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Featuring Lisa ZonderJerry Cohen and Mary Ann Aronsohn, MFT .

My guest this week on Divorce — Lisa Zonder Style was Mary Ann Aronsohn. Mary Ann is a licensed marriage, family and child therapist. She has over 30 years of experience in working with people on the substantive aspects of their lives. She has worked in a variety of settings, participates in ongoing training, and has published articles in various professional publications. She is a speaker on several topics as well. Because of the insight gained from her experience, Mary Ann has been able to guide hundreds to a richer, more satisfying direction in life. On Saturday, October 26,2013, from 3:00 to 4:00 PM on KVTA AM 1590, we discussed child custody, and in particular issues that arise when a divorcing or divorced parent wants to move out of the area and relocate, typically with the children.

Mary Ann discussed how to help parents create parenting plans which are also referred to as child custody and visitation or access as well as how she helps parents resolve conflict. In particular, she addressed dealing with high conflict parents and parents with differing parenting styles.

For a family that has already undergone the transition from one to two households, if a parent announces that he/she wants to move out of State, this can be shocking to the parent who wants to stay. A move-away case will often takes litigants back to the court house and reopen wounds from the divorce case. A relocation or move-away can create a sense of uncertainty for the children along with potential feelings of abandonment, or loss of relationship with a parent who is staying.

Mary Ann Aronsohn explored options for avoiding some of the minefields, improving lines of communication open and figuring out custody and visitation schedules that work in the best interests of the children to foster better access for both parents.

Attorney Lisa Zonder discussed what factors are considered in assessing “best interest”? This involved a discussion of the children’s ages, school activities, and relationships with friends and family members. She also discussed the legal considerations involved in a move-away case.

For the convenience of our radio show listeners, below are some of the Frequently Asked Questions on the topic of child custody:

Credit goes to the CA Superior Court Self-Help Website

Q: If we have joint legal custody, do we have to agree on every decision?
A: No. With joint legal custody both parents have the right to make decisions and either parent can make a decision alone. But to avoid having problems and ending up back in court, both parents should communicate with each other and cooperate in making decisions together.

Q: If we have joint physical custody, do our children have to spend exactly half the time with each of the parents?
A: No. If there is joint physical custody, usually the children spend a little more time with 1 parent than the other because it is too hard to split the time exactly in half. When 1 parent has the child more than half of the time, then that parent is sometimes called the “primary custodial parent.”

Q: I do not want my child to change houses every day. But I want to see my child as much as possible. What is the best schedule?
A: We do not know how long young children can go without seeing either parent, how many transitions children can handle, or how long children should stay in each household. We do know that children can get attached to caregivers when they have good relationships that are consistent over time.

In many instances, it may make sense for infants and toddlers to be able to see each parent regularly, especially if a child is safe with either parent. Younger children’s concept of time is different from that of older children, and they often need more consistency. It is generally a good idea to have a regular schedule and stick to it. Most children benefit from having a routine they can count on.

When you make a schedule, think about the quality of the relationships. Not just the relationship between the children and each parent, but also between the parents and between the children and any other caregivers.

Q: What if the child is not feeling well when it is time to change homes?
A: It is hard when a child is not feeling well. If it is time for the child to go from 1 home to another, should the change be put off? Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to this question. Clearly, the age of the child and the seriousness of the illness need to be taken into account. Also, the distance between the 2 homes will be a major factor in decision making. Some parents use the standard that if the child is well enough to go to school, he or she is well enough to move from 1 home to another. However, deciding whether the child should go to school or not is often difficult, so that standard is not too helpful.

Here are some considerations:

Both parents have not just the right, but an obligation to care for a child while the child is ill. It is unreasonable to expect the primary custodial parent to take over all care of a sick child, just as it is unreasonable to deny parenting time due to minor illnesses.
The child’s feelings count. It is typical for a sick child to be cranky and unhappy; moving him or her to the other home may only intensify these feelings. On the other hand, children are prone to “cabin fever” just like adults. A change of environment may very well make a child feel better and help take his or her mind off their illness.
When parents share care of an ill child, clear communication is crucial. If the child is on any kind of medication, knowing when the child took his or her last dose or when the next dose should be given is important information that parents should convey when exchanging the child. Both parents may want to keep a simple log of what medication the child is taking and what the medication schedule is.
If parenting time is missed due to sickness, the noncustodial parent probably may want to make the time up. Reasonable “illness contingencies” may be written into every parenting plan to provide guidance for these situations. When adding these contingencies to your parenting plan, you need to take into account that each parent’s situation (travel, work schedules, etc.) is different.

Q: What happens if I do not respond to the papers I received asking for a custody and visitation order?
A: If you do not respond, you should still show up at the court hearing. Or if there is a mediation scheduled before your court hearing, make sure you go to the mediation. If you go to the hearing without filing a response, you may be able to ask for more time to file a response and explain to the judge the reason why you were not able to file a response in time.

Q: How long does mediation take?
A: Court-ordered child custody mediation sessions can last for different amounts of time in each court. Some courts are only able to offer parents 1-hour appointments. Others can work with parents during 1 or more appointments that last 2 to 3 hours each. Because each court has different resources available to help parents, this is an important question to ask when you set up your mediation appointment.

If you want more time with a mediator, you can contact a mediator in the community who can spend more time. Private mediators often work with parents for 4 to 6 hours over the course of 1 or more appointments. Working with a private mediator will cost you money, but it can be a valuable way to resolve your differences and work out a parenting plan that will support your children and work well for your family’s situation.

When the show is live on air, the number to call in is (805) 650-1590. You are also welcome to email me prior to the show to lisa@divorcetalkradiocalifornia.com.

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Certified Family Law Specialist since 1999.
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