What Do You Want Your Children to Remember About Your Divorce?

children divorce

Children of divorcing parents are on the sidelines of the goings-on between their father and mother, but they can all too easily become a casualty. If your parents divorced, or if you have had friends (or your own kids have had friends) whose parents split up, you know how much children can be affected by divorce.

Consider Their Needs Before Your Own

If you are going through (or are thinking about initiating) a divorce, it is important to stop and think about how you want your children to remember your divorce and its aftermath. Will they recollect lots of fighting? Yelling? Tears? Shuffling back and forth between houses? Being placed in the middle of a hurtful tug-of-war?

Be aware that this ordeal will have a fall out for more than just you and your spouse. Yes, there may be a definite need for permanent change that results in forming a new type of family. But this can be done in a thoughtful way that is as considerate as possible of everyone involved, minimizing the pain while acknowledging the hurt.

Ask the Right Questions

Your children will be asking you plenty of questions throughout the process, and you owe it to them to provide truthful and fair answers. It would also behoove you to ask them certain questions, such as how they are feeling and if there is anything they want to talk to you about.

Be sure to only ask them appropriate questions – and realize that certain questions will be loaded for them. For example, asking them, “Do you like my new girlfriend?” is not an easy question for them to handle. They may in fact like her, and may be excited that she has a son or daughter their own age. But they may be afraid that saying they like her would hurt Mom. They also might not like her, but could be afraid to tell you the truth because they do not want to hurt you.

Try to put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself how you would feel about certain questions if they were posed to you.

Provide Resources

If your children seem like they are holding their emotions in or are not able to talk freely with you, be sure to provide them with other resources to talk to as well. Perhaps they are close to another role model in their lives – a teacher, relative, coach, pastor, or friend – who could help them try to process a confusing and painful turn of events. It may also be helpful for them to share their feelings with peers or others they know whose parents have gone through a divorce in the past, as long as these friends have constructive advice to help them.

Another option would be to connect them with a professional counselor or therapist. Sometimes friends and relatives are not enough. Professionals have specialized education and training that may help them to be more effective in reaching children. Additionally, they provide a greater degree of neutrality, which means children do not have to worry about hurting their feelings and can speak openly and honestly.

Think of the Future, Not Just the Present

When you are going through a difficult or emotional time in your life, it can be easy to think about how you are feeling or what you want in the moment. However, it is in the best interest of not only yourself but also your children to think about the long-term impact of any decision you make or action you take now.

By using Mediation or Collaborative Practice to negotiate the terms of your divorce, you will have the best chance of achieving results that are family-friendly. While a divorce is generally stressful and emotional for all parties involved, it does not have to be nasty or leave deep scars in the next generation.

photo credit: Bridget Coila
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Creative Child Support Options

child support

Most divorcing parents truly want to do their part to help support their children in the coming years. That being said, some still visibly resist the idea of being forced to pay child support. A common refrain I hear is, “Of course I want to help my kids; I just don’t want to give the money to him/her”, or “I want to help pay for my child’s college education, but I resent being told by a Court how much I will need to contribute, or what kind of an institution my child will attend.”

Such sentiments are understandable. It is easy to see how parents could be offended that a Judge who does not know them personally would impose a ruling regarding how they take care of their own children. However, it is the Court’s duty to objectively enforce rules and laws because sadly there are cases when parents do not have their children’s best interests at heart.

While there is little flexibility in child support options for couples who go the Court route, we are able to be much more creative with those who go through Mediation or Collaborative Practice (CP) – as long as the couple is able to communicate well and work things out civilly.

First Things First

When I am working with clients, I first make sure they understand what basic child support is intended to cover. This generally includes fundamental needs, such as a roof over the children’s heads, food on the table, reasonable transportation, and sufficient clothing.

Extracurricular activities, sports or activity-related clothing and gear, medical expenses, educational needs, college tuition, and insurance are usually calculated separately in addition to basic child support.

