Will Mediation Benefit Us If We Have No Kids?

            In mediation, we work to make space to have conversations that you have not been able to have on your own, which can help you to have closure, and to move forward without needing to keep rehashing the past.

            You will have the chance to discuss anything that feels unresolved. Couples have wanted to work out details about divided custody for a pet, as well as dividing silverware, wedding gifts, and who keeps the couch.  You can discuss feelings around “dividing” friends.  Many details arise as you un-intertwine, and emotions are connected to monetary value. Our job is to help you to craft an agreement where you both walk away with some benefit; one which feels fair for both of you.

            Mediation can also help you to get closure by better understanding the reasons you’re separating.  Adrian used to be a heroin addict but when I met with them, he had been sober for 20 years. Jill had struggled with an eating disorder since she was a teen. I guided them through a discussion about how addictive issues had blocked intimacy during their marriage. Adrian felt that he had grown and developed during the marriage, but that Jill hadn’t grown along with him. They were both crying – he with sorrow and empathy and she with sorrow and apology.  They left mediation with increased understanding about why their relationship deteriorated, and having shared mutual feelings of loss, which left neither feeling at fault.

            Mason and Rose talked about the issues that led them to divorce. Mason asked when Rose had first thought about ending their marriage.  Rose confessed that at various times she had been unhappy,  and she never told Mason how she was feeling. Mason was devastated to hear this, and asked Rose why?  We delved into the blocks that had prevented Mason from seeing how Rose felt, and that had prevented Rose from communicating her truth.  They left mediation with a better understanding of their marriage, each other and themselves.

            Mediation can help you to resolve open issues and to end your relationship as smoothly as is possible.  We make the space for you to share your thoughts and grief with your (soon-to-be-ex) partner – whether they feel the same way as you do – or not.  It’s a process that allows you to further understand yourself and your ex, to resolve legal issues for a divorce, and to get the closure you need to move on into this next chapter in your life.

Separation or Divorce?

The answer to this is personal, and it depends where you are both at. Are you 100% sure that you are headed for divorce? Or is there a chance of separating for a few months, a year, even 3 – and then reconciling? Do you feel that you would not be able to date if you are still married? Is one of you on the other’s health insurance?
There are three differences between signing a full separation agreement and living apart, according to its terms, and filing for a divorce.
1. Taxes: Filing taxes together as a married couple is usually cheaper than filing as married/separate. While you are still married you can file joint taxes.
2. Health Insurance: Another reason to stay legally married is for health insurance. A married couple, even if legally separated, can stay on each other’s plans, but once you are divorced you can’t. When considering whether or not to divorce it is important to look at the health coverage plans you and your partner have, and if there are any feasible alternatives if you separate. Children’s health insurance is not affected, and they can stay on either parent’s plan after a divorce.
3. Emotional: The ending of a marriage is usually stressful and emotional. Many couples crave closure, and once divorced, feel they are (or will be) better equipped to move on and begin to heal. Other couples do not find as much significance in this legal status. Some people feel that they cannot date while they are still legally married, while I’ve had couples who are living with someone else or even expecting another child when their divorce comes through. Your situation is unique, and you can consider these points as you consider your options.

Co-Parenting During Covid-19

Seven Guidelines for Sharing Custody of Children During the COVID19 Pandemic

Leaders from the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) and AFCC have released guidelines for coparenting during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

1. BE HEALTHY.

Comply with all CDC and local and state guidelines and model good behavior for your children with intensive hand washing, wiping down surfaces and other objects that are frequently touched, and maintaining social distancing. This also means BE INFORMED. Stay in touch with the most reliable media sources and avoid the rumor mill on social media.

2. BE MINDFUL.

Be honest about the seriousness of the pandemic but maintain a calm attitude and convey to your children your belief that everything will return to normal in time. Avoid making careless comments in front of the children and exposing them to endless media coverage intended for adults. Don’t leave the news on 24/7, for instance. But, at the same time, encourage your children to ask questions and express their concerns and answer them truthfully at a level that is age-appropriate. 

