179557103One of the most valuable outcomes of Collaborative Team Practice for many families is how respectfully the process helps prepare parents for effective co-parenting.  Lee Eddison, a very experienced neutral coach in Collaborative Team Practice, aptly describes this as a transition from We (a married couple) to a different kind of We (co-parents).

In Collaborative Team Practice, the expertise to make this transition is available from two mental health professionals on the team, the neutral child specialist and the neutral coach.  The neutral child specialist offers a child-inclusive process to assist parents in the creation of a developmentally responsive Parenting Plan.  The Parenting Plan lays an important foundation for effective-co-parenting with detailed agreements about decision making; communication; parenting expectations, routines and guidelines; and parenting time.  This foundation is considerably strengthened when parents also create a Relationship Plan with their neutral coach.

The Relationship Plan is a set of clear and specific agreements about how parents can communicate effectively and resolve potential or actual conflicts in a productive manner once they have completed their divorce or separation and are on their own.  The Relationship Plan is not a list of cookie cutter recommendations or generic advice, but is specifically tailored to the unique needs and concerns of each family.  

Included in the Relationship Plan are agreements about necessary boundaries to define safe emotional, physical and communication space for co-parenting.The neutral coach helps parents be specific about what words and behaviors from a co-parent would feel respectful and supportive, what could easily trigger negative emotions, and what to do if negative emotions are triggered.  The Relationship Plan helps parents anticipate and prepare for a number of sensitive and potentially complicated interpersonal situations that frequently arise after a divorce or break up.Creating a Relationship Plan also provides an opportunity for parents to articulate and build on their own and their co-parent’s strengths.

In my experience as a neutral child specialist,  parents who invest the time and resources to create a Relationship Plan with their neutral coach have prepared themselves as fully as possible for their lifelong relationship as co-parents.  On behalf of their children, what could possibly be more valuable than that?
138041606Starting a divorce can be difficult, particularly if your spouse believes the marriage can be saved. How you have this discussion may make a major difference in your life, particularly if you have children. In my thirty years of working with divorcing clients, I have found that avoiding mistakes at the very beginning of the process is crucial to the future of your family. The most common mistake is moving ahead without being fully prepared. Here is a quick guide to the type of preparation that I believe will make the most difference.
  1. Make sure you clearly explore your reconciliation options. Before you start down the path toward divorce, make sure that you are doing the right thing. This is important for you, and your children and will help your spouse become more accepting of the divorce if that is what ultimately needs to happen. There are many new ways to explore the divorce decision, including discernment counseling which is designed to help you determine whether your marriage can be saved. To learn more, go to the Doherty Relationship Institute website
  2. Make sure you understand the various options for how to divorce. There are many different ways to move ahead with divorce, including Collaborative Divorce and meditation. There are many good professionals who will explain all of the options, without charge. To learn more, go to www.collaboratiavelaw.org. or www.divorcechoice.com.
  3. Once you have chosen a method of moving forward, carefully plan the way of telling your spouse about the divorce. If there is any danger of abuse, make sure you consult with experienced professionals to make sure that you are aware of the safest possible method. If there is no danger of physical abuse, but have significant concerns about possible verbal abuse, make sure that you are in a public place so that you can leave if things get uncomfortable. If possible, consider having a counselor, clergy member or mutually trusted friend or family member present during this important discussion.
  4. Focus on the “Big Picture” and your long term goals.  Sometimes divorce can create a “crisis mentality” that can cause people to lose perspective on what really matters. Focusing only on the issues that feel urgent can displace the need to focus on what is truly important  such as the well-being of your children or your general health.
117149003The school year brings on new challenges as flexible summers come to a close and more demanding schedules begin. If you are like most parents of school age children, not only are the kids going back to school, but the activities and sports schedules also start to pile on. Here are our top 10 tips for co-parenting that will save your sanity this school year.
