July 31st | WHEN DISPUTES GO CROSS- COUNTRY: INTERNATIONAL AND COLLABORATIVE LAW
It’s difficult enough when you’re divorced or divorcing and each of you is living in different states. But when you and your ex or soon-to-be ex live in separate countries or you’re a foreign national, a whole new set of issues come into play. Who better to discuss the international side of family law than Laura Dale of Laura Dale & Associates, long-time specialists in international family law? Also talking with Rick in this episode is Jayna Haney, a seasoned therapist specializing in family and divorce counseling, who brings a therapeutic perspective to the topic. How are overseas assets divided and valued? How does one deal with custody disputes, or abductions involving children when the other parent lives in a different country? Rick’s guests also discuss a non-traditional option in child custody litigation – Collaborative Law – where parents can work together to create custom arrangements to replace the established litigation process. Laura and Jayna give enormous insights into these cross-cultural issues they work through with clients who have special circumstances. Rick then takes the topic out-of-the-box in the last segment with a hypothetical case study.
Rick: Hello everybody and happy Sunday morning to you. This is Rick Goldberg and we’re on KPRC 950. You’re listening to Divorce Talk Radio where we’re talking all things divorce this morning. If you’ve been through a divorce and you’ve got some questions and some issues that are still up for you, if you have gone through a divorce and maybe things aren’t going as well as you though they may, or if you’re thinking about a divorce or maybe you’re just in a relationship and it’s not going the way you’d like it, if you’ve got questions, we have answers.
I’m really excited today. Our show this Sunday morning is brought to you and sponsored by the law firm of Laura Dale & Associates. And I have Laura Dale herself on the show. Laura, good morning.
Laura: Good morning, Rick.
Rick: It has been so long. I’m so glad I finally got you on the show.
Laura: Well, I’m happy to be here.
Rick: We had some of your attorneys on the show over the month. We got some really good dirt on you. So later on, we’re going to talk about some of those attorneys. Joining Laura this morning is another personal friend of mine, Jayna Haney. Jayna is a therapist with The Lovett Center right off Montrose and Westheimer, right in that area. And Jayna specializes in counseling and providing therapy for both step families and single parents. Did I get that right, Jayna?
Jayna: Absolutely. Good morning, Rick.
Rick: Good morning. Good to see you again.
Jayna: Thank you. Nice to see you.
Rick: You are on our third show and we had so many people email us and say they really love your sensibility and some of the things that you’re talking about. They want to know if I could have you back in here. We are almost four months later. You’re back.
Jayna: Oh, that’s great. Thank you so much.
Rick: But as everyone knows and you’re on your way to maybe church this morning, to work out, Houston, Texas is the most diversified international city in the country. And it’s just incredible the palette that we have here. And Laura, your firm specializes really in international law associated with divorces, is that right?
Laura: Yes. We’re specialists in the area of international family law. And so, we can talk to our clients about jurisdictional disputes, where they might want to file whether it’s in Texas or some other country. How did they divide assets that are overseas and value assets? What about custody disputes involving children when you’re going to have parents who live at different countries? It’s difficult enough when they’re living in different states. But we have many clients who live in different countries and have custody issues.
Rick: And I understand at some point in your life, you lived abroad.
Laura: I did. I lived in France for many years. My oldest son was born in France and he’s a French and US citizen. And I also have a son born here in Texas.
Rick: Now, I think we were talking about your son a couple of weeks ago. He is back in Texas now, isn’t he?
Laura: He is back in Texas. He is the Headmaster of the International School of Austin, Texas which is very exciting. He has been overseas now for ten years working in foreign schools.
Rick: So it’s got to be a big joy for you and your husband to have him back in town.
Laura: It’s absolutely fantastic to have him back in this country and working at such a great school at the Austin International School and he’s the Headmaster there now.
Rick: That’s fantastic. Now, is that similar to Awty International School here?