3. BE COMPLIANT with court orders and custody agreements.

As much as possible, try to avoid reinventing the wheel despite the unusual circumstances. The custody agreement or court order exists to prevent endless haggling over the details of timesharing. In some jurisdictions there are even standing orders mandating that, if schools are closed, custody agreements should remain in force as though school were still in session.

4. BE CREATIVE.

At the same time, it would be foolish to expect that nothing will change when people are being advised not to fly and vacation attractions such as amusement parks, museums and entertainment venues are closing all over the US and the world. In addition, some parents will have to work extra hours to help deal with the crisis and other parents may be out of work or working reduced hours for a time. Plans will inevitably have to change. Encourage closeness with the parent who is not going to see the child through shared books, movies, games and FaceTime or Skype.

5. BE TRANSPARENT.

Provide honest information to your co-parent about any suspected or confirmed exposure to the virus, and try to agree on what steps each of you will take to protect the child from exposure. Certainly both parents should be informed at once if the child is exhibiting any possible symptoms of the virus.

6. BE GENEROUS.

Try to provide makeup time to the parent who missed out, if at all possible. Family law judges expect reasonable accommodations when they can be made and will take seriously concerns raised in later filings about parents who are inflexible in highly unusual circumstances.

7. BE UNDERSTANDING.

There is no doubt that the pandemic will pose an economic hardship and lead to lost earnings for many, many parents, both those who are paying child support and those who are receiving child support. The parent who is paying should try to provide something, even if it can’t be the full amount. The parent who is receiving payments should try to be accommodating under these challenging and temporary circumstances.

Adversity can become an opportunity for parents to come together and focus on what is best for the child. For many children, the strange days of the pandemic will leave vivid memories. It’s important for every child to know and remember that both parents did everything they could to explain what was happening and to keep their child safe.

For more resources on co-parenting (during a pandemic or in general) check out our article on How The Children’s Needs Can Guide The Parents.

Review of The Marriage Story from a Divorce Mediator

In this review, I am focusing on the role of the divorce professionals portrayed (which were horrifying) and what we can learn from Noah Baumbach’s The Marriage Story.

WARNING-  the following contains spoilers.  Don’t read it if you have not yet seen the film.

The Marriage Story is a great film which movingly portrayed the end of a marriage. There is a lot we can learn from it. The film portrayed the pitfalls of litigation and, therefore, how mediation could have helped save money and resolve conflicts in the fictional marriage. Baumbach explored difficult topics with outstanding depth and the failure of communication and misunderstanding which caused the divorce was laid bare for us to see.

The role of the mediator…

First of all, the mediator was so ineffectual, I winced.  I would never start a mediation by saying ‘It’s going to get very dark and difficult and I want you to have a piece of light and happiness to remember during those dark times in this awful and difficult process.’  No wonder the wife (Nicole) stood up and stormed out!!

People are nervous and sad (among other emotions) when they come to my office.  I want to help them to heal, to take deep breaths, to be reassured that they have come someplace where we have gone through this before– where they will get guidance and support so that they can move forward, I want them to know that we will help them to figure out how to restructure their lives in a workable, fair, and affordable way. We, as mediators, will stay with them till they come out the other end. 

Now for the attorneys….

I was stunned, also, by how ineffective the divorce attorneys were at communicating with their clients.  In several scenes, the attorneys talked and laughed about events they had both attended – vacations, dinners – oblivious to their clients’ feelings, waiting while their lives and their child’s welfare are up for grabs. 

Where did their marriage go wrong?

This marriage ended because Nicole felt like Charlie’s voice was so strong that she couldn’t hear the voice in her own head.  She didn’t know what she wanted when she was around him.

Is that his fault?  Or her fault?  Most likely a combination of both.

Charlie bears some responsibility for failing to notice that Nicole didn’t contribute to their decision-making.  He was getting what he wanted, and he didn’t stop to think about why he always got what he wanted.  In a balanced relationship no one gets 100% of what they want.  (Sorry to disappoint you, kids.)

But Nicole also has some responsibility for not having communicated that she felt she didn’t have a voice in decisions. 

Somehow, the whole case gets whisked away to California…

Maybe Nicole did want to move to California.  But it seemed at the beginning of the film that she was going to do one job and planned to come back to New York, where she was a successful, respected actor.   Her attorney (the wonderful Laura Dern) said, ‘We have to file suit here,’  ‘Let’s set you up, enroll your child in school, and make this a California case.’  

