St. Louis County Missouri Custody Orders and COVID-19

In this uncertain time, rather than relying on rumor, you may want to take a look at Saint Louis County Department of Public Health order that will go in place in St. Louis County on Monday, for a 30-day period.  Here is the link:  St. Louis County Custody Order and COVID-19 Information

Some people have wondered whether this means they should not comply with court orders regarding transferring custody of their children between homes.   While this is new territory for all of us,  at this point, I interpret the provision that defines as an essential activity “necessary care for a dependent in the person’s legal custody, including acts essential for a parent with legal custody to transfer the physical custody of a child” as allowing the transportation of children for purposes that are required to comply with court orders.  I think the starting assumption then is that parents should continue to comply with their custody orders. 

Having said the above, the course of action is likely different if a parent, child or family member is ill or has exposure to the virus which would warrant quarantine.  The right thing to do in that situation may depend on your particular circumstances.  While the court may be available to resolve conflicts in this regard, the best course of action is to rely on your health care professionals.  

Now more than ever this is a time for co-parents to communicate.  Work to be on the same page with respect to activities your children are or not allowed to engage in, cleanliness and disinfecting protocols.  Cooperate to allow you each to juggle your work and home responsibilities.  Keep each other advised of all health issues in each of your homes and consider how items that travel between the homes should be sanitized.  Keep each other well advised of any possible exposure by anyone in either of your homes or of your child.  Should the need to quarantine a child, parent or other family members, avoid any impulse to assess blame, quarantine as required pursuant to public health and medical advice and guidelines, and make good use of video chats to keep everyone connected. 

We will each need to figure out how to navigate this unique territory according to our own circumstances.  If you use good common sense, follow public health and medical guidelines, and most importantly, keep the focus on taking care of one another and of your children, perhaps there will be a silver lining of strengthening your co-parent relationship. 

Sue Amato is a collaboratively trained family law attorney and she is available to discuss your Missouri divorce options. Sue can be reached at (314) 727-7122.

Website: http://amatofamilylaw.com

Collaborative Divorce and Mental Health — A Lawyer’s Perspective

Any marriage can fail, but throw mental illness into the mix of marital stressors, and the risk of marital failure increases. Problems such as depression and alcohol addiction can create instability in the home that makes sustaining the marriage difficult or impossible.

Traditional Divorce

The traditional divorce process, which is based upon rights and obligations as established through laws, often has a blind spot when it comes to dealing with mental health. Rather than focusing on treatment and accommodation of the illness, the court-based process often pits spouses against each other, with each trying to demonstrate how the other is at fault, and with the children too frequently caught in the crossfire.

Collaborative Divorce and Mental Health

The collaborative divorce process recognizes that going through a divorce is akin to doing surgery on a family. Just as a surgeon works to remove diseased tissue without damaging the surrounding organs, we, as divorce professionals, want to separate the spouses without doing any more damage to the family than is necessary to get the job done. Rather than focusing on fault, the collaborative divorce process helps the divorcing couple focus on their needs and those of their children. The professional team, including lawyers, a financial professional, and a mental health professional, helps the couple focus their energies on problem-solving, instead of finger-pointing. If a spouse suffers from mental illness, the mental health professional can meet individually with that spouse to find out about the problem, and can either work directly with the person’s therapist to better understand the mental health issues, or refer the person to a therapist or psychiatrist who has the tools to assist the patient and, in so doing, improve the life of the family post-divorce. That information is then conveyed to the other professional team members, who can take it into account along with financial and other information in assisting their clients to fashion a workable settlement. This shift from blame to healing involves the lawyers, who, rather than digging up dirt, can use their experience, intelligence, and creativity to help the couple craft solutions to the problems posed by dividing the household. While we focus on protecting the interests of our own clients, we also keep our attention on the health of the family. Our advocacy includes helping our clients understand how different settlement options may benefit the children, which, in turn, benefits the parents. Mental illness can be frightening and often presents substantial challenges to a family. Employing a problem-solving approach to mental illness can soften the worst effects of divorce and can hasten the healing that follows the trauma of divorce.

