Gay Marriage Meets the Revocation of Paternity Act

Gay Marriage and the Revocation of Paternity ActThe public face of the marriage equality movement has always been about the dignity and respect due to gay and lesbian couples. Behind the scenes, though, there are thousands of state and federal laws that are affected by expanding the definition of marriage, including the Michigan Revocation of Paternity Act. In the next few years, the courts are going to be asked to figure out how the law works in same-sex marriages. (more…)

Gay Divorce in Michigan is Now a Thing

Gay divorce is now legal in MichiganLGBT couples have found themselves in a legal gray area for years. Since the United States Supreme Court has struck down the state’s gay marriage ban, gay divorce in Michigan is now a thing. (more…)

In Jail for Refusing Parenting Time? What Parental Alienation Looks Like

Judge sends kids to jail in parental alienation caseThe news has been buzzing these last few days about Judge Lisa Gorcyca’s decision to send three children, ages 14, 10, and 9, to a juvenile detention facility after they refused parenting time with their father. See what happens when parental alienation gets taken to the extreme. (more…)

3 Tips for Parenting After Divorce

Your Parenting decisions affect your children after a divorceLet’s face it, divorce is hard on children. But the choices you make after the Judgment of Divorce is signed can make a big difference in the lives of your kids. Here are 3 tips for being a better divorced parent.

1. Don’t Diss Your Ex

Depending on how bad the relationship got before you and your ex called it quits, dissing your ex may have become part of your daily routine. But by talking negatively about your children’s parent, you are hurting them. Remember, your children are 50% genetically his (or hers). By telling your kids that their dad (or mom) is no good, you’re telling them they’re half bad too.

That doesn’t just mean to speak nicely about your ex around your kids. Even by posting negative comments on social media or talking to your friends about it on the phone, you are running the risk your kids will find out. Then you will hurt them two ways: one by what you said, and two by saying it behind their backs.

It’s not just about what your kids hear, either. By perpetuating negative opinions about your ex, you change the way you perceive everything he or she does. Being five minutes late for a parenting time pick up changes from “just running a little late” to “has no respect for my time.” This could cause you to see innocent behavior as vindictive or vengeful, and could affect your attitude around your children. Instead, always try to give your ex the benefit of the doubt. If you have to vent negative feelings, try journaling or picking one friend with whom you will share your feelings.

2. Try to Co-Parent if You Can

Of course, there is a reason you got divorced. No, you won’t agree on everything. But if you and your ex can bear sitting in the same auditorium or even going to an occasional dinner together, you will help your children feel like they have one family, instead of two. This can help their mental well being.

But there will be cases when co-parenting is impossible. If your parenting styles are too dissimilar from your ex’s, you are better off using “parallel parenting” methods. Rather than pressing your children to justify how their mother or father responded to a situation, just agree that what happens in his or her house won’t always be tolerated in yours. Set clear expectations for your children with pre-set consequences so they know what to expect. If they try to use your ex’s parenting style against you, just remind them that this is your home and the rules are different here. Don’t put the children in a position of trying to explain the other parent’s actions.

3. Provide Support

The divorce process is very hard on children. They are the innocent bystanders in your war with your ex. So when they seem upset or distant, comfort them. When they need to talk, listen. And when they push away, provide them someone else to talk to. Recognize that they may be angry at you, and they may have a good reason to be. Do your best not to take it personally and give them the space to grieve the home they had grown accustomed to. And acknowledge your own fragility. Your life is changing drastically too, but due to your own decisions. For your children, the changes are coming no matter what they do, but they may not understand that. Be upfront with your children in an age-appropriate way, and never make them feel at fault for what happened. Your children are going to need more support from you as they adjust to living in divorced households. Be there for them. And if you can’t, find a mentor, counselor, or therapist that they can talk to.

Even the most amicable divorce can significantly affect children. But your decisions after the Judgment is signed can help them adjust more quickly. By respecting their feelings and needs, and doing your best to work with your ex to parent consistently, you will help ease the transition.

Lisa J. Schmidt is a family lawyer with Schmidt Law Services, PLLC, in Ferndale, Michigan. She helps divorcing parents identify the best interests of their children and make custody and parenting time decisions that respect the children as well as the parties. If you or someone you know is considering divorce, contact Schmidt Law Services today for a consultation.

SCOTUS Says Gays Have Fundamental Right to Marriage Equality

SCOTUS Grants Marriage EqualityThe decision that thousands of Michigan couples have been waiting for for months, even years, has finally arrived. On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that gay and lesbian couples have a fundamental right to marriage equality. Here’s a look at the decision. (more…)

Just Living Together is Expensive, Legally Speaking

The cost of not getting marriedHalf of America isn’t married. And while live-in couples may be avoiding wedding expenses, they might just be setting themselves up for expensive legal work later on. (more…)

Co-Parenting: You’re Doing It Right.

