Co-Parenting Questions answered with Diane Dierks and Dr. Rick Voyles
One of our favorite Co-Parenting counselors and coordinators has started her own podcast with Dr. Rick Voyles called Co-Parenting Dilemmas. Leh and Todd had them come on the show to discuss their new show, why they started it, and how it can help parents working through their co-parenting relationship. They also discuss the pro's and con's of Georgia's Election Statute and how allowing a 14+ year old to elect with whom they are going to live can create lasting harm in their relationship with their parents.
Leh Meriwether: Welcome everyone, I'm Leh Meriwether, and with me is Todd Orston. We are your co hosts for Divorce Team Radio, a show sponsored by the divorce and family law firm of Meriwether & Tharp. Here, we learn about divorce, family law, and from time to time, even tips on how to save your marriage if it's in the middle of a crisis. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online at atlantadivorceteam.com. Well, Todd, do you know what I love?
Todd Orston: Well, I'm a little uncomfortable, but Leh, I appreciate the sentiment. I'm married. I'm happy.
Leh Meriwether: No.
Todd Orston: All right. I was about to say this show took an uncomfortable turn.
Leh Meriwether: No. I love it when we get back and hear that the show-
Todd Orston: Wow, I went in a completely different direction. All right.
Leh Meriwether: Well, I'm really uncomfortable now. I love you too, Leh. I love it when we got feedback and hear that our show is really making a difference in people's lives. When we get feedback, we like to say thank you for taking the time to give us a review, and we recently got a review from I think it's Michelle Dawn 9090. She said they are amazing and giving as much info as possible on how to go about things in a divorce custody case.
They make things and break them down to nuggets that are easier understood. I've listened to numerous shows and will continue to listen, as long as I go through my custody battle. They honestly help me more than I can ever say. Well, thank you so much.
Todd Orston: The only comment I would make is you can say more. It's fine.
Leh Meriwether: It may be a character [inaudible 00:01:41]
Todd Orston: Okay, all right. No, that is amazing. We do love getting those reviews. It's why we do what we do. It's why we have this show, simply to get that information out there. Because we know there are too many people who really need this information. Sometimes navigating online or wherever it is you're trying to gather information to help, it can be a daunting task. That's wonderful to hear.
Leh Meriwether: Today is a first because... Well, first off, in keeping with sharing resources that will help people get through a difficult time, we are doing something we've never done before, we have brought on the co-hosts of another podcast to our show and this podcast will not only add to our information, but it's also going to help those going through a custody battle at present, but it will also help you long after the divorce is over, because we cover a lot of the legal aspects of the divorce.
But this one is focused on one specific issue regarding custody and the podcast is Co-Parent Dilemmas. The co-hosts are Dr. Rick Voyles and Diane Dierks. Now, Dr. Rick Voyles is the CEO of the Center for Dispute Solutions as well as a published author, business coach and entrepreneur. His publications include Understanding Conflict: What are We Fighting For? And The Understanding Trap: How Attempts to Correct Misunderstandings Can Escalate Conflict.
He has co-hosted a TV program, Conflict Mediation and You, where he discussed topics in conflict management as well as mediation techniques. Dr. Voyles is a subject matter expert in the areas of divorce, co-parenting negotiation and conflict resolution.
Now, Diane Dierks, if you haven't heard of her before, she's actually returned guests to the program. She's the Executive Director for the Center for Navigating Family Change, a nonprofit organization that provides court ordered divorcing parents seminar to the state of Georgia. She's also a licensed marriage and family therapist and a certified family life educator.
Diane has a master's degree in family psychology from Georgia State University and is an author of the books; CoParenting Toolbox and Solo Parenting: Raising Strong and Happy Families. Her therapy practice is focused on working with families in transition as a parenting coordinator, co-parenting counselor and reunification therapist.
Well, Diane and Rick, thanks so much for coming on the show.
Diane Dierks: Thank you for having us, Leh and Todd.
Dr Rick Voyles: Yes, thank you.
