129816143If you put two smart, equally powerful people together to solve a problem with no clear right or wrong answer, they will likely come up with at least two possible solutions, and will often disagree on which solution is the best. The conundrum then becomes, which solution will be chosen? Who gets to choose? What is the basis for making this particular choice? Must one solution win and the other lose?  Now imagine that the two people trying to solve the problem are getting divorced.  The problem solving process now is emotionally as well as cognitively challenging. Collaborative Practice is founded on the idea that two smart and equally powerful people getting a divorce should be given the opportunity to create their own resolutions outside of court. But often the problems that need to be solved in a divorce do not have clear right or wrong answers.  In an emotionally charged situation, it’s easy for even the most thoughtful people to become positional and fall into a win-lose mindset, which exacerbates conflict and adds to the emotional and financial expense of the divorce process. Instead of encouraging clients to engage in positional thinking, Collaborative professionals use a process called interest-based negotiation which aims at creating win-win rather than win-lose solutions. Interest-based negotiation explores the interests, needs or values underlying positions. At this deeper level, people can often gain new insights into self and other that help them become more flexible problem solvers. I have Collaborative clients who agreed I could share their story of how interest-based negotiation helped them reach a very creative resolution regarding parenting time. These parents had agreed that a co-equal parenting time schedule would work well for their children. Based on their children’s ages, they were considering a developmentally appropriate 2-2-5-5 parenting time arrangement, in which one parent would be on duty every Monday and Tuesday night, the other parent every Wednesday and Thursday night, and weekends would alternate. But neither parent was really satisfied with this outcome. This co-equal resolution did not feel like a win-win solution; instead, both felt they were losing something important and thus couldn’t agree to this schedule. We needed to go deeper for resolution. Below the surface of the co-equal schedule proposal, some of each parent’s core interests were not being addressed.  Dad felt sadness at giving up two Friday game nights with the kids each month. Mom was unhappy about losing two Sunday worship services with the kids each month.  These were special family times for each parent.  As parents shared these concerns with each other, they reached an agreement that Dad could continue to have every Friday evening for game night, but would bring the kids to Mom’s house later on her parenting time weekends. Mom could bring the kids to church on the Sunday evenings they were scheduled to have weekends with Dad, and bring them to his house after church. These resourceful parents succeeded at reaching a unique and creative solution that would work for their family in the context of the broader parenting time arrangement.  And best of all, the primary beneficiaries are their children.  
149261495Every once in awhile a movie comes along that gives us an important glimpse into the world of divorce.  Richard Linklater’s movie Boyhood is one of those rare films. It tells the story of a divorced family over a period of twelve years in a way that has moved audiences and impressed critics all over the world. It won the Golden Globes and Critics Award for Best Picture and is one of the favorites to win the Oscar for best picture as well. One of the unique features of the movie is that it was filmed over a period of 12 years, so you actually watch the boy grow from age 6 to 18. Seeing the real actors grow over time does seem to make it feel more real and by the end of the film the viewer gets a powerful sense of how this world feels, particularly for the children. Parents who have been through a divorce, or who see the possibility of divorce, are likely to be particularly moved by the film. While the movie clearly shows the pain and difficulty that the children face from living in two homes, and in having to adapt to new step-parents, it is not a grim account designed to make us feel that children of divorce are doomed. Indeed, Linklater, who acknowledges that the movie is based loosely on his life, says he was more interested in just showing that, for many families this world is very real. Over the twelve years, the boy, and his older sister, face many of the same issues faced by most children; the fact that they experienced those issues in separate homes adds a different dimension to their lives but, at least in this movie, does not devastate the family. Without spoiling the movie, it can be said that the divorced parents in the movie, while clearly imperfect, work through their life experiences without intense bitterness toward each other and, in the end that seems to have made all of the difference. I have, over the years, observed divorcing parents who never truly overcame their grief or anger. When I imagine the “Boyhood” story with these parents, I realize the story would have a completely different feeling. For me one of the messages that the movie underscores is that divorcing parents can be imperfect, and they can make the mistakes that we all make; but if their love of their children prevails, and they come to resolve their issues of grief and anger, their children can thrive. In my 32 years as a divorce attorney, I have witnessed every variation of the “Boyhood” story. My observations have convinced me that, for most divorcing parents, the method they choose for their divorce can make all of the difference. When it comes to divorce, some sadness, fear, and anger are inevitable. However, choosing a process that will help you resolve those issues, rather than inflame these emotions is crucial. To learn more about your choices, go to www.collaborativelaw.org or www.divorcechoice.com.
