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Divorcing with Children? 5 Resources You Should Know About

If you are a mom divorcing with children, we know you are worried.

Worrying about how the children will cope if we divorce is way up there on the list of reasons we choose to stay and gut it out. Hey, listen, as a momma now myself, I completely get it.  We will literally do ANYTHING to avoid causing our kids pain — even if it means absorbing massive amounts of pain ourselves. I know it comes from a good place. You are trying to shield them until you have it all figured out. But this is a mistake.

Before I opened SAS with my partner Liza, I was a teacher and school administrator for nearly 20 years.  I often knew from my students that their parents were not doing well, long before the grown ups came to talk to me.  I’d see kids in my office either in tears or in trouble and I’d attempt to get to the bottom of things. I’d hear about parents yelling when they thought the kids were asleep or finding mommy in tears in the bathroom or about dinnertimes where nobody talks anymore. You can’t protect them from the symptoms of what is happening at home, nor should you.  You want to know why?  Because if kids don’t understand what they are seeing and hearing, they will do two things: (1) They will assume it’s about them and that this is their fault and (2) They will use their imagination to fill in the reason why it’s their fault.

You must prevent this. You know this is not their fault and the children need to hear you say it.  You need to give them an age appropriate explanation as well, to help them dispel the myth they’ve told themselves.  You need to keep the conversation flowing from now on — this is not a one time event.  It’s an ongoing back and forth because as they grow and mature, their understandings and questions will change as well. They need to know they can come to you, anytime, about anything, forever. This is an opportunity to open a door with your kids and to show them that you know this is happening to them, too.

But how do you start the conversation about divorce with your children?

Yeah, it’s not like divorce comes with a manual and page 12 outlines exactly how to talk to your children about why you are divorcing.  However, there are some good things out there to explore, to help you frame the conversation with your children and to help you and the whole family navigate this big change. I encourage you to get online and do some digging, but in the meantime I’ve shared five of my favorites with you here:

1. Sesame Street For the younger set, this is a fabulous resource. Here you’ll find videos, songs, and printable materials.  You can also find the videos on YouTube so you can download them to watch anytime.

2. Banana Splits.  I discovered Banana Splits while I was teaching and I’m a big fan. It was designed with schools in mind but they have a great parent resource section with books to read and activities to do with your kids. This is best for kids in grades K-8th.  If your child’s school doesn’t know about Banana Splits, I highly recommend you share the link with them and encourage them to look into offering it at school.

3. Creative Therapy. Kids learn best by doing, right?  Creative Therapy offers two games you can play with your kids: “Talking Feeling & Doing” (ages 7-12)  and “Nobody Asked Me” (ages 8-15.)  What better way to connect with your child than through play?

4.  PBS Kids. This is a great website for upper elementary-middle school-aged kids that includes info on a wide range of topics. The section on divorce includes a quiz, advice, videos, facts, journal writing prompts – and more.  There’s also a section for parents that is worth checking out.

5.  Finally, visit the bookstore.  One of my favorite ways to teach my students and now my own son, is through stories.  There are quite a few good books out there to help kids understand divorce, but they are sometimes tough to find.  Here is a list to get you started:

Younger Readers

a)    Standing On My Own Two Feet by Tamara Schmitz

b)   Two Homes by Claire Masurel

c)    Was It The Chocolate Pudding? by Sandra Levins

d)   It’s Not Your Fault, Koko Bear by Vicki Lansky

Lower Elementary School

a)   Dinosaurs Divorce by Marc Brown

b)   Divorce is Not The End of The World by Zoe Stern

c)    I Don’t Want To Talk About It by Jeanie Franz Ransom

d)   When My Parents Forget How To Be Friends by Jennifer Moore-Mallinos

Older Elementary & Middle School

a)    It’s Not The End of The World by Judy Blume

b)   My Parents are Divorced Too by Melanie Ford

c)    Getting Through My Parents Divorce by Amy Baker, Phd, and Katherine Andre, Phd

d)   What Can I Do? by Danielle Lowry

Ok, Mom, I’ve armed you with some tools so now it’s up to you.  Please know that Liza and I are here if you have any questions or need additional resources.  If you haven’t talked with us, please do take us up on our free consultation.  We can help you figure out how to help your kids – and so much more.

 

 

 

 

snowy pine tree

Surviving Divorce Series: 11 Tips for Getting Through the Holidays Intact

Every month my partner Liza and I jump on the phone and host a free call for women facing change, coping, and surviving divorce.  We don’t have fancy equipment nor do we rehearse…let’s just say our schtick is far from polished. But we find more and more women joining us each month as we informally chat about the challenges divorce throws your way, and what’s more, the actions you can take to not only survive, but to actually nurture yourself.

