Posts

Termination of Parental Rights

I am asked a lot of questions about parenting after divorce. People have presented me with some pretty unbelievable situations, but there is something that I am asked about far more often than I would have expected – parental termination. Parental termination is a legal process in which a parent’s legal rights are taken away. In the eyes of the law, that person ceases to be that child’s parents, and has no more rights or responsibilities towards the child.

Abuse or Neglect

The most common situation in which a termination happens is in an abuse or neglect proceeding (not a divorce!). A parent is determined to be such a danger to the child’s physical, mental, or emotional health that the parent is completely removed from the situation and the child’s life with no further contact permitted. Even in these kinds of cases, it is considered an extreme measure and is one that takes the court system months or years to arrive at after every other alternative is tried first.

Adoption

When a parent’s rights are terminated in an abuse or neglect situation, the child is placed in foster care with adoption as a goal (at least for younger children). When a parent who is divorced and remarried wants his or her new spouse to adopt the child, a stepparent adoption must take place. However, this can only happen if the other natural parent consents to the adoption by giving up his or her rights to the child, or has his or her rights terminated by the court. A termination in this situation, when it is warranted, is often a good thing for the child. The child is adopted by a loving and involved stepparent who fills those parental shoes in the child’s life.

Other Terminations

Unfortunately, I am often asked about termination of parental rights in other situations. These fall into two general categories: fathers who don’t want to pay any more child support and want to give up their rights to get out of it; and mothers who want to find a way to terminate the father’s rights to get him out of her life (I have never been asked these questions with the genders reversed or in same sex couples, although my answer applies to all situations).

Both of these situations are deeply disturbing. It is appalling that a man would be willing to break all ties with his child and in effect say ‘I no longer want to be part of your life’ just to save some bucks. The damage that is caused by this act is irreparable. The child is clearly told he is not important and does not matter – and that money is of more importance than him. It is disgraceful and appalling. Even if a man has previously had little contact with the child, this legal maneuver still sets the child up very clearly as someone who is not wanted.

The other situation is just as disturbing. There are lots of people who have very difficult relationships with their exes. And of course there are women who have been placed in great danger by a man and want no contact. However, if a court has decided that it is appropriate for that child to have a relationship with that father, the mother must put her personal feelings aside and find a way to make it happen. Yes, it can be a pain sometimes to deal with his BS. Yes, visitation can be an inconvenience. However, to seek to terminate a father’s relationship with his child just because you don’t like him or don’t want to have to navigate the situation any more is inexcusable. Even if that man fails to exercise his visitation, he still is connected to that child and there is a chance that someday he will come to his senses and reestablish a connection. A woman who proactively seeks to remove the father from the child’s life without a good reason is creating a trauma for her own child. The child may one day as an adult feel that this choice was harmful.

Courts Weigh In

There are certainly situations in which termination is appropriate and warranted and courts will respond in those situations. However, in other scenarios, it is very likely the court will not grant the termination that is being sought. In the eyes of the court, a parent and child have a connection that should not be severed without a very good reason. Unfortunately, there are times when courts will grant terminations if both parties agree – the father to get out of child support and the mother to get him out of her life.

Parental termination is not something that should be considered lightly or without extreme circumstances.

Did you like this? Share it:

Making Kids Go on Visitation

It happens in every family at one time or another.  You have a parenting plan in place that seems to be working pretty well with everyone’s schedules.  And then one day, your child simply refuses to follow it.  Most often this is a refusal to go on visitation with the nonresidential parent.  It can be baffling and upsetting for both parents when this happens.  The nonresidential parent feels hurt and betrayed and a bit angry too.  He or she begins to wonder if the other parent somehow put the child up to this.  The residential parent feels frustrated and worried.  He or she wonders if there’s something going on at the other house he or she is unaware of.  And both parents are hit with a sudden disruption of the schedule they had adjusted to.

So what do you do when your child won’t go?  The first thing to remember is that while it’s always important to listen to your child’s feelings and opinions, spending time with the nonresidential parent is not optional.  Your child doesn’t get to pick and choose when she is going to go or what circumstances will gain his approval.  There are days when kids don’t want to go to school, but you don’t let your child stay home on those days.  Similarly, you can’t let your child decide to just skip visitation.

Visitation is more than just a schedule.  It is a connection to both parents.  And continuing to have a connection with both parents is absolutely essential for your child.  Children are not in charge of visitation.  Parents are.  Children’s opinions are important, but not decisive.  Children are not old enough or mature enough to hold the authority to decide when and if visitation happens.  If you give your child that authority you will confuse and overwhelm him.  Your child wants and needs to know that both parents are an unconditional part of his or her life.

Now that being said, there can be real problems with visitation that lead to a child’s refusal to go.  Talk to your child and find out why he doesn’t want to go.  Often it’s just a general annoyance with the other parent or a vague sense of dissatisfaction.  This isn’t good news, but it isn’t bad news either.  You have to remember that it will pass.

If your child has solid complaints about visitation, suggest that she discuss them with the other parent.  If your child isn’t able to verbalize this, then it’s ok for you to convey the message, but you must remember that children’s perceptions of things may be skewed.  A complaint of “Dad is always working and never spends any time with me” might in reality turn out to be a case of where Dad had one project he had to finish up last Sunday night and so could not play video games.  If there is a real complaint about visitation, it’s important to remember that this problem exists between the child and the parent.  The other really should not get involved unless it is a dangerous situation.  Part of having a real parent-child relationship is working out problems together.

