Sunday, May 4, 2014

Well Not Fair


“Yeah, must be nice to sit at home and do nothing but still get paid” She said.

The caller on the other end must have agreed with her. After a pause, she erupted into gales of laughter. “I know right? Total welfare mooch. Seriously. Must be real nice. As if all that child support she gets isn’t enough”. She had the phone cradled between her ear and shoulder as she plopped her groceries on the conveyer belt behind me. “Listen, I have to run… I’ll call you later”.  She biddly-booped her iPhone and tossed it into her Marc Jacobs bag.

I grabbed the bar to indicate where my pile of groceries ended and hers began.

She smiled, “Thanks she said. I always forget that thing”.

“No problem” I said coolly and continued to eye the screen of the cash register as it tallied my bill.

Just then her phone jangled from within her purse. In her haste to grab it, her car keys sprang from her purse and clattered to the floor. She was pre-occupied with loading the remainder of her purchases onto the belt and gabbing with this new caller to notice what happened.

I picked them up off of the floor. I tried to make eye contact. I said “Miss” a couple of times. Nothing. Ok then. I placed them on the conveyer on top of a box of frozen pizza that she had set there.

I began bagging my groceries and was lost in thought as I slid dish detergent in the same bag as my clementine’s. I thought about what she said. About welfare recipients. How it “must be nice”.

It must be nice to spend night after night sick with worry for how you’ll feed your kids. It must be nice to face the humiliation and the stigma associated with those who use the system. It must be nice to be chastised and ostracized. It must be really nice to be judged at every pass and feel like you have to explain why you have that Coach handbag that your sister bought you for Christmas or the hand me down touch screen phone that your mom let you have when yours died and left you with no way to get in touch with a potential employer. It must be nice to have your every action scrutinized by those better off than you. It must be nice to feel as though you’re taking something you don’t deserve. It must be nice to feel criminal about needing help. It must be nice to be shunned. It must be really nice to have ignorant and self-righteous jerks tell you what you “should have done differently/better” to have not put yourself in the situation you’re in – the same people that if they ever needed to would surely be first in line for the “handout” they claim you don’t deserve. It must be nice to be instantly lumped into a category of fraudulent felons who abuse the system by a fool who feels that he should be your judge, jury and executioner. Yeah, all that sounds like a dream come true right there.

Miss. Chatty Patty was off of her phone and it was time to pay for my groceries. I made my way to the credit card reader. I noticed her keys still lying on the pizza box. I swiped my card.

“Miss, you dropped your keys. I put them here for you”. I said, my eyes fixed on the screen in front of me.

“Oh thank YOU!” She exclaimed. “My husband would have killed me. He just bought me this car for our anniversary”.

I took a deep breath, turned and looked her square in the eye.

I smiled sweetly and in a slow calm manner said three short words,

“Must. Be. Nice.”

The cashier smirked, I signed my receipt and pushed my cart out of the lane. I didn’t look back. I didn’t need to. I didn’t need to evaluate her or be a part of her reaction.

That’s her job now.  

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Thoughts, Research, Experience & Analysis; Support The NYS Shared Parenting Act S949


This is a matter that is very important to me – one that I have felt strongly about for ten years and advocate for any chance that I get. The NYS Shared Parenting Bill S949 is of the highest importance right now. The passage of this bill is paramount to the children of NYS who are living through their parent’s separations or divorces under archaic custody guidelines and principles set forth by NYS decades ago, with little if any reform. I am a huge proponent for this bill, it holds greater importance to me than any other bill or proposal currently on the docket in NYS today. I urge our senators and legislatures to act swiftly on the passage of this bill, which has been tied up in the house for nearly twelve years now. That’s 11 years and 11 months too long. This bill will end the suffering that unnecessary custody battles create for the children of NYS. It will help NYS parents to more effectively and productively co-parent their children. It is an overdue solution to the problematic custody guidelines that plague our family court system, parents and children today. It is an innovative and exciting proposal that will essentially eradicate the need for senseless custody trials by assuming, from the start, that both parents are equally fit to share equal custody of their child, unless one parent can prove to the court otherwise. After countless hours researching this bill and the practice of shared parenting and practicing it myself for over ten years, here is my analysis and argument for the passage of this bill and the practice of Shared Parenting. I will be sharing this with legislators state-wide until this bill has been passed. It is the only political endeavor that I'll ever on embark on. To me, this is the one of the few that actually matters.

NYS Shared Parenting Bill S949 is crucial to the quality of life that NY children experience and must be passed, enacted and enforced immediately. Every child who has two able and willing parents, deserves to have both of them, at all times. Not just every other weekend and one night a week. If both parents are able, willing and fit to parent their child, then both parents must have equal rights to do so. Neither parent should be afforded more or less rights than the other, unless the parent who objects to shared parenting can prove, with sufficient and credible evidence, that the other parent is not fit to do so. This bill would ensure that both parents are afforded their right to parent their child and would divide responsibilities and time equally between both parents. This is a tremendous benefit to children who are often forgotten about in the throes of divorce or separation and are often denied one parent under the archaic and damaging "Tender Years Doctrine" or "best interests of the child" method that NYS uses when determining custody. Additionally, the "best interest of the child" method doesn't appear to be as critical of a factor when determining custody as NYS claims it to be, nor is it practical in the context that NYS uses it. How a court can determine that spending time with a beloved parent two weekends and four weekdays a month is in a child's "best interest" is ludicrous.

