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A woman thinking about her expectations of the divorce process

Deflating Your Expectations about the Divorce Process

Unpacking what you thought would happen versus what actually happened in your divorce process can do much to further your healing, this I’ve learned firsthand. When I first started writing this blogpost, my original plan was to write “a divorce success story.” After all, our culture wants us to report on our successes. Even if we struggle, we’re ultimately expected to arrive on the other side of that struggle as heroes. I had internalized this cultural message at the start of my divorce. I had pictured a successful and quick divorce with a wonderful, new life waiting for me at the end. I expected that one day I’d be able to write this “success story” and, in doing so, would inspire other women to be like me.

However, as I truly reflected back on what happened in my own divorce, I realized that it wasn’t just one struggle I lived through. My divorce actually unleashed a list of obstacles that always seemed to get longer, while the end goal—a new, wonderful life with the past firmly behind me —was nowhere to be seen. I kept telling myself: I need just one more push to sort out the apartment, where the kids will live, or a child support agreement. And then, when it’s all sorted, I will write my story and inspire others.

I was trying to be my old perfectionist self. I was trying to be a good girl and a successful student, completing my assignments and getting all As. I had already failed in staying married and in keeping my family together — the least I could do to reclaim my worth was to be successful in my divorce!

A mess instead of success

As my divorce was finalized on paper, I failed to feel free or confident. I was filled with anxiety and fear, ridden with guilt and shame. One day I was so crushed while reading text messages from my Ex that I deleted WhatsApp and climbed under the covers. A scared child was what I was. I was in no shape to inspire anyone, certainly not my sister divorcées. I was a mess with no real story to tell. Who was I kidding?

Or so I thought, until I heard an invitation to a masterclass by the award-winning TV presenter of Good Morning America, Robin Roberts. She shared two ideas that I loved, and they picked me up. “Make your mess your message,” said Robin, adding “showing vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness.” Suddenly, I was inspired. I could do that! I could show my mess and vulnerability. After all, aren’t those two things we know for sure as divorced women? How to feel vulnerable and embrace the mess?

We divorced after seventeen years of marriage

My Ex and I separated over a year ago after being married for seventeen years. I initiated the breakup as I could no longer stand the mental, verbal, and sometimes physical abuse. We were a great team in our 20s, but by the time we hit our 30s, my personal growth and talents made my then-husband feel threatened. In turn, my husband felt invisible and like his needs were being ignored. The more he strengthened control, the weaker our connection and intimacy was. I had an affair in search of love and care, but it didn’t work for me long-term. After eight years of therapy and trying many methods of restoring peace as a couple, I realized there was nothing more I could do. The benefits of having a full family and loving memories no longer outweighed the stresses.

I decided to sacrifice my kids’ comfort, our household, and joint vacations in exchange for peace of mind, mental stability, confidence, and self-worth.

My post-divorce journey

As I was navigating my divorce, I realized that the process was nothing like I expected it to be! Through pain and many therapy sessions, I came to realize that the mismatch between the expectations and reality gave me grief and created a feeling of loss of control: it created a mess. As I review my top five expectations, I want to inspire other women getting divorced to face the expectations that may be weighing them down, causing pain and messy feelings.

Expectation 1: divorce will never happen to me

It is worth knowing that we are influenced by our close circle, not global statistics. For the rest of the world, 50% of marriages may end in divorce—but not in my social circle. My middle-class social group stuck by their traditional family structures whether they liked it or not. It was fine to live in different bedrooms and even apartments if you could afford it, but it wasn’t okay to get a divorce. This is largely because divorced men in Russia who worked in the military or for the state could lose their employment, destroying their careers and livelihoods.

What I did remember, though, is that my uncle got divorced when I was six, and his daughter, my cousin Catherine, was eight at the time. My mother told me that Catherine’s mother was a vile and stupid woman who wrongfully assumed that she could find someone better and, of course, she didn’t. A woman needs to stand by her man and not go looking for greener grass on the other side, I was told as a child. Catherine and her mom were excluded from our extended family after the divorce. Cousin Catherine and I reconnected only when we were both in our 40s via social media.

What did I make of all this? Subconsciously, I thought that divorce was a no-no for a good woman like me. I learned that initiating a divorce was bad, and a woman and her children would be punished for it.

As I was contemplating divorce myself, I was struggling to find a positive example to look toward. Divorce was untrodden territory in my family, as was following your feelings.

Expectation 2: it would be quick

Since I assumed that divorce doesn’t happen to good girls, getting divorced at all was extremely embarrassing. I didn’t want to tell anyone or discuss it. I wanted the divorce to be over with quickly. I was already thinking of getting a new, better husband since I was in the process of setting myself free. I was considering anything that could end my status of being “divorced.”

The shame and the denial of going through a long divorce process meant that I had trouble discussing my issues with lawyers, counselors, and my Ex. I googled. I read the advice in one of the blogposts on SAS for Women: “don’t stop communicating with your Ex if you have children.” What? I wanted so much not to see his texts, to not be reminded that I was living through this most undignified process!

Not only was I embarrassed about going through the divorce process, but I was also surprised that it wasn’t yet over. It took me many years to decide and get ready to separate, to voice and then follow through with my intention to divorce my husband*. I thought I was done when I moved out and got the divorce papers. I had no idea that untangling the seventeen-year-long co-dependent relationship with kids and property was another long process in and of itself.

Maybe, out of the entire list of things I hadn’t expected from my divorce, the slow pace was the hardest to embrace.

Expectation 3: my husband will behave like a gentleman

Why did I expect my Ex to behave like a gentleman and care for my feelings during our divorce? Especially when the reason I divorced him in the first place was because he was verbally and mentally abusive and didn’t care for my feelings? I like people to be respectful. He respected and loved me once, and I remember how good it felt. I expected my husband to behave like a gentleman because in my dreams I am a person who is treated respectfully by a man. I had heard of civilized divorces. Why couldn’t I have one?

I guess I expected my Ex to assume responsibility for OUR divorce and act as if we were equal throughout the process. I expected a fair division of assets, the kids’ time, and financial obligations.

What I got, in reality, was a man who was angry and bitter about my decision to “destroy his life.” He put all the blame and responsibility for the breakup on me, threatening me about the kids’ custody and our finances. He argued that I had to compensate him for the loss of his life.

“I will not behave like a gentleman during the divorce. You decided to break up, so don’t expect anything good from me,” my Ex wrote in one of his texts. “Find yourself another man to behave like a gentleman.” In front of friends and family, I was embarrassed at my Ex’s behavior during the divorce process, as if his manners and attitude were my fault.

I hear women say that they are too scared to get a divorce because they expect their husbands to behave nasty. “I am good to you as long as we are together. But don’t expect me to behave well if we separate,”  one of my friend’s husband said to her.

Expectation 4: my closest circle will support me

Just like I was embarrassed to be going through the divorce process and ashamed of my Ex’s behavior, some of my friends were embarrassed of me being the divorcée in their circle. I was once, in fact, asked to come to a private party but told not mention my divorce.

A reaction I got several times when I asked close people for support was this: you decided to divorce—not me—now deal with it, and don’t ask for sympathy.

Not only did I break the rules of the game, I disrespected many women who stuck with their husbands because I also dared to seek support.

We are talking about a very close circle of friends here, not simply colleagues. I was surprised to realize that some people were ready to support me when I was whining about my hard married life but were no longer there to support me when I was getting divorced.

We all hear that our circle of friends may change as we divorce. But I was unprepared to see my besties disregard my sense of purpose and feelings. Getting divorced was bad enough—grieving the loss of close friendships was doubly painful.

Expectation 5: my kids will be on my side

As I was planning the divorce, I had a picture of my sons — then eleven and fourteen — saying “Mom, we support you in any decision. We understand that you had enough of the fighting and crying and that you want to come home to a calm environment. We love you and will go anywhere with you.”

Instead, my eldest son stayed with his dad in our family apartment as I moved out. He grieved the breakup and blamed me for it. For six weeks, my son and I lived in the same city but in different apartments. That was painful. We saw each other regularly, but communication was poor. He was closed off and distant. I was upset and apologetic, attempting to buy him back with home-made meals and presents.

For the last two months of self-isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been living together. Our relationship has improved and evolved. I am learning to be comfortable in my new status of a divorced mom of two boys with my own decisions to make and responsibilities to take care of. I’m enjoying all the “cute son” moments on my own and am grateful for the isolation.

Once the quarantine is over, my eldest son will want to live with his dad again. And I will need to find a way to see him while also preparing for an empty nest.

A lot more could be said that came as a surprise during the divorce process and caused pain. But the thing that hurts the most is seeing the life that we imagined and planned crash and burn. Living through this period takes time. And during that time, we have the right to be a mess and be vulnerable. It’s our way of climbing out.

