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Divorce and Life Insurance: 5 Critical Things to Know

When you are setting up your new life during a divorce, life insurance may not be the most pressing thing on your mind (ahem, we suspect it’s not on your mind at all!) and yet it plays a crucial role. Many of us don’t understand life insurance, nor recognize how necessary it is for protecting us in the future. It’s especially important to understand how divorce and life insurance go hand in hand before you finish negotiating your divorce settlement. We will give you a quick “Life Insurance 101” here, but you’ll definitely want to consult with a vetted insurance broker to make sure you have optimized your plans for the future.

What is life insurance and why do I need it?

If you are working and supporting a family, it’s important to have life insurance coverage. If you should pass away unexpectedly and the income your family relies on is suddenly no longer there … well, you see the problem. Life insurance would provide your family money to essentially replace what you would have made in salary. There are basically two kinds:

Term: This is for a designated number of years (10, 20, 30, etc.) If you pass away while term life is in effect, your beneficiary (ies) will collect the money in a lump sum. It’s a “use it or lose it” sort of policy.

Permanent: This policy is for a lifetime (and usually significantly more expensive). There are different types of permanent insurance including universal and whole. Which one you choose depends entirely on your needs and situation. (Again it’s best to talk with an insurance professional to decide.).

Why do divorce and life insurance go hand in hand?

If you are relying on maintenance (alimony) and/or child support payments from your ex to make ends meet, what would you do if something unexpectedly happened to him and he passed away? Getting a life insurance policy on your ex ensures that you would be able to manage financially should something happen to him. By the same token, if you are working, having life insurance on yourself ensures that you would be leaving your family with some money to replace your salary, should something happen to you.

On a related topic — please forgive our bluntness — what if one or both of you don’t die but get hurt badly enough that you can no longer work and earn a living? You should know that life insurance does not help in that situation. In that case you need to have something called “disability insurance”, another type of insurance you really need to understand and consider having in your divorce settlement. Disability insurance is essentially the same thing but it helps in the event of illness or injury. For the purpose of this article we’ll stick to divorce and life insurance (and address disability insurance in a later article).

So what are the 5 critical things to know about divorce and life insurance?

5 info boxes on divorce and life insurance

Design: Ashley Nakai

1. Securing life insurance does not happen quickly.

Life insurance takes some time (several weeks to months) to secure, so it’s important that you start the conversation early in your divorce negotiations. The insurance company needs time to evaluate your case in order to determine if they will offer you coverage and at what rate. This is based on your medical history (medical records or a physical exam may be needed) and your financial history (they may request a current credit report or financial statements for example).

2. You need the right amount of insurance.
The amount of protection you need must be evaluated by a pro. Your attorney will make suggestions based on spousal and/or child support to help you protect yourself and your family from the unforeseen. However, it’s always wise to consult with a good insurance broker to hear their professional estimates.

It’s important to consider other factors, such as your current income, earning capability and your current and future financial needs of the family. A trained insurance broker can help you think about other considerations such as education funding and retirement and pension considerations … things your attorney may not consider but may make a big difference in your situation.

3. You have to figure out how long you will be required to keep it.
You will negotiate into your divorce settlement how long you and/or your spouse are required to carry the coverage, which is why it’s important to get educated before the divorce document is signed. Again, it’s best to not simply reply on what your lawyer says but to diversify your knowledge base by talking with your insurance broker.

4. You will need to decide on a beneficiary.
The beneficiary is the person you designate to receive the money should death occur. Who the beneficiary (or beneficiaries) is should be predetermined in your divorce settlement. It’s also important to be specific in the policy about who owns it, who is required to pay the premiums, and who is allowed to change the beneficiary should the need arise.

5. It’s important to compare policies and prices.
Do not simply go with the cheapest rate (or allow your ex to talk you into that) because it’s important to understand what the policy provides for you and that, should anything happen, the company will take good care of you and the kids. This is not something you can just Google. You need a neutral party — a trained insurance consultant — to do that homework for you and present you with options.

