482143431-thought-bubbles-above-frustrated-couple-gettyimagesIn an election year, we are exposed to an abundance of rhetoric.  As candidates debate and advertise to convince people to vote for them, I listen for words reflecting respect, dignity, the ability to listen deeply and the capacity to work effectively with those who may hold different beliefs. High conflict resulting in governmental gridlock puts people at risk, especially those who are most vulnerable. Yet listening to potential leaders, I hear repeated versions of  “I will never compromise.” Though this may be intended to project strength and resolution, does it not also sound rigid and contentious? What human values does this type of rhetoric represent? How expensive in time, money and emotional resources does endless gridlock become for the people depending on resolution? Divorcing parents are faced with the necessity to make many decisions affecting the future of their family. Their children are the most vulnerable family members, counting on their parents to work things out. What happens to children when their parents disagree and then refuse to compromise? When parents become rigid and disrespectful of each other, how does the ensuing gridlock impact their children? How expensive in time, money and emotional resources does this process become? Collaborative Practice is a method of alternative dispute resolution incorporating the values of respect, honesty and fairness. From the beginning of the process, clients are supported by their attorneys and by neutral professionals on their team to engage in interest-based negotiation to ensure both parents’ true concerns are heard, rather than positional negotiation that can easily lead to heightened conflict and expensive gridlock. For more information about how Collaborative Practice might work for your family, please check out the website of the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota.
486417833-hope-they-work-it-out-gettyimagesHere are five suggestions for how divorcing parents can provide support to their children in the new year: 1.  Keep expectations realistic.  Children go through a grieving process just as their parents do when the marriage ends.  Their energy and focus may be impacted, and this can affect their performance in school, sports or the arts.  If this happens, be gentle with your child, who will be even more unhappy if s/he feels like a failure in a parent’s eyes. 2.  Remind your child regularly that s/he is cherished.  Children do best when they experience unconditional love and support from parents.  This includes being curious and interested in your child’s ideas, stories and day-to-day experiences. 3.  Find time to do something enjoyable with your child.  If you are fortunate enough to have the time and energy to go on a date with your child to do something mutually enjoyable this can be a great bonding experience.  However, kids my love the opportunity to play a board or video game with a parent, or make popcorn or brownies together before watching a movie at home. 4.  Maintain routines.  Most children, just like most adults, depend on routines to keep a sense of stability in their lives.  Keep routines for mealtimes, bedtimes, homework time, doing chores, etc. as predictable as possible. 5.  Be authentic.  Children rely on parents to be trustworthy.  There may be days when it is difficult to not be sad, or when patience is in short supply because of the stress of the divorce.  It’s okay to be real with your children about your feelings as long as you keep them out of the middle of any conflict with your co-parent, and as long as you are very careful to not imply that a child is responsible for making a parent feel better.  “I’m pretty sad today, so I don’t have a lot of energy.  But I know feelings don’t last forever, and I’ll feel better soon.”
173298780-mid-adult-woman-toying-with-gold-wedding-gettyimagesHaving friends scattered throughout the country has shown me just how drastic divorce proceedings and turnarounds can be. My friend in Baltimore, Maryland, who was married for 5 years with no kids, had no battles over property division, and her divorce still took just over 2.5 years to complete, including a mandatory year of separation before filing (this law has since changed recently for those without children). A friend in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, her divorce with one child and a business involved, took just 6 months to the date. And my good friends (haha), Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton’s Oklahoma divorce after four years of marriage complete with pre-nup and no kids, took just days from when they filed. Here in Minnesota the length of time to complete a divorce depends upon several things, including custody, parenting time, child support, and division of debts and property. It can take anywhere from about 6 weeks to a year and a half or more, depending upon whether the parties are cooperating, and depending upon the issues involved. The length of a divorce also largely depends on how the case is resolved. For example, divorcing collaboratively, where both party’s attorneys agree to settle without going to trial and the underlying threat of litigation, can significantly reduce the time it take to complete the divorce for several reasons, the biggest factor being avoiding months awaiting a divorce trial. Divorce is the time to practice patience, and to always prepare yourself for the divorce process to take longer than anticipated. Even in our instant gratification society where you can have Amazon deliver within the hour, your divorce could take months to years. No matter how long your divorce proceedings may take it is important to remember that divorce never really ends with a “victory” by either party. Both parties typically leave the marriage with substantially less material wealth than they started with prior to the divorce. Occasionally, you may hear about a spouse receiving a very large settlement or substantial alimony compensation. But more commonly, both spouses must compromise in order to reach an agreement. If there are any real “winners” in the process, it’s those who maintain positive relationships with an ex-spouse so that they are able to successfully co-parent their children.