Anna Ivanova-Galitsina is an international expert in communications and storytelling based in Moscow, Russia. She is training to be a coach for women in transition. You can reach out to her via e-mail [email protected] for a test coach session or a discussion.

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.

*We support same-sex marriages. For the sake of simplicity in this article, however, we refer to your spouse as your “husband” or a “he.”

Thinking about dealing with coronavirus as a single mom

Dealing with Divorce & Coronavirus as a Single Mom

Dealing with a divorce is very hard, but dealing with a divorce and coronavirus as a single mom, all at the same time? A virus that has infected more than 1 million people already, in fact. Well, that’s a whole other level of difficult. Not only do you have to learn how to live with your children on your own, but you also have to, you know, take care of them.

While it will surely not be a piece of cake, it’s very much doable—you just need to believe in yourself and do your best to not let these external events affect you or your attitude toward the little ones in your life. So how can you cope when dealing with divorce and coronavirus as a single mom? Well, here are a few things that might help.

Keeping a positive attitude

To say that going through a divorce and a pandemic is difficult is, quite frankly, a huge understatement. But that’s how we find ourselves most days, lately: uttering sentences and watching news stories that feel surreal and unprecedented. For most of us, both of these events really are those things. Surreal. Unprecedented. They throw your entire world off course and force you to live in the unknown—not only you but also your kids. If your children are still small, they probably don’t understand what’s going on yet, which is why they need your support and a positive attitude more than ever. You need to convince them that everything will be alright, but most importantly, you need to convince yourself. Because everything really will be. Do not let yourself believe that a divorce is the end of the world—it only means that your marriage was not meant to be.

Remember to look for positives in every negative situation. After all, it’s what you’d tell your children, right? When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

Spending time with your kids

It’s a cliché, but it’s true. In therapy, they sometimes tell you to speak to yourself as if you were a child—to treat yourself with that sort of grace and kindness. Right now it’s okay to immerse yourself in these clichés, to wear them like a coat you can shed when the days are a little less gloomy. Every cloud has a silver lining. This too shall pass. There’s light at the end of the tunnel. Whatever floats your boat. In this case, the light might be that since the pandemic forced the authorities to close schools and kindergartens, you have the perfect opportunity to spend more time with your little ones.

The pandemic will end one day, but the bond you establish with your children in these hard times will last a lifetime if you tend to it. It might be extremely helpful in the future as, according to experts from Parent Center Network, “a parent who is closer to their child will notice immediately when their kid is going through problems that the modern child faces such as depression, bullying or even when they are sick, and the symptoms are not so obvious.”

So instead of spending hours on overthinking why your marriage did not work out—something that’s now outside of your control—spend time with your kids. Play games, watch a movie, or read them a story. Whatever will make you and them happy. When it comes to dealing with divorce and coronavirus as a single mom, getting closer to your children might be some of the best advice out there.

Finding a new passion

Many women who get divorced experience a lower self-esteem, especially when their Ex was in the habit of making all the money-related decisions. But you cannot let a divorce put you down. It’s not just that your kids need you—it’s simply that the world throws enough hardships our way that we don’t need to add to our own woes by burdening ourselves with shame. Instead of crying over spilled milk, try to get to know the “new you.” As you introduce yourself to this new you, invite your kids along.

Take up a new hobby, such as painting or cooking. Get creative with things that you have at home. Since the pandemic has forced everyone to stay at home, you may find yourself with more time to devote to new interests you’ve always wanted to explore. That adventurous spirit and curiosity is something what will benefit your children later on.

Forgiving yourself for mistakes

Learning how to parent on your own (or learning to coparent, ideally) can be challenging, which is why you should not set unrealistic expectations for yourself and try to do everything perfectly. After all, when you are learning how to do something, you make mistakes—that’s a part of the process. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

If you have problems with your Ex, doubts, or need reassurance, remember that you always have your family and close friends to lean on. Most often these are the people we can count on to be there whenever we need them, waiting with open arms when we are ready to ask for help.

Taking care not only of your mental but physical health, too

The things above will help you with taking good care of your mental health in these tough times. But don’t forget that your physical health is just as important, especially when each and every one of us is exercising caution and doing our best not to overload our medical system.

This might actually be the best time to teach your kids good habits, such as washing their hands for at least 20 to 30 seconds or covering their mouth when they cough or sneeze.

But once the kids fall asleep, you’ll have time for yourself. Take a long bath, put on a face mask, paint your nails, or workout—there is no better way of lifting your mood and relaxing than a little bit of self-care.

A divorce isn’t pleasant, especially if you have kids, because you owe them the kind of explanations that you aren’t required to give anyone else. But dealing with divorce and coronavirus as a single mom means knowing that every day the world will ask too much of you. The weight you’re carrying right now feels impossible to lift on your own, and that’s okay. Some days will keep on feeling that way, while others will be so full of laughter and life and love that you’ll forget to be sad—you’ll forget to forget. Live knowing that ahead of you there is a life that’s better than you could have expected and that this moment in history is merely another thing that you’ll survive.

Your children are relying on you. You are their source of reassurance, and your behavior and actions throughout this pandemic will help guide their own. It’s extremely important to spend time with your kids in the best of times but especially in times of crisis. Use this time to strengthen these bonds.

SAS women are those amazing ladies you meet who are entirely committed to rebuilding their lives after divorce—on their own terms. If you are discerning, newly divorced and independent, you are invited to experience SAS for Women firsthand and schedule your free, 15-minute, private 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.

Will marriage become obsolete

Will Marriage Become Obsolete?

With the steady downturn in the number of new marriages and the 40 to 50 percent chance that existing ones will end in divorce, it would be comforting to think that marriage has become obsolete, or that, at the very least, successfully navigating the end of a legally-binding partnership would somehow be written into our DNA, like a migration pattern or an aversion to cilantro. With the coronavirus (COVID-19) impacting our sense of normalcy—putting both marriages and divorces alike on pause, in some cases—many of us find ourselves thinking about the role marriage and companionship play in our lives.

Divorce hasn’t yet been written in our DNA, of course. But if genetics change with our choices over time—and they do—it appears we are getting closer to a DNA-level instinct for divorce or marriage-avoidance. This is an exaggeration, yes, but we’re certainly getting closer to a pervasive social norm that does not include marriage as an assumed preference.

A generational shift

As of 2015, only about half of the adults in the United States claim to live with a spouse. Those adults include five of the six generations currently alive in America today—from the G.I. or Great Generation all the way down to Generation Z—and these generations’ collective attitudes about marriage have shifted dramatically over time. My 102-year-old grandmother’s generation, “The Greats” (born 1901 to 1926), hung in there until the bitter end. If you made a vow, you kept it, despite abuse, dislike, infidelity, and whatever other problem that may have snaked its way into your marriage. For the most part, so did the “Silent Generation,” people born between 1927 and 1945.

The Baby Boomers, though, who account for 77 million people in the US, began to shake things up. This generation (born 1946 to 1965) embraced the civil rights movement, feminism, women joining the work force as a rule rather than as an exception, and television.

The Baby Boomers brought us divorce because a person wasn’t happy—albeit still struggled with its taboo of humiliation that somehow we are not measuring up if we can’t make our marriage work, but still, divorce nonetheless. My generation, Gen Xers, born 1965 through 1980, was the first generation for whom having divorced parents was a common thing.

The result of this shift

Perhaps as a response, my peers have a lower divorce rate than Boomers (the numbers of Baby Boomers ending their marriages doubled in the last 20 years and is on its way to tripling). Gen Xers also waited a lot longer to take vows. When you grow up as a witness to all the ways in which marriage both supports and fails people, it seems only natural that your first inclination would be to approach things differently.

Millennials, for instance, are showing a trend of partnering and having children but avoiding the altar altogether. Only 26 percent of Millennials are actually getting married, down from Gen X’s 36 percent, the Boomers’ 48 percent, and the Silent Generation’s 65 percent.

Will marriage become obsolete?

That’s quite a drop. The youngest of Generation Z, born after 2001, have yet to make their choices about long-term life partnering, but as a population, this generation is larger than the Boomers, so its impact on social norms and potentially our genetic code for mating will be worth measuring.

We are now finding that even in the midst of a global pandemic, people are leaving marriages that no longer serve them. Living together under a quarantine order is, some people are finding, bringing problems in a marriage that once seemed small and easy to ignore to the surface. Divorce rates in China spiked as soon as restrictions lifted.

Even so, marriage has not become obsolete quite yet. But one day marriage may become the exception rather than the rule. One day that rising inclination to say “let’s revisit this conversation every two or three years and see where we are with this thing” (or some version of it) may be the new social norm—but until a union that used to be “forever” is honored as fluid, a dance of choice between two organic, dynamic beings, all we can do is support those who have found that their partnership no longer serves them.

