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ad4754fc3726You want your kids to have the best possible start on their education, however, the cost can be stunning.  Studies prove that putting children in a Pre-K learning program can make a huge positive impact on the rest of their lives (and yours too).  Sometimes child care and Pre-K is a necessity in order to allow parents to work.  The calculation of child support has a number of components and the cost of child care can double the amount.  Basically, when parents live apart and child support is calculated according to the New Mexico Child Support Guidelines, the cost of child care and/or early childhood education is added into the mix and split in accordance with the income differential (what percentage of the total income is made by each parent).  Typical full price costs per child in day care or Pre-K is around $650 per month.  If the parent paying child support makes 65% of the parent’s combined income that adds $422.50 to the total s/he has to pay.   The resulting child support total can be overwhelming, especially when more than one child is in day care or Pre-K.

Fortunately, there is help.  In New Mexico the Child Care Services Bureau can provide financial assistance that makes it possible for both parents to work and to help kids get the best and earliest start on their education.  In many areas free Pre-K is available.

Need help with parenting plans and/or child support issues?  Mediation can be your best option.  Mediator Kelly Vickers has been helping families like yours for over twenty-five years and can help find solutions you didn’t know were possible.  Call today (340-1107) for a free telephone consultation.

As one party asks the other about using mediation at the beginning of a legal process, sometimes the other person says, “I want my day in court!”  Before anyone chooses to spend the ten thousand or more in legal fees it takes to prepare and have a day in court they first need to go down to the court house and sit through a day or two to see firsthand what that looks like.  If the judge rules from the bench it will be helpful to boldly ask the people involved what they thought about the process and whether they would do it again.  One side will be content that justice occurred.  The other side will be convinced the system sucks.

When someone wants their day in court, what they really want is for their story to be told and justice achieved based on that story.  Although I’ll happily acknowledge that the court gets things right more often than not, you must realize that in every case that goes before a judge one litigant will be very unhappy with the decision.

First, YOU WILL NOT GET TO FULLY TELL YOUR STORY!  …Not to the extent that you believe necessary to achieve justice.  Your first obstacle will be the Rules of Evidence.  You’ve heard of “hearsay,” which is any information that is secondhand.  Neither you nor your witnesses will be able to testify about what someone else told you or about most documents you think are key pieces of evidence.  I was in court yesterday and a party was very upset with her lawyer for not showing the judge a police report which had information that conflicted with what two witnesses stated about an important event.  She did not know that a police report must first be authenticated, generally by the officer who filled it out, to be admitted as evidence.

So you think, then just bring in the police officer to authenticate the report; well that brings us to a court session’s worst enemy, TIME.   The courts are terribly backed up.  To get a two hour evidentiary hearing often takes months, and to get a full day or more could take a year or years.  The shorter the requested hearing the more quickly you get a court date, and that means you have to keep your number of witnesses down to a minimum, and the first to go are the witnesses needed to authenticate government reports or school records, etc.   The bottom line is that when someone expects to get their story told in court, it’s going to be fragmented and incomplete.

On the subject of time, lawyers use it as their number one weapon/tool in court.  When you are given a one hour hearing, often that is truly all you’re going to get.  Each lawyer then seeks to capture as much as possible of the hour, so the other side is not able to get their evidence in.

The last thing, and this is sad, is that over and over again I’ve seen judges listen to one side of a matter and just a piece of the response from the other side, and then the judge stops the hearing and says, “OK, I’ve heard enough, and I’m going to enter a ruling.”  Again, I’d emphasize that the judge usually gets it right, but sometimes not.  Regardless, the person who was politely waiting for a turn to tell their side is cut short and left unsatisfied with the process.

In family court there are certainly hundreds of laws and appellate court decisions that tell a judge how to rule in given circumstances.  Still, many decisions on huge issues, like custody arrangements, are very subjective, allowing for each judge’s personal biases and beliefs to come in.  These biases will not necessarily be bad, but it will always be a lesser result than what the parents could have created, given that they alone know all of their children’s unique needs and patterns.

I’ve often heard judges lament that they have to make huge decisions that change people’s lives….children’s lives….based on a small amount of the available information.   Even the judges are concerned about all this, but it is what it is.  If someone wants their day in court, they can have it.

