Is your co-parent often sending texts and emails that are accusatory and rude? Your initial response may be to respond in kind with an equally rude tone, which will increase the conflict between you and your child’s other parent. Is that really best for your child, though? You need to be able to effectively co-parent with your child’s other parent for years, even beyond your child turning eighteen and becoming an adult.
We recommend that you invest in your co-parenting relationship by taking the high road in communications, and responding using Bill Eddy’s “BIFF” Response method, which stands for Brief, Informative, Friendly, and Firm. Find an article detailing Bill Eddy’s “BIFF” method for communications with high-conflict people at the following link. Continue reading below for our own firm’s commentary on Bill Eddy’s BIFF Response method.
If you are dealing with a difficult co-parent after separation, please reach out to our office for assistance. Our goal is to assist our clients in moving through their separation and divorce while lessening the animosity and conflict between spouses and co-parents.
Adjusting to life after separation and divorce can be a challenge for all members of a family, but it can be especially difficult for children. Deciding the most appropriate time to introduce your children to a new dating partner after separation and divorce is an individual decision that considers several factors including your own readiness, the children’s readiness, legal ramifications, and your co-parent’s opinion and position. In today’s blog post, we outline a few questions to ask yourself to help determine when to introduce a new dating partner to your children after a separation or divorce.
Does your custody order mention a relationship-length requirement prior to the introduction of a new dating partner to your child? Are you and your new dating partner in a serious, long-term relationship?
Many custody orders include provisions that require you to be in a long-term relationship with your new dating partner for a certain length of time (3 to 6 months is most common) before introducing the new dating partner to your child. When considering whether now is the right time to introduce your child to your new dating partner, first refer back to your custody order to determine if you have a relationship-length provision that you would need to follow. Your custody order might also require you to notify your co-parent of your intention to introduce your child to your new dating partner as a courtesy before you actually introduce the child.
Have you spoken to your co-parent about your new dating partner? Have you given your co-parent the opportunity to meet and speak with your new dating partner?
It may take your co-parent a little while to come around to the idea of you introducing a new dating partner to your child, especially if you are the first parent to start dating after the divorce. Your new relationship will be better received with your kids if you have an open and honest conversation with your co-parent about the new relationship and your co-parent is on board with supporting (or at least not naysaying) your new relationship. Your co-parent may also be more comfortable with your kids meeting your new dating partner if you allow your co-parent to meet your new dating partner before introducing them to your kids.
How long have you been separated or divorced?
If separated: As family law attorneys, we do not recommend introducing your child to a new dating partner if you are not legally divorced. If you engage in a sexual relationship with someone who is not your spouse prior to your date of divorce, that is considered adultery in both North and South Carolina and could result in legal and financial ramifications. By introducing your child to a new dating partner prior to your legal divorce, you are opening up a legal can of worms that will unnecessarily complicate your situation.
If divorced: If the ink on your divorce decree hasn’t even dried yet, you may want to wait a bit to introduce your children to a new dating partner. While you (and your co-parent) may have adjusted to the idea that you will have a new partner, children often take longer to adjust to the idea that their parents will no longer be together.
Please reach out to our office if you need legal representation for your separation or divorce.
Lindsey and Catherine are both members of the Charlotte Collaborative Divorce Professionals group, a local practice group that provides Collaborative Divorce options to couples in the Charlotte metropolitan area looking to “divorce differently.” The practice group has professional members from several different fields, including attorneys, divorce coaches, financial neutrals, and child specialists, who, along with the couple in a case, make up the collaborative team. Couples wishing to have a collaborative divorce must choose attorneys who are collaboratively trained and enter into a Collaborative Law Participation Agreement. The Collaborative Law Participation Agreement states that you and your spouse agree to work as a team to determine what’s best for your family as a whole, to not pursue litigation, and to engage in negotiations and the collaborative divorce process with candor.
The Charlotte Collaborative Divorce Professionals group recently produced some videos to help educate spouses discerning separation and divorce on collaborative divorce. Please take a moment to watch these videos and learn about collaborative divorce and its advantages.
What is Collaborative Divorce?
Advantages of Collaborative Divorce
Benefits of a Collaborative Divorce
Overview of Benefits of Collaborative Divorce
Please check out the Charlotte Collaborative Divorce Professionals’ website, or reach out to our office to schedule a consultation to learn more about whether a Collaborative Divorce may be the right choice for you and your spouse.
Can my 401(k) be divided upon divorce?
