Anonymous Post From a Client About Being a Stepmom

By | Client Posts, Co-Parenting, Unsolicited Opinions

Background: This anonymous post comes from a client’s wife who unconditionally loves her step son despite being sidelined by the system and the dynamic in which the child came into the world. Here are her unfiltered thoughts:

“What qualities make a stepmom worthy of praise and satisfaction? We have done an extreme injustice to stepmoms in this country. The boundaries of what we should and shouldn’t do are so lost. No one has an answer that feels good. Thanks to Cinderella we stepmoms have a stigma attached that may never go away. People dismiss us all the time! You’re the only one willing to sacrifice and call into work to take your sick stepson to the doctor because God forbid a man calls into work in our corporate world for a “sick kid”, and God forbid his “real” mom takes time away from her needs to do it. And no one says thanks or acknowledges a damn bit of what you do. He needs an allergist, you’re the only one who spends enough time with him to even know he needs an allergist. He needs to work on a project for school and you’re the only one who reminds him or is invested in his grades. He needs new clothes because he hit a growth spurt and you’re the only one who will spend the money or the time to take him. Better yet you’re the only one who noticed he grew out of his clothes. The “real” mom wants the dad to “supply” all his needs. Meanwhile she’s doing happy hours, pedicures, shopping, dating, etc. The dad wants his child support to “supply” his needs. Unless he spent his life savings winning custody. In that case the “real” mom has the whole world feeling sorry for her and giving her monetary handouts. Please. If you lost custody especially in the state of Texas then bet your booty you are not a good mother. Yet as a stepmom you are supposed to go above and beyond to be the most consistent, loving, patient mom of all time. This sounds like a job no one wants hu? I have a secret. I love the job! Guess what sweet child will remember who was always there for them? And for doctors visits? And traditions? And cookies at school for the winter party? And money for the book fair? And prescription refills? It’s me. While everyone else is tallying and hateful I’m making beautiful memories with a handsome young man who will always respect me and love me and trust me no matter what. You simply can’t beat that with your corporate job or your stupid meaningless words. Kids see action and they will always remember who was really there. I’m changing the life of a child and that is something no one can take away or even compete with.”

Co-Parenting Tips for the Holidays – It’s the Golden Rule, Duh.

By | Co-Parenting, Custody and Conservatorship, Divorce

Christianity: So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7:12.

Buddhism: Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. Udana-Varga 5,1

Judaism: What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellowman. This is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary. Talmud, Shabbat 3id

1. Say yes and keep saying yes. “Can I bring him back late?” “Will you pack her Christmas dress?” “Can I trade days?” Say yes every time. Always know what your decree or other order requires but then always say yes. Don’t say, “yes if you will do x, y, z.” You can’t make someone else be kind. You can only make sure you are kind. Look for these opportunities because your kids are watching and will notice. Just say yes. Maybe smile a little too.

2. Buy the other parent a gift from your child. This is such a cheap and easy way to show the other parent you acknowledge and support the relationship between your child and his or her mother or father. If you want halos or you are an overachiever, also buy your co-parent’s significant other a present. Think Julia Roberts in Step Mom.

3. Follow your child’s lead on Christmas/Hanukkah. If your child wants mom to come to lunch but its not her day, invite her! If your son wants to see what his father got in his stocking, drive him by his dad’s house.

4. Include other half and step siblings in all traditions. Every child wants to be equal to their siblings and every child wants love from the mother and father, grandmother and grandfather figures in the homes they live in. All traditions should be evenly shared among the children. Tell your parents to bring a gift for your step son and to make sure if there is a family day planned to see Santa, that it’s scheduled around your step child’s visitation day. The only qualifier should be that the child is a child, not that the child belongs to so and so or doesn’t belong to so and so. Remember that halves and steps are terms and types of relationships children learn. Try to teach them that “halves” and “steps” are like “bonus” and “cool”.

5. Take a family photo. Not photo of your family. Take a photo of your child’s family. Who are important to him? Who is his mimi, her sisi, his mommy, her other mommy, his big brother…? Let that picture be his family photo he shares at school. Show him his family tree and how many people he belongs to. You have plenty of photos of your family, but does your child have one photo of everyone in HER family?

Going Back to Court Over the Kids

By | Child Support, Co-Parenting, Custody and Conservatorship, Divorce

Even after the fat lady sings, it’s still not over. Half of my business is made up of cases where parents need to change their custodial agreements and orders due to changed circumstances. The agreements that worked at the time of divorce won’t necessarily work even 5 years down the road when parents have moved, remarried, had more children, lost jobs and so on. Despite the fact that these life events are common and you would think parents would not have to go back to court over these issues, I find modifications to be the most contentious.

Child support is probably the most obvious reason to modify a prior order. Just today I represented a child support paying mother whose income is steadily decreasing. Although I am sure the father feels that she is intentionally scaling back to avoid additional support, the income was what it was and the Court lowered her support based upon her reduced income. Keep in mind that child support is generally not based on the needs of the child but on a percentage of the parent’s net income up to a certain point.

