susceptible to their bias which may find its roots in culture, upbringing or personal experience.

When my son was in elementary school he participated in the regional science fair. As we were walking through the exhibit hall I spotted a display that would be of interest to him. I read the title and pointed it out. Repeatedly! As we walked toward it from four aisles away he was finally able to see the title which I referenced. That was at a distance of one aisle. When we returned to home I replicated the scenario using various texts. I could read at a distance four times greater than him.

I quizzed him about various aspects of sight and behaviours which revealed that he was accommodating his visual deficiency. His accommodations includes actions such as choosing to sit near the front of the classroom or looking out the side windows of the car rather than the front.

He had no indication that his eyesight was deficient as it was the only vision he had ever known. He indicated that his eyesight had not deteriorated and that he assumed everyone else saw as he did. It was after I mentioned it to his mother, the custodial parent, that an objective analysis was performed by an optometrist and eyeglasses were obtained.

In child custody cases parents may be subjected to the same type of cognitive deficiency. The social comparison theory postulates that we have an internal drive to objectively evaluate ourselves in relation to others. This laudable goal suffers from a few psychological pressures and thus is impractical. First, is that our social network tends to be reflective of ourselves. We tend to live among, work with and socialize with people who have similar values and demographic characteristics as ourselves. That is we seek similarity and avoid conflict. Then we must confront that the tendency to compare oneself to another person decreases as the difference between their opinions and abilities becomes more divergent. In other words, if someone is much different from you, you are less likely to compare yourself to that person. Also, the self-esteem pressure, which may be heightened during a custody battle, can lead to downward social comparisons; "at least I don't beat my child."

But there is no objective evaluation method of parental performance that calculates fulfillment of parenting objectives. Certainly there are statutory requirements but those are limited to proscribing neglect. CPS/DCS has a broader parenting rubric but again, it serves the same goal. In child custody proceedings, and parenting generally, it is serving the best interest of the child which is the objective. How that is to be measured is still highly subjective and controverted though.

I could -- although I haven't and won't -- compose a list of objectives for parents that serve the best interest of the child which would bring one into better favour with the presiding judicial officer on the case. However, that would suffer from multiple dynamics. Foremost is the individuality of the child. To demonstrate this I will use "provide a safe living environment" as one of the best interest items.

In rearing my son I removed any of the electrical outlet covers, door latches, or other "safety devices" that his mother had installed which were usually employed in the child warehousing environment where she worked. This is because those devices do not provide a safe environment. They are only obstructions to hazards. The safe environment is one in which he is knowledgeable about the hazards. Thus, his safety is transient -- it goes with him.

I demonstrated to him what was appropriate to plug into an outlet and the polarization of current. Likewise, I demonstrated what was inappropriate by creating shorts resulting in startling sparks and bangs. I also demonstrated on myself the effects of lye and why he should not mess with household chemicals. This may seem to some to be expecting cognition beyond the ability of a child under age three years but this is a guy who since that time never put anything in a VHS/DVD/CD player that was not an appropriate medium. Nor has he handled the media in a way that would render playback less than optimal.

So, as you can see, the objective "provide a safe living environment" is not an objective measure because of the subjectivity in its application. This presents the problem; can an objective formula of analysis for parenting behaviours be constructed?

I postulate that there is a measure of parenting behaviour although aspects of it may be difficult to attribute to a particular parent. The ultimate objective of parenting is to rear the child to reproductive maturity with the skills, knowledge, and general well-being sufficient to subsequently provide the same to his or her progeny.

To this end it is necessary to provide the child with a sense of security across a range of applications. These include food, housing, physical well-being, and the ongoing presence of trustworthy caretakers which may be referred to as emotional well-being .

When a child is in want of any of these domains then the result is anxiety. Anxiety can be expressed through a broad spectrum of behaviours or symptoms. Being knowledgeable about the manifestations of anxiety can provide a report to a parent, or any other evaluator, as to whether the child is receiving care by fit parents. Filtering the data can point to whether the deficiency in care is by a particular parent.

