Last week I started a 3-part series on incorporating strategy in Family Court appearances. The goal is to show you how having a solid game plan enables you to position your case advantageously. Last week I focused on the first court appearance in custody or divorce, the Initial Conference. This week’s focus is on using the Family Court appearance that follows the Initial Conference, the Family Court Status Conference as part of creating your strategy.

What the Family Court Appearance Status Conference Is

A status conference, in divorce or custody, gives the parties the chance to update the court on what has occurred since additional documents have been filed, to follow up on how temporary orders are working, or to check-in whether certain conditions have been met. The court will want to know how things have been going with respect to visitation to see if things can be resolved without a trial. If at the last court appearance either of the parties was self-represented, the court will want to know if that party(ies) hired a lawyer.

If the judge ordered certain procedural things, like a drug/alcohol screening, a mental health evaluation, or a home investigation, it would follow up with whether those things have been done. Also, if a GAL has been appointed, then the court will want to know the status.

The Goal of the Family Court Status Conference

Family Court, like most other courts, has an interest in saving time and resources. This means that the judge will always aim to get the parties to settle their case.  Family Court appearance Status Conference in custody or divorce is slightly different than the Initial Conference. The court’s hope is that by employing the tactics or measures mentioned above, they will flush out the perceived issues from the real ones. A custodial parent who insists that the noncustodial parent is incapable of taking care of their child for more than a few hours may realize that that’s not a real concern. The court will examine resolution tactics outside of a trial, like mediation. If the court decides on an alternative dispute resolution, it will set dates for the parties to adhere to.

A Discovery plan might also be discussed at a status conference. This usually entails setting rules & restrictions on Discovery as well as a timeline for the exchange of Discovery.

The last major thing to be addressed in a status conference is overall scheduling. In addition to setting dates for mediation and Discovery, the court will also set a deadline for any motions or amendments to petitions. In addition, the court might establish a pretrial conference date and a trial date.

The process for the status conference might differ when both parties and one party is self-represented. The court will try to encourage pro se litigants to get an attorney at this stage of the case with the thinking that they’d be more inclined to settle.

Using this Family Court Status Conference Strategically

This is the time to use what you have gathered outside of the courtroom, because of the court’s directions, to your advantage. In other words, the orders the court issued, the procedures the judge directed, etc. all offer you vantage points that didn’t exist before. You might have had suspicions about some issues that question the other party’s “fitness” as a parent. Or questions about the safety conditions of the other party’s home. Or speculation about the mental or physical health of the other parent. Either way, the status conference is the ideal time to gauge the court’s position on these specific issues. If, for instance, you mentioned your concern about drug abuse and the judge ordered drug screenings, then this shows that the judge takes this issue seriously. How many times have you raised concerns in court that were dismissed by the judge, often I bet? But if the judge thinks the issue, you raise has some semblance of merit, they will respond accordingly.

The other strategic way to use the Status Conference is by incorporating the information you acquired to help you decide if you should settle or proceed to trial. At this stage of your case, there have been several discussions about settling at least a portion of your case. However, having the results of tests or investigations only helps you to make a much more informed decision when it comes to negotiations.

And last, if you are pro se (self-represented) you can learn a lot about the court process, the laws, and the local procedures at the status conference. You should always be on full alert, listening, watching, and taking mental notes.

In Conclusion

Every stage of your case offers some advantage as it progresses along. You might see going to court as a war zone, triggering all sorts of emotion, while I see it as an opportunity. Any time you are in an environment where you can learn the opposing party’s objective, you should see it as a potential advantage.

My new Pro Se Family Court Membership Program is the perfect solution to your custody or divorce situation.  Having a solid game plan that focuses on using strategy can make or break your case.  Interested in the details? Check here.

So many people have been asking about pandemic parenting, co-parenting, custody, or visitation.  The real issues arise when one of the parties, or child, comes up with a positive test result.  Up until recently the thought of positive test results for many, especially children, was illusive.  But now with these new variants, that’s more of the reality for many.  Regardless, these times we are currently experiencing can’t compare to any other such time in our living history.  So the courts, like its constituents, are still trying to make sense of all of it.  Things like, to vaccinate or not vaccinate, to allow virtual school or in-school sessions, to enforce visits or suspend them…are all examples of issues plaguing the Family Court.

