Archives: children

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That divorce has a major impact on the lives of children is axiomatic; it is rare that a child is better served by their parents divorcing than if they stayed together (though exceptions exist where a child’s home life with two warring parents is far worse than a peaceful single-parent household).  Even if a divorce results in a better home life for a child, there is a psychological impact on a child and how they view and approach personal relationships as they get older.

In a recent article on www.sciencedaily.com, two studies are reported on which examined the impact of divorce when it occurs early in a child’s life.  In one study, 7,735 people were surveyed about their personality and close relationships.  More than one-third of the participants experienced their parents’ divorce at an average age of 9 years old.  These individuals were “less likely to view their current relationships with their parents as secure. And people who experienced parental divorce between birth and 3 to 5 years of age were more insecure in their current relationships with their parents compared to those whose parents divorced later in childhood.”

One of the doctors conducting the study, R. Chris Fraley of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is quoted as saying, “[a] person who has a secure relationship with a parent is more likely than someone who is insecure to feel that they can trust the parent… [such] a person is more comfortable depending on the parent and is confident that the parent will be psychologically available when needed.”  The study also found that parental relationships with fathers are more affected by divorce than with mothers and that there is greater insecurity with paternal relationships than maternal.

These studies will undoubtedly inform and influence the counseling of children (and adults) affected by divorce.  Though divorces will occur, a greater understanding and emphasis as to how divorces affect people will hopefully result in children of divorce having better relationships with their parents post-divorce, but also have secure, solid relationships when they are adults.

(Image by Bettman/CORBIS) – Lunch at 800 feet only seems normal if you are used to it.

I recently took a phone call from an individual who wanted to learn about the laws related to the emancipation of a minor.  This person would not identify herself, but described herself as a “case worker” who was calling for a family friend who wished to remain anonymous: a fifteen year old girl who wanted to become emancipated from her parents due to what she described to the case worker as abusive conditions. 

My immediate response was to ask whether the police or Children and Youth Services had been called.  The caller did not know, but did not think so.  Since the caller was a “case worker” who described working with pregnant teens and “at risk” kids, my next question was simple: if there is abuse, don’t you have a duty to report the case to CYS and the police?

Pennsylvania’s laws for mandatory reporting can be found under 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6311, which is the statute controlling Child Protective Services.  Section 6211(a) broadly states that anyone who comes in contact with children “in the course of their employment, occupation or practice of a profession shall report or cause a report to be made…when the person has reasonable cause to suspect…that the child under the care, supervision, guidance or training of that person is a victim of child abuse.” 

This section identifies the basic procedure for mandatory reporters to bring allegations of abuse to the attention of Child Protective Services.  Not surprisingly, this section of Pennsylvania’s code received quite a lot of attention in the midst of the Jerry Sandusky/Penn State scandal and criminal case.    

The caseworker’s response to my question was slow and contemplative: “Yeah. I guess I do have an obligation to report.”  This was clearly the first time she had put her friend’s situation into the context of her profession.  When it comes to deeply personal issues such as abuse, divorce, or addiction, the personal and professional line can be easily blurred and it made me wonder whether she “missed” connecting her friend’s personal experience with her job’s duties was due to the context of how it was presented.  Had this situation been presented to her at an intake session with a teen, the case worker would have likely seen the abuse and notified the authorities.  When the facts were taken out of that context and she was addressing them as a friend with personal knowledge of all the people involved, her judgment clouded and her professional instincts were not triggered.

Most any job eventually desensitizes a person to the unusual circumstances of their profession.  What is strange and fascinating to one person is the job description someone else finds routine.  Someone free climbs a tower at 1,700 feet to change a light bulb; the Louisville basketball player who suffered the terrible broken leg last week was a shocking sight, but I bet that was not the first – or worst – open fracture of a leg his orthopedic surgeon has seen in his career.  A client’s divorce will always be the worst one they can experience, but often the attorney has had to deal with even more difficult facts.

In this instance, the social worker who deals with kids in broken homes, addiction, teen pregnancy and bullying may not view her abused friend as being someone to whom she has a duty to report this to the authorities.  She tried to be a friend, instead, and called an attorney.  This is not an excuse for the case worker, but it could indicate a loss of perspective of what is normal and where her duty to report begins and ends under Pennsylvania law.

