How to Survive Living Together During Divorce

Women Share How to Survive Living Together During Divorce

Everything about the word “divorce” conjures up images of division, living apart, and not having to see your Ex. But divorce doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s not always a file-and-flee process. And that means that living together during divorce is a very real possibility for most people. Do you know how to make it work if that’s what you have to do?

There are many reasons that it may be necessary to continue living under the same roof with the person you’re divorcing.

If you’re the spouse initiating the split, you may not be ready to announce your intentions. You may be researching the process or waiting for certain life events to be over. This might include kids’ schooling or eldercare, a promotion, or new job to take place.

If this is you, it’s especially important that you care for your emotional health as you prepare for change while coping with your status quo.

Divorce can also be expensive and complicated, making a physical separation impractical or even unfeasible.

Perhaps your divorce is already in process and you have to live together until it’s final.

Whatever reasons you have for living together during divorce, the experience doesn’t have to be a living Purgatory.

But there have to be ground rules and clear boundaries.

(And there have to be rules for dealing with a soon-to-be-ex who may not follow the rules.)

That may sound easy enough if you are parting amicably and cooperatively. But remember, this is divorce. Feelings, intentions, and loyalties have changed, and the arrangement, however necessary, is likely to feel awkward.

You do have choices, though. And this period of living together during divorce can actually set the tone and confidence for what is to come.

This is especially true and important if you have children still living at home. Their lives are about to change forever, and their sensitive radars will pick up on everything.

After all, they will be thinking about and predicting things about their not-so-distant futures if they know about the divorce. And they will be worried about the stability of their futures if they don’t know about the divorce but sense discord between their parents.

Here are some survival tips from us at SAS for Women and women clients we’ve supported in this situation of living together during divorce. We all want you to know that it is possible:

  • Take the roommate approach and establish boundaries. You may be living under the same roof, but you are no longer living as a married couple. You are now “roommates” and coparents. Discuss how your home space will be divided so that you each have privacy while sharing common spaces like the kitchen and living room. Move your things to your room and respect that division.

Josie, a woman enrolled in Annie’s Group suggests the following:

“Move into a separate bedroom and claim your personal space. Set interaction boundaries, especially if you’re working remotely. A closed door is a closed door for a reason. Set household tasks in the shared common areas. It hasn’t worked for me, but it might for you. And don’t do his laundry. This was one of the first things I did.”

Establish your psychological boundaries, too:

Says another SAS client, we’ll call Carla,

“I’ve learned to say no to doing things with my husband, like going to concerts, or watching TV, when they aren’t things that I truly want to do. I am compassionate about how this likely feels to him on the receiving end, and work hard to maintain a civil balance. I use the time I would have spent “doing what he wants” exploring what things I actually like to do, like exercise (which has other, side benefits), reading more books (which I pretty much gave up after having children) and making jewelry (something new).

And build your emotional boundaries.

Says Carla,

“My husband tends to be angry often, and wears this on his sleeve, so to speak. For me, this has translated into constantly being in fight or flight emotionally, and in the past, I’ve often engaged in his anger by trying to calm him or placate him. I’ve worked hard to remind myself that his anger is about him, and not me, and I’ve put a boundary around engaging in his anger.”

This mutual respect of space and energy is imperative. You will both be working on your own parts of the divorce process. And you will also need to begin the separation process, both physically and emotionally.

Depending on your state, adhering to these separation guidelines can actually affect your legal “date of separation.” And that can affect the division of communal property.

  • Have a parenting schedule. Discuss and decide which parent will take care of the kids on what days/nights. This includes preparing dinner, bathing, helping with homework, spending time together. Things that may have always had an uncharted flow now need a calendar.Even though you are all still under the same roof, you and your soon-to-be-Ex are coparents now.Honoring this set-up will show respect for one another while helping your children adjust with confidence to a new family dynamic.It will also give each of you time to leave the house for personal errands or alone time.
  • Just the facts, ma’am. Just because it makes sense to set rules and clear boundaries doesn’t mean you are both equally inclined to follow them. If communicating in person, especially about the kids, proves to be contentious, then consider a business approach.

Recently divorced, but reflecting back on her early co-parenting days, Lucy recommends that you use texts and emails to communicate in an unemotional, necessary-info-only way.

“Tomorrow is your day with the kids. Natalie has a doctor’s appointment at 12 and Ben has soccer practice after school. I will leave before dinner and return after the kids are in bed.”

  • Be clear about finances. The bills still have to be paid. So be sure that the two of you are scheduling time to plan how the household bills will be paid. Be sure that payments are made on time, as delinquencies will affect both of you. By this point, you should have a financial expert as part of your divorce team. S/he can advise and guide you on matters like mortgage payments and selling or keeping the house.

And “if you have not yet, start your own savings and/or checking account,” counsels Lucy. Moreover, be sure to keep written documentation of everything, as money made and spent during this time will become part of your settlement analysis.

  • Practice and embrace a new normal. Despite the awkwardness of living together during divorce, the arrangement does have its advantages. You have the opportunity to model for your children what you want them to see, feel, and trust in their new lives. If they witness civility and adaptability from their parents who are divorcing, they will be less likely to fear what is coming. You also have some time to “warm up” to changes that will soon be permanent.You have direct access to information that will likely be relevant to your divorce preparation.And you have time (perhaps on your soon-to-be-EX’s day with the kids) to research living arrangements for after the divorce.
  • Take care of yourself. Self-care may seem irrelevant, even impossible, when your life-as-you-know-it is imploding. But, just like being a model of stability for your children, it’s important that you be a model of stability for yourself. Your physical, emotional, professional, and social well-being is essential as you navigate this time of transformation. Join a book club, take a class, get a good workout in several times a week, or just visit with a good friend.

This is also a good time to establish the support you will come to rely on throughout (and after) the divorce process.

Says Patricia:

“Stay occupied with things to do. Carve out a little time each week to journal to maintain a clear head. Keep positive thoughts in your head and love and respect yourself.”

C.C., another SAS client recently separated from her Ex, shares:

“Continue to learn, grow and educate yourself. Articles, websites, and therapy can be critically important to giving you the strength you need to live your best life.”

Says Desiree:

“Find your people, too. Gravitate towards energy that supports you, like Annie’s Group or Paloma’s Group where you’ll learn, connect, vent and stay on track.”

No matter how uncomfortable living together during divorce may be, it doesn’t have to be a negative experience. As C.C. says,

“Always remember your future, your life is within you to live. Take control, hang on tight and you will get to your best YOU someday soon.” 

Agreeing to a dynamic of respect and civility will go a long way toward easing this time of transition and its aftermath.

And sticking to the guidelines of a healthy separation-under-the-same-roof will give you a sense that change is happening… and you have control over it.

Notes

SAS women are those amazing ladies you meet who are entirely committed to navigating divorce—on their own terms. If you are considering or dealing with divorce, you are invited to experience SAS for Women firsthand and schedule your FREE 15-minute consultation. Whether you work further with us or not, we’ll help you understand what your next, black and white steps are for walking into your brave unknown—with compassion and integrity.

Finding Your Sexy After Divorce

Finding Your Sexy Again After Divorce

There must be millions of articles, books, essays, studies and memoirs out there about sex. There are thousands of variations on the topic. People have been philosophizing about this subject in one way or another for eons. Some experts even focus specifically on finding your sexy again after divorce.

And not one of them is an expert on you.

By all means, read about it, talk to your friends about it. But your sexuality is as unique to you as your DNA, your fingerprint, your particular blend of pheromones. You may find a community in these sites and pages; that’s wonderful. You may get some ideas, you may find comfort in discovering that you are one of millions who wonder how best to do this, this most visceral celebration of ourselves. Read and educate yourself, but after that? Forget it. The only thing that matters at this point is what you like, and now that you are divorced, you are free again to find that out.

One Opinion on Finding Your Sexy After Divorce

If you’re scrolling through what other people say about getting your sexy back after divorce, then there’s a good chance you’ve already got some inkling as to how you’d like to go about it. There’s an even better chance that you’re a lot closer to uncovering yourself than you think you are.

