Creating Healthy Boundaries After Divorce

Fence 3

When looking to set appropriate boundaries after divorce here are some things to keep in mind. Healthy boundaries can be hard to establish and to keep in place, but they will make a world of difference to you, your ex and your children. Ever changing boundaries are confusing to everyone involved.

Too much information. Neither you nor your ex is entitled to delve into each other’s personal lives. You have separate lives now and the less either of you gets involved in each other’s personal issues the less conflict you will have. It is not your business who your ex is dating, or what he/she is doing; and vice versa.

Boundary 5

R-E-S-P-E-C-T. You cannot get respect if you do not give it. Communicate in an efficient and respectful way with each other. Do not blame or accuse, but inquire. Keep all communication brief to the matter at hand. Do not ask personal questions or give personal advice or criticisms. Respecting boundaries, whether the other person has established them or not, helps you keep your own boundaries and show self-respect.

Be the bigger person. This is always hard. The saying is that it takes two to tango. You do not pick the fight, and you do not engage in the fight. If the conflict escalates, you walk away until things cool down. Disengaging is always better than saying things you cannot take back later or may be sorry for if brought up in court. You are no longer married and you can always walk away from the conversation. Avoiding a conversation, however, does not make it go away. Some conversation is necessary when children are involved.Couple boundaries

Bashing not allowed. Do not bash your ex where your children can hear it or let other people do so. The same goes for friends and family. Even if you think they cannot hear you, they probably can. It creates conflict and confusion for children to hear negative things about either parent. They want their parents to love them and keep them safe. Tearing down the other parent leaves children groping for a life boat. Children feel they have to take sides and make each parent happy. It is unfair to put any child in that position. Children do not need the stress of dealing with adult issues. Protecting your children is more than just getting a divorced. It is about making sure they do not get dragged into anyone’s baggage.

Keep the children out of the middle. The children should not be the intermediaries and carry messages or schedules between parents. It is not the children’s responsibility to do these things and places an unfair and sometimes overwhelming burden on them. If the other parent is doing this, stay firm and communicate with them about the message/schedule, and add politely not to send such messages with the children. Sometimes communicating by email or through a message board like http://www.talkingparents.com can be helpful in establishing these boundaries. If the behavior continues you may want to consult your attorney.

Child Tug of War

Your ex’s happiness is not your responsibility. You are divorced. It is not your job or duty to make sure your ex is happy or content. This goes with #1. If your ex is having problems with anything other than the children you do not have to fix it, give advice, or take on their problem for them. Also your ex is no longer your support. Establish a group of friends, relatives and professionals to give you needed support and advice.

Blood is thicker than water. Keeping a good working relationship with the ex in-laws is always nice. However, make sure your friendship with them is actually a friendship and not just because you were part of the family. Do not expect them to pick your side of a conflict. Your ex should not be a subject of conversation at all and they should not be contacting you to complain about either you or your ex.

Guest

Establish your own routines and home. Your home is your home. When your ex is in your home or you in his/hers, that person is a house guest. House guests should be treated as such and you need to make sure he/she understands it is not their home and they are a guest. It is not an opportunity to criticize or invade the other person’s privacy. Your ex should not expect to come into your home and “hang out” with the kids and vice versa.Boundary 1Zero tolerance for abuse. This boundary goes hand-in-hand with #2. You cannot continue to try to communicate or reason with a person who is yelling, demeaning, or belligerent to you. Feel free to say the conversation is not productive and you are going to hang up. Then hang up. Zero tolerance is exactly that – zero. After hanging up do not answer repeated calls or text messages or emails about the communication until you and your ex have had a chance to calm down. You may want to say you need an hour or a day and will get back to them about the issue. Engaging in conflict is not healthy and you need to sever that emotional tie to your ex. Keep your dignity and voice your fears and frustration to friends and not your ex. By doing this you maintain control of your emotions and yourself.

Child support/spousal maintenance. These are not gifts from your ex to you. These are ordered support payments and do not give your ex the right to criticize, comment on, or belittle you regarding your job, finances, etc. Keep your financial circumstances to yourself for your own protection. Do not beg, plead or compromise yourself where it puts you in an inferior position from your ex. If you are having trouble getting your payments, contact a lawyer or your county Child Support Enforcement Unit.