Leh Meriwether: Absolutely. Diane, Dr. Voyles... Is Dr. Voyles or Rick, what do you prefer?
Dr Rick Voyles: Rick is great.
Todd Orston: You should have gone with the more formal. I would have loved watching me struggle with that the entire show.
Dr Rick Voyles: I'm trying to help.
Leh Meriwether: Diane and Rick, I'm going to start with, because we're going to talk about a topic that's a hot topic for you all right now and for lawyers in general, specifically here in Georgia. But before we get to this, because I want people to understand how this podcast can help them in addition to listening to our podcast. Why did you decide to start this podcast?
Diane Dierks: Do you want me to go, Rick?
Dr Rick Voyles: Yes.
Diane Dierks: Okay. As Rick would say, this was one of my dreams. He's just helping me fulfill my dream, that's number one. But I think it's mainly because Rick and I have been teaching these things for many years together. As we've both gotten older, and wiser, we decided, let's put this together in a podcast or some format, so that we could get the word out to more people than just show up in our classes.
Now that I got more therapists, more professionals working in the organization doing the classes, I've also stepped away from doing them myself as much. But I still wanted to connect with an audience about some of the information that we share that has worked over the years. Not only do we like to teach together and have fun, like you all do, but we also really are passionate about the information that we want to get to co-parents.
Leh Meriwether: What brought the two of you together to do this podcast?
Diane Dierks: This is funny, but years ago, before I even became the executive director of the center, I attended a seminar where Rick taught a course. I can't remember what it was, Rick. Anyway, I remember being impressed with his teaching. Then several years later, when I had need for a presenter in one of our classes, he's the first one that came to mind, and I called him and said, "Are you interested in working with us?" He said, "Yeah." We just started working together in our teaching. There was chemistry there. We enjoyed teaching together.
Dr Rick Voyles: Yes, definitely.
Leh Meriwether: Chemistry is very important, because that's what makes a podcast good. The going back and forth, the dialogue, it makes it interesting, rather than just some kind of lecture, which, that's pretty exciting. I've listened to a couple of your shows, I think you have a great chemistry, and I've enjoyed listening to it. What-
Diane Dierks: Kind of like the chemistry between you and Todd, right?
Todd Orston: Oh, the comments I could make right now. How many segments do we have?
Diane Dierks: I'm just referencing the beginning of the show.
Todd Orston: Right. Exactly. Now, before you go, I will also say this, obviously, chemistry, I agree. Leh and I, we enjoy this show together, and we have fun with it. But we, like you, it's all about getting as much really good useful information out. I will tell you, co-parenting, obviously, I don't need to tell you, but it is an issue that comes up again, and again, and again. People don't understand when you're dealing with these issues of custody, on the legal side, it's important because you need to show the court that you're going to be a good, healthy co-parent.
But more important than that is, obviously for the health of the children involved. In terms of a topic, I'll be honest with you, co-parenting, I think when children are involved, it is the premier topic. The fact that you have a show focused on that issue is amazing.
Dr Rick Voyles: Thanks.
Leh Meriwether: What topics do you talk about on the show?
Dr Rick Voyles: Co-parenting, that would be the main good one thing.
Todd Orston: Good one, Leh, that was fantastic.
Leh Meriwether: Nice setup. I like that.
Todd Orston: Drilling down to the-
Leh Meriwether: What sub topic? What are you all getting into? How do you come up with the ideas for your show?
Dr Rick Voyles: Well, the idea has come primarily from the work that we do, all of the parent coordinating and co-parent counseling, the dilemmas that we have to deal with, when the parents get stuck, they create a conflict, because of some misunderstanding. These dilemmas can be really sometimes complex.
Leh Meriwether: Do you give advice on how to work through those dilemmas?
Dr Rick Voyles: Yes.
Diane Dierks: I think what our show tagline is, we provide practical solutions to impossible co-parents. We know that our listeners are listening, probably because they're dealing with a difficult co-parent. We apply the same concept we do in our work is, how can we work with that parent who doesn't want to be difficult? Usually, in every co-parent couple, there is one person who wishes it could be better, and another person who maybe is a little bit more difficult.