We know, it seems a little grim to be talking about people dying or getting sick or injured but the reality is, we don’t know what life will throw at us. We doubt you saw the divorce in your future, back when you got married, so we don’t want you to be naïve as you negotiate your divorce settlement. This settlement is your financial future near and far, well into your retirement. Thinking about divorce and life insurance is a very strategic way to provide for your family now, should things take a turn later.

Did this article bring up questions for you? Jot them down and contact insurance expert, Lisa Horowitz, CLU, ChFC, who for nearly 30 years, has been dedicated to helping women understand how insurance can help them in every area of life including divorce, business and estate planning, retirement, life-altering illness, and caring for elderly parents. If you mention SAS for Women, Lisa will talk to you for 30 minutes for free, no matter which state in the USA you live. You can reach her at (718) 352-1311 or lh[email protected]

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SAS Survey: Is the Current Political Climate Impacting Divorce for Women?

Are you feeling it, too? A study published by the American Psychological Association in mid-February (2017) has found that two thirds of all Americans feel anxiety over the future of the country. The analysis, called “Stress in America,” also discovered 57 percent of the nation reported that politics were either somewhat or a very significant source of stress in their lives.

In our work at SAS for Women, a practice dedicated to helping women navigate the emotional and logistical challenges of divorce, we are not surprised. While January, February and March are commonly referred to as the “divorce season” in the family law industry (with the theory being that couples bury their conflict during the holidays and file for divorce in the new year) the start of 2017 feels especially divisive. Since Mr. Trump’s ascent to power, we are hearing more and more about a certain type of stress women are facing, and in particular how it’s playing out beyond and behind the marital chamber’s door.

Our question is how much is this current administration and the daily barrage of headlines proving to be a lightening rod and moving women toward divorce? Is the current political climate impacting divorce overall?

The Survey on Political Climate and Divorce

To learn how much the current political climate is influencing women’s feelings and behavior about divorce we polled the SAS for Women Community — women who are thinking about, or navigating divorce.

Survey showing impact of political Feb 2017 political climate impacting women and divorce

Design: Ashley Nakai

Of the 100 women polled, 53 percent say they are influenced by the political climate. More than a third (35 percent) rate themselves 5 or higher on a scale of 1-10, with 10 representing the primary reason or trigger they are divorcing. 6 percent of the women who participated indicated they were a “10.”

What Women Said:

Many women in the SAS Community did more than simply self-assign a number. They shared comments and thoughts about their dilemmas, circumstances, and outlook for the future:

Answered “3”: “Women’s rights and freedom are in jeopardy as long as Trump is in office and the cabinet and Supreme Court are staffed as they are now. Single mothers are at high risk for poverty, which not only negatively affects them, but also their children. And yet, women must have the option to leave abusive or otherwise unhealthy domestic partnerships without fear of becoming homeless, hungry, etc.”

Answered “9”: “My soon to be ex has always been a Republican and we clashed during presidential elections before (Bush), but he was a Trump supporter and it really pushed me over the edge to the realization that our values and interests were completely different. Upon my announcing I wanted a divorce in October, he immediately became a Hillary supporter and tried to tell me that he agreed with every position I ever had and that I just misunderstood him or didn’t know him. While it was not the primary reason for my seeking a divorce ( I have been unhappy for many years!), it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Answered “1”: “Political factors influence very little of my day to day decisions. My divorce, my children, and my career consume the entirety of my energy. I will not waste limited energy on those things that do not directly benefit my children or my career or me and moving ahead with our lives.”

Answered “7”: “Problems before…but a perceived wider gap in our overall politics (and general direction we are both leaning) has made the possibility of divorce even greater.  I am left shaking my head about who it was I fell in love with 25 years ago and who is in my bed tonight …”

Answered “1”:  “America goes about its business day after day, sometimes good and sometimes bad. I personally take responsibility for my actions and feel that I have the greatest impact on myself and others by owning what is mine, the good and the bad. Politics will always have good and bad realities that will either enhance or detract from our lives and our choices, but that is something we are lucky to have!”