While there do exists objective measures for eyesight it was not facilitation of those devices which led me to discover the vision deficiency of my son. Rather, it was observation and detection of the symptoms. Similarly, when a child is deficient in proper parenting, symptoms will be present. Although it is unlikely that typical parents will be able to evaluate and draw accurate conclusions from the symptoms expressed by the child they shall nonetheless be able to document them. A third-party professional will be able to interpret the data and offer a platform of strategies to be employed by either or both parents to effectuate a reduction in the level of anxiety experienced by the child.

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Thursday, June 1, 2017

The nexus between your child custody order and a 24-Hour allergy relief drug

So what does an allergy relief drug and a child custody order have to do with each other? This odd pairing by me is not without its purpose and I do intend to show more than a tangential connection.

I happened to catch a Zyrtec commercial recently which stated "Zyrtec starts working at hour 1 . . ." then proceeded to claim that the 24 hour allergy relief drug is as effective the twenty-fourth hour as the first. Pause to become conscious of your first impression of that claim. I will tell you mine in a moment but first think about that claim and consider its meaning.

Does that claim state that the drug is efficacious in combating the body's immunological response to allergens for a full calendar day? That is what the marketers of Zyrtec what you to think. It may be a true claim but that is irrelevant to my purpose here. Instead I want for you to understand what is said.

Analyze this claim by drawing two palm size circles juxtaposed on a sheet of paper. Write "first hour" in one and "24th hour" in the other. Then make a few strips of paper long enough on which ten letters can be written. Write "none", "some", and "complete" on those. Then place them over the circle or circles on which the level of effectiveness could theoretically be the same.

What you should see is three strips placed within both circles. The conclusion from this is that "as effective" means "the same" and is only a comparative measure. It is like saying "this vehicle provides as smooth of a ride on the twenty-fourth trip as the first." But if the vehicle is a crudely built wagon without any springs or shock dampening system traversing a cobblestone roadway then the ride is likely anything but smooth. Yet, your first impression was likely that the vehicle provided a smooth ride.

When I heard that claim my immediate thought was, "Wow, they just said it doesn't work at all." This is because change requires action. The probability that no change will occur within a system or that an actively changed system will regress to its mean is greater than the probability that an active change will remain constant for a set duration. Thus, the probability that the car parked near my house will be moving at the null rate now and twenty-four hours from now is greater than any of the actively changed speed of cars passing by now moving at the same speed at the same time tomorrow morning.

Now it is time to take the positive bias that you may hold which you likely have if you thought that Zyrtec statement equated efficacy and apply it to child custody orders. Applying bias to the circumstances surrounding child custody litigation can be a costly mistake. Thus, objectivity is to be considered paramount.

I had a client whom I was counseling about his feelings towards the mother of their son and his resentment related to her interactions with the child. Particularly, he was upset at the level of care provided by mother which he labeled "clear neglect" and "probably abusive". At some point he revealed that he was keeping a record of incidents involving the child.

He then detailed a plan to keep gathering accounts of neglect or abusive of the child from mom's neighbors, parents or friends of the child and personnel from the school the child attends. In about a year or so he planned to drop the bomb and file for sole custody which he was confident that he would get because of the abundance of evidence of abuse and neglect he would present.

I paused briefly and asked, "Why would you plan to go into a court room to admit to a crime and that you didn't care that your child was subjected to ongoing abuse and neglect?" He appeared perplexed. Precisely because he was biased.

However, I viewed the plan objectively. A parent suspects that his child is being abused or neglected. For a period of approximately one year this parent documented the abuse or neglect. Indiana has a must report criminal statute which requires any person to report suspected abuse or neglect of a child. This parent willfully chose not to report the suspected abuse or neglect. This parent willfully chose not to intervene to halt the suspected abuse or neglect. His bias was that he saw the neglect of the child as done by mother as the result of her action but not by his inaction.

When it comes to parenting time decisions I have had numerous clients and have read the accounts of many other parents who have sought an equal division of time with the child. The bases for these claims is generally based upon a similar scenario; two working parents who both shared parenting responsibilities prior to the demise of the sole family unit. It is from this perspective that these parents have configured schedules to accommodate the parent's schedules while maximizing the time each has with the child while maintaining an equal division of the child's time.

I find this bias to be fundamentally flawed. When devising a parenting time proposal the primary objective should be to formulate a schedule which provides a superior level of continuity to the child and best mimics the former parent-child interactions.

