In Part 1, vortex was defined as: 1) a whirling mass of water or air that sucks everything near it towards its center; 2) a place or situation regarded as drawing into its center all that it surrounds, and hence, being inescapable or destructible. The second definition provides a visual for what many think a divorce “looks like.” While the end of a marriage is emotionally tumultuous and devastating, the actual legal process of uncoupling does not have to be. But, it is critical that you choose a process that promotes healing. The Collaborative Process does just that. Collaboration is a holistic approach to divorce. It can be utilized by couples who are ending either a marriage or significant relationship, or who have a child or children together. Although some people question whether it is an appropriate process when domestic abuse or mental health/chemical dependency issues are present, many others think it can (and should) at least be attempted. If you don’t want to be another “divorce horror story,” the Collaborative Process will likely be a great fit. Collaboration focuses on the future (i.e., the relationship of co-parenting in two homes) rather than the past (i.e. the vilification of one spouse); is a win-win for both partners (rather than a court-imposed win-lose); and emphasizes the well-being of the entire family. You don’t air your dirty laundry in court, and you aren’t (literally) judged. In fact, you never set foot in a courtroom. The negotiation model is interest-based/win-win, rather than positional/win-lose. You pay attorneys to help you solve problems, not argue and keep you stuck in the past. Every family is unique, so every family deserves a unique solution. And if you have young children, please keep in mind they need you present and available. You can’t be present when you are fighting the other parent in court. In Part 3, we will discuss the various professionals in the Collaborative Process and how their expertise can help you avoid the divortex.
A collaborative law colleague recently wrote a lovely piece in the Boston Globe describing his reasons for leaving his litigation practice behind and representing clients only in alternative dispute resolution processes. His article resonated greatly with me. I too left behind a litigation practice to enter the world of peacemaking. While not an easy choice at the time, I look back six years later and realize that these years have been the most fulfilling of my career. I have not stepped foot in a courtroom in almost six years. I am thankful for many things in my current “out of court” career, but here are just a few:
- I spend my days working with clients on resolutions that meet their big picture goals.
- My conversations and negotiations are fruitful, honest and genuine. The teams I work with and clients who choose me are seeking this type of interest-based negotiation without gamesmanship or posturing.
- My colleagues are professionals with passion and dedication to help people through transitions in their marriage – many are my friends, including attorneys who are on the “other side” representing my client’s spouse.
- I can be creative in tailoring outcomes to meet my clients goals.
- We can tailor my work to each client and what they need and want out of the process.
- I am a peacemaker who is at peace.
My kids are spirited. Not possessed, although somedays it seems like they are. I thought the term “spirited child” referred to a child with ADD or ADHD. Not true. It’s not a diagnosis – it’s simply temperament. Thank goodness for Minnesota’s own Mary Sheedy Kurcinka and her book, “Raising Your Spirited Child.” As soon as I finished it, I started reading it again. Spirited kids are just “more,” and my two kiddos are high energy, intense, persistent, and slow to adapt. This slow-to-adapt trait makes transitions a CONSTANT battle. It’s hard enough getting my two out the door to school every day. Then I think about kids whose parents are going through a divorce. Not only are kids of divorce doing the everyday school, activities, home, etc., but they have two homes to toggle between. I’m sure it’s hard for any kid to go back and forth between two homes. Most adapt, though. But if you have a child who doesn’t like transitions, and mix in some frustration and sadness of the divorce, you have the ingredients for a frustrating, heart-breaking battle between parent and child. What to do? Regardless of whether they are spirited, but especially if they are, listen to your children. Understand what your children are going through. It’s never too late to get a child specialist involved in the process, even post-decree. Talk with your children them, instead of at them. They didn’t ask to be in this position and they have NO control over the divorce. Help them feel like they have some control over their world. Don’t just assume they are doing well because they are getting straight A’s, or they’ll be OK when the divorce is final. Maybe they will be OK. After all, kids are resilient. But they’re your kids. And I think it’s our duty as parents to do as much for our kids emotionally as we can. They deserve it.
Those married, and especially with children, might dream of having a quiet Saturday night to themselves, but for many divorcees, especially those newly divorced this new “free time” can be especially lonely. You might not be ready or wanting to jump into dating, but being home alone frequently can be rather lonely during those early days of divorce, whether the kid’s are at your ex’s house, grown, or you don’t have any. We put together a list of ideas to get you started to help pass the time.
