Community Property States

Divorce Property Division: Community Property States vs. Equitable Distribution States

It’s no surprise that things get split in a divorce, but how? What does the law say? Most states in the U.S. use the “equitable distribution” system to determine each spouse’s property share in a divorce. However, nine U.S. states use the “community property asset-allocation” principle. These are community property states.

In order to understand your circumstances, it’s important to understand the difference between community property distribution and equitable distribution. In this article we will discuss the differences and as well, how community property states can protect women in particular, and why courts may view some marriage agreements as invalid.

What is the Community Property Distribution?

Community property is a method of dividing marital property at the time of divorce used by the following nine U.S. states: Arizona, Nevada, California, Louisiana, Idaho, New Mexico, Washington, Texas, and Wisconsin.

The laws in these community property states mainly originated from Spanish jurisdiction. The exception is Louisiana, where France enacted their property laws. The main difference between these two influences is that in Louisiana, spouses who have assets and debts characterized as community property can withdraw or modify the community property profile only after jointly filing a petition approved by the court to assist their best interests.

In the Community Property States, property acquired during the marriage is classified as jointly owned by both spouses. However, in these states, the court also recognizes separate property.

Separate property cannot be split 50-50 in divorce. It includes assets that partners acquired before the official marriage registration and after its end (after a divorce). It also covers gifts and inheritance received by one of the spouses at any time.

What is Equitable Distribution in Divorce?

Equitable distribution is the second method for dividing marital assets. The list of equitable distribution states includes 41 states. Exceptions are Alaska, South Dakota, and Tennessee, where spouses can choose community property options. As a result, residents and non-residents can transfer assets into a valid community property trust.

As practice shows, the number of such hybrid states is increasing over the years. For example, on July 15, 2020, Kentucky also adopted an optional community property system. Following the Bluegrass State, Florida, on July 1, 2021, set a Community Property Trust Act that allows partners to “opt-in” to community property treatment for assets kept in a trust that meets civil law requirements.

In non-community property states, the assets and debts are divided equally during a divorce. However, “equally” does not mean a 50-50 split. It means “fairly.”

When separating assets, the judge may grant each spouse a percentage of the total value of the property and debts, depending on each partner’s contribution to the marriage and other factors considered.

The judge could also order one side to use separate property to make decisions fair for both parties. The court applies this rule quite often when one of the spouses illegally hides assets from separation. For example, in California, for hiding assets, the court can punish the spouse with 100% payment of the value of this asset to the other partner.

Equitable Distribution vs. Community Property

As discussed, in states with community property, the law declares that spouses have equal control of all money and property earned during the marriage. Therefore, it can be beneficial for women or the unemployed.

For example, if a woman cares for a child or is a homemaker, her financial contribution to the marriage will likely be minimal. So, even if only one spouse receives income from employment, and the other is unemployed, the court will divide the property 50-50.

In addition, since all community property acquired by spouses is considered joint, regardless of whose name it is registered, debts are also considered shared. Obligations include car loans, mortgages, credit cards, and other marital debts.

However, the system of dividing property has “disadvantages” that can lead to higher alimony (spousal support) payments. For example, a court may decide that a spouse paying half of a family’s debt may need a higher amount of spousal support to maintain the standard of living during the marriage.

States with an equitable distribution of property have a more complex system, as the court takes many factors into account. For example, the property that partners acquire in marriage transfers to the spouse who made the purchase.

In addition, the judge can consider the financial contribution of each party to the marriage. This factor, on the contrary, may reduce the family property received by unemployed spouses or homemakers.

Related articles: Do Stay-At-Home Moms Get Alimony?

Breadwinning Women Face an Uphill Battle When Married and When Divorcing

What Affects Property Division During Divorce

There are general factors that affect asset division during divorce. The court considers primarily the following:

  • The marriage duration
  • The marital standard of living
  • Age of both spouses
  • Right to alimony/spousal support
  • Earning potential of each spouse (education, job prospects, etc.)
  • Both spouses’ contribution to the marriage (childcare, work, etc.)
  • Health status

Depending on the case specifics (the presence of children, where the child lives, etc.), the judge may consider additional factors when making decisions in states that follow the equitable distribution principle.

Correcting the Past

Many women live in strict patriarchal or “traditional” families, where the husband/father controls the family finances. Property may even be transferred through the male descent line. This causes some women to worry that they will face the same issue during a divorce: that they may not receive any assets if they divorce.

