Wednesday, March 24, 2010

When Can a Child Decide Where to Live?

One of the most frequent searches on the Internet on family law issues is the question: "At what age can the child decide where he/she will live?" As the Oregon Divorce Blog recently stated, that's a trick question. The answer is that the child can decide at age 18. When the child legally becomes an adult, the court no longer has control over the child. Until then, only the judge ultimately decides.

There are, however, several ways to have some influence.
  • The child can talk to the parents about the decision. As much as I don't like involving children in these decisions, sometimes a child is mature and has a reasonable basis for a change in living arrangements. What's potentially damaging is for a parent to want a change of custody and then recruit the child to become an advocate. That should be avoided. Sometimes parents try to act like the request originated with the child, but it usually doesn't. Another bad situation is when a child works the parents against each other.
  • A Social Study can be done for the court. The social worker can interview the child and evaluate the what the child has to say. The worker ultimately makes a recommendation from all the information gathered from a variety of sources.
  • An attorney can be appointed to represent the child in some cases, but the attorney isn't free. The parties have to come up with the funds to pay the attorney, in addition to paying their own attorney.
  • Sometimes, a court will appoint a psychologist to interview or work with a child. That gives the child an outlet, but it's not free either.
  • In Tarrant County divorce or custody cases, or for visitation issues, the court will often order Access Facilitation. That is a pretty effective process that has the two parents meet with a social worker from the court to discuss and try to resolve custody or visitation issues. There is no cost for that service.
  • The child may be permitted to visit with the judge in chambers and discuss the situation without the parents and attorneys being present, but the judge will always make the ultimate decision. Children are sometimes disappointed with the outcome of that process. Most judges are experienced enough to detect when a child has been programmed or when a child is trying to manipulate the situation. There is no slam dunk result when a child actually gets into a one-on-one with the judge. Nevertheless, the judge can gain some valuable insight into the family if s/he visits with a child in chambers.
The element in common with all those approaches: it's always the judge who decides, and never the child.

There are certainly situations that arise where there is a serious conflict between parent and child, and sometimes a change of scenery is good for everyone. Parents should do their best to keep their children out of the middle, no matter what the case. Actually, the Collaborative Law process provides good, safe opportunities for parents or child to make changes. I will have a new post soon on that approach. In the meantime, feel free to visit my other blog, Texas Collaborative Law Blog.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Paying Attention to the Internet and Social Media in Divorces

A few days ago, I learned of an old friend from years ago who had recently passed away. After his death, I discovered that he had a Face Book page and it was still up. It got me thinking about how social media sites seem timeless, and I wondered what normally happens after the principal dies. This may seem like a bit of a stretch for a blog about family law issues, but there is probably some overlap between probate, family law and estate planning regarding how social media sites react to death and maybe divorce. Fortunately, I was able to find a answer to my question. For an excellent review of how Face Book, MySpace, various Google accounts and Twitter operate after a person's death, take a look at the recent post by Jacqui Cheng in Law & Disorder.

I have previously written here and here and here about the increasingly prominent role of Internet postings on various social media sites that come up in divorce and other family law cases. These posts generally were cautioning people to be careful about what they write on Internet sites. (They also need to be careful about texting.)

Another possibility that I haven't seen addressed and haven't heard anything about yet is the possibility that an Internet site is a valuable asset which could be included in the property division in a divorce. There are certainly reports about blogs and web sites that become very profitable and generate large incomes. There is value in such a site, but it may be pretty difficult to put a value on it. On the other hand, something that produces thousands of dollars of income a month or year can't be ignored.

In a similar vein, social media can have value that should or could be considered in a property division. A Face Book page might have some commercial value, depending on how it is focused and managed, and a Fan Page on Face Book is specifically available for businesses. Twitter accounts, You Tube and other new media can also have commercial value. The names associated with various social media, blogs or a web site can have commercial value and can be sold, just as a web site can be sold. Licensing agreements are becoming more popular in businesses that rely on the Internet, and the agreements can have value.

People should be aware of the potential issues that will arise in divorce cases where the parties have active on-line businesses and use the social media to promote them. If you or your spouse have such a business, be sure to let your attorney know. If anyone has had a divorce where ownership or value of an Internet business was an issue, please let us know about it and how it was resolved. Just like death, divorce will not necessarily end an on-line business.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Unhappiness Gap

It seems that James J. Gross, in the Maryland Divorce Legal Crier, has an almost limitless supply of relevant, analytical and often encouraging comments about family relationships. Last week, he published the following suggestions that can be useful for people facing divorce or for people wanting to avoid a divorce.

"A recent study concludes that a happiness gap between spouses is a harbinger of divorce. It goes further to state that the odds of divorce increase if the wife is unhappier than the husband, because women file more divorces than men. Here are my two best tips for managing unhappiness, in marriage or divorce.

"1. Make a Grateful List. It is easy to look at the glass half full. It is human nature to always want more than we have. And your brain will keep pumping out negative thoughts as long as you dwell on what you don’t have instead of what you do have. An antidote for this is to write down all the things in your life that you are grateful for. Read this list out loud every morning.

"2. Keep a Good Things Notebook. Get a small spiral notebook. At the end of each day, write down all the good things that happened to you that day. Someone smiled at you or complimented your outfit. Keep it simple and short. Try to find at least five things a day."

I heard similar suggestions from a life coach in Texas several years ago, but I like trying out these ideas in the context of a marriage. Actually, they are probably not a magic shield that can protect you from divorce if you wait to try them out when there are serious relationship issues. If adopted and used regularly and early on, they can probably provide a lot of preventive benefit.

On the other hand, if you find yourself facing a divorce or deciding to pursue a divorce, following these suggestions should help ease your pain and assist in your emotional transition to single person. While it would obviously be helpful to the "leavee" (the one being left), a focus on the positive could certainly benefit the "leaver" (the one deciding to leave the relationship)as well. If nothing else, the emphasis on the "good" aspects of the situation should help avoid the often depressing situation of sitting around thinking about how bad the situation is.

There's not much work involved in following the suggestions. Please give them a try and then let us know if it helped.