Mediate Your Divorce – Part 1

Mediate Your Divorce – Part 1

Should I consider divorce mediation?

Going through a divorce is one of the most difficult life events one can endure. A divorce of any kind is hard. When issues such as spousal support, child custody and support, and division of property are to be determined, tensions and stress levels run high. If a divorcing couple cannot come to an agreement on these issues, typically they hire their attorneys and slug it out in court.

A litigated divorce is already emotionally, physically, and financially draining. The thought of you or your children having to appear before a judge only increases the stress level for your family. A litigated divorce can be messy, and sadly, it can take a nasty toll on you, your soon-to-be ex, and your children.

There is a better way. It’s called divorce mediation.

What is a divorce mediation?

In simple terms, divorce mediation is when a disinterested third party (mediator) attempts to help a divorcing couple come to an agreement about contested issues without getting the courts involved.

Why consider divorce mediation?

While there are numerous reasons to choose a mediated divorce over a litigated one, we will look at only three.

It bridges the communication gap. Most couples facing divorce have at least one thing in common: somewhere along the way in their marriage, a breakdown in communication took place. When this is the case (and it usually is), an experienced mediator can guide the divorcing couple in opening up communication again. Both parties in a divorce want to feel that their side is being stated and heard; a mediator can help the parties move toward this. Mediation helps you and your spouse work through your issues to come to a mutual agreement that will help you move forward in the divorce.

It’s more child-focused. One of the biggest concerns of a parent going through a divorce is the effect it will have on their children. In a litigated divorce, not only can things get messy and contentious fast, but your children can also be dragged into the mix. When parents can’t agree on custody issues, this is taken to the court for the judge to decide. This could involve your children being interviewed and observed by experts; it could even require that your children appear in court. In a mediated divorce, the mediator will help both parents to stay focused on the children’s needs and help you come to a custody agreement in a setting that is less stressful, cooperative, and more thoughtful.

It’s more personal. A mediator can help you and your spouse create an agreement that meets the needs of your family. In her article that appeared on the American Bar Association’s website, attorney Holly J. Clemente says that “unlike judges, mediators often create unique agreements that deviate from the norm because the agreements are tailor-made by the couple to fit their circumstances and desires. The mediator…can, and in fact is expected to, meet individually with each side. Hearing what each side truly wants out of the process makes the mediator’s job that much simpler, and everyone benefits.”

Often, attorneys may take an adversarial role to negotiate the “best” deal for their clients. In contrast, a mediator’s end goal is to help both parties come to a suitable solution with the family’s best interest in mind.

If you’d like to know more about how mediation could benefit your divorce, contact Christine M. Howard Law for more information. We can help you to determine if divorce mediation is the right course for you.


Gray Divorce

Gray Divorce

It may come as a surprise that the divorce rate is on the decline in America – at least according to a study conducted by Bowling Green State University’s National Center for Family and Marriage Research. Their data shows that from 1980 to 2015, the divorce rate decreased by 25 percent.  But for a certain segment of married people – baby boomers – divorce is on the rise.

When married couples over the age of 50 (baby boomers) call it quits, it’s called “gray divorce.” According to a report by the Pew Research Center, divorce for the over-50 crowd has roughly doubled since the 1990s. For those 65 and older, the divorce rate has roughly tripled.

What’s driving gray divorce?

Many experts believe that the empty-nest syndrome is largely to blame. The task of raising kids together can often be the glue that keeps a marriage together. In an article about gray divorce that appeared in Forbes online, Joseph Coughlin, author of The Longevity Economy, says that “with the obligation of taking care of the kids removed, some couples strain to remember why they had gotten together in the first place. They feel that they don’t have anything in common anymore.”

Coughlin also says that even though many couples anticipate the empty-nest phase of life as a time when they will finally have uninterrupted time with and for each other, often times they find it isn’t what they expected it to be.

“The average American can look to about 20 healthy years of life after age 60 — and for some people, many more years. With more couples anticipating the high probability of celebrating 50-plus years of marriage, there is a greater risk that one partner will be highly engaged in life while the other sits on the couch,” Coughlin says.

