Divorce is never an easy topic, nor should it be an easy answer – but what about during a pandemic? Is disrupting your family’s life to separate into two households the right thing to do when a pandemic is taking place?
There is never going to be a “right” time to divorce. Once a couple figures out either on their own or through counseling
that their problems cannot be solved, a constructive divorce is often the next step.
Courts are open and those cases that can be resolved without any court hearings are moving more rapidly than ever through the now virtual court system. The collaborative divorce model has been around for awhile, but using it now during the pandemic can make your divorce more efficient, while still bringing in the professionals as needed for your particular situation, including financial planners, mortgage brokers, child specialists, divorce coaches or mediators.
Collaborative may be the right process for you if you want the following:
- To stay out of court,
- To work things out on your own,
- To make a plan for the future for both parties looking at your family’s interests and needs,
- To maintain a private, safe environment to exchange ideas and options,
- To put your family first.
Collaborative Divorce is not going to be about winning, revenge or punishment. Rather the collaborative process requires both attorneys and parties to focus on interests and goals instead of positions through a series of joint meetings. Traditionally these meetings were held in person, but the same meetings can now take place virtually and everything can be handled online. Starting the process now may be just as good as any other time.
You can find more detailed information about collaborative practice and look for professionals to help get you started at the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota
 Discernment Counseling is a type of limited scope counseling that helps couples or individuals determine whether to work on their marriage or keep moving towards divorce. See University of Minnesota Couples on the Brink project.
Author: Angela Heart, Heart Law, LLC
Angela is a collaborative family law attorney at Heart Law, LLC. Her mission is to enable and empower divorcing couples to have a smooth transition that is family focused during a life changing event. To find more information about Heart Law go to www.heartlaw.net.
People who are facing divorce after many years of marriage, or just later in life, face unique challenges. They are less connected by the need to provide daily care and financial support for their children. They also may be facing other life changes such as upcoming retirement or increasing health concerns (and costs!) as they age. Sometimes this has been called The Graying of Divorce
According to Mayoclinic.org
, “Empty nest syndrome isn’t a clinical diagnosis. Instead, empty nest syndrome is a phenomenon in which parents experience feelings of sadness and loss when the last child leaves home.” It is a life transition where spouses can take a step back and look at how their lives are progressing. As part of this process of reflection, they may say to themselves: “I’ve put up with this long enough!” Alternatively, it might be a time when couples take advantage of having more time to explore new interests and activities to share together.
A process that can be helpful to those considering divorce or separation is called Discernment Counseling
. Discernment Counseling is different than regular couples counseling because–instead of just focusing on helping the marriage relationship–it focuses on deciding whether the marriage should be worked on or whether divorce or separation should be pursued. The University of Minnesota has a Discernment Counseling project has a helpful website
that you may want to visit if you want to learn more about Discernment Counseling.
If divorce is the path chosen, Collaborative Divorce
is often a perfect option as it can help increase communication and mutual respect to the benefit of both spouses (and grown children!). A neutral financial professional can analyze retirement cash flow and budgets, including tax implications of withdrawing retirement funds. Empty Nest divorces have their own unique challenges. They also are an opportune time to be able to enter a process that the older divorcing couple can be proud of in creating a respectful transition to separate living and ending of their marriage.
Starting a divorce can be difficult, particularly if your spouse believes the marriage can be saved. How you have this discussion may make a major difference in your life, particularly if you have children. In my thirty years of working with divorcing clients, I have found that avoiding mistakes at the very beginning of the process is crucial to the future of your family.
The most common mistake is moving ahead without being fully prepared. Here is a quick guide to the type of preparation that I believe will make the most difference.
- Make sure you clearly explore your reconciliation options. Before you start down the path toward divorce, make sure that you are doing the right thing. This is important for you, and your children and will help your spouse become more accepting of the divorce if that is what ultimately needs to happen. There are many new ways to explore the divorce decision, including discernment counseling which is designed to help you determine whether your marriage can be saved. To learn more, go to the Doherty Relationship Institute website
- Make sure you understand the various options for how to divorce. There are many different ways to move ahead with divorce, including Collaborative Divorce and meditation. There are many good professionals who will explain all of the options, without charge. To learn more, go to www.collaboratiavelaw.org. or www.divorcechoice.com.