Laura: It’s very similar to smaller school but it caters to expats and people who are interested in the baccalaureate and international education. And my son was a graduate of the Awty International School and taught there.
Rick: That’s great. When you say expats, can you tell our listeners maybe who aren’t foreign exactly what an expat is.
Laura: Sure. Expats refer to people who are foreign nationals who are living for example, in Houston, and working here usually on a work visa. We have many, many expats that work in the oil industry that maybe from the UK or other countries in Europe or from countries in Asia, India for example. We have a lot of expats from India. So that’s part of the reason why Houston has such a huge international population is because some of the industries lend themselves well to foreign workforces.
Rick: So, does your international background influence your practice or maybe even the way you set up your practice?
Laura: Absolutely. I’m the attorney for the French Consulate General for example. And because of my work with the French Consulate over many years, I’ve also worked with consulates from a lot of other countries here in Houston. And naturally, people who are foreign nationals are looking for lawyers who have some understanding of laws and cultural issues from countries that they come from and even possibly speak languages that they’re more comfortable with. We speak fluent French and Spanish in our firm. So they are looking for lawyers who have more of an international bent than traditionally.
Rick: That’s got to make a client feels extremely comfortable. They can come in to your shop here in Houston and they’re a French-speaking citizen, English is their second language, and be able to really talk about the emotional stress and the strains and the money issues and everything associated with the divorce. When they get to talk about that in their native language, can you just see a difference in how they feel about that experience?
Laura: Yes, it’s tremendously reassuring for them to be able to communicate in their native tongue. And in addition, expats often have stresses that you may not see in local populations just as a result of transplant and living in a country with different cultures where they may or may not speak the language very well and they’re having to learn how to do everything all over again in a new country.
So, these types of situations are very stressful on families. And so, it’s helpful to have attorneys and other specialists who have an understanding of these cross-cultural issues that are in play.
Rick: Well, if you’re just tuning in, I’m Rick Goldberg and we are talking about all things divorce this morning with Laura Dale. Our show is brought to you by her firm, Laura Dale & Associates. And if you can’t listen live, you can always go to our podcast at KPRCRadio.com. We’re here every Sunday morning at 8:00 o’clock.
You’re talking about the stresses that they experience, Jayna, I want to just ask you whether someone was born on the US soil or not, what are some of the biggest emotional stressors in your opinion that people go through when they’re either in a modification of an older divorce or in the middle of a divorce right now?
Jayna: Well, I think a lot of times you have two different kinds of folks. You have the folks that think that this is going to be OK and I’m going to get through this and then they get surprised sometimes by how they have to be careful in terms of what they say, how they have to really follow what their attorney says. And I think sometimes they’re great until they get up and they have to go into a courtroom or they have to go to a mediation or something and then it becomes very, very, very scary and it’s very difficult for them because when we’re dealing with things like this issue, this is about our children. Our children are our heart and they are the center of our family and it becomes very, very important to us.
Many people though immediately when they think about the words modification or having to go to an attorney or having to talk about custody whether it’s as Laura said in the next state, in the same city or internationally, it’s frightening. It is very stressful. And so the important thing is to get some support and to talk to some folks and to also work on the way you talk to yourself in terms of, “This is going to be OK. I’m going to get through this.”
And also, to do things like sleep, eat, and exercise, which people always forget when they go through these kinds of things, they kind of get into a fog. And so they need to do some practical things to take care of themselves.
Rick: Sleep, eat, and repeat. You know Laura, something that just kind of came up for me. I’ve had recently been listening to the soundtrack. I’m going to throw myself into the track here of this new musical on Broadway called Hamilton. And in fact, I’m taking my girlfriend up to New York in a few weeks. We’re going to go watch it. It’s a birthday treat I’m giving myself. And it was about Alexander Hamilton and George Washington and Thomas Jefferson really how they put our Constitution together, our founding fathers.
And I’m just curious because I experienced it in my practice, how often do you find yourself with these expats defending the US Constitution and the way our legal system is because we know it’s not the smoothest thing in the world? But how often did that come up and what do you find yourself saying to them?