I also perceive a hazard in submitting a strictly formulated 50-50 schedule. In divorce each parent is to submit a financial declaration. In Indiana there is a presumption of an equal division of marital property and debts. In these cases it is customary to submit proposals for the distribution of assets and obligations to achieve an equally valued division. When a parent concurrently tenders a parenting time proposal that follows the same format it is difficult for a judicial officer to not see the implicit attribution toward the child; that the child is an object of the marriage to be equally divided. Holding the bias that the child should continue to have the same amount of time with each parent can be a detriment to one seeking parenting time.

A conversation between some judges and myself once touched upon this issue. A judge was lamenting the circumstance of a hostile custody case in which neither parent would agree to deviate from an absolute equally division of time with the child which resulted in a 3:00 a.m. exchange. This absurdity raised the ire of all. The judge presenting the anecdote queried the others as to how to handle these types of "parents". One response appeared to surmise the opinion of all -- "Place the child with someone who cares about him and let those two fight it out over who is to blame for them losing custody of their child."

Claims, whether they be a solicitation to induce the listener to engage in a commercial transaction or those made during the progression of a child custody case, should always be viewed objectively. Failure to do so can leave someone subjected to the pitfalls resulting when not all parties to the interaction hold the same bias.

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©2008, 2014 Stuart Showalter, LLC. Permission is granted to all non-commercial entities to reproduce this article in it's entirety with credit given.

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Monday, May 22, 2017

Financial motivation for Marijuana criminalization or legalization

The innocuous plant Marijuana or, more precisely, its derivative substance THC, has been criminalized through an insidious effort which sets upon children myriad harms. Those responsible for the criminalization and those who support it stand to benefit financially from that status. How nice it would be to turn the tables on them and make their deliberate harm to children and others cost them financially. In this rationation I propose a method to do just that.

Those who profit from criminalization may include testing labs, law enforcement officers, all court personnel, healthcare workers, attorneys, DCS workers, jailers, treatment centers, security companies, pharmaceutical companies, and gang members. Those involved in this scheme rationalize their behaviour through lies, misinformation, deceptions, and outright denial. In the following paragraphs I will logically tear these down and then tell you about what I am doing to combat these insidious actors.

THE GATEWAY MYTH
Although he routinely violated the rules of criminal procedure I enjoyed watching Perry Mason present a surprise witness or reveal exculpatory evidence during trial which ultimately led to the acquittal of his client. Similarly, I like to present the gateway drug argument in a slightly surreptitious way. When speaking of psychotropic gateway drugs my layman forensics sparing partners and I are usually in agreement that alcohol and nicotine are such drugs. Then I will throw out there that they have likely introduced their children to mood affective drugs by giving them a psychotropic gateway drug, or maybe that their parents did this to them. Generally, they object to this proposition until I mention that caffeine is the most commonly pushed psychotropic gateway drug.

The support for labeling caffeine as the psychotropic gateway drug is growing as the ability to deny this truth is waning. According to DSM-IV's definition caffeine can Induce dependence. Patients with schizophrenia have high rates of consumption of this substance which they use to relieve dysphoria[fn1]. Adolescents using caffeine are more likely to use or abuse stronger psychotropic drugs, such as cocaine, as adults[fn2]. I have interviewed numerous users of scheduled narcotics, often in prison, and made two deductions. This being that many of them have compulsive behaviours and all had been users of caffeine prior to their illicit drug use. Thus, it appears that users and abusers of cocaine and similar drugs were put on that path through the introduction of caffeine, often by parents.

SUFFER THE CHILDREN
For over 10 years I have counseled parents engaged in child custody disputes. During that time I have been able to witness the direct impact upon children by the removal of a parent from their lives. I am well read on the literature and have done my own interviews of children across a range of ages about the impact of parental absence. Additionally, I have done in-home observations and interviews of parents who are marijuana users. From all of this I have been able to make some generally applicable conclusions that you have likely witnessed yourself and know from an intuitive sense. In short, children need their parents.

There are numerous ways in which marijuana criminalization removes parents from children. The most direct is when a parent is arrested and incarcerated. There is also the involvement of the Department of Child Services who may decide that parents' use of marijuana jeopardizes the welfare of the child and thus removes the child from the home.