- Once you have chosen a method of moving forward, carefully plan the way of telling your spouse about the divorce. If there is any danger of abuse, make sure you consult with experienced professionals to make sure that you are aware of the safest possible method. If there is no danger of physical abuse, but have significant concerns about possible verbal abuse, make sure that you are in a public place so that you can leave if things get uncomfortable. If possible, consider having a counselor, clergy member or mutually trusted friend or family member present during this important discussion.
- Focus on the “Big Picture” and your long term goals. Sometimes divorce can create a “crisis mentality” that can cause people to lose perspective on what really matters. Focusing only on the issues that feel urgent can displace the need to focus on what is truly important such as the well-being of your children or your general health.
It is not uncommon for two people to come to divorce at very different points in readiness. In fact, one spouse may not want the divorce at all. You may not have anticipated your spouse wanting a divorce, but that does not mean you can ignore it. If one spouse wants a divorce, it needs to be addressed. If things cannot be worked out in counseling, or if one of spouse is not interested in therapy to improve the marriage, you will need to address the divorce. Minnesota is a no-fault-divorce state. This means a divorce may be granted if either party wants to end the marriage–you do not both need to agree.
If one of you wants divorce, the other spouse should meet with an attorney to learn about the process. You will need legal guidance to help you through the divorce process and learn about your options. Collaborative divorce is one of the best options available to divorcing couples. Collaborative divorce allows both spouses to have legal representation, but moves through the process in a respectful and non-adversarial way. If discussing parenting schedules, child custody, financial division of property, or support options is challenging for you, you may want an advocate who is also versed in the emotional needs of both of you.
The Collaborative Process also allows for other neutrals to help guide and support you through the process. A child specialist can help address parenting challenges. They have expertise in child development and co-parenting challenges and they can help tailor agreements that will work for the whole family.
A neutral coach can help support you emotionally through the process. Maybe you need help with communication or guidance to work on a particularly emotional issue; a coach can help with this. Indeed the collaborative structure as a whole is designed to help you be your very best in this process. Even if you don’t want the divorce, bringing your best self forward will help the process go as smoothly as possible.
Divorce is not an easy process. It is particularly challenging if you don’t want the divorce. Seeking a safe and caring process may be the best thing you do for yourself and the outcomes reached. Do not let the fact that the divorce is unwanted, or comes as a surprise, hinder you. Choose a process that will help you feel safe and protected.
Divorce is never truly good. But a bad divorce can create many years of devastation. If you have a friend or family member approaching divorce it can be difficult to watch the economic and emotional turmoil unfold, particularly if there are children involved. As a friend, or a family member, you want to help; but can you?
In my 30 years as a divorce lawyer, I have seen how friends and family members can provide much needed support and comfort that has helped my divorce clients get through this process in a much healthier way. At the same time, I have often watched well meaning friends and family members give my clients advice that actually made the divorce more adversarial.
If you know someone who is going through divorce and want to help, here are five things to consider.
- Encourage them to seek counseling, if appropriate. Whether they are trying to save the marriage or simply manage the emotional turmoil and grief during this difficult time, a good counselor can be even more important than a divorce attorney. They will soon be making some of the most important decisions in their lives during a time in which their sense of reason and judgment may be impaired by emotions. Getting help with the emotional and psychological aspect of divorce is crucial.
- Give them support and encouragement; but not legal advice. If you have been through a divorce, or have experienced the divorce of close friends, you may be tempted to advise others based on your observed experience. This advice, though well intended, can often be quite harmful.
- Encourage them to truly research their options. Most people rush into divorce without truly understanding their choices. As result they often choose a method that is not the best alternative for their family.
- Help them understand that civility is not weakness. Divorce can create fear and anger that tempt people to seek “a pound of flesh.” Few families can emerge from an adversarial divorce unscathed. Help them understand that resolving their divorce in a civil and respectful manner can actually get them a better outcome.