Alan Freed is an experienced mediator and collaborative law professional practicing in St. Louis, Missouri.  Alan works hard to help his clients divorce with the least amount of trauma to the family as possible. Reach out to Alan to discuss your divorce options and how you and your spouse can divorce amicably.

Alan can be reached by phone at (314) 244-3653, by email at afreed@pcblawfirm.com, or visit his website at http://pcblawfirm.com .

How to Disagree Without Being Disagreeable

It’s time to decide whether your child will get their own cell phone.  Whether you are going through a divorce, divorced, or never married, Collaborative Practice offers some valuable lessons for making this and other important parenting decisions.

There is a real need for certain limitations on your child’s use of their cell phone, to keep their life on track.  Agree on specified times for your child to use their cell phone.  Designate times your child’s cell phone needs to be turned off.  Why, when, and how, will your child’s cell phone use be limited, as a means of discipline?  Know the rules and cell phone policy of your child’s school and insist they be followed. 

Know the password to your child’s cell phone.  Any “app” on your child’s cell phone should be downloaded by you.  Make sure you know every contact in your child’s cell phone.  Teach your child not to share their phone number with anyone they don’t know.

Teach your child to let you know as soon as they receive a suspicious or alarming call or text message.  Teach your child to let you know as soon as they are being harassed or bullied by someone on their cell phone.  Teach your child not to answer or return calls or text messages from someone they don’t know.

Of course these suggestions depend on the age of your child, as well as a variety of other factors.  Every child is different.  Each family has their own ideas for determining what concerns are most important for them.  In Collaborative Practice, the parties and their Collaborative Professionals focus all of their energy and resources on creative problem solving.  In Collaborative Practice, workable options are found.  Collaborative Practice minimizes hostility, by emphasizing understanding and cooperation.

Collaborative Practice is for people who want respectful, civilized resolutions of the issues in their case.  Collaborative Practice is for people who want to protect their children from the harm associated with conflict and contentious litigation.  Collaborative Practice is likely to work for you, if:

  1. You want to put the needs of your children first.
  2. You want to communicate respectfully with your co-parent.
  3. You believe it is important to plan for the future rather than remain stuck in the past.

Kids are naturally impulsive and not great decision makers.  Their brains are still developing until approximately age twenty-five (25), in the areas of decision making, sexuality, emotional, and impulse control.  You know your child better than anyone else.  When in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask for some guidance from the professionals who know about such matters.  Follow the recommendations of your healthcare providers and educational professionals.

Gary is an attorney and former member of CFLA.

Mind Your FBI’s: Guidelines for Making Coparenting Decisions During Divorce

Making coparenting decisions during a divorce can be clouded by anger, sadness, and sheer exhaustion. Consider focusing on the following three themes from the research on divorce, to assist you when making coparenting decisions. A simple acronym to use is FBI, as it is easy to remember.

F is for Forward Motion

Coparenting decisions should move your family forward. For example, physically separate as soon as is feasible. This helps children adjust to their “new normal”, minimizes their fears about the future, and lets them know they will be taken care of even if you are not together. Maintaining forward motion can be a difficult concept. Consider the following example. Coparents decided to continue their Taco Tuesday tradition after their separation – having tacos together every Tuesday in what had been the family home. Their 8-year-old daughter loved it. When asked how she would feel if Dad’s new girlfriend joined them, she was strongly opposed. Taco Tuesday had kept the hope alive that her parents would reunite. It also insured that she would not be willing to form a relationship with a parent’s new significant other. A choice that may seem to be a good idea on the surface, may not be when you consider the current and future consequences from a child’s perspective.

B is for Boundaries

Coparenting boundaries are very different from spousal boundaries. The parenting agreement you made when you were together no longer applies. Your spouse no longer needs to clear daily parenting decisions with you. And you no longer need to explain yours, unless you wish to. Your coparenting relationship can be viewed as a business relationship. Your job is to work together to make major decisions to insure your children have the resources necessary to become successful adults. When communicating with your coparent, remember to give them the same respect and privacy you would give your coworkers. Setting new and healthy boundaries can be the hardest part of moving from a spousal to a coparenting relationship.

