Adjusting Parenting Plans Post-COVID-19

The Scottish bard Robert Burns once wrote, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” This truth has been readily apparent throughout the last few months, as the global pandemic has created disruption and chaos in every aspect of society.

Many divorced couples who share children together are suddenly finding themselves in need of making adjustments to the parenting plan they had put in place before COVID-19 changed everything.

Problematic Scenarios with Parenting Plans

Right now, many parents are experiencing job loss or are needing to work different shifts or varied hours. This could mean they are not available during their scheduled time to watch the children.

Additionally, some parents are now experiencing 24/7 responsibility for their children, with schools and daycares being closed. They are having to learn how to homeschool their children while simultaneously juggling their full-time jobs remotely. That is a lot to have on one’s plate!

Another concern is daycare and summer camps–will parents be able to afford them, or will they want to send their children and risk exposure to the virus? Read More >>

Divorce Settlement Modifications in a COVID-19 World

The staggering number of individuals who have experienced a job loss, pay cut, or reduced hours over the last few months due to COVID-19 has resulted in unemployment levels not seen since the Great Depression.

After the initial shock of being furloughed or fired wears off, employees have a number of practical issues to consider, not the least of which is finding new health insurance coverage (which becomes even more critical during a global pandemic). The same is true for small business owners, many of whom have seen their revenue stream plummet.

These pressing logistics become even more complex for divorced couples who are part of a settlement that based financial responsibilities going forward on their economic positions pre-coronavirus. Suddenly, many former partners are experiencing the reality that their alimony, child support, or health insurance arrangement is no longer tenable. The payor may truly want to meet his or her financial obligations, but a job loss or pay cut makes that impossible.

What Part of a Divorce Settlement is Negotiable?

There is no easy answer to this kind of quandary. The parties involved cannot plant or access a money tree, nor is the economy likely to recover at lightning speed. They will need to arrive at a solution together that will either be temporary to get them through these challenging times, or else will become their “new normal.”

In the eyes of the Court, both the payor and payee, as well as any children, must have a roof over their heads, working utilities, food on the table, and running automobiles, regardless of any pay cut or job loss. These areas are non-negotiable. Read More >>

Marital Mediation in Light of COVID-19

Making marriage work can be challenging under normal conditions, but throw in a pandemic leading to a lockdown, along with economic uncertainty and possible health issues, and the marital relationship can seem downright impossible!

The arrival of COVID-19 has turned our world upside down in more ways than one. As we were educated on the health issues that would arise and the precautions that needed to be taken, we tried to prepare for them as best as possible. We were much less prepared for the resulting economic collapse that has left many families, businesses, and governments scrambling to try to make ends meet and keep the country moving forward.

How a Pandemic Affects Relationships

One of the more insidious and unexpected elements of the pandemic fallout has been its deleterious effect on relationships. Couples and families have suddenly found themselves quarantined together 24/7. Additional responsibilities, such as homeschooling or new household roles, have been thrust upon people simultaneously dealing with the learning curve of working from home. Individuals are learning more than they ever expected or wanted to know about both themselves and their spouses. Living in close quarters can bring out the worst in anyone. Read More >>

Help at Home for Relationships

These are certainly interesting times in which we are living! I am basically a homebody, but the current restrictions are challenging even for me. For some, the personal toll has been excruciating. My heart goes out to those who are infected, and especially to those who have lost loved ones to the virus. The financial costs of the pandemic (from which none of us are immune) have also been significant for many, with no end yet in sight. Lots of parents have had both the blessing and the challenge of being with their children 24/7. Who knew we would all be homeschooling?

Another unexpected consequence of so much time together has been its effect on relationships. Many of us have learned things we did not know about ourselves and about our partners. For some, this has been a time to deepen relationships. For others, the cracks have widened. Extended periods of time together have forced some to acknowledge relational problems they have been denying or avoiding. Read More >>

Demonstrating Dispute Resolution Skills

dispute resolution skills

When I am working with a divorcing couple using a Mediation or Collaborative Practice approach, one of my primary goals (besides working out an equitable agreement between the two soon-to-be exes) is to model healthy dispute resolution skills in action. My intention in doing this is so that they will learn enough to be able to apply this type of behavior in their future co-parenting endeavors or other interactions with each other.

