Wednesday, 13 December 2017

My first Christmas… without my children

How I have planned a different kind of Christmas, post-marriage breakup, apart from my young sons

When I finally agreed to let my soon-to-be-ex husband have our children this Christmas, my next decision was not to stay home. Somehow it's more depressing to attempt the familiar Christmas minus the main players than to overhaul the whole thing. Very kindly, several friends invited me. My friend India seemed like the best fit because, like me, she is deranged about Christmas, always going the whole hog and then some – I didn't want to make Christmas low-key and gloomy just because I'm getting divorced. And she has a big, messy, loving family that is by no means without its divorces, separations and step-parents. It seemed the only way I could face Christmas without my own family and not feel like the tragic spinster aunt for whom everyone feels a bit sorry (I cannot bear pity, and Christmas has brought out the dreaded head tilt in even the most well-intentioned loved ones).

I'll be Skyping my children throughout Christmas, but I am tearfully sad not to be able to pour the sherry for Santa (and later drink it), be there when bulging stockings are discovered, try again in vain to sell sprouts as an idea, pull crackers then use sticky tape to make the paper crowns small enough to stay on their little heads, and cuddle up in front of Wallace & Gromit. Being away from one's children at Christmas feels very wrong and it never occurred to me that I might one day experience it. My parents, despite separating when I was tiny, always spent Christmas Day together and it's only now that I realise the gesture (not without its behind-the-scenes tensions, I expect) was meaningful to me. I hope one day to achieve the same. I'd like our boys to remember Christmas as a family occasion, not a splintered gathering spread over 250 miles.

But for this year at least, our kids will celebrate two Christmases, that modern ritual disingenuously and guiltily sold to children as a treat, when in fact it's often the only tolerable way for separated parents to cope. I sat my children down in November and asked if they'd like to spend Christmas Day with Granny, Grandad and Daddy; and celebrate another on New Year's Eve with me. After I assured them that Father Christmas had been given both addresses, they agreed almost too readily. They seem to realise that two whole days instead of a fragmented and forced one is a better deal.

But even when celebrating apart, it's vital that parents remain a team. It's important not to engage in one-upmanship when it comes to presents, say. I can see how easily it might happen, but that way madness lies. As the mother (a single one with a drastically reduced cashflow, at that), I'm more likely to be the annoying one who gives much-needed new slippers and pants, while my ex would instinctively be the superstar who buys them touchscreen tablets. So if boring and underwhelming gifts must be bought, then we're in it together. Everything not from Father Christmas will be tagged from both of us, whether it's a toothbrush or an action figure.

There's no denying that the practicalities of Christmas are less fun post-separation. I can't get the decorations down because the loft has no ladder (my husband used to risk a broken neck in a feat of acrobatics). Instead, I hurriedly bought a pile of cheap supermarket decorations and decorated the tree alone, as though it were just another chore rather than a meaningful family ritual. The next day, our children's Christmas concert – always a soggy-necked display of intense love and pride – wasn't shared by my husband, and I felt sad and guilty to be there alone. At home, I keep staring at the flatpack box containing table football and fooling myself that successful assembly is achievable, despite the fact that just holding an Allen key has historically caused something akin to a breakdown in me. Perhaps most trickily, the financial cost of Christmas is obscene – even when exercising restraint – and post-separation, with a terrifyingly expensive divorce looming, I've had to budget very carefully, buying a couple of presents a week over several months.

But even for me, bereft of my family, the arrangement is not without some perks. I haven't had to buy gifts for my in-laws (it's an unfair state of affairs that when a woman marries, she is instantly assumed to be responsible for all birthdays and celebrations on both sides of the family), and any presents under the tree will be opened Hughes-style in the afternoon, not the morning as my ex's family insisted. Most cheeringly, I will get to see my new partner even though, a few Christmases ago, another relationship seemed an impossibility. He's an important reminder that Christmas doesn't end with the end of a marriage, it just changes. 
And if, like me, you truly love the festive season, you'll have an unwavering belief that the best gifts are always yet to come.


Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Afraid of Divorce? 15 Reasons Not To Be

Are you afraid of getting divorced? I understand. Society places so much value on staying married. There is pressure there.