Laura: Well, I’m actually very careful and sensitive about that issue. I mean part of my job is to give reassurance to my clients during probably one of the most difficult times of their lives. They are usually very good people at very bad times in their lives. When they’re from other countries here going through a divorce, it makes it even more difficult.
So, we are trained and I’m very hypersensitive to cultural issues that are in play in my cases. And so, I tend to have some insight and some knowledge about foreign countries’ laws regarding family law. And so, I don’t usually – I’m not confrontational about it. I hear what they’re saying and I’m interested in learning how they perceive this process should go and then telling them that it probably can’t go that way because we’re in the United States and we’re in Texas and things happen a little bit differently.
Rick: We’re going to head for a break here in just a moment. I want to let you know when we come back from our break, we’re going to talk about some of the more interesting and challenging cases that Laura has worked on in the past and maybe some of the rollercoaster rides, some of Jayna’s clients take. So stay tuned. You’re on KPRC 950 on Divorce Talk Radio. We’ll be right back.
Rick: Welcome back everybody to Divorce Talk Radio. I hope you’re having a good Sunday morning whether you’re heading to church, wherever you might be. This is Rick Goldberg. And that little song, that little ditty is from the Broadway show Hamilton which I am lucky enough to go up there in a few weeks. And man, it was just such an inspiring show. I keep – I listen to the soundtrack on a daily basis. I’m singing the lyrics. I’m literally driving everybody I know crazy. And I am trying to withdraw from it but I just love it and it’s like so inspiring. I’ve never really liked hip hop and rap music until I hear the song. It’s incredible.
Have any of you all ever heard any of these songs?
Laura: I have not. But let me ask you something Rick, who are you taking to New York with you?
Rick: I am taking my girlfriend who I think you might know.
Laura: I think I do know her.
Rick: In fact, I don’t know if I told you this or not, but I am dating one of your attorneys.
Laura: I’m shocked. Can you tell me if she has time off to go to this event in New York?
Rick: No. I have asked her to be like very diligent and respectful and get the time off and to continue to bill, bill, bill and provide great service to your clients.
Laura: I appreciate that but I think you should talk to her supervisor.
Rick: OK. Which one is her supervisor?
Laura: Well, that would be me.
Rick: Oh! OK.
Rick: Can she have time off to go to New York?
Rick: OK. I’ll get you t-shirt from Broadway.
Laura: You’re going to have to see the therapist too.
Rick: OK. I’ll bring you back a t-shirt or something fun.
Laura: OK. All right.
Rick: OK. We’ll work on that later. But earlier in our first segment, we were talking about international law, that’s what Laura Dale & Associates is all about. They handle the really challenging cases from expat issues to literally international abductions.
And what can you tell our listeners about some of those kinds of cases and what goes on with actually trying to steal or bring in children from one country to another? Share some of that.
Laura: Well, we’re one of a few law firms really in the country who are specially or highly specialized in international abduction cases brought under The Hague Convention. These are cases that we usually bring in federal court. It’s a crime to abduct your children. And abduction is different than kidnapping and that kidnapping is usually done by strangers and abduction is done by a parent.
And so, even if it’s your own child, it’s still a crime and can be prosecuted. Often, we work with US State Department to return children to their habitual residences in foreign countries, that is children that have been taken from other countries and brought to the United States like France or Mexico or England for example and they are brought here. It’s a very traumatic experience. These cases are very difficult and move very quickly and are often very traumatic for all the parties.
So, it’s a very interesting area of practice and we’ve had some fascinating cases that we’ve handled under The Hague Convention to return children to any number of countries, Greece, Italy, France, Mexico, Australia, you name it, we’ve probably returned children to those countries.
Rick: Is there a particular age that you find where kids are most vulnerable to abductions?
