MoneyI read an interesting article in the Star Tribune this week, “Till Debt Do Us Part,” about the challenges faced by newlyweds with student loan debt, particularly when one partner has more debt that the other. This got me thinking about the strong connection between money and divorce. Money issues are the number one reason clients give me for the failure of their relationships. Debt is usually a contributing factor. In my career as a collaborative divorce attorney, clients have shared their very personal stories with me. Sometimes the story-telling is tearful and filled with regret. Other times it is angry and filled with resentment. Tension over finances can evoke negative emotions and poison otherwise loving relationships. In some cases, money issues are caused by factors outside of anyone’s control, such as job loss, a tough economy, or illness. The resulting instability can be temporary or long-term and affects the entire family. In my experience, however, disagreements about money arise when parties come into marriage with different attitudes and feelings about money. These differences gradually reveal themselves over time, eventually affecting other aspects of the relationship. Even marriages of caring, committed spouses are at risk. So how can divorce over money be avoided? Awareness is the first step. Each of us grew up in a family with its unique money culture. Whether we realize it or not, our ideas and values have been influenced by our childhood experiences. Many parents are reluctant to talk openly with their children about money, leaving the children to unknowingly form their own set of beliefs. Failure to recognize these hidden internal attitudes and assumptions in ourselves and others leads to misunderstanding and blame. The good news is that open discussion of money matters can help couples identify their differences and protect their relationships.  Key questions include:
  • How will we manage our day-to-day finances?
  • How much should we be spending vs. saving?
  • Which budget items constitute “needs” vs. “wants”?
  • Will all of our money be considered joint or will we each have our separate funds?
  • How does each of us define “financial security”?
  • What are our retirement goals?
These same questions are critical to couples who have decided to divorce. In the collaborative divorce process, a team of collaborative professionals encourages the couple to look closely at their finances as they establish separate households.  Rather than make assumptions, both spouses are asked to describe their goals. The settlement discussions that follow help to produce a settlement plan that achieves as many of their goals as possible. To find out more about the collaborative divorce process, visit www.collaborativelaw.org.
A New LIfeI would not wish divorce on any married couple.   It is a painful process and results in permanent loss.  But I also do not like to see people suffer through unhappy marriages.   Naturally, the best solution is to seek to improve the marriage so that both husband and wife can be happy.  However, there are times when that is simply not possible.  And for those people, their best option may be a “Happy Divorce”. I realize that “Happy Divorce” is a misnomer. No divorce is truly “Happy”.  However, in my thirty years of working with divorcing families, I have known many people who are much happier after the divorce than they were in the marriage.  I have also known hundreds of couples who treat each other with more respect after the divorce than they did during the marriage. The ability to get through a divorce in a respectful manner can be an achievement of immeasurable worth; particularly if there are children of the marriage.  No child wants to live in an unhappy home or, worse yet, two unhappy homes. In our culture, we have come to expect that divorce will bring out the worst in people.   But I have also seen couples who, although they are facing  one of the most difficult times of their lives; have found a way to bring their best selves forward, often for the sake of their children. Divorce is an end; but it is also a beginning.  Many couples even greet divorce as an opportunity to improve their life skills.   In some occasions, these couples, when faced with divorce, find ways to communicate more effectively; work to improve their parenting skills through a neutral parenting specialists; and even find ways to better their financial capacities through the help of a neutral financial expert.   While there are many ways to achieve these goals, one method that is rapidly growing in popularity is called Collaborative Divorce, where couples work with a team of professionals (lawyers, mental health professionals and financial experts) to help them improve their lives after divorce in significant measurable ways.  To learn more about this option, go to www.collaborativelaw.org  or www.divorcechoice.com.
ID-10018139In my Collaborative Divorce practice, I frequently talk to clients about identifying their “interests” in the divorce.  This is a difficult concept to understand, but is the key to reaching a resolution in a divorce that meets the needs of all family members. “Interests” are in contrast to “positions” in the divorce.  An interest is the motivation or value behind a particular position.  An interest is frequently inspirational and may be far broader than a position.  A position is a particular outcome.  The difference between an interest and a position is frequently illustrated by the following story. Two children were arguing over who would have the last orange in the kitchen.  They each took the “position” that the orange should be theirs.  Their argument included angry cries of “You had the last orange!” or “I was here first.”  Unable to resolve the dispute without resorting to blows, they brought the issue to their mother.  The obvious solution is for Mom to slice the orange in half and give each child one-half of the orange.  Seems like a good outcome, doesn’t it?  But at this suggestion the children were even unhappier.  So, instead, she asked each child what he or she wanted to do with the orange.  The first child replied, “I want to bake a cake.  I need the zest of the orange to add to the batter.”  The second child said, “I want to make orange juice.”  He needed the juice and the pulp of the orange.  Obviously, by understanding the underlying interests of each child, it was determined that both children could get what they wanted—the rind for a cake and the juice for orange juice. In collaborative divorce, this is called a win-win outcome.  Win-win outcomes are possible when interests are identified and the interests of all parties are met.
