It does not matter in the life of a child how much money you have in your bank account or really how fancy of a home you may live in. What matters most to that child is the quality time that two loving and caring parents can give that child. I will also say being the father of three adult children this does not change with age at least not with my kids. Ten or twenty years from your divorce the one thing you and your children will remember is how you and your spouse went through this most difficult time in your life. Ask yourself how you would like to have your children remember it. Did they feel trapped in the middle like many children of divorce or did you and your spouse work together to keep them front and center. Your kids will remember and so will you. As a financial neutral and mediator, I use agendas to start meetings to give us a track to run on. Part of that agenda includes a section titled, “Let’s Have a Conversation People Before Numbers”. I explain that as people they are far more important than any numbers on a balance sheet or cash flow statement. Sometimes it is too easy to get so caught up in the numbers of divorce negotiations the couple forgets that they are living breathing human beings with needs, interests, feelings and emotions. Sure, the financial issues are important but I believe in putting people ahead of numbers. Want to have successful divorce negotiations put yourself in the shoes of your spouse, which may be easier said than done. If you can do this, if you can put your spouse before the numbers, the numbers tend to work themselves out. Do this and not only you and your spouse will remember how you handled this most difficult time in your life, your children will too.
Divorce is difficult and painful; so it can feel very important to have friends, family and an attorney “On Your Side”. But what does that truly mean? Sometimes, during a divorce having someone “on your side” might mean the very opposite of what your instincts tell you. Let’s take this example. Imagine that you are near the end of the divorce negotiation and your spouse has made what seems like his or her final proposal. If the case cannot be settled, the judge is going to schedule this matter for trial. You want to settle, but the settlement seems very unfair to you, particularly since your spouse was the one who had an affair and your spouse is the one who files for divorce. Your instincts and feelings tell you to reject the agreement “out of principle”. You go to your closest friends and family members and ask them what they think, because they are truly “on your side.” In my opinion, without even knowing the details of the proposal, I believe there is at least a 90% likelihood that your friends and family will agree that the proposal is unfair. How could I know that? Because, over the past 32 years of representing divorce clients, that is what my clients have reported hearing from their friends and family at least 90% of the time. More importantly, in the majority of the cases, the advice of the trusted friends and family turns out to be against the interests of the client. How can this be? How could these trusted friends and family members be so certain to give you bad advice? I believe it is primarily caused by three conditions. First, your friends are hearing your skewed version of things. No matter how objective you try to be, you are nearly certain to describe the settlement in a way that supports your belief of its unfairness. Second, because they are your dear friends; they have likely become a bit suspicious of (and maybe even angry) at your ex spouse, so that nearly any proposal will seem like far less than you deserve. Third, they want to remain your friends, and they want to “support” you. So they tell you that you are right, in a way that “validates” your feelings and helps cement their relationship. The sad reality is that in many of these instances, the settlement offered might be as good, or even better, than what a court would do, and that accepting the settlement is actually in your best interest. If that is true, then your friends, in helping talk you out of the proposal; in telling you what you desperately want to hear; instead of what you need to hear, are doing you a great disservice. During these times, you may turn to your attorney; to get his or her advice about the settlement. Will they be a “friend” and tell you how unfair that it all is, or will they be wise counsel, and recommend a settlement, even though it will cost them some money and, perhaps, cause you to like them less? It depends on whether they are truly “On Your Side”. To learn more about attorneys who will try to be “on your side” even if it gets them fired, go to www.collaborativelaw.org or www.divorcechoice.com.