I is for avoiding Intense, Chronic Conflict

When coparents engage in conflict, children can feel stuck in the middle of situations they do not fully understand. Children may feel they cannot reach out to parents for support fearing it will ignite more conflict. Children may find it easier or safer to appease parents – often telling them different things – than to get their needs met. This can lead to chronic anxiety, as well as other behavioral and emotional issues throughout their life. So, it is important to choose your battles wisely. A fight “to the death” on principle, is more likely to damage your children than help them in the long run. Let compromise be your mantra. Taking the “high road” will always serve you well.

So, remember your FBI’s. A recent study compared children from divorced families with good coparenting to children whose parents remained together. There were no significant differences between them. Your marriage may not have succeeded, but you can be an amazing coparent.

About the author:

Carol Love is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She has been a Domestic Relations Counselor at the St. Louis County Family Court, and the Clinical Director of Kids In The Middle, a local agency dedicated to assisting families deal with separation and divorce. Carol is currently in private practice and works with coparents and children to minimize the negative impact of separation and divorce  on families, and help them thrive in the future.

If you want to learn more about your divorce options and coparenting decisions, then give her a call. She can be reached at 314.303.9792, or email her at carolglove@sbcglobal.net

Social Security Retirement Benefits and Divorce

When considering ending a marriage, many who are close to or at retirement age are concerned about their ability to continue to meet their needs following divorce.   “What sources of income will I have?” is a common concern.  Where the spouses are retired and no longer employed, an award of spousal support may not be realistic or appropriate.  The divorce judgment will divide the former spouses’ interests in any pension plans, IRAs, deferred compensation and other retirement accounts.  But the divorce court does not divide the parties’ respective interests in his or her Social Security Retirement Benefits.  What happens to these?  This is particular of concern to those individuals who, by agreement during the marriage, stayed at home to raise a family and did not pursue a career while his or her former spouse worked.   Or, it may be a concern where there is a substantial difference in the amount each spouse earned during the marriage.  The fact that the divorce judgment does not award Social Security Retirement Benefits does not mean a former spouse may not receive benefits based on his or her former spouses’ record.  In fact, under certain circumstances, a former spouse may be able to receive benefits based on his or her former spouse’s earnings record.  

If you are wondering if you may be able to receive benefits based on your former spouse’s record, consider the following.  If you meet the requirements listed below, you may be able to receive Social Security Retirement Benefits based on your former spouse’s record:

  1. You are divorced.
  2. The duration of your marriage to your former spouse was ten years or longer.
  3. You are age 62 or older.
  4. You have not remarried (although there may be an exception to this requirement if the later marriage is dissolved, annulled, or ends upon the death of your spouse).
  5. Your former spouse must be entitled to receive the benefits based on his or her own record.

If you are at or close to retirement age and are in the midst of or considering divorce, you should explore the possibility that you may be entitled to receive Social Security Retirement Benefits based on your former, or soon to be former, spouse’s record.  You should discuss this with your attorney.  You should also contact your local Social Security office to get information regarding your benefit and take the necessary steps to obtain information regarding your spouse’s benefit so that following divorce you have the knowledge to make informed decisions.

About the author:

Mary Niemira is an experienced family law attorney who is committed to guiding her clients through the legal process in a respectful way.

If you want to learn more about your divorce process options, give her a call.  She can be reached at 314.854.8710, or email her at men@carmodymacdonald.com

The Drama-Free Divorce

There’s something to be said for the “drama-free” divorce.  Well, maybe not drama-free, since getting a divorce tends to be a very emotional chapter in the lives of most couples.   But in my opinion, a divorce with minimal drama ought to be a goal.

The Cost of Drama in Divorce

It’s not that I don’t like drama.    Drama has its place.  A lot of my favorite TV shows, films and books are drama-filled and can be quite engaging.  I just don’t see a benefit to bringing all that drama to the table in a divorce.  Drama-filled divorces are the stuff dreams are made of.  Unfortunately for you, these are not your dreams; they are the dreams of litigation attorneys who are more than willing to turn your contention into billable hours.  While you’re burning through your children’s college funds to pay for your bitter divorce, the litigation attorneys are now able to afford to send their kids to college without taking out student loans.  So, unless you’re expecting your divorce story to get picked up by a Hollywood producer as the remake of War of the Roses, and you’re getting big bucks for the movie rights, it may be in your best interest to keep the drama to a minimum.