No one wants to go through a divorce, but sometimes it’s the only real option you have. Perhaps by the time Generation Zs are having their second children, what was once considered the only choice—marriage, til death do us part—will have undergone such scrutiny that the idea of it is, as they say, as repellant as cilantro to a certain genetic selection of taste buds.

 

Jennifer Bent is a freelance writer and former journalist living on the West Coast. Nicknamed Verbose at a young age, she loves word craft but has to keep a short leash on her fondness for the profane. Jennifer enjoys her cat’s input on her rough drafts (talk about snark) and the freedom of being her own partner. Connect with Jennifer here.

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.

Contemplating divorce and coronavirus

Divorce in the Time of Coronavirus: 30 Ways to Be Prepared and Stay Committed to You

There is a lot of uncertainty right now due to the coronavirus. Things seem to be changing by the hour. But here are 30+ ways women considering or affected by divorce can use extended time at home to take care of themselves — and their families. When the coronavirus (COVID-19) is at last behind us, and as humanity heals, adapts and grows, we want women everywhere to remain on track and committed to their healthiest selves.

If you’ve been thinking about divorce, dealing with it, or recovering from it, anxiety and fear are nothing new to you. But now with COVID-19, anxiety and fear are a different punch altogether, causing our mechanism for survival to shift gears. For some, the response will trigger a desire to lean away from divorce and all that they’ve been contemplating. Now is no time to do it, some women will tell themselves. The kids are suddenly home and need tending to. Both parents might also be home, in fact, and working overtime to compensate for the drastic disruptions and time out of the workplace. Private time and space are compromised, if they exist at all. We are in survival mode or burying a crisis inside a crisis. For others, this increased time “trapped” inside our homes with a spouse we’re already at odds with may push us to a breaking point, as suggested in China with the recent spike in divorce rates being linked to the coronavirus.

Understand the temperature in your house.

This post is about centering you and to remind you that wherever you are — in your marriage, divorce, or life-after-divorce — your circumstances are real, they are valid, and they will not simply disappear because the coronavirus is here.

In fact, your circumstances may grow more agitated unless you are mindful of taking steps to acknowledge your emotions and your commitment to how you want to be as you go through this health crisis. Below are important must-knows and suggestions for coping depending on where you are in your journey of dealing with the idea, or the fact of divorce and the coronavirus. Included as well are special mentions to mothers.

Must-knows when dealing with divorce and coronavirus

When stress and anxiety are in the air—when our families, health, and jobs are on the line—things will get ramped up.

For women, especially, it’s important to know that during such circumstances, mental health issues surge and domestic violence goes up. Your safety may become a real concern.

If you are a survivor of abuse and currently forced to live with your abuser in this extended time at home, read this page now for safety suggestions.

If you experience or are a survivor of abuse or would like to talk to someone to understand what abuse is, we urge you to call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224.

For all of us, expect things to get stressful. Understand what you are doing and teaching your family about social distancing and what to do if you become sick or are suddenly caring for someone who is sick. To keep yourself together, make plans for how you will handle your stress. We believe the following will help you. Keep reading …

Thinking about divorce

  1. When you can, make a plan on how you will learn more about your rights and what you are entitled to, and what an independent life might look like—whether you divorce or not. You may not be able to schedule a legal or divorce coach consultation right away, for lack of privacy, but you can research on the internet whom you might speak to once you are free to make calls and hear feedback. If possible as well, you might prepare for these meetings by getting financial documents together or your questions organized.
  2. Set up a secret email address dedicated to this subject, and keep this subject segregated to that email address only. If you are a woman, join our tribe and receive our free, weekly coaching letter that will keep you, discretely, honoring yourself for the next six months.
  3. For now, the internet remains intact, and we are grateful for that! But be careful about turning to your computer to answer your life questions. In this new phase of social isolation, it will be easy to fall down the Google Rabbit Hole and overanalyze the news and, in particular, options for your life—legally, financially, and every which way. Turning to Google to research your divorce options risks making you more anxious because you will never obtain the direct answers or exact numbers you so critically need to make informed decisions. You require specific feedback on your direct circumstances and issues.
  4. Which is why having direct, private consultations are so important to your future. But you may not be able to pull it off just yet. Be kind to yourself—reading this post alone is helping you manage your expectations of what is and is not possible right now. Take baby steps if you can, but be flexible.
  5. Some women derive great comfort from an ongoing connection with other women during times of stress. Whom are you turning to? In Annie’s Group—for women thinking about divorce, and for women who are beginning the divorce or separation process—the virtual live coaching program is consistently running, providing a safe, structured outlet for participants to get educated on their genuine life choices. Women feel personally supported through the Sister Partnerships and through the private, virtual consultations and coaching they receive. They are also reassured that no one is on camera and if they are unable to attend all classes, that each class is recorded.

For mothers contemplating or dealing with divorce

  1. Staying committed to you means making sure your children are as stabilized as possible during these uncertain times. This is not taking you off track. It’s reminding you of what’s important—the healthiest environment for everybody.
  2. When we’re dealing with divorce, there’s a lot of gray area when it comes to decision-making, which is why it’s important to …

    Stay focused on your goals. You will rarely go wrong if you think about what you want for your children. Really think about it. Realize as well that your children are dependent on you for securing the healthiest environment possible—in times of stress and uncertainty due to external forces, like coronavirus and schools closing, and the ongoing temperature of what they are experiencing in your house, unique to your marriage and family dynamic.

  3. The CDC has good information on preparing you, your children and your house. Share this with your spouse or coparent and talk about plans of actions for your shared house or your house and his*.
  4. Don’t take any unnecessary risks right now. You and your children may not be showing any signs of the virus, but you could still be carriers. Think about your elderly neighbors or your older family members. Stay safe and keep them safe.

Dealing with divorce

  1. If you are still living under the same roof with your spouse, these “uncertain times” are reinforcing more of what you know, and chances are, the reasons you are getting divorced. So, caution. It was always going to be hard living together during these negotiations, but now with seeing each other all the time (if practicing social distancing and working from home), it could be the recipe for toxic overload.
  2. Consider broaching the subject now with your spouse. You might share that you realize this is hard for both of you, living together and trying to figure out how you are going to part, but that you are committed to trying to stay as healthy as possible.And part of staying as healthy as possible is staying home and out of contact with others and not triggering each other.

  3. What boundaries can you put in place to honor each other’s needs or requests during these times? Can you put it in writing so it’s more thoughtful and psychologically binding? Perhaps neither one of you can do it for the other, but if you have children, express your commitment to trying to keep the atmosphere as healthy as possible for them.
  4. And if it’s just you and him, accept that you have no control over his actions but how you act could encourage him. Knowing the risks in advance will help you get centered and anchored for yourself. Find outlets away from him to vent. (See below.)

Legal and financial considerations…

  1. If you are working with a lawyer or mediator or talking with a financial person, email/call them to learn how your legal process may be affected by what is going on. You might use phone or video conferencing to keep your negotiation process moving.
  2. If you become sick in advance of your court date, you could contact your lawyer or spouse to ask for a continuance. If he agrees, you can submit a form requesting that the court change the hearing date. If your spouse is not amenable, contact the court’s clerk and share that you are sick. Ask next steps.
  3. If you or your spouse become ill and you are due to go to court, contact your doctor first and then your lawyer or the court clerk. You should not appear in court if you are sick. Often local courts have their own specific instructions. So, call the court’s family law clerk to learn what you must do. This is to say nothing about the distinct possibility that very soon the courts near you may be closed for a spell anyhow.

Coparenting through coronavirus

  1. Coparenting is often challenging in the best of times, let alone now. But more than ever, communication is key. One of the best ways to deal with the parent of your children is to “stick to the facts” style of communication. Lose the technicolor or salty language and try to present your information in a black and white, neutral way.

  2. Begin by sharing the CDC website for your state, and print out the latest recommendations to discuss with your coparent.
  3. Or you could contact your pediatrician and ask for their suggestions right now and share those with your coparent.
  4. Talk with your coparent, with each of you agreeing to share if someone you know has been exposed to COVID-19 and to keep your child away from that person.
  5. Teach your child good hygiene and proper hand-washing techniques. Teach them not to touch their face and to practice hand washing wherever they are—at school, at their other parent’s house, at your home.
  6. Teach them as well about the importance of protecting others. Again, think about how you would feel if an elderly person near you became ill.
  7. Consult the CDC website for up to date information and with your coparent, try to develop a longer-range family plan that is activated if your community faces a severe outbreak For example, if your child resides between two homes, decide where the child will primarily reside if the health crisis is growing in your community and people must stay indoors.