Compensating for Income Differentials

If both spouses are making close to same amount of money, there are certain presumptions of what each should cover for their children. If there is a big differential in their income amount, however, the one with the higher income is expected to cover a larger share of the expenses.

Working out the logistics of such an arrangement through Mediation requires a higher degree of cooperation between both parties. Otherwise, negotiations will just be a constant battle, which is not healthy or productive for anyone involved.

If there is a reasonable degree of cooperation, we can be creative. For example, we could set up a shared bank account where both parents deposit a certain amount of money every month. This does not necessarily have to be an equal amount, as long as it is determined in advance and reviewed on an annual basis to see if the arrangement still works.

The idea of this kind of set-up would be that a certain list of expenses would be paid out of this account. The ground rules would be set up in advance. For example, one party would be putting x in every month while the other party would be putting in x. We would determine the date by which the funds would be deposited each month, and decide which individual would be writing the checks and making payments. The parents would need to understand that there still could be unexpected expenses that arise; while most costs can be predicted, not all can. That being said, this option still works for a lot of people.

Splitting Expenses

Another idea I often see implemented is that the parents agree to split certain expenses. For example, Dad will pay for soccer and dance lessons, while Mom will pay for school lunches. If there are an even number of children, Dad might agree to pay for two of the kids’ expenses while Mom pays for the other two kids’ expenses. If an extraordinary or unexpected expense over a certain amount arises, they can agree that they will split it.

Will These Creative Child Support Options Hold Up in Court?

As long as the Court is satisfied that the children or dependent(s) will be the recipient(s) of the amount of support that is appropriate, the creative options we come up with through Mediation or CP are acceptable before a Judge. My experience has been that working with my clients to come up with “out-of-the-box” thinking and unique approaches to meet support needs has been found to be favorable in the eyes of the Court.

A Powerful Combination of Teamwork and the Right Resources

teamwork

Last June, I wrote about my “temporary” professional transition as I took over as the Interim manager of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP). I had had a lot of history with this organization, having served in various capacities (including member, committee member/chair, board member, and President) over the previous 15 years, so I was eager to help in any way I could when the new CEO hired by the board suddenly resigned in early 2017.

Since we thought a candidate would be found fairly quickly, I committed to filling in temporarily, including “commuting” to Phoenix, AZ as needed. The interim period stretched on much longer than any of us could have imagined; only now am I wrapping up my related duties and finishing training my replacement.

As my challenging role and long work hours draw to an end and I re-immerse myself in my own Mediation and Collaborative Practice firm, I finally have time to begin reflecting back over the past year to appreciate the personal and professional lessons I have learned. Here are some of them:

The Power of Teamwork

When I first went down to Phoenix last March, I was quickly overwhelmed (and that is an understatement!). The job was intense, as much of my initial role involved putting out fires and dealing with emergencies that had cropped up due to the sudden departure of my predecessor. I found myself putting in 18-hour days, 7 days a week, for the first three weeks I was there. I distinctly remember looking at a clock on a Thursday of the third week, noticing it was 5pm, and realizing it was the first day I could actually leave the office at a normal time.

I faced a steep learning curve in many areas. Having never run an organization before, I had a lot to learn about the inner workings. I really had no idea how the financial aspects worked; in fact, I did not even know how to use QuickBooks. Fortunately, an amazing staff person with a good head on her shoulders helped me initially. When the former CEO had resigned, the board member who had been serving as treasurer resigned as well. Unbeknownst to me, someone I knew as a mental health professional saw the need and stepped up, informing us that she had formerly worked as a CFO. She was appointed treasurer.

I felt a little guilty that I should be doing more in the financial arena, but realizing that realistically I did not have the time or background, I left it to them, since they understood all the financials. I did try to educate myself, participated in conference calls, and reviewed the budget, but there is absolutely no way I could have brought the organization to the place it needed to be financially on my own. If it hadn’t been for Anne and Alicia (who was just hired a month before) stepping up, we would have been in serious trouble.