My call with the case worker was short; perhaps no more than a minute.  I would like to think she hung up with me and immediately called CYS; possibly the police department.  Hopefully not another attorney to ask about Pennsylvania’s emancipation laws.

While reading a press release by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers this afternoon, I realized individuals in the midst of a divorce regularly receive warnings about what is acceptable and safe to post on Facebook and what might get them in trouble. They also receive advice from their counsel about when it is appropriate to start dating again and when, for strategic reasons in a divorce or custody case, it might be best to wait. But what about when the two collide and people in the middle of a divorce put a profile on an online dating site? Here are five things I hope my clients never put on their online dating profiles:

1.             Pictures of your kids: While your children are undoubtedly adorable, your spouse (or ex-spouse) will have a field day in a custody case with the family photographs you put on your dating profile. Your decision to upload a picture of you with your child from last Christmas may have been completely innocent, but the other parent can easily turn it around on you, claiming you are using your children to find dates or exposing your children to internet predators.

 

2.             A claim you don’t have kids (when you do): The exact opposite of putting pictures of your children on your profile, if you have kids, don’t claim you are childless on your dating profile. Immediately, the other parent will claim you must not love your children if you won’t tell anyone about them.

 

3.             Anything about your income: If you are in the middle of litigating your income in a divorce or support case, and claiming in court that you make less than $50,000 a year, stating on your online dating profile that you make more than $200,000 per year might not be the wisest move. While it might attract people that otherwise wouldn’t respond to your profile, you will pay for it dearly in court.

 

4.             Stating you are divorced, or single (when you aren’t): Often times in a divorce or support matter, the date you separated from your spouse is very important. If you posted that you are single on your dating profile, weeks or months before you spouse knew your marriage was over, you may have set your date of separation unintentionally. You may have also admitted infidelity (or at least an attempt at infidelity) prior to your official date of separation, which may preclude you from collecting spousal support. To be safe, I wouldn’t put up a profile on a dating site at all until you are definitely separated. 

When I started to write for this blog a few years ago I promised myself that this was not going to become some kind of personal journal.  I had seen others do it and I did not like what I read; unprofessional.

A month ago I wrote the piece appended to this submission based on a fine article in Newsweek about the Kennedy family and their latest chapter of personal crisis.  I wrote it and then set it aside: too personal, therefore, unprofessional.

 

Life changes us and in the past 90 days I have learned that this can be good.  When I set aside my piece about the Kennedys I did so because most of us live lives quite apart from anything that family has experienced.  It is easy to dismiss them, for after all, they are not mere mortals but Kennedys.  What life’s experience has taught me in the past 80 days is that we are all mere mortals no matter what our pedigree.

 

I met Madeline Lamb in 1986 as opposing counsel in a divorce transaction.  She was smart, beautiful and knew how to play her cards at this game even though we were both bagmen for the star attorneys our clients had hired to represent them.  Shortly thereafter we both left work with the stars and went about setting up our own practices.

 

For the next 25 years we ran up against each other a fair amount.  We also were co-counsel in one of these mega-dollar cases that lawyers love to brag about.  Through that case we both became close with our client and through that client we became social friends.  Perhaps three to four times a year we would all get together and Madeline would arrange for all of us to go to nice restaurants which she was famous for patronizing.  Each time, we would be greeted like pashas because of Madeline but before the night was over Madeline surely had to throw twenty dollar bills at the owner and his staff because we behaved very so badly.

 

That was three times a year on Saturday night.  On Monday, it would be back in the trenches sort of like the Christmas armistices that took place in the civil war and the first world war.  The layperson reading this might take the cynical view and say we did this for our benefit.  Madeline and I disagreed a lot; in fact, a hell of a lot.  But never, never, never was there an instance where she was not sincerely advocating on behalf of her clients.  And when it came time to draw swords because we couldn’t settle a matter it was strictly lady and gentleman; the way lawyers are taught it should be.