Pandemic Parenting

Pro-vaccination vs Anti-vaccination Parents

It is no secret that most judges are very conventional in their view on vaccinations, the Covid vaccination is no different.  So in the past when a Family Court judge was presented with the issue of whether a minor child should be vaccinated when one of the parents opposed, the outcome was almost always predictable.  Judges would almost always override the opposing parent’s authority by ordering that the child gets a vaccination, except in rare instances. The reason judges have always been mostly pro-vaccination is that they relied on science, data & statistics to support their position.  The only exception was when the child’s treating doctors recommended against the vaccinations for medical reasons. Even then, the level of scrutiny was always above the norm.  Judges are almost in agreement that Covid vaccinations are the safest bet for all involved.

Virtual School vs. In School Session

This issue is a new phenomenon to some degree.  If either parent has sole legal custody, then this is not an issue, that parent gets to decide.  The only exception is if the other parent seeks to change or modify the sole legal custody order. In that case, the issue of in-school vs. virtual can actually serve as the basis for the modification. In the past, the issue that most resembled this one was homeschool vs. in school.  The courts in those cases were inclined to rule in favor of in school.  This started to change in the past few years when homeschooling became a viable option.  When the data showed that homeschooled children were actually doing better academically it became easier to influence the courts.

However, the issue with Covid is a little different.  Academics is not really the focus in these pandemic times, it’s about safety.  This makes this issue very tricky because it’s not necessarily the safety of the target child but of the entire school population.  Judges are forced to consider whether the parent’s “right” to send the child to school should be trumped by the safety of the public (school). Although judges are still obligated to apply the best interests factors (which vary from state to state) to help it make its determination.   But even with that in mind, they can’t ignore their duty to keep the public’s safety in mind even if they don’t state it.

Covid Positive: Suspend Visits vs. Enforce Visits

This is where things get very volatile.  If a parent (or their paramour) or a child tests positive, should the child stay where they are, return home, or do something else.  Better yet, what happens if the child is in a blended family and one of its members tests positive, how should visits happen then?  These are all very likely scenarios and have been happening a lot.  The courts are all over the place with this issue.  In New York, for instance, the courts are ordering that custody orders be exercised no matter what anyone’s (or their family members’) Covid status is.  This means that if the child has Covid or the parent who is supposed to have visited has it, the visits are to happen regardless.

The other scenario is whether a positive child who was exercising visits with a non-custodial parent should return to their home. Either way, the rationale is that both parents still have rights to their time with the child.  The courts have always taken the position that parents can take care of their sick child during their respective visitation times.  And them testing positive for Covid doesn’t change that.

The CDC, on the other hand, suggests quarantining and so are doctors who are treating the Covid positive parent/child.  They are recommending that the child not expose anyone else to the virus by leaving their environment.  So who should influence the judge more, the rights of the parents or the medical community? This is not really a “best interests” issue, as much as it is a public safety issue.  The child’s well-being might be affected if visits are suspended because of either way someone is missing out on their time.  But the time can be made up once the positively tested party is cleared.

Theory vs. Practice

In a practical sense, the only issue that might be worth going to court over is school.  In theory, to vaccinate or not to vaccinate is disputable. But what if the other parent gets the child vaccinated before court involvement?  You can’t unring a bell, meaning you can’t unvaccinated the child. So the issue then becomes one of Contempt.

The same with the visits, if the disputing parent decides to proceed to court it might be too late.  By the time the case gets in front of a judge, the visiting time has already passed.  So, again, the issue presented to the court would be about Contempt, Modification, or both. Either parent can conceivably seek to modify a current custody order based on how this issue was handled. The way the other parent exercised judgment, for example, deciding to ignore the doctor’s recommendations, can be considered in a modification case.