Yesterday we hosted a call about surviving divorce and the holidays, a topic near and dear to our hearts. Liza and I both distinctly remember the eggshell-walking, crazy-making holiday times during our own divorces. Liza spent many years with her young girls feeling torn: on one side throwing herself into the merriment, on the other side, feeling like a fraud.The first time the holidays came around for me after I left my husband, I was unprepared for just how lonely and lost I would feel. For these reasons and for many others, Liza and I opened up our call to other women to hear what’s on everyone’s mind and to offer a few insights.

Surviving the holidays is possible if you prepare for them.  How?

1.     Lose the Norman Rockwell interpretation. Why is it that when this time of year rolls around we all have visions of sugarplums dancing in our heads? (What is a sugarplum, do you even know?)  The storybook version of the season is never how it really turns out and you know it.  Under the best of circumstances things go sideways so don’t set yourself up for disappointment.  Expect things to not go perfectly.

2.     Avoid winging it, have a plan. Anticipate what parts of the holiday you might struggle with and make a plan for what you will do during those times.  Where will you go Christmas Eve or the first night of Hanukkah? Don’t assume you’ll be fine and figure it out in the moment. Chances are that day will come and you won’t know what you want to do – and you’ll end up feeling sorry for yourself instead.

3.     Also have a plan B.  Just in case you really really don’t feel like doing what you originally planned to do, have an alternative plan ready.  Perhaps you were going to spend the day with your family but now the thought of that is just overwhelming…perhaps your plan B will be to go to the movies with a girlfriend who understands.  Tell your family ahead of time about plan B, let them know you will do your best to be there but that you might need to pass this time to take care of yourself. They’ll better understand your absence if it’s not a last minute cancellation.

4.     Don’t be afraid to mix it up.  There is no rule that says you always have to get a tree or bake or make latkes or spend a certain day at so and so’s house.  If what you’ve always done before is now something you find yourself dreading, do things differently. Create new traditions and new patterns that you can actually look forward to. If you have kids, brainstorm together what things you’d like to do for the holidays.  Challenge yourselves to think outside the box!

5.    Look ahead to the next holiday, now.  If you have kids, you’ll actually need two plans for each holiday:  One for when you have the kids, and one for when you don’t.  Use this planning time to think ahead to this time next year and all the holidays in between.  This is long range planning, not just what will you do to get through the next 3 weeks.  Get out the calendar and take a moment to brainstorm ideas so you don’t find yourself at a loss when the time comes.

6.    Try changing the setting.  We live in New York and this time of year is dreary, dark, and cold.  If you are feeling cheerful about the holiday season, you can pretty easily overlook the weather and the tree and window decorations give you a boost.  However, if you are not feeling so “fa-la-la…” well those decorations just annoy you and the weather can literally put you into a state of depression.  You must change your environment.  Plan a trip if you can, someplace with a very different feel from home. Perhaps you can visit an old friend or connect with a family member you might not typically see this time of year. If you can’t travel, do something to alter your environment at home… maybe try new curtains and a bedspread or rearrange the furniture. Changing your environment will help your brain get out of the negative thinking pattern.

7.    Boycott if you want to.  When I was navigating my own divorce recovery, I simply wanted nothing to do with the holidays.  I didn’t want to go to any parties nor make myself crazy shopping…I just didn’t have the heart for it.  I gave myself permission to disengage from most of my usual obligations one year.  I spoke to my friends and family, letting them knows that I needed some time off and that I’d be back next year.  Granted, I did not have children at the time and I know this might not be possible for some of you moms…but I do encourage you to pull back on the number of things you are beholden to.  Choose the most important traditions and honor those – while giving yourself a break and some breathing room from some of the others.

8.     Maintain safe boundaries. Your friends and family might know (or at least suspect) what’s going on with you and your marriage, but you do not have to feel obligated to open up and talk about it.  Establish a boundary that feels safe for you and create a statement that you can say if someone tries to cross the line… saying something like “I know you care about me and I appreciate your concern.  I’ll let you know when I’m feeling more comfortable with sharing the details” will go a long way in helping family honor your privacy.

9.    Start a gratitude journal.  Believe it or not, there is actually a lot of research that supports the fact that writing in a gratitude journal has positive psychological and physical effects. Here’s how it works: 1. Buy a notebook or journal that you love. 2. Once a week (not more often, that has a reverse effect and starts to make it feel like a chore) write down one thing you are grateful for. Throughout the week you’ll find yourself thinking about what you’ll write next week and that keeps you in a place where your brain is regularly engaging in positive thinking – helping you to see everything in a more positive light.

10. Recognize this is finite and start scheduling the new year.  It’s easy to get stuck in a funk and lose sight of the fact that this is all temporary. In fact, there are only a handful of holidays in a year but they get so easily get blown out of proportion.  Look beyond the holidays and start making appointments and planning things for the regular days ahead.  Schedule appointments and notes on the calendar for January and February so you have plenty to look forward to.

