Bob Howard Interview 2 – 11-20-15

Carol : Bob Howard, and he is with Stewart Law Group.
Bob : That’s right, Carol.
Carol : Welcome back to the show.
Bob : Thank you.
Carol : So much going on in the world of divorce and things like that. Tell everybody a little bit about what you do.
Bob : I do divorces, and legal separations and custody battles. I also do prenups and everything, so anything related to family law involving relationships between parents and children and each other.
Carol : Now I think that a lot of people especially this time of the year fight a lot because … The reason why is because they’re drinking a lot.
Bob : That’s part of it, Carol.
Carol : There’s a lot of fighting going on no matter what. Sometimes it gets worse right now.
Bob : It does, just the stress of the holidays. Everybody tries to bundle a few too many activities in a short space. They’ve only got the kids for a little while, if there’s already a divorce, and it’s their turn to parent with the kids. They just try to do too much, and it’s too much for the kids and too much for the parents.
Carol : Guys, I want you to tell everybody what you’re going to talk about today.
Bob : I wanted to talk about the fact, we don’t actually call it custody any more in Arizona. We call it decision-making authority and parenting time. There’s been a lot of discussion over the years about how so much divorce is going on. It’s tearing apart the fabric of the American family. If you really ever want to see that illustrated, it came home to me one Thanksgiving weekend. We had actually celebrated Thanksgiving here and then took a little side trip to Vegas on Friday. We were in the airport in Las Vegas, getting ready to fly back to Phoenix on Sunday afternoon. What amazed me was the hundreds, hundreds of children in the airport that afternoon, flying alone because they were flying back to the other parent because they had done their long distance visitation with the parent that apparently lived in Vegas.
I’m sure that scene was repeated in numerous airports across the country, but it really hits home when you see all these unaccompanied minors flying on those holidays. I’m sure it’s the same thing around the Christmas holidays as well. It’s especially concentrated at Thanksgiving because many people split the Thanksgiving holiday and give one parent Thanksgiving through Sunday, and the other parent gets Thanksgiving through Sunday the next year.
Carol : Sad.
Bob : It is sad. It just makes you hope that those parents can cooperate a little bit. Just by coincidence, I got an email this morning from a place called the Center For Divorce Education. It’s out of Ohio, I think it is. It was 10 or 15 tips about how to make the holidays a little bit less stressful, just emphasizing it’s not a good time to be trashing the other parent or talking down to them. One of the suggestions I thought was really cute, try a random act of kindness on your ex.
Carol : I’m sorry for laughing.
Bob : It’s so true though because that doesn’t usually happen.
Carol : Shouldn’t we all be doing that no matter what?
Bob : We should be.
Carol : Our exes somehow, I don’t care what, it’s very difficult. My hairs are starting to stand up on the … Go ahead.
Bob : There’s all levels of unhappiness. The interesting thing, having done this over 35 years, is that the animosity is at its highest while the divorce is pending and for the first 6 months or a year after the divorce. Frankly, as the years go by, attitudes seem to mellow, and people move on. It’s not uncommon for many of these families to have Thanksgiving dinner together even though they are a divorced couple. Time heals all wounds, so to speak, even these kinds of issues. It’s something to keep in mind when you’re going through a divorce. You don’t want to burn the bridges with this person that you’re going to have to be in contact with for the next number of years.
Carol : They’re in your life for the rest of your life no matter what especially if you have children.
Bob : Even after 18, there’s going to be weddings, and there’s going to be other family events.
Carol : They’re going to have grandchildren, and you’ve got to babysit them.
Bob : Don’t say something you can’t take back because it’ll be tough.
Carol : A lot of people that you’re saying, “Show that act of kindness,” I say hold it in, hold it in because you know you’re going to go through it. You know you’re going to go through this divorce. If you’re not thinking about going through a divorce right now, or you’re thinking about it, this is a good time to get this information. You have 4 offices throughout the valley. You do free consultations with everyone. I’m assuming the website is going to be the same now that we have.
