Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Grandparents, Do You Know Your Rights?

Being a grandparent is a great blessing among my peers. We all celebrate the birth of new grandchildren and happily share pictures of what we know to be the cutest, brightest and sweetest children in the world. This is universal. When I traveled to China I carried a picture of my grandson. Wherever I went I could attract a friendly crowd by showing his picture. Somehow through pointing and sign language we could establish the grandmother bond. I bet we could make greater strides toward world peace and understanding if our diplomats and heads of state shared grandchildren pictures.

It saddens me greatly when I am asked by a grandparent to help him/her establish visitation with grandchildren when the grandparents are estranged from the child’s parents. It saddens me first of all that the relationship is such that the grandparents feel the need to enforce rights and it saddens me because there is little by way of law to help.

In 2000 the United States Supreme Court ruled against grandparents who wanted visitation with their two young granddaughters. The girls’ father had committed suicide and mother refused to let the children see their dad’s parents. In this Washington State case, the high court determined that unless the parent was impaired in some way, the parent was the ultimate decision maker as to the best interests of the child. Jennifer and Gary Troxel had no inherent rights of visitation.

Since then a few state courts have modified the Washington State ruling but primarily in the case of the death of one of the parents. This 2006 article in USA today summarizes some more recent cases. http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/judicial/2006-09-12-grandparents-favored_x.htm The issue apparently has not been addressed circumstances where the parents divorced.

When parents divorce, the grandparents’ rights flow through their son or daughter. When mom or dad has parental time with the children, he/she can include the grandparents. The other parent cannot object to the children seeing their grandparents unless it can be proven that being around the grandparents would be harmful to the children. The grandparents have no independent right to visitation. To better understand this issue, it is important to view it from the parents’ perspective. Parents contend that they should have the ultimate say over who gets to see their children.

Richard Victor, a Michigan lawyer who founded the nationwide Grandparents Rights Organization in 1984, says he has not seen a surge of grandparents trying to go to court. Such lawsuits can take years and tens of thousands of dollars in fees to resolve, he says. "The law in still in flux. It's better to get people to talk to each other, rather than sue each other."

The best advice I can give to grandparents is to get along with the grandchildren’s parents.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Don’t Want to Hire a Lawyer for your Divorce? How About a “Legal Coach”?

Consulting with a lawyer can be a huge step for some people when they are contemplating divorce. Seeing a lawyer makes it far too real. Seeing a need, I developed a program for those who don't want to hire a lawyer. At least not yet. Do you identify with any of the following?

Harriet is unhappy in her marriage but has a lot of fear about what the future would look like for her. Her therapist suggested she get some legal advice.

Larry has been researching on line for months now regarding divorce. He has found forms that are confusing, legal advice that doesn’t seem to apply to his case, he even found a child support calculator but it doesn’t seem to fit his case. Larry does not want to hire a lawyer

Martha and her husband have been working with a divorce mediator but she feels she has not been given enough legal advice and wants to know what would be legitimate requests to make without having to involve another lawyer.

Tom is a whiz and investments and finances but neither his CPA or investment advisor can give him satisfactory answers to tax implications of divorce. His financial advisor told him to get legal advice.

Bob is president of his company and is worried about the effect of a divorce on his business. Before he makes a decision, he needs to know what he can expect and how can he determine how his business will be evaluated.

Sally and her husband have fashioned a settlement agreement but her friends and relatives are warning her that she may be missing something. Sally doesn’t want to involve a lawyer but her friends are insisting she talk to one.

Don really wants to move out of the house for a “trial separation” but fears he will be accused of abandonment and will lose his rights to property or parenting. His coworkers have advised him to talk to a lawyer first.

Mary needs some legal advice but feels hiring a divorce lawyer is just too big a step. Besides all the ones she has talked to seem to be trying to sell her their services. She wants objective advice.

In my ever evolving effort to find ways to help people going through or contemplating divorce I experiment with different programs I can offer. A solution for Harriet, Larry and the others just might be a package I call “Legal Coaching”.

For a flat fee I offer a legal coaching session dedicated to the individuals needs. I can explain the legal process, show a client what the forms look like and give them a timeline. I can run child support calculations, discuss support and parenting issues. I give an unbiased assessment of their situation. The fee is about equivalent to my hourly rate but I don’t turn on a timer. Most sessions run from one to one and a half hours, sometimes longer. We take as long as we need for that session. During the session I might even refer the person to a different lawyer that I think would be more appropriate for their situation.

