Often when we hear about a friend or loved one getting a divorce, we just don’t know what to say or do. We want to be supportive, encouraging, helpful – but struggle with being presumptuous or intrusive in our attempts to offer assistance.
Recently I was invited to speak at a Stephen Ministry meeting when the group was going through training on how to minister to and assist people in the community who are dealing with divorce. The group leader asked me to help them understand the process of divorce and suggest ways to help those going through it. After two decades of practicing Family Law and working with men. women and children who are going through the process, it wasn’t difficult to come up with a list of challenges that divorcing parties often need help with!
PRIOR TO A DIVORCE ACTION BEING FILED
WHILE THE DIVORCE IS PENDING
AFTER THE DIVORCE
One of the toughest situations to deal with in the aftermath of divorce is holiday visitation with the children. As if the holiday season by itself wasn’t stressful enough, dealing with only having the children for part of the holiday in addition to making sure they get to where they’re suppose to be for the other part of the holiday can send stress levels right off the chart! As a Family Law attorney who often represents children, I field a lot of calls from frustrated parents this time of year – and here’s what I tell them. Whether there are hard feelings to or from your ex or you both get along great, these five tips can make the holiday visitation less stressful for you, your ex, and – more importantly – your children.
1. Transition your child before the doorbell rings. I’m often told by parents that the child just doesn’t want to go to the other parent’s for the holidays, they want to stay right where they are. This may be true, and/or there may be a legitimate reason the child feels this way. But often the reluctance to go is because they are enjoying what they’re doing or are afraid they’re going to miss out on something. To overcome the latter two, prepare ahead of time. Watch how you talk about activities the child won’t be a part of – don’t tell him “how sad” you will be that he can’t be there for them. There’s nothing to be sad about (on the outside!) because he gets to spend time with the other parent, too. Make sure the game being played or movie being watched ends a substantial amount of time before the other parent picks up to avoid the child ending up being resentful that he has to “stop having fun” when it’s time to go.
2. Have the extra packing done, too. Most people don’t wait until the last minute to pack up the child’s visitation suitcase with clothes, nightwear and toiletries. But those little last-minute round-ups that leave the ex cooling his or her heels at the door (deliberately??) are unnecessary. Make a checklist as you think of things the child needs to have with her (medicine, gifts for the other family members, that book for the report she has to write over the break) and make sure they are packed and ready to go well ahead of time. Give your child the gift of a stress-free (or at least less-stressed) transition – one where they don’t start out with an irritated parent annoyed at them or grumbling about you.
3. Limit incoming phone and text message interruptions. Unless there is a court-ordered (or previously agreed-upon) phone visitation time, you don’t have to answer phone calls from the other parent during meals, gift exchanges, movies, family gatherings and other events where it would be disruptive to the child. I am not suggesting you don’t allow phone visitation during your holiday period with your child. On the contrary, I’m suggesting you plan for it. Have the child call the other parent, or answer calls, during times when the child is not engaged in fun events. Initiate (or take) the calls in a quiet place or room free of distractions so that the child can enjoy his chat with the other parent and not “just get through” it.
4. Limit outgoing phone and text message intrusions. Assume your ex has read the paragraph above and try to be sensitive about the intrusiveness of your own visitation calls. While negotiating prior to the visit for set times to speak to the child via phone may seem like a good idea, psychologist Arlene Schaefer says that arrangement is “all about the parents.” She says kids don’t like to be ripped from what they’re doing to have a conversation they often don’t feel like having – which can leave the calling parent feeling slighted and resentful toward the other parent who is perceived as not encouraging the contact. The better arrangement includes flexibility – maybe an agreement for the child to call “after her shower” or in the morning while breakfast is being cooked.
5. Anticipate and plan for the obstacles. Two complaints I hear often from divorced parents is that their ex is always late for exchanges and/or the the child is tuckered out upon arrival. Whether it’s deliberate sabotage or just insensitivity, the result of chronic lateness or turning over sleep-deprived children is the same – conflict, more stress, and potentially ruined plans. You have no power to change the offender – but you can prepare for the offense. Don’t create tight deadlines on yourself by making plans that you can only be timely for if the other parent is timely. Allow plenty of time between pick-up and any event – it’s easier to “kill time” if you’re early than dealing with stress, frustration and resentment that accompany rushing to make it to wherever you’re headed. If your child routinely is tired when she arrives from the other parent’s custody, plan ahead so that she has time to take a nap before heading out for the evening’s entertainment. Or factor in some down-time on the first day of visitation. Or plan for an early evening on the night of arrival so that on the first full day of visitation everyone can hit the ground running. While it may not seem right that you should have to construct your plans around the other parent’s offending behavior, doing so totally annihilates you ex’s power to ruin your plans or create a stressful start to your holiday time with your child.
