Category Archives: Divorce Mediation

To share useful information on divorce or mediation that can be used to improve the lives of children and the adults who are undergoing such a difficult time.

Keeping Your Head Above Water When Going Through a Divorce

By Dan Blair, marriage counselor and family counselor

Going through a divorce is one of top stressors one can experience. You may be at your worst at a time that you may need to be at your best. Everyone deals with stress differently, but if you feel overwhelmed, add structure. Getting through your day may involve additional planning. Knowing how to to deal with negative emotions and knowing who to trust is part of the plan.

When planning your day, plan for time to release emotions and to put it bluntly, get used to the idea of having emotions such as anger, fear, sadness, and guilt. Many report that when they let the emotions hit them like a wave, they come and then they go. The more it is resisted, the more painful. Staying present and caring about your emotions and needs is important. Over time the painful part gradually subsides in intensity, duration, and frequency. (This along with addressing thinking errors is the path toward acceptance). After such a release, it will be time to refocus. Refocus on one step at a time, according to your daily plan, (yes, have a daily plan to follow) which is based on your priorities and what you can realistically accomplish.

Moving through an alternating pattern of releasing emotion and refocusing on tasks may be a good template for getting through this. Obviously, the emotions are going to build and then you will need a release, and then you will need to refocus. Perhaps the release will be needed once an hour for a few minutes, or only on breaks. Go out for a walk or a change of scenery. Take deep breaths, and focus on each of your five senses and take it as much as you can. The need for release may come unexpectedly. Going to the bathroom, sitting still and act like you are working, and avoiding eye contact for a few minutes may be options at this time, but sometimes you have to suck it up and stay professional. During the time to refocus, stay active in either mental focus or physical movement. During lunch take time to list your questions that need to be answered, or read a self-help book. Set boundaries at work, like not taking calls about divorce, or from friends who are talking about divorce.

While it is important to remain professional, work productivity often suffers during this time. Work life balance is challenging. If your supervisor can be trusted, let him or her know to keep an eye on you. He or she is often willing to check in to see if you are okay, as long as it is not taking too much away from your responsibilities. Anyone you confide it needs to be safe (in other words, telling will not backfire on you), be willing to give you space, and support if you are checking out. In addition, choose one peer to do the same for you. Understand that you are not alone and that you should not be ashamed of your personal situation. Many go down this road.

When I went through an unexpected divorce, it took a long time to accept. Even though this occurred a long time ago, it propels my passion to provide marriage counseling to prevent divorce, and divorce mediation to make as many agreements as effectively as possible (still using attorney advice).  Now, I am happily remarried. Much of my work that I do now is helping parents prevent divorce and helping kids affected by conflict. I like the advice that divorce is like a bad neighborhood, don’t go there alone.

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What to Expect When Divorcing

Child moving

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

Divorce can be devastating, from the immediate aftermath effects on finances, parenting, and social status. Understanding the aftermath, realignment and stabilization phases can help, though it still takes time to recover. 

The emotional process before, during and after divorce is similar to the effects of trauma. Normal reactions include shock, denial, guilt, restlessness, agitation, anger, emptiness, and hopelessness. The fear of the unknown future cannot be overcome except in time. This roller coaster affects sleep, appetite, concentration, decision-making and memory. You may feel ill or numb. You may want to be alone or not be alone. Rumination is likely.

It is difficult in the first stage to not blow up at your spouse and blame him or her for making you a victim. It may be impossible at this time to look at the relationship objectively. Problems resolving conflict in the marriage will be magnified in the divorce. The family and extended family will be affected.

The legal bills in the first month could pay for a lifetime of marriage counseling. Parents may be left with little financial cushion. Bankruptcy is possible. Divorce creates a demand for additional financial support, along with expectations. Many decisions have to be made including the value and disposition of the marital residence, vehicles, bank accounts, retirement accounts, stock options, bonuses and other investments. Each participant should gather information from an attorney or tax accountant specializing in divorce to understand the implications of one’s financial decisions, for example, on tax filing.

Parenting also changes. The urge may be to meet personal needs through the children. Children should not bear the responsibility of satisfying need for closeness and cooperation. Parents may feel hurt by the kids, or may feel guilty and indulge the children.

One of the primary decisions made in the best interest of the child involves sole or joint custody. A sole custodian means that the relationship between the parents is too conflicted to make decisions in the best interest of the children. A joint custody arrangement means that co-parents can generally work together. Parents need to work together to determine the needs of the children, like appropriate medical care, child care, parenting time, use of holidays, vacations and other special times, location of the parent’s homes, and educational and religious training.

