Cultures, Children and Caring: The Collaborative Model Puts Children First

by Robert A. Simon, Ph.D.

Concepts of what is best for children may seem obvious. But as I learned during the recent 6th World Congress on Family Law and Children’s Rights in Sydney, Australia, there is a surprising amount of variation.

This conference, held every four years, is attended by mental health professionals, judges, attorneys and educators from around the world who share a common interest  – the well being of children who face the breakup of their families or who are the victims of abuse, neglect or other forms of maltreatment. All of us at the World Congress are committed to protecting children and providing them with the opportunity to have a brighter future.

Concepts of what is best for children vary from culture to culture. When parents divorce in Japan, it is common for mothers to be given full custodial rights with fathers having access to their children just a few hours a month, often under supervision for no other reason than they are fathers and are thought to lack the skills and abilities to adequately nurture their children.

On the other hand, in many parts of India, when parents divorce, fathers have the presumptive right to custody of children with mothers being afforded whatever parenting rights the father chooses.  To those of us in the West, not only does this stand in contrast to what our cultural beliefs hold, it stands in contradiction to what we know from empirical research about the best interests of children when their parents divorce. This helps to demonstrate how powerful and deeply embedded traditions, cultural practices and social beliefs are intricately woven into how the best interests of children are interpreted.

Despite the differences, what seems universal are concerns about the national laws and legal procedures families must rely on when they cannot solve their own problems, whether these are problems associated with divorce or child protection matters. It is encouraging that cultures everywhere are working to better the lives of children.

What was also universal is that no system of laws is sufficient. When people can’t solve their own problems, any solution imposed on them is imperfect.

Every family involved in litigation that I’ve worked with as a forensic psychologist is unable to heal until the litigation ends and their personal “rules of engagement” for the family have been defined moving forward. Many families’ wounds become deeper until their cases are resolved.

No matter the culture, it is far better for everyone to take control of their family’s own future and work together outside the court system to solve their issues, guided and supported by professional. This is what makes the Collaborative Family Law model so successful. It may not work for everyone, but it is worth considering and discussing, particularly because the well-being of every member of the family is kept upper most in mind at all times.

The World Congress reinforced for me how important it is to respect one another and remember that the things we do and the work we do has lasting impact – at all levels. The variety of human culture and the interrelationships of cultures strengthens the human fabric and therefore, enriches each of us.


How to Find the Divorce Process That Works for You

by Mel Mackler, MA, LMFT
Coaching and Education for an Emotionally Healthy Divorce

Divorce: You have choices

When it comes to divorce, many people hire an attorney out of anxiety. They feel compelled to get advice or protection, often before they’ve discussed the situation with their spouse or partner.  Once the discussion is on the table, a spouse may feel compelled to seek immediate protection.

How do most people choose an attorney? It’s often by word of mouth: friends who have used an attorney, a friend who practices law, or a recommendation from a family member.  While the advice may bring quick relief by reducing anxiety, the advice is frequently biased and won’t necessarily take into account the individual needs of the person or their family.

Most people don’t realize that when they retain an attorney, they are not only hiring a personality, they are also buying a divorce process.

In California, there are four different methods that can be used to attain a divorce.  Typically, attorneys specialize in one of these processes although they may have experience working with more than that one specialty.  And each process has its merits and costs—financial as well as emotional.

If you’re considering divorce, become familiar with each of theses of processes before you retain your attorney. Think about which process fits the emotional make up of your family and which can offer the kind of emotional support you imagine your self, your spouse, or your kids needing.

Divorce is a process of negotiation and communication so you’ll want to think about the skills you and your partner share.  Are you able to have productive conversations when there are differences of opinions?  Do each of you have the capacity to manage your anxiety when tensions build so that you stay focused and can come to a rational agreement?  Is there a balance of power in your relationship or does one person tend to dominate?

In many communities there are divorce educators and divorce coaches who can lead you through the process of determining which process would best suit your family make up.  They will give you referrals to attorneys who specialize in the process you decide is going to be best for your family.  They can also help you to understand the financial costs associated with each process.

Become an aware consumer before retaining an attorney. If you and your spouse or partner can go through this process together and mutually choose a suitable divorce process, all the better.  This would be a great beginning to what I hope will be a cooperative and constructive future.  It may also help indicate what processes are compatible with your and your spouse’s abilities.

Sperm Donor Being Pursued for Child Support

Family law attorney and CFLGSD member Myra Fleischer discussed a Kansas child support case making national news in this interview with NBC 7 San Diego. In the case, a man who participated in a private donation arranged via Craigslist to a same-sex couple is now being pursued for support after the biological mother applied for public assistance after being unable to work due to medical problems. Since the laws in Kansas and California are similar, while the case is unusual it could happen here. See Myra’s interview in the video window below.

