Saturday, April 30, 2011

Public input sought for Parenting Time Coordination Rules

The Domestic Relations Committee and the Alternative Dispute Resolution Committee of the Judicial Conference of Indiana have developed proposed Parenting Coordination rules and commentary. This is the first time that rules have been proposed for Parenting Time Coordination.

Parenting coordinators are used to assist parents in resolving disputes associated with their children. A trial court judge can recommend a coordinator be used or the parents can voluntarily agree to use a coordinator to resolve their dispute. Typically, the coordinators work to resolve disputes concerning issues about parenting time, not disputes involving support. Parenting Coordinators are appointed by trial court judges to help resolve disputes between parents regarding their children.

I have attended meetings while the proposed rules were being drafted and was given the proposed rules which are now publicly available here. ; I was very satisfied with the consideration given to these rules. Please read them and provide input. Comments from the public on the proposed new rules will be accepted until May 26, 2011.

Comments can be sent in writing to the following address:

Jeffrey Bercovitz, Director Juvenile and Family Law
Indiana Judicial Center
c/o Domestic Relations and Alternative Dispute Resolution Committees
30 South Meridian Street, Suite 900
Indianapolis, Indiana 46204-3546

Once comments are submitted, the Committees will review the responses and prepare a revised draft for submission to the Board of Directors of the Indiana Judicial Conference who will then submit the proposed rules with any revisions to the Supreme Court of Indiana. The Justices of the Supreme Court determine if the rules are approved.

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More information about child custody rights and procedures may be found on the Indiana Custodial Rights Advocates website.

©2011 Stuart Showalter, LLC. Permission is granted to all non-commercial entities to reproduce this article in it's entirety with credit given.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Attaining Justice and Happiness

In a life where I am immersed in child custody law and surrounded by those who are embroiled in child custody battles, in the pursuit of justice, I somehow manage to attain happiness. What I often see is the result of the paradox of justice - unhappy people.

Let there be no doubt that it is often necessary to engage in a battle for custody of a child and that not all players in the battle are unhappy. Equally though let there be no doubt that at least one of the players in the battle is unhappy. Yet each will profess that he or she is driven by a determination to protect the child, provide for the best interest of the child or to attain justice for the child.

Anecdotally though I know this simply isn't true. It may be what the parties feel but such feelings, although critical to this analysis, do not make the truth. What they are really fighting for - the affections of the child - is what drives this "pursuit of justice".

In the courts of equity there is no defining line, no demarcation between just and unjust as there is in a court of law. Equity instead requires a determination of fairness, as objective as that is to be. The aggrieved are subjective are subject and searching for a result favourable to their objective standard, flippantly defined as fair in most cases. "I just want what is fair" has been a common mantra barked at me in a fit of righteous bantering.

In criminal law I have seen "justice" dispensed with an almost alarming proficiency as though an operations manager stands over the courtroom ensuring that results are predictable and uniform.

I have sat through murder trials, sometimes lasting less than a full day, where families of both the accused and the victim are present. I have watched those I have known get sentenced to a term that will likely not be outlived and the family is unhappy. Across the courtroom is the family of the victim, equally unhappy. Yet, "justice" was served.

So it comes to me - is it possible that a person can attain justice and happiness?

Like in child custody battles, where I believe loss of love or fear of it is the main motivator, so too is it in criminal law. The long prison sentence did not replace the affections of and relationship with the victim.

Justice in the sense that it is used in the legal system is the polite, politically correct synonym for retribution, revenge, punishment or vengeance.

Even in a theft case, although not directly affected by love of a person, justice and happiness may not be able to be harmonized. What was the value in that property that it requires lamenting over the results of the charge against the offender, time out to attend trial, the nervousness of being a witness. Was it lack of affections that drove one to seek refuge in material goods that another thought worthy the risks to obtain through stealing?

In child custody cases it is usually quite easy for me to discern who the unloved parent is. In mediation where I interview both parties it is quite simple. When I am an advocate for the child through a single party I must look to the outward behaviours and manifestations of character of the other party to make such a determination.

Of the tell-tale signs are, first, facial expressions. A happy person will radiate their happiness which is apparent in an uplifted face often expressed through a smile. The unhappy person however may require some detective work.

I have interviewed hundreds of people and discovered some commonalities among them that differentiate the miserable from the joyful. Body image is the first sign.