 

We were not close friends as I would define it.  But even after Madeline gave me an earful about how stupid my client was and how ridiculous I was arguing my client’s position, we would pause to talk about grandkids, Cape May and the injustice of the system.  Lawyers love to talk about the injustice of the system almost as much as they like to brag about their endless victories in important cases.

 

Our posse of evil dinner guests last convened in February at my home because no reputable restaurant would accept us.  We exchanged gifts that would not be described to polite company.  We talked into the night.  Madeline had just come back from a cruise where some dread outbreak caused everyone to be confined to their staterooms.  She complained of neuropathy in her feet but dismissed it as “being 71”.

 

On April 19 Madeline went to the family law section meeting and presented her case law update as she had for 25 years.  The following day she was in Court and professing to feel badly, decided to hit the emergency room at Paoli Hospital on her way home.

 

Life’s rope slipped far too quickly after that.  The diagnosis was a highly virile form of brain cancer.  Her daughter lived in Raleigh near the Duke University Medical Center. Her former husband stepped forward and made certain there was a quick means to get her there.  Thus began the battle to defeat what seemed to be overwhelming odds.  That battle was fully joined for just over two months with daily dispatches from the front reported by a daughter whose bravery was exceeded only by her compassion and her ability to articulate objectively everything that she witnessed to hundred of friends who logged onto the caringbridge website.

 

By the end of June, it became clear that the war could not be won. Even simple palliatives like platelets were not reviving our friend’s condition.  On June 28 Madeline, her daughter Amanda and the physicians met and decided that the war had to end if life was to end peacefully and at home, surrounded by family.

 

Madeline Lamb departed this good earth at 1:35am on Sunday, July 8, not even three months after diagnosis. She died peacefully at home as it should be.  She was an outstanding attorney, a leader in her profession and her community.  She was always a “lady” in the finest sense which is to say that she allowed herself a good time but never at the expense of others.

 

Ironically, I did not learn of her passing until Monday morning. After sending a quick note to her daughter, I found myself back in the cockpit fighting over money and children.  For folks in our trade, it is the daily fare.  But today, late in the afternoon I had a particularly acrimonious conversation with another attorney whom I also consider a friend.  Our fight had to do with parents who had separated a few days before Madeline was forced to accept that her life was at its conclusion. 

 These parents have four young children and, we can hope, a lifetime of parenting ahead of them.  Yet, their personal conflict has resulted in the children not seeing one of them for almost three weeks.  As I put the phone back in the cradle it occurred to me how easy it is to ignore the fragility of life.  When we are healthy it is easy to “go to extremes with impossible schemes.”  If only we could give recognition to how precious life is, perhaps less of it would be squandered on trifling matters.  Family lawyers would make a little less money but this world would be a better place and the children we all profess to love so much, could be spared much of life’s anxiety.

 

Unlike the Kennedy saga described in Newsweek, Madeline Lamb’s life was not grand.  It was well lived.  And may that be a lesson to us all.

 

THE MARY KENNEDY TRAGEDY

 

We write occasionally about celebrity divorces.  We do so because readers find them interesting; a release from the mundane.

 

This week’s Newsweek features a celebrity divorce but with a very real side.  Mary Kennedy was the beautiful and highly intelligent second wife of Robert Kennedy, Jr.  Kennedy has always been a sort of professional conservationist.  The couple married in 1994 and had four children.  Only 13 when his Father was shot to death, his life has also been marred by some tragic flaws.

 

In May, 2010 Robert Kennedy filed for divorce.  Within days Mary was arrested not once but twice for driving while intoxicated.  The Newsweek story as reported by Lawrence Leamer describes two years of non-stop domestic warfare with attorneys fees reported to exceed more than $1 million. During this period it would seem that Mary’s life and her talents came apart at the seams. 

 By the Spring of this year Mary saw her children only in a supervised setting.  She continued to live in the “big house” she had helped to design in suburban New York but even friends who profess to have adored her told Leamer that she was disintegrating before their eyes.  Her hatred for her husband, whether justified or not, became a consuming rage.  On May 16 she took a rope, tied it carefully into a noose and threw the rope over a beam in her barn.  It is there that she was found by her husband and a housekeeper.  She was 52 years old.