You may be interested in this related post:
Did you and your mate have more good intentions to be productive this summer than summer days? There’s still enough summer left for the two of you to enjoy a joint project that is fun, fills that productivity quota you set for yourselves, and has benefits that will extend into the seasons ahead. Here are 5 that can fill the bill!
1. Create a Little Lending Library. These mini treasures are popping up everywhere! The small structures are often found at the end of a driveway with a sign that says “Free Books: Take one now, leave one later!” Library kits can be purchased, or you can use what you have on hand to build your own. Or re-purpose cabinets and shelves. The designs can be as basic or complex as you like – the creative options are endless. Google “little lending library images” for oodles of inspiration. Creating a book exchanges is a fun way to promote literacy, share books you’ve read, find books to read, and get some conversations started!
2. Organize a Progressive Dinner. Invite as many other couples/friends as you want dinner courses. Each takes one course and the invitees move from house to house enjoying a course at each. Appetizer, soup, salad, entree, cheese, desert, after dinner drink – add or subtract to fit your group. This is a fun way to have a get-together before everybody gets into their fall routines while sharing the workload. This works especially well in neighborhoods and apartment complexes where the group can just walk from one residence to the next. You can add a rebel twist – totally defying the old notion that there will be no dessert until you eat your dinner – by having a reverse progressive dinner. As in starting with dessert and working backward to the appetizer. Bon apetite!
3. Paint Chairs. Whether some tired kitchen chairs you already own, $5 garage sale finds, or folding chairs that could use some perking up, slapping a little paint around will leave you smiling. You can make your chairs match, contrast, or speak for themselves. Check out Pinterest or Google “painted chair patterns” to generate ideas and find “how-tos.” Then, let the creativity begin!
4. Get Your Garden On. Your spring garden, that is. Now’s the time to gather and plant the bulbs for flowers you want to enjoy in the spring. You can dot crocus throughout your yard for an early-in-the-year pop of color, fill a bed with vibrant tulips-to-be, or orchestrate weeks of color by planting bulbs that bloom at different times. Don’t have garden space? If you have room for a large planter, you can still get in on the fun now to enjoy the fragrance of spring later. For simple ideas and planning tips, check out this This Old House link.
5. Create a Classic Board Game. Jumbo-style. Here’s a version of Scrabble you may not have seen before! It makes a great project to work together on, and results in entertainment you can enjoy for many seasons to come! Click the picture for the how-tos.
As we head into June, one of the most romantic months of the year, you may be trying to decide whether to pop the question or how to answer the question that was popped. You may be feeling that almost everything is wonderful about the relationship – with just a few small exceptions. Well, we know that there is no such thing as a perfect marriage – if things are 85% wonderful and you feel that will certainly take care of the 15% that presents more challenge, you’re probably right. But here are a few things to think about that may seem small right now, but have potential to drastically change those percentages in the future.
1. Hints of a dual personality. Sometimes we’re so busy being flattered by how special the courting treatment is that we don’t notice the “other face” of the one we love. The one shared with family members or old friends. Is the potential life-mate who is considerate and humble with you arrogant or routinely snarky with others? Does confidence erode to a troublesome eagerness to please with certain family members?
2. How they handle the little stressers. Say you arrive at a restaurant for an anticipated lovely evening. But the hostess insists you don’t have a reservation and she won’t be able to seat you. Does natural frustration turn into rage? If the response is over the top, embarrassing, or deeply disrespectful, try to imagine their reaction if the stakes are higher – such as with finances, children or loss.
