RoadmapOften when we decide to do something of significance, like go on vacation, obtain a college degree, search for a new job, or save for a future purchase we develop a plan.  If you are serious about the task set before you, you will develop a written plan to keep you on track and measure your progress. Getting unmarried, as I now refer to divorce, should be no different. In fact, if you choose to use a collaborative divorce process, we utilize a written document called “Roadmap to Resolution.” I have found the use of this Roadmap extends beyond divorce planning.  I use it as a general problem-solving model. The Roadmap has 6 essential steps.
  1. Set Goals  The four basic sets of big picture goals include: Relationship goals between you and your soon to be ex-spouse Goals related to your children regardless of their ages Financial goals as to how you and your spouse would like your future financial lives to look so you both can have the greatest sense of financial well being with the resources you have Process goals as to how you and your spouse would like the process to work for you
  2. Gather Information and Identify Issues This includes gathering all financial documents and other relevant information that will be necessary to itemize all assets, liabilities, income, estimated reasonable and necessary living expenses, and property received as a gift, inherited, or acquired before the marriage.  All of this information is documented in your final divorce decree.  If you have children, this also includes information about your children their needs and special activities and costs associated with each one.
  3. Generate Options This step is when the collaborative team including attorneys, coach, child specialist,  financial neutral, and clients brainstorm to identify any options that come to mind regardless of how silly or unpleasant those options might sound initially.  The key is to write down as many options as possible without anyone commenting or trying to evaluate any stated options.
  4. Evaluate Options Here the clients indentify the options they would like to evaluate and consider.  It is at this stage clients can fully explore the pros and cons of each of the options listed and prioritize them.
  5. Negotiate/Make Decisions After fully evaluating any options clients are able to negotiate and make decisions they both can live with.
  6. Generate Documents Once all necessary decisions are made, the attorneys go to work to document agreements by preparing a draft decree for each spouse to review and ultimately sign.
The model flows both ways; meaning if you are in step 5 negotiate/make decisions, another option may present itself, creating a need for further evaluation and new negotiation and decision making. The “Roadmap to Resolution” model provides the framework for helping spouses work through a collaborative divorce and ultimately reach agreements on all relevant issues. By using the “Roadmap to Resolution, the collaborative team process, has literally helped thousands of couples across the country and around the world end their marriage but save their family. Choose your process wisely.
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!
10162055 For Minnesota families, summer feels different than other times of the year in more ways than just the warmer weather.   Because most kids don’t attend school year round, the summer months can present unique scheduling challenges.  This is  especially true for families headed by two wage earners, and even more so when parents have gotten unmarried.  For a school-age child, the summer routine often includes a mix of camps, classes and lessons, latchkey programs, vacations and sporting activities, with many logistical issues to be resolved.  This is “times 3” if there are three kids in the family!  The start and end times of kids’ activities vary week to week, and tend to not conveniently coincide with the work hours of the parent on duty. That’s a lot of moving parts for families in which parents are getting unmarried.   Managing complicated logistics is especially stressful if kids move from Mom Island to Dad Island without a safe and reliable bridge between the two. This is one reason why Collaborative Team Practice is designed to help parents establish the best possible co-parenting relationship after a divorce or break up.  This always makes it easier on kids, but it can also be a huge benefit for time-challenged parents, and for the support network of extended family, baby sitters and carpool parents who can be resources for kids without having to be in the middle. Here’s the rub: establishing an effective co-parenting relationship isn’t easy.  An effective co-parenting relationship relies on clear communication, cooperation, reasonable flexibility and courtesy, and these elements can be in short supply during the painful end of a marriage or partnership.  The Collaborative guidance and support of a neutral child specialist to create a Parenting Plan and a neutral coach to create a Relationship Plan are important resources toward the goal of effective co-parenting.  We know this hard work can be invaluable for your family in the future.  You and your kids deserve to enjoy all the summers to come.
SOS Unmarried and have children? You may be interested to know that “Collaborative Divorce” is not just for divorce. Learn how the collaborative process can help you. First, it may be relieving to know that you are not alone. There are some interesting recent statistics related to marriage and children. Nearly half of children in America are born outside of marriage. And, for women under 30, most children are born outside of marriage. Whether you are married or not, if you separate from the other parent, you’ll need to figure out custody, parenting time and financial support issues related to your children. These are legal issues that should be finalized in a court order, either by agreement reached in the collaborative process or mediation, or by a court decision after a trial. There is a great online resource related to unmarried parents (useful to both unmarried mothers and unmarried fathers), available here for free from Legal Services State Support. The collaborative process is designed to increase communication and trust while helping you resolve these issues. You might be interested to know that this website,, is part of the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota and the articles are written by it’s members. Keep in mind that divorce is only one type of legal issue where the collaborative process is used. Why do I point this out? Because it’s important to know that Collaborative Law is not just for divorce. If you aren’t married but you have children, it’s important to know that you can still participate in a collaborative process rather than taking your case to court. The same collaborative principles apply whether you are married or not. In the collaborative process, you each hire attorneys trained in the collaborative process and you all sign an agreement not to go to court. Then you have a series of joint meetings where you all meet together, many times with other neutral professionals such as a coach, child specialist or financial specialist. In the end, you just file your agreement with the court rather than having a trial or other court hearings. That’s it. You never have to set foot in a courtroom and the process is structured and respectful.