Late night browsing on HBO recently brought me to a refreshing and wonderfully honest documentary on kids of divorce. The 30-minute film focuses on children who have recently gone through divorce – it asks them questions and captures their honest and candid responses.  So much wonderful information can be gleaned form children. They offer unique perspectives on the realities they face. Even more refreshingly, they offer unique insights and rules for their parents. As always, children can guide parents through these tough transitions and help them move forward in ways that really matter to kids. Indeed, these little minds are often more grounded and reflective in their views than their parents. Some of the many words of wisdom from this documentary, are:
  • Keep reminding me this isn’t my fault – I need to hear it over and over again.
  • Be honest with me – talk to me honestly. I can handle it or I will le tyou know if I can’t.
  • Don’t put me in the middle, but remember I am important.
  • Don’t have me spy – get your own information.
  • There is not a big bright side of things – but try to look on the bright side. Point out to me the things that are good out of this and why I will be okay.
  • I miss my other parent in my heart. Know this and keep it in mind.
  • Give us more love than we need.
Don’t Divorce Me! Trailer
If you have children and are contemplating divorce, check out Don’t Divorce Me! Kids’ Rules for their Parent’s Divorce on HBO ON DEMAND or www.hbogo.com
The viral video of a father reaching out to his ex-Wife’s new husband, his daughter’s stepdad, and asking him to join him and walk their daughter down the aisle has had a huge impact. It has been shared millions of times. I have noticed a number of my social media friends and colleagues sharing this video. The comments seem to fall into two categories.  First, for divorced parents or children of divorce, many look at this video as a painful reminder of how horrible divorce can be. Many have memories of the strain and tension between their parents after divorce or cannot imagine ever having a connection with an exes new partner. Others see this video as recognition of the new face of divorce.  Divorce can be healthy and can lead to new families that are, in many ways, stronger and healthier than they were before.  Bonus parents or step parents can be wonderful additions to a child’s life. I see these stories all the time.  I am a collaborative attorney dedicated to helping families divorce in better ways.  I hear stories of clients all the time having better relationships with their co-parent after a divorce. Like this mother who wrote a letter to her daughter’s future step-mother or this lovely New York Times article about two divorced parents vacationing together — this can be the new face of divorce. The collaborative law process allows for creative and respectful outcomes – it keeps the children at the very center of everything and helps families thrive. Social media is drawn to thee stories because people crave these types of outcomes and want a better future after divorce.  Collaborative law provides these types of resolutions and more and more peaceful extended families.
520749655-man-in-mid-air-jumping-into-pool-during-gettyimagesVacations are a common part of family life.  Some families like to camp or take close-to-home trips to a local hotel or amusement location.  Other families have vacation traditions, such as family reunions or a favorite locales that they visit year after year.  And others may like to spend freely and take extravagant vacations. It is common to be concerned about vacations in divorce.  When one, nuclear family becomes a bi-nuclear family with two home bases, it may seem like a foregone conclusion that vacations will need to end.  While things certainly need to change, in a collaborative divorce, parents can work to develop a parenting plan that incorporates vacations and time away with the kids. It is common in parenting plans to provide each parent a certain number of days to take the children on vacation.  This time typically supersedes regular parenting plan – it is not a trade-off of days.  The parenting plan can outline further parameters on vacations, such as:
  • How much notice should be given for an upcoming trip.
  • Whether or not vacations can incorporate missing school.
  • Number of consecutive days allowed.
  • Communication parameters between the off-duty parent and the children while on vacation.
  • How far the children may be taken and what activities are permissible.
Parents often also work out the finances of a vacation in the divorce.  Sometimes vacation expenses are built into budgets and spousal maintenance obligations and other times each parent covers their own vacation expenses with the children. When parents work together on a parenting plan, they can come up with good resolutions about vacations and travel. A good collaborative professional can help start this process.  
157494477-redheaded-girl-in-cloud-of-leaves-gettyimagesLooking for some Twin Cities fun on a budget? Going from a duel income to a single income is not only difficult, but can bring on many emotions, especially if it leaves you feeling inadequate with providing for your children. There are so many low and no cost options out there that you don’t have to feel your children are missing out if you are on a single parent budget. Here are some of our favorites:
  • Como Zoo (free)
  • Minneapolis Sculpture Garden (free)
  • Walker Art Center (free admission Thursdays from 5-9pm)
  • Minnesota History Center (free admission Tuesdays from 5-8pm)
  • Fishing at many local community piers and parks (free)
  • Minnehaha Falls (free)
  • Three Rivers Parks District: Elm Creek Park Reserve, Lowery nature Center, Minnetonka Regional Park, etc. (free admission and many free activities and play equipment). Tip: make a list for a scavenger hunt before you go, kids LOVE scavenger hunts!