According to Pew Research, many others choose later-life divorces because they “have grown unsatisfied with their marriages over the years and are seeking opportunities to pursue their own interests and independence for the remaining years of their lives.”

What if I’m going through a gray divorce?

Becoming single again, willingly or unwillingly, is difficult at any age. Divorce after the age of 50 is especially challenging on many levels.

Challenges of gray divorce

Tim Sobolewski and Wendy B. Pegan sum it up like this in their article: “Gray divorce potentially endangers retirement for both parties, since they may be living on half the income they’d expected to have and may feel resentful about their change of plans. Fortunately, these divorces do not involve child custody fights, but they can still be emotionally and financially draining.”

So let’s examine just a few of the emotional and financial challenges of gray divorce.

Financial challenges

The biggest financial challenge in a gray divorce is the limited window both parties have to prepare for retirement. The retirement you worked so hard for may need to be postponed, or at least be not as comfortable as you had dreamed it would be. What’s more, the funds and assets you and your soon-to-be ex have accumulated may not be, once split between you, enough for you to maintain even your current standard of living. Not only might you have to put off retirement for a while, you will likely need to reduce your standard of living right now to make ends meet.

If cutting costs and reducing your standard of living isn’t enough and you need an immediate source of income, still resist the urge to dip into your retirement early. Doing so could not only result in your not having enough income on which to retire, it also could result in tax penalties and fees for receiving retirement funds at too young an age. A reliable attorney will take precautions to minimize your need to deplete your retirement savings early when the retirement assets are divided in your divorce. She can also refer you to a certified financial planner to help you get through your financial challenges and ensure that you have money to retire on, when the time comes.

Emotional challenges

People going through a gray divorce have many of the same challenges as those who divorce at younger ages: the possible change of residence, loss of savings and property, and the loss of “couple friends” are just a few of the many difficult challenges anyone going through a divorce must face.

But older individuals often encounter additional stressors that the younger set doesn’t have to face. Even though the childrearing years are over for baby boomers, grown children may still factor into the equation as these days, more and more “boomerang children” come home again to live with their parents. This creates both emotional and financial stress on the older single parent. Boomers also must often care for aging parents who live with them or are financially dependent on them. While these situations can usually be more easily borne as a couple, it can be incredibly difficult to handle such challenges alone.

If you find yourself facing these types of challenges, be sure to reach out to trusted family members, friends, a support group, or a mental health care provider for assistance and support.

What now?

If you are the partner considering a gray divorce, you have a few choices. You can choose not to divorce and seek a counselor or marital mediator to determine whether staying married is best for you. But if staying married is no longer an option, the next step is to seek the advice of a caring divorce lawyer who understands the effects of divorcing later in life and who can connect you with a financial advisor who can help with the challenges of planning for retirement after divorce. Christine M. Howard and her team believe that divorce with dignity is possible at any age, and we are ready to help you achieve just that.

Hi-Tech Help for Co-parenting

Hi-Tech Help for Co-parenting

There’s a lot of talk these days about how technology is eliminating our face to face interaction with other people. This makes it more difficult to develop the positive relationships in our lives, but when it comes to dealing with an ex-spouse, less face-to-face communication is often a good thing, especially when the relationship with your ex is fragile or contentious.

When you have children with your ex, communication is crucial to co-parenting success. Thankfully, there are many online tools that can help you effectively communicate with your co-parent – without all the negative side effects of face-to-face interaction.

Online Resources to the Rescue

Perhaps the most popular online co-parenting resource is the award-winning Our Family Wizard. Our Family Wizard (OFW) provides resources that are helpful to anyone trying to co-parent successfully, but it is touted as being helpful for those in difficult shared custody or joint custody co-parenting relationships. According to the Our Family Wizard website, “judges in all 50 states, Washington D.C., and 6 Canadian provinces have ordered families to utilize the site in contested cases to reduce family conflict.”

Some of OFW’s features include a shared parenting calendar; a message board that allows you to securely send and receive messages to your co-parent or family law professional and protect messages from being edited or lost; an info bank that stores your family’s important information (such as emergency contact info, school schedules, and medical info) in one place; and an expense log to track medical expenses, child support, etc. The cost:  $99 per year (per parent); accounts for children, family attorneys, and mental healthcare professionals are free. Smartphone apps are available as well.