It’s important to know that regardless of your family culture, men and women living in the USA have equal rights today.

According to The Married Women’s Property Act, which was passed in New York in 1848, women have the full right to receive and freely dispose of the spouse’s property acquired during the marriage. The document also includes the status of a woman’s separate property, which remains hers even during marriage.

Following New York, in 1849, the California Constitutional Convention adopted the Married Woman’s Property Act into the state constitution. And over the following decades, other US states passed this act one by one.

Nowadays, women have the same property rights in divorce as men. They can inherit or receive assets with full discretionary authority.

Are Gifts from Spouse Separate Property?

This may sound surprising but in states with community property and equitable distribution laws, the court considers one spouse’s gifts to the other spouse as family property in a divorce. In contrast, if a third party gives a gift to one of the spouses, it is a separate asset.

So if your husband gives you a pearl necklace for your birthday, that necklace is considered family property and not automatically yours if you divorce.

Do Prenuptial Agreements Affect the Property Division?

Marriage contracts as with prenuptial agreements are an excellent tool for eliminating future, controversial issues during a divorce because they can bypass some 50-50 assets division matters. To create a prenup, spouses enter into the agreement mutually before the wedding.

And the court usually accepts the prenuptial agreement. However, before creating a prenup, partners should take into account the specifics of their state. For example, California has specific requirements that spouses should follow to ensure that the court does not decline their prenup.

Further, in California, there are specific issues the spouses cannot “pre-agree” on in the prenup. These include the issue of custody, support payments, and parental visitations. This is because the court tries to make decisions in the best interest of the child.

Spouses can negotiate the following terms in a prenuptial agreement:

  • debts division
  • how their property will be divided upon separation
  • the duration and size of spousal support.

What Happens to Community Property and Equitable Distribution When One Spouse Dies?

If a spouse dies before getting the final divorce in a community state, the other spouse has absolute rights to half of the community property. And, if one of the spouses dies without a will, their half of the family property automatically goes to the surviving spouse. However, if the deceased partner had a will, they could only distribute their 50% of the community property. If more than 50% of the community property is indicated in the will, the court can cancel the will until justice for the surviving spouse is restored.

In the equitable distribution states, similar rules apply in the case of the spouse’s death. If there is a valid will, the distribution of property will go under it. In the absence of a will or if the will is invalid, the children and the surviving spouse have the right to receive the whole property.

Is it Possible to Divide Property without a Court?

In both equitable distribution and community property states, spouses can independently agree on the division of family property. Many couples prefer this method as they know best what property they want to acquire.

To do this, both spouses have to agree to the terms. Lawyers can help negotiate this on behalf of each spouse. Mediation or a DIY approach to divorce can also accomplish this. But both spouses must agree to the terms.

When spouses come to terms, settling all marriage and divorce-related issues without relying on the court, this is called an uncontested divorce. In an uncontested or amicable divorce, your divorce agreement is submitted to the court after you and your spouse sign it. The court in turns reviews it, making sure that both spouses have no objection to their chosen division of property, and grants their request.

To best optimize your divorce for an uncontested or amicable divorce, you’ll want to read this article Top 6 Tips for an Amicable Divorce.

Final Words

If a couple cannot come to an agreement in an uncontested divorce, then their case becomes “contested” and the court will settle the breakup terms under the specific laws of each state and the couple’s circumstances.

However, it’s important to know as well, that new amendments and divorce laws are always appearing in legislation. It is wise therefore to consult with a divorce attorney in your state before you make any moves (including negotiating “casually” with your spouse). You will want to know specifically how a court would rule regarding your divorce issues and in particular, your claim to assets.

Though the research says women are happier than men after divorce, the research also suggests it is more challenging for women economically. This is a solid reason for you to get educated before you agree and sign anything.

Notes

Jamie Kurtz is a divorce lawyer and a member of the LA County Bar Association and the State Bar of California. She’s a co-founder of a law firm dealing with uncontested divorces and a contributing writer for OnlineDivorce.com, an online divorce papers preparation service.

Since 2012, SAS for Women has helped women face the unexpected challenges that women endure while navigating the divorce experience and its confusing aftermath. 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 long does it take to get a divorce by weheartit

How Long Does It Take to Get Divorced?