Laura: I think kids of all ages are vulnerable to this. Under the statutes or under the international treaty, it’s not applicable to a child that’s 16 or older. So we’re really focused on children under the age of 16. And really, regardless of their age, when these children are removed from their habitual residence, their friends, their other family members, their school, classmates, it’s very traumatic. And they don’t often know why they’re being removed or what’s happening. They just find themselves in a country, sometimes in the United States, they may not even speak English because they’ve lived in Italy or Greece all of their lives, so it can be very traumatic.
Rick: Well, it’s nice to have a therapist in the studio when I hear about children and abductions and the issues that they must have to go through. So Jayna, tell us what are kids dealing with who have to go through an experience like that and how is it going to impact them when they get older?
Jayna: Well, Laura and I, we’re just talking about this and how traumatic it is for the child, how confusing it is, how isolating it is, how they’re perhaps in a new school in a different country, they don’t speak the language, and how hard that can be for them.
And of course, this is a parent’s worst nightmare that this kind of thing will happen. But I do know from my work with children that they are incredibly resilient. And I think that when these things, the kinds of things do happen, both the children and the parents, the parents, especially if the child was taken away from that parent are going to do some pretty in-depth therapy and work through some things. But a lot of times if it’s done early and done correctly then the child can certainly go on to be a healthy happy adult but a lot of it has to do with that early intervention right after the abduction.
Rick: You’re listening to KPRC Radio here at 950 on AM dial. If you want to call in and ask any of our guests a question, you could call us at 713-212-5950.
Laura, I’ve always wanted to ask you whatever inspired you to get into the practice of law in the first place?
Laura: Oh, that’s a difficult question.
Rick: That’s why I asked.
Laura: I’ve always liked legal issues. I never actually thought I would be a family law attorney. However as it turns out, some of the training that I have from former lives lent itself very well to the practice of family law. I have a doctorate in psychophysiology or neuroscience actually.
Rick: Can you spell that word?
Rick: But at least you pronounced it.
Laura: I did.
Rick: And I give you props for that.
Laura: Thank you. And so with a law degree coupled with that just actually kind of directed me into family law, and it has been a very good fit. And then of course, I speak French fluently having lived in France and worked for the French government for some time. So that has helped me also developed a practice in family law because there are many thousands French families here and not only French but French-speaking people from around the world, different countries that French-speaking Canada for example who feel comfortable seeing a lawyer that speaks their language.
Rick: And you may or may not know this, Laura, but I know a lot of family law attorneys here in Houston and you have really an impeccable reputation especially for the work that you and your team does in international law, do you have relationships with other attorneys in other countries so that you can stay current? Because it has got to be hard to learn it all but so that you can stay current, and how does that sort of set you apart too from anyone else that might be doing this type of work?
Laura: Well, fortunately for me, I’m a member of the International Family Law Academy and that allows me to have access to a network of highly specialized family law attorneys around the world. I do meet with this group two or three times a year to develop my relationships with very competent experts in different countries. And so, we do – I do a lot of work and I have a lot of contract with lawyers in different countries who I trust and over the years have come to rely on when my clients need representation or I need to know what the law is on a particular issue in those countries.
Rick: I’m guessing that you don’t meet in places like Belmont or Pasadena, maybe North Zulch. Where are some of the exciting cities that this little group gets to meet?
Laura: Well, we’ve been fortunate to be able to meet in Quebec City, in Queenstown, New Zealand, in Salzburg, Austria, in London, England, in Strasbourg, France, many different places. Our next meeting is in Delhi, in India. We’re also meeting next year in Iceland. And so we have many exciting places to go and each time I meet new people, I learn new law in different countries. And then we usually have an expert that’s talking on some very compelling issue like some human rights issue related to world courts and international human right issues, some very fascinating things, topics to discuss.
Rick: I think it might be very important and very interesting if you took your jury and trial consultant with you next time to on one of these conferences and in Salisbury or Iceland because I think it’s important for them to know what we do over here.
Laura: I think that that’s worth consideration.
