a

YOUR CHILD’S OTHER PARENT

You chose your child’s other parent for a variety of reasons. Some of those reasons may have been time-sensitive. In any case, your child has genes, traits and characteristics that are only half yours; the remainder comes from the other parent. What does the connection mean to the child who has your blue eyes and the other parent’s curly hair? What is the other parent’s role in your child’s life if separation and/or divorce occurs? What is your relationship with your child’s other parent in that case?

Most parents would agree with the research that indicates the ideal is for a child to have two parents who are actively involved in parenting. Becoming a parent is a life-long commitment; there is no going back. The family can continue even though the marriage ends. Your child’s other parent is still your partner in the parenting journey.

Parents can make a plan for their child’s future that will provide access to both parents and allow each to provide the nurturing and guidance the child needs. Even though you and your child’s other parent may have personal and relationship difficulties, you have some common goals for your child. Co-operative parenting with a specific plan to meet those goals can relieve the stress of life style changes, especially for the child.

Communication is key for co-operative parenting. You and your child’s other parent will practice a style of communicating that is different from the style you used as a couple. Communication will be focused on the child and the child’s needs and interests. Many parents communicate by text and/or email because a written record allows them to check times and dates and eliminate misunderstandings that can happen with verbal communication. Some websites allow calendar input and make scheduling easier.

Practicing consideration for your child’s other parent sets a good example for the child and often costs nothing. An example might be a text saying,” Johnny had a flu shot today. He was brave but he didn’t like it.” and add a picture.

Language can make a difference as well. Instead of “my ex”, refer to “my child’s other parent”. It’s a more accurate description. When speaking to your child, refer to “your dad” or “your mom”. Language is important and can help your child to maintain a feeling of connection.

Mediation can help parents make a plan that will work for each of them, keeping the child’s needs at the forefront. Each child is different and you and your child’s other parent know your child better than anyone else. You know how your family works. A mediator can guide the planning process to develop a custom plan that fits your family, your child.

FINANCES AND GRAY DIVORCE

Married at twenty-two right after college graduation, Wife pursued a career until the first child was born. Husband worked at an entry level job until his potential was recognized and his career path was established. After the lean years when the couple bought their first home and worked hard to economize and save money, Husband climbed the corporate ladder and Wife aided his efforts by taking care of the children and running the household. No financial need for Wife to return to work, so she enjoyed the fruits of Husband’s labor. When the children went to college, Husband and Wife realized that they had little personal connection, other than the children, and neither of them wanted to stay in the relationship any longer. This is gray divorce.

He was a musician and she was a medical student. They met at a concert and married 3 weeks later. Wife continued her studies with the help of student loans and Husband provided some income from infrequent musical gigs. Wife completed medical school and residency and joined a clinical practice. They had two children during this time and Husband cared for them. Wife had a thriving practice but spent little time with the family. At age 60, Wife decided that she wanted to live a different life style. This is an example of gray divorce.

The finances of gray divorce seem simple. If a marriage begins in a couple’s younger years, premarital assets are few. Most of the assets have been acquired during the marriage. Likewise, any debt is usually marital debt. In this case, the common solution is to divide assets and debt equally because both Husband and Wife have been parties to the marriage. If both Husband and Wife have a history of employment outside the home, this solution may be a viable one.

Complications arise because long term plans are disrupted and one party may seem to be at a disadvantage financially. IRA’s, 401Ks, and pensions come into question. To whom do these assets belong? If the marital home has a mortgage, who can refinance? Rental property or a second home may be solutions or further complications. Social security payments or anticipated payments may be a part of the picture. How are contributions to the marriage that are non-monetary valued?

Mediation can ease the gray divorce financial situation by helping participants enter the next phase of their lives feeling secure because they have a custom made plan for their future. The participants have life experience and being of a certain age, understand the importance of financial planning and financial limitations. The mediator can encourage creative thinking and productive communication. Mediation in a gray divorce situation promises a new way of life for both Husband and Wife.