Emotions and Divorce

I understand that when things go South in our lives, marriage-inclusive, our tendency is to look around for someone to blame.  It’s the American way.  The first response of most human beings facing the break-up of a relationship is anger- at our partner, at the way things have turned out, maybe even anger at ourselves for making a bad choice of a mate.  When you walk into a divorce attorney’s office loaded for bear and wanting to get even for the pain and disappointment your spouse has caused you, some attorneys will take you at your word and get your case filed in court before the ink is dry on your contract.  A client motivated by anger may be oblivious to the high cost of litigating a divorce.  At the onset, you may think it’s worth it, just to punish your spouse for hurting you.  But most people come to their senses relatively soon, and many realize that they are now stuck in a process that moves rather slowly and inefficiently but costs a lot of money.  For the most part, clients in litigation feel like they have very little control over what happens in that process.  There are a lot of hoops to jump through, and clients seldom understand why all those things are necessary.   The court system takes a rather “one size fits all” approach to cases, by necessity, based on the sheer volume of cases that are filed, so once you are in that system, you are forced to move along with the herd.

Good News: You Have Divorce Process Options

The good news is, there are other processes, like mediation or collaborative divorce, that can offer you a more personalized approach to getting a divorce.  Even though you are dealing with the same issues, in the same situation, these processes are designed to help you let go of your anger and to take a more reasonable, problem-solving approach to untangling the finances and the child-related issues and to craft a future for you and your spouse that allows both of you to survive, and even thrive in your future as co-parents.

If you are facing a divorce or legal separation, you owe it to yourself to explore divorce process options, such as mediation, collaborative divorce, or kitchen table negotiation, to find the process that best suits your needs.

About the author:

Marjorie Carter is a collaboratively-trained family law attorney, mediator and former member of CFLA.  Marjorie is committed to guiding her clients through the legal process by taking a reasonable, peacemaking approach, helping them to find creative solutions that respect their own values and integrity.

How Can We Make Decisions During Our Divorce When We Couldn't Make Decisions in Our Marriage?

There are many decisions that every couple has to make in the process of getting a divorce.  How will the assets be divided?  Who will keep the house and, if we don’t sell it, how will we determine the value of it?  How will we share time with the children?  How will we divide our household items?  How will we pay for the children’s expenses?  How can we make sure we both have enough money to live on month to month? 

Help in the Decision Making Process

People typically feel overwhelmed by these questions yet it is difficult to turn these decisions over to lawyers or a judge and relinquish control over the outcomes.  In a collaborative divorce, unlike mediation or litigation, there is a team of professionals to help you determine what decisions need to be made and to coach you through the process of making them.  You have your own lawyer in the room, along with the lawyer for your spouse, to make sure all the legal issues are covered.  There is a financial professional who can discuss the tax consequences of the decisions you are making along with showing the long term financial outcomes of the options you are considering.

 There is also a mental health professional who, having mediation training, is able to teach you a decision making process, something most married couples have never developed.  The first step is to define the question to be answered or the problem to be solved. Second, all information relevant to the problem to be solved is gathered and verified.  The third step involves a discussion of what is important to each person, their reasons for wanting a specific resolution.  For example, you have one orange and you both want it.  Further discussion of interests reveals that the wife wants to make marmalade and only needs the zest and the husband wants the only the juice for a recipe.  A judge would merely cut the orange in half, but in the collaborative process the solutions can be creative and based upon the interests of the parties. 

Once the information is gathered and the interests are known, the brainstorming process of generating options begins.  No option is off the table.  At this point, more information may be needed about specific options to determine their viability.  Once that is gathered, the next step is to evaluate the options by discussing the pros and cons of any that either one of the couple feels might work. Often the final solution is a hybrid of two or more options.  This discussion is facilitated by the team and leads to the final step, a decision about how to proceed. 