Of course, there is a better way:   in mediation the rules of evidence don’t apply and the time constraints are not as onerous.  People get to tell their story and feel fully heard (when mediation is done right).   A good family mediator will cull out the agreements that the spouses have and use those things as a base, adding in some give and take on the issues that remain in controversy.  As far as parenting arrangements, the mom and dad, who know the situation best, jointly create a plan that honors their children’s unique needs…not some cookie cutter psychology that fits the majority and gets things done fast.

Courts know mediation and settlement facilitation usually achieves a faster, better and more satisfying result for all affected parties, including the kids.   Even when someone is totally focused on going to court at some point the judge is going to order the parties to go to mediation or settlement facilitation.

Doesn’t it make sense to try mediation first?

Kelly Vickers is a mediator and settlement facilitator doing family law matters in Albuquerque, New Mexico.   Call him at 340-1107 for a free consultation about how mediation can be a solution in your case.

Pope Francis hugs a child during his meeting with the youth in Santo Tomas University in Manila, Philippines, Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015. Francis opened his meeting with the Filipino youth on a somber note, reporting to thousands gathered at the centuries-old university the sad news that a female church volunteer had died during his visit to central Tacloban city the previous day, and led prayers for the woman. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Pope Francis hugs a child during his meeting with the youth in Santo Tomas University in Manila, Philippines, Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015. Francis opened his meeting with the Filipino youth on a somber note, reporting to thousands gathered at the centuries-old university the sad news that a female church volunteer had died during his visit to central Tacloban city the previous day, and led prayers for the woman. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

New Mexico has a strong Catholic population (30% of the population of the state compared with 20% of the overall US population), so it’s always a big deal to me as a family law professional when the Pope overturns centuries of religious doctrine to show grace to families in crisis.  Yesterday Pope Francis issued an edict that divorced people and more importantly divorced and remarried people are to be welcomed by the church and allowed to participate in communion.  Up until now conservative Catholic churches did not allow divorced folks who had remarried to take communion.  Given that Catholic clergy believe that Jesus miraculously dwells in the bread and wine, these folks have effectively been told that they are utterly rejected by Jesus.  This is huge.

Over the years I’ve worked with couples where there were horrific sequences of violence, however divorce was not an option for them because the husband and wife believed their faith forbid it.  This was actually worse when I practiced law in a state in the conservative southeast, where some Baptist teaching made the wife subservient to the husband, which so many asshole redneck men took to mean they were allowed beat their wives like an errant slave.  In New Mexico I worked with one couple who beat each other so bad that at one point both of them left their home in ambulances, and yet they begged me to help them stay together so they could stay in the Catholic church.  I actually tried, but when the beatings continued, and a child was caught in the middle, I took a firm stance in getting them divorced.  For them especially I am grateful the Pope has reformed the church on this issue.   There is no way a God deserving of worship would make violent parents stay together; I believe Pope Francis is indeed the loving mouthpiece of God for these folks.

I have always been fascinated by religion.  I got a minor in it in college, was ordained three times, and I pastored a church for many years.  My own spiritual path has evolved greatly into one that continues to be based on the life and teaching of Jesus, however I have a great respect for other spiritual paths.  Surprisingly to me most of my clients do not claim any particular religion.  For them they laugh and agree when I ask if I can put down that their children’s religion is “love.”  For other parents bringing up the topic of religion for the kids evokes a significant conversation where at least one parent is dealing with guilt and shame over the divorce.  I’m glad I can help on that topic.

Divorce has many layers.  Actually the logistics of the separation, division of debt and belongings and even time sharing with the kids seems more navigable then the challenges of the emotional and spiritual turmoil.  This is where my varied background equips me well for divorce and custody mediation.  I offer divorce coaching and counseling on the spiritual issues that arise.  In the midst of a family crisis, it is crucial to have a genuinely empathetic professional that can handle all aspects of the process.  Call me today for more information at 340-1107.

Kelly Vickers, JD is a divorce and custody mediator in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Not Leavin You Just Leavin Today

Everyone reacts differently to divorce.  I’ve seen some folks joyous that their dark journey is over; more often I’ve seen people devastated, feeling like a failure and terrified about how they will make ends meet alone.  Divorce often follows the five stages of grief (as defined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross:  Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and, finally, Acceptance).  One of the great challenges of divorce mediation is that the parties are often in different stages…i.e. one is in Anger and the other in Denial.  I strive to help both of them move, at least for the session, into acceptance so they can competently negotiate the logistics of living apart.