Nicole did not say ‘yes, that’s what I want,’ nor did she say, ‘wait, that is not what I want.’  It didn’t seem to be about Nicole – it was what the attorney advised that she do. In this way, her voice was once again not heard. Her relationship to her attorney mimicked the failed relationship with her husband.

The attorneys failed to ask important questions.

I never heard anyone say:

            “Here is what litigation looks like.” 

            “Here is what it might cost you.” 

            “You have to decide – do you want to move to California, and take Henry away from his father, and live here permanently?  If yes – here is what that would look like.  If we win, Henry will live with you.  He will see his father summers and school breaks – but he won’t really grow up with his dad. 

            “And there’s a good chance you could lose.  Your life is in New York, Henry is in school in New York, he’s lived in New York his whole life.  Your work is in New York, you are a well-known and successful actor in New York.  And Charlie works in NY theatre, and just won a Macarthur grant.  He may well be able to prove more easily to a judge that the locus of your lives is in New York.”

No one said these things to Charlie, either.  None of the California attorneys communicated to him his strong arguments for filing for a divorce in New York and seeking to have Henry back in NYC with him.  Charlie is now relegated to a life where he will spend hours each month on planes – with his work suffering, not to mention the cost – in order to be a part-time father.     

So whose ‘fault’ is it? 

Nicole seems to have no more of a voice in her divorce than she had in her marriage.  But neither did Charlie.  And the lawyers probably each earned $100,000 in fees.

Near the end of the film, Nicole and Charlie sit down together, for the first time, to try to discuss and resolve the divorce.  (As a mediator, I was thinking – great!  What took them so long to try this?)

They discuss the costs of litigation.  Nicole’s mother is taking out a home equity loan to pay her lawyer.  Charlie is also broke.  The litigation will hurt their ability to save for Henry’s college.  They discuss the unpleasant invasiveness of the pending child custody evaluation.  Nicole says, “Can we try to discuss this and resolve it ourselves?” 

But they are unable to do so, without a mediator to help them (Find out more about mediation here).  They need to figure out where they want to live, long-term, and what are their options?  What is best for Henry, and for their respective careers? 

But they are not able to stick to these important topics.  They can’t resist accusations and blame, each wanting to feel more like a victim than a perpetrator.  The conversation devolves into hitting ‘below the belt’ as one can only do with someone with whom one has been intimately involved.

In one of the more painful moments, Charlie said “you’re winning,” and Nicole said “are you kidding me?”  Charlie punches a hole in the wall, and both are sobbing. 

There are no winners here. 

Had they tried to have these important conversations with an effective mediator, they could have been guided through that fight, avoid devolving into such viciousness. 

A mediator could have helped them to express their hurt and fears more directly, while focusing on the things that needed to be resolved, in order to settle the case in a way that was fair to both of them.

Mediation and Neutrality

A neutral mediator is key to the mediation process. This neutrality in the mediator can help heal the pain of divorce and increase understanding. It is never simple to determine why a marriage ends.  The end of the marriage takes two, as does the beginning .

My challenge as a mediator is how to understand/empathize with both people. 

Take this situation for example:

Brad & Helen have come into my office. Brad went out to get a newspaper one Sunday morning and did not come back or call for 3 days.  He left Helen with 2 young children, without even a note.  I could imagine her anguish, and the children’s fears.  But during our sessions, Helen never let Brad speak!! What he did was not right. But something drove him to do this.  His experience led him to this decision and both experiences are vital to understanding what is at play.

What is my role as a neutral mediator?

Most of us are doing our best to make our way through life.  We try not to hurt the people we love, or have loved.   But we are imperfect creatures, so we do not always succeed.  We are hurt and we lash out – and the other may not know that he/she has hurt us.  Through my understanding as a mediator, I can often help people to forgive themselves and each other – which will help them to move forward into their new lives post-divorce.

Divorce raises hurdles, as you restructure and begin to figure out your new life, and also raises complex emotions.  Mediation is a good place to explore these changes. When you are navigating the maze, the last thing you want to hear is that your spouse’s position has more validity. 

