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Navigating Youth Sports When Co-Parenting

Youth sports are amazing and beneficial for any child. Developmentally, sports provide structure and discipline that comes from a source that isn’t a parent. Kids learn cooperation, patience, how to rely on teammates in pursuit of shared goals, and how to win and lose with grace. I am a fan of any activity that puts children in a social setting and there is discipline involved. I grew up with sports. From the age of 4 all the way up to the collegiate level, I played soccer and everything else along the way. Basketball, karate, dance, softball—you name it, I played it! More recently, I have coached club soccer teams. During my times as a player and a coach, I’ve been around kids whose parents had split up or were in the process of doing so. I have seen successful co-parenting, and have been around parents who co-parent very poorly, which in turn has a plethora of negative consequences on both the child and the sport. One thing is for certain, I learned to avoid letting parents know I am a practicing family law attorney. I can’t coach and answer a barrage of questions about child custody at the same time!

Extracurriculars for Children of Divorce

Youth sports are especially beneficial for a child whose parents are separating. This is true at any level of play—from local rec leagues, up to traveling club teams. Sports create a safe space for a child. Regular practices, games, and matches provide consistency where children know what to expect and where to be. It gets kids out of the house, a much-needed respite from the yelling and turmoil that often accompanies divorcing parents. Bottom line—it provides stability for the child and fun! For a child adjusting to separated parents, the lessons taught in sports gain an additional therapeutic element. If the parents are splitting up, I always recommend keeping children involved in their extracurriculars, or schedule allowing, starting up new ones. The transition from one household to two is traumatic on a child. Thus, maintaining consistency in other areas such as education and sports and other activities is super important. Changes, while not always bad, should occur slowly and in stages. This makes the process much easier on the kids.

Co-Parenting Challenges to Address

As vital as sports are to a child, co-parenting around extracurricular activities presents its own challenges. The time commitment becomes trickier when two households are involved. It adds pickups and drop-offs that parents need to navigate and communicate about. I’ve had players show up without a uniform because it was left at dad's house, and now it’s mom’s time with the child and she doesn’t have it. In a nutshell, sports forces parents to communicate. Then there is the question of whether parents can be civil around each other at games and events. I have had divorced parents who are completely fine with their ex and his or her significant other attending games. Others absolutely cannot handle the awkwardness and the emotional aspect of the interaction. It is the expectation of the court that parents can be adult enough to attend games without making a scene or acting inappropriately. Even in extreme cases where a restraining order is involved, the courts sometimes grant exceptions for peaceful contact sporting events provided all other terms of the restraining order are in compliance. Discuss this issue with an attorney if this is your situation. Toxic behavior is not limited to direct confrontation. Sometimes parents feel the need to whip out their Instagram and vent their frustrations about their ex to the other parents. Sure, it’s cathartic for a minute. But then rampant gossip ensues—all at the expense of your child. This is why, again, it is so important for parents to communicate and respect the process for their child and the team. After all, this is all for their benefit, right? Another negative situation arises if one parent chooses to sit out of activities altogether. Say a child has played football for the last eight years. The parents move 45 minutes apart, and now mom doesn’t want to take the son to practice during “her time” with the boy. Dad might have to pursue legal action to adjust the time share and custody schedule so the son can play ball.

When Do the Courts Get Involved?

Like any custody issue, the court would rather parents work out their own arrangement regarding sports and extracurriculars. Sometimes that doesn’t happen and a judge is asked to determine what is in the best interest of the child—including whether a child should play a sport, how often, and when. If the court is forced to decide for the parents, it may divide the year between mom and dad. Mom decides what sports to play (or not play) January through June, and dad gets July through December. If a child is a gifted athlete playing a year-round club sport, the court might decide participation is in the best interest of the child regardless of how it affects a parent’s custodial time. If one parent doesn't have the ability to get the child there, or doesn't want to take part, the other parent can bring the child to games and practices, and return the child afterward. Again, the court makes orders on what is best for the child, including participation in sports and extracurriculars. As a past Division 1 athlete, my life could have gone very differently had I not been allowed to play sports, receive a collegiate athletic scholarship, and attend law school. Parents should always put aside their own issues when making decisions that affect their children’s future.