A 401(k) is subject to division between spouses upon divorce under equitable distribution (in North Carolina) or equitable apportionment (in South Carolina) laws. Even if your spouse was a stay-at-home parent throughout your marriage and did not contribute financially to your employer-sponsored 401(k) account, your spouse may still be entitled to a portion of the 401(k) funds.
“Equitable” distribution or apportionment does not necessarily mean equal division of each account in your marital estate. Typically, we try to avoid splitting every account down the middle. Our goal with equitable distribution or apportionment is to creatively and practically apportion 50% of the marital estate to each spouse without making additional work or costing additional money for the spouses or attorneys to divide accounts. That means we may distribute one account in its entirety to one spouse, but balance the value of that account in the marital estate by distributing a different account entirely to the other spouse.
When is your spouse entitled to a portion of your 401(k)?
It depends on when your 401(k) was established and funded. If you have a 401(k) that you accumulated prior to marriage, those funds are considered “separate property” and are not subject to division in divorce.
If you established and contributed to a 401(k) during your marriage, it is considered “marital property” and is subject to distribution in divorce. If your marital 401(k) increased or decreased passively after the date of separation but before the 401(k) is divided between the spouses, that passive increase or decrease in value of the 401(k) is “divisible” upon the divorce.
If some of your 401(k) was established or funded prior to marriage, some during marriage, and some after the date of separation, it is trickier to establish what portion is “marital” and subject to equitable distribution.
What is required to divide a 401(k) account?
Dividing a 401(k) in a divorce typically requires a special court order called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order. Having your attorney draft and submit a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (“QDRO”) costs additional money and time, so if there is a way to make both spouses whole (each receiving a satisfactory portion of the net marital estate) without dividing up the 401(k), that is preferred. If such an apportionment is impossible, and a 401(k) account must be divided, your lawyer can draft a QDRO, you and your spouse will sign it, then the QDRO will be submitted to the judge for signature. Once the QDRO is entered by a judge, it can be submitted to your 401(k) plan administrator to facilitate a distribution of a portion of the 401(k) to your spouse.
If you need a QDRO drafted, or want to know more about 401(k) division in divorce, please schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys and we can walk you through the process.
What is a nesting arrangement?
A nesting arrangement is a custody agreement wherein the children remain in the family home and the separated parents take turns staying in the family home with the children during their respective parenting times. Nesting is an alternative to a more traditional custody arrangement where the children alternate time at each parent’s respective home. When a parent is not exercising parenting time in the family home in a nesting arrangement, the “off-duty” parent stays at an alternate residence. The alternate residence could be an apartment that the co-parents use when they are not exercising their parenting time, two separate homes/apartments (one for each parent when they are not exercising their parenting time), a second home that the parents already own, or an extra room at a friend or family member’s home.
Is nesting a long-term solution?
Typically, nesting is not a practical solution long-term even if you are the best of friends with your co-parent. Consider the following complications that might arise in a long-term nesting arrangement.
Lack of stability for parents: While nesting allows the children to experience a smoother transition while their parents are initially separating and figuring out the divorce, it does not provide that same consistency for parents who are rotating in and out of the family home week after week. Nesting can become exhausting for the parents who are constantly moving their personal items in and out of the family home, living out of a bag, returning to the family home in a different state of cleanliness than they prefer, and “sharing” space with their former spouse. Children can have their own clothes and toys at each parent’s respective home if parents are engaging in a traditional custody arrangement, rather than living out of a bag.
New romantic relationship negotiations: Nesting can become untenable and awkward after the divorce as parents begin to date and enter into new romantic relationships, which requires more serious conversations. Are dating partners allowed in the family home during each parent’s respective parenting time? Are dating partners allowed to sleep over in the family home with the children present? These issues can be delicate to navigate emotionally, even for parents who are committed to their children as their top priority.
Financial considerations: Nesting can also cost more if you are renting up to two other living spaces, or it can become awkward if you’re having to share your “off-duty” residence with your co-parent, even if there are two bedrooms where each parent can have their own personal space. Nesting prevents a clean break financially because co-parents are sharing the costs of the family home, and potentially delaying the sale of the family home.
When is a nesting arrangement a good option?
Priority=children: Nesting may be a good option if the parents’ top goal is to provide stability and consistency for the children throughout separation and divorce. Nesting provides comfort and routine for the children as their family structure changes. It can be a wonderful option as the children adjust to the “new normal” of their parents’ separation and divorce.