These feelings are especially intense where the impetus for the break-up of the marriage is a situation with deep emotional effect – for example, where one person has a new lover, or where one person walked out on the other very suddenly and without warning.  The identity as a wronged person becomes compelling and attractive. 

In mediation we focus on a broader picture. A neutral mediator can bring you closer to the truth, and the truth will help you to move on with your life.

A IN-DEPTH EXAMPLE OF HOW MEDIATION & NEUTRALITY WORK IN ACTION:

Anice and Marshall came to me for divorce mediation. Anice expressed her thoughts clearly. She loved Marshall passionately and still believed that he was the love of her life. She had made a commitment to him which, to her, meant that she would stay with him no matter what. She told me that Marshall had had other affairs in the past, and had always returned to his commitment to her. “How do I know that this time you are serious?” she asked him. “What makes you think that, 3 months from now, you won’t change your mind again and come back to me?”

The couple had recently purchased a house. Anice said, “Why did you buy this house with me if you wanted to get out of the relationship?” The couple had greatly disparate incomes, and although Anice had been the motivating force behind their buying their home, she was not at the present time able to figure out how to pay the expenses of the house by herself.

I could have felt that Anice was “right,” and Marshall – a lousy toad. She was the one with commitment and vision, she felt sure that this marriage was the right thing and was able to stick with her husband through thick and thin. She planned and worked to enable them to buy a home. And after this loyalty, what was her reward? Constant betrayal, multiple affairs!

Then Marshall told me about his experience. He spoke eloquently about his need to move on from a relationship which felt stagnant to him, and from which he could no longer derive any sense of intimacy or romance. He was very grateful to Anice for all the love and support he had gotten from her, and the achievements he accomplished because of her support. But for a long time he had felt that there was something missing. This feeling drove him to seek outside relationships, even though he had derived from Anice love such as he had never before experienced in his life.

At the present time, he felt stifled by the relationship. He felt responsible for Anise. He was aware that she wasn’t able to earn as much money as he could earn, and he felt trapped. Although he felt platonic love and respect for Anice, he had a new girlfriend. For Marshall, the 12-year relationship had evolved into a friendship.

After hearing Marshall, I felt his pain. I felt how Anice’s willingness to stay in a relationship with a man who was sleeping with another woman made Marshall feel trapped. He saw her as a crazy woman who had no self respect, who would live with him even though he rejected her.

In truth, I felt great empathy for both Anice and Marshall. Through my understanding of them, I was able to sympathize with Anice, who felt deeply committed to this man, and hurt every time he told her that he still loved her – and who felt that she would have stayed with him no matter what happened, even if he had outside relationships.

I felt empathy for Marshall, who expressed that this marriage, though it had endured for 12 years, had never completely fulfilled him. He felt an excitement at the change to break free and try again in a new relationship for something that felt more healthy and fulfilling and less co-dependent and suffocating than his relationship with Anise.

My job, now was to do my best to increase their understanding of each other. Marshall had a better understanding of how Anice felt than she had of his point of view. Once understanding is improved, they would be ready to negotiate the fairest way for them to divide their house and their possessions.

Anise had to confront the reality that Marshall wanted a divorce. When I helped her to accept this, she was able to negotiate alimony for a period of time, so that she could keep the house and eventually become self-sufficient. Marshall saw the alimony as a way to buy his freedom, and it was a great relief to him to be able to do that. They were both satisfied with the terms and their divorce agreement was completed.

Children perceive their parents neutrally during a divorce. As much as you might want your child to side with you against the other parent – it won’t happen – and it shouldn’t happen. A child will never thank you for taking away his mother or father. The children each contain a little bit of each parent, and they are able intuitively to understand both parents’ points-of-view. The children understand the limitations and strengths of both their parents and love them.

I can think of many cases where I had deep empathy with both people, and could see both their sides. I had a case where the marriage was breaking up because the woman was a lesbian. I empathized with the husband, Allen, who, in his early 50’s had to leave his beautiful house. He had to rethink his whole life with Marge, in light of these changes in her outlook. He had believed he’d had an OK marriage. He didn’t want a new life, but the old one had been snatched from him.