Who Is A Parent in 2013?

by Frank X. Nageotte, CLS-FL

Faced over the last 30 years with rapid advances in the science of human reproduction and fertility, DNA analysis, and genetics, the equally rapid evolution of the legal rights of gay and lesbian individuals, and significant changes in social views regarding traditional marriage, same-sex couples, and families, the law throughout the United States has been forced to wrestle with the question of just exactly “who is a parent?”

The New Normal: Who Is a Parent

The New Normal: Who is considered a parent under the law in 2013?

The traditional “nuclear family” consisting of a married man and woman with children to whom they are connected by either biology or adoption is no longer the only family structure with which the courts must deal.  In some states, same-sex people can marry. Many other states have some form of Registered Domestic Partnership (“RDP”) for same-sex couples.  Of course, many couples (straight and gay) have children without being married or RDPs.  As a result, the definitions of “family” and “parent” have broadened significantly.

It is now legally possible in many states for a person who has no biological connection to a child, who has not adopted the child, and who is not married to (or an RDP with) the child’s biological parent, to nevertheless be found to be a “parent” of that child.  These cases often arise in connection with the break-up of a same-sex relationship.  However, disputes over parentage also arise between biological parents and stepparents, between surrogate mothers and the parties with whom they have contracted, and between sperm and/or egg donors and the recipients of their genetic material in cases of in vitro fertilization or artificial insemination.

In these cases, the courts are called upon to determine and evaluate the “intent” of the parties, the terms (if any) of their contract or agreement, the roles that they each have played in the child’s life, the existence and nature of a parental “bond” between each party and the child, and exactly what form of “family” will best meet the child’s interests and needs.

These cases are by their very nature extremely emotional and often heart-rending.  Resolving these cases through litigation can be quite expensive, especially since appeals are often necessary given the unsettled nature of the law in this area.  As is generally true with regard to all family law cases, our civil litigation system is very poorly equipped to handle these deeply personal issues.  Collaborative Family Law, with its team approach, use of appropriate experts, confidentiality, and focus on problem solving, is a much better process for these cases.

T. Boone Pickens Endorses Collaborative Divorce

T. Boone PickensThe latest endorsement for collaborative divorce comes from Texas oilman and billionaire T. Boone Pickens. Pickens recently chose the collaborative divorce process for his fourth divorce from wife Madeleine. Pickens discussed his experience at a private event for the State Bar of Texas. In an interview with the Dallas Business Journal published on March 1, Pickens said “Collaborative law keeps everything on a high level, and everybody cooperating.”

Pickens was so pleased with the process and the cost savings, he donated $100,000 to the Collaborative Law Institute of Texas.

Pickens also said he didn’t plan on getting married a fifth time. Imagine that.

Gray divorces and the family: Divorce hurts children of all ages, even when they’re grown

by Constance Ahrons, Ph.D, CFLGSD member

Are you contemplating divorce after being married 20 years or more?  You aren’t alone. In fact, you are part of what some call the gray divorce revolution.

When Al and Tipper Gore announced their divorce, after what appeared to be a long and loving marriage, it shook our beliefs about the sanctity of marriage. If it could happen to them, it could happen to us!

Al and Tipper Gore's wedding, 1970

Al and Tipper Gore on their wedding day in 1970. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

While divorce rates in general have been leveling out since 1980, seekers of divorce after long-term marriages of 20 years or more have been increasing.  Among people aged 50 and older, the divorce rate has doubled over the past two decades.

One reason for the increased rates: we live much longer than we used to. In previous generations some of these longer-term marriages that end in divorce would have ended in death.

When my friend Dorothy, told me she was getting a divorce after 45 years of marriage, I asked her “why now?” at age 70, she had come to that decision.  Her answer: “I woke up on my 70th birthday and thought, ‘I may have another 20 years or more to live, and I don’t want to live it in this cold and empty marriage.’”

About two-thirds of all divorces are initiated by women and this holds true for mid and later life divorces. An AARP survey on mid and older life divorces found that one in four of those who divorced cited infidelity as one of their top three reasons for seeking a divorce, also the same estimate in the general population.

I commonly hear from mid and later life divorcing couples “We wanted to wait until the until the children are grown.” How old do the children have to be before they are considered grown? A common joke in the legal community goes like this: A couple in their 90s appeared before a judge requesting a divorce after 70 years of marriage.  When the judge asked the couple, “why now? They answered, “We wanted to wait until the children were dead.”

Kidding aside, parents often believe if they wait until the children are grown, their divorce will not damage them. There are no custody or child support issues, nor do the children have to transition back and forth between parents.  Although this is true, it does not mean that adult children—and grandchildren—aren’t impacted by divorce in the older generation.

