A little about us...

We offer mediation services for divorce and other separations to assist couples to plan, negotiate, and file their divorce in an amicable and respectful way, saving time and money, and avoiding the painful and destructive adversarial process. We also offer marital mediation for those who seek options other than counseling and divorce. Call us today at 303-526-7749 or visit our website to get started.

Friday, March 4, 2016

8  Tips for Making Your Parenting Plan (Custody Agreement) More 
Friendly, Authentic, and Meaningful

About 10 years ago the Colorado legislature deleted the word custody from Colorado's divorce statute because it made children sound like possessions. They replaced it with parental responsibilities, which makes parents sound like parents rather than owners. This change instituted a meaningful shift from an agreement dividing up custody rights, to an allocation of parental responsibilities. Regardless of the language, these agreements are about living, breathing, feeling children who look to their parents more than anyone else for example.

There are two major legal elements of a parenting plan, and most custody agreements: decision making and parenting time. For the first, parents must determine whether one of them will make major decisions about the children unilaterally (Mom or Dad), or whether they will make such decisions together (Mom and Dad, joint). This refers to decisions about the children’s health and medical care, education, and anything affecting their general welfare.

The second element, parenting time, includes not only a basic schedule of Mom’s house/Dad’s house, but also agreements about holidays and vacations. These represent the very legal minimum of a parenting plan. This blog is not about these two major elements of the legal minimum, however, but about other matters that can help parents maintain a sense of family for their children, as well as a mutually cooperative long term commitment as parents.

You can use the need for a written parenting plan as your opportunity to deliberate together about what you really want for your children, and the ways in which you are going to cooperate with each other. Your plan can have strength, fullness, compassion, and sufficient detail so that you can go forward as separated or divorced parents with the confidence that you will continue to work together as parents for as long as it takes. Following are some points that you may want to consider, that may or may not apply to your particular circumstances, but might stimulate the thought of related matters that you do want to address.

1. Intention. This is probably the most important point of all. What is it that you really want to provide for your children? What do you want to show them? Teach them? What experiences do you want them to have? What's important to you as parents? Think about this and make notes, separately and together. Try to reach agreement about your goals, at least some of them. The following paragraph, used in whole or in part by many of my clients, may help you get started talking about matters that are important to you as parents.

We agree that our children's well-being is of the utmost importance to both of us. We pledge to each other as parents that each of us will provide a home where they are cherished, and where they will have the opportunity for full development and to flourish. We will support their relationships with the other parent as well as their sense of home with the other parent. Although we are divorcing (separating), we remain, in ways that involve our children, a family. We agree to deal with our differences out of their presence, to always treat and speak of the other with respect and civility when in their presence, and to not use them for the purpose of carrying messages to or discovering information about the other.”

Other items that my clients have mentioned in their statement of intent have to do with communication, peace, conflict resolution, mutual respect, consistency between two households, such as similar rules for bedtimes, screen time, dietary restrictions, spiritual or religious practices if any, and the like.

Here are two fine books that can be resources for you as you develop your intention around parenting your children after separation or divorce:

  • A. The 7 Fatal Mistakes Divorced and Separated Parents Make: Strategies for Raising Healthy Children of Divorce and Conflict, by Shannon Rios, MS, LMFT. This author offers sage advice in critical areas many parents would not even think of, by one who was the child of an extremely dysfunctional marriage and divorce.

  • B. Soul of Discipline: The Simplicity Parenting Approach to Warm, Firm, and Calm Guiodance -- from Toddlers to Teens, by Kim John Payne, M.Ed. Payne has deep insight into the responsibility of child rearing generally.
2. Commitment to Good Communication. Complete and accurate communication is vital for good parents and critical for joint decision-makers. Many couples agree to have a monthly meeting, just the two of them, in a neutral place such as a coffee shop, to discuss what's going on with the children and any issues that are happening or that you anticipate. This is a good time to discuss any concerns you have about the children. This is particularly important when you have joint decision making. You can also use this time to update and reimburse any shared expenses, and to plan and match your calandars not only with events related to the children (teachers conferences, soccer games, music lessons, scouts, and the like), but also holidays, business travel, visits from out of town relatives, and any needed adjustments to transfer times. Always discuss with the other before setting any appointments for the children during the other parent's parenting time. For many there is a need to clarify whether the use of email, voice mail, texting, and other electronic communication between them is helpful.

It's important that you maintain this meeting exclusively to talk about the children and your parenting, and not use it to discuss your relationship issues. Make it a meeting you both want to attend, without fear of old relationship battles. If you need to vent about your relationship set up a different time and place for that and, if necessary, meet with a therapist, mediator or other professional who can facilitate that conversation.

