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Family Law: Considering the child’s best interests, and the parent’s interest in the child…

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Me during my middle school years.

I NEVER in a million years thought I’d be working with middle school-aged children. Thinking back, middle school was by far the HARDEST time of my life as far as understanding my identity.

It’s an interesting time in life because your ego is steadily building while you are simultaneously trying to mesh in with the collective. Some adults haven’t even mastered this yet. I still work on it myself.

So anyway, considering the tumultuous time that is middle school, I want to take a moment and consider the importance of our legal system’s idea of “The Best Interests of the Child,” and how parents play such an integral role in this.

Going into my third and last year as a middle school teacher while also attending a paralegal program at Arapahoe Community College, I think I finally realized one of the reasons why I needed to be a teacher for a time.  Teaching has taught me the innate value of children. Many of us view them as too much work, too ignorant and unknowing, and even useless. However the truth of the matter is that children are seeds of pure potentiality.  The only question becomes, what are we watering them with?

So, back to the law. In Colorado we stand firm behind the idea of the “Best Interest of the Child.” But, what does this mean exactly? Let’s explore.

Obviously, the best interest of the child conversation comes up in the midst of a domestic relations case involving parental responsibilities(custody).  No matter the specifics of the case, it is apparent that the child is in a lesser position, and thus representation would be doing due diligence to advocate for the child’s needs.

The legalese states:

“The legal representative of the child, appointed pursuant to subsection (1) of this section, shall represent the best interests of the minor or dependent child, as described in section 14-10-124, with respect to the child’s custody, the allocation of parental responsibilities, support for the child, the child’s property, parenting time, or any other issue related to the child that is identified by the legal representative of the child or the appointing court.”

Source: WomensLaw.org

I want to explore in my experience how the bolded categories can plant DIRECT seeds into a child’s life, as well as what parents can do to influence positive growth for the child. 

CUSTODY(Parental Responsibilities)- What are you teaching your child to believe about himself?

Since the word custody has many meanings and interpretations, I really like that Parental Responsibilities is the term for this now.  Anyway, while from the perspective of the parent, the term “parental responsibilities” may seem rigid and duty-like, from the child’s perspective it is something else entirely. The child is receptive in this relationship. She is simply developing an understanding of responsibility through the parent’s actions.

I’ve noticed throughout the years that once I meet a child’s parent and read the energy between parent and child, I understand the child SO MUCH MORE.  For example, kids who seem to not know who they are and tend to follow the herd and act out in school usually have parents who are constantly telling them how to be. (Don’t do this, look your teacher in the eye..) The kid in unable to develop faith in himself.

On the more severe end of the spectrum, parents who abuse their children physically foster the same sort of thing. IE: (school fights and the use of violence to solve problems.) In this instance, the child still doesn’t have faith in himself, he has faith in fighting.

 WHAT CAN PARENTS DO: Parents can aid in their children’s success stepping up to the plate, leading by example, being present, and showing the child the problem-solving and general life skills. If the parent is underdeveloped here, the parent can reach out and get help.

ALLOCATION OF PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITIES

This one is tricky.  Obviously, since this is a domestic case, we can make the inference that the child most definitely knows that she has two parents.  In a perfect world, the parents balance one another out when they are in a relationship. However, what happens to this balance when the couple is deciding to split?

Well, we know this can greatly distort a child’s perception of wholeness.  Because our parents represent stability for us in our younger years, the destruction of a sense of balance here throws us off.

Because the child senses the stability and balanced structure of his life is being challenged, the seed planted could be: “My life is out of control.  It’s my fault.  I’m split in half. I’m no longer a whole person.”

WHAT CAN PARENTS DO:  Parents can be honest with themselves and their children about their shortcomings, and remind the child that the circumstances ARE NOT because of her.

SUPPORT

We know children cost money.  We also know that children deserve to know that they are worth something. As a product of a single-parent mother, I’m well aware that sometimes this means strain on the adult involved. However, we must remember that we are constantly sending MESSAGES sent to the child that will be imbedded into their self-talk and understanding of themselves.  Are you showing the child support? There are small and big ways to do this, and honestly, some of the smaller gestures mean more in the long run.