 

The Kennedy’s four children, age 10-17 had not suffered enough pain.  The Richardson and Kennedy families decided that there needed to be a fight over where the body would be buried.  The publication of the Newsweek article has revived the fight as the Richardson Family attempts to defend their daughter’s honor against allegations by her husband that she was both violent and alcoholic.

 

Chances are the death of Mary Kennedy will deprive us of the chance to uncover the whole truth. But there are some remarkable lessons to be taken from his article.  They transcend any importance to deciding whether Mary Kennedy was the victim or the perpetrator of a marriage gone bad.  Among them:

 

1. As attorneys we are seeing more and more people enmeshed in domestic disputes becoming obsessed and irrational in response to what statistics tells us is a fairly common life event.  When this occurs they engage in behaviors highly destructive to themselves and even more destructive to their young children.  Many times they insinuate their children into their divorce battles under the absurd pretense that children need to know the “truth”. Small children cannot really grasp the truth of adult relationships.  The reality is that many adults don’t seem to be able to grasp the truth.

 

2. Despite our electronic connectivity, we are more and more isolated from friends and family that could help us.  A keyboard allows me to communicate “to” a huge world.  But it can just as often give me little to no assurance that others are listening, let alone trying to understand my pain.  Everyone today is “busy” in one way or another.  Yet there is no electronic substitute for the look of empathy, the hug or the squeeze of the human hand when a friend or family member is suffering.

 

3.   An adversarial system that allows humans to spend more than a million dollars and two or more years of precious life in a form of mortal combat is broken.  Children growing up in this kind of conflict cannot help but be damaged by such a process; yet again and again we permit children to spend years in this limbo.

 

4.   Education, money, magnificent homes and gorgeous offspring have something to do with pride and personal convenience but almost nothing to do with human happiness. This family once had all of these things.  Today, a once vital human is no more and people who professed to love that person have celebrated her life and mourned her death by wrestling over where her corpse is buried.

Researchers from the University of Missouri published the results of an interesting study recently, which examined a group of women who found themselves caring for their ill ex-husbands. Some of the women separated from their ex-spouses decades before and suffered brutal and bitter divorces. Yet each of these women chose to set aside her anger and emotional wounds and care for a man to whom she was no longer wed. While these women gave a variety of reasons for their decision, a common thread appeared to be children. They did not want their children to carry the burden of caring for an ill parent and they wanted to help their children through the emotional journey of losing a loved one. 

While I do not believe the women in this study are reflective of a large or growing trend, I do think they present an interesting glimpse into how life can be after divorce.

With statistics indicating that roughly half of all marriages end in divorce, it is not surprisingly that half of all children in the United States will grow up with their father’s living elsewhere. Those statistics include all children, not just those of divorced parents, as recent studies by Penn State University sociologists and demographers Valarie King and Paul Amato (highlighted in a June 16, 2010 article in USA Today) point out.

Interestingly, the study found that fathers who pay child support and were divorced from the children’s mothers were far more likely to stay involved in their children’s lives than those fathers who never married their children’s moms. The “non-resident” father, as the study suggests, is becoming increasingly active compared to the non-resident father of a generation ago: in 1976, 18% of non-resident fathers saw their kids at least weekly, while in 2002, 31% saw their kids weekly; meanwhile, the number of fathers with no weekly contact fell from 37% in 1976 to 29% in 2002.

 

The role of fathers in their children’s lives, particularly the lives of boys, has been well-publicized and is often cited as a contributing factor to delinquency, educational achievement, and substance abuse. That 29% of children still have no weekly contact with their fathers is disturbing, but the number is moving in the right direction.

 

Ultimately, a non-resident father’s tendency to stay involved is influenced by his relationship with the child’s mother. Fortunately, technology is offering fathers more opportunities to stay connected to their children, even if they can not see them every day, and the ability to bypass (or at least minimize) a contentious interaction with the child’s mother. There is no substitute for personal contact between a father and his child, but in an age where kids text, twitter, Facebook, and Skype from their cell phones, it is becoming easier for a non-resident parent to keep in touch and stay involved in the child’s life without having to go through the custodial parent.

