How to Achieve Civility in Divorce

How to Achieve Civility in Divorce

How to Achieve Civility in Divorce

Recently, I coordinated a program for collaborative practitioners with the Great Lakes Civility Project. It was a 90-minute virtual Civility Session, where we explored what civility is, why we need it in these trying times for our country, and how each of us can begin to build civility into our existing relationships. (Watch the session here.)Civility Project Logo

I had participated in Civility Sessions before, which is why I felt it was important to bring it to my colleagues in the Collaborative Practice sphere. By definition, collaborative practitioners seek ways to compromise, to find common ground, to create solutions that serve all involved. And yet, even we at times have trouble always being civil.

Frankly, don’t all people?

In the situation of a divorce, emotions run high and vulnerabilities do, too. My clients and their soon-to-be ex-spouses both have things to lose and things to gain as the marriage ends, and sometimes winning feels like redemption if we are sad and feel rejected by the breakup. But winning is not always the best outcome.

What Stephen Henderson and Nolan Finley of the Civility Project teach is that all good people want the same outcomes – they just differ in how they will get there. I believe that’s true in divorce, too. Even when we are hurt by a marriage ending, possibly initiated by the other person, we want happiness, prosperity, security and to know that we are worthy of love. In the temporary fog of divorce, we can forget that the relationship might be over but both people’s lives (and the lives of their children) are ongoing and meaningful.

When people divorce, they can’t possibly agree on everything. Frankly, during the marriage, it’s unlikely that they agreed on everything! We all have different perspectives on everything from money to parenting, and I tell my clients that they didn’t agree while married, after the divorce, they’ll agree even less and have less control over the decisions their spouse is making.

The principles of civil discourse, as presented by Nolan and Stephen, are as follows:

  • A conversation is not a competition. Nor is it intended to convert the other person to your way of thinking.
  • Set honest goals for a conversation.
  • Learn to listen fully – which means not jumping in with a retort when the other person stops speaking. It means, asking follow-up questions and regurgitating what they said after they said it, so you know you’ve truly heard it.
  • See the person behind their politics. In a divorce setting, I’d say, see the person behind the breakup. See them as human if you can. It’s the only way to have fair and easy interactions.

Taking it one step further from just a civil conversation, in a co-parenting situation, you have to be more accepting of your ex-spouse’s different beliefs or values. All people come to their beliefs on the basis of experiences and values and all people make decisions that they think are going to serve them, their family, their community. So when your ex makes a decision for the kids that you wouldn’t, it doesn’t mean they’re evil or out to get you. It means they parent differently from you.

Whether in the professional sphere, or in our relationships, we could all stand to become more civil. If civility were the goal, how different would our lives be?

Resolutions From a Family Law Attorney

Resolutions From a Family Law Attorney

It’s that time again, time to think about what went well this year, what went wrong, and what you want from the year to come.

2022 starts in a mere 11 days!! What are you going to do differently in 2022? What did you do well in 2021, that you want to carry forward into the year ahead?

I am going to enjoy the next few weeks because so many people decide to file for divorce when a new year begins. I know I’m going to hit the ground running as soon as I’m back in the office after new year’s.

So I thought I’d offer a little insight here for those who are resolving to start over, end a relationship, and embark on a next phase of their life in 2022. For those seeking to split in the year ahead, here are some things you can resolve to do:

Explore Your Options

There are many ways to divorce, and I help people through them all. If you know me at all, you know my preference is always Collaborative Divorce, whenever possible. That’s because Collaborative Divorce compiles a team of dedicated professionals who are committed to being on the same page and helping a couple end their marriage with dignity, agreement and mutual respect.

But if a Collaborative Divorce is not in your realm of possibility, consider Mediation or Litigation. In Mediation, I facilitate a conversation between divorcing parties, so that they can come to agreement on the principles of their split.

As I recently added the Our Family in Two Homes workbook to our offerings, this is a resource that I will give to each Mediation client to help them prepare to be effective in the conference room, to navigate difficult conversations and achieve acceptable outcomes. This workbook is part of a resource package I offer to people considering divorce – they pay a fee to get the workbook and three consulting hours with me, so we can walk through their values and priorities and help them identify if divorce is right for them and how to go about it.

In Litigation, we build our best case with an eye toward the courthouse. There is often research, discovery, and lots of negotiation (well, this is true in all modes of divorce), but ultimately in Litigation, when negotiations fail, a judge decides the way forward.

Whichever path you choose, know that you have options! Explore the different approaches to divorce on my website or let’s set up a call to explore together.