Rick: Yeah. I may have to lean on you a little bit when it comes to that. Coming up on the other side of our break, you’re going to hear more from Laura Dale & Associates, Jayna Haney on some of the psychological issues of people going through a divorce. So this is Rick Goldberg. Stay tune. We’ll be right back after this break.
Rick: Hello everybody! Welcome to Divorce Talk Radio. Shout out to Ramon in the booth. I absolutely love the song. In fact, I just spent the last four days with my daughter, my son, my great – two of my great nieces, my brother and my sister, my girlfriend, I know I miss someone, a niece or two here or there, my son-in-law. Anyway, we just got back from Lake Travis. We had to leave early this morning to get into the studio here by 8:00 AM. But what a great trip and what a great time spending time with everybody.
I’ve got an email that just came in and I’m going to send this over to you, Jayna. But it’s from George over in Sugarland and he says, “I’ve been divorced for about four years and just found out that my wife, ex-wife wants to move out of town. And as a single dad, I seem to get less time with child. I seem to pay more and more child support every year. What can I do to maximize my two boys and I’s time together?
Jayna: Rick, that is a great question and one that I think a lot of fathers ask and want to know about because many times especially here in Texas and others in the US, fathers receive less time with their children than the mothers. But I know that there are many great and really wonderful fathers out there, very strong fathers. And I think the days of thinking that the mom was the only one that could provide love and care and affection and great parenting to their children is over. Dads do it very, very, very well.
Now, moms and dads parent differently but dads are incredibly important. I mean we know this from all the research has been done. It’s not only great for the kids to have the father involved but it’s good for the fathers. Fathers benefit a lot from it.
And so, the main thing when you’re a dad and you don’t have a hundred percent time with your children is to focus on that time when you do have them. Instead of thinking about the lack and what you don’t have, “I don’t have the same authority. I don’t have the same connection.” Focus on what you do have and plan your time with your children. Really take the time to think in terms of what you’re going to do. Make sure that you have rituals and traditions with your kids. Things like bedtime. Make sure you read books to them and talk with them at night every time before you put them to bed.
When you do transitions with them from their mom, make sure you have some rituals with that. Maybe it’s going someplace and running around the parking and getting out some of the energy that children have when they’re moving from mom to dad. And then always do kind of fun things with your children. It’s really not about having money. It’s not about taking trips with your kids. It’s really about that the emotional connection that is evoked when you do things with your children.
So one example of this, I don’t know if you saw the movie, Up, but the little boy talks about …
Rick: The animated movie?
Jayna: The animated movie. He said he wants to be an explorer and he ends up in a strange land and he’s telling the older gentleman, “Maybe I don’t want to be an explorer.” He says, “My favorite memory is when my dad and I used to go to the ice cream store and we’d sit in front of the ice cream store on the street corner and he would count the blue cars and I would count the red cars.” And he says, “I know that doesn’t sound very interesting but it’s really my very best memory.”
And so what fathers don’t realize is how much power they have in being able to take all the time with their kids that they can. There are also some of the out-of-the-box ways they can spend time with their children. They can go see them at school as long as it’s not disruptive like at lunch time. They can go to their sports events. There are lots of ways for fathers to stay connected and involved.
Rick: A lot of people don’t really realize that once they get divorced, that divorce decree and contract is not necessarily set in stone indefinitely. And there’s a thing that we call in the divorce arena called modifications. So Laura, can you tell our listeners a little bit about modifications and even relate to our listener who emailed this message maybe something that he might be able to do with regards to looking at his decree and since he said his ex-wife is moving out of town? Talk a little bit about modifications and what our listeners can do to pay a little bit more attention to that.
Laura: Sure. Modification is a special type of lawsuit that you file in order to modify the terms of your divorce when it comes to the children that the special orders that were issued related to the children. So there are certain conditions under what you can file these modifications to try and address issues like mom is moving away or she wants to move away and she doesn’t have the right or she does have the right but I don’t think she should be able to. All of these issues can be addressed by the court.