Divorce mediation may be used at this time to focus on direct and effective communication in making parenting and financial decisions that benefit both children and parents, and which aims to reduce repeated visits to court.

Social status is affected by a sense of failure that isolates, and possible judgments from others. The goal is to retrieve positive self-identity and reinvest in relationships. Fears propel premature future relationships and marriages.

The second phase is the realignment phase, described by some as a three-year roller coaster ride. People fill time and emptiness with people and worry, possible avoiding the pain. Some continue the same kind of conflict with their ex-spouse that they had when they were married. In fact, one expert reported that one-third of those in “bad” divorces slept with their ex. Those in a “good” divorce did not. Recovering financially takes time, and may involve major changes like selling the home or working more than ever during this time of loss, change and demand. In the process of acceptance, a question needs answering: What did the divorce solve or not solve for me?

Protecting the children from the harmful side of divorce is often neglected, sometimes unintentionally. The goal under most circumstances should be consistent and calm involvement from each parent in each child’s life. Most children on some level wish for a relationship with both parents. Each parent can take part in not only providing financially but also providing influence on moral, social and educational development. Ideally, contact and affection would be unhampered and each parent would not get in the way of the child’s own developing sense of perception, and feelings about the other parent. Parents would not criticize each other within hearing range, or to put the kids in the middle by making them messengers (delivering positive or negative messages can feel like a burden to kids, when the responsibility to communicate belongs to the parents). Another rule to follow is to not tell the kids about future plans that will affect the other parent without talking to the other parent first.

Socially, both women and men tend to turn to women for support. Social status is possibly viewed through the subtle influence of sexism and ageism, discriminating against older women. Younger women are often more of a “package deal” with their children.

Stabilization can take five years after divorce, unless one is in a blended family which can take another five to seven years. Relationship patterns become solidified, along with possible distance between non-custodial parent and child. Children almost never give up their hope and connection to be with both parents.

The author Dan Blair is a Divorce Counselor, Divorce Mediator and Parenting Coordinator at Blair Counseling and Mediation.

 

Resource:

“The Postdivorce Family” by Fredda Herz Brown in The Changing Family Life Cycle ed. by Carter and McGoldrick.

 

Ex Communication

Angry wife showing bills

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

To resolve issues with an “ex” in an unavoidable divorce, present and future co-parents may have to be at the point where they are tired of having issues and spending money for going to court.  To resolve issues co-parents have to let go of total control, which can be scary.  One also has to set aside the anger, hurt, and betrayal that fuels ongoing conflict.  The emotion is understandable, but may not resolve the conflict.

Given the emotional intensity of interacting with one’s “ex,” here’s a way to remember keys to success, if success is within your control.  Remember the goal is not to determine who is “right,” which is debatable, but to stop the issue from going back and forth indefinitely.  There are circumstances where this is necessary, and expensive.  On the other hand, even court orders do not stop the cycle.

Feeling.
Focus on the other’s feeling about the topic, one topic at a time.  Dealing on the feeling level may not be as satisfying as proving the “facts,” but surprisingly, “facts” can also be debatable.  Allowing the feeling of the other takes away the frustration of having to prove a point and creating more defensiveness.  Feelings are the basis of one’s position and often stay they same whether or not one is right or wrong.

Future.
The future is negotiable; the past is not.  The past may be important to understand, but that will not change the past.

Flexibility
The chance of resolving an issue is dependent on flexibility.  This is not to say that one should be flexible, but that to resolve an issue some area of flexibility must be discovered.

Fouls.
How do you derail progress?  Three examples include name-calling, criticism, and topic-jumping that creates defensiveness that add “fuel to the fire.”

These approaches to problem-solving are inadequate if one side believes that non-agreement or “winning” is a more desired scenario.  But even in “winning” there is much to be lost.

 

Protecting Children in Divorce

Upset child from arguing parents

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

You can make a difference when it comes to insulating your children from the harmful effects of unavoidable divorce.  Children of divorce are most affected by ongoing conflict, absent parents, and financial shifts in lifestyle.  Moreover, how the child responds to the divorce is modeled by how each parent deals with it.  Generally, if the parents are coping well, the children are coping well.

Even though one is angry and needs to “declare the truth” by criticizing their ex, children pay the price due to ongoing conflict between parents.  Children and adolescents see themselves as extensions of their parents, and so negative comments directed at a parent impact the child, probably more than it does the other parent.  The result may be that the child has difficulty remaining close to either parent.  Particularly harmful is creating a situation which kids have to hide information or their feelings. Another way kids are impacted by divorce occurs when a parent “projects” their anxiety or depression onto the kids, assuming that the kids feel the way the parent feels.  Or, if a parent is transparent about their anxiety or depression, children and adolescents worry about it. Not giving your children more to worry about when it comes to adult problems is a gift that keeps on giving.

