flowerIn the early days of separation and divorce you may find the idea of growing from your divorce difficult to believe. You may be in a state of depression or denial wondering how your life will carry on, much less that you will grow from this life change. It may be difficult to find the silver lining, yet the simple truth is that you can (and will) grow from this. You may or may not have had much of a choice in whether or not you are getting a divorce, but you DO have a choice whether to grow up or grow down through this process. In a bad or difficult marriage it is easy to see how a person might grow from getting a divorce, but all divorces bring the opportunity for growth. Your divorce will likely change the way you view the world. Your life may be functioning completely different than before. Maybe you are having to look for a new career or add a part time job to make ends meet, or maybe you’ve been out of the workforce for years and your divorce is forcing you back in. Maybe you’ve had to move to an apartment or back in with your parents or a friend. Maybe your kids are at a new school as a result of your divorce. Maybe your entire social circle has now changed. It’s how you view these changes and react to your new normal, that promotes growth. Growth from your divorce can appear in a number of ways. Emotionally, spiritually, physically, etc. Even something as simple as learning a new skill that your spouse had always managed like trimming the shrubs, or online bill pay. Spiritually your faith might deepen or may struggle as you get through some trying times. Emotional growth may take a bit longer. There may be some dark and difficult days before you start to grow emotionally, but slowly it will happen. Your priorities will change and grow. If you have shared custody with your children you will likely start to value your time together all that much more. Some things that were priorities during your marriage may no longer hold a significance to you. Growth after divorce becomes a way to cope. Growth after divorce becomes a way to survive. Growth after divorce becomes empowerment. Growth after divorce becomes a new, better you.
question markWhen getting divorced, it is important to have a support network.  Having a sounding board and friends to talk through things with can help you evaluate options.  They can remind you that you are not alone.  Acquaintances who have gone through divorce themselves or who have certain expertise (like financial or real estate), may be able to help you with some of the decisions. Everyone needs someone to talk to. However, sometimes well-intentioned people can cause more harm during the divorce process than good.  Everyone seems to have a neighbor that somehow obtained a “better deal” than you did.  They either received more in settlement or support than you are considering or they paid less than you.  This “Greek Chorus” phenomenon can slow down progress and make a collaborative process more difficult than it needs to be. When reaching out to others for support during divorce, keep the following things in mind:
  • Remember that you live with your resolutions.  If something feels right to you, it might be best to not let your friends talk you out of it.
  • You can always ask your support network to just listen.
  • Figure out how you feel after talking through things with certain friends – if it doesn’t make you feel better or more positive about resolutions, they may not be the best support.
  • If you ask for advice, be very specific about what you are asking for and let your support know that you may not take their advice, you are just gathering information.
  • Be careful if you seek advice on one piece of the settlement without considering all elements.
  • You can always use your collaborative attorney as your sounding board instead of peers.   Your friends and family can support you in other ways.
Facebook AppMaking online connections is easier than ever with modern social media apps. It is not necessary to know someone at all, let alone to know them well, in order to see their profiles and get an idea of who they are and what kind of life they lead. In times before this technology, community life and networking were very different. Getting to know someone happened face to face, and gossip was spread by word of mouth. With everyone having technology in their pockets these days, deciding who is relevant to your life seems like an easy task. The everyday interactions we have with people while out and about are often with perfect strangers, and not many of us put much effort into these encounters. Treating any person you meet with respect and dignity is a basic human courtesy, but in the midst of our busy schedules, we often forget this. In All I really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarden, author Robert Fulghum sums up relationships in communities like this:
“Without realizing it, we fill important places in each other’s lives. It’s that way with the guy at the corner grocery, the mechanic at the local garage, the family doctor, teachers, neighbors, coworkers. Good people who are always “there,” who can be relied upon in small, important ways…. And, of course, we fill that role ourselves. There are those who depend on us, watch us, learn from us, take from us. And we never know.”
If you assume your neighbor is not relevant to you, you may never realize who they actually are. Paying attention to the real people that live down the street is just as important – more important – as curating an impressive list of LinkedIn connections or Facebook friends. Consider making a connection with the person behind the online profile.
As a collaborative attorney, I am often asked “what would a court do?”  Although parties in a collaborative divorce are not asking the court to make decisions in their case, what the law is and how a court may view an issue is important.  It is part of the information that a client needs to understand to truly make a decision in their own best interest. I recently attended an education series with local judges to gain an understanding of the current state of the law. In the second part of this 2 part series, I outline some of the factors a court may consider in making litigated decisions. On property division and cash flow, here are some of the considerations:
  • When dividing assets and liabilities, the courts often begin with an accounting and confirmation of all real estate, accounts, retirement assets, investments,  stock options, inheritances,  gifts,  debts,  personal property, vehicles, and all other possessions.