- Exercise – Whether you prefer to exercise solo, or would like to make it a social activity by joining a gym or a running/swim/etc. there is no better time to get fit than on these lonely days. The endorphins will instantly boost your mood and you’ll gain extra side effects like weight loss, strength, and confidence!
- Reading – If you don’t already love to read, keep trying – surely there is something out there that will peak your interest to keep reading! Join a book club if you want to make it a social activity. Not sure where to find one look online or start one – ask friends and neighbors with similar interests if they would like to join. You can rotate the meeting space/host each month to keep it fun and interesting!
- Explore your town – play tourist in your own town, get lost in a bookstore, see when museums and arboretums have free admission days. Check into free classes and groups at your local library, many offer events like adult coloring night, crafts, and cooking. In addition to children’s activities, Community Education through the school districts also offer adult activities.
- Cook – try new recipes, or maybe just save them on Pinterest for another day. If cooking for one person doesn’t interest you, perhaps make a monthly standing date with a parent/friend/sibling where you have them over for dinner and conversation. If baking is more your style, but you don’t want all of the sweet temptations around, take the treats to a nursing home, shelter, police precinct, etc.
- Start a new hobby – maybe you haven’t picked up a paintbrush since high school art class, or dusted off that old sewing machine great Aunt Edna passed down to you years ago, but find something that peaks your interest. All the better if you’ve never done it before. Now days you can find a video tutorial for just about anything on the internet, which even makes home projects that you may have never considered DIYing possible. Hobbies like painting or sewing are difficult to start and stop when the kids are around, so those perfect projects for these lonely days.
- Part time job – if you could use the extra cash there is no shame in getting a part-time gig. Even if you don’t necessarily need the money and are just looking to fill the time, find something you enjoy doing and set the money aside for a vacation! Even direct sales can provide a fun, no pressure, no schedule way to earn some extra cash and socialization too!
- Volunteer – The options for volunteering are endless so find something that you are passionate about and look into how you can help.
While researching for this post, I came across a number of divorce-related blogs. The blog medium provides an efficient and concise opportunity to share information and educate the public. This blog focuses on the collaborative process — where clients commit to an out-of-court, non–adversarial process. Here are some other blogs that may provide additional information as you navigate the divorce process:
- Jeff Landers writes in Forbes Magazine about complex financial issues that women face in divorce. He is a Certified Divorce Financial Planner who has extensive experience with high asset divorces. His blog is informative and financially savvy.
- Divorced Girl Smiling is a personal blog written by a woman during – and now after her divorce. It is a personal account of her experience, as well as a gathering of resources for others who may be going through the same thing. The archived blogs provide a great path through the litigation process, and provides some insight into why a non-adversarial approach may be better.
My two year old daughter received Legos for Christmas. They were the bigger bricks, which are perfect for her chubby, dimpled hands, and pink and purple “princess” Legos that could be made into, what else? Castles! She really wasn’t interested in the figurines that were included, but she WAS interested in creating a “super tall building.” I loved watching her build various creations. I’m pretty sure Lego didn’t make “girl” kits when I was growing up in the 70’s and 80’s. My little brother had Legos, and I just shrugged them off as toys for boys. I was into…dare I say…Barbie. And all things that sparkle. I would, most certainly, have played with pink and purple Legos, though. After all, I liked putting things together. When my “boombox” stopped working, I took it apart and put it back together (and yes, I even fixed it!). Would I have become an engineer instead of a lawyer if Lego had made purple bricks? Nope. But if Lego had created a kit of pastel bricks, Legos might have outsold Superstar Barbie! Did girls miss out on something by not playing with Legos? Maybe not. But what IS it about princesses? Dressed in her sparkly tutu, my daughter plays just as much, if not more, with trucks and transformers as she does her dolls. Is it because she has an older brother? Does she find transformers more interesting than her dolls? My five year old son is all boy (rough and tumble, loves trucks and ninja turtles, slides into “home plate” – which is the northwest corner of the family room – so much he wears holes in his jeans) so I was pleasantly surprised when he picked up his sister’s doll and stroller and zoomed around the house. “Great,” I thought, “maybe he’ll play dolls with his little sister.” Uh…no. He took the doll and stroller to annoy his younger sibling. Nevertheless, watching my daughter with those pink and purple Legos certainly made me think about how items are “sold” or “packaged.” Do we really buy “things” or are we buying an “experience?” It depends. I think in many cases, we are paying for an experience, even when we buy products. (For instance, why do I need to have an aromatherapy experience grocery shopping? I’m there to buy groceries to feed my family. If I want such an “experience” I’ll go to a spa.) Nonetheless, the way products and experiences are packaged can make all the difference in the way we feel. But with legal services, you are buying a product (the divorce agreement/documents) as well as the experience. When you are interviewing attorneys, be aware of what they are selling you and how they are selling it. Does the attorney you are meeting with base his or her expertise on all the cases “won.” Chances are, that attorney is talking more about him or herself and isn’t doing much listening to you. This is a divorce, people. A change in significant relationships within a family. Nobody wins in a divorce, so please don’t fall for that “package.” This process is all about getting to a new normal, and if you have young children, parenting them well. So, the attorneys and team you are interviewing should be all about helping you get to that new normal. That, in my opinion, is how divorce should be “packaged.”