Rebuilding after divorce

  1. This can be a particularly tough time for a lot of us as we look around and see that we are now truly alone. As the dust keeps settling, it can be sobering to realize where we are in our life journey, starting again or feeling like it’s all ending. But make no mistake, this leveling is also a beginning—the beginning of building ourselves anew, coronavirus notwithstanding. It is the beginning of aligning ourselves with the people we want in our life and, especially, the people we want to be.
  2. More than ever, it’s important to find community—this means other like-minded souls who have reinvented or are actively seeking to grow. Take this opportunity to download Zoom for free so you can connect with old friends and family and video chat live. With Zoom, you can see each other! (Even when dealing with divorce and coronavirus.)
  3. Or download Zoom to join Paloma’s Group, our live, ongoing virtual coaching class for women recreating after divorce. Together, we build a bond of sisterly support and accountability as we take steps to rebuild our most meaningful lives.
  4. Learning who we want to be in this new phase of our lives and rebuilding after divorce and coronavirus is going to require some internal work. Social isolation could be your invitation to connect with your internal self and work on the real things that are still unresolved—the grief for the losses or the loneliness or the anger or the fears. Consider connecting with a divorce coach or therapist for telephone support and guidance. And if you’ve been working on those emotions, brava! Then you’ve been learning that this work leads to discoveries about yourself. This learning feeds more discovery, and so keep forging …

Even more things you could be doing as you spend time inside

  1. Educate yourself or reacquaint yourself with reading a good book. We’ve got suggestions for you here.
  2. If you are looking to go back to work, read this wonderful list of things you could be doing right now from experts who understand how hard it is for women of a certain age to get a job.
  3. Journal. Write down what you are experiencing right now in this moment in time and how different it is from one year ago? What have you learned?
  4. Step outside … your needs and story. Be hypervigilant about not spreading germs, but determine the best way for checking-in and supporting your elderly neighbors and aging family members. (If you are alone, you get it, and boy, will this give you perspective and gratitude.)
  5. Look for specific, regular ways to decompress and recharge so you are of service to yourself and others. Check out these free virtual meditation apps for connecting to positive, inspiring energy.
  6. If you are up for it, consider creating a dating profile on a few apps, but don’t meet people right now—you have the perfect excuse to take it slow. You must practice social-distancing, but you would love to consider meeting in the future. In the interim, let’s talk!
  7. Or take coronavirus as a sign from the universe, you are definitely not supposed to be dating right now!
  8. Be a messenger of hope and light. As you deal with life post divorce and coronavirus, you are a poster child for having already faced tough times and surviving. Remind others who may not be so brave that so far, 80 percent of the coronavirus cases are mild and most infected people are cured. There are 13 times more cured cases than deaths and that proportion is increasing.
  9. Go outside when and if you can. Sunlight is not only the enemy of germs; it is incredibly healing, builds our immune systems, and helps shift our emotions. Emotions are motion. As such, they ebb and flow. Help your emotions, like fear and anxiety, move, and as they move, check-in with them. What are they trying to tell you? When you listen to them, what other emotions do they make room for?

Above all, stay committed to you

Women are hardwired to be caregivers. In challenging times, we know that women are often the ones who take care of sick loved-ones, keep a family running, figure out child-care issues, and everything in between. It is often women taking the leadership roles in their households and communities to understand what is coming and to prepare for it. We also know it’s times like these when women throw themselves under the bus and forget themselves. We are encouraging you to stay committed to you as you lead others through.

Let’s be kind to others and ourselves. Stay connected to your source of strength and positivity. Stay connected to other powerful women!

And talk to us! In the comments below, tell us what you are doing to practice self-care and cope with divorce and coronavirus during these challenging times. We thank you on behalf of so many. Your ideas inspire and support other women who are finding that now more than ever, their hours are especially tough and isolating. We are all in this together.

 

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. We invite you to schedule your free consultation with SAS. You’ll share privately what’s going on and we’ll give you black & white feedback, resources, and next steps for moving forward in the healthiest, smartest way.

*This piece was written for SAS for Women, an all-women website. At SAS we respect same-sex marriages, however, for the sake of simplicity in this article we refer to your spouse as a male.

Woman in the snow contempltaing managing conflict in divorce

How to Stay Calm Managing Conflict in Divorce

Divorce is a stressful process. There are battles—custody, among many others—which take negative emotions to new heights. Managing conflict in divorce is tricky. One wrong turn and you’re headed down resentment road. It’s natural to get frustrated even while trying to be calm and cool.

When a marriage ends, you have to make so many adjustments to your life, big and small. Both you and your Ex will find yourselves feeling both confused and angry. With children involved, it becomes vital that you keep conflicts at a minimum. But when they do happen, the way you deal with these conflicts with your Ex is one of the biggest things that can impact your child’s wellbeing and it’s one thing about your divorce that’s fully in your control.

When you and your Ex work together as a team to resolve your problems, it’s reassuring for your children, particularly when you do so with a positive attitude.

Below are some ways you can manage your emotions and avoid conflicts during your divorce.

Get rid of all the negative emotions

Before you and your Ex sit down to discuss the logistics of how and when you’ll end your marriage, you have to let go of negative thoughts and emotions. Let go of all your past grievances and issues, including feelings of sadness, guilt, fear, or anything else that might make it harder to discuss things at hand effectively.

If you are feeling angry, write it down. But don’t get into a shouting match. It won’t get you anywhere. Find ways to release your pent-up emotions. Try going for a run or working out at the gym. This will help you get through tough talks and makes it easier to get your point across.

Be flexible

It’s wise that you take a flexible approach if your Ex wants to change how you coparent your children. This is the only way you’ll be able to cope with the arrangements. Chances are that you might have to make changes to your schedule or ask for a favor if you have a busy day at work. If your new partner wants to spend time with you and your children, those are boundaries you might also want to talk to your Ex about.

Look at the big picture

When you are in the middle of negotiating your divorce settlement, it’s easy to lose perspective and get caught up in a whirlwind of emotions. There is going to be a sense of urgency in everything. You must relax, though, and try to look at the big picture.

The best way to do so is to envision your future. How would you want it to look like 10 to 20 years from now? Would you still want to be stuck in this emotional turmoil and feel resentful toward your Ex? Or would you rather want to be at peace and have moved on with your life? If you’re a parent, think about how you would want your children’s future to look like too. These are the questions you should ask yourself, and then do your best to get through the stress of managing conflict in divorce.

Work on your listening skills

Learning how to listen is something that will help you tremendously in the long run. After a few years, when you look back, you won’t feel resentment because both of you took the time to listen to what the other person has to say. If you constantly interrupt each other and are adamant about having the last word, you can never truly end your conflict.

You need to be patient and listen to what others have to say. Rather than thinking about the perfect come back, listen to your Ex’s words and try to understand what they want. Consider the possibility that you might have failed to listen to him* in the past. By being a good listener, you are going to boost your communication skills and develop an understanding of someone else’s perspective.

Mediate

Although a short-term and structured process, mediation could assist you and your Ex with any financial and coparenting issues you may have. You’d bring someone along—a professional, a close friend, or a family member—who could sit with you both and help you reach an agreement. Later on, your attorneys would review that agreement.

In some states, when the parents are unable to agree on parenting time or custody, mediation becomes a requirement. The agreements are filed with the court and later on translated into court orders. There are different forms of mediation. The most common one being the facilitative mediation. In this method, a neutral third person helps the couple arrive at an agreement by exploring common interests and then generating options. The mediator is not responsible for making the decisions. Rather, they facilitate the couple, leaving the decision up to both partners.

Get coparent counseling

When parents separate or get divorced, issues regarding parenting are bound to arise. A mental health professional or coach who specializes in this area could assist parents in improving their communication skills. They can help you find ways to reduce and eventually eliminate conflicts, including how to handle after-school activities, changing the parenting plan, taking a child to the doctor, or tackling the entry of a stepparent. This helps parents in resolving some of the pain, guilt, or grief of ending a relationship. You are not the first ones dealing with conflict as coparents. Find out best practices and get support for both of you and your children.

Use “I” messages frequently

Normally when your Ex is venting, be it in a normal conversation or an angry argument, your first instinct would be to shout at them. Rather, take a moment to assess and understand. When you are ready to answer, respond with an “I” message to communicate your emotions and needs.

No matter what your conflict is, there are many ways you can use the “I” messages. You can say:

I feel heartbroken when you blame me for everything that went wrong with our marriage.

I feel sad when you tell the children I am not a good mother.

When you communicate how you feel to your Ex and provide them with a solution while using the word “we,” you can play a key role in improving communication and reducing the feelings of resentment.

Talk with facts

One of the common reasons divorced couples argue so much and struggle with managing conflict in divorce is that rather than talking with facts, they allow their anger and emotions to get the better of them. When you allow your emotions to rule your rational thinking, it could go on forever. You and your Ex could end up in a constant loop of anger and resentment.

To resolve emotional conflicts, start talking with facts. Even if you are talking about something as serious and potentially heated as your children’s visitation rights, stick to the facts so you can have a civilized and rational discussion.