After your divorce, getting along at the holidays can be a stressful situation when you have kids. On top of trying to work out holiday visitation schedules and travel plans, you may also be worrying about what to get your kids. You might not have the resources to buy things like you did before the divorce. Maybe you have the resources and your ex doesn’t or vice-versa. So what do you do about those big-ticket items that your children have been eying since September? Being divorced brings on divisions over gift giving. Set aside some time with you ex, meet for coffee and talk about what your child wants or would like as gifts, and divide up the list, so you’re not duplicating each other and know what the other is buying. Also discuss whether or not a gift will be left at one parent’s house or if it can travel back and forth. If you have a hard time sitting down and talking in person, do it by email or phone. Sometimes it’s easy to ignore or “cross that bridge when we get there” but setting gift giving boundaries ahead of time creates less drama later on. It’s all too easy for the holidays to become a competition, to see which parent can buy the most stuff, the best stuff, or the most expensive stuff. Even parents that are great at co-parenting can fall victim to this game. You and your ex have to make sure this doesn’t happen to you and your child(ren). That behavior takes the focus of the holiday away from your child and spending time together. If one of you buys your child a puppy, a new video gaming system, and a big-screen TV and the other buys a few toys, feelings are likely to be hurt. The spouse who buys the big gifts often does not realize he or she is hurting the other parent and thinks they are simply making the child happy. However, if you’re the spouse who doesn’t splurge, you might end up feeling like you’ve failed your child or she will love the other parent more. Avoid this situation but having that gift giving conversation ahead of time; set a dollar limit or range if you need to. Holidays are hard. It’s important to remember the reason for the season, no matter what holiday you are celebrating. Try to focus yourself and your child on the fact that the holidays are not all about gifts. Spend time together doing holiday crafts, going to services, going to a concert, decorating your home, or baking. Check into age appropriate volunteer opportunities at a local shelters to serve meals to the homeless, packing shoe boxes for children overseas, or volunteer to wrap presents for needy children. Take your child shopping to buy a small gift to give the other parent. 20 years from now your child won’t remember which parent bought them the most gifts, so use this opportunity to show your child that giving back to others is more rewarding than receiving gifts – a life lesson they will remember for years to come.
466032689Divorcing parents often wonder how vacations are treated in a parenting plan. There are often three types of vacation options addressed in divorce.
  1. Vacation during parenting time. Often parents are each allowed to take unlimited vacations during their scheduled parenting time. There may be additional requirements to notify the off-duty parent of any travel or certain vacations that are not agreed to generally. But because these vacation do not impact parenting time, they are usually the simplest to address.
  2. Vacation with the children that includes off-duty parenting time. Some parents agree to some amount of time for vacations that are longer than parenting time blocks. One or two weeks a year often fits for families. These vacations may include travel out-of-state or be contiguous time in town. Usually both parents have the same amount of time and there is often a notice requirement – that the parent wanting a vacation informs the other parent of the planned vacation.  This time often supersedes regularly scheduled parenting time and is not made up at a later date.
  3. Vacation without the children that includes no-duty parenting time. Sometimes parents agree to include vacation time without the children in a parenting plan. This allows a parent to have time away while the other parent takes on more parenting time. This vacation time is also usually equally provided to both parents and includes a notice requirement.
In all of these options, it is often a good idea to not inform the children of a proposed vacation until it has been agreed-upon by both parents. Obviously, these options address only the parenting time elements of vacation and not the financial significance of vacations. Vacations and travel may be included in budgets and support options or other financial agreements can be reached or discussed in the divorce process.
10079764Why are less and less couples getting married? Is it because their parent’s marriages failed? Is it because they don’t see any benefit to marriage? Is it because every wedding appears to be a $20,000 extravagant country club affair? Maybe, as was written in a recent New York Times article, “…marriage has gone from being a way that people pulled their lives together to something they agree to once they have already done that independently.” There are several problems with this way of thinking. One is that children don’t wait for marriage. More and more children are born outside of marriage. This is a problem if the parents separate without ever marrying, because then (at least in Minnesota) the father has no enforceable legal rights to parenting time until he spends a significant amount of time and money to get a judge to order that he can have parenting time with the child. This is true regardless of whether the father has raised the child jointly with the mother since the child’s birth. This is a bad deal for both the father and the child as it typically significantly interrupts their relationship and causes unwarranted stress on the child. Another reason is that marriage is a financial life jacket in terms of protections for the lower earning spouse and a fair division of the assets accumulated during the marriage.  This is one reason same-sex couples had been yearning for the protection of marriage until it became the law in Minnesota in 2013. Same-sex couples were not entitled to a fair division of the house or their partner’s retirement account, without access to the institution of marriage. Because it is risky financially to accumulate assets together before marriage and because marriage helps protect the father-child relationship for the benefit of child, it is risky business to delay marriage if you are having a child together or are otherwise in a committed relationship.