Marge was able to communicate to me the excitement and liberation she felt as she embarked on her new life. She showed me that something had always felt “wrong,” in her life, and now, for the first time she didn’t have that feeling.

Marge came to mediation believing that she had embarked on a course of self-discovery. But during our sessions, she came to a new understanding of how this journey had affected Allen. She ended up giving him a more generous financial settlement, partly to assuage her guilt, and partly to help Allen to also feel that he was getting an opportunity to embark on a new life – that might hold some promise, excitement, even happiness not present in their old one.

The truth is that it is never simple to determine why a marriage ends. Something was probably always lacking in Allen and Marge’s marriage. Why didn’t Allen see that? Why didn’t Marge know earlier? The end of the marriage is created by both, as the beginning was created by both.

My challenge is always to understand both people. In another case the husband, Brad, went out to get a newspaper one Sunday morning and did not come back or call for 3 days. He left Helen with 2 young children, without even a note. I could imagine her anguish, and the fear of the children. But during our sessions, I could see that Helen never let Brad speak!! I’m not saying that what he did was right, only that I understand that he did the best he could and that something drove him to do this terrible thing. Something that he felt had been equally awful had been done to him or he would not have done this to her.

And that is probably the crux. I do believe that most of us are trying the best we can to make our way through this life. We try not to hurt the people we love, or have loved. And we do our best. But we are imperfect creatures, so we do not always succeed. We are hurt and we lash out – and the other may not know that he/she has hurt us. Through my understanding, I can often help people to forgive themselves and each other – which will help them to move forward into their new lives post-divorce.

Divorce raises all kinds of hurdles, as you restructure and begin to figure out your new life – and also raises all kinds of complex emotions. When you are navigating the maze of these changes, the last thing you might want to hear is that your spouse’s position has some validity. (And that is one of the appeals of the adversarial system. When you are hurt, angry and shaken up, who would not want to hire an experienced warrior, who will tell you that you are right and that your evil spouse should make amends – usually monetary – to avenge these wrongs?)

These feelings are especially intense where the impetus for the break-up of the marriage is a situation with deep emotional effect – for example, where one person has a new lover, or where one person walked out on the other very suddenly and without warning. The “right” spouse might find that the new identity as a wronged person becomes intensely compelling and attractive.

The answer is that neutrality will bring you closer to the truth, and the truth will help you to move on with your life.

Do I Need A Prenup?

Sometimes people think they need a prenuptial agreement to keep property they own now, separate, in case of a divorce.  But everything that you own before the marriage will stay separate, as long as you keep it in your separate name.  So you don’t need a prenup, if all you want to do is protect your premarital property.

Still – in a good prenup mediation, we can discuss what you each feel is fair, and you can start your marriage without unexpressed assumptions and expectations.  Also, the prenup will memorialize what you have now – exactly what is your premarital assets and debt, so that there is no confusion, down the road.

Debt that you have now will be your separate debt, even after you marry

Anything you receive as a gift or inheritance, no matter when received, will be your separate property. 

Where people get in trouble is when they mix up (commingle – is the legal term) separate property and marital property.

If you have good records, you can trace it, and get a separate property credit. So – for example – you inherit $250,000 from Aunt Tilly, and you use that as the downpayment on a home. 5 years later, you sell the home, and net $650,000. $250,000 is your separate property credit, and you split the balance – $400,000 – equally with your spouse. So you have $450,000, and spouse has $200,000.

If you don’t have a prenup, here are the things that will be considered (by NY State) to be joint property – owned 50/50:

  • monies earned during the marriage
  • gifts given to both of you (such as wedding gifts)
  • retirement assets earned during the marriage
  • debts accumulated during the marriage
  • a business started during the marriage
  • equity accumulated in a home purchased during the marriage

If you want to change any of this, you can come to mediation and I’ll help you to figure out what will work for both of you, for your future.  In a prenuptial agreement, you can tailor your property rights to best meet both your needs. 

Mediation or Collaborative?

Is mediation or collaborative divorce the right fit for you?

After you decide that you are going to separate, the first questions you want to answer are: What process will work best for you both? Who are the professionals who can help you to find the steps through to this next phase of your lives? Do you both want to try mediation with a neutral third person to help facilitate your conversation? Or would you prefer to have your attorney sitting next to you during your negotiations?

