A core value of Collaborative Team Practice is keeping children at the center and out of the middle. But what does this mean? Why this is distinction important? It is because divorcing parents are writing the life story their children will tell. Mindfully keeping children at the center helps focus decision-making during and after a divorce on the best interests of the children. It encourages parents and the professionals assisting them to consider children’s developmental needs and temperaments to create customized parenting time schedules, relationship plans and financial plans. Bringing children’s voices into the process means the perspectives of all family members are honored. Parents who keep children at the center are doing the important work of becoming effective co-parents and communicators. Their children do not experience parents arguing or criticizing each other. They do not have to worry about taking sides or being disloyal to one parent by continuing to love the other. Children at the center are given empathy, support and patience as they grieve the loss of their familiar family structure, but are also reminded that though parents are unmarried, the family is still a family. Children at the center can have hope for the future, with rewarding relationships with both parents strengthening their resilience. What is the experience of children in the middle? Unfortunately, these children are regularly exposed to their parents’ active conflict. They may frequently hear parents badmouthing each other or calling each other names. Children in the middle have often been told adult-level details about their parents’ marriage and their divorce. They may be actively encouraged by one or both parents to blame or take sides against the other parent. Parents who are not focusing on their children’s needs may be more likely to become emotionally disconnected from them or even to move away. Children in the middle are children in distress. Children at the center are given support to feel emotionally safe. They do not have to grow up with the anxiety of worrying about whether both parents can be invited to the same life event without creating undue stress and conflict. In contrast, children in the middle often experience the crisis of a divorce as a trauma, and the negative impact reverberates throughout their lives. Children in the middle have a much more difficult time with trust and fear of abandonment as adults. Collaborative Team Practice offers potential sources of emotional support to all family members during and after a divorce. Neutral child specialists offer a child-inclusive process to help parents create and implement developmentally responsive parenting plans. Neutral coaches help parents create a relational plan to support their co-parenting and manage current and future conflicts. Both the parenting plan and the relationship plan are designed to keep children at the center, and have their life stories about the divorce end peacefully.
In the past few months, I have seen a number of people in my social network share this letter. It is a wonderfully written letter from an ex-Wife to her husband’s new girlfriend. Instead of the expected angry, hurtful, stay-away-from-my-children many people would have expected, the letter is filled with caring love for another human being and a potential influencer in her children’s lives. It is welcoming and tries to explain many of the nuances of the new family structures that arise out of divorce. Indeed, they take all shapes and sizes. This letter has been shared tens of thousands of times, because to the general public, it is unique. It is not what they expect to emerge out of divorce – it is not what society seems to expect of couples deciding to end a marriage. Truthfully, however, I see this kind of result all the time. As a collaborative divorce specialist, I loved this letter. It brought tears to my eyes as a real example of kindness and compassion in action. It is what I strive for every day when I work with families transitioning through divorce. We ground the collaborative process in mutual shared goals. If there are kids involved, both parents always want outcomes that protect the children. Regardless of what behavior, emotions or acts have led parents to a divorce, I know parents want to maintain strong relationships with their children and want their children to thrive in a post-divorce world. Many parents would even acknowledge the important role the other parent plays in raising the children. These goals are not unique – I see them all the time. And, when parents commit to an out of court, non-adversarial process, like collaborative law, the professionals in the process are as committed to these goals as the clients. I believe this letter demonstrates how important a positive co-parenting relationship is for children of divorce. That relationship lasts the rest of your life – figure out how to make it work. You do not need to be friends or call each other to talk about your day at work, but a respectful communication style to discuss your children will hugely benefit everyone. Having a strategy to embrace and face the changes that come after divorce is important as well. Statistically, both parents are likely to start new relationships – address these changes with healthy communication or seek outside support to learn how. Collaborative law is a divorce option that addresses many of the long-lasting implications of divorce and attempts to prepare families to move into a post-divorce life that allows everyone to thrive.
A large component of a divorce is dividing the assets that you and your spouse accumulated during your marriage. Now that the divorce decree is completed, it is essential to start retitling assets as soon as possible. Retitling of assets confers control by defining ownership and restricting access. A good way to begin this process is to create a personal net worth statement that lists all of your assets and liabilities, per the divorce decree. This statement will serve as the master checklist in your retitling process. Every asset has its own retitling requirements, but essential to the process are the following documents:
- Current Identification, reflecting any name change if applicable
- Certified Divorce Decree (see our blog on changing your name)
- Account information for bank accounts, investments, loans and credit cards
- Social Security numbers for both you and your ex-spouse
- Each of you open individual accounts in your own name
- Complete a letter (called a “letter of instruction”) explaining that due to divorce, you would like to divide your joint account per the divorce decree, and clarify how the joint account should be divided.
- Both of you sign the letter
- Have the letter notarized (banks accounts, etc.) or, Signature or Medallion guaranteed (for investment accounts; it will depend upon the specific investment company as to which guarantee is required). A notary is quite common and can be found at many institutions. Both as signature and medallion guarantee can be obtained at a bank, credit union or investment company (note that this is different than being notarized).
- Mail the letter along with a certified divorce decree to the company.
If a ring is a sign of marriage, should there be a sign for divorce? How do you handle simple social situations and interactions regarding your divorce? Do you come right out and tell people you are divorced, wait until it comes up in conversation, or ignore it completely? What about when someone asks you if you have a family? When my recently divorced neighbor moved into my neighborhood they first thing I had asked him was if he had a family. Once you’re past 30 it seems to be the natural conversation maker, so now how do you respond to that question? Some divorcees chose to keep wearing their wedding ring to possibly avoid these social situations, avoid the stigma of divorce, or maybe to avoid being hit on! Wedding rings are symbols of marriage, and once that marriage ends, it becomes unnecessary and possibly misleading to continue to wear a wedding ring. Some may wear the wedding ring on the opposite hand, or have it made into a different piece of jewelry. Interestingly enough, according to “Popular Mechanics” magazine British women in the 1920s would cut notches into their rings to symbolize divorce. Having children brings up another societal stigma regarding having a ring on your finger. A recent conversation with a widowed friend brought forth this subject as well. She had been wearing her wedding ring for three years since her husband’s death. Feeling that closeness to him played a part in it, but she said she mainly continued to wear it because she didn’t want to feel that society was judging her for being a “single mom” when she was in public with her child. Divorced mothers can surely relate. Many people struggle with what and how much to tell strangers, acquaintances, and co-workers. What do you think? Sometimes do you wish that there was a “sign” or “code” so that people just know and you can avoid the questions, would you rather keep it a secret when meeting new people, or are you open to questions?