In an earlier day I would be known for my golden rolodex. Now it’s an electronic database. I have given referrals for parenting specialists, divorce financial planners, real estate agents and mortgage brokers. I have pointed people in the right direction for career advice, personal growth and even professional organizers. My network even includes a collision repair specialist but that’s a different story.

The benefit to legal coaching is that the advice is completely unbiased. I can assess a client’s case honestly without concern whether that person may not hire me if I tell them what they don’t want to hear. The client’s have paid for the time and don’t have to worry that they are wasting my time because they do not plan to hire me. A client can come back for more coaching at anytime – completely on his/her timeline. The coaching fee can also be applied to payment for full representation. Kind of rent before you buy.

A legal coaching session is different than the introductory session a client might want before making a hiring decision. That meeting is more a matter of seeing if our personalities fit and, given the facts of the case, if I am the right lawyer for them and they are the right client for me. Legal coaching is much more in depth.

So far I have had several people take advantage of the legal coaching model and I see it evolving further as a very viable product for some people. I will continue to develop more products and most likely add some hand outs. My clients will be my best teachers as I develop this concept.

Friday, March 11, 2011


Here are some random Friday musings about some of the misconceptions I often hear. No particular order or importance just as I thought about them. As always, this is informational only and not intended as legal advice for your particular situation. Always confer with an attorney before taking any action regarding these issues.

My Spouse won’t give me a divorce

You don’t need your spouse’s permission or agreement. Washington is a “no fault state” and the only grounds for divorce (technically called “dissolution of marriage”) are “The marriage is irrevocably broken”. If one person believes this is true, then the marriage will be dissolved. The person seeking to dissolve the marriage first files a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. If the spouse refuses to sign anything and there is proper service meeting specific legal specifications the divorce can be completed by default. Even if you don’t know where your spouse is, you can still accomplish legal service with a court order for mail or publication in a legal newspaper.

While the divorce can be accomplished without the other person’s cooperation, you still may have issues regarding children or division of property. If you are very clear on you petition as to what you are requesting and your spouse does not respond, then your request will be granted.

A divorce by default is probably only appropriate if there are no children, real estate and very little property.

My spouse and I agreed to 50-50 custody so no one will be paying child support

I hear this constantly and it is simply not true. Custody is now called a “parenting plan” and the parenting plan determines where the children are on a day to day basis. Child support is a separate issue and is based upon the Washington State Support Schedule. While there may be some adjustment for residential time, child support is mostly based on the parents respective income.

Washington is a community property state so if we get married everything will be community property

Only property acquired during the marriage is community. This means that if you owned a house or business before you married it does not automatically become community property when you get married. What gets tricky is that your income during the marriage is community and if you put that money into the business or property, the community has an interest. Gets tricky here doesn’t it? Gift or inheritance also is separate. A common problem I see is when parents give a gift to the couple. Was it a gift only to their offspring or was it to the couple? Depends who you ask. At the time of the wedding, everyone may think it is to the couple but if the marriage is dissolved, they parents may claim the gift was to their son or daughter only.

Community property is one of the most difficult subjects in law school and even professionals differ over this issue. Don’t be surprised if you and your spouse have a different opinion. And don’t be surprised when your lawyer answers your question with “that depends”.

Community property means everything is divided 50-50

My clients are shocked when they learn this is not true in Washington. The operating word in Washington State is “equitable”. Is it safe to say that divorcing couples rarely agree on what is equitable? Some folks actually believe property should be divided by who contributed the most toward purchase. They couldn’t be more wrong. Equitable is based upon the relative position of the parties, the length of the marriage, the earning capacity of each and many other factors. In a long term traditional marriage it is not unusual for the stay at home spouse to receive 55 to 60 percent of the community assets and sometimes more.