- Avoid demonizing the spouse. Divorce often creates a delusional reality that causes people to see their spouse in a very negative light. Accepting your friend’s emotionally impacted negative view off their spouse can even seem like the “supportive thing to do.” Usually it simply adds to the misperceptions that make future co-parenting more difficult.
People facing divorce need emotional support and friendship as much as they need professional help. If you can provide that support, without giving into the temptations to do more, you will be doing your friend or family member a great service.
You are a devout Christian and you think marriage should last forever. Yet you somehow find yourself facing divorce. No doubt you are feeling conflict. You had hoped your faith would help you avoid coming to this place; and you may even feel guilty about the fact that you somehow have found your marriage ending, even if the end of the marriage was not your fault.
Certainly if you believe your faith can help you salvage a happy marriage, you owe it to yourself to work to save the marriage in a manner consistent with what you believe. However, if the marriage cannot be saved, this may be the time to ask yourself if your Christian principles can guide you during this most difficult time in your journey.
Christianity challenges its believers to practice love, compassion and forgiveness, even under the most difficult circumstances. In a divorce you will find yourself, at some point, sitting across the table, from a person who you at one point felt a deep sense of love. Yet, the fear and anger and distrust fueled by divorce may trump all of those feelings. In addition, the behavior in your spouse during the divorce may not inspire a sense of love and compassion.
Still, Christian principles of love and forgiveness and compassion are meaningless if they cannot be applied to the trials and tribulations of divorce. A faith that challenges us to love our enemies and to turn the other cheek must, at minimum, challenge us to rise above our feelings of anger and fear.
Of course, a commitment to love and compassion do not mean that other principles of self preservation must be abandoned. The issues of a divorce will also require you to work to protect yourself, and your children. Is there a way to practice Christian love and still protect your family?
As a divorce attorney, I have worked with hundreds of Christian clients and devout people of other faiths who struggle with these issues. Sadly, I have seen some who have allowed the emotions of the divorce to put their faith on hold as they embraced an “all bets are off” approach and treated their spouse as a true adversary. Thankfully, in recent years, I have also worked with many clients, primarily in the Collaborative Process,
who have drawn on their faith to find the courage to truly live Christian Principles through their divorce.
The Collaborative Process, by taking clients away from divorce and providing an entire team of professionals, is designed to help divorcing people bring their best selves to the table. For Christians, that can often mean drawing on principles of faith to face some of the most difficult trials and tribulations.
Debra Messing recently expressed guilt over her divorce and the fact that she and her husband couldn’t give her son “the fantasy” that her parents gave her in a marriage that was now ending. She said she and her husband both wanted to make it work and last forever but weren’t able to make it “go the course.”
If you and your spouse are uncertain about whether you want to end your marriage, there are resources for you to use before making the final decision about a divorce. This is not marriage counseling for people who already know they want to continue their marriage and need help in making that happen, but ambivalence counseling which helps couples figure out whether they really want a divorce.
Some trained mental health professionals who do this work in the collaborative divorce community are Brian Burns
and Karen Haase
. If you ultimately decide to get divorced, this ambivalence counseling work may help you understand each other’s perspectives about what happened during the marriage and the differences that led to your decision to divorce. Ambivalence counseling could also result in your decision to stay married or hold off the divorce.
If, after counseling on your uncertainty about whether or not to be divorced, you decide that you do want to be divorced, don’t dwell too much on guilt or past mistakes in your marriage. Yes, you can learn from mistakes made, but assigning guilt made for past mistakes won’t be a strong foundation for final agreement in your divorce. You may have different memories and perspectives about why the marriage ended and may not reach agreement on these issues.
Instead, you should focus on the present and future issues you face – where you will live, what your parenting schedule will be, how you will pay for your living expenses in two households and how you will divide your assets and debts. Focussing on the future and problem solving about these issues will be more productive for your family than attempting to assign blame or allow guilt to guide your decisions in a divorce.
During the collaborative divorce process, these feelings of guilt or anger are acknowledged and addressed but don’t drive the process. A couple who had these feelings of guilt and anger during their collaborative divorce have shared their experience in a video which follows the steps in their divorce process.