Lots of parents in Texas have what we call the Standard Possession Order which sets out what the non-primary parent is going to have as far as access to the children. But almost every possession order starts with, “The parties can do whatever they want but if they can’t agree to possession and access then here’s the order that you follow.”
So parents have a lot of flexibility even under orders to do as they pleased and what’s easiest for them with their lives to accommodate their children’s needs and their own needs. If they can’t agree then they can resort to the order. But in addition to a Standard Possession Order, parents can agree to all kinds of non-customary orders when it comes to possession and access related to their children and there are even different methods that you can use to try and get to those agreements besides traditional litigation.
Rick: Like what are some of the methods that you’re thinking about?
Laura: Collaborative law for example. We don’t just do international family law in our firm. We also specialize in all kinds of litigation and non-traditional litigation methods, collaborate law is one of them. And you can go to Collaborative Law Texas Institute on the web and find a lot of information about this process. It’s non-traditional litigation. The parties agree not to go into a courtroom. They meet with their attorneys and sometimes mental health experts and financial experts to try and work through specific issues related to custody and possession and access issues or financial issues. It’s very process oriented.
So it’s all about the process. There is an agenda. These meetings are very formal but they go forward and everything is future-looking, future-focused. We don’t care about how we got to this position or how we got into this mess. What we care about is how do we get out of it and how do we move forward. We’re not blaming but we’re moving forward.
Rick: But how we got there is where all the juicy stuff is.
Laura: It is but that’s a lot of baggage that can oftentimes lead to a catastrophe when it comes to try and trying to improve your lives and your children’s lives.
Rick: Now, let me ask you this. I know a little something about collaborative law because actually, 12 years ago when I went through the divorce with my kids’ mother, we started in a collaborative process. And it broke down and then we basically went a traditional route and it ultimately was friendly and we got to the finish line fairly easily. But I know that collaborative law is like really popular in Dallas and it seems like a significant amount of cases go down that way in Dallas. But it didn’t really take on or it didn’t really catch on for whatever reason here in Houston. And I want to ask you, why do you think that is?
Laura: Well, things are improving in Houston. I mean I think that Dallas had a head start on this because there were some very talented people, lawyers, and mental health providers who were very schooled in this type of process. It took longer to catch on in Houston I think partly because we may not have had the skillsets that they had there and we may not have had the focus.
Also, I like to credit Harris County with the size of the Texas Family Code because we’re so litigious here. I’m sure that Harris County has probably contributed to many thousands of pages of the Texas Family Code.
That said, we do have quite a large number of practitioners now who are educated in the collaborative law process and do a very good job. This is a very important process for a lot of families because it has somewhat of a therapeutic model. And so, it’s very important for some families to try and let go of the past and really start to focus on what’s our life going to look like moving forward because it was a train wreck if I look backwards.
Rick: Thanks for listening this morning on Divorce Talk Radio. This is Rick Goldberg. We’re here at KPRC 950. We have one more segment to go. We’ll be back with Laura Dale, Jayna Haney, and a cast of characters talking about collaborative law, good old fashion litigation and anything else that comes to mind. So stay tuned we’ll be right back.
Rick: If you’re just tuning in, you’re not on Broadway. You’re listening to Divorce Talk Radio here with Rick Goldberg. It’s another little tune from the Broadway show, Hamilton, one of the hottest tickets. And I had to search high and low to find a couple of seats to go see it in a few weeks up in New York City so I’m really stoked about that.
And really, everything we do in divorce is predicated on what those founding fathers put together for us. This last little segment of the show, we’re going to do something a little outside of the box. We’re going to call it The Case Study. And I’m going to sort of give a little overview of a situation that I have experienced in the past and we’re going to get some commentary from both our lawyer and our therapist in the booth.