Truthfully I am not satisfied with my body image and it is a daily struggle to attempt to maintain my body as I wish it to appear. I could offer justifications from OCD through simply wanting to maintain the body I once had as a professional athlete with three percent body fat. Such offering would simply mask some discontentment in my life. Although not significant I thought it still worthy of mentioning.

Contrast this with the mother who desperately clings to her child, trying to win her affections while attempting to alienate her from her father. No amount of time in a tanning bed is too great for her. The heavily pasted on make-up attempts to hide the blemishes occurring as a result of the stress under which she has placed upon herself. The constant array of new clothes as though she is a fashion model, the accessories, the jewelry; none is a replacement for character. Her demeanor, resembling that of a dog-snatching character riding a bicycle through a tornado in a child's dream, is ever present as she is paraded about by the ever-present attorney at her side. Finally, there is the massive weight gain which evidences a tormented soul searching for solace in food.

I've been exposed to another who outwardly showed the signs of the internal struggle of trying to punish the father for some perceived injustice by trying to alienate their children from him. Although the cocaine abuse had made a noticeable impact upon her appearance it wasn't until the two-year divorce process that the effect of aging manifested itself by tearing her skin down in a way that one would think took ten years.

Each fought zealously draining the courts of resources, financing the lifestyle of their respective attorneys and making regular employment by the fathers and nearly unsurmountable task. But what did the journey they embarked upon, motivated by hatred for their children's fathers, get them? They sought what they thought was justice and by reducing the father's to impoverished visitors in their children's lives they must have, in their distorted view, won.

In their minds they fought for and attained justice but were they left with happiness. I contend that they have not. So it comes to me again - is it possible that a person can attain justice and happiness?

At the root of happiness must be love. Love of oneself, the love of others, love of one's people and love of country. The Beatles once rightfully proclaimed in song that you can't buy me love. Love is organic. True love is earned through the deeds and character of one's soul. It stands to reason then that if one performs the acts of a spiteful soul motivated by hatred then that person cannot be happy.

I have intentionally omitted love of one's God for I am an agnostic but let's still look towards the guidance offered by some of the world's major religions.

Judaism, the religion of the Old Testament of the Bible, teaches us to take an eye for an eye. For a Jew to be forgiven he must begin with repentance followed by prayer and good deeds. Thus justice is achieved through retribution and condemnation of the offender.

Similarly, the Koran teaches that we reap what we sow. Salvation is earned through deeds alone. Reciprocity and punishment are the foundations of justice in Islam. Thus, it takes an affirmative act by the one who has wronged us before "justice" is attained and happiness returned.

In contrast, Jesus taught about justice in his Sermon on the Mount. Essentially he said to set aside the ways of Judaism that taught that justice is attained through retribution. Instead he said to turn the other cheek, love your enemies and pray for those who would persecute you. In short, forgiveness was the way to attain "justice".

The eastern religions find some commonality in their methods for attaining justice. Buddhism tells us to abandon anger; "Forsake anger, give up pride. Sorrow cannot touch the man who is not in the bondage of anything, who owns nothing." Although their home country, Tibet, is occupied by the Chinese the Buddhist there still have an easiness about them, a satisfaction with life. Compare this to the Israelis and Palestinians who follow the mantra of combat violence with violence. Who appears to be the happier people?

Confucianism offers a somewhat mixed message; "Answer hatred with justice, and love with benevolence. Otherwise you would waste your benevolence." but also "Do not do unto others what you would not want others to do unto you."

Confucius saw "justice" as a last resort though: "What need is there of the death penalty in government? If you showed a sincere desire to be good, your people likewise would be good. The virtue of the prince is like the wind; the virtue of the people like the grass. It is the nature of grass to bend when the wind blows upon it."

Hinduism teaches that there is no birth and no death but eternal living. The pursuit of justice is a stage that one must experience on the path to reaching the Truth. Once reaching Truth then the craving for justice no longer apply.

Gandhi was a lawyer before becoming a spiritual leader. He preached revolution through non-violence and achieved it; the withdrawal of the British from India. Although he didn't speak directly about justice, in his autobiography he closed with this: "To see the universal and all pervading Spirit of Truth face to face one must be able to love the meanest of creation as oneself." This indicates that he felt you should love the ones who wrong you, those whom you may see as the meanest of all creation.