Resolving conflicts is a two-person job. Once both you and your Ex realize that you must work together, talk, and listen, only then can you be successful at being civil with each other and coparenting effectively.

 

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.

*This piece was written for SAS for Women, an all-women website. At SAS we respect same-sex marriages, however, for the sake of simplicity in this article we refer to your spouse as a male.

Dealing with joint custody

Joint Custody: What Is It, and How Does It Work?

I spoke with divorce attorney Kathy Wagner about joint custody recently. She shared some critical insights from her 30-plus years of experience practicing family law in Somerset County, New Jersey. While there will be similarities in family law state-to-state, there are also important differences, so be sure to Google custody law in your state before taking action on any of this.

The difference between physical and legal custody

In New Jersey, the person who has physical custody has actual possession of the child, meaning the child lives primarily with that person. Having legal custody means having the right to make decisions for the child in the areas of health, education, and general welfare.

When the parents are married, both of these powers are vested in both parents. This means the child lives with both parents, and both parents can and do make legal decisions for the child.

After the parents live separately, the physical and legal custody arrangements must be settled with a custody decision either amongst themselves, memorialized by the court in the final judgment of divorce, or by a family law judge if the parents cannot agree.


Remind yourself of what your children deserve. Read How to Help Your Child Cope with Divorce.


The best interests of the child dictate the custody arrangement

In New Jersey, family law judges determine what custody arrangement is in the “best interests of the child.” The judge begins by presuming that children benefit from maintaining “frequent and continuing contact with both parents” and from having both parents “share the rights and responsibilities of child-rearing.” N.J.S.A. 9:2-4. Then the judge weighs the following factors, among others, in determining what custody arrangement is in the best interest of the child:

  • The parents’ ability to agree, communicate, and cooperate regarding the child
  • The parents’ willingness to accept custody and any history of unjustified withholding
  • The interaction and relationship of the child with the parents and other siblings
  • History of domestic violence
  • Safety of the child and/or either parent from physical abuse by other parent
  • Preference of the child of sufficient age and capacity
  • Needs of the child
  • Stability of home environment
  • Quality and continuity of child’s education
  • Fitness of parents
  • Geographical proximity of parents’ homes
  • Extent and quality of time spent with child both before and after separation
  • Parents’ employment responsibilities
  • Age and number of children

Contrary to popular belief, a judge will never exclusively use one factor—like a parent’s income level—as the sole deciding factor in who gets custody of a child.

There are three types of custody in New Jersey

In New Jersey, custody can be summarized by these three possible arrangements: Joint, Split, and Sole custody. Sole and Joint custody is defined specifically by New Jersey law.

Joint custody

This is what married parents have by default. Both people can make decisions about the child’s welfare, and the child lives in the same home as both parents. After a divorce, parents can often retain joint legal custody, even if the child lives mostly with one parent or the other.

According to state law, any joint custody arrangements must include specific instructions for consultation between parents on important decisions and residency of the minor child.

Split custody

If parents have more than one child, the court could split the children between the two parents. This is rarely done—in most cases the courts won’t split siblings apart so long as there is another option. In exceptional cases, such as there being a child from a previous marriage or a large age gap between siblings, the court might be more willing to split custody between parents.

Sole custody

Sadly, some people just aren’t fit to be parents. It could be due to alcoholism, criminal behavior, or abuse, but in any case, the case courts will not leave a child in the care of a parent who seems abusive or negligent. In these cases, one parent takes legal and physical custody of the child, while the other parent loses those rights.

Unless the other parent is found to be abusive or negligent, the parent with sole custody must still make arrangements for the child to have time with the other parent. The statues provide no guidance for what constitutes “appropriate parenting time,” and this is a frequent cause of custody battles.


Learn about the relevance of drug use in divorce in Coparenting Through Divorce: Drug Use, Drug Testing & Family Court.


How does joint custody work?

Again, parents can share joint physical custody, joint legal custody, or both. If parents share both, then it is common for their child to live with one parent during the school week and with the other the remainder of the time. The parents consult with one another regarding major decisions and collaborate to parent their child as best they can despite the divorce.

Joint custody obviously requires a great deal of civil and constructive communication between parents, and not every divorced couple is capable of this.

Can we make the joint custody arrangement without a lawyer?

It’s highly recommended that you speak to an attorney and file a motion with the court if you want to change the child custody arrangement set by the court. Of course, you have the right to represent yourself pro se if you wish, but be forewarned: the courts won’t make special accommodations for you as a layperson, and you will be expected to follow the same procedures as a lawyer.

If you and your Ex try to change the custody arrangement without going to court, this can be problematic in that if either of you decide not to follow your new arrangement, the new arrangement cannot be enforced by the court. In fact, it is the person insisting on the new arrangement that will be found in the wrong by the family law judge, who knows only about the original arrangement.

Find the best lawyer for your joint custody case

Family law is a highly specialized area of practice, and laws vary state-to-state. In New Jersey, custody disputes are settled in separate courts from other legal matters by dedicated family court judges. Even if you and your Ex seem to agree on most things and believe that you can make joint custody work, you need to find an experienced family law attorney in your area who can help you craft an arrangement that works for your family and get that arrangement approved by the court.

Veronica Baxter is a blogger and legal assistant to Katherine K. Wagner, Esq. Katherine practices divorce and family law in Somerset County, NJ.

Whether you are considering a divorce or already navigating the confusing experience, one thing we see making a significant difference for women is the conscious choice to not do divorce 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.

SAS offers women 6, FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, your family, and your future.

“A successful divorce requires smart steps, taken one at a time.”

~ SAS for Women 

family learning how to coparent

20 Spot On Steps for How to Coparent Pre- and Post-Divorce

Whether you are divorced, thinking about getting divorced, or somewhere in-between, it’s hard to maintain a strong coparenting relationship with an Ex. It’s important to remember, no matter how old you or your children are, it’s likely their father* will always be a part of your life (though one can hope that role gets smaller over time). Learning how to get coparenting right is crucial.

While it may not always be clear what “good coparenting” looks like, we know that bad coparenting often leaves you feeling exhausted. Many divorced parents feel like they are doing everything on their own. And that’s another kind of soul crushing—you’ve already lost your partner in love, but you hoped that your partner in parenting would always be by your side.

If you have gone through an especially bitter divorce, one where heated words were exchanged or an affair was involved, keeping coparenting in mind at all can be especially difficult. But your role as a parent doesn’t end at your Ex’s front door. If you simply don’t want to know what goes on in your Ex’s home besides that your children’s basic needs are met, you’re cutting off a part of your children’s lives that is important to them—the part of their life that involves their father. Yes, your relationship with him has changed, but their relationship with him hasn’t. Or, at least, it shouldn’t have to.

There is a big difference between parenting on your own and coparenting with your Ex to make decisions about your children together—decisions that will help them grow into happy and healthy adults who have a strong bond with both parents.

Because we understand that divorce is never black and white, that it has a way of bringing out the worst in us, we have some tips on how to coparent pre- and post- divorce that will support you during your journey.

Coparenting pre-divorce

1. No matter what the terms of your divorce are or how you feel about your Ex, it’s important to maintain your composure and lead discussions about your divorce with dignity and integrity. Keep your children in mind always.

2. When you tell your kids about your divorce for the first time, try to make sure your husband is there with you and that you both agree on the boundaries of what can and cannot be said. You want your children to be informed of how the divorce will affect them and your family as a whole, but you don’t need to give personal details that can damage their view of their other parent. Hearing the news from both parents reinforces that neither of you is abandoning your children. For support on how to break the news or keep speaking to your children about this tough subject, check out books for smart suggestions.

3. If the above is not possible because your husband cannot control himself, then you might have to come up with a script to start a dialogue with your children about your reasons for divorce without your husband. We’ve had clients in the past tell us how poorly this first divorce talk went—husbands who make the talk all about their own feelings, their pain, and who leave little room for the kids to talk.

You know your family and you know why you are divorcing your soon-to-be Ex. Trust your instincts, measure your unique situation, and figure out what needs to be done.

4. Try to have regular check-ins with your kids and see how they are doing throughout your divorce journey. Let them know that you are open to hearing whatever their thoughts and feelings are, without resentment or judgement And that you will try to explain as best you can without putting the burden of personal information (like an affair or a list of their father’s flaws) on them.

5. Remind your children that they are loved by both you and their father throughout the divorce process and continue to do so after—when settling down into your new life. This might seem cliché, but depending on the age of your children and the state of your marriage prior to your divorce, this whole experience may be quite surprising for them and shake the foundation of love and support they thought they had.

Remind your children that your divorce has nothing to do with your love for them nor your Ex’s love for them. This can help your children get over their initial shock.