Every case is different and, as they say “these results are not typical”. By the way, don’t think this just applies to stay-at-home moms. I have had several cases where the higher earning spouse was the wife. Once again, the lawyer answer: “It depends”. If you really want to know, here is the specific law:

“the Court shall, without regard to marital misconduct, make such disposition of the property and liabilities of the parties, either community or separate, as shall appear just and equitable after considering all relevant factors, including but not limited to:
1. The nature and extent of the community property
2. The nature and extent of the separate property
3. The duration of the marriage, and
4. The economic circumstances of each spouse at the time the division of the property is to become effective, including the desirability of awarding the family home or the right to live therein for reasonable periods to a spouse with whom the children reside the majority of the time." (Revised Code Of Washington 26.09.080)
Often "just and equitable" will mean a greater than 50% to a spouse who has forgone a career and does not have the ability to build retirement assets. The other surprise to some people is that separate property is taken into consideration when making this distribution. Not that it is divided but it does affect the relative economic circumstances of the parties.

My name is not on title to the house/car/boat etc. therefore it is not community.

See numbers 3 and 4 above. Only one name on the title doesn’t necessarily mean it is not community.

I worked hard all these years for my pension so it is mine. Or, I built this business myself without any help from my spouse, therefore it is all mine.

See number 3 and 4 above. I often tell my clients “I don’t care if your spouse sat on the couch and ate bon bons all day, your business/ pension is community property.

When my child turns 14 (or 12, or 16, or name an age) he/she can decide which parent to live with.

The age when a child can decide which parent to live with is the age of majority in Washington, Not only is there not an age when a minor can choose which parent to live with, most parenting specialists would not approve of putting a child in such a position.

If I move out of the house, it will be considered “abandonment” and I will lose my house and custody of my children.

No. While most divorce attorneys would advise making some arrangements for parenting time with the children before moving, you will not lose your rights because you moved out. Moving out does not affect ownership of the property. I really urge folks to get a consultation before they move but moving is not "abandonment" as it is in some states.

Disclaimer: These answers are intended for Washington State residents. The laws of every state are different and these answers may not apply in another state.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Today's guest expert, Margit Crane, offers advice to parents crafting a parenting plan.

You can find Margit Crane at http://margitcrane.com

Preparing to Craft a Parenting Plan

You’re getting divorced. Your kids are shaken and you are a jumble of emotions. It is in this confusion and drama that you will be asked to craft a parenting plan. No small feat, to be sure. Hopefully, these fail-proof tips will guide your decisions:

1. Be consistent. This isn’t about you and your ex. This is about your kids. Forget about convenience. Divorce isn’t convenient. If you want your kids to thrive despite this upheaval, you need to be willing to be uncomfortable for their sake. What does this mean?

a. DO keep a consistent weekly schedule. It’s harder to do as a single parent but important to your child’s sense of security and well-being.

b. DO keep a consistent daily schedule. Again, children who know what to expect feel safer and more confident, and are able to form stronger bonds with parents and friends.

c. DON’T bring new people into your time together or into your home until you are in a committed long-term relationship. If you end the relationship, you’re not the only one to suffer and your kids learn that relationships are fleeting and people are heartbreakers.

2. Be an adult. Your child is not your confidant/e and is not responsible for your emotional, physical, spiritual, or financial well-being. You be the parent and let your kid be the kid.

a. Be responsible for co-creating and upholding your behavioral expectations and consequences.

b. Expect the behavior you’ve outlined and follow-through on the consequences, even if it’s painful for you to do. If you say one thing and do another, your kids will learn that the world - and, most particularly, YOU – is not trustworthy.

c. Get help if you need it. If your car broke down, you wouldn’t leave it on the side of the road and forget about it. That won’t repair your car. Ignoring a problem won’t repair your family either. Consult a doctor, therapist, or family coach if you are struggling.

3. Be light and polite always. This should be the rule in everyone’s house, divorced or not. And these behaviors apply to both kids and adults:

a. No name-calling, taunting, or teasing

b. No put-downs

c. Say “please” “thank you” “you’re welcome” “excuse me”

d. Don’t yell, nag, or lecture

e. Listen when someone is speaking to you.

f. Don’t use an insulting or disrespectful tone of voice when speaking to each other.

Remember: If you’re trying to convince someone to see things your way, you’re not having a conversation; you’re having a power struggle. Those don’t work.