3. The difference in values or moral foundation seems to be expanding. Differences can be good – they can make things interesting. But with core values? Not so much. Sometimes when people are crazy in love, they don’t want to probe too deeply regarding differences. After all, why borrow trouble before an issue actually arises? But things like the definition of an affair, whether or not children are raised with religion and other touchy topics that go to your core values should absolutely be discussed before anybody says “I do.” And those aren’t things to fight about – differences don’t necessarily mean one of you is wrong and the other is right. But it could mean that long-term compatibility will be problematic.
4. Too much drama. No matter how much fun making up is, a lot of prior breakin’ up and makin’ up doesn’t bode well for marital longevity.
5. You settle for the lowest common denominator. Partners should lift each other up, bring out the best in each other and have the best interest of the other in mind. You’ve heard “two out of three ain’t bad,” right? That doesn’t apply here. No matter how incredible you and your partner are at two, if that third element isn’t present it is time to blink the stars out of your eyes.
Whether you’re looking for reasons to date your spouse, dealing with deployment issues, needing to apologize, wondering about the benefits of “the letter,” or just wanting a good laugh, there’s something here for you! Today’s Friday Five is a compilation of articles I love because they offer great advice, made me chuckle or (bonus!) both.
1. Are you dealing with deployment or long separations from your spouse? 51 Tips for Deployment, Homecoming nd Everything in Between is an article that can be found on Jo, My Gosh blog. In addition to the send-off and the return, it offers suggestions for dealing with the absence of a spouse and for care packages. The site is loaded with other helpful information for military spouses and offers a free copy of The Ultimate Care Package Guide.
2. Never underestimate the power of a letter. Letters That Changed Our World, an article in Parade Magazine written by Liz Welch, gives heartfelt examples of how letters made a difference. It’s easy to overlook that there is a second page (hit “Next” at the bottom of the post), but that’s where you will find additional reasons to write letters as well as a link that gives a brief “how-to” with letter-writing tips. You might also find a previous post, How to Write a Love Letter to Your Spouse – And Why You Should helpful.
3. Stop using the kids as a reason you can’t make date night with your spouse happen. 5 Reasons Your Kids Should See You Date Your Spouse, guest-written by Steve Pare on True Agape blog, sets forth some compelling reasons why when you have kids it’s even more important to prioritize dating your spouse. The result in doing so? You benefit, your spouse benefits and the kids benefit – the ultimate win-win-win!
4. When delivering an apology, keep it real. How do you do that? Gina Barreca, columnist for the Hartford Courant and one of my favorite humorists, spells it out in her article To Apologize, What Makes it Real? The article is also helpful if you have already offered a needed apology, but it wasn’t well-received – it’s possible your delivery could use some improvement.
5. Maybe the changes in your marriage are a good thing. Funny guy Aaron Traister is at it again in his Redbook article 8 Signs Your Marriage Has Changed. You may recognize you and your spouse in a couple of his examples and decide, hmmmm, maybe these changes aren’t so bad after all! If you can ignore the rude, unrelated “reading recommendation” plopped into the post, this article will leave you chuckling!
We want to show compassion for friends who tell us they are getting a divorce, but often we don’t know how to respond. It’s especially difficult when it’s clear they don’t want the divorce – that the choice was made by their spouse. Often the first thing that pops into our head – an unvarnished truth, perhaps? – is the very thing we should not say as a first response to the news. Here are ten statements that are often blurted out in a well-meaning attempt to offer comfort – followed by what goes on in the mind of the friend (who doesn’t want a divorce) when they hear it.
1. You’ll be better off without him.
The unspoken response: In what way? Better off financially without half of the family income? Better off with only seeing my kids half the time as they shuttle back and forth between two houses? Better off coming home to an empty house, an empty bed? Define “better off.”
2. You can do better than her.
The unspoken response: I don’t want “better” – I want what I thought was the best – the person I love.
3. You’re better than he’ll ever be.
The unspoken response: Then we must both be crap, because clearly I’m not good enough for the person who’s “not as good as me.”
4. The best revenge is being happy.
The unspoken response: Shut up, OK? Right now it flippin’ hurts and “happiness” is a concept I can’t begin to imagine.
5. He’ll be sorry one day.
The unspoken response: Uh, which day is that? I’m pretty sure it won’t be tomorrow. Or next Tuesday. As a matter of fact, I don’t think he will be. Ever. You need to work on your pep talks.
6. Time heals all wounds.
The unspoken response: I’m not “wounded,” you moron – I’m decimated. Does time heal decimated?