Post Divorce Parenting Plan

Often parents worry about how much input they will have in their children’s lives after a divorce. A detailed parenting plan is required by the state of Georgia for all divorcing or separating parents and never married parents seeking legitimation. It is a plan for who will care for the children each day of their lives until they are eighteen years old. It outlines who will drive them to school, buy their clothes, provide food, housing, and how decisions for their lives will be made, etc. Parents can customize the plan to fit their family, their children, and their life style. If parents do not make a custom plan, the judge will assign a plan that may or may not fit your family.

In mediation, parents can develop a current parenting plan as well as extend the plan into the future as the children’s needs change. The ideal Parenting Plan prevents a return to court for modification. Parents have hopes and dreams for their children. A mediator can help parents turn those dreams into reality by planning for their children’s futures.

Continuity of the family helps children to have a sense of security. If a child knows he can count on seeing Mom/Dad at specific days and times he can be confident that Mom/Dad will care for him. Young children especially need the comfort of routine. Anxiety is lessened if a child knows what to expect.

Major areas of decision making are addressed in the Parenting Plan. Ideally, both parents will discuss all major decisions and come to an agreement. However, when agreement seems impossible, you will need to assign a final decision maker.  The areas of decision-making include education, religion, non-emergency medical care, and extra-curricular activities. A mediator can help you decide how to select the tie breakers for each area.

The Parenting Plan is not cast in stone. Parents can spend time with their children and make decisions outside of the Parenting Plan, if they can agree. If the parents cannot agree, the parenting plan is the default position. A mediator, as a neutral third party, can help the parents construct a plan that is durable, flexible and a custom fit for their family.

The Community Divorce

“Who gets the friends?”  Dividing assets and liabilities, although sometimes difficult, are easier than dividing the friends. The dining room table doesn’t have feelings or opinions, friends do.

Your social network, which includes family, will all have an opinion. Some will feel obligated to support one of you over the other. Those who are in your confidence will be inclined to “take your side”. Same will be true with your spouse.  It will actually be up to you help everyone know how to behave, and go forward.

One of the most awkward and sensitive situations involves family. If you or your spouse has become close to the in-laws, all the feelings, reasons for the divorce will have to be resolved somehow if you want to maintain good, friendly relations. While you are grieving the loss of the marriage, so are they. If grandchildren are involved, it is critical that you maintain your relationship for their sake. After all, everyone will be attending performances, games, baptisms, graduations, etc. Ask them if you can speak with them. State your sad feelings about the demise of the marriage and own any part you may have had. Talk about your love for them and hesitance to lose the relationship. Ask if there is a way to go forward. Many families continue to include ex’s in family functions.

You should sit down together and talk about all the friends, aquaintances and social connections you have. Many will work themselves out; his golfing or poker buddies, her girlfriends will be easy. Couple friends with whom you have socialized and traveled with will need to know it is okay to like both of you and invite both of you to functions. This will be easier if you don’t hold open animosity towards each other and treat each other with kindness and respect. The real problem comes when one of you begins to date and wants to bring your new paramour to parties to which you have been invited. There is a socially acceptable period of time that you need to wait before doing this. Your mother would say wait at least one year, modern day manners would probably give six months a nod of approval.

The Behavioral Divorce

After having been part of a couple for a number of years, the prospect of single life can be intimidating and overwhelming.  This can be especially difficult if you have been married 20 years or longer. There is a transition from the dependency of couple ship to the independence of singlehood.  You must learn how to do all the things your spouse previously took care of. If your spouse shopped and cooked all the meals, serviced the automobiles or paid all the bills, you will now have to learn how to do these tasks.  If you are a young father, you may have to learn how to give a princess party for 10 seven year olds for your daughter’s birthday. There is a lot to learn.

In addition to the parenting and other life tasks you may be called upon to master, there is the task of living alone. Loneliness comes in different time frames for all of us. Some begin to re-couple before the divorce is final, some soon after, and some need more healing time before seeking another partner. Humans naturally gravitate towards a committed relationship and statistics bear that out. Most people remarry within 3-5 years of a divorce, men sooner than women. After years of having your leisure time planned for you with kids activities or couple friends with whom you grilled out on Saturday nights, learning to be alone is not as daunting as you might imagine. You will cultivate single friends who have more freedom to travel or spontaneously go to the movies or out to dinner. Getting involved in new activities will help you meet more people. If your company has a bowling team, join even if you are not crazy about bowling. Learn to play golf, or take lessons to improve your game. Take a class, involve yourself in church activities, climb the Himalayas!