Cooler weather, changing leaves, and pumpkin spice lattes, oh my! Fall is in the air and you too can enjoy it on a budget! As soon as the cooler weather hit in August it immediately felt like it was time to hit up an apple orchard or pick out pumpkins to decorate the front porch. Fall is a treasure here in Minnesota and there is plenty of free or low cost family friendly fun to be had this fall! We never know if we will get one month of fall weather before winter hits or three, so get out there and enjoy it while you can! Apple orchards and pumpkin patches seem to become synonymous in the fall, with many farms offering both. This is great for those strapped on time as well, especially if you only have the kids every-other weekend since you can essentially take care of them both in one stop. You won’t have to travel far to find top-notch apple orchards or pumpkin patches around the Twin Cities. Here are a few of our favorites: Emma Krumbees in Belle Plaine, Dehn’s Pumpkins in Dayton, Minnetonka Orchard in Minnetrista, Afton Orchards in Hastings, Deerdorf Orchard in Waconia, and Apple Jack’s in Delano! View a complete list of all 119 Minnesota Apple orchards here. Don’t forget to bring the camera! Fall photo opportunities are everywhere at orchards – start thinking about those Christmas card photos! Bring the fun home and bake an apple pie or two with the kids! Have you been to the Saint Croix River Valley in the fall? If not, you are missing out. Whether you take a day trip with the kids or want a low key but impressive date night, the views of the changing leaves along the river can’t be beat! Depending on where you live in the cities you can check it out within just a half hour to an hour drive. Take a stroll along the river in Stillwater, trolley tour, gondola ride, or one of the many charter cruises offered on the river. Looking to get a little further out of town? Head south a bit to the LaCross/Onalaska area on the Mississippi River in Wisconsin for one of the most scenic fall drives in the country! To ensure you hit the leaves at the peak times watch the Fall Color Finder on the Minnesota DNR website. If you need a little more action after a relaxing day trip check out one of the many corn mazes, haunted houses, and hayrides across the area. And finally, are all your friends posting about that coffee shop pumpkin spice latte? You too can enjoy that on a budget! Who needs a $5 coffee when you can make it at home for CHEAP! Thank you Pinterest! Just type in “pumpkin spice latte” in the search and you’ll have dozens of recipes at your fingertips to make your own at home! Here is one that’s perfect for a crowd, great to throw in a thermos for a cool evening football game or a hayride: Crock Pot Pumpkin Spiced Latte
- 6 cups of milk
- 4-6 cups of strongly brewed coffee
- 1/2 cup of pumpkin puree
- 1/2 cup of vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup of sugar
- 2 teaspoons of cinnamon
- 3-4 cinnamon sticks
When you were married there as probably a time (or many!) when you thought that keeping track of schedules was difficult and time consuming. Now that you’re divorced managing schedules can feel downright daunting! Your family is now divided into two schedules, and possibly being pulled into even more directions if either spouse if remarried and have added even more children or step children into the mix. It’s perhaps every divorced parent’s worst nightmare – imagining their child waiting at school or another activity and no one picks them up. Depending on the age of your children this can be a very scary scenario, not only for the child, but for both parents, and can certainly cause a lot of friction and conflict amongst co-parents. So how do you keep schedules strait to avoid this sort of issue? Many former spouses may not feel comfortable sharing their full personal calendar such as Outlook or Google, which doesn’t merge the two schedules anyhow, or maybe you still haven’t upgraded from the paper calendar on the wall? Luckily for you there are many online tools devoted to just that – managing divorced and blended family schedules. Websites like cozi.com and many more, offer free online access to a shared calendar, and you can also authorize stepparents, grandparents, etc. access to the calendar. Your co-parent may not be as committed to the idea of online communication and planning as you are. If you are in the beginning stages of divorce, your communication and schedule sharing is an important piece to add into your parenting plan. If your children are a bit older – preteens and teens, they would likely appreciate an online calendar that they can also access to give them a bit more stability in knowing their schedule. One could argue that it shouldn’t be difficult to manage a set schedule, say, if you have your children Wednesdays and every other weekend, however kids are much more over scheduled then they were years ago, and when you add activities, and more children into the mix you can never be too prepared.
0In his book The Four Agreements, author Don Miguel Ruiz articulates four principles which, when regularly practiced, will enable people to avoid conflict and live a peaceful life. The agreements one makes with oneself are: 1. I will be impeccable with my word. 2. I will not personalize anything another person says, does, thinks or believes. 3. I will make no assumptions. 4. I will do my best today. I teach my Collaborative clients about The Four Agreements and encourage them to read the book while we are creating their parenting plan. I help them recognize when their words or actions contradict an Agreement and get in the way of problem solving. I believe these are core concepts not only for effective interest-based negotiation, but for living a centered life. One of the most difficult agreements to follow is not making assumptions. When two people live together in intimate circumstances, they pick up many cues about each other. Humans are wired to read cues and reach conclusions. Problems can arise if the conclusions are inaccurate or incomplete, especially if the conclusions are not checked out with the other person. This is especially the case when people are in conflict and already feeling mistrustful of each other, as is so often the case with divorce. In a recent client meeting while discussing a sensitive co-parenting issue, I observed both parents making assumptions, and then getting into an argument about their assumptions. One parent assumed the other had become too absorbed with his own needs and was not taking steps to monitor their middle school-aged son’s homework and school progress during his parenting time. The other parent assumed the first parent had made disparaging remarks about him to their son during her parenting time. Both were responding to their son’s recent drop in grades and negative attitude. By making assumptions instead of asking questions, parents entered into a blame game that only served to escalate tensions and distract them from effectively understanding and addressing their son’s difficulties. When I was able to talk with their son, I learned he was feeling overwhelmed by the demands of taking three honors courses while also dealing with the stress of the divorce and being on an elite soccer team (which he loved). He felt he was letting his parents down, especially his dad, and this made him edgy and irritable. With this feedback, parents were able to move away from their inaccurate assumptions, reframe their understanding of their son’s behaviors and, as co-parents, take appropriate steps to help reduce his stress.