7. Have you prayed about it?
The unspoken response: Until my knees are raw and she’s still leaving me. My prayers haven’t been answered. Does that mean God doesn’t love me either? Just how unlovable AM I??
8. Is there another woman/man?
The unspoken response: Why would you immediately ask that? Do you know something? Does everybody know something?
9. Call me if there’s anything I can do.
The unspoken response: Yah – OK. Be expecting a call around 1:00 in the morning – I’ll be asking you to come over and fix my broken heart so I can get some sleep. Or, better yet, let me give you a call about fixing my spouse – make her change her mind about ending our marriage. Can you do that?
10. You don’t have guns in the house, do you?
The unspoken response: Is that suppose to be funny? You may not have noticed I’m not in a chuckling mood. And if it’s NOT suppose to be funny, who are you afraid for – my spouse or me? I don’t need you to put crazy thoughts in my head – there’s already plenty to deal with in there.
Whether you are thoroughly familiar with your friend’s marital history or didn’t see it coming, there are no magical words to be offered upon first hearing the news. If the news is being shared via phone or in writing, offer a simple: “Oh, Friend, I am so sorry” and let them make the next remark – one that may give you better guidance with what to say next. If you are told in person, and your relationship is such that physical contact is appropriate, sometimes it’s better to say nothing. Sometimes an immediate hug – an available shoulder “to cry on” – better conveys a wordless I hurt for you and with you.
EVERY SPOUSE NEEDS A FRIEND. Who better to fill that role than the one who loves them most? Whether you consider your spouse to be your absolute best friend, or you think the term “friend” isn’t significant enough to describe your relationship, we can all do a better job in being a friend to our spouses.
You know that special buddy of yours that you only get to see once in a blue moon? The one you pick up the phone and call when you see something that reminds you of your shared history? Analyze how you treat them, how they treat you and why the friendship is special. What’s the expression on your faces when you see each other? How do you catch up on what has happened in each other’s lives since you last connected?
1. Let your face light up when you see them. What do I mean? Go stand in front of a mirror. Think about a visit from that favored friend that you haven’t see in ages – and how great it’s going to be to see them. See what happens to your face? Is your spouse getting greeted with that same smile and sparkle?
2. Show interest in what’s happened in their life since you last saw them. OK – maybe we should replace ‘life’ with ‘day’ – but it’s the same principle. Ask about it. And then really listen. Just like we wouldn’t presume to know everything about what’s happened with that dear friend since we last saw them, chances are there is much our spouse could chat about their own day to an interested listener.
3. Send a text, email, or – better yet – a letter, just to let them know you are thinking of them. Sure, they may see you before they actually receive the written confirmation that you thought of them in the midst of your day – but it will still make them feel special and result in a smile when they see it!
4. Set a specific time to meet. I’m not talking about the oft-referred to “date night” – although that is a very good thing. I’m just talking about a connection that might not otherwise happen. You wouldn’t suggest to that special friend that you get together on Tuesday and leave it at that – you make a specific plan. Every once in a while it’s nice to set a specific time to hang out for a quick “catch up” time – getting up 15 minutes earlier to linger over a morning coffee, a 7:45 p.m ice cream connection before viewing the planned evening program. An it’s-all-about-us moment.
5. Tell them something you’ve always admired about them. We generally don’t hesitate to tell friends what we think is special about them – after all, it’s an unknown when the next visit will be and we don’t want to miss such an opportunity. In spite of the fact that (we think) we know when we’ll next see our spouse, we need to be intentional about creating such opportunities to lift them up. After all, our dearest friend deserves no less!
Divorce is tough enough without having to endure a public battle and reliving all the strife in a courtroom. An alternative to that knock-down-drag-out trial is mediation – the process of both parties sitting down with a trained individual who can help you arrive at agreements that best suit your circumstances. I’m not saying it’s easy – not much about divorce is – but it’s a very good option to explore if you want to get through the process with less damage than a trial can inflict. Having described the process and it’s benefits in previous articles, including why my perspective changed after participating in a mediation as a party, I thought I’d pass on some tips from an expert.
Kevyn Mattax, a highly regarded Family Law attorney and certified Family Mediator in Oklahoma City, has some tips to help you get the most out of your mediation experience.