If you have children, you still have the obligation of making a home for them when it is your time to parent. That can be fulfilling and keep you busy and involved. A word of caution, find adult friends for you. The burden on children to be your companion, confidante and playmate is too great for any child, regardless of their age.  They should be able to e children, teenagers and young adults. They have many developmental tasks to accomplish for themselves, without feeling obligated to help you accomplish yours.

 

 

Next: The Community Divorce

The Co-Parental Divorce

“What shall we do with the child

Who’s got your eyes my hair your smile

Reminding me that we fell in love

but just for a little while”

(Kate Reifsnyder, Nick Holmes, & Carly Simon)

 

If you have children and decide to divorce, you will need to address some immediate and serious issues concerning co-parenting your children. Some of those issues include sharing parenting time and responsibilities, telling the children about changes in lifestyle, and maintaining a continuation of the family for the children even though the marriage has ended.

 

How do we start?  A healthy way to start the process of co-parenting is to make an effort to separate your relationship as parents from your relationship as marriage partners.  Find a way to put aside the anger and hurt that fuels conflict. Counselors can help you accept the divorce and all that led to the demise of the relationship. Concentrate on your parenting relationship and make your children’s well-being a priority.

 

How can we parent together while living apart? The Georgia Court System requires a parenting plan that indicates where and with whom the child(ren) will be every cay of the year. Because as parents, you know your kids and how your family works, parents are the people most qualified to construct a custom plan for the children’s future. A mediator can guide this process and keep the discussion focused on the children.

 

How can we limit the disruption to our children’s lives? Research strongly indicates that parents who avoid involving the children in any argument or disagreement that is related to the marriage relationship have happier, healthier outcomes for the children. Kids need to know what will change and what will stay the same in their lives. Your children will want both parents to attend their sports events, school plays, concerts, and other ceremonies at church and school. Every family member will benefit from parents who can focus on the children and their activities instead of a conflicted adult relationship.

 

When and how will we tell the children about separation and/or divorce?  Children need to hear the news from their parents, preferably both parents at the same time. This avoids the “good guy/bad guy” possibility. The standard explanation is, “Parents love their children forever, but sometimes feelings between adults change. We have not been able to work out those changes so we have decided to live apart and not be married.”  The explanation needs to be tailored to the child’s age. Older children may ask for specific reasons for the divorce . Those reasons are adult information, highly personal, and none of the children’s business. The kids need to know that each parent will be okay, so tears of sadness may be appropriate but sobs of despair are a danger sign. Let the children know that you trust and respect each other as parents. tell them as much as possible about how their lives will go forward. The children need to be told before either parent moves to a separate home.

 

Co-parenting involves establishing a new kind of relationship for the benefit of the children. Remember, your ex-spouse will not parent exactly the way you do. Collaborate on important moral and values issues to make sure you are on the same page. Let go of the small stuff, like “my ex feeds the kids pizza 3 days in a row”. It will be inconvenient at times but most parents are used to being inconvenienced for the well-being of their children.

Based on the work of Paul Bohannon

The Economic Divorce

Research indicates that it takes 30% more income to maintain two households. That places many divorcing families in an economic bind. If one spouse has been an unemployed stay-at-home child caretaker, that spouse will have to seek gainful employment.  Even with child support and some spousal support, the lifestyle will be reduced. There are many practical problems that will immediately surface and should be addressed and resolved by both parents working together. Depending on the ages of the children, there will be child care costs if they are under the age of 13. If you have older children, there will be costs for extra-curricular activities, increased automobile insurance for teen drivers, college costs and when they get married, wedding costs.  Children tend to cost more the older they get.

Because you will have to have separate policies, other expenses that increase will be medical insurance and automobile insurance. If you each own a home, homeowners insurance, taxes and home upkeep will now be “times two.” Often, couples with whom we mediate, discover that there is not enough to go around. The parent who has primary custody will have the lion’s share of the expenses. A single parent with two teenage boys will find the grocery bill skyrocketing. Teenage boys eat non-stop and as much as a grown man. Trust us, we have been there.