Bob : It is, Arizona Law Group.
Carol : ArizonaLawGroup.com. Write this number down. It is 602-548-4600. He gives everybody their book, which is … Scott David Stewart wrote the book. It’s the Arizona Divorce Handbook. It’s your step by step guide to navigating a divorce here in Arizona. Let me tell you something. Everybody should have it. You should start reading it. Put it under your pillow. Hide it, if you’re trying not to get anybody upset.
Bob : Definitely call us because we’ll give you a free copy. I actually had a client just a couple weeks ago. She found the book in a bookstore and actually bought it and then came to see me, but you don’t have to buy it.
Carol : You can call here.
Bob : You can come see us, we’ll give it to you.
Carol : Call here. We’re going to give it to you for free. Our number here is 602-277-5369. Toll free it’s 1-866-536-1100. Anyone, everyone, it’s easy reading. It’s great information for everybody. What else should we talk about now?
Bob : Now we’ve divided custody battles into 2 specific areas. The first is legal decision-making. Decision-making is who gets to decide medical decisions, educational decisions, religious decisions and personal care decisions for the child. We all know what most of those are. The personal care decisions is something new the legislature added a couple of years ago.
Carol : They’ll add anything. They’ll talk about anything. What does that mean?
Bob : I’m not sure if that’s piercings, haircuts, tattoos. That’s personal care, I suppose. It seemed to me it’s an overlap with …
Carol : I guess you got to bring that in now too.
Bob : It’s an overlap with the medical decisions though. The court will decide if the parties should do that jointly, or if one party should make the decisions or have final say. It’s rare that we see too many judges grant sole decision-making authority to one parent over the other. They don’t pass judgment on one parent having better parenting skills than the other generally unless there’s crime involved or drug use or something truly significant. If the judge does seem to feel that maybe one parent is a little bit better parent than the other, what I’ve seen a lot is they issue joint decision-making authority, but they give mom final say. If there’s a disagreement, that’s how they break the tie. If the judge doesn’t do that, the parents are often stuck with going to a mediator or having to go back to court to decide these things. It’s interesting how many times we go back to court to divide which school the children will go to because they have different opinions as to which school district is better or really it’s about which one is closer to my house, so I don’t have to drive so much.
Carol : It’s funny how people call in or text in. We just got a text from somebody that said that he wished he could tell you his custody, but it’s so long that he can’t do it. We’re going to get you connected. We’ll get that book to you. When we go to a break, we’re going to come back. We’re going to talk further, but I want to get the information out for everybody because these are things that people deal with on a day to day basis, and things get tight on the weekends too. A lot of people start fighting. This is a good time, but write down the phone number, 602-548-4600. They do free consultations. Check them out. They’ve been doing this for a long time. They’ve got offices throughout the valley, 4 of them. It’s ArizonaLawGroup.com. Call him here for this book. Everyone should have it, 602-277-5369. I’ll get it out. I was having a hard time there. Go ahead.
Bob : You’ve talked about the fighting. The legislature did write that into the statute. If there’s been significant domestic violence during the relationship, the court is actually constrained. The judge’s hands are tied. They can’t grant joint decision-making authority in that situation. They have to decide which parent is the innocent parent. That parent would get sole decision-making authority, but notice the weasel word, significant. What’s significant domestic violence? I guess we could talk more about that when we come back.
Carol : When we come back, we’re going to open up the lines here. I want everybody to have this book. It’s great. I’ve read it, I love it. It’s 602-277-5369. Toll free it’s 1-866-536-1100. Check him out at ArizonaLawGroup.com. Our lines are open here. We’re talking divorce, and divorce is rampant not only here in Arizona but everywhere especially on the weekend, especially if you’re had a few drinks too. We’re talking child custody, and everybody has got an issue when it comes to child custody. We’ve got our lines open here. We are offering this book, and I think everyone should have it. It is the Arizona Divorce Handbook. It’s your step by step guide to navigating an Arizona divorce especially I don’t care if you’re getting one, if you’ve been divorced, there’s issues that come up. You got to go back to court. There’s all sorts of things. It’s a great guide for you. Our number her is 602-277-5369 and toll free, it’s 1-866-536-100.
