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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.

Building A Parenting Plan

The children are a main concern for divorcing parents. How will they continue to parent effectively? Can they restructure their relationship so children can continue to have the benefit of being part of a family? Will each parent be able to share the children’s lives in a way that is satisfying and gratifying to both the parents and the children? These are some of the questions that keep parents from sleeping soundly.

Mediation is an opportunity for parents to build a custom plan for the future,

for their children and for themselves. A parenting plan, required by courts in Georgia, indicates where each child will be everyday of the year. Parents can structure the plan to the needs of the children. Families have unique internal customs and traditions that work for them. The plan allows the parents to incorporate their ways of life into the children’s future.

If the parents cannot agree on a parenting plan for their children, a judge will give them a plan “off the rack”. That plan might fit; it might not fit. Judges take their jobs very seriously but they don’t know your children or your family. A plan that parents make will fit the lifestyle of the family. 

In mediation, the parents will thoughtfully build the custom plan. They will think about their common goals as parents and their hopes for their children. The plan will evolve as the children grow and the parents will look at the direction they want their children’s lives to take. The mediator will guide the process and keep the parents focused on the children and the future. A custom plan will preserve the family for the children.

The Gray Divorce

Sadly, the divorce rate for couples over 50 is increasing.   In 2010, one out of every four divorces involved couples over 50 years of age. The reasons for older couples parting are as numerous and varied as the number of divorces. A few common reasons stated are: growing apart, the feeling of excitement is gone, no common purpose now that the children are gone, and all those little things that annoyed one spouse suddenly become unbearable. The reasons not stated, but believed by therapists to be common are: fear of dying, mad rush to re-capture youth and all the promise that encompassed, being on the downside of life and not having planned for it.

Financially, ending a long term marriage becomes a negotiated farewell. Typically most assets have been acquired during the marriage and are deemed to be martial property, subject to equal division. Martial debt can also be subject to equal division. Mediation can ease the discussion of the division of assets and help the gray-haired parties to make the best plans for the future financial security for both.

Health or lack of health is a concern for people divorcing in later years. Expensive treatments and medications are issues that could be addressed in mediation. Resources for personal care or suitable living arrangements could be important discussions and decisions  for this age group.

Retirement plans disrupted by separations and divorce need to be restructured to meet current and future needs and desires. For a “gray divorce”, retirement is often imminent with little time to “rebuild” IRAs and other retirement savings.  Mediation can help the parties to look realistically at the possibilities for the future.

Shared history, good or not so good, makes the end of a long term marriage especially difficult in many cases. Mediation can offer a respectful negotiated ending to a marriage instead of a bitter court battle.

Honoring the relationship and the family created by that relationship can be an outcome of the mediation process. As a couple moves on to  more fulfilling personal futures, the parting can be caring and civil.

Paul Bohannon described the six stations of divorce. These can be particularly difficult for older men and women.

I. The six stages of divorce

  • Financial divorce
  • Legal divorce
  • Parenting divorce
  • Community divorce
  • Emotional divorce
  • Behavioral divorce

II.  Unique problems for couples married 30 plus years

III. Division of assets at retirement

IV. Support for a non-working or never worked spouse

V.  Health issues, vulnerability with ageing

VI. How can we help?

 

Humble Beginnings – How and Why We Started

The vision of Above and Beyond Conflict is to preserve families one mediation at a time. Preserving the family involves a mediation agreement between divorcing parents to co-parent their children in a loving, nurturing environment even though the marriage has ended. Preserving the family involves a mediated plan for the future of an elderly or disabled family member in which caring stakeholder agree upon actions and/or roles. Preserving the family involves mediation between estranged parents and children between siblings to heal old wounds and help the family to become whole once more.

 

An important part of our vision is self- determination. The participants make all decisions. The mediator guides the process and facilitates communication. Structuring the process helps the participants to focus on one issue at a time and look to the future. As mediators, we model good communication skills such as active listening, clarifying, and reframing which serve to educate the participants for enhanced communication in the future.

 

The partners, Marti and Georgia, started Above and Beyond Conflict in the third trimester of their lives. They want to use the experience they have gathered in over seven decades of living and fifty+ years of being part of a professional community.

 

Above and Beyond Conflict rose from the rubble of the partners’ individual divorces. They vied

with each other to be kind and helpful to former husbands and the husbands’ new significant others for the sake of their children. Georgia invited the new couple to go on vacation with the family during the Thanks giving holiday. Not to be outdone, Marti invited her children’s father and his wife to celebrate Christmas with their children and grandchildren at her home. It was a friendly contest for the “Above and Beyond” award that Marti and Georgia initiated and was awarded in December each year.

 

Marti and Georgia had been therapists and mediators for many years when they decided to form Above and Beyond Conflict, LLC. They offer a unique service to families seeking to resolve internal conflict without resorting to the legal system. The Above and Beyond Conflict mediators believe that the participants in the mediation process have the answers within themselves and need encouragement and a safe place to express needs and propose solutions.

 

Above and Beyond Conflict offers a traditional mediation process during which the parties face each other and express their concerns and feelings. This approach is intense but less stressful and less expensive than a court battle or a negotiated settlement conducted by lawyers, sometimes without the presence of the parties.

 

The partners constantly read and research techniques that will improve the process of mediation. Atlanta Magazine recognized Above and Beyond Conflict for work with neuroscience in mediation.