3. Transportation. It can be easy to fall into the habit of one parent doing all transporting of the children between homes, particularly for a parent who has a lesser amount of parenting time, the one with "visitation". Sometimes that's the best solution, but often it’s not. It can become quite burdensome over time. Discuss this early on before it creates a problem. You can make an agreement about dropping off or picking up. Some specify that the parent whose parenting time is ending will be responsible to take the children to the other parent for the start or his or her parenting time, a practice that can be supportive of the children's relationship with both of you. Encourage them to have a good time, and tell then when you will seen them next. Children need to know when they will see the other parent again.

4. Attendance at Teacher Conferences, Children's Sports Events, Performances, and the Like. Whether or not you write this in your agreement, it's vital that you create an understanding that you both can attend these events without rudenerss, interference, or harassment from the other. If you plan to bring a date, be certain to notify the other beforehand (see #6). You can make an agreement to be always respectful of the other when attending these events (see #1).

5. Records. You can make a statement that each of you shall have full and complete access to all school, medical and other records about your children that are available to parents, instead of just assuming it.

6. Future Relationships. You can avoid this being a dicey subject in the future by making a clear agreement about it now. This will be one of many topics discussed in a parenting-after-divorce class.

To say that your separation and divorce is a major adjustment for your children is an understatement. The introduction of a new relationship is another, not only a new parental figure, but it will also in some ways shift their relationship with you. Add to that a second new relationship, and then possibly serial relationships, and the children can stop caring about relationships completely, and stop taking you seriously.

What to do about this? Talk about future relationships now, before there is any misunderstanding. Together create your agreement and understanding, and then keep it. If you have shared parenting, you can restrict your dating or relationship times to when the children are with the other parent. You can make an agreement that neither of you will introduce a relationship to the children for a certain period of time after your separation or divorce, or not until it has reached an agreed upon level of seriousness. Some agree to a few months, and others a much longer period. Discuss whether you want to agree that you notify/be notified about a new relationship before the children know about it or meet the person. It's always better for the children that you hear about it from the other parent directly, without the children present, rather than through the children. It's always important to avoid hurting or embarrassing the other parent at any time, but especially in front of the children.

7. Extended family. Consider making an agreement about your respective extended families. "We will support our children's relationships with each of our extended families” is the most common statement I see couples make. But discussion of this topic in mediation often brings out concern about certain relatives and friends whom the parents agree are not good or safe for the children. For example: “Neither of us shall allow our child to ride in a car that _____ is driving, or ever be left alone with _____. Some couples choose to include those sorts of statements in their parenting plan that is filed with the court, others decide not to have it in the official document, but shake hands on their concern and the type of protection they will provide.

8. Relocation. The parenting plan that works well when parents live 15 minutes apart can become impossible should one parent relocate an hour or more away. When a parent decides to move a longer distance away the law in Colorado requires that the relocating parent notify the other parent right away, as soon as a decision is maded, or sooner, and that they begin promptly to renegotiate their parenting time plan. Even though this is stated in the statute, it's helpful to have it right in your agreement where you can find it. A change from a longer distance to a much shorter one can require renegotiation too.

You can use these 8 tips as a checklist of things to talk about as you put your parenting plan together, as well as to jog your mind about other matters in your particular circumstances that the two of you as parents need to discuss. For more information on this, see Chapter 8: Children, of my Friendly Divorce Guidebook for Colorado: How to Plan, Negotiate and File Your Divorce, 9th edition, 2015. You can order it here. For direct help developing your parenting plan call me, Arden Hauer, mediator, consultant, coach, and retired attorney, at 303-526-7749. Watch this blog and my website, www.friendlydivorce.com, for more information on this and other divorce-related topics.

A mutually well developed parenting plan can be a helpful guide as you face the inevitable challenges in rearing a beautiful and healthy family over many years. Children can be very hurt or very inspired by how their parents handle their divorce. Remember that now, when your divorce or separation is still fresh, is likely the most difficult time to work together. Do this part well and the cooperation between the two of you will get easier. You can make your children proud!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

What is Common Law Marriage in Colorado?


Common law marriage is a marriage in which the parties did not obtain a license or go through a recognized ceremony, but lived together as as married, openly manifesting their intention that their relationship is that of married, spouses, husband and wife.

