- A change in the circumstances of the child or custodian;
- That a modification would serve the best interests of the child;
- That the child’s present environment endangers her physical or emotional health or emotional development; and
- That the harm to the child likely to be caused by the change of environment is outweighed by the advantage of change.
In our society there is a belief (perhaps a misconception) that mother’s always get custody of their children. When a mother does not have custody of her children, the common assumption is that the mother must be unfit. In a recent Marie Claire article, author Lea Goldman profiles three mothers without custody of their children in a thoughtful report: What Kind of Mother Leaves Her Kids?
For several military parents a deployment to serve their country can cost them dearly in a custody battle. While parts of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act applies to military child custody cases, granting more time for troops to respond and prohibiting judgments against parents while they are deployed, there has been a movement for additional protections for military parents while they are deployed. Leo Shane III has an in-depth article, Custody Battles Can Become Rude ‘Welcome Home’ for Military Parents on Stars and Stripes.
The school year has just started. Hopefully the decision as to where your children will be spending the school year has been made. As more and more parents agree to a joint physical custody arrangement, disputes over what school the kids are going to increase. When one parent has sole physical custody it is usually a given that the children will be attending school in the district where that parent lives. But when parents have joint physical custody and the children spend significant time during the school week with both parents there is rarely any guidance on which school district the children will attend.
And when disputes arise, there is rarely a quick and easy resolution. Most decrees require that the parties attend mediation prior to returning to court. If mediation is unsuccesful, only then can you bring a motion in court asking the judge to decide which school your kid is going to. It may take a few months just to get the court date, and the judge can take up to 90 days after the hearing to issue a decision. Some parents use the services of a parenting time expediter, a neutral party who will first try to mediate disputes, but can then serve as an arbitrator and make a decision.
Unfortunately, very few parents are proactive in addressing this issue, which means the school year can start before the decision is made. I have heard at least one story in where the child ends up spending half the time in one kindergarten class and half the time in another class and another district. In addition to all of the other concerns about going to school in two different disctricts, the child was not meeting requirements for any kindergarten, which meant that the child would most likely be repeating kindergarten by the time the parents figured things out. This issue is not limited to Minnesota parents, I came across this article Parents’ Procrastination In Custody Cases Crowds Family Court Documents in The Wichita Eagle by Ron Sylvester which indicates parents across the country face this problem.
There is a simple way to avoid making your child repeat kindergarten or letting a stranger decide where your kids go to school – talk about it with the other parent and make the decisions early! If you already have a joint custody arrangement, start talking about where the kids will go to school at least a year before your child starts school or as soon as one parent moves from the current school district. If you are just separating from the other parent and considering a joint physical custody arrangement, have the conversation about school districts during your negotiations.
In every case I have where the parties will have joint physical custody I ask about where the kids will be attending school. When we have older children who have been going to the same school district for years, we may put in the court order that the children will remain at district _________. When we have younger children, or are uncertain where the parties will be living, sometimes we designate one parent’s home as the home that will determine where the kids go to school. Taking the time to discuss these issues ahead of time and put some guidance in the documents can prevent problems in the future.
In the divorce world, we get so focused on the children under the age of 18. Children between the ages of 18 and 21 may get a moment’s notice, but children over the age of 21 are routinely ignored. Unfortunately, children are always affected by their parents’ divorce: if they are 5, 25, or 55. Here are a couple tips for adults whose parents are divorcing, and for divorcing parents with adult children:
If You Have Adult Children:
- Let Them Know What Is Going On: Your children are adults, and as such they are used to dealing with adult topics. Let your children know what is going on – preferably both parents should break the news, and do it early on. (There’s an episode of How I Met Your Mother where Ted finds out his parents are divorced (and Mom is in a new relationship), and have been for several months, even though he recently spent the holidays with them – not the way to find out). Ask your children if they have questions about the divorce, if they want to express their feelings, or if they need support. Reassure them that your divorce has nothing to do with them, and that each parent will continue to be their for them.
- Keep Them Out Of It: Even though your children are now adults (see above), and even though you may otherwise consider them friends, your children DO NOT want to be in the middle of your divorce. Keep all of the details and mudslinging to yourself. If you need someone to vent to, find a friend or pay a therapist, do not use your children.
- Be An Adult About It: One of the biggest complaints adults have about their divorced/divorcing parents has to do with the immature behavior that often comes out around life’s important milestones (graduations, weddings, birth’s, holidays, etc.). Yes, there may be tension between you and the ex. You may not want to see him/her. There may be a new significant other you do not approve of. But none of that has to do with your children and grandchildren. To your children, you and your ex are “Mom” and “Dad.” To your grandchildren, you and your ex are “Grandma” and “Grandpa.” It is important to your children and grandchildren to have “Mom,” “Dad,” “Grandma,” and “Grandpa” at that important family event. Put aside your differences, put a smile on your face, and support your children and grandchildren at those events. You don’t have to be best friends with your ex, but you also don’t need to be bitter enemies. If you really can’t stand the thought of facing your ex, then make plans to celebrate with your family at another time and accept the fact your family will celebrate the event with your ex. But DO NOT start the “You can’t invite HIM!” or “I’m not going if she’s going to be there!” tug of war, your children do not want to be a part of that, nor do they want your grandchildren used as pawns.
If Your Parents Are Divorcing:
- Do Not Feel Guilty – it is a natural inclination to feel like the divorce is your fault. It is not.
- Communicate – Communication is important. Do not be afraid to share your feelings with your parents. Communicate to them when they are overstepping boundaries by dragging you into the middle of it, or when they are acting childish.
- Set Boundaries – Dynamics change and people can go crazy in a divorce. Set boundaries for yourself and your family. Let Mom and Dad know that you do not want to be involved in their divorce. Discuss expectations for holidays and other events. Don’t let them guilt you into traveling and celebrating each holiday with both of them – with spouse’s, children, in-laws, etc. celebrating separately with everyone just may not be possible. Do not let your parents use you (or your children) as a pawn. Do not feel bad about your wedding, graduation, baby’s first birthday, etc. Expect your parents to be adults about the situation.
- Be Accommodating – While it is important to set boundaries, sometimes it is necessary to be accommodating. Things will change with the divorce, and there may be an adjustment period. Just know the difference between accommodating and doormat.
- Seek Support – You are no longer a child, you may even have children of your own, but going through your parents’ divorce can be difficult. Do not be afraid to seek support if you need it.