Opinion Columns & Blogs

Kids of divorced parents get a BETTER deal

It’s a situation no one wants but which has unfortunately become commonplace in our culture — divorce. Although emotionally trying for the couple involved, research shows that children of divorce can be psychologically shocked and overwhelmed by the breakup of Mom and Dad.

Psychologists now know that a good percentage of children will suffer guilt, thinking that if only they had somehow acted better they could have saved a doomed marriage. That misplaced guilt can play out in loss of esteem because a family unit isn’t there to validate abilities and skills, which can lead to withdrawal from the outside world, which spirals down to poor grades and stunting of social skills.

The courts recognize these downsides and generally order some kind of visitation rights to the parent who doesn’t get custody of the children involved, rightfully understanding that the bonds of parenthood can be stronger than marriage vows, and that regardless of how badly the parents may have messed up their partnership, children need time with both of them.

As simple as that sounds, it’s not — at least in situations where the courts order supervised visits. These are circumstances where, for whatever reason, a noncustodial parent can only see his or her children while under the supervision of a third party. And that third person, a monitor for lack of a better term, can cost money.

That’s where the Women’s Community Center of San Luis Obispo County comes onto the scene. The center found that there are parents in the county who haven’t seen their children in years because they couldn’t afford the cost of anywhere from $65 to $90 an hour for supervised visits.

Robin Rinzler is a professional mediator who sits in on cases handled by the county’s Family Law Court, the entity that oversees court-ordered visits.

Seeing the heartbreak of those who wanted to see their children but couldn’t afford the cost, she and Angie King, president of the WCC’s Board of Directors, came up with BETTER — Building Enduring Ties That Enrich Relationships. With WCC’s blessing, and sanctioned by the courts, the program got off the ground in March.

Here’s how it works. A noncustodial parent calls BETTER at 544-9313 for an appointment. The person will be asked to bring in a copy of the court’s custody order, a copy of the income and expenses form from divorce papers and a driver’s license.

If qualified, WCC will pair the person with a monitor, who will coordinate visitation dates and times and pick-up and drop-off locations. The monitor stays on-site during the visit.

The income statement is needed because the WCC charges a sliding scale fee that starts at $5 an hour.

If the interview goes well, the parent is asked to sign a 16-point document that outlines what is and what isn’t acceptable during a visit. That includes no swearing, being clean and sober, no lobbying the kids against the other parent and other common- sense rules.

Now, here’s the pitch: BETTER currently has five volunteer monitors; it’s looking for others. It’s a commitment to be sure. For example, a visit may be set up for a Sunday. Can you devote your time that day? You should be able to be firm if a visit appears to be going sideways (which hasn’t happened). Training takes a couple of hours.

And the payoff? You might ask yourself: What price can you put on the squeals of delight that come from a child who sees his or her parent after being apart? I thought so, too.

Interested? You can find out more by calling the WCC at 544-9313, or Rinzler at 801-3235. Or, better yet, the WCC is having an open house this Friday from 2 to 4 p.m. at its new office at 4251 S. Higuera (where Los Osos Valley Road dead ends onto Higuera).

The Women’s Community Center is a nonprofit, all-volunteer organization that can use help not only with the BETTER program but is also looking for volunteers as board members and office help.

Make a difference; give them a call.

Bill Morem can be reached at bmorem@thetribunenews.com or at 781-7852.