Answered “8”: “The political attack on everything I hold dear and all that constitutes my core values as a human being and a woman recalibrates the tolerance of a husband who is not truly supportive of those values either. I can’t have this President in The White House and be trapped in marriage to someone who is not shook up, too.”

Answered “1”: “Politics have nothing to do with my pending divorce or how my ‘husband’ treats me.”

Answered “8”: “I was just speaking about this to my therapist. I feel so outraged by the misogynistic administration and the misogynistic  culture of the election that preceded this corrupt administration.  I’ve realized that our society is more misogynistic than I had felt and that my husband is not a feminist. It has become clearer to me.”

Answered “2”: “My decision was made way before the current political situation which only strengthens my determination. However, the impact is not that great as the determination was there to begin with.”

Answered “10”: “I am exiting a relationship with a narcissist, after 25 years of believing his spin, his alternative facts, his hostage holding (beholden to keeping kids emotionally safe). It was actually a relief to hear the descriptions of Trump as it clarified the behavior I was looking at but still couldn’t see.”

Conclusion

While 47 percent of the SAS Community self-assigned themselves a “1,” thereby indicating their feelings and actions about divorce are not impacted by the political climate, it is clear that more than half of the women polled claim they are influenced. More than a third of this community feels very much impacted by the current political climate and what it means for them, their families and the future.

What do you think? We would be interested to know — as would our Sister Readers! We invite you to share your comments and thoughts below.

SAS for Women® is uniquely positioned to understand women as they confront the realities of divorce around the world. Our education and coaching services — action and outcome-drive — focus on the healthy approach and appeal to women who are committed to being smart and educated in their decision-making. To learn what is possible for you and your life, schedule your free consultation with SAS by visiting here.

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What Women Should Know about High Net Worth Divorce

Very often in high net worth divorces, women are considered the less affluent partner. They may enjoy a very privileged and even enviable lifestyle, but because they are not the “breadwinner” or “rainmaker,” their own sense of power and independence may feel minimized, especially when it comes to divorce. Of course, the reality is that most of these women played a vital role as advisor to their husbands and often, mothers to their children. They might have financed his education, managed all the decisions around his career and their shared lifestyle, and actually have cultivated and nurtured the professional and social connections that helped them attain and secure their shared, current high net worth life. And yet, these same women may have no access to the cash or understand where the cash comes from. In a perverse reversal of privilege, they might even feel ashamed when considering what’s otherwise possible for their lives. They may feel trapped. While there are clearly many aspects–emotional, practical, socio-economic, historical, etc.–related to this scenario, this article will focus on the black and white legal aspects of today.

Understand that in order to successfully navigate a high net worth divorce, you will have to:

  1. Account for and value your assets (–items or resources that are convertible to cash)
  2. Determine whether or not your husband is hiding assets
  3. Calculate the amount of maintenance (alimony) you may be entitled to
  4. Analyze the impact of any pre-nuptial agreement you (may have) signed.

Although other factors may certainly come into play, this article will focus on these legal points as they are critical in almost all high net worth divorces.

Accounting for and valuing marital assets

During a divorce, you and your husband will have to declare your marital assets. The exception is where you waive your right to financial disclosure, which is usually not advisable. In New York, and many other states, marital assets are divided under the doctrine of “equitable distribution,” which means they will be distributed to you and your husband in a fair way (ideally), taking into account all of the circumstances of your marriage.

A pre-condition to dividing marital assets is that they be accounted for and valued. If you are not sure what marital property you own, you will most likely need the help of a matrimonial attorney who may use financial experts to investigate. For example, a forensic accountant may be able to find assets by tracing banking records, even if multiple accounts were used to buy marital assets.

Your assets will also have to be valued. In high net worth divorces, business valuation experts may be needed, as well as appraisers who specialize in valuing everything from real estate to exotic cars. Marital assets may even include airplanes, artwork, boats, and collectibles like coins and dollhouses!

