Category Archives: Custody

The Rules for Holiday Visitation

The holidays are almost here again, and it’s time to look at some of the rules regarding holiday timeshare, and how you should handle things with the kids:

1. Traditions must change

I firmly believe that it’s important for families to have traditions.  It’s part of what brings us together and builds a bond between us.  But once a divorce or separation occurs, the previous “family” no longer exists.  Step-families may form.  New relatives may enter the picture.  While it may have been true that Christmas Eve was always spent at Grandma Betty’s, that probably can’t happen anymore, at least not every year.  And it probably shouldn’t.  Maybe it can only happen every other year.  Maybe it won’t happen ever again.  Things must change.  Worse, parents will often use traditions as weapons: “The kids have spent Christmas Eve at Grandma Betty’s for the past five years, so I have to ‘get’ them on Christmas Eve every year.”  Divorce and separation are times of change.  Traditions must change, too.  Start making new traditions.  Introduce them slowly, but allow the children to know that, as the family changes, traditions will change.  And make sure you let them know that they can be part of the change.  Allow the kids to help you think of new traditions.  Make it an exciting time for them.

2. It’s about the kids, not you

I hear so often that “it’s important for the kids to wake up at my house on Christmas morning,” but do you think it’s so important to the kids?  Realize that kids just want to wake up and play with toys, and it’s a whole lot less important to them where they wake up after Santa has come than it is to you.  Brace your self for this, but for kids, at least younger kids, Christmas is about Santa, and a whole lot less about you.  And don’t be so quick to rush them over to your house on Christmas day if they wake up at the other parent’s house on Christmas morning.  You want to pick them up by 10 a.m. or so so that you get “your fair share” of the time, but what they really want is to play with their toys.  Give them a little time with the other parent and their new toys before you wisk them away.  Consider delaying the pickup until mid or late afternoon.  Or, if it’s a long drive to your house, here’s a radical thought: maybe just alternate Christmas with the other parent altogether.  That’s a tough way to go because you wouldn’t see the kids at all every other Christmas, but think about what’s best for the kids.

3. On the other hand, the kids are not in control

Don’t ever ask the kids where they want to spend their holidays or who they want to spend them with (or, for that matter, if they want to spend timeshare–holiday or otherwise–with the other parent).  It’s not their decision until they turn 18.  You’re the parents.  The two of you will decide and will tell them where timeshare will be spent, and children should never be put in the position of having to decide between parents.

4. Coordinate gifts with your ex

If the gifts aren’t of the type a child would normally have at both parents’ houses, like a bicycle or a computer, check with your ex to make sure the two of you aren’t duplicating gifts.  Nothing is more disappointing to a child than to receive the exact same dollhouse or guitar from both parents just because that’s the gift the child has been asking for.  Actually, there is a bigger rule here: get along with and communicate with your ex.  I know this can be a tough one, but it makes life so much easier on you and the kids.

5. DON’T BE SAD!

I know this is easier said than done for a lot of people, especially people who are recently divorced.  You’ve spent the past twelve or so holidays as a complete family, then this year you have no one.  In the meantime, your recent ex is dating your boss because “he makes double what you make” or a stripper who is twenty years younger than you, and they’re going to Aruba for Christmas (and yet the child support is three months late).  But, somehow, make this the best holiday ever for the kids.  Make this the year you finally go back up north to visit the family.  Make this the year you go all out on the tree.  If money is tight (like it is for everyone), then spend lots of time with friends who have kids, buy a cheap camera and take your kids on a nature walk, buy a bunch of inexpensive crafts or a cheap gingerbread house at Wal-Mart and make those with the kids.  If you live in a city in Florida like me, there are tons of free outdoor movies, symphonies, rock concerts, and all kinds of things to do in December.  You have children!  What could be more wonderful?  Make your kids happy, and how can you possibly be sad?

Happy holidays? Or are they?

One of the most stressful times for separated parents is the holidays. There is always a battle with “who drops off when” and “we have to drive here” and so forth. The scary part is that many people actually believe this is for the benefit of their children and not their own schedules. I mean what 5-year-old would not want to go to four different houses on Christmas day when that child could be playing with his or her toys instead?  One of my most heinous examples was the parent that decided that, because the father got an extra day or so in October that, despite the court order, she was keeping the child
for a few extra days.  Including Christmas and Christmas Eve!  The judge came out of her chair on that one.  And, believe me, judges just love those just-before-the-holidays emergency visitation motions (hear the dripping sarcasm there?).

Just remember, holiday visitation is about your children, not your schedule.  I guarantee you the kids are a lot less worried about schedules than you are.