174496060It is not uncommon for parents to disagree on school choice. Sometimes parents have differing opinions on the curriculum of a school or certain teachers or even location or class schedule. When children are at natural school moves (such as entering junior high or high school), additional changes need to be made. When parents are divorced, these decisions can often be even more difficult. In addition to deciding what’s best for the children, emotions and challenging communication can make the decisions even harder. Sometimes it is good to look at the practical and logical considerations to help make these joint decisions. Here are some specific considerations in a school decision:
  • If it is not a natural school change point, how well do the children deal with change? Do they make friends easily? Do they know anyone at the potential new school? Are there specific elements of the new school that would be particularly enjoyable for the child (such as an orchestra or specific extra curricular activity)?
  • How well does the new school deal with change? Do they have programs in place to integrate transfer students into school? Is there anyone who has transferred into the school recently that you or the children could talk to in order to prepare? Could the school assign your children mentors or buddies to help them feel more comfortable if they transfer?
  • How would a school change impact parenting time? Will both parents still have meaningful time with the children?
  • Should the children have some say in this decision? Junior high and high school students may want to visit potential schools and provide some input on the change.
Ideally, divorced parents with joint custody can work together and make a school choice together. If it becomes difficult or starts to cause any stress or strain on the children, consider seeking third party support. A neutral child specialist or collaborative process could help you work together on a decision.
155039126The psychologist Anthony Wolf wrote a book about divorce and kids entitled Why Do You Have to Get a Divorce?  And Can I Still Get a Hamster?   I love the title of this book, because it identifies both the big picture concerns and the day to day questions children will have about how their lives will change when parents get unmarried. At this time of year, most elementary school aged children, and some older kids too,  become excited about Halloween.  Though it has deep roots in ancient cultural traditions, in today’s American culture Halloween is truly the children’s holiday.  Kids love to dress up and pretend, and most are thrilled to go trick or treating or attend special events and come back with a stash of treats.  Some kids plan their Halloween costumes for months in advance, and it’s not uncommon for homes to be extensively decorated with more than just jack-o-lanterns. Holidays are usually difficult times for families experiencing divorce, about which I have written earlier.  I am focusing on Halloween in this October blog post because this uniquely children’s holiday is right around the corner.  Here are four tips for creating a positive experience for your children:
  1. Manage your expectations so your kids can manage theirs.  This may not be the year that Mom will be able to spend hours at the sewing machine making elaborate homemade costumes.  But it may be the year that your kids have a friendly competition for who can make the most creative costume out of things already in the closets, drawers and attics at home.  If your child has his or her heart set on getting a particular costume, and you want to honor this dream, be sure to budget for the purchase of the costume.
  2. Ask your kids what is most important to them about Halloween and focus your energy accordingly.  This often requires co-parent cooperation, for which your kids will be grateful  If their favorite part is carving pumpkins, make this activity as festive as possible, and be sure to take lots of pictures to send to your co-parent if s/he is not participating.  If the high point is trick or treating, decide in advance whether one or both parents will be responsible for taking them out and whether one parent will stay behind to hand out treats.  If you are separated, decide in advance which neighborhood is likely to be the most fun for trick or treating this year, and go from there.
  3. Rely on your support system. Trick or treating or going to a Halloween event with neighbors, friends or cousins can help create a fun experience for your kids if your own energy is depleted.
  4. Determine co-parenting ground rules for how to handle the stash of treats, e.g. how much can be right away and how the remainder will be saved and distributed.  Work this out in advance so your children will not be in the middle of a parental argument on Halloween .
I wish you and your children a peaceful and happy Halloween!
When you find out your son or daughter is getting a divorce, your first thought will often be about their children; your grandchildren.  How will the children be affected by all of this?  And how can you help; or avoid hurting the situation? During the 31 years I have been working with divorcing families, I have seen situations where the grandparents have really helped their children and grandchildren though a difficult time.  Sadly however, I have witnessed far more situations where they grandparents have, without realizing it, actually make the divorce more difficult for their grandchildren. You may be wondering; how can this be?  What type of person would actually make the divorce more difficult for their grandchildren?  Believe it or not, it can happen to the very best grandparents without them even realizing it.  Here are the two common mistakes that grandparents make:
  1. Facilitating a War by Creating a War Chest. Divorce is expensive, and your children may turn to you to help with the legal fees. If you have the capacity to help, it would seem, at least on the surface, to be the right thing to do to provide them with funding, at least in the form of a loan. While the financial assistance is sometimes helpful, sometimes it can actually add to the conflict. The thing that damages children the most is generally the conflict that so often happens when one or both parents are angry, sad or scared. If your children have enough funding, they can sometimes carry out the conflict through attorneys. If their funds are limited, the may be forced to look past the emotions and find solutions.  When I litigated divorces (something I can no longer stomach), some of the nastiest custody fights were funded by grandparents. All of the grandparents thought they were helping out their grandchildren. Usually they only perpetuated a fight.