Some of that pressure is good, it keeps people from taking marriage too lightly. (Except for Kim Kardashian. )

However, there are those on the other end of the spectrum who need to get divorced but don’t, because they are too scared. I understand that side too.

Divorce is stressful. Facing the unknown and facing fears head-on is tough. However, there are upsides to divorce.

As a relationship therapist with 20+ years experience, I have gone through this with many clients and friends. Here are some benefits and upsides to divorce that I have seen and learned:

1. Divorce pain is temporary. It will pass. Staying married in an unhealthy relationship will last longer than the temporary pain of a divorce. Sometimes it is good to pull the old bandage off so that you can heal and move on with your life.

2. Just because society tells you that something is “bad” doesn’t mean it is. After all, caffeine was considered dangerous at one time. Now they are saying if you drink enough of it, you won’t get cancer. Slaves used to be considered okay. The list of societally endorsed mistakes is long.

3. The same people judging you negatively for getting a divorce are probably part of the Miserable & Married crowd. There are plenty of those. Happy, contented and healthy people don’t go around judging and condemning other people.

4. Forever is a long freaking time. The people who made these marriage rules only lived into their twenties. Then they conveniently died of the Black Plague or something worse. Remember this.

BTW: I love the scene on Curb Your Enthusiasm when Larry is supposed to renew his vows. He stands up there and starts coughing and wigging out when he has to say “into eternity.” His argument is “Eternity???!” Isn’t a lifetime enough? LOL.

5. People change and grow, they want different things. That is the reality of life. This is normal, okay and expected.

6. If you squash yourself, squash your needs, and keep down who you really are, you will suffer from depression, stress and anxiety or develop stress related medical problems. Staying miserable due to fear will allow fear to grow in you. This fear will make you feel more dependent and more scared about leaving. If your relationship is severely unhealthy, you will be even more afraid to leave. A total mind f***!

7. What about the kids? Kids will suffer more if you stay miserable in your marriage. This can lead to them feeling fearful of leaving their own marriages if they are unhealthy or dysfunctional. Do you want that for them? Use your love for their care as motivation.

8. No matter how difficult a divorce gets, you always have choices. It is easy to forget this. No matter how miserable your ex tries to make you, you will have choices. In addition, you will have supportive friends, wine, your therapist, girlfriends, various 12-step programs, and your Higher Power.

9. It takes courage to face the unknown. Get support and rely on your Higher Power to see you through. This is good practice of learning where and how to let go.

10. What about the kids again? It is very difficult to maintain integrity when things get nasty. As long as you are doing that, and holding your kids’ needs first, it will be okay. Read the Good Karma Divorce by M. Lowrance and get them as much support as possible. They will get through it.

11. Some fathers actually show up and provide active interaction with kids after a divorce. I have had a ton of friends with spouses who never interacted with the kids or participated in the kids’ lives until they got divorced. Post divorce, the parent has to actually drive to the house, pick up the kids, and talk to them. This can be a wonderful shift for children who are used to dad just slinking off to his man cave.

12. After they say it out loud and put the divorce into play, most people are relieved to be done with that constant fighting and tension they had felt. They they can finally B-R-E-A-T-H-E.Ahhh …. Let your lawyer fight it out instead of you. It is a huge relief for many after the hardest parts are finalised.

13. If you are the unlucky winner of a spouse that has left you, I am so sorry. You will need to grieve. Know that the world has something so much better waiting for you. Please try to trust this and carry hope. I have seen it happen over and over so if you don’t believe me, trust that I may be right.

14. If you guys change your mind, you can always get married again. I have a client whose parents got divorced and then remarried 20 years later. This time, they are happy. Everything happens in the time and manner it is supposed to.

15. Last but not least, now you can be like a kid in a candy store in the sex department. Tinder,, Farmers Only. There is a lot of hot sex going on out there with people who are newly divorced. Wahoo!

I am certainly not endorsing divorce. It is best if a couple gets professional treatment before taking this step. It is important to take the time to consider the impact of such a decision long term.

In addition, as a couples counselor, I am proud to say that there have been many couples who have walked through my door thinking they may have to get divorced but then they didn’t. However, staying together isn’t always the best option for every couple and family. 
We don’t always have all the information we need to make good decisions when we walk down that aisle.

