Sometimes it seems like I can't think of everything about which to warn my clients. This story is a little old, but it serves as an example. Don't let your child's grandfather take your five-year-old child into the desert and leave her under a tree with a cocked and locked (i.e. very nealry ready to fire) .45 so he can go have a cheeseburger and some beer (and don't do this yourself!). This will not help you in family court. No one should ever have to tell someone something like this, but here is a guy who actaully needed someone to tell him to not do it: http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/southwest-valley/breaking/2015/11/02/mcso-says-man-left-granddaughter-5-desert-loaded-gun/75060252/
You must always protect your child and can't always trust your loved ones. I hope this little girl's parents never trust her grandfather again with her safety.
The grandfather eventually entered a plea agreement.
Things to think about when contemplating divorce.
1. Emotional costs. Money and time are not the only costs of a divorce. Sometimes the emotional costs are more than the monetary costs. Emotional costs include changing relationships with your family and children. Do you need a divorce in order to be well mentally and emotionally?
2. Strategy. Timing can be important. Is your income is down, are your assets are devalued, or has your retirement lost value? If you are the main earner in the marriage, is it a good time to calculate spousal maintenance or divide your assets? Is it possible that the court may require you to provide support based on an income that you no longer earn?
3. Is your spouse contemplating a change? If your spouse is considering a major change, such as a move out of state, loss of a job, starting a new career, or some other disruption, you may want to file now before you and your spouse establish a new norm, such as your children living and going to school in another state.
4. Time. Consider the time that a divorce will cost you. Is it worth it? How long will this bad economy last? It has already lasted seven years. How long until you retire? How long until your children are grown? How long will it take to establish your career or for your spouse to establish a career?
5. Your children and step-children. If you have children, sometimes being practical wins out over everything else. How will your divorce affect your children? How will co-parenting work logistically? Who will pay for what when it comes to the children’s expenses? Who will be responsible for what? How will you and the other parent behave so as to not permanently scar your children? Have realistic plans and agreeable solutions to potential problems. Thinking things through in advance will take off some of the pressure during the divorce. Financial aspects of divorce sometimes seem less difficult if the child-related issues can be resolved quickly and amicably.
There may be any number of additional things to contemplate. The answer is not the same for everyone.
Sometimes parents who were never married to each other want to change their child’s last name. The result is often a hyphenated name. The legal standard for changing a child’s last name when the parents do not agree to change it rests on a determination of the child’s best interest. In Arizona, there is very little legal authority to guide us on a disputed child name change.
The Arizona Court of Appeals recently issued a memorandum decision regarding a disputed child name change. The decision is not published, which means that parents and attorneys cannot use it as legal authority in the future, but it contains a useful discussion on two aspects of the legalities of a disputed child name change.
The first aspect of the name change issue is the finality of a decision on a child’s name change, or whether the parties may bring more than one petition to change their child’s name. The father in this case had twice brought unsuccessful petitions to change his child’s last name, and both times the mother opposed it. Both times the court denied the petition for name change. The father later brought another petition to change the child’s name. This time the court granted the petition. On appeal, the mother argued that the previous petitions for a change of name were denied and that the court could not revisit the issue. The Court of Appeals ruled, "We disagree with Mother that once the court denied Father’s name-change request, it could not revisit the issue, as this is a decision controlled by the child’s best interests, which may change over time."
The second aspect of the name change issue is the factors that the court must examine in determining a child’s best interest regarding a name change. The factors are 1) the child’s preference; 2) the effect of the proposed change on the preservation and development of the child’s relationship with each parent; 3) how long the child has had his or her current name; 4) the difficulties that the child may experience in having the current or proposed name; and 5) the motives of the parents and the possibility that a name change will cause insecurity or a lack of identity. The Court of Appeals ruled that the trial court had properly considered these factors and affirmed the ruling.
You can review the Court of Appeals decision here: https://www.azcourts.gov/Portals/0/OpinionFiles/Div1/2015/CV14-0328%20FC.pdf
If you have questions about a child’s name change or any other family law matter, please call Thomas A. Morton, PLLC for a consultation.