  • The courts have to differentiate between marital property that was created or acquired during the marriage and non-marital property that should stay with one party.  Non- marital property may include assets from before marriage,  gifts or inheritances, and student loans.
  • Non-marital property stays with the receiving party.  Marital property is divided equitably. This is often interpreted as equally,  although there are some exceptions if the outcome is deemed unfair.
  • Division of property is a separate question from cash flow (child support and spousal maintenance).
  • Child support in court is often calculated with the guidelines based on percentage of overnights with each parent and incomes.  Then medical expenses and extra curricular activities are shared by percentage of income.
  • Spousal maintenance or alimony is a discretionary area of the law. It is based on the needs of the recipient and the ability of the other spouse to provide support.
  • Court requires an analysis of budgets and income or potential income of both parties.  It can be difficult to address income if a party has not or is not working.
  • Some of the factors for determining support include: length of the marriage, education and age of the spouses with regard to work ability, work history, parenting needs of children, and reasonableness of expenses.
  • Because spousal maintenance is one of the most discretionary areas of family law,  it is difficult to find consistent outcomes in the court as every case is decided based on the individual facts (and judge).
A collaborative process is a different paradigm but clients have the same legal rights as parties in court.  Know what the law is and what a court may do and then make well informed decisions. A good collaborative attorney can help in this journey.
89024943-hispanic-girl-with-hostile-parents-gettyimagesThe Week recently printed an article on negative impacts of divorce on children.  You can read the article here.  It is a summary of research done around the world demonstrating how divorce negatively impacts children. Unlike the commonly known impacts of divorce on children and future relationships, this article identified some of the lesser known outcomes.  For example, children of divorce are much more likely to begin smoking in their lives as well as end up on prescriptions for ADHD (such as Ritalin).  Children of divorce often find less success in school and are more likely to drop out of school.  The article also points to research illustrating that children of divorce have more health concerns than children who’s parents remain married. What the article fails to explore is how the process of divorce may impact these outcomes. Parents can choose the process to divorce.  They could have an adversarial process, wrought with harsh communication, positional negotiations and overall negativity.  However, an alternative, peaceful process, such as collaborative divorce can preserve the positives in a relationship and help children thrive after the divorce is final. Divorce does not have to result in long-lasting negative outcomes.  A divorce done well, with care and concern, respect and honesty, can often lead to family structures that are better off than they were before the divorce.  Children can be protected in that process and have positive futures.  The negative consequences in the article are real (obviously the research shows as much), but a divorce done right can lead to much better outcomes for everyone. Contact a collaborative law professional if you want to learn more about divorcing well to protect everyone in the future.
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.  
0In his book The Four Agreements, author Don Miguel Ruiz articulates four principles which, when regularly practiced, will enable people to avoid conflict and live a peaceful life. The agreements one makes with oneself are: 1.  I will be impeccable with my word. 2.  I will not personalize anything another person says, does, thinks or believes. 3.  I will make no assumptions. 4.  I will do my best today. I teach my Collaborative clients about The Four Agreements and encourage them to read the book while we are creating their parenting plan.  I help them recognize when their words or actions contradict an Agreement and get in the way of problem solving.  I believe these are core concepts not only for effective interest-based negotiation, but for living a centered life. One of the most difficult agreements to follow is not making assumptions.  When two people live together in intimate circumstances, they pick up many cues about each other.  Humans are wired to read cues and reach conclusions.  Problems can arise if the conclusions are inaccurate or incomplete, especially if the conclusions are not checked out with the other person. This is especially the case when people are in conflict and already feeling mistrustful of each other, as is so often the case with divorce. In a recent client meeting while discussing a sensitive co-parenting issue, I observed both parents making assumptions, and then getting into an argument about their assumptions.  One parent assumed the other had become too absorbed with his own needs and was not taking steps to monitor their middle school-aged son’s homework and school progress during his parenting time.  The other parent assumed the first parent had made disparaging remarks about him to their son during her parenting time. Both were responding to their son’s recent drop in grades and negative attitude.  By making assumptions instead of asking questions, parents entered into a blame game that only served to escalate tensions and distract them from effectively understanding and addressing their son’s difficulties. When I was able to talk with their son, I learned he was feeling overwhelmed by the demands of taking three honors courses while also dealing with the stress of the divorce and being on an elite soccer team (which he loved).  He felt he was letting his parents down, especially his dad, and this made him edgy and irritable.  With this feedback, parents were able to move away from their inaccurate assumptions, reframe their understanding of their son’s behaviors and, as co-parents, take appropriate steps to help reduce his stress.