As a Neutral Child Specialist, I often meet with parents who have not yet told their  children about their decision to get divorced or unmarried.  I encourage parents to create a We Statement that helps children understand what is going to happen without putting them in the middle of conflict between their parents. Many books and articles written about children and divorce stress the importance of telling kids the divorce is not their fault, and they are not to blame.  Here are three developmental reasons why I encourage parents not to use the words fault or blame in their We Statement. 1.  Young children still mastering language can easily become confused about negation.  These children may translate “it’s NOT your fault” to “it IS your fault.” Young children may believe this and internalize the idea without questioning it. 2.  School-age children are developmentally focused on understanding fairness, causality and the dynamic of good guys vs. bad guys.  If told they are not to blame, many children will wonder, “well then, who IS to blame?”  With this thought, children can find themselves unhappily stuck in the middle. 3.  Teenagers have even more knowledge and sophistication about relationship dynamics, and may feel compelled to learn and pass judgment on “the truth.” It is especially important to not introduce fault or blame in the discussion with teens. What then is the alternative to using the words “it’s not your fault” or “you’re not to blame”  if parents want to reassure their child that he or she had nothing to do with parents’ decision to get unmarried? I recommend an affirmation such as, “You are the most important person in the world to us.  We love you and cherish you, and will always be your mom and dad and take care of you.” These words communicate in a positive and supportive way what children need to hear from parents during this difficult discussion, and are an important part of an empathetic We Statement. Stay tuned for future posts about We Statements.
In Part I of this series titled “Getting Unmarried” (my story), I wrote about making the decision to get divorced as being the most important and most difficult step for me.  I will tell you that after finally deciding to end my marriage, it was as if the weight of the world had been lifted from me.  This didn’t necessarily make the rest of the process any easier, but it did change the focus of my efforts to getting from point A to point B. Now that I had made the decision to end my 30-year marriage, my next step was to figure out how to do this.  At this point I had not discussed any of this with my spouse, although we both realized our marriage was under tremendous stress once again.  I didn’t have a clue where to begin.  I had no prior experience myself, nor had my parents been divorced.  I knew that listening to friends and family was not necessarily the best, as they naturally would find it difficult to be impartial.  I knew I didn’t want a costly or high conflict divorce. What I did want was an open, respectful, type of process that considered both of our needs and the contributions we both made to our family during our 30-year marriage.  I wanted to as much as possible be able to make decisions with my spouse about the outcomes rather than someone else making those decisions for us.  I assumed that if I ran straight to an attorney, I might run the risk of the process getting out of control.  At the time I didn’t personally know any family law attorneys.  What I chose to do was to find out about the different alternative processes to divorce, choose the one I felt most suitable for my circumstances, discuss with my spouse with the hope we could agree to a process, and then find the attorneys who could help us achieve these goals. While I knew, or I should say thought I knew, about the more traditional type of divorce process, this largely attorney driven (my opinion as a result of my divorce experience) method seemed too adversarial, too costly both financially and emotionally, and would not help me accomplish the goals I wanted to achieve.  Although this process did not seem suitable for me, in some cases depending upon circumstances, it may be the best and sometimes the only alternative available.  I would encourage anyone considering the traditional litigation type divorce process to thoroughly learn about all the process alternatives before embarking down this path. I had heard about mediation.  From my research I learned that a mediator is an independent, neutral third party who attempts to help divorcing couples resolve their differences and come to mutual agreements.  The mediator may or may not be an attorney. Regardless, the mediator is not able to advocate for either spouse, provide legal advice, nor draft any legal documents for filing with the court.  Each spouse may have his or her own attorney during the mediation process.  The attorneys, if any, may or may not participate in mediation sessions depending upon the couple’s desires. At the conclusion of mediation, the mediator typically drafts a memorandum of understanding outlining any agreements reached.  An attorney would be hired by one of the spouses to draft the necessary paperwork, using the mediator’s memorandum of understanding as a foundation for agreements, and submit the paperwork to the court. The drafting attorney is only able to represent one spouse.  The other spouse may find another attorney to review the draft decree on behalf of their interests. I always recommend that each spouse has their own attorney to make sure that each has an opportunity to ask about the law and that each fully understands the implications of their agreement.  There is nothing that requires the couple to complete the mediation process, which can be withdrawn from by either spouse at any time. While mediation seemed a better alternative to me than the traditional litigation type divorce, it still was not quite what I was looking for.  I felt as though there had to be some other way.  I started scouring the web for more information on how to get divorced or “unmarried.” Oh sure, the do it yourself options are often mentioned, but our circumstances were too complicated—long-term 30-year marriage, property, etc.—for a do-it-yourself kind of approach. A do-it-yourself divorce might possibly be used in a short-term marriage when there are no children and little property.  Furthermore, I am a believer that you get what you pay for and a do-it-yourself divorce never crossed my mind given our circumstances. In my next post I will continue with how to get divorced by sharing with you what I learned about something I had never heard of before, a collaborative divorce.  You owe it to yourself to learn about this alternative process so please stay tuned for the next session of “Getting Unmarried.” What is a collaborative divorce? Read the continued series here.
ListeningAs a neutral child specialist, I value the opportunity to learn from the children with whom I work, all of whom have parents who are ending or have ended their marriage or partnership.  Parents add a neutral child specialist to their Collaborative team because they see the benefit of children having a voice and getting the support of a mental health professional during a very difficult time in their lives. I will never forget the very wise voice of a little girl who told me, “Deb, I’m not gonna tell my friends that my parents are getting divorced—that sounds too jaggedy.  I’m gonna tell them my parents are getting unmarried, because that means the same thing.”  How simple and how brilliant! It is true that our neural nets for the word “divorce”  include a lot of jagged associations that sound painful and scary to parents, and even more so to their children.  The term “unmarried” helps create a new and more hopeful neural net of associations during and after a divorce or break up. How different to a child’s ear to hear that her family is changing how it works rather than her family is broken?  To understand that parents will co-parent rather than have joint custody?   To believe that children will be kept at the center and not in the middle?   Listening to children’s voices helps keep a crisis in their lives from ever becoming a trauma—and that is priceless.