Child Custody Modification – Parents’ Custody Rights

Parents do have child custody rights to make modifications to their custody order. If the circumstances of the parents change, or it is in the best interest of the children to adjust the arrangements, the parents can get the court to accept a custody order modification. Before a parent begins this process, there are several things to keep in mind.

The easiest way for a mother or father to get a custody modification is to talk to the other parent and get them to agree to the changes. If both parents support the changes, they merely have to file some papers with the court and the custody order is modified. So, the first thing to do for a custody modification is to communicate with the other parents. If James talks to Lisa about his work schedule and they come up with a new custody and visitation plan together, the order is very simple to modify.

Single Parent Strategies

By Shelly Walker

I was a single parent for the first four years of my son’s life. Now, there are two kinds of single parents: those who are co-parenting with a non-resident parent and those who are simply raising their children alone. I was in this latter category and you know what? I liked it. Of course, there were times when it was hard and I felt resentful and angry at having no one to share the burden – or the first smiles – with. But for the most part, I was fine being a single mom for one reason: I didn’t have to compromise with anyone about how to raise my child. I knew he would never be spanked; that he would be raised in a positive, loving environment; that he would be taught my spiritual beliefs; that he would disciplined in appropriate ways.

Being a single parent, with or without a co-parent, is a special challenge. Following, you will find two sets of single-parenting strategies, one for each type of single parent. Taking the time to implement strategies one at a time gives you and your children the space to get used to new ways of being. Try them on, see how they work for you, tweak them as necessary and create the family of your dreams!

Strategies for Non-Resident Co-Parents

• Respect: No matter what your personal relationship with your co-parent (and, perhaps, his or her spouse) looks like; you must speak about him or her with respect in front of your children. If you need to vent, call a friend or your mom or talk to the dog, but never, never disparage your child’s parent. There must be something good about your co-parent, so focus on that and let the other stuff go. Remember, you will always, for the rest of your lives, be co-parents, so you might as well make the best of it.

• Common Ground: The most successful co-parenting teams work together to make sure that the children are getting the same type of discipline and support at both homes. One of the best ways to do this is to define your values and use them as a guidepost for both homes. Write them down, make a poster or collage and hang it in each home. The more consistency your child has, the happier she will be.

• Scheduling: The co-parent schedule can be a nightmare to establish and keep up with. For a child who is commuting between two homes, having a regular schedule, with both parents attending special events, is key. No matter how it works, make it work, so that your child has a predictable, straightforward schedule and never has to guess where he will be and who will be taking care of him.

• Communication: Keep the lines of communication open in your family – not only with your co-parent, but with your children as well. The more your children see you communicating in healthy ways, the more they will trust that you will listen to them when things get hard. Recent studies show that the earlier they learn this lesson, the more open they will be as teens. So talk and listen to your co-parent and to your children.

Strategies for Single Parents:

• Village: Creating a healthy group of adults that your child trusts is crucial for the single parent. Remember, your child must come to learn that she is safe in the world without you and if you isolate yourself with her, she won’t learn how to trust others. The other critical piece of creating a village of healthy adults for your child is in gender balance. Your child needs examples of healthy men and women to learn from and pattern herself after. When I was a single mom, I prayed every day for my son to be surrounded by healthy male role models. And he was (and is).

• Self-Care: I know from experience that “single parent” and “self care” can seem like two mutually exclusive groups. They are not! Find ways to make time for yourself every day. If you have the choice at nap time between cleaning the house and taking a hot bath, take the bath. Burn-out can lead to exhausted, emotional outbursts and can even lead to child abuse. Taking care of yourself first is the best way to take care of your child. Remember, you have to fill up your pitcher before you can fill up your child’s cup!

• Growing Skills: A single parent doesn’t have a co-parent to challenge his or her parenting patterns, so it’s very easy to fall back on unhealthy, old ways of being. Do everything you can to learn new parenting skills: read books, do online research, talk to your friends and co-workers about strategies that work, join a single-parent support group… Do whatever you can to learn more about parenting and work really hard to become the best parent you can.

• Discipline: Sometimes it’s easy for a single parent to let things slip into comfortable, but unhealthy patterns. Take a good look at the last 48 hours in your household. Were your children respectful? Helpful? Happy? Do you feel good about your family dynamic? If not, it’s time for some changes. Making changes in your family patterns can be difficult at first, but no matter how young your children are, talk to them, explain why you are changing the rules and what the new rules will be. Then stick to them! If after three weeks things haven’t improved, re-evaluate your rules. Are they appropriate for your children and your family? Are you following through with appropriate consequences for breaking them? Creating healthy boundaries is critical for every parent, but especially for the single parent.

Remember, being a single parent may be challenging, but it’s also a wonderful adventure!

