They think they’re being honest, they really do - but when a parent says “I’ll do anything for my child,” at the beginning of mediation I know we are in for a tough time. Sometimes the words are spoken simply because the parent thinks that’s what mediators want to hear; perhaps it will get me to be ‘on their side’. But more often the parent believes they would do anything until the following actions are proposed:
April 5th was a big day for Knoxville – it was the day we gained 15 divorce attorneys who are able to represent clients in a collaborative divorce. If you haven’t heard of collaborative divorce you’re not alone. While collaborative law has grown in popularity the past few years on the east and left coasts, us middle folks tend to be a bit slow on the uptake. Those days are over – collaborative divorce has arrived!
In a collaborative divorce both parties are represented by an attorney. You must agree, however, that the two attorneys will not prepare your case for trial – no depositions, no hard ball tactics, no strategies, no half-truths, there must be open sharing of information. The attorneys, and the parties, are instead committed to working toward an agreement that will satisfy the needs of both parties.
“Well, I think that’s very mean of your dad.”
“Mommy doesn’t love me anymore and is moving out.”
“I’m going now because your mother is kicking me out.”
This is just a sample of some of the things I’ve heard (or heard of) divorced parents say to their children in the last month. Unfortunately I’m not allowed to walk up and slap these people – because I really want to. Each one was said in a fairly calm manner, yet there seems to be no sense of just how harmful these words are.
In Tennessee, all divorcing parents are required to attend a four hour parenting class. For many Knoxville couples the requirement is actually a 12 hour class! Reviews of these classes vary from helpful, just ok, to a complete waste of time.
Let me introduce you to a friend who embodies just why these classes absolutely do help children!
Sarah is 30 years old, happily married, and about to start her own family. Her parents divorced when she was about 9, and they both tried to protect their children from the negative effects of divorce. Unfortunately her parents left her with emotional baggage that none of them realize is from the divorce and could easily have been avoided with some simple education. Sarah’s parents made three common mistakes when dealing with their kids after the divorce.
There are a lot of misconceptions out there regarding child support. Some of the wrong statements (or thoughts) I get from Knoxville parents include:
1. If we have a 50/50 parenting plan there won’t be any child support. (false!)
2. My ex doesn’t want my money so we don’t need a child support order. (false!)
3. If the parenting plan says I have ___ number of days with my kids, child support will be set and it won’t matter how often I actually see them.
4. My ex hasn’t paid the child support so he/she isn’t allowed to see the kids.
5. My take home pay is only $_____ dollars; I can’t afford child support.
Tennessee child support is based on the income shares model. This means the amount of child support is determined by both parents’ income, the number of days the child spends in each household, and how much each parent pays for the child’s health insurance and daycare. These numbers (once agreed on) are dumped into a formula and – badda bing! – out pops your PCSO – presumptive child support order. This number may then deviate up or down if there are particular extenuating circumstances.
However there’s a new approach to child support that is gaining popularity and makes sense for many couples.
As you know by now, the State of Tennessee requires all divorcing couples with minor children to attend a parenting class. While the state only requires a four hour course, local rules for the Fourth Circuit court in Knoxville increase the requirement to 12 hours. (Chancery Court in Knoxville only requires the four hour class.) I have three things to say about these classes: 1) this is about your kids not you, so no complaining, 2) twelve is better than four, 3) take your class ASAP.
The divorce has been final for some time, you have a parenting plan, one or both of you have remarried, and you’re still fighting – why? When you have children your lives will never truly be separate. No matter how hard some couples try, with children you will always have need to interact and this is an opportunity for conflict. While this may simply annoy you, post-divorce conflict can be devastating to your children, so it’s time to fix it! Go back to mediation.
The whole point of mediation is to reduce conflict between parties and hopefully impart skills they can use to handle future conflict. This is especially important in a divorce situation, and critical when the divorce involves children. Unfortunately, in Knoxville divorce mediations, there is a style many attorneys prefer that can actually increase conflict between parties.
One victim of this process, called shuttle mediation, described her experience as such:
“My husband and I were kept in separate rooms, each with our attorney, and the mediator ran back and forth with proposals. We never saw or talked to each other during those hours even though we were still living in the same home. We got very little accomplished and when we arrived home (we had driven together to the mediation) we looked at each other, thinking, ‘What the hell just happened?’ It was a complete waste of money and time. At that point we sat down and resolved our remaining issues.”
Elizabeth Cooper, PhD
Dr. Cooper has been mediating since 2007.