When you want a divorce, it can’t happen fast enough. But, when you don’t want it or aren’t prepared, it can pull the rug out from under your life. The time it takes to get a divorce depends on a lot of factors — some within your control and some not. One thing that is always within your control? How wisely you use the time you have to prepare once divorce is inevitable.

Regardless of your initiative, mere compliance, or opposition concerning your divorce, your desire and need to know a timeline are understandable. Everything about the divorce process and its aftermath is time-sensitive.

Your first instinct is going to be to consult with “Google & Google, LLP.” Starting your research at the most obvious place makes sense.

But be careful and discerning as you collect information. Google can be a veritable rabbit hole, leading you from a general search with reputable sources to a downslope of information, advice, and questionable links. And it can quickly become overwhelming.

Anyone who has had to do academic research knows the cardinal rule of using primary sources. The reasoning is obvious: to avoid the dilution, changing, or skewing of information.

Educate Yourself with Up-To-Date Information

Online research is no different, but has the added considerations of fast-paced change and, unfortunately, a maddening dose of questionable integrity.

Just be careful and always consider the source. (Besides, the detailed, specific information you ultimately need will come from your team of experts – your divorce coach, attorney, financial planner, etc.)

Also, take note of dates on articles and be cautious about giving any information. You are getting educated and collecting information. Nothing more.

Google is a great place to get your compass pointing in the direction of familiarization and the reliable resources that will guide your journey.

You may have even found this site SAS for Women through a general search. But, as you click through our website, you see that it is thoughtfully, thoroughly, and securely developed. And the information shared here is consistent, reliable, and based on trustworthy sources.

This is the kind of confidence you need and deserve to have in your resources when the difficult time comes to get a divorce.

Again, always consider the source.

Your approach to getting educated about the divorce process can make a huge difference in the smoothness and outcome of your divorce.

It will directly influence your confidence and ability to deal with the inevitable stress of this life-changing process.

It will potentially help you save money and time and avoid making mistakes.

And it will lay the groundwork for how you move forward – and the people who become part of your life – after your divorce is final.

How Your State Affects Your Divorce Timeline

Your first online search should be for your state’s divorce process – and specifically its residency and waiting-period requirements. 

Every state will have its own laws regarding how long you have to live in the state before you can get a divorce. It will also have its own requirement (or lack thereof) regarding how long you have to wait before your divorce can proceed and be finalized.

State-by-State Comparisons

In Texas, for example, the petitioner has to have lived in the state for at least six months prior to filing. Texas is one of the states that also have county residency rules.

Texas also has a “cooling off period” of 60 days from the date of filing. Why? To make sure one spouse or both spouses aren’t rushing into a “forever” decision because of a temporary and/or reparable period of discord. (This is especially understandable when children are involved.)

What this means is that, if you live in Texas, and choose an uncontested divorce vs. a contested divorce, you could be divorced in as little as 61 days.

However, if you and your spouse have points of contention regarding custody, assets, fault vs. no-fault, etc., you will add on both time and expenses.

California, as notorious as it is for the “Hollywood” marriage-divorce-remarriage-divorce cycle, has a six-month waiting period for divorce – one of the longest.

New Jersey, on the other hand, has no “cooling off period.” While a typical divorce involving children and assets takes about a year, a simple, no-fault divorce could be complete in weeks.

State-by-State Residency and Waiting Periods

Getting familiar with your state’s laws for the divorce process is one of the best and easiest ways you can help yourself. (Paul Simon wasn’t kidding when he sang 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover!)

Some states, for example, have long residency and waiting periods and may even have required separation periods and parenting classes. Have a momentary lapse in confidence and come back together for a let’s-make-sure weekend of cohabitating? The clock will start again.

If you’re looking to get a divorce quickly, living in states like Vermont, South Carolina, and Arkansas could test your patience.

Read more about the fastest and slowest states for getting a divorce to get a sense of where you stand.

Avoiding Litigation

Divorce is no stranger to the DIY approach. While you can find all the necessary forms online if you and your spouse decide to go that route, please be careful! If there is anything that could be a point of contention or complication, you are better off with legal representation.

Even if you choose a non-litigated path like mediation, you would do yourself good service by getting a legal consultation. And, whether you are simply “consulting” or hiring an attorney for the entire process, avoid hiring cheap divorce lawyers.