Even more, you already know on some level that celebrating with sex after a divorce is really a fresh blooming of something you never lost to begin with. It just got buried under the years, the routine, and the compromises. Now that you’ve dug yourself out again, know that your sexual experience of yourself is one of the most valuable things you have. It will outlast every other relationship and is more valuable than any material wealth.

So, whether you’re approaching this subject with enthusiastic, hungry curiosity, or dread, just thinking about it, or tiptoeing into it with your hands over your eyes, you’ve reached the really precious part of being on the other side of divorce. This is the part where you celebrate being free and deciding for you, only you, what you like and what excites you—without apology.

Finding Your Sexy After Divorce

A person’s healthy sexual expression is one of the most delicious things in life. When it comes to your own, your opinion is the only one that matters.

The Corset of Comparison:

Resurrecting your sexiness just as you like it is the best part of life after divorce. Don’t waste a minute of it comparing yourself to anyone else or holding yourself up to a yard stick of social commentary.

Other people’s opinions are abundant. Sometimes the wise ones can help clarify your own feelings or give you a kind of compass reading on which direction you’d like to take. Often, though, they are about as useful as pantyhose on an octopus. Comparison is useful when buying watermelons and mattresses and in a few other circumstances. When it comes to our own individuality, though, comparison cripples feeling good about ourselves.

Regaining Your Sensuality After Divorce

When it comes to sexuality and our bodies, that goes double. There is nothing more individual, more particular to each of us, than our sexuality. It is rich and singular and precious. Nothing matters except that truth.

Leaving Judgement in the Past:

Few things have been more subject to outside opinions than female sexuality. There is probably not one single aspect of woman that has been more objectified, commodified, co-opted, shamed, exploited, corseted, misrepresented, homogenized, villainized, violently or subtly punished, criticized or boxed up and put on a shelf than our sexuality.

Now that you’re divorced, it’s time to claim your sexual experience for you alone. But how? Is there really anything to look forward to? Oh, just wait. That’s a gigantic yes.

Life After Divorce

Use your mind as much as your body. And don’t judge yourself badly for wanting what you want. As long as you stick to consenting adults and are doing no harm to yourself and others, imagine whatever you like. If it’s the result of negative conditioning, self-judgement has nothing to do with your real feelings about yourself. Judgement and shaming have far more to do with power plays than ethics or morals. Whether they’re on a global level and stem from religious dogma, or from a personal level rooted in individual insecurity, they don’t have a place in your sexual story.

If you’ve come from an abusive marriage, you know all about power plays and what it’s like to be helpless in the face of them. You aren’t helpless now, but erasing those tapes of abuse and humiliation will take time. Recovering sexual expression can take time even when abuse hasn’t been a factor, though, so be patient with yourself.

Quality Control:

In addition to being patient with yourself, pacing yourself is also advisable. If you’ve been bored, under-expressed or long unsatisfied in your marriage, it’s tempting to gorge yourself sexually. Unleashing your starving sexual self on an entire buffet of available partners might be an appealing thought, but doing so comes with pitfalls. Think big picture. Think STDs.

Letting your cat out of the bag, so to speak, is fantastic, but doing so in a high-traffic zone might be hazardous. In other words, you don’t need to say yes to everyone. Get out of scarcity thinking and be sure to vet your partners. Ask for test results, use condoms, meet new people in public places and get to know them at least a little. If they’re resistant to that, listen to your gut and check them off the list. New partners don’t have to be the great new love, but sex really is better if knowing and liking the person enough for connection is part of the experience.

Curiouser and Curiouser:

The brain is just as important as the body in sexual experience. It is the biggest sexual organ there is. So engage intellectually. Fantasize. And speaking of fantasy, know that what you picture now may have changed from what titillated you 20 years ago. Getting divorced may have opened you up to sexual opportunity, but a change or additions in preference doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the divorce. Nor is it born from a negative opinion of men. If you’ve wondered what it may be like to kiss a mouth with no stubble, one that tastes of lipstick, don’t edit or hide from that curiosity. Explore it. It might be just as delicious to entwine yourself with silky limbs and curl up against the softness of another woman’s breast as it is to run your fingers through rough chest-hair.

Sexuality can be fluid, which just means that as we move through life, we change and seek new experiences. Preferring males over females in our sexual partnering is not etched in stone. As we get older, we realize that so many things we thought we’d never do, we’ve done. Why should arousal come only at the hands of one gender?

Body of Work… and Play:

Get physical. For some, it is easier to move into sensuality through sexually neutral activities. Sex doesn’t have to be the goal for something to be sexy.

Water droplets christening your skin as you paddleboard, the shotgun blast of your foot cracking against a punching bag, the deep-breath release of a muscle finally loosening after a sustained stretch… these are sexy things. Sensuality is everywhere. It is in the click of your heels on the sidewalk, the satiny shift of your trouser lining against your thigh, the swish and swing of a dress, the push of your posterior against denim.

And there is just as much freedom in deciding that you don’t actually want to have sex.

Finding Your Sexy After Divorce

For women who have invested a lot of their self-worth in male sexual attention, or who felt dominated by a spouse in their marriage bed, this can be especially liberating. Likewise, if sex was the only thing good about your marriage, don’t be afraid that it was only because of your Ex. If you have a foundation in great sexual experience, the end of the marriage does not mean the end of great sex. There is a sequel and it is often even better.

Regardless, be physical in a way that is less laden with negative judgements. Dance, stretch, lift, roll your hips, engage your muscles, put all of your attention in your body and let yourself move. Run your hands over your own hips, breasts, thighs. You are luscious. You are edible, bountiful, bodacious.

Party of One:

And while the brain is the biggest sexual organ, the clitoris is the smallest. But it won’t be overlooked, because it is the only organ in the human body designed solely for pleasure. It is a pleasure powerhouse. And it’s all ours, so appreciate it. You do not need a partner to have mind-blowing sex. If you have not yet touched yourself and brought yourself to orgasm, that is your homework assignment. It’s the best after-school project you will ever have. Any woman who has pleasured herself knows that the orgasms she gives herself are the most powerful, rollicking, undulating solo rides. They are not to be missed simply because there is no one else involved.

Finding Your Sexy After Divorce

The Body Politic:

And finally, for the love of God(dess), big bodies are just as sexy, just as beautiful as small ones. Sexiness is not “one size fits all.” We are inundated by images now; it is beyond ridiculous. This image-driven culture requires a sharp and critical eye on what body politic we are electing, with every choice, every “like” on social media, every purchase, every change in the channel. Keep in mind that we are each other’s guardians and advocates and choose accordingly.

Sexuality is a rich dessert; in what world do we decide that young and Slim Fasted women are the only ones who get treated like sex goddesses? An anemic one. A boring one. A plastic one.

So, as you move beyond the maze of divorce and into the uncharted beyond, know that pleasure is your prerogative no matter your size, your scars, your solo act, or the false stories you’ve been told.

It is also your prerogative to ignore everything I’ve said. Defining yourself, celebrating your sexuality post-divorce or not, is no one’s business but yours.

Notes

Jennifer Bent is a freelance writer, former print journalist and feature writer living on the West Coast. Connect with Jennifer at verbosej@hotmail.com 

SAS women are those amazing ladies you meet who are entirely committed to rebuilding their lives on their own, healthiest terms. If you are recreating after divorce or separation, you are invited to experience SAS firsthand. Schedule your free 15-minute consultation. Whether you work further with us or not, we’ll help you understand your next, black-and-white steps for walking into your brave unknown — with compassion, integrity and excitement.

Moving Out Of The House After Divorce

21 Steps to Moving Out of the House After Divorce

The process of divorce can be tedious and overwhelming. Not to mention, it’s also emotionally draining. Everything requires planning, timing, documenting, and money. And moving out of the house after a divorce is no exception.

You would think that deciding who moves out of the marital home during a divorce would be left to the soon-to-be-exes. After all, they’re the ones who have decided they can’t be married anymore. Shouldn’t they know if it’s better for one person to leave during the divorce process?

Unfortunately, the who/when/where of moving out of the house after divorce (and especially during the divorce process) isn’t that simple.