We can’t help you invent more money, but we can help you shake the money tree before and while you are divorcing. Here are our best suggestions.

  • Slowly get rid of all credit card debt before you file for divorce
  • Double down on house payments so there will be more equity rather than less
  • Begin to build a “rainy day fund” to be touched only in times of extreme emergency
  • Begin to build a slush fund to handle unexpected expenses such as new tires, a valve job or a senior trip for your child
  • If you are not working, get a job. You will have to anyway. If you want to further your education, explore online courses that will allow you to take one course at a time at night. A job, school and kids. Sounds like too much, but thousands have done it
  • Begin to plan for a career. Not a job, a career that will support you comfortably. Get education, training, whatever you need
  • Consider how you will finalize the divorce. We think mediation is most cost effective, will help you preserve the family and with the brief consultation of attorneys, will both protect you and save you money
  • Through all this, keep an attitude of caring about and protecting both of you while you both think about protecting the children

The Legal Divorce

Once a person has decided to divorce, the next logical step is to figure out how you will go about making this legal. Usually, this involves hiring an attorney. Historically, an attorney provided all legal assistance; filing the necessary papers, representing one of you, drafting a settlement agreement (who gets what, who pays what and where do the children live) and, giving you legal advice. The next step would be for your spouse to hire an attorney.

There are some other avenues open to you. You can also choose to use a mediator to help you resolve the issues surrounding your divorce. A mediator does not give legal or financial advice, but they will assist you in resolving all the issues surrounding your divorce. When you mediate, the agreement will be one that you and your spouse craft with the guidance of the mediator who will help with the division of assets and debts, a parenting plan and child support guidelines, both required by courts in Georgia. Mediation is family friendly as it does not involve two attorneys, each advocating for a spouse, but rather, the focus is on the children and how the family will move on after the divorce.

You can also file the divorce pro se, that means you represent yourselves and do all the work associated with divorce yourself. You can file the petition for divorce, draft your own settlement agreement and go before the judge. Most counties in the metro Atlanta area have classes that teach you how to accomplish this.

If you decide to hire attorneys, please ask carefully how they charge so you will not be surprised. There are two ways that they charge; hourly or flat fee. You should sign a written fee agreement for services that outlines how the charges are calculated. If you agree to an hourly rate, know that attorneys charge for all their time and the time of associates in their office. Expenses are usually charged separately and include copying, postage, delivery fees, filing fees, travel and research. They will ask for a retainer of between $2,000 and $10,000 which is paid upfront and the hourly rate comes off that. A common misunderstanding is that the retainer will cover all of the work on the divorce. It often does not so ask your attorney how that works and what could happen that would cause more charges. If you sign a flat rate fee agreement, be sure you clearly understand what that includes, but more importantly, what it does not include.

If you decide to explore using a mediator, our preferred choice, find out how they charge. I can share how Beyond Above and Conflict charges which may, or may not be typical of other mediators. We provide an extensive phone interview with both parties so they can ask all their questions about how it works, prior to mediation. There is no charge for this. Our hourly rate is $250.00 for the actual time spent at the mediation table plus an additional $250.00 to write the Memorandum of Understanding and go through the approval process that is done via email with both parties. Once both parties have “green lighted” the finished product, mediation is done. There are no additional charges for expenses. Mediators can refer you to attorneys that can look over the agreement and advise you. There is an additional charge for this service.

Both attorneys and mediators can help you find other professionals you may need during the process such as, financial advisors or counselors for you or your children.

In Georgia, The Legal Divorce cannot be finalized in less than 31 days from the initial filing but can take up to one year or more depending on how contentious you both are.

Based on the work of Paul Bohannon

The Emotional Divorce

The first stage of divorce, and the longest lasting, is the emotional stage. This is the emotional ending of your relationship and the one you will feel the most ambivalent about. As you go through this process, you will have many doubts about the decision, second guessing yourself, wondering if you are being too hasty. Most couples report that their loving feelings for their spouse began to deteriorate years before they actually considered divorce, but there was always enough there to keep going. Until one day, there wasn’t. The love you shared slowly slips away, bit by bit for a variety of reasons. This involves the loss of love and a loved one, feelings of disappointment, jealousy, anger, hurt and fear.

