Episode 3 – A Therapists Commentary of Divorce Challenges with Children – Guest Melanie Burman
By: Leslie Barrows
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Episode 3 – A Therapists Commentary of Divorce Challenges with Children – Guest Melanie Burman
INTRO: Hi there. I’m attorney Leslie Barrows and you’re listening to the Texas Divorce Lawyer Podcast with me Leslie Barrows. The goal of this podcast is to educate people in Texas about divorce. I want to be able to describe what divorce means how it affects children both young and grown and give my listeners a little bit of hope especially if they are about to start or are in the middle of divorce proceedings. Welcome to the podcast.
Leslie Barrows: This is Leslie Barrows attorney of the Barrows firm, and today I’m talking to Melanie Burman and so glad she’s here hanging out with me today on it on a Monday morning which you know those can be challenging for all of you guys. But Melanie is a great resource for working. If you’re having any issues with, Let’s see, you’re wanting someone to go to individual or group therapy. She’s been in private practice for over 30 years at the Grapevine Behavioral Health Care Associates and I know I’ve seen a lot of clients to her and also a lot of the judges know her and are familiar with her and send her, you know people going through the litigation process down at the Family Court House of course. So I wanted to welcome Melanie here today.
Melanie Burman: Well thank you Leslie and glad to be here.
LB: So Melanie I just want to talk about kind of what you’ve been doing and what you see from your perspective as working with you know day in and day out with people going through kind of lots of different things in their life. You know you’ve been you help people with anxiety and depression and a lot of you do the parent-teen relationships which you know I think a lot of us see that too because with technology and in addition things like that we get that a lot. So what’s your favorite group of people to work with.
MB: Well my favorite group is marriage and family and that evolved after a few years of practice. I remember learning that in school and you put which it obviously was years ago and I was told during a class that when you if you could have a family session and not say anything you’ve really come a long way. Now that doesn’t always happen and of course, it doesn’t happen with the higher conflict families. But I have been blessed to have families come in, a large group of families sometimes, in-laws and all of that and they choose their topic and they choose who the leader of the group is and I just kind of facilitate. So that is always that’s always a blessing for me. Unfortunately, I also have the higher conflict families which test my skills.
LB: So you’ve had more than just the typical husband-wife or same-sex couples in your office.
MB: I have.
LB: OK. That’s interesting. So that’s an option then. How do you start with marital counseling? What’s your recommendation for couples maybe you know they’re having some financial struggles or maybe some we know one of them has an addiction or just having a lot of conflicts. What do you start with and marital counseling?
MB: Well in a referral that is not a court-related referral I generally have both parties come in, both a husband and a wife. And I give them each time to talk about what their strengths are in the relationship. I also generally start early in the session by asking them have you agreed to have the two of you agreed on what the problem is. And it’s interesting that often probably 60 percent they’ll say yes we do. Sometimes they do not. So we want to get an idea of what they identify as a problem and then to help them identify what their strengths are in the relationship and what their strengths are in their partner to see if they can state those and that usually helps me get a framework of how to move forward.
LB: And how long when someone comes in? Do you initially do you meet with the couple?
MB: It’s usually for an hour usually 50 minutes to an hour.
LB: OK. And do you ever divide those sessions up where maybe the husband comes in first or are the wife comes in a different time or how does that work?
MB: Well if there is going to be separate sessions I schedule them on different days so that one you know if one comes in and is crying and upset then they don’t have their partner doesn’t have to see them when they leave. So we may make a decision after the first session if there is going to be separate sessions or individual sessions and then we will schedule them.
LB: So when people come to you for marital counseling is there like a top-five issues that the couples have or what do you see, given your expertise in this field.
MB: Sex sexual relationship is often a priority financial infidelity or financial mismanagement is often an issue that comes up. Poor communication is an issue. It’s interesting because the things that we learn are we are supposed to address prior marriage are the ones that come up later. Communication, sexuality, finances, decision making, religion those kinds of things are often what appears at the end. That that brings a couple in for counseling.
LB: Do you see a lot of people to where maybe you have a blended family you know they’re coming into maybe they’re their second marriage or maybe someone’s bringing kids in from a different relationship. Do you find that that can cause them tension and stress on the relationships too?
MB: It definitely does. I think when a couple blends a family they have somewhat of a delusion about it they like the Brady Bunch and it may be for a while but there are always issues that come up and it is a difficult job and being a step-parent takes it. It is a different relationship than being a parent. So I helped those couples figure out where they fit in and how they can relate to the child that is a stepchild and how to figure out their role with that child.
LB: And do you find too where you have maybe there’s been an adoption of an infant and the child gotten older and the families like I don’t know what to do with this kiddo you know we had the kiddo and adopted the child from at a foster care have you ever seen that happen?
MB: I have a couple of cases now that are active where the behavior can be unpredictable. Know of course it depends on the child’s development and the personality and there’s a lot of unknown factors. But yeah sometimes the children will start having emotional struggles that somewhat blindside the family, unfortunately. However I’m sure they are told to expect that – also personality issues might come up which I think may be genetic. You know we really don’t know some of that and therefore the parents are uncertain how to manage that.
LB: And as far as marital counseling when people come in and they try to work with the counseling is there ever a time where you say hey you know you guys are just not making any progress. I mean ultimately they end up having to you know get attorneys or decide that they’re going to go file for divorce.
MB: That’s usually a statement that comes from them. Sometimes they will come in initially and saying that we know we are considering a divorce or one of the persons are considering a divorce and I request that they give it some time and work on some issues to see if we can move past that. If they get to the point where they say well you know I’m ready to talk to an attorney. That is unfortunate but there are times that I do have to address that with them.
LB: OK, And once they do if they do have to file for divorce do you still stay involved or do they just kind of move on through the court system?
MB: Well it kind of depends on the dynamics. Sometimes I stay involved. Sometimes I can work with a couple if they have developed some trust and feel comfortable working with me. I can work with them on the divorce process and kind of what’s going to happen and how to communicate with the children and how to prepare the family for this change. It really depends on the couple.
LB: Yeah. I get that question a lot two of you know hey we’re going to separate we’re trying to work it out. I’ve been as kind to each other as we can where we’re you know we’ve each made mistakes. But how do we tell our children that we’re going to separate? Is there a certain way that you do that you know? Because of course, you’re going to have a lot of change because you’ll be you know two houses or some people move in to still cohabitate in the house which you know that that only lasts for a certain period of time until they each start dating. Yes. Is there any I mean because you want to keep the kids out of the divorce part and just continue to tell them you know hey we love you but how do you go about that if you how do you go about telling a kid that you know their parents are going to divorce?
MB: I think the first thing to do is consider the age of the child and understand their perception of time. So you don’t tell a child something that isn’t going to happen until three months or six months away. I think it’s always important to be able to have some answers for the child. If you say yeah we’re getting a divorce and then you say you know emotionally and then more am I going to live I don’t know. You want to have this view. I don’t know as you possibly can. You will have some. But you want to be able to say this is what’s going to happen. And on this day someone so is moving here or so-and-so staying here so that they know kind of what the picture looks like. Also, I say this often, it is important to understand that you cannot tell a child anything you – you can’t tell anybody anything. But if you tell a child we’re getting a divorce because someone so had an affair or so and so it was irresponsible or whatever it might be or someone so doesn’t love me anymore you cannot undo that. So I think it’s better to not answer questions and gently not answer them until you can be clear about what you need to say to a child and is it with.
LB: So if you have multiple children is it good to keep them all in the loop all in one conversation with everybody there or do you, Do you meet with them individually if they’re of different ages?
MB: Well it would depend of course on the ages if you have a like an eight to 10 year spread you might want to talk to the older one separately than the younger ones. I think if you talk to the younger ones you would want to have the older ones there. Generally though, the best thing to do is talk to all of the children at one time with both parents.
LB: Okay. Now you also get a lot of people that come in and I’m sure you hear this too where you know I’ll say well why are you getting divorced? Usually, it’s one of the main questions and you hear the adultery but most of the more I hear lately is what he’s a narcissist. So we have that term but to you what is that? What does that really mean?
MB: Well to the diagnosis of a narcissist that is it’s a clinical pattern of behavior in terms of being kind of self-centered and not taking responsibility, lack of empathy, poor communication, a real lack of compassion. I think that probably all of us go through some of that as the marriage gets older. However, I do think that it’s unfortunate that the divorce process sometimes can result and generally man being more defensive or frustrated in the process and those types of personality traits tend to come out. I think that’s more of them. I mean I can’t say for sure. Sometimes there’s a real narcissist out there but a lot of those traits are more about being guarded and being protective.
LB: And what did the, when they come to you what do they say about the women?
MB: Generally that the male in the relationship will refer to the woman as emotional and careless not a good mom. Sometimes I refer to them as a borderline which is most of us know is a collection again of emotions and reactions that are include histrionic drama lots of cheerfulness a lot of hopelessness. Again I think that is somewhat a woman’s response to a divorce where those types of reactions happen whether or not they’re truly borderline. I don’t know but that is part of the traits I think that come out.
LB: And that borderline – that’s comes from a borderline personality disorder?
LB: OK. And those are aren’t personality disorders hard to hard to diagnose?
MB: Well they’re difficult because it really is just a group of coping and characters that a person’s a person has that fits into a specific kind of label. And we probably all move in and out of some of those throughout our lives and as we grow up I think it becomes more realistic when it creates a pattern of dysfunction in more than one relationship.
LB: Okay. And do you see a lot of a different kind of drug and alcohol addictions and porn addictions? When you’re working with couples and that’s leading them to call each other names and for the marriage to start going south?
MB: I do. I see a lot of addiction.
LB: And has there been an increase in porn addiction with technology and in the I guess social media?
MB: Right. Yes absolutely. There has been.
LB: And do you, Do you treat that or do you refer that to another specialist if that’s something that’s going on in the marriage?
MB: I can treat – I treat alcohol and drug addictions often that is an area of specialty an area that I like treating as well. Pornography addiction. I can work with that depending on the degree of the addiction. I may refer out depending on how deeply that person may have gotten into pornography and how they are able to cope with it. You know abstinence and that sort of thing.
LB: And do you think that when a couple comes to you that you know if they’re on social media or they have trust issues in their relationship that there should be some kind of accountability so maybe that the couple can rebuild their trust?
MB: I generally recommend that if there is infidelity or drug use, pornography – that couple have an open media agreement where they can look at each other’s phones and computers and that sort of thing. Not every night, not in a demanding way but we usually negotiate some type of communication around that so that both people and their relationship can feel comfortable about sharing that.
LB: OK. Now I wanted to transition it is the first of July and usually, you know under a lot of divorce decrees kids will be spending a lot of times with dads you know the whole month of July which can be all can be difficult for the moms. Do you have any pointers or something that you would tell moms that if this is you know one of their you know agreements that they had in their divorce decree how was how’s a good way to or what’s a good way to cope with that with your child being gone the entire month of July for summer?
MB: Well I think it’s good too, usually there is some kind of an arrangement for a phone call if it’s limited to limit it to whatever the court papers say or whatever the agreement is to have your phone calls with the child. Talk about what the child is doing do not ask if the child is happy do not ask if the child misses you don’t say any of those kinds of things try to be where that child is and enjoy – hear you hear what their activities are and enjoy try to enjoy with them what they are doing. If it’s new when it’s one of the first summers that this happens I suggest you get a committee or a team of peers and friends that you can call when you have anxiety that can help you kind of I guess talk you down a little bit. I also think it is a very good idea for all the single moms out there that have these things they want to do that they haven’t been able to do – to do them. If they’ve always wanted to take a weekend in Dallas shopping and spending a night at a hotel do it to do some of those things that they haven’t been able to do because they have the children to use that time to enjoy being alone.
LB: And also it’s even it is the month of July, so a lot of times we’ll see an increase in August. You know dads that come in and say Hey I talked to my kid about that’s over 12 about where they want to live and they want to come live with me now. So do you see that a lot where they go hey I’ve been here for the whole month and now the kiddo wants to they want we want to flip custody?
MB: I do see that I do. And luckily my position is in neutral and that’s what I am able to say is that you know I don’t have an opinion. I can’t make a recommendation. I the judge asked me to if the attorneys agree and want me to work with the family to help have to help kind of figure out what might be best for the child. I can do that but generally, that is not something that I get too involved in.
LB: Yeah. It’s a hot topic for sure I usually come around August.
LB: And you’re also a parent facility at Tate or what is that?
MB: A parent facilitator is a, It’s a court-ordered or attorney agreed position for a counselor or an attorney that works with the family to develop parenting skills communication skills. It works with the current order that they have either a temporary order or a permanent order that helps it helps the couple work through the ups and downs of that particular order. For example, a parent facilitator may help determine where the child goes to school or about extracurricular. It may appear facilitator may help negotiate telephone time or telephone roles with a child. It allows a third neutral party that is in contact with the attorneys and the judge if requested to be able to help the parents learn how to be divorced without those little complications and conflict is possible.
LB: And when you are a parent a parenting facilitator, do you have to have a court order? Or can you just, Can they just come to you without a court order and try to work out their visitation issues?
MB: They can come to me it’s not considered parents limitation specifically now they can come. Agreed through the attorneys with a rule 11 or something like that. I have a couple I’m seeing now that I’m not sure how they found me. I am kind of doing parents alliteration but I’m calling it cope parent counts co-parenting class. I’m not the one calling your co-parenting so because court because parents imitation is a specific title throughout the Texas family law code.
LB: And so usually when you have the parent facilitation most people are operating what under your standard possession order which is you know first, third and fifth weekends and you get the Thursdays. Do you also see, are you seeing an increase in what may be a 2-2-5 or which, or a 50/50 possession and access schedule?
MB: I’m definitely seeing an increase in increase in a 50/50 access schedule and the 2-2-3 or is it is a pattern is a schedule that I’m seeing quite a bit of as well. And I think what’s interesting with the 2-2-3 is that if there is a fifth weekend that allows the parents to either kind of make a decision for example on the fifth-weekend mom will take the older kids and Dad will take the younger ones then they’ll flip on whatever the fifth weekend is. So that gives them four weekends to kind of determine how they want to spend that time.
LB: Yeah. Because I think with the standard possession schedule you know it’s like you’re pretty much a weekend parents there are at least the 2-2-3 is one where you know you get more time during the actual work week or school week.
MB: Correct. Yes.
LB: And but a lot of times people want a 50/50 and they don’t live close to each other. And you know they don’t really co-parent well. So what’s your recommendation for the people that hey you know they don’t really get along at all?
MB: Well that 50/50 is definitely easier if there is communication and some geographical closeness. I when they’re asking for a 50/50 I will tell them kind of the pros and cons of that and you know and explain the what their schedule might be like you know if somebody says you don’t want a 50/50 and I’ll hire a nanny to take the kids to school. Well, that’s great but that’s not always what’s best for the child. So I try to help them see what would be in the best interests of the child if it’s a 2-2-3 or if it’s a Thursday/Sunday or the expanded standard. You know they have an extra Thursday and Monday with an additional Tuesday we try to look at all the options so that each parent feels like they’re getting the time they need with the child but it isn’t in the best interest of the child.
LB: And you know you’ll see that a lot where they’ll say Hey well I want to, I want more time but then you know I’m going to hire a nanny or I just have a new girlfriend. I’ve been dating for two months and or I have you know Grandma or Grandpa is that always in the child’s best interest to have these other people involved in the transporting?
MB: Well I think sometimes it can be of course but you know it depends on the relationship if Grandma has been around and been doing that I think that’s good. If that is something grandma has been doing Grandma may get tired of it after about three months if the kids are grumpy in the morning or whatever it might be. I do not recommend a new girlfriend being a part of that. Usually, my recommendation is that the children do not meet their new girlfriend until you are divorced – divorced finally divorced and at least six months post-divorce and six months in a dating relationship.
MB: So I that would not be ideal at all.
LB: Is there any way to you know for people how do you nicely tell people that you know you want to parent your child not a grandparent or you know some of that more a new stepmom. How do you nicely do that?
MB: Well I nicely do it about twice and then I have to get really direct. I just try to explain to them that you know the goal of a shared custody plan is for that parent to have that morning time or that evening time or that extracurricular time with them and that, of course, all of us are going to need some help but the child is spend is there just spend time with the parent, not another adult.
LB: And also you know we see a lot with you know everyone wants their kids to be you know an elite in these select baseball and these competitive cheerleading events and you know go try out for Miss, Miss Teen Texas or whatever. So if you have a couple that is divorced and you know the mom or the dad whoever is the one that just keeps signing these kids up over and over. So when it’s dad or mom’s time they they’re just they can’t take them to all these appearances like there’s too much going on. What’s your recommendation for extracurricular activities?
MB: Generally it depends on how the child is how much the child had been involved prior to the divorce. But you know I could recommend that each child can pick one extracurricular activity that they can choose for the child and on you know on their time or if it bleeds into the other parents time that there is definitely some communication about it. So if each parent picks one extracurricular activity it does kind of keep the schedule a little more in control. It really depends again on communication. Some parents do that beautifully. Not everybody does. So it depends on the mode of the schedule and the communication of the parents.
LB: And I’ve noticed in the last probably what like five years we’ve seen that increase in the Talking Parents app or the Our Family Wizard, have you? Do you see an increase in the parents having to communicate through these apps now because their communication is so poor?
MB: I do and generally found that parent facilitator or the reunification therapist I have access to the app. It’s good because it allows me to see what kind of communication is happening but it’s also good because it is confidential or I mean they know I’m on it but they don’t see when I’ve read certain communications. But I do think it makes each parent think before they speak which is also another thing I’m working with them on and you can erase things from the app but it doesn’t go away it goes into the erase file. So it’s still there. I think that is a very good app that makes parents accountable and makes them think before they react.
LB: Now you’re also going you do reunification therapy for children. Can you tell us a little bit about what reunification therapy is?
MB: Reunification therapy is a process where if a child had in some way estranged from another parent such as hasn’t had much of a relationship with another parent, the parent had been for whatever reason unavailable, not involved – if there is some significant parental alienation where one parent may have a coach to encourage the child has specific feelings about the other parent – that’s a position I would take and help educate the parents and help the estranged parent and the child to develop a relationship.
LB: And so with that kind of therapy do you bring in the child I guess alone because maybe they’ve never met the other parent. Right so you have to there’s a lot of coordination with that reunification. Therapy is that correct.
MB: That’s correct. Yes.
LB: Okay. Well, thank you so much for being here today. And he was just you know great information for all of us and we appreciate you. Thank you.
MB: Absolutely, Leslie thank you.
OUT: Thanks for listening to the Texas Divorce Lawyer Podcast with me, attorney Leslie Barrows. If you like my show and want to know more, check out my Web site at barrowsfirm.com or please leave a review on iTunes, Spotify, or whichever social media outlet you’re listening on. Be sure to join me next time and thanks for listening!