Educate Yourself About Your Finances

In many couples, one person manages the money, which can be nice when you’re in sync. But when you decide to split, the person who knew nothing about the numbers is often left feeling vulnerable and unaware – and that’s not good!

If you are the person who allowed your spouse to take care of the finances, you’d be wise to get up to speed on what you have, what you owe, and what your monthly obligations are. Speak to your financial professional – be it an accountant, financial planner or advisor, or investment consultant – and make sure you have all the documents, access to your accounts, and a clear picture of your financial situation.

Crucial to this conversation, of course, is a sense of your earning potential. If you’re working, that’s easy to figure out, but if you have been the primary homemaker, you’ll want to start thinking about how you can bring in money once you’re on your own. Don’t be afraid of finances!! Knowledge is power.

Take a Deep Look into What You Value and What’s Important to You

Now is a great time to consider what you’ll want when you divvy things up with your partner. If you have children together, how will you want to manage parenting time? Will there be any sticky points, and if so, what are you willing to give up to get your top priorities?

Businesses often articulate their corporate values as part of their mission and vision. It helps clarify their work, and communicate to customers what they stand for. It’s a good idea for everyday individuals to do this, too. Once you know what you value (which the Our Family in Two Homes workbook can help identify), you can make conscious decisions about your next steps.

Think About How You Respond in Stressful Situations

Are you a yeller? The strong, silent type? Do you avoid conflict? Create it? Will you be tied in knots when the negotiation gets tricky? Will you lose your appetite and want to take to your bed rather than confront the discomfort of a divorce?

Knowing how you handle stress is super important as even the most amicable divorces come with built-in hardship and challenge! One client was constantly tied in knots during the six months of her divorce and ended up dropping two dress sizes. She even developed migraines for the first time in her life during the divorce as the stress overtook her rational mind and seeped into her body. Fortunately, she had a good support system of family and friends and also sought counseling to help her through the tough times.

Have an honest conversation with yourself before you embark on a divorce, so that you can be prepared and realistic about what lies ahead – and know how you’ll manage all the emotions that are likely to arise.

Commit to Dignity

No matter what happens next, dedicate yourself to being dignified every step of the way. Divorce can get ugly because people feel hurt and angry and all sorts of uncomfortable emotions. Knowing that the road may be rocky is the first step toward navigating it with ease. When you promise yourself, and the memory of your marriage, that you will remain dignified and respectful, both to your soon-to-be-ex and to yourself, you have a good chance of sticking with dignity the whole way through. And you’ll be so happy you did!

What To Do With a High-Profile Divorce

What To Do With a High-Profile Divorce

What To Do With a High-Profile Divorce

When Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his wife of 25 years MacKenzie announced their companionable divorce in January, the friendly language surrounding it wasn’t much of a surprise.

That’s because, more and more, celebrities are announcing “amicable” divorces.

There are many issues tied up in this concept that I want to unpack. First, there’s the notion that it is easy for couples with means to divorce amicably. After all, one of the most contentious points of divorce – and of marriage! – is money.

high profile divorces

There are many issues tied up in this concept that I want to unpack. First, there’s the notion that it is easy for couples with means to divorce amicably. After all, one of the most contentious points of divorce – and of marriage! – is money. Couples who struggle financially are likely to battle about finances when they separate. Couples who don’t need to worry about money won’t worry about it in any state. Financial solvency truly paves an amicable path.

Sure, it’s easy for celebrities and millionaires to brag about how wonderful their divorce is – just like Lean In Lady Sheryl Sandberg had the luxury of taking a year off from work to grieve the death of her husband. These are luxuries most people cannot afford.

Is 25 Years a Success?

On the other hand, I do love when people talk about “after 25 years of marriage, if we could do it all again, we would.” When a couple divorces after more than two decades of marriage, they can honestly say that they gave it a good run, they are grateful for the years they were together, and they can maturely go their separate ways.

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That’s what maturity does to people. It gives you perspective, which is empowering. Perspective puts divorce in the proper context.

A 25-year marriage, like the one the Bezos’ had, cannot be considered a failure. Many of those years were surely good.

There is wisdom in this statement that 25 years of marriage is a “success.” Generations ago, a 25-year marriage might have been all a couple expected, with shorter life expectancy rates.

Today, however, as people are living longer and healthier, 25 years is one period of time. Who knows what the next period holds?

Finally, when you come from a family of divorce, you have even more perspective on how you might want to live your own.

For whatever reason, we’re seeing a growing trend of amicable divorces, which can’t be a bad thing. Perhaps we can take this wisdom from the divorces of celebrity couples and apply it to our own.