Taoism is quite clear on the pursuit of justice; "When two great forces oppose each other, the victory will go to the one that knows how to yield." and "Throw away morality and justice, and people will do the right thing." I have long cautioned against externally imposed morality.

I exist not on the planes of right or wrong but in the between where I am what I am. I am guided by self though my shape is drawn from the society in which I reside. I believe this to be the course of many, even those who claim adherence to an aforementioned spiritual belief system. Take the gangster from the hood and surround him with love, he becomes loving. Take the child from the loving home and expose him to a vindictive battle over his affections or person and he becomes hateful.

Even with that guidance we still find that as nations and individuals that the pursuit of justice is paramount. It is the greatest religion because it claims nearly everyone as followers. It's deities, the judges, are the new gods prayed to by the masses through the shamen, the attorneys and prosecutors.

But if justice is the pill to relieve our pains then why are its shamen suffering? Lawyers experience twice the rate of clinical depression as society in general. They also have at least a 50% higher rate of alcoholism. They have the highest rate of divorce and also job dissatisfaction.

The pursuit of "justice" is the primary cause of human suffering, not the anecdote. Forgiveness must be the first step to your happiness. This is a daunting task though as forgiveness seems impossible when your happiness has been taken away and you are in so much pain.

In the realm of child custody battles happiness can only be derived from coming to peace with one's self, the other parent and the concept that, while there may have been terrible acts in the past, forgiveness will allow you to move forward as co-parents for life and ultimately provide the happiness you were searching for since once unified as parents and family.

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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, 2011 Stuart Showalter, LLC. Permission is granted to all non-commercial entities to reproduce this article in it's entirety with credit given.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Indiana Court of Appeals Rejects Judge Pfleging's Make Father Pay Regardless of the Law Plan

In an unpublished opinion the Indiana Court of Appeals rejected, wholesale, the judgment of Hamilton Superior Court II Judge Daniel J. Pfleging's plan to make a father pay child support in excess of that agreed upon, not give credit for payments made, make him pay mother's portion of the child's educational and health-care expenses and hold him in contempt for not doing so.

Father raised six issues on appeal

I. Whether the trial court erred when it calculated Father's child support arrearage as of the date of March 19, 2010;
II. Whether the trial court erred when it found that Father had paid $6,000.00 in child support during the time period from August 2007 through March 19, 2010;
III. Whether the trial court erred when it found Father in contempt of court for failure to pay support as ordered;
IV. Whether the trial court erred when it determined that Father owed “$15,939.04 plus $403.18 less $1,200.00” in college expenses for L.L.'s 2008-2009 academic year;
V. Whether the trial court erred by failing to offset funds owed to Father from Mother for uninsured medical expenses against any arrearage due to Mother; and
VI. Whether the trial court erred when it calculated Father's weekly gross income at $2,211.04, and incorporated that amount into its Order.

There was nothing groundbreaking in this decision. All aspects were well settled law. The decision is a memorandum opinion and cannot be cited as case law.

Interestingly, in all the cases I have ever read there has not been one where the Court of Appeals has across the board shot down everything a trial court has done in relation to orders regarding child support and a father.

This reflects a somewhat new attitude of the justices that a father is more than just an ATM to be squeezed financially for the benefit of the mother. Unfortunately a recent justice was just added to the Indiana Supreme Court, Steve David, who holds true to the old values that existing court orders are irrelevant when it comes to making a father pay.

So onto what happened in this case.

In the Agreement between the parents Father was to pay child support in the amount of $231.00 per week, both parties were to “contribute equally to the children's college tuition at a state college/university, after all grants, loans, and scholarships have been applied for by each child” and to “equally divide any unreimbursed medical, dental and optical expenses.”

The present litigation upon which the immediate appeal was filed began with Mother filing for a modification of the agreement which was followed by petitions for contempt filed by each against the other.

After three hearings over the course of fifteen months the trial court issued it's order which contained substantively the following;

1) Father had a child support arrearage of $25,185.00;
2) Father owed $15,142.22 for college expenses;
3) Father was in contempt for failing to pay support as ordered; and,
4) Father was responsible for payment of Mother's attorney fees in the amount of $3,715.00.