Lately I’ve dealt with several people, mostly women emerging from a long term marriage, who are left lost, so depressed that they can hardly breathe, fearful and stunned that their life plan was smacked down.  These women invested every ounce of their life into the marriage, only to watch their husband enter a second teenage period, glad to pay alimony for the privilege of dating younger women and seeking adventure.  The women thought they were building something that would last a lifetime, became complacent in that, and left themselves vulnerable to devastation.  In this community property state they have some protection, but they weren’t counting on half; they wanted it all.

The first advice I have is about the marriage, not the divorce.  The old school concept of the wife giving up her career and education to be a stay at home mom rarely serves her in today’s world.  I absolutely think young children are better off with a parent at home, and the cost of day care, financially and emotionally, can be daunting if not impossible.  It is essential that even when the wife stays home with the kids that she continues with self development, including online learning, maintaining a circle of positive friends and perhaps some income producing activity which can be mostly done from home.   Whether it’s divorce or unexpected illness or even death, the odds are against the Husband always being the provider.   It is essential that the wife have the ability and self esteem to make it on her own.

Particularly after a long term marriage where the other spouse was the main provider, it is crucial to get back on your feet as quickly as possible.  Even if you were awarded significant alimony you really can’t count on it.  If there’s one thing you’ve learned recently it’s that poop happens.  First, take the time and focus on healing.  There is no instant fix, but here’s what will work:  see a life coach (counselors are great, but you need someone who will empower you to get up and get rolling on your own),  do something physical and get lots of sunshine (I’ll do a post on this, but you need to let the anger, fear and hurt express itself and leave your body and doing things like yoga, brisk walking, swimming, etc. will do that—how about kick boxing?), and journaling daily will help tremendously so you can get the buzzards circling in your head to land.  Attend a spiritual group that lifts you up and makes you feel better about yourself.  If your church makes you feel guilty and small then leave—-I can’t even be nice about that.  You need strength not condemnation.  Take charge of your spiritual life, which is the supercharger of all your other positive endeavors.  Last, be sure to give…do something, anything, that makes you aware of others who are hurting and gives you a chance to make a positive difference in their lives.

There are some awesome books that will help you break free emotionally.  I really like Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart:  Heart Advice for Difficult Times and Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward.  Watch videos on Youtube by Brene Brown—they will change your life for the better.

Hopefully you are doing mediation for your divorce.  Negotiate into your agreement the costs of these things that will help you heal and become strong and independant.  Call me for more information.

Kelly Vickers is a divorce coach and mediator in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  Call 340-1107 for a free telephone consultation.

Pope Francis is about to hug a young girl during his general audience in St Peter's square at the Vatican on December 4, 2013.  AFP PHOTO / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE        (Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)

Pope Francis is about to hug a young girl during his general audience in St Peter’s square at the Vatican on December 4, 2013. AFP PHOTO / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE (Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)

On June 24th, 2015 Pope Francis began yet another “Holy See Change” in the promotion of the needs of children and how that meshes with troubled parent relationships.  While he didn’t go so far as to endorse divorce he said “separation is inevitable” and “can even become morally necessary” when conduct by the parents is causing a child or children emotional harm.  The harmful conduct he noted included both quarreling and neglect.   This is a huge shift from the conservative drive to avoid separation and divorce at all costs.

While I now embrace certain aspects of Franciscan theology, my personal history was in very conservative protestant denominations that forbid divorce even when terrible abuse was occurring.  I have evolved from that dramatically.   As a divorce attorney who was pastoring a church and doing various ministerial endeavors I was occasionally blasted by conservative Churchians (I do not now consider those folks as Christ like, but they were loyal to their churches) because I was assisting Christians with divorce and separation.  I often dealt with cases where horrific abuse occurred, and yet both parties were opposed to separation for religious reasons.  Part of my role was to help the parents get past bad religion so the best interests of their children could be achieved.

I REALLY like this new Pope.   Conservative religious folks, trying to maintain appearances at the cost of doing great emotional damage to spouses and children have done needless damage to our society.   Divorce and separation are always the last resort of believers in God, but at some point the love and compassion of God demands that a marital relationship must end or change dramatically to protect against abuse and neglect.  I believe part of my calling as a Christ follower in the legal field is to compassionately help families in crisis find safety and sanity.  My experience as a compassionate pastor becomes more important to my process than the legal side of things.   In mediation I am successful because the families know I genuinely care about their circumstances and their souls.