Toward the end of our call, a listener added an 11th tip to the list (… thank you Patricia!) that we think is ESPECIALLY important to include here:

11.  Don’t play the victim anymore! We sometimes fall into the trap of thinking everything is happening to us alone, or that our spouse is so beastly, or our kids are so insensitive. In short, we convince ourselves we have no power here. That isn’t true…you can choose to stop playing the victim. Turn the table and actively decide that you are going to stop letting others dictate how your feel. Make the choice to stop letting circumstances and people rob you of your joy, this time of year, or any other day or hour.

We invite you to join us on our call next month — and the month after that. Join us — to not just hear our thoughts, but to hear those of other women facing many of the same challenges as you. Or, if you’d like specific, confidential feedback on your situation right now, we offer every woman, whether she decides to work further with us or not, a free 45-minute consultation. Reread tip #11 and do something for you.

Sara Jessica Parker on Divorce on DBO sitting in a chair

#DivorceHBO: It’s Not “Basically All Law”

As I get caught up on #DivorceonHBO, I’m debating whether I like it because I work with women going through divorce or because I went through my own divorce… or if I’d like it even if neither of those were true. I’d be curious to know what you think. Do you like the show? I know it’s a little bleak at times, but doesn’t that make it ring true?  Isn’t life a little raw and bleak sometimes?

I think I like the show because it’s grappling with things that my clients grapple with… and those things are not easy nor sexy nor simple. Here’s what’s happened in the last three episodes that mirrors what I see in my practice …

How #DivorceonHBO rings true

Episode 5: “Basically, It’s All Law.”  Though Frances and Robert started off in mediation, Robert is (poorly) advised by a friend that he’ll get taken to the cleaners if he goes that route, so he thinks he’d better get his own lawyer. The first one he goes to see reassures him that while he mostly does trusts and estates, “Basically, it’s all law.”  Nope! Abort! Abort, Robert!  It’s most definitely NOT just all law.

Matrimonial law is very specific, complicated, and nuanced. You absolutely want to hire an attorney who ONLY does family law and has a good amount of experience.  Never hire an attorney simply because he is the cheapest or because someone gave you her name.  Do interview several attorneys, ask questions, and select the one that you feel the most comfortable with.  Find out how well he/she knows the judges they will be dealing with in your case…it’s important that they are familiar with the rules and proclivities of each judge.

Episode 6: The Elephant in the Room. Robert is surprised to learn that Frances has yet to tell her parents. She has lots of excuses (she hasn’t had time…she wants to tell them in person) so in an effort to save face, the family plans to show up for Christmas as if nothing has happened. Yeah, probably no one will notice that elephant you have in tow…

Clients often ask me, when do I have to tell people? How do I tell people? Is it by going to everyone, one by one?  Is it sending a mass email? Changing my Facebook status? They dread the reactions, the questions…the pity.  It is a difficult thing to navigate and there really is no one right answer. It helps to tell one person first (a trusted friend who can keep your confidence or a divorce coach, for example) and ask them to brainstorm with you… what can you do to let loved ones know, in a way you are comfortable with?  Brainstorm a statement you can use to let them know you really don’t welcome a million questions. Try something like, “I appreciate your concern.  I’m working through everything.  I’ll reach out when I’m ready to talk.”

Episode 7: We’re Broke? In this episode, Frances is very unpleasantly surprised (ummm, understatement) to find out from her attorney that they are deep, deep in debt.  Turns out Robert has been making poor business decisions, taking out loans, and remortgaging their home without her knowledge, while she is the sole breadwinner.  Ouch.

One of the most excruciating and yet absolutely necessary parts of divorce is examining your finances. It can also be scary if you haven’t been the one keeping an eye on things. (And yeah, sometimes you uncover awful surprises. When I went through my divorce, I found out my ex had racked up $40,000 in credit card debt with a card in my name.) Often your impulse is to ignore, delay, stall. Don’t. The longer you do that, the bigger the problem will seem and your imagination will fill in the blanks about what you don’t know or understand. Get informed. Gather up as many statements and documents as you can and take them to a professional to help you make sense of it all.  Divorce coaches and/or CDFA’s (Certified Divorce Financial Advisors) are trained to help you get organized if you are considering or preparing for divorce.  Even if the news is less than ideal, understanding your financial realities and forming a plan to address them will still feel better than living in the dark.

I’ll keep tuning into #DivorceonHBO because I’m pretty sure there are more lessons to learn here. It’s likely to get worse for Frances before it gets better.  But if Frances were here, I would impress upon her that it WILL get better.  This WILL end and there IS life after divorce, I promise.

If you’d like to talk with me (or my partner Liza) about your own situation, we’d be happy to connect with you. Or if you aren’t ready, that’s ok too. We invite you to keep reading.

Until next time.

Getting a Divorce with Children and Dealing with a “Daddy Come Lately”?

As if getting a divorce with children is not hard enough, few issues are more vexing than when a father claims, after years of non-involvement, he is entitled to equal parenting time when the couple breaks up. This is known in divorce circles as the “Daddy-Come-Lately” scenario.

How does getting a divorce with children and custody work if your husband has been absent all along?