Even couples without years of accrued investments and complicated finances will have financial considerations, usually outside their areas of expertise.

Protecting Yourself Against DIY Divorce Mistakes

The disparity in income levels, years in or away from the workplace, years spent as a stay-at-home-parent, retirement funds, health/life insurance, mortgage – it all matters. And it all has relevance far into the future.

Women especially tend to take a hard hit financially after divorce, and they don’t always regain their financial footing. Their loss can be almost twice that of men and is often accompanied by a number of post-divorce surprises.

As you can probably see by now, that innocent question, How long does it take to get a divorce? doesn’t have a simple answer.

Some things you can control. Some things your spouse controls. And some (many) things your state’s laws control.

Remember that knowledge is power – or at least an analgesic to the inherent stress of getting a divorce

Remember also that the time it takes to jump through all the hoops of the divorce process says nothing about the time it takes to recover from a divorce.

But how you educate yourself, and the integrity and composure with which you navigate your divorce can influence everything, including your divorce recovery, the new chapter you deserve.

 

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 dealing with divorce or are already navigating your life afterward, choose to acknowledge your vulnerability and learn from others. Choose not to go it alone.

 

Why a Good Divorce is Better Than a Bad Marriage by weheartit.com

Why A Good Divorce is Better Than a Bad Marriage

Many couples would rather stay married than face the reality of the unknown that divorce brings. For many, divorce can also lead to feelings of guilt or shame or even failure. And yet, it doesn’t have to be that way. If you are stuck in a bad marriage, a divorce is the better option for everyone involved, and here’s why.

You Can’t Hide the Truth Forever

When you got married, you probably had a dream in your head and an expectation of where you wanted it to go. This dream may have included a big house, children, a beloved dog, and a golden retirement down the road, perhaps one where you and your partner would enjoy quiet walks along the beach. If this isn’t your life today and there are core issues in your marriage, it’s just a matter of time before you’re going to have to face the truth. When your marriage no longer feels like a partnership, this can have a negative effect on your overall life quality. You may find yourself less motivated or isolated, with greater feelings of negativity and low mood.


If you are wondering whether you should or should not divorce, consider 36 Things to Do If You are Thinking About Divorce.


Regardless of what impression other people may have regarding your marriage, only you know the true reality. You can pretend everything is fine on the outside, but at the end of the day, you’re the one experiencing the truth of the marriage. There comes a time where the only person you are fooling is yourself. Don’t stay because you think you can hide it. You should never stay in a bad marriage because you are worried about what others might say. Again, an unhealthy marriage affects you, not them. Don’t be afraid of making choices that improve your quality of life just because it makes others uncomfortable.

Living your truth will also translate to better, more healthy relationships outside the marriage. Surround yourself with people who accept your truth. Having healthy relationships with others outside the marriage is always important for your well-being.

Living Honestly Is Better for Your Health

Sticking it out isn’t always the best option and doing so can lead to you feeling ill, both mentally and physically. The strain and stress from a bad marriage will take a toll on anyone and can lead to many health issues, such as depression, addiction, anxiety, and even eating disorders. A bad marriage doesn’t need to be one that consists of abuse. It can be a marriage where you cannot be yourself, do not feel authentic, can’t communicate, or aren’t happy no matter how hard you both try.

When you and your partner cannot be your truest selves, you are inviting in other problems that will only worsen the situation. Divorce can be stressful too, but understanding what steps to take can help ease the pressure. Here is what to know before you get divorced.

Never underestimate how damaging stress can be. And when your marriage is the cause of your stress, you cannot expect things to get better as time passes. In time, mental disorders can also lead to physical problems. For instance, eating disorders, reduced immunity, and other issues can also make your heart more susceptible to potentially deadly problems.

Children Sense When Things Are Bad

If you are staying in a bad marriage for the sake of your children, then think again. Your children spend as much time with you as your partner does and they notice things you don’t expect, whether they realize it now or when they get older. If you are both unhappy in the marriage, your kids will know it.

If you stay in a bad marriage, they will grow up thinking this is the right thing to do too and may follow in your footsteps. Consider what advice you would give your child if you knew they were in a bad marriage and follow that advice for yourself. While divorce can have negative impacts on children, it is better to have two separate happy households than one toxic and unhappy one.