And ladies, the story kind of goes like this. A husband and wife divorced and they have a very, very young child at the time. And the dad has a super busy schedule. I believe he practices law. Super busy schedule and from almost day one, he has constantly changing and asking the mom to revise the visitation schedule and flip and give him more time, give him makeup time, so and so, back and forth, back and forth. After about two years of this and being super accommodating, all of a sudden, she got subpoenaed and now he wants to sue and he wants a modification like we were talking about.
And so, what I want to kind of put out and we’ll kind of develop this new little thing as we go, what is she to do from a standpoint of, we talked about the decree earlier and how it is a piece of paper and it’s a guideline and can you sort of be too lax on that and can you be too accommodating or should you really hold to the decree?
And I know Jayna, you might have some thoughts on that too. But Laura, I kind of gave you the big picture view. It’s not the most uncommon scenario. But what’s your initial impressions about that little case study?
Laura: My initial impressions would be that it’s going to be very hard for the father to win his modification suit for several different reasons. First, the parties have the flexibility under the order to accommodate one another. So in order to have a modification, you have to have a material and substantial change in circumstances one, that’s in the best interest of the children, two, so it’s a 2-pronged test so under this …
Rick: So material and substantial change.
Laura: Right. So the material and substantial change, he’s going to claim is, “She has let me have this modified schedule.” And she is going to respond, “I’ve tried to accommodate him because he has no consistent schedule. And so please, the court don’t punish me for that. I have the right to do this under the order.”
Second, you have to have a change that’s in the best interest of the children. So you may have grounds for modification because there’s a material and substantial change but what you’re asking for may not be in the best interest of the child. And it sounds like this dad has a very irregular schedule. No consistency. And a change awarding him primary custody is probably not going to be in the best interest of the child.
Also, it sounds like there are boundary issues that I’m sure we’re going to develop here today and other dynamics that are going on that may cause this relationship to be characterized as somewhat abusive.
Rick: Jayna. Great feedback, Laura. So Jayna, if you got the mom in your office right now and she has laid this out to you, what do you tell her?
Jayna: Well, I think there are a couple of things. The first one is to stop being surprised. And a lot of times this is just kind of a pattern or a habit that people get into in terms of constantly asking for changes. So a lot of times, people get mad and upset and resentful because they keep expecting the person to do the right thing.
So this father, while he maybe well-intentioned he may just be busy especially for a 3-year-old, this is really not very helpful. Three year olds, young children especially thrive on consistency and if this is always being changed then that could be a problem for that child in terms of bedtimes and all sorts of other things.
But also, the mother is going to have to start communicating with the father about what she will and would not do. And you don’t have to be mean or ugly or nasty about this. But you can simply say in an email or text or however she communicates with him, “Listen. I’m always happy to work with you. I’ve noticed that there are many times when you’re changing the schedule often at the last minute. If you want to change the schedule, I need you to give me some notice and it might be 7 days.” It might be they look at the schedule a month at a time.
But whatever her boundary is, perhaps you give, “I need at least a week’s notice if you’re going to change the weekend. And if you don’t give me that notice, I probably will not be able to accommodate you but I really want to. So please give me a notice.”
She can also try this. A lot of it is experimenting. Sometimes just the process of saying that to a parent, to another parent and saying it in a respectful way, the other parent will go, “Oh, she is probably right.” Or, “Oh, she actually might tell me now.” If the father continues to override that and doesn’t abide by it then she is going to have to communicate with him again, “Listen. I’ve asked you this before, for the email, I really want to continue to work with you but if you’re – I’ve noticed that you’re continuing to do this and so, maybe for a while we go by the regular decree and if we can work together on that then I’ll go back to being flexible.” Now, a lot of parents are scared about doing that. But it’s important.
Rick: And what can you tell her specifically about setting boundaries?
Jayna: Well, specifically about setting boundaries, she just needs to have a timeframe in terms of how he communicates with here.
Rick: I think a lot of people don’t even really know how to spell the word boundary, let alone set one. So, teach her as if she was here right now. Teach her really the ABCs of how to set a boundary.