The loss of parental involvement leaves children and adolescents mired in self-blame.  Developing a new “normal” with consistent involvement from both parents reinforces that the child is worthwhile and lovable.  For the child who loses a parent in a divorce is a deep loss.

Though one parent may resist the cost of child or spousal support due to their own fears of financial ruin, parents should consider both sides.  On the one side, the nonresidential parent may have difficulty maintaining financial stability, or the residential parent may have difficulty.  Even though one may be blamed for the divorce, punishing your spouse financially punishes the children.  One way divorce mediation can be helpful is by increasing flexibility to create a balance for both parents financially for the benefit of the children.

One sign to watch for are changes in the children.  Are they suddenly “helpful” and over-responsible?  Are they withdrawn or is there a loss of interest in usual activities?  Any change in sleeping or eating patterns?  Are they more emotional than usual? See Depression Screening.

Here are some rules that protect children from some of the harmful effects of unavoidable divorce:

  1. Foster affection and respect between the children and the other parent.
  2. Refrain from discussing the conduct of the other parent in the presence of the children except in a laudatory or complimentary way. Do not call the other parent disparaging names or subject the children to others that are disparaging the other parent.
  3. Protect the children from parental conflict. Don’t discuss financial matters, or disputes with the other parent, either directly to or in the presence of the children.
  4. Avoid sending or soliciting information about the other parent through the children.
  5. Subject proposed activities or vacations with the children to mutual approval before discussing plans with the children.

Divorce Mediation FAQ About Finances

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

Here are some questions that need to be answered in the best financial interest of the family:

1. Have I consulted with an attorney and/or a tax accountant specializing in divorce so I understand my best options when filing for taxes?
2. Who will claim the children for dependent tax exemptions?
3. What is the value of the marital residence?
4. What is the value of any vehicles?
5. What are the values of all the bank accounts?
6. What are the values of the retirement accounts?
7. What is the value of stock options or other investments?
8. Are there any other bonuses or assets not accounted?
9. How much spousal support is needed?

What about the children?

Divorce Mediation FAQ About the Children

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

Here are some questions that will have to be answered not by the mediator, but by the parents in the best interest of their children:

1. What is in the best interest of the child when determining custody?

2. Will child care be needed?

3. What religion will be modeled for the child?

4. How will parenting time be divided in the best interest of the child?

5. How will holidays, vacations, and other special days be divided?

6. Where will the parents live?

7. How much child support is in the children’s best interest? (A guideline is 20% of net income for one child, 28% for two, 32% for three, and 40% for four).

8. How will school fees and extracurricular activities be paid?

9. What about saving for college?

10. How will medical bills be paid?

Who is going to pay for this?

Is Divorce Mediation Worth It?

 

Angry wife showing bills

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

Two of the main goals for divorce mediation in unavoidable divorce are to save money and time in a long process, and reduce antagonism and stress that can come from an adversarial process.  Two well-attested facts are:
1. Kids are most damaged by the fighting between the parents.
2. The money spent in litigation could be used for more desirable things, and for your kids.

Often litigation is the only option.  But if divorce mediation is used, the benefits are worthwhile. Divorce mediation:

  • Reduces the negative effects of divorce on children
  • Increases satisfaction with the outcome compared to litigation alone
  • Reduces the chance of returning to court after divorce
  • Reduces costs. Mediation can be used for all or part of a divorce.
  • Customizes agreements based on unique situations.

QUICK ANSWERS ABOUT DIVORCE MEDIATION

What does a mediator do?

The goal of mediation is to create a way to communicate and resolve issues that are unresolved.  All agreements are finalized without coercion or pressure.  The mediator will document agreements in a Memorandum of Understanding that will be reviewed by your lawyer before divorce is finalized in court.

What does a mediator not do?

Both parties will be encouraged to seek advice from attorneys, accountants, counselors, etc. so accurate information is available.  The mediator does not act in any of these roles.  The mediator also does not break confidentiality unless there is written permission or a legal mandate to do so.

What will we talk about?

Decisions that have to be made in a divorce process include (but are not limited to) parenting, custody, division of assets/liabilities, child and spousal support, insurance, and tax filing.  Blair Counseling and Mediation can mediate all or part of a dispute.

Is mediation appropriate for me?

All parties to a dispute must be willing to participate and capable of informed decision-making based on full disclosure of information.  Each party must be comfortable disagreeing with another party in the same room and not fear retaliation.  Neither party must be subject to domestic violence or threats.