Getting a divorce isn’t what anybody dreams of when they marry, but sometimes things don’t work out. You don’t need to stay in a bad marriage when you could go through a good divorce, especially when you both know it’s the right choice.

Greeting Divorce as a Gateway

Getting a divorce is not the end of the world. It’s not worth avoiding just because you fear what others would think of you. You also shouldn’t stay in an unhealthy marriage because of your children. In time, staying in a bad marriage is ultimately worse for everyone involved, and has negative effects on mental and physical health.

If you want to try to save your marriage, do take steps like going to a marriage counselor or trying discernment counseling. However, if things do not get better, take a long hard look at your daily reality. You can’t expect things to change if they are not changing with professional help.

Divorce is not the end of the world. In fact, it could be the beginning of a whole new, better life for you. You may also find a new community of friends and others who have gone through a divorce as well. You may benefit from joining an educational support group or talking with a divorce coach who can help you understand what other choices are available to you.

Notes

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.

Facing the fear of Divorce Change Weheartit Size 2

Fearing the Change of Divorce

Think back to when you were a small girl and how, when you were little, the prospect of change was exciting. Perhaps you were scared but excited about losing that first tooth. But it meant growing up and that the tooth fairy was coming to reward you for being brave. Do you recall when you were invited to do grownup things? Like stay later at the table with adult guests, or accompany a teenager on an outing and how thrilled you felt? Larger than yourself, and suddenly bigger, more important than your peers. Change signified good when we were younger, and perhaps even faced with the shock of menstruation, a part of us welcomed it (maybe) with a particular horror fascination. It symbolized certain doors opening, and a private world of unexplainable mysteries and womanly secrets now to be yours. Most likely, though, fearing the change of divorce was not included in those early imaginings.

When we were little, we understood change as natural. We still do. However, with age, we have come to fear it. Older now, “wiser”, we resist change, we ignore it, and we pay to not see it. And in no place is change more fear-inducing than in our post-divorce, apocalyptic future, somewhere out there, in an unknown galaxy of life after separation.

This “resistance” begs a few questions. How do we look at the change that divorce inevitably brings in a healthy way? 

How do we make friends with it? 

And how do we prepare for it when we can’t know what’s out there?

Change and Its Thorny Opportunity

Sometimes it takes hitting rock bottom or losing our marriage, or losing ourselves in a marriage for us to see that something’s got to change because there are no alternatives. There simply is no other choice. That’s the gift for some of us, the catalyst: we have no choice. So, for those who are change-averse, sometimes it takes hitting the wall for change to be accepted. Others say they have no problem with change and embrace it with every opportunity. 

And yet there are degrees to change.

Genuine change is not about getting Botox or our hair colored. It takes work to learn what is changing, what needs to change, and what we want from the change. Put simply, it’s uncomfortable. Fearing the change of divorce is natural, but can also be seen as a huge opportunity for growth and yes, even improvement on the way we are currently living.

Change on the Inside

To understand change, we need to appreciate how our bodies are hardwired and what genuine hard work it is to change. We resist doing something different because it is physically difficult. The brain has hard-wired networks and paths. Any kind of change to our homeostasis or what our networks know as “normal” causes stress for the body. The body has to work extra hard to override old patterns and create a new response.

The fact is we’re not just lazy, or cowards when we’re looking at change: we are conditioned NOT to make it happen.

And society certainly reinforces this, or so it seems at first blush. If we look at myths and fairy tales around the world, they tell us, don’t leave home, don’t wander out of the village, don’t amble into the woods. Don’t change. For there, lurking is the Great Unknown, the wolf, the ogres, the dragons, they’ll get you. No, stay local and do what you’re supposed to do, what’s expected of you. If you don’t change, you’ll stay safe and out of harm’s way.  

But those myths are never about the common folk, the villagers or townspeople who continued doing they always did. The great myths are about that one unusual, individual who chooses to not heed the “stay-safe” words. The hero. The hero is called by the beyond and the hero pursues. S/he leaves the familiar stay safe world and goes off to face the unknown. And it’s that journey, that epic quest of twists and challenges, struggles and fights, that transforms the hero into a changed person, a leader for all. 

The lesson in those myths is not to stay with the same and what you know. If you want to lead a passionate life, it requires you to face change and its harrowing obstacles. It will not be easy, but in the failing, stumbling, and caterwauling on the ground, you will learn anew. As well, the lesson reveals that failure is a profound opportunity for learning.