Lessons Learned in the Process

These discussions can still be difficult and emotional, but couples who are willing to follow the process and stick with it, will emerge with a final divorce settlement document.  The hope is that they also have learned more about how to make decisions and are better able to work together to raise their children.

The collaborative divorce process provides many couples with the opportunity to make well informed decisions. It is a supportive process where new skills can be acquired and utilized after the divorce is final. Reach out to Nancy Williger or explore our website to learn more about the collaborative divorce process.

Nancy Williger can be reached at (314) 993-4001

Website: http://nancywilliger.com

Special Considerations: Grief During Divorce When You Have a Special Needs Child

Parents of special needs or medically complex children move through their life with a certain amount of grief always present.  Grief is the name of the process we are hard-wired to experience when we face loss or transition.  Parents are deeply connected to the hopes and dreams they have for their children often years before they have them.  Some say it is important for parents of special needs children to grieve the child they didn’t have, the child associated with their hopes and dreams.  I advise parents to also grieve for the parent they didn’t get to be.

Similar to the way parents have hopes and dreams for their children, married couples have hopes and dreams for their partnership.  When a marriage ends and the couple has a special needs or medically complex child the grief is compounded and can feel overwhelming. 

5 Ways to Manage Complex Grief During Divorce

There are a number of practical business matters that need to be addressed in a divorce, grief can complicate and delay this process if it is not acknowledged and dealt with.    Below are 5 ways to manage complex grief during a divorce.

  1. Talk about it! Shutting down your grief by working more, drinking more, spending more time on your phone etc. will not actually make the grief go away. 
  2. Reach out and Get out.  It is important not to be isolated during a divorce.  Many parents of special needs or medically complex children are already isolated from their community or family and are at risk of feeling even more alone when they go through a divorce. 
  3. Increase respite care.  Increase the time you already have or if someone wants to know what they can do to help, ask them to babysit.  You may have to train someone new on how to take care of your child’s special needs but it will be worth it - you will need time to find and prepare documents, attend meetings and process the loss and transition ahead.
  4. Increase self-care.  Unapologetically, without guilt or shame, do things that nurture and re-charge you.
  5. Find a therapist.  Complex and compounded grief may be too much for someone to handle on their own.  Be brave and find a therapist to help you through the process.

Your Divorce Process Matters

Collaborative divorces allow for flexibility and creativity that you are unlikely to find through the courts.  In a collaborative divorce you are not bound by standardized forms or one-size fits all protocols.   If you are raising a special needs child you already know that many people do not understand the additional time, energy and money you put into meeting your child’s needs.  If you have decided to move forward with a divorce you will need a team who understands the many complicated issues involved with ending your marriage while also preserving a safe and consistent environment for your child.

About the Author: Dena Tranen

Dena Tranen, LCSW is a trained collaborative law professional, licensed clinical social worker and former member of CFLA. She works as a mental health coach, therapist, and co-parenting specialist. To learn more about your Missouri divorce process options give her a call today.

Special Considerations: Getting a Divorce When You Have a Special Needs Child

Getting divorced when you are the parent of a special needs or medically complex child can seem like a daunting task that could put an unbearable amount of additional stress on an already stressed-out family system.  Many couples with a special needs child make the default decision to stay in an unhappy marriage because the unique issues they face seem impossible to manage on their own or in separate households.

Co-Parenting Complexity

For all parents, one of the scariest parts of a divorce is the co-parenting plan.  When parents of special needs or medically complex children get divorced there are additional issues that may arise in the process. Some of these issues may include:

Because of these and other unique circumstances associated with divorce when there is a special needs child it may be necessary to deviate from the standard parenting plan or child support formulas provided by the courts.  If this is the case, the collaborative divorce process is almost certainly the best route for the whole family. 

Consider a Flexible & Support Divorce Process

Collaborative divorces allow for flexibility and creativity that you are unlikely to find through the courts.  In a collaborative divorce you are not bound by standardized forms or one-size fits all protocols.   If you are raising a special needs child you already know that many people do not understand the additional time, energy and money you put into meeting your child’s needs.  If you have decided to move forward with a divorce you will need a team who understands the many complicated issues involved with ending your marriage while also preserving a safe and consistent environment for your child.