There is a strong presumption in the law that both parents have equal rights to their children. In the context of divorce, where the parents have separated and the children are living with one of them, there is a corollary presumption that the other parent has the right to visit with the children 50% of the time. This presumption causes a problem when a father who has previously had little involvement with the children asserts that he is entitled to equal time even though he has previously not been an involved parent.

Husbands have a variety of motives to assert they are entitled to equal access with their children during or after a divorce, including a desire to “punish” their spouses, achieve a strategic advantage and evade child support.

Although a “daddy-come-lately”’s claim to spend equal time with children may strike the mother as unfair and even harmful to the children, the law is on the father’s side because of the presumption of equal parenting rights. This presumption can be overcome only if it can be proven that if the husband exercises equal access time the children will suffer. While this is possible, it is not easy and calls for homework on the part of the mother and skillful advocacy by her lawyer.

In order to overcome the presumption that the father is entitled to equal access time, you will need to have admissible evidence showing it will not be in the childrens’ “best interests.” Examples of such evidence would be proof that the father has used excessive corporal punishment, neglected or abused the children, or inflicted domestic violence on the children, the mother, or both. Unfortunately, in many cases, these factors are either absent or not provable.

Also, if parents have lived together before the divorce has started, it will be very difficult to overcome the presumption of parental equality, regardless of how uninvolved the father has been.

A hypothetical case

Suppose a husband and wife have been separated for one year during which the mother has had physical custody of two young children. The parents have worked out an informal access schedule under which the father has alternate weekends and a mid-week visit. Assume this would result in father having 25% access time and the mother 75% access time. However, because of his heavy travel schedule, the father has had to miss a lot of time with the children. The mother files for divorce and the father immediately demands equal time, claiming that even though he has to travel extensively, the mother has given him make-up time so that he has not actually missed any time with the children.

The mother is outraged because, contrary to the father’s story, he has in fact missed a lot of access time. Unless the mother can prove this, a court will most likely grant the father’s request for equal time.

Defending against the daddy-come-lately

If you getting a divorce with children and you are anticipating a custody battle with a daddy-come-lately, you can help your case by starting to gather evidence that may defeat a claim for equal access. In the case of the traveling father, you should keep a log of his itineraries which your attorney can use to cross-examine your husband during a custody trial. You should also keep bank records, credit card statements or other proof of your husband’s travels. These may show that your husband was not home enough to have exercised significant time with the children.

Always gain an understanding of what divorce might look like for you before doing anything radical. Consult for free with SAS for Women to gain critical insights, an overview of your legal options, and vetted resources, or consult an experienced matrimonial lawyer. Even if in your particular case the law is not on your side, the right lawyer may be able to level the playing field.

Daniel H. Stock, PLLC, with offices located in New York City and Westchester, brings more than 25 years of legal experience to all issues associated with uncontested, collaborative, contested or high net worth divorce. He seeks to reach amicable agreements on matters such as child custody and visitation, child support and alimony, and property division. He favors the kind of outcome that benefits you and your children as you transition to a post-divorce future. However, when discussions are not productive, consensus is not possible and litigation is necessary, he is fully prepared to aggressively protect your rights in court.

 

#DivorceonHBO poster featuring Sara Jessica Parker

#DivorceHBO Episodes 2-4: Kernels of Truth

Ok, full disclosure, I originally intended to write every week about #DivorceHBO, giving you my honest opinion as a divorce professional and offering you lots of insight as we watched the characters develop and their divorce unfold. However, as you all know by now, that didn’t happen (yeah, I know, not even close.) Well, life got in the way for a bit and now we’re on Episode 7 and you’ve not heard a peep from me. I hope you can forgive me and let me chime in now?

How #DivorceHBO tells the truth

While #DivorceHBO isn’t wildly popular (63% on Rotten Tomatoes) it is holding it’s own. I suspect that is because it’s accurate and genuine in many ways — anyone who has ever been through a divorce or is going through one now, probably knows what I mean.

Look, is it overdone at times?  Yes, it’s television, so of course. But once you look past that, there is a kernel of truth in every single episode:

Episode 2: The “Oh Sh*t, What Did I Do?” Moment.  In episode one, Frances blurts out, “I want a divorce!” at a birthday party gone awry — and soon realizes, umm, now what? There’s definitely a moment (or forty) where you wish it had never been said, once you’ve said it. Now that it’s out there though, in all its ugly glory, you have to deal with it. Even if it is actually what you want in the long run, you haven’t thought this through and you panic. “Are we throwing away a good thing?” or “Are we going to screw up the kids forever?” Often this is a time you’ll decide to try marriage counseling or “try again” by sweeping things under the rug a little while longer.

It’s completely normal to have these feelings at this stage.  It’s a huge decision and not one you should take lightly.  Rather than waiting until it comes bubbling up at the most inopportune time, we recommend you talk with a trusted friend or a divorce coach first, to help you process and think through a few things before you approach your mate.