Thereafter, Father filed a motion to correct error, which the trial court denied. This appeal then followed. Father was represented by Melanie K. Reichert of Broyles Kight & Ricafort, P.C. in Indianapolis, Indiana. Mother did not file an appellee's brief. When the Appellee does not file a brief the Appellant is held to a lesser standard where error must only be shown at first blush.

Father first asserted that the trial court committed error in determining his child support payment arrearage. Although a payment history was introduced at an earlier hearing there was none introduced at the final hearing. The trial court's calculation of support owed through the final hearing but refusal to consider any payments made after the earlier hearing was error.

Father's second argument is that the trial court incorrectly calculated his support payments. Based upon Mother's exhibit, a statement by her as to Father's payment history, the court concluded that Father had only paid $6,000. However, the trial court had ample evidence submitted by Father that he had paid thousands of dollars more. The trial court's basis for Father's payment history based upon mother's assertion while ignoring Father's actual payment history was error.

Father's third argument is that the trial court erred in finding him in contempt for “failing to pay support as ordered.” Because the trial court calculated the support arrearage based upon a payment history that was seven months less than the period used to calculate amount owed and because the court relied upon Mother's false declaration of amount Father had paid during the time of payments that were included the Court of Appeals determined that Father cannot be held in contempt for failure to pay as ordered.

Father's fourth argument is that the evidence does not support the trial court's finding regarding college expenses he owed to Mother pursuant to the terms of the Agreement.

In making its determination the trial court added up the numbers provided on Mother's exhibit and concluded that Father owed $15,939.04 for fees, tuition, books, parking, and room and board.

Mother's calculation of the college expenses incurred by the child included;
$7,560.00 fee to cover room and board;
$6,531.00 for tuition;
$828.04 additional required fees;
$875.60 book fee; and
$145.00 parking
$15,939.64 total

Keep in mind the portion of the Settlement Agreement that relates to college expenses; the parents shall “contribute equally to the children's college tuition". Black's Law Dictionary, sixth edition, defines equal as, "Alike; uniform; on the same plane or level with respect to efficiency, worth, value, amount, or rights. Word 'equal' as used in law implies not identity but duality and the use of one thing as the measure of another." In short as relates here, two like amounts.

Father asserted that Mother provided no evidence that she actually paid $6531.00 for tuition. Although Mother claimed to have paid $875.60 for books, the accompanying receipts add up to approximately $440.00 or one-half of the amount claimed. Apparently Mother figures if she claims double the expense then Father can pay half of the claimed amount which will cover the entire actual expense. Similarly, Mother claimed to have paid $7560.00 for room and board. However, the residential lease presented showed that the cost for housing was $3400.00 during the school year. This time less than half of the actual expense which would result in a windfall to Mother.

Finally, Father asserted that the parties agreed that room and board was specifically not to be paid by the parents. Such language was in the Settlement Agreement. Although the total that Mother claimed to have spent was $15,939.64 the evidence showed that the actual costs, assuming tuition was as claimed, was only $10,371.00. Father's half would be $5185.50. Since only "tuition" was to be paid by parents, Fathers half would be $3265.50.

The trial court was in error by finding that Father owed Mother $15,939.04 instead of $3265.50. A nice try on the part of Mother and the Court.

Father's next argument was that the trial court should have used the unreimbursed medical expenses that he incurred to offset the child support payment arrearage. The Agreement provided in pertinent part, “Husband shall maintain health, dental, and optical insurance on the minor children. The parties shall equally divide any unreimbursed medical, dental and optical expenses. . . .”. Again, in short as relates here, equal means two like amounts.

During the hearing, Father introduced an expense accounting, which included a list of medical payments, and accompanying receipts, for which Father claimed he had not been reimbursed. Mother made no claim as to the charges being invalid nor did she claim that she had paid any of the unreimbursed expenses.

The trial court erred by refusing to assign any of the unreimbursed medical expenses to Mother. The panel of the Court of Appeals remanded with instruction for the trial court to calculate the total amount and offset Father's child support payment arrearage by half that amount.

Finally, Father asserts that the trial court erred by calculating his weekly gross income at $2,211.04, when his pay stubs and Verified Financial Declaration reveal that his income was $1,953.20 per week. The trial court made no findings or conclusion that Father's income was more than what the evidence showed. Thus, the trial court erred by basing its child support order on an unverified and unsigned child support worksheet declaring Father's income at $2211.04 per week. Since Mother was the one who petitioned to modify Father's child support payment obligation it can reasonably be assumed she provided the worksheet with the petition as required. Again, nice try.