If figuring out how to break it to your children is just the tip of the iceberg as you consider or begin divorce, learn about Annie’s Group and how you can get the support you need for your next smartest and healthiest steps.


6. Make sure your kids have a strong support network during the divorce—outside of you and your Ex. Have the kids visit with family members. Make sure they feel comfortable talking to their friends and knowing they can have a life independent of your divorce and your needs. You want your kids to have safe spaces and safe people they can turn to during this stressful time in their life.

7. Keep in mind that, whether you initiated your divorce or not, you still have more power and more control over the situation than your children do, which makes things easier for you to process than your children. Even if you don’t really fully understand the reasons for your divorce, you have a better sense of what happened because you lived it.

Sometimes your kids will resent you—sometimes it may even feel like they hate you. But that’s okay. It has to be. Just like you, your children are in pain and stressed, but they may lack the maturity to get through this period of their lives without lashing out or shutting down. It’s your job to suck it up and take one for the team. It’s your job to support your kids, to reinforce that they are loved, and to remind them that you are still a family.

Coparenting post-divorce

8. You might be excited—elated, even, to leave your old life behind—to move on or still grieving, but your kids are likely to be stressed, shocked, or even resist a possible relocation. Not only do your kids have to get used to two different households, they have to get used to two entirely new places filled with new people and, possibly, new rules. This, combined with the stress of the divorce, is a lot for children to handle.

Be sure to let your children know that you understand why a new move is difficult for them and try to reassure them that they can still participate in the same activities and keep in touch with their old friends as well as make new ones. Encourage your kids to share their anxieties and concerns about the move, and reassure them that you and their father will be there to support them through it.

9. While you want your kids to be open and feel comfortable telling you what happens at their father’s house, don’t force your kids to be messengers or to spy on your Ex. Some kids will want to tell you everything, and some don’t.

After your kids visit with their father, make basic conversation starters like “did you have a good time?” If your kids want to talk, they’ll talk. If they don’t want to talk, don’t push them. Sometimes kids want to be left alone. If you have a strong coparenting relationship, hopefully your Ex will let you know if there’s anything noteworthy going on when he has the kids.

10. Sometimes, however, kids do have behavioral issues after returning from their other parent’s house, because or despite of the coparenting relationship you have with your Ex. Children take time to adjust between two different households. Kids can compartmentalize their world but only so much, and sometimes the stress of moving between households causes a temporary state of aggravation that will pass as they readjust to being home with you.

One of our clients shared that “the first 24-48 hours were the roughest…it was like they were carrying the aggression from their other household into mine. It took more time than I would have liked, but the children did eventually calm down and readjust to the atmosphere in our home. I came to expect this buffer period as normal.”

11. To be a rock for your kids pre-, post-, or mid-divorce know that you will need someone on your side to help support you as well. This help can come from a close friend group, your family members, or a divorce coach who has helped women like you navigate this challenge. While your friends and family might want to help you through the divorce process, they might not have the experience nor expertise to guide you along the right path.The more confused you are throughout your divorce, the more confused your children will be.

12. Seek outside support for your kids. You can ask their school or public librarians for books specifically to help children through a divorce, or you can ask their guidance counselor at school if there are any activities or special groups to help children with divorced parents. You can also talk to the school or even an outside psychologist to work with your kids or to work with you on a recovery strategy for your kids.

13. Make sure to look for books on divorce that are age-appropriate for your kids, with or without the help of a librarian. It’s important to sit down with your kids, read these books, and be there to help them process their feelings and to clarify anything they might want to ask. Divorce books can’t heal your kids on their own—most of these books work best when you are there to help guide the healing process along.

14. As tempting as it may be—as much as you may want to call your Ex out on ditching the kids for yet another weekend visit, or curse him under your breath for some new low he’s stooped to on social media—do not disparage your children’s other parent. Even, and this is a really hard even, if he has disparaged you in front of your kids. Teach your children it’s inappropriate to talk about other people in that way, and that you’ll talk to their other parent about the matter. Do not sink to his level.

15. Try to actually use the word coparenting, as awkward as that might feel at first. Going from a parent to a coparent is a major step in recognizing your divorce from the person you thought was your lifetime partner. Using the word coparenting signals that you are looking to work with your Ex to make sure your kids have the love and support they need from both households.

Sometimes your Ex will have needs that push up against yours, but that’s what compromise is for. For instance, say your Ex’s friend gave him tickets and a timeshare so that he and the kids can go to Disneyworld for the first time ever, only that family vacation would fall on your birthday. This might hurt you, but in the long run, it’s likely it wasn’t an intentional slight. The experience would help your children bond with your Ex post-divorce, and, quite frankly, give you a break from parenting and time to yourself.

What is right for your kids might sometimes come at the expense of your own feelings, but that territory comes with the job of coparenting after divorce.

16. Speaking of weekends, a great way to coparent is to communicate through a neutral platform that also shares a calendar with your Ex, one that not only notes who has the kids at what time but also special school events, activities, doctor’s appointments, and so on. If you have a specific schedule your kids follow that you find helpful, include that to show your Ex what you do when you’re with the kids that seems to work really well. You never know—your Ex might surprise you and adopt your schedule as a model for their own.

17. You cannot control your Ex’s behavior, even when it comes to your kids. You can talk to your Ex about it, shout about it, text about it, send long emails about it, and so on, but unless a court has deemed his behavior dangerous or declared your Ex an unfit parent, his actions are out of your hands. What you can do is talk to your children about how their other parent’s behavior is affecting them and see if there’s anything you can do to help.

18. If your coparenting relationship is difficult or is going through a rough patch, repeat this as your morning mantra: “I cannot do anything about what happened, but I can have a major impact on now, tomorrow, this month, and next year.” Research into parenting and divorce shows that how you react to things that effect your children (such as your Ex missing visitation) can help your kids process what is happening and teach them either healthy or unhealthy coping mechanisms. If your reaction in the moment, even to bad or shocking news, is calm, cool, logical, compassionate, and collected, your kids will learn the same behaviors from you.

19. Once you and your Ex are living in separate households, make sure you have a trusted family member, friend, or a neighbor close by who has a spare set of keys to your house and can check in on your kids from time to time if you get held up at work, stuck in traffic, or delayed on a trip. This helps reinforce that the kids have multiple people in their lives who love and support them and gives you someone to fall back on.

20. Be flexible with holidays and special occasions. While it’s good to keep up past traditions, it’s also not a bad thing to put your own spin on a holiday after divorce and to make the experience unique for you and your kids in this new stage of their life. You and your Ex will create new traditions with your kids. Sometimes these changes can come out of necessity—you might have less time and money to spend—but that doesn’t mean you can’t create something during the holidays that makes your kids feel loved and valued.

Above all, know that it’s okay to make mistakes

You are not Super Mom, and you shouldn’t expect yourself to be a perfect parent all of the time. Don’t hold it against yourself. One of our clients shared that, soon after her divorce, she ordered special monogramed bags for her kids that they could bring with them from house to house. She thought it’d be a nice gesture, but her kids looked at the monogram and just saw a reminder of their broken family. Even our best intentions can backfire. Forgive yourself, talk to your children, and find a way to move forward together.

Know that, no matter how your coparenting relationship turns out, your kids with your support will one day grow up into the happy and healthy adults you knew they could be. That those adults will see the efforts you’ve put forth throughout their life. Most of the time, insight takes age. Even if you’re parenting a teen through a divorce and they seem mature, a teen is not an adult and may not yet recognize the pitfalls and traps of navigating a coparenting relationship—or what you as their mother have really survived and triumphed through. Stay committed to them and you Mama Bear. Stay strong.

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 divorce recovery. Experience SAS firsthand. Schedule your FREE, 15-minute consultation to hear perspective, next steps and the best resources that will honor your life and who you are meant to be.

*At SAS we respect same-sex marriages, however, for the sake of simplicity in this article we refer to your spouse as a male.

Parenting while divorcing with children

Divorcing with Children: A Step by Step Process

Divorcing with children means having to deal with the consequences of ending your marriage as well as ensuring the wellbeing of your kids. During this time, your life might start to feel like one long game of whack-a-mole, each item on your to-do list and each problem you have to solve popping its head above ground just long enough for it to be a nuisance.

Many moms simply don’t know how to make things right when their family has changed so irrevocably. And can you blame them? They are changing too.

When it comes to your children, however, it’s important to stay aware of the fact that they need structure and support to be both emotionally and physically healthy. Seventy-two percent of divorces occur within the first fourteen years of marriage. Put in context, these numbers mean that young children are often affected by divorce the most.

And yet, divorcing with children is never easy for parents or children, no matter their age.

While you struggle to pick up the pieces and move forward as you rebuild your life, you’ll also have to be there every step of the way supporting and encouraging your kids. Your adult children will certainly manifest their own reactions (just like younger children), but you are no longer responsible for their day-to-day survival in this world.