Episode 3: The “You Need to Destroy Him Before He Destroys you” Friend.  As a divorced woman herself, Frances’s friend Dallas advises her to destroy Robert because he’s a “monster.”  Often, once you make the decision to divorce public, you’ll have a friend who will tell you to prepare for battle and to “lawyer up.”  This is because it’s likely she went through her own ugly divorce and is still a little bitter and resentful. It’s tempting to listen to her advice too, after all she’s been through it, right?  She knows more than you …

Stop right there. Do not listen to her. Well, listen politely but then do not take on her seek and destroy attitude. This will not serve you, it will only escalate the situation and make things worse, not to mention a heck of a lot more expensive. Instead, get informed about the different ways to divorce (there are several) and understand the benefits and limitations to each.  After you evaluate them, choose the process that is right for you and then consult with an attorney who specializes in that method. If you go right for the litigator, that’s the path they’ll lead you down. Litigation often means court.

Episode 4: “Nothing To It But To Do It,” Otherwise Known as Telling the Kids.  Frances and Robert (especially Frances) are struggling in episode 4 with how to tell the kids about the divorce.  They rehearse and make a plan, clearly agonized (especially Frances) about how this will go. After a painful failed first attempt, they finally sit down at a family meeting to break the news, to which their son says, “We kinda knew already.”

This is typical because we never give kids the credit they deserve, no matter their age. They always know more than you think. We recommend that you bring the kids into a family discussion on the earlier side of things, not only so they feel included, but so they don’t spend time worrying and imagining horrible scenarios, like the divorce itself is all their fault. Taking the time to have an age appropriate yet honest conversation will go a long way with your children (and help you avoid the anticipation and dread that precedes that conversation).

As I said in my first post about the show, I maintain that Frances needs a divorce coach, now more than ever.  The kernels of truth that I’m describing are also TRAPS that can be avoided with some guidance. Talking with a trained and certified coach who is experienced with the pitfalls of divorce will save you money, time, and most importantly, your sanity! If you’d like to talk with me or my partner Liza, schedule a free session and we’ll help you gain some insight to your situation.

Stay tuned for my next post and the truisms in episodes 5-7 of #DivorceonHBO.

Sarah Jessica Parker and Thomas Haden Church walking on railroad tracks with train coming

#DivorceonHBO Episode 1: Why Frances Will Need a Divorce Coach

I must admit, as a divorce coach, when I learned that HBO was coming out with a new series called “Divorce” I was pretty geekily excited. I was eager to see how television would capture what I see on a daily basis: The strange, messy, sad and frustrating thing it can be to unravel a marriage and the hard work it takes to put your life back together again.  However, it wasn’t only for selfish reasons I was happy to see this show premiere.  For me it was proof that divorce is coming out of the shadows…that the stigma of failure and doom is lifting and that it’s not only okay to talk about it, it’s okay to laugh about it, too! Divorce used to be the thing no one talked about, the shameful little secret couples were forced to hide behind attorney doors until they emerged from battle and slunk off their separate ways. Finally, it’s out in the open as a fact of life. Divorce happens.

In the pilot episode, we meet Frances, wife, mom, and career woman, like so many of us.  After a shocking display by friends who are awkwardly and painfully clearly unhappy in their marriages, she breaks it to her husband that she wants a divorce, or as she put it, “I want to save my life while I still care about it!” (Love that line by the way.)

I see it all the time ( — and lived with it myself for years) that vague sense of unhappiness, the dissatisfaction, the feeling of “there has to be more than this.” It’s like a tiny toothache that gradually worsens until your entire jaw is swollen and throbbing and you are forced to recognize that it’s there, and now you have to do something about it.

Cut to the scene where Frances is telling her girlfriend Dallas that she broke the news to her husband last night.

“Oh there it is,” I thought. “Classic mistakes of divorce. Don’t do it, Frances, don’t do it!”  Frances says, “Well, I won’t be on my own anyway.  He is the only thing that has kept me sane this last year. I love him, I think.”

(Oy.) Too late…she’s bet the farm on a new relationship.

Frances goes on to admit (grinning like a schoolgirl the whole time) that there is someone else. While her friend Dallas just laughs along, she knows as well as I do this is a mistake.

Any good divorce coach will tell you that (a) we see people make this mistake all the time and (b) it’s bigger than you think.  Why, what’s the big deal?

1.     Hormones, hormones, hormones. When we meet someone new, our bloodstream is flooded with powerful hormones like adrenaline, dopamine, and oxytocin, all of which dictate your love-drunken behavior. In fact, cultural anthropologist Helen Fisher studied couples in “lust” and found that dopamine has a similar effect on the brain as cocaine.  You are literally high when you are in this early stage of love. Do you really want to be making life- changing decisions while you are high as a kite?

2.     Clouded decision-making.  When you are raging with hormones and sneaking off to have hot sex at your every opportunity, trust me, you are not able to think clearly.  Your judgment is clouded and yet this is a time where you have such big decisions to make.  Where you will live, how the kids will manage the transition, how your finances will be handled…these are not small things! Now more than ever you need to have your wits about you.