Jayna: OK. So the first thing is to determine what is in the best interest of this child and then what’s in the best interest of her schedule. So how easy – how much time does she need to accommodate his schedule if she wants to? So for most people, it might be a week or a couple of weeks out. So that’s the first thing. How much time do you need to make a decision?
Second of all, then you would like I said, you would communicate back to her and sometimes she might send me a sample email and I would look at it and help her to write it in a way that’s flexible.
And then the last thing is to once again, be willing though to enforce the boundary and that if she can’t – and then – so part of this issue, so she can’t enforce it that she is hurting herself. So then you have to do – talk with her about the self-talk that she is giving herself that allows her to keep letting get away with this. So …
Rick: Laura, now pretend that the dad is sitting in your office and he is your client. And one of the things I love about you is you don’t sugarcoat with your clients. You don’t – I love because you tell your clients the real deal. You don’t really inflate what’s going on in order to perpetuate their case. You give them the real deal. And I’ve heard you tell someone. If you don’t think they have a case, then don’t hire me because you don’t have a case. And I really admire that about you.
But you’ve got this dad sitting in your – on your couch in your office. What do you tell about that guy?
Laura: Well, before I get to that, let me just say one thing about the ma’am. If I were going to tell the mom what to do, it would be I would tell her, “Just say no and mean it.” That is probably the best way for her to draw a boundary. She can’t wiggle about that. She has to say no and mean it.
With regard to the dad …
Rick: Can you give her some props though for being so accommodating over the last year and a half or two years?
Laura: I can but not to – I mean she is – it’s to her detriment and to her child’s detriment. So she has to be able to – a lot of times, these moms or even the dads, when they get into a situation like this where it’s somewhat abusive, they have to be able to say no because it’s in the best interest of their children. Probably the hardest thing to say is no. It’s not your nature when you’re in one of these co-dependent relationships to say no. But you have to say no and you have to mean it.
Rick: Does she get attacked in court on the other side if she continues to say no for the last year and a half?
Laura: I don’t think so if her lawyer is doing her job because what the lawyer is going to show is a testimony regarding the abuse that occurred prior to that that she bent over backwards. She tried everything. She asked for notice like Jayna is saying and even though the notice request for coming, the dad still was not doing it and calling at the last second and saying, “I want the child now.” All of that is a type of abuse and the mom has to stand up and say no or the dad, depending on who is being abused.
So when it comes to the dad …
Rick: So there is that dad.
Laura: … when it comes to the dad and his situation, if he were my client, first, I would probably set him down and have a stern talking to him and say, “Listen …”
Rick: Would you start with WTF?
Laura: Yes. And I would want to know exactly why he thinks it’s in the best interest of his child and I would start to focus him on his child and not on himself because a lot of what you’re describing sounds like it’s about him and not his child. His schedule is busy. He has got to change everything at the last minute. No! If you want to win your case then you’re going to have to show that this isn’t about you. This is about your child because that judge really doesn’t care about your schedule and your problems. The judge cares about how is this going to affect that child. That’s who the judge is looking after.
So I’m looking at it from the perspective of the judge who I have to persuade and what’s in the best interest of that child. So my client in this case of its dad is going to get a stern talking to about what I need him to do in order to win this case.
Rick: And you tell him to start following the current decree or do you tell him to back off until this thing gets in court?
Laura: I would tell him to start to develop a more set schedule that’s a little bit more than what he has got under Standard Possession Order so that he sets up a good case for modifying this order to get more than the Standard Possession Order.
Rick: Thank you. Well, I got to tell you, a week ago when I signed off of our show, I thought we had one of the greatest shows ever, fun, insightful. But I think we just outdid it. This has been an absolute blast sitting in the studio with Laura Dale. And once again, Laura, thank you for sponsoring our show. We’re sponsored in large part by Laura Dale & Associates.
And also, Jayna Haney, thank you so much for being here and giving us your insights around emotions and kids.
Once again this is Rick Goldberg on Divorce Talk Radio. I will see you all next week.
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