Co-parenting letter hits the nail on the headA recent article in the Detroit Free Press does a better job of explaining co-parenting than any attorney ever will. In “An open letter to my ex-husband’s new girlfriend,” Tina Plantamura, an Asbury Park Press Contributor, shows just what it means to put the kids first. (more…)

Fighting for Sole Custody: More Trouble Than It’s Worth

Fighting for sole custody may not be worth the effort

Sole custody is on the top of some people’s wish list when they start a divorce or a custody battle. But taking that issue all the way to trial may be more trouble than it’s worth.

A potential client, call her Amy, sits across from me in my office. She is upset. We’ve already had to break out the tissues as she described to me what happened. Her relationship with her husband Brent has broken down and she needs a divorce. She has moved her children out of the home and they are staying with a family member until things calm down. She doesn’t know what to do and never thought it would come to this.

Then I ask the key question:

“If you could wave your magic wand and have custody awarded exactly the way you want, what would that look like?”

Amy’s sadness turns to anger. She’s done everything for these kids, she says. Brent doesn’t deserve anything.

What Does Sole Custody Mean?

Whether she realizes it or not, Amy is asking for two different things: sole legal custody and suspension of parenting time. Some attorneys will also refer to this second part as “sole physical custody.”

Legal custody is the ability to make decisions for your children. Awarding Amy sole legal custody would cut Brent off from any say in the child’s education, medical care, and religious upbringing.

Physical custody refers to where the children spend their time. In order for Amy to be awarded true “sole physical custody,” Brent’s parenting time would have to be suspended, which would mean he would never see his children.

Courts Don’t Like to Grant Sole Custody

Michigan law assumes that children will benefit greatly from having a relationship with both of their parents. Because of this, most judges are very hesitant to award sole custody. Instead, they will do what they can to keep Amy and Brent both involved, to the extent that is in the best interests of the children.

That is not to say it cannot be done, but sole custody should be reserved for the most serious situations. For example, I recently received sole legal custody for a client whose husband had a severe mental illness, had abused her, and was involuntarily committed for a time because of his inability to control his actions. If one of these elements had been missing, or if there was reason to believe his mental illness was under control (he was refusing medication), I doubt the judge would have agreed to award sole custody.

Demanding Sole Custody Looks Bad

If Amy insists on sole custody in her divorce, it could come back to haunt her. That is because one of the 12 Best Interest Factors in deciding custody is the extent each parent will encourage the relationship between the children and the other parent. If the court becomes convinced that Amy is trying to alienate or cut Brent off from his children, it may count as a strike against her. If the other facts don’t clearly support Amy’s desire to shelter her children from Brent, she will end up looking like the worse parent.

Sole Custody Battles Cost More

On top of the legal ramifications, if Amy demands sole custody of her children, she should expect her divorce to cost a lot more in legal fees. Very few parents will agree to being cut off from their children, so Amy needs to expect that there will be motions for parenting time, lengthy Friend of the Court hearings, and in some cases a full trial on the issue of custody. All of that adds up to a lot of legal fees.

Sole Custody Hurts Children

While Amy and Brent fight over custody, their children will inevitably be among the casualties. As hard as parents may try to hide the emotional impact of divorce from their children, they will still be able to sense something is wrong. If one parent suddenly disappears from their lives, children may face serious psychological risks themselves, including separation anxiety, self-blame, and depression. One recent study even tied sole custody to increased drop out rates and worse educational outcomes.

In the heat of the moment, it might be easy for Amy to think the best thing for her children is to cut Brent out of her life and the lives of her children. But this all-or-nothing mentality does more harm than good. Amy and parents in her situation need to look at the bigger picture and decide whether sole custody is really what is best for their children, or if they are taking the easier way out.

Lisa J. Schmidt is a family law attorney at Schmidt Law Services, PLLC, in Ferndale, Michigan. She represents parents in divorce and custody actions and helps them determine the custody and parenting time arrangement that is best for them and their children. If you are facing a tough custody decision, contact Schmidt Law Services today for a consultation.

What Fathers Should Know About the Genetic Parentage Act

Find out about the new Genetic Paternity ActIn March 2015, two new laws went into effect in Michigan that are designed to make it easier for the state to collect child support for children born to unwed mothers. If you are a father to a child receiving state aid, here’s why you need to pay attention. (more…)

Study Ranks Michigan 36th on Children in Group Homes

Study shows Michigan lags in group home placementMichigan’s Child Protective Services have been under scrutiny for a long time. Now a new study from the Michigan League for Public Policy shows that the system is slipping in one important way: how many children end up in group homes. (more…)