WHAT CAN PARENTS DO:  

Support can be as simple or as grand as:

  • Making Phone calls
  • Attending school/extracurricular events
  • Trips to the park
  • Birthday Gifts
  • Listening(This one is highly underrated)

So all in all, I believe that parents have an awesome opportunity. (Notice I didn’t say easy or simple). However, small decisions can make major changes with the way your child views herself in the long run. Plant the seeds!

 

areas of law · Awesome Lawyers · BLAWGS · career · family law · law · Legal humor · Legal Websites · paralegal · Student

Legal, Celebrity, and Gossip, Oh My!

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I have a dream that one day I’ll write a really fun textbook.

I don’t know where we got the idea that learning new things has to be drudgery by default.

As a paralegal student I’ve been buried under personality-less textbooks as of late. One night I got this weird idea. I decided to merge my childhood obsession with celebrity and fashion with my desire to become more informed about the legal field.

So…I did a quick search and came across Jill Stanley’s blog: Proof.

O.M.G. what a Godsend! I like to read the court docs to challenge myself. It took me like 3 days to get through Mayweather’s case because it’s so damn long, but boy is it fun to read about the inner workings of celebrities and the law. I mean, if that’s your thing.

Other fun-to-read legal blogs:

**Above the Law

**The Fashion Law

**Lowering The Bar

 

 

Advocacy · areas of law · Awesome Lawyers · career · family law · law

The Admirable Teresa “Terri” L. Brake never put a Brake on Advocacy

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I can be a bit dark at times so naturally I find myself asking the question:

What do I want to be remembered for when I die?

Well, in lieu of soaking in my dark thoughts, I chose to read about some of Colorado’s most notable lawyers. Great alternative, eh?  I must admit that reading about this notable woman I’m about to inform you of was none short of a beautiful experience.

As I was reading an old copy of The Colorado Lawyer  from July 2015, I ran across a very inspirational woman by the name of Teresa L. Brake, and reading about her life and work as a death penalty defense attorney definitely gave me some ideas as far as things I would like to be remembered for.

I put my own two cents in my favorite color, pink. (Yeah, I’m typical. #GetOverIt.)

So who was Teresa L. Brake?

Teresa was one of the first women death penalty defense lawyers in the nation and guess what? NONE of her clients were put to death.

THE WAYS OF BRAKE

I believe a lot of Brake’s success can be attributed to her beliefs and ways of being. Below I will highlight some of my favorites mentioned in The Colorado Lawyer article.

Here’s what a colleague, Mike Hener, had to say about her:

“Her insanely good spirits always irritated me, but she made up for it by being devious and smart…”

Per the article, Brake believed in redemption and she always sought to find the good in everyone.

Personally, I think we could always use a bit more of this paradigm in our modern world where finger-pointing and the blame-game seem to be the more common options.

BRAKE IN PRACTICE

So we know what she believed, but how did she show it?

Buy any dress necessary-After the Colorado Department of Corrections refused a visit due to her clothing, Brake did not waste time. She proceeded to go to a store and buy a suitable dress so that she could visit her client on death row. Now that’s what I call determination and true advocacy.

Shows clients true compassion– The word “true” might appear an unnecessary adjective here, but I promise it isn’t. Compassion is easy to fake. I know because I’ve done it.

However, upon her death at the tender age of 50, many of her clients wrote letters about her immense compassion and willingness to spend hours meeting the needs of her clients. She truly believed in the Supreme Court’s words, “All Men Are Created Equal Under the Law.”

Brake’s story is an inspiration to me and definitely makes me want to keep pursuing advocacy and justice in our world. Some of her qualities that I would like to continue cultivating include:

  • Solution-orientedness
  • Showing compassion consistently
  • Seeking out the good in people, and trusting that it’s there!

What do you find most inspiring about Terri Brake?

Let’s talk in the comments!

-Denia

career · family law · law · law firms · Legal assistant · paralegal

The Legal Client-Intake Interview: What vibe are you creating?

She laughed. Her eyes were glowing.  And although I could sense the pain beneath the surface, I could feel her hope and it fueled me. It reminded me of my job as a legal assistant.

I’m talking about one of the clients I got the privilege to meet last week on my first day as a legal intern.  I definitely did not know how the client-intake interview would unfold, but if I could do it again, there are somethings I would focus on.

This post will highlight a few of these things.

First of all, as a person working in a service industry (yes, the law is service), you should be able to explain how you want the client to feel. 

Law is largely about advocacy. So typically, legal clients are in need of support.

Often your client will walk in feeling the way the young woman below looks:

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…and  you know the end game may be that you come up with something that looks like this:

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Yes. The paper trail. The pleadings, motions, and countless other documents that you have to deal with create enthusiastically as a legal advocate. However–is this all your client needs right now? Really?

Do you think the girl in the picture above really wants a sheet of stack of papers you’ve cooked up? Is this really all she needs when she walks through your door?

Sure, on some level. Namely the surface one.

But on a deeper level, she needs your understanding and compassion right now. Screw your documents.

So how does this come back to creating a vibe? Simple. Instead of immediately focusing on extracting information from your client, focus on meeting their immediate needs through your environment first.

When it comes to determining the vibe you want to create for your client, you must see your client as yourself, as human. In this way, you seek out ways to give the client what he needs on a deeper level. This makes all of the legal talk a lot easier later.

Here are a few of the adjectives I came up with as far as what I believe a client may need to feel on any given day: 

Comfortable and Safe

Understood

Special

Important

Connected

Supported

Heard

Let’s say you agree with me on the above list. If these terms describe how we want the client to feel…how can we tangibly create this through the environment? The great thing about this is that there are no finite solutions. You know your clients, so you can modify this list to suit them.

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Provide beverages/snacks and offer them right at the start of the interview.-I don’t know about you, but I absolutely love being offered food and drinks. Even if I don’t want it, feels great to know it’s there. Nails salons across America get this. 😉
  2. Nod from time to time. Validate. Clients need this.– I don’t know many people who feel heard when the person he is confiding in has a blank expression.  There is no need to be overtly emotional, but let’s try to be more human and less robot.
  3. Express condolences when appropriate.- Empathize with the situation the client is in.  This helps to establish trust and your client will feel safe with you.  Safety is needed for your client to share her story.
  4. Maintain neutral expression.– I know this seems contradictory to the aforementioned piece of advice, but you need to balance your reactions.  What I mean by this is too much expression of consolation will make you(and inevitably, the client) feel more apt to dive into the client’s problem instead of being more focused on the solutions.
  5. Use the client’s name. EVERYONE loves to hear their name, especially when it is pronounced correctly.  Shoot, I even like just seeing my name on a Starbucks cup. My name is Denia. (Sidenote: My first orthodontist wrote my name as “Duh-Knee-Ah” on my folder to help him remember how to say it. This was brilliant. Thanks to this, he was also my last orthodontist.)  Believe it or not I am highly experienced in the arena of people mucking up my name. But guess what? I still like the fact that the person tried to say it.  Experiment with saying your client’s name more often and see if you notice a difference.
  6. Have toys available in case children are in attendance. This may vary depending on your clientele, so you can analyze and see if this would be worth it.  In family law cases, there will more than likely be instances in which small children will be in attendance.  Anticipate their presence and help them feel welcome with stuffed animals and toys.
  7. Place a box of tissue on the table in case the client is sick, or if things get heavy. Contrary to our patriarchal society’s beliefs, crying is healthy. Readily available tissue may assist your client in being comfortable letting her more charged emotions fly out when they need to. More than likely he will have to recount situations that don’t bring out the brightest of emotions, and it is your job to support the client in getting this information out of their mind and into your client intake data sheet.

So there you have it. A lowly intern’s take on ways to inspire a vibe your client needs during the intake process. How do you help clients feel welcomed? Leave a comment below!

-Denia