Florida, is it time to relocate?

If you’re looking at this post, you probably know that the Florida legislature changed the rules for permanently relocating children a few years ago.  Now, the parent wishing to move the child has to follow a strict set a rules, give notice to the “noncustodial parent” (I know we don’t use that term now, that’s why I put it in quotes) and file a lawsuit in order relocate a child’s residence more than 50 miles.  You can look in Florida Statute 61.13001 for that rather complicated and technical procedure.

And even if you followed every tiny little procedure under the statute–which you better do, because missing even a little technicality can cost you your relocation–then very few of these cases were ever won, especially if the noncustodial parent was regularly exercising timeshare and was up-to-date on child support.

But along comes the Miami appellate court who may have changed everything.

In a case this past August, Dad had rotating custody (“week on/week off,” or pretty close to it), both parents were found to be excellent parents, child support was not an issue, the Guardian ad Litem (the child’s representative) recommended against the move, and the Dad’s new wife was great at helping the child with homework since the child had ADHD.  Mom wanted to move because her new husband, who was in the Coast Guard, got transferred to California.

That’s what we would call an automatic “no-mover.”  In fact, most relocation cases are automatic no-movers, especially when someone has to move because because of a spousal military transfer.  (Why marry a military person when you know you’ll have to move the kids away from your ex?)  Judges just don’t want to break up kids and parents.  It almost never happens.

But the appellate court said that it was in the child’s best interest to move, essentially because Mom would have a better financial life in California.  Interesting.  Rarely does an appellate court shock me, but this one sure did.  It’s certainly changing the way I advise clients on whether they’ll be able to move.

50-50 (Rotating) custody is becoming all the rage

The current trend in the law is to give parents equal timeshare, that is, “50/50″ time with the kids. We lawyers call this “rotating” custody. More and more parents are agreeing to rotating custody, more and more psychologists are agreeing that it’s best for the kids, and more and more judges are awarding it. However, that doesn’t mean it’s best for your kids or that the judge will award it in your case. There are many factors that judges look at when deciding if rotating custody is in the best interest of your children. For instance, do the divorced parents live close together? Do the parents get along? How old are the kids? (Older kids do better with rotating custody, at least until about the time they start driving.) Are both parents good about getting the kids to school on time and making sure the homework gets done? These are just a few of the factors judges look at when deciding if rotating custody is appropriate.

Rotating custody is definitely the “in” thing lately, so make sure you discuss it with your lawyer.

Is Florida a 50/50 custody state?

A couple of years ago Florida changed its statute on custody. Everybody thought the reason for the change was to make Florida a 50-50 custody state. That wasn’t the reason for the change at all. Actually, the reason for the change was pretty simple.

In Florida, too many people have never understand the law on how kids are to be raised by unmarried parents. Parents with primary custody often like authoritarians. They think that, just because they have “primary custody,” they are in complete control of the kids. They say things like, “I have primary custody, therefore you have no say in where the kids go to school.” They try to tell the noncustodial parent that they can’t show up for doctor visits, or that they can control what the kids did on the noncustodial parent’s time.

This wasn’t the law at all, either before the statute changed or after. This was never the law. So the statute was changed to make it clearer that this wasn’t the law. The statute was changed to use words like “timeshare” instead of “custody.” This change was so that people would understand that one parent has no more control over the kids than the other divorced parent.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the courthouse. So many people expected the statute to change into a 50-50 statute that it actually changed into a 50-50 statute, at least in some places.

In Florida, it seems things are changing. Despite the fact that not one word of that statute changed to turn Florida into a 50-50 state, strangely, Florida is slowly becoming a 50-50 state. In many parts of Florida, judges are deciding that 50-50 is the better custody choice for parents. Surprisingly, what everyone thought was going to happen with the new statute, but didn’t, actually did. Weird.

Rotating (50/50) custody is becoming all the rage

The current trend in the law is to give parents equal timeshare, that is, “50/50″ time with the kids. We lawyers call this “rotating” custody. More and more parents are agreeing to rotating custody, more and more psychologists are agreeing that it’s best for the kids, and more and more judges are awarding it. However, that doesn’t mean it’s best for your kids or that the judge will award it in your case. There are many factors that judges look at when deciding if rotating custody is in the best interest of your children. For instance, do the divorced parents live close together? Do the parents get along? How old are the kids? (Older kids do better with rotating custody, at least until about the time they start driving.) Are both parents good about getting the kids to school on time and making sure the homework gets done? These are just a few of the factors judges look at when deciding if rotating custody is appropriate.

Rotating custody is definitely the “in” thing lately, so make sure you discuss it with your lawyer.