 

It took 26 years to achieve an 8% decrease in the number of fathers who did not see their children on a weekly basis. During that time, we have seen a considerable evolution in family law and the emphasis on the father in raising children. It will be interesting to see whether in the eight years since the statistics were compiled that the proliferation and incorporation of technology into our every day lives brings about a sharp increase in the number of fathers in contact with their children. 

 

Opinions and studies will vary as to what constitutes a contact between a father and child, but in terms of whether the non-resident father is involved in that child’s life is not decided by a clinician, the child’s mother (or her lawyer), but by the child.

One of the most highly publicized stories this year concerns the mother who gave birth to octuplets after in vitro fertilization and implantation. She already had six other children which were conceived in the same way.

Legal, medical and social issues were raised by reporters and commentators. The amount of publicity regarding the birth continues to grow. As anyone following the story knows, there are more questions than there are answers.

 

In this blog, I have written about the many ways to start a family when there are medical issues. The birth of the octuplets raises almost of all them and provides a guide for what not to do.

 

Legally, there has been nothing wrong. We all have the right to have as many children as we wish. If we cannot provide for them, then governmental authorities may step in after the children are born and if there is proof that their needs are not being met. Several children sleeping in the same bed does not matter, as long as they are being fed, cared for and sheltered. There is nothing to indicate that any of these 14 children will not be cared for, as everyone has said she is a good and attentive mother. The issues of having 14 children is one of values. Some believe that no one should have 14 children; some believe that a single mother should not have 14 children. This is a social norm. For some, having many children is seen as either a duty or a blessing.

 

From the news reports, mother has used the same fertility group for all her children and had her embryos frozen for this use. Some articles have reported that the practice group’s success rate is below the typical rate for this procedure. As a lawyer, I cannot comment on these facts with any medical knowledge. However, the fact that at least 8 embryos were implanted at the same time is a violation of the profession standards for those medical caregivers who practice assisted conception, even though the standards are voluntary. The question as to whether the doctor should have aided the woman to have more children is again one of personal/moral values. As the treating physician pointed out, the decision is the patient’s, and absent a threat to the mother’s life, may not one for the doctor to make.

 

The incident is also a learning tool for anyone considering assisted conception. Be mindful that you must do more than check for accreditation/credentialing. You need to research your doctor or agency’s track record. There are many questions that need to be asked and you should have someone with knowledge in the field to advise you of the issues and questions to raise.

 

No matter how this incident is viewed, it is clear that assisted conception is a wonderful medical tool to aid in having children. As with all tools, care must be taken to use them in the best way possible.

I handle a lot of custody matters. At this time of year, families where the parents and/or grandparents are not living together have similar and stressful issues. Everyone wants their child’s holiday to be a happy and memorable one. After 2 decades of working with children and families and after consulting with child psychologists about what children need, I’ve learned a few things that might be helpful for you and your children.

First, the holiday cannot be and does not need to be perfect. What it needs to be is a day without fighting, without guilt and without fear. Assure your child that there is more than 1 way to celebrate a holiday and that the more people and places he/she celebrates with, the more ways there will be to have fun. If you celebrate Christmas and you have little ones, assure them that Santa knows where they will sleep on Christmas Eve and where they will be on Christmas Day (or any other day they celebrate with their other families).   After all, if Santa is smart enough to make his reindeer fly, he is smart enough to find each and every little boy and girl.

 

Second, especially if this is the first year in separate households, help your child decide how to celebrate the holiday. Help suggest new ideas or traditions that will make it a very special time. If in the past, the children always helped make cookies, maybe this is the year they learn how to decorate candles. Also, help them pick out gifts for the parent and grandparents, aunts and uncles who are no longer part of your celebration. Celebrate your child’s family!

Finally, no fighting with your ex. This is the season to model the behavior you want your child to learn. Walk away from the taunts. Become deaf to the threats. Act as if there is nothing more important than being happy and serene. If you act that way, there will be no one for others to fight with.

 

The holidays are not a Bing Crosby movie. They are not even about locating the Grinch and taking him down. They are about giving your child the chance to enjoy family without worry or fear. And isn’t that the best gift of all?