Copyright Margit Crane 2011

Margit Crane, M.S., M.Ed., is passionately devoted to making growing up much easier for ADD/ADHD kids, discombobulated teens, and the stressed-out parents who love them! “You don’t have to sit around waiting for this latest ‘phase’ to pass,” she says encouragingly. With Margit, clients enjoy more confidence, smoother communication, fewer conflicts, closer relationships, and increased academic success, all while having a lot more FUN!

You can find Margit Crane at http://margitcrane.com

Monday, March 7, 2011

Finding a Job After Taking Time Out For Kids -- I got the job! Career Services, Jill Walser Tells You How

Reentering the workplace after taking time off to raise children

can be a challenge. Sometimes the return is voluntary but it can be even more traumatic when it wasn't your choice. This is a situation both men and women can find themselves in. Here's help from Jill Walser of
I got the job! Career Services http://www.igotthejob.us

Returning to Work after Having Children

Few job seekers face higher hurdles than at-home parents trying to return to work do. Much has changed in the past 5-10 years – job boards and keyword scanning software are probably completely new concepts, and much has stayed the same – networking is still the way most people find opportunities. With tenacity, a willingness to learn, and solid marketing tools, parents can be back in the swing again soon.

Do what you love. Some parents left thriving careers to raise their children, while others had kids earlier in life. In either case, this is the perfect opportunity to find a career that makes your heart beat a little faster. Returning to school for a degree or certificate will assure your future employer that you have the training to do the job while demonstrating your interest in that field of work. If you loved what you were doing before, it may be more appealing to pick up where you left off.

Don’t apologize for the gap in employment. Just because your decision to raise your children created a difficult return to the workforce, it doesn't mean it wasn’t the right decision. Your experience with kids might even make you more qualified for certain roles than someone without them. If you were in marketing before having children, for example, consider a marketing role where the focus is on appealing to parents. Some employers, particularly those in the sales industry, will see your break as a good thing. They may want to train you on their way of doing things and will value your fresh perspective.

Employ a pro. Consider hiring a professional resume writer to keyword optimize your resume while giving voice to your accomplishments. For most people, figuring out all of the components of a truly great resume is not a good return on your investment of time. It is much better to spend your time networking and learning, no one can do that for you.

Give yourself credit for having life experience and maturity. In many companies, hiring managers would rather choose someone known to be sane and stable than take a chance on a “fresh” grad. Your task is to figure out how that maturity would benefit the employer and then help them see it.

Consider networking with parents who have already done what you want to do. Ask them how they did it, talk about what they like about their jobs and what surprises they encountered after resuming their careers. Also, check out networking groups that are industry related; the professional associations section of www.iloveseattle.org is a good place to look or do an Internet search. Be an interested and helpful networker; seek out ways to be a resource to those in your network.

Not ready to return to work yet? Consider volunteering to keep your skills sharp. Plan an event for the pet shelter, fix the local non-profit’s network, or put the church bake sale on Facebook. Companies value community service and you will have relevant experience to put on your resume.

Parents who are smarter about preparing to return to work have a much easier time of it. By networking, sharpening your skills and updating your presentation (resume, interview skills and appearance), you will have an advantage over your competition.

Jill Walser

Friday, March 4, 2011


From the desk of the divorce lawyer


Karin Quirk, Attorney at law, Kirkland, Washington

While ultimately a personal matter, divorce affects business in time, money, and lost productivity. An employee going through an emotionally troubling time may be less productive, miss work and may involve other employees in the drama. Many business also are concerned about revealing private or sensitive information.

When the business owner is the person involved in the divorce process the consequences on the business can be even more dramatic, if not devastating. If the business owner is distracted, the business suffers. The legal discovery process can be as distressing as a tax audit with even greater economic consequences. A small business may also be destroyed by the need to liquidate assets to affect the community property division.

It is in a business owner’s interest to know a divorce attorney sensitive to the affect of divorce on business. An attorney who explores alternatives to the adversarial process and works with the parties on reasonable resolution that allows them to get on with their lives with the least emotional trauma and economic loss.

Divorce happens to roughly half of all married couples and often occurs after ten, twenty or more years of marriage. Many family law attorneys are developing new ways of diffusing the acrimony and trauma of the traditional adversarial process. Gaining popularity across the United States is the concept of collaborative divorce.