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Vegetarian Kids Need Summer Child Care, Too

By Mariah Boone

Until last summer, my vegetarianism has never really made me feel marginalized, even though we live in a community without vegetarian restaurants, and I do not know any other vegetarian families in town. I admit that I have even found stories about how persecuted other vegetarian parents felt to be a little maudlin at times. Sure, my relatives have handed sausage to my toddler (she fed it to the dog), teachers have tried to get her to make lunchmeat snowflakes, and I’ve faced pressures of various kinds. But I have never seen this as a big problem. I have always felt pretty free to live our lives by our values and have not worried too much about the way that other people eat or wish that we ate. Last summer, however, I encountered some real barriers, and I am feeling a lot more sympathetic to the concerns that I have heard fellow vegetarian parents express over the years.

My daughter has always been in child-care due to my need to earn our living, but combining vegetarianism and child-care had never been difficult for me until my child reached elementary school age. Was I ever surprised at what I discovered! What I have found is that almost all of the summer child-care providers for school-aged kids in our community use the USDA Food Program, a federal program that reimburses child-care providers for the cost of the meals that they provide to the children. I knew this; many other child-care settings use the program, too, and I am a social worker and consider myself fairly knowledgeable about these things. I did not, however, know it would cause my family problems.

Upon approaching potential child-care providers and mentioning that my daughter was vegetarian and would need a vegetarian lunch or for me to pack her lunch from home, I was told that I would need a note from a doctor for her to be allowed a “special diet.” I explained that being a vegetarian was not a medical condition so I would not be able to produce a note saying that it was. They said that only medical and religious exemptions were allowed. Could I get a note from my church? Well, my belief in vegetarianism certainly coincides with the simplicity testimony of the Religious Society of Friends but not all Quakers, by any means, express the simplicity testimony by becoming vegetarians as I have done. My clerk might have written me a note discussing that connection, but it seemed a shaky sort of religious ground to me. What we really needed was a philosophical exemption, and these are not allowed according to the federal regulations that govern the program.

Under the USDA Food Program, child-care providers can serve a vegetarian diet to all of their children; they just can’t serve a meat-diet to some and a different diet to others without a medical or religious exemption, because it is considered discrimination. I spoke to a state level administrator in the program and she confirmed that this is true. It was clear from our conversation that she was aware of the problem I would face and unhappy about it. She talked about the program being behind the times and the need for change. I felt sure that the child-care providers and I could come up with something workable, but this official knew better. She had obviously seen this unfold before.

I certainly did not feel that they were obligated to fix something different for my daughter, and I have always been willing to fix her food myself, but most of the summer programs were not open to the idea of my packing my own child’s lunch. They would not be reimbursed from the food program for my child if she did not eat their lunch, and it would interfere with their reports and their finances to a small extent. Most programs count on the meal reimbursements to help pay for their programs and figure the meal reimbursement into the equation. Just taking the meat out of their lunch and letting me provide them with a substitute for that part was also frowned upon. They worried that such shenanigans would get them in trouble. Also, it would mean more work for them. That sounds awful, but it must be understood that most child-care providers are underpaid for the cost of the service they provide, understaffed due to these funding issues and very heavily regulated. While I badly needed them to try to be more flexible, I also could understand their point of view, given the regulations of the Food Program.

This left me with a very big problem, indeed. We needed summer child-care and my daughter needed a healthy, vegetarian lunch every day, but I found the regulations made that nearly impossible. Thankfully, I eventually did find a program that was not hung up on their reimbursement numbers and was willing to let my daughter bring a lunch from home to circumvent the lack of a philosophical exemption from the menu…only one, though. This adventure has made me aware of the need for a little social action on this issue. We were very lucky to find a program that could afford to be flexible and not everyone in our situation will be so fortunate.

Most summer child-care programs for school-aged children are dependent on the reimbursements they receive and cannot afford to go without very many of them. The high expense of providing child-care is why programs like the USDA Food Program exist in the first place. Not being reimbursed for one child might not be a heavy burden to them, but they do have to think about the big picture. If lots of children started requesting “special diets” for which they would not receive reimbursement, the child-care providers might be in real financial trouble. Child-care providers receiving government subsidies also face real concerns about perceived discrimination issues … what constitutes a good reason to allow a child to eat a non-reimbursable lunch and what doesn’t? They are between a rock and a hard place, too, just as my family is, unless the USDA changes its reimbursement rules.

There is a need for the USDA Food Program to institute a philosophical exemption for menu changes in child-care settings so that vegetarian schoolchildren do not end up being excluded from summer child-care placements due to this snarl of regulations and reimbursement needs. A child should not have to violate her principles or go hungry because she needs child-care, but, unfortunately, that is how the system is currently arranged under the USDA Food Program. I believe that we can fix this. Please write to your Congressional Representative and Senator and encourage them to legislate that the program include a philosophical exemption in childcare settings so that vegetarian meals can be provided to vegetarian children. Such a change would allow child-care providers to be reimbursed for providing those meals without fear of repercussions. This is not, of course, the sort of issue that many members of Congress are going to embrace as a cause, but they should be willing to make a regulatory change that increases the convenience with which their own constituents interact with the Food Program if their own constituents ask them to do so. Please ask them. Vegetarian families like mine, who need summer child-care, will thank you.

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