Mediation requires that you both:

  • be willing to sit together in the room and listen to the other’s point of view, even if you don’t agree with what the other person is saying
  • be willing to voluntarily disclose all financial information
  • be able to express your thoughts and true feelings, with the other person present
  • be able to advocate for yourself, and for what you think is workable for the future
  • have an understanding of your rights
  • not be out for revenge
  • have some facility around finances, so that you both understand your living expenses
  • have the goal of coming up with something that is fair to both of you, and that will allow you to move forward, whole, into your separated futures
  • have some trust in the other person, that he/she is not out to screw you over or destroy you
  • wish to avoid attorneys all together
  • want more control over the process – timing, order of discussing different subjects – and costs
  • both people hope to resolve things themselves, rather than having a judge make decisions about your family and your lives.

In the mediation process, I ask for a retainer fee equal to 4 hours of work, which you would replenish when it reaches 1 remaining hour.

By contrast, the costs of a collaborative divorce average from $10,000 to $50,000.

Collaborative divorce is right for you if:

  • you would like to have your attorney present to help you to advocate for yourself
  • you are worried about giving up too many legal rights, without fully understanding what you are agreeing to 
  • you and your ex are not on the same page with understanding about finances
  • you finances are very complicated, such as where one person is a business owner
  • you and your ex differ regarding how much information you have about finances (for example, one of you pays all the bills and manages the finances and the other ignores them)
  • we would like to invite other experts to be part of the process, such as a child specialist, or a divorce financial planner, who would act as neutrals in the process.
  • one of you has trouble listening to the other’s point of view, when you disagree, and withdraws from fights, or becomes flooded and can’t speak
  • we have questions about financial information, and would like a financial neutral to help facilitate the information gathering process
  • one or both people have difficulty expressing their actual needs thoughts and true feelings, and would like the attorney to speak for them about what is workable for the future.
  • neither is out for revenge or to destroy the other
  • you both have the goal of coming up with something that is fair to both of you, and that will allow you to move forward, whole, into your separated futures
  • have some trust in the other person, that he/she is not out ot screw you over or destroy you
  • both people hope to resolve things themselves, rather than having a judge make decisions for you
  • you both understand that, if you withdraw from the collaborative process, your attorneys will also withdraw, and you will have to start over again, from the beginning, with litigation attorneys.

In the collaborative process, I ask for a retainer fee equal to 20 hours of work, which you would replenish when it reaches 1 remaining hour.  

If you have any questions about what process: mediator or collaborative divorce is right for you, please reach out to our team.

Is Mediation Right for Me?

8 Reasons To Try Mediation:

1. Faster Path to Closure:

You may have been wronged – but getting stuck in conflict, and seeking revenge, will only keep you thinking about and tallying up – reliving – those hurts.  The goal of mediation is to wrap up this part of your life, resolve and settle, so that you can move forward to your new and (hopefully) happier future, without the conflicts of the past.  Let them go!

2. Neutral:

The mediator is neutral.  I won’t take sides with you against your spouse, nor with your spouse against you. Instead, I will work with you to increase your understanding of each other and of your conflict, and help you to find ways that the future structure can work for both of you.

3. Control:

Mediation allows you to have control over the process:

      • You won’t agree until you are ready to – when the agreement meets your needs;
      • You schedule appointments on your time-frame, and can take the time you need between meetings to gather information, consider proposals, run it by those you trust.

4. Private:

Mediation is private and confidential, so that you can frankly discuss cash income, addiction, infidelity and any other sensitive issues.

5. Quicker End to Conflict:

Conflict is painful. Most people have a drive to resolve it. When you understand the sources of conflict, you have a huge release of creative energy which leads to terrific brainstorming sessions about how to solve the problem and end the conflict.

6. Shared History:

You will always have shared your years together.  Even though you are splitting up, you can’t change the past.  Do you want to ‘wish each other well,’ and move forward into this next phase?  Or do you want to destroy your former partner?  Your children will not thank you for destroying their other parent.

