It’s Valentine’s Day on Friday. This year I’m thinking about the many couples who have lost that loving feeling. Ads everywhere for jewelry, flowers and chocolates must serve as painful reminders of the exciting, early stages of their relationship. Whether still married, in the process of divorce, or recovering from divorce, Valentine’s Day can have special significance. I read an interesting, well-written Huffington Post item recently that pointed out that divorce attorneys see an increase in inquiries during January and February.  With the holidays behind them, New Year’s resolutions often include ending an unsatisfying marriage. Another article reports that divorce filings rise by as much as 40 percent immediately following Valentine’s Day. When a final attempt to rekindle the relationship on the most romantic day of the year fails, beginning the dissolution process often follows. For those who are already separated, divorcing or divorced, the question becomes how to survive Valentine’s Day. Possible activities include doing something special for someone else, taking care of yourself by doing something that makes you feel good, or focusing on your children. Also keep in mind that, for most, it gets easier with time.  
Many of us have been there. A close friend has just confided that their marriage is ending. The news may or may not be surprising, but may still catch you off guard. You want to say and do the right thing. What can you do to be helpful? Here are three suggestions: Listen. First of all, just listen. This is so important…and much more difficult than it sounds. Listen with empathy and openness. Try to resist the temptation to react, interrupt, interject your own experience, or provide advice. Understand that your friend is expressing the truth as they see it in that moment, and that what they need most of all is connection. When we are listened to, we feel connected. Support. Divorce is an emotional event that takes time. As with any difficult journey, it helps to have a support along the way. By being available, and providing a stable presence in your friend’s life, you can provide much needed emotional support during what can be a tumultuous time. Meanwhile, try to refrain from giving legal and financial advice. Your friend must have competent professionals to assist them in these areas and needs you to be a friend. Be honest. If your friend does ask you for advice, be honest. Telling them what you think they want to hear will only serve to bolster what may be an unreasonable position. Instead, try to engage in a compassionate conversation about your friend’s situation. Expressing your own perspective from a place of caring may help your friend become more open to other perspectives and possibilities. You have been invited to accompany a friend through one of life’s most challenging transitions. By listening, supporting and being honest, you can provide a much needed connection along the way.
All of us want to be the best parents we can be. We want our children to feel loved and supported. We want to share with them their disappointments as well as their successes. When parents divorce, the family faces new challenges. Parents can feel overwhelmed by seemingly insurmountable emotional and financial issues needing resolution. However, divorce does not excuse you from performing the most important job of your life: parenting your children. Much of the advice about co-parenting deals with your relationship with your former spouse. However, you alone can powerfully influence your children’s divorce experience. Here are three important actions you can take to help your children adjust to the transition from one household to two:
  1. Realize that it’s not about you. This is so critical that it bears repeating … it’s not about you! Your children need your love and support, especially during times of change. It’s your job to provide that love and support. If possible, choose a divorce process that keeps your children out of the middle. Do whatever is necessary to get over the reasons for the divorce. You will be a healthier person if you can find a way to let go of past resentments. If you need help doing so, find a good therapist and do the work. If you’re reluctant to do it for yourself, do it for your kids!
  2. Set a positive tone. Your attitude toward life is contagious and your children will “catch it.” Tune out our culture’s message that divorce is always bad for kids. Tune out the negativity expressed by well-meaning friends and family, who may be more than eager to share their stories. Work on reducing your reactivity to everyday situations through relaxation, mediation or yoga. Your kids are watching you to gauge how things are going. Show them that you’re all right. This doesn’t mean pretending that all is perfect. Life presents many challenges. Divorce can be an opportunity for you to model resiliency.
  3. Listen. Make time each day to be fully available to each of your children. It’s easy to get caught up in the busy-ness of normal, everyday life. This is especially true when you’re in the process of redefining “normal.” Turn off the TV and cellphones for a few minutes each day so that you have each other’s undivided attention. Encourage your child to share her feelings and experiences. Ask open-ended questions, which invite sharing without pressuring them. Regular check-ins will make it more natural for your children to express themselves when they experience problems.
Try to be mindful of these three suggestions. Remind yourself that how you accept situations in your life will influence your children’s resiliency in theirs.