Hidden Assets

It is not unusual in a divorce for one spouse to conceal assets from the other. If your divorce goes through and your husband has concealed his assets, you will forfeit your right to them unless you can prove he did so and therefore the divorce was obtained fraudulently. While such cases exist, they are rare (remember, you have to prove the fraud). It is more common that a spouse who has hidden assets will get to keep them after the divorce. Obviously, this is a result to be avoided.

Some signs your husband may have concealed assets are that he never told you what he earned; made large purchases without saying where the money came from; and supported you in a high lifestyle without having the outward means to do so, or asked you to sign papers without explaining to you what they were for.

Maintenance

Maintenance is designed to provide the less-monied spouse with the means to support herself after the marriage in a way that does not seriously erode the pre-divorce standard of living. Interestingly, in high net worth divorce cases, it is not uncommon, if a large award of cash or assets is made to the wife, that she will not be awarded maintenance (the theory being that the award substitutes for it.) Similarly, there’s the reverse: if the wife does not receive a large award, maintenance may be awarded.

Pre-nuptial agreements

It is not uncommon in high net worth marriages for the husband and wife to have signed a pre-nuptial agreement. In most cases, the terms of the pre-nup will determine the outcome of the divorce as to financial matters. So, if you are facing a divorce and have a pre-nup, it is essential that you have it examined by a divorce attorney so you will understand what you will be entitled to in your divorce.

Conclusion

Preparation for a high net worth divorce is key. The earlier you get educated and understand these factors, the more likely it is that you will secure the kind of divorce the law entitles you to.

Read more from Divorce Attorney Daniel Stock:

6 Ways to Pay for a Divorce

Getting a Divorce with Children and Dealing with a Daddy-Come-Lately

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. Make an appointment to speak with divorce lawyer Daniel H. Stock by using his contact form or by calling his firm at 212-889-8609.

Note from SAS: Find strong, wise counsel that supports you and your interests. Before getting fully educated on what your life and divorce choices are, however, do not adopt the knee-jerk reaction of “I’m going to take him to the cleaners!” For in the long term, as we have learned through our women-dedicated divorce consultancy, this approach is rarely clean. For more on this and what you most critically need in terms of legal support, financial support, AND emotional support to ensure your best divorce recovery – and avoid court, contact SAS for a free consultation.

 

 

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Getting a Divorce? Choose the Right Accountant

Whether you’ve chosen the path, or been blindsided by the decision, no one needs to tell you that getting a divorce can consume you – both emotionally and financially, and that because divorce is so complicated, you must often rely on experts.  But it is also possible that you may be finding that the experts you work with, or are considering to hire, are all too often focused on what they do (and bill you for) and not what your needs are. If you are feeling a disconnect, take heart! It’s normal. Divorce is a particular life event that is uniquely personal. There is no magic formula or infallible model (despite what some experts might say, or what your friends might advise you) that will transform you to a place of financial independence, balance, and full healing.  It’s a process specific to you. And for women, it often involves an education in learning how to take control of your life.

Understanding and taking control of one’s finances is just one aspect to the process, but it is a very important one.  After all, it’s the money and the kids (–if you are a mother) that probably have you the most uncertain and wondering what your next best steps are. Finding a good accountant (and not relying on the one you may have used with your mate) is a very good idea.  But how do you proceed to choose an accountant so you set yourself up for your next best chapter?

If you are getting a divorce, or in the divorce recovery phase, here are five things your accountant should do for you as you begin to rebuild your life:

1. Listen

One of the most critical skills your accountant (–and any expert you hire) must have is the ability to really listen to you and your story. Without truly listening to you, any advice given won’t be tied to your individual needs. There is no one size fits all. You must be able to sit down and feel that you connection and be able to communicate with your accountant on many levels. Think about this as you are interviewing or considering an accountant, would you feel comfortable calling this person out of the blue with a random question?

2. Understand your needs (financial, emotional and social)

Tax, accounting, and financial advice must be seen through the prism of your life. Your financial needs and requirements may not only include the fundamentals like caring for the children and maintaining a home but may also include continuing assistance for … your going back to school, or caring for your aging parents, or organizations or charities and other philanthropic organizations you are involved with. Your emotional, career, and social needs must be supported by the financial advice you are given. The three are tied together like a bow. Without understanding your emotional and social needs the financial advice you are given can do more harm than good.