Many decades ago, our culture began believing that unhappy parents would raise unhappy children. This caused many parents to decide to divorce for their children’s sake. Research spanning over 30 years, however, found that children suffer more and are less happy when their parents get a divorce. As a result, the parents are not any happier than their children. Divorce has both long-term and short-term affects on children.
About 40% of American children under the age of 18 years will experience their parents’ divorce. There are about 1,250,000 divorces a year in the United States. Therefore, many millions of children will experience their parents’ divorce. Parents should understand the short-term and long-term affects of divorce on children.
Short-Term Affects of Divorce on Children
During and immediately after a divorce, the affects on the children include depression, sadness, and anger. These lead to varied reactions, including the following reactions.
Non-compliance: Many children become non-compliant during a divorce. They might start getting into trouble (or getting into more trouble) at school, home, and at their activities.
Aggression: Sometimes, children become aggressive during a divorce. This may be an expression of frustration with their inability to influence or alter events.
Other consequences of divorce include the following things.
Less parental supervision: Sometimes parental supervision and parental influence is less after a divorce. For example, a parent who did not work outside the home during the marriage may have to seek employment. After the divorce, that parent will no longer be home when the children get home from school. Often, less supervision and less influence lead to the children getting into more trouble.
Economic hardship: Prior to divorce, the parents operated one household on their combined income. After the divorce, they operate two households on the same income. Add to this the cost of divorce and support payments, and most families experience real economic hardship during and after divorce. Divorce is a leading factor in causing people to file bankruptcy. Also, research shows that the children of divorced parents are about five times more likely to live in poverty than children of parents who are still married to each other.
Long-Term Affects of Divorce on Children
Common long-term affects of divorce on children include the following affects.
Increased chance of drug use and promiscuity: Teenage children of divorced parents are more likely to use alcohol or drugs and have sex than teenage children with parents who are still married to each other. This appears to especially be true with teenage girls with absent fathers.
Long-term emotional scars: Children of divorced parents sometimes have emotional scars into adulthood.
What to do About it
Parents can do many things to help their children deal with the affects of divorce, including the following items.
Get along with the other parent: This means no fighting, no arguing, peaceful transitions, and having a united front (for real, not just in front of the children). Genuinely being friends with the other parent is ideal. I realize that this is difficult, but the best thing that I have ever done for my daughter since her mother and I broke up is becoming friends with her mother.
Always act in your children’s best interest when dealing with the other parent: In all of these actions and decisions, ask yourself what is in your child’s best interest.
Do things as a family: If possible, still have family outings or meals, even if only occasionally. This shows your children that their parents don’t hate each other and that they still have a family.
Show them love: Make sure your children know that their mom and dad love them. Children are often insecure during and after a divorce.
Allow the children to vent without making your own comments: Children need to vent their frustrations. No condemning or making excuses for the other parent.
Have a backup plan: If the other parent sometimes disappoints the children by not showing up, be ready with something else for them so that they don’t sit around thinking about it.
Be flexible: Be willing to engage in a give-and-take with the other parent when it comes to parenting time. Rigidly adhering to the schedule undermines most of the other things on this list. Also, it just plain stinks for your children when they get an opportunity to do something special with the other parent but cannot do it because you will not be flexible.
Allow others to have a larger role: Sometimes single parents cannot do it all. Allowing grandparents, other family members, and close family friends to help when they want to help is not only easier for you, but often good for the children. What children don’t want to spend more time with their grandparents?
Make sure both parents are involved: This goes hand-in-hand with getting along with the other parent.
Here are two links with a lot more information about children of divorced parents:
Families face many changes during a divorce and one of the biggest changes is the time they spend during the holidays. They will most likely no longer spend time together with the entire family (i.e., with both parents) and many of their holiday traditions will never be the same. Common problems include parents who are unable or unwilling to make an agreement as to how the children will spend their time during the holidays, poor behavior by one or both parents, travel plans, lack of communication between the parents, and the court’s availability (or lack thereof) to solve these problems in time for a particular holiday.
Often, parents cannot agree on how the children will spend their holiday time, so Arizona courts try to enter orders for holiday parenting time that are fair and in the children’s best interests. Courts will typically evenly divide the holidays between the parents. The holiday schedule always supercedes the regular parenting plan. For example, if Christmas Day falls on a day that would typically be the mother’s day with the children, but the father gets the children for Christmas this year, the court’s order is that the children will be with their father on Christmas.