One last thing just because it was the proper thing to do. The panel also vacated the award of Mother's attorney fees. The court stated, "Because the attorney order rests upon the trial court's finding of contempt based upon arrearages for support and educational expenses and because we vacate that finding, we also vacate the order for attorney fees.

For whatever reason Judge Pfleging had in completely ignoring the parties Settlement Agreement and the law it is clear that he held a strong bias against Father. Fortunately Father, unlike the vast majority of litigants, was able to afford to file the appeal.

Appealing a trial court order is a time sensitive issue. Rule 9 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure sets forth the time for filing: "A party initiates an appeal by filing a Notice of Appeal with the trial court clerk within thirty (30) days after the entry of a Final Judgment is noted in the Chronological Case Summary. However, if any party files a timely motion to correct error, a Notice of Appeal must be filed within thirty (30) days after the court's ruling on such motion is noted in the Chronological Case Summary or thirty (30) days after the motion is deemed denied under Trial Rule 53.3, whichever occurs first."

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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, 2011 Stuart Showalter, LLC. Permission is granted to all non-commercial entities to reproduce this article in it's entirety with credit given.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Indiana Court Times on Unprepared Attorneys

The 13 April 2011 issue of the Indiana Court Times has an article titled Best Practices: What to do with the Unprepared Attorney written by the Honorable Marianne Vorhees.

A quick side note: I do not use the term Honorable as of course but do reserve it for those jurists who I believe bring honour to the judiciary. Marianne Vorhees is one of those who is deliberate in her thinking and application of the law. She views child custody proceedings as an examination of people and facts as unique as a set of fingerprints while giving due diligence to consideration for the ultimate recipient of her decision; the child.

I have built a practice of assisting attorneys and litigants with child custody proceedings. So when I saw the title of this article and certainly upon reading it I felt a sense of vindication. It is a matter of routine that I tell people that if they can afford to have an attorney then they can't afford to not have me working with them.

Near the end of the article Vorhees states, "As judge, you probably cannot do anything to protect the party represented by the unprepared attorney. The person who selected the attorney will have to suffer the consequences of choosing counsel unwisely."

That last sentence is profound but misses its greatest significance in what it doesn't say by what it does. Let me first back up to what the essence of the article was about; trial preparation.

When discussing relevant knowledge Vorhees wrote, " For example, if an attorney asks for hearing on behalf of a custodial parent seeking to relocate with a child, the court could hold a very productive pre-trial conference. There have been recent statutory changes that may be unknown to parents and even to some attorneys, especially those who don’t practice family law on a regular basis."

Although such information is not widely disseminated to the public it is well known among those practicing that there are attorneys who are profoundly ignorant of child custody matters who take these cases. It is not a subject that you will hear raised often but few attorneys fall into the category of child custody experts.

So when Vorhees says, "The person who selected the attorney will have to suffer the consequences of choosing counsel unwisely" she is correct. But what may not be readily discernible to the casual reader is the implicit message; that a child may ultimately suffer the consequences of a parent having an unprepared attorney.

I have all too often, after the damage has been done, seen a good parent, with a good case, with a child who needs his or her frequent and meaningful involvement not get that opportunity because of the short-comings of an attorney.

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Make a suggestion for me to write about.

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, 2011 Stuart Showalter, LLC. Permission is granted to all non-commercial entities to reproduce this article in it's entirety with credit given.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Letting Children Decide Parenting Time

Over the years I have been involved in some of the most notorious and bitterly contested custody cases in the state. Still I encounter new situations that come close to shocking me.

The latest that peaked my interest was a mother going off on the father about his acknowledgement that their child had called him to alter the parenting time schedule. Before I get into the juicy details of the mother's tirade let's first examine what the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines have to say on this subject.

One of the basic needs of a child is "To be free from having to side with either parent and to be free from conflict between the parents."

In regards to communication about parenting time the guidance is "All communications concerning a child shall be conducted between the parents."

As for adjusting parenting time the guidance is "Whenever there is a need to adjust the established parenting schedules because of events outside the normal family routine, the parent who becomes aware of the circumstance shall notify the other parent as far in advance as possible. Both parents shall then attempt to reach a mutually acceptable adjustment to the parenting schedule."