Excellent communication: Nesting may be the right choice if the parents are able to communicate respectfully, consistently, and make decisions together without disagreement. Nesting arrangements require much more communication than parenting in two households. If conversations with your spouse often end in disagreements, nesting is probably not the right choice for you.
Financial security: Nesting is an option if there is no immediate need to sell the family home. Parents who can afford one or even two additional abodes (so the parents don’t have to share a residence when they are not exercising their parenting time) may consider nesting as a viable option. Nesting can be a low-cost option if both parents have family or friends they can live with on their “off-duty” time from parenting and they do not need to rent or buy another home or two.
How do you ensure that nesting is successful?
Nesting will be much more successful if you establish ground rules and maintain consistent communication between the parents. The parents need to discuss and agree upon issues that might arise and how they will handle each situation. For example, what will constitute “personal space” in the family home for each parent? It is best if each parent has their own bedroom in the family home during the nesting arrangement, so they can leave some personal items and have an expectation of privacy. What will each parent’s household and child-related responsibilities be while they are nesting? Establish a written agreement outlining household responsibilities for the family home. For example, who will pay the utility bills, how chores will be handled, who will be responsible for scheduling or completing household maintenance items (like pest control, gutter cleaning, lawnmowing, etc.), and what the expectation of cleanliness is for the family home upon the transition to the next parent. Having agreements like this will allow a nesting arrangement to continue successfully.
If you think a nesting arrangement might be the right fit for you, please reach out to our firm to schedule a consultation and discuss your child custody situation with one of our experienced attorneys.
If you want to delve deeper into Parental Controls on your child’s devices, you may consider paying for an additional monitoring subscription or a third-party monitoring app. Here we list some of the paid offerings for parental controls that exist as of the writing of this blog post. This list is not exhaustive, as new technologies are being released frequently.
Paid Device Parental Controls through Your Phone Provider
The TMobile Family Mode App allows you to filter your child’s web browsing on their device, set internet time limits, pause the internet for a child’s device, share location information, and send “rewards” to your child like extending a time limit and allowing for a later “bedtime” on the time limits.
The AT&T Secure Family App allows you to enable location tracking on your children’s devices, manage your children’s screen time, filter or block apps and online content, view your child’s internet and app usage for the previous 30 days, set location alerts if your child leaves or enters a saved area, and allows a device to send an “SOS alert” to the whole family. It is $7.99 per month, which includes support for up to 10 family members and up to 30 devices.
For your first foray into parental control of mobile devices, you may want to keep it simple. There are several free options to monitor your children’s online presence and device use. It is advisable to have a conversation with your children so they understand you will be monitoring their device usage and online presence as they learn how to use their devices appropriately. You will want to teach your children about basic online etiquette like how to keep personal information private and what a scam is and how to avoid them. Check up on your children regularly, without sneaking around. Be open to expanding internet and device usage agreements with your children as they grown, learn, and earn your trust. The monitoring level a child under 13 requires is much higher than a 16-year-old.
That being said, please review this list of free parental control options that you can set up on your child’s device(s) and apps. This list is not exhaustive and is just a sample of the free parental controls available.
In-App Parental Controls
You can find parental controls within the settings of an app itself. For example, the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store both have settings that allow you to filter the content your child sees and require a password for certain apps to be downloaded. This is a great first step toward securing your child’s device so they can use it safely.
Device Parental Controls
Android Devices: The Android operating system allows you to set up multiple user accounts on a smartphone. You can create a child’s profile within the smartphone to limit the content and apps your child has access to. To turn on this feature, go to Settings > System > Multiple Users > and turn on the “Multiple Users” option. To switch to a child’s profile, swipe down from the top of your phone and click the blue “User” icon.
Apple Devices: Apple has built-in parental controls for any iPhone or iPad running iOS 12 and higher. To monitor each child’s device, add your child to your family group in the device Settings > Screen Time. It will link to your child’s iCloud account, or you will need to create one for their device. Then, you can limit the apps, limit online access, set screentime limits your child has in their own iCloud account.
Parental Control Apps
Google Family Link app: Google has a free app parents can download to help manage Android devices. This app requires you to link your child’s Google account or create one. From your phone, you can put restrictions in place on your child’s account, like which apps may be installed, set screentime limits, set a device bedtime, remotely lockdown the device when it is not time to be on it, etc.
YouTube Kids Monitoring within the Google Family Link app: You can change settings on YouTube Kids (which is a separate app from YouTube with limited functionality) from within the Google Family Link app. YouTube Kids has content levels for three different age groups: Preschoolers, Younger Kids (age 8 and under), and Older Kids (ages 8-12).