Rick and I have never thought that we could fix the difficult co-parent as much as work with the more healthy co-parent to figure out how to respond to that. As we address listener questions, our format is, do you let go or hold on? That's typically the question, and it's not always easy and Rick and I laugh about this almost every show, it's somewhere in between. You could let go and say, okay, I'm just going to live with this conflict and be a doormat, or you could hold on and say I'm taking every conflict to court.
We try to offer a solution that's probably more practical and doable, and will help you maintain your own sense of self-worth and boundaries, if that makes sense.
Leh Meriwether: It makes great sense. When we come back, you're going to hear about how you can propose questions to Diane and Rick so you can get your questions answered, when we come back.
I just wanted to let you know that if you ever wanted to listen to the show live, you can listen at 1:00 AM on Monday mornings on WSB. You can always check us out there as well.
Todd Orston: Better than counting sheep, I guess, right? You can turn on the show and we'll help you fall asleep.
Leh Meriwether: There you go.
Todd Orston: I'll talk very soft.
Leh Meriwether: Welcome back, everyone, this is Leh and Todd and we are your co-hosts for Divorce Team Radio, a show sponsored by the divorce and family law firm of Meriwether & Tharp. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online in atlantadivorceteam comm. If you want to read a transcript of this show, or go back and listen to it again, you can find it at divorceteamradio.com, and you can find the show, wherever you find podcasts, we should be pretty much everywhere, as far as I know.
Todd Orston: That's a bold statement. But yeah, I don't know about everywhere, but we are in many places. Before we move on, I do want to... Leh, I like how you put it, I want to unpack something that you had said, because I really think it's important. A lot of what you're doing and I am understating this and over simplifying, is you're trying to help people figure out a middle ground between the, I think you put it, the let it go or hold on kind of mentality and approach.
I don't think we spent enough time, I'll be honest with you, because in my experience, that's the hardest thing, you're trying to deal with this fight or flight mentality, people who may have been, relationship wise, oppressed, or controlled by someone. Now, all of a sudden, they want to defend themselves, they're going through this process, and everything is fight. How do you get people to that point? When you say, let's find a middle ground, what does that mean?
Diane Dierks: That's a great question, Todd. I'd like to bring up the example from our very first podcast, Rick, where we talk about the listener who was upset that his co-parent was getting married on his weekend. We've heard this a number of times, and the person that called in is probably having the same feelings that most people do, she's doing this on purpose. She's doing this to get to me-
Dr Rick Voyles: That's perfect. That's a good one.
Diane Dierks: What the listener who had written in said was, this is the, I don't know, 20th time that she has done this to me, she's always wanting more from me. We call that the give him an inch, take a mile person. He wants to be benevolent, he wants to be helpful. So, he's been giving in to her thinking, probably erroneously, that the more I give in, the nicer she'll be, the more likely she'll give into me.
What people find out is they just get increasingly frustrated, because the other parent is not necessarily thinking in the same way. The question was, do I just keep letting her walk on me, or, now this is her wedding, and I feel like I should let the parent or the kids go to the wedding, but I don't want to after the 20th time, I really don't want to. How do I handle this?
The way we look at something like this is, there are few times where you should let it go. We're big proponents of sticking to the parenting plan in high conflict situations. If you can cooperate and be flexible, never look at the plan, that's awesome. But the people that call into our show, or email us are usually not those people. They're people that have a certain amount of conflict or maybe even high conflict, and they want answers and they're tired of being stepped on. Yes, stick to the plan, but grandma's dying and your ex wants to take the kids to visit her before she dies, I hope you don't say, "Well, now let's just stick to the plan this time." That could be a little insensitive, especially to the children.
What we were saying to this listener is you don't want to continue to be walked on, so you do need to figure out how to set a boundary with her. But for this particular situation, I don't think you want to hold your ground, because you don't want... You can imagine what she would say, when she showed the kids the wedding pictures, and pointed out that they were missing, and that was all of dad's fault. There's a big hole in the wedding picture, the children aren't there.