Because I had been off the board for a number of years, I was not up on all of the IACP goings-on like I had been previously. The current president of the organization graciously reached out and helped me tremendously, too. Recently people have been kind, saying nice things about me since I basically gave up my life for a year, but the fact is that it was our team that made things happen: the new treasurer, dedicated staff person, president, and myself. If it hadn’t been for all four of us, we would not have been able to do what we did.

The Value of Resources

Incredibly, we managed to keep all the big balls in the air; only a few minor ones got dropped. The organization puts on an annual conference in October. I started in my new role on March 5; ten days later was the deadline for the submission of speaker proposals for the conference. Since I knew we would have to review the proposals, make our selection, and get the program schedule together soon, I asked for an update on current proposals. I was told we only had one so far. The program typically contains 30 to 45 workshops, and we often get more than 100 proposals submitted. It turned out that my predecessor had only sent out one announcement and was actually in favor of cancelling the conference.

I quickly sprung into action. I knew there was no way I could do everything myself. I had a team, and beyond that I had outside resources that I could tap. I reached out to all kinds of people throughout the organization; I notified the board of our situation, and ran a promotion through a contact I knew who runs a list serve. Knowing you can call on the right people to assist you when you need them makes such a big difference. I may have used up a lot of political capital, but I had it to use. We were able to successfully pull off the conference on time.

Practicing What I Preach

I have long known about the value of the right combination of teamwork and resources, and I preach this to my clients often. They often push back, saying they do not really need more people (financial, mental, and tax professionals, etc.) on their team. In some cases, I suspect this has largely to do with what they consider to be an unnecessary extra expense related to collaborative meetings. In reality, however, we are doing them a great service by getting the right players on the team so we can try to hit a home run.

During my time as interim manager, I saw the value of these principles of collaboration illustrated right before my eyes on a regular basis. People within the IACP organization saw what needed to be done and stepped up as volunteers. Because they are all collaboratively trained, they understand the value of teamwork. This way of thinking is so ingrained in them that they just acted on it.

My biggest lesson from this past year is reinforcement of the significance of the collaborative approach and the importance of the training that we get. With the right team and the right resources, any problem can be handled correctly, if not solved.

photo credit: Quinn Dombrowski
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Spring Into Change

mediation

The start of each new year inspires many people to make resolutions to improve themselves or their situations. These vows to change – to exercise more, eat better, read more, etc. – are positive and worthwhile.

The coming of Spring is another season that offers the promise of fresh possibilities, new life, and the opportunity to turn over a new leaf. We plant a seed into moist soil and watch it grow and ripen into a plant. We watch the explosion of green everywhere as tiny buds blossom into leaves and flowers. We throw open our doors and windows to let in the fresh air and sunlight, and embark on spring cleaning with a fervor.

While physical change is a good place to start, why stop there? Use this time to make much-needed changes in your relationships and communication patterns, too. We see conflict nearly everywhere we look these days. Turn on the news, and it is there. Read the newspaper, and it jumps out at you. Go into our homes, look at our families, and we see squabbles, dysfunction, and division.

Maybe it is time to take a different approach and learn how to resolve conflict constructively. While many situations are outside of our control, we are able to determine our response to circumstances. Everyone fights or gets into disagreements from time to time; that is human nature. The important thing is to learn how to work things out in a civil, productive way.

As a Mediator, I do not exclusively meet with people who are in a crisis, legal situation, or divorce. Sometimes my clients just want to change their relational patterns, and they come to me for help and advice. If you are ready to learn how to better resolve issues with your spouse (or significant other), your children (or adult children), your parents, or anyone else, reach out to me and we can schedule an appointment. The best kind of change always starts with you.