Collaborative Law – the new paradigm

In this process, each side is represented by his/her own advocate. The parties and their attorneys agree that they will not engage in the traditional “divorce war” which is the litigated divorce. The lawyers are committed to full disclosure of all assets and to providing advocacy for their clients while maintaining civility with each other.

The “team” may include ancillary professionals: An accountant or actuary may be needed to determine a value of a business or a pension plan; parents may seek guidance from a child mental health professional in developing the parenting plan; and counselors may become involved to improve the communication process. The parties may even choose career counseling for a previously non-employed spouse.

Save time, money, emotional trauma and preserve your privacy

Statistics show that collaborative divorces cost at least one-third less and are completed in a much shorter time than the traditional litigated divorce. The emotional trauma is managed in a compassionate way. The collaborative model encourages parents to put the needs of their children first.

When parents are involved in acrimonious custody battles, not only do the children suffer, but the parties often go to court year after year trying to modify the original plan, often spending hundreds of dollars. In collaborative law the parents provide a method for adjusting the plan for changes in circumstances, thus reducing emotional trauma as well as costs.

Perhaps the most appealing aspect of the collaborative divorce to business persons is the privacy this model provides. The financials and all the negotiations remain private. No public record is created which provides embarrassing or misleading details. The final agreement remains private.

It is possible to avoid the divorce wars: www.divorceforgrownups.net


Karin Quirk is a family law attorney trained in divorce mediation and collaborative law. For more information see www.divorceforgrownups.net Contact Karin at Karin@karinquirk.com or call 425 289 0293 for a complimentary confidential consultation.

Note: This article was written in September 2006 and first published in Eastside Business Journal. Thank you Joe Kennedy for giving me my start as a commentator on collaborative divorce.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Parenting Specialist Margit Crane Offers Advice to Divorcing Parents

Guest Blogger today is Margit Crane:Margit Crane, M.S., M.Ed., is passionately devoted to making growing up much easier for ADD/ADHD kids, discombobulated teens, and the stressed-out parents who love them! “You don’t have to sit around waiting for this latest ‘phase’ to pass,” she says encouragingly. With Margit, clients enjoy more confidence, smoother communication, fewer conflicts, closer relationships, and increased academic success, all while having a lot more FUN!

You can find Margit Crane at http://margitcrane.com

How to Talk to Your Kids When Your Ex is a Jerk

I’m sitting in my office with newly 16, Marley, and her mom. Marley begins to cry because her father – again – put off her birthday celebration. She has been 16 for two weeks and he hasn’t celebrated with her yet. Mom says, “I’m sorry your father is such a jerk. I wish there was something I could do to change him.”

I’ve never met Marley’s dad but I’ve been coaching with Marley, her sister, and their mom for 7 months and I’ve heard about him from time to time. I suggest to them that it may be fairly accurate to call him a jerk, but isn’t it too easy to do so? Maybe he’s sick, literally.

Divorce is uncomfortable and confusing in the best of situations. How much the more so when parents are picking at each other, either directly or via the kids? I know that some people are jerks but I don’t believe that that’s a helpful designation or description.

Sometimes we adults struggle with alcohol or drug abuse. Sometimes we’re depressed or suffer from debilitating anxiety. But I don’t believe that most parents willfully ignore their children or set an intention to make them suffer. My parents, for example, were quite ill and, although they did some shocking and hurtful things, I don’t think it was intentional. I think that if they could have been better parents, they would have been. And I think this is true of most parents. It is sad when a parent can’t step up to the plate for his/her own child, but there may be extenuating circumstances.

So instead of calling your ex a jerk, remind your kids that they are loved beyond belief and that sometimes fathers or mothers feel sick or are not themselves and they can’t be the kind of parent that they dream of being. You don’t need to be specific about the kind of illness. Kids know what it’s like to be sick or to feel “not themselves.”

Remember, too, that rarely is a problem one-sided. Often a conflict grows out of a long-time personality clash that was never resolved and continued to grow. Both parents can contribute to the dis-ease of a marriage and we need to check our own behavior too.

If we can’t have a civil conversation with our ex, we are both responsible. Perhaps we have been unwell as well? If so, it’s time to own that and get some help for ourselves. If we don’t, we teach our kids that we’re not responsible for our own behavior and our own choices; some jerk is.

Not a very empowering lesson, is it?

Copyright Margit Crane 2011