There are ramifications to everything during this time. What you do and don’t do can have legal, financial, and even custodial consequences.

With that in mind, keep this mantra at the forefront of your brain: When in doubt, ask.

That’s why having your team of experts—legal, financial, emotional and practical—is so important before you dive into the detailed essentials of your divorce.

Finding Legal Support

If you haven’t yet hired a divorce attorney, now is the time to secure one—or least schedule a legal consultation dedicated to you and your specific needs and rights as a woman. Visit our helpful guide to hiring a divorce lawyer for suggestions on finding the right attorney for you.

Not sure what to ask a divorce attorney during a consult? We’ve got you covered on that, too.

All that’s to say, don’t be packing your clothes—or throwing out your husbands’ clothes—before talking with your attorney.

If you read your own Miranda Rights before making any big decisions, you will be much more inclined to consult before leaping.

Think, “Everything I say/do/spend can and will be used against me in divorce court. Consult first.”

Because the marital home is your primary asset, any movement to sell or separate will complicate everything regarding division of assets.

It could also become a factor in determining a custodial arrangement for children, as well as child support now and in the future.

*Important note: If you and/or your children and pets are in any kind of danger from your spouse, your safety comes first. Please contact your attorney, divorce coach, and domestic violence hotline to devise a plan for getting you to safety while working on your divorce.

Let’s look at 21 steps for moving out of the house after divorce.

The last two steps pertain to you especially if you are dealing with an unwanted divorce.

Before you move…

    1. Talk to your attorney about what to do with joint property or property you assume is yours. Should you move out or request he move?
    2. Begin to plan for the move (his or yours) by reviewing all these steps, and then following the steps most relevant to where you are on your timeline. Don’t let the planning scare you away. “Remind yourself who you are,” says a recently separated SAS client, “and know your own work ethic and ability to provide for yourself is there and in your control.”
    3. Budget. If you are good with numbers and will be moving out, figure out how much money you will have to spend on housing so you know what you can and cannot afford. If you have no idea, ask a friend to help you crunch the numbers so you understand your options. Or consult with a good financial advisor who can help you plan.
    4. Make lists of your belongings, joint accounts, individual accounts, etc.
    5. Start thinking about what you want to surround yourself with in your new life. As another SAS client enrolled in Annie’s Group told us:

“As I started to plan for my move, I walked around our marital home considering how I wanted to live going forward. I decided to bring things that gave me a sense of peace and joy. I evaluated these things deeply, then I used this opportunity to start to purge and downsize before moving out. Next, I began getting rid of things that were weighing me down: clothes that I was no longer wearing or I had ‘overworn’, paperwork that didn’t need saving, mementos that were just too heavy for my future, and the many items I had received and collected over the years.”

Before talking to your spouse about divorce …

    1. If possible, start cleaning and purging before announcing your desire to divorce. You will get more done not dealing with the stress of his reaction, trust us. And the more non-essentials you can clear from your plate, the better. As suggested above, get rid of clothes you don’t wear or need and tchotchkes collecting dust. Most importantly, tidy up your files and make copies of essential documents. Think of this process as getting both prepared and lighter for your next chapter.
    2. Make 5 categories to guide your organizing and purging. These five categories include: Trash; Donate; Take (your must-haves for immediate survival); Give to Him; and Storage (the nice-to-have items, sparingly selected, for down-the-road). Next, with the things you will be keeping, giving to him, or needing to discuss, inventory and stash in labeled boxes — if your circumstances allow you to. (If not, you will do it later.) Consider color-coding with stickers on the boxes to quickly recognize “his” and “hers.” For example, you can use blue and green stickers for boxes and for later, going through the house and marking who gets what. And here we go with the “document, document, document.” Yes, you need to document everything, preferably in a dedicated journal. Identify what is in every box (“kitchen drawers near refrigerator”) and to whom it belongs. (You’ll thank us later!) Putting a number on each box to correspond with its number in your ledger will make cross-referencing a breeze.

Your mantra for this step? Let it go. Cue the music and sing out loud if doing so inspires you to toss.

Give it to your ex, donate it, or toss it. But lighten your load. Would you rather write your next chapter on a blank page or between the lines of one already filled?

Get your things in order, literally…

    1. Take things to the thrift store, recycling, or trash. Ask for a receipt at the thrift store if you itemize for tax purposes.
    2. Protect special items. Things like photo albums and special mementos can be the source of some tug-of-war in divorce. Take good care of these items. Put them in a safe, protected place. And, wherever possible, consider copying and/or scanning and saving your favorites. If you have children, remember that your civility to their father is your civility to them. And protecting items directly related to their family heritage is a gift to them, no matter which homes the items remain in.
    3. Work at your own pace keeping positive thoughts in your head when possible.

After you have “the talk”…

    1. Pick your timing, but talk to your Soon-to-Be-Ex about any items he might have an emotional attachment to and or any large items (a piano? A camper? Paintings? A special collection of CD’s or records?) that will need to find a home. Will the large items go to one of you, or will you sell the baby grand and split the proceeds? Make the necessary arrangements.
    2. Understand that there are no hard rules or laws about ownership of household items collected during a marriage, but some common ways to decide ownership is if one spouse received a gift personally, like a birthday present from a relative or an engagement ring, that spouse gets to keep it. Gifts made to the couple are typically divided equally. Keep in mind that jewelry your spouse gave you (except your engagement ring) is a marital asset as surprising as that sounds. When in doubt check with your lawyer (see step 1).As for things you already owned before coming into the marriage, those are usually viewed as “yours.”
    3. Make a plan for children and pets. What will the custody arrangement look like? What will the children and pets need for living space? If you have bonded pets, think compassionately about their happiness and welfare before splitting them up like material assets.
    4. Line up supportive friends for assistance with helping you organize or move out of the house post-divorce (if necessary) or taking things for storage.

Maintaining fairness and civility…

    1. Split items equitably. Those blue and green stickers you bought? Now is the time to go through the house together and take turns claiming your major possessions by affixing your colored stickers. If an item becomes a point of contention, either put it on hold… or take a big breath and let it go.
    2. If you get “stuck,” and can’t just let it go, agree to donate the item to Goodwill or to give it to one of your children. Do not seek justice in court. If you do, you will be greatly frustrated, because the court will likely say, sell it and split the proceeds.
    3. Keep the kids out of it. They don’t need to witness this, nor participate in the split-up of things, nor help you move. If they are younger, they need to see constancy, even if it’s only in the form of their bedrooms, toys, and daily routines. So, make plans for what items belonging to the kids will be moved, what will stay, and what may need to be duplicated.

Managing the logistics and your heart …

    1. Hire professional movers. You will be relying on family and friends enough during this journey. Moving out of the house after divorce is something best left to objective, non-emotionally involved movers.
    2. Make sure your utilities and internet are turned on in advance of moving to your new place. Yes, we are speaking from experience… Candlelight is divine for bubble baths, but not so much for finding the wooden spoon you need to stir your soup.
    3. If you’re dealing with an unwanted divorce and are alone, ask close friends and family to help. Keep your children out of this process. Make arrangements for them to spend the night with friends. Or take care of the move while they’re in school and doing after-school activities. Professional movers may be ideal, but you may not have that financial option.
    4. Try to move to a new place if possible. Yes, it’s a lot of work to move. But you will soon realize how emotionally interconnected everything is. This is a time to think “fresh, new, renew(ed).” You don’t need to spend the next chapter of your life steeped in a home you built with someone no longer there.

Understand that moving out of the house after a divorce is not only logistically and physically challenging, but an enormous emotional step in an already difficult process. There is a lot to think about, and yet, you don’t want to get trapped and weighed down by memories and “things.”

This is a time for prudence, wise counsel, strategic coaching… and letting go.