Is their such a thing as a good divorce? The general answer is not really. Sure, there are divorces you are grateful for and divorces you wish you’d had sooner—but divorce is rarely a decision you come to without careful consideration and a little heartbreak. Still, there are things you can do to make the transition easier for yourself, your soon-to-be Ex, and your kids. Here are some of the most important steps to take when you are divorcing with children.

Handle reactions in a healthy way

Prepare for your children to have an avalanche of angry and sad reactions to your divorce. These are inevitable regardless of how old your children are or the reasons for your divorce. As a parent, you have to make sure these reactions are handled in a loving, healthy way.

Acknowledge the emotional responses they are having. Denying the fact that they’re hurt or angry will only make matters worse. Reassure your children that it’s perfectly okay to feel upset, betrayed, sad, or lonely. Help them let these emotions out so that the healing can begin.

It’s best to have the conversation (and we do mean the conversation—you should figure out how to break the news of your divorce to your children before you sit down with them) as a family and to get your soon-to-be Ex involved early on. Regardless of the status of your relationship, assure your children that they’re still and will always be loved. Ask questions, like “is there anything we can do to make you feel better?” They might ignore you at first, but eventually they may feel like opening up and start talking about their needs.

Answer the important questions

Once the dust has settled and you’ve addressed your children’s immediate reaction to your divorce in a healthy and safe environment, the real questions will start.

We all know that children can be brutally honest. That’s why you need to prepare your answers for some of the most candid and difficult questions you’re going to face.

Some of the questions your children are likely to have during your divorce include:

  • Who am I going to live with?
  • Will I still get to see my mom or dad?
  • Where will I spend the holidays?
  • Where will I go to school?
  • Will I still get to see grandma and grandpa?
  • Does mom or dad still love me?
  • Will we have to move, and will I see my friends again?

Chances are that you don’t have all the answers to those questions yet. Honesty is still the best policy in these situations. Tell your children that you don’t know quite yet, but that you’re working hard on a plan that ensures everyone’s happiness moving forward. You can also give your children books on divorce to help normalize the situation.

Build a strong support network

Like I said, having a “good” divorce isn’t always easy or even possible. After all, you cannot control other people—your children and your soon-to-be Ex or the way they handle negative emotions.

The only thing you own and can control is your behavior.

You should work toward building a strong support network when divorcing with children. You know your kids will need all the comfort they can get during and in the aftermath of your divorce (even if it happens to be a civil and good one).

Loving, extended family members can be a tremendous resource, both for you and your kids. During a divorce, you might be pressed for time, dealing with appointments and work and meetings with your lawyer while still managing all the mundane everyday things that need to happen for you life to keep running smoothly. Aunts, uncles, and grandparents can deliver a lot of practical caregiving assistance or help with the daily logistics of it all.

The warm and familiar presence of a family member is comforting and reassuring when everything else in your children’s lives seems to be changing rapidly.

Think about the practical aspects of divorce

Healing emotionally is obviously important (especially when divorcing with children) but so is ensuring the best future for your kids. You will have to face the fact that divorce means having a series of difficult conversation with your Ex—accept it and move forward.

Those conversations will have to focus on things like custody, child support, and spousal maintenance. Sorting these issues out of court will be the most painless way to determine what’s best for everyone involved and move on faster. Occasionally, though, a peaceful agreement just isn’t going to be possible.

You know your Ex well, and you know what reaction to anticipate from him*. It’s highly recommended you speak to a divorce attorney before approaching potential challenging issues you foresee coming up. Knowing what your options are will give you a bit of leverage during the negotiations, and an attorney can educate you on what you don’t know. Do not commit to custody or parenting plans without this legal knowledge.

Remember that you’re not always on mom duty

When divorcing with children, creating and activating your support network will give you the much-needed chance to fall apart and grieve while you step away from parenting. Remember the fact that you’re a human being and that your marriage just ended.

A grieving process is necessary, and it’s healthy. Understanding what grief is and allowing it to wash over you for as long as it takes will actually help you close this chapter of your life and move on to the next one.

Can you fall apart during and after divorce? Absolutely! And you should, of course, when the time is right.

There will be days when you’ll feel like staying in bed and not even brushing your teeth. If grandma and grandpa could help with dropping the kids off at school during such moments, you’ll get the opportunity you need to feel what you must—to be angry, overwhelmed, lost, sad, betrayed, or abandoned. (Possibly all at the same time.) Let those emotions out. They need to come out in order for you to metabolize what you’ve been through.

Don’t be afraid to look vulnerable in front of friends or your parents. No one is expecting you to be strong and tough during your divorce (except maybe your kids). If you give yourself an opportunity to mourn what you must—maybe what you’re mourning isn’t even him, really, so much as it is the fantasy that kept you hoping your marriage would turn around—you’ll be better positioned to reclaim yourself and who you want to be as you move forward with your life. You’ll be a better mom if you understand your healing process.

There is no doubt a divorce makes you face your fears. It delivers challenges and changes you never thought would cross your path. At times it will feel like you have to learn fast and have all the answers to every crucial decision. Empower yourself to slow down and seek the information you need to learn about your choices BEFORE making any decisions.

Get informed. Knowing what your options are before you decide anything will allow you to make healthier choices and create a plan. This will anchor you as you endeavor to be honest with your children. Keep the lines of communication open with them and your husband or Ex (if possible). While the divorce process is painful, the way you go about it will determine your and your children’s emotional outcome.

Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to support them through the emotional, financial, and oft times complicated experience of divorce. SAS offers women 6 FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, your family, and your future.

“When a woman comes through divorce with the proper guidance and her questions answered, her life stands before her like something she could never imagine while she was is in the dark.” ~ SAS for Women

Elizabeth S. Coyle is the current Director of Client Services for JacksonWhite Attorneys at Law based in Mesa, Arizona. She serves as a paralegal for the Family Law Department of the firm.

A family dealing with parental estrangement walking on a dark path alongside a building

When is it Parental Estrangement and When is it Parental Alienation?

Divorce is full of big words—the ones the lawyers and courts toss around, the ones your friends and family are scared of, and the ones your divorce coach and therapist use to label processes and behaviors that seem almost incapable of being contained so easily. When it comes to divorce and children, two common terms parents become aware of are parental alienation and parental estrangement.

Even the smoothest divorces can impact your relationship with your children. But it’s not always easy to pin down the source of your specific issues. Your mind starts racing. Is it something I said during the divorce? Are my children angry with me? Or disappointed? And which is worse? And when the answers to these questions don’t come quickly, you begin slipping down that slippery slope. Have I broken them somehow? Maybe it’s not anything I’ve done at all—maybe it’s him*. What has he been saying to them?

Two different things could be happening here, and you have more control over one than the other.

But what exactly is the difference between parental estrangement and parental alienation?

Parental estrangement

The source of parental estrangement can be murky. Your children have cut off contact with you or, at the very least, there is a growing distance between you. You get a sense that your children are blaming your for something but what that blame is for is less clear, especially if your children aren’t the type of people to freely share their feelings and opinions. But with estrangement, your children’s feelings are their own. They have not been influenced by their other parent (even if that other parent, coincidentally, shares many of the same feelings).

If you feel estranged from your children and they’ve communicated to you why that is, you might feel defensive, but as hard as it may be, we recommend you keep those feelings from your kids. Children often see things as black or white and right or wrong. Little moments or impulsive actions take on vast meaning. Your children are experiencing so much for the first time, and divorce has a way of dredging up all of it—the good and the bad. Even if you can’t understand where your children are coming from, you must respect their point of view and work with them from that perspective.

Know that it’s okay to accept each other’s differences, but as the parent in this situation, you should defer to your children’s point of view to repair your relationship. Whether the reasons your children are distancing themselves from you are real or perceived, they are still their reasons.

Are you experiencing parental estrangement?

Think through your divorce: Were there times where you let your stress levels get the best of you? Did you get depressed and disappear? Did you get angry and lash out? Did you turn to substances to numb your pain? In what ways did your divorce disrupt your children’s lives? A new home? A new city?

Did someone hit pause on your lives? Have you remembered to press play again?

Have you been giving your children space? Maybe it’s actually too much space. Maybe what they really need is a more hands-on form of support. Sometimes if you wait for your children to “come around on their own” they just, well, never do. They learn, instead, to get by on their own. They take your space as a hint: You’re alone now. Time to suck it up, and grow up. Make sure your children understand that you are still their parent even if the dynamics of your family have changed. Play an active role in repairing and creating a new relationship with your children.

Sometimes parental estrangement feels a lot like parental alienation (more on the latter below) because “the symptoms” of both situations overlap in some cases. Both situations are isolating, for the parent and the children. And both situations can have long-term effects on your relationship with your children. The key difference? With estrangement, there isn’t another parent behind-the-scenes working against you.