3.     You don’t live in a bubble. Yes, the feeling of being adored is completely addictive and the sex is beyond excellent with someone new and exciting (hormones remember?) but you must realize, this is not just about you. Are you really ready to introduce this person to your kids? Your parents? Your oldest friends, the ones who were in your first wedding?  In our oxytocin-induced haze we tend to gloss over questions like these.

4.    You can’t possibly have had time to mourn the end of the marriage.  And mourn it you must, because it’s not just about the relationship with your spouse that ends here. In fact, you may not be all that sad about that. But what about your family as you know it? And the hopes and dreams you had for the marriage?  It takes time to find closure and meaning in what caused the marriage to end. If you run to the next relationship too soon, when will you stop to reflect on the last one?

5.     Wrapping your happiness up in someone else is the biggest mistake of all. Isn’t this what got you there in the first place? You thought that your husband wasn’t making you happy, so you went searching for someone who would? Hear this: It isn’t the man’s job to make you happy. It never was. That’s always been your job. If you aren’t happy, you aren’t doing something for yourself and that’s what you have to figure out.  No one else has that power.

As the episode end draws near, Frances realizes it’s not as easy as telling her husband she wants a divorce and now she can cozy up to her lover as the details sort themselves out. As she realizes this, she backpedals, scrambling to shut her Pandora’s box.  Too late of course, and this is why Frances is going to need a divorce coach.

Stay tuned.

As divorce coaches at SAS, Liza and Kim work with women from all over the world who are either exploring the idea or facing the practical realities of divorce. Will #divorceonhbo accurately portray divorce as we see it unfold in real life? We’ll report back and let you know if it’s just entertainment or pointing to something honest. In the meantime, if you want to explore what divorce may or may not mean for you, in your real life, we’d welcome a chance to talk with you. Schedule your free consultation and we’ll figure it out together.

Mother helping young daughter skateboard

How to Tell Your Kids You are Getting Divorced

Have you been worried about how to tell your kids you are getting divorced for a long time now? Did you stay in the marriage much longer than you wanted, because you were so frightened of what the news or changes might do to them? Have you put off telling them anything because you just don’t know what to say?

You are not alone. Every mother will tell you the thought of inflicting pain on your child is unbelievably excruciating, and it can even be paralyzing.

However, you’ve also realized that staying in an unhealthy environment isn’t sustainable for you and it’s certainly not good for the kids either.  Having two happy or happy-ish parents has to be better than two unhappy ones who live together, right? (Yes, we agree with you!)

Telling your children about your decision to divorce is not going to be easy…but with a few guidelines in place, it can be a lot less painful and may actually open the door to a healthier and improved, ongoing dialogue with your kids.

How to tell your kids you are getting divorced: What to avoid

  • Don’t underestimate them. Children understand and see FAR more than we give them credit for. This includes reading your body language. Kids are masters at that.
  • Don’t be afraid to show emotion. Kids need to know that it’s normal, natural, and totally okay to be upset when something sad happens.
  • Avoid language like “don’t feel sad” or “don’t be scared.” These feelings are normal and associated with loss. If you discourage them, kids will keep it inside or begin to believe it’s wrong to feel that way.
  • Don’t give unnecessary or adult details. The kids do not need to know that Daddy is sleeping around or that your legal bills are piling up. Stick to telling them about the things that apply directly to them. Avoid blaming, name calling or labeling your mate. He is their father first and always will be.

What do you want to make sure you do?

  • Tell them together. Ideally, both parents will tell the kids as a couple – that means, at the same time. Keep the conversation simple and direct. Invite them to ask questions. Afterwards, talk with each child individually as well. Older kids may have different questions or need more details than younger ones, so talking individually gives you a chance to address their worries.
  • Use age appropriate language and details. When talking to all the kids together, make sure it’s in a way that your youngest will understand. You can have a deeper conversation with the older children separately.
  • Model for your kids how to express their feelings. Tell them honestly how you feel so they can feel safe doing the same. Kids will mimic you and if you act strong and show no emotion, that’s what they will try to do too. It’s ok to cry and let them know that you are sad.  Tell them what is in your heart, in simple terms and they will feel safe enough to do the same.
  • Tell the truth. Sugar coating it isn’t going to ring true anyway so it’s best to be straightforward and honest. Try, “This is really sad and it’s going to be hard at times.  But we have each other to get through it.”
  • Check in often. Feelings and understandings change as your child grows and matures. They may not feel free to talk about it in this moment, but that can change weeks, months or years later. By asking how they are, you are inviting them to share their feelings.
  • Be prepared to have the discussion more than once, possibly over and over again. Let them talk and ask questions when they are ready. Reassure them they can come to you anytime.
  • Look for outside resources to lessen your children’s sense of isolation. Find age appropriate books that discuss divorce, two households, or step families. Contact your children’s school, the administration and your child’s teacher to let them know what’s going on at home. Some schools even have after school support programs for kids whose parents are breaking up or already separated.

