Goals of Supervised Visitation

August 28, 2014


In the District of Columbia, the court may order a non-custodial parent to have supervised visitation with the minor children.  The Supervised Visitation Center is a wonderful resource that is run by D.C. Superior Court. It’s a safe place where non-custodial parents can visit with their child in a supervised environment.

Sometimes the court orders supervised visits because one parent has a history of violence, and the Supervised Visitation Center is a controlled setting where the children will be safe.  Other times, the court may order supervised visits because the non-custodial parent has been absent for a period of time and the child needs some time to become comfortable with the non-custodial parent again.  In some cases, parents prefer only to exchange the child at the Supervised Visitation Center, which they consider neutral territory, so they don’t have to interact with each other.

The Center has six private rooms furnished with books, games, and even a television.  There is also a common play area where parents can interact with other families.  A court staff member remains in the room and writes a brief summary about the visit.  When scheduling a visit, the Center will stagger the parents’ drop off and pick ups, so they don’t see each other.

The Supervised Visitation Center is open for two hours in the evenings on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday; on Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.; and Sunday from 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.  We are lucky in D.C. to have this valuable resource for free.


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Stop For Those School Buses

August 22, 2014


School is about to start, which of course means more school buses will be on the road.  School buses make frequent stops and often drive slower than the posted speed limit.

If you see a bus stopped, with flashing lights and stop sign extended, you must stop to let the children get off the bus.   In Virginia, not stopping for the bus can be charged as reckless driving (a Class 1 misdemeanor) pursuant to Virginia Code 46.2-859.   Reckless driving is a serious crime with a potential fine of $2500 and a possible jail sentence of up to 12 months.  Reckless driving also carries 6 DMV points and stays on your driving record for 11 years.

However, passing a stopped school bus can also be charged as a crime under Virginia Code 46.2-844, which is only a minor traffic infraction with a fine of $250.00.  You still receive 6 points on your driving record, but it only stays on your record for 3 years.  Obviously the code sections have very different penalties – one is a criminal misdemeanor charge, and one is a traffic ticket.

The police officer has a lot of discretion when he or she charges someone for passing a school bus.  So, if you are pulled over for it,  be polite!  But the best course of action – stop for those school buses.

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Back to School Tips for Non-Custodial Parents

August 18, 2014


As the school year approaches, there are questions many parents have about the new school year.  If you recently went to court and received a custody order, there are a few things that non-custodial parents should keep in mind.

1 – Ensure the school knows that you are the parent.  Sometimes when a custody order is entered, the custodial parent will take on the responsibility of enrolling the child in school and filling out the paperwork.  As the non-custodial parent, you should go to the school to confirm they have your current contact information and that you are listed as an emergency contact.  Sometimes, the school may need to see a copy of your divorce decree or custody order.

2 – Introduce yourself to the teachers.  Teachers usually welcome parent involvement, and will be glad to communicate with you.  Make sure not to criticize your ex though – no one wants to be put in the middle of a divorce or custody dispute.   Some schools or teachers have blogs or newsletters they send to the parents.  Get on the email list to keep up with what your child is doing on a regular basis.

3 – Follow grade reports online and attend parent teacher conferences.  Many grade reports are online for parents to view with a password.  Take advantage and check it regularly.  Email the teachers about concerns and voice any questions at the parent teacher conference.  If you cannot attend the parent teacher conference because you do not get along with your ex, ask the teacher to send you a copy of the comments via email.

4 – Keep up with homework or special projects.  Just because you are the non-custodial parent doesn’t mean you can’t be engaged in your child’s homework.  If you see your child only on the weekends, make sure you set aside some time to go over homework due the next week.  Special projects are assigned over several weeks, so you can assist your child in those as well.

5 – Volunteer.  Schools can always use help with something.  Whether it be helping with a certain event, updating the school website, or cleaning up the school grounds.  Teachers want parents to be involved and will do what they can to assist.

6 – Attend the events.  Unless it is prohibited by the court, make the effort to attend events that involve your child.  Even if you can’t have interaction with your child before or after, show up and watch.  Your child will notice.

7 – Try to get along with your ex. Email each other about events or share a Google Calendar.  Everyone may not be cooperative, but at least make the suggestion.  Improving communication between the parents usually improves the environment for the kids.

Being a parent (even a non-custodial one) is more than about just seeing your kids on your set days.  It’s about being involved, teaching, and encouraging your child.  If you get involved with your child’s education, they will respect it. There is no better way to teach than by example.

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The Difference Between Legal Separation and Divorce

August 12, 2014


The end of a marriage is a difficult time.  Some couples who are considering divorce, first file for legal separation as a trial run.  Divorce proceedings legally dissolve the marriage.  Legal separation allows the parties to lead separate lives but remain married.

A couple is legally separated when their lifestyles do not intersect, but they remain legally married.  The parties usually receive a court order which can include many of the issues included in a divorce – property division, alimony, custody of minor children, and child support.  Many couples enter into a separation agreement to decide all of these issues themselves, and the court simply enters the order.

Opting for legal separation is common for couples who want to attend counseling to try to reconcile their relationship.  However, some couples choose legal separation without any intent of working it out, because they wish to remain married for religious reasons.

In some cases, it may make financial sense to remain married.  For example, maintaining a ten year marriage may allow couples to take advantage of social security benefits, or military pensions.  However, with legal separation, since you are still married, you cannot enter into another marriage or domestic partnership.

Knowing the difference makes you well informed to make the right decision.

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Marijuana Use in Custody Cases

August 7, 2014


In July, marijuana was decriminalized in the District of Columbia.  This November, the residents of D.C. will vote on legalizing marijuana.

In family law, this brings up the question: how does legalized marijuana affect custody disputes? Marijuana’s growing social acceptance is complicating the issue of what is in the best interest of the children.

For example, in Colorado, a man lost custody of his child after getting a medical marijuana card.  In California a jury convicted a woman of two counts of child endangerment, because of unsafe elements in the house, including marijuana left in the open.

In determining custody, courts look at the “best interests of the child.”  This is a subjective standard, with many variables to be taken into account.  Some of the factors considered in D.C. and Virginia include: the mental and emotional health of the parent, home environment, finances, and lifestyle choices.

Furthermore, under federal law, marijuana is still a Schedule I substance.  Therefore, when it comes to defining a drug endangered child, pot legally can’t be in a house with children.  The use of marijuana can be used against you in a custody case.

So even though marijuana may become legal in the District of Columbia soon, if you are involved in a custody battle, you should think carefully.  The Judge can still decide that it’s not in the best interest of your child to be around it.

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