Parental alienation

With parental alienation, you know exactly who the perpetrator is: your Ex or, perhaps, even yourself. In this situation, one parent is actively campaigning against the other parent, both manipulating their children and monopolizing their time to foster negative feelings toward that other parent.

It’s a subtle difference, but it’s one that matters. While this is nothing short of devious, it’s hard to repair the rift without causing more mental harm to your children in the process.

You can’t, for instance, outright call their other parent a liar because that plays into the same mental games of alienating your children from their other parent. You can’t get the courts to cut off or reduce visitation without proof that your Ex is actively working against you, and to gain said proof would mean pressing your kids to testify against their other parent. Perhaps worst of all, even if you do “fix” your relationship with your children, those achievements are likely to be temporary—your Ex, after all, is still out there waiting for his next moment to strike.

Are you experiencing parental alienation?

Parental alienation can be hard to distinguish from parental estrangement. You can’t know what your Ex is saying to your kids, and for obvious reasons, you shouldn’t ask your children to divulge private conversations—it can be hard on them to repeat the negative (and perhaps genuinely horrible) things that your Ex may have said.

But there are some telltale signs of alienation: One parent constructs a negative narrative around their children’s other parent. They list off reasons for the divorce, for instance, and always put the blame on the other parent. Or they suggest that the other parent doesn’t care about their kids because they don’t spend as much time with them. Or maybe it’s less deliberate—one parent consistently vents to friends and family members about their Ex and the children overhear, or post-divorce, one parent is depressed or otherwise in a bad spot while the other parent is seemingly thriving.

Regardless of the specific ways in which you’ve become alienated from your children, the rift will grow worse over time. Your Ex is, in effect, poisoning your relationship with your children, and like most poisons, they grow stronger the more a person is exposed to them.

Parental estrangement vs. parental alienation

Parental estrangement, then, is when you can look back at your actions throughout your divorce and recognize that you’ve made choices that have left your children feeling unsupported in a time of need. Even if you can’t recognize this yourself, your children have likely accused you of doing so.

Parental alienation is when your children’s other parent is actively poisoning your relationship with your children. It’s an ongoing psychological battle that isn’t about your children’s best interests or yours or even your Ex’s, really. It has more to do with power than anything. But here’s the other thing we haven’t mentioned yet about parental alienation—over time, it becomes an actual syndrome. By that, we mean that parental alienation syndrome is habitual. A pattern develops, routines settle in, and your children may no longer play passive roles in the damage that’s being done to your relationship. Instead, they begin to see the world through the eyes of the parent who’s targeting their other parent.

What you can do in the case of parental estrangement

If your life involves parental estrangement or you’re hoping to avoid it, there are some things you can do to start to repair your relationship with your children. (Depending on the specifics of your situation, some of these may help in cases involving parental alienation as well.)

  • Has your child spoken up about the growing distance between you? Don’t wait for them to “get over it” or “come around.” Address your children’s concerns directly by listening to them, trying to understand, validating their feelings, and telling them that you want to work on their concerns with them so you two can repair your relationship.
  • Don’t wait for your children to contact you to repair your relationship with them—you are the parent. Even if your children have hurled insults your way, ignored your messages, or placed an unfair amount of blame on your shoulders, you need to take the first step and reach out. Even if your children have crow’s feet and their fair share of grey, this particular dynamic will never really change. Your children may eventually come around on their own, to be sure, but you may lose more time than any of us is comfortable with if you wait too long.
  • If you’re struggling to get through to your children, know that persistence is key here as are the words you use—let your children know you love them, that you want to repair your relationship, and that you’ll keep checking-in with them so that they know you’re there when they’re ready to talk to you. We’re not suggesting that you harass or stalk your children, to be clear. There are ways to reach out that feel less invasive than a text or call, like a letter, for instance.
  • Don’t violate your children’s boundaries. Don’t show up unexpectedly at their school or other parent’s house to talk or force your company on them. This can backfire and cause your children to feel even more distant from you.
  • Do not give up on communicating with your children—no matter how long they ignore you. You might feel abandoned, and that’s a bitter pill to swallow. But, again, you are the parent in this relationship, and your children were never here to emotionally support you. Call your children on their birthdays and holidays even if they don’t answer. Set an example of the type of relationship you want to have with your children, and in time, they may grow to appreciate that you never gave up.
  • If your children do come around and feel ready to speak with you, they might want to talk about the aspects of your relationship that made them distance themselves from you in the first place. Whether you agree with their side of your story or not, you must do your best to react neutrally and find a way to work together to overcome your past. An unwillingness to see your shared history from your children’s perspective is just one reason you may have been cut off from them in the first place—and while that may seem harsh, it has more to do with your children feeling as though they are living in one reality while you exist in another. There is no greater distance than that.
  • Be ready to admit your shortcomings to your children. Of course, we know that we’re simply humans—we’re far from perfect. But your divorce and how you handled the aftermath may have been the first time in your children’s lives where they really came to understand this firsthand. Don’t sweep your mistakes under the rug. Own your flaws, and let your children see you work through them.
  • You might be ready to move on, but your children might need more time to be angry or sad or confused. To just feel and experience whatever emotions are flooding through them. If you children are acting out, don’t punish them or push them to get over their feelings. Instead, make sure they know that their emotions are valid and that you are there for them whether they are ready to move forward or not.

Understand that a “repaired” relationship with your children may look different than you thought it would. If there’s one thing we all know, it’s that you can’t change the past and you can’t return to it. Before divorce, you didn’t have to deal with things like a custody agreement, a different home, or your Ex’s new partner. Your relationship with your children—indeed your entire lives—have changed in fundamental ways that you simply can’t ignore.

What you can do in the case of parental alienation

There are a few additional things you can do to try to repair your relationship with your children when your Ex is actively working to poison it.

  • Let your children know that their mental state comes first. Explain that they might feel upset or pressured or mad at you but that’s okay—they don’t need to tell you why, but if they ever want to talk, you are there for them and will always love them unconditionally.
  • See if your Ex will agree to therapy for your children. This way there’s a third party there to help your children navigate their relationship with both parents and work through any negative feelings they may have in a safe environment.
  • Don’t worry about being right or about proving your Ex wrong—instead, model healthy parent-child behavior by not crossing that boundary and focus on things that are within your control. Focus on strengthening your relationship with your children and not tearing apart their relationship with their other parent. Forcing your children to be the middlemen between you and your Ex will only isolate them further.
  • Work on good coparenting skills with your Ex. This is especially true if the alienation is accidental more than purposeful (though in either case, we realize this isn’t always easy, especially if some sort of betrayal was responsible for your divorce). If your Ex is in a bad place mentally and is using your children as a therapist, talking to them about what’s going on and appropriate places for help might work wonders in repairing your relationship with your children.

In general, you want to be clear with your Ex about the fact that, post-divorce, you two have every right to be upset and vent about one another, but that, for the sake of your children, that should be done privately. And because children have a way of overhearing things they shouldn’t, it’s best to vent your feelings when they’re not at home.

Why is the difference between parental estrangement and parental alienation important?

Name your demons, and maybe then you can face them. Divorce is different for everyone. It’s the naming of each part of the process—contemplation, finding a lawyer, awaiting your divorce decree, to list a few—that makes us feel like we’ve arrived somewhere and are now standing on firmer ground. The more information we have, the more prepared we feel to face whatever comes next.

But naming your demons isn’t enough. You have to take ownership of them or you will never feel like you are truly in control of them. And that’s why knowing the difference between estrangement and alienation is so important.

With parental estrangement, feeling in control means being honest with yourself: Do you want a relationship with your children? Then stop making excuses for yourself. You know now that you and your children can live without one another, but is that what you really want? Whatever attempts you’ve made in the past? They didn’t work. Think long and hard about why, and next time, approach things differently.

With alienation, feeling in control means exercising an extreme amount of patience and accepting that, ultimately, you’re not actually in control. It means learning when to let go and focus on you for your best divorce recovery. Understand that you simply can’t change other people or push the clock forward so that time heals everyone all at once—it’s simply not an option. So let it go.

We choose to focus on what we can control, and we recommend you do the same. Even though it may feel like it, you’re not the first person to weather this storm. Meet up with other divorced women. Use this time to travel. Lose yourself in nature so that you might find yourself again. Reach out to a divorce coach who can help you understand your choices and the actions leading to the results you really want—so you, your children, and your relationship with them make it safely through this time in your life.

Since 2012, SAS for Women is entirely dedicated to the unique challenges women face when dealing with divorce or navigating its afterward. Discover the smartest, and most educated, next step for you and your family. Schedule your FREE, 15-minute coaching session with SAS now.

*At SAS for Women, we respect same-sex marriages, however, for the sake of simplicity in this article we refer to your spouse as a male.