What’s next?

After the initial talk, it’s important to keep the conversation going and allow them to bring up questions anytime. As changes occur, like moving out or a new custody schedule is put into place, keep the kids in the loop and informed. Discuss what it means for them (both good and bad) and find out what questions they have in order to give them an opportunity to prepare themselves mentally for the changes to come. Help them to know what to anticipate next (for example, perhaps having a family calendar posted in both homes, so kids can see where they will be tomorrow or next week and take comfort in the structure) and always, always, encourage them to express themselves.

The decision to divorce is never easy, most especially when there are kids involved. Often the anticipation of the conversation, when or how to tell the kids, is much worse than the conversation itself. You may find that they kids are relieved to talk to you about it or even that they suspected all along.

One final note

This advice applies to telling kids of ALL ages, no matter how old they are. Even if they are grown up, with kids of their own, they will want and will appreciate a chance to be part of this important family conversation. Telling your kids about your decision to divorce is an opportunity to bring your family closer together, if you let it.

If you’d like to speak to someone more in depth about your particular situation, we invite you to schedule a free 45-minute consultation with us. 

credit: weheartit.com

How Much Does a Divorce Cost?

“How much does a divorce cost?” is one of the first questions we often hear when a woman makes contact with us, while “how long will a divorce take?” is a close second. We wish there were a menu to refer you to, so you could evaluate your choices and pick and choose items à la carte. However, the correct, though immensely unsatisfying answer to both questions is, “It depends.”

That doesn’t mean you should stop investigating your options. It’s important for you to be educated on your choices so you learn what’s possible for your life. The following insights, shared by NYC divorce attorney Orrit Hershkovitz will help you get started on whether your divorce will cost a few thousand dollars or several hundreds of thousands, and whether it will take several months or several years.

So how much DOES a Divorce Cost?  That depends upon…

1. The process you select

There are various methods to dissolve a marriage. Mediation, in which a neutral professional (usually a lawyer or mental health professional) facilitates a resolution between the parties, is generally the most economical means of ending a marriage. Participants can be represented by counsel (their own lawyers) throughout the process. Another option is collaborative divorce, a process that requires both parties to agree in advance not to go to court, and to retain new counsel if they do. However, not all couples are suited to mediation or collaborative divorce, particularly if one spouse has not been, or will not be, given access to the financial information and documentation necessary to make an informed decision, or fears for his or her safety or the safety of his or her children. One or both individuals may also prefer not to negotiate directly with the other spouse.

Another option is the more traditional approach: hiring a lawyer to negotiate on your behalf.

Hiring a lawyer does not necessarily mean that you and your spouse are headed to divorce court.

An agreement may be negotiated (as in an uncontested divorce), either directly or through counsel, without ever stepping foot in a courtroom. Litigation (or a contested divorce) though unavoidable in some instances, will often increase a couple’s costs.

In all cases, court fees will be incurred. Such fees will include the cost of filing a divorce action and other paperwork required to obtain a divorce decree, and may include fees for making applications (or “motions”) to the court. In New York, for instance, the current filing fees to obtain a divorce amount to almost $400; the fee to make a motion is $45. Obviously, the longer the litigation continues, the more you can expect to pay for your (and possibly your spouse’s) attorney’s fees. Additional funds may be expended on the service of legal documents (e.g., summonses and subpoenas), transcripts, and the preparation of court orders (e.g., Qualified Domestic Relations Orders necessary to distribute certain retirement assets).

2. The number and complexity of the issues that are contested

Some divorces appear simple from the start. The parties, for instance, may have no children or no substantial assets or debts. Or a divorcing couple may have already discussed and agreed upon a resolution of all issues. Other cases are more complex. Not only may the parties not agree on the issues of parental decision-making and access, but they may also have assets that are not easily divisible (e.g., a work of art, a business), need to be valued (e.g., a house, stock options) or sold. But the nature of the issues themselves is only part of the equation.

Any acrimony between the parties can also delay the resolution of even the simplest issue.

By contrast, the parties’ willingness to compromise and cooperate can facilitate the resolution of even the most complex issue. Thus, as with your choice of process, you and your spouse can control the cost and length of your divorce by choosing whether, when, and how to conciliate in a dispute.

3. The lawyer you hire

The lawyer you select to represent you, and the lawyer your spouse may select to represent him or her, is another significant factor that will affect the length and cost of your divorce. The range of hourly fees charged by lawyers varies widely across the country. Even in large legal markets, hourly rates can range from approximately $250 to $750. Where a lawyer falls on that spectrum usually depends on his or her experience, reputation, and the size of his or her firm. The complexity of the case is more likely to affect a lawyer’s retainer fee, which is an advance payment intended to cover at least the lawyer’s initial work on the case.

Read this for more on how to pay for a divorce attorney.