Dos and Don’ts for Separated Parents at Children’s Extracurriculars

Co-parenting a youth athlete requires communication, planning, and committing to what is best for your player. Some of it may seem like Basic Human Behavior 101 advice, but in a highly emotional situation like a contentious separation between parents, it bears repeating. DO: Get your child involved in sports and extracurriculars. It’s worth the logistics and hustle. DON’T: Fail to coordinate and communicate with the other parent about games, pickups and drop-offs. DO: Make clear expectations about who pays for what. DON’T: Rely on your memory. Document conditions and responsibilities in a parenting plan. DO: Expect to attend games and events even if your ex is there. DON’T: Engage your ex if you don’t get along, or bring your new significant other. DO: Make friends with the other parents on the team. DON’T: Discuss your ex with other parents on the team. DO: Stay flexible should you need to juggle custody and visitation to accommodate activities. DON’T: Penalize your child by withholding participation in practices and games. DO: Bring your kids to sporting events and share in their passion. DON’T: Let them root for the Bears or Vikings. Go Pack Go!​    Kristen Holstrom

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Back to School Co-Parenting Tips

Back-to-school time sets the tone for the next nine months of family life. It provides an opportunity for co-parents to set boundaries and expectations that help the rest of the year runs smoothly. This is the beginning of the year for your kids. It’s up to you to avoid co-parenting conflicts that place undue stress on your children. Here are some pointers.

Split the cost of back-to-school shopping

It’s a good move to offer to split any additional expenses of school supplies and new clothes regardless of your child or spousal support situation. This type of gesture is proven to soothe even the most volatile co-parenting dynamics. Think about it. Spending $50 on school supplies is a small price for reducing tension in this high-stakes time of the year. If your co-parent takes the child shopping for something extra, do not use that as an opportunity to complain or point out errors. If your ex drops off a pair of shoes that are too big, or buys a PJ Masks backpack instead of the JoJo Siwa one your daughter wanted, just say thank you. In a day or two, follow up: Thanks again for the shoes, but when we tried them on and they were a little small—would you mind letting me know where you got them and I’ll just go exchange for a different size? Small acts of graciousness go a long way in back to school co-parenting.

Manage the school calendar when co-parenting

Most schools send out regular parent notifications; it might be automated phone calls, e-mail notifications, or texts depending on the district. Find out if the school will send out duplicates of everything so each parent gets their own notification. Schools usually will not send notifications to both parents unless you ask. It’s a good idea to use a calendaring app for tracking drop-offs, pick-ups, dates, and deadlines for kids’ busy schedules. There are several apps designed for co-parenting that are simple to use, and relatively inexpensive. The best thing is that everyone stays on the same page without having to call or text the other co-parent very often. Less contact usually means less conflict in co-parenting contexts.

Avoid the homework parent vs. fun parent dynamic

It’s important that both parents agree to share the work load as much as possible. If one parent assumes responsibility for making sure homework and projects are done, and the other parent gets all the fun time, it builds resentment. If one parent has the lion’s share of the weekday homework assignments, consider having the other parent in charge of any long-term projects over the course of the school year. Successful co-parents maintain consistent expectations for their children’s behavior and academic performance. If a child fails to do homework, receives bad grades, or acts out in school, both mom and dad should enforce the consequences. Uniformity will prevent children from pitting the parents against each other.

Should you meet the teacher together?

If you can, yes. If co-parents can handle being in a room together and take a united position for your child—you are doing great. It’s 100 percent in the child’s best interest to make it happen. It reduces miscommunication and conflict. Everyone who is co-parenting should understand their own capacity for dealing with the other co-parent. Only meet the teacher together if you’re sure it can happen without conflict. It is OK to ask the teacher to accommodate two conferences. Most are happy to do it. No teacher wants to sit in a conference with two people who are combative with each other.

How to stand united when you don’t get along

Every co-parent knows they should do their best not to disparage the other parent in front of the child. That’s co-parenting 101. Remember to apply this rule in any context that involves your children.
  • When talking to the teacher, never blame the other parent if the child is struggling. Finger-pointing is always unnecessary and never helps.
  • Don’t involve the school office in your family law matter by insisting you always be called first because you have 70 percent custody. On the same token, show the school that they can count on both parents to be involved.
  • Commit to keeping any problems you have with your co-parent out of their school, their little league team, girl scouts, soccer, dance, and whatever else they do.
  • Hopefully everyone that loves your children can attend awards ceremonies, games, meets, and performances together. But if not, make a calendar and switch off.
  • If you are not in a place where you can see your ex with a significant other without becoming outwardly upset—that’s OK. Your child would prefer you miss one event rather than it causing a scene.
See the pattern here? This is all about conflict reduction. Setting the tone for a less stressful back to school co-parenting situation is one of the best things you can do for your children and yourself. Related articles:

About the author

NaKesha Ruegg is a Custody Queens attorney practicing family law and the mother of four children. She serves as the co-chair of the Riverside County Bar Association family law section.

