Collaborative Practice Marin
Dealing with Disappointment and Divorce - Facing the New Normal

When divorce is discussed or in process, every member of the family experiences many difficult feelings: sadness, anger, confusion as well as disappointment.

As a coach and child specialist, I have witnessed the challenges faced by separating parents. Parents and children often struggle with new schedules, ideas, new ways to parent children, new ways to think about their parenting, their identity, and their future.  Many of the day-to-day events are shifting and unpredictable (outside) as are the feelings and thoughts (inside).

What we as humans all have in common is that we often wish this would  NOT be the way it is, we often stuggle with change, wish that things possibly stay the SAME, or be the way we had HOPED things would turn out.

Your children’s desire for stability, their hopes, dreams and preferences are important and it’s important to be aware of them.  Parents need to hear from their children about their hopes and dreams and. yes, their disappointments. It is also important to understand and accept your own (and your spouse’s) wishes for stability, your (and your spouse’s) hopes, dreams and preferences.

Families start with the sweetest and highest of hopes.  The good news is that we all do know about facing things that aren’t exactly the way we had planned or wished.  As little kids we were helped to tolerate (although maybe not enjoy) being the oldest or youngest sibling, tallest/shortest kid in class, running out of our favorite ice cream flavor or having our birthday party rained out!  Life is generous in offering us opportunities to learn from disappointment.

Remember how you have learned and taught your children to turn toward difficulty but not have it DEFINE us or them.  All is not ruined.  We teach our children to face challenges and disappointments with courage, determination, and renewed clarity of purpose.

Remembering your strengths as a person, as a parent, enables you to tolerate and even turn towards difficulty and disappointment, rather than avoid it or sugar coat it. You might tell your children how lucky they are to have two Christmases now, or you might help them accept their feelings of confusion and disappointment without the sugar coating.

We find ways to get through difficulties together, with humor, friends and perhaps a good book. Remember how you have done this in the past, for in those experiences are your resources and skills.

In the Collaborative Divorce process we help parents remember and reclaim their strengths and their hopes for their family, their children and themselves to craft a new normal.

Elizabeth Salin, MFT, is a Divorce Coach, Child Specialist, and psychotherapist in San Rafael.

Photo Credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.


Do I Need a Premarital Agreement?

 

            A very frequent question I am asked in my practice is do I need premarital (or sometimes referred to as a Prenuptial) Agreement.  A premarital agreement can be important to someone for a variety of different reasons.  The first important aspect of deciding whether you want or need a premarital agreement, is to understand what such an agreement can accomplish and address.  A premarital agreement can address things like:

 

•           how you are going to treat assets and debts that each of you bring into a marriage (examples include real property, retirement assets, inheritance, student loans, support you pay for a prior relationship); 

 

•           how you want to treat assets your earn or are gifted to you during the marriage (this can include compensation, bonuses, stock option grants, inheritance, etc.);

 

•           how you are going to pay your day to day bills;

 

•           do you want to pay each other spousal support (or do you want to limit it in some way);

 

•           do you want to provide for each other in your estate plans;

 

•           do you want to make gifts to each other;

 

            A premarital agreement can be a very positive experience for a couple when it is approached openly and collaboratively.  The objective of a premarital agreement, in my view, should be to address both parties needs and concerns going into their marriage in a way that allows a couple to (1) start their lives together with a solid foundation of being able to talk to each other about difficult topics and (2) find their own solutions.  Often, people's needs and concerns arise from their past experiences (fears that arise from their parents bad divorce, their own bad divorce, or pressure from their families). 

 

            My feeling is that a premarital agreement should be something that is created together, addressing your respective needs and concerns, and reflecting who you are as individuals as well as who you want to be as a couple starting your lives together.  Such an agreement can help a couple set their expectations going into their marriage and allow them each to express how they visualize their marital partnership.

 

            If you decide you do want a premarital agreement, your next step would be to meet with a family law professional to talk about how to best go about creating a premarital agreement and the different processes and professionals you can utilize to help you.


Lissa Rapoport is a family law attorney in San Francisco and Marin County.  lrapoport@lpslaw.com

Photo Credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.



Kids, Divorce and the Holidays

The holidays can be hard for families that are going through a divorce.  Many families have established traditions that they look forward to year after year.  These traditions may include extended family, travel, religious rituals, festive parties, decorating a tree or cooking special holiday foods.  Most parents want to make the holidays as celebratory and memorable as possible for their children and for themselves.  Finding joy and peace during a time of upheaval may not even feel possible.  Creating an atmosphere free from tension and conflict is a unique challenge during the time of a divorce when parents may have to share or divide some cherished traditions when the children are sharing their time with both parents.  Even such traditions as decorating the house might feel bittersweet when you are feeling emotionally fragile and full of uncertainty about the future.  It is even worse if you believe that your family home may not be your home next year.   The first year after separation is a year of change and adjustments, and the first holiday season after you and your spouse have separated can be especially difficult.  Here are some ideas that might make the holidays easier.

  1. Plan ahead!  Talk with your spouse about what kind of schedule will work during the holidays for you and for the kids.  Try to focus on what the children might prefer.  Perhaps you have already created a parenting plan with a holiday schedule, or if you have not done so, you might work with your divorce coach or mental health professional to develop a workable plan for this year.  The more carefully you plan, the more you, and your children, can enjoy the holidays.
  2. Consider whether you can share any part of the holiday season together with the children.  For some children, seeing their parents celebrating together can be reassuring, and for others it can be confusing.  Some divorcing parents would like to keep traditions going as a family, but if there is tension or conflict between them this is painful for the children.  For example, some families spend Halloween together, while others decide to alternate annually.  On Thanksgiving, you may celebrate on Thursday with the children one year, and on Friday the following year.  The Christmas holidays include a long school break, so give thought to how you would like to share that time, particularly if holiday travel is part of your tradition.
  3. Some families share Christmas by celebrating Christmas eve with one parent, and Christmas day with the other parent.  Other families simply alternate the holiday each year.  One family that finished their collaborative divorce agreed to celebrate together on Christmas morning, when the children opened their gifts and the family ate breakfast together.  The rest of the holiday was split between Mom’s and Dad’s.
  4. Like many families, you may be dealing with the financial stress of the divorce as you transition to supporting two households.  Remember that the children’s memories will not be of the gifts that you purchase—they will remember the warmth of the family time and activities, whether that is baking cookies, going for a bike ride, or watching a holiday show. 
  5. Take care of yourself.  These holidays will be different, and you will begin to create new traditions and rituals for yourself and your family.  When your children are with their other parent, do something you enjoy for yourself, perhaps with friends or family.  And remember that the holidays do get easier as you build new traditions and memories.  (Original post December 2013)

--Ann Buscho, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist and Collaborative Coach in Marin County.  




What if I Want my Children to Know That I Did Not Want a Divorce?

Oftentimes, collaborative family professionals and child therapists encourage parents to speak in one voice when discussing divorce with their children.

Children do best when they feel loved and cared for by both parents.

It is certainly true that if one parent decides the marriage is no longer workable, the couple ceases to be able to continue as before. Therefore a statement such as “mom and dad tried to make our relationship work but were unable to…” conveys a true fact.

Yet, if you did not want the divorce, you may still feel the desire to tell your children that this big change in their lives was not your fault. This may reflect your desire for them to know that “I am not the one who caused your pain.”  Or perhaps, it may derive from not wanting your children to grow up with the belief that if you start something you can always quit if it gets too difficult. You may also want your children to know you, your values, and your dreams for them.

As with many other sensitive issues in life, parents make decision on what they tell their children based on their age, development, temperament, interest and capacity to understand.

Most parents strive to protect their children from adult issues and concerns in order to not overwhelm them or introduce them to the adult world too soon.

Consulting with a child professional will assist you in determining how to best speak to your child. 



Jay Stone Rice, Ph.D., MFT, is a Coach and Child Specialist in Marin County.

Photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.


How Can I Survive this Divorce? I Feel Like I’m Falling Apart!

You may be so flooded with feelings that it may seem impossible to sit at a table, across from your spouse, to talk about the big decisions that must be made when one person decides that the marriage is over.  You wonder, “How can I get through this?”  Even though it is common, divorce is a life crisis, and one of the most stressful experiences you will have in your life.  Whether it is your spouse’s decision or yours, the fear, anxiety, and grief can feel overwhelming. You may feel angry or struggle with feelings of shame or guilt.  Here are some ways that you can take care of yourself:

  1. Slow the process down.  Don’t make big decisions in a crisis. Take it one day at a time and focus on calming down the emotions before you tackle big decisions about money, or moves, or the children.  If your divorce process has started, talk about the pace with your spouse and/or your professionals. Sometimes the pain is so great that “ripping the bandage off fast” seems appealing.  But research shows that slowing down the process eases the pain and you are more likely to make decisions about which you will feel good later.
  2. Even with a pace that feels more manageable, give yourself time to heal. After the divorce is over, it may take a year or more to fully heal and recover.  Be kind to yourself, and take it one day at a time.
  3. Turn to your social support and don’t isolate.  Talk to your friends, family, a divorce support group.  Talk to your divorce coach or your therapist, or turn to your faith counselor.  Just don’t let your kids be your confidantes, it isn’t good for them.  Your kids need to know that you have other sources of support.  Even adult children should be reassured that you have other sources of support.
  4. Do at least one thing every day that you enjoy. This could be a walk in nature, coffee with a friend, listening to music, reading, a comedy show or a game with your children. Physical activity and nature are healthy for body and spirit.
  5. Breathe deeply and often. Stop at least five times a day to take 3-5 deep belly breaths. Why? When you are anxious, you tend to breathe less, to breathe shallowly or to hyperventilate. Deep breaths relieve muscle tension, so you feel more relaxed physically. When you feel physically relaxed, you feel more emotionally relaxed and in control. Breathing feeds oxygen to your brain so you can think more clearly. And that feels good too.
  6. Plan something to do with a friend after each legal meeting.  This gives you some time to debrief with another trusted adult, so that you don’t take your emotions home alone or to your kids.
  7. Make sure that you are eating regularly, eating healthy foods, and getting enough sleep.  Limit how much alcohol you drink—it won’t help your sleep or make you feel better.
  8. Talk to your doctor to see whether you might benefit from medications to alleviate your anxiety, depression or insomnia.

Remember, you will get through your divorce and recover.  If you follow these tips and give yourself some time, you will be able to manage the stress and reduce the conflict of your divorce, so that you can heal. 


Ann Buscho, Ph.D., is a collaborative divorce coach and psychologist in Marin County.

Photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

What are the Steps and Timing Involved in Obtaining a Divorce?

What are the steps and timing involved in obtaining a divorce in California?  This is one of the first questions you will probably ask when you meet your lawyer, coach, or financial professional.

To get a divorce in California, three steps are required:

  1. The filing of a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage in the County in which you reside.
  2. Identification of all assets, debts, income and expenses.
  3. Creating the terms of a Judgment.

The Petition is a “check the box” form, three pages long, which is filed with the court along with a Summons.  If there are children, a third form is filed, stating the names, ages, place of birth, and addresses of residence for the last five years.  This filing causes a case file to be opened in the court system.  These forms must be “served” upon the non-filing spouse, which can be done by mail if the non-filing spouse will acknowledge receipt.  There is no legal significance related to who files the Petition, but sometimes there is an emotional component.  Couples can have a conversation about who will file the initiating forms and when this will occur.  The soonest a couple can be restored to the status of single individuals is six months after the Petition is filed and delivered to the non-filing spouse.

The second step is referred to as the Disclosure requirement.  The legislature has mandated that couples fully, and under penalty of perjury, identify each and every asset, obligation, all income and their expenses.  These forms are exchanged, but not filed with the court.  The purpose is for each person to have all the financial information needed to proceed with the divorce process, where assets and debts will need to be divided and decisions made about how living expenses will be paid. 

The final step is obtaining a written document specifying the terms of the divorce, including the financial terms, rights and responsibilities relating to the children. Couples can prepare an agreement (Marital Settlement Agreement) or, if that is not possible, the court can be asked to make decisions on all disputed topics. The agreement or court rulings become an enforceable Judgment or Dissolution of Marriage.

The process in which these three steps will occur is an important consideration.   How you choose to divorce will affect you, your parenting, and your financial outcome.  You want an outcome that is the best for you considering your assets, your finances, and all of the people involved.  You may not want a relationship with your spouse now, but if you have children, they need their parents to have a working relationship.  Learn about your process choices: “Do it Yourself,” litigation, mediation or Collaborative Practice.  You can learn more about each of these processes and the choices that you have at a Divorce Options workshop near you.  In Marin, Divorce Options workshops are held on the last Saturday of the month.  See divorceoptionsinfo.org for a complete listing of workshops around California and the US.

Susan Stephens Coats is a Family Law Attorney in San Francisco and Marin County.  http://www.collaborativepracticemarin.org/members/Coats

Photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.


5 Common Experiences of Coping with the Aftermath of Divorce

 

Well. It’s done. The Collaborative paperwork is signed; the dissolution is complete. You can now safely say the words, “I’m divorced.” My guess is, this outcome is not exactly what you had in mind when you married your spouse all those years ago. The clinking of the champagne glasses on your wedding day once a blissful memory, now only conjures up heartache.

 As sadness creeps into the deepest part of your mind, only to be noticed by you, fear looms - what is next? Anger then races in to emotionally protect you against feeling pain. Thank you anger. It’s a lot easier having you around than pain.

 I don’t know your path or your journey to this moment in time. I don’t know your pain. However, I am here to tell you that you are not the first and you are not alone. As social beings, we all share common experiences, thoughts and ideas. Through these shared histories and ways of being, we can unite with others and feel less lonely, more understood, and accepted. Recognizing that our pain and lost dreams are not ours alone, and that others have walked a similar path, eases the journey to wellbeing. Working through your divorce collaboratively reassures you that you have maintained your respect for yourself and each other.

 To ease your journey, cognitive behavioral therapy lends a hand in helping us examine our thoughts, and testing their truth. Here are five common thoughts and experiences people have when coping with the aftermath of a divorce:

 #1: Life’s Scorecard: “I did everything right. I don’t deserve this.”

Many of us tell ourselves, “I followed all the rules. I was a good spouse. I did my part. My story wasn’t supposed to turn out like this.” And you are right. That wasn’t the plan, but somehow, this is how it turned out. We each have an internal scorecard. The way life “should be.” And while those “shoulds” provide us with dreams and aspirations, they can also set us up for a deep sense of failure when things don’t go as planned. Ask yourself, who decided the “should?” Many people divorce, for all sorts of reasons. You have chosen to divorce because you believe there is something better for you. That is your truth. Don’t get lost in a made up scorecard.

 #2: My sense of self has changed.

After a divorce, many people feel the need to reclaim or rebuild their identity. Shopping sprees, workouts, moving cities, changing the furniture. We turn to external sources to mirror the internal shift that is happening within in us. Who am I now? How do I make sense of my story? Exploring these shifts in self and naming your movement – both externally and internally, are healthy ways of realizing your new identity. Don’t be afraid – you are growing a new skin, and that is a beautiful thing.

 #3: Shifts in friendships.

As with any major life transition (babies, death, career change), your friendships will shift. Some will come out of the woodwork in this time of need and others will distance themselves. Those who seem to disappear may be uncomfortable with your divorce, or perhaps you have shifted. This can be an awkward and scary time as our social networks adjust. To fill the void of communicating with our friends, we fill in the missing communication with our own version. Instead of “mind reading,” fact check your sources. Talk to your friends. If they are who you thought they were, they will be authentic with you too.

 #4: Big feelings show up.

After a divorce, people go through cycles of feelings, such as depression, grief and anger. During the divorce process, you Divorce Coach can help.  After the divorce these emotions are still normal; however, if you have never felt them (or not to this degree) it can be scary. Do yourself a favor and talk to someone -  a divorce support group, a therapist or a trusted friend. This may be one of the hardest times of your life. Give yourself the best care possible and secure additional support from either an expert or other source.

 #5: Anxiety over the past, over the future.

People often ask, “What could I have done differently? What if this happens again?” These questions are normal and healthy. Your mind is trying to make sense of the divorce, and how to avoid repeating the trauma. Asking yourself questions, reflecting on the past, and owning your mistakes is how we grow. Being human is not about being perfect, or getting an A+ on that “scorecard.” It’s about coming into and accepting your authentic self by growing, maturing, and reflecting.

Erika Boissiere, MFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist, specializing in couples, relationships and marriage therapy. She is the founder of The Relationship Institute of San Francisco, http://www.trisf.com

Photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

What is "Vesting" and How Will It Affect My Divorce?

Vesting gives an employee rights to employer-provided assets over time, which gives the employee an incentive to perform well and remain with the company. The vesting schedule set up by the company determines when the employee acquires full ownership of the asset. Generally, non-forfeitable rights accrue based on how long the employee has worked there.

Read more: Vesting Definition | Investopedia 

http://www.investopedia.com/terms/v/vesting.asp#ixzz3kbDViTje
If an employee is vested it means that at least some of the retirement plan or stock options belongs to the employee and not the employer. This is the amount an employee is entitled to take when the employee leaves their employer. The portion that is vested comes from two sources:

  • Employee contributions vest immediately. When an employee leaves his employer, he or she is entitled to 100% of his or her contributions plus any earning on those contributions.
  • Employer contributions vest over a period of time. There are multiple types of vesting structures that can be adopted by a retirement or stock option plan. Graded vesting schedules allow for a portion of the funds to vest each year over a set number of years. Cliff vesting schedules provide a vesting of 100% of benefits after a set period of time.

How does vesting affect my asset division in divorce?

A benefit does not have to be vested to be considered an asset subject to division in your divorce but it does mean the funds may not be immediately available for you to spend. Unvested assets such as stock options, restricted stock units, pensions and other executive compensation must be handled carefully in legal agreements and long after the divorce is final. It is helpful to utilize a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst or other specialized financial professional to assist in handling these calculations. The agreements typically require the deferred division of these unvested assets meaning the employee spouse must maintain the benefits for their former spouse and the former spouse must be diligent in watching for vestings long after the divorce is finalized. 

Susannah Malek is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) in San Rafael. 

photo credit: David Buscho

A Brief Overview of Collaborative Law


Thank you to Brad Reid and the Huffington Post for this blog article.

Collaborate law is a variation of non-adversarial alternative dispute resolution. Specific collaborative law techniques have been discussed for about thirty years and fifteen or so states have enacted the Uniform Collaborative Law Act of 2009. While primarily focused on family law and divorce, collaborative law may be utilized in other disputes such as employment, insurance, mergers and acquisitions, or issues between family members in closely held businesses. Always consult an experienced attorney in specific situations.

In broadest overview, the parties voluntarily sign a collaborative participation agreement and are represented by attorneys whose representation ends if a traditional contested judicial proceeding begins. While participation cannot be court ordered, courts retain authority to issue emergency orders to protect health, safety, welfare, and financial interests. Attorneys must make a full disclosure of the advantages and disadvantages of collaboration in the specific situation so that a client may make an informed participation decision. There are limited institutional exceptions to the end of attorney representation when a free legal services clinic or governmental entity is involved in the collaborative representation. The parties agree to disclose all relevant and material information (although the agreement may limit the scope of disclosure) and promise to exercise good faith while negotiating. Disclosed information is deemed privileged and may not be utilized in subsequent litigation, subject to modification by the collaborative participation agreement. Exceptions to disclosure exist to prevent bodily harm or a crime, abuse or neglect of a child or adult, and to address professional misconduct or malpractice. The parties may engage appropriate professional experts to assist in the dispute resolution process. Courts may enforce an agreement that does not meet all of the formal requirements in the interest of justice when the parties intended to engage in the collaborative process.

Collaborative law, unlike arbitration under which a third party makes a binding decision, leaves the decision to the parties themselves. “Coaches” may facilitate direct communications. Unlike much alternative dispute resolution, collaborative law is pre-litigation. Hence, it may be less emotionally draining and more relationship preserving. The most serious criticisms of collaborative law center on attorney disqualification. Critics are concerned with potential attorney withdrawal at the very moment (litigation) when attorney services are most needed. An additional criticism is that collaborative law adds another layer of time and expense to disputes that end in litigation. However, attorney codes of ethics uphold the attorney withdrawal provisions and advocates of collaborative law assert that litigation rarely results at the end of a collaborative process. It is additionally asserted that privacy, control of the process by the parties themselves, and the individualized situational based aspects of the process are significant benefits.

Psychological and sociological knowledge underlies collaborative law. The following several paragraphs provide a few of many basic concepts. Fear of the collaborative process is perhaps best overcome by trust that is created by individual self-awareness and mutual self-disclosure. However, creating trust is hard work and the personal relationships may already be so damaged that trust, hence collaborative law, is impossible.

Additionally, the parties themselves may be at various points in the familiar progression consisting of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. There may be non-party individuals that have a high degree of unrecognized influence over the parties. Controlling parents, new boyfriends or girlfriends, and friend confidants are examples.

Furthermore, one must distinguish an individual’s interests, positions, and goals. Interests are concerns or matters of importance that drive persons and they may be unrecognized emotions such as sadness, anger, or shame. Skilled advocates help their clients develop self-knowledge and understanding that leads to attainable goals. Inquiring about “what you assume will happen,” “what is your expectation,” and “precisely what will that look like to you,” are recognized techniques to get beneath the surface.

Individuals may engage in irrational, self-sabotaging behaviors due to projecting their problems on others so that they avoid changing their behavior, defensive habits, creating excitement or chaos to override depression by stimulating the body’s physical chemical responses, and to acquire status or approval from others. Sometimes deeper psychopathology may be present that creates real risks of physical harm to themselves or others.

The parties must have common ground rules for negotiation and the attorneys themselves must be self-confident centered persons who are able to manage their own stress as well as the unique stressors of the particular situation. Professionals must be prepared to address such expected problem areas as an individual’s resistance to disclosing needed information or delaying the process either consciously or unconsciously.

Professionals must be able to recognize “transference” and “countertransference” when feelings are unconsciously redirected from one person to another. Self-knowledge, relying on facts not opinions, and discouraging posturing and positions are all helpful professional techniques. Initial meetings and the collaborative participation agreement set the stage for everything that follows. Common courtesy, mutual respect and constructive negotiations are vital to success. Certainly, however, collaborative law is not possible or even best under all circumstances.

Thankfully, an individual professional need not know and be everything as a collaborative team is likely. Particularly in family law and divorce situations, a variety of financial, wealth management and tax experts may be involved. Ideally the transparency of the collaborative process will allow efficient data collection and the development of and commitment to mutually beneficial financial goals and commitments. However, non-financial professional assistance in the form of child and adult therapists, addiction specialists, as well as family, friends, and clergy may be of equally important. The expectation is that professional individuals will bring their best neutral professional judgment to the process.

In broad conclusion, collaborative law is advocated as cost effective and relationship oriented and has spread globally. There are a number of professional organizations and training associations. These organizations may overlap and cooperate with family advocacy and mental health groups. Courts have been creating both local and state-wide rules to govern the collaborate process. Minimum professional training before one may practice collaborate law is frequently required. Consult an experienced attorney to determine the status of collaborative law in a particular state.

Collaborative law aligns with a recognizable movement to make legal services and dispute resolution more accessible and cost effective. Standards for attorney and non-attorney professional specialization, for example, licensed legal technicians, are developing. The “unbundling” of legal services so that attorneys are not required to personally engage in every client encounter, much like the current activities of a physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner, are the contemporary trend. Additionally, a host of specialized courts that have non-traditional powers and may grant unique remedies or divert parties to extra-judicial entities are increasing. Individual just-in-time services provided in a multidisciplinary package are coming to law. Increasingly, it appears that in the long-term the Anglo-American adversarial system of justice, while not totally replaced, will be reserved for certain unique problem areas. Even criminal law, uniquely adversarial, is not immune from these developments.

This comment provides a brief and incomplete educational overview of a complex topic and is not intended to provide legal advice. Always consult an experienced attorney and other professionals in specific situations.

Brad ReidSenior Scholar, Dean Institute for Corporate Governance and Integrity, Lipscomb University
Photo Credit: David Buscho

Can a Divorce Team Save You Money?

More and more people are turning to Collaborative Practice professionals for divorce and other family law matters.  But when you hear about a "team" that sounds expensive!  Here is an explanation, written by a family law attorney, of why working with a team makes sense.  

You made the very serious personal decision to terminate your marriage. This decision necessarily takes you to the procedure known as divorce (AKA Dissolution of Marriage in the Court).

You found yourself an attorney who discusses the different processes with you that can be used to divide assets and debts, set a child sharing plan, and set support. You say, “We don’t want to go to court – we just want to settle.”

The Collaborative Family Law model provides the most complete and efficient process to meet your goal. The hallmarks of the Collaborative Law divorce process are an agreement from everyone at the outset to exclude all court proceedings, and engage the services of various professionals, known as “the team” to assist in the resolution of all issues.

Why is a “team” needed? Why do we need a team just to get a divorce? If you don’t have any assets, income or children, then you don’t need a team and you can stop reading. If you do have any of these, I encourage you to continue.

ALL parties in a divorce in California no matter what process is used are mandated by law to exchange Preliminary Declarations of Disclosure. It means each side must provide in writing to the other a disclosure of all assets and debts. There is considerable debate regarding the extent and specificity required, but the goal of the law of disclosure is to adequately inform both sides before decisions are made regarding dividing assets and liabilities.

The main advantage to having one neutral financial person as part of a Collaborative team is that you deal with just one individual working to provide fair and accurate information to both parties in a divorce. Both parties provide financial information to the single financial expert. He or she verifies and organizes it, and reports the information in an understandable form to both parties and their counsel. Everyone is on the same page.

In comparison, in many “litigated” cases, a joint expert is not retained at the outset of a case, and after a great deal of increased animosity, distrust and anxiety, not to mention expense, the parties either reach the point of a joint expert or continue to battle each other with their own expensive experts – two instead of one.

Many times even the most sophisticated party in a divorce may be surprised to learn some information in the exchange. For example, husbands and wives can be wrong about how title is held on a property, whether something is community property or not, or the true value of a given asset. Clear, organized information such as this is essential to the parties in a divorce to reach reasonable and informed solutions.

The independent financial specialist also assists in determining the true income of both parties and the relative expenses for separate households going forward. Compensation packages for W-2 earners as well as the self employed have become increasingly complex with the proliferation of compensation such as Restricted Stock/Units, Performance Restricted Stock, Stock Options, claw back provisions, insider trading rules, irregular bonus payouts, profit distributions, 401K and profit sharing plans. Employment benefits can impact both asset division as well as ongoing income available for support. Self employed individuals often have unrealistic opinions of their worth or income.

The parties and their respective counsel need accurate, efficient documents and information in order to adequately educate and advise the parties as to the best solution and informed decisions for their particular case.

Even more important than the financial considerations in a divorce is the attention needed to preserve the best interest of the children. A child specialist can be the most valuable person on the Collaborative team.

First, the children need to be assured early and often that the separation of the parents is not the fault of the child. The child may be in need of therapy that neither parent is able to recognize or facilitate because of his or her own emotional upheaval. The child needs a neutral place to discuss his or her input and even vent, without fear of recrimination from a parent. Children of different ages have different needs and concerns.

All of this can be discussed with the parents and the child specialist in a safe and calm situation in order to reach a suitable, workable family child sharing plan. Every mental health expert agrees that continued animosity and conflict between the parents in divorce renders harm to the children from which they never recover. The Collaborative team, with the help of the child specialist, has the best chance of avoiding this tragedy.

If parents are unable to agree regarding the sharing of the children in a litigated divorce case in court, the family frequently undergoes a costly custody evaluation process and may have their own “expert” to review the work of the expert conducting the evaluation. Once again, you have the potential for three experts instead of one, as well as counselors and therapists, coming in at a much later stage of the proceedings after further polarization of the parties and damage to the children. The structure of the Collaborative team and process can “put everyone in the same room” from the beginning of the process.

Equally important to the team are the coaches for each of the adults. Divorce is one of the most emotional processes a person can go through in a lifetime. Everyone can use assistance from time to time for insight and balance while dealing with the inevitable feelings of loss, uncertainty, fear, anger and overall anxiety. Your attorney is not a psychologist. It is the duty of the attorney to maintain as much objectivity as possible in order to advise the client in the decision making process, and the individual coaches are a tremendous assistance in facilitating the parties to reach resolution.

With a professional Collaborative team in place from the outset of a divorce, you will be provided information, organization, support, advice and assistance for the entire family in the transition process for the best possible solutions. Otherwise, you may end up with a team or two anyway, but in a courtroom instead of a conference.

Win Heiskala is a Family Law Attorney in San Diego.

Photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.
Has Collaborative Divorce Resolution Reached the Tipping Point?


You are faced with an enormous initial decision when you face divorce.  Unless you choose otherwise, litigation is the default.  However, more and more couples are choosing to divorce without going to court, by mediating or collaborating.  Collaborative Law is rapidly becoming the norm, as Gary Direnfeld, LCSW, writes in his blog:

For years, family law litigators were the go to persons to facilitate the distribution of property, support obligations and the plan of care for children of the relationship between separating couples.

Mediation was always a distant alternative to the go to of family law litigators and hence the moniker, alternate dispute resolution.

Beginning the in the early 1990’s and gathering a head of steam into the new millennium and now an unstoppable force, Collaborative Law is biting the heels of mediation.

However, when looking at Google searches, Collaborative Law and Mediation combined as so called alternate dispute resolution solutions are closing in quickly on the family law litigators. As of Sunday, February 21, 2016, Google searches revealed:

Family law litigator: 35,600,000 hits.
Collaborative Law: 12,500,000 hits.
Family law mediation: 21,000,000 hits.

Given the head of steam rising from mediation and Collaborative Law, I would predict that they soon will surpass family law litigation, at least in terms of combined Google hits.

When Mediation and Collaborative Law surpasses family law litigation, which will then be deemed alternate and interestingly, Australia has long since deemed the so-called alternate dispute resolution solutions primary, at least since 1975.

This change in approach to dispute resolution is no minor thing. Given the rise of the so-called alternatives, people at the same time are becoming increasingly aware of the ravages of litigation particularly contrasted against the less costly and more peacemaking outcomes of mediation and Collaborative Law.

It may not just be a sea-change in terms of how people seek to resolve family conflict, but the sea change might also spell the death knell for litigation. Oh sure, there will always be those few who march towards court, but even there, couples are increasingly redirected to resolving matters in the hallowed halls outside the courtroom only returning to have their mediated agreements converted into orders for enforcement purposes. Many are realizing that they may as well begin where they are likely to end up – in mediation, even if going to court.

There’s a definite change a’coming. Indeed it’s here. The only question now is the depth of change and whether litigation will actually survive.

Are you looking to resolve a family dispute. Get with the times. Look at mediation and Collaborative Law.

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas and Georgina Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America. http://www.yoursocialworker.com

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

Do I Really Have to Get a Divorce?

When thinking or talking about getting a divorce, it is very easy to fall into the cycle of who’s right, who’s wrong, what’s fair, what’s not fair and who’s to blame.  Yet, such judgments and score keeping are more of a distraction than a help.  What you most need is clarity to answer the question “Do I really have to get a divorce?”

Rather than focus on what is wrong with the other person or with the relationship, you need to first get clarity about who you are, what you value and what is really important to you.  In my experience as a personal and relationship coach over the past 20 years, I have learned that our greatest desire is to be who we are; and our greatest fear is that we cannot be ourselves – that we will have to sell out or compromise ourselves, our values and our desires.

Compromising yourself is very different than making compromises to settle differences for your everyday life to work.  If you notice you’ve been compromising yourself in your marriage, it’s important to go back to the beginning.  When you entered this marriage, were you excited about the possibilities and the life you would be creating together, or were you compromising or settling for other reasons?

If it was the latter, it doesn’t mean you can’t grow together and develop a deeply satisfying relationship.  On the other hand, it may be what my mom used to say: “two wonderful people but not for each other.” However, if your initial choice felt authentic and right to you, and you are now contemplating a divorce, there is a chance you may have been compromising yourself over time. 

We usually have learned to compromise ourselves – and for understandable reasons:  we are trying to make our relationships work, we are trying to get what we want, or we fear we’ll lose what we value.  Often, we are listening to the peanut gallery, or our partner, or the voice in our head that tell us “don’t be so……, or be more ……., or don’t rock the boat.”  Over time, we become so good at morphing ourselves into being who we believe we “should” be, that there’s nobody home in the relationship.  The further we travel from our authentic self, the more miserable we become.  

Constricting and compromising yourself eventually has to be unwound.  It’s not sustainable to be someone you’re not.  At some point, you are going to want your freedom and your life back. You need oxygen, and disentangling yourself from the marriage can feel like the quickest way to get it.

However, if there is a flicker of love and you both want to make the relationship work, there is a way through.  And whether you decide to stay in the relationship or divorce, learning how to stop compromising yourself and unwinding your compromises can be a silver lining in an otherwise painful situation. Whatever you decide, you deserve the freedom and joy of living as your authentic self.

Janice Campbell, CPA, CFP, CDFA is a relationship coach, the creator of the Receive Your Life coaching system, and co-mediates divorces with Nancy J. Foster, JD at the Northern California Mediation Center in San Rafael, CA.

Photo credit: Ann Buscho Ph.D.

How Do We Divide Up Our Stuff in Our Divorce?

People often become paralyzed when it comes to dividing their personal property (household furniture, furnishings, sentimental items such as wedding gifts, photos, children's artwork, etc.).  It is certainly one of the harder issues to contend with for families that are separating their homes because often there is much emotion attached to items accumulated during the course of a relationship.    

            While there are many ways to divide these items, if it is possible and manageable for them, it may be in their best interest both emotionally and financially to try to find a way to divide these items themselves rather than pay their professionals to become involved.  I have seen many families navigate these issues constructively and thoughtfully when given a structure that works for them. 

            People often find the issue of how to value items challenging as well.  It is often very difficult to put an economic value on emotional attachments.  From a legal perspective, the value is generally thought to be what they could reasonably expect to get for an item at a garage sale or on Craig's List.  

            The first step for couples is often to create a comprehensive inventory of the items that need to be discussed and divided.  Sometimes these lists can be created together.  In the alternative, each person can create their own list.  If one person has been out of the family residence for a period to time, they may need to go into the residence to refresh their memory in order to create their inventory.  It is also helpful to identify items that either person may feel are their "separate property" (either owned prior to the relationship or gifted during the relationship).  Also, if each person can identity the items they wish to retain and the items they do not wish to retain, often this can reduce the items that require discussion.  

            As to any items that require discussion, if after thoughtful discussion an agreement cannot be reached, when all else fails, a tried and true method that people can utilize is alternating selection until all items have been allocated.  There are also creative ways to address some of the more emotional issues.  For example, parents can create a sharing agreement that allows them to retain certain sentimental items related to their children with an agreement that the items "belong" to the children and will be returned to the children at some point.  Photos, videos and artwork are also often a difficult issue.  Today there are many ways to copy such items so that each person can retain copies of these items.  At the end of the day your "stuff" is an important part of a separation or dissolution and should be treated thoughtfully.


Lissa Rapoport is a consensual dispute resolution attorney with offices in San Francisco and San Rafael.

Photo credit: Ann Buscho, PhD.


Talking to Your Kids about the Divorce

Talking to your children about your impending divorce can feel like a daunting task and can evoke an array of intense emotions.

Before talking to your children it is most helpful to be on the same page about how, when and where you will speak to them. A divorce coach can help you with this process so that you can feel confident about how you want to handle this talk. Talking with your children together, knowing what you want to say and anticipating some of their reactions will make it easier.

In talking with your children, keep in mind that too much information regarding the details of the decision to divorce and what led up to it may not at all be useful or appropriate to share. However, details about the things that will impact their lives going forward is very appropriate and important to share. The more information they receive, the less anxious they will be.

Your children need to know that they are not the cause of the divorce, that they are loved and you are divorcing each other and not divorcing them. They need to know that you both will do your best to help them thorough this challenging period and that you will be keeping them informed of any decisions that have been made concerning their everyday lives including where they will live and where they will attend school. They need to be reassured that they will seeing both parents and what the parenting time schedule will look like. They also need to know that they will have the freedom to contact either parent when they are not with them. Allowing your children a full relationship with each parent is important to their development.

In speaking with your children, it is important to allow them to have their own reactions and feelings. One client told me that she was planning to tell the children that the divorce was" for the best". The best for whom? It may be best for the couple or for one party in the couple, but the children may not feel that it is best for them as life as they know it will be changing.  It is helpful for the parents to listen to their children's point of view and to validate how they feel.  It is not helpful to minimize the situation or try to talk them out of their feelings. This is a sad moment in their lives.

As daunting as it is, finally talking to your children can be relieving. If you can be mindful of what and how you are communicating, can listen and validate your children's thoughts and feelings and can be reassuring about how much you love them and will continue to be available you will hopefully be on the road to a healthy conversation. 

Nina Berk Knox, Ph.D. is a psychologist and Divorce Coach in Marin County.

Photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.





Holidays and Special Days, After Divorce

How does our family celebrate holidays, now that we’re separated?  What about birthdays and other special days?

This is a common question when I first meet with parents who are newly separated and looking for guidance. They may be worried and sad about losing family traditions and about not having their children with them for every holiday, and they may be frightened about having to face the pain of their losses. They may also be concerned about how further disruption and change will impact the children who are facing their own sadness and the loss of the intact family.

The pain that goes along with loss is to be expected, and families cope with their pain in many different ways. I encourage families to look back at their family traditions and understand that there are traditions that they will be able to keep, and that they will also have the opportunity to develop new traditions over time.  When families develop a comprehensive parenting plan, parents can discuss special days such as birthdays, legal holidays, and other special days.

For example, if Mother’s side of the family always has Christmas dinner following church on Christmas Eve, and Father’s side of the family always has dinner on Christmas Day, can the family preserve these traditions for their children? Alternately, if one parent has a very rich Thanksgiving tradition, it will still be important for children to spend alternate Thanksgivings with the other parent and be involved in creating new traditions. We know that children benefit when they are able to experience family traditions with each of their parents. They have the joy of continuing to participate in ongoing traditions as well as the joy of creating new family traditions that they will cherish the rest of their lives.

Celebrating family holidays once a family is separated does not have to be all about loss; it can also be about creation and renewal. When parents work together to create a clear holiday schedule, they are able to maintain some old traditions and create some new traditions, which is a gift for their children.  It may also be helpful to have the assistance of Divorce Coaches and/or a Child Specialist to help create the parenting plan the best fits the needs of your children, and your family.

Sheryl Hausman is a licensed psychologist, Divorce Coach and Child Specialist in Marin County.

Photo Credit: Linda Hansen


Why Can’t Our Therapist Be Our Collaborative Divorce Coach?


When couples begin a divorce process, they have many questions.  During this time of transition everyone needs support to navigate the process as it unfolds.  You need support while you are making temporary plans for your children and yourself. 

If you have a relationship with your own therapist you may wonder how a separate Coach can be needed or helpful.  After all, your therapist already knows you, and perhaps also your spouse.  Why hire and pay for another mental health professional?  Here are some reasons why it is not a good idea for your therapist to take on a dual role:

  1.  Your relationship with your therapist needs to be private to be effective.  Therapy provides a place for your personal discussions and reflections on your experience.  Thoughts and feelings arise and change in the course of therapy, and one benefit of a confidential relationship with your therapist is that you have the time to sort through your feelings with care, respect and in private.
  2. Divorce Coaching provides you with emotional support to help you function at your best while you are making decisions, temporary and permanent, about your family.  You will also be thinking through your hopes, goals, concerns, and fears.  Coaching is much more focused than therapy. 
  3. Collaborative divorce is transparent, and the professionals work together for the benefit of your entire family.  To be effective, you will give permission to your coach to speak and coordinate with your attorney, your spouse’s coach and attorney, as well as any other professionals on your team.  This is extremely helpful and makes the divorce process more efficient.  When the professionals understand more fully who you are and what is important to you, it will be easier to reach resolutions that respect your concerns as well as those of your spouse or children. 
  4. Since most divorcing couples have great difficulty with communication, your Divorce Coaches work with you and your spouse to prepare for meetings.  Coaching can help you find your “voice” to communicate more effectively what matters to you—even if you have not been able to do that before.
  5. One of the most important tasks in a divorce is creating a Parenting Plan.  Your coaches will help you and your spouse consider the various issues about which you will need to make important decisions, and they will draft your parenting plan as you and your spouse make agreements together.  They can also assist you and your spouse in creating a co-parenting agreement that will best benefit your children, reduce or eliminate conflict, and help your family move on into the next chapter of your family’s life.

Elizabeth Salin, MFT, is a family therapist, Divorce Coach and Child Specialist in Marin County.

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

When Do I Introduce My Kids to My New Girlfriend/Boyfriend?

You are getting a divorce and you want to move on with your life.  You are eager to introduce your kids to your new partner, and you are wondering when is the right time. 

This is one of those questions of “What is in the children’s best interest?”  It is important to think about the child’s needs and perspective here, over your own wants and needs.

Your child(ren) are going through an unsettled time of change and transition, and they need time to process their feelings of grief and loss of the family (and maybe also the home).  They will need to work through the Elizabeth Kubler Ross “Five Stages of Grief,” denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. 

Over the next year your child(ren) will need time to re-establish stable relationships with each parent, separate from the other parent.  Some research suggests that a well-adjusted child needs one-two years to readjust after the divorce is finalized.   Children who were having a hard time before the divorce will likely need more time to adjust to the new family “under two roofs.” 

It is also important to look at this question from an attachment point of view.  How stable and long term is this new relationship?  If there is a chance of a breakup, it is unfair and unhealthy to ask the children to attach to someone only to have that person leave your life, and therefore also your children’s. 

While there is no magic number of months, waiting until the dust settles for the children and until the new relationship is committed and stable is a good idea before introducing a child to a new partner.  This can often take many months, and more often a year or two.  So patience is the name of the game in this situation.  If you try to force the meeting prematurely, you many end up creating a very difficult and stressed relationship between your new partner and your children.  Talk with your Divorce Coach or Child Specialist about when the right time would be for your children to meet your new partner.

Stefan Benton is a Divorce Coach in Marin County.  www.sbentonmft.com

Photo Credit:  Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

Helping Kids Cope with Divorce

Research has found that, when parents separate, the more cooperative and respectful the parents can be with one another, the better it will be for the children. The collaborative divorce model helps support a healthy outcome for the whole family – parents and children alike.

Here are six tips to help your children cope with divorce:

  1. Never speak negatively about your ex in the presence of your child. Focus on the positive (even if that seems difficult at times), or at least do your best to remain neutral. It’s unfair to put your child in a position where they are forced to choose sides.
  2. Always remember that your child needs both parents to grow into a healthy adult. Maintain a respectful, cooperative, working relationship with your ex. Put the child’s well being ahead of any conflicts between the adults.
  3. If your child complains about the other parent, attend to their upset and frustration. Let them vent without making the other parent wrong.
  4. Allow your child to grieve and express all of their feelings, including their anger and upset towards you.
  5. Communicate directly with your ex. Don’t put your child in the middle and force them to serve as the go between.
  6. Reassure your child that the divorce is absolutely not their fault. Grownups fall in and out of love with each other, but they never fall out of love with their kids.

Bea Ivory-Chambers is a divorce coach at Collaborative Practice Marin.  www.beaivorychambers.com

Photo Credit:  Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

Out of the Mouths of Babes: This Child Tells her Parents What she Needs During their Divorce
All parents care deeply about their children's welfare, but during the stressful time of divorce there are many intense emotional ups and downs, many demanding decisions and changes to attend to, and times when it can be challenging to muster energy for the high quality parenting we know our children need.  Especially if our child is resilient and seems to be doing well enough, even the best parents sometimes get overwhelmed with their own problems and can forget that divorce up-ends the lives of our children, too. 

Take a look at this video clip of a six-year old girl explaining to her mother what she needs from her parents during their divorce.  It has gone viral on YouTube, because this child articulates so clearly how she feels and what will help her weather this big change in her life.  She doesn't only care about herself:  she expresses remarkable caring for her parents, too, and sees that handling the divorce transition well matters to the entire community and even the world.

Watch it.  Give it to your spouse.  Give it to your lawyer, too.

And remember:  interdisciplinary collaborative team divorce is the only divorce process that builds in a voice for and to the children--the Collaborative Child  Specialist--so that their perspective on the divorce can be expressed in a safe way and their needs can be understood clearly and accurately by both parents.  

Pauline H. Tesler, J.D., CFLS, is a collaborative divorce lawyer practicing in Marin and San Francisco.

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

Divorce and Children with Special Needs

Divorce or separation between parents with children that have exceptional needs, special needs or learning differences often have heightened layers of complexity and strain.

What can you do in this situation? Often it is the case that one parent has had a more active role in the child’s world. For instance, one may have attended Individual Education Plan (“IEP”) meetings with professionals at the school and managed the child's doctor's appointments. Another parent may be in greater tune with the child’s special diet. Whatever the situation may be, disputes often arise when the parents decide to separate and are discussing how best to share time with the child.

Often one or both parents become resentful because one was able to spend more time involved with children, while the other was the breadwinner or working toward a degree. Perhaps unfairly the court system may favor the more involved parent. Each situation is as unique as every child’s unique needs.

It is extremely distressing for both parents when one parent advocates solutions with the multiplicity of issues that arise and the other parent has a significant lack of parental involvement. Lack of trust between the parents coupled with lack of knowledge is a recipe for disaster when discussing a post-separation parenting plan. A combination of resentment, mistrust and disrespect can cost tens of thousands to get sorted out in the court system, and both parents will be unhappy. More importantly harm can be done to the children if there are major conflicts in parenting with respect to diet, discipline and boundaries, to name just a few of the many parenting issues post divorce.

Here are ways that you can get on the same page with strategies, plans and solutions for your children:

1. Educate, Educate, Educate.

Education cannot be stressed enough. Consulting with a doctor with a degree in special education is a great start. Taking the time to attend school meetings, or assessments becomes critical. These meetings can be set for early mornings before school starts, which may have less of an impact on work requirements. Be sure that the school has all current contact information for both parents.

There are low and no-cost resources in most areas that may hold seminars, IEP trainings, organizational help, and information to learn about providing for children’s special needs. A low or no-cost resource in Marin County is http://www.matrixparents.org/.

Learn about the Special Education Local Plan Area (“SELPA) offices within your child’s school district. You may make informational appointments with those offices or simply call and speak with them on the phone. If you need to advocate for services for your child, it is best for your child if you and your spouse can be on the same page.

Books are typically available to check out for a small fee. In addition, the technology industry has made it extremely easy to get information and books on line. The library is also an excellent source of information. Additionally scholarly articles and books may be available through Google Scholar, Overdrive, or Amazon. Many books are downloadable to your technology devices. Some books at no or extremely low cost can be downloaded to your computer or devices.

2. Your ego is not your friend.

Ending the parental conflict is the single most important thing you and your spouse can do for your children. Learn to step back, take a breath, assume good will, and try to see past your own judgments to your co-parent’s intentions. Seek to understand over being understood

3. Consider conflict resolution alternatives to court intervention.

Try to focus on the positive and on the future in discussions. Discuss facts, not judgments. Problem solve for going forward, let go of the past. It may take a little time to learn to communicate constructively, but the rewards are worth so much more for your child, your sanity and your pocketbook, and your child will be the beneficiary of your efforts.

Renee Marcelle is a San Rafael based collaborative law professional, mediator, and if all else fails a litigator.

This in no way is to be construed as legal advice, if you need legal advice, please contact a family law lawyer.

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

My Wife Had an Affair—Do I Have to Pay Her Alimony When We Divorce?

Your feelings around your spouse’s infidelity are natural, understandable and important.  Feelings of hurt, anger, betrayal, shock, rage, and grief are to be expected when one’s partner has been unfaithful.  Your feelings around the affair, whatever they may be, are in the room while we are negotiating, and we have to acknowledge and deal with them if the negotiations are to go smoothly.   Your feelings are important to you—so if we ignore your feelings, you will feel like something vital to you is not being addressed.

At the same time, because California is a no-fault state, it is important to remember that it is not the purpose of legal solutions to remedy emotional wrongs.  When it comes to spousal support, also called alimony, the law is concerned with questions such as the recipient’s need and the payor’s ability to pay, not whether the recipient deserves support on account of his or her past behavior.  That is not to say that your feelings about the affair are not important.  Rather, it is a question of how and where to deal with those feelings.

Our approach to dispute resolution in a divorce provides you and your spouse a safe place in which you can voice your feelings and feel heard by the other.  By addressing your feelings directly, you and your spouse create the possibility of an emotional resolution—whether that is an explanation, an apology, forgiveness, or just being heard—something the law cannot provide.  In this way all of your concerns—legal, financial, and emotional can be meaningfully addressed.


Steve Sulmeyer, J.D., Ph.D. is a divorce coach and mediator in Marin County.  steve@stevesulmeyer.com


Photo Credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D. 

What Happens to My Inheritance in a Divorce?

The simple answer is the inheritance belongs to the person who inherits it.  It is their separate property.  However, as with most things, this question is not as simple as it may seem. 

Often inheritance comes in one form, say money, and is later used to purchase something else.  Or, sometimes, it comes in the form of personal property.  As an example, if your grandmother left you a piece of jewelry, that jewelry belongs to you and is your separate property.  However, if you sell that jewelry and use the money to, for example, contribute toward a down-payment of a house purchased with your spouse - what happens then?  Now the answer is not as simple.  

During the course of a marriage, people often make choices as to how they want to use their resources, often focusing on the needs of their family or partnership.  But, when it comes time to uncouple, they may rethink their prior choices.  People may also change their intentions when facing a divorce.  

If the inheritance was used to pay for living expenses, as example, that money is gone and unless you and your spouse agree otherwise, it would not be reimbursable.  

If you take your inheritance and use it to buy something with your spouse, you may be able to ask for a reimbursement of that contribution--if you and your spouse can agree or if you can effectively "trace" the use of the inheritance through records, such as canceled checks, that show the trail of the inheritance.  If you received an inheritance and you believe it was used to purchase something with your spouse during the marriage, the first step would be to review your records or obtain any records you don't have as soon as possible.  This will help you better understand your concerns so that you can consider how best to approach this in the process of your divorce.

 

Lissa Rapoport is an attorney practicing in Marin County.  You can learn more about her here:  http://www.collaborativepracticemarin.org/members/Rapoport

www.lpslaw.com

lrapoport@lpslaw.com


Photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

Will Our Divorce Ruin Our Kids' Lives?

For most parents who decide to divorce the first concern is about not harming the children.  Maybe you went through your parents’ divorce and now you feel it negatively affected you.  Here are some points to know:

  • It can be difficult when you are going through a difficult time in your life to also have to consider that this change will be challenging to your children.  Their sadness and/or anger may be normal, but it may be especially worrisome or hard for you to deal with their feelings when you have your own painful feelings.
  • Over the past 35 years researchers have looked at how divorce impacts children over time.  And in general the research shows that children and teens, with the help and support of their parents, can be quite resilient and do well in their lives.  Divorce doesn’t have to ruin your child’s life.
  • Going through one’s parents’ divorce can certainly lead to a child’s distress and present new challenges.  However, your children’s relationships with their parents, and ongoing parental involvement in their lives contributes to your child’s ability and capacity to cope with the family changes and to move forward.  A warm nurturing relationship with each parent helps kids heal.
  • Even if the stress of your divorce is interfering with the quality of your parenting, we find that children, in the long run, can do quite well if their parents’ ability to parent recovers over the next year or two. 
  • The strength of the co-parenting relationship also can be very helpful to your children during this time and there are many resources provided in a Collaborative Divorce to optimize your co-parenting relationship, and benefit your children.  Research shows that kids do best when their parents end their own conflict and focus together on the children.
  • If you have concerns about your children, it will be important to consult a Child Specialist who can gather and provide information about your specific children and their specific needs for now and in the future.  A Child Specialist can also provide a wealth of information about the effects of divorce on kids at different ages, and how you can best support their resilience.
Andrew Lamden, LCSW, is a Collaborative Coach and Child Specialist in Marin County. http://www.collaborativepracticemarin.org/members/Lamden

Photo Credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.
How Can I Figure Out my Post-Divorce Expenses?

How do I complete the expense portion of the Income and Expense Declaration?  When I will be the one moving out and want it to reflect my true needs?  It may seem scary and daunting when looking at a blank legal form!  Let’s make it easier for you. Here are some tips to help you get it done well.

  • Start by researching rents for the size home in the location where you want to live.  Or if you plan to buy a new home, call a mortgage broker or visit your banker for their ideas of your needs for a down payment, current interest rates, and likely monthly payments. 
  • Review several months’ worth of checking account and credit card statements for utility charges such as phone, internet, gas and electric, water, cell phone, alarm service, and Cable TV.  If there is a wide fluctuation in monthly charges for each category, average several months worth to get a better sense of a needed amount.
  • Consider the difference in home sizes and those who might also live with you to determine if these amounts need to be revised upward or downward.  Think about calling a utility company to ask for average charges based on location.
  • For other costs such as groceries, restaurants, hair appointments, gasoline, child care, dry cleaning, laundry, manicures, etc., think about how many times per week or month you incur each of these expenses and about how much you spend each time.  Then if you have a firm weekly amount, multiply that amount by 4.5 weeks to arrive at a monthly figure.
  • For irregularly paid expenses that you might pay once, twice, or maybe four times per year for such expenses as property taxes or auto or property insurance, review the invoice and divide by the number of months of coverage.
  • For all other expenses, estimate to the best of your ability.  For peace of mind, take your completed draft form to a divorce financial professional who can issue spot expenses you may have overlooked and help you feel comfortable that you have included all items.

Going through this exercise will empower you with the knowledge of your financial needs.  It may seem like an overwhelming chore before you start, but you will be glad to have the information when you finish.

Judith F. Sterling is a CPA, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, and Collaborative Financial Specialist practicing in Sonoma and Marin Counties.  

Photo Credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D. 

How Long Will My Divorce Take? (I want to get it done fast!)

How much time will your divorce take? By the time you reach the decision to divorce, or accept your spouse’s decision, you probably want to get it done and over with! Why prolong this difficult and overwhelming process?

Well, it’s a little complicated. There are a few answers to your question.

  1. Once you and your spouse file and respond to the divorce “petition” the “clock starts running.” Legally, the soonest you can terminate marital status (finalize your divorce) is six months plus one day. The reason is that sometimes a “cooling off” period helps people decide if the divorce is what they really want. So, if you could get all the other divorce-related tasks done, then you could be divorced in six months.
  2. The reality is that divorces often take longer than six months to complete. One reason might be that you could save money in taxes by finalizing your divorce this year or next year. A Certified Divorce Financial Analyst or your CPA can help you figure out the tax consequences of waiting or finishing up sooner. You will have to file and cause your petition and summons to be “served” by the end of June to finish up this year. You would then file as a single person or head of household this year.
  3. Another reason your divorce might take longer is that your situation might be complex financially. If you have assets, debts, a business, retirement savings, pension, income from various sources such as stock options, etc., your financial situation may not be as simple as you think. A financial professional may need to help you sort it out. The law requires that you and your spouse have a full and complete understanding of your finances, and often one or the other of you needs to be “brought up to speed.”
  4. You and your spouse will need to work out a parenting plan if you have children. This important task will help your family recover and heal when the divorce is over. You both love your children, but you may have different ideas about how you will co-parent when you are in two households. It can take some time to develop a plan that fits your children’s needs, your work schedules, your life style, and more. This is not a task you should rush through, as it is an investment in your children’s future mental health, success in school, social experience and life. A divorce coach and child specialist can help, support and educate you about your children’s specific needs and how to soften the impact of the divorce on them.
  5. Delays in the divorce process are often caused by emotional factors. Conflict, arguing, uncooperative behaviors, evasive or hostile tactics will cost dearly in both time and money. Grief, sadness, anger, depression, and other emotions get in the way of making good decisions during the divorce, and this is a time when you will need to think clearly and carefully about your decisions. In fact, emotions might be the most costly part of your divorce, and it is well worth your time to do the emotional work you need to do before you begin to negotiate your divorce. A therapist or divorce coach can help. Often people turn to attorneys first, but divorce is an emotional process, more than a legal one. Find the emotional support you need before you start.

Your divorce will inevitably be a stressful event, but you will get through it. You should take the time you need to complete the divorce, without rushing through the important decisions you will need to make. If you would like it to be an efficient and less costly divorce, you can control some of the costs and time by doing these things:

  1. Be prepared emotionally. Get the support you need and take care of yourself.
  2. Prioritize your children’s needs. Your child specialist can help you with this. Work with your divorce coaches to develop a realistic parenting plan.
  3. Find a way to reduce the conflict between you and your spouse. Turn to your divorce coaches for help. Working with a divorce coach will make your divorce go much more efficiently.
  4. Be prepared for meetings. Complete the various assigned tasks required, such as collecting financial records, disclosing all financial information, and contacting any necessary outside professionals (realtors, health insurance companies, etc.).

Doing your divorce quickly is less important than doing it well. A good divorce is one that leaves you, your spouse, and your family on the path to a new, healthy, and stable life. A good divorce means that you and your spouse can continue to communicate in a friendly way, and that reduces stress for your entire family. And a good divorce is one that is emotionally and financially efficient.

--Ann Buscho, Ph.D. is a Collaborative Divorce Coach and psychologist in Marin County. http://www.collaborativepracticemarin.org/members/Buscho

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

Keeping Your Children’s Lives Going in Divorce: Ten Things You Can Do

OMG!  It is the end of April and you haven’t planned things for your children for the summer!  You may be recently separated and have been busy and overwhelmed by setting up two homes, juggling your kid’s school work and equipment, communicating with your co-parent, paying attention to homework, potty training or SAT prep.  You may be already divorced but have not set up a time to work on summer planning yet.

It is no surprise this has missed you this year.  Be gentle with yourself.  But: Note to Self – we should make sure we plan a meeting in early March next year.  Here are some tips to get you through this challenge:

1)      Don’t panic – breathe and realize that this year is a very unusual time.  Give yourself some slack for being in a complicated situation that you are adjusting to.  Divorce makes life complicated, especially when you are just going through it, or in the first year after the divorce.

2)      Take some time to think about your kids, their interests, their friends and family traditions from past years.  Start to think creatively about how a favorite family tradition could be adjusted in ways that save the event and yet acknowledge that it won’t be the way it was in years past. For example, one parent can take the kids on the camping trip, and the other takes them to the grandparents.  You could also divide a week away between the two of you, where one parent comes mid-way and the other parent leaves.

3)      The first year is most likely unique.  To take the pressure off of knowing what will always work, let yourself consider an arrangement that works just this year.  Next year you can take more time to plan, and you’ll know what worked well and what did not.

4)      Prioritize for each child and yourself what are the most important summer activities: i.e. continuing sports, art/drama/music, camps, meaningful traditions with family and friends.

5)      Remember to include the practical matters of work schedules, financial limitations, and your need to have some down time with the children and without them.

6)      Do the research to know about camp schedules, family trips, costs, and availability of friends and family for summer activities.

7)      Call, email or text your child’s other parent asking for their thoughts and ideas about the summer BEFORE you talk to your kids, buy tickets or sign them up.  Don’t commit the kids to something that affects their time with their other parent without that parent’s agreement.

8)      You and your co-parent need to decide about the general schedule for this summer as well as share what your hopes are for the kids.  If your kids have already asked about the annual family camping trip, or time with grandparents, include those activities in your discussion with your co-parent.  What are the children expecting or hoping for?  What have you already talked to them about?   What is feasible or realistic?

9)      List options to review with your kids and a timetable for decision making.  What things do the children have choices about, and what plans are not optional?

10)  Create a plan and use your family calendar to list the events.  Be sure that both parents have access to that calendar; it is an important communication tool.

As a child therapist, collaborative coach and child specialist, I have talked with many separating/divorcing families, I know this is not easy but it is possible.

Learning to organize your thoughts and feelings and communicate with your co-parent are skills to learn or refine.  Taking time for self care- taking a walk, going out in nature, connecting with good friends – these will help you recover from the inevitable times of feeling overwhelmed and help you regain your perspective and perhaps your sense of humor.

Wishing you some fun this summer.

Elizabeth Salin, MFT, is a family therapist, Divorce Coach and Child Specialist in Marin County.

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

The Positive Outcomes of Divorce

For many, the word “divorce” conjures up negative thoughts and impressions. We gasp: “what about the kids? I thought they were happy? There go the holidays.” No one wants to be part of those statistics, but many of us are or will be. So, how do we surpass the social and psychological hurdles of this transition to realize the positive outcomes of a divorce?

The decision to end your relationship and get divorced is a difficult one. The process can be fraught with emotional stress and interpersonal conflict.  To make things worse, any positive attitudes one may have related to this change are often overshadowed and dismissed as inappropriate or unhealthy. However, cognitive behavioral therapy provides us a unique insight – balancing negative thoughts alongside positive thoughts is a sign of good mental health. 

If you are considering divorce or recently divorced, here is a glimpse of the bright side of your decision:

Positive Attribute #1: Positive modeling for your children

By choosing to end an unhappy relationship, you teach your children an important life lesson: people change. Although change can be difficult, it is an integral part of our natural and social world.  By being a positive model for change, you are teaching your children how to cope in tough situations and helping them understand the complex nature of relationships.

Positive Attribute #2: Your physical health will improve

Research shows that telomeres, small areas at the end of chromosome strings protecting your DNA molecules, shorten or die off as you age or when under stress. This shortening process is associated with premature aging, cancer and a higher risk of death. However, you can reverse this process and restore these vital cells through improved lifestyle changes and healthier relationship living,

Positive Attribute #3: You will learn about yourself

It is common for people to wonder “Why me?” when considering or going through a divorce. This process of self-reflection is a critical step in understanding your psychological make-up and to perhaps avoid the experience again. Entering counseling, talking to a trusted friend, or conducting your own soul searching are ways to truly connect with your deepest inner self and help you transition.

Positive Attribute #4: Your mood will fluctuate, but on your terms

Mood management is very hard for some and especially challenging if you are leaving a situation in which your mood was subject to the mood of another person. After a divorce, your mood may fluctuate – but at least it will be your mood yours to control, and yours only.

Positive Attribute #5: Self confidence

Divorce can be complicated, messy, and very emotionally taxing. Once you survive the transition, you will feel alive with the confidence that you made a decision to better your life. This esteem will lead to a sense of empowerment and deep self-knowledge that you are in control your happiness.

--Erika Boissiere, MFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist, specializing in couples, relationships and marriage therapy. She is the founder of The Relationship Institute of San Francisco, http://www.trisf.com


photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

Working with Conflict in Divorce

As Shawn Weber, San Diego Collaborative attorney and mediator says, "Some people believe that a prerequisite for consensual dispute resolution options like Mediation or Collaborative Practice in divorce situations is that the parties have to get along or trust each other. That is simply not the case! A good mediator or Collaborative practitioner knows how to get to the heart of the issues even when there is significant conflict."

Shawn goes on to say, "Consensual dispute resolution (CDR) professionals understand that our services are needed when there is a dispute to resolve. Conflict is an inherent part of dispute resolution. CDR professionals are not afraid of conflict and havetraining to get to the heart of what is keeping you from settling. I call these “fault lines”. A significant part of my work with couples is taking time to really listen and understand where the fault lines are and what is causing them. That way I can help. So, I take time. I listen - carefully. I try to help bridge the gaps. It’s often quite emotional. It’s only rarely easy."

Listening for what matters for each person and helping divorcing couples have the needed conversations to get to agreements on dividing assets and debts, sharing the parenting responsibilities, and support arrangements is the primary focus of Collaborative attorneys, coaches, child specialists, and financial professionals. Each professional has expertise in their respective field to provide education and guidance on the law, ways to engage with your spouse in a productive manner, research on best parenting practices for healthy children when their parents divorce, and your particular family's financial facts and related divorce tax law. With this knowledge and the willingness to listen, spouses can make durable agreements that match their own individual family's needs.

Judith F. Sterling is a CPA, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, and Collaborative Financial Specialist practicing in Marin, San Francisco, and Sonoma Counties.

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

Can a Divorce Team Save You Money?

You made the very serious personal decision to terminate your marriage. This decision necessarily takes you to the procedure known as divorce (AKA Dissoluiton of Marriage in the Court).

You found yourself an attorney who discusses the different processes with you that can be used to divide assets and debts, set a child sharing plan, and set support. You say, “We don’t want to go to court – we just want to settle.”

The Collaborative Family Law model provides the most complete and efficient process to meet your goal. The hallmarks of the Collaborative Law divorce process are an agreement from everyone at the outset to exclude all court proceedings, and engage the services of various professionals, known as “the team” to assist in the resolution of all issues.

Why is a “team” needed? Why do we need a team just to get a divorce? If you don’t have any assets, income or children, then you don’t need a team and you can stop reading. If you do have any of these, I encourage you to continue.

ALL parties in a divorce in California no matter what process is used are mandated by law to exchange Preliminary Declarations of Disclosure. It means each side must provide in writing to the other a disclosure of all assets and debts. There is considerable debate regarding the extent and specificity required, but the goal of the law of disclosure is to adequately inform both sides before decisions are made regarding dividing assets and liabilities.

The main advantage to having one neutral financial person as part of a Collaborative team is that you deal with just one individual working to provide fair and accurate information to both parties in a divorce. Both parties provide financial information to the single financial expert. He or she verifies and organizes it, and reports the information in an understandable form to both parties and their counsel. Everyone is on the same page.

In comparison, in many “litigated” cases, a joint expert is not retained at the outset of a case, and after a great deal of increased animosity, distrust and anxiety, not to mention expense, the parties either reach the point of a joint expert or continue to battle each other with their own expensive experts – two instead of one.

Many times even the most sophisticated party in a divorce may be surprised to learn some information in the exchange. For example, husbands and wives can be wrong about how title is held on a property, whether something is community property or not, or the true value of a given asset. Clear, organized information such as this is essential to the parties in a divorce to reach reasonable and informed solutions.

The independent financial specialist also assists in determining the true income of both parties and the relative expenses for separate households going forward. Compensation packages for W-2 earners as well as the self employed have become increasingly complex with the proliferation of compensation such as Restricted Stock/Units, Performance Restricted Stock, Stock Options, claw back provisions, insider trading rules, irregular bonus payouts, profit distributions, 401K and profit sharing plans. Employment benefits can impact both asset division as well as ongoing income available for support. Self employed individuals often have unrealistic opinions of their worth or income.

The parties and their respective counsel need accurate, efficient documents and information in order to adequately educate and advise the parties as to the best solution and informed decisions for their particular case.

Even more important than the financial considerations in a divorce is the attention needed to preserve the best interest of the children. A child specialist can be the most valuable person on the Collaborative team.

First, the children need to be assured early and often that the separation of the parents is not the fault of the child. The child may be in need of therapy that neither parent is able to recognize or facilitate because of his or her own emotional upheaval. The child needs a neutral place to discuss his or her input and even vent, without fear of recrimination from a parent. Children of different ages have different needs and concerns.

All of this can be discussed with the parents and the child specialist in a safe and calm situation in order to reach a suitable, workable family child sharing plan. Every mental health expert agrees that continued animosity and conflict between the parents in divorce renders harm to the children from which they never recover. The Collaborative team, with the help of the child specialist, has the best chance of avoiding this tragedy.

If parents are unable to agree regarding the sharing of the children in a litigated divorce case in court, the family frequently undergoes a costly custody evaluation process and may have their own “expert” to review the work of the expert conducting the evaluation. Once again, you have the potential for three experts instead of one, as well as counselors and therapists, coming in at a much later stage of the proceedings after further polarization of the parties and damage to the children. The structure of the Collaborative team and process can “put everyone in the same room” from the beginning of the process.

Equally important to the team are the coaches for each of the adults. Divorce is one of the most emotional processes a person can go through in a lifetime. Everyone can use assistance from time to time for insight and balance while dealing with the inevitable feelings of loss, uncertainty, fear, anger and overall anxiety. Your attorney is not a psychologist. It is the duty of the attorney to maintain as much objectivity as possible in order to advise the client in the decision making process, and the individual coaches are a tremendous assistance in facilitating the parties to reach resolution.

With a professional Collaborative team in place from the outset of a divorce, you will be provided information, organization, support, advice and assistance for the entire family in the transition process for the best possible solutions. Otherwise, you may end up with a team or two anyway, but in a courtroom instead of a conference.

 

Win Heiskala is a family law attorney in San Diego. She graciously allowed CPM to repint her blog piece, and can be contacted at http://www.blsapc.com/ 

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

Why I Won’t Settle Disputes in Court

In the midst of parental separation feelings run high. If there are complicating factors such as violence, abuse and infidelity, those feelings typically run even higher. To add, if the decision to separate is more one-sided than mutual, the person being left can feel a sense of bewilderment if not abandonment. This too adds to the mix of bad feelings.

Parents in these circumstances are typically in a terrible place emotionally for determining the best parenting arrangement for their children. Knowingly or unknowingly, the children can become the battleground over which the parental score is settled.

As the parents unwittingly settle their score through the children, think one parent isn’t deserving of a relationship with the kids or think one cannot parent or will provide a negative influence and then seek to limit one’s relationship or time with them, the fight is on. The issues of the relationship which led to the separation worsen, further exposing the children to parental conflict. At the end of the day, parental conflict alone is the best predictor in terms of the outcome for children of separated parents. The greater the conflict the worse the outcome.

In a bid to win the day and determine an outcome, parents may turn to the court. In so doing each parent must convince the court that the other is the scoundrel. Each parent, reasonably defensive, must up their claim against the other to countermand the others claims. The court, thought of as an instrument for settling disputes and restoring peace becomes the very structure that creates further instability, chaos and hardening of bad feelings. Pity the children as the conflict inevitably intensifies.

Consider the following:

  • Court action to resolve family disputes typically inflames the conflict underlying parental disputes. Known as iatrogenic effects, this refers to the negative unintended consequences of a well intentioned act. In short, Court produces many iatrogenic effects where the unintended harm to parents and children is at times far worse than the benefit from the well intentioned outcome. Court decisions do not end conflict;
  • Family law lawyers with an emphasis on litigation, although likely well intentioned, are inherently in a conflict-of-interest as their income hinges on your degree of conflict. Generally, the greater your conflict, the greater their income. There is a lower risk for conflict-of-interest with settlement focused family law lawyers particularly those who do not practice litigation. If you use a family law lawyer, choose wisely and retain control of your case;
  • Those settlements reached between the parents themselves tend to last longer and are better followed than those outcomes imposed by a judge or arbitrator;
  • Less than 5% of all family court disputes go to trial, meaning almost all matters are settled along the way by alternative dispute resolution strategies. Given statistically your matter will likely settle in a process other than court, you may be better off to begin with that process from the start and if you have already started a court process, you can seek to divert it at anytime;
  • If you obtain a custody evaluation and go to trial, 80% of the time the Judge will order what has been recommended. In the remaining 20% of the time, it is not that the judge will reverse the recommendation of the assessor as that is a rare event; it is that the judge may make some modifications to the recommendations while keeping the intent intact. In other words, custody evaluations are quite determinative of the outcome of parenting disputes whether you like the evaluation or not. If you have an evaluation you don’t like, think twice about fighting that in court in lieu of negotiating your own final parenting plan with or without assistance – but likely with assistance;

The single best predictor in terms of the long term outcome for children of separated parents is the duration and intensity of ongoing conflict to which the children are exposed or privy. Court is not aimed at reducing conflict what-so-ever. Court is only aimed at making decisions which at times makes relationships and conflict worse;

Children are typically better served by parents willing to participate in dispute resolution processes that do not involve court and are clinically focused as opposed to legally (rights) focused;

Parenting conflicts are not legal matters. Parenting conflicts are reflections of personal and interpersonal problems which require personal and interpersonal solutions. While judges and lawyers are experts at law, they are not typically experts at parenting conflicts, child development, mental health, drug and/or alcohol concerns or domestic violence. Seek the expert with the appropriate expertise;

Court may only be really necessary to keep people safe from harm in the event of truly dangerous or abusive behavior or in situations where a parent is truly undermining a child’s relationship with the other parent with no hope of change. Not liking the other parent, having different values or preferences and challenges in communication are not addressed in court processes;

Concern about mental health, behavior and even drug/alcohol problems can be addressed in settlement focused clinical services outside of court.

In view of the above and with a desire to act in the best interest of children, seek services that are provided with a view to facilitating settlement. Approaches to facilitating co-parenting should have a clinical focus, meaning they are directed to the well being of the children through helping parents address issues that can lead to settlement. Children’s needs remain paramount. After all, we all want our children to grow up well.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW is a Social Worker and Collaborative professional in Ontario, Canada

www.yoursocialworker.coma href="http://www.yoursocialworker.com/">

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

Defusing Tension Around Money Talk


Money is a sensitive topic for many couples, and often is a cause of conflict in marriage. The subject of money remains taboo in social conversation, and people have different values or relationships to money. Even happy couples may find negotiating on this subject challenging. When couples are separating or divorcing, however, tensions often flare when the hard, but necessary, conversation about money arises. As skilled as you may be in managing difficult conversations about money with others, it may seem overwhelmingly challenging with your soon-to-be-ex.

Communication tools and techniques can ease these tensions and give couples better ways to express their views to achieve desired outcomes. Professionals working in the area of “alternative dispute resolution” have years of training and experience in guiding people through these conversations. It has been said that “tact is the knack for making a point without making an enemy.” You can learn to more skillfully deflect hostility during discussions of difficult subjects. Your professionals, your attorney, divorce coach and financial specialist are there to help you learn some of these constructive communication tools.

One of the most useful tools I have learned is “reframing.” If you are a reader, I like to recommend The Dynamics of Conflict: A Guide to Engagement and Intervention, by Bernard Mayer. (The same author has written, Staying with Conflict, another resource for people wanting to recognize and manage their reactive tendencies as disputes occur.) Reading this book helped me learn how to “reframe” a conversation so that it veers into a more positive direction. Your ability to do this well will give you insight into whether you and your partner or spouse fall into different communication categories which may lead you to an adversarial conversation. Once you recognize your frame of reference, you can then overcome your instinctual response to instead choose a path leading to discovery of common ground and shared interests.

For example, if one spouse is “avoidant,” that could lead him/her to accommodate to the extreme to avoid an argument. If the other spouse is dominant, either on the topic to be discussed, or in general in the relationship, he or she may have a pattern of dictating, rather than ceding or negotiating, on the point to be discussed. The problem is that the spouse who usually yields eventually may experience resentment, and then may fight back unconstructively.

To find common ground, to resolve the dispute, both spouses will have to overcome their habitual ways of communicating about differences, and learn to seek collaboration, shared interests and goals, and compromises. How is this done? Especially, when money, an often hot topic, is the focus?

A divorce coach can often help. You may learn a simple technique for redirecting the conversation. For instance, wife asks husband if he can commit to yearly payments into a college savings fund for their children. He responds angrily, stating that if she wants payments into a college fund she can drop her request for spousal support. Wife, Instead of responding also with anger, could restate what the person has said, in a less inflammatory way. “So what I hear you saying is that you are not sure you can both afford ongoing spousal support and funding future goals for the children.” Then, she could ask a question in a neutral tone, such as “What goals would you like our children to strive for as they reach adulthood?”

While the question is on topic it is stated in a way that begins to join the parents around the goals they both have for their children. It is a step to neutralize the confrontational tone. Once husband responds, usually in a more conciliatory fashion, the wife can then suggest, “Let’s review how to do this so we realize more of what we want for our children, as an outcome of this process.”

Sitting down with a neutral third party to review finances may also help. As a certified financial planner and divorce financial analyst, I often work in Collaborative divorces with other professionals to help clients shared or separate their finances. When I help people find the common ground on an issue, I know this will lead to a speedier resolution of the issues at hand.

Kathleen Nemetz, MBA, CFP ® , CDFA ™ is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst ™, and a Certified Financial Planner ™ practitioner, based in San Rafael, California. www.life-as-planned.com

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

How to Survive the Holidays during your Divorce

The holidays can be hard for families that are going through a divorce.  Many families have established traditions that they look forward to year after year.  These traditions may include extended family, travel, religious rituals, festive parties, decorating a tree or cooking special holiday foods.  Most parents want to make the holidays as celebratory and memorable as possible for their children and for themselves.  Finding joy and peace during a time of upheaval may not even feel possible.  Creating an atmosphere free from tension and conflict is a unique challenge during the time of a divorce when parents may have to share or divide some cherished traditions when the children are sharing their time with both parents.  Even such traditions as decorating the house might feel bittersweet when you are feeling emotionally fragile and full of uncertainty about the future.  It is even worse if you believe that your family home may not be your home next year.   The first year after separation is a year of change and adjustments, and the first holiday season after you and your spouse have separated can be especially difficult.  Here are some ideas that might make the holidays easier.

  1. Plan ahead!  Talk with your spouse about what kind of schedule will work during the holidays for you and for the kids.  Try to focus on what the children might prefer.  Perhaps you have already created a parenting plan with a holiday schedule, or if you have not done so, you might work with your divorce coach or mental health professional to develop a workable plan for this year.  The more carefully you plan, the more you, and your children, can enjoy the holidays.
  2. Consider whether you can share any part of the holiday season together with the children.  For some children, seeing their parents celebrating together can be reassuring, and for others it can be confusing.  Some divorcing parents would like to keep traditions going as a family, but if there is tension or conflict between them this is painful for the children.  For example, some families spend Halloween together, while others decide to alternate annually.  On Thanksgiving, you may celebrate on Thursday with the children one year, and on Friday the following year.  The Christmas holidays include a long school break, so give thought to how you would like to share that time, particularly if holiday travel is part of your tradition.
  3. Some families share Christmas by celebrating Christmas eve with one parent, and Christmas day with the other parent.  Other families simply alternate the holiday each year.  One family that finished their collaborative divorce agreed to celebrate together on Christmas morning, when the children opened their gifts and the family ate breakfast together.  The rest of the holiday was split between Mom’s and Dad’s.
  4. Like many families, you may be dealing with the financial stress of the divorce as you transition to supporting two households.  Remember that the children’s memories will not be of the gifts that you purchase—they will remember the warmth of the family time and activities, whether that is baking cookies, going for a bike ride, or watching a holiday show. 
  5. Take care of yourself.  These holidays will be different, and you will begin to create new traditions and rituals for yourself and your family.  When your children are with their other parent, do something you enjoy for yourself, perhaps with friends or family.  And remember that the holidays do get easier as you build new traditions and memories.

--Ann Buscho, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist and Collaborative Coach in Marin County.  http://www.collaborativepracticemarin.org/members/Buscho 

This srticle was originally posted on December 13, 2013.  


Is Your Protective Instinct Backfiring?

By Sharon Strand Ellison and Ami Atkinson Combs

The love we feel for our children often prompts strong protective instincts, which can be intensified during the trauma of divorce. We just want them to feel good, safe, and secure.

When our children are sad, scared or experiencing feelings of loss, a common reaction is to try and reassure them. When our four-year-old cries, “I miss daddy,” we might hold her saying, “It’s OK, honey. We both love you so much. Daddy just lives in a different house now. You’ll still see him lots.”

Sadly, this kind of protective impulse often backfires. Whatever the age — from toddlers to adults — rather than protecting our children, an attempt to convince them that everything is okay shuts down the “real talk” they need.

Instead, we can ask questions. For example, “What do you miss about Daddy?” She might answer, “He always read to me before bedtime.” We can now respond to something specific, like, “I know how much daddy loves reading to you too!” 

The child may shift instantly from sadness to trust in Daddy’s love. And this process can facilitate more creative problem solving.  Perhaps Daddy can call or Skype in order to still read bedtime stories some nights.

We could also ask a child who is missing the other parent, “Why do you think Mommy’s not living here anymore?” This allows us to learn about stories he may have told himself, including “Mommy left because she’s mad at me.” Knowing his assumptions can make all the difference in our ability to successfully respond to what’s really going for him.

We regularly see parents wanting to avoid asking questions because they’re afraid it will make the child feel worse instead of better. This can reflect a lack of confidence in the child’s ability to handle a more in-depth conversation. We find the opposite to be true – that children welcome “real talk” and feel relieved when they can open up.

One story we both love is about four-year-old Ali, whose parents had a difficult divorce. Ali told her mother on the way to pre-school, “Daddy wants me to be a girl and you want me to be a boy.” Her mom was shocked, but shifted to asking a curious question, “Honey, what made you think I want you to be a boy?” Ali said, “Daddy wants me to wear dresses to school and you want me to wear pants.”

Surprised by the unexpected answer, Mom responded that, since they played outside and even rode horses at her Montessori school, she wanted Ali to wear clothes that gave her the freedom to do all the different activities. Then, she said, “I’m delighted you’re a girl, I always wanted a daughter,” and Ali giggled in delight.

Laughing as she us told the story, this mom finished by saying, “If I hadn’t asked that one question, she might have grown up and gone through years of therapy — trying to work through some vague feeling that her mom wished she’d been a boy!” The point is well taken because when a child carries an unexamined assumption, it can solidify into a belief that feels true even if the conscious memory fades.

When a child asks us a question, we can also sometimes shift too quickly to reassurance. Daniel’s parents were divorcing and his mom was worried he wasn’t expressing his feelings because his dad didn’t think boys should cry. One day when I (Sharon) went for a home visit, Daniel came and sat on my lap. After we talked a bit, he looked at me and asked, “Sharon, are you a crybaby?” I said, “I do cry, but I don’t think of myself as a crybaby.” He was very still for a moment, then asked thoughtfully, “Do you mean that if there are tears inside, they need to come out?”

If I had gone into protective mode and used his question as an opportunity to reassure him that crying is OK, I think he would have probably retreated back into his private conflict. When I simply answered his question directly, he compared his belief that crying meant being a baby to my belief that I cry without feeling like a baby — and came to his own conclusion. I was awe-struck by his wisdom.

When we have authentic conversations with our children, we can honor their strength and connect on a deeper level. The lessons and security that come from such conversations can last a lifetime.

© 2014, Sharon Strand Ellison & Ami Atkinson

Sharon Strand Ellison and her daughter Ami Atkinson Combs co-produced the audio-book, Taking Power Struggle Out of Parenting, winner of a Benjamin Franklin Award. Sharon and Ami offer workshops and webinars for parents and training programs for teachers in public and private schools, as well as for a wide range of agencies serving families. 

For more information, go to www.pndc.com. 

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

Three Ways to Increase the Odds Your Divorce Process Will Feel Successful

Divorce is a painful time no matter whether you are the one to initiate the process or you are the one who is reluctantly dragged through the process.  You and your spouse together have the choice of how to go about ending your marriage and moving into a better space.  The following are three ways to feel you have control of the process and its outcome.

  1. Educate yourselves about your divorce process options.  One way to do that is to attend a Divorce Options Workshop put on monthly by Collaborative Practice groups in counties around the state.  Then decide which option will work best for you and your spouse.
  2. Interview attorneys and other professionals whom you expect to have help you make agreements for the finances and your children's care.  Ask about their commitment to out-of-court processes, such as Collaborative Practice, where the ultimate goal is to reach agreements that you can each honor.  No matter the process you choose, look for professionals who are qualified members of a Collaborative Practice group.  They have most likely committed to practice standards and ongoing training.  These professionals are also the most likely to follow a shared model for Collaborative representation and to have made the effort to become trained as effective Collaborative professionals.  Research has shown that one of the best predictors of a good divorce process and outcome is the selection by divorcing spouses of two attorneys who respect one another and have a good track record of settling cases together and working together effectively to help clients reach creative, respectful solutions.
  3. Do everything in your power to reduce conflict between you and your spouse.  Enlist a neutral financial professional to gather your financial information and supporting documentation, provide the results in understandable formats, educate both of you as needed on the finances, and help you understand the financial and tax consequences of your ideas for settlement.  Enlist divorce coaches to help you create a parenting plan that will carry you through the different stages of your children's development.  Divorce coaches can also help you deal specifically with the emotions connected to the divorce process and provide effective communication tools.  For more help, one or both of you might seek relief from your pain and disappointment from a licensed mental health professional.  If you select the Collaborative Divorce process, tell your friends and family that you know they love you and want the best for you and that you are getting the information and advice you need to sit down and have the difficult conversations with your spouse so that you can to create a good life for yourself.   This will empower you and make you feel successful.
Judith F. Sterling is a CPA, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, and Collaborative Financial Specialist practicing in Sonoma and Marin Counties.  

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.


What is all this about Community and Separate Property?

One of the tasks that must be solved by couples going through a divorce is how to divide their assets and debts. A marriage is viewed as a partnership where whatever either spouse earns or creates during the marriage belongs to both. Income, including bonuses, stock, and retirement contributions, and assets, real property, savings and investments, as well as financial obligations, that are acquired during the marriage as a result of either spouse’s labor, skill and efforts, ie employment or self-employment, are called community property, equally owned by both spouses. Assets or debts owned prior to marriage, or received during marriage as gifts or from an inheritance, are called separate property. If assets were purchased during marriage using community and separate funds, there would be a community and separate component interest in the asset. How title, if any, is held could affect the percentage. Should a spouse work during marriage to increase the value of separate property, a portion of the increased value might be viewed to be community property to compensate the marital partnership for that spouse’s time. After separation, income becomes separate property but is available for child and spousal support payments.

For couples who choose to use a litigation process to divide their assets and debts, their community property will be divided equally and separate property will be fully retained be the owning spouse. A court does not have the ability to take into consideration the interests and needs of the family or their specific financial circumstances which might warrant a different division. The advantages of using a consensual dispute resolution process, such as Collaborative Practice, is that a divorcing couple is not bound by this narrow formula. Instead, spouses work together to consider multiple possibilities for the division of their community and separate assets and debts. With the assistance of a neutral financial professional, the various options are tested for viability and determined if realistic. They then have the opportunity to select a settlement package that provides benefits for each spouse and their children. The goal would be to achieve a mutually acceptable durable solution.

Susan Stephens Coats is a collaborative family law attorney in Marin and San Francisco

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

How Can I Control the Costs of My Divorce?

Once the difficult decision has been made to get divorced, the next biggest concern is usually how much it will cost.  As you may already be reeling from the emotional costs of the loss of your marriage, the added stress and anxiety associated with the potential or real loss of financial stability may be close behind. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind as you navigate your divorce that directly impact the cost of your divorce.

  1. Mitigate Conflict. This is the first and most important way to keep your divorce costs down. While there has most likely been conflict in your marriage leading you to divorce, do your best to manage your emotions outside of the negotiation. A Divorce Coach can be instrumental in helping you navigate the emotional minefield of divorce and guide you to a safer space from which you can make better decisions for yourself. There is a direct correlation between agreement and divorce costs.
  2. Consider Alternative Dispute Resolution Models such as Mediation or Collaborative Divorce. Litigation, being the highest conflict process, is typically also the most expensive.
  3. Don’t be afraid to use Specialists. Their fees are generally lower than attorney fees, and each professional can do what he or she does best. Remember your Attorney specializes in the law. CDFA’s specialize in financial matters, and a Divorce Coach can help you communicate effectively in your negotiation, while managing your emotions.  Child Specialists can help you and your spouse get on the same page to make decisions involving the children. 
  4. Try to keep an open mind. Remember that your idea of “Fair” may not be the same as your spouse. If you are anchored to a particular outcome, it may take longer to come to a resolution, therefore more expensive. Time is Money.
  5. Understand your attorney’s billable hour and use their time wisely. A few phone calls can add up quickly. Email as much as possible to communicate with your attorney. This allows them to answer your questions when they are not distracted by other issues, minimizing their down time and your bill.
  6. Financial preparation is critical. A Certified Divorce Financial Analyst can help you gather and organize your assets and debts as well as your income and expenses. Accurate information expedites the process reducing costs. Again, in the Litigation model, formal discovery such as subpoenas and depositions are often the most lengthy and costly parts of a divorce.
  7. Remember the law of diminishing returns. Sometimes it just isn’t worth spending thousands of dollars in fees fighting over something small. Make sure the Benefit is worth the Cost.
  8. Finally, Mind your credit. Retail therapy is common after divorce. Don’t do it. If you have to, you should avoid putting charges on credit and make sure you pay all of your bills on time. You will need a good credit score to start fresh after the divorce.

Susannah Malek is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) in San Rafael. 

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

Nesting: What is it? Is it right for us?

Perhaps you have heard of parents “Nesting” (sometimes called “Birds-nesting”) while separated or divorcing.  Nesting refers to a transitional arrangement where parents continue to share the family home and take turns being “on duty” with their children.  The children stay in the home full time, which gives them more time to adapt to the other changes in the family.  The parents may live in separate areas within the home or, more commonly, in another location when they are “off-duty.”  Some parents share the off-site residence, while others find separate living quarters, or stay with friends or family.  The goal is usually to provide a stable home for the children while the marital status is in flux.  These parents work out agreements about communication, schedules and finances.  Sharing the nest is usually temporary, until further along in the divorce process when decisions about the home and the timeshare schedule are made.  Parents may nest for months or even several years.  Some parents agree to nest until a milestone is reached, such as the children’s graduation from high school. 

Nesting works well for parents who are able to communicate respectfully with each other, and who can respectfully manage leaving the family home in reasonable condition when turning over the duties to the other parent.  Studies show that children suffer when their parents are in conflict.  Nesting can be a good choice for parents who have minimal conflict.  These parents are willing to put their children’s welfare ahead of their own.  It can be hard to move in and out of the family home, and these parents experience first-hand what their children may experience when they live under two roofs. 

Advantages:  Nesting provides some stability for the children while they adjust to their parents’ separation and divorce.  Their routines may not change much.   The children have quality time with each parent.  Some nesting parents call themselves “apartners” as they live apart while they partner as parents.  Nesting gives you both time to sort out the other divorce-related issues before making big decisions and changes about housing.  If nesting is during a trial separation, and the parents are both actively working on the marriage, some parents may be able to reconcile. 

Disadvantages:  Most adults find it disruptive to move in and out of the family home, and the alternate location may be less than ideal.  It may be costly to support the family home as well as two other living quarters.  Nesting is not advisable in high conflict relationships, or where there are coercive control issues.  An explicit agreement regarding schedules with the children, finances, and communication is essential.  Nesting becomes problematic when either parent develops a new serious, long term relationship.  Nesting is not advisable unless both parents trust each other.

Steps to Successful Nesting

  1. Decide whether both parents will remain in the area or city.  Nesting works when both parents are available for their “on duty” parenting time.
  2. Think through the value of nesting for the children and ask yourself if you can set aside your own comfort and prioritize the comfort of your children.  Nesting works best when both parents remain actively involved with their children.
  3. Consider your finances and whether you can afford to support alternate living locations.  Increasing financial stress is not helpful to you or the children.  You may need to reduce your standard of living if you are paying rent or mortgages in two or three locations.
  4. Decide whether you and your spouse can share the “off-site” location, or whether you will each need your own space. 
  5. Work together with the other parent to create a consistent and stable home for the children.  Find ways to communicate in a respectful manner about matters relating to the children, the home, and the finances.  Use communication tools, such as an online family calendar, to make the transitions easier.  Communicate regularly about how the children are doing.
  6. Act rationally, not emotionally.
  7. Develop a timeshare schedule so that each family member always knows which parent is “on duty.”  Make sure the schedule will work for you, and if it doesn’t work well, review and revise it.  Most nesting parents transition in and out of the house once or twice a week, but you and your partner parent need to create a realistic and workable schedule.
  8. Make sure your children understand what you are doing.  You may explain that this doesn’t necessarily mean you will reconcile with their other parent.  Let them know that the nesting may be temporary, and that you will let them know as decisions are made regarding future living arrangements.
  9. Develop a written agreement about communication, house rules, household responsibilities, who pays the bills, and how holidays and birthdays will be handled.  Consider setting up a joint “family” bank account to support the home and the children.  You may choose to consult with a financial specialist who will help you set up a realistic budget.
  10. Get help from a family therapist if necessary.  The family therapist can help you create a parenting plan that works for your family’s unique needs.
  11. See a financial professional to help you with budgeting for nesting if you want assurance it will work financially for your family.

--Ann Buscho, Ph.D. is a Collaborative Divorce Coach and psychologist in Marin County.  http://www.collaborativepracticemarin.org/members/Buscho

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

How Can a Divorce Coach Help You in Your Divorce?

A divorce coach works with you to safeguard the process of divorce, centered on minimizing the emotional trauma for you, your spouse and your children.  You might talk about painful feelings with your coach, but this isn’t therapy.  Your divorce coach will guide you through the process with the goals of minimizing conflict and building respect and trust as you navigate your divorce.

Your divorce coach will help you recognize and manage your and your spouse’s personal “faultlines,”  while providing a neutral buffer to calm, protect, and support you both.   An emotional “faultline” is where you may feel shaky or where you feel most hurt.  While it is normal to feel grief, guilt, anger, helplessness, or confusion,  when faultlines are triggered, you can’t take in information or make thoughtful decisions.   In private meetings, your coach will help you identify the faultlines that will be triggered, and develop a plan about how to handle the surge of emotions when you are in divorce meetings.  Unlike therapy, where you might unpack your “faultlines”,  coaching will give you the tools and resources to help you manage them during the course of your divorce.

Faultlines might include betrayals in the marriage, or conflicts about money or the children.  When discussing financial settlements or parenting plans, these faultlines can trigger a cascade of unhelpful emotions.  Your coach will help you develop strategies for managing your own faultlines, and respecting those of your spouse as well.

Your divorce coach will help you translate your emotions into being able to articulate what matters to you most.  Your coach will help you indentify your goals, needs and interests, without becoming adversarial or positional.  With the coaching, you will be able to voice these needs and interests in a more neutral way, without tripping your own or your spouse’s faultlines.  Your coach can also help you restructure your relationship with your spouse, so that you can co-parent with trust, honesty and respect.  Unlike in therapy, a coach will help you restructure your future role with your “ex” without “working through” all of the feelings you may experience in your divorce.

Your divorce coach could actually decrease the cost of the divorce.  In your divorce process, conflict and arguments in attorney meetings are not only hurtful, and pointless: they drag out the process and are expensive!  Your divorce coach will help you look at the process as a problem-solving effort, without pulling in the faultline issues, so that you can make rational decisions for yourself and your family.  As your coach helps you separate your emotional faultlines from what is most important to you, you will gain control over moving toward your new life, and the goals that you envision.

When you are flooded with intense feelings, this biologically limits your brain’s capacity to deal with the enormity of the divorce process.  Divorce coaching helps you maintain your integrity and dignity during a painful and stormy transition in your life.  As your coach helps  you and your spouse learn to communicate in new ways, you are able to keep your family’s wellbeing in focus, make the most well-thought-through decisions together, and begin to heal yourself. 

Avvy Mar, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist practicing in San Francisco and Marin County.

http://www.collaborativepracticemarin.org/members/mar

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

The Post-divorce Relationship

The post- divorce period is typically a time of mourning the loss of a relationship that at one point felt really right and was expected to last for the rest of life. In many ways it is worse than a death because the possibility of relationship is still present, whereas in death there is an end. Most people pass through a period of depression, fear, hurt, and anger that may last up to a year or more. It takes time to find equilibrium and move on.    For some this is not a major transition problem if the marriage is childless or of relatively short duration. The legal end of divorce can be the end of all contact or the relationship can evolve into a close or distant friendship, depending on the choices of the people involved.

With children, however, and the usual parental time-sharing of children, a different sort of parenting relationship has to develop. Sometimes it may be a relief to have the other parent not involved, at other times, even with cooperative co-parents, simply their different styles of parenting as well as gender differences, result in different relationships with their children, causing strong feelings on the part of both parents.  At the same time the children are developing their own coping styles, and that can mean difficult transitions for both child and parent. Complicating this picture further is the lack of parental relief for an exhausted and already stressed parent. Either parent can, out of frustration, express  open anger at their former spouse within earshot of their children. But children are hurt by hearing negatives about their other parent. They need the love of each parent and need to love each parent. And, the walls have ears when children are in the home and there may be no “safe place” for the exhausted parent to blow off steam about the other parent.

The biggest challenge and most difficult is the end of a marriage where one or both former spouses would prefer to never have contact or ever see the other again, impossible when they have children.  Even if a parent feels this way, children create a link between the parents that requires thoughtful consideration about how to relate to the former partner. Your children’s emotional health and your relationship with them in years to come are at stake. Children in all studies weather the disruption of divorce best if their parents work to be respectful and make an effort to support the child’s relationship with the other parent. This may be, as one woman said, “the hardest thing I have ever had to do.” But the gift she gave to her child was the feeling, to quote her daughter, “it’s just a little different, I see my Dad every day, except he doesn’t live here.”  Even though this parent found it extremely hard she did such a good job that the child felt no strain. This is certainly an ideal to strive for, but not everyone can manage it.

What can help you?

Exercise every day is important because it is better than any drug for depression and it leads to better moods, period.

Spending just 15 minutes outdoors in a green area and breathing deeply can up lift your feelings. 

Write down the positive qualities of the other parent. This may be hard because it is easier to separate if you are only focused on the negative.  Remembering the good qualities you once saw in the partner you married.  Your focus on those for your children can be helpful.

When your negative voice in your head begins to rant, notice it and choose to go on to something else – work, read a good book, playing a game, anything to change your focus so the voice can’t take over.

The more you practice being respectful and kind to your former partner as you relate as parents, the easier it gets, even for those who have been deeply hurt by the break up.

Peggy Thompson, PhD, is a Collaborative Divorce Coach and post divorce coach, and can be reached at 925-529-9005

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

I Don't Know How Much We Spend per Month!

When one is first contemplating leaving a marriage or when one is first told their marriage is ending, panic can set in.  Oh my gosh, will I be able to stay in my home?  Where will I go?  What kind of place can I afford?  Will I have to get a roommate?  All of these thoughts can come flooding through our consciousness.

Don't panic.  It really does not matter if you are the one who has handled the finances or the one who knows very little to nothing about your family's finances.  Begin to gather invoices to help you understand how much you spend on a monthly basis.  You will want to locate the invoices for expenses such as utilities, cell phone, mortgage or rent (which may be in a different home), groceries, gasoline, parking, day care, dues, clothes, pets, prescriptions, health insurance, credit card bills, auto and student loans, haircuts, and any other kind of expense that you pay each month.  This would include contributions to a retirement account.  You may not have all the invoices or receipts.  In that case begin to keep track of all the expenses you incur on a daily basis for a couple of months to see what you are spending and in what category.

Then think about other bills that come in once, twice, or maybe three times per year such as property taxes, property insurance, umbrella insurance, auto insurance, vet bills, auto repairs, house maintenance, and tuition.  Figure out what an average monthly amount would be and add this to your known monthly amounts for regular monthly bills.  This should give you a reasonable idea of your total average monthly expenses before income taxes are considered.  This exercise is very grounding.

Income taxes are likely be different in the year you are divorced.  If you have questions about what taxes may be or if you want further guidance in this process, seek the advice of a divorce financial professional.

This exercise of gaining a complete understanding of your family's spending patterns will help you feel in control of your life and help you be confident about your decisions when it is time to make financial agreements with your spouse. 

Judith F. Sterling is a CPA, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, and Collaborative Financial Specialist practicing in Sonoma and Marin Counties.  

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

The Law--Is it the Elephant in the Room?

One of the first things people want to know when they are seriously thinking about a divorce is – what does the law say?  I often hear “I want to be fair, but I don’t know what fair is.”  People tend to think the law will determine what is fair.  However, when they hear what the law says, it often seems unfair to at least one if not both of them.   Even when people want to follow the law, it is not always clear. 

In a litigated divorce, when the law is “gray” rather than “black and white,” arguing about how it should be applied or interpreted can drive up costs.  In addition, many other variables come in to play, such as – who is the judge, who are the respective attorneys, what is the amount of money available to spend on arguing, etc.  Furthermore, issues and circumstances that are really important to people are often deemed irrelevant under the law, so they never get discussed nor argued.

 In client-centered processes, like Collaborative divorce or mediation, the law only has as much power as the people choose to give it.  Clients get to decide what role the law will play in their divorce.  They are free to use it for some purposes and to ignore it for others.  Whenever the law is introduced, however, it can feel very powerful and can easily take over. The law can be like an elephant in the room - taking up all the space and sucking up all the air.  So, in Collaborative divorce, we take care to work with the clients about when and how the law will be introduced in the process.  Clients may find the law useful to understand the reasoning underlying the law, the standards of society expressed in the law, and to compare their potential agreements against what they could expect in the legal marketplace.  Knowing all this often helps the clients to make their own customized agreements.  

What else, apart from the law, can people look to for help in making decisions in their divorce?  They may want to consider:  1) agreements they may have made with each other during their marriage, either verbally or in writing, that they want to honor,  2) their individual needs and interests that are important to them, 3)  the needs and interests of other people, such as their children, other family members, friends and colleagues, 4) basic financial realities: what the law provides may not fit their situation, 5)  something that happened in their relationship they may want to honor or account for, and 6) any other factor that is important to one or the other.  Thus, the law is only one of seven reference points for making decisions in a Collaborative divorce. 

The goal for most clients in a Collaborative divorce is to reach a mutually acceptable durable resolution.  An agreement is not durable, or lasting, if a person realizes some years later that they never would have made such an agreement if they had known then what the law provided.  So, Collaborative attorneys want to educate the clients about the law at some point in the process, but will take guidance from the clients as to how and when to introduce it.  Instead of the law being “elephant-size,” we want to “people-size” it.  Then, clients can customize their decisions to fit their particular situation, needs, and interests. 

Nancy J. Foster, J.D. is a mediator, Collaborative divorce attorney, trainer and Executive Director of the Northern California Mediation Center in San Rafael, CA. See more at www.ncmc-mediate.org.

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

Keeping Kids Out of the Conflict During Divorce

Everyone knows that kids should be protected from their parents’ conflicts.  It’s tough to do this when emotions run high, and you are hurting and angry.  When you are in so much pain, you may turn to your children for comfort or support, or you may want to tell them the “truth” about the other parent.  So why is this such a bad idea? 

Kids who are caught in the middle of their parents’ conflict and divorce have worse outcomes than those whose parents prioritize a “child-centered divorce.”  A search on Google brings up many references to the term, a “child-centered divorce.”  There are helpful websites and blogs that advocate for a peaceful (out of court) resolution of the divorce, and a parenting plan that prioritizes the needs of the children.

This means that kids whose parents stay angry and hostile have more emotional and behavior problems that last into adulthood.  The good news is that kids whose parents are able to move beyond the conflict have a good chance at success in life, in school, their relationships, future positive mental health.  

Many parents going through divorce have told me that their children are “fine”; that they are “resilient,” but my experience as a child therapist has taught me something different.  In the privacy of the therapy office, children talk about their parents’ arguments, their worries about money, the accusations of betrayal or their fears about the future.  Because kids worry about their parents, they often cope by trying to look better than they really feel.  Inside they may be deeply pained but unable to talk to their parents when they see how much their parents are suffering.  They intuitively sense that their parents have enough to worry about, or that their parents need to see the children as fine.

So why keep your kids out of the middle?  For their own mental health, they need to love both of you, and if they feel caught in the middle, they may feel they have to choose between you.  This is damaging to children.  Your children know that they have a part of each of you in them, and if they turn against a parent, it is as if they are turning against a part of themselves. 

What happens when kids are caught in the middle?  They feel like they are caught in a terrible tug-of-war.  They may feel they need to determine who is at fault, or what is “fair.”  They may feel burdened by their parents’ emotions and not able to express their own.  They may begin to regress, shut down, or act out.  Teens and young adult children of divorcing parents may try to get involved in the divorce process itself, in unhealthy ways, by trying to mediate, or judge, or advocate for particular outcomes.  And this distracts them from focusing on their own lives in healthy ways. 

Here are some ways to protect your kids:

  1. Don’t speak badly of the other parent.  Don’t blame them, criticize or complain about them.  If you’re a kid, this hurts!  Seek out your friends or a therapist if you need to vent or complain.
  2. Don’t ask your kids to take sides.  Ask yourself if you are doing so, even in subtle ways, and remind yourself that it is healthier for your kids to love both parents.
  3. Don’t send messages or paperwork with the kids when they go to their other parent.  Keep the divorce business well away from them.
  4. Don’t talk about the divorce business, about the meetings, the financial settlement details or division of property.  Legal talk is painful for kids to hear and distracts them from being able to focus on their job—to be kids. 
  5. Don’t have difficult conversations with your spouse when the kids are being transferred from one of you to the other parent. Keep these out of earshot and private.  You would be surprised about how much your kids actually already hear and know.
  6. Don’t ask your kids to keep secrets from their other parent. 
  7. Don’t use your kids as your confidantes.  You need adults to turn to for support.  Connect with friends, family, a divorce support group or a therapist.
  8. Don’t ask your kids about your spouse’s personal life, like if s/he is dating.
  9. Don’t restrict your kids’ time with their other parent because you are mad at your spouse. 

Here some things you can do to help your kids stay out of the middle of the conflict:

  1. Minimize the disruptions to the kids’ routines as much as possible.
  2. Make sure both parents stay involved with your kids.  Make sure they have frequent and ongoing contact with both of you.
  3. Provide frequent reassurance.  The divorce isn’t their fault—they didn’t cause it, and they can’t change it.
  4. Focus on their growth and healthy change as they adapt and adjust to the new family structure.  It can help some kids to say “We are still one family, under two roofs.”
  5. Model respect for their other parent. 
  6. Let the children continue to be kids.  Maintain their play dates and other activities as much as possible.
  7. Imagine the story you want your children to tell about their parents’ divorce, and know that every day you are helping them to construct that story.
  8. Create a parenting plan that minimizes the potential for conflict.  By creating and committing to a set of default decisions, together with your spouse, the potential conflict will be minimized.
  9. Seek professional help if necessary, with or without your ex.

Remember that the divorce is a problem to be solved by you and your spouse, the adults, and your kids will benefit from knowing that their parents will continue to parent them together, even if they are living under two roofs.  Take the time to work with a professional, if necessary, to resolve your grievances with your spouse so that your children don’t carry the burden of bitterness and grief into their future.  Thousands of kids go through divorce with their families, but you can help them to overcome the challenges, become more stress-resistant, resilient, and flexible, by keeping them out of the middle of the divorce.  One to two years after a “child-centered” divorce, most kids are on track and healthy.

--Ann Buscho, Ph.D. is a Collaborative Divorce Coach and psychologist in Marin County.

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

The Benefits of a Neutral Vocational Consultant

A neutral vocational consultant can be a huge benefit to those going through a Collaborative Divorce.  Oftentimes one spouse has stayed home to raise the children or for any number of reasons has been out of the labor market for an extended period of time.  It may be financially or emotionally necessary for that spouse to return to employment at some point in the future.

A neutral vocational consultant can evaluate the stay-at-home spouse's transferable skills, interests, medical issues (if any), education, and formal training.  The vocational consultant can then offer advice related to the current labor market and the necessary steps to be taken to position oneself to return to satisfying employment.

Sometimes, all that an unemployed or underemployed spouse may need is a revamp of a resume or open-ended vocational counseling.  Perhaps one might need assistance with informational interviewing.

In other instances, verifiable labor market research can be conducted by the consultant by contacting employers, recruiters, schools, and identifying available job openings in the spouse's area of interest.  It may be that experience can be obtained through an internship or short-term temporary positions.  The end result of the consultant's work is a roadmap for the unemployed or underemployed spouse to determine what is needed to update skills for a particular vocational goal.  The consultant can provide the costs and timelines.

There are other vocational resources in the community, such as Career One Stop Centers, which provide job seeking skills workshops and job club programs free of charge.  The federal government funds these centers.  There is also a site known as GFClearnfree.org, where one can study various computer tutorials at no charge.

In conclusion, a neutral vocational consultant is a valuable resource for any number of services that an individual may need to enter or reenter the workforce.

Ms. Rachel Hawk, CRC, ABVE has a Master's Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling. She has worked in her field for over thirty years and has an office at The Collaborative Practice Center in Santa Rosa, CA. http://www.vocationalexperts.com

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

Family Events in Separating and Divorcing Families—Possible Islands of Connection

As spring arrives, you will be thinking about the many family occasions, holidays and events that need to be planned.   Easter/Passover celebrations, graduations, weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs and birthdays fill your calendar.  However, if you have recently separated, this year is not like other years.  Notice how you are feeling as you read this – is there a pit in your stomach, an ache in your heart, a clenched jaw in reaction to your feelings about the changes in your family?  Perhaps your children’s faces come to mind, as you recall the past events that were fun and easy.  Perhaps you are recalling how you have imagined these family events would unfold?

Many other families have lived through these difficult moments.  We have learned from the many families before you who have approached these changes and reported on how they turned out.  The good news is that with careful planning, parents can craft these events so that they can be at least ‘doable’ for your children and yourselves, or even better.

Consider a specific event coming up, for example, a high school graduation of one of your children.  There may have been older siblings who have graduated, and the whole family has a memory of the events and how the family celebrated this important moment in the graduate’s life.  It is very important now to imagine how you want this experience to be for your son or daughter now, when you and your spouse have separated.  Do you imagine it being warm, easy and focused on this important milestone and your child’s accomplishment?  Do you visualize building memories of shared meals, taking pictures of your cap and gown clad child with proud siblings and family?

It is possible to keep your intention as your guide in planning this day and event, even though it is different from “last time” or from what you had previously imagined.  It is possible to hold on to your best intentions even while you may feel sad or angry or disappointed.  Separations and divorces create feelings of grief about what has been lost or changed.  The feelings are normal.  And yet you know that these important moments in a family’s life are powerful and will be remembered.  So can you rise above your own emotions to create the day you want for your child?

You and your spouse can work together with your coaches to plan these events to be as positive as possible.  It may take some work to sort through which birthday or holiday traditions can be kept or changed, and whether new ones can be created.  You can do your best to be both flexible and realistic about what you can tolerate emotionally.  For example, one caring parent realized that sharing eight hours with her spouse at Christmas was too difficult, but two hours of opening presents and sharing the traditional breakfast would have been possible.

Your children will have their own feelings and wishes.  They may say or act as if “things are the same,” expecting hugs and kisses between you and your spouse, and lots of pictures together as if it were the “old days.”    Ask your kids which parts of the holiday or family traditions are most important.  Let them know compassionately that you know things are different this year.  Let them know what is the same and what will be different. 

If this is the first year after a separation you might think about it as, “this year let’s try….. to make it easier.”  This takes the pressure off the parents and children to “know” how things will be next year.  Let your kids know you’ll be planning with the other parent and get back to them with some plans.  Most children I have talked to mostly want their parents not to fight and have the divorce dominate the event.

After checking in with the kids, let them know how you and your spouse would like to plan the event.   It helps to emphasize that you both are committed to having a successful and comfortable event.  If it is one child’s event (i.e., a performance, graduation, or bar/bat mitzvah), let your child know that this is their day, and that the focus will be on their accomplishment, not on the divorce.  Reassure them that they don’t need to worry about you.

Working with your Collaborative team on planning successful family events can help stabilize things for your children and build trust between you and your spouse for the many post-divorce family events yet to come.  The care, planning and thought that you put into making successful family events will help you begin to create new, different, and happy traditions that will build new, positive memories.

Elizabeth Salin, MFT, is a divorce coach and psychotherapist in San Rafael.

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

The Real Difference Between Understanding and Agreement

People often ask how the Collaborative team is able to support divorcing couples to work through their conflict.  As a divorce coach, working with trained collaborative attorneys and other professionals, I believe that one of the keys is helping people understand the power of understanding (and often empathy), as an alternative to the power of coercion.

It’s hard to come to a divorce conversation, with attorneys at the table, and listen to your spouse with whom you disagree.  How easy it is to become defensive, how tempting to criticize, or simply ignore what your spouse is saying.  You may fear that if you understand your spouse, your own position will be weakened, or your own sense of the strength of your own view will be diminished. 

So we work to help you make the distinction between understanding and agreeing.  We often say you can understand someone fully without having to accept the validity of anything that they are saying.  You don’t need to agree with the other, but you can understand what he or she is saying to you.  This actually is a giant and liberating step forward to be able to move through a disagreement.  It runs counter to the way in which we generally think about our conflicts.  It can feel like a big shift to recognize that two views can simultaneously exist, and that they do not cancel each other out.  Instead there is the possibility of an expansion of understanding, especially if both of you are willing to do this for each other.  And that mutual understanding paves the way for a respectful dialog about the decisions that you will be making during your divorce.

This sounds simple, but it really isn’t.  It takes a strong intention, and the commitment to the effort.  When you really step into someone else’s shoes, you may feel quite vulnerable, especially if you are in conflict.   When you are able to express and demonstrate to your spouse that you understand their view (even if you don’t agree with it), you may feel even more vulnerable.  It can feel like the act of understanding and the demonstration of that understanding to your spouse is risking giving up your position or that it might result in your spouse believing that even though you haven’t said it, that you agree he or she is right.

Another problem is that we believe that our own view is so accurate that if your spouse were to actually understand it, that it would be inevitable that she or he will conclude that their own view is wrong.  “If the other person just really heard and understood me, of course they would agree with me.”  It is hard to accept that a different perspective doesn’t necessarily mean that you are wrong.  This black and white thinking causes conversations to fall into a win-lose battle. 

So let’s imagine that you and your spouse commit to listen for understanding, not necessarily agreement.  It can be disappointing to feel that your spouse now has conveyed his understanding, but has not taken the obvious next step to surrender his or her view or agree that you are right.  Right and wrong has a huge hold over all of us, especially when we are in a conflict.  Holding two conflicting views simultaneously is not only intellectually challenging, but emotionally is even harder because we are so conditioned to believe that there is one right and one wrong in almost every conflict. 

So how do we help?  We know that it takes courage for you to authentically attempt to listen carefully in a new way, to step into your spouse’s shoes to understand, and to express your understanding without necessarily agreeing.  We know it also takes strength to listen to your spouse’s understanding of what you may say, without assuming that he or she is now convinced that you are right, and he is wrong.  We appreciate how hard it is to make this effort without knowing where it will lead.  We may encourage you to push beyond your comfort zone, but we respect your ability to know what is possible for you.  If you have been someone who always gives in, or accommodates, we will encourage you to strengthen your voice to speak your truth.  At the same time, we will honor the realities of both you and your spouse to keep the lines of communication open.  We may help you explore your version of “The Truth” as well as your spouse’s.  Our goal is to keep the process moving forward in a balanced way, to reach your agreements with mutual understanding.  Imagine, when your divorce is over, being able to understand your former spouse’s perspective, without feeling that you have to give up your own.  This is one step toward a healing in your post-divorce relationship that will pay dividends for years to come.

Collaboratively written by Ann Buscho,  Catherine Conner, and Gary Friedman

Dark Feelings During Your Divorce

Grief and Sorrow

Being sad when a marriage ends is natural. Although it’s painful, grief is a healthy emotional response to loss of an important relationship. We are hard-wired to feel it and it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect otherwise. While sorrow and grief can be very hard to handle, most people do understand and accept the inevitability of these feelings.

Research, theoretical writings, and our professional experience with thousands of couples during divorces all confirm that though the emotional impact of a divorce is as severe as that of a death in the immediate family, the grief and recovery process does have a beginning, middle, and end. Though they may seem endless, the pain and confusion surrounding separation and divorce do gradually lighten, and finally go away—for most people over a period of eighteen months to three or four years following the marital separation, though recovery  can be quicker or slower.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, pioneer in the hospice movement, first described the stages of grieving and recovering from a major trauma like death or divorce:

  • Denial— “This is not happening to me. It’s all a misunderstanding. It’s just a midlife crisis. We can work it out. ”
  • Anger and Resentment—“How can he (she) do this to me? What did I ever do to deserve this? This is not fair!”
  • Bargaining— “If you’ll stay, I’ll change” or, “If I agree to do it (money, childrearing, sex, whatever) your way, can we get back together?”
  • Depression— “This is really happening, I can’t do anything about it, and I don’t think I can bear it.”
  • Acceptance— “OK, this is how it is, and I’d rather accept it and move on than wallow in the past.”

Understanding these stages can be very helpful when it comes to talking about divorce and decision making.  It’s important to know that when you are in these early stages of this grief and recovery process, it can be challenging  to think clearly or to make decisions at all, much less to make them well. Identifying your present stage of grief and being aware of it is an important step toward ensuring that you make the best choices you can.

Guilt and Shame

Experiencing guilt and shame is also a normal reaction to the end of a marriage. These feelings arise when we feel a sense of failure—of not having fulfilled our own or our community’s expectations. In the case of divorce, people often feel guilt and/or shame because they have failed to stay married for life. That’s partly a matter of personal expectations—not fulfilling the promises made to a spouse—and also partly a matter of not fulfilling what our culture seems to expect from us. If our culture’s expectations about marriage and divorce are reasonable—if they fit well with how people actually behave in that culture—and we don’t measure up, then the guilt and shame felt at the time of divorce may be appropriate. If the culture’s expectations don’t match well with the reality of marriage and divorce as people actually live it, then the guilt and shame can be much more problematic—difficult to see clearly, difficult to acknowledge, difficult to manage in a divorce. In addition, in some marriages one or both partners have engaged in extremes of betrayal, deceit, or even criminal behavior that almost always involve feelings of guilt and shame.

For many people guilt and shame can be so painful that they change very quickly into other more tolerable feelings such as anger or depression—often without the person even knowing that the guilt and shame are there. This is why it is so common in divorce for each partner to blame the other, and why it can be so difficult for divorcing partners to accept responsibility for their own part in a failed marriage.

Very few divorcing people find it easy to see or accept their own feelings of guilt and shame. These powerfully negative feelings often remain under the radar, hidden and invisible, where they can do the most harm. Strong feelings of guilt or shame can make it difficult or impossible to take in more balanced information, to maintain perspective, and to consider realistically your best alternatives for how to resolve problems.

Guilt can cause spouses to feel they have no right to ask for what they need in a divorce, causing them to negotiate unbalanced, unrealistic settlements they later regret. Family lawyers have a saying that “guilt has a short half-life,” and because guilt is such an uncomfortable feeling, it can easily transform into anger.  People who have negotiated guilt-driven agreements often have second thoughts and go back to court to try to set aside imprudent settlements.

Similarly, shame often transforms into blame, anger or rage directed at the spouse. Bitter fights over children or property can be propelled by feelings like these, because modern divorces seldom brand either partner as Snow White or Hitler, Prince Charming or the Wicked Witch, and therefore the anger, which needs to go somewhere, goes toward fights over matters that courts are permitted to make orders about.

A full collaborative divorce team includes not just lawyers but also two licensed mental health professionals acting as coaches, whose job includes helping you and your spouse become more aware of how grief, shame, and other strong emotions may be playing an unwanted role in your divorce process.  They can also help you address those  feelings in constructive ways that leave you much more clear-thinking as you negotiate long-term divorce settlement terms.

Pauline H. Tesler, J.D., CFLS, is a collaborative divorce lawyer practicing in Marin and San Francisco.

[This post is excerpted and adapted from Chapter One of Collaborative Divorce: The Revolutionary New Way to Restructure Your Family, Resolve Legal Issues, and Move on with Your Life, by Pauline H. Tesler, J.D., and Peggy Thompson, Ph.D.]

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

What Happens to Social Security Benefits When You Divorce?

Questions abound about Social Security benefits when there is a divorce.  Social Security benefits are Federal benefits and are not subject to division in state courts.  That being said, under current Federal law unmarried lower earning spouses who had been married for 10 or more years before divorcing and are at least 62 years of age are entitled to ½ of the higher earning spouse's benefits under what is known as a derivative benefit or 100% of their own benefits - whichever is higher even if the higher earning spouse has remarried.  In order to receive the full ½ derivative benefit, the lower earning spouse must be at his or her full retirement age and the higher earning spouse must be of minimum retirement age or age 62.  If the higher earning spouse begins collecting Social Security benefits before full retirement age, the amount of the lower earning spouse's derivative benefit will be reduced by a percentage based on the number of months before the higher earning spouse reaches full retirement age.  In addition, lower earning spouses must be eligible to receive their own benefits, meaning they had worked a minimum of 40 credits.  One earns a maximum of four credits per year.  In 2013, one could earn one credit for every quarter one earned at least $1,160.

These derivative benefits for lower earning spouses have no affect on the benefits of higher earning spouses, their current spouses, or other family members.

If you are the lower earning spouse and are curious about whether your ex-spouse's benefits are more than 50% higher than your benefits, contact the Social Security Administration who will provide you with the benefit amounts to which you may be entitled after first verifying your relationship to your ex-spouse.  Privacy laws prohibit the Social Security Administration from providing the ex-spouse's actual Social Security Statement.

Should the higher earning spouse pass before the lower earning spouse and be fully insured (meaning having 40 credits), the lower earning spouse may be eligible to receive 100% of the higher earning spouse's benefits.  These benefits are called survivor benefits.  The survivor spouse must be at least age 60 or at least age 50, if disabled.  The survivor spouse must have been married to the ex-spouse for at least 10 years and be unmarried unless married after age 60 or after age 50 and at the time of remarriage were entitled to Social Security disability benefits. 

If at the time of divorce one legally changes his or her name, it will be important to notify the Social Security Administration.  For most people this would mean obtaining a certified copy of the divorce decree showing request for name change from the county Superior Court; providing either an original US issued driver's license, state ID card, or US passport; completing an application for a Social Security card; and delivering all items to the local Social Security office or Social Security Card Center.  The Social Security Administration notes that if mailing, original documents and certified copies will be returned with receipt.

For more information on Social Security benefits visit http://www.ssa.gov.  Or contact the Social Security Administration directly for answers to your specific situation.

Judith F. Sterling is a CPA, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, and Collaborative Financial Specialist practicing in Sonoma and Marin Counties.  

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

Divorce and Special Needs Children

Parents facing divorce usually worry about how their children will deal with the emotional repercussions of a divorce.   Parents of a special needs child may worry even more.  Studies suggest that the divorce rate for parents of disabled children is about 80%.  This may be due to the additional stresses the family experiences, and it highlights the increased need for effective co-parenting and protection for the children.  We at Collaborative Practice Marin believe that Collaborative Divorce is the best way to develop a plan for special needs children during and after divorce.   This article, written by a Collaborative family law attorney in Virginia, describes the collaborative approach to divorce in families with special needs children.  http://kaleslaw.com/blog/?p=447

Jonathan Kales is a Collaborative family law attorney at Kales & Kales, in Virginia.

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

How to Tell Your Kids About Your Upcoming Divorce or Separation

Once you are certain that you and your spouse will be separating or divorcing, it is critical to think about how, and when, to talk to your children.  Children may remember this conversation very vividly, and these guidelines will help you prepare yourselves to demonstrate that – as a family – you’re going to meet their needs and answer their questions. 

1.    Work with your spouse to plan what you will say.

For the sake of your children, put aside the hurt and anger you may be feeling, so that you can make decisions together about the details you’ll need to tell your children. If it’s extremely difficult to speak with one another, consider using the services of a mediator or counselor, or invite someone you both trust to help you work out the details.

2.   Talk to your children together.

This lets your kids know that you’re both able to work together for their benefit. It’s important that each child hear this news together, and directly from mom and dad; not from the sibling who heard it first. So if your kids are different ages, plan to share the basic information at the initial gathering, and follow-up with the older children during a separate conversation.  If you can’t do it together because you are concerned about safety or conflict, then seek help in developing your plan.

3.   Develop a non-blaming narrative.

If you are calm when you tell your children, they will have less anxiety and are more likely to anticipate that they will be ok.  Avoid the temptation  to assign blame or say whose “fault” this is. To the extent that you can, try to incorporate the word “we” when you’re explaining the decisions that have been made.  You may feel that you want your children to know the “truth” but if this will cause your children to feel caught in a loyalty bind, it isn’t healthy for them.  The “truth” is less important than providing the support and reassurance that your children need.

4. Provide a General Reason for What is Happening.

It is not important, or even appropriate, that you provide specific details about why you are planning a divorce. However, your kids will want to know why this is happening. Older children will recognize that this is a huge life change, and they will weigh that change against the reason you give them. So while you don’t want to share details of a personal nature, be prepared to give some type of general explanation without blame.

5. Provide Specific Details About the Changes Your Kids Can Expect.

Your kids will want to know where they’re going to live, with whom, and what about their lives is going to change. You can help your children to be prepared for these changes by being honest about what you know, and what you don’t know.  Reassure them about the things that will stay the same: their school, or friends, or sports or other activities.

6. Provide Specific Details About the Parent Who is Leaving the Home.

The more you can tell your kids about where the departing parent will be living and when they will be seeing him or her, the better. They’ll need to know, right away, that they will be able to maintain a quality relationship with this parent, even though they won’t be living under the same roof.  If they will be living in two homes, give them some time to establish a comfortable space at the new home. 

7. Reassure the Children of Your Unconditional Love.

Your children will need lots of reassurance that the divorce is not their fault. Specifically tell them that nothing they did could have caused - nor prevented - what is happening. In addition, make sure both parents collectively and individually convey their unconditional love through words and actions. Avoid making long-range promises about an uncertain future. Instead, stick with the assurances you can make for the present time and be generous in sharing your hugs and affection.  It is fine for the children to see you upset or cry, and it is important to reassure them that everyone in the family will adjust to the changes and heal.

8. Be Sensitive to How the Kids React to This News.

What you’re telling them may be completely unexpected, and will most assuredly change their lives. Try to be as understanding of no reaction – which is a reaction – as you would be if the children were in tears or extremely angry. Your children may not know how to express their intense emotions appropriately, and it may be some time before they can articulate their feelings.

9. Welcome Their Questions.

Most likely, the children will have many questions. To the extent that you can, be honest and clear in your responses. If you don’t know the answer to a question, tell them that.  Reassure them that as you and your spouse figure things out, that you will inform the children.  Also, realize that this conversation will unfold in many parts. After you’ve told the children about the divorce or separation, expect to revisit the topic many times as new questions and concerns arise.

10. Give Them Time to Adjust to the News.

It will take time for your children to adjust to this news. It is a huge change, and while you may be confident in the hopeful future you envision for them, it will take some time for them to see that future play out. In the meantime, be patient with their needs and make the effort to be a steady presence in their lives.

--adapted from various sources by Ann Buscho, Ph.D., a divorce coach and psychologist in San Rafael, CA.

For more information, click here to read “What Should We Tell the Children?” by Joan Kelly, Ph.D.  http://tiny.cc/1f9iax

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

Divorce as Temporary "Diminished Capacity"

You don’t need to be a lawyer or a psychologist to know that going through a divorce is one of life’s roughest passages. It can cause a myriad of emotional responses that can at times feel overwhelming and limit your ability to think clearly or make good choices. Unfortunately, this occurs at the very time you are called upon to make some of the most important decisions of your life.

For many people, the ending of a marriage is a time of temporary “diminished capacity.” By diminished capacity, we mean a period during which the person you thought you were on your best days—competent, thoughtful, considerate, reasonable, fair-minded, resilient—disappears for days or weeks at a time. The person you generally know yourself to be gets replaced temporarily by an unfamiliar and frightening self who can hardly summon up enough energy to get out of bed, wallows in fear, confusion or anger, or jumps to hasty conclusions in order to end the conflicting impulses about what to do and how to behave.

Recovering from the shock of a failed marriage involves moving through that initial period of diminished capacity, until gradually, more and more of the time, your pre-divorce “best-self” is back at the helm. Most people can expect to feel something like their old, pre-divorce selves in eighteen to twenty-four months from the time of the divorce decree, though it happens more quickly for some and more slowly for many. During that recovery period, it is quite common for people to veer suddenly and dramatically from day to day, or even hour to hour, between optimism and darkest pessimism, between cooperative good humor and frightening rage.

You may be experiencing such intense emotions as you come to terms with the possible—or actual—ending of your marriage. Most people do, at least some of the time. Keeping the focus on best intentions and good decision making in light of that reality is what collaborative divorce is all about.   

Thinking clearly about what kind of divorce you want and how you’ll get there may be an unfamiliar concept to you. Most people are surprised to learn that the choices made right at the start of the divorce process have great impact on what kind of a divorce experience they will have. Even when people do understand the high stakes of those early choices, thinking clearly and making intelligent choices at that time can be very challenging, because divorce is an emotional wild ride like no other. Even very reasonable and civilized people can find unexpected, hard-to-manage emotions popping up at the most inconvenient times, particularly during the early months of a separation and divorce—exactly the time when you will be making decisions that determine what kind of divorce you are likely to get, and how your divorce will affect the rest of your life.

When you choose collaborative divorce, a team of professional helpers from the fields of law, psychology, and finance will provide coordinated support and guidance to help you and your partner slow down, reflect, focus on values, aspire to high goals, make good choices, work together constructively while avoiding court, plan for the future, and reach deep resolution. In our experience, this kind of coordinated professional help isn’t available anywhere else but in collaborative divorce. If you choose it, you and your spouse can count on professional advice and counsel that will:

  • encourage both of you to remember your goal: the best divorce the two of you are capable of achieving
  • educate and remind you about the divorce grief and recovery process so that you can choose to operate from your hopes rather than your fears
  • help you focus on the future rather than the past, and on your deepest personal values and goals for the future rather than what the local judge is permitted to order
  • make it possible for your financial advice to come from a financial expert, and your parenting advice to come from a child specialist, so that your lawyer is freed to do what lawyers do best: help you reach well-considered resolution
  • keep you and your spouse focused on how your children are really doing, and how the two of you can help them move through the divorce with the least possible pain and “collateral damage”
  • teach both of you new understanding and skills that will help you be more effective co-parents after the divorce than you may be capable of right now as your marriage ends
  • make sure you and your spouse have all the information you’ll need to make wise decisions—not just information about the law, but also about finance, child development, grief and recovery, family systems, negotiating techniques, and anything else that will help you devise creative lasting solutions
  • emphasize consensus and real resolution, not horse-trading and quick fixes
  • help you maintain maximum privacy, creativity, and self-determination in your divorce.

Divorce is never easy, but making the collaborative choice helps you to move through a challenging life passage with dignity, intelligence, and respect.

[Excerpted and adapted from Introduction and Chapter One of Collaborative Divorce: The Revolutionary New Way to Restructure Your Family, Resolve Legal Issues, and Move on with Your Life, by Pauline H. Tesler, J.D., and Peggy Thompson, Ph.D.]

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

Facing a Divorce in the New Year?

Family Law specialists and therapists will often see a surge in separation and divorce consultations in January.

There are probably two common reasons for this: First, many couples decide to “tough it out” through the holidays, even if the decision to separate has already been made by one or both people.  In my practice, I have heard from adult children of divorce about the holidays being emotionally associated with family crisis because their parents chose to separate during the holiday season.  Year after year, the holidays bring back the memories of the pain of their parents’ divorce.  So I often advise clients to wait until well after the holidays if they plan to separate or divorce.

Second, the stress and strain of the holidays can be the final straw for couples whose relationship is already fragile.  The financial strain or the pressures of family get-togethers in a troubled marriage might cause one or both people to reach their limit and decide to separate. 

Whether you or your spouse made the decision to separate or divorce, in January you may find yourselves facing a decision about how your marriage will end.  You may talk to friends and family, and hear unsolicited advice or horror stories from well-intentioned people who have been divorced.  You may talk to your therapist, clergy, or doctor.  You may be angry, sad, and anxious, in pain, and worried about your children.  You know that making a quick decision in a crisis is generally not a good approach.  Choosing the right process for you and your family is one of the most important decisions you and your spouse can make.  Here are some questions to consider when you think about choosing the Collaborative process:

  1. Do you want to end your marriage with respect and integrity?
  2. Is taking a rational and fair approach to dividing your assets more important than seeing yourself as a winner and your spouse as the loser in this process?
  3. Are your children the most important aspect in this process?
  4. Is saving money, which could go to you or your children more important than spending it on protracted litigation?
  5. Do you want to model for yourself, your spouse and your children how mature adults handle significant challenges?

If your answer is “yes” to these questions, consider having a consultation with a Collaboratively trained professional to see if the Collaborative process is right for you.  A Collaborative Divorce can help you restructure your family in a way that allows you and your family to recover and heal.

--Ann Buscho, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist and Collaborative Coach in Marin County.

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.


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About Collaborative Practice Marin

CPM is a community of legal, mental health and financial professionals working together to create client-centered processes for resolving conflict.  We are located in Marin County, California. 

Why Collaborative Divorce?

“Divorce is never easy but the collaborative process made mine bearable.  I had more control and therefore less stress and anxiety because I had an active role.”

~JF

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