Collaborative Practice Marin
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.

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

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.

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.

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. 

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 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.

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.

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.  


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.

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.

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.


Blog Post Editorial Criteria

 

Recent Posts


Tags


Archive

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

Newsletter Signup