Divorce is a challenging life experience for children, and parents worry what the impact will be on their children’s lives. Based on my work with families of divorce, I have three specific suggestions for how parents can empathetically support their children during this difficult and often painful transition: 1. Never put your children in the middle of parental conflict. This cannot be overstated: exposure to parental conflict is toxic for children. Heated arguments around children, even if parents believe their children can’t overhear, negatively charge the environment in the home, and kids will feel it. Critical or disrespectful words about a parent said by the other parent in the hearing range of their children make kids confused, sad and often angry. I have heard many stories from tearful children about trying to get parents to stop arguing and belittling each other. You would never feed your children poisonous food; do not make them absorb poisonous words. 2. Remember that children deserve the best safe parenting they can get from both parents. Be civil, treat each other with courtesy and remind your children that both parents love them. Despite your hurt, anger or betrayal as a spouse, remember that your child’s relationship with and feelings about your soon-to-be-ex are separate from yours. Resist the urge to try to get your child on your side, or to alienate your child from the other parent. Of course real safety concerns must be addressed and may result in protective measures like supervised parental access. But it is not fair to try to negatively manipulate your child’s feelings about the other parent just because you are angry. 3. Listen to your children and stay attuned to their needs. The emotional and time demands of a divorce can understandably absorb parents’ time and attention at the exact time their children may need extra reassurance. Because regular routines are usually reassuring to children, try to designate time to spend with your children doing normal family activities. Let them know whatever feelings they have about the divorce are okay, and you will always love and support them. Check in with them to see how they’re doing, but read their cues if they tell you you’re asking too often.
Understanding the difference between interests and positions could make all of the difference in helping you negotiate a better outcome in your divorce. Position-Based Bargaining: Most people have a tendency to negotiate by arguing in favor of their positions. In divorce, this type of “position-based” bargaining can actually make it more difficult to get what you want. Once you and your spouse become locked into positions, the need to defend those positions can lead to a lengthy and expensive divorce. Often position based negotiations come to an end only after both parties have reached a point of physical and emotional exhaustion only to reach a “meet in the middle” agreement. One of the many problems with meeting in “the middle” is that the best solutions may have existed outside of either position. Creative negotiation that avoid positions and focus on interests can lead to outcomes that are better for both parties. Interest-Based Bargaining: In divorce, couples start by determining their interests and look for true “win/win” scenarios. In order to appreciate how interest-based bargaining works, it is important to understand the difference between positions and interests. Positions are narrow; “win/lose” proposals can only be satisfied in one way. For example, statements such as “I want Sole custody” or “I need $5,000 per month in support” or “I must have the house” represent positions that require the other person to “lose” in order for you to win. On the other hand, “interests” (sometimes called goals) focus on big picture desires that can be satisfied in many ways. Statements such as “I want our children to be kept out of the conflict” or “I want financial stability for both homes” or “I want us to be able to communicate better in our co-parenting” are requests to have an important interest met. One of the advantages of focusing on big-picture interests is that you and your spouse are likely to have many of these interests in common. Therefore, although working on the details of how these interests can be met will still require some problem solving skills (and some bargaining) the negotiation becomes easier because you are both working toward these important common goals. Interest-based bargaining is a skill that needs to be developed over time. Divorce negotiations are usually improved when the professionals involved have significant training and experience in this method so that they can teach these skills to their clients. Most mediators and Collaborative professionals have training and experience in interest based bargaining. To locate a professional who understands this method to interview and to learn more about interest based divorce negotiation go to www.collaborativelaw.org or www.divorcechoice.com.