Read more Legal Process posts

The Path of Uncertainty

The Path of Uncertainty

The Path of Uncertainty

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There are times when we effortlessly move along on our journey towards the life we envisioned. As things fall into place, life presents a detour that forces us off our path. Naturally, we will do whatever it takes to follow the plans we set for ourselves.

Occasionally, life pulls us in another direction.
Welcome to the path of uncertainty. This can be a dark place when we feel like we are under a microscope. We question our thoughts and actions.

When we find ourselves in an uncomfortable situation, it is for a reason beyond our understanding. This is a time to keep an open mind and receive the lesson life is teaching us.

To walk the path of uncertainty with ease, it is important to see the big picture and where we fit in it. During this process, reflect on the following questions: Is the same lesson repeating itself?
Is there another way that I can respond to this situation?

What am I doing to help the situation?

Is there something that I need to release so I can move forward?

The path of uncertainty leads to the road of change. We must allow ourselves to become an open student of life and be ready for the outcome. The beauty of being on the path of uncertainty, is that we find parts of ourselves we didn’t know existed.

It takes a lot of courage to fully trust the process of life’s unknown path.

I understand this can be a difficult time; hang in there! Sometimes life forces us to pause, so we can learn and guide ourselves to a transformational outcome. This too shall pass and when it is over, you will be a stronger person for having gone through it.

Read more Off Topic posts

Divorce: 80% Emotion, 20% Law

Divorce: 80% Emotion, 20% Law

Divorce: 80% Emotion, 20% Law

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak at Jewish Family Service to a group of mental health professionals about the collaborative divorce process.

Eleven people gathered with me on a cold and sunny February morning to discuss the legal and emotional effects of divorce. The room remained quiet, save for the scribbles of pens and pencils on paper, as my audience absorbed the material I presented, everything from complicated laws to explaining collaborative divorce (I prefer to be comprehensive!).

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It was an attentive, interactive audience, happy to ask loads of questions.

Having a mental health professional in the collaborative divorce process is great for both parties. It wasn’t always the case to have someone trained in mental health on a collaborative divorce team, but I’ve found that it exponentially speeds up the process.

They may act as a child specialist, providing a voice for the needs of the children when custody issues occur. They help manage stress and other emotions that arise in the divorcing parties. And they direct the parties to seek mental health help or therapy outside of the collaborative process.
Divorce is 80% emotion and 20% law, I told my audience, hence the benefit of mental health professionals on the team.

Attorneys can’t be jacks-of-all-trades. That’s why the collaborative process works so well —attorneys help their parties work out legal issues, while a financial expert sorts out money quandaries and mental health professionals focus on familial and emotional issues.

We build a great team, that looks out for every nuance in the process, with a communal goal of healthy outcomes for all involved.

My JFS presentation focused on educating mental health professionals about collaborative divorce and answering questions about guiding clients through divorce. I always stress the misconception that divorce is bitter and acrimonious.

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Collaborative divorce is a more harmonious and respectful way to dissolve a marriage, and usually better for everyone involved.

The inquisitive group had lots of questions I was happy to answer, like …

What is the best way to divorce if one of the parties is suspected of domestic abuse?

If one spouse is suspected of being abusive, collaborative divorce probably isn’t the best option. Collaboration requires respect and transparency—which abusers don’t provide. The best way to dissolve an abusive marriage is through litigation.

Can you write off diapers as child support?

Child support is determined according to the Michigan Child Support Formula (MCSF), based on the number of overnights each parent has with the children, and the parties’ respective incomes.

Divorced parents can deviate from the Formula for a number of reasons, including if one provides some “in-kind” support. So, they could agree that the amount of child support is less than the MCSF because the payer of support provides necessary items such as diapers, but there wouldn’t be a retroactive credit for doing so.

(There are cases where a baby-daddy argues that he wasn’t paying child support but he provided diapers and formula and wants credit for it. It doesn’t happen retroactively. It has to be a mutual agreement and apply to what comes next.)

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How do we support clients in the courtroom?

Advise them to keep emotions in check. Whatever the judge rules, advise them to remain expressionless. 

If a client becomes too emotional, a judge can reverse a ruling—and rule against them. 

It’s important to remain professional throughout the process, in manner, dress and speech.

At this presentation, we discussed everything from the complicated formula for child support to how to advise divorcing spouses on appropriate dress for the courtroom (yes, that is important).

Thank you to Jewish Family Service for inviting me to speak!

Read more Legal Process posts