 I'm not a scientist, an expert or a psychologist. I'm a mother who has two children by two different fathers, whom I never married. I’ve also been practicing and have been an advocate for shared parenting for over 10 years. I have worked tirelessly with their fathers, from day one, even during the most tumultuous of times between us, to co-parent and practice shared parenting with our children. Revoking their parental rights or time with their children has never been an option for me. I could never punish my children for wrong doings on behalf of one of their parents. My ex's and I have been committed to raising our children together, regardless of any situations that have occurred between us. I can assure you, there has been plenty of animosity, arguments, screaming matches and flat out hatred for one another, unbeknownst to our children. There have been times where one of their fathers were facing very serious hardships that he needed to address. Rather than revoke his rights as a father, I accommodated him and offered to him support through those difficult times. My ex's have extended that same courtesy to me during difficult periods of my life. At one point, one of my ex‘s did bring about litigation and attempted to gain sole custody of my son, after a particularly serious argument between us. After a six month long ordeal, thousands of dollars, stress, anxiety and tears, the court awarded me custody. Despite the atrocities that my ex claimed against me in court, I still maintain a shared parenting schedule between him and I, despite the fact that I  have in my possession a court order that states that I'm not legally obligated to do so. My son's feelings and his relationship with both of his parents matters more to me than a piece of paper signed by a judge. It matters more to me than how much I dislike his father. His father has since offered sincere apologies to me and has worked to ensure that never happens again. The measures that he’s taken to compromise and cooperate with me as a parent are commendable. My other ex and I, sat down together and drafted a parenting plan together for our daughter when we initially separated. We took that plan, drove to the courthouse together and presented it to the judge - together. The judge commended us both and gladly put what we had outlined in our parenting plan into a legally binding court order. Easy. No stress. No screaming matches. No tears. The result? Our happy, healthy daughter enjoys both of her parents as much as possible and is secure in her relationships with both of us. Neither her dad nor I have ever had to pick her up or drop her off crying and begging to spend more time with the other parent. Co-parenting/shared parenting works when parents decide that their children's happiness is far more important to them than their animosity towards the other parent. I have living proof - something no journal, study, research, or psychologist may have. Two children who are both thriving and close to both of their parents. My children never attempt to pit one parent against the other. They see their Mom & Dad as equals - a united front. They are both confident that they can rely on both their mother and their father to provide for them or be there for them. My children have never attempted to "pull one over" on their mom or dad. They know and understand that their parents are on the same page and are working together. Both of my kids are excelling socially, academically and personally. They have never had any issues adjusting to two households. Both children have what they need at each home. My ex's and I both provide for our children in our own homes. Neither parent pays the other child support. We divide expenses equally between us. The quality of life that my children enjoy has never been diminished because of this. It is important that both sets of parents are able to afford to provide for their child in their home, without the added financial burden of child support. A 50/50 split works. It is fair. It is reasonable and accommodating to both parents. Most importantly, practicing a 50/50 split in regards to time, finances and responsibilities accommodates our children more than it does anyone else. At the end of the day, that's all that matters to us. Interestingly, my daughter befriended another child who has separated parents. This child is only able to see her father every other weekend. My daughter couldn't fathom why. To her, the "norm" is to have liberal time with both of her parents. It really bothered her that there are children out there, who are afforded only minimal time with their fathers. It bothers me too.

 

Some could argue that what works for me, won't or can't work for every situation. They might say that my situation with my ex's is "different" and makes shared parenting "easier" and that there probably hasn't been anything as bad as what they're experiencing in their relationship, in my relationships with my ex's. I'd like to make it very clear that my ex's and I are no different than any other divorcing or separating couple.  I can assure you that. Shared parenting isn't always easy. Parenting in general isn't easy. It requires a lot of time and effort to make it work. What I always keep in mind that there is hardly ANYTHING out there that is difficult to endure that isn't worth it in the end. There are many, many valid reasons why my ex's are exactly that - ex's. There has been plenty of toxicity and volatile situations between us. If I divulged all of the details, some may wonder why I would ever consider shared parenting with them. The answer is simple and concise; what happened between me and my ex happened between me and my ex - not me, my ex and our children. A lot of parents could claim that shared parenting can't or won't work out for a plethora of reasons. Aside from instances of physical, mental, substance and emotional abuse, domestic violence, neglect and instances of severe mental illness - I call bull on that statement. Shared parenting can and does work if both parents commit to making it work in the best interests of their children. Aside from the reasons I stated, any other reasons for not engaging in shared parenting are merely excuses to mask one parent’s animosity and derogatory feelings towards the other which have no bearing on being a parent to a child and should in no way effect that child. Period.

 

Studies have proven time and time again that children thrive when both of their parents are present, engaged and consistently active parents to them, daily. A child simply does not want or need a part time parent. Children who previously enjoyed two full time parents, will always need two full time parents to maintain a sense of continuity. Anything less than that is hurtful and damaging to a child who longs for quality time with both of their parents. Continuity simply cannot mean that a parent is only allowed to parent every other weekend. That's not continuity. Continuity is affording the child liberal access to both of his/her parents at all times, as they had prior to divorce. Continuity is continuous involvement in a child's life - not just for four days out of a month. Continuity is not setting the precedence to a child that he/she can rely only on one parent. That is parental alienation and turmoil - the very opposite of what continuity should stand for in a child's life. A child who spends every other weekend and one weekday per week with his/her parent, enjoys 96 days per calendar year with that parent. In these ever changing times where our children grow up too fast as it is, is 96 out of 365 days per year sufficient? I think not - and no one else should either. Why NYS thinks that one parent should enjoy 269 more days than the other with their child, simply 'just because' is unfathomable. Currently, 44 states in the US have adopted and practice shared parenting laws to determine custody. Neither parent is awarded any more time or rights than the other. These states assume that both parents are equally fit to equally parent their child from the start and leave the burden of proof otherwise where it belongs - on the parent disputing shared custody. NYS needs to catch up to the times and realize that 1950 and the days of stay at home housewives are long gone. Gender alone should no longer be a determining factor when deciding with whom a child should live, any more than it should be used to determine whether or not to employ someone. To preserve the quality of life that these children enjoyed prior to the parents' divorce or separation, it would be in their best interest to have both of their parents - equally - in their lives. No child benefits from the unnecessary pain that they're forced to endure when one parent is taken from them when those parents' divorce. Why do parents think that this acceptable to do this to a child? Why is the anguish that it causes for their child allowable and does not constitute mental and emotional abuse? Because it's "legal"? Big whoop. Slavery used to be "legal" too. Until we realized that hey, that's not right. A huge misconception that has plagued society since the conception of the legal system is that the term "legal" is equated to the term "moral". The moral standards of raising children through divorce are so low they're practically immeasurable. Yet the legal standards, for a parent to retain and maintain custody of their child by during divorce are sky high. For one to retain their legal rights as a parent during a divorce, it becomes a matter of dollar & cents and slander and mudslinging. Who can afford the better attorney and who can more effectively slander the other parent. That's who "wins". In the meantime, there are heartbroken children losing every single time a judge awards one parent, and one parent alone, custody.  

