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Divorce Your Spouse, Not the Kids
"We have the most-innovative divorce program (in Honolulu) which is changing the way the court works with children," Acklin said. "It is changing all over the country, and we are at the forefront. By changing the values of the bar and the bench and the community, we’re changing the way the people look at divorce. There is a shift of values toward settlement, negotiations and mediation in order to preserve relationships," he said. "The whole context is a healing process."
"Divorce is a trauma in a family associated with intense emotions, often times people are angry. Hiring an attorney to fight prevents people from dealing with the underlying problem," he explained. "The court system tends to make it worse. What we want is to try and have court procedure that does not permit the destruction of the family."
Divorce figures are high. Between a third and half of the children born in marriages go through a divorce and live with a single parent before they are 18. The divorce rate is tied to economics. In times of economic distress, divorce rates shoot up. Currently we are going through a moderating period, according to latest divorce statistics.
Effects on Kids
"Children most often report that their parents’ divorce as their most painful life experience," Acklin said. Children from divorced and remarried families exhibit more problems of behavior and lower psychological well-being as compared to children of never-divorced families.
Generally, children cope adequately with divorce if the conflict levels are low. The negative effects of divorce on children area academic and conduct problems, depression, lower social responsibility, incompetence and lower self esteem.
Adolescents from divorced and remarried families are more likely to drop out of school, to be unemployed, are sexually active at an earlier age, have children out of wedlock and may be involved in delinquency and substance abuse, according to Acklin.
"There is a radical shift after a divorce; fathers disappear from children’s lives," he said. "This is very bad except when the relationship is too intense or too conflicting."
Two years after a divorce 13% of children see their father once a year or less, 44% see, their ’father a few times a year to a few times a month (mainly holiday visits), while the remaining 43% see their father once a week or more.
Ten years after a divorce 50% of children see their fathers once a year or less, 38% see them a few times a year to a few times a month and only 12% once a week or more.
Contact with both parents provides children with differing role models, access to different things and sources of information.
Divorce is extremely difficult on women economically. In upwards of 85% of families after divorce, the children five with the mother, and dad visits. "A huge chunk of these women slide below the poverty level," Acklin said. "It’s really scary - there’s something wrong here." This reflects financial inequalities in the work force between male and female jobs."The fathers typically do better after divorce," he said. A divorce is a giant economic strain for a family. When a family splits into two households, to maintain the standard of living it requires a 30% increase in finances. Single-parent, mother families that are deprived are under a continuing strain due to economics.
Keeping divorces out of court creates a more healthy environment in. keeping the family together and resolving issues such as financial problems or visitation arrangements. "After mediation both parents report more cooperation," Acklin said. "If you adopt a settlement- or mediation-oriented framework, you see immediate differences. There’s more contact and father involvement after mediation. They tend to be more flexible about schedule changes, custody and visitation arrangements - making changes on their own without going back to court."
California has mandatory mediation for couples going through divorce. If this fails, a custody evaluation takes place with mental health officials who sit down with the couple to help them reach a settlement by negotiation. By working on de-escalating the situation and identifying problems such as substance abuse and domestic violence, people can be helped through the process of divorce. These meetings are private and confidential.
In the Honolulu Family Court, anyone filing a custody case must attend a parent-and child education class called "Kids First." Children 6 and older attend the class with their parents, which addresses issues of the divorce transition, how to solve disputes, decrease stress and conflict, to assist families to have functional relationships after a divorce.
If parents cannot settle questions of residency (custody) and time sharing (visitation), a guardian ad Litem is appointed, and a settlement negotiation takes place. Public Records of the meeting are kept, and if the parents don’t agree, the court officer ad Litem makes a recommendation to the court. If either of the couple behaves badly, they may risk custody or visitation schedule.
"There is a whole new ethos around divorce - this is the way we preserve our children,’ Acklin said. Nationally 800/6-85% of divorces are able to reach settlement out of court.
The national trend is no more custody trials, Acklin noted."Custody trials are very angry. The strain is intense on children, and afterward people are usually very hurt and angry," he said. "Residues last for years."
Hawaii is an equitable distribution state. This does not mean that all property will be divided equally, but it means that the property will be divided as fairly as the court sees fit. When the parties cannot reach a settlement on their own, the family court decides which property and debt is to be considered marital and decides the terms and conditions of its division and distribution.
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