1. Understand the process and what it looks like. Have a discussion with your attorney about not just what mediation is, but how it physically works. Who will be there? How is it set up? Does the mediator provide separate rooms or will you all be in one room? Are there “joint sessions” or does the mediator caucus? Does the mediator provide refreshments or should you bring your own? No question is too silly or basic.
2. Plan ahead for what you might want/need while you are at mediation. Take gum, headache medicine, a bottle of water. Take a charger for your cell phone or your laptop. You may be there for many hours. If you tend to get warm or cold easily, dress in layers and bring a light sweater. If you have young children, make sure that you have someone to pick them up and care for them if the mediation goes longer than you had planned. Do not bring third parties to the mediation unless that has been approved in advance.
3. Come prepared. Make sure your attorney sent the mediator a memorandum with as much helpful information as possible (in advance). Ideally, you, as the client should have reviewed and approved that information. Meet with your attorney in advance and go over your position. Know all of the pros and cons and be prepared with your position, yet, work hard to be flexible and open to compromise at the mediation, if need be. Make sure that all necessary exhibits and helpful materials will be at the mediation. Be as organized as possible so that you can focus on the task at hand. The better informed you are about all of the issues, your assets and liabilities, etc. the smoother the process will be.
4. Expect to feel emotional. Get a good night’s sleep the night before. Mediation can be exhausting and mentally draining. Take whatever steps you can to make sure that you are clear headed. Get up and walk around and take mini breaks during the process. Be honest with the mediator – if you are feeling anxious, overwhelmed, stressed, tell him/her. Mediators are not mind readers, so just speak up and ask for a break and then share your concerns in private. Mediators are expecting these emotions from the parties and have techniques and tips to share with you to help alleviate stressful reactions. Make sure and stay hydrated and eat enough during the day to maintain your blood sugar.
5. Anticipate the resolution. When one side makes an offer, know that there are really only three possible responses: accept, reject or make an offer. Be prepared to go in slow increments at first. Any movement toward resolution is encouraging. Understand that concessions must be made. Concessions are the language of cooperation. Trust the process. Everything that happens at mediation is confidential so you can let your guard down and be willing to truly attempt resolution with the assistance of a good mediator.
Just when I thought I knew all there was to know about mediation, I learned something new. I know that mediation, the process of resolving legal issues with the assistance of someone trained to help warring parties find creative solutions, is often better for divorcing spouses than having a trial. I have served as a mediator in numerous custody cases. As a Family Law practitioner, I have attended dozens of mediations while representing clients. As a Guardian Ad Litem for children, I’ve sat through mediations between the parents in case I could be of assistance with child-related issues. And as an adjunct Family Law professor, I have taught the mechanics and benefits of mediation to law students for seventeen years. I’ve even written articles about it, such as Take the Bat Out of the Battle, extolling its virtues for parties going through divorce.
I was in court to collect money that had been owed to me for a year and a half because I didn’t see the situation changing on its own any time soon. When the judge called our case, he asked us if we would like to mediate the case before having him hear it. I mentally rolled my eyes (it’s not good to actually roll your eyes when the judge asks a question) and asked myself what would be the point. I had already made two previous agreements with the individual over the past two years, and neither one had been honored. Besides – I was right. She had absolutely no defense. This was a slam-dunk case. I could be out of there in five minutes if it went to the judge. Who knew how long it would take if we tried to mediate it. As in, try to make another agreement with somebody I no longer trusted.
I looked over at my opponent and she shrugged – not quite sure what mediation was all about. The judge made the decision for me, suggesting that we give it a try. Not following the judge’s “suggestion” is about as well-received as eye-rolling. So off we trotted with a mediator who was standing by. The judge was already dealing with his next case.
My opponent and I sat across from each other at a conference table and the mediator sat at the head, forming a triangle with us. He started patiently explaining what mediation was, how it worked, and what was expected of us. I was still in professional attorney mode – and quite annoyed that I had to sit through a talk that I had given myself numerous times. I resisted the urge to “help” move things along.
And then we each had an opportunity to sum up our positions. To my shock and horror, I started getting a little emotional. What the . . . ? Attorneys don’t get misty-eyed when they talk. It just isn’t . . . done. I realized that it was less attorney-opponent and more two people who didn’t agree. Sure, we had “exchanged positions” before – but always through brusk phone exchanges or carefully worded emails. Never sitting across a table while looking at each other. Nothing like seeing a wince, frown, surprise, hurt rolling across the face of somebody you’re talking or listening to for a new perspective. Hearing is more than just taking in sound – it’s processing the words, registering them.