 

A parent could argue that their child has acclimated to the circumstances and is thriving in them. Well of course. Children are resilient creatures who are often under estimated. They will adapt and acclimate to just about anything life throws out them - the good and the bad. Children also acclimate and adapt in abusive situations. Yet, I again ask that parent - WHY do that to them in the first place? Children should not need to acclimate to circumstances that their parents created. Children need not sacrifice critical elements and people in their lives because their parents decided to separate. Parents' divorce their spouse. Parents do not divorce their child. Parents sacrifice for their child. Parents do not ask that their child sacrifice to accommodate them. Children want to please their parents. They crave their parent’s approval. To them, their positive response elicits another positive response from their parent - which translates to them, into an approving response. If a parent asks their child if they're "ok" with things - chances are that they will say yes, regardless if that’s how they truly feel or not. The effects of divorce and losing a parent are a series of traumatic events for a child. That pain can last a lifetime. Engaging in shared parenting can help to lessen and alleviate that pain. If the only reason for withholding custody from an ex is because of a PARENTS anger, a PARENTS pain, a PARENTS arguments, a PARENTS issues, things that one PARENTS ex did to a PARENT or pain that a PARENTS ex caused a PARENT, that parent is being nothing more than spiteful and vindictive and the child suffers because of it. Nowhere in ANY of those statements, does a CHILD exist. If a parent doesn't want a child to be a product of a divorce, remove the child from the equation. They never should have been in the equation to begin with. It's that simple. Treat the divorce and custody as two separate events. One that involves the child, another that does not. Parenting is a lifelong commitment between two people, even if the marriage or relationship isn't anymore and even if those two people don't agree with one another. Children don't ask for divorce. They shouldn't suffer because of it. If a parent decided to bring a child into this world with someone, it is their faults that the relationship didn't meet their expectations. Not a child's. A bad or undesirable spouse does not an unfit parent make.  

 

Of course child abusers or those who engage in destructive behaviors are not good candidates to be named a custodial parent and I discourage shared parenting in those instances. The other parent would simply need to prove why in court - rather than allowed to make slanderous statements and receive a sole custody award based on statements alone. Should there be enough evidence to support the position that one parent should be favored over the other in regards to custody that judgment should come from the courts. This eliminates slanderous (potentially untrue) statements being made by one parent which result in the revocation of parental rights for the other. This also eliminates a mistake or unfavorable incident on behalf of a parent, who has since taken measures to correct, to result in losing custody of his/her child. No parent is perfect. Yet NYS and many divorcing parents are so focused on the "ammunition" against the other parent that they lose all perspective. We're all human. We all make mistakes. It is unfair to persecute someone in court - and for the rest of their lives - and deny a child a parent because of a mistake on behalf of the other parent. If that mistake did not impact the safety, well-being or relationship between the child and his/her parents, it is unfair to punish the child for said mistake. Corrective actions can be taken. Not every mistake should carry with it the lifelong repercussion of parental rights being revoked. It is in these times especially, that both parents must work together and support one another. Hardships and or past mistakes do not always create bad parents. Parents who are supportive of one another outside of their failed marriage will create an atmosphere of love and acceptance that children benefit greatly from. Punishing a parent with lifelong consequences, long after that parent took significant measures to better their life and situation, demonstrates to children that forgiveness is never an option. It illustrates to a child that they must immediately abandon someone because of their past mistakes. Furthermore, children may not understand what the alienated parent had done wrong. Rather than divulging these things to a child and potentially demonize the other parent to them, it would be in both the parents and the child's best interests if that parent worked with and supported the other parent during a difficult time. Empowering a former spouse to better their circumstances and become a better parent benefits both parents and children - however difficult it is for a parent to do that. Once that happens, a child's life should return to the norm that they were accustomed to prior. Lifelong consequences in the form of rigid custody orders and revocation of parental rights hurt children more than they do anyone else. It creates a lifetime of resentment and hurt. That is fact. It’s certainly true that mistakes that endanger the welfare of a child or greatly impact that child's quality of life, health and/or happiness should not be overlooked and appropriate actions must be taken to protect the child. However, too often, parents are inclined to disproportionally identify another parent’s mistakes or shortcomings in attempt to better their own image and demonize the other parent in a courtroom. Parents are leveraging each other's mistakes to benefit themselves in court and custody litigation. A child should never bear witness to a parent utilizing another's mistakes for their own benefit. The example that sets for children is atrocious and teaches them to not exercise compassion in their lives. Parents must be realistic and compassionate with one another when faced with the other parent’s downfalls or shortcomings. The immediate response should never be to revoke that parents' rights, unless not doing so places the child in danger. Parents can raise compassionate individuals by exercising compassion and modeling compassionate behaviors towards their child's parent. Compassionate, moral and ethical behaviors are best taught to children at home. They carry those lessons with them and model those behaviors for life - as they do hatred, disdain and a lack of compassion, should they be raised in an environment that demonstrates those characteristics. The greatest gift that a parent can give to their child is to treat their child's parent with respect and compassion.