You don't want them to have that memory that you didn't allow them to go to mom's wedding. The middle ground for him is don't fight for this one, but let's figure out how to set boundaries in the future, so that you're parenting out of your values, or co-parenting out of your own values, not reacting to somebody else's. That's one of our, probably Rick, wouldn't you say co-parenting or co-parent dilemmas value number one is co-parent out of your own values?
Dr Rick Voyles: Yes, right. One of the principles we continually guide people through is the distinction between responding from a wounded spouse position, that history of the way you were treated, and I'm not going to be treated anymore. Versus the parenting hat. If we can get them to shift their thinking from wounded spouse response to a good parenting style, technique, principles and wear that hat instead, then it can offer clarity between letting go or holding on. Should I have this fight, or should I not have this fight?
Todd Orston: I got to tell you, all of that is so powerful, because I know Leh will agree with this, one of the biggest issues and problems in the cases that we handle on the clients that we represent, is when emotion starts to take over. Reason and common sense and logical thought kind of gets thrown out the window, and reactions just become emotional reactions.
Again, thinking of it like an attorney, someone who has done this 20 times, I would be the first person to say to the person complaining, well, at some point, you need to put a stop to it, if it's a one way road. But I agree with you, at some point, if it's grandma passed away, or there's a big event, don't draw the line in the sand here, because as silly as it might sound, the court could get annoyed at the 19 times before, but this one, the court could look at you and be critical of you. Also, on top of that, you're focusing on your thoughts and feelings and not the children and their right to participate in this kind of an event.
But again, common sense, sometimes they don't have a firm grasp on at that moment.
Leh Meriwether: Rick, I love what you said about helping people distinguish between, am I responding as the wounded spouse, or am I responding as the co-parent? Because I've seen lots of cases, I've lost count to how the person was a terrible spouse, but a fantastic parent. When you can move past that, when you can think along the co-parent lines, rather than wounded spouse... I'm not trying to say you're not justified in being a wounded spouse. I'm not trying to take away from that feeling. Most of the time I've seen it's justified. But for the children, you have to move away from that and think from a different perspective.
Dr Rick Voyles: One of the things this parent hadn't considered is the example he has been setting by having a poor boundary all this time before. If he's really going to look at his parenting skills and focus on the parenting hat, then look at the power of setting a good boundary and demonstrating modeling that for your children so they can know what good boundaries are.
Leh Meriwether: Now, one of the things that really caught my eye when I went to your podcast online, was that you have it set up so that listeners can send questions or call in questions that you can answer on air. I think that's fantastic, because you're dealing with not theoretical problems people have, you're dealing with actual problems that co-parents are having right now.
How do people reach out to you and toss their questions to you so that you can answer them on air?
Diane Dierks: They can call our voice line or voicemail line at 1234-DILEMMA. We always like to remind people how to spell dilemma, right, Rick?
Dr Rick Voyles: Yes.
Diane Dierks: Because Rick can't spell dilemma.
Dr Rick Voyles: I'm not good at spelling.
Diane Dierks: It's D-I-L-E-M-M-A, or 345-3662. They can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Todd Orston: Nice. Because I've listened to your most recent show, at least that was showing over my feed was... To give me an idea to the listeners, a step parent or parent had reached out to you, and their dilemma was that they knew they were not dealing in emails, at least with the father of their children, they were dealing with the father's new wife. That they were having a lot of trouble communicating with this person.
If you're dealing with that... I'm talking to listeners at the moment, if you're dealing with that, you definitely want to go check out their most recent show, because they get into, they discuss the answer to that, how do you deal with that situation when the step parent's being demeaning and snarky, and just really interfering with your ability to co-parent with the actual parent? You definitely want to go check out the show.
Now, when we come back, we're going to talk about really a hotly contested and a challenging statute in Georgia. I could easily debate on both sides of this issue. Georgia is one of the few states in the country, maybe the only state that has a code section that allows a 14 year old child to elect which parent they want to live with on a primary basis.