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What Is the Difference Between Legal Custody and Physical Custody?

As you’re moving through ending a relationship with the mother or father of your children, you will want to understand what some of the terminology related to child custody means. Once we put some of the legalese in plain-spoken English, it becomes easier to understand.

In a nutshell, child custody describes parents’ rights and obligations with respect to caring for their children.

There are two broad ways to think about child custody. Physical custody deals with where children reside and how parenting time is divided. Legal custody deals with how decisions are made regarding the health, education, and well-being of the children.

What Is Joint Legal Custody and Sole Legal Custody?

Often parents share what is called joint legal custody. This means they have to consult with each other prior to making major decisions regarding the children involved.

For example, parents may be required to obtain consent from the other parent when enrolling the children in school, making medical decisions in non-emergency situations, and participation in religious activities.

If the court orders one parent to have sole legal custody, it means that one parent has unilateral control over decisions with respect to the health, education, and welfare, of the child.

Orders for sole legal custody tend to occur when the court recognizes that it is in best interest of the child or children involved. Situations such as:

  • If one parent is unfit to provide care for the children for any reason, like past domestic abuse or patterns of substance abuse.
  • If one parent is incapable of making decisions in manner aligned with the best interests of the children.
  • If the parents have shown they cannot make decisions together.

What Is Joint Physical Custody and Sole Physical Custody?

Like we mentioned already, physical custody deals with actual parenting time that each party is spending with the children involved. There are 8,760 hours in a year. Physical custody is simply how many of those hours are spent with one parent over the other.

In joint physical custody situations, both parents have significant parenting time and children live at both homes. Sole physical custody means that the child lives with one parent full time. The other parent may have visitation rights, but cannot make decisions about health, education, and welfare of the children involved.

The courts prefer that parents decide and agree on physical custody and legal custody arrangements. In cases where parents cannot agree and choose to litigate, the courts decide for the parents after hearing the facts of the case and determining what is in the best interest of the children involved.

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Custody 101 for Dads

We have done great work for dads with respect to custody and visitation for their children. Many fathers come into custody cases thinking they are at a disadvantage. They feel that mom is going to get everything because the courts favor the mothers.

One of the first things we do is educate men that they are on equal footing for child custody. Family court judges start with the assumption that frequent and continuing contact with both parents is in the best interest of a child.

Since the ultimate goal of any custody and visitation order is to serve the child’s best interest, it means the law is on the side of men who want to be involved in their children's lives.

Rest assured that the system isn’t biased against fathers. However, you can bet that family court judges are biased against fathers who represent themselves in court. Not because they are fathers or men, but because dads tend to do a poor job navigating the family court system on their own behalf.

What’s Your Strategy?

Despite every warning against doing so, roughly 80 percent of people represent themselves in divorce cases in California. Almost 100 percent of them do a lousy job.

It’s unlikely that anyone is capable of representing themselves in any useful capacity simply due to the emotions at play. I wouldn’t represent myself in a divorce—and I am very good at what I do—and this is because any human being cannot expect to separate the facts of their case from the stress and trauma of the situation.

A quality attorney on your side will help you compartmentalize what is important with respect to the best interest of your children. More importantly, they know what is relevant in family court. Good legal counsel will learn all the unique ins and outs of your situation by really getting to know you and understanding what you and your family need.

The most useful thing a family law attorney can do upon hearing the facts of the case is to set real and clear expectations for their clients. When you know what to expect from divorce process, it becomes easier to step into a co-parenting agreement that works for your kids.

Let’s Talk About Your Goals

Don’t think of a custody order as something to win or lose. Instead think in terms of your goals as a parent. Together we will start building the best strategy to bring those goals into fruition.

Something that our clients—both men and women—don’t understand right away is that the right custody and visitation agreement is one that both parents are capable of exercising. In most cases, you want disruption to the lives of the children kept to a minimum.

Family court judges want to know what the children's life looked like before parents needed the court to intervene. Status quo is one of the most important factors for how custody and visitation will be decided.

At no point will your sexual biology come into consideration. The answers to the questions below are exponentially more important to your orders:

  • What did your family dynamic look like before you separated from your spouse?
  • How far apart do you live from your spouse?
  • Where do the children attend school?
  • What kind of extra curricular activities do they do?

Talk to a family law attorney about a strategy before you file any paperwork. Not only does this save you time and money, it also benefits you and your children emotionally.

A parenting plan that is a genuinely a good fit your family will not only keep you out of family court once and for all, but will ensure that you maximize the quality time you have with your kids.

