I Want an Annulment

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I have heard those words more times than I can count. An annulment sounds like a magical antidote to your divorce woes. Instead of slogging through a long, complicated divorce, you can ask the court or your priest to just wave a magic wand and undo your marriage and dissolve it as if it never happened.

Legal vs. Religious Annulment

Not so fast. Most people have a very simplified concept of what an annulment is. First of all, there are legal annulments and there are religious annulments. If you get a divorce, you can still get a religious annulment (called a ‘get’ in the Jewish religion), but you have to follow the requirements set  by your particular religion. A religious annulment only undoes your marriage in the eyes of your church, not the government. A legal annulment does make your marriage legally vanish, but it is difficult to qualify for one. If you obtain a legal annulment, you still need a religious one to erase your marriage in the eyes of your religion.

Reasons for Annulment

The laws vary by state, but generally, annulments are only available when:

  • One of you was underage at the time of marriage
  • One of you misrepresented yourself to the other in a significant way (fraud is generally what this means)
  • One of you was mentally ill at the time of marriage
  • One of you was unwilling or unable to consummate the marriage
  • You are related to each other in a way that bars marriage in your state (cousins, for example)
  • One of you was already married to someone else at the time of marriage
  • One of you withheld or concealed important facts about something such as a disease, children, infertility, etc

Those are the ONLY reasons an annulment can be granted – not because you changed your mind, your spouse abused you, your spouse watches porn all night, or he/she is just not as nice as you thought. It is also important to be clear that you are legally married until your annulment is granted. A court must declare it invalid for it to be erased.

Nuts and Bolts

You file for annulment in the same way you file for divorce (usually via a petition or complaint) with the same court in your state that hears divorces, but the papers say annulment instead of divorce. The case is treated much like a divorce in that custody, child support, and division of marital assets and debts are all handled by the court. Alimony is not awarded, unlike in divorce cases.

An annulment can be contested by your spouse and can go to a trial. In reality, most annulment happen with marriages that are very recent and are usually not contested. Because the marriages are so brief, there is usually nothing to divide and no children of the marriage. You could be married for fifty years though and still get an annulment if you meet the criteria.

The result of a legal annulment is that your marriage never legally existed. In the eyes of the state, you have always been single. Children from an annulled marriage are legitimate however, and not considered to be born out of wedlock.

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Shacking Up

photo credit: digitalart

Most parents who divorce or end a relationship do find that at some point they are able to move on with their lives and find someone new. If you become serious about your new partner, you might reach the point where you would like to live together. Many couples live together without ever marrying, or before deciding to marry, so this is a common choice.

When you have a child from a previous relationship or marriage though, this decision is one that affects your child. In fact, the decision to live with a new partner can have a big impact on your custody situation, should your ex choose to make an issue of it.

How to Decide

When you’re thinking about whether or not you should move in with your new love, you need to of course examine your feelings about the person and evaluate the relationship. That’s not all you need to do, however. You should also examine the relationship your child has with this person. Have they had time to get to know each other? Are they friendly with each other? Does your child feel comfortable around this person? Is this person a good role model for your child? Does he have skills that allow proper care of your child?

When someone moves in with you, he assumes a parental role with your child, whether you intend for that to happen or not. If you move someone in that your child is not comfortable with, you create a difficult situation for your child. Think about how you would feel if someone you didn’t really know was suddenly living full-time in your home and exercising at least some authority over you! It would be pretty disturbing. While you may have spent a lot of time with your new partner, your child might not have had as much of an opportunity to develop a relationship, so you want to make sure they have truly gotten to know each other and feel comfortable around each other.

A Smooth Transition

Once you make the decision that your new partner is going to become part of your household, talk to your child about this. It’s very important that you set some boundaries for everyone. Let your child know the new member of the family is someone to respect and welcome. Let your new partner know that he has got to take things slow with your child. It can help to verbalize some household rules for everyone to follow – such as rules about privacy (“He won’t go in your room without your permission”) and authority (“When I’m not home, he’s the adult in charge”). It simply takes time for everyone in a new living situation to adjust. Keep the lines of communication open, so everyone can work through the situation as it develops.

Impact on Custody

Your ex may express concern about the new living situation – and if you were in his shoes you would likely feel the same way. While you do not owe your ex any explanations, you will make things much easier if you allow your ex to get to know your new partner and find out that he is truly a great person. Remember that your ex will probably have real concerns about how this will affect your child. It’s also possible he could be worried that this new person will somehow replace him as a parent or in your child’s affections. You need to reassure your ex that is not the case and that he will always be your child’s parent and no one can ever interfere with that. Make it clear that you respect their relationship.