Mediation must be the first choice whenever possible for believers in God.   While the court can be useful in protecting children and spouses at the outset, it creates winners and losers—usually not the best foundation for the parenting which has to happen after the split.  In mediation I work hard to transform the troubled marriage into a partnership that is focused on raising great kids.  Court can’t do that.  While the spiritual component of my work is so integrated into the process that folks often don’t see it, I am always looking for opportunities to help each person involved move towards their best selves.

We progress as souls through crisis.  I always see divorce as an opportunity for all involved to move to a new level of maturity.  I help folks to compassionately take stock about what happened—to learn the lessons they needed to learn—so that mistakes aren’t repeated and good decisions can happen again.  The “Church” needs to continue to shift its attitude about divorce, extending to the parties the grace and compassion that Jesus showed when confronted with a woman caught in adultery.

Kelly Vickers is a caring and effective family law and divorce mediator in Albuquerque, New Mexico.   Call 340-1107 for a free telephone consultation.

Women and Divorce in Albuquerque

Women and Divorce in Albuquerque

In my Albuquerque divorce mediation practice I see this scenario a few times a year:  high school sweethearts married young and raised children who are now grown up.  The husband has or had a career that provided well over time, but there aren’t a lot of resources left after helping the kids with college.  The Wife has very little work experience since her hard work was maintaining the home and focusing on the children.  Now the husband has hit mid-life crisis, feels like he missed out on the wild life he wanted and wants a divorce.  In the worst of these situations the Wife was rarely involved in financial matters; the Husband took care of all that.

Post divorce the husband will do fine; he’ll engage in new pastimes, perhaps including younger women, and find a second career that is more in keeping with his passions.  When I discuss options with the wives however, this is often a terrifying and unexpected turn of events.  Without a secondary education and job experience the financial outlook is grim, even with half the couple’s assets and all the alimony that is possible.  Moreover, the feeling of rejection is often overwhelming.  These are the years the wives thought would be the best with their spouse, no kids, money to travel, just smooth sailing.  Instead they find themselves very much alone.

Fortunately, this doesn’t happen as much as it used to.  A benefit of our society moving to a point where both spouses have to work to keep up with the “Joneses” is that both spouses are better prepared to handle things alone in case of divorce or death.

Fortunately there are great resources and plans for newly divorced women that can help them reboot their lives and thrive.

  1. Web resources: Great articles on every aspect of this transition are available at https://www.firstwivesworld.com/ and http://movingpastdivorce.com/   The first step is regaining confidence after your whole world feels like it’s been ripped away.   At these sites you’ll find and connect with others who’ve endured the same hurt and come out just fine.
  2. Dr. Gail Feldman, a life coach and psychologist near Albuquerque, has the perfect book for you: Midlife Crash Course.  Gail has been there, knows how you feel, and can help transform the time of crisis to “full creative power.”
  3. Counseling is helpful, especially if insurance is available, however I’m an even bigger champion of life coaching. Life coaching focuses on the future, creates new possibilities and provides an accountability partner to get you smack dab into your highest destiny.
  4. Financial training will help more than you realize. Suzie Orman’s books are a great place to start, and a search on YouTube will bring up teaching by her that will be relevant to the transition.  Search also for local resources by checking with continuing education options at your local university or community college.  In Albuquerque Oasis has a huge selection of workshops and classes at a nominal cost.  See http://www.oasisnet.org/AlbuquerqueNM.aspx
  5. Connect with a new circle of friends. Get involved with mature singles at your spiritual community and join a club for whatever is your hobby or passion.  Perhaps the best option is begin to volunteer somewhere; nothing resets your attitude better than helping folks or animals who need your unique gifts and experience.
  6. It’s time for a new you! Many moons ago I sold cars.  Folks would bring in trade-ins that didn’t run well, and suffered from years of neglect.  We’d do a tune up, get it running great, detail it inside and out and put on new tires.  The person that traded it in would see it and want it back.  This happens with people too.  Divorce is a perfect opportunity to focus on yourself—it’s time to get you feeling and looking great.
  7. Remember your first great love is not the man who is out trying to find himself. The only love you can count on forever is the love you find for yourself.  For nurturers that sounds crazy and selfish, yet not so.  The greatest teaching of all time is to love others as you love yourself….you HAVE to love you first.  Roll with that; it will get you back on track.

Kelly Vickers, JD is a compassionate divorce and family mediator who seeks to help both spouses and the kids to do well after the divorce.  Call him at 505-340-1107.     http://kellyvickers.com