Indirect ways include a previously stay-at-home parent entering the workforce to compensate for the loss of income of an arrested parent. The child effectively looses both parents. When a parent losses employment based solely upon a marijuana screen that parent may then have to work greater hours to achieve the same compensation. This may also reduce time with the child. The parent may not be able to find employment or earnings at the previous rate which may subject the child to living in poverty. These types of upheavals in daily life can lead to difficulties with mental well-being and produce heightened irritability in affected parents.

An interesting aspect of marijuana use that I have observed in users is a calming effect. Thus, parents experience reduced hostility in situations which otherwise may result in an abusive action against a child. This is the opposite effect of alcohol where I have witnessed users become more hostile and abusive while subject to its effects. Marijuana use by parents may reduce neglect or abuse of children while the criminalization clearly has numerous deleterious effects on the well-being of children.

CREATING CRIMES AND FUNDING GANGS
The illicit marijuana trade is a beautiful market. Participants in this market apply the supply and demand dynamics to effectuate the free market price within the confines of artificially elevated range produced by government regulation. Due to the government regulation of marijuana, specifically criminalization of production, distribution, and possession, the product supply and distribution conduits are diminished while market demand is elevated which produces the artificially elevated prices.

The desire for on-demand delivery is substantially increased because possession itself is unlawful and end users want to be in possession of the product for as little time as possible. The production facilities are also limited due to the prospect of incarceration for the producers. Often facilities are located a great distance from end users which requires additional distribution personnel and expense. The pool of distributors is likewise reduced due to the threat of incarceration for periods much greater than for those of possession. All of these factors unite to artificially inflate a price for an herb, that would otherwise be priced about the same as parsley, to a factor many times higher.

This opportunity for huge profits to be made on the spread between plant growing costs and end user price has not gone unnoticed by numerous entrepreneurs. The most formidable of these have been the large drug gangs or cartels which are organizations comprised of individual members of this competitive market who are bound together by an unlawful non-compete agreement[fn3].

Drug gangs may use physical force to reduce or eliminate competition from non-members or other gangs within a protected territory. This is for the purpose of controlling supply distribution to keep prices high. When gang members engage competing gang members or individuals over territorial violations they often do so with deadly consequences. These battles may take place at the immediate location of distribution which result in harm or death to innocent bystanders. Additionally, disputes between buyers and sellers may result in violent actions affecting innocent bystanders.

This harm to the innocents is the direct result of the criminalization of marijuana. HERE I provide the mathematical equation that demonstrates how this harm was deliberately caused by those who prefer criminalization of marijuana. It is this phase which also produces another realm of profiteers. The MHPs who may treat the anxiety of residents affected by this street fighting. The pharmaceutical company who sell the drugs to treat anxiety. The security companies who may provide electronic or personal monitoring of property. The manufacturers who produce the hardware to protect against uninvited entry. The healthcare workers who treat the injured. People from all of these domains can be heard to rationalize support for marijuana criminalization in one way or another. But what they are really saying is I make a living this way and I don't want it to change. It is therefore up to those of us who value the lives of children and other innocents over their greed to force the change.

MY FINANCIAL ACTIONS
I have watched with interest and provided testimony and numerous reports to our legislature relating to the rights of individuals regarding sexual preferences and the legislation associated with such. It is from the effective measures used by the LGBTQ community that I have gleaned some ideas applicable to marijuana decriminalization.

So what am I doing financially to combat those forces who seek to harm children through marijuana criminalization? My first mode of attack is to boycott businesses who have a policy of dismissing employees who test positive for marijuana but not firing those who are positive for alcohol, nicotine or caffeine. They are clearly discriminating against people who choose a particular dopamine activator over another solely based upon a social parameter and not performance based observations. It is only slightly tedious to check websites or call and ask. I would like for someone to compose and publish a list of those nationally who engage in this discriminatory practice. If you know of one that exists please send a link to me.

The second thing I do is to financially reward those who have been punished by this insidious scheme or those who seek to end it. When I list something for sale such as my Craig's List postings I include the following message. "20% DISCOUNT if you provide a copy of your abstract of conviction for any marijuana related offense or a letter from a legislator acknowledging your support of ending marijuana criminalization. Just give it to me as you would cash." Similarly, I do the same for the various professional services I offer.

