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When a couple with children decide that it is time to divorce it is important for them to remember they are not divorcing their children, nor are they divorcing their shared role as parent. The decisions parents make regarding how they will share parenting can lead to depression, anxiety, acting out behaviors, and even suicide. In divorce and family mediation, couples come to the table more often than not with unresolved conflict regarding what went wrong with the marriage and who is at fault. Many times, by the time a divorcing couple make it to mediation, one of them has already moved on to another relationship or moved to a new location. New problems are added to the equation and must be resolved before getting to what is really important in these mediations: the children.
Today more parents are deciding on shared parenting or joint custody. It is also not uncommon for fathers to want a 50/50 arrangement, literally split-custody. With this type of arrangement, the child or children have room and belonging in both parents’ homes, and they alternate either every other day, or 3 days out of four with alternating weekends. While this may seem the equitable thing to do for the parents, it can be quite traumatizing for the children.
When there are unresolved issues brought to the table, this already complicated arrangement can become even worse. For example, if the arrangement is every other day, but the father has moved to a new location that requires a 30-minute drive to pick the child or children up from school on “his” day, it may seem unreasonable for the mother to demand that the children remain in afterschool activities that run well into the evening, thus cutting into the father’s ability to have home time with the children.
Taking Parents Out of the Equation, Makes for Better Parenting
There are times when a couple have been separated for several months and the other parent is in a new relationship. The primary care parent, the legal address of the children for school purposes, may insist that the new significant other not be allowed to be in the other parent’s home while the children are there. While this may seem to not affect the children, it does indirectly so, because it is sure to create conflict in the parent’s new relationship which is bound to affect time spent with the children.
Other issues that arise in these types of arrangements is that one or both parents may take an entirely regimented attitude toward the arrangement. What this means is that there is limited to no flexibility for special occasions. For example: Tuesday night is Dad’s night with the children. However, it is also the night where he has a business dinner he has been told he must attend. Mom does not agree with the request to switch nights, she has her Tuesday night with “the girls” and Dad will just have to give up the dinner or get a sitter for the children.
For the Sake of the Children
It is impossible to foresee every type of situation that can arise that will negatively impact children with a shared arrangement such as this. Some courts frown upon this arrangement, recognizing that it is disruptive to the child’s routine. However, those that do not, and these types of arrangements are allowed, typically see families back within a year or two for modifications to the arrangements.
It is for these types of situations that some courts require divorcing parents wait year after separation before divorcing and making any legal decisions regarding custody and child support. Other requirements may be that parents attend a divorcing parents’ child custody class. An increasing number of courts require that divorcing parents go through mediation before filing for divorce through the courts.
While all of these are measures created and installed to prevent emotional trauma to the children and to promote a greater sense of stability, it is all still up to the parents to make the arrangements work.
There is generally very little doubt that divorcing parents genuinely love their children, and do genuinely want what is in the child or children’s best interest. However, when one is angry, resentful, or experiencing jealousy it is difficult to see any part of that parent as in the best interest of the children.
Serving the best interest of the children during divorce is difficult, because emotions do get involved. It is important for parents to realize how very vulnerable their children are and that the loss of the sense of family can be quite devastating.
Before taking the issue of divorce and child custody before the courts, parents may benefit from individual, or couple’s counseling expressly geared toward divorcing couples. Getting anger, resentment, and jealousy out of the way, and off the table before attending mediation will save so much heartache for both the parents and the children down the road. It is important not to forget about the children while sorting through marital conflict, it would also benefit the children to see a counselor, an outside party and a safe place to talk about their emotions. Parents should also keep a close watch on their children for warning signs of depression. The best thing a divorcing couple can do for their children is to put their needs first, and let them know that you are not divorcing them, or your shared role as parent.