So the child calls Father and requests that a change be made for the mid-week parenting time because of a conflict with a school function. Father had no objection to the change in the parenting time. However, I had previously instructed him that all communication between he and Mother should be in writing. He also knew that this scheduling modification is something that should be communicated between the parents.

Father then sent an email to Mother simply stating the facts and reinforcing that the decisions to make parenting time changes should not involve the child:

"I just received a call from [our child] asking if she could switch my parenting time from next Wednesday the 13th to Tuesday the 12th due to a school event she is participating in. Please confirm that you in fact asked her to call and make the switch and that this is your request. The switch is fine with me and I appreciate the advanced notice, but these types of conversations should be kept between us as to keep [our child] out of the middle of adult situations and scheduling issues. If I was unable to make the change that would make me out to be the bad guy and I don't appreciate you putting me in such a position."

This is in a form that reflects what I have instructed him to do and was done so without any review or editing by me. The only suggestion I had for him on this one after the fact was to modify the last sentence to not be centered on him but to instead read, "If I was unable to make the change that would make me one of us out to be the bad guy by giving her an expectation that we were unable to accommodate. We should not put her in such a position."

Mother responded to Father's email in a rather accusatory and combative nature. This has been her mode for eight years and, I believe, although both parents had carried on in this manner she was the primary reason that these litigants have been to the Indiana Supreme Court and back already with the case currently headed to the Indiana Court of Appeals. Attorney fees have exceeded a quarter million dollars.

Here is Mother's response; "If you are willing to switch your day to Tuesday, April 12 so [our child] can participate in the talent show, then I agree to the switch.  Also, the talent show is on Thursday, April 14 @ 6:30.  In regard to the phone call, I did not ask [our child] to call you.  Rather, [our child] simply came home from school yesterday excited that she had made it into the talent show this year and asked to participate.  I looked at the paper and noticed that the rehearsal is on a Wednesday (which is your parenting time evening), so I simply told [our child] that before I could tell her yes or no for sure, I would have to talk to you and get your permission for her to go during your parenting time (as to not undermine your authority since we have joint custody).  She was excited about making the cut for the show and couldn't wait to ask you, so she asked me if she could call you and ask about it immediately.  I told her she could call you, as I always do when she asks to call you.  I am not sure what you want me to do[]?  On one hand, I have numerous emails where you accuse me of not permitting [our child] to have access with you via phone and now you are upset that I allowed [our child] to call you when she asked to do so.  Would you have preferred for me to tell her that she couldn't call you?  Either you want to be involved in decisions regarding [our child] or you don't.  Regardless, I am not going to always be the one to break upsetting news to [our child] because you won't allow her to participate in activities during your parenting time.  Being a parent means you sometimes have to be the bad guy.  Further, I am not going to allow you to once again knit pick everything I do.  Since we are still under a court order to participate in parenting time coordination with Dr. Ferraro, I am forwarding all communication to him for his review and file.  I know that misery loves company, but that is an invitation to a party that I will not be attending with you." [emphasis added by me]

Although it is fine for Mother to allow the child to call her father she should have made it clear that it was between the parents to decide this issue. Mother fails to understand the nuances of appropriate responsibilities for the child with respect to communication between the parents.

Mother forwarded both emails to Dr Ferraro. His response included; "An effort to be less reactive and more businesslike in your response would be productive. Specifically, it would seem that the last 10 sentences did not contribute significantly to the resolution of the matter at hand."

To effectively co-parent it is necessary to put aside past differences, blame and desire for justification or retribution. Mother still fails to understand that it is time to put the interest of their child ahead of her desire to bring Father down.

The newly appointed parenting time coordinator must already be wondering why Mother has custody of the child when she has such a combative attitude and refuses to make simple decisions without involving the PTC. She has previously told Father that the PTC must decide the issue of whether the parties could switch transportation responsibilities for one of the mid-week parenting time days. They would each still transport one way but flip the usual he pick up, she drop off.

With him being ordered to pay 75% of the PTC fees it is clear to see her motivation in wanting every issue to go to the PTC.

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Make a suggestion for me to write about.

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.

Connect with me for the latest Indiana child custody related policy considerations, findings, court rulings and discussions.

