A 'SMILE' goes a very long way

Marie Matyjaszek

When you are involved in the family law court system, chances are you don't feel like smiling. And if there weren't already enough lawyer appointments and court hearings, the judge may order you to attend a program called SMILE. You can voluntarily participate too (not a lot of people see this as an option, but hopefully this article will change your mind).

SMILE stands for "Start Making It Livable for Everyone," and is offered in counties throughout Michigan. It was the brainchild of Oakland County Circuit Judge Edward Sosnick and family law attorney Richard Victor of Bloomfield Hills. In case you are one of those people who is afraid of the dentist, have no fear, the SMILE program has nothing to do with cavities and Novocain.

The program varies from county to county, but its purpose and message remain the same: help parents going through separation, divorce, or those were never in a relationship, put the needs of their children first and improve their co-parenting relationship. SMILE shows parents how their children are impacted by the behaviors of the adults, and how this behavior shapes their little beings both physically and emotionally.

SMILE lasts approximately one to two hours and is typically offered once a month. Friend of the Court staff, therapists and counselors active in the court system, as well as family law mediators, are some of the potential speakers at each session. Videos examining the impact of separation may be shown, but the personal and professional experience of the speakers are what make this program truly worthwhile. These individuals have been working with the court system, parents and children of separate households for years and have likely ran across every situation imaginable.

Many individuals tell me that there is no need for them to attend SMILE because they don't call their ex bad names and don't fight in front of the children. While the program certainly encourages a peaceful relationship between parents, it also provides parents with an idea of how the kids may react to the life changes that occur with the breakup of the intact family. Every child's reaction is unique, but there are definite behavioral changes, stressors and worries that children experience. Learning what those are and how to tackle them as a parent can help your child (and you) better adjust.

Parents are encouraged to ask questions and actively participate during the program, with many of the speakers providing their contact information for future assistance. Some counties provide a SMILE booklet that contains a summary of the program's important points, as well as helpful resources like books and contact information for various organizations. If your county does not provide a book, both Oakland and Washtenaw Friend of the Court websites have a link to their books, so you can download a copy. While the resource/contact list is likely area-specific, the rest of the content will largely be the same.

If your judge orders or invites you to attend the SMILE program, don't look at it as yet another inconvenience of the court system. View it as an opportunity to better your co-parenting relationship for the sake of the kids.


Marie Matyjaszek is a family law attorney whose blog site is: http://legalbling.blogspot.com. She can be reached by e-mail at matyjasz@hotmail.com.)

Published: Mon, Jun 29, 2015