Photo credit: Cristian N. MORMOLOC
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New Year, New (Tax) Questions

Following the December 2017 passage of the “Tax Cuts & Jobs Act”, we now have new tax laws in place – sort of. The law designed to “simplify” the tax code is over 500 pages. It was hastily drafted and hastily passed. The truth is that no one really knows yet what is in it, or (especially) what its impact will be. There will likely be conflicts discovered within the provisions, and much legislative and regulatory action will be needed to figure it all out. Divorcing taxpayers are not the only ones affected, but they are affected in many ways. A noteworthy change is that alimony payors will no longer be able to deduct their payments for orders entered after 2018. The ability to do so and to shift taxes to the lower income recipient has been an important benefit for many divorcing families. Without this option, more money will go to the government and less will be available for families.
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2017 Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines Important Modifications

The long-anticipated changes to the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines have been published and will take effect on September 15, 2017.

By law, these state Guidelines must be updated every four years by a Task Force appointed by the Chief Justice of the Trial Court. They were last updated in 2013, but significant changes made then to the child support formula and to parenting time language left many confused and uncertain about what to expect when appearing before a Judge. As a result, many of the Guideline changes seen in 2017 address these issues.

Below are the major Guideline changes from 2017, along with a brief explanation of each modification.  It will take a while for the Courts to sort out application of these changes. Mediation or Collaborative Practice processes help clients determine optimal family support amounts.

Minimum and Maximum Child Support Amounts

Since 2002, the minimum amount of child support in Massachusetts has been $18.46 per week, or roughly $80 per month. The Task Force recommended that the minimum support order be increased instead to $25 per week, with the presumptive minimum support order applying to combined income of up to $115 per week. While the change doesn’t reflect a significant difference financially, it acknowledges and makes accommodation for rising costs of inflation. Read More >>

Divorce or Separation To Do List

Protect Yourself During Divorce or Separation By Getting a Good Therapist, Financial Advisor, and Attorney. Divorce and separation bring up so many inherent difficulties. Since this is such a vulnerable time, it is very important to protect yourself by getting a good therapist, financial advisor, and attorney. Here’s why:

  1. 1. Get a Good Therapist

Emotionally, individuals going through a divorce or separation are understandably in turmoil. Should I? Should I not? Why is s/he doing this? I don’t want this. I think I want this. What about the children? So many questions and confusion arise.

Everybody’s situation is different, so unfortunately there is no single correct answer to any of these questions. Additionally, attorneys or Mediators cannot help with the emotional questions. For these types of issues, it is best to set up a support system of friends, relatives, and professionals who can assist.  Forming a relationship with a mental health professional with whom you are comfortable can help immensely during this difficult time. This can be even more valuable than the support of friends or family, who may sometimes tell you only what they think you want to hear, or base their input on their own situations or those of their friends. Since everybody’s situation is different, however, this is not always helpful or relevant.

In a previous post, I discussed in more detail the role of mental health professionals in divorce.

  1. 2. Get a Good Financial Advisor

Beyond emotional concerns, divorce also brings up many practical considerations, especially those centered around money. How will I/we live? How much child support will I get/pay? Will there be alimony? What about health insurance?

It is critical to get the proper help with financial questions. Finding a good financial advisor who has experience working with clients in divorce is invaluable.  S/he can run support numbers, evaluate tax consequences, and provide context for many of the decisions that you will have to make at this time.

In a previous post, I discussed the role of financial advisors during divorce in more detail.

3. Get Good Legal Advice

Equally as important is getting legal advice. Not only is every situation different, but the laws are also always changing. That means what was true 10 years ago when your best friend’s godmother’s niece got divorced is not necessarily true now.

Divorce law can change in two ways: the legislature can make new laws or changes old ones; or the Court can rule on the interpretation of the laws, which may change how the laws are applied in the future. These types of legal changes happen daily. Some are predictable—we are expecting new child support guidelines soon, for example (check back for an update when that happens)—and some are not.

Whether you are in a Mediation or Collaborative process, having an attorney who can provide you with guidance and inform you about the most current law and its application is critical.

In a previous post, I discussed choosing a divorce attorney in more detail.

As difficult as divorce or separation can be, there is no need to wander through the difficult terrain alone. A good therapist, financial advisor, and attorney will help you navigate the journey and arrive on the other side in much better shape.