 

Notes

Whether you are navigating the experience of divorce, or that confusing place of recreating the life you deserve, one thing we see making a significant difference for women is the conscious choice to not do it alone. Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner them through the emotional, financial, and often times complicated experience of divorce and reinvention. SAS offers all women six free months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you and your precious future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

Advice on Custody

Best Advice on Custody for Divorcing Moms

Determining child custody can be the most challenging aspect of the divorce process. It’s important to know the facts in order to take the necessary steps to achieve what’s best for you and your children. Speak with your attorney about your options and how best to position yourself during this challenging time. Gathering key legal advice about custody can help you prepare for the challenges ahead.

Courts typically want children to benefit from time with both parents, so prepare yourself to hear the truth about the reality of your goals and expectations. The more information you have, the easier it will be to plan for you and your children’s emotional well-being.

Custody 101

First, it’s important and helpful to understand the legal terms with respect to custody. For the purpose of this article, I will discuss terms and custody in New York State (but know, divorce laws vary from state to state; which is why it’s important to discuss your situation with a lawyer practicing in your state.)

In New York State, child custody contains two parts: legal custody and residential (physical) custody.

  • Legal custody is the right and responsibility to make decisions about major issues affecting the child including education, medical and healthcare, therapeutic issues, and religion. In some cases, major decisions may also include decisions regarding child care, extracurricular activities, and camp.
  • Residential custody and/or physical custody pertains to where the child will physically live, and the access schedule for the non-custodial parent.

Sole Custody vs. Joint Custody

There are two types of legal custody in New York State: sole custody or joint legal custody.

  • Sole custody: One parent will make major life decisions. Sometimes the court will require a consultation. Other times, the parent who has sole legal custody must inform the other parent about the decision but the court may not require them to consult with the other parent.
  • Joint custody: Both parents contribute to major life decisions and jointly make such decisions; the parent with whom the child is residing is generally responsible for day-to-day decisions. At times, you may also have a hybrid model-joint legal custody with one parent having final decision making if the parents cannot jointly agree upon a major decision.  Another common term is “zones of decision making,” whereby one parent makes decisions about medical issues and another parent may make decisions about education. Essentially, the parents are dividing up the decision-making.

In determining legal custody in a divorce case, the Court will base their decision on the best interests of the child. Some issues that may define parental custody include your children’s special needs, learning differences, where they attend school, their wishes (in the case of older children), future goals, mental health issues (for parents as well as children), parental use of alcohol/drugs, and any domestic violence issues.

The secret key to gaining primary custody

But while all of these issues are important, the Court’s most important factor in determining custody might surprise you. That factor is which parent is most likely to foster a continuing relationship between the children and the other parent.

In fact, if I could give my clients a mantra as advice regarding custody it would be “fostering, fostering, fostering.” If you want to be the primary custodian, you must put aside all efforts to undermine your spouse. You must also demonstrate to the Court that you are most likely to ensure that both parents remain in your children’s life.

This might seem counterintuitive given that all of the other factors involve establishing that you are the “superior” choice, but it’s true. Children need the continuing presence of both parents in their lives, and Courts are highly sensitive to which parent is most likely to make sure that happens.

Managing expectations

When you meet with your attorney, be prepared to discuss both parents’ relationships and your varying roles with the children. Also be ready to discuss each parent’s relationships with the professionals (pediatricians, therapists, tutors, etc.) treating your children and appointment schedules for these meetings. The best advice for custody decisions is to be honest and informed.

It is not uncommon for parents and their children to have therapists. Many parents pursuing divorce may seek therapy for themselves or their children to help inform the children about divorce, aid with coparenting, and gain support while going through a difficult time period. If there are mental health issues, my best advice during custody disputes is to raise these issues with your attorney. You may also discuss reports and evaluations prepared by professionals at your children’s school, or outside professionals such as psychologists who are treating your children. You should be able to discuss any special needs and learning differences that impact your children.

What about domestic abuse?

Courts are also concerned about domestic violence, particularly when it occurs in the presence of children in the household. Plainly, it is not healthy for children to witness domestic violence against their parent.

Clients sometimes underplay the existence of domestic abuse even after they initiate divorce proceedings, but you need to be honest with your attorney as it may impact custody issues.

Let’s back up a moment and state very clearly at the outset what abuse is. At the most basic level, domestic abuse—also known as “intimate partner violence”—is about the desire of one partner to establish and maintain power and control over another.

Abuse can be psychological, emotional, verbal, physical, sexual, financial—even technological (using tracking devices or manipulating smart home technology to undermine a victim’s sanity). Abusers mix and match tactics from the list above to maintain control over their partners by forcing physical, emotional, and financial dependency and producing a continual fear that prevents their partners from challenging or leaving them.

I encounter abused spouses when they have finally mustered the courage to leave, more often than not because the abuse is so overwhelming that they can’t take it anymore. Before that, they frequently live in terrifying isolation, compounded by despair over being believed, since there are commonly no marks and therefore no evidence. Most significantly, they worry that if they aren’t believed and they end up in court, their children could face significant time alone with the abuser.

How to Get Help

Eventually, my clients will customarily get the orders of protection they need to protect themselves and their children from the abusive spouse. However, they are almost always confronted with questions about why they didn’t go to Court earlier, or why they didn’t report it to the police. They may be questioned about why there are no prior orders of protection to show the Judge, no hospital records, or no records of the abuse at all. When the judge asks me these questions, I have to explain: “Because they were terrified for themselves and their children and, most importantly, too ashamed to speak about the abuse.”

It is important to be honest with your attorney from the outset to get the help you need.

If you are fearful for your or your children’s safety, please visit The Hotline 1−800−799−SAFE(7233) or TTY 1−800−787−3224 or (206) 518-9361 (Video Phone Only for Deaf Callers) or Safe Horizon.

If possible, resolve your divorce without going to Court

With the exception of abuse cases, remember that the best agreements are those you and your spouse reach yourselves (in concert with your attorneys). Going to Court is always a risk as you are handing decisions about your life and your children’s lives over to one individual (the Judge) who doesn’t know you and/or your spouse. Nevertheless, if you are unable to reach an agreement through negotiations, it may be necessary to involve the Court.

 

Notes

Lisa Zeiderman, a managing partner at Miller Zeiderman LLP, a Founding Member of the American Academy of Certified Financial Litigation, a Divorce Financial Analyst, practices in all areas of matrimonial and family law including but not limited to matters involving custody, an equitable distribution of assets, child support and the negotiation and drafting of prenuptial and postnuptial agreements. Once divorced, Lisa is a mom and is remarried. She strategically and creatively crafts each case from the time of the first consultation to its resolution, in order to achieve the client’s ultimate goals.

 

Since 2012, SAS for Women supports women through the unexpected challenges they face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists, and support strategies for you, and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

Divorce Mediation

6 Essentials for Preparing for Divorce Mediation

Deciding to divorce is hard, and there are many big and little choices behind the ultimate decision. But there’s one question that many don’t grapple with: how do I want to divorce? This question is often left unaddressed because many believe that they’re doomed to have a litigious divorce. When most people think about divorce, they imagine the war-like scenario so often portrayed in popular culture. In this, one party is victorious, and the other is the loser. This image often involves mudslinging and scandal. While this route is one path to divorce, it’s not the only one. Moreover, it’s often not the best way to navigate an already difficult process. Divorce mediation offers an alternative solution.

What is Mediation?

One approach that’s continuing to grow in popularity—and is typically more cost-efficient—is mediation. In mediation, the parties meet with a neutral third party who guides them through the decisions that form their separation agreement. Mediation is an interest-based approach where the parties, together with the mediator, work to understand each other’s underlying motivations. Together, they generate creative resolutions to resolve any impasse. For that reason, mediation is not focused on retribution for marital grievances; instead, it’s a future-focused process intended to set the parties up for the next chapter of their lives. And most importantly for many of my clients, mediation provides absolute control over the outcome to the parties. This is because they—not the mediator—make all final decisions.

Who Should Mediate?

I truly believe that everyone (with limited exceptions) should attempt mediation before engaging in a traditional divorce model. Mediation is intended for (and should be used by) all who desire a less combative divorce process. Mediation also allows for more control over the timeline, cost, and outcome of the process.

Ideally, parties should attempt mediation before asking for court intervention. However, mediation is flexible and can be implemented at any stage of the process.