 

Enacting this legislation into law that judges, parents and attorneys must abide by will only yield positive results for those engaged in these sorts of negative conflicts. It will help to eliminate animosity between parents. This bill would encourage parents to work with - not against - one another. It will foster good communication between them. It will create accountability as they work together to develop a parenting plan that best suits their situation. Neither parent will be allowed to hold a court order over the head of the other parent in an attempt to use it as a weapon to hurt the other. It will eliminate manipulative behavior, slander and custody battles that span an entire decade, if not longer. It will keep conflict to a minimum and parents out of the courtroom. Litigation rarely yields positive results. One parent wins, the other loses and animosity compounds over the course of years and creates greater issues than were initially present. This bill will greatly reduce the amount of parents and hours spent litigating. The bill encourages parents to work together to develop and implement a parenting plan and outline, together, all facets of their child's life. Parents who are able to communicate and work together will as a result have happier children who are better able to cope with their parents' divorce. It will create a sense of security for the child, that they'll never be forced to choose between their parents nor will they need to sacrifice one of them. It will also alleviate resentment that divorced children often develop towards their custodial parent for "taking them away from" the other parent. This bill offers so many benefits to divorced families. It is a progressive, sensible approach to parenting in 2014. Our society empowers women. In regards to custody, women have historically held all of the power. Empowering women should not come at the cost of degrading men. Mothers and fathers should be regarded and treated as equals. They equally created their child, they must equally share him/her despite the turmoil that resulted in their divorce. Parents simply cannot claim that they would do anything for their child if they refuse to set aside their differences to benefit their child. Love your child more than you hate your ex. This bill encourages parents to do precisely that. Additionally, this bill has provisions for parents to utilize resources to achieve a better level of communication and understanding between them. Parenting classes, counseling and mediation are all excellent resources to help parents to resolve conflict in a productive and healthy manner. Altogether too often, parents declare that they are "done" with one another. Not so fast. When a child is involved, "done" isn't acceptable. Parenting is a lifelong commitment with the partner you selected, whether the parent likes it or not. Marriages and relationships end. Parenthood does not. Counseling isn't always a method to "get back together" and by engaging in it, parents are not necessarily committing that to one another. They're simply deciding that working together is healthier for their child and they are admitting that they need help to do so - a commendable admission. Everyone can benefit from a neutral, professional third party lending support to their situation. This bill supports compromise and helps parents to be able to do that with one another. An important element of compromise that so many parents lose sight of is that nobody wins in compromise - and that’s the goal. Compromise is never intended to produce a “parental winner" and too many parents regard their children as trophies when engaged in a custody dispute. A true compromise is when neither parent is awarded everything that they would want out of the situation. Rather, each parent is awarded some of what they would like and some of what the other parent would like. The only "winner" in a true compromise amongst two parents should be the child.

 

I urge anyone who cares at all for the children who are currently, or someday will be, products of divorce to sign the petition (see below) and/or write a letter to your local senator, legislator or the governor to lobby for passage of this bill. In doing so, NYS will be one step closer to preserving the childhood that children in divorced or separated families deserve. It guarantees them their right to two parents who will always remain on an equal plane regardless of the circumstances surrounding their divorce. Children are not possessions. They are not objects. They are human beings. Being afforded two equal parents should not be considered a societal luxury. It is the right of our children to have both of their parents in their lives equally. It needs to be the norm. Not the exception. This bill must be passed. The assumption should always be that children are entitled to both of their parents equally. It should not be that one parent is automatically the better choice and therefor the child must be forced to sacrifice one able, willing and fit parent against their will. If both parents are able and fit to be parents, then both parents should legally be allowed to do so. If one parent is better and should have sole custody, then let that parent prove it in court before it permanently damages or potentially destroys the relationship between the other parent and their child. Denying a child a willing, able and fit parent is child abuse and negligible. You wouldn't deny a child water, air or food - why deny them something as equally important to them as those things are? Why deny them their parent? Simply because that's how it's "always been" isn't good enough. Historically, it used to be that women stayed home, raised children and weren't able to work because that was how it had "always been". Times have changed. The standards by which we determine how our children are to be raised must as well. The current child custody laws are archaic and downright unfair to loving, fit and present parents. More importantly, they are unfair to our children who suffer because of them. The current laws empower one parent to hold all of the cards over the other and sends a very disturbing message that the parent awarded custody is superior to the other and should be held in a higher regard for reasons that have very little, if any merit. The world in which we live and our society is very much focused on equality and bridging the great divide between men, women and other societal groups in many different areas, demographics and on many different platforms. Yet, we're still holding on to outdated laws that discriminate against willful and devoted parents and create needless suffering of the most innocent of victims - our children.