3. Help you plan the process

After listening to and understanding your individual needs, your accountant should now be able to provide you with several scenarios to consider as you plan out the divorce process or begin the restructuring post-divorce. There are many year-end tax planning checklists as well as guides on how to hire the right lawyer, forensic expert, etc., online. You could literally spend hours and hours searching for that information. That is not your job. Your job is to ask questions of your accountant or financial advisor, and then make the decisions that are right for you. Your accountant’s job is to take complex issues and problems and help you find the solutions that fit your needs. S/he must also be capable of explaining your choices in layman’s terms. If you don’t understand what your accountant is saying then the fault is on them, not you. Your accountant works for you and not the other way around.

4. Be your trusted (and tough) advisor

Your accountant must also play the role of “Tough Advisor”. You will have your own ideas about the divorce process, or what to do now that you are single, and your ideas matter greatly and should influence your accountant’s advice. But there does come times when your accountant should be confident enough to disagree with your decisions and be able to provide a rational argument to you. While ultimately the decision on your plan and finances will always be yours, your accountant should take the time to advise you on any concerns s/he has.

5. Be your “Financial General Contractor” for those providing other services to you

Once you and your accountant have established a relationship based on the previous four requirements then your accountant can play one of the most critical roles in your divorce process or divorce recovery: what I like to call the “Financial General Contractor”. Depending on your situation you may have many people assisting you with and impacting your divorce and future plans. Lawyers, coaches, forensic accountants, real estate agents, the IRS, etc., all may play a role.  But just like building a house, or hiring a divorce coach who can help you understand, oversee, and guide the moving parts, you need a Financial General Contractor to turn to who can help coordinate the money in play and help control everyone’s fees.  Your accountant may the best suited to assist you with this financial control. Besides your divorce coach (if you have one), your trusted accountant may have the broadest view of all your needs. Your accountant can also play the “bad girl/guy” role if need be with the rest of your divorce team if the results and fees are not in your best interests.

As an accountant with over 20 years of experience I have been on the other side of the desk (–though I prefer the kitchen table), listening to my clients as they have gone through the difficult process of getting a divorce. What I discovered was that the single most important thing for my clients was the ability to feel connected to the people who are helping though this hard time. My goal in writing this article was not to give you specific advice on what to do with your divorce, or which model to adopt in getting a divorce, or even to tell you what to do with your money. It was simply to provide guidance on how to select an accountant who can best help you begin or continue on your divorce journey.  As the ladies at SAS say, there’s a great big bright future for you just around the bend. You may not see it yet, but it’s there and it’s waiting for you.

Vincent Pungello, CPA, CISA, CFSA is a Certified Public Accountant and the Managing Member of Pungello CPA, LLC. Vincent has extensive experience in matters of personal and business taxation, forensic accounting as well as domestic and international accounting and auditing. If you would like to talk to Vincent to share what is happening in your journey and to hear possible next steps, he provides all SAS readers with a free consultation by phone. Contact him at (732) 814 7480 or email him at [email protected] and mention SAS to begin your conversation about your needs and where YOU want to go.

 

 

Cartoon angry woman's face

3 Ways to Handle Divorce and Anger, If Things Are Getting Ugly

Divorce and Anger Go Hand in Hand

Love and Marriage, Horse and Carriage … Divorce and Anger obviously go together, too. Right? Well … at the very end of the season finale of #DivorceonHBO we hear the main character Frances, who is divorcing her husband, leave this voicemail for her husband: “I imagine that, somehow, you didn’t bother to think through this imbecilic move – you simply wanted to fuck me at any cost. But you have made a terrible, awful, IRREPARABLE mistake.  And you’ve LOST, Robert. You have lost EVERYTHING now!”

Uh, oh. There it is. It all just went sideways.