Mediation also can be used to resolve any issues relating to the divorce or a limited set of disputes. It can also be used for one issue, like custody. Thus, even if you’ve already begun a different process, you can still mediate—it’s not too late.

It’s especially important for parties who have children to attempt mediation. As I always tell my clients, children bind you for life, and the coparenting relationship is one of the most important relationships you will have—it does not end when your child turns eighteen. You and your Ex will forever have celebrations and life events that require you both to be present (graduations, weddings, and the birth of grandchildren, to name a few) so it’s best for all involved to try to learn how to move forward and get along.

The Benefits of Divorce Mediation

In fact, even if you don’t succeed at resolving your disputes in mediation, the mere act of engaging in the process produces positive results in the long run. A 12-year study conducted by Dr. Robert Emery shows that just five hours of mediation prompted parents to settle their divorce outside of court—and had positive effects on the coparenting and parent-child relationships. In fact, after just 5 hours of mediation, non-residential parents were more likely to speak with their children on a weekly basis and see their children more frequently. Moreover, the primary residential parent “graded” the other parent more highly in every area of parenting, including discussions related to coparenting problems.

Who Should Not Mediate?

There are three factors that make mediation an unsuitable process for some people to divorce. Since you are probably a woman reading this blog post on SAS for Women, you’ll want to understand them.

First, mediation should not be used if there is a history of domestic abuse (including physical, emotional, verbal, cyber, or financial abuse). A truly voluntary (and thus, enforceable) agreement cannot be made under threat or fear of abuse.

Second, parties who are not willing to be open about their finances are not suited for mediation. Since mediation does not include a formal discovery process, each party must be willing to produce documents necessary to illustrate the full financial landscape. Again, this is because a truly voluntary agreement cannot be reached if one party is not privy to all relevant facts.

Finally, mediation will be unsuccessful if a party is unable or disinclined to express themselves without an advocate present.

SAS Note: So, if you feel bullied in your marriage, if you’ve not had access to the money, don’t understand how the finances worked in your marriage, and/or your husband will not/would not share financial information with you, mediation may not be right for you. This is because you are not coming to the table at the same level of power as your husband. You may need an advocate, like a lawyer.

You’ve Made the Decision to Mediate, Now What?

1. Interview Several Mediators

Do your research and speak with several divorce mediators, either independently or together with your Ex. If you are speaking with the mediator separately from your husband, understand that the mediator will not be able to discuss content with you, but can discuss the structure of mediation and answer general questions. How to choose? Remember, you will share some of the most intimate details of your life with your mediator so it’s important that you feel comfortable with them. Moreover, not all mediators are attorneys, so make sure you understand the mediator’s background and whether they’re the right fit.

SAS Note: We recommend that the mediator you hire be a licensed divorce attorney. The truth is you want someone who really understands divorce law to help you complete this document. If your mediator is not a licensed attorney, you will pay extra to have it edited by a lawyer to make sure the document is legally tight before it gets sent off to court.

2. Gather Necessary Information

Create a file of your most recent financial statements (including statements related to bank accounts, credit cards, investment accounts, and mortgages). Your mediator may request documents dating further back, but having your most recent statements will be sufficient for your first session. If you are unable to gather all of your documents, a list of assets and liabilities will often give your mediator enough background to get started.

3. Make a List of Monthly Income and Expenses

Recreate your marital monthly income and expenses based on historical data. At a minimum, these amounts should be based on an average of three months’ worth of data. Being knowledgeable about the family income and expenses will help you and your Ex have realistic conversations and expectations relating to spousal maintenance and child support.

4. Meet with a Financial Advisor or Certified Divorce Financial Analyst

If you feel unprepared to speak about finances, you should speak privately with a financial expert. This person should be experienced with understanding how your money will be impacted by the divorce. This is the case no matter what model of divorce you and your spouse choose. A Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (“CDFA”) will help you understand the marital finances and prepare you for the finance-related conversations that will occur during mediation.

5. Consult with an Attorney

At any point in the mediation process, you can consult with OR retain independent counsel. This helps ensure that any tentative agreements you’ve made or are considering make financial and practical sense for you long term.

This attorney will help you understand your rights and obligations under the law, before or during mediation. The attorney can even review the proposed separation agreement on your behalf. You should note, though, that not all attorneys favor the mediation process; it’s important to retain an attorney who is committed to your goal of succeeding in mediation. On the upside, more and more attorneys are willing to frame their mediation services as “unbundled services,” which are different than the traditional divorce retainer.

6. Adapt the Healthy Frame of Mind

There is no winning when it comes to divorce–even if you go to court. The sooner everyone comes to understand this, the better. When coming to mediation, be prepared to compromise and to come to an agreement. To help you do this, you’ll need to set aside your personal feelings. You’ll need to prepare to go to the “mind side of the wall” and prepare to work rationally. Your spouse may need to be reminded of this too.

Because making the decision to pursue a divorce is so challenging, it’s easy to forget that you have choices. For an increasing number of people, mediation offers a better path forward than traditional divorce models. As such, mediation has helped many families begin the next stage of their lives.

Notes:

Bryana founded Turner Divorce Mediation, P.C. after seeing firsthand the detrimental effects that litigation can have on a divorcing couple and their children. Through her mediation practice, she provides clients with a friendlier approach to divorce so that they are better equipped for a positive future. If you have any questions or would like to learn more about mediation, you are invited to email Bryana or you can visit her website.

Since 2012, SAS for Women is entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its confusing afterward. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

How to Divorce a Nice Guy

How to Divorce a Nice Guy

Divorce may often be a painful and complicated process. When we’re leaving a lousy guy, the choice can be easier. We tend not to doubt what we want when all we want is Out.  But what if we need to divorce a nice guy? 

What if we’re wed to a good man, one who does marriage so much better than all the Horror Story Husbands we hear about?

He’s not a drunk or a cheater. Instead of condescension, infidelity, or abusiveness, he’s kind, loving, and devoted. He hasn’t lost three jobs in one year; he’s stable and good with money. Far from being indifferent to the children or annoyed by them, he adores them and raises them well. He’s fit, handsome and he thinks we’re gorgeous. 

The required fields are checked off. Everything about him tips the scales into the “good egg” box, and you know you never have to worry about him.

But you also know you’re unfulfilled. So, how do you divorce a nice guy?

This is where the concept of divorce becomes so much murkier. You are married to a stand-up guy. Maybe you even still love him as a friend. Perhaps he is your best friend. You trust him, you respect him… you just don’t want to be his wife anymore. 

The attraction, the connection, the pull to him has fled the bedroom. Something is calling you out of the marriage and you can’t continue to rationalize it away. But you can’t bring the ax of divorce down on your vows, either.

The Gamble of Marital Security vs. Personal Fulfillment

This inner conflict is normal and far more common than we realize. It’s also trickier to get out of because there’s no bad guy to rally against. But some women who take this gamble become the bad guy. They become the brunt of criticism by friends and family, particularly those who are highly pro-marriage.

People ask them why they’re throwing their marriage away. These people might strongly suggest therapy, or they might tell the “Bad Guy” woman she’s being fickle or selfish. According to this “conventional” view, staying married is the ultimate goal. For them, happiness can be sacrificed. And it takes an authentic, courageous woman to leave a perfectly good marriage and a perfectly good man.

It takes knowing ourselves well, and it requires the understanding that our soul’s most foundational nourishment lies within us. Perhaps it means deciding what we want, not what we think we should want.

How History Has Affected Divorce

It also helps to recognize that many of the practical reasons for sticking with a passionless marriage no longer exist. Few options existed for women in the past. In the early 1900s, American women were still legally designated as property. By the 1950s, the Betty Crocker generation still tended hearth, home, and children almost exclusively, with only a small percentage of women working outside the family dwelling.

That is not the case anymore. Relatively speaking, there are fewer barriers between American women and their careers. These careers often bring them excitement, social identity, and value beyond the picket fence, as well as the ability to make their own money–and plenty of it, in many cases.

That means that if they are unhappy in their marriage, they are not financially stuck in it. They can divorce even when their husband is otherwise a “nice” and financially supportive guy.