  2. “Supporting” your child by reaffirming the evilness of their spouse. The emotions of divorce create distortions. The wonderful son-in-law that you heard about for the past 15 years, is now portrayed by your daughter as a monster. As you hear the stories of how badly he is behaving, you are aghast and quickly run to her support by suddenly remembering things that you never really liked about him. It may be that your son-in-law was not as great as you thought; and it may be that the divorce is bringing out his worst behavior. However, it is possible, (maybe even likely) that you are getting a distorted picture of this person and, adding to the distortion, (which can happen instinctively) may cause damage to the only father your grandchildren will ever know.
So, how do you avoid making these mistakes?  One way is to encourage your children to fully explore their divorce processes, so that they can be supported by attorneys and other professionals who will help them resist the distortions and the war mentality.  To learn more about these options, go to www.collaborativelaw.org  or www.divorchoice.com.
117149003The school year brings on new challenges as flexible summers come to a close and more demanding schedules begin. If you are like most parents of school age children, not only are the kids going back to school, but the activities and sports schedules also start to pile on. Here are our top 10 tips for co-parenting that will save your sanity this school year.
  1. Fine turn your parenting plan NOW. Don’t wait until the middle of September after a few hiccups have ready occurred.
  2. Who’s paying for what? If you haven’t already sat down with your ex to discuss this go grab coffee and decide who is paying for school supplies, clothes, school fees, daycare/afterschool care, sports and activities fees, etc. Map this out now to prevent an argument later.
  3. Revisit and outline who has custody for which holidays this school year. Spring break may seem like a lifetime away right now, but now is the time for those discussions.
  4. It’s inevitable – kids get sick. Make sure you are on the same page with a plan in place on who will stay home or pick up the sick child. Will you rotate, do it based on who has custody that day? You decide what works best, and plan for flexibility, but don’t wait until you are on the phone with the school nurse to decide.
  5. Speaking of sick kids, assuming which parent providing medical insurance is already set, decide who is going to pay the uninsured medical costs, co-pays, etc.
  6. Run-down of your regular weekly schedule, which provides appropriate time for each parent. Does is work better for Mom to pick up Matt after soccer practice and take him to Dad’s even though it’s Dad’s night? Parenting schedules will never be black and white, so plan for some flexibility, while preparing for multiple scenarios.
  7. Transportation. Discuss who is driving to school, activities, drop offs, pick-ups etc. Will you be meeting half way to drop off/pick up or at each other’s houses. Are each other’s spouses/significant others “approved” to do so?
  8. Saving for college. Whether there is no money is the budget to save and the “plan” is to wait 2 years to start, or one or both of you can start now, decide who, how much and where the money is going to: savings account, 529 College Saving account, etc.
  9. Introducing new significant others into the mix. Make sure this is discussed now before feelings are hurt later on when mom unexpectedly meets dad’s new girlfriend at pick-up or find out that the kids meet a new boyfriend without dad knowing.
  10. Communication. Last, and the most important tip is communication. The communication you have with your ex will ultimately reflect the relationship you have with your kids. It may not come easy, but continuing to improve communication is best for all parties.
500048813Becoming friends with your ex? Or even friends with your ex’s new boyfriend/girlfriend? Do these friendships sound impossible to attain? Perhaps there is something to be learned from the infamous Tiger and Elin Woods’ divorce. Elin recently went on vacation with Tiger, their two kids and Tiger’s current girlfriend, Olympic skier, Lindsey Vonn. The modern blended family – where friendships, and even vacationing together can happen successfully. If befriending seems like a long-shot for you, try to put bitterness and grudges aside when you consider that new boyfriends/girlfriends/spouses will be around your children, whether you like it or not. Co-parenting is not easy, and it will take time and effort to find the right grove in your new lives. Daisy Camp recently hosted a co-parenting workshop at the Collaborative Alliance, titled “One Bridge to Peace,” where co-parenting tools were provided that allow even one willing, caring parent, to relate peacefully with even the most bitter and contentious co-parent. Depending on how newly divorced you are, joining each other on vacations may seem like a long-shot, but remember, even introducing yourself and keeping the lines of communication open with you ex’s new companion can go a long way. Who knows, maybe someday you’ll find yourself vacationing in the Bahamas or at Disney with your ex!