A recent article in the New York Times suggests that big-money divorces provide lessons for less-wealthy couples. Regardless of a couple’s income or net worth, several questions are common to most marriage dissolutions, including:
  • How can we create a parenting plan that will benefit our children?
  • How can we divide our assets fairly?
  • How can we maintain control of divorce costs?
The Collaborative divorce process uses a team model to provide the information and support necessary to allow couples to reach mutually satisfactory answers to these questions. As the New York Times article points out, Collaborative divorce “focuses on getting to a quick, fair resolution.” A thoughtful parenting plan consists of more than a schedule of overnights. A Collaborative child specialist can help parents craft a plan that addresses the individual and developmental needs of their children. Discussions often include such issues as the schools the children will attend, future relationships with extended family, introduction of significant others, and future moves by either parent. Sometimes parents can reach agreements regarding possible future events, but often it is sufficient to agree on a process for resolving future differences of opinion. Either way, including such agreements in the parenting plan can provide a framework for the years ahead. Similarly, achieving a fair division of assets can be challenging. A Collaborative financial professional can assist with collection of documentation, valuation of assets, and tax considerations. Once both parties understand the relevant information, they generate and evaluate various settlement options to determine the best arrangement for their family. While keeping the costs of divorce as reasonable as possible is a worthy goal, conflict is expensive. In litigation, each spouse hires their own experts, often resulting in extreme positions, elevated emotions, and a sluggish process. Collaboratively trained neutral professionals, whose fees are shared by the parties, provide more expertise at a lower cost. Their neutrality also reduces the likelihood of impasse due to either spouse’s unrealistic expectations. If you are interested in learning more about the Collaborative process, please visit the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota website for more information.
3 Myths

Having consulted with hundreds of clients over the years, I have learned that there are many popular misconceptions about divorce. Acting on misinformation can result in long-term, unintended consequences for your family. I’ll address three such myths here:

Myth #1: “Serving papers on my spouse will give me a strategic advantage.” Contrary to popular belief, the serving of divorce papers has a very limited effect upon the legal proceeding itself. Doing so can, however, have a profound impact upon the tone of the negotiations to follow. In the Collaborative divorce process, we always use a joint petition, which is signed by both parties and their attorneys at the first joint meeting. Starting the process in this way reflects the parties’ mutual respect for one another and allows them to maintain control over the pace and content of settlement discussions. Myth #2: “Our kids have no idea we’re going to divorce.” As adults we often underestimate the wisdom of children. Even very young children pick up on body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. They notice how mom and dad talk (or don’t talk) to each other. They have friends at school whose parents are divorced. Working with a child specialist to create a “we statement” is a thoughtful way to jointly inform your kids that you have decided to become unmarried. But don’t be surprised if they already have suspicions. Myth #3: “The sooner the divorce can be final, the better.” While no one wants to linger in the throes of divorce longer than necessary, moving too quickly can be dangerous. It may take some time for one spouse to “catch up” emotionally in order to meaningfully participate in settlement discussions. Creating a parenting plan focused on the children’s needs often requires some trial and error. It’s impossible to know whether a particular schedule will work until you’ve lived it, at least for a while. Financial decisions made in divorce have long-term consequences for the entire family and should not be finalized until thoughtful evaluation of all options has taken place. The best way to get accurate information about divorce process options is to consult with an experienced family law attorney. Feel free to contact me if you’d like to know more.