The school issue, on the other hand, is always a relevant one.  It’s the only one of these issues that can change at any time.  So, in other words, it hardly ever becomes a moot issue.  The judge’s decision has the propensity to take into account things that might happen in the future.  So it’s best to get the court involved at any time when Covid, or any other issue, has a direct impact on academic performance.

Final Thoughts on Pandemic Parenting

The courts are still all over the place on some pandemic parenting and other pandemic-related issues.  So I strongly urge Family Court parties to get a consultation from a local family law Attorney Family Court.

Co-parenting

Co-parenting can go as smoothly as the parties allow it to.  It doesn’t have to be complicated or have a lot of conflict. However, it does not mean that when parties disagree on issues that it is unsuccessful.  Co-parenting simply means that parents communicate effectively and collaborate on important decisions regarding their child(ren).  Disagreements, confusion, etc. are not necessarily nonexistent when parents co-parent successfully. Judges understand the nuances involved when faced with the challenges of coming up with a workable co-parenting agreement.


Long-Distance Co-Parenting


Signs of “Good” of Co-parenting

There is an underlying concept of what “good” or “favorable” co-parenting looks like and it’s based on several principles.  The principles center around maintaining the best environment for the mental, emotional, intellectual and physical development of the child(ren).  To ensure that these principles are given the utmost consideration there are some vital tips parents should keep in mind.

  1. Maintain clear boundaries. This means that each parent should keep in mind the things they have control over and those they do not.  Know your limits and have reasonable expectations.
  2. Set & keep a predetermined schedule. The more precise and exact the time, location, etc. the parenting schedule is the better it is for all involved.
  3. Be flexible. Setting a precise schedule does not mean that you need to firm and uncooperative when it comes to emergencies or unexpected/unforeseen events.  Life is full of these sort of things so it is important to remember that when co-parenting.
  4. Extend courtesies to each other. You don’t have to love each other anymore but treat the other parent the way you want them to treat you.  (In my Michelle Obama voice “they go low, you go high”.)
  5. Keep the kids out of it. This means the child(ren) should not be relaying messages, made to choose sides or witness any negativity about either parent.
  6. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Talking, texting, emailing, using an app, etc. whatever means or method you choose you should definitely communicate.  You don’t have to respond, especially if you’re tempted to respond negatively, but you should definitely include the other parent in the important things.
  7. Attend events without tension. You can share events, occasions, etc. without conflict.  (Of course if there’s a history of any sort of violence this may not be the best thing.) You can go in shifts, agree to stay in a certain area or similar, but you don’t have to anticipate tension when attending an event at the same time.
  8. Respect each parent’s role. Each parent has a role in their child’s life.  Never mind what you think of it, how important it is or how meaningful it is, it exists.  You should respect the other parent’s role no matter what.
  9. Check yourself. You have an obligation and a duty to keep yourself in line when it comes to co-parenting.  If you each do this then the other does not need to.
  10. It’s about your child(ren), not either of you. This is self-explanatory.

“Not So Good” but Effective Coparenting

As I stated above, effective co-parenting can still exist despite all of the elements mentioned.  Of course, studies have shown that low conflict co-parenting rears emotionally and mentally stable children.  However, children are not doomed because they were not raised by “ideal” co-parents.

I want to highlight the fact that I am not referring to “parallel parenting” where each parent don’t communicate and raise their children in two separate households with hardly any interaction with each other.  That is very different from the “not so good” co-parenting I am referring to.   That being said, let’s explore co-parenting situations where all the elements I discussed are not present.