Microsoft Family Safety app: Microsoft offers a free version of this app which allows you to apply screen time limits to devices, apps, and games, provides activity summaries, limit apps and games the device can download, limit web and search filters, and provides location sharing, among other features. This app allows you to set the limits across many different devices, including Window-based computers, Android phones, and Xboxes. There is also a paid version of the app, which offers more extensive features and capabilities.
While free parental control options may be all you need, stay tuned for next week’s post about paid parental control apps and subscriptions!
Today’s digital world makes all of us more connected than ever. Your kids are inevitably going to be on the internet through mobile devices for schoolwork, socializing, and entertainment. It is important to monitor their internet and device use to protect them from the negative aspects of the digital world and encourage their face-to-face interactions with peers, family, and the greater community. It is especially important to have a parental control and monitoring plan when you share time with your minor children with a co-parent. Today’s blog post gives you an overview of what types of parental controls exist and some limitations of parental controls.
What are parental controls?
Parental controls are features integrated into different devices, apps, games, and software that allow you to restrict your child’s access to content. Parental controls can be on your internet service, on the device itself, within a specific app, or installed third-party software on a device.
What types of parental controls exist?
Do I need to pay for parental control software?
Not necessarily. Some parents may not deem it necessary to install or utilize parental controls, but instead manage expectations with the child through open communication or doing random screens of their child’s text messages, call logs, and app usage. There are many free options available with your current cell phone plan provider, internet service provider, in-app parental controls, and router internet restrictions that you can utilize to manage your child’s screentime. Sometimes parents find these included parental controls sufficient for monitoring and limiting their child’s screentime. Sometimes parents deem it necessary to pay for additional monitoring to keep their child’s internet and device usage safe and healthy. As with all parenting decisions, this is up to you and what you think is best for your child and your family’s needs.
The Difficulty of Social Media Monitoring
Most parental control software allows you to block certain apps, like social media, but if you allow your child to have social media, most software cannot monitor your child’s content, communication, or activity within the social media apps. While many parental control apps allow you to monitor your child’s SMS text messages, they do not monitor messaging apps like WhatsApp or Snapchat. You can block app downloads or require permission from you for your child to download an app like WhatsApp or Snapchat as an alternative. Monitoring social media is a whole different beast from general internet monitoring and device usage monitoring.
Video Streaming Platform Monitoring
If you want to limit what your child can watch on video streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, or Disney+, you need to adjust the settings of each video streaming platform rather than rely upon a parental control software to limit your child’s viewing capabilities. Many of the video streaming platforms allow you to set a kid-friendly profile and prevent your child from switching to an adult-only profile by requiring a password or PIN number in order to access the adult-only profiles.
This is just scratching the surface of parental control basics. Stay tuned for next week’s blog post about free mobile device monitoring options!
1. Plan the conversation with your co-parent ahead of time.
Decide what, when, and how you will tell the children about the separation and divorce. Be sure to tell them on a day when they will have time to process the conversation and when you will be around to answer questions, comfort them, and provide a sturdy foundation for them to process their feelings. It’s a plus if both parents can be present for this conversation and stick around to support the children’s emotional wellbeing after the conversation. If you have multiple children, be sure to tell them at the same time so an older sibling does not inadvertently spill the beans to the younger children.
2. Explain in an age-appropriate way.
Explain how the separation and divorce will affect the child in terms of living and sleeping arrangements, school and sports, and holidays. If you have kids of multiple ages, plan to talk to the children together in one conversation and then have separate conversations with the older children to discuss it on their age-appropriate level.
An age-appropriate script for a younger child might be: “Mom and Dad are going to live in separate houses. We will both take care of you. You will sleep at Mom’s house some days and Dad’s house other days. We will let you know ahead of time where you will be sleeping. We could even work together to make a calendar so you always know what days you will be with Mom and Dad.”
For an older child, it might be more nuanced and detailed: “Mom is moving to an apartment down the street. She will pick you up from sports practice after school on her days with you. You’ll spend one week with Mom and one week with Dad and we’ll alternate. You can call or talk to either of us whenever you want.”
This won’t be a one-time conversation with kids. You will continue to talk about the why, how, and the logistics of the separation and divorce over and over again with your kids as they adjust to their new normal.