Women now do not have to settle for a good provider who can keep a roof over their head simply because he’s willing and able to do that. They have the power to leverage themselves out. They may feel awful about divorcing that really nice guy, but feeling guilty about something doesn’t mean we are actually at fault. 

Comparison Kills: Her Story is Not Your Story

“Women confide in me all the time that once they start researching divorce and hearing others’ horror stories about being abused, or mistreated, or how they’ve endured years living with a ‘narcissist,’ women in less dramatic situations feel their power dwindle and their guilt mount. How can they divorce a nice guy? Shouldn’t they just suck it up?” said divorce coach and SAS founder Liza Caldwell.

Guilt-stricken women describe their situation as platonic. They like their husbands but just aren’t sexually compatible with them. Instead of a union, the marriage feels like living with a roommate. And, in the midst of all this stifled uncertainty, guilt, and dissatisfaction, women may become passive-aggressive with their very nice guys. By staying in the marriage because they feel they should, they run the risk of becoming not-so-nice themselves. And in doing so, render an emotional disservice to their mate. This is how many come to divorce the typical “nice guy” husband.

Yearning for a Balanced Marriage

In some cases, women even feel sorry for their husbands. Perhaps he doesn’t make as much money as she does, or he is more in love with her than she is with him. 

Women can often empathize… almost to their detriment.  Pity is not love, and it is even less an aphrodisiac. A sense of emotional obligation is a strong tether to break, though.

“The ability of a woman to empathize with others, to stay in that place of constant caregiving to others, can be the death of her individual progress,” said Caldwell. “And while a part of her might be okay with sacrificing herself, what she doesn’t see is that she’s not showing up whole for the ones she is caregiving for.”

Women feel guilty, not justified, undeserving to act in any way that prioritizes their own needs or well-being. If they are mothers, I will often ask them: if their children were in this same situation, what would they tell their kids to do?”

“Then, women have absolute clarity,” she said. “They say, ‘I’d tell my daughter she deserves to be happy.’ So then, it’s really a question of us honoring ourselves, and valuing ourselves and our own lives as dearly as we tell our daughters and sons to do.” 

Leaving Your Best Friend

My partner of 13 years was a very good friend and an amazing man in many ways. He was intelligent, deep, forward-thinking, well-employed, good with money, MacGyver-smart about fixing things, honorable, very funny, talented, athletic, attractive, great in bed, and the best listener I’ve ever met. By all standards, I divorced a nice guy.

I know. Most of you are probably wondering if you can get his number.

Of course, he had his faults. He could be a U.S. Grade A Prime *%#hole. But overall? My Ex was a very good guy whom I loved.

Regret

A mate may fit well with one phase of our personal growth but not another. I don’t regret the decision to end our partnership, but I do regret some of my decisions leading up to it. By the time I made the choice to leave, it was the best one and has put a high dive under my self-development. But there were times before that–critically important choice points–where I could have made more effort. I could have been much more self-examining, more fearlessly committed to my own evolution. This could have made our commitment to each other stronger, our partnership richer. We also might have come to the same end result, but now I will never know. 

And having done some good Man Training for his new wife was, for a while, cold comfort.

It’s important to make sure we know what is really driving the choice to leave a good man. We need to honestly evaluate if we are the source of our own unhappiness. What are our real Primary Motivators, our true Deal Breakers? If our ego’s neediness is pushing this decision, it’s more likely we may regret the decision later. Refusing to deal with ourselves first, before looking at our husband’s effect on us, is a mistake. If we don’t confront the ways that we make ourselves unhappy, they will come back to bite us down the road.

How many women are blasé about their marriage and cope with it by stepping out and having an affair?  Is that fair to your Nice Guy? Does staying in a marriage and being unhappy, passive-aggressive or a grudge-holder serve your Nice Guy?  If you are not fully in the marriage and he is, is that fair? Does he deserve it? Or does he deserve the chance to meet someone who will meet him fully and lovingly, as he deserves to be loved? For many, the answers to these questions tell them that it’s time to divorce their nice-guy husband.

What about what you are modeling to your children?  How can you advise them to follow their own authentic selves and seek happiness compassionately with the world if you are not living that, too?

No one outside ourselves can “make us” happy, at least not for long. Lasting happiness only comes from within, and only from being fully and authentically present with ourselves. 

“Forever Love” or an Ever-Evolving Love?

Modern marriage takes a lot more flexibility than the original “institution” it was built for. People are beginning to shift the idea of marriage into one that allows for renegotiation. We are recreating it with a sense of dynamic yet committed impermanence. Instead of thinking in terms of “forever,” we are thinking in terms of ever-evolving.

This is what we are seeing develop from a mixed bath of infidelity numbers, the Living Apart Together trend, ethical non-monogamy, or not marrying at all but still engaging in loving, monogamous companionship.

We are pioneering a new marriage paradigm and recognizing that even “nice” and “good” may not last. What and who works now may not work later if each spouse is not growing into their potential and fully authenticated selves. And hopefully, we are learning to allow for that and accept it with grace.

Notes

Jennifer Bent is a freelance writer, former print journalist, and feature writer living on the West Coast. Nicknamed Verbose at a young age, she loves wordcraft but has to keep a short leash on her fondness for the profane. Jennifer enjoys compelling content and the liberty to write about interesting contributors and innovative ideas. Connect with Jennifer at verbosej@hotmail.com.

Since 2012, SAS for Women has helped women face unexpected challenges that arise while considering, navigating, and rebuilding after divorce. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists, and support strategies for you, and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

The Truth About Divorce for Women

The Truth About Divorce for Women

It’s unique for every couple and every individual going through it. You know that— with your head, if not with your heart. But the truth about divorce for women (and men) is painted with both broad and fine brushes. And seeing the big picture is as important as seeing the details.

Being lost in the microcosm of an unhappy marriage can be all-consuming. Little things are “everything,” and the thought of going through a divorce can seem as insurmountable as the thought of staying married.

You have friends and acquaintances—and perhaps family members—who have gone through a divorce. You see it played out on screen and in the tabloids of daily life.

And no doubt you have witnessed the full temperature spectrum of divorce, from amicable to contemptuous.

Even under the best circumstances, divorce isn’t for the faint of heart.

Nor is it for the unprepared.

Because SAS for Women is just that—for women—we will be discussing the truth about divorce for women specifically. The good. The difficult. The possible.

What Statistics Say About Women and Divorce

It’s important to revisit what you may find to be a surprising statistic: Women initiate divorce almost 70% of the time compared to men.

Add a college degree and that statistic skyrockets to 90%.

Why do women take the initiative to divorce their husbands more than the other way around? And why are the scales almost equally balanced when it comes to break-ups of non-marital relationships?

Obviously, there is something remarkable about the institution of marriage when it comes to uncovering the truth about divorce—for women, specifically.

In general, women are more vested in the expectations of marriage. Once-traditional roles are no longer applicable, especially as most women are pulling their weight both inside and outside the home.

They invest more. And they want more. The connection, the communication, the fidelity, all of it.

And education only makes them more astutely aware of what they can do and have in life and relationships.

It also makes them unwilling to tolerate less.

Education, after all, is as much about learning how to think and access resources as it is about stockpiling knowledge: a big advantage in today’s marriages.

Education is also a big advantage for women going through a divorce.

The Impacts of Divorce

When it comes to the truth about divorce for women, knowing how to create solutions and where to find help can be lifesaving.

And nowhere is that more true than in the areas of finances and single-parenting.

Unfortunately, one of the biggest shocks of divorce is what it does to women financially. All the upfront preparation often can’t prepare women for the long-term financial struggle they statistically face.

Countless factors influence this possibility, of course.

Women are far more inclined than men to sacrifice professionally in order to prepare for or raise children.

By the time they divorce, they have often lost critical years in the workforce. And they can’t make up for lost time on the earning-front—both in income and benefits.

This is why it’s essential that women have expert financial guidance and heed the most important financial steps after divorce. They have to think ahead to the unknown future in order to make wise decisions in the present.