  1. Fine turn your parenting plan NOW. Don’t wait until the middle of September after a few hiccups have ready occurred.
  2. Who’s paying for what? If you haven’t already sat down with your ex to discuss this go grab coffee and decide who is paying for school supplies, clothes, school fees, daycare/afterschool care, sports and activities fees, etc. Map this out now to prevent an argument later.
  3. Revisit and outline who has custody for which holidays this school year. Spring break may seem like a lifetime away right now, but now is the time for those discussions.
  4. It’s inevitable – kids get sick. Make sure you are on the same page with a plan in place on who will stay home or pick up the sick child. Will you rotate, do it based on who has custody that day? You decide what works best, and plan for flexibility, but don’t wait until you are on the phone with the school nurse to decide.
  5. Speaking of sick kids, assuming which parent providing medical insurance is already set, decide who is going to pay the uninsured medical costs, co-pays, etc.
  6. Run-down of your regular weekly schedule, which provides appropriate time for each parent. Does is work better for Mom to pick up Matt after soccer practice and take him to Dad’s even though it’s Dad’s night? Parenting schedules will never be black and white, so plan for some flexibility, while preparing for multiple scenarios.
  7. Transportation. Discuss who is driving to school, activities, drop offs, pick-ups etc. Will you be meeting half way to drop off/pick up or at each other’s houses. Are each other’s spouses/significant others “approved” to do so?
  8. Saving for college. Whether there is no money is the budget to save and the “plan” is to wait 2 years to start, or one or both of you can start now, decide who, how much and where the money is going to: savings account, 529 College Saving account, etc.
  9. Introducing new significant others into the mix. Make sure this is discussed now before feelings are hurt later on when mom unexpectedly meets dad’s new girlfriend at pick-up or find out that the kids meet a new boyfriend without dad knowing.
  10. Communication. Last, and the most important tip is communication. The communication you have with your ex will ultimately reflect the relationship you have with your kids. It may not come easy, but continuing to improve communication is best for all parties.
182021502The Collaborative divorce process is one of many ways to divorce. It’s not for everyone. So how do you know whether it is right for you and your spouse or partner? Here are a few questions to help you decide:
  • Do you want your children to be in the center rather than in the middle?
  • Do you want your lawyer to be a wise counselor rather than a hired gun?
  • Are you willing to be in the same room with your spouse or partner?
  • Are you able to speak for yourself and articulate your own goals and interests?
  • Are you open to solutions that respect both your and your spouse’s interests?
  • Do you want to focus on future solutions rather than past disagreements?
  • Do you want a comfortable co-parenting relationship with your former spouse?
  • Are you willing to experience and live with some discomfort at times during your divorce?
  • Do you want solutions that take into consideration the uniqueness of your family?
  • Do you want to model healthy dispute resolution for your children, friends and family?
  • Do you want to be able to look back on your divorce and feel good about both the outcome and how you handled yourself during the process?
If you answered “no” to any of these questions, another, more traditional divorce process may be a better choice for you. Collaborative divorce is best-suited for couples who understand the value of divorcing well. How you divorce greatly impacts your children’s well-being and your own ability to move forward in life without resentment. If you answered “yes” to these questions, the Collaborative divorce process may be a good choice for you. To find out more, go to www.collaborativelaw.org and contact a Collaborative professional.