 

I understand that this bill faces great opposition, particularly by a certain feminist group. I fail to see how the opposition to this bill, from a feminist group is even rational. First and foremost, feminists have been lobbying and fighting for equal rights for decades. Equal rights are now here, right in front of us. Yet, feminists are crying foul. I would welcome the opportunity to directly ask a feminist how she can justify her opposition for this bill based on the years of movements that feminists have sponsored to gain the ability to get out of the kitchen and out into the workforce. This bill provides for the same equality that all feminists have claimed that they have stood for, for generations. It also secures that equality for generations to come. Women have made tremendous progress in gaining equal rights as men. Women are no longer viewed as nothing more than housewives - a mere commodity - any longer. Women are CEO's, professionals, laborers and a huge asset to the workforce and to our economy. Opposition to this bill is a gigantic leap backwards and an enormous insult to the women who fought to be known for their skills, intellect and abilities - other than housework and child rearing. This bill supports the equality that feminists movements have stood for by granting both parents equal responsibilities in raising their child - something that has historically always fallen on the woman's shoulders. You cannot achieve equality by revoking other's rights. In this instance, women (mothers) cannot achieve equality by revoking the rights of men (fathers). Another argument that has stalled this bill in the senate, is that victims of domestic violence will be forced to share custody of their children with a predator. I call bull on this too. A legitimate victim of domestic violence can, at any time, file a restraining order against her spouse. While we all know that a restraining order is merely a piece of paper and nothing more, that order shall serve in family court, as sufficient and credible evidence as to why her spouse should not be awarded shared custody of their child. Police reports and other documentation stemming from incidents of domestic violence are also acceptable forms of evidence that can be submitted to the courts to prove that the offending spouse should not be awarded shared parenting. This bill will also help to eliminate false allegations of domestic violence that are often made in family court to sway a judge to award sole custody to one parent. Allegations alone will no longer have any merit in a custody battle. Whether these feminist groups want to admit it or not, these allegations are made often in family court in an attempt to gain custody of a child, and they're often untrue. Sadly, it's not uncommon for a parent to allege abuse at the hands of his/her spouse to convince the courts to award to them custody of their children. It's also not uncommon for one parent to allege abuse towards their children by the other spouse. It’s a sad and frightening reality. Implementing this bill will create a systemic approach to identifying legitimate victims of abuse and will allow the courts to effectively and appropriately award custody based on documentation, evidence and fact based testimony. This is in sharp contrast to the current system of random accusations from a jilted parent who is attempting to enact revenge on the other by way of limiting that parents contact with his/her children through slanderous reports of alleged abuse. The bill embodies the equalities and standards that feminists have stood for. Opposition to it, is opposition to the entire feminist movement as a whole, starting with its inception. Equality isn't about picking and choosing the areas in which equality will be demanded. Equality means that spectrum wide, men and women are equals even as they relate to being mothers and fathers. Lastly, feminists cannot and should not persecute those who discriminate against women but then condone the discrimination against men that frequently occurs during custody disputes. Equality means that all are treated equal all of the time, men, women, fathers and mothers alike.

 

Other groups oppose this measure as they state that it makes calculating child support difficult. Shared parenting means that everything is divided equally. Time, responsibility and lastly finances. Child support issues are another archaic area where one parent is plunged into financial ruin while the other thrives financially. The system is grossly inaccurate and is in dire need of reform. Expenses for the child, in a shared parenting situation, are best divided 50% between both parents, with no parent paying support to the other. Should the need arise for one parent to pay to the other regular support payments, that figure should be determined based on the NET (not gross) income of the parent who earns more money than the other, not to exceed a reasonable dollar amount that is sufficient to meet the child's needs while also avoiding an undue financial burden on behalf of the parent who pays it. The entire child support system needs to be managed and executed in a manner that promotes fiscal responsibility, accountability and transparency amongst parents and ensures that the needs of the child are met by both parents, equally. In this day and age, it is not uncommon for women to earn just as much as, if not more, than men. The assumption that men earn more than women and women can't or don't work in order to raise children is no longer entirely valid. In situations where a parent stayed home to raise children before the dissolution of their marriage, the same formula could apply. The parent who earned more money, would pay to the parent who didn't, a reasonable weekly amount based on a percentage of his/her net pay and not to exceed a set amount based on that pay. There is always room for adjustment and because custody and support have always been separate matters it does not make sense to cite difficulties in figuring child support as sufficient reason to oppose this bill. The support magistrate and family court are separate entities that manage these two very separate matters. Additionally, shared parenting could encourage parents to manage the financial aspects of parenting outside of the courtroom, eliminating the need for the magistrate to order support.

 

Currently, there is a massive and very prevalent psychological component present as a direct result of the current custody standards in NYS. It's what I like to call "Single Parent Syndrome". In one way or another, both parents suffer from it. The parent who was awarded custody often experiences a powerful surge in his or her ego. He/she feels triumphant over their former spouse and is empowered. While empowerment in and of itself isn't necessarily terrible, the sheer sudden surge of it and manner in which it is handled can be. Its often abused - either intentionally or unintentionally. Often times, the parent awarded custody exercises extreme power and control over the other parent which in turn creates a tyrannical relationship that allows for resentment, confrontation and conflict between the two of them. This parent is high on power and uses it often to stroke his/her ego after a custody award is made to them. The term "single parent" is often used to describe this person, despite the fact the other parent is willing, able and fit to also parent the child. Additionally, the other parent may be paying and contributing support for the child. There is a vast difference between a single person in regards to their relationship status and a single parent in regards to the presence or absence of a parent in a child's life. Yet this line is often blurred and custodial parents who often have the support and presence of the other parent are often referring to themselves as single parents although that is a misrepresentation of the truth. There is a huge uprising of support, compassion and admiration for single parents in this society. A custodial parent may be thriving on that admiration and appreciates the positive attention, compliments and admiration he/she receives when he/she refers to her/himself as a single parent. The custodial parent feels that he/she is somehow superior to the other parent and that is why they were awarded custody. They may feel like his/her parenting methods and practices are "better" than the other parent and demand that his/her methods are instituted and practiced at all times. This parent may also dictate to the other parent how they are allowed to spend visitation time with their child - requesting that they only engage in certain activities with the child or demand that they avoid other activities when the child is in the non-custodial parents care. This parent becomes very controlling and insists that they must orchestrate every aspect of the child's life and leave no room for the non-custodial parent to exercise any control or authority over any aspect of the child's life.  The custodial parent determines the child's religion, activities, education, doctor, dentist and schedule without consulting with the non-custodial parent first. He/she will make decisions for the child without consulting or discussing with the non-custodial parent first. This parent expects submission from the non-custodial parent and often demands it. It is an epic power trip that leaves both the child and the non-custodial parent to suffer from it. It is my understanding that the custodial parent does not intend to do these things or act in this manner. I suspect that the custodial parent is acting in accordance with the way the courts have addressed him/her - as the superior parent. Additionally, the custodial parent after awarded custody has now been legally declared the sole responsible party for the child. This parent is now expected to shoulder all of the responsibility in all aspects of the child's life because the court dictated such in the order it passed down. This is not only unfair to the non-custodial parent and the child, it’s also unfair to the custodial parent who is now thrown into the sole provider, sole responsible parent role - unnecessarily. This is how "Single Parent Syndrome" effects the custodial parent. In almost every instance, the custodial parent isn't aware of or able/willing to recognize these traits within themselves. If attention is called to these characteristics, the custodial parent is apt to deny them and responds in anger rather than enlightenment. He/she is unwilling to change these habits, because he/she is in complete denial and/or unaware that he/she even practices them.  