If your ex is concerned about the situation, it can be used as a basis for a change in the custody and visitation plan. Any person who lives in the home with the child has an impact. If he harms your child, creates a bad influence, creates a hostile environment, or disrupts your child’s life, it would be cause for concern and something a court would be interested in hearing about.

The thing to remember is that you are not just making choices for yourself, but for your child as well. The home environment has a huge impact on your child and your responsibility is to create a home that is beneficial to your child, first and foremost.

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You Fed Him WHAT? Special Diets and Co-Parenting Solutions

photo by nuttakit

photo by nuttakit

If you’re one of the many parents raising a child with a food allergy or special diet needs, the thought of sending your child off with your ex for visitation or parenting time may make your stomach clench with worry. Will the other parent make sure he stays away from dangerous food items? Will the other parent be as vigilant as you are to follow your child’s special diet? These concerns are real, particularly when food choices can be so confusing with so many potentially serious consequences. Follow these steps to ensure your child’s needs are met while with the other parent.

Educate

The very first step is to educate the other parent. Ask him to come to a doctor or nutritionist appointment with you and your child, or offer to set one up at his convenience. The most important thing you can do is have a professional stress the importance of your child’s diet and lay out all the dos and don’ts associated with food. You might be able to tell your ex everything he needs to know, but it’s all going to carry more weight coming from a professional in a position of authority. It’s very important that the medical professional tell your ex what the consequences are of NOT following the prescribed diet, so he cannot just brush off the advice.

Reinforce

Provide your ex with a clearly written sheet of dos and don’ts. For example, if you child is a celiac, you could print out a list from the internet detailing surprising foods that often have hidden gluten. If your child is allergic to tree nuts, a list of unexpected places those can be found would be helpful. The same goes for lactose intolerance or other allergies. A list of no-no foods is very helpful, but also make a list of foods, brands, and products that are safe for your child to eat, particularly if you have your child on a diet such as one to control or reverse autism. Remind your ex that he must be ever vigilant when eating at restaurants or at other people’s homes with your child. Teach him how to ask – and what to ask– about food that is being offered to your child. Sow him how to read labels when shopping. Give suggestions about what alternatives to offer your child when she wants something she can’t have. In the beginning, it may even be necessary for you to pack a bag with some food items to be certain your ex has some products available, just in case.

Follow Up

In many cases, all of this will be enough to keep your child safe. In some cases though, the other parent can make things difficult. It’s a good idea to ask about what your child has eaten while away. Red flags are statements like “My mom fed him something,” or “We just ate at X restaurant.” That’s not enough information for either of you! If you have real doubts about your ex’s ability to stay on track with your child’s diet, start a food log and send it along on visitation, asking your ex to fill it out. To make things a bit less confrontational, fill out the log for when your child is with you as well. This way it will seem like a joint effort and your log entries will provide an excellent model for your ex to follow.

Empower Your Child

If your child is old enough, you can educate him or her about what he and can’t eat. You are probably already doing this, but many children would not think to question choices a parent is making for them, so make sure your child understands that the diet comes first, no matter what anyone, even a parent, says.

Non-Cooperation

If you have an ex who either does not believe the special diet is important or who seems to be unable to follow it out of laziness or even just to spite you, you need to take action. Document what is happening (make dated notes about interference with the diet, as well as the consequences your child experiences). Then go back to court. Depending on your situation, you can ask for a few different things. Some parents just need a judge to tell them they have to follow the diet (but you may need a doctor to testify about the importance of it). It may be enough to have your custody order modified to include a directive that both parents follow the recommendations of the child’s doctor about diet. If that isn’t going to do it, you can ask to have visitation modified so that your child is not with your ex at meals or so that your ex has supervised visitation, where another responsible adult is present and can make sure the diet is being followed.

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Marital Infidelity Affects Children

photo by Arvind Balaraman

The reasons for your divorce or break up are between you and your spouse, but even if you try to keep infidelity under wraps and your divorce is not front page headlines, it still has an impact on your kids. Even if you don’t tell your kids about infidelity, they are likely to find out if they are old enough to understand, simply by overhearing arguments between parents or conversations you have with other people. Kids react in individual ways, but the following reactions are almost universal.

Embarrassment

Kids whose parents are unfaithful often feel deeply shamed by the situation. A parent has done something that deeply hurt the other parent, and which is considered a no-no by society. Kids are afraid people will talk about the situation and that by being part of the family your child will be tainted by association.

Confusion

Kids are expected to follow the rules, so why can parents break them? That is a question kids ask themselves or even you, as they try to work their way through the situation. It’s not uncommon for children to react by testing the rules themselves to see what they can get away with.

Disgust

Anything that has to do with parents and sex is just gross as far as your child is concerned and a situation that calls attention to the fact that a parent is actually having sex is beyond what any kid wants to think about.