7. Better Relationship In The Future:

You may want to attend future birthdays, graduations, weddings; be at the hospital for the birth of your grandchild.  If you have (a) child(ren) together, you will always be connected to your ex.  Mediation will help you keep the lines of communication open, come to a deeper understanding of why things may not have worked in your marriage, and be better able to tolerate seeing your ex in the future.

Litigation is ritualized war.  Afterwards, it will be hard to be civil to someone who tried to annihilate you, during your divorce.  Avoid doing that!  Many kids whose parents are divorced have said that the biggest gift their parents can give them is the ability to be in a room together, and be civil to each other.

8. Reasons People Choose Mediation (quotes from clients):

      • Either we solve it together – or a stranger will tell us what to do.
      • I don’t want it to be lawyer v. lawyer.
      • Keep the friendship that we still have.
      • Have a fair process – fair for both of us.
      • Both of us want to do what’s best for our child
      • Respect each other’s individuality
      • Get clarity about what is the right thing to do
      • Save money
      • Accomplish our goals, such as making sure we are both OK, financially
      • Want to be good co-parents
      • The law is a blunt instrument – discussion in mediation is more tailored to what we need and care about
      • Hope to be able to be friends, in the future
      • Want to spend time together with our child

How To Talk to Your Children About Your Divorce

A lot of parents don’t know how to navigate a conversation about their separation or divorce with their children. I want to share with you some rules and guidelines to use in your family.

What I have heard from clients about telling children about separating/divorce:

“We told our teenager on Monday that we are separating. I am uncertain how to have read the expression on her face…maybe slight shock, or disbelief. We have had so many years of conflict, it’s hard to believe she was surprised! This has really unseated me…we went shopping on Tuesday and had a nice day, really some great moments, bopping around looking for cool stuff. But there was a pallor that was present all day.”

“I want to be able to tell our child why this happened, so she understands, but I don’t want to play the blame game. I can’t be completely honest, and so I think she  is confused…and I am getting so stressed.”

‘I don’t feel grounded when [my ex] is around, and I am sad and angry. Sad about all the losses, and also doing this to her [our child] when she is getting ready to go to college. Everyone is putting on their happy face but this is confusing.”

My Advice:

It’s always amazing to find out how much kids can be in their own heads, and not notice things going on around them. We can think they know/sense what is going on between the adults – but they often do not or they do not recognize yet what it is they are seeing.

Good rules to live by:

  • Let the child ask the questions – don’t bring it up nor volunteer information, other than what is asked for. Be open and answer all your child’s questions while following the rest of these rules.
  • Remember that – psychologically/unconsciously – children feel that they are half their mother and half their father, so that if someone says ‘your dad is lazy,’ they hear it as “half of me is lazy.”  That can help to guide you to avoid the blame-game when answering their questions.
  • Remind the child that she/he didn’t do anything to cause this. Because of the way our brain develops, it is important to reassure children that they are not to blame.

In my experience, children always know the truth of their parents’ divorce deep down. They know both of you, inside and out, and over the next 20 or so years she/he will ask more questions. Breathe. There is time.

Finding that balance between feeling you are being your authentic self and protecting the child can be challenging. Remember she/he doesn’t need (nor want) details that you might find important.  It’s the end of a long relationship, and it’s very normal to have mixed and complicated feelings. For all of you. If you’re feeling sad – you’re allowed to tell your child that…  But it is best to keep the complaining to your friends and your therapist – not to your kid.

The True Hard Work of Love and Relationships

A deeper way to think about intimate relationships

I just listened to Alain de Botton (philosopher & writer who founded The School of Life)  on the podcast On Being

His work is so deep, thought-provoking, and moving. He turns upside down our commonly understood assumptions about intimate relationships, and gets to the deeper truth of what we are trying to find when we search for love. On the podcast, he also looks into why people might stray when in committed relationships. 

Within his words we can find the door to healthy communication. At any point in our relationship, we can find a key to understanding… that is what mediation is all about. 

Recommended listening for everyone. Listen here. 

And read his article on NY Times titled Why You Will Marry The Wrong Person

One should say, “Well, how are you crazy? I’m crazy like this.” There should be a mutual acceptance that two damaged people are trying to get together because pretty much all of us — there are a few totally healthy people — but pretty much all of us reach dating age with some scars, some wounds.

Alain de Botton