Difficult as it is to face, the truth about divorce for women means they need to be savvy, both upfront and for the long haul. What may sound like a great settlement at divorce time may not be enough to secure even a comfortable lifestyle down the road without a struggle.

Single-parenthood can be another difficult reality check for women, especially if they’re already dealing with diminished financial status.

On top of doing everything alone, there is also the emotional component of not being part of their children’s daily lives.

And then there is the likelihood that their exes will find someone new to love and marry. And that means a new maternal influence in their children’s lives.

But the reality of divorce isn’t all bad. There is plenty of good on the other side of divorce.

Hidden Benefits of Divorce

If you’ve been trapped in a marriage that has suppressed your dreams and gifts, divorce can open the door to self-rediscovery. It can expand your consciousness of who you are and what you want in life.

Divorce can also offer exhilarating freedom. Not because marriage in and of itself is imprisoning, but because one or both partners can lose perspective of marriage’s liberating, elevating potential.

Perhaps the most positive truth about divorce for women is the sense of empowerment and independence it engenders.

Yes, you can come out of divorce struggling with your sense of self-worth, especially if your spouse was unfaithful, abusive, or neglectful.

But there is power—and potential—in knowing how long to stay and when to go. And being a steadfast advocate for your own dignity, even when it has suffered a blow, is a statement of promise for your future.

As you start to rely upon your own strength, ideas, and resources, in the context of your deepest values, your power magnifies. You realize there is more you can accomplish and dream about.

And in that reaching, stretching, and holding your own, you build resilience. You become an example, not only to your aspiring self but to your children and those who bear witness to your journey.

Divorce, even in the best circumstances, isn’t a do-over with a blank slate. What presents itself as new, free, and self-directed is still seasoned by marriage loss.

What you needn’t lose, however, are its lessons. And, out of its lessons, your resolve to rise, just as a tree adds to its rings while rising toward the sun.

The truth about divorce, for women on their way and women already there, is ultimately seeded in one unbreakable vow: to live into their highest selves for their highest good.

Notes

Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner with them through the emotional and often complicated experience of divorce. We invite you to learn what’s possible for you. Schedule your free 15-minute consultation with SAS. Whether you are coping with a divorce or are already navigating your life afterward, choose to acknowledge your vulnerability and learn from others. Choose not to go it alone.

Financial consultation for a divorce

Smart Moves for Women: A Financial Consultation for a Divorce

When considering divorce, or before responding to a spouse’s request for divorce, most women know it is smart to consult with a divorce attorney to learn about their rights and entitlements. But few women realize it is equally important to pursue a financial consultation for divorce with an experienced financial advisor. Who is a good financial advisor? It’s not the one you and your spouse have been using (unless s/he is more in your pocket than your spouse’s.) This new advisor should be someone who really listens to you and your concerns as a woman, has at least 10 years of experience, and (most importantly) understands how divorce impacts your money. For this reason, you may wish to cut to the chase and consult with an advisor who holds the certified divorce financial analyst® (CDFA®) designation.

Marital finances are often complicated. If any of the following situations apply to you, you may want to consult with a CDFA even before you consult with an attorney:

  • You wonder if the income that supported one household could stretch to support two;
  • You or your spouse purchased the family home before marriage;
  • The marital estate includes multiple assets such as real estate, stocks/bonds/funds, retirement accounts, pensions, cryptocurrency or private equity;
  • You or your spouse receives equity compensation such as restricted stock units (RSUs) or stock options; or
  • You or your spouse is self-employed or owns a business.

Women Not Confident in Their Financial Knowledge Often Pay More in Legal Fees

We don’t need Sherlock Holmes to discover for us that many experienced divorce attorneys charge high hourly rates. Martindale-Nolo surveyed attorneys and consumers in both 2015 and 2019 and concluded that the cost of divorce was influenced primarily by the attorney’s hourly rate and the number of hours the attorney spent on the divorce case. According to the survey, on average, divorce attorneys charge between $300 and $365 per hour in California and $305 and $380 in New York. 

I work with women across the country, especially with clients in California, and many of them choose attorneys who are certified as family law specialists. These specialists charge between $350 and $575 per hour. Top family law litigators charge even more. 

Your lawyer serves a critical role, whether he or she is advising you as a consulting attorney during mediation with a neutral third party, or representing you from start to finish with respect to your case. But paying a lawyer by the hour to increase your knowledge on the financial aspects of divorce will result in unnecessarily high bills. This is not the best use of your money.

It makes a lot of sense to choose the right tool for the task, especially when that tool is less expensive. Most CDFAs charge rates that are 30% to 50% lower than the rates attorneys charge in their markets. So, if you want to learn how retirement accounts and pensions are divided, whether or not you can afford to stay in your house (or qualify to refinance the mortgage in your own name), how to negotiate a fair division of assets, and what you need to do to ensure long-term finances, then I recommend you arrange a consultation with a smart money person or a certified divorce financial planner.  

A CDFA Helps You Avoid Costly Mistakes

CDFAs are financial professionals who understand your budget. We look for ways to ensure we add value so your investment in time and money pays off. We help you evaluate settlement proposals before you get to the final, divorce financial settlement. Putting in the work in advance will help you avoid mistakes that could prove costly down the road. 

One of the most common mistakes women make is agreeing to a division of assets that might look fair today—but results in a less-than-equal division in the future because they did not consider after-tax values.

If child support and/or alimony (sometimes referred to as “spousal support” or “maintenance” depending on your state) occurs in your case, it is critical to work with a financial professional who can project your after-tax cash flow and assist you with preparing both a pre- and post-divorce budget. You do not want to commit to a lifestyle for you and your children that you cannot afford. And, conversely, you don’t want to pinch pennies and live in a state of anxiety if your CDFA concludes that running out of money later is unlikely.

How to Find a Good CDFA

You can find a CDFA in your area by entering your zip code on the Institute for Divorce Financial Analyst’s website. There you will find newly-minted CDFAs as well as experienced practitioners.  

Many CDFAs have Yelp or Google reviews so be sure to check those sites as well as ask for referrals. 

Ask your divorced friends for the names of attorneys, mediators, and CDFAs. I recently attended a birthday party for a former client and was pleasantly surprised to see two other former clients in attendance. I had only met with one of them via Zoom during the pandemic and it was wonderful to be able to give her an in-person hug. 

Everyone is using Zoom these days so you do not need to limit yourself to a CDFA in your local area. And, in my experience, Zoom is even better than in-person meetings when reviewing and commenting on documents and spreadsheets. As long as the CDFA is familiar with your state’s laws and has experience working with attorneys or mediators in your state, he or she should be able to provide value, but never legal advice (that is what your attorney does).

For example, since one of my specialties is determining the marital and separate property portions of equity compensation for employees of both publicly–traded and start-up companies, it is no surprise that many of my clients live in the San Francisco Bay Area when I’m physically located in San Diego. 

How to Prepare for a Financial Consultation for Divorce

Most financial advisors and CDFAs offer complimentary financial consultations for divorce. I offer consultations by phone and last between 15 and 30 minutes. I also provide 30-minute financial consultations for divorce to participants in SAS for Women’s Annie’s Group. Before your consultation, check out the advisor or CDFA’s website and read their resources. This is your opportunity to have a professional answer your basic questions before you ask specific questions relevant to your unique situation.

To make your consultation call most productive, it’s best to have…

  • a list of you and your spouse’s assets and debts and estimated values 
  • your last two years of tax returns. 

Some women handle the finances in their marriage, so this information is not hard for them to organize. But in reality, only some women have access to all that information so just do the best you can. Any information you can provide is helpful. You will also want to tell the CDFA how long you have been married, whether you are currently living with your spouse, and the ages of any minor children.

While the CDFA may be able to answer some of your questions, don’t expect him or her to answer all of them during a brief consultation. If you are the primary breadwinner in your family, and increasingly many women are, you’ll want to make sure you do everything to protect yourself and support your family. You’ll want to ask the advisor/CDFA how he or she works. Specifically, you’ll want to know whether the fee is hourly or flat-rate, and what you can expect to accomplish by working together. For example, I charge an hourly rate but also offer flat-fee packages for divorce financial planning and analysis before and during divorce like the “It Could Happen” and “Mediation Money Mentor” packages. 