Different parenting styles. Every parent has a different style of parenting. You need to accept that your ex will not do things exactly as you do and move on. As long as the children are not in imminent danger, parents are allowed to parent their children in their individual way. Setting these boundaries with the children is also important. They should know what to expect from you for rules, discipline, etc. Just because something does not apply in your ex’s home does not mean they are not held to that standard in your home. When possible, do your best to coordinate disciplinary issues so the children do not receive conflicting messages.

Do Not Cross

Establishing healthy and consistent boundaries is difficult and takes many tries.  Do not be discouraged if it does not work immediately.  Setting boundaries takes time and reminding.  Stay firm and know that eventually these boundaries will help you establish your own peace and new life.

Written by June F. Bourrillion, Esq. for http://www.rkymtnlaw.com

What is the “Best Interests of the Child”?

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Whether it is an action for the allocation of parental responsibilities or an action for divorce, Colorado’s standard for determining parenting time, residential custody, and decision-making is called the best interests of the child. It can be found at Colorado Revised Statutes, 14-10-124. The purpose of this standard is to nurture a loving relationship between the child and both parents and to give the child frequent and continuing contact with both parents, where appropriate.

The point of this standard is to put the needs of the child above those of the parents and to accommodate those needs as much as possible given the particular circumstances. The child’s safety, physical/mental/emotional well being, and needs are given predominant consideration by the court. Consideration is also given to extenuating circumstances such as a history of domestic abuse, child neglect/abuse, convictions for sexual assault, and other crimes related to children.

Father-Son

Statutory factors include:

  1. The wishes of the child’s parents as to parenting time;
  2. The wishes of the child if he or she is sufficiently mature to express reasoned and independent preferences as to the parenting time schedule;
  3. The interaction and interrelationship of the child with his or her parents, his or her siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interests;
  4. The child’s adjustment to his or her home, school, and community;
  5. The mental and physical health of all individuals involved, except that a disability alone shall not be a basis to deny or restrict parenting time;
  6. The ability of the parties to encourage the sharing of love, affection, and contact between the child and the other party; except that, if the court determines that a party is acting to protect the child from witnessing domestic violence or from being a victim of child abuse or neglect or domestic violence, the party’s protective actions shall not be considered with respect to this factor;
  7. Whether the past pattern of involvement of the parties with the child reflects a system of values, time commitment, and mutual support;
  8. The physical proximity of the parties to each other as this relates to the practical considerations of parenting time; and
  9. The ability of each party to place the needs of the child ahead of his or her own needs.

Colorado Revised Statutes, 14-10-124 (1.5).

Father-Daughter

As you can see there is no presumption that a mother is more qualified to care for the child more than a father. Although some allowances are made if the child is an infant, it certainly depends on the facts of the individual case. Factors which weigh in the Court’s decision are claims of child abuse/neglect, domestic violence, or sexual assault (especially as applied to children who are conceived as a result of that assault). This can also affect decision-making allocation.

In decision-making, even if the above conditions exist, if the parties show they have been able to make decisions for the children together in the past the Court may be inclined to grant joint decision-making. There are also circumstances in which the Court would grant sole decision-making for the safety and and well being of the abused party and the child. See, Colorado Revised Statutes, 14-10-124 (1.5)(b).

Mother-SonMany times a Child and Family Investigator (“CFI”) or Parental Rights Evaluator
(“PRE”) is appointed by the Court to provide a neutral perspective on the situation and what is in the best interests of the children involved. The costs of a CFI or PRE vary from $2,000 to more than $10,000. After evaluation and investigation these experts file a confidential report to the Court with a summary of their findings and recommendations about the children. These reports are sealed from outside viewing, but the parties and their attorneys, if applicable, will also be given copies. Colorado Revised Statutes, 14-10-116.5 and 14-10-127.

In 2013, this statute was amended to make more specific provisions for situations involving domestic violence/abuse, child abuse/neglect, and perpetrators of sexual assault. If the Court finds there is a believable history or sufficient evidence that any of these factors exist the Court can restrict parenting time to the perpetrating party, order counseling or evaluations, enter protective orders, and other relief to provide that the victim and the children are protected while still preserving the rights of the offending parent.