3. Do not overshare adult information, even with teens.
Depending on your kids’ ages, they may desire to understand the reasons behind the separation and divorce. They may internalize fault and believe they are the reason you are getting divorced, if you don’t give some information regarding the reasons for the breakdown in your marriage; however, that doesn’t mean they can conceptualize your adult relationship and should have all of the information.
They do not need to be privy to the legal proceedings, court documents (even if it is an agreement between you and the other parent), mediation dates, court dates, child support, and spousal support, among other adult matters. They do not need to be informed on the amount of child support Mom pays Dad and whether she has paid child support that month. You can shield your children from conflict between you and your spouse by keeping the children on a need-to-know basis.
The children need to know where they will sleep each night, who will pick them up from school/practice/clubs, and when they’ll need to participate in family or individual counseling to help them through this transition.
4. Speak Kindly About the Other Parent.
Avoid blaming or assigning fault in the separation and divorce. When speaking with your children, focus on you and your co-parent being a unit in co-parenting and lead from the “we” position. Don’t lead with “Dad had an affair” or “Mom is leaving us.” It is more appropriate to say something like “We have been trying to fix our relationship and it’s not working. We need to live in separate houses and just be friends and your parents now, not spouses.” This is a more neutral position that will allow your children to continue to build a solid relationship with each parent, rather than blaming one parent (or themselves) for the divorce.
5. Tell the Truth.
There are a lot of unknowns at the beginning of a separation and divorce. Don’t promise things you might not be able to deliver, like that they won’t have to move, or they will stay in their same school. While you might desire that outcome in your divorce, it may not be possible. Tell the truth and reassure them about the things you know will stay the same.
6. Maintain consistency throughout both homes.
While the kids might struggle to adjust and transition between parents’ houses, keep your rules, behavior expectation and consequences, bedtimes, and mealtimes as consistent as possible in both homes. Maintaining consistency provides children with the structure and foundation they need in a time of many unknowns.
If you are struggling to figure out how to address these issues with your children, reach out to our office to schedule a consultation. We can provide referrals to great therapists who work with children of divorce to process their complex emotions and give them coping strategies. We can also help you navigate the legalities of separation and divorce in North Carolina or South Carolina.
When separated and divorced parents have a difficult time communicating about their children, there’s a smartphone app for that! There are actually several co-parenting apps, but the one we see most commonly utilized by parents is “Our Family Wizard” (others are “TalkingParents,” “AppClose,” and “2Houses,” among others). Using a co-parenting app usually only comes into play in a divorce if one or both parents are having a difficult time keeping the topic of conversations strictly limited to child-related issues. Utilizing a co-parenting app can eliminate or limit hostile back and forth with your co-parent. Divorce is an emotional and difficult road and conversations with your co-parent can be similarly emotional and difficult. A co-parenting app can help both parents effectively co-parent, and also includes many other useful features, which we discuss below.
By utilizing a co-parenting app, all communications between the parents will be in writing and preserved with a date and timestamp, so no one can say something rude or inappropriate and then delete or edit it. Our Family Wizard messages are preserved if needed to refer back to later, or if needed for a court proceeding. A co-parenting app is a much more streamlined method of communication compared to text messages or emails.
Our Family Wizard and other co-parenting apps also have a calendar feature to see the children’s schedules, the parenting time schedule, and holiday schedule(s) at a glance. Co-parents are constantly juggling the parents’ work and travel schedules, the children’s extracurricular activity schedules, doctor’s appointments, therapy appointments, and the day-to-day activities that raising kids requires. A co-parenting app calendar allows for all child-related events to be recorded in one place, which eliminates unnecessary communication with a co-parent.
Child-Related Expense Reconciliation
Most co-parenting apps also provide a way for the parents to reconcile child-related expenses by uploading receipts and breaking down on a pro rata basis how much each parent owes for child-related expenses. By dealing with joint expenses online, you can avoid the uncomfortable conversations about what each parent owes the other. You can also avoid math mistakes when dividing up the bills, since the app does the math for you.
Child-Related Document Portal
Another wonderful feature of most of these co-parenting apps is that you can upload important documents related to the children to the secure portal, so no one has to maintain their own paper copies or hound the other parent for originals. Insurance cards, copies of passports, school information, and more can be saved in the information portal for easy access by both parents.
If communication with your co-parent is going haywire, reach out to us to schedule a consultation. We can advise you on your best next steps to streamline your communications with your co-parent in order to cultivate a more peaceful co-parenting relationship.
Lindsey Dasher is the Managing Partner at Dasher Law PLLC