98680904Cash flow refers to how your money moves in your household, from the time it is received to when it is spent. When your cash flow is “positive,” it means you have more money coming in than going out; you are spending less than you take in each month. You want positive cash flow in order to pay for expenses and also save and invest money for goals. After a divorce, however, you may find your cash flow is tight or even negative. That is, you are spending your cash almost to zero each month or spending even more than you take into the household. To improve your cash flow, here are several steps to take: 1. List all your sources of income. Your income could include any of the following:
  • Spousal maintenance/alimony
  • Child support
  • Part-time and full-time wages, bonuses and commissions
  • Self-employed income
  • Rental income
  • Royalties
  • Investment income
  • Pensions or draws from retirement accounts
Different sources of income are taxed differently, so you need to know your true after-tax income. Consult a CPA or financial advisor to learn more about this. You’ll also need to know how often you receive each source of income and if it’s fixed/guaranteed (paychecks) or variable (self-employment income). 2. Determine your historical monthly spending. Look back 6-12 months to get an accurate picture of expenses. This could include everything from car or home maintenance to vacations, kids’ sports activities or insurance premiums. Look up spending summaries on your Quicken account or request statements from your bank or credit card companies. Don’t make yourself crazy trying to document every expense to the penny. Just come up with a monthly average per expenditure (e.g. $1,000 on holiday gifts averages out to about $83 a month). Reviewing your spending habits can be a valuable exercise. You’ll likely see areas where you could realistically cut spending in order to improve your cash flow. 3. Decide if positive cash flow requires more income or less spending – or both! There are only two ways to improve cash flow: increase your income or reduce spending. You can increase income by finding a job, increasing the hours you work or finding a different job with a better salary. You could also consider returning to school to train for a better-paying job. Temporary jobs, such as retail during the holiday season, can also provide a cash cushion to meet immediate or pressing needs. If you are already working as much as you can, then look for ways to cut spending. Divide your expenses into fixed expenses (like rent or mortgage), escrow expenses (such as insurance or taxes), and living expenses (groceries, haircuts, school expenses). It is often in the living expenses category that you can find areas to cut — at least short term — in order to create a more workable budget and money habits. Keep going back to this list and making cuts until your budget is less than your income. If you are in the habit of using credit cards as your cash overflow account and aren’t paying off the balance each month, this is another sign that you may not have positive cash flow. Stop using credit for any living expenses and give yourself a cash allowance instead. You will quickly assess needs and wants by looking at the remaining cash in your wallet as the weeks go by. Be gentle with yourself. A new cash flow system takes 30 to 90 days to start showing positive results. Staying in a budget takes practice, but can become fun as you have more money to save for vacation or that retirement dream.
sb10065918f-001Recently Daisy Camp received a letter from a 2007 Daisy Camp graduate, Karen. We appreciate hearing divorce success stories and thought Karen’s is a great one to share as proof that, “everything happens for a reason.” Even in your darkest days of divorce, always remember there are brighter days ahead. Her letter is reprinted below with her permission. Jennifer, I wanted to let you know what you do is important. I was at the lowest point in my life in 2007, after a 22 year marriage to my high school sweetheart and two kids, he left me for a women 15 years younger than me. I was devastated and had no idea what to do. That’s when I came across Daisy Camp. I attended the Saturday all day session and the most important thing I took away from it was the fact that I wasn’t alone and other women were going thru something similar. I received a lot of information that day and received some great advice that helped me navigate the legal process as well as give me the strength to get up every morning and “fight back for my life.” Well, here I am 7 years later, my children are now young adults and living on their own. Following the divorce, I went thru counseling and joined a separation and divorce support group through my church. Through a Catholic dating website I met a wonderful guy who went through the same experience as me. In fact, we were both married and divorced the same year, both have two boys, our oldest sons have the same name and our birthdays are just 6 days apart. We bought a beautiful house in the country and I have a new life. I have made a lot of new friends and have a job that is challenging yet fun. Thank you for having the courage to start a resource like Daisy Camp to help other women!! On a side note, my Ex and his girlfriend just had a baby in December. I laugh when I hear that he is doing feeding and diaper changes at the age of 51 while I’m enjoying a glass of wine and sitting next to a fire reading a book and realizing that everything happens for a reason! Karen, A 2007 Daisy Camp Graduate