“The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t,” really isn’t the best philosophy for joy and richness. Don’t ever let fear be your primary motivation. Let joy, hope, faith, and courage carry you along…


Monday, 11 December 2017

How Emotionally Strong People Avoid Giving in to Anxiety and Stress (It’s Fascinating)

You don’t always have to accept reality.

Remember those old Road Runner cartoons where Wile E. Coyote would accidentally run off a cliff? And he’d spend a few seconds suspended in mid-air, tentatively dabbing the nothingness beneath with his toe, as if to reassure himself that the ground was still below him?

As viewers, we all know that the second Wile looks down and confirms the reality of his situation, he’s going to plummet to his doom.

Human beings do the same thing all the time. We get ourselves into harrowing situations, we surround ourselves in stress and anxious emotions, but we find ways to delay in the inevitable — we force ourselves to NOT look down — so we can spend a few more seconds walking on air before the universe reminds us that gravity does, in fact, exist.

THAT is the power of denial.

And denial’s unique ability to help people stop themselves from falling into an abyss might actually be a good thing, according to Dr. Holly Parker in her new book, When Reality Bites: 
How Denial Helps and What to Do When It Hurts.

That’s right. Despite what you’ve heard, denial is not all bad.

When you think about it, denial is a huge part of the human experience.

In fact, it might just be the most human part of our experience, because it’s something that only people do.

You won’t ever see a dog pretending it’s not hungry when there’s a steak in front of it, or a cat acting like it doesn’t want to come inside when it’s raining. Denying what’s really going on around us seems to be something that’s singular to human beings.

People can get creative in their attempts to pretend that the truth that’s right in front of them isn’t true — and some people are really, really good at it. You could even say that a few people are experts on the art of “evading the unwanted.”

But are those people happier because of it?

Well, as I learned during my eye-opening read of When Reality Bites, they might be.

Here’s how denial can actually make us healthier and happier…

In her book, Parker talks about everyday experiences with denial that we’re all familiar with. Ignoring the bills piling up until they’re late? Yep. Feeling sad but never making an attempt to change anything? Check! Denying that you’re not feeling well until your body throws in the towel? We’ve all been there.

According to When Reality Bites, denial allows us to “dial” our awareness up or down to where we need to be emotionally in those everyday moments.

This presents humans with a unique opportunity — the option to take a step back mentally and deal with the issue later on in our own time, because there are times in life where we simply “can’t even.” And there are times when we need to deal with anxiety on our own terms.

Denial is a key factor in our ability to take on the world around us — it’s like an emotional filter — and it’s actually pretty cool, because denial can protect us from what we can’t handle in the moment.

For example, we’ve all seen movies where the main character is taken from their ordinary world and finds themselves thrust into Oz, Narnia, or some other fantastic landscape. Often, the first reaction of these characters is to deny their new reality. “Ah, this has to be a dream.”

Denial allows them to stave off the panic of dealing with witches, dragons, and talking animals long enough to let them slowly acclimate to their new surroundings without flooding their brains with anxiety and horror.

It might be frustrating for the viewers at home, because WE know that’s a real witch, but, for the person dealing with the adversity, having that buffer zone of denial allows them to navigate their scary new reality rather than just shutting down completely.

In When Reality Bites, Parker explains that this behavior is normal and that human beings use denial as a tool to deal with both bad and good things.

We’ve already discussed the bad — denial keeps us from realizing that we’ve fallen off a cliff, that bills are due, or that we’re not in Kansas anymore. But denial can also make good things feel even better.

Delayed gratification is a form of denial. That’s when human beings avoid learning the truth about something — what it looks like, how it feels — to delay its pleasure from eventually ending.

We separate soon-to-be spouses on their wedding day, so they won’t see each other until they walk down the aisle. We refuse to hear spoilers about that show we’re dying to watch.

We wait to learn the gender of a baby until they’re born to make their birth even more dramatic.

Denial can not only protect us from painful truths until we’re ready to deal with them, but it can also make good things last longer.

Denial can, in good times and bad, make us feel like possibilities are endless. That the world is a little more magical than it might really be or that we have more doors open to us than we’d ever imagined.

And, whether that’s true or not, denial can provide us with the emotional support we need to prevent ourselves from lapsing into despair and get us back on our feet, searching for new ways to move forward — even if there actually isn’