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©2008, 2011 Stuart Showalter, LLC. Permission is granted to all non-commercial entities to reproduce this article in it's entirety with credit given.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Empowering Your Children - Intact or Broken Families

Some of the most distressed adults had significant care and resources as children while some of the most successful adults had little or no help as children, sometimes practically raising themselves. Although it may seem somewhat counterintuitive there is a good reason for this.

Children need to be empowered to be responsible for themselves. There are many reasons for this but I will focus primarily on one. Discipline and punishment.

For our purposes here discipline is teaching children self-control, how to recognize limits, maintaining acceptable behaviour and, when and where to stop. Punishment is an indirect punitive consequence for the failure to abide by the rules.

The Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines [IPTG] have this to say about discipline;
Clear rules that are agreed upon by both parents. As a child matures, it is very important that the teen knows rules of acceptable behavior. The chances of this occurring are much better if both parents agree in these important areas. When parents jointly set the standard of behavior for their teen, the chances of the child accepting those values are greatly increased.

We know that parents are not always going to agree. When you have an undisciplined child you are going to have problems and possibly be the bad parent. If you become the parent solely responsible for punishment you may be viewed as the bad person in the short term. If you are the parent who takes no discipline or punishment action you may later be viewed as the bad parent in the long-term.

Empirical evidence tells us that fathers tend to take on the role of disciplinarian more readily than mothers who tend to want to be the gentler parent and 'friend' to the child. Yet, this easiness often has catastrophic results for children including a greater likelihood of sexual assault, incarceration, mental health treatment and failure in school.

You may not think so but children want rules and boundaries to be set for them. This protects them in two important ways. First, it provides to them an excuse not to be pressured into something they don't want to do because their peers will know you are a disciplinarian. Secondly it allows them to shift responsibility away from themselves if something goes horribly wrong.

The IPTG provides further support for effective discipline here. A teenager who does what is expected should be offered more freedom and a wider range of choices. It is helpful if a teenager is reminded of the good decisions that have caused the teen to be given more privileges. If a teen is helped to see that privileges are earned and not natural “rights” he or she will be more likely to realize that the key to getting more freedom is to behave well. If rules are not followed, appropriate consequences should result. A teenager who does not make good use of independence should have less of it.

Effective discipline allows you and your child to do more and ultimately your child will appreciate you for it. Imagine not being mentally drained from having to constantly tell your child to do the same thing. Imagine your child doing as you wish without having to be told. Imagine the opportunities your child could have if you had more time, energy and patience to provide those opportunities.

This is just one area where you can empower your child.

A child needs to do more than just be able to follow direction or abide by rules. Your child also needs to know that he has the ability to tackle and surmount tasks. This isn't always easy and may involve you having to change what you may feel is well-intentioned assistance.

Many parents, either through trying to avoid a stressful situation, being pressed for time or through thinking they are helping their children are actually enabling. Enabling involves allowing the child to avoid the consequences of his or her own actions. It can also include taking over the child's tasks, bailing the child out of trouble, or allowing the child to avoid accountability for his or her actions.

As an example I will use one I have witnessed. The child was told to get his room straightened up before his sports game. He messed around and messed around until it nearly became time for him to get dressed for his game and leave. His mother went into his room, complaining at him the entire time and proceeded to clean the room for him.

What she did was not only enable him to not be responsible for his actions but also failed to acknowledge his ability to successfully accomplish tasks. He has now had it demonstrated to him that he cannot clean his room, that he is not a capable person. His mother was crushing any self-esteem he may have been developing because she didn't want to take the time to effectively discipline the boy before taking him to the game to drop him off to his father.

In the future this mother will ask the boy to do something else, be it homework, helping with the younger child or cleaning up his own toys. Again, she will face a battle. She will repeatedly ask him to perform the task, get annoyed, yell at him, then get frustrated and smack his butt. Ultimately, he is going to see her as the mean parent from the situation she created.

What would have been best for her and him would be for her to have gone to his room at a much earlier time and made it clear that he was not going to the game until the room was straightened up. It may have required her missing one of her television shows and spending about five times as long with him doing it as she could have had it done by herself.

Her failure to plan ahead was without justification while she rationalized her enabling behaviour by saying that she couldn't be late getting him to his father. Instead, both parents should have been operating under a plan whereby the child would be required to straighten his room before participating in the game or seeing his father.

