December 16, 2011

DuPage County Divorce Attorney: Custody and Parenting

Helping Children Resist the Pressure to Choose One Parent Over the Other

By Amy J.L. Baker, Ph.D. in Caught Between Parents, Psychology Today

Some children of divorce naturally feel caught between their parents as they adjust to two homes, two sets of rules, possibly two neighborhoods, and two families. But what children really want and need is to stay out of their parents' conflicts and to maintain healthy and strong relationships with both parents (unless, of course, one parent is abusive to the child).

Unfortunately, some parents take advantage of children's difficulty navigating between two families and dealing with the complexity of parental divorce by creating in their children an expectation that they choose sides. These parents employ a range of strategies, known as parental alienation, in order to foster the child's rejection of the other parent.

Parental alienation strategies can take many forms but usually includes badmouthing the other parent, limiting contact between the child and that parent, and interfering with communication between the child and the parent.

Divorcing parents need to become educated about the primary parental alienation strategies so that they can effectively employ responses that challenge the child's tendency to take sides while maintaining the high road as a parent (see Baker & Fine, 2008 for more details).

Parents concerned about parental alienation also need to help their children develop 4 capacities that will help them resist the pressure to choose sides. These are:

Critical Thinking Skills
When children think critically they are aware of their thoughts, where they came from and are able to examine the reality of them and change them accordingly. This skill will help the child question his or her ideas about each parent (i.e., one is all good, one is all bad; one is always right, one is always wrong). If a child is using critical thinking skills it is not likely that he or she can be programmed or brainwashed into rejecting one parent to please the other.

Considering Options
When placed in a pressured situation in which a child feels compelled to do as one parent asks (i.e., not spend time with the other parent, spy on that parent, and so forth), it is important for the child to slow down, not act right away, and consider his or her options. Doing so can prevent the child from automatically doing what the alienating parent is asking.

Listening to One's Heart
When children learn how to be true to themselves and their values it is not likely that they can be manipulated or convinced to do something that goes against their best interest (i.e., cut off one parent to please the other) or something that betrays the other parent. Children need to be encouraged to identify their core values and to be attuned to when they are going against them.

Using Coping Skills and Getting Support
Children sometimes feel that they are the only ones who are dealing with a problem and that no one can understand what they are going through. Encouraging children to talk to other people such as friends, teachers, and other caring adults can help them feel less alone and can help them benefit from the wisdom and kindness of others. Children also have more internal resources (self talk, relaxation strategies) that they can develop and rely on in times of need.

December 6, 2011

Kane County Divorce Attorney: The Art of Civility in Practice

The American Bar Association's Section of Family Law adopted standards of civility for Family (Divorce and Custody) Attorneys. The ABA recognized that civility is important in family law practice. As a litigant and client, why should lawyer civility be important to you?

In my divorce and custody practice, there is a time for negotiation, and there is a time for aggressive representation of my client's interests. Aggressive representation, however, does not suggest inflammatory or reckless litigation. In my 25 years of litigation experience, as a prosecutor and trial lawyer, the most successful approach to litigation is aggressive, focused civility. Lawyers that treat their clients with respect and care, who treat opposing lawyers with a measure of civility, and who show respect for the Court, get the best results.

Why, as a trial lawyer, act with civility? It saves you, the client, time and money, lowers the stress of the case, and gets the best results. If you hire an angry, reckless, "bulldog" lawyer for your case, you'll spend more, have more anguish and stress, and your results will likely be far lower. Judges typically don't respect the generalist "bulldog" lawyers.

So, what are the ABA's recommendations for civility in divorce practice?:

1. Treat the the client with respect.

2. Try to keep the client on an even emotional keel and
avoid characterizing the actions of the other party,
opposing lawyers, and judicial officials in emotional
terms.

3. Be aware of counseling resources and be prepared
to refer the client to counseling where appropriate.

4. Where a client has an exaggerated or unrealistic
view of his or her options in any given situation,
explain matters as carefully as possible in order to
assist the client to realistically assess the situation.

5. Respond promptly to client requests for advice or
information.

6. Consider the availability and appropriateness of
forms of alternate dispute resolution.

7. Where a client wishes to pursue a claim or motion for
purely hostile or vindictive purposes, explain to the
client the reasons why the client should not do so.

8. Do not assist a client in pursuing a claim for primary
custody or visitation where the purpose of the claim
is to obtain bargaining leverage in order to achieve a
purely economic objective.

9. Avoid any communication to client about the judge,
the other lawyer, or the other party that will contribute
to disrespect for the legal process.

10. Encourage clients to comply with all court orders.

Says the ABA: "These Standards address the responsibility of the family
lawyer to be civil to clients, opposing counsel, and the
Court. Civility is an important obligation of a lawyer."

December 3, 2011

Kane County Divorce Lawyer: Custody and UCCJEA Commentary

My practice has seen an increase in the number of interstate custody disputes, in part due to the increased mobility of families as well as due to age old issues of parents wishing to return to their "home state" with their children once the marriage begins to break down. The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (“UCCJEA”), a national uniform act, was enacted in Illinois on July 8, 2003, and took effect on January 1, 2004.1 It was incorporated into Illinois law to end custody jurisdictional disputes between states, to promote cooperation between states in determining custody issues, and to enhance the ability of states to enforce custody orders expeditiously.

I receive calls frequently from parents who have either fled the state of Illinois to avoid domestic violence and a bad marriage, or from parents left behind in Illinois once a divorce commences and the opposing spouse wishes to leave Illinois and run "home" with the children to his or her family out of state.

Illinois law disfavors parents leaving the state and taking the children with them. Illinois has long had a tradition of requiring Illinois parents in divorce to stay in Illinois and raise the children here with both parents. Our removal statute creates factors that determine whether a party may lawfully "remove" the child or children from Illinois to reside permanantly in another state.

The UCCJEA as part of Illinois created a powerful tool to help the states determine whether Illinois or another state should decide an interstate custody dispute. What has been interesting to me in my custody practice has been the observation that even though the UCCJEA in incorporated into most states' law, few lawyers and a minority number of judges seem to understand how the UCCJEA works and how it is intended to guide interstate custody decisions.

THe UCCJEA is a powerful tool in an Illinois lawyer's arsenal. If your spouse has fled the state with your children, or if you have left the state lawfully to avoid domestic violence, please contact my office for a thourough consultation on interstate custody and the UCCJEA.