Uncoupling starts when your feelings about your spouse begin to change, and continues long after the divorce has been finalized through the courts. If you have children, there will always be a connection through their graduations, marriages, birth of grandchildren and other family events. It will take some time and work to create a unified family for your children and grandchildren including new spouses if either of you should remarry. You will find a place to put your negative feelings as you recreate a new relationship. Many couples tell us that they get along better as a divorced couple than when they were married.

Therapists can be a great help during the first, unsteady months of the uncoupling. They will be the “voice of reason” when you feel like you are unsure of yourself, they can be your support, validation, and help you sort through the rubble of your failed marriage. Everyone wants to understand “why” and although therapists don’t have the answer to that question, they can help you find it.

Can you prepare for this stage? The feelings will wash over you and there seems to be no way to stop them. You can, however, prepare to move on with your life. Begin to explore new things; maybe additional education or training, learn to play a sport that will put you with other people, begin to socialize in new ways. The quick fix is to find another partner quickly. Experts would caution against this. We tend to make unwise choices when we are vulnerable and lonely. Give it some time.

Up next: The Legal Divorce

Based on the Six Stations of Divorce by Paul Bohannon

Successfully Accepting Divorce

Those who are facing a divorce, soon realize that it is not an event, but rather a process. It begins long before any legal steps are taken, and lasts long after the final decree.  Facing divorce is one of the most stressful events we will ever experience. This is true whether you are the one asking for a divorce, or the one confronted with it.

There are six stages of divorce that every person/couple must go through. Navigating them successfully will determine your future happiness.  The longer you have been married, the more difficult some of these stages will be as you have had many years building up that which is now being dismantled.

Stage I The Emotional Divorce

This stage begins long before the actual divorce. It is the gradual uncoupling that is highlighted by less talking, less time together, more disagreements, greater awareness of the things that have been problematic in the marriage , but ignored, for a long time. It influences the divorce process and is a factor in all the other five stages.

Stage II. The Legal Divorce

This is the process of legally ending the marriage. Papers must be filed through the court system and a settlement agreement drafted and filed. A settlement agreement outlines your post-divorce life, i.e., who gets what and who pays what and how is support and parenting for the children arranged. This stage can be very expensive and antagonizing if you let it.

Stage III. The Community Divorce

Usually a couple forms a family unit that includes both his and her extended family, mutual friends made during the course of the marriage, acquaintances, business associates, etc. These will all have to be re-forged in the wake of the divorce. An example is if you are very close to your in-laws, how will that go forward? If you are in a monthly supper club with neighbors, will that continue and how? Your “couple” friends may feel uncomfortable and do not want to take sides. This may remove them as a support system for you.

Stage IV. The Economic Divorce

Unless you are extremely well fixed, you will probably have to adjust to a less comfortable lifestyle. Also, if you are a non-working spouse, you will have to go to work. The financial burden may increase as child care, previously not needed, will become a large line item in your monthly expenses. Because the greatest financial burden usually falls on the parent with physical custody, think this through at the time you are reaching a settlement agreement. The kids won’t always be 6 and 9. As they grow, they will become more expensive.

Stage V. The Co-parental Divorce

You are your ex-spouse will have to move forward to co-parent your children. Children can flourish in two households where there is a cooperative, respectful relationship. They will flounder is two households where there is conflict, open disagreement and dislike and where they are used to “control” the other parent or pass messages to the other parent. It is up to both of you to create the kind of atmosphere that will allow your children to flourish.

Stage VI. The Behavioral Divorce

Most couples learn to rely on each other to run the family. There is a division of labor in maintaining the household and family activities. After a divorce, each person will need to learn how to handle the tasks previously done by the other spouse.  Learning how to pay bills, fill the car with gas, plan and prepare healthy meals or parenting tasks that the other parent may have taken care of.

 Some of the best guidance you can get during this process is from a divorce mediator. Consider mediating all or part of your settlement agreement. Mediators are neutral; they do not advocate for or represent either party. Therefore, they are not adversarial. But they do provide a safe place as you explore  plans for the future of your family, and can help you think ahead as you plan.