Part of that same code section allows a child that's between 11 and 14 to sign an election, but that election is not controlling but carries a lot of weight to the judge. Now, when we come back, we're going to talk about the legal aspects of it, but more importantly, we're going to talk about the emotional impacts this statute can have on a child.
Leh Meriwether: Hey, everyone, you're listening to our podcast, but you have alternatives, you have choices. You can listen to us live also at 1:00 AM on Monday morning on WSBB.
Todd Orston: If you're enjoying the show, we would love it if you could go rate us on iTunes or wherever you may be listening to it. Give us a five star rating and tell us why you like the show.
Leh Meriwether: Welcome back everyone, this is Leh and Todd and we are your co-hosts for Divorce Team Radio, a show sponsored by the divorce and family law firm of Meriwether & Tharp. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online at atlantadivorceteam.com. If you want to read a transcript of this show, you can find it at divorce team radio.com. If you want to go back and listen to it again, you can not only find it on our website, but you can find out wherever you get your podcasts.
Okay, today we are doing something we've never done before, we actually have the co-hosts to a new podcast. It just started this year called CoParent Dilemmas with Dr. Rick Voyles, and Diane Dierks, who's a repeat guest on our show. They have started this fantastic podcast to help everyone that has a co-parent situation around the country and even around the world. I love this technology and your ability to reach people. Not only to reach people and help them, but take their questions online, and then break them down in the show.
Correct me if I'm wrong, you try to keep them relatively short, under 25 minutes. Is that what you've been doing so far?
Diane Dierks: Yes, we're trying to keep them to an average commute. I don't know about you, but I listen to most of my podcasts when I'm driving. These are busy people that we're speaking to, with the jobs and kids and co-parents. We wanted to keep it short for that particular reason.
Leh Meriwether: You all do a great job of that. I've listened to a couple shows, and I'm always learning from you. Okay, now we're going to talk about, really, in some ways, a hotly debated code section in Georgia. There's many points of view on this code section. But it has to do with the election ability of a 14 year old child because we all know that 14 year olds know exactly where they want to be in the world and have fully developed brains and gosh, darn it, well, they should also be able to drink at this age and elect to-
Diane Dierks: And Drive.
Todd Orston: And drive, yes.
Diane Dierks: And Vote.
Leh Meriwether: Hey, Todd, do you want to break down what the Georgia law is on this election statute?
Todd Orston: Yeah, absolutely. I agree with you, I'm far from 14, I don't know if I should be making all the decisions that I make. A 14 year old, probably not. But yet, like you were saying before, in Georgia, we do allow a child to make what's called an election. We have people call the time. They're like, "Well, my child can my child elect?" What does that mean?
A child as young as 11 years old can have input regarding physical custody, not specifically parenting time, but custody. In essence, who they would like to primarily live with. In Georgia, it starts at age 11, and then it goes to the age 14, and beyond. The way I sometimes explain it to people is, as the child gets older, their opinion carries more weight.
If an 11 year old is explaining to a judge, this is what I want, the court's going to look at that and go, okay, you're 11 I hear you. 12, a little bit more weight. 13, 14, where you can push all the way to, let's say, 17. I've seen judges look at a party, and maybe it's not the best fit. But look at the party that would be losing that primary custodial role and say, "What am I supposed to do? This is a trial that is 17, a heartbeat away from becoming an 18 year old where the court has no jurisdiction over the child. Therefore, unfortunately, I think we need to allow that 17 year old to do what they want."
At age 14, a child can elect which parent they want to be their physical custodian and Georgia law provides, and I'll read it. In all custody cases in which the child has reached the age of 14 years, the child shall have the right to select the parent with whom he or she desires to live. The child's election for purposes of custody shall be presumptive, unless the parent so selected as determined not to be in the best interest of the child. Again, that's pursuant to a code section 19-9-3A5.
If there's a current court order concerning custody of a child, the election of a 14 or older child may also constitute a material change of condition or circumstance, sufficient to warrant that modification of custody.
Leh Meriwether: This isn't an absolute one. But a presumption, what that does, is it shifts the burden of proof. Someone walks in with an election, they have to presumption that it's in the best interest of the child, that, that child get to live according to their election. I'm talking about primary custody. It's a rebuttable presumption, but for all practical purposes, it is something that is extremely difficult to rebut, and it's in rare, rare, rare situations.
But there is another point of view on this. We've got a legal point of view, and I'll share a couple of examples later. But Diane and Rick, I know that you all have a different perspective on the damage that this election situation could cause for children. What is your perspective on this election statute?
Diane Dierks: Well, there are several, and I think it's really important to say that each case needs to be taken on its own. But some of the dangers of this being such a presumption, or that most judges, I think, will tell you that they go with it. Like you said, it's rare that they would not is that there can be a lot of underlying things going on.
For instance, I know from talking to many teenagers, they often will side with the parent, who they're trying to get unconditional love from. In other words, the parent that I feel unconditionally loved by, who's really my solid, stable parent, I'm okay with disrespecting them, and siding with the unstable parent, because that's the one I'm trying to get love from.
That happens quite often. I see it a lot with dads and daughters, maybe dad was working all the time, and he wasn't really paying attention to the daughter. In that preteen, teen stage is usually when a daughter wants the most attention from her dad. Making this election in her mind is how I'm going to get my dad to love me, which doesn't really work.
Oftentimes these elections in a 14 year old's mind, is trying to get that love I was never able to get, which really has nothing to do with what's in the best interest of the child. One of the things that's really hard for them is once they make the election, they realize that it really wasn't what they thought it was going to be. Well, dad promised me a car or dad said this would happen. Then they get there and realize, okay, I got the car, but I didn't get my dad.
You see those kinds of things happening and they're heartbreaking. I've had a case once where the daughter said she wanted to live with the other parent and then when she changed her mind, when a guardian got involved, and she actually went there for a summer and had changed her mind at the end of the summer, then the parent was very angry with her and actually told her you owe me $10,000 in legal fees for doing this. Talk about a kid getting caught up in-
Leh Meriwether: Wow.
Diane Dierks: That's a terrible thing to say to a... She was 15 by that time. That's one aspect of it. Another aspect of it is oftentimes these kids are coached, groomed, manipulated, but when they are 11, 12 and 13, "You know when you're 14, you can always come live with me, you can come live with me, you can come live with me." By the time they're 14, if they don't do it, they feel like they're betraying that parent who's been coaching them for three years.
I've actually counseled 20 somethings, who made that election several years ago, and they're still dealing with the words that they put on the affidavit. They're still dealing with, I lied, I signed something, I hurt my other parent, because that's not really what I wanted to say. Probably, and I could... Sorry, stop me when you need to, I could go on about this forever. But probably the thing that I hate the most for these kids is they're kind of told, and I think adults misrepresent, they're told, this child gets frustrated with dad and is told by mom, "You can come live with me. All you have to do is come with me to my attorney's office, sign this paper, and you can live with me."
I've actually had kids tell me that. Well, that's all I have to do. They have no idea that, that only works if both parents agree, right? If the parent who doesn't want that to happen decides I'm going to file a motion in court trying to stop this, and then a guardian gets appointed, and it's an 18 month court case, then I have the child in my office and had I known it was going to take all this time and create all this problem, I would never have signed that paper.
I've probably seen the worst of these cases, but I think it's really important to understand what can happen to a child before you just start this journey. I've counseled a lot of parents, just to let it go and tell your child, "I love you no matter what you put on that paper, and we're going to be okay, no matter where you live." Because otherwise, you put this kid through a lot of hurt and pain.
Leh Meriwether: I never thought about the... I had never heard that before that you've been counseling kids later, and they're regretting what they signed on that paper. That's a perspective I actually never really considered before. Because I'm never dealing with the kids later on.
Diane Dierks: Right.
Leh Meriwether: Wow, that's another example why everyone should be listening to your show. Hey, when we come back, we're going to continue to discuss this controversial statute.
I just wanted to let you know that if you ever wanted to listen to the show live, you can listen at 1:00 AM on Monday mornings on WSB. You can always check us out there as well.
Todd Orston: Better than counting sheep, I guess. You can turn on the show and we'll help you fall asleep.
Leh Meriwether: There you go.
Todd Orston: I'll talk very soft.
Leh Meriwether: Welcome back, everyone. This is Leh and Todd and we are your co-hosts for Divorce Team Radio, a show sponsored by the divorce and family law firm of Meriwether Tharp. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online at atlantadivorceteam.com. If you want to read a transcript of this show, or go back and listen to it again, you can find it at divorceteamradio.com, and wherever you get your podcasts.
Well, today, we are very fortunate to have in studio with us Dr. Rick Voyles and Diane Dierks and we're talking about CoParent Dilemmas, their new podcast, which is a great resource for any of our listeners, that wants to go a little bit deeper or need some specific help on their co-parent situation, even beyond the divorce process.
Okay, we are going to wrap up our discussion right now about the statute in Georgia, which I think it's the only state that has the statute with giving a 14 year old a specific right to elect which parent they live with. But I know that there's a lot of negatives out there that people don't think about. Rick, I wanted to ask you what other negative thing do you have concern about having the statute lurking out there? Like, parents that are going through a divorce?
Dr Rick Voyles: Yes. One of the things I actually see happen is as soon as the divorce is over, the parent starts parenting with the 14 year old election in mind. Consequently, they end up being a poor parent, they're trying to set up a win, when the child turns 14, and they failed to become the parent this child really needs, the best possible parent. That just makes long term damage for the child and for the parent.
Diane Dierks: Gives the 14 year old, almost 14 year old, a lot of power in the home that you probably shouldn't have.
Leh Meriwether: Well, I have really seen that. I've seen that where a parent had very strict rules for the best interests of the child. There was no question. There was boundaries in that household, and the other household did not have boundaries. I am confident that in the other household, the reason they were no boundaries, because they were trying to groom or manipulate or whatever the word you want to use to get the child to elect to live with them.
In some cases, it was driven by a desire not to pay child support. I'm convinced of that in just some of the cases I have had.
Todd Orston: I think you're being a little too generous, though, because I've also seen it where I just think that the lack of rules, that's just how that parent parented. The children that I've seen, I agree with you, they choose the path of least resistance, they want to live a certain lifestyle, and they know they can get away with more at one parent over the other.
It's kind of almost a natural progression. They're going to lean in favor of that parent, because they're going to have a much different, more fun lifestyle over there. It's unfortunate.
Leh Meriwether: Rick, you make a great point that, I hadn't even thought about, which would be good advice to parents that, you need to be a parent and a co-parent. Not just a single parent but a co-parent. You need to be thinking about your child, not who's having primary custody of your child.
Dr Rick Voyles: One of the best advice I got when I was a young parent was, if you try to make your child your friend, you'll lose them as an adult. But if you try to be a parent, then you'll have them as a friend as an adult.
Todd Orston: That's actually a great point. Speaking of advice, let me go in a different direction. What advice would you give to a parent who suddenly finds out that their child or children have signed an election?
Diane Dierks: That's a tough one. It's painful. I typically have that parent say to me, "But I've been the parent that's hung in there with them. I've been the one that's been to all the activities and the school events, and the homeroom parent and whatever." That's a really hard thing to hear from your child that, "I would rather live with the other parent."
Too often, though, the child doesn't come to the parent and say that, it comes in the form of a court motion, or a subpoena, or something like that.
Todd Orston: Or a thread of litigation, right.
Diane Dierks: Right, which is even more painful, and then they wonder why their child didn't talk to them about it. Wat I say to parents who have that situation is as painful as it is, it's very, very important to sit down with your child and say, "I understand. I'm not blaming you." Because that's really hard for a child, I've counseled so many teenagers who they knew their mom or dad were getting the papers on a certain day, and they stayed in their room and just stood about it, waiting for the phone call to come from the angry parent.
I can't think of a more stressful situation for a teen. I always advise that parent to immediately have a conversation. Let them off the hook, say, "You're you're only 14. I don't expect you to know everything. Don't worry about it, whatever happens, we'll figure it out, and you and I are going to be okay." I think that really shows the child where the unconditional love really lies.
Todd Orston: One quick comment on that, though. From the legal point of view, that does not mean that you should just concede the point.
Diane Dierks: No, and that depends on the circumstances.
Todd Orston: Right. Exactly. You may be the parent who just got that notice, and in your heart of hearts, you know it's not the right thing, for whatever reason. What I'm hearing you say though is, that's not what you need to communicate to your child. Tell your child it's going to be okay.
Diane Dierks: No. Right? Regardless of what happens, you and I are going to be okay. Then, of course, you call your attorney and you figure out what if any legal strategy you need to follow based on what you know about the other parent?
Leh Meriwether: Yeah, that's great advice. All right, I'm going to flip that question to you, Rick. If you have a parent or co-parent comes to you and says, "My child's expressed an interest in moving in with me primarily. I'm thinking about having them sign an election." What advice would you... I'm assuming they're 14 or over? What advice would you give to that parent? What sort of cautionary tale might you give them in light of what we talked about earlier?
Dr Rick Voyles: I think I would encourage the parent to have, not just one but several conversations with their child, ongoing. Make it clear, yes, I'll do this, I'll do what you think is best for you, and I think is best for you, I'm willing to fight for you. Make that message clear. But also make it clear that this is not going to happen overnight, that there will be a court case, that it will be hard. It may take a year and a half before anything is finally decided.
Encouraging the child with that kind of data to know what they really want. Then second, I would probably ask the parent to suggest or even consider the possibility of talking with the other parent about a trial run. Let's grant the child's wish for a little while, if we can do this, and both agree on it and not go back to court, then maybe the child can get a better understanding of what it's going to be like, rather than just what they imagined in their head.
But I would say more than anything, I would want the parent to ask the child a bunch of questions about, well, if this doesn't work, what worries you the most about this? What is it that you're concerned about that you're making this request? What do you want it to accomplish for you? What are you afraid of, if it doesn't work? Because those things can be addressed, those emotional aspects of the fear and the worry can be addressed, regardless of what happens with the court case.
Leh Meriwether: I love that, that you have them ask the question, basically, what's driving this? Because I have, and I give huge kudos to this dad that I had as a client years ago. Their child came to him, basically, they'd done something wrong, and mom came really hard down on the child, really hard. He thought it was a little too hard. Not that he didn't think the child should have some sort of punishment for what he did.
The child said he wanted to live with him, and he said... He did, he actually took... I think he talked to someone, I don't know he did, who gave similar advice, and that's when the child said, "Well, mom's being too rough on me. Dad said... He actually called me we talked through it too. But he went back to her son and said, "You know what, you are not moving in with me." This guy was paying a lot of child support, let me add to that. "You are not moving with me if the reason you're moving out was because you did something wrong under mom's roof, and she's now punishing you. That is not a good reason to move out. I love you too much to let you get away with breaking the rules."
Dr Rick Voyles: Very good.
Leh Meriwether: Like I said, I gave this dad major kudos for holding the line on that, because he could have said about $24,000 a year in paying child support. But I think that was the best long term solutions for his son. I love what you just said. By the way... Diane and Rick, first of, thank you so much for coming on the show to talk about your new podcast. Thanks for doing this podcast, because I think this is extremely helpful for parents.
Todd and I don't have the time to get into all these co-parenting issues and when we touch on them all the time, but it's always from a legal perspective, and you have a completely different, very helpful perspective. Before we go, because we only have a few seconds left, tell everyone how they can reach out to you and get their questions answered on your show?
Diane Dierks: Call our voicemail number at 1234-DILEMMA, or email us at email@example.com.
Leh Meriwether: Thanks again for coming on the show.
Diane Dierks: Thank you for having us.
Dr Rick Voyles: Yes, thanks for having us.
Leh Meriwether: And everyone, thanks so much for listening.