Teach a Man to Fish

To truly be of long-term help to my clients long after they stop working actively with me, I need to enable them to become problem-solvers on their own. As the old adage goes, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Ask the Right Questions

I have learned that my most important role as a Mediator is asking the right questions, not simply providing answers. One of my favorite questions to ask a couple pursuing divorce is something along the lines of: “If you only have one orange and both of you want it, do we simply cut the orange in half?” This gets them thinking. The quick answer would be, “Yes, that seems like the fair thing to do.” But as we discuss the situation, we usually come to the conclusion that a better answer would be, “No, we should find out why each of us wants the orange.” It may be that the husband wants the orange rind so he can zest it for baking, while the wife wants the fruity part so she can eat it. By talking the matter out together, the couple will learn more about each other and be better able to reach an agreement that suits both of them.

Find Out “Why”

When I bring up curious questions that ask “why,” I am able to go beyond people’s positions and begin to look at their interests. As I peel back the layers, I start to understand their needs versus their wants.

For example, when a parent insists on having the children 50% of the time – even though s/he might need to travel a lot for his or her job, or may have unusual work hours that make such an arrangement impossible – I try to find out what is behind the request. Is it a fear of losing touch with the children? Is it a concern that others might view him or her as an inferior parent? Is it a focus on a parent’s own preferences rather than on what might work best for the children? There are many possibilities, and almost as many answers.

By examining the problem and taking an honest look at the concerns, we can often work out an arrangement that suits everyone. Perhaps we can set up regular video conferencing times if one parent is traveling frequently. We could also arrange for one parent to have more time in the summer when schedules are more flexible. There might even be an option no one has thought of yet until we start looking for solutions together.

Look Beyond the Obvious

A skilled Mediator needs to look beyond the obvious in an effort to help figure out how to meet everyone’s needs or goals (or at least as many as possible). I try to inspire the two parties to approach issues differently than they may have in the past. The way they problem-solved (or failed to do so) during their marriage obviously did not work well for them, or else they would not be where they are now. If they can learn to step back, approach situations differently, and look at things in a new light, they will likely do better in all aspects of their life, which is particularly important when it comes to parenting.

photo credit: Eric


Second-Generation Divorce

second generation divorce

I have been practicing long enough to have unfortunately worked with some clients who are children of past clients. The good news is that these new clients have chosen Divorce Mediation rather than the contested litigation their parents had to endure. Thirty years ago, Mediation was just beginning to catch on, so it was not as available to their parents.

Having been impacted (usually negatively) by their parents’ litigated divorces, however, and usually with encouragement from their parents, most of today’s second-generation clients are opting to resolve their divorce through Mediation or, in some cases, Collaborative Practice—another dispute resolution process not available a generation ago.

Some of my younger clients have described the difficult scenarios they experienced as children during and after their parents’ divorces. I have heard tales of parents who failed to pay any child support or did not care how much their actions hurt their children. I have seen the devastation that was caused when neither spouse was able to talk civilly to the other for years, with the children paying the price for the complete dysfunctionality of the family unit.

In contrast, Mediation and Collaborative Practice give parties the ability to negotiate the outcome that best serves the needs of their family. The dispute resolution skills we model for our clients, such as learning how to problem-solve at an impasse, or explore underlying interests, or discuss priorities, become the basis for their ongoing successful co-parenting. Instead of being mired in the Court process and subject to the orders of a stranger, today’s clients are active participants and are able to prioritize the needs of their family.

While today’s Divorce Mediators cannot guarantee there will not be another generation of divorce, we can minimize the damage to each generation that is affected. Whether you are the first in your family to divorce or you find yourself wanting to approach things differently than your parents did, contact me for more information.

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