 

Adversely, "Single Parent Syndrome" can also be experienced by the non-custodial parent, but manifests differently in this parent. This parent experiences severe bouts of depression, feelings of inadequacy, worthlessness and more severely substance abuse, mental health issues and thoughts of suicide or self-harm. These parents become withdrawn and feel forced into submission by the custodial parent. They often resent the custodial parent and harbor feelings of great disdain for and animosity towards them. They often feel as though it’s better to agree with the custodial parent, rather than voice concerns or suggest alternate methods in regards to parenting, because it’s easier to agree than it is to argue. The custodial parent often dismisses this parents thoughts, feelings, ideals and opinions and refuses to take them into consideration when the non-custodial parent brings them up. The non-custodial parent often feels forced to comply with the custodial parent out of fear of repercussions in court or revocation of precious time with their child.  This parent submits often to the custodial parent, to avoid inevitable arguments that occur if he/she expresses disapproval of the custodial parent. Single Parent Syndrome, however it manifests and in whomever it manifests, is unhealthy for both the parents and the child. When this manifests, the child regards the custodial parent as the only parent that he/she can rely on to enforce rules, provide for them and take care of them. They feel, based on their parent’s actions and behaviors, that the custodial parent is the supreme parent. Consequently, children view the non-custodial parent as a figure with no authority, bearing or influence on their life. They may feel as though the non-custodial parent isn't reliable or responsible for them. The custodial parent has the greater influence on their life, therefore the child holds that parent (unfairly) in higher regard and values their influence over the non-custodial parent. These are unhealthy influences to impress upon a child for everyone involved. Children rely on their parents to be healthy, happy and present. They gauge their happiness and well-being based on the happiness and well-being of the adults in their lives. Happy, healthy parents create and have happy and healthy children. This is common sense. NYS Shared Parenting Bill S949 would alleviate these psychological issues that parents experience, as it does not place the "power" entirely in one parents control. The authority to parent a child is evenly distributed between both parents and neither is held in any higher regard than the other. This promotes a healthy mental and emotional state that both parents and children can enjoy, lending to a happier and healthier atmosphere and quality of life for everyone. It also promotes cooperation between the parents since neither parent feels intimidated by nor superior to the other.

 

Any parent who states that the shared parenting cannot work is wrong. Shared parenting is the most appropriate way to parent a child after divorce. The benefits are innumerable and consistently reap positive results. The benefits outweigh any potential drawbacks. True, it may at first be difficult for a child to live out of two homes. With the right amount of support from his/her parents and family, that transition can be a positive and rewarding one for that child. Transportation may pose an issue, but parents can work together to create solutions that work for their situations. Extended stays at one parents home can at first be hard on a child, but they may soon grow to appreciate those extended stays. It affords them more time to bond with that parent and more time to ease into the living situation with that parent. It affords the child the opportunity to be a part of everyday routine life at that parents' home. It's no longer a "vacation" away from home - their time with their other parent is simply their time with their parent. It's not a "visit". Its actual, solid, concrete quality time in which they can form healthy bonds with their parent and feel comfortable with daily life at that parents' home. It allows for consistency between households and removes the "weekend mentality" that many children experience when they are only afforded weekend visitation with their parent. It also provides to them the chance to look to the other parent for help with homework, involvement in extracurricular activities and reinforces that both parents are still both their parents who are actively engaged in their life. It discourages a child's notion that they only have one parent that they can rely on and another that they can "visit". No child should be forced to base their relationship with their parent on "visits".

 

Extended days (alternating weeks) can also be, at first, difficult on a parent. It’s very important that a parent remember that it’s not their time with their child or their ex's time with their child. It is their child's time with their parent. Ownership of time belongs to the children, not to the parent. Custodial parents often state that they don't want to go for extended periods of time without their child at home. As understandable as that statement may initially seem, further examination reveals a disturbing, disrespectful and selfish expectation that the custodial parent has of the other parent by making that statement - that they should be accepting of their extended absences in their child's life, just because the custodial parent will miss the child when they are away and that parents feelings and the child's feelings, don't matter. It presents the custodial parents feelings as the only person’s feelings who matter. It also completely disregards the child's yearning for the other parent and how greatly they miss the absent parent when the child must endure extended time frames without them. The non-custodial parent is expected to be absent from their child's life - often for a week or more at a time - without complaint. Yet, the custodial parent complains when they are absent from their child for that same time frame - or in some instances, even less time than that. As parents, it's not about the PARENTS time. It's about the CHILDS time. Refusal to spend a week without your child because you will miss them, as a parent, isn't an acceptable reason to prevent the child from spending that time with his/her other parent. A parent could find other activities geared towards their own personal interests while their child is with the other parent. They can utilize that time to attend classes, work on projects, socialize or vacation. This bill supports parents as they transition to shared parenting by offering to them the resources such as counseling or social workers who can they help them to cope with their feelings of loneliness or restlessness in absentia of their child. Those are, after all, the parents issues - not the child's. Interestingly there are other custodial parents who will select child care providers or family members to care for or visit with the child for extended periods of time, without any qualms. This demonstrates to the child that just about anyone is more important to spend time with than their other parent. It also evidences that parent’s lack of regard for the importance of the child's time with their other parent.