When a couple divorces, the final decree or order from a Court typically dictates how property shall be divided, how the children shall be parented, and what support will be paid moving forward. The decree will give you the dates and amounts of payments. The decree will also tell you what amount each of you is awarded of accounts or who shall keep the house. But there are some things a divorce does not dictate. After a divorce is final, here are six things you (or your attorney) should do to finalize the division and move forward:
- Divide cash accounts. Bank accounts and investment accounts can be divided on your own. You both may need to work together to close joint accounts or transfer funds from one individual account to another. At the end of the process, you should have no joint accounts unless you have agreed to own something jointly.
- Pay-off and close joint credit cards. Joint credit card should be paid off and closed. You can take care of this on your own.
- Divide retirement. Retirement accounts need to be divided precisely as outlined in the decree. Non-qualified plans (like IRAs) can be divided with a copy of the decree and direction from the account holders – you can do this on your own. Qualified plans (like pensions, 401(k)’s or 403(b)’s) need a court order and you will have to have your attorney draft this or hire a consultant.
- Property title transfer. Title for any real estate that was awarded in the decree needs to be transferred to the individual owner. This can be done with a quit claim deed or order from the court that needs to be recorded with the county property office.
- Health insurance. Set up your own health insurance if needed or work with your former spouse to continue coverage for them.
- Estate planning. Your original will (if you had one) is no longer valid after divorce so you will need a new one. Hire an estate attorney to draft up a new will.
Collaborative divorce is an out-of-court, non-adversarial process for dissolving a marriage. It is common for one spouse being ready to move forward with divorce and the other spouse struggling to move forward in the process. Parties can be at very different points on the divorce readiness scale – one is ready, one is not. This is quite typical. The spouse not wanting to move forward is sometimes called “reluctant” or “in denial.” Because Minnesota is a no fault divorce state, one spouse not being ready does not need to stop the process from moving forward. The ready spouse can file for divorce and the process moves on in court with little control of the reluctant spouse. However, when one spouse is looking for a non-adversarial, out-of-court alternative (like collaborative divorce), there is more of a need to bring that other spouse along. The reluctant spouse really can delay the process and interfere with the non-reluctant spouse’s desire to divorce. It is interesting to think that one spouse can be committed to a collaborative divorce, but divorcing may not have to be a collaborative decision. So one party can control the process (with the other’s agreement), even if the other never agrees with the decision to divorce. It is common during the divorce process to have spouses be at different comfort levels with the decision to divorce. These levels of readiness can change throughout the process and even vary greatly from one meeting to another. The challenge often lies with helping the reluctant spouse commit to a collaborative process, while acknowledging his or her disagreement with the process. A good collaborative attorney can strategize ways to bring the reluctant spouse into the process and help move things forward. Ways to teach him or her about the divorce options and lay out the pros and cons of different processes for divorce.
In the Twin Cities, many family law attorneys offer a free consultation to learn about your options. This is a time to meet your potential new attorney and ask your questions. The consultation can serve three main purposes. First, you can learn about your divorce options. There are four general processes for divorce:
- pro se/unrepresented where you go through the process without legal guidance;
- mediation where a neutral third party helps you come up with the agreements;
- collaborative divorce where both parties commit to a respectful out of court process with lawyers and other professionals guiding the process; and
- litigation, the court-based traditional process. A good consultation should educate you on all of these options.
Having 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.