Oh, how easy it is to give into anger when you are in the middle of divorce, especially if it’s justified (though don’t get me wrong, it’s just as easy to get caught up in your anger because of things that you perceive to be happening, whether they really are or not.) In Frances’s case, she asked and was granted permission by her husband to swap weekends with him, to take the kids skiing.  He changed his mind at the last minute though, because he was furious with her for getting their assets frozen (which actually her attorney did; Frances didn’t really understand what the attorney was doing) and therefore reported her to the police for kidnapping. Which, of course, completely freaked the kids out. Which, of course, completely ticked off Frances, so she lashed right back out at him, hence the voicemail. See the pattern here?

Listen, if you are getting divorced right now, I know you may be feeling really, really angry. And you probably have every right to be furious. Maybe he cheated and lied about it for years … or perhaps he was a workaholic and ignored you, never noticing how very lonely you were … or maybe he abandoned you emotionally and focused his attention on the kids … or perhaps he simply left you without warning and you never saw it coming. You need to make him pay for this right? Well, I’m telling you right now, letting anger drive the legal process is not going to result in you getting the revenge or justice you seek. It will only result in a longer drawn out ugly divorce.

Divorce and Anger Must Be Untangled

I’m not suggesting you cease feeling angry … you have every right to that feeling. What I’m suggesting is that you cannot afford to let feelings of anger, resentment, bitterness or even primal raw rage dictate how this divorce will unfold. These emotions must be separated, for your sake and for your kid’s sake as well.

Imagine Anger is a monster inside of you. If you feed it, it gets big and strong. If you allow it, that monster will take over your brain and start to think for you. But Anger has no perspective, no intelligence, no problem solving or rational thinking. Like most monsters, it’s just hungry, so it does things to get fed. It feeds on fear and outrage and hatred and will stop at nothing to stir up those feelings to get a meal. It will stir them up in you and it will not stop there – it will convince you to lash out at others too, so it spreads, and your spouse is the most obvious target.

Feeding this monster does two things: (1) It keeps you in a place where you cannot think clearly nor make smart decisions because the monster is in charge and (2) It forces your spouse into the same position. Now we have two adults, neither of who is capable of making responsible decisions, because both are blinded by Anger.

You must stop feeding Anger the Monster.

As said before, I’m not simply telling you to stop feeling this way. Anger isn’t just going to go because you wish him away. You must honor how you feel, while at the same time figure out ways to navigate the divorce and make good decisions for you and your family. I offer you three things to keep in mind, as a start:

3 Ways to Handle Divorce and Your Anger, If Things Are Getting Ugly

  1. Trust yourself, if only a little.  Listen to that little voice that tells you it can’t be what it seems. Investigate the situation before you let it ignite you. Did he really say that? Would he really do that? Maybe not. Try to give him the benefit of the doubt if you think there is the smallest chance you are overreacting.
  2. Find safe ways to vent and process the anger.  Much like a teakettle that’s corked up, your anger will explode if you don’t find ways to vent the steam. Talking with someone you can trust explicitly or writing in your journal may be important ways for you to get out all that negativity in safe ways.
  3. Get perspective from someone objective. This means someone who is not close to the situation, preferably a professional.  A therapist, divorce coach, social worker, or clergy member will have the expertise you need to help you see things through other perspectives and help you make rational decisions. If Anger threatens to take over, it’s imperative you find someone who is trained to deal with these strong feelings and can help you tame that monster.

Frances says to her dad at one point, “Well, neither one of us is being particularly good to the other, but ya know, apparently that’s how these things go, so….” No, Frances, that’s not right.  Things don’t necessarily have to go that way, unless you let them. You can choose not to let your emotions take over in your divorce, and instead find ways to be civil and communicative with your spouse so you avoid those miscommunications and hurt feelings that Anger so thrives on. You must take active measures to starve the monster.  The best way to do that is with a little help from others.

If you are experiencing feelings of rage and bitterness and just don’t know  to reign it in, Liza and I can help. Reach out to us for a free 45-minute consultation and we’ll help you find ways to deal with your strong feelings while helping you make good decisions about your divorce. We look forward to speaking with you soon.

Mother holding child

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.