Equally important as a lawyer’s fees is the fit between you and your lawyer. Your chemistry. You should not only be confident in your lawyer’s abilities, but also comfortable with how he or she is advancing your case. Do you feel protected? Understood? Is your lawyer prompt in responding to your calls and e-mails? If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” not only may your choice of lawyer affect the cost and time it takes for you to get divorced, but you may also be dissatisfied with the end result.

If this chemistry issue is starting to sound like a “relationship,” it is. As in any relationship – indeed, as in marriage itself – the compatibility between lawyer and client is critical. Choose wisely.

4. Where you live

How much a divorce will cost tends to correlate with the cost of living in a particular locale. Not only will legal (and especially attorneys’) fees be higher in areas in which it is more expensive to live, but you may also have to pay more child and spousal support. If you live in Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, or other major city, you can expect to pay more than someone living in Hope, Kentucky, for instance.

5. Whether you need experts

If there are substantial assets, you may need an expert to value a business or a pension, or appraise real property or personal property such as art, jewelry, or other collectibles. You may also want to consult with an accountant, financial advisor, or other experts for advice about the potential tax or financial implications of a proposed settlement. If custody is contested, the court may appoint a child custody evaluator to assist the court in making its determination. An attorney for the child or children may also be appointed.

In summary, the decisions that you and your spouse make, and how you conduct yourselves, in the divorce process can, at least to some extent, affect how long your divorce will take and how much it will cost.

Focus on the factors you can control.

Understanding and choosing a process and lawyer wisely as early as possible will help to control your financial and emotional costs. Consider making a free appointment with SAS for Women to learn your next steps, what process might be especially good for you, and for referrals to vetted legal professionals. Or make a list of your questions, your assets and debts, and make an appointment with a divorce attorney who can give you concrete feedback on your unique story.

Orrit Hershkovitz, a partner at Barton LLP, represents individuals in all aspects of family and matrimonial law, including divorce, parental custody and access, child and spousal support, property distribution, relocation, enforcement, and the negotiation of pre-nuptial, post-nuptial, and separation agreements. In addition to her work representing private clients, Orrit is also an active supporter of Sanctuary for Families, a non-profit organization that provides comprehensive services to victims of domestic violence. For more information, call Orrit at (212) 885-8832.

 

Woman in a suit

Wait, What? Yep, Women Pay Alimony, Too

Is your soon-to-be ex-husband asking for alimony or spousal maintenance?

Actually, you are not alone, women pay alimony, too.  Official and current statistics don’t exist, but in my experience and in an informal survey of attorneys and mediators in my circle, it’s not only happening but in fact, women who will have to pay alimony is on the rise.  I see it in about ten percent of cases, which makes sense, as according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women are now the primary breadwinners in one-third of all marriages.

I find that while men aren’t happy to pay alimony, they aren’t exactly surprised either.  Women are shocked and furious.  Here is a sampling of the reactions I hear to the news:

“His attorney said they would ask for alimony.  Can they DO that?”

“I make more now, but he could make more money if he tried.  He’s just lazy.”

“Why should I pay him money to sit on his a**?!?”

Under what circumstances would you have to pay alimony?

If you make a lot more money than he does, and you’ve been married for more than 10 years, prepare yourself for the possibility that you will be paying him maintenance.  You might have been working harder all through the marriage, but unfortunately that’s not how it works.

What may seem like a horrible injustice is actually just (mostly) math.

In New York state (as with many others), there are guidelines and a formula to follow.  A great tool to use to get a sense of things is to check out this online calculator.

However, that’s just a place to start. The courts do look at other factors when making a decision about support, including:

• the length of the marriage

• each spouse’s age and health status

• each spouse’s present and future earning capacity

• the need of one spouse to incur education or training expenses

• whether the spouse seeking maintenance is able to become self-supporting

• whether caring for children inhibited one spouse’s earning capacity

• equitable distribution of marital property, and

• the contributions that one spouse has made as a homemaker in order to help enhance the other spouse’s earning capacity.

It sounds fair if you aren’t living it.  What is not in the formula?

• If he cheated on you

• If you were a saver and he spent all your money

• If you already feel he’s been sponging off you for years

• If he’s underemployed or worse, unemployed and you still do more of the cooking and cleaning around the house.

Unfortunately, the “fairness” of it all can’t be quantified nor corrected by the courts. In trying to create an equitable system, it turns out that lazy husbands can look to you for alimony or maintenance during separation proceedings. The simple reality is, sometimes women pay alimony too.

What to Do Now

If you are unsure of how your divorce will affect you financially, help is available.

A Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) can work with you to project the financial implications of your divorce, while your attorney focuses on the legal issues. Setting a realistic budget and understanding the tax and investment details before your divorce is finalized will allow you to start off on the right foot financially.

Sara Stanich is a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) practitioner and Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA™) based in New York City. She specializes in helping parents understand their options and make informed decisions surrounding the financial aspects of divorce.  Learn more or schedule a free consultation at PowerOverDivorce.com.