Through that the child would have learned that he can do it, that he is accountable for his actions and that he is the decision maker, through his actions, when it comes to getting to do the activities he wants to. The amount of time it took to discipline him would have been returned to her many times over. But in the years since she still has the same problems.

Here are some tips and information about how to avoid enabling your child -

Stop solving their problems - you won't have time to do everything for your children. As they grow older they will have greater demands. The sooner you help your child to learn that he has not only the ability but the responsibility to perform tasks for himself then the more likely he will be to achieve and the more rest you will get.

Let Things Get Worse - Allow your child to miss out on opportunities, think you are the bad guy for not helping or missing a game in which his teammates would have relied upon him. This may be the way to get him to realize just what the consequences of his inaction are.

Avoid Feeling Guilty - It may be frustrating and upsetting to see the disappointment, the tears and the anger in your child. However, this short-term pain will result in significant long-term rewards and is in your child's best interest.

Here are some tips on how to empower your child -

Avoid Nitpicking - When you are trying to empower your child it is important to recognize the accomplishments. Nit-picking may lead to a child feeling that even when he puts forth the effort he still can't succeed. Strive for improvement over time.

Allow Children to Begin Making Some Decisions - Things you may normally do that may seem helpful can be relinquished to your child so long as any wrong decision won't be harmful. Tell your child to prepare his own breakfast. Let him determine what time to start on homework so long as there is a consequence for failure to complete it.

Avoid Negative Words, Like "NO" - Prohibition does little to help build self-esteem and empower your child. Don't tell your child that he can't stay up to watch a show or stay out and play. Instead, tell him what responsibilities he is to have accomplished before those activities and ensure that they get done.

Pay Attention to Your Child - Your child should know that he is more than someone who is told to do something. When you really stop and pay attention to him, you send the message that you care about what he says and feels, he is important, and you empower him. I am still stunned and often saddened that when I arrive to the homes of some children that I am greeted by a happy child with an anecdote that the parent hasn't heard. Many children have given up on even trying to tell their parents.

The IPTG suggests letting children be involved in the decision making process so long as a poor decision won't harm the child. Additionally, it is cautioned that parents should not allow a child to make a decision simply because the parents cannot agree.

As a general rule, a teenager should be involved in making important decisions if the parents agree the opportunity to make the decision is valuable, and the value of that opportunity outweighs any possible harm of a poor decision. If the parents feel the welfare of the child is dependent on the decision made, and if they allow the child to make a decision simply because they cannot agree, the parents are in danger of failing the child.

In closing I leave you with some tips from Developing Responsibility And Self Management In Young Children: Goals Of Positive Behavior Management by the Virginia Cooperative Extension of Virginia Tech.
* Set long term goals for the children in your care beyond the short term goal of keeping peace - Long term goals of helping children to develop responsibility for their own behavior.
* Recognize that a change in a child's behavior usually occurs when there is a change in the care giver/provider's behavior or practice.
* Avoid engaging in power plays, struggles with children -YOU WILL LOSE AND SO WILL THE CHILD.
* Recognize that positive attitudes of encouragement, understanding, and respect by the care giver are the basic conditions for desirable behavior in children - Avoid the use of threats, put-downs, embarrassing statements, and criticisms to control children's behavior.
* Keep in mind that children are social beings who have a need to belong and feel significant and important - Provide/create opportunities for children to share, to be independent, to be recognized, to receive praise, and to be involved in chores.
* Keep in mind that children are decision-makers - Create an environment where children are encouraged to make choices and are actively involved in planning activities for the day.
* Recognize that acting out behavior in young children is often related to their language development - Young children's language capacity assists them to express their needs. Children may feel and express frustration when they have not yet developed the language to effectively communicate their wants and needs.
* Make time-out a tool for building self control. For example, let the child decide when he is ready to cooperate and return to the group. This practice helps children to begin to take responsibility for their own actions.
* Catch a child doing something right instead of catching him/her doing something wrong. Many times when a child is behaving desirably, such as playing nicely with a playmate, or sharing his/her toys in a friendly manner, we ignore the child or are too busy at the moment to notice. Giving a child a smile, a word of praise, or a pat on the back can go a long way in making the child feel special, significant, and a sense of belonging.

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