175440139In Part I of Getting Unmarried, Money and Divorce, I talked about the two financial pillars of any divorce. The first being the balance sheet that lists every single asset and liability. The second being forward looking cash flow and support needs for children, if any, and both spouses. In this post, I will briefly cover some other financial issues common in many divorces.  These include some discussion of marital and non-marital property, analyzing tax implications of various scenarios for child support and/or spousal maintenance; analyzing property and business interests, debt pay off scenarios, and comparing pros and cons of using one asset over another. A financial neutral assists with identifying what is marital and what is non-marital property. Marital property of course is that property acquired during the marriage.  Generally, non-marital property is property owned prior to the marriage and brought into the marriage, inherited property, and or property received as a gift. Sometimes this can include a home where the down payment made with non-marital money, a retirement plan when the participant contributed to the plan prior to and during the marriage, or more simply a family heirloom passed down through the generations. Non- marital property generally remains with the receiver of the property and not considered in the allocation of marital property. When there is both marital and non-marital interest in an asset, a financial neutral can help determine the values of both the marital and non-marital interests. The tax implications for child support and spousal maintenance are different. Child support is not taxable income to the payee and is not deductible by the payer. Spousal maintenance on the other hand is taxable income to the payee and is deductible by the payer in most situations. A qualified financial neutral is able to help a couple determine an optimal combination of child support and spousal maintenance in order to provide the greatest amount of after tax income to the family. When a couple or one of the spouses owns a business, it is often helpful to determine the business value. If needed a specially trained neutral business valuation expert is engaged to provide this service. These trained experts employ a variety of valuation methodologies to provide an opinion as to the value of a particular business. Depending upon the complexities of the business the time and cost to complete a business valuation can vary. Debts are another financial area where clients can benefit from the insight of a qualified financial neutral. Facilitating how to allocate debt between two spouses is an important function of the financial neutral. The neutral may suggest the clients consider a number of options available including the potential of reducing or paying off debt with other assets. This can help a couple breathe a little easier when freeing up needed cash flow for living expenses by not continuing to carry current levels of debt. A well-trained neutral financial specialist helps divorcing clients see the big picture pros and cons of making a number of financial moves during settlement discussions. Clients are then able to make informed educated decisions concerning their financial future. The financial neutral is family centered in the collaborative process and makes every effort to assist divorcing clients reach agreements they both can live with. Only in the collaborative divorce process are clients able to achieve this level of client introspection and decision-making. Collaborative divorce is not for everyone. Is a collaborative divorce process right for you or someone you know? Click on this link to learn more and decide for yourself.  www.collaborativelaw.org
My daughter Sarah with her grandmothers
My daughter Sarah with her grandmothers
Perhaps the most important advice I can give someone going through a divorce is to keep the long view in mind. Although it is easy to be swamped by the immediate emotions, the years after the divorce are where you see the impact of your decisions on your entire family. And nothing brings it to the forefront like a milestone event for your child, which I am currently experiencing. My daughter Sarah graduated from high school and will soon be heading off to Wellesley College. This summer has been marked by a graduation weekend with extended family, and soon I will join my fiancé and Sarah’s dad to move Sarah into her dorm. Bringing together the extended family for graduation post-divorce could have been painful and awkward. But it was a wonderful, celebratory weekend filled with love for Sarah and our love and respect for all members of the family. Sarah was in grade school when her dad, John, and I divorced. Divorce is always painful, but we were blessed with a team of collaborative professionals to assist us in the process. I have known for years that a collaborative divorce launched our excellent co-parenting relationship. What really resonated on graduation weekend was the impact on the extended family. My mom flew in from Arizona and John’s mom flew in from New York. These grandmothers had not seen each other since Sarah’s baptism. John’s brother came from Pennsylvania, and he had not seen my mom since our wedding 24 years ago. Also in the mix was my fiancé, Josh, his daughter Lily and his parents. I admit I was a bit nervous about seeing my former mother-in-law and brother-in-law, but it was incredible. We all worked together setting up for Sarah’s graduation party, had multiple meals together, carpooled to the ceremony and sat together cheering for Sarah as she collected her diploma. The love was abundant in all these events, which was priceless. Here’s what collaborative practice allowed for our family: we began to forgive each other and start healing. If we had litigated, the resentments would have become entrenched. By forgiving each other for our failures in the marriage, we could open up to respect and even love towards each other as parents of our amazing daughter. Our tone set the tone for our families – no one needs to choose sides or hold resentments. We can celebrate with full hearts. When we wave goodbye to Sarah at Wellesley this month, she can feel secure knowing her crazy, blended family is behind her, laughing, hugging and linking arms. I am looking forward to the next milestone, when we can all gather again. I know that wouldn’t be possible if we had litigated our divorce. I hope every parent going through a divorce strives for more than just being civil to each other. My hope is that you can celebrate the gifts each parent and family member brings to the life of your child. It starts with your divorce process – collaborative practice allows you to transform your relationship.
