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Fractured Family

Everyone has his/her side to the story of this fractured family. Bob and Emily are estranged from their son, Adam. They have have not spoken in ten years Bob and Emily  are saddened by this “horrible” turn of events, Adam, not so much.

Adam is 37 years old, married with two young boys and lives in the same city as his parents. How did this come about? If you ask the parents, it happened “all of a sudden”.  One minute they were one big happy family, the next, Adam refused to talk to them and cut off all contact with the family. If you ask Adam, it came on slowly, over the years.

When did it start? Actually Adam is right, years ago, quietly, innocently and insidiously with all the best of intentions.

Bob and Emily had high hopes for their only son. He was smart, clever, personable, nice looking and got good grades. They were pushing him towards reaching his potential of being an attorney like his father. They practically had him signed up for Harvard Law School in the 3rd grade. They were so proud of him; he was a star football player and on the debate team in high school.

Can you begin to see the problem that was developing as Bob and Emily plowed ahead with their dream for his future; arranging college visits to their choices for Adam, telling their friends of the plans ahead for him, all the while ignoring his loud protests that he had his own dreams that did not include law school? Bob and Emily had stopped listening to Adam. Finally, Adam stopped talking. He left home after high school and studied music with the intention of becoming a professional musician.

Bob and Emily could not accept this decision and felt compelled to let him know what poor choices he was making when he came for Sunday dinner. When Adam married, his choice was not up to his parent’s standards. Slowly, any desire to be around his parents diminished. He stopped coming to Sunday dinner, and when his children were born his parents were not asked to be present at their births. Adam’s sister, Caroline, was sent to try to reason with him, to no avail.

We get many requests from desperate parents wanting to reconcile with their estranged children. Could mediation possibly help?

Meditation is a cooperative process where all parties agree to meet together and listen respectively and with an open mind, to the others. The desired result is an agreement crafted by both sides to make behavioral and verbal changes to their interaction. These changes are outlined very specifically on paper, and everyone signs, indicating that he/she is willing to comply with its directives.  Because mediation is facilitated by the mediator but driven by the parties’ desire to reach a mutually satisfying solution, the basic principle is “free will”.  Each party is not coerced in any way to reach an agreement he/she does not fully support. This process, however, will require some compromise and understanding of the other side.

In the case of Adam and his parents,  Adam will want his parents to stop criticizing his choices which which his parents disguise as helpful information. He may also want his parents to support him and realize he is happy and his choices work for him. His parents will want Adam to accept the fact that they love him, only want to the best for him, and, as his parents want to continue to offer him the wisdom of their advanced years and experience.

Some minor changes in how this family interacts with each other will go a long way towards bringing them closer together. Sitting down to do some deep listening to each other, with a third party to guide a productive discussion that is free of defensiveness and blame, is the real key.

The Three Sides To Every Story

Susie’s (age 8) story: “Mom came to school, got my brother, Sam, and took him to the circus. She left me at school.
Susie is telling her story as she remembers the event. Some underlying
emotions might be hurt, jealousy and disappointment. She probably feels Mom’s treatment of her was unfair. Susie lacks accurate information and fills in the blanks with a story that makes sense to her.

Sam’s (age 6) story: “Mom likes me best.”
Sam is happy about the event. He had Mom’s attention and he liked the circus
very much. Does he care about Susie being left at school while he had a good time? Sam probably doesn’t even think about her.

Mom’s version: “I chaperoned Sam’s class on a field trip.”
The actual situation, minus the emotions, is an easily explainable event. The
difference in Sam’s perspective and Susie’s perspective is a source of family conflict. Mom will probably mediate the situation by pointing out that the flyer for the field trip was posted on the refrigerator, apologizing to Susie for neglecting to tell her about it, time together.

Most mediations involve at least three sides of a story. Each participant has a perspective and the third version reports the facts of the matter. Eye witness
versions of incidents have proven to be unreliable. Each person brings his/her
interpretation to the witnessed experience. Memories are also biased by perspective. Although the Susie/Sam example is simplistic, the basis of many conflicts involves different sides to the same story. Emotion colors each version.

How does a mediator help participants come to an agreement when the stories
are different? The mediator acts in much the same way Mom does, without the
personal involvement. During the mediation, each participant has an opportunity to tell his/her side of the story. The mediator listens for areas of agreement and helps the participants recognize how the areas of agreement can be useful in constructing future goals.

Honest and open communication is important during the mediation process.
Participants may not trust each other and each may accuse the other of lying, when, in fact, each is telling the story from his/her point of view. The mediator makes sure that each party can be heard and encourages communication between the parties so the opportunity to provide new information or correct false information is available. The mediator helps the participants create a “new story” by combining some of each version. The areas of agreement provide a starting point. Constructing a parenting plan may begin with “access to both parents is important to both of you”. The “new story” will evolve when the parents discuss and work through a plan that provides that goal.

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