Coparently offers similar co-parenting tools and is similarly helpful for those in difficult co-parenting situations. In addition to offering online communication between co-parents, Coparently also allows communication to your attorney as well, giving her a record of all the communications that have taken place between you and your co-parent.

Coparently also costs $99 per year per parent, but it also offers the option of paying monthly at $9.99 per month. Accounts for children and family professionals are free. In addition, there is a 30-day free trial option.

If you’re primarily interested in a secure, online communication tool, then Talking Parents might be right for you. Talking Parents is especially useful for the parent who deals with high-conflict situations with his or her co-parent, especially, the website states, “those involving domestic violence or vitriolic communication.” This tool doesn’t require that you give your telephone number or email address to your ex, which is helpful when harassment is present in your co-parenting situation. What’s more, this tool keeps secure, accurate, and tamper-proof records of all communication between you and your co-parent – an invaluable tool should you need to provide the courts proof of correspondence with your ex.

Talking Parents is free, but it charges $3.99 per downloaded file, or $4.99 per month for unlimited access. It also offers a highly-rated, free app.

These days, you can find an online resource or app that helps you do just about anything, including co-parenting. Although this may sound obvious, a tool is useful only if it is being used. So, before you settle on a co-parenting online tool or app, try it out and see if it works for you. And remember that it needs to work for your co-parent as well.

Helping Your Child Heal After Divorce

Helping Your Child Heal After Divorce

Life after divorce can be a scary and stressful time: “normal” as you have known it is forever changed – for you and your children.

Children of divorced parents often struggle with feelings of sadness, confusion, anger, or fear. Even if children tend to be more resilient than adults, divorce can inflict painful, emotional wounds that may be felt long after the divorce has been final. So what can you do to help your child emotionally heal after your divorce?

Tend to your needs

We’ve all heard that safety speech the flight attendants give before the plane takes off – the one about what happens when cabin pressure fails. They tell you to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you assist your child, which seems backwards somehow. Shouldn’t we always take care of our kids first? But think about it – you need to make sure you don’t pass out from lack of oxygen so that you can take care of your child. The same holds true when it comes to healing after divorce: the best way for your child to heal is for you to be healthy and strong first – physically and emotionally.

Take care of your body. Eat well, exercise, and rest. A strong body can usually deal with stress better.

Talk to a counselor or therapist to help you work through the emotional issues you’re dealing with. Find a support group that will not only encourage you when things get rough, but also help you acquire some coping skills to get through the tough times ahead.

Create a support system of family members, friends and trusted babysitters that will allow you to take a break when needed. Taking time for yourself to work through emotional issues or simply to rejuvenate will make you a stronger parent.

Protect your child’s innocence

No matter what happened between you and your former spouse, don’t try to make your child see your point of view or try to justify the divorce to him; children rarely will be convinced that the divorce was “for the best,” no matter how necessary it may have been.

Don’t put your child in the middle of disputes between you and your former spouse by using him to relay information. Your child should always be shielded from family disputes or conversations about visitation schedules, finances, or other difficult issues.

When you need a shoulder to cry on – or someone to vent to – lean on family members or friends, not your child. Your child needs to know that you are there to take care of him, not vice versa. This will give him a greater sense of security and relieves him from worrying about you.

Open up communication

The first thing you must communicate to your child is that she had nothing to do with the divorce. And reassure her that she is loved and wanted by both parents.

Share your feelings about the divorce with your child. When you name the feelings you have about the divorce or the sadness you feel because the family is no longer intact, you create a safe place for her to share her feelings about the divorce as well.

Child and family therapist Leslie Petruk, says, “By sharing your feelings in an appropriate way, you are modeling for your child what you hope they will be comfortable in doing with you. Letting them know it’s understandable if they are feeling angry, sad, or scared may help them feel safe enough to talk to you about what they are thinking and feeling.”

Invite your child to ask questions to help reduce her anxiety and fear of the unknown. Keep in mind that children process things at a different pace than adults, so her questions may not come out all at once.

Healing after divorce can be a long process, but most children can find healing with time, patience, and loving support. If your child has great difficulty adjusting, however, consult a mental health professional for help.