Dena Tranen, LCSW is a trained collaborative law professional, licensed clinical social worker and former member of CFLA. She works as a mental health coach, therapist, and co-parenting specialist. To learn more about your Missouri divorce process options give her a call today.

IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO – ENGAGING YOUR SPOUSE IN A NON-ADVERSARIAL DIVORCE PROCESS

You may have decided to divorce, done your own research and determined that the best path forward for you and your family is a non-adversarial divorce process such as mediation or a collaborative divorce.  Unlike divorce litigation, which you can begin without the cooperation of your spouse, a non-adversarial divorce requires the commitment of both of you to work towards an agreement outside of the courtroom.  If your spouse has only consulted with a litigation lawyer, friends and family, or has not thought about the divorce at all, s/he may be far from on the same page with you in thinking about a cooperative process.  Before you give up hope and proceed to litigation, you may try the following tips to encourage your spouse to consider working with you towards the best outcome for all in your family.

  1. Don’t try to negotiate the substance of the issues with your spouse.  It’s not unusual to want to jump to the finish line, of decision making, what will the custody schedule be, who will keep the house, etc. This can lead to an immediate impasse and the impression that you will be unable to reach agreements outside of court.  Instead, focus only on making the decision of how you will get divorced, whether that be negoti ating on your own, mediation or a collaborative process.  Wait until you have that process firmly in place before proceeding to substantive negotiations.
  2. Don’t do anything that might alarm your spouse.  Making threats, moving assets, cutting off access to funds, are steps that are sometimes taken out of fear, but which increase distrust and can lead to a snowball of adversarial actions.  Try to maintain an even keel and the status quo while you make these important decisions.  You may want to discuss with your own lawyer in advance the pros and cons of taking any action that might appear draconian to your spouse, before doing so.
  3. Share information. There are a number of good resources, which your collaborative lawyer can provide, to give to your spouse that outline the divorce options and pros and cons of each.  These include materials that you can find on websites such as mediate.com, collaborativepractice.com and https://stlouiscollaborativelaw.com.  Give your spouse time to do his/her own research after providing this information.
  4. Encourage a consultation with a collaborative lawyer, collaborative coach, or a mediator.  Your spouse does not have to agree to use mediation or the collaborative process. S/he only needs to agree to make an initial appointment to take the first positive steps in that direction.  In an initial mediation appointment, which both of you attend, the mediator generally outlines the mediation process, provides you with details about how the process works, and allows you the option of then making the decision to proceed with scheduling additional mediation sessions at that time, or going home to think about it.  This is a relatively inexpensive and non-threatening way to introduce non-adversarial processes.  Similarly, your spouse could make an appointment on his/her own for an initial consultation with a collaborative lawyer.  While many litigation lawyers do not take the time to do so, most collaborative lawyers spend time in the initial consultation helping the client understand and evaluate the non-adversarial options. An initial meeting with the two of you and a collaborative divorce coach can also serve this purpose and is a non-threatening way to begin a divorce process.
  5. Enlist the aid of other trusted professionals.  If you have a marriage counselor, therapist, financial consultant or other trusted advisor who is familiar with the divorce process options, that person may help your spouse to evaluate whether any of the non-adversarial options are advisable for him/her.  If the advisor is not familiar with the options, your own collaborative lawyer may be willing to talk with the advisor to education him/her in the process options in order to assist you.

It is difficult to make decisions when emotions are high, and trust is low.  By providing your spouse with the resources to support him/her as s/he evaluates the options, you may be able to reach an agreement on the most effective and efficient process for both of you in moving through the divorce in as healthy a way as possible for your family.

Collaborative divorce is one of several non-adversarial divorce options. Explore our site to learn more about this process. You may also want to learn about the difference between collaborative divorce and litigation.

Sue Amato is a collaboratively trained family law attorney and she is available to discuss your Missouri divorce options. Sue can be reached at (314) 727-7122.

Website: http://amatofamilylaw.com