Welcome to the Koenig|Dunne blog. We have three different blog series for you to find inspiration and encouragement as you go on this journey:
- Doing Divorce, A thoughtful discussion about divorce: Angela Dunne provides practical advice based on real examples of what she and her clients have faced through the transition of divorce.
- Divorce Made Simple: Our attorneys breakdown the divorce process in a way that is easy to understand.
- NEXT: An Empowerment Series: Attorney and life coach Susan Koenig guides, supports, and inspires you on the journey of creating a life you love.
First I was confused. Later I silently disagreed. Then I started to question.
“You support a lot of people,” my friend said. The conversation moved quickly past my subtle bristle, but my recurring trait of wanting to be right itched like a prickly tag inside a sweater.
My children are grown. My parents are dead. I am not a caretaker for anyone. My love Kevin is as much a support to me as I am to him. My mild annoyance and urge to argue lingered.
Margo visits our terminally ill friend Joyce week after week. Mary Helen has fed the homeless every Tuesday for years. Michaela and her wife care for their very special daughter with long list of extra special needs each and every day.
I wasn’t like them. What I do is small. Occasional. Chosen. And mostly easy.
Check on Mary’s cat litter order and find her divorce decree
Review documents for Sam’s condo sale and visit him in memory care
Talk with Brian about chemo ending and give Grace asked for advice
My calls from my blind sister last about 5 minutes. Brian and I FaceTime every three weeks and I never have to leave home. Sam is 83 and it’s been rare he’s needed my help. Taking a plate of blueberry pancakes to my neighbor hardly fits my belief about being a helper.
I wasn’t like Margo or Mary Helen or Michaela. I wasn’t humble. If I admitted I supported a lot of people, my achiever ego had to admit the choice that my countless undone, unfinished, and unstarted projects would wait another day.
I confused what I do (small and paltry in comparison) with who I think I am (someone who should be doing big things). I forgot that who you are “being” matters more than what you are “doing.” Whether I am doing big or small or only now and then, I don’t need to deny being supportive or loving.
I love the people I help. I love a lot of people. I vow to keep loving and not argue about it.
Do you ever diminish who you are by comparing yourself to others?
Does your ego ever hide what’s most important to you?
Has a small kind act ever made a big difference to you?
In child custody cases, certain individuals can be asked to provide an expert opinion to the court regarding parental fitness, custody, financial matters, and the like. An expert is someone who has specialized knowledge in a certain area and is qualified by skill, experience, training, or education to assist the judge in understanding the issues.
Experts are typically authorized to review and receive information, records, and reports concerning all parties involved. He or she will prepare a report with recommendations. The expert may have their deposition taken at the request of a parent and may be subpoenaed to testify at trial.
The court may also choose to appoint its own expert to assist in the court’s decision.
Child Custody Experts
A child custody expert is a neutral evaluator, usually a clinical psychologist, whose role is to determine the best interests of the child and to make recommendations to the court regarding custody and parenting time. He or she will conduct a complete evaluation of the parties, including psychological testing, interview the parents and the child, and evaluate the interaction between the child and both parents. The evaluator may opine as to what custody arrangement he/she believes to be in the best interests of the child.
Parental Fitness Experts
When parental fitness is at issue, a parent may request that a physician (or physicians) conduct a physical or mental examination of the other parent. These examinations will only be ordered by the court if the requesting parent shows good reason for the examination. The examining physician will likely be qualified as an expert and can be asked to give expert testimony regarding his/her findings.
The Nebraska Child Support Guidelines allow for a court to consider a parent’s earning capacity in lieu of actual income under certain circumstances. When a parent’s income is at issue for child support purposes, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or other financial professional can provide expert testimony as to what that parent could reasonably earn in Nebraska given his/her training, skill set, and work history.
Expert testimony and opinions at trial are generally afforded more weight than lay witness testimony (e.g., the parents’ testimony). It is also not uncommon for each parent to have his/her own expert, and a “battle of the experts” may ensue. Expert testimony can make or break a case.
When preparing your custody case for litigation, it is important to consider who will testify and what voice the judge will find compelling. Experts are frequently relied upon, and their opinions can be critical to the outcome of your case.
“Either somebody who loves you did it or something mystical is going on,” Megan said, turning her head to the side as if to say, “You tell me.” My coworker had noticed what was happening in front of our office.
“Either way, I’m glad,” I smiled.
While doing repairs last fall, the utility company pummeled the flower box in front of our office. Gratefully, they emptied all the soil, placed new blocks with precision, and replaced perennials I’d planted over the years—-roses, coneflower, salvia.
Weeks later, in a corner of the box, large heart shaped leaves appeared out of nowhere. On this September day, Megan saw a moonflower growing. Moonflowers do not survive a Nebraska winter, nor had the landscapers planted it. Kevin loves me and had sent me a bouquet of flowers that day, but he made no claim to the moonflower.
Moonflowers are a big and beautiful trumpet shaped flowers of iridescent white. Blooming on in the dark, they are sensitive to the changes in light, and patiently wait until nightfall to unfurl. Their fragrance is enchanting.
The life of each blossom ends after a single day.
It’s a big and bold trumpet when it blooms. But I find it at its most beautiful before it opens. It’s stunning spiral of potentiality fills me with the promise of possibility.
The final days of summer are here. Each morning we awaken without the sun and each evening watch it set too soon for our liking. We know more darkness is coming.
The moonflower is said to be the symbol of transition and of blossoming in dark times. I don’t know whether it was delivered by a mystery planter or a mystical messenger. Either way I’m glad to be reminded that even in dark times, beauty will bloom as the seasons change.
I’ll savor the preciousness of the beauty here for a single day or a single night. A fall full moon is just days away.
Have you ever had a needed message magically appear?
How do you find beauty in dark days?
What possibilities may blossom for you in your next season
During a custody case, if you and your spouse are unable to agree on a parenting plan, the judge may have to make decisions regarding the parenting plan for you. If a judge becomes involved in custody decisions, it is important to keep in mind what the judge can and cannot do for you.
General standard for custody cases:
In general, judges are bound to make custody decisions based on the law and their interpretation of the law. Specifically, in Nebraska, custody decisions are made under the “best interests” standard, meaning judges make decisions based on what they believe will be in a child’s best interests. To assess a child’s best interests, a judge may consider factors such as home environments, emotional ties to either parent, the moral fitness of each parent, preferences of the child, and the stability of each parent’s character.
What a judge can do:
If the parties in a custody case do not agree on a parenting plan, one thing judges can do is create a parenting plan themselves. In Nebraska, provisions in any parenting plan must be found to be in the child’s best interests. The plan must provide for the safety, emotional growth, health, stability, and physical care and regular and continuous school attendance and progress. You can find more regarding Nebraska’s law on parenting plan requirements here.
To satisfy the best interests standard and the Nebraska Parenting Act, a judge may include these types of provisions in a parenting plan:
- Legal and physical custody designations
- Routine parenting time for each parent
- Specific provisions for holiday and vacation parenting time
- Provisions regarding transportation to facilitate parenting time exchanges
- Provisions determining how parents must communicate with their child
- Provisions for determining how parents must communicate with each other
- Supervised parenting time provisions to provide for the safety of the child
- Provisions that ensure attendance of minor children in school
- Provisions ensuring communication regarding changes in address or contact information
- Any other provisions that support a successful co-parenting arrangement
What the judge cannot do:
A judge cannot ensure that co-parents have the “ideal” co-parenting relationship. Instead, provisions included in a parenting plan created by a judge are often as a set of bottom-line standards for parents to follow.
Further, a judge will not be able to make your co-parent the ideal parent if your expectations stretch beyond what is required in their parenting plan. Whether your co-parent is the best parent they can be, whether they go above and beyond in their parental duties, and whether they live up to your expectations is solely in the hands of your co-parent.
Although judges are not responsible for shaping parents into the best versions of themselves, they will ensure that a co-parent is fit to be in a parent-child relationship with their child. An unfit parent is a parent that has a personal deficiency or incapacity preventing them from performing essential parental obligations that may detriment a child’s wellbeing. If your co-parent is unfit to have a relationship with your child, the judge can put provisions in place to help ensure your child’s wellbeing is not negatively impacted by your co-parent’s inability to provide the essentials.
Overall, when navigating custody divorces, a judge cannot make your spouse a better parent. However, they can provide the basic framework for a co-parenting relationship and put your child’s best interests first.
He gave up his hippie acreage with gardens to move into the middle of the city with me and my
children. There he planted tulips and tomatoes anew. When the kids were grown and we moved
from house to apartment, he grew kale in raised beds on the rooftop and raspberries and
pumpkins in the country. He spent one summer managing a community garden for fun. John
always grew a garden.
He took breaks from digging and watering to sit and savor the multitude of shades of green. I’d
willingly weed nonstop in the Nebraska heat I’d grown up with. I completed chores, crossing
them off my list without noticing the blossoms on the zucchini. I never had much patience for
planting and preferred picking the flowers to have something to show for my hard work.
After the cancer diagnosis, John grew wheatgrass to heal himself and others. In a small room
with windows on three sides he soaked seeds in Mason jars, fed them fertilized soil and filtered
water, and played Mozart for their health and happiness. In his final summer, his withering limbs
could no longer make the daily trek to his garden. John left the earth he treasured in September
ten years ago.
When I asked him what he thought he would miss most about his time as a human he said, “The
When the pandemic hit, I found myself irresistibly drawn to the respite of a neglected garden at
my high school of lifetimes ago. Each day, alongside my life partner and love Kevin, I knelt on
the earth. I dug out the deep roots of burdock. I pulled unending invasive chives and prickly
prairie rose. I commented on each worm and celebrated every ladybug. I planted a hundred
By the following spring, the pair of redbuds showed their stunning pink style and fragrant
honeysuckle climbed up the newly built arbor. A small bridge graced the pond between the
poppies and the columbine. Robins and squirrels and butterflies returned.
While John would be heartbroken by daily news of horrific hurricanes and raging fires, I imagine
him admiring the harvest of what he planted in our vegetable-eating children throughout his
Penelope growing from a loving mother to grandmother to his five great grandchildren.
Benjamin sowing seeds along the spiritual path John helped unearth.
Marisa tenderly nurturing profoundly disabled children.
Jack loving the earth so much he left lawyering to be closer to it.
Melanie devotedly caring for a husband living with a diagnosis as grave as her dad’s.
John grew a beautiful garden. I hope to help do the same in my seasons ahead, now that
I’ve taken some time to grow myself.
Have you learned from observing others who are different than you?
What seeds are you planting?
How do you hope to grow in your seasons ahead?
From photographs to school records, text messages to family calendars, a variety of evidence may be used during custody litigation in Nebraska. Understanding what evidence is helpful to your case and how to gather it may save valuable time and resources in preparing for a custody trial.
Here are a few reasons why evidence is important in your custody case:
- Evidence may narrow the issues in your case.
- Evidence may promote settlement.
- Evidence will help prepare your case for trial.
Having evidence outside of verbal testimony allows a judge to visually see exactly what you are talking about. Evidence is invaluable in presenting your side in a custody case. So, what kind of evidence should you consider gathering?
One piece of evidence that may be useful in custody cases are journals. Whether you are just beginning the divorce process, are somewhere in the middle, or have just completed your divorce, it may be a good idea to start journaling. In your journal, make sure to include dates, descriptions of incidents, the names of individuals who were involved, contact information for any witnesses (if applicable), and anything else you believe is important.
Another kind of evidence that may be helpful in custody cases are photographs. For custody cases, photographs showing you child’s day-to-day life, their living arrangements, and important people in their life, may help the judge picture the stable, loving, and safe environment you can provide.
Text Messages and Email.
Text messages and email are two forms of written communication that you might think about preserving during your custody litigation. Texts and/or emails may show your attempts to co-parent, an inability of your co-parent to communicate effectively, or changed parenting time arrangements.
Social media is another potential source of evidence. Social media posts that may be helpful in custody litigation include photographs, inappropriate posts, and posts that document interactions with the children and/or third parties.
A calendar is a great piece of evidence when dates and times of events are disputed during custody litigation. So, the sooner you start calendaring—if you haven’t started already—the better. On the calendar, you may note any exchanges between you and your co-parent, any missed parenting time, trips, appointments, activities the children are involved in, and which parent attended each event. In addition to a calendar, a summary of the event—potentially in journal form—may be useful to recall exactly what happened on each date.
Education and Medical Records.
Finally, education and medical records may be relevant during your custody case. To obtain education records, a records request or release of information may be signed and submitted to your child’s school. Education records may be useful to show the number of truancies and/or any educational issues your child may. Under Nebraska law, certified copies of school records that contain attendance and academic progress are admissible into evidence during a trial.
As for medical records, you can sign a HIPAA compliant authorization disclosure for your child’s records, or a subpoena may be issued to the health care provider requesting the pertinent information. Medical records may be useful to document abuse, verify sick days from school, show treatment for any relevant medical or mental health conditions.
Physical evidence is an invaluable way to convey your story to the judge. The types of evidence discussed above are just a few that may help your attorney prepare for settlement and/or trial. If you have evidence that you think is relevant to your custody case, consult with your attorney about the best way to provide them with the evidence.
For months I knew it would arrive, and now it has. It would be special, sad, and I wasn’t sure what else. Now that September’s here, I escape my procrastination at looking.
It’s my month of many anniversaries. The major milestones and markers of my life’s journey make a list that includes:
Became a lawyer
Became a mother
Became a widow
The universe seems to know that the impending arrival of autumn is my special time for a change of seasons.
In falls past I could see neither their full meaning nor their foretelling of my future. How being admitted to the bar would lead to founding a wholehearted law firm. How birthing my firstborn in a hospital room would one day mean he’d be life flighted to the same hospital with crushed limbs. That sitting on the bed beside my husband in his final days would lead me to a longing to serve the dying.
In school I ignored opportunities to study history beyond reading books about heroines I admired. Now that I’ve accumulated a bit of my own, I’m a staunch believer in honoring the past. After all, it’s been good to me. It’s been generous with gifts of seeing the impermanence of our days, the preciousness of people, and that the present matters most of all.
Tomorrow I will add another celebration to my September remembrances. My nephew Kevin and his bride Lori are to be married. He is a gregarious Midwesterner and she a New Jersey woman who matches his love of family and joyful spirit.
The walk to their wedding day was long. Jobs and homes and children all in different cities. A pandemic postponing the party to its third date. When their vows are exchanged, I will be the officiant declaring them husband and wife. Their pasts will be with them, but they will be wholly and completely present, as will I.
This month I intend to take time to take it all in—-each day on the calendar along with the big milestones of 40 years since I entered the legal profession and 10 years since John left this earth he loved. As I do, I pray to be fully present to the wonder of the present, knowing it will one day be my past I honor.
This month Susan will share further reflections on the gifts of her Septembers past.
She reached for a second tissue. “Sorry about all the tears,” she said. Some people pour their morning joe for a pick me up. I go for my Megan. Our always steady and ready office manager Megan isn’t ruffled by a crashed computer or an overflowing toilet. Still, on this morning, she dabbed the tiny silver ring in her nose as the drops kept falling.
It was Lily’s first day at a new school. Across town. Where she knew no one. A school where she would be different and feel alone. While Megan knew all was well for her child, crying could not be avoided. Soon she let out a deep sigh.
This week social media fills with shining faces of innocence leaving us for places unknown. Caretakers capture the moments to share their awe while shedding tears when no one is looking.
My memory flashed to that August afternoon on a grassy lawn 20 years ago when I parted from my youngest. School was soon to start. 1000 miles away from home. It was college. Jack was 15. You can bet there were more than two tissues.
Protectiveness, pride, loss, and love—all in a single moment. The wise cells in our body know something needs to be released while our society sends messages that they’re wrong.
What would it be like for heartfelt feelings to not be hidden when the office frustration raises our fury or the news from Afghanistan crushes our soul? What if feelings were met with a bit of empathetic equanimity instead of an invitation to embarrassment? What if we could hold the space for others to simply feel?
When I was in the courtroom on a weekly basis, I had a habit of keeping a fresh handkerchief in my briefcase in case a client was caught by surprise by the emotion of the moment. I still like to keep a spare because weddings and funerals ought not to be the only places where we are safe to reveal we are human.
This week my Jack heads back to school again. He’s leaving his Harvard lawyer job in California to travel to northern Maine to the Jack Mountain Bushcraft School. There he’ll head into the forest, sleep on the ground, and find his food in the wild.
I’m all for sobbing without shame.
Do you get embarrassed if you become tearful?
Does vulnerability from others make you uncomfortable?
What worries you most about the inside of your heart showing on the outside?
My house was still on the eve of Anna’s first day of senior year. My stiff upper lip was fatigued and faltering. The mantra in my mind that I would see her tomorrow was of little comfort. The calendar was not my friend as this night before the start of high school landed on a “dad day.” This last “first day” was a milestone marker on her life path and I desperately wanted to share with her in the avalanche of emotion that was surely falling over both of us.
I’ve been letting go of her since the day she left my womb on that rainy April that seems like just yesterday. You would think after seventeen years I would pretty much be a pro. Instead, I feel like a novice notably deficient in perspective and wisdom. My age-old “being divorced” irritations rise too quickly to the surface for me to stop the boiling over into “it’s not fair” and “if onlys.”
I want to share in the nerves, the excitement, the jitters, and the prepping for this sentimental day. I feel “less than” as a mom knowing that I won’t be with her in the morning to send her off on this day with a tight hug and big smile. I take a deep breath and recall the numerous times in the last decade that I have missed what I perceived to be important moments of my daughters. A handful of Christmas mornings, first days of school, last days of school, learning to ride a bike, skiing for the first time, days they went home to their dad’s exuberant with some news of the day and an equal number of days they went home with heartaches, and it wasn’t to my house. My daughters don’t seem to remember, but I do.
How many times have I fought this battle around my worthiness as a parent? How many times have I scrolled through my social media feeds in a rotten state of comparison letting all the joy thieves completely take over? How many times have I moped, ranted, stewed, and succumbed to the fullness of these emotions? Too many to count. And yet I know better. Right?
My phone starts to vibrate with a FaceTime call. Anna. She rushes to the point. “Mom, here are the outfit choices for tomorrow. What do you think? Do you like the shirt? Shorts or jeans? Do these shoes look good? Should I curl or straighten my hair? MOM, it is my first day of senior year!!!! Mom it is the start of the ending. I need to cry…” and on she went sharing with me all that I needed to hear. Giving me exactly what I needed – to know that no matter where I am – I am always her mom and never letting go.
Choosing to be alone for days is not an obvious extrovert choice. Yet for over a decade I’ve taken a solo annual retreat. I don’t go far, but I do go away from home where I am tempted by the dazzling distractions of unorganized drawers and the unfinished anything.
My yearly ritual is usually in winter, the season of slowing down, anticipating the new year, and hoping the arrival of spring can be trusted. As usual, I marked my calendar for January. But the universe had its own plans. I postponed until summer.
This time away is to look back, forward, and mostly within.
I looked back. It hasn’t been my happiest year. It began with my son Benjamin carried into my home from the hospital, after his multiple surgeries, after the life flight, after his car was crushed in a head on collision two weeks before Christmas.
Along with the sorrow of waiting for the light in Ben’s smile to return, sadness seemed to surround me. Two of my dearest friends divorcing. My joyful friend Joyce diagnosed with a rare dementia type disease. My nephew falling deeper into addiction. My childhood friend dying.
And, like for all of us, the daily news of near and far and all.
I looked inward. What did I see? What was most important to me? What would I make of the season of life I am in? How will I serve? Love? Be?
As I sat on the bed in the quiet of the sweet small apartment that was my three-day sanctuary the sadness was wrapped in layers of gratitude. The miracle that Benjamin was walking and able to use his fingers. That so many supported our family with penultimate generosity. That my own body was strong and pain free. Our law firm thriving. Feeling never surer that the love of my beloved will carry us into our final days.
There were too many joyful moments to count. Eating Dutch Babies with my law partners. Watering roses on the rooftop and hollyhocks in the garden. Easter brunch on a picnic table in the park. Laughing with my zooming co-workers.
Life can be hard. And good. At the same time.
I looked forward. Having witnessed the wonder of life while looking back, I allowed myself to look beyond goals to the pondering of dreams. For this I turned to two of my favorite things: paper and scissors. My intuition unfolds in the creation of a vision board. Appealing images and words collected from magazines and mailers cut and glued onto poster board create a picture of a possible future. Purposeful playtime.
What you see above is a glimpse. Backward, inward, forward.
Do you allow yourself time for reflection?
Are you holding happiness and sadness at the same time?
When was the last time you let yourself look at your dreams?
“Mom, I signed myself up for the COVID vaccine. Can you take me on April 8th?” My sixteen, nearly seventeen, year old daughter at the time decided for us. Her fourteen-year-old sister followed suit a few weeks later when the age was expanded to include her. “Mom, you can sign me up on Monday for the vaccine, DON’T FORGET” was the text I received from her when the news broke. I supported their decisions. Their dad supported their decisions. We are a fortunate family in this situation.
For many other families, the emails and text messages have been exchanged in a flurry between parents in what I will call the vaccine vex. One parent is in favor, one parent is not. Whether it be for religious, political, health, or societal reasons, our attorneys have been listening to the range of reasons for why the other parent is wrong and they are right.
Most parenting decisions are not one way or the other. Typically, there are shades of gray in which to explore compromise. Kelly Gering, a parenting plan mediator extraordinaire says of mediating this issue with parents “beyond the science, traditionally we discuss the shared values, safety, and freedom. We discuss the desire for the children to remain in school, to travel and be with grandparents and friends. Often they will agree to visit the pediatrician together and take their concerns to a professional.”
For me, the decision was a consideration about what my girls wanted, what I wanted and what their dad wanted. Fortunately, we were all equally aligned. Since my girls are older (Anna will be 18 this year) it felt right to take their input into consideration. We all opted to move forward with them getting vaccinated.
Truthfully, the vaccination decision wasn’t about protecting my girls from fatal cases of COVID – because my girls are healthy young women with no risk factors. It was more about the big picture and minimizing the COVID impact in their community. The decision was made to support re-opening their world with in-person school, sports being played, Anna having a normal senior year with a mask-less prom, graduation with a big party (fingers crossed). My girls expressed feelings about doing their part to protect their community. They had lots of friends experience the illness of COVID in 2020. For them it was not a fear-based decision. It was a future-based decision.
For parents struggling with this decision, my best advice:
- Do not make this decision based on bad feelings toward the other parent.
- Do not make this decision to “win” against the other parent.
- Do not make this decision to “get back” at the other parent.
- Do not make the decision solely to antagonize the other parent.
As with all good parenting decisions, make the decision that best supports the best interests of your children – from both the big and small picture perspective.
Kelly Gering, a certified parenting plan mediator in Omaha can be reached at:
Kelly Gering, SADR
Shared Story, LLC
4917 Underwood Avenue
Omaha, NE 68132
Maybe you have one. Your “Go-To Spirit Lifter.” Joyce is mine.
When my mind was a mess, Joyce listened with the same compassion she’d give to a 7-year-old at the elementary school where she was a counselor. Her infectious laugh leaves you wondering why you ever thought you had something to cry about.
Just before the pandemic we celebrated (There is a lot of celebrating when you are with Joyce) her birthday with a glorious sail on a Florida bay. My next visit I don’t expect she’ll remember me.
Joyce was diagnosed with a rare and rapidly progressing brain disease.
The woman I counted on to wear a pink boa or bring bevy of friends to my parties can no longer complete a sentence. Once the guardian for her brother with disabilities, she is now the one for whom others decide her doctors, her dollars, her death plans.
Joyce has always been jolly. The first time Tony spotted Joyce giggling on her way out of a classroom he proclaimed, “I’m going to marry that one.” As decades of their married life passed, Tony envisioned his youthful bride would care for him in his later years. The unimaginable has replaced the vision.
I can’t count the number of people who are crestfallen by this diagnosis of early death for a loved one so full of life. Joyce has a circle of fun-loving women who have been steadfast support to one another since they were teens. In the center is Margo, Joyce’s bosom pal since junior high. An Ethel and Lucy pair, they’ve had all measure of hilarious escapades and disastrous adventures.
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) strikes one in a million. It found Joyce, our one in a million human. All are heartbroken, but you can’t see it in Joyce. The bubbles of her effervescence still topple out like a newly opened bottle of champagne.
Her laughter is still with her. Her joy is so indomitable that—up until now— even this fatal disease has been unable to touch her essence of undeniable joy.
We never know when our brain or any other part of our body might change in an instant. My hope is to learn the Joyce joy lessons to spend more time in the uplifting and light filled parts that she has shown me for some 30 years of friendship. Perhaps when I see her, I’ll be able forget for moment what I’ve been crying about.
What are the qualities you hope to live more fully?
How might you lighten the lives of others by your presence?
Who is your “spirit lifter” when you’re feeling low?
On July 15th, the American Rescue Plan’s expanded child tax credit program will take effect. Under the expanded program, qualifying families will receive a monthly payment of up to $300 per month for each child under 6 and up to $250 per month for each child 6-17 years old. The expanded program also allows for half of the child tax credit for next year to be paid in advance to whomever claimed the dependent in 2020. For divorced parents, this expanded program raises many concerns, especially for those who alternate the tax years for which they claim their children as dependents.
Traditionally, married parents who file taxes jointly are seen as one unit according to the IRS. This means that dependents may be claimed by both parents on joint tax returns. However, for co-parents who file individual tax returns, dependents may only be claimed by one parent. Usually, child tax credits are allocated between co-parents in a divorce decree.
With the new expanded child tax credit program, families that alternate which parent claims the children will need to take steps to mitigate any improper child tax credit allocations. For example, if Father claims Child in 2020, the expanded program directs the IRS to begin sending half of the 2021 tax credit to Father, even though Mother would be claiming Child in 2021. This results in Father receiving child tax credits two years in a row.
Here are some potential solutions to this problem:
- Agreement. If parents can work out an arrangement for how the advanced child tax credit should be handled, they should do so in writing. Arrangements should be made for both the receipt of the advanced credit payments, and for any potential repayment.
- Updating information. Under the American Rescue Plan, the IRS is directed to create an online portal for the expanded tax credit program. Once the online portal is available, make sure the information in the online portal is up to date. Additionally, this portal may provide an option to designate which parent should receive the advanced tax credit this year. If so, make sure the advanced tax credit is allocated to correct receiving parent for the 2021 tax year.
- Opting Out. Under the advance tax credit program, there is an option to “opt out” of advance payments. If you choose to opt-out, the child tax credit will be applied when the claiming co-parent files his or her 2021 taxes. Although neither parent will receive any of the “advances,” this may prevent any issues involving repayment of child tax credits sent to the wrong parent, or repayments to the IRS due to changed financial circumstances.
If resolving tax issues after your divorce with your co-parent has become problematic, then it is important that you consult with your tax advisor and your attorney. Koenig|Dunne is aware of the many tax issues that you will face during your divorce and is here to help you navigate these issues successfully.
Sometime before the sunlight snuck around the sides of the bedroom shades a delicious sounding summer rain began to fall. The darkness told me I need not rush out from under the comfort of my cotton quilt.
I fell back to sleep with the peace of knowing the purple clematis would get her daily drink without me. The back yard’s newly sewn grass seeds would be grateful, too.
At 6:22 the seven o’clock train announced its arrival in the distance, sounding the same whistle I’ve heard since I was a child. The window ledge pigeon and her two babies were silent, but the birds whose songs I vowed in the spring to learn but haven’t yet, sang good morning.
Time to wake up.
The wheels of the cars of the early morning commuters whir their way down 13th Street. An occasional semi rumbles, giving the building a slight shudder. Soon my listening turns to Today’s To- Do List reciting itself aloud in my head. The tasks report their presence as they run down their well-worn neuropathway of this human doer, drowning out sounds of life surrounding me.
Last week a healer sent me a gift of a potion in a tiny blue bottle with a bright yellow label that said “Listen To Me.” Maybe this would be the morning I sample it.
I once heard global humanitarian Lynne Twist tell her story of listening to an Ethiopian mother recount how her children died of famine, one by one. People have a greater need to be listened to than to be talked to, Twist said. I worried I would never be as good at listening as I was practiced at talking.
Fifteen years later I’m still unsure.
Thankfully I am surrounded by forgiving and generous teachers who allow me to fail and try again. Ross who broke his ankle digging a ditch on his acreage whom I interrupted. Margo whose soulmate entered memory care last week to whom I gave advice when I could have simply given my ear. Brenda’s two brothers who will try to hold it together at her memorial service on Saturday who got information when they could have gotten simply my wholehearted presence.
Start where you are. Start small. Start.
And so, I listen to the rain.
What do you value about being listened to?
What gets in the way of you listening wholeheartedly?
Who are you willing to listen to today?
That June was the last time he left home. It was the start of the slowest of the slow summer seasons of my life. Hospice was happening. It was his last time he went down the stairs until he went without his spirit in a black zippered bag.
That June was a decade ago. It had been 11 years since the delivery of the grim cancer diagnosis during which the doctor suggested that our Alaskan family vacation could be our last. But John defied all odds, doubling down on all things holistic from massage and meditation to wheatgrass juice and coffee enemas. Then as gently as the falling away of the spring blossoms, the day of a new season arrived.
With the passing of this week’s summer solstice, I see the season turn again. This time there are no pen and paper tracking of the titrating of Tramadol No middle of the night calls about a malfunctioning morphine pump. No holding up his six foot three frail frame on its determined daily walk from bed to sofa.
This summer, healing is happening here.
Six months ago my son Ben was driving from L. A. to New York when a teen driver crossed the median in the December dark at full speed on the interstate. The crash ripped off the roof of Ben’s car and crushed his leg on one side, his arm on the other.
The universe chose Nebraska as the perfect place for the trauma, landing him in the heartland and ultimately in the very hospital where he was born. This summer, instead of being in hospice, Ben is walking and I am celebrating. Instead of bearing witness to a body in decline, I watch a body getting stronger each passing day.
I see Ben surround himself with flourishing plants, eat healing foods, love others well. On his path back to wholeness, he lives the lessons John modeled for us all for years.
Once again I cherish the preciousness of each day. Days of life. Days of loss. Days of love. No matter the season, we have this day. In the words of Dag Hammarskjold:
For whatever has been, I say thank you.
For whatever will be, I say Yes!
What summer season are you in?
Is this a season for acceptance? For appreciation?
What lessons from seasons past might help you today?
18 days. Eighteen whole days. Eighteen full days with my daughters to love, to cherish, to have and to hold, to not be obeyed, to get annoyed, to lose my temper, and to count down the days until they return to their dad… But eighteen uninterrupted days! Days to fully feel like a mom and be fully immersed in the good, the glorious, and the ugly of my own parenting.
Why am I counting? Under my normal schedule, my consecutive days max out at three. Summer months provide periods of vacation time that expand our normal paradigm.
For me, and a lot of divorced parents, the actual vacation is a complete afterthought – it is the perpetual parenting for which we most anticipate.
One of the most disliked realities of being a divorced parent, is that we split our parenting time. No matter the schedule, the tug on the heartstrings at not having our children 100% of our days is universal. Likewise, there is common ground with divorced parents when we get to feel just a little more “normal” and for a period of days we don’t have to do the mental gymnastics when making plans for whether or not we have our kids that day.
This time is treasured for the gift of not having to track nights and transition days; the luxury of not having to cram our calendar full with tasks and to-do’s that can only be accomplished on a “mom day;” and the bounty afforded by just being able to be. It sounds simple perhaps, but the tears prick at the corners of my eyes as sheer gratitude engulfs me.
I have learned over the years that the single-most challenge for me now during this gift of time is not to do the reverse and countdown the days until it is over – to dread all 18 days they are with me, the day they leave me for approximately 18 days on the reverse side. I brace myself to not fall into the lack thinking and to instead persist in being present.
I let my youngest teenager sleep until near midday because we have nothing but time. I kidnap my kids on a spontaneous Sunday drive through little known woods and we stop and take pictures. I am outwardly annoyed, but secretly delighted, when I get tired of them being rowdy around me and there is no end in sight.
In the days ahead, we plan to play a full game of Goonies monopoly, to try our first crab leg feast, and to read books together on the front porch. We will laugh, we will likely cry from laughing or frustration, we will bark at each other in annoyance, we will be quiet together, and we will love every minute. If I remain mindful, awake, and present, the gifts of this treasured time will be eighteen days that last a lifetime.
The smell of cigarette smoke rose off the paper bag wrapped tightly at the top. Tucked alongside the brown glass quart of Falstaff beer were a half dozen Snicker bars—enough for the six of the eight of us kids still living at home. A true pay day delight.
Reading Father’s Day tributes, I’m compelled to give one to mine as best I can. This requires calling forth memories.
Dad’s return from the Rinky Dink Bar on Friday nights is one of mine. Also in my memory bank is the time he pulled a splinter out of my foot and the silent drives in the white panel truck taking me to Bancroft Junior High on dark evenings for my book club. Most heart touching is that of him carrying my seven-year-old body down the stairs to the car to head to the hospital when I had a horrible headache.
That about sums up the good memories I’m able to call forth about my dad and me, apart from a few nods of approval when I handed him a straight A report card or pranced for more in a new Easter dress.
Dad not attending my wedding wasn’t personal. He was absent from special events and the daily lives of the entire family living at 607 Cedar Street. Even the joy of opening of presents around the tree on Christmas Eve could not draw him out of the bedroom on the other side of the living room wall.
Having a dad who suffered from alcoholism meant I would always have a high level of vigilance about my own drinking and a higher level of proselytizing to my own children about theirs.
Not depending on a parent was great training for being independent enough to hitchhike hundreds of miles, travel abroad alone as a teen, and dare to try running a law firm.
Having a dad who lost jobs due to his drinking and often drank up his hard-earned paycheck when he had one was a gift, too. I knew how to be happy eating college dinners of fried noodles with ketchup and riding my bike to campus for my work study role of scraping garbage at the college cafeteria. To this day I feel lucky each time I fill my gas tank to the top and don’t have to say, “Five dollars on pump 2.”
Dad died on Christmas day nearly 40 years ago. Years later I learned more about his life with his own dad. I have no memories of my paternal grandfather, but now know he treated my father with utter cruelty. A new understanding opened my heart as I realized the sorrow that no amount of cheap beer could drown.
While I won’t be giving any gifts this Father’s Day, my deeply held intention is to remember to live this lesson of compassion that took me so many years to open. My hope is that the next time I find myself comparing, judging, or blaming, I remember Dad’s gifts to me.
What gift from your father do you appreciate?
Have you ever realized a gift long after it was given?
How will you appreciate your father this Father’s Day?
Nobody mentioned the hundreds of innocent people murdered by angry mobs. No one spoke of the 35 blocks burned to the ground within 24 hours or of the fleeing of tens of thousands left homeless. Oklahomans didn’t know their history.
I was a 17 when I traveled to Tulsa. A group of Omahans charged with developing a school desegregation plan went to see how they’d integrated theirs. It was 1973. White flight, years of redlining, and a freeway that sliced our Black community through its center had severely segregated our schools—some 20 years after the Supreme Court declared doing so was unconstitutional.
They’d chosen a naïve white girl as the sole student rep on the committee to work on desegregation.
On our Tulsa tour we learned nothing of the massacre of Black Wall Street of 1921 when the prosperous Greenwood neighborhood was decimated by whites. It started after an undetermined incident involving two teens in an elevator– Sara the seventeen-year-old white elevator operator and Dick the 19-year-old Black shoe shiner. Some say she screamed, and he ran, but we don’t really know.
What we do know is that for decades the city of Tulsa was silent about the white pilots in planes who had dropped dynamite and about the financial futures of the generations lost. History books said nothing of it, and few who grew up in Tulsa even knew of the horrors.
We were silent in my hometown, too.
When local police killed Vivian Brown by a shot in her back, not a word was spoken of it. I was her age when it happened: 14.
Not in one class of twelve years was it mentioned that Will Brown’s body was drug through the streets after he was lynched by a white mob in front of our county courthouse.
At the family supper table, neither mom nor dad explained the rage behind the riots roaring on the six o’clock news that played in black and white on each of the three channels.
This week they are digging in Tulsa, searching for yet more bodies that were dumped into mass graves now a hundred years ago. I have Tulsa on my mind as I leave for a summer road trip, again to the south.
This time the civil rights museum in Memphis is sure to teach me more of what I haven’t known and wish I didn’t need to. In Birmingham will be site of the basement of the 16th Street Baptist Church where Addie, Cynthia, Carole and Denise were killed by the KKK with dynamite just 11 days after a federal court order of school integration.
May I be a better student than I was then. I’m not 17 anymore. It’s time I learn the truth and tell it.
How has your understanding of the truth changed over time?
Is there a longstanding truth you have not admitted?
How might you be a better student of the truth?
With rising legal fees and court costs, the uncertainty of trial calendars and outcomes, and the overall toll that litigation can take on a divorcing couple, Collaborative Divorce may be a better option for Nebraskans going through divorce. Generally speaking, those who choose to proceed collaboratively agree that they will not resort to the court for any judicial relief, voluntarily disclose all of their assets and liabilities and come to temporary and permanent agreements on all issues in their case. Yet, common misconceptions and questions about Collaborative Divorce persist. Here are just some misperceptions, and reasons why the right clients should strongly consider proceeding collaboratively with their case:
Traditional Divorce Can Be Just as Civil as Collaborative Divorce: The vast majority of divorce cases ultimately settle short of trial, and may be civil at times along the way. Unfortunately, settlement usually comes after months of temporary hearings, discovery proceedings, unpredictable communication timelines, vagueness about whether the parties both want to resolve their matter outside of court, and several thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees.
In collaborative divorce, from your initial 4-way meeting forward, the attorneys and their clients affirm in a participation agreement that they WILL be civil. By making this commitment early on in the process, they remove almost any doubt that matters will turn uncivil later on when, in litigation, a temporary hearing goes against them, damning information in discovery is revealed for the first time, or numerous letters and corresponding fees generated in seeking the same information repeatedly from the other side. Non-collaborative divorce proceedings can be civil, but collaborative divorce is a process that guarantees civility, timely resolution, and certainty regarding fees.
You and Your Spouse are Adversaries in Divorce, and Incapable of Being Collaborative: Of course, there are usually very good reasons why divorce clients have chosen to part ways with one another. Unfortunately, in traditional litigation there are few guard rails to prevent clients from how they feel about each other to cloud out all reason in their actions, involve their minor children in their divorce, and ultimately engage in very self-defeating behaviors against their attorney’s advice.
In collaborative divorce, the attorneys intentionally seek out the objectives and goals of both parties at the first 4-way meeting, including asking about why they are getting divorced, so there are little to no surprises about underlying reasons that may affect the process later on. In traditional litigation, if you are in a no-fault divorce state, it probably will never be asked by anyone why you are getting divorce. In collaborative divorce, it is specifically asked so that your attorneys know those reasons up front, and are able to craft a case plan specifically to fit both your needs and objectives.
There is Less Opportunity to Investigate the Truth in Collaborative Divorce: There is no formal disclosure of facts by either party under oath in collaborative divorce. Nevertheless, the collaborative process provides for a thorough review of ALL necessary documentation from both parties at the very beginning of the process. It is often said by collaborative divorce practioners, “there really are no secrets.”
If either party feels as if they are being cheated by not have the ability to investigate the other’s “truth”; i.e. assets, debts, etc., then that is more of a function of poor client screening and lack of identifying required documentation, as opposed to an inherent flaw in collaborative divorce itself. With the right clients who are unwilling to hide the truth from the other, along with proper document identification and gathering, collaborative divorce offers more than enough opportunity to disclose all relevant information – truth – to both sides.
Collaborative Divorce Ties Your Lawyer’s Hands: This is not true. You and your collaborative divorce lawyer, if anything, have become much more empowered to have control over the final outcomes in your case. In traditional litigation, if trial is necessary, decrees often contain provisions that are impractical and do not work well for either client. Everyone’s hands are tied by the judge’s decisions, while in collaborative divorce your team of attorneys and professionals has the unique opportunity to be unmoored from a “one size fits all” approach often taken by judges in decrees.
Your lawyer has the ability to speak to opposing counsel regarding issues arising when they occur, and solve them, as opposed to waiting 6-9 months for a trial date in a litigated case. Your lawyer also has direct access to other team members, including your divorce coach, child specialist, and financial neutral to discuss and problem-solve any issues that your client may disclose to them during the case. In sum, in collaborative divorce your lawyer’s hands are not only untied, but empowered with knowledge, insight and unique problem-solving abilities to address your situation they may never get ordered in traditional litigation.
Collaborative divorce is not for every divorcing couple, but for the right clients it can be the best way to proceed with your divorce. I hope this supports if you have doubts about whether the collaborative divorce process can work for you.
“The governor’s office is line two for you.” My heart pounded.
Once again someone not the governor had the chore of telling the unchosen prior to the press release that said it wasn’t you.
I’d applied to be a juvenile court judge. I detailed my career accomplishments, got glowing references, and confidently answered questions before the judicial nominating commission of nine. They advanced my name on the short list of the qualified. I travelled to the state capitol to interview with the governor.
“Next time,” the caller once consoled. Initially I was sufficiently politically naïve to believe them. I resisted warnings that being an advocate for equality as the past president of the Nebraska chapter of the National Organization for Women disqualified me from being a judge in a state whose motto is “Equality before the law.” With each vacancy I, I tried again.
One by one I attended the swearing in ceremonies of Larry, Liz, Doug, Wadie, and Bob. Thereafter I would address my friends as “Your Honor” or “Judge”. The bruise of my ego was less than my sureness of being a disappointment to Mom and especially to my children.
For years at parties and Thanksgivings well-meaning friends and family asked, “Are you a judge yet?” I could hardly blame them. Unlike a private online job pursuit, this process was public. The local paper announced each opening, application, and appointment. That I’d disappointed the questioners stung for years.
Author Marianne Williamson said, “If a train doesn’t stop at your station, then it’s not your train.”
Each time I thought it was my train. Turns out the first one belonged to Larry. Last week I learned that Larry was retiring. He faithfully served families in our community and led the creation of a statewide collaboration to make our juvenile justice system better. That first train came and went in 1992.
I waited. While on the platform I would watch my brother die of AIDS, grow my law firm, and fall in love anew.
My train did come along for nearly another decade. It said, “Life Coach, Speaker, Guide.” Until it stopped right in front of me, I never fully understood why all the others hadn’t.
I’m grateful that Larry caught his and that mine arrived on schedule. I trust wholeheartedly that more wonderful travels await each of us, enjoying the ride and the beautiful views.
Have you ever worried you train will never arrive?
What trains are you glad you let pass you by?
Which train will you get on next?
This blog is made available to the reader by Koenig|Dunne for educational purposes only, to provide general information and understanding of the law, and not to provide specific legal advice. By reading this blog, no attorney-client relationship is developed between the law firm and the reader. This blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state. The content of this blog is not an advertisement for legal services.