I received a text message the other day from a friend asking if I heard that mutual friends of ours had filed for divorce. I was not surprised to receive this news as it was a long time coming, however, I was surprised that the driving point of the text was how “ugly” the divorce was going to get. With three little girls between the ages of 6 and 12, ugly is the last thing they need. The exchange made me recall an email that we received at Daisy Camp a few months ago. The women had used one of the best divorce attorneys in the Twin Cities and had been out for blood. It look her five years post-divorce to realize that she wanted to “get better, not bitter,” and that the payback that she was seeking in her divorce would never take away the broken heart or help her to heal. 5 years later she realized that no divorce concessions would have justified as payback, but what she was actually seeking was healing. It is easy to get caught up in the heat of the divorce and not realize that the amount of money, division of property, child support, spousal maintenance (alimony), or the amount of child custody time that is “won” won’t mean a thing if it come at the cost of the relationship if your children. Which is why more and more couples are seeking to divorce collaboratively these days. No one wins in divorce, but you have a lot to lose when a divorce gets ugly.
170954936Not all divorces are related to alcohol abuse, but the percentage is fairly high.  I don’t have any scientific study, but my own experience of observing thousands of divorces over three decades, I have found that nearly half of all divorces involve, at minimum, allegations of some type of alcohol abuse.  From observing the interactions in these cases, as well as working with professionals in these areas, here are the most important observations I have made: If you think there is a problem, you are probably right. If one party truly believes there is alcohol abuse in the marriage, there is a very high probability that they are right. Yes, it is true that divorce can lead to many false allegations, particularly if you are in an adversarial divorce.  However, while divorcing couples often exaggerate most flaws of the other spouse, I have found that, largely because of co-dependency dynamics, many spouses actually under report alcohol abuse. If your spouse thinks you have a problem, you certainly have a problem. How can I be certain?  Easy.  First, as indicated above, if your spouse truly thinks you have a problem, there is a high probably they are right.  Moreover, even if they are wrong, their belief that you have a problem is, by itself, a major problem.  In either case, the solution often points to undergoing a thorough and honest alcohol assessment. If you can get at the truth, everyone wins. A spouse stopping or cutting back alcohol use during the divorce proves little.  Often the spouse believed to have an alcohol problem will either stop using alcohol or cut back on alcohol use as the threat of divorce draws near.  While this may (or may not) be a welcome reprieve for the family, it generally means very little in terms of determining the existence of a problem.  Indeed, most chemical dependency counselors see frequent failed attempts to stop or cut back as being one of the indicators of alcoholism.  Moreover, for most alcoholics, stopping drinking does not necessarily end the alcoholic behavior. Sometimes alcohol use during divorce can be “situational”. Divorce usually does not come up suddenly, but rather creeps into homes over months or years.  As it creeps closer, the sadness or fear can sometimes cause non-alcoholics to temporarily abuse alcohol during this difficult time. While temporary abuse of alcohol still has serious consequences the long-term impact can be quite different than addressing alcoholism. If alcohol is an issue, you need a process in which honesty can be rewarded.  Divorce processes differ.  Traditional divorces that operate in the shadow of the courthouse can sometimes seem to punish honesty in the sense that the person suspected of alcohol abuse feels compelled to either deny or minimize the allegations for fear of losing time with their children.  On the other hand, processes such as Collaborative Law or mediation, by operating outside of court, can provide a safe place where alcohol use can be addressed as a health issue and not as a piece of evidence.  To learn more about these options go to www.Collaborativelaw.org or www.divorcechoice.com.