The longer I work as a neutral child specialist
, the more important I realize it is to help divorcing parents have meaningful conversations about the possibility that one or both of them will enter into new significant relationships while their children are growing up. New significant relationships usually generate a range of emotions and reactions in all family members, some of which are unanticipated. It’s not uncommon for families to re-engage with me when a parent remarries or re-partners to help ensure that children’s best interests are kept at the center of a new family dynamic.
New relationships introduce another element of change and uncertainty into co-parenting. Parenting arrangements for the holidays that were working well may suddenly be called into question. Boundaries may need new clarification, e.g. who is welcome to attend parent-teacher conferences or take children to their swim meets. Advance planning and discussions that normalize potential co-parenting road bumps can help parents stay centered on what’s best for their children.
Here are five basic considerations regarding new significant relationships:
- Give yourself sufficient time to heal. Divorce is a major life crisis. Entering into a new relationship too quickly increases the likelihood that you will not have had time to master the emotional and relational lessons to be learned from your marriage so that you can be truly ready for a new significant attachment.
- Give your children sufficient time to heal. Children are deeply affected by a divorce. Many children tell me the news felt like a bad dream, and what helps them adjust is getting used to the “new normal” over time. Adding additional changes too quickly can negatively impact children’s energy, focus, emotional stability and resilience.
- Inform your co-parent before introducing a new significant other to your children. This is not only a courtesy between parents, but it also helps keeps children out of the middle when they know the new relationship is not a secret.
- If you are co-parenting, any new partner or spouse will need to understand and honor the fact that you have a preexisting lifelong co-parenting relationship. It can be a big red flag if a new person seems threatened by or not accepting of your co-parenting relationship.
- Children may experience insecurity, jealousy or other worries regarding new adults and children who are increasingly present during their time with a parent. This can be especially challenging if step-children get to spend more actual time with this parent than do his or her own children. Parents need to stay attuned to their children’s cues about needing attention, and plan dates and special time with them.
When co-parents are prepared to communicate effectively and work cooperatively on behalf of their children, the introduction of new mature significant others to children who are emotionally ready for this change can be a positive experience for all family members.
Divorce court should be your LAST resort. After all, do you want a complete stranger in a black robe deciding the fate of your future? You do not want a judge to decide where your children will live, how much time you get to spend with them, or deciding your financial future. Once you go to court you lose the control. There are ways to stay out of the courtroom. Sitting down with your ex to work out as many issues as possible will help facilitate a settlement. Sound too easy (or maybe too difficult, if coming to agreements with your ex seems to be a difficult feat), enlist in the help of a Collaborative attorney
As part of the Collaborative law method, both parties retain separate attorneys whose job it is to help them settle the dispute. In the Collaborative process most of the formal steps are waived or postponed so that you and your spouse can focus on your divorce issues. The collaborative attorneys, along with you and your spouse, sign a contract that commits you to reach a settlement with your spouse. No one may go to court. If that should occur, the collaborative law process terminates and both attorneys are disqualified from any further involvement in the case. Having a good attorney who is a problem solver, rather than someone who creates problems, is important. You want an attorney who works with and for you, and not someone who will create unnecessary battles.
Another good approach to avoiding divorce court is mediation. Mediation is used as a means of resolving cases without the need to go to trial. Mediation allows for you, your soon-to-be-ex spouse and respective attorneys to resolve issues using a third party, the mediator. A good mediator will work with the parties to settle everything with input from you as well as your attorneys. A mediator can help work out agreements on distribution of property and assets, child custody, child Support/maintenance, retirement, and taxes. Sometimes agreements come easy, sometimes they take time and a lot of work. When agreements are hard to reach, that is when the mediator intervenes.
As said previously, the last thing anyone wants is to go to trial, however sometimes going to trial is simply unavoidable. What if you still find yourself in a divorce trial? Be sure to read Daisy Camp’s next blog post on, “What it Means to go to Trial in a Divorce.” Also, a wonderful book to read on the subject is the book, “The Collaborative Way to Divorce: The Revolutionary Method that Results in Less Stress, Lower Costs, and Happier Kids – Without Having to go to Court.” by Collaborative Attorneys, Stuart Webb and Ron Ousky.
I am often asked what a “drafting” process for divorce entails. While a full process often has 3-5 professionals, a process for clients who have worked out most of the resolutions on their own, can be much more streamlined. Using an attorney for legal advice and drafting can be a cost-effective and quick way to proceed. Here is how the process typically works:
1. Client hires attorney.
In a drafting process, the client should hire an attorney who is willing to take on a drafting role – drafting the agreement and advising the client of his/her legal rights.
2. Client and attorney meet to discuss the resolutions reached.
In a drafting process, the clients have typically already reached agreement on property division and cash flow. They have disclosed everything to each other and made decisions about how to divide the property (assets and liabilities) and agreed upon child support and/or spousal maintenance if needed. In this initial meeting, the client provides the attorney all supporting documentation and discusses the agreements reached. The attorney advises the client of the legal implications of the agreements and either confirms the agreements or discusses potential revisions. Sometimes, the attorney brings up ideas or questions that the client has not yet contemplated. If so, the client can go back to their spouse and discuss these additional matters.
3. Once the final agreements are discussed, attorney can draft the documents.
In Minnesota, the substantive divorce document is a Stipulated Judgment and Decree. There are other supporting documents needed, but this is the main document needed. This Judgment and Decree outlines all resolutions that have been agreed upon.
4. Client reviews the documentation.
5. Spouse reviews the documentation and has an attorney review and advise him/her of the legal implications.
6. The attorneys and clients can communicate and revise the documentation as needed.
7. Once finalized, the documents are signed by clients and attorneys and filed.
While a drafting process can be efficient and cost-effective, it works best when clients have all agreements in place and do not waiver from their original positions. If the clients learn more about their legal rights and wants to further explore options, it is often best to enter into a collaborative process
, where more options can be explored.
Almost all divorces end up in a negotiated settlement. (In most states, less than 5% of all divorces actually go to trial.) Therefore, the most important thing for couples to consider, before they start down the path toward divorce, is how
to negotiate the best possible resolution to your divorce.
When I ask most clients what they want from a divorce process, they almost always talk about two things:
1.) They want a divorce that is amicable.
This makes sense. Most wise people would want an amicable divorce; either for the sake of their children, the protection of their finances, preserving their own mental health, or all three. No sane person would choose to have a messy divorce if they can avoid it.
2.) They want to feel protected.
At the same time, almost everyone wants to feel some sense of protection. They are entering into important agreements that will impact their lives and, perhaps, the lives of the children for many years. They do not want to sign an agreement that they will resent or regret.
These two negotiating goals do not need to conflict with each other.
The biggest mistake that people can make is thinking that these two goals are in conflict with each other. They want an amicable divorce but they think the need to hire an aggressive lawyer to protect their needs. Or, alternatively, they think that all lawyers will be aggressive so they avoid getting legal counsel and end up with a settlement that they regret.
Contrary to common belief, it is possible for divorcing clients to have the “best of both worlds”. This is the very reason that Collaborative Practice
has grown all over the world.
The best scenario, of course, would be to have an attorney who will protect your interests and yet preserve an amicable environment. Collaborative Attorneys are trained in non-adversarial negotiating strategies and they are retained for settlement purposes only.
Because they focus on settlement only, they work to help your spouse to “say yes” by using interest based methods that help you get better outcomes, without creating the rancor and expense of using adversarial methods.
To learn more about Collaborative Practice, and how it can be used to help you get your best outcomes, go to www.collaborativelaw.org