Family law lawyers – Access disputes

Family Law Lawyers – Access

First off, family law lawyers come in different shapes and sizes, and the content in this blog is my personal viewpoint.  It is general observations that I have made.  I have had family law as one of my practice areas for ten years and use this as the basis for my perspective.  As a family law lawyer I have helped resolve a significant number of access disputes between parents.  Here are a few guidelines for those of you looking for information on how to resolve access disputes.

First off, relax – Access will change

Time sharing with the children is often at the forefront of many parents minds.  The trust in their relationship with their partner has broken down and they are acting defensively with respect to protecting their relationship with the child.   The two parents will often have a different idea about what time sharing schedule will work best, and will try to denigrate the other parent in the hope of getting what they feel will work best.  It is just so easy for parents to use “the best interest of the child” to criticize the other parent and try to prop themselves up in doing so.  Stereotypically I have seen mothers offer too little access and try to minimize the time that the children spend with their father.  Conversely I have seen fathers try for unrealistic access schedules that just don’t make sense in an effort to put themselves on “equal footing” with the mother, who is often, during the tender years, the child’s primary parent.

It is important to recognize that like your child’s development, access is always changing.  It is fluid.  It requires flexibility and understanding between the two parents.  In my experience the clients with the best success post-separation take a more relaxed approach to time sharing.  The mother’s offer generous and liberal access and don’t try to control the father’s time with the child.  They refrain from criticism and recognize that none of us are perfect parents.  The fathers will respect the mother’s input and be willing to try out different time sharing schedules.  Quality access (typically weekends) is better than quantity.  There is no point engaging in conflict to determine who brushes the children’s teeth on Tuesday nights.  The conflict causes more damage than the pros/cons of any routine.

In short – there are pros and cons with every access scenario and it is important not to get married to any position.  Furthermore the time sharing will change with the age of the child, their scheduled activities, and the parents’ own schedules.  So try something on, knowing that if it doesn’t work it will change shortly anyways.

Arizona access guidelines 

In the state of Arizona there are mandatory access guidelines for parents – standardized access arrangements to help reduce family conflict over access.  The link for the guidelines is here.   Take a look – they may be able to provide some guidance on what the professionals feel are the best time sharing structures for separated families.   Every family has a different set of circumstances, and the access schedule should reflect those circumstances.  If your proposal is way off what you see here, though, you may wish to consult a family lawyer and get an opinion.

Child support and access are not legally related.  Now get real.

The courts will not reduce a father’s access for failing to provide child support.  The relationship between a child and his/her father is too important for that.  Similarly you can’t buy additional time with your child – time sharing isn’t correlated to your income.

There are a couple of issues that I have seen over the years between child support and access.  The first and most common, is that the mother makes the argument that the only reason the father wants a 60%/40% time sharing arrangement is to move from a full table support regime to a shared custody regime where the parents pay a set-off amount.  This argument cuts both ways of coarse – father will allege that the mother is denying him access for financial reasons.

There are two things that I think are important to note here.  Firstly, full table child support amounts to about 10% of income.  It is not a lot of money.  Children cost a lot of money and the last time I looked single mothers were amongst the poorest people in the country.  Separated fathers seem to typically downplay the costs and imagine that the child support recipients are spending their hard earned money on themselves and not the children.  Father’s that do a good job of supporting the mother and the children will have a less stressed out mother to deal with in terms of access issues, and that is good thing.  Spend the money on child support.  It’s worth it.

The other pattern that I see from the mother’s side is that they feel that the child’s father is living la vida loca and makes a ton of money.  He’s not.  I have also seen mothers that throw up a million roadblocks in terms of access and time sharing and then wonder why the children’s father isn’t enthusiastic to cut that cheque at the end of the month.  Mother’s need to be supportive of the father’s relationship with the child, in all cases.

Again, legally speaking, child support and access aren’t related.  But in my experience they totally are.  Separated parents that are successful trust each other to pay the right amount of child support and offer flexibility and generous access time routinely.

Resentment

Resentment is a real relationship killer.  I see it in family clients every day.  They are full of resentment – “I am unhappy and it’s x’s fault.”  There are a million variations on that theme.  The parties feel used and being taken advantage of.  Their accomplishments go completely unrecognized.  They are defensive and under constant criticism.  They also provide constant criticism and are hugely judgmental.   I find that there is a real victim mentality – the notion that they have been wronged and an accompanying powerlessness to do anything about it.

Getting Help

I have handled access disputes in the past with some success, but realistically it’s better to have a less expensive and more specialized option in place.  Family law lawyers will deal with access disputes as part of the intial separation, but aren’t a good choice to deal with ongoing conflict with respect to access solely.  I recommend using a Parenting Co-ordinator to help smooth out ongoing disputes.  Recently a few of my recommended practitioners have formed a consulting group in Ottawa.  If you are struggling with conflict on an ongoing basis then give them a call.  Life is too short to carry that kind of emotional turmoil around with you all the time.

Here is their website:

www.familyconsultantsottawa.ca

These women have worked with families for decades helping them cope with family conflict.  They have tools and coping strategies to help parents develop the necessary skills to build a working relationship for the good of their children.  Children need parents that can get along and work together, even on a very basic level.  If parents fight children basically feel that it’s their fault, or that they are worth less than children whose parents get along.  Not a great feeling for a child to have, and if you don’t resolve your difficulties with your spouse you could find yourself having to deal with child-related issues in the future.

Summary

Access disputes take some time and experimentation to get right.  Both parents should be flexible in their approach and the regime should be reviewed and if necessary changed often.  Although child support and access are not legally related, they are often tied to each other in disputes.  Parents need to support each other both financially and in terms of the parent’s relationship with the child in order to be successful in a post-separation setting.  There are professionals that are available in order to assist parents in resolving their disputes over time sharing arrangements.