This is a way of hitting those who support marijuana criminalization financially which for them is what counts the most. I would like to see more individuals and businesses offering a similar financial incentive for those who have been the victims of unwarranted persecution by the profiteers or those who wish to end the discrimination. The windows of businesses should display messages about discounts to those convicted of marijuana offenses or decriminalization activists much the same as discounts are offered to senior citizens.

If you agree that this is a good approach to combating those who deliberately inflict harm through marijuana criminalization then please consider doing the same as I have done and also share this idea with others.

notes
1] Fowler IL., Carr VJ., Carter NT., Lewin TJ. Patterns of current and lifetime substance use in schizophrenia. Schizophr Bull.1998;24:443–455. 
2] Wenk, Garl L. Ph.D., "Caffeine is a gateway drug to cocaine", Psychology Today, psychologytoday. com, February 13, 2015, retrieved 17 Ma7 2017.
3] The Sherman anti-Trust Act of 1890 "Every person who shall monopolize, or attempt to monopolize, or combine or conspire with any other person or persons, to monopolize any part of the trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, shall be deemed guilty of a felony . . . " 15 U.S.C. § 2

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Parents who would like to achieve the best outcome for their children in a contested child custody case should visit my website and contact my scheduler to make an appointment to meet with me. Attorneys may request a free consultation to learn how I can maximize their advocacy for their clients.

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©2008, 2017 Stuart Showalter, LLC. Permission is granted to all non-commercial entities to reproduce this article in it's entirety with credit given.

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Monday, May 15, 2017

Remarriage, step-parents, and the best interest of the child

The term "step-parent" appears to me to be ill-defined, loosely used, and often lacking consideration for the interest of the children. Words are impactful. Their proper use can provide clarity of meaning and understanding while their misuse can lead to confusion and myriad misgivings. The application of the term step-parent can bring forth all.

In the technical sense adoptive parents are the most appropriate example of step-parents. These people have taken upon the role of parents for a child in place of the child's birth parents for the presumed purpose of serving the child. In these instances each birth parent either didn't accept, lacked the opportunity, or relinquished the role of parent. This necessitated having a couple step into the role of parents for the child. For convenience adoptive parents are simply labeled as "parents". Alternatively, "step-parent" and "parent" are also used as labels for someone who may have adopted a parenting role of a child whose parent has not relinquished the parenting role.

In post divorce situations a birth parent of a child may remarry. When this happens it has become perfunctory by society to label the parent's subsequent spouse as a step-parent. I contend, however, that such labeling can be flawed and misrepresents the role of the newly included adult.

Intuitively the label of step-parent has evoked some discomfort in my mind. My relationship to one particular family clarified my thoughts. After some years of the children being without a father the mother remarried. Her subsequent spouse was a man whom she knew from her youthful days. Although a fine person and an appropriate companion for the mother there was a missing element. The children still came to me with concerns appropriately addressed by a father. Although mother had remarried the children still appeared to lack a residential father figure.

It occurred to me that this man was the mother's partner. He was not a step-parent. Therein lies the crux of the dissonance which I have observed in many children in similar situations. The children observe the social norm of a parental partner being labeled as their new parent. The children may be instructed to call this person "mom" or "dad". Yet, the children still feel as though an existing birth parent substantially fills the role of mother or father, or that absent an engaged parent the new partner to the residential parent has not stepped into the parenting role.

In these scenarios the remarrying parent has not identified the subsequent spouse as not fulfilling a parental role of has obfuscated that need of the children. The parent has instead chosen a spouse to meet his or her immediate wants while not acknowledging the deficit.

Early this year I wrote Are you subjected to the language of societal scripts when objective assessments would provide better outcomes? where I explored the rote application of terms which are reinforced by society although the terms may be logically contradictory. As now, it was my intention then to encourage you to express ideas through meaning rather than rote recitations of common labels.

When it comes to the introduction of a new adult into the household objective language should be used to identify the role of that person. If the children demonstrate that the person fills the void of a parent then the "step-parent" and associated "mom" or "dad" labels may be appropriate. If, however, the children still have two existing people fulfilling the role of parent or the subsequent spouse is not fulfilling the parenting role then "partner" or a similarly appropriate term should be used.

All parties involved will be better served by accurately characterizing their relationship status. This reduces dissonance and conflict while facilitating a smoother transition through the changing family dynamic.

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