You guys have been doing this for a long time. You offer for everybody free consultations. You got 4 offices throughout the valley, and you can check them out at their website, which is ArizonaLawGroup.com. Where were we?
Bob : We were talking about significant domestic violence. Let me tell you a common scenario that comes up. One of the parties gets an order of protection against the other party. You’re not supposed to issue an order of protection unless there is a threat of domestic violence or an actual act of domestic violence, but they are issued ex-party. What does that mean? One spouse can go down the court, fill in the forms, tell the judge whatever they think occurred, he hit me. The judge will grant an order of protection. Now the rights of the other party are that when they get served with the order of protection, they can request a hearing. The hearing will occur in 5 days, if they got kicked out of the house and within 10 days, if they weren’t kicked out of the house. The knee-jerk reaction by most dads is to I’m going to fight this order of protection. I’m going beat this right away.
Here’s the problem. If a divorce is also filed around the same time or already pending, and if he loses the order of protection, that’s a finding of domestic violence. Is it significant? I don’t know. It depends on the individual instance, but it’s definitely a finding of domestic violence. Up till that point, it’s a mere allegation. If you don’t request a hearing on it, and you simply go back to the family court judge and ask for temporary orders giving you time, and parenting time or decision-making authority with the children, they are not faced with there already being a finding of domestic violence, but so many people just automatically request the hearing. Why do I sometimes counsel against requesting the hearing? The judge who issued the order of protection has been told that the one party is a danger to the other party. He’s going to hear that evidence, and if they can prove it not beyond a reasonable doubt, it’s just a preponderance of the evidence, they’re probably going to affirm that order of protection because they don’t want to wake up tomorrow and read in the headlines that the judge didn’t issue the order of protection, and then he went and stabbed her.
Carol : That’s called covering your behind.
Bob : It is. It’s probably not the worst outcome given that a lot of the allegations have some truth to them.
Carol : I’m sure. I’m absolutely positive of that.
Bob : There are also people who abuse that system because it’s much faster to get an order of protection. An order of protection can be issued within 24 hours. To get temporary orders through the Superior Court can take 6 weeks, 8 weeks, 12 weeks.
Carol : Wow. What are the biggest decision-makings when it comes to school?
Bob : A lot of times people don’t like a particular school district or when it comes time for high school, they don’t like a private school versus a public school, so the parents can’t agree where the children will go. Sometimes it’s a money issue, if it’s a private school, obviously. I’ve had cases where the client objected to the child going to a Catholic school. The mother and the child that wanted to go to the school, they were Jewish. Dad was Lutheran, but he was objecting to the Catholic school, so how interesting was that? Judges will do different things. Some judges will make the decision for them. They’ll take all the evidence, and then they’ll decide which school the child will go to. Some of the other judges are a little bit more solemn of this. Instead of making the decision as to which school, they’ll make the decision as to who gets to make all the school decision from here on our till the child turns 18. I’ve seen both situations. I think the latter is probably the better way to go because if you make the decision now, then 2 years from now when there’s another change, oh my goodness. We’re going to fight about it again.
I had a case a couple years ago where we had a particularly gifted student, age 17, already graduated from high school wanted to start her college career early and go out of state, I think, to Illinois or Iowa or some place. She even had a scholarship, and the father objected to that. He wouldn’t get to see her as much.
Carol : It’s called not letting go.
Bob : There were a number of issues involved, but Mother thought that was unfair to the child. The child, obviously, didn’t like that thought, but we had to go through a hearing to get permission to let the daughter start her college career early, which the judge did grant. That gives you an idea of the wide variety of objections somebody might raise.