"Common law" refers to laws of conduct which evolved from custom and usage, as well as opinions of the Colorado Court of Appeals and the Colorado Supreme Court, rather than laws written by a legislature. Common law marriage and a marriage with a license and a ceremony, are legally equal and equally legal. They are both marriages.

You have a common law marriage in Colorado only if:

1. You have lived together ("cohabited") in Colorado (or in another state that recognizes common law marriage) while "holding yourselves out" as being married, meaning that you acted as though you were married. There is no established minimum length of time for the cohabitation. Cohabitation by itself, without holding out as being married, is not a common law marriage. Typical proof of acting as though married is that you introduced each other as wife and/or husband, or spouses, have stated that you are married, have the same last name, hold joint accounts, put the other on your health insurance, or file married/joint income tax returns; and

2. Neither of you was still married to someone else, either by a marriage license and a ceremony, called a "statutory marriage", or by common law; and

3. Both of you were at least 18 years of age if the marriage was entered into or on after September 1, 2006. A common law marriage entered into before that date has no age requirement.

If you introduced each other as fiancees or some other term besides husband, wife, or spouse, and talked about getting married some day later, then you are not common law married, no matter how long you have been living together.

There is no such thing as common law divorce. If you are common law married and you want a divorce or legal separation, you can only obtain it from the court.

For more information on this and related subjects, including the Friendly Divorce Guidebook for Colorado, go to www.friendlydivorce.com. For mediation, consulting, or coaching, live or via Skype, call 303-526-7749, or email arden@friendlydivorce.com.

(c) M. Arden Hauer, MA, JD, mediator, consultant, coach, retired attorney

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Why is the Colorado General Assembly considering a new Civil Unions bill and not same-sex marriage? 

Because voters amended the Constitution of the State of Colorado in 2006 to bar marriage and common law marriage between same sex partners, and also to bar the recognition of such marriages from other jurisdictions. There is currently no legal remedy in Colorado for such spouses who need to divorce or legally separate. 

The Civil Unions bill (SB13 - 011) does the next best thing: it applies all the rights, duties, and privileges of spouses that are already set forth in the law to parties to a civil union, without restating them. It sets up licensing and creates a new "Certificate of Civil Union". It adds "parties to a civil union" next to "spouses" in statutes about death, inheritance, probate, custodianship and guardianship, adoption, insurance, Workers Comp, hospital visitation privileges, mental health and commitment, and on and on. Very comprehensive.

It remains to be seen whether this bill will pass in its current form. For now, I have a few comments about the bill.

1. A civil union is available to any two consenting adults (who are not married, a designated beneficiary, or a party to another civil union), "regardless of gender". Therefore it is an alternative to marriage for everyone. Will opposite sex couples choose it?

2. A same sex married couple with a valid marriage in another state would be deemed "parties to a civil union" in Colorado under this bill, and therefore have access to dissolution, legal separation, or declaration of invalidity (annulment) just as a married couple would. Thus they would have a valid "marriage" license, plus a "decree of dissolution of civil union". It's awkward.

3. Since the Colorado income tax is tied to the Federal income tax return, the federal Defense of Marriage Act ("DOMA") prevents same sex couples, and presumably opposite sex parties to a civil union too, from filing as joint taxpayers. Until DOMA is repealed, or found unconstitutional, parties to a civil union would not be able to receive the tax (or any other federal) benefits of marriage.

 We will see shortly where the General Assembly goes with all this.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A little something to know about your divorce.

Its not every day that you get a divorce so here is a little that I have found to be common to most divorces that you may want to know. When you begin your divorce with your first papers in court in Colorado, a restraining order comes into effect over both of you, automatically. Among other things it prohibits you from "transferring, encumbering, concealing, or in any way disposing of . . . any marital property . . . ." unless you have the consent of the other party, or a court order. That means you can't put your house on the market, buy a new car, or pull money out of savings to pay off a loan or credit card, unless you both agree, or you obtain a court order to permit the transaction. 

If you do your divorce together, step by step, especially in mediation, you have the freedom do any of these things whenever you agree to. You can decide your own timing, and keep it peaceful, sensible, and practical. In the adversarial process attorneys often advise their clients not to speak to each other, thus allowing the hold on marital property to remain in place until a very expensive hearing, or until the divorce is completed, which can be months. 

When you transition from married to single, from together to separate, in a cooperative and respectful way, you are both better off going forward into your next chapters having minimized the pain as well as the cost. Your children are better off too as they see you treat each other with respect through what they know is a difficult time. 

Call today if you'd like some help putting your transition together sensibly and cost-effectively,  303-526-7749, or visit our website at www.friendlydivorce.com.