Mindfulness, meditationMindfulness is a concept that has become part of mainstream American culture over the past decade. Hectic lifestyles, information overload and constant distractions have led more of us to look for a way to quiet our minds. In fact, many public schools, professional athletes, large corporations, and even the U. S. military, are using meditation exercises to reduce stress levels. Divorce is one of life’s most stressful experiences. Often much attention is focused on the past and the future, triggering both unpleasant memories and fearful expectations. As someone who knows first-hand the benefits of daily meditation, I see great value in using mindfulness principles in my Collaborative divorce practice. Starting the divorce conversation respectfully sets the tone for a more purposeful process. Awareness that the parties are often in different stages of divorce readiness is important. Becoming unmarried may be something that one spouse has contemplated for many years, while the other considers the marriage’s rough spots to be normal. Jointly exploring available divorce process options can also reduce fear and surprise. Processes emphasizing guided conversations between the parties, such as Collaborative divorce and mediation, reduce the likelihood of miscommunication and empower parties to achieve mutually acceptable solutions. Intentionally choosing the timing and method for divorce together establishes a calmer tone for the road ahead. Having patience during the process results in healthier outcomes. The strong urge to get things done as quickly as possible is understandable. It seems that the sooner the divorce can be finalized, the sooner life will return to normal. However, the decisions to be made are life changing with long-term impacts on the entire family. Trying to move too quickly can result in replacing one bad situation with another. Slowing down and accepting the divorce experience for what it is can allow for a deeper understanding of the issues involved. Acknowledging the good and the bad of the marriage without judgment provides valuable insight. Identifying each party’s contributions during the relationship can help the healing process begin. Recognizing one’s own part in the failure of the marriage can provide valuable insight for future relationships. Letting go of bitterness and regret is essential to moving forward in life. For divorcing couples with children, accepting “what is” allows them to redefine their relationship and communicate more effectively in the future. The ending of a marriage is, unfortunately, an all-too-common event. However, if done mindfully, divorce can be an opportunity for personal transformation and growth.
Children of divorce can provide unique insights. I recently had a conversation with a young woman whose parents had divorced more than a decade ago, while she was still in her teens. Looking back, she said she appreciates some little (and not so little) things her parents have done since the divorce to make their divorce a “good divorce,” including:
  • Continuing to use the words “mom” and “dad” when referring to the other parent.
  • Recalling happy memories of the marriage and her childhood (not erasing the past).
  • Welcoming updates about the other parent’s post-divorce life.
  • Communicating directly with each other to plan family events, without putting the kids in the middle.
  • Taking responsibility for their own individual happiness.
  • Having the kind of relationship that allows your kids to relax at family events.
While these may sound like challenging (even impossible) goals if you’re in the throes of divorce, we parents love our kids more than anything. As the adults in the family, parents are responsible for modeling healthy relationships for their children. And, although it requires effort, it is possible to have a healthy relationship even after becoming unmarried.
The True Color of LoveWhile the divorce rate in the U. S. has been decreasing since its peak in the 1980’s, divorce rates for those over the age of 50 is at an all-time high. The divorce rate for this age group has doubled in the past 20 years. There are many reasons for this trend, including longer life expectancy, the increased financial independence of women, changing cultural values and the aging of the “me” generation of baby-boomers. The causes of gray divorces are varied. According to a 2004 AARP study of midlife divorce, the most common reasons given were abuse, infidelity, falling out of love, use of alcohol and drugs, and different lifestyles. Spouses who become “empty nesters” when their children leave home can find it difficult to find common ground. Those who divorce later in life have fewer remaining years in the workforce. This means reduced opportunity to accumulate assets post-divorce. Therefore, making sound financial decisions is critical to both parties’ future well-being. Valuing and dividing retirement plans, securing affordable medical insurance coverage for both parties, establishing and funding separate households, and analyzing cash flow at retirement require expert legal and financial advice.
Wedding GiftHave you ever attended a wedding where the groom’s parents refused to be in the same photograph? Do you know a bride who had to keep her divorced parents separated during the reception? The resulting tension can be palpable to everyone and can taint what should be a joyous occasion for the loving couple. A recent New York Times article describes the additional stress felt by children of divorced parents both before and during their weddings. When exes have difficulty communicating with each other, planning the event is more complicated and stressful for their child, who may be forced to consult with each parent individually. If either parent carries lingering resentment about financial issues, conversations about wedding expenses can trigger unresolved anger. Questions about who will participate in (or even attend) the ceremony may arise if the child’s relationship with either parent was damaged by the parents’ split. All of this unresolved anxiety shifts the focus away from the bride and groom and the happy occasion. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Divorcing parents who choose the Collaborative divorce process are asked to articulate their dreams for the future. These goals typically include aspirations for a healthy co-parenting relationship and financial security for both parents. Setting goals empowers them to co-write the ending to their own unique divorce story. Doing so restores some sense of control during a turbulent time. Less resentment means a more peaceful future for the entire family. How a couple divorces has a ripple effect, impacting a wide circle of family and friends, with their children in the center. How they divorce will affect each and every future family event. What better wedding gift can any parents give their children than a day filled with loving support?