Next Steps

If you have received a stack of paperwork from a divorcing spouse, or you’re considering separation, the best thing you can do is have a game plan before filing paperwork. If you started the process already, that’s fine—we can pick up wherever you left off. The most important thing is understanding your goals and to start strategizing for your unique situation immediately.

Let us know where you’re at. Take advantage of our free initial phone consultation, and we’ll start getting a strategy in place. I want to help you be the best dad you can be, now, and in the years ahead.

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Child Custody for Working Moms in California

In my career as a family law attorney I’ve had plenty of challenging moments, but being a working mom is the hardest job on the planet. I feel you, I’m here for you, and I understand. In California, it's a fact of life that both parents work to afford the high cost of living. If you’re a mother navigating a divorce, chances are you’re a working mom. Some of the working mothers we represent think they are penalized because they aren’t stay-at-home moms. They feel like they aren't on equal footing with respect to how their custody orders are going to turn out. The first thing we tell them is that family courts in California see both parents as having an equal financial obligation to provide for children of the marriage. As far as the law is concerned, that’s pretty much the end of story with respect to your gender and career status. If someone is telling you that the court is going to treat you differently due to your sexual biology, disregard that information.

Moms, Dads, and the Child’s Best Interest

Today moms and dads are treated as equally as ever in family court. It wasn’t always this way. As recently as 10 years ago, dads rarely had overnight visitation for children under the age of 2. Today, it is not uncommon for a nursing mom to be expected to pump breast milk ahead of their child’s time with the father. We have seen babies as young as three weeks old stay overnight alone with their dads! Point of story, the courts want both parents contributing as much as they can. If mom and dad both work, it means that both parents have to operate around work schedules to care for their children. And that is what the court is looking at for the most part—schedules and logistics.

Important Factors for Child Custody Orders

Inevitably, there are going to be biases that stem from how the facts of your case are portrayed by the opposing party. Having a good attorney on your side makes sure those things are pushed to the bottom of the list of considerations for the judge. Most custody orders boil down to a few factors:
  • What did the situation look like before the family separated? Status quo is huge in custody cases. The court doesn’t like to transition children away from what they are used to unless it’s an emergency or puts them in danger.
  • What do parents’ schedule and the children’s schedule look like? Parents must be able to exercise the custody order that you pursue. It should realistically fit your work schedule, and the logistics of the child’s school schedules and activities, and commute times.
  • Are parents cooperative in co-parenting? The court takes into consideration how likely parents are to provide, facilitate, and foster frequent and continuing contact to the children. If you demonstrate behavior that suggests otherwise it can affect your custody orders.

Create a Strategy for Your Unique Situation

At the end of the day, your custody order should be a tailored solution that fits your unique situation. This is so important to get right from the get-go, and is why we put in extra time and effort understanding the needs of our clients and their families. When our clients get custody orders that suit them, it sets them up for future success—and prevents them from wasting time and money and stressing out over nonsense down the road. At the end of the day, family courts have only one goal: making sure custody orders fit the best interest of the child involved. Let this be your mantra. Commit to best possible outcome for the children and family, and trust your attorney to make it happen for you. Meanwhile, take care of yourself and get the rest you need. We always recommend that moms talk to a family therapist one-on-one and with the children. It helps to arm yourself with skills to deal with the grief and anxiety that comes when a familial relationship ends. Set yourself up to parlay these circumstances into a personal growth experience. Together we will move through these changes and into a better future.  Kristen Holstrom

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What Should You Include in a Parenting Plan?

Parents who are separating often do not know what to include in a parenting plan, or if they need a parenting plan at all. There is a lot to consider and every situation is unique. However, there are guidelines to consider when creating a parenting plan that can help make the divorce or separation easier for the children involved—and the parents as well.

Navigating and Establishing a Parenting Plan

First, what is a parenting plan? Don’t worry if you are not quite sure.

Think of a parenting plan as a written agreement which is formalized and filed with the court. A parenting plan can also be an order of the court which is issued without the agreement of the parents, often after a hearing on the issues.

The parenting plan should ideally outline a timeshare schedule for when the children will be with each parent, in addition to specifying provisions relating to legal and physical custody. Parents can arrive at a parenting  agreement themselves, through a mediator, or through litigation.

A parenting plan often includes how decisions are made with respect to the health, education, and welfare of the children. Not every parenting plan specifies what are called physical and legal child custody arrangements, however.

Most importantly, separated couples use a parenting plan to set expectations for themselves and their children. With it, they stay on the same page with co-parenting duties, thereby reducing uncertainty and anxiety for everyone involved—most importantly, the child.