If your child refuses to go on a scheduled visitation and there is no real reason for the refusal, you and the other parent must present a united front.  Insist together that there is no other option.  If the residential parent gives in, he or she becomes an accomplice, making the other parent angry and proving to the child that he or she does not really respect the other parent’s role.  If the nonresidential parent gives in, this is a sign to the child that he or she doesn’t really care and is seen by the residential parent as yet another failure.  The best plan is to work together to get your child to go.  If your child refused to get out of bed to go to school, you would find a way to make him go.  You’ve got to do the same in this situation.

If your child is a teen, she may need more control over visitation than younger children are allowed, however this does not mean that she can write the other parent out of her life.  Teens need to feel some control over their lives, and need time for school, jobs, friends, and activities, but they also do desperately need real connections with both parents.

It is upsetting for everyone involved when a child refuses to go on visitation, but if both parents insist together that there is no choice, then no one will be the villain and your child will have to cope with the reality of the situation.

Did you like this? Share it:

Could Nesting Work for Your Family?

Instead of getting a divorce and having two separate homes the kids rotate through, nesting is a newer concept where the kids remain in the existing family home and the parents take turns staying there. Some parents each get their own new place and rarely some will share one other place that they are never actually in together. Often parents rotate on an every other week schedule, but any schedule that works for the parents is definitely possible.

The idea is that the kids remain safe and sound in the “nest” or family home. Their living arrangements don’t change and they aren’t shuttled around from place to place. It allows the kids to have a more stable environment and familiar surroundings as they adjust to the divorce. The children experience as little disruption as possible and can continue with the same school, same activities, same schedule, and essentially the same life as prior to the divorce. The benefits of that are huge.

Nesting can be quite expensive though. Maintaining the existing family home as well two additional homes is a huge financial burden most families cannot take on. Nesting can also be challenging for the parents. You’re sharing a home with your ex even though you’re never there together. You don’t actually see each other (except for planned meetings or occasionally passing on your way out) yet you’re sharing a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and living area. All of the conflicts you had about not doing things the same way or disagreeing about how a household should be run will continue.

It can also be difficult to uproot yourself every other week and stay someplace else. Packing clothes, work things, toiletries, medications, and everything else each week can result in some giant mix-ups.

Another challenge is that after divorce, it’s common for the parents to gradually evolve and make some changes about who they are, what they think, and how they live their lives. This is often gradually reflected in parenting styles that can change. If this happens during nesting it can be confusing for kids who may find the parents suddenly are implementing different rules within the same home (Mom says no eating in the family room, but Dad says it’s ok, for example).

I worked with some families who tried nesting and most found that it worked as a short-term transitional method. It wasn’t something they wanted to do long-term, but they found that for a few months to a year after the divorce it was a great way to help their kids adjust and also give themselves time to figure out what to do with the family home and to find other places to live permanently.

Did you like this? Share it:

Coping with the Parenting Plan

Setting up and living with a parenting plan is a big change for everyone. All of you must get used to a new schedule. Working through the new plan takes time. You need to readjust your weekly rhythm and perhaps make adjustments to other activities in your life to make the schedule workable. Perhaps the hardest part though, is learning to handle how you feel about visitation.

It’s Normal

You might be totally overwhelmed with the emotions you’re going through as you adjust to and live with visitation. There is no “right” way to react. Everyone handles this in their own way and in their own time. You need to be patient with yourself, accept the various emotions you are feeling, and try to go with the flow. There’s nothing weird about you for having a myriad of feelings about the situation.

Don’t Feel Guilty

You might experience some feelings that bother you. It is normal, for instance, to have very strong negative emotions about your ex. It is also normal to sometimes feel excited about having some scheduled time alone, away from your child. It is also ok if you feel angry or resentful towards your child – for enjoying time with the other parent, for not worrying about you, or for making things difficult. Feeling or thinking these things does not make you a bad person or parent. It is healthy to feel these things and try to find a way to accept them and get through them.

How to Cope

If you feel like you’re drowning and don’t think you will ever be ok with the parenting plan, there is hope. First of all, if you don’t have a therapist, get one. Having someone to talk to who can help you work through problems and find solutions can be invaluable. It is also important to take things one day at a time. If you look ahead and wonder how you can ever cope with years and years of this schedule, you will feel overwhelmed. Instead, try to get through today and this week only. Try not to focus on your anger and resentment, instead think about what you can do right now to move ahead and get through the day in a positive way.

Dealing with Missing Your Child

As you first adjust to the schedule, and even in the years to come, there will be days when you will miss your child while he or she is with the other parent. Remind yourself that spending time with the other parent is a healthy and important thing for your child to do. Find other things to do during these times, so that you can begin to find some fulfillment, or at least distraction.  No matter how hard you work at it though, there will be times when you ache to be with your child. During those times, there is nothing wrong with calling, texting, or emailing your child. Remember, however, to keep your conversation light and do not dump your loneliness and sadness on your child.

Getting Through Anger at Your Ex

Even if your divorce or separation was handled in a somewhat amicable way, cooperating as parents can cause strains and tensions. There will be times when you will be angry at your child’s other parent. The best way to try to handle this is without involving your ex or your child. Scream and cry, unload onto your friends, throw pillows at your wall, do whatever you have to do to release steam. However, getting into a shouting match or a war with your ex will only make things worse. It will make it harder to work together as parents and it will be hurtful and difficult for your child, who will feel as if he or she is in the middle. Try to partition these feelings and keep them away from your child and as removed as possible in your dealings with your ex.

Making a New Life

A parenting plan gives new shape and definition to your life. Embracing that new direction can help you feel as if you have a grip on things. You may never completely love your parenting schedule or feel completely adjusted to life as a single parent, but you can move forward and try to put a positive spin on the situation.

Did you like this? Share it:

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.

Did you like this? Share it: