Many people recognize that if they “lawyer up” by hiring the most litigious attorneys that they are asking to have a very expensive adversarial divorce. Saving money is one of the reasons (but hopefully not the only reason) people often choose to do a collaborative or mediated divorce. Yet, even in these non-adversarial processes, the attitudes you adopt and the actions you take can make a modest-cost divorce into a much more expensive one.
Behaviors that increase costs:
Attitudes that increase costs:
You always have a choice about what actions you take and the mindset you adopt. The choices you make will impact how long your divorce takes and the final cost. If you are feeling very reactive and overwhelmed, then seek out a divorce coach or therapist to support you through the emotional currents of the divorce process.
Nancy J. Foster, J.D. is an attorney-mediator, trainer and Exec. Director of the Northern California Mediation Center in San Rafael.
Photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.
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. firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo Credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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:
Elizabeth Salin, MFT, is a family therapist, Divorce Coach and Child Specialist in Marin County.
photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.
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.
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. email@example.com
Photo Credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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
photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.
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.
--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.
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.
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.
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.
photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.
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.
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:
Here some things you can do to help your kids stay out of the middle of the conflict:
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.
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.
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
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:
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.