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How to Adopt

Making the decision to adopt is a huge step. After deciding to grow your family through adoption, the next step is figuring out exactly how to adopt. This first step into the adoption world can be intimidating. It will slap you in the face with acronyms, words you don’t understand, and terms that only make sense to those “in the know” within the adoption community. Even as a lawyer, taking this step personally was a lot to understand and digest. So, let’s make it as simple as we can for you.

There are many different types of adoption you can choose from. Some of these routes may be pursued at the same time, while some are exclusive enough to lock you in. There is no right or wrong answer when deciding how to pursue an adoption. There are many factors to consider. The choice will be unique to you as a family.

Here are the different avenues you have for pursuing an adoption as a US citizen.

1. Newborn & Infant Adoption

This option is sometimes called Newborn Adoption, sometimes Infant Adoption, and sometimes just Domestic Adoption. What this means is that you are adopting a new baby within the United States. In most instances, you will work with an adoption agency to connect with a pregnant birth mother before the child is born. By the time the child is born, you will have completed most of the paperwork and legalities to adopt the child. The adoption will then be legally finalized after the child is born. In some cases, you may connect with the child immediately after birth while they are still in the hospital, without any interaction with the birth mother before that.

This path to adoption is common for those who want to adopt a newborn baby. The process includes lots of training, a home study (and subsequent updates), and some form of self-advertisement, such as a photo book, video, or other media that introduces your family to a prospective birth family.

2. Foster Care Adoption

Adopting from foster care means that you are adopting a child who has, for whatever reason, been separated from their birth family. Sometimes these are newborn babies and infants who are left in the hospital after birth. More often, these are older children who are removed from their birth families after allegations of abuse or neglect. They may range in age from babies to teenagers. In most cases, you have to spend months or even years fostering the child before you are able to legally adopt them.

Fostering to adopt a child is a hot-button issue within the field. What prospective adoptive parents should know is that the foster system is committed to reunifying children with their birth/legal families whenever possible. This means foster parents take on the burden of emotionally investing in a child who may eventually leave their care. Foster parents should take responsibility for a foster child only if they are actually committed to helping the family reunify before adoption even becomes an option.

It is worth mentioning that many people choose to adopt from foster care because they believe it is free. However, adopting from foster care is not by any means without cost. The state may cover your legal and professional fees for a home study, lawyer, etc., to complete the legal adoption process. However, there are several other fees involved with fostering, adopting, and raising a child which will rest on your shoulders. Make sure you know how your state works and what financial obligations fall to you before pursuing adoption through foster care.

3. Private Adoption

A private adoption is when you already know the birth mother and/or child you are going to adopt. The adoption is agreed upon by everyone involved in advance. To complete this kind of adoption, you simply need to locate lawyers you trust to help you complete the legal process. Because there is no search and no matching process, you can avoid many of the steps involved with an adoption where you are looking for the child to adopt.

Private adoptions are probably the most straightforward. They are also the rarest. This is common when children are being adopted within families or friend groups, especially when arrangements are made before the child is actually born.

4. International Adoption

Adopting from another country is probably the most complex route to adoption. It involves both domestic and international laws, including the rules of the Hague Convention and the laws of the country the child is coming from. International adoption always starts with locating an agency within the USA that is licensed to facilitate international adoptions with one of the countries that is allowed to adopt children to the United States. Your agency is then responsible for walking you through the process of completing a home study, doing all the paperwork, and matching with a child in the sending country. For most countries, you will eventually need to travel to that country for a period of time to finalize the adoption in a foreign court and bring your child home. Then, the adoption will be registered in an American court once you arrive at home.

My family chose the route of international adoption when we adopted our daughter from India. It was a long, tedious, expensive process with lots of paperwork. In the end, for us, it was worth it, because we could not imagine our family coming together any other way.

If you are interested in growing your family through adoption, the first step is to talk with an adoption lawyer in your state. Find out what your options are and discuss what legalities need to be covered for any of the above processes. Once you get that information, you will be in a better place to choose which route to adoption is best for you and your family.

Need to talk to a lawyer in Missouri about adoption? As an adoptive mom myself, I am happy to share my experiences and walk you through it, both personally and professionally. Click here to schedule a no-cost consult for us to talk.

“Canceling” an Adoption

Canceling an adoption is an unpopular topic, but we are talking about it. Like everything here at Girl’s Best Lawyer Friend, we will be blunt, honest, and factual about the subject. Of course, as an adoptive parent myself, it will be laced with my personal and professional opinions and experiences.

I have heard many people tiptoe around this question. They use words like “reverse” and “undo.” The one I have listened to most often is, “can you cancel an adoption after it’s done?”

As a lawyer, I know the real question: Can I abandon my child?

Because we are talking about voluntarily surrendering an adopted child, there is an extra undertone. The parents chose the child, so it is natural to be curious if that choice can be turned around. As an adopted child, we already know they were abandoned or surrendered at least once before in their life. So, an adoptive parent abandoning their child creates a second layer of repeat trauma.

At this point, many people will tear up or shake their heads in disgust. That reaction is precisely the reason why this topic is talked about so rarely. It is also why it is so important that we discuss it openly and honestly.

When I was living in India, fostering my daughter in anticipation of her adoption, I met a couple from the United States who had just adopted a school-age girl from over there. A few weeks after picking her up, they decided to leave the child in India and return home without her. My daughter enjoyed playing with this girl in the hotel lobby, so that is how I became privy to the situation. To say that it broke my heart would be a gross understatement.

Here’s the truth: An adoption cannot be “canceled.” Once you adopt a child, you are the legal parent of that child. It is no different than having given birth to that child yourself. You must abandon the child if you choose not to be their parents anymore. Once a child is legally declared to be abandoned, someone in the state’s child welfare system may ask the court to terminate the parental rights of legal parents (notice I said legal parents–there is no distinction between biological and adoptive parents at this point). Once parental rights are terminated, the child is legally free for adoption.

We commonly hear about this process of abandonment to adoption concerning newborns, especially those left at the hospital after birth. The process, generally speaking, is the same for older children. Parents can abandon children of any age, potentially making them available for adoption.

After seeing this happen before my eyes, I realized why we had to jump through so many hoops to adopt our daughter. For adoption to end in abandonment is traumatic for everyone involved. There are no words to fully explain the depth of that tragedy. This is why the system has evolved to have many built-in safeguards against it. Having been through the intense international adoption process, here are my two cents on what you can do to keep from being in a situation where you have to ask if your adoption can be “canceled.”

1) Choose adoption for the right reasons.

The decision to adopt is highly personal. I wish I could give you a list of all the “right” reasons to adopt, but I can’t. Adoption (heck, and life itself) is not a black-and-white area with rights and wrongs.

What I can tell you, however, is that you should not adopt a child to save them. If you are doing it because you want to be a hero or savior for a poor innocent child, chances are you are in it for the wrong reasons. Children belong in families, not in petting zoos. Adopting a child is not about erasing their past or crafting them into a specific person. Instead, adoption is about loving a child for who they are and honoring every part of them, including their history.

2) Talk openly with others who have walked the path and those who have not.

Most adoption parents I know are more than willing to share their experiences with others considering adoption. Talk to them. Talk to as many people as possible who have been through what you are considering. At the same time, talk to people who have only biological children. Talk to people who choose not to have children at all. Talk to everyone you trust about their life, experiences, and wisdom. Make sure you know what you are getting into, not just with the adoption process but with parenting kids at all ages and stages. You will never truly understand what you are getting into before doing it, but the more you talk to people who have done it, the more you will be prepared for what is coming. You can get this insight in other ways if you’re not a talker. I learned a lot from my work in the foster care system when I saw and worked with different parts of the triad and the professionals involved. I saw cases where families came together through adoption and others where adopted children were abandoned. If you’re not in a profession that gives you this exposure, you could volunteer with a local non-profit that serves single moms or adoption communities. The point is to get out there and educate yourself not just about your thoughts and options but about the bigger picture of adoption and why it is necessary for our world.

3) Pay attention to your required education.

To adopt a child, you have to do a lot of education. It can be tedious and seem unnecessary. The truth is, this education is a natural gift. This education, however monotone and redundant it may be, is valuable. Listen to it, research the parts you do not understand, and put what you learn into practice.

As adoption parents, we had classes and instructions on aspects of parenting that most people do not get. We learned about bonding with a child, healthcare concerns specific to children adopted from India, and hot-button social issues that would impact our family before, during, and after adoption. After picking up our daughter and realizing we were complete strangers, the things we learned in those pre-adoption podcasts were our backbone to get through our initial weeks together.

4) Get help when you need it.

Adoption is stressful. A significant life change happening outside your control leaves you feeling powerful and helpless. The uncertainty of the process alone is enough to throw anyone for a loop. Addin the complexities of dealing with foreign countries, bureaucracy, and/or kids with special needs, and you have a lot going on. My family’s journey through adoption taught me that no one could do it alone. The process itself requires input and recommendations from more people than you may even think you know. If you can be humble enough to accept the lesson, then asking for help down the line will be no problem. If you feel your mental health is impacted, talk to a therapist. If you have questions about special needs, speak to a doctor. If you notice conflicts in your marriage, work them out. If you realize your child needs something you cannot give them, find out how to get it for them, even if it means admitting that someone or something else is more equipped to meet their needs than you are. If you need help, put any excuses aside and get it.

I do not know what happened to that girl in India after she was returned to the orphanage. I will probably wonder about her for the rest of my life. I know that all the authorities involved are asking themselves what they could have done differently to keep it from happening. Now, you know what you can do, too.

If you need to have a difficult conversation about canceling an adoption, start with a lawyer who can give you true and honest facts about your situation. If you think that’s me, click here to schedule a no-cost coaching call.

Choosing Adoption

Congratulations. By reading this, you have overcome doubts, fears, and hurdles that keep so many people from even considering adoption. So, again, congratulations.  

Full Disclosure: My husband and I chose to build our family through adoption. I am an advocate for loving, healthy adoptions. Everyone will have their definition of what that means. So, take my opinion as just one of many.  

The decision to adopt is not singular and isolated. It is ripe with other choices that will start hitting you the moment you tell someone you want to adopt a child. When I chose adoption, I also chose these seven things.  

  1. You are choosing to be an open book whose fine print is constantly under a microscope.  

When you choose to adopt, you are also choosing to open up your entire life. At some point in the process, you will need to document everything about your health, finances, career and education, relationships (good and bad, past and present), and future plans. You will document it all, sign it, and probably get it notarized (and, if you’re adopting internationally, then apostilled as well). This will happen multiple times for different entities, and once you feel like you’ve done it all, you’ll have to go through it all again with regular updates. People will ask you questions about how and why every detail of your life is the way it is, and you are expected to explain in clear, concise terms. By the end of the process, there is little (if anything) left about you that will feel like private information.  

  1. You are choosing to rise above the judgment of others.  

Adoption means being judged based on all the information you give to complete strangers. It also implies fielding positive and negative comments from others in your life. A common nuisance among adoption parents is being seen as a hero or a savior. As tempting as it is to correct people when they say things like that, you quickly learn that you cannot correct everyone and that how you feel about yourself is none of anyone else’s business. The positive and negative judgment runs rampant during the adoption process and lingers around long after the process is over. As an adoptive parent, you choose to rise above the judgment, compliments, and criticism and focus on your family.  

  1. You are choosing to spend money…a lot of money.  

Adoption is expensive. It is like having a biological child but without the option of insurance coverage or public assistance. Some forms of adoption are advertised as free, like adopting from foster care, but even those routes come with expenses you should be prepared for. What surprised me the most about the cost of adoption was how often we were expected to write big checks to people we barely knew when we didn’t understand what they were for. The agency had fees that were never truly explained, although they all had fancy titles and labels. But, then, there were little expenses, LOTS of them, that added up very quickly. I recommend talking to people who have walked your specific path to adoption and being genuinely prepared with a contingency budget. Thankfully, several grants and loans are specifically for people choosing to adopt, and they are not necessarily awarded based on income.  

  1. You are choosing to campaign and possibly date. 

I was surprised by the amount of marketing and salesmanship involved in the adoption process. Prospective parents, especially for domestic adoptions, make photo books and other materials to promote themselves to potential birth parents. Children available for adoption are presented in profiles similar to online dating. Information is cleverly highlighted or left out based on the package’s overall appeal. As I type this, it sounds disgusting. And yet, it is a reality of the adoption world.   

  1. You are choosing to be different.  

I would love to tell you that adoption has become so mainstream that it is not considered “different” anymore. But the truth is unless I am talking to a fellow adoption parent or someone who works with different types of families, I still get “the look” when I tell people that I adopted my daughter. I still have to educate people about what it means to adopt and how that impacts my daughter and my family. At times, especially at the beginning, it also means parenting differently to help facilitate bonding, address healthcare needs, and transition into a family. Finding a community that “gets it” is key to understanding that you are not alone because traditional mom groups and discussion boards will not work.  

  1. You are choosing to love above all else.  

Adoption has a way of bringing out dysfunctions in all areas of your life. You will encounter plenty of reasons not to do it, maybe even thinking that you are not good enough to handle it. There are arguments from all sides of the triad (birth parents, adoptive parents, and adoptees themselves), both for and against adoption, and all those arguments are valid. However, when you choose to adopt, you choose to love in place of all the doubts, all the arguments, and all the potential outcomes. If you can master this alone, you will master the mindset of the adoption process. 

  1. You are choosing to parent.  

You choose this first, and then in the process of everything else, it gets lost until the end. Adoption is a long, heartfelt, dramatic journey for many. It is so easy to get lost in the process that you lose sight of what you are choosing long-term. For first-time parents who choose adoption, this last part seems so apparent and yet comes as a slap in the face. When you decide to adopt, you are choosing to parent a child. That means you are committing to being their person, their family, and their everything. You are choosing to parent through the inevitable trauma that makes adoption necessary in this world. You are committing to it for life. As a dear friend told me, “Motherhood is who you are, it is not something you just do.” 

The decision to adopt is a big one. The steps involved can be intense. The experience will test you on all levels. Now, on the flip side of a complicated international adoption, I will happily share my experiences with anyone looking to bring a child home. I will not lie and say that the challenges seem small in retrospect or that it wasn’t a big deal. What I will say is this: it was worth it. 

Adoption is a big decision. Before you jump in, make sure you have answers to all your legal questions. To book a no-cost coaching call with me, click here. 

Here’s to Single Moms

Early this year, I traveled to India to finalize the adoption of my daughter. The process that was supposed to take 4-6 weeks took over 6 months. My husband had to leave us there and return home to work. I was alone with our daughter traveling from one hotel room to the next for months on end and I never knew how long we would actually be there. Once stuff went crazy, it went really crazy. 

I had to adjust my approach to almost everything I did. Running to the store was no longer a quick trip because I had a child to prep. Making phone calls was a real nightmare because I had to ensure she was occupied enough not to notice, all within a tiny hotel room. When I needed to do something for work, I either had to focus through a tantrum or wait for bedtime. On top of all that, I also had to keep my brain sharp to get us out of the legal mess we were in so that we could eventually get home. It was an insane amount of energy just to get through each day. 

Most of my friends back home were, unfortunately, very unhelpful. I realized that if I wanted true understanding, I had to find community in the small group of other moms who had done what I was doing. A fellow adoption mom, who had adopted as a single mom, told me something that touched me deeply: “Choosing to be a single mom is so different from being forced to do it alone.” 

I realized that I needed to give myself grace and the space to admit that I am not cut out to do this alone, and that’s okay.  

And in realizing that, I realized something about my clients: you never intended to do this alone, either.  

And yet, when you get divorced or otherwise separate from the other parent of your children, you have no choice. While I did not know how long it would take, I knew that eventually I would get home to my husband and we would parent together. When you get divorced, it is the exact opposite. I gained a new level of empathy for each of you. 

Now I know what it’s like to be the only one who matters to a child. I know how it feels to go to court time and time again and leave with no answers, no plan, and no hope. I know the surrender of giving a boatload of money to a lawyer with no idea whether they will actually come through and help me. And I know what it’s like to do all this on my own, with no one else there to pick up the slack or give me a moment of time alone to breathe. 

Here’s the lesson I can share that does have truth for both of us: My best was good enough, and so is yours. If you do everything you can to be the best version of yourself that you can be, you will also be the best mom you can be. And even if temporary circumstance makes your best self less than what it may otherwise be, it is precisely what you and your children both need in that very moment. 

Although my experience of being a single parent was short-lived, the impact on me is there to stay. It will make me a better lawyer, friend, coach, partner, and parent.  

So here’s to all the single moms out there. You’re taking care of yourself and also another life, and that is no small feat. I see you, I feel you, and when you need help, I am here for you. 

Are you a rockstar single mama who needs to chat with a lawyer friend? Click here to book a no-cost coaching call with me. 

Prefer to listen? Check out our podcast here!

How To Bond Over Video Chat

Bonding is essential to building trust and developing a relationship between a parent and child. It is the entire foundation of the “joint custody presumption” and the philosophy behind parents sharing equal time. It is also embedded in adoption through required fostering periods and hours of educational requirements for prospective adoptive parents.

As a lawyer, I have always followed the idea that equal bonding requires equal time because, well, I have no choice as a professional. As a person, however, I’ve always questioned whether the number of hours is really what matters. 

I was pleasantly surprised when I got my answer from personal experience. 

While I was living abroad fostering our toddler, my husband was back home working. We were concerned about whether our daughter would develop a close bond with him during this indefinite waiting period, which ended up being over six months. We hoped we would do enough that she would at least recognize him when she saw him again in person. Imagine my surprise when he came for his first visit not only did she recognize him, but she was more attached to him than she was when he left two months before that. It was a matter of seconds before they were rolling around on the floor laughing. By the time we got home, it was almost as though she had never been away from him.

In retrospect, there were a few things we did that made all the difference in developing this long-distance bonding experience between father and daughter. Here are our 4 biggest tips for those co-parenting long-distance over video chat.

1. Set A Routine

Like everything with kids, it’s always better when part of a routine. We established the routine of video calling twice a day at certain times. Not necessarily times on the clock, but times in her activities. For example, we always call right when she woke up, even though that time varied a bit day-to-day. When it’s part of the routine, then kids know what to expect and look forward to. It sets them up to make the most of the limited time they have on the video call, and also to rely on the other parent to be there when the phone rings. We also had certain phrases, rhymes, and activities they would share during each call. This gave her something to look forward to, and it really helped us see the changes in her development by noticing her participation over time.

2. Supplement The Routine

In addition to the regular calls, we always made sure Daddy was present via video for the big things. If she did something that made her extra proud, we’d call Daddy. If she was throwing a tantrum, we called Daddy. Any time we wanted her to remember that both of us are there with her, we would video call.

This one may be hard for parents who are co-parenting after divorce. It requires excellent communication and a willingness to be interrupted 24/7, especially if the parents live in different time zones. In my experience, though, this part really is key for the bonding experience. While a routine is excellent, it’s being there for the big little things that mean a lot to kids. I really believe this was what helped our daughter know that we were both there for her, even if we were not both with her. From a parenting perspective, it also helped us stay consistent and on the same page about discipline and consequences.

3. Ignore The Limitations

It is easy to get caught up in the limitations of video chatting rather than focusing on the opportunities. Sure, you can’t be there in person, but how often can a toddler put her Daddy in a shopping bag and carry him around where ever she wants? That’s something that can only be done when Daddy is on a little phone screen. 

Toddlers have a very small attention span, so they are going to be hard to actually talk to for a long time. But that doesn’t mean that laughing, singing, and making funny faces have to stop. If the other parent can help, that makes the calls a bit more enjoyable. The parent who is physically present can create better camera angles and explain if something relevant is happening that is not showing up on the screen (like a wave, for example). The younger the child, the more patience it will take, and the more likely you are to be staring at walls and ceilings more than actual faces. If you can get past that, you can have long, fun video calls that make a lasting impression.

4. Save the Grown-Up Talk for Later

Do not mix video visits with adult conversation. Of course, any time my husband got on the phone, there were things I wanted to update him on and things we needed to discuss. It was important that this conversation not take precedence over our kiddo actually goofing around with Daddy. No matter how perfectly a video visit goes, it is still only a snippet of time in a child’s day. As long as she wants his attention, it should be hers.

When did we talk about everything else? A separate conversation when she was asleep was the best time. Or, during a long visit, there were frequent times when she wandered off to have a few minutes of independent play. During those snippets, I’ll turn the camera so that he can watch her while we talk about our own stuff. For divorced parents, this allows you to keep the visit focused and keep the adult conversation separate.

Overall, interacting with a child in person is the best way to form a bond. When that is impossible to do, though, technology gives us amazing opportunities to keep those relationships strong.

Do you have questions about parental alienation and/or bonding in the midst of a legal situation? You can schedule a chat with our lawyer by clicking here.

I’m Back!

I have something bold to say: I get it.

I just got back from almost seven months in India where I went to pick up my daughter. I ended up fighting a third-world court system to finalize her adoption. I fought language barriers, political corruption, legal inconsistencies, and slow government offices. We lived in hotels, and I did it mostly alone since my husband had to work at home. I did all of this in a country I do not call home, with people who knew nothing about me. My law degree was totally useless in that world.

So now, I get it.

I know exactly what it’s like to be in your shoes, hiring a lawyer for a boatload of money with no guarantees that they will even help the situation.

I understand what it’s like to be away from my support system, physically and emotionally, and still present as strong and confident.

I have experienced what it’s like to stare at stacks of paperwork with no idea how to fill it out, then make little errors that throw everything into chaos.

I know what it’s like to be in a place of complete uncertainty, taking care of myself and my toddler, knowing that her entire world rested on my shoulders.

This list could go on and on (and it will). Because now that I’m back, I will share it with you. Not because I want to impress you with my stories, but because I want to impress upon you that I get it.

Some significant changes are coming to this law firm, the first being implementing our new brand: Girl’s Best Lawyer Friend.

Moving forward, I’m not going to be just a lawyer. There is no way I could go back to that way of practice now that I’ve been on your side of the story. Instead, I’m here to help you get through whatever is standing in the way of making your dreams come true. Because when stuff goes wrong, it’s great to have a lawyer friend who knows their stuff.

Here is what you can look forward to in the coming weeks and months:

  • Experience-based blogs and podcasts about all the stuff no one talks about–the feelings, the money, the fears, and everything else associated with taking yourself and your family into the courtroom.
  • A particular line-up of legal services, all on flat fees and subscription rates (that’s right, we’re completely scrapping whatever is left of our hourly fees).
  • A new area of legal services: Adoption
  • Extended consultations and intakes, all at no charge. Because we need time to understand each other before we know if I’m the right lawyer for you.
  • A new charitable initiative that you can personally connect to.

So from now on, when you reach out to my firm, you won’t just be talking to just a lawyer. You’ll be talking to a woman and her team who have been through the trenches you are in and are eagerly waiting to give you a hand up toward success.

Ready to chat with your new best lawyer friend? Click here to schedule a no-cost, no-obligation coaching call right now.

Prefer to listen? Check out our podcast here!

The Most Important Person in Your Corner

Life is quite a ride, isn’t it? When we find ourselves at all-time lows, we must rely on the people around us to help. We go to doctors for medical crises. We have lawyers for legal problems. There are counselors for mental health emergencies. The list goes on. It is easy for you to think that your supportive best friend or the professional charging you a fortune is the most important person in your corner.

I’m here to tell you that you are wrong.

Meet Ria*

I started my career as an advocate for victims of domestic violence. Ria was one of my first clients. From our first conversation, Ria identified with me. She openly said that she wished she had the confidence, knowledge, and professional potential that I had. She longed to be free of her abusive partner and make something of herself. As a young professional in my early 20’s, I felt had little to offer Ria. I encouraged her to focus on herself, realize her potential, and think beyond the confines of her abusive marriage.

I spent a summer talking to Ria on a weekly basis. She had a lot of legal issues to work through that I simply could not help her with. At the time I was just an advocate, I did not have a law degree. I did everything I could to help Ria with social services. Then, it was time for her to get legal help. I did some investigating and found Ria an excellent lawyer, someone who I myself admired and aspired to be like.

I spoke with Ria and told her that she needed to get a lawyer. She yelled, cried, and accused me of abandoning her. She was confident that she could not get through her life without me. She needed me to be there with her, to help her, to hold her hand. Ria was certain she could not move forward without having me there in her corner.

Of course, there was nothing more I could do. Even if I wanted to help her, I could not. With the help of my supervisor, I learned how to give Ria the referral and encouraged her to take the next step. Then I bowed gracefully out of her life. She told me that I was giving her a death sentence. A part of me was afraid she was right.

Here’s The Truth

Several years later, after I became a lawyer and started working with survivors of abuse on a regular basis, I came to terms with reality. I had not abandoned Ria. In fact, I did the opposite of that by referring her to a lawyer who could actually help her. Had I stuck around and pretended to help, I would have only held Ria back from her potential. That was the exact opposite of what I wanted to do.

I met a coach who taught me a lesson that was invaluable in helping me put this into words for my clients:

Put the process on the pedestal, not the person.

The only thing that actually works is the actual process you are working within. The people there beside you are your allies, they are not your solution, and they are certainly not your success.

When you go in for surgery, you are counting on the surgical procedure to heal you, not the surgeon performing it.

When you bake a cake, you are counting on the accuracy of the recipe, not the hands of the baker.

Similarly, when you have a legal problem, you rely on the word of the law, not the lawyer you hired.

Does this mean that you go with any joe-schmoe on the street corner? Absolutely not. The person you choose to help you through the process is an extremely important part of your success. You need allies who have the wisdom, experience, and finesse to help you get through as well as possible.

What this means is that you trust yourself enough to find the people you need to get you through the next step in your journey to success. Once you have accomplished that step, you stop and re-evaluate who you need in your corner to take the next step. And if that next step involves different people than the last step did, you value yourself enough to seek out the people you need to move forward, even if it’s uncomfortable.

I do not know what happened to Ria. At this point I have moved states, changed my name, and honestly don’t even remember Ria’s real full name. Chances are I will never actually know what happened to her. But what I do know is that I left her with the process. She had her social services lined up, she knew what she needed to do next, and she had a phone number to call. As the main person in her corner at the time, that was the best I could have possibly done for her.

If the people in your life truly care about your success, they will give you everything they can, then let you go gracefully so you can continue your journey to success.

The One Who Matters

So, if the people in your life come and go, then who is the single most important person in your corner?

It’s the one who is there with you from start to finish, no matter what.

The person who always has your back, regardless of how awful things may get.

It’s the person who forgives your mistakes, shakes off the dirt, and keeps going with you until you reach the end.

The most important person on your journey is the one and only person who is 100% invested in your success, who shares your failures, and who straps on the gloves to fight when life gets you down.

The most important person in your corner is…you.

Family court in Missouri can be long, and it is natural for you to have some life transformations along the way. If you feel your lawyer is no longer a good fit for you, you can schedule a Family Court coaching session to review your case with our attorney and determine if switching to a new lawyer is right for you.

*Names are changed to protect confidentiality

Getting Divorced Without A Fight

You go through enough just making the decision to get divorced. By the time you get there, the last thing you need is another huge fight. And a fight that could last for a year or more? No, thank you. The good news is that there is no part of getting divorced that actually requires you to fight. Even if efforts to mediate have failed, you can still get divorced quickly, quietly, and calmly. Many people can even do it in a way that lets them stay on cordial terms with their ex after it’s over. So, what’s the secret to getting divorced without a fight?

It can all be summed up into 3 simple steps, which come together to form a great mantra:
Be prepared, stay focused, and check yourself.

Step 1: Be Prepared

Divorce is a legal proceeding. Divorce, in its nature, is not designed to be emotional, spiritual, or anything other than one contract trumping an older contract. You made a contract when you got married. Now, you are making a new contract to get divorced. This new contract will address everything that was touched by your marriage contract – kids, money, and property.

To be prepared for divorce, do the following things:

  • Kids. Know your kids schedules, their needs, and any special considerations that are crucial to their wellbeing. Have these written out, and even have some ideas to keep those needs met when the household splits into two.
  • Money. Know where your money is, how much is where, and how it all works. You should know how to trace any significant amounts of money that you brought into the marriage and all the money that has come in since you got married. Understand how your different accounts work, how to access them, and exactly how they are titled.
  • Property. Gather all the deeds, titles, and other important documents for your assets. This includes real property (house, land, etc.) and personal property (automobiles, jewelry, etc.). If you have appraisals for any of the property then make sure you get all that together, too.

Being prepared is largely about knowing what’s going on and having all the paperwork together to prove it. This step is the one that saves my clients the most time and mental energy.

Step 2: Stay Focused

When you decide to get divorced, you should have clear goals. That is the first thing I work on with every single one of my clients. Going into a divorce without a goal is like setting out on a roadtrip without a destination. You need to know what you want out of this whole experience.

Once you know your goals, stay focused on them. The divorce process will make flips and turns along the way. You and your current spouse will butt heads because you value different things. Your job is to stay focused on what you want to achieve and let your team help you get there. People who stay focused on their goals are much more likely to settle a case out of court and avoid the fight that happens at trial.

Step 3: Check Yourself

There is one thing that causes more doubt, pain, and grief for my clients than anything else: losing control of your feelings.

The moment you lose sight of your goals and let your emotions take over, you will quickly find yourself lost in the hustle of family court. It is important that you check yourself regularly. Whatever you need to do to make important decisions in a calm and rational manner, do it. For example, I have some clients who need to think for at least 24 hours before making important decisions. This allows their emotional reaction to come out before they think through a situation logically. You want the logic to control how your case proceeds.

How you check yourself is up to you. Some people need friends they can talk to and bounce ideas off of. Others need a therapist who can help them process those deep emotions. Others still need quiet time to work through it on their own. Whatever it is you need, have those systems established and in place before you start. It will serve you well.

If you need help preparing for a divorce, you can book a Divorce Prep coaching session with an experienced Missouri family law attorney.

What To Tell Your Ex About Your New Relationship

You will be hard-pressed to find a woman who has not started a new relationship and wondered, “should I tell my ex?” This moral dilemma troubles everyone from adolescent girls around a lunch table to women sipping wine in their golden years. If your past relationships ended with any kind of court involvement, then this question becomes even more complex. I have had this question time and time again, both from friends and from clients. I have found that the response I give depends greatly on what their goals are. Here is my practical advice for what to tell your ex about your new relationship.

Goal: Co-Parenting

If you share a child with your ex, it is in the best interests of everyone that you maintain a healthy co-parenting relationship. This means that you need to think about it from a co-parenting perspective.

If you are dating someone with no intention of them meeting your kids in the near future, then say nothing. You have no co-parenting reason to share the information with your ex. Any information that does not relate to co-parenting can be easily misconstrued and result in drama. In my world, drama means that you could end up back in court for no good reason at all.

If you have a new significant other who is going to be involved in your child’s life, then you should discuss that with your ex. Tell them about this new person, the nature of your relationship (dating, engaged, etc.), and how you expect your kids to be involved with them. Be honest, frank, and stick to the point. Other than the nature of your relationship with them, keep everything else focused on the kids and not on yourself.

Keep in mind that when a potential step-parent comes on the scene, tensions are inevitable. What causes the tension – jealousy, grief, anger at losing you – is way beyond my pay grade. All I know is that your ex is likely to have some kind of reaction. Do not let your own emotions get caught up in their reaction, especially their initial reaction. Remember that you do not need their permission to see or marry someone else.

Many women get caught up in new relationships with people who they think will be better parents than their ex. This may or may not be true. Remember, though, that no matter who comes into your life, you and your ex are the only parents of your child, and those boundaries cannot get blurred no matter how much happier you are with someone new.

When talking to your ex, address issues regarding parenting and nothing else. Give them the courtesy of being involved with this new person in your child’s life. Think about how you would want to be treated if the roles were reversed, and do that.

Goal: Friendship

If you want to stay friends with your ex, then just follow your gut when it comes to telling them about someone new.

Interact with your ex like you would any of your other friends. If you want to tell them, then go for it. If you want to keep it private, then that’s okay, too. Someone who is a friend, and only a friend, should be happy when you share your happiness with them.

Goal: Jealousy

Many women have come to me with a new relationship wanting to make their ex jealous. This concerns me when it happens while that woman is still in court getting divorced from her ex. It is not a healthy attitude to have, and while I understand how good it may feel to give them the emotional jab, it really does not end well for anyone – in or out of the courtroom.

My honest lawyer friend answer is this: don’t do it.

If jealousy is your only motive, then take a deep look into the mirror at the person you are, and ask if that is the person you truly want to be.

About Social Media…

What’s interesting from where I sit is the controversy around learning things on social media. This is how a lot of people communicate, and yet also how a lot of people expect not to connect with an ex.

I have had women come to me upset that their ex told them something privately saying, “he was clearly rubbing it in my face.”

Other times, they are upset because they learned something from a social media post and said, “he was clearly rubbing it in my face.”

When it comes to social media, I think we all need to dial it back a notch and loosen up. It is clear that everyone sees social media differently. If following your ex on social media is going to get you riled up, then you can stop checking in on them that way.

When YOU are the one with news to share, make sure you act in accordance with your goals. If you do that, then how they react has nothing to do with you.

Navigating a relationship with your ex can be hard, especially after a divorce or custody dispute. To talk with a lawyer in Missouri about what to tell your ex, click here to book a coaching session with Rachna Lien at The Lien Law Firm, LLC.

How to Change Your Name

The process for how to change your name is simple: get legal documentation of the change, then get all your important documents re-issued in your new name. Skipping either of these steps can cause headaches, hassles, and legal issues when you least expect them.

Step 1: Get Legal Documentation of the Name Change

Your name is given to you legally. For most people, their name is registered in the state they were born. This registration is usually done by the hospital or other entity that oversees the birth. Once they register your name and your existence, the state issues you a birth certificate with your legal name.

To change your name, you need a follow-up legal document that changes your name from the one on your birth certificate to something else. In Missouri, this must be done in court. For a child, both parents generally have to consent and/or be formally notified about the change before the court will hear the case. For an adult, the change must be published in a legal newspaper so creditors can be notified of the change.

Once a judge issues an order, you will receive a document that clearly states your new name and the date it is effective. You can proceed with using your new name from that point forward.

Step 2: Get Important Documents Re-Issued

You should stop using your old name and update your important documents as soon as practicable. This will help with a clean transition from one name to the next. Below is a convenient checklist of the documents you need to get re-issued.

You should note that you cannot truly change your birth certificate. If your state does change your birth certificat, that does not mean that your previous name is eradicated from all systems and records. Your name at birth will always be on file with the state. For adults, I have found little to no value in trying to change your birth certificate. For kids, a birth certificate with a new name helps them live without having to explain the change every time they undergo a life transition.

Frequently Asked Questions about Changing Your Name

Q: If I get married, can I change my name without going to court?
A: This depends on the state where you get married and what they include on your marriage license. If you are in a state where your marriage license includes a specific designation of what your new full name will be, then you should not need to go to court to change your name. You should check with a lawyer licensed in your state to be sure. In Missouri and some other states, the marriage license makes no mention of either spouse changing their name. In that case, the only way to legally change your name is by going to court.

Q: Social Security will change my name without a court order. Do I still need to go to court?
A: Yes. Many people are able to go to the Social Security Administration and change the name on their Social Security card without any documented proof. This is very common in states that allow a woman to use a marriage license as proof that they want to take their husband’s last name. With a new Social Security card, you can then get a new driver’s license, passport, and other important documents issued in a new name. The problem with this is that it skips Step 1, so you have no actual documentation of your name before and after the change. This means there is no way to prove that your old name and your new name belong to the same person. This has caused issues for several of my clients when providing documents and identity verifications for things like credit card fraud, adoption (especially international adoption), and claiming retirement/survivor/etc. benefits.

Need help with a name change in Missouri? Call The Lien Law Firm at 314-722-8557 or follow this link to schedule a complimentary case review. If you live outside the State of Missouri, contact an attorney in your current state of residence.