Conclusion

No matter how you choose to divorce (mediation using a neutral third-party, traditional approach of you each hiring a lawyer, litigation, or DIY via an online platform), connecting with a financial advisor is just plain smart to ensure your best future. A CDFA can add value by reducing legal expenses and/or the time it takes to divorce. Once you become educated on your financial options and what is possible, you can more effectively and healthily advocate for yourself during the divorce process. You’ll avoid the possibility of making financial mistakes that will be detrimental to your future. I cannot tell you how many times I have introduced myself at a networking event where the woman will say to me, “I wish I had known about you when I was going through my divorce.”  

Notes

Laurie Itkin, “The Options Lady,” is a financial advisor and certified divorce financial analyst® and has worked on more than 250 divorce cases, primarily in California, either as a financial neutral or advocate to one spouse. Laurie has been quoted in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, San Diego Union Tribune, Chicago Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, U.S. News and World Reports, Parade, Redbook, and Forbes. She is a member of the Association of Divorce Financial Planners, the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts and the National Association of Women Business Owners and provides pro-bono financial advice to clients of the San Diego Financial Literacy Center and Savvy Ladies. You can request a consultation or sign up for Laurie’s monthly newsletter here

 

Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women. We partner with you through the emotional, financial, and oft times complicated experience of divorce and rebuilding your life afterward. Schedule your FREE 15-minute consultation with SAS. Tell us confidentially what’s going on, and we’ll give you clear feedback, resources, and suggestions for your next steps.

Infidelity and Divorce

The Betrayal of Infidelity

It is possible to think rationally in the face of divorce… sometimes. The crumbling of a marriage is painful, of course. However, we can be logical about things like financial disputes, changing priorities, long-distance hardships, or child rearing. Infidelity, though? Not so much.

Hitting Us Where It Hurts the Most

The betrayal of infidelity is one of the top catalysts of divorce. In a recent SAS survey, we asked 100 women dealing with divorce to name the primary reason for their separation. Between 7-10% said adultery was the cause of their divorce, though it’s unclear from the survey who cheated on whom. That means cheating ranked as the number four reason for divorce, with lack of good communication, domestic abuse, and constant arguing ranking ahead of it.

When we discover that our husband* is unfaithful, sensible analysis and calm discernment take headers right out the window. There are other ways to break trust in a relationship, such as choosing an addiction over the relationship or hiding credit card debt. However, even these don’t hit as viscerally as cheating does. No other divorce catalyst is such an emotional hot button as the particular sting of disloyalty.

Most likely, it doesn’t matter how grounded we are or how well developed our self esteem may be. The betrayal of infidelity goes far beyond an emotional slap in the face.

The pain of adultery makes it difficult to hold on to a levelheaded frame of mind in the middle of that onslaught of pain, rage, bewilderment, and devastation. No matter what we read or who we talk to, there seems to be universal agreement that being untrue to the marriage vow of “forsaking all others” hurts the worst. It is also the most challenging bridge-burning from which to rebuild the trust that once existed between two people.

The Mortal Wounding of Infidelity

An affair: the term is a misnomer, really. Something that breaks trust so deeply and wounds on such an intimate, personal level shouldn’t also be a term for a lovely party. And the term “extramarital sex” sounds like a gynecological exam. It’s clinical and somewhat unpleasant, but it doesn’t conjure up the rage and bleeding-out-on-the-floor emotional havoc that the betrayal of infidelity wreaks. Finding out that your husband is two-timing you may sound like a country line dance but in actuality, it’s psychologically leveling for a period of time. Cheating is a spouse taking a hard look at the most vulnerable part of us and saying, in essence, “You’re not enough. You’re not good enough to merit my effort to stay true to you and to my word. You’re not worthy of the vow I said I would keep.”

The betrayal of infidelity shatters the commitment that the two of you made and throws a Molotov cocktail on your self-worth, the softest underbelly of who we are.

Cheating takes that vulnerable part of us, that part that we keep down in the depths that is the truest part of us, tosses it aside and says, “This can be replaced.” In North Carolina’s well-publicized case Clark vs. Clark case, one woman had to sit in the courtroom and listen to her Ex and his new wife testify that he never loved her in the first place.

Monogamous fidelity is one of the cornerstones of traditional unions, so the effect of an extramarital affair destroys an essential part of a married couple’s foundation. It takes a lot of work and support, and most likely, good professional help to rebuild that trust.

We May Not Forget but We Must Forgive

I was on the sidelines of an affair that involved a woman I know well, and so I witnessed the corrosion that a lack of active forgiveness can etch onto a marriage. The betrayal of his infidelity itself was gut-wrenching, but beyond that, it was frightening for her as a Stay-at-Home-Mom to be left with two young children and the prospect of raising them by herself. The two of them decided to remain married and work it out.

If that is our choice, we may not forget, but forgiving and consciously choosing to not punish him for the rest of the marriage is necessary for it to be a healthy one. It’s also necessary to take a hard look at ourselves and asking, “If cheating is a symptom of unhappiness, how did I contribute to the unhappy dynamic? And how do I address that now?”

That doesn’t mean taking all the blame. In fact, if you’re married to a narcissist or an abuser, you must be even more careful to not engage in the constant apology. Generally, though, looking honestly at ourselves does mean that we have to own our own behavior and how it affects the people around us.

The Metamorphosis of Marriage

It may be helpful to keep in mind that we are far from alone in this enormous challenge. Infidelity claims 25-40% of marriages, and the reasons for affairs range from resentment to stress to differences in sexual appetite, et cetera. In the younger generations, the percentage of women cheating on their husbands is now equaling men. Women in their 50s and 60s are also beginning to catch up with their male counterparts in the extramarital sex arena.

COVID-19 has also made it even more difficult for couples to sustain their togetherness. The National Institute of Health evaluated the effects of the pandemic on marriage in September 2020. The NIH found that the pressure cooker of sheltering in place may have made it harder to actually conduct a physical affair, but increased the numbers of people seeking them.

It may also be helpful to note that as “the done thing,” traditional marriage is beginning to take a backseat to new relationship paradigms. There is a growing recognition that the institution of marriage needs an infusion of flexibility and dynamism if it’s going to survive.

Couples are choosing to reevaluate their vows a few years into the union to see if they are still on the same page or if they need to make incremental changes. (Incrementally speaking, think screwdriver approach instead of a hammer).

Non-Traditional Approaches to Fidelity and Marriage

Married people are choosing to live in separate homes, a practice of “living apart together” in LAT relationships that honor the individual and help people in long-term unions maintain a “still-dating” romantic edge. And two weeks ago, the MSN home page featured a story on monogamy being “out of date” with a list of high-profile celebrities who include a little extracurricular activity into their happy marriages on purpose. They all had slightly different ways of handling it, but the message here is that some open relationships can lead to happier and more unified marriages.

The Metamorphosis of Self

It also takes support and, often, professional help if you decide that you don’t want to rebuild and choose instead take divorce by the horns. Leaving a marriage, especially on the heels of infidelity, requires a lot of us. It is just as much work as rebuilding a marriage. We enter a phase of partnering ourselves more effectively, and this means facing some uncomfortable truths about who we were in the marriage. We also must face who we are currently and who we are becoming. If we are going to truly evolve, we have to embrace the galvanizing effects of the pain and then move past it into self-honesty and forgiveness. If we can do this and truly let go, we find a whole new kind of freedom and self-commitment to celebrate.

Notes

Jennifer Bent is a freelance writer, former print journalist and feature writer living on the West Coast. Nicknamed Verbose at a young age, she loves wordcraft but has to keep a short leash on her fondness for the profane. Jennifer enjoys compelling content and the liberty to write about interesting contributors and innovative ideas. Connect with Jennifer at verbosej@hotmail.com 

 

Since 2012, SAS for Women is entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its confusing afterward. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

* At SAS, we support same-sex marriage. However, for the sake of simplicity, we may refer to the spouse as “he” or “husband.”