91538368-womans-arm-reaching-for-a-floating-balloon-gettyimagesNo one imagines they will find themselves single, divorced, and living in a 4 bedroom house in the suburbs alone, and then it happens. So what do you do when you wake up and realize that your life is not at all what you ever imagined it would be? How do you “cope” and “mourn” the loss of the life you had been planning for yourself? First, remember you are not alone. You are never alone in this. Lean on your friends, family, and a good support group – whether it’s a support group you created with a network of friends and family, or a more formal divorce support group in your area. There are so many resource out there, find people/places/networks that you feel comfortable with. Seek out professional counseling or therapy, sometimes just talking about these hopes and dreams that could have/should have/would have been to a neutral party can be such a relief. Know that it is ok to mourn this loss. For you it may be the loss of the “perfect family” you had envisioned – whether you never had kids and always wanted them, or had 1 or 2 and had wanted more. Maybe for someone else who is forced to go back to work because of the divorce, it may be the loss of being able to stay at home with the children. Perhaps it’s the loss of a certain lifestyle one may have gotten used to or thought they would attain someday, whether financially or within a certain social circle. Maybe divorce forced you to move to new area and you are mourning the loss of being close to your friends, in a certain school district for your children, or even simply mourning the loss of your home. It’s not irrational to mourn these things, whether they are lifestyles and material items you no longer have, or were simply hopes for the future – it is ok. Take comfort in knowing that you never know what the future has in store for you. Maybe you always wanted kids and suddenly find yourself dating someone with children that you simply adore (young or old). Think you’re too old for that reality? Maybe you will remarry and have pile of grandchildren in your future. Maybe having to go back to work will one day lead to a promotion that allows you to take your children on trips of a lifetime and provide for their college education. There is a quote by Joseph Campbell that reads, “We must be willing to let go of the life we had planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” Remember that.
72918896-two-figures-held-together-by-hearts-around-gettyimagesCollaborative Divorce was started in Minnesota 25 years ago and has spread to more than 20 countries because it meets two basic needs felt by divorcing couples around the world. What does it mean to say that a divorce is Collaborative? First, it is important to understand that difference between the formal Collaborative divorce process (with a capital C) and the use of the word collaborative. To be collaborative simply means to work together and, in that sense, any divorce in which people work together could be described as collaborative, (small c). However, the Collaborative divorce process is something distinctly different. Most people want to keep their divorce amicable, and Collaborative Divorce gives them the tools to work out of court to make that happen. At the same, people facing divorce want to know that they are protected; that they have someone looking out for their interests. Collaborative Divorce provides each party with an attorney who will work with them to help them achieve their most meaningful goals. In a Collaborative Divorce, the attorneys must withdraw if the matter goes to court in an adversarial proceedings. That is the one rule. A rule that is simple and yet, changes the entire tenor of the divorce negotiation.   It is a great example of addition by subtracting. By subtracting one element, (the ability of the lawyers to fight), a door is opened to add many more valuable tools (true interest based-bargaining, teaming with financial experts and mental health professionals, deeper solutions, etc.). That one change redefines the negotiation and creates a ripple effect that, if handled in a skillful manner, creates many more options. People sometimes hire aggressive lawyers, reluctantly; believing that their spouse will be aggressive and that they, therefore, need to “fight fire with fire”. The problem, of course, is that fighting fire with fire means there is a great risk that someone (maybe everyone) will get burned. Collaborative Divorce, with the agreement not to fight, is intended to put out the fire, so that you, and your spouse, can build their future on solid ground.   That is not easy to achieve. It requires skill and commitment. An attorney who cannot use argument and fighting must have other skills. Equally important, clients who intend to achieve their highest goals without fighting must be prepared to work on developing other skills as well. To learn more about the Collaborative Process and to find experts with skill and experience in this area, go to www.collaborativelaw.org or www.divorcechoice.com.
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Dan and Tonda celebrating 40 years of marriage in Paris.
My husband and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary this year. It feels like a big number but I don’t feel old or tired of the marriage. My husband and I have worked hard to keep our marriage fresh and vibrant, and we look forward to the next 20 or 30 years together. But as a collaborative divorce attorney, I know that even happy marriages can come to an end. In fact most marriages are happy, some for many years, before “stuff happens” and one or both spouses decide to end the marriage. Before I became a “collaborative” divorce attorney and was merely a “traditional” divorce attorney, it was frightening to think of going through my own divorce. My experience as a “traditional” divorce attorney made me all too aware of the stress my clients and their spouses underwent in an adversarial process that sometimes exacerbated the conflict between them and put pressure on them to vilify or blame the other. However, since limiting my practice to the out-of-court collaborative divorce process, I am no longer afraid of going through my own divorce if that became necessary. I know that my husband and I would be respected in the collaborative process and that we would work for the greater good of our family and for our mutual future security. While my marriage would be a great loss to me, I know the collaborative process is there to gently, effectively, and efficiently escort me and my husband through this important life event. Don’t be afraid. If you are faced with or considering an end to your marriage, consider a collaborative divorce. You can find out more about it at www.collaborativelaw.org and www.mndivorce.com.