  1. You won’t agree on EVERYTHING. And it’s perfectly ok.  How many times did you actually agree when you were together?
  2. Things happen. It’s life, surprises come up that should not turn your entire world upside down if you have to change things around.
  3. Biting the bullet, so to speak, won’t kill you. Choose your battles wisely, some things are best left unsaid or not responded to.  There will times when the other parent tries to ruffle your feathers, be the bigger person.
  4. Keeping a record of interactions is wise. It is not problematic to keep some sort of diary/journal of all interactions like pickup and/or drop off just to maintain some organization.
  5. Short conversations or exchanges are not antagonistic. Being civil sometimes means keeping the conversations to a few words or phrases and that’s it.
  6. Different parenting styles is acceptable. No need to parent the same way, in fact, it’s more beneficial if you don’t.  You should have the same intentions but don’t have be identical in your means of acquiring them.
  7. You are are not obligated to feel comfortable being in their presence. It is not wrong if you opt out of attending certain events because you don’t want to be in the same room.
  8. Sharing is not always caring. Keeping some things, that are not important, between you and your child and/or your new significant other is not detrimental.
  9. Having a new significant other is not a bad thing. Many people think dating or having a live-in paramour looks bad to the other parent and/or the court.  This is not necessarily the case as long as they don’t pose a risk to the child(ren).
  10. Your kids having issues with either or both of you it totally fine. Kids can be manipulative and controlling, so they will push your buttons this should not affect your co-parenting.

In conclusion

Co-parenting may look different for each family, this is totally acceptable.  Every single family has it’s own set of issues, expectations, etc.  So if your co-parenting relationship seems unique because of any of these reasons it’s ok. Try to focus on your overall objective, that is to ensure that your child(ren)’s well-being is paramount.

If you would like to speak with me about the services I provide please feel free to schedule a FREE 15 min. consultation here.

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long-distance co-parenting

Co-parenting can be challenging when both parents live within the same state or certain distance of each other. However, during long-distance co-parenting, it can complicate things ever more so. Particularly when the parties have joint custody, mainly joint legal, it can cause major problems with enforcement.

Co-parenting Agreements or parenting plans for long-distance parents usually look different than for those who within a 50 mile radius of each other for example. Between scheduling time, facilitating visits, staying on the loop amongst a few things, the agreement needs to address all of these things in more detail.


Best Interests of the Child Custody Each State 


Sharing Information in Long-Distance Co-Parenting

The Agreement or plan should go in depth about how the long-distance parent can stay informed of doctor visits, medical decisions, school events, school reports, etc. So using email, co-parentings apps, text messages etc. are a good means. In addition, the noncustodial parent should have the contact information for school personnel, medical providers and whomever has regular contact with the children with respect to education, health and extracurricular activities. The custodial parent should provide these to the other parent without any lapses.

Communication

Video chatting and phone calls should also take place on a different schedule than if both parents live close by. The actual schedule for these should take into consideration any time differences as well as the parties schedule. Of course the age of the child should be considered but allowances should be made for the circumstances as well.

Scheduling

Travel may be a huge obstacle for the noncustodial parent when it comes to exercising visits. So when it comes to planning visits the logistics of travel should be priority. Inclement weather, means of transportation, costs to travel etc. should be factored in when creating the Agreement or plan.Also work and school schedules can certainly make long-distance visits formidable. Careful planning is necessary with respect to choosing vacation, mapping out school breaks and such. It is important to stick to schedules as much as practicable so that other planned visits are not thrown off.

Flexibility

The one thing that is paramount to any long-distance co-parenting relationship working is parties flexibility.  Things happen when parents are local let alone when there is distance between them. As I mentioned above, weather, schedule conflicts, sickness etc. can interfere with even the well planned out visits.If the noncustodial chooses not to exercise their visits or maintain contact that’s one thing. On the other hand, when exercising visits is out of their control the custodial parent’s willingness to work around will be looked at favorably by the court.

Making it Work

With today’s technology there’s no reason why long distance co-parenting should be near impossible. Between apps for communication, note taking, calendaring and so there’s a plethora of ways to make it happen smoothly. In addition, Skype, social media, text messaging makes staying in touch a feasible task.The parties should make an effort to discuss and agree on which tools will be used. Exploring what works for both parents based on their family’s specific needs is the key. The tools chosen should be included in the agreement but again flexibility is necessary.

In conclusion

“Normal” co-parenting is not impossible when parents live some distance apart. With careful planning, consistency and flexibility co-parenting with distance in between is doable.
If you would like to discuss how we can help you in your co-parenting, custody or visitation case please feel free to schedule a free 15 minute consultation.