  • Minnesota Children’s Museum (free admission the 3rd Sunday of each month)
  • Outdoor concerts in the summer: Minneapolis Music in the Parks and St. Paul Music in the Parks, as well as many suburban concert series (free)
  • Movies in the Park in Summer: many area options (free)
  • Minnesota Landscape Arboretum (free admission every third Thursday of the month after 4:30 pm April through October)
  • Farmer’s Markets: many area options, check your city and surrounding areas for dates and times. Tip: If you go close to the end of the day many vendors may have reduced their prices or are willing to negotiate on fresh produce. (free admission)
  • Bike or walk the area trails. We are very blessed with many quality area trails like the Luce Line, Dakota Rail Regional Trail, etc. Tip: Another great place for a scavenger hunt!
  • Local beaches in the summer – We are in the land of 10,000 lakes, there are so many options for free swimming and sand castle fun!
  • Local art fairs, craft fairs, car shows, etc. Admission is typically free and it is so fun to walk around and look at everything.
Also be sure to check out local discount websites such a www.SaveOn.com, www.Groupon.com, and www.LivingSocial.com, where you can find deep discounts on local amusement parks, museums, the arboretum, restaurants, and more!
Your divorce probably has you feeling like everything is beyond your control. Now imagine the lack of control your children are feeling. Yesterday they had a family with two parents living under the same roof, and today their family life as they knew it is torn apart. Your children may not have any idea how things got to this point, much less have the ability to change things. While it is seemingly impossible to feel in control right now, as a parent it is your role to support your children and help them to cope with the stress of the divorce. Focusing on these four components should help to lessen the stress on your children: patience, reassurance, structure, and stability. Patience. Have the patience to answer your child’s never ending questions they may have about the divorce. Offer them a listening ear and time to vent. Patience is tricky, especially when you are going through such a stressful time in your life. This is why it becomes so incredibly important for you to take care of yourself so that you can be the best parent you can be. Do whatever you can not to take your own stress out on your children. Even if it’s as simple as locking yourself in the bathroom for 5 minutes to cool off – do it. Reassurance. Reassure your children that they are still loved by both parents, and that they did not cause this. Reassure them that it is ok to have fun and enjoy their time with each parent by not acting jealous or getting upset. Do not put your child in a situation where they are forced to pick a side, which will only cause them more stress. Reassure them that you will get through this together, and that this is not the end of their family, but rather the beginning of a different type of family for them. Structure. By providing routines kids can rely on, you remind your children they can count on you for stability, structure, and care. This is where parenting plans come into play and are so important to maintaining structure. A toddler may not know what day of the week it is, but something as simple as a color coded weekly calendar showing them what days they go to moms house at what days they go to dads house can help them to understand their routine. A preteen or teen may benefit more from an electronic calendar, where they know exactly who is picking them up from school and activities each day. Find what works best for maintaining structure in your family and stick to it. Stability. It is important to maintain structure in order to provide stability for your children. If one parent has bailed on picking up the kids for the past two weeks, that child no longer has the stability in their life to help them cope with the stress of divorce. Parents in this situation will often stop telling their children when the other parent is going to pick them up because they hate to see them get disappointed. When this happens the parenting plan needs to be addressed and reevaluated. Not only is it stressful on the parent when the other doesn’t follow through, but it is incredibly stressful on children. All of these points go hand in hand with one another. The more stability and structure you have, the more reassured your child will be. Divorce may be uncharted territory, but you can successfully navigate this unsettling time—and help your kids emerge from it feeling loved, confident, and strong.
180411776-studio-shot-of-books-stacked-and-apple-next-gettyimagesNow that everyone is back to school, here are some important things to remember for divorced families: 1. Be Mindful of the Schedule. Parents often look forward to the routine and structure of school, that is often lost in the summer months. Kids need that same sort of structure.  Depending on the age of the children, help keep them apprised of the schedule with an online-scheduler or written calendar.  Remember that changes to a schedule affect everyone – so be mindful of how adjustments will be accepted by everyone.  You have to balance flexibility and adaptability. 2. Stock up on School Supplies. Kids often display anxiety with the need to remember clothes, school supplies, or materials for extra curricular activities (sports equipment, musical instruments, school supplies, etc.).  Make sure both houses are stocked up or the kids have a good routine (with parent support) to make sure they have everything they need at both homes. 3. Start Communicating. There are so many elements of children’s daily lives that they are interested in sharing after a busy day at school. And then the school often communicates with parents via emails or handouts.  Sometimes things are learned during school pick-up or by talking to another parent.  This information should be shared — come up with a routine for sharing relevant information about the kids so that both parents are fully informed. Daily emails or texts are often an easy way to keep the off duty parent informed. 4. Plan for Homework and Activities. Kids often have full schedules afters school. Between homework and extra-curricular activities, many parents feel as if their after school hours are as busy as their work days.  Together with the children come up with a plan to manage the responsibilities every day.  It is okay to have different schedules at each home, but consider coordinating efforts or sharing your plan so both homes can best support the children. 5. Plan for Downtime. Life gets busy.  Make effort to find time for fun and relaxation as the busy life of school starts up.  Everyone deserves a break – so plan for a game night or go see a movie.  You will all appreciate a little downtime.  
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.