Rather than focusing on fearing the change that divorce brings, ask yourself: What have you learned from your marriage? 

Preparing for Change When We Can’t Know Our Future

Perhaps you are feeling your fear about divorce, or battling dragons right now in the midst of the legal process. Maybe you’re facing your battle-weary self in the mirror after divorce. Wherever you are in the process, begin by taking stock of the pain you know so well. And then ask yourself, what do you want to do with this pain? Stay with it? Or, use its energy for something that will end it?

Scary, we know. But remind yourself, you’ve been afraid before. Fear has always been with you, ever since you were a child. It’s how you respond to it and what you do with the fear that matters most. 

Ask, what are your genuine choices today? Map them out. Will doing nothing and staying in your status quo end the pain? Or is it another path, where you will have to do uncomfortable things, like explore your options, learn about them and their long-term playouts, that offers a better chance of ending your pain?

Make Friends with Change by Making Friends with Others Facing It

Feel yourself fearing the change of divorce, and then begin. Take small steps. Find the right mentors and communities who can bolster your commitment to facing the fear of divorce in your life. These people hold the knowledge that will help ease your journey and liberate you.

In myths, the hero is always visited or inspired by otherworldly creatures, whether it was Pinocchio’s Blue Fairy or the god and goddesses in the Odyssey. Open up to finding your source of inspiration, your specific light that pulls you forward. This power may come from your spiritual practice or your therapist who’s helped other women leave difficult marriages. It might come from private meditation or the words of a divorced coach. Perhaps your guidance comes from another divorced woman who, further along her journey and healed, is turning to help you be guided from the demons, mishaps, and pitfalls along the way. 

Lean On Group Support!

Don’t overlook the power of the group. Maybe it’s a community of like-minded women, each seeking to learn if she should or should not divorce. Or maybe it’s a group of inspired divorce survivors who have similar values to you: they too are learning what they want from change as they support each other rebuilding their lives. The contagion of the group is powerful. Think of the successful, recovery model of peer-to-peer support in Alcoholics Anonymous, or the triumph of Suffragettes in the early 20th century. Being with others will inspire you, and you, with all your flaws and strengths, will inspire them. Together, there is group momentum. Together, there is greater success in numbers.

Accepting Change Involves Action and Calculated Risks

Though you are allied and supported, you must accept that there is no one else who can change your life. It will come down to the action you must take, and here, your body needs you to do something. You will meet with a lawyer to hear your legal choices, you will evaluate them. You will worry about the money, but you will find out the best business transaction for yourself. If you have kids, you will remind the children, once it starts, this is not about them, and that their daddy* and you love them very much. You will keep taking steps to prepare and integrate change, and to foster your best post-divorce life. You will remind yourself, you will continue to face fearing the change of divorce throughout your journey.


“I never heard of anyone regretting being brave.”  ~ SAS for Women Co-founder, Liza Caldwell

 


In spite of your ongoing fear, all of your steps will be in alignment with your best post-divorce life. Yes. If that is hard for you to imagine, then spend time visualizing what you want in your sweetest life. In the safety of the visualization, go big! Think about your ideal landing ground after divorce. Visualize peace and safety, think about the people whom you’ll have more time for, consider how your body will feel not being constantly triggered by your spouse. Allow change to be an inspiration for you. Don’t hold back. Nurture that vision and infuse it with healthiness and compassion, but also steel-edged resolve for honoring who you must be, who you truly are. Hold that vision front and center and ensure your steps, small or large, are directed toward that vision.

You will fumble. You will fall. Likely, you will find yourself on your knees, and on occasion, your children will be watching. Forgive yourself. You are human, not a god. But your body is an incredible thing. It’s seemingly hardwired to keep you small, and yet, you are learning it can also catapult you into new, exciting places and situations, where you can and will learn anew. You can adapt, and in this adaption, discover unpredictably beautiful things. There are risks with your moves, but there are often greater risks in doing nothing. You’ve accepted “something’s got to change” and you are giving it your all. This is the one precious life you were meant to live. 

Notes

Whether you are navigating the experience of divorce or that confusing place of recreating the life you deserve, one thing that makes 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 oft 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.

 

*At SAS, we support same-sex marriages. For the sake of simplicity, however, we may refer to your spouse as “he” or “husband.”

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.