Anger

A common reaction is anger – often at both parents. The cheating parent is easy to blame because he or she took action that ended the marriage and hurt everyone involved in the situation. Kids will frequently freeze this parent out or rage at him or her. It’s also not unusual to blame the non-cheating parent, believing that he or she could have done something that would have prevented the cheating, like being more loving, working harder to please the other spouse, etc.

Distrustfulness

When a parent betrays the entire family, children frequently experience doubt that they can trust anyone ever again. If a parent broke trust with the family, who can you rely on? Children will experience insecurity in all of their relationships. Teens may find it hard to trust members of the opposite sex and say that love is not worth the risk.

How to Help

You can’t undo what has happened, but you can get your child into therapy to help work through the issues. Be available to listen to your child. Let him or her talk and just listen. It’s also important that both parents talk about the situation, as hard as that may be. The cheating parent may be met with silence or ignored, but it is important to apologize for the hurt that has been caused and offer to talk about it with the child in therapy. The non-cheating parent is often in a better situation to have a conversation with the child. It’s hard to do, but the best course is to emphasize that this happened between the parents and does not affect the relationship and the love between the cheating parent and the child. As with all divorces, it takes time for your child to accept what has happened and move forward. Being supportive through this process is the best thing you can do.

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Divorce in the Workplace

It’s hard to tell your family and friends you’ve decided to divorce, but when and how do you share this information at work?

Your Boss

Your boss doesn’t need to know you’re getting a divorce, however, sharing this with him or her can have some benefits. You’re going to need time off for mediation, lawyer meetings, and/or court time. Having a boss who is sympathetic to what you’re going through will help with your time off requests. You may also get to the point where you need some kind of permanent schedule change to accommodate your parenting plan. A boss who is aware of what you’ve been going through will be more sympathetic.

What you don’t want to do, however, is let your boss think that the divorce is going to hurt your performance at work. Keeping your job is probably more important to you now than ever, with the financial turmoil you’re facing. You must show your boss you are as competent, timely, and reliable as ever, even if you don’t feel that way! Go the extra mile to prove you’re on your game.

The best way to tell your boss is request a few minutes of his or her time. Be straightforward and explain that you’re getting divorced, may need some time off or flexible hours, but that you are not going to let it interfere with your performance. Although it might be really hard not to, do not cry during this meeting. Keep it business-like and don’t go looking for a shoulder to cry on.

Close Co-Workers

It’s fine to tell your close office friends about your situation, but you want to be careful to do so in a private setting (the company lunchroom or restroom is not going to cut it). You’re going to need support, so you want your friends to understand what you’re going through. Ask these friends to keep the information to themselves until you feel ready to discuss it publicly. You also want to be sure these friends aren’t going to be constant reminders of what you’re going through — you don’t want them to ask you every single day how you’re doing or what’s happening with your divorce. Ask them to let you set the tone.

Everyone Else

It’s really hard to keep a secret in most offices. You’ll be overheard on the phone or in the hallways and people will talk. You may also need to tell your HR rep if there will be changes to health insurance.

Don’t put yourself in the position of trying to make some kind of announcement about your divorce. Instead, let it slip to the person with the biggest mouth, who will get the word out for you. Don’t share ANY details that you don’t want the entire world to know. Keep a stiff upper lip as much as possible. Try to have private calls outside the office and don’t discuss your divorce or any issues stemming from it using company email, even if it is to office friends.

Don’t burden clients with your news, unless they are close friends. Stay focused on work and decide to keep your personal life at home.

What To Do On a Bad Day

My advice has been pretty strict so far – basically say as little as possible. It’s important to be realistic though. You’re going through a really hard time and there are going to be tough days. Some days you may be on the verge of emotional collapse. Other days your ex might call you at work and get under your skin. Your attorney might need to talk to you immediately. You can’t completely keep your divorce out of your office life. Follow these tips to minimize damage:

- Get to a less public space whenever possible. If you need to cry, do it in the restroom. If you need to scream at your ex, take the phone outside. Your attorney wants to discuss financial details? Go to the storeroom or empty space where you can have at least some privacy.

- Apologize to co-workers who overhear your difficult conversations. “I’m so sorry you had to hear that. I’m really trying to keep my personal life out of the office.” This will make them even more sympathetic to you, since you are being clear you don’t want to burden others.

- Take emotional sick days. Your time off may be limited, but if you can swing it, take some time off when you are at your lowest point. Even leaving the office for lunch can give you a little break. If you suddenly feel like you’re going to fall apart, go outside and get some air. If you need support, ask an office friend to come with you.

- Distract yourself. Work is a great distraction from what’s happening at home, so use it to occupy your mind and keep yourself focused on non-emotional topics.

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