If you are going through or thinking about starting a Collaborative Divorce, you might wonder why you need a Child Specialist.  After all, if you and your spouse agree on custody and parenting time (previously called “visitation”), why spend money on a Child Specialist?  As a Collaborative Attorney and Mediator, I enjoy helping parents with the parenting piece; however, I am not an expert in child development, and I don’t meet with the children.  Furthermore, I don’t want parents to come up with just any old plan – my wish for them is to succeed in their post-divorce co-parenting relationship and raise happy, healthy kids. A Child Specialist helps you and your spouse create not only the day-to-day and holiday/vacation schedule, but helps you identify your goals and values as parents, so you can create a custom-made plan specifically addressing the unique needs of your children.  As parents in a fast-paced world, we need to determine the appropriate age for our kids to have a cell phone.  We need to think about how much screen time per day is healthy.  Is texting at the dinner table OK (not!)?  These are issues parents need to deal with at some point, but parents residing separately really need to be on the same page.  Child Specialists can assist with these decisions.  Clients often tell me how glad they are they hired a Child Specialist, because they are more in-tune with their children, and are therefore, better parents. Child Specialists are valuable members of the Collaborative Team and are wonderful resources for parents.  Believe me, I know this personally because I consult with them when I have questions about my own kiddo!  Although you know your children the best (their funny little quirks, favorite color, best friend’s name, and so forth) Child Specialists know what makes children tick from a developmental perspective; thus, they are treasure troves of information.  Why not tap into that?  Think of it this way: would you rather spend the money on an expert who can guide you now to the land of great co-parenting or spend two, maybe three times or more on therapy for your kids later, because you and your spouse did the bare minimum to just get through the divorce (understandable – it’s a painful ordeal).  Consistency in parenting, as well as respecting and understanding your different parenting styles and personalities, can be the difference between a “so-so” parenting plan and a “so-good” parenting plan.  It’s easy to spend time and money on gadgets, toys, clothes, and activities for kids, so consider taking the time and money to invest in utilizing a Child Specialist to craft a parenting plan that will help you and your spouse co-parent effectively post-divorce.  I bet you’ll be glad you did!
Rainbow roadIn my family law practice, I have seen well over 1,000 people divorce. Without a doubt, divorce is a difficult and painful process. However, I have been deeply enriched as a family law attorney by working with many spouses who have used this difficult process to set themselves on a new life path. Frequently a spouse will first enter my office full of emotion and fear. How will the children fare? Will there be sufficient money to pay the necessary expenses? For stay – at -home spouses who must now begin working, can they succeed in the work place? Can they even find meaningful work that will pay a decent wage? Often I work most closely with such spouses in the collaborative law process. We start from the ground and work our way up. What do they know about their finances? What is the family budget? What is their earning ability? How does earning a living intersect with raising children? Can one do both and if so how? Often with the assistance of a financial professional, we build budgets, spread sheets and cash flow analysis. Those who have little interest in finances or previous experience with finances begin to get their sea legs under them as to what their financial situation is, will be after the divorce and what they can do for themselves to maximize their well-being following the divorce. Spouses also learn that they do not need to continue with the same troublesome patterns of relating to their spouse, particularly regarding children. Instead, time is spent focusing on constructive, but firm communications. The intent is for a spouse again to develop confidence that she or he can hold his or her own following the divorce, in a health and constructive way. I have seen countless times, a spouse who first came to my office small and scared, leave the marriage with strength and confidence, and even excitement about starting the next leg of their amazing life journey.
ListeningAs a neutral child specialist, I value the opportunity to learn from the children with whom I work, all of whom have parents who are ending or have ended their marriage or partnership.  Parents add a neutral child specialist to their Collaborative team because they see the benefit of children having a voice and getting the support of a mental health professional during a very difficult time in their lives. I will never forget the very wise voice of a little girl who told me, “Deb, I’m not gonna tell my friends that my parents are getting divorced—that sounds too jaggedy.  I’m gonna tell them my parents are getting unmarried, because that means the same thing.”  How simple and how brilliant! It is true that our neural nets for the word “divorce”  include a lot of jagged associations that sound painful and scary to parents, and even more so to their children.  The term “unmarried” helps create a new and more hopeful neural net of associations during and after a divorce or break up. How different to a child’s ear to hear that her family is changing how it works rather than her family is broken?  To understand that parents will co-parent rather than have joint custody?   To believe that children will be kept at the center and not in the middle?   Listening to children’s voices helps keep a crisis in their lives from ever becoming a trauma—and that is priceless.