Co-parenting can be challenging even in the most amicable divorces, but there are some personalities disorders that make co-parenting downright difficult. Among these include, but are not limited to: bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder. We are going to focus on narcissists in this post. Narcissists have a magnified sense of self-importance and lack they empathy for others. Narcissists insist on getting their way regardless of how it may affect others, even their own children. They may make promises to the children in order to gain compliance from the child, then refuse to honor the promises. They can be arrogant, self-centered, manipulative, demanding, and vain. As co-parents, these individuals often feel superior to their former spouse. It is challenging to reason with a narcissist, or attempt to try to get them to see the situation from someone else’s point of view, which makes co-parenting together a great feat. Sound familiar? Most importantly you must know that your ex’s personality disorder does not need to define your divorce. One of the best things that you can do in this situation is file a parenting plan with the courts. A parenting plan will outline anything from daily routines to holiday schedules. When dealing with a narcissist the more information you have laid out in writing, the more black and white it becomes. A parenting plan with help to maintain firm boundaries with your ex. When co-parenting with a narcissist you may need to keep your expectations low. You cannot expect the narcissist to tackle parenting with the same parental instincts that you have. What seems like second nature to you, may never cross a narcissist’s radar. Because a narcissist places no value on their children’s feelings, there will likely be emotional messes to clean up. Get your children (and you) into therapy and make it a regular and “normal” part of their lives. Take comfort in knowing that you are not alone. There are support groups out there, both online and in person, that are aimed specifically towards coping with a narcissistic ex. Divorce is never easy on children. Coping with a narcissistic parent makes a stressful situation even more difficult, but not impossible. Educate yourself on co-parenting through these challenging times, and also commit to self-care to provide some reprieve.
What do you remember about the 90’s? The band Hanson, the Backstreet Boys, and Céline Dion? Wayne’s World, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The Titanic movie, and hyper-colored T-shirts? One thing you won’t recall – social media. For better or for worse, there was no social media in the 90’s, at least not what it is known as today. In the 90’s (and before) when you got a divorce you didn’t have to navigate whether or not to make your relationship status “Facebook official.” You didn’t have to decide when or how to tell your 345 Twitter Followers that your last name changed or better yet, see who notices and awkwardly asks you about it. Deciding when and how seems to be all personal choice based on what you feel comfortable putting out there online. So let’s discuss whether or not it’s a good idea to stay “friends” online with an ex. One could argue that if you have kids together, you want to see what photos of your children are being posted online. This becomes difficult in that it could be emotionally damaging for you to see every ice cream social, park play-date, snuggles by the fire, etc. that your children are having with your spouse while they are away from you. For some it is comforting to see these photos, for others it may be downright painful, and even create jealously. Photos of the children may just be the tip of the iceberg – what about when your ex-spouse starts dating? You see a man or women tagged in a photo, human nature leads you to want to know more, so you click on their name and find yourself looking through all the photos and status updates that you can get your eyes on. What you may have thought was harmless in staying “friends” with your ex has now become emotional self-destruction. Maybe you made it this far unscathed and now your ex is dating someone and you’re ok with that, but what about when the ex’s new partner is now in photos with the kids? Your kids. At that new amusement park YOU had planned to take them to. Do you see the emotional roller coaster that social media has created? It’s a double edge sword. As a co-parent you don’t want to miss out. You want to see every photo and moment of your children that you can, but you need to establish boundaries that create the least amount of hurt in the long run. Have this discussion with your ex. Maybe you decide that you both take a social media break until things are more stable. Perhaps being online friends with your ex is just not for you, that is realistic too, and perhaps the healthiest way to navigate social media with your ex.
Allocating assets and liabilities between spouses is one of the financial pillars in any divorce. In my work as a financial neutral and also when working on behalf of an individual in a divorce the subject of credit card debt is often a topic that needs to be addressed. This is especially true when credit card balances are not paid in full each month. The usual credit card ownership arrangements are joint or individual. There is another form of credit card ownership when one spouse is the primary account holder and the other spouse is an authorized user. In this situation, both spouses have a card on the same account issued in their individual name. The thorny part of this is the primary account holder controls the decision-making authority relative to the account. The primary account holder can close the account. The authorized user generally is not able to close the account. However if the primary account holder defaults on the account the card issuer will seek payment from the authorized user. Does not seem quite right, does it? As an authorized user, you are unable to close the account yet if the primary account holder does not make payments, the authorized user can be liable for payment. What can you do to protect yourself? Here are 5 suggestions:
- First, run a credit report on yourself from all three major credit-reporting agencies. These agencies include Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. The best place to obtain this report is from www.annualcreditreport.com . Your report is free from this site and they will not solicit you for other purchases with one exception. Please note these reports do not include your credit score. You can obtain your score if you like for a nominal fee.
- Once you have the report from each of the three reporting agencies review all three reports carefully. The report will tell you if you own the card jointly, individually, or if you are an authorized user. This is a great time to verify the accuracy of all the data contained in the report.
- If you have a card issued in your name that for some reason does not appear on your credit report, call the issuer to determine your ownership status.
- If you are listed as an authorized user on any credit cards, call the issuer to determine how you can be removed.
- Let your attorney know you want any authorized user status clearly dealt with in your negotiations with your spouse. You do not want this thorny issue sneaking up on you down the road. In collaborative divorces, a well-trained financial neutral and the attorneys representing their clients are well aware of this issue.