This bill prevents parents from unintentionally conveying the wrong messages regarding how a child should view the other parent to them. It helps parents to nurture and cultivate a child's relationship with both of their parents - a gift that every child in every situation deserves.  

 

I'm a product of divorced parents. My parents followed the NYS guidelines for custody and engaged in a long and arduous custody battle for custody of my sister and I. Ultimately, my sister and I ended up with my mother as our custodial parent. We enjoyed weekend visitation with my father. However, we missed our father very much and would beg him to spend more time with us. Sadly, he was bound by the confines of the court order and legally, he wasn't entitled to any more time with us than every other weekend. This was devastating to my sister and I who adored our father. We loved our mom very much, but often wished that we could divide our time equally between our parents. We often felt torn between our parents and at times, helpless against a court order that sealed our childhoods shut within the confines of it. As adults, we still wish that we had been able to spend more of our childhoods with our father. He wishes that he hadn’t missed out on so much of our childhood. His absence in our memories will always be painful to us both. This is not uncommon for children of divorce. The majority of all children who have divorced parents, when asked, will state that they want equal time with both of their parents.

When our children tell us that they are sick, we listen to them and take them to the doctor. When our children tell us that they are hungry, we feed them. When our children tell us that they are cold, we warm them. Why do we ignore them when they tell us that they want equal time with both of their parents? The sponsors of the NYS Shared Parenting Bill S949 are listening to our children.

Are you?

 

If parents in 44 other states in the United States can make it work, so can parents in NYS.

Let's be the 45th state that puts children first and ego's last.

Help preserve families before, during and after divorce by helping to enact shared parenting as law in NYS.

 

Please consider signing this petition in support of The Shared Parenting Act S949:



You can view the bill here.



You can view and track the progress of the bill and contact its sponsors here by creating an account and clicking “follow bill”.


Members of the Children and Families Senate Committee where the bill is currently being stalled. You can find contact information for members on this page, to send them e mails urging them to pass this bill.

 
This site connects your to your local senator and provides contact information for them. I urge supporters of this bill to write letters, make phone calls and send e mails to bring the urgency and importance of this bill to the legislator’s attention!


Recent articles and resources on the topic of Shared Parenting:










This documentary “Split” is a must see and speaks to the turmoil that children of divorce experience. It is further proof that NYS needs Shared Parenting. It brings a voice to divorce and the effects it has on children.







Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Growing Up Dumb

For me, having kids has been a series of constant reminders of my childhood. So many times, they'll say or do something that will spark a memory for me. As far as memory is concerned, I have an exceptional one. I can clearly and accurately remember events that occurred when I was three years old. I've learned to enjoy reminiscing and do it often. One thing that I've learned about myself as I reminisce is that I was a really, really dumb child. Sure, I had some good grades and stuff. But I was still pretty dumb.

Check out those bones!
I remember one year for my grandfather’s birthday, my mother hired a Dolly Parton impersonator. Of course she came all dolled up to sing 'Happy Birthday' to my grandpa, her bra stuffed with 20 lbs. of tissues in each cup. My eyes widened when I saw her. I pulled my mom aside and whispered, "MOM! She has huge bones!". For many years after that, I thought that a woman's breasts were called 'bones'.

My best friend growing up, Terry, and I played together constantly. One game we liked to play was 'monster' where we would run around and terrorize her little brothers and my little sister. For years we thought that 'virgins' were monsters. I can clearly remember saying to her, "Now, pretend I'm a virgin with red eyes and I'm going to eat you". How my parents didn't fall down and die when they overheard this, I don't know.

Road signs often confused me as a child. None more so than the signs that read 'No Shoulder'. I was convinced that if you were to get caught in these areas baring your shoulders, you would be jailed. In the summer, if I was wearing a tank top, I would duck down in the car when we would pass one of these signs and put my hands over my shoulders. 

I thought that the term 'irregular' meant that your body was larger on one side than the it was on the other. Which I suppose could be true. What I didn't know was that 'irregular' is a term often used in regards to one's digestive system. Because my right foot is slightly larger than the left, I'd tell anyone who would listen that I was 'irregular'.

In the grand scheme of things, I suppose I wasn't actually 'dumb'. I was just… uninformed.  I'm sure my parents had a few good laughs at my expense.
I know I did when my son told me that he wanted to plant seeds to grow turkeys because he loved Thanksgiving turkey so much.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Year of Drool

Associations are a funny thing. Anyone who took intro to psych in college (I think its mandatory these days) knows all about classical conditioning and Pavlov and his
drooling doggies. I guess I never really invested much in that whole bit. Ok, dog hears bell. Dog drools. Dog thinks he's getting steak. Great. Big whoop. Within the last few years however, I've realized some "conditionings" and associations that I've made and well… it all kind of makes sense now.

 Eight years ago I ate a Whopper at Burger King. That same day I came down with a wretched flu. To this day, I have a really difficult time eating anything at Burger King - and I rarely ever do. In my head, a big fat Whopper = the flu. I used to love Whoppers.