Another reason why parents end up back in court is because the child decides they would prefer to live with the other parent. After the child turns 12, the court has to interview the child in cases where the right to determine the primary residence is at issue. Although the court does not have to do what the child requests, the child’s input could play a role depending upon the circumstances.

In some cases, the right to determine the primary residence is not at issue but visitation is. When parents can’t agree on their own, they will come to us lawyers and the courts to handle visitation issues. For example, if one parent lives just far enough to make it very difficult to see mom for 30 days in the summer and train for high school football. Or when a daughter wants to spend Thanksgiving doing missionary work and some other time with Dad needs to be arranged. These examples are minor. What gets to be more serious is when mom or dad’s social drinking devolves into alcoholism or other life events that need to be dealt with.

Parents often move over 100 miles from the other parent. When that happens, visitation needs to change from the standard 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekends during the school year for parents that reside less than 100 miles apart to something more flexible or specifically tailored to the family’s needs.

The problem with all these common occurrences is that modification actions can cost quadruple what you paid in the divorce. Typically, divorcing parents just want the divorce done. They disregard a lot of advice from their lawyers advising them to be very specific and forward thinking in their agreements so that they anticipate future problems and therefore avoid costly litigation. But by the time the divorce is being finalized and the documents are being drafted, parents stop caring. They want it DONE.

The reason why these modifications cost so much more is that more than one hearing is needed to walk the court down the road of explaining the basis for the modification. One hearing for child support, one hearing to have the child interviewed, one hearing to argue over what school records are admissible, one hearing to force a parent to go to specific counseling or other parenting classes. This can go on and on and on depending upon the stubbornness of the other side. This of course only hurts children and destroys pocket books. Unfortunately for others though, it is the only way to make a change.

“Mom, I want to live with Dad”- A Mother’s Problem

By | Co-Parenting, Custody and Conservatorship, Divorce

“Does my child get to pick who she wants to live with when she is 12?” I get that a lot. The answer is “yes and no.” I know, I’m a big help.

The Texas Family Code allows a child to be interviewed by the judge in chambers so that he or she can express her wishes, but that does not mean he or she is the decider.

This is a mother’s problem. Fathers don’t worry about this near as much as mothers do. Mothers feel that when their children “live” with dad, that the world must think they are a terrible mother. Think about it. People wonder, “How did she lose her children?” or “what did she do?” If a mother “loses custody,” then she must have been arrested or getting treatment. When a child decides that they would prefer to live primarily with dad, mom does not lose custody. She actually practically gets the same amount of non-school time, weekends, and a long period in the summer.

At the risk of losing my reader’s attention, here is the specific statute allowing a child to be interviewed.

Texas Family Code § 153.009.

(a) In a nonjury trial or at a hearing, on the application of a party, the amicus attorney, or the attorney ad litem for the child, the court shall interview in chambers a child 12 years of age or older and may interview in chambers a child under 12 years of age to determine the child’s wishes as to conservatorship or as to the person who shall have the exclusive right to determine the child’s primary residence. The court may also interview child in chambers on the court’s own motion for a purpose specified by this subsection.

(b) In a nonjury trial or at a hearing, on the application of a party, the amicus attorney, or the attorney ad litem for the child or on the court’s own motion, the court may interview the child in chambers to determine the child’s wishes as to possession, access, or any other issue in the suit affecting the parent-child relationship.

(c) Interviewing a child does not diminish the discretion of the court in determining the best interests of the child.

(d) (f) (omitted by author to save attention spans)

If you haven’t stopped paying attention or gone to another article, hopefully I can get you back.

Since everyone knows children need meaningful relationships with both parents, let’s not make this a statement on motherhood. Be informed that when a child wants to “live” with dad, it means he or she wants to be with him more. Since when is it a bad thing for children to want to be with a parent? Sometimes children need one parent more than the other during certain times of their lives. If you and your spouse get along, then most likely your child will never have to be interviewed by the judge. If you can agree that the child should spend more time with the other parent, then crisis is averted.

Yes, if a Court determines that the child should live with the other parent, it could have child support implications. But, if your reason to fight your child’s wishes to live with the other parent is because of child support, you need to re-consider the fight.

Obviously, there are other fact patters worthy of the fight. Let’s say the child gets away with smoking pot or cutting school when he or she is with dad. I’m sure the child will tell the Court all about why dad is better, but fighting that makes sense.

In conclusion, a court must interview a child who is 12 years old or other to hear who they would select as the parent with the right to determine the primary residence and may interview a child to hear their take on possession and access or other issues, but it does not mean that the judge will turn around and order who or what the child selected. It does not mean that the child is in charge. Conservatorship, visitation, parental rights and obligations depend on the best interest of the child. The best interest of the child depend upon countless factors, one of which is the child’s wishes.

It’s important, as a mother, to know the difference between your child genuinely needing their father and a situation where your child wants to go clubbing with dad. Be kind to the mothers who are emotionally evolved and can support their child in wanting to be with dad more. Even if he lives with a homewrecker and her evil children.