Here are a few things I learned about mediation from my new perspective:
Everything I formerly advocated about the mediation process for divorcing couples still holds true: you craft a better solution for your family than some judge who doesn’t know you can; you can get creative with the resolution in a way that the judge cannot; you have some control over the outcome as opposed to tossing the dice with the judge’s orders, you have an opportunity to be heard by the other in a way that you might not get in the courtroom.
I’m not telling you that Mediation is magic dust. It’s not something you can sprinkle on years of hurt, mistrust, betrayal, anger, or other raw emotions to make all the bad stuff disappear. I am telling you it’s a way to start a conversation that can have a different ending than others you’ve had before. And I’m telling you it’s an opportunity to be heard and craft a resolution for your family, and about your stuff, that is personalized in a way a judge just can’t accomplish. I’m telling you this process does not have the tear-each-other-to-shreds result that a trial can have. And I’m telling you, most important of all, that you can leave the mediation room with dignity intact, a desire to work together better for the children, and a sense of satisfaction having crafted a solution you believe works for your situation.
I can’t offer any solace regarding how you might feel leaving the courtroom if you choose to go to trial – because that’s an unknown.
Let’s be honest – flowers and candy are kind of an easy out for Valentine’s Day. They’re nice, sure – but not the most creative gift choice. And what’s the deal with the price of roses doubling just for the occasion?? Costs skyrocket like the price of gas on Labor Day weekend – for no other reason than people will pay more to give the traditional gift. So buck the system. Be a Valentine’s Day rebel. Here are a dozen (roseless!) gift ideas to that will get you thinking outside the chocolate box!
1. Vanity license plate. Get that special saying or nickname on a license plate – and your loved one will have your special sentiments with them where ever they go!
2. Newspaper greeting. If you live in a small town, buying a page, half page, quarter page or smaller of the local newspaper is probably an option. You can have it say whatever you want – and even include that special picture that will make your mate smile. What goes better with a morning cup of coffee like a personalized newspaper?!
3. Etched mirror. Take a hanging mirror from your wall to a glass etcher and have that meaningful quote, symbol or picture etched permanently in the place your mate will see reflected around their face for years to come! For a bigger splurge, hire the etcher to come to your home and do the bathroom mirror.
4. Create a secret code. Do something simple like having the letters in your own names represent different letters. Give your mate a card with your secret message (maybe where you’re going for dinner?) with instruction on the back for how to crack the code. When the day is over you’ll still have your code to tweet or send Facebook message that only the two of you will understand!
5. Name a star for them. Really. The International Star Registry has several “packages” for star-naming available. They even have coordinates of your personalized star included. Additional splurge? Buy, rent or borrow a telescope to have it aiming at your mate’s new star when you present your gift!
6. Personalized office supplies. Staplers, tape dispensers, letter holders and pens can be boring. Unless they’re a reminder that you are loved! Go traditional with your mate’s name, or make it even more personal with an inside joke, favorite song lyric, or other meaningful engraving.
7. Workplace delivery. Instead of sending those predictable (and grossly overpriced) roses to the workplace, how about surprising your mate with lunch delivered from their favorite restaurant, or a special coffee and pastry for their morning break?
8. Personalized games. Dice and playing cards can be personalized with words and pictures. Want to go bigger? How about personalizing a whole board game like this Make Your Opoly Board Game? Operating on a tight budget? There’s an app for that! In this case, a My Monopoly Game app that allows you to create and print personalized stickers to go over an existing game board.
10. A calendar. Boring? Not if you have few mystery dates penned in for upcoming months. Now the mundane qualifies as a gift that keeps on giving!
11. The selfie presentation. Want to take your mate to a special movie, dinner, or other event? Take a picture of yourself holding the tickets or menu and download the picture as wallpaper on your mate’s computer. What better way to start the day then turning on the computer and having the promise of a gift-to-come virtually presented?
10. Happily-ever-after book ending. Draft a Love Letter and glue it to the back inside cover of the book they’re reading for a very special ending!