I used to have a friend who shared a love for tomato soup and crackers with me. Then I found out that friend was cheating on his very sweet wife, who is a dear friend to me. Whenever I so much as glance at a red and white can of Campbell’s soup, I'm instantly disgusted. I've been tempted to knock over a whole display of cans at the grocery store and scream "I HATE YOU, YOU SOUP LOVING SCUMBAG!!!!". Thus far, I've been able to restrain myself.

I'm super terrified uncomfortable with going to the dentist office. As a kid, my dentist played a TON of James Taylor in his office. Now, whenever I hear a James Taylor song - any one of them - I get heart palpitations and think about Novocain shots. Which is super sucky because its just not fair to Mr. Taylor who is arguably one of the greatest artists of all time. Its really unfortunate that I correlate the sound of his voice to root canals. Super suckage.

So far, classical conditioning has been ruining stuff for me.
I'm on a mission to make 2014 the year of positive connections and associations.
If Pavlov's dogs can do it, so can I.
Hopefully with less drool, though.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Olympify It

I've been reading the gajillion internet stories about the latest medalists, the losses, the athletes and the controversies (Putin's Homophobia and Yogurtgate come to mind) surrounding the Olympic games in Sochi. I think about how unreal the whole thing is. These athletes are AH-mazing! It's out of this world to me what they can do with their bodies. The stamina, the strength, the determination - all of that makes it seem like they're not really actual people. They're like suped up versions of people. Super people. Which makes me think of Super Hero's. We all know that they aren't exactly real (Ahem, Green Lantern I'm talking to you). So I've deduced that Olympic athletes are not real. They're just too gosh darn amazing to be real. Plus I've never seen one before. Ya now you simply cannot believe in something you haven’t actually seen (I hope you’re taking notes, Green Lantern).

Anyhow, I got to thinking about it and I'd absolutely LOVE it if there were a few more categories in the Olympics. Just to make it a little bit more realistic to me.

For example:

Grocery shopping with 3 children in tow. Extra points awarded for saving money using coupons. Points deducted for losing a kid or leaving the store without paying for an item(s).

Helping 2 children with Common Core Curriculum based homework assignments while preparing dinner. Games begin at 6:00 p.m. Deducted points if the kids aren't in bed before 9 p.m. or haven't eaten everything on their plates. Bonus points if the kids eat brussel sprouts and/or lima beans. WITHOUT CHEESE!

Driving in rush hour traffic at 5:00 p.m., after working an eight hour day. Competitors must arrive to the baby-sitters by 5:30 p.m. to avoid deduction of points. Athletes will score even higher if they stop at the store to buy groceries and arrive at the baby-sitters before the 5:30 p.m. mark.

I'm sure we could all come up with a few more events to add to the Olympic roster. Events that we feel, we've championed.
What say you?

What day to day events can we “Olympify”?

 

Breathless

Halfway through the first balloon, I became dizzy.
I nearly passed out after the second.
Luckily, my kids were around and were helping to blow up the rest of the balloons for my son's 9th birthday party.
They busied themselves with inflating the balloons while I found a chore that wouldn't leave me breathless. I tied knots.
I listened to them laugh and squeal at how big they could make their balloons.
My stepdaughter beat them all. Hers was so large that it popped not too long after she’d inflated it.

"Let's see how big mommy can make one!" my soon to be nine year old son handed to me a green balloon.

"Oh no, buddy. Mommy has to tie all of the knots!" I said, knowing that they'd be scraping me off of the floor if I attempted to blow up another balloon.

He scampered off and continued to enjoy his day without me.
 
And I realized that is how things will always be if I don't get - and stay - serious about quitting smoking.
My kids will live their lives, enjoying all of the precious moments of them.
Without me.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Heroin Addict Changed Me Today


Whenever a news report of a celebrity dying from a drug overdose surfaces, I feel like the least compassionate person on the planet. I roll my eyes. I sigh. I think to myself, "Seriously? How could you be so stupid?!?! What exactly did you think would happen? Coward!".  I scoff at "tributes" that are plastered all over the internet. I despise the fact that addicts who are famous are still hailed as heroes and their notoriety is widely celebrated. Meanwhile addicts in inner cities are deemed "junkies" - their lives and deaths are overlooked and stigmatized. My feelings of disgust then turn into anger. Anger because not one family member or friend saw the obvious signs and stepped in to prevent the tragedy. Why didn't anyone do anything? They ought to be ashamed!

I've always been convinced that a victim of an overdose had displayed obvious signs prior to that overdose that were ignored by others. There had to be something that someone saw that would have triggered a response. A response that would have saved their life.

Today, I learned that someone I see five days a week died of a heroin overdose either late last night or early this morning. His mother found him on his floor, a needle still stuck in his arm - just like the latest celebrity victim Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Unlike Hoffman's death, there will be no online tributes.
No public celebration of his accomplishments.
He'll never be hailed a hero, genius or successful anybody or anything.
His legacy will be that of a 36 year old addict in disguise.

And also unlike Hoffman's death, my response to his won't be that of disgust, annoyance or blame. 
I won't blame anyone for not seeing the signs.
There weren't any to be seen.
I'm not disgusted.
This was a broken man in trouble.
I'm not annoyed.
Desperate people do desperate and dangerous things.

Instead, I'm sad.
I'm saddened that society has stigmatized addiction to the point where its victims are too ashamed to reach out for help.
I'm sad that there are individuals out there capitalizing on addiction - producing the drugs that feed it and lining their pockets with blood money.
I'm sad that there are mothers burying the drug riddled bodies of their children who had just begun to live.
I'm sad that there are people right now, responding to these deaths, the same way that I used to respond to them - as recently as a day or two ago.
With disgust, annoyance and blame.

Don't wait for a tragedy close to home to change how you see the world.
Instead, work to be that change or at least a part of it. Right. Now. 
The difference could be a matter of life or death for someone out there who
isn’t letting you know how bad it is for them.