Today, informal parenting plans can live digitally in one of dozens of great applications for co-parenting that are available. These applications help parents stay organized while keeping one-on-one communication at a minimum—perfect for parents who are prone to conflict. 

Be Ready to Work With the Other Parent

Initially, many parents file requests with the court without discussing anything with the other parent. Under normal circumstances, this is unadvisable.  

It’s important to get past the emotions involved with your separation. Think logically about how to care for the children now that parents are separated.

Take stock of where you agree and disagree with the other parent on co-parenting issues. Usually parents find that they are in agreement about certain aspects, in disagreement about others, and have some wiggle room in other areas.

Note every point of agreement, disagreement, and everything in between.

Expect the other parent to be involved. Family courts are designed to give parents an opportunity to create parenting plans that provide frequent and continuing contact with the children to both parents.  

Parents should, as much as possible, work on coming to an agreement on the details. As parents, you are often the best individuals situated to make decisions regarding the raising of your children. If you cannot agree, a court can step in and will make the order for you.  

Questions and Issues a Parenting Plan Should Address

In California, it is generally recognized that it is in the best interest of children for both parents to have frequent and continuing contact with both parents, absent a safety or welfare concern. Although each case is unique, in general, a parenting plan should provide provisions encouraging continuing contact, which may include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Both parents have full access to information about the children, including school records and medical records;
  • Both parents have reasonable phone contact with the children at all times; and
  • Parents should make available their contact information to each other.

Much of what is included in parenting plan involves logistics like pickups and drop-offs for school and other activities the children are involved in. One major consideration that the courts consider in crafting a parenting plan is the “status quo” which is what children’s lives looked like before their parents separated. For example:

  • Which parent is performing the majority of the care-taking responsibilities?
  • Where do the children attend school?
  • What are parents’ work schedules and how do they factor into the timeshare?
  • How will parents transport and engage in extracurricular activities and other commitments like church?
  • Who provides child care for the kids when parents are at work?

A parenting plan should also address specific questions and get into finer details about timeshare. These are unique to families but some universal details include:

  • How are holidays to be divided?
  • Is there a different schedule during school breaks?
  • How will parents divide vacation time with the children?
  • Specifics about transportation arrangements, like pickup and drop off times and locations.

The more detailed the agreement, generally, the better. This helps parents to provide consistency and avoids unnecessary litigation.  For example, details regarding how parents are to make decisions about the health, welfare and education of the children, such as the following, can help prevent uncertainty and litigation:

  • What types of decisions require written consent of the other parent?
  • Does this include travel out of state?
  • What types of decisions require a meaningful conversation between parents?

Be Flexible in Execution but Detailed in the Parenting Plan

Due to the emotions involved in a separation, it is not uncommon that co-parents fight about anything and everything. In a high conflict case, parenting plans can mitigate anticipated disagreements between parents. On the other hand, some parents co-parent effectively for the most part, and are on the same page. However, even in these situations spelling out co-parenting arrangements in detail in your parenting plan gives parents something to fall back on should conflicts arise—which they almost always do.

When co-parenting, it is good practice to be flexible and accommodating to the other parent whenever possible. Flexibility is good in practice, but when it comes to the language used in a parenting plan, it’s better to spell out as much as you can. In particular, spell out what to do in the event that disagreements cannot be resolved.

Say, for example, co-parents typically “play by ear” parenting schedules around Christmas time. Instead of using language that parents will “mutually agree” on Christmas schedule, anticipate a disagreement and add decision-making language to the parenting plan. For example: In the event that parents cannot agree on the Christmas Holiday, in even-numbered years for mom decides; odd years belong to dad.

It is easier to include detail in a parenting plan than it is to take disagreements to court. Every plan is different, but co-parents can expect an effective parenting plan to have enough detail to be 8-15 pages in length.

Memorialize a Parenting Plan into a Legally Binding Document

Having your parenting plan document memorialized and filed with the court makes it a legally binding contract. This entails preparing a document that spells out the arrangements that both parents agree upon, having both parents and respective attorneys sign it, and filing it with the court.

If you have a parenting plan and you do not formalize it into a court order, the plan is not an enforceable order.

Review and Update as Conditions Change

It is advisable that you refer back to parenting plans regularly. Children’s lives are constantly changing through the years—new schools, new activities, new jobs, etc.—and it’s important that your documented plan stays up to date and reflective of your life as it looks in the present day.    

Make sure to work with your attorney to memorialize and file the most up-to-date version of your parenting plan any time changes are made to the document.

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