For a free consultation contact Dr. Burnett-Brown at email@example.com
When two people form a union, whether a legal union – such as marriage, or a domestic partnership, there will be conflict. These are the facts of life. How conflict is managed depends upon a number of factors. The most important of which, is how conflict was handled in that person’s family growing up. The other factor is personality of the individuals. The statistical data regarding the success of marriage counseling is inconclusive, but given that more couples are seeking therapy than ever before, and the divorce rate is on the higher, it seems that seeking psychological help for a non-mental health problem may not be the answer.
Studies show that one of the reasons marriage counseling and therapy do not work is that the marriage is treated as if it is a mental disorder. It is also treated as if it is a single entity forgetting that there are two distinct individuals involved in the relationship, ergo, the conflict. Marital conflict does not occur because either or both the parties suffer from some pre-existing mental health disorder. Marital or relationship conflict exists because of the breakdown or non-existence of effective communication and negotiation skills between two opposing forces.
Yes, that is correct. From the moment a couple meets and decides they want to pursue a relationship they are two opposing forces. Each come into the relationship as two different people who want differing things. Even the things they want have varying degrees of differences.
Somehow people entering a marriage, especially first marriages, do so with the belief that when two people love each other, everything will just work out. This is the biggest mistake people make. Many do not talk about important details that are necessary to operate a successful marriage; yet are shocked when conflict arises.
Marriage is a legal union. Romance, religion, and everything else aside, it is a legal union. If a person goes into a business relationship with his or her best friend, it is a legal union. If they do so without a clear understanding of where they want that business to go, and what steps they need to take in order to get there, that business union will fail, and so most likely will the friendship.
According to most research reports, couples do not seek marriage therapy or counseling until they have reached the point of marital dysfunction. Then, the therapy is only as successful as the couple’s desire to make it work, and the willingness to make some changes.
Some couples stay in therapy for years; only to divorce anyhow.
Marital or relationship conflict is not a mental health disorder. It is an inability to resolve conflict.
Mediation is not about fixing anyone or anything, it is about resolving conflict that affects the marriage. When a couple take their marriage to a therapist, the fingers invariably start pointing and the inevitable labeling starts and what was He Said/She Said becomes He’s Crazy/She’s Crazy.
When marriage counseling does not work, people then seek a lawyer. At this point the conflict has risen to a level they now have new things to fight over. Children and property, and whose fault it is. If they cannot come to a resolution, then often a family mediator is hired to help resolve the conflict. Even in mediations where it is clear that divorce is happening, the argument returns to the marital conflict. This is a clear sign that neither of the parties want to divorce, they just feel helpless and unable to live with ongoing conflict.
Most mediations end in resolution, meaning the parties come to an agreement regarding child custody, child support, and marital assets. Many times, they even come to an agreement over why the marriage was broken.
That is something to think about.
Why not seek mediation in the first place? Resolve marital conflict before it becomes divorce and child custody conflict. Let a divorce mediator help you mediate your marital conflict, before it becomes a case for the courts, or a big payday for the lawyers.
Blinder, Martin G., and Martin Kirschenbaum. “The Technique of Married Couple Group Therapy.” Archives of General Psychiatry 17, no. 1 (July 1, 1967): 44–52. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1967.01730250046007.
Dinkmeyer, D., and J. Carlson. “Adlerian Marriage Therapy.” The Family Journal 1, no. 2 (April 1, 1993): 144–49. doi:10.1177/1066480793012005.
Markman, Howard J., and Lane L. Ritchie. “Couples Relationship Education and Couples Therapy: Healthy Marriage or Strange Bedfellows?” Family Process 54, no. 4 (December 2015): 655–71. doi:10.1111/famp.12191.
“Marriage Counseling Statistics.” http://www.MarriageGuardian.com. Accessed May 7, 2017. http://www.marriageguardian.com/marriage-counseling-statistics.html.
“Marriage Counseling Statistics – Marriage | Laws.com.” Accessed May 7, 2017. http://marriage.laws.com/marriage-counseling/marriage-counseling-statistics.