Unlike divorce in earlier life stages when considerable thought and planning go in to how parents will continue to parent, in a gray divorce the adult children are almost invisible in the process.

We know when parents embroil their children in their conflicts, this distresses younger children. But it is just as important that parents in mid and later life consider the effect on grown children.

With adult children, divorcing parents are even more likely to embroil the children in their conflicts by turning to them for advice and sharing issues about the breakdown of the marriage or the intricacies of their divorce settlement. Adult children are often expected to take sides or take care of a parent that is not coping well with the divorce.

Long held family rituals may become impacted. If we always spent Christmas together as a family, will we continue to do so after a divorce?  What about that annual family vacation? If Jane is in college, will she stay with her mother or her father during school break? How will she decide without favoring one parent over the other?  When a grandchild is having a birthday celebration, will both grandparents be invited?

Adult children do experience distress when their parents’ long-term marriage comes to an end. The adult children I speak to often express that they haven’t been heard. They don’t know why their parents are divorcing. They are angry about their parents disrupting their lives.  One 30-year old woman tearfully told me about her parents’ divorce, “I always thought they had a good marriage and now I find out they didn’t. I always thought my childhood was happy, but was it, really?”

Collaborative divorce can go a long way toward addressing these concerns with gray divorces. In collaborative divorce, a couple works with a team, which is comprised of lawyers, mental health professionals, and often a financial specialist, who help them navigate their divorce in a respectful and healthy manner. It is common for each spouse to have his/her own divorce coach, and for minor children to be assigned a child specialist coach.

When adult children are involved, both coaches and/or a family specialist may meet with whole family to help them determine how their family will continue after the divorce.

Divorcing parents at this stage still have the responsibility to establish some rules for how the family will preserve its bonds with the least amount of distress for all.  Rather than leave it to the kids to decide which parent will attend what, or which holidays will be spent with which parent, the parents need to decide if they are able to share these treasured times.  If not, they need to decide a fair way to divide their family participation and let the kids know.

A gray divorce can disturb the foundation of the extended family. Every member feels the fall-out. It is important to acknowledge the impact on all generations and work with the family as a whole to minimize the negative impact across the generations.

Constance Ahrons, Ph.D


Author, The Good Divorce: Keeping Your Family Together When Your Marriage Falls Apart, and We’re Still Family: What Grown Children Have to Say About Their Parents’ Divorce









Sperm donation, parental rights, and the law: Column by CFLGSD member Myra Chack Fleischer


Can a sperm donor end up on the hook for child support? The case of Kansas sperm donor William Marotta has raised numerous questions about the potential obligations of a sperm donor who never intended to be a legal parent to a child. Laws do vary from state to state; the law in California is similar to Kansas. The issue in this case arose after a same-sex couple separated, and no second parent adoption took place.

CFLGSD member Myra Chack Fleischer, lead counsel with Fleischer & Associates, explored the many issues raised in this case in her latest column for Communities Digital News at the Washington Times. Read more here. What implications does this have for your clients?

Read more:

Advice on How To Tell Kids About Divorce

How to tell your kids about divorce

In this post from the blog, author Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D, ABPP, offers advice not just on what to say, but how to say it. Phillips also points out that children will watch what you do and how you act even more closely. Read Phillips’ advice here. From your experience, has she got it right?

CFLGSD member Myra Fleischer Welcomes Israeli Idol singer Hagit Yaso to San Diego for Benefit Concert

CFLGSD members actively donate their time to numerous charitable causes. Attorney Myra Fleischer recently welcomed “Israeli Idol” singer Hagit Yaso to San Diego for a benefit concert on behalf of the Jewish National Fund. Fleischer is the San Diego regional board president. The successful event raised funds and awareness, drawing a crowd of 450 people to the Lawrence Jewish Community Center.

Singer Hagit Yaso and Myra Fleischer

Myra Fleischer (third from left) and Myra’s family join Israeli Idol singer Hagit Yaso (second from left) before her recent benefit concert in San Diego on behalf of the Jewish National Fund.

Israeli Idol Hagit Yaso

Israeli Idol Hagit Yaso sings at a benefit concert in San Diego on behalf of the Jewish National Fund. 

Jewish National Fund San Diego region president Myra Fleischer
Myra Fleischer, San Diego region president of the Jewish National Fund, speaks to the audience at a benefit concert in San Diego.


Gift Giving: Can You Take Out the Emotion and Leave the Joy?

CFLG San Diego member Justin Reckers, CFP®, CDFATM, AIF®, managing director at Pacific Divorce Management, was recently interviewed for a story about advising financial clients about how to keep holiday spending under control. While Justin doesn’t specifically address divorced families, it’s not uncommon for divorced parents to try and make it up to their children by giving lavish gifts that they really cannot afford. This is great advice for them, and for anyone tempted to spend beyond his or her means.

Read the article here.