Every case is different and you should always consult with an attorney about the options and your rights in any case dealing with parental responsibilities (divorce, neglect or custody cases). Foremost the Court is going to do what will protect, nurture and promote a loving relationship between every child and both of their parents. The goal is to impact the children as little as possible even though their parents are no longer together.

Written by June F. Bourrillion, Esq. for http://www.rkymtnlaw.com

Just You Wait Until Lil Johnny’s Twelve

An Overview of Child and Family Investigators, Child Legal Representatives and Parental Responsibilities Evaluators

custodyDivorced parents are fond of saying that at a certain age their children can go into court and “tell [the court] the truth” which will lead to changes in parenting time, decision-making, etc. The most common age they claim this can happen is when the child is twelve years old. There is no rule in Colorado on what age a child has to be to voice his/her opinion on parenting time. There is no hard and fast rule that says a court has to speak to the children. Generally children are not allowed in the courtroom during proceedings involving them and their parents. However, there are alternatives to allow their voices to be heard such as Child and Family Investigators, Child Legal Representatives, or Parental Responsibilities Evaluators.

On occasion a judge or magistrate will talk directly to a child to find out what his/her opinion is or what the child desires for an outcome. This is done on the record and out of the presence of the parents and their attorneys. These records are normally sealed and require a court order for good cause to be released. Generally, it has to be a very good reason to open these sealed records to parties. This is not a common occurrence and some judges will not allow it at all. When it does happen the children are usually teenagers and/or mature for their years.

Courtroom

This does not mean the judge will order what the child wants, but the judge will take the impressions and information garnered from such a conversation into account when issuing orders. Requesting a child be allowed to talk directly to the court is not something to be done lightly or without serious consideration of the pressure this puts on the child. It is not recommended that this be done with children who are very young. Having a child come to court is quite literally placing the child between the parties and smack dab in the middle of the fighting.

benefits-of-joint-custodyThere are other ways to take into account the wishes and opinions of the child. The most common way in Colorado is a Child and Family Investigator or CFI. This person is a neutral party appointed by the court, usually recommended by the attorneys in the case, to investigate all allegations and make recommendations to the court based upon their thorough investigation and the best interests of the child(ren). Barring exceptional circumstances, e.g., out of state travel for investigation, CFI fees in Colorado are capped at $2,000 with each party usually bearing one-half of the costs. These fees are due up front before an investigation begins. There are some CFI would take state assistance for those who qualify.

A CFI will speak with the parents and the child(ren) among others during the course of an investigation. The CFI files a report with the court at the end of the investigations with recommendations. A CFI is useful when there are allegations of drug/alcohol abuse by a parent or child, neglect or endangerment of a child by a parent, domestic violence, alienation of parental affections, and relocating with the child to another state. Where a CFI is not useful is where the parents simply do not get along and do not agree or communicate well. Just because one parent is unhappy is not a reason to request the appointment of a CFI.

Professional TestimonyAnother option is a Parental Responsibilities Evaluation or PRE. These are usually done by mental health professionals and can run over $10,000 and there is no cap on the expense. A PRE can ask for mental health evaluations or conduct testing if they are qualified. The PRE usually discusses issues with both parties, the child(ren) and interviews persons involved with the child. When there are issues of abuse or serious mental health issues a PRE can be helpful to the parties and the court. Again a PRE is most effective in situations which involve more than one parent being unhappy with the current situation.

On the opposite end is a Child Legal Representative or CLR. This is an attorney assigned to represent the child’s best interests which is different that representing the child’s interests. A CLR does not submit a report or testify in court. The CLR acts as an attorney at all proceedings including questioning and calling witnesses to testify. A CLR is useful in cases where there are older children such as teenagers and many times can help all parties reach a resolution outside of court. The parents are responsible for the payment of the CLR fees.

Child Tug of War

A prime consideration needs to be are you putting your child in the middle of a dispute with your ex to further your interests or your child’s. Children should not be asked to choose between parents. Although we always counsel clients not to ask their children to choose there is frequently one parent who does or who does not understand that what they are asking of the child equals making them choose between parents. Children are the innocent bystanders in divorce and custody cases. It is not their choice for their parents to divorce or dispute custody. Many times they are the casualties of these proceedings. So, yes, you can ask that Lil Johnny be allowed to talk to the court, but ask yourself if you really want to put Johnny in that position.

Written by June F. Bourrillion, Esq. for http://www.rkymtnlaw.com