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Best Interests of the Children - A Guide for Divorce Mediation
Setting up ground rules to resolve issues help couples keep their eyes on the big picture rather than on mini "victories." That's one of the reasons that a mediated divorce, on average, feels and works better than a litigated divorce. Ground rules may include ideas such as "respecting the positive contributions each party made to the marriage," "eliminating or minimizing blaming," or "making decisions that are in the best interests of the children."
We've all heard the phrase, but how do you define the best interests of the children? In a legal sense, the doctrine is even more complex since California law also recognizes parental rights and entitlements that have to be factored into decisions about custody, visitation, and the ability of custodial parents to change residency. While the courts use a "best interests test" in deciding many, but not all custody matters, the question remains: what are the standards for the best interests of children? California law requires courts to consider, among other things:
In a mediated divorce, couples are not limited by these legal definitions. Parents can look at the relationship with their children from a "best interests" point of view. A standard of best interests can include legal considerations, but also ethical considerations (what's the "right" thing to do for the children?), and more importantly, parents can add the knowledge from research in developmental psychology about what's best for a child. The most recent research finds children benefit most in environments that provide stability and security. Divorce shakes up both. But agreements that look to provide the strengthening of the child's relationship with both parents (assuming there is no abuse), the ability to communicate about the children with mutual respect (even when parenting ideas are far apart), allowing for flexibility in the care of children, and providing a voice for the children, have the best chance of keeping children on target for normal development. In mediation, parents can discuss their ideas and reach a mutually agreed-upon standard - a task that, itself, leads to decisions that are, truly, in the best interests of the children.
In a summary dissolution, a hearing with the judge is typically not needed. A marriage of five years or less may be ended by summary dissolution, which is a simplified procedure to terminate a marriage in the state of California. With a summary dissolution, a joint petition is filed when 1) either spouse meets the standard residency requirement, 2) the marriage is irretrievably broken down due to irreconcilable differences, 3) the marriage is childless, 4) the wife is not pregnant, 5) neither spouse owns real estate, 6) there are no unpaid debts greater than $4,000, 7) the total value of community property is less than $25,000, 8) neither spouse has separate property (excluding cars and loans) of greater than $25,000, 9) the spouses have reached an agreement regarding the division and distributions of assets and liabilities, 10) both waive their rights to maintenance and appeal; 11) both have read a brochure about summary dissolution and 12) both desire to end the marriage.
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"A Plain English Guide to Protecting Your Children"
Author: Mary L. Boland, Attorney at Law
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