Carol : What about scheduling time?
Bob : That’s called parenting time. We used to call it visitation, but you don’t really visit with your children, you parent them. That’s our politically correct term now.
Carol : It depends. If you’re a yes or a Disneyland whatever, mom or dad, then maybe you’re not.
Bob : We do get a few of those. We do get a few of those. Generally speaking, the courts are starting from the viewpoint that each parent should have equal parenting time with the children. Those equal parenting schedules can be all over the map, but the 2 most common are week on, week off, pick a day, and we’ll switch which home the children live in for that week on that day each week, or we have the old, 5, 2, 2, 5 plan. That’s where Mom gets Mondays, Tuesdays, Dad gets Wednesdays, Thursdays. Then we alternate Friday, Saturday, Sunday every other week. It works out equally, but the children are changing bedrooms every 2 days. That’s always driven me a little nuts.
Carol : Divorce is hardest on the children.
Bob : It is, it truly is. If we were really doing it right we’d let the kids stay in the house, and we’d make Mom and Dad do the 5, 2, 2, 5. Let them live in a different place every couple of days.
Carol : Here’s a good question because the holidays are right here upon us. The holidays. We have it in the court, it’s all written out in the decree of when somebody gets what. How when people … because they change. We change, we change all the time. Can you change it?
Bob : You can.
Carol : If you do, is there something that there’s documentation on that or what?
Bob : It depends on the individual parents. If they’re pretty liberal and get along well, they can vary from the parenting plan. If nobody takes it back to court to object, nobody is going to get in trouble. The judge isn’t going to come out and say, “You didn’t take the child on Thanksgiving like you were supposed to.” They’re not going to be upset about it, but what often happens is that one parent says they’re going to do it and then changes their mind at the last minute. If you don’t have it in writing and approved by the court, the default is whatever the court originally approved in the parenting plan. That’s what’s going to rule until the judge changes it. If there’s contentious parents, yes, you need to get it modified in writing. It’s not that difficult. If you’re both on the same page, you fill out a stipulation. We mail it into the judge. The judge signs it. Now it’s the new order of the court.
It brings up a good point because there’s so many ways to skin the cat, Thanksgiving is just one. I see some people that divide up Thanksgiving day and then treat the other 3 days according to the regular schedule. Mom will get even-numbered years, and Dad will get odd-numbered years. The other 3 days are just on the regular schedule. Some people give Thursday and Friday to Mom in even-numbered years and Dad in odd-numbered years and then switch it every other year and break it up that way. Some people do the whole Thanksgiving holiday Thursday to Sunday, so it’s anything you want to do. I know of a family that every Friday after Thanksgiving and the following weekend they go with the grandparents up to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and cut down their Christmas tree for the year. It’s a family tradition.
Carol : I want to go. Go ahead.
Bob : Those folks set up a deal where they alternate Thanksgiving every other year. Then mom gets every Friday, Saturday, Sunday after Thanksgiving for this special holiday tradition that they do. You can do it that way too.
Carol : There’s a lot of different ways. We only have a couple more minutes, so what do you want to tell them out there?
Bob : Try to be flexible. What we see so often is one parent seeking more visitation time or parenting time because it does have an impact on the child support calculation.
Carol : I was just going to say that. I mean, I remember I had in my decree that said that they were supposed to take him for a week or 2 during the summer, never happened.
Bob : Then they never did. It’s called an access adjustment, and it’s built into our child support guidelines. You do see, or at least you suspect you see some parents trying to get more access time, parenting time written into the parenting plan, which then they don’t exercise. It saves a few bucks in child support, but in the long run, look after the best interests of the kids.
Carol : Absolutely. The holidays are here. It’s a tough time. Be kind to everybody. Hold it in, but get this information because we know you’re going to do it anyway, so 602-548-4600. It’s ArizonaLawGroup.com. I’m going to let you call throughout the rest of the show for the book at 602-277-5369.