A typical holiday schedule will usually say something like the children will be with the mother on Christmas Eve and with the father on Christmas Day in odd-numbered years and will be with the father on Christmas Eve and the mother on Christmas Day in even-numbered years. They will be with the mother on Thanksgiving in odd-numbered years and with the father in even-numbered years. They will be with the mother on Easter in odd-numbered years and with the father in even-numbered years. They will spend every Mother’s Day with the mother and every Father’s Day with the father. They courts will also define each holiday, such as setting forth a time that the holiday parenting time begins and ends, in order to avoid future disputes as to when a parent gets to pick up the children to begin a holiday. Ideally, the parents will discuss the holiday schedule and will be willing to compromise and work together in order to agree on their own holiday schedule without having to ask the court to impose a holiday schedule on them and their children.
After the court orders a holiday schedule, it is easy to tell when each parent gets the children during the holidays. However, during a pending divorce, the parents may not have a holiday schedule. For example, parents who just recently filed for divorce cannot agree on how the children will spend Christmas this year. What should they do? First, each parent should consider the following facts: the children will want to spend time with both of them; they should consider adopting a plan that will allow the children to participate in as many of their traditional Christmas activities as possible; Christmas is important to both parents; and whatever schedule they get will probably be reversed the following year. Most important, as I always tell my clients, the two people in the entire world who are most qualified to make a decision in the best interests of their children are the mom and the dad. If the mom and the dad cannot or will not make a decision together, a judge who is a stranger will make the decision for them. Most judges in Maricopa County will put genuine effort into making a good decision with the information available to them, but no judge in Maricopa County is the children’s mom or dad. If the parents cannot make a decision together, they may seek an order from the court and should do so as soon as possible. The Superior Court usually has a very tight schedule around the holidays. Therefore, the longer the parents wait, the less likely the court will be to resolve the problem for them. If they cannot get an answer from the court in time, they may consider using a private mediator.
Another typical problem with holiday parenting time is travel. For example, one parent may want to take the children out of school to travel, one parent may not like the other parent’s proposed travel plan, or one parent may not want the children to travel to see the other parent’s family. The parent who is traveling should give the other parent the itinerary as soon as possible and at least as early as the parenting plan requires. If the other parent does not like the travel plan, he or she must remember that it is the other parent’s parenting time and, unless the travel plan proposes an unreasonable danger to the children, there is probably nothing that he or she can do about it. As for taking the children out of school, the parent taking the children out of school should coordinate with the children’s teachers on issues such as homework. Unless the children are at least average students, there is usually nothing wrong with taking the children out of school, as long as it is not for an excessive number of days. As for objecting to the children seeing their extended family during the holidays, the non-traveling parent needs to take a hard look at why he or she has an objection. Unless someone proposes a real danger to the children, each parent has the right to take the children around whoever he or she wants during the holidays (or any day they have the children). Courts will not order a parent to not take the children around someone just because the other parent does not like that person. The best interest of the children is usually to have a good relationship with their extended family and to see them on holidays. Obviously, each parent should not tolerate his or her family making negative comments about the other parent in the children’s presence. As with other holiday parenting time issues, the parents must truly consider the children’s best interests. Also, if they have to seek the court’s intervention, they should do so as soon as possible.
Finally, parents should be careful about what they say to their children, particularly about the other parent. I tell my clients that they should not say or write anything that they would not want to explain to a judge. Three subjects that inspire many parents to say stupid things to their children are the holiday parenting plan, gifts, and money problems. Examples of things to not say to children about the holiday plan are that you will be lonely and sad without them; remind them that they will not be together with you during the holiday or part of the holiday; or inform them that they will miss out on something like a visit with grandparents because the other parent got a court order that they spend time with the other parent. All these comments do is make children feel guilty and sad. Better comments include telling the children how lucky they are to get to have two celebrations or that you and the other parent have made sure that the children get to spend time with two families that love them.
As for gifts, bad and selfish comments include telling the children to not bring gifts from the other parent to your home or forbidding them to bring gifts from you to the other parent’s home (yes, people actually do this!) and criticizing gifts from the other parent, the other parent’s family, or the other parent’s new romantic interest. If you do any of these things, all you are doing is ruining your child’s enjoyment of their gifts. A better approach is to do the opposite. Allow your children to take their gifts to either home and be excited about their gifts, no matter the source.
Hurtful comments about money include telling your children that you cannot afford to buy them the gifts they want (or to do anything else that has a cost) because of one of the following circumstances: the divorce, you pay too much in child support or spousal maintenance, or the other parent has not paid enough child support or spousal maintenance. This is really an attempt to make the children angry at the other parent. A better approach is to explain that you do not have much money right now, but you will still have a wonderful holiday together. If the other parent can be as mature as you, you might try to coordinate with him or her to make sure that the children get everything you want them to get.
What all of this really means is one simple thing: if both parents can be mature and focus on what is best for their children, everyone will be better off.
Children commonly visit parents and family members in other states, especially around Christmas and Thanksgiving. Sometimes the children fly to other states. However, many families just cannot afford for a parent to accompany the child on the flight.
Every airline has its own rules about allowing children to fly by themselves. Each airline has its own age restrictions. No major airline allows children less than five years of age to fly alone. Between the ages of five and seven years, many airlines require enrollment in a special unaccompanied minors program and prohibit travel on anything but direct flights. Children aged eight to 14 years are usually unrestricted, but must still enroll in the unaccompanied minors program for that airline. Most airlines allow children over the age of 14 years to fly without restriction or enrollment in an unaccompanied minors program.
Most airlines will require special bookings and reservations to allow a child to fly alone. A number of state and federal laws require adult supervision of any minor, meaning the airline will be required to take responsibility for any children flying with them. This is why most airlines have special unaccompanied minors programs designed in part to defray the additional personnel costs to monitor children and to ensure that they are not illegally transported across state lines or international borders. These programs usually cost about $100 to join.
To book a flight for a child to fly alone also generally requires an in-person reservation or telephone booking (i.e., online booking is usually not available). Also, the person booking the flight may not book a flight that will require the child to stay overnight in a hotel if the airline cancels the flight. The only available flights are usually morning and afternoon flights; no red-eyes and no flights that are the final departure for that destination from that airport on any given day.
An airline that accepts responsibility for a child may become liable should the minor sustain an injury, go missing, or die. Therefore, airlines may ask parents to take a number of additional precautions in the preparation of the child to travel than a normal passenger would undertake. Airlines do this to ensure both the safety and comfort of the child as well as to prevent as much risk of liability on the part of the airline as possible. Requirements may include making sure the child knows his or her full name, address, and telephone number, as well as the name and telephone number of the adult he or she is supposed to meet at the final destination. The airline will also require you to provide at least one and probably several means of contacting you should there be a delay or other incident. The airline will also require the adult that receives the child at the destination to provide a current photo identification. The name on the identification must match the name listed on any unaccompanied minor paperwork the parent or guardian filled out at the time of booking and/or check-in.
For more information about children flying alone, you can visit the website of your airline of choice. You may also find additional resources through the Federal Aviation Administration or by contacting your local airport.
Some appellate decisions just warm my heart. The Arizona Court of Appeals recently issued such a decision, Calvin B. v. Brittany B., and ruled against one of the most despicable types of parent: one who does everything he or she can do to limit, control, and even eliminate the other parent’s relationship with their child.
Calvin and Brittany divorced when their son was very young. They agreed to an arrangement wherein Brittany would have sole legal and physical custody of their son, but Calvin would have "liberal" parenting time as the parties agreed. Brittany then proceeded to limit Calvin’s contact with their son. As a result, Calvin sought the court’s help in securing more time with him. Over the course of the next several years, Brittany used orders of protection and other barriers to block Calvin’s parenting time. She also violated the court’s orders several times. Calvin, however, was not a model parent either, failing to exercise a lot of his parenting time, not immediately seeking enforcement of the court’s orders, and failing to take a parenting class that the court had ordered him to take.
Brittany eventually filed in juvenile court to terminate Calvin’s parental rights on the basis that Calvin had abandoned their child. The Superior Court granted the termination petition and Calvin appealed.
"Abandonment" means the failure of a parent to provide reasonable support and to maintain regular contact with the child, including providing normal supervision. Abandonment includes a judicial finding that a parent has made only minimal efforts to support and communicate with the child. Failure to maintain a normal parental relationship with the child without just cause for a period of six months constitutes prima facie evidence of abandonment. When circumstances prevent a parent from bonding traditionally with a child, the parent must act persistently to establish the relationship and vigorously assert his or her rights. Non-support alone does not establish abandonment.
This is the heartwarming part: the Court of Appeals overturned the Superior Court and cut right to the chase:
The record shows that for much of the period after the dissolution in 2008,
Brittany interfered with Calvin’s opportunity and ability to develop a normal
parental relationship with their son. A parent may not restrict the other parent
from interacting with their child and then petition to terminate the latter’s
rights for abandonment. For this reason, we conclude the record in this
unusual case lacks evidence sufficient for the court to conclude that Brittany
proved by clear and convincing evidence that Calvin abandoned his son.
The Court of Appeals also stated, "Having herself curtailed Calvin’s ability to develop a relationship with his son, Brittany did not prove by clear and convincing evidence that Calvin abandoned the child by failing to provide normal parental supervision," and "We cannot accept the proposition that the court acted properly in granting Brittany’s petition to terminate Calvin’s parental rights based on abandonment because he did not take legal measures to reduce the barriers Brittany erected to his ability to parent." In fact, the appellate court remarked that, given the hurdles that Brittany erected, Calvin’s ability to manage as many visits as he did manage was "remarkable." Also note that the Court of Appeals examined both parent’s behaviors: the court examined Brittany’s bad conduct but also scrutinized Calvin’s conduct in attempting to build a relationship with his son.
One may think that this is a no-brainer, but remember that the trial court granted the petition to terminate Calvin’s parental rights! The trial court judge didn’t get it. It took an appeal to set things right. Although Calvin ultimately did not lose his parental rights, he suffered in other ways, including not seeing his son for long periods, only seeing his son a little bit when he did see him, having his parental rights terminated for a time, the agony of the termination and appeals process, and the damage to his relationship with his son. However, Calvin could have avoided much of this by acting differently.
First, Calvin should have avoided a vague parenting time order. He agreed that he would see his son when the parties agreed (which really means whenever Brittany feels like it). If Calvin would have insisted on a set schedule in the Court’s order he would not have had to rely on Brittany’s willingness to allow him to see their son.
Second, Calvin should have followed the court’s orders. Calvin failed to pay most of his child support, which is a factor in abandonment cases. It also has consequences in non-abandonment cases. He also failed to take a parent information class and, when the Superior Court ordered that he could have more parenting time after he took it, he failed to take it for over a year! Furthermore, Brittany used this against him in the abandonment case. Had Calvin taken it the first time, or even the second time, he could have seen his son more and Brittany would have had less to use against him in the abandonment case.
Third, Calvin should have exercised all of the parenting time that the court allowed him to exercise. I never understand why people fight for parenting time, and then only use some of what they get or none at all. They are simply proving that the other party was right and hurting themselves in future court battles. More importantly, they are missing time with their children that they will never get again. Had Calvin used all of his parenting time, he would have never had to worry about the abandonment case.
Finally, Calvin should have rigorously enforced his rights. Calvin did eventually seek enforcement in the Superior Court, but that was after about three years of Brittany controlling and restricting his contact with their son. Had Calvin rigorously enforced his rights, he probably would have won the abandonment case at the trial court level or would not have had to face it at all. More importantly, he would not have missed out on so much time with his son. When the other parent behaves like Brittany behaved in this case, the only sensible course of action is to rigorously enforce your rights. It is aggravating, stressful, and difficult, but losing your child or losing a lot of time with your child for several years is much worse.
Don’t be like Calvin (or Brittany). If you need help not being a Calvin (or Brittany), I would love to talk to you. I am a Phoenix are family law and juvenile law attorney.
Divorce has long-term effects on children, such as abandonment issues, depression, and anxiety. Still, a divorce can sometimes be better for the children than growing up in a home where it’s obvious that the parents hate each other. When divorce is necessary, parents should pay very close attention to how the divorce affects the children.
1. Many people unintentionally place their children in the middle without thinking about it (and some, unfortunately, do it on purpose. This happens even with the most conscientious parents. Comments and questions that seem harmless to the parent can inflict stress and feelings of disloyalty on a child.
2. Watch what you say and watch what others say in front of the kids. Especially watch what your family says in front of the children because your family will probably be the other parent’s harshest critics and feel comfortable enough to voice their opinions. This caveat also includes your best friends and your lawyer (in fact, do not take your children around your lawyer unless you have no other alternative). This includes what you say on the telephone when your children are near. They may not hear you when you tell them that it’s time for bed, but they always hear anything that you don’t want them to hear or that you should not say. Be ready to tell others, "Not now, we'll talk later."
3. Be careful of non-verbal communication. Body language and facial expressions can clearly show anger and contempt for the other parent.
4. Do not ask questions about the other parent. You can ask general questions about the children, such as "Did you have fun at the baseball game?" but questions like, "Did your mom get anything new for her house?" or "Does your dad have a new girlfriend?" are inappropriate. Interrogating your children about the other parent is not only bad for them, bu it will often backfire on you.
5. Think about how to address important but delicate issues with your children. If the other parent has a substance abuse problem, often makes inappropriate decisions, or takes the children around inappropriate people, you might have to broach the issue with the children to ensure that they are safe. You may get advice regarding these issues from your family law attorney, therapist, or school counselor.
6. Do not try to make yourself look better than the other parent. For example, do not say things like, "I don't know about your mother, but I always manage to get off work for your soccer games no matter how busy I am." If you think that you are doing this subtly, think again. There is no subtle way to do this and your children are not stupid. Children notice things like this. They will also notice that you do in fact manage to leave work early for their soccer games. My daughter surprised me when she asked me why I always do the driving during her exchanges. I had never said a word about this to anyone, especially her. She noticed on her own when she was five years old. Children notice these things on their own.
7. Your children are not your confidantes, friends, or counselors. They are your children. Get the emotional support you need, but never from your children, no matter how mature you think they are. Treating your children, including teenagers, as friends, co-parents, buddies, or the "man of the house," is selfish and bad for the child. Also, the other parent can use it against you in court. Most importantly, be a parent.
8. Sooner or later, you will have to discuss things with the children. You must be absolutely honest with them, but you must also be ready to tell them that you will not discuss certain things with them.
9. Do not go straight into another serious relationship. Go slowly with dating new people. Be selective with who your children meet, even when the divorce is final. They should not meet various people that you date. If there is someone with whom you think you have a future, then wait to introduce that person to your children until they have time to adjust to the divorce.
10. Discuss the important life change of divorce carefully. For example, "I know a lot of things are changing right now; we'll adjust to it together. I love you and your mom loves you no matter what," is good. "Everything is changing because of our divorce. You have a lot to get used to," is bad no matter what tone of voice you use.
11. Do not ask your children or "allow" them to make major decisions about living situations, schools, and parenting time. You should listen to them, but you and the other parent should make the decisions based on their best interest. Be the parent. Do not let them feel that they bear the responsibility for what happens in the divorce.
It may be easier for me to write these thing than for you to do these things, but it will be worth it because your children will be happier and healthier. In time, you will be glad that you took the time and energy to do right by your children, even when it was very difficult.
Thomas A. Morton, P. L. L. C.
2916 N. 7th Avenue, Suite 100
Phoenix, Arizona 85013
If you have a legal issue but aren't sure how to handle it, call Thomas A. Morton, Attorney.
If you've got a problem, let's work together and determine how to help you!
All information on this website is not, and is not intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation, as each case is different and contains different facts. I invite you to contact me and welcome your calls, letters and e-mail. Contacting me does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please do not send any confidential information until you establish an attorney-client relationship with me.
Attorney Thomas A. Morton is located in Phoenix, Arizona, and serves clients throughout Maricopa County, including Tempe, Mesa, Scottsdale, Glendale, Peoria, Gilbert, Chandler, Goodyear, Surprise, Avondale, Cave Creek, Carefree, New River, Anthem, Black Canyon City, Sun City, Laveen, Buckeye, Goodyear, Litchfield Park, Tolleson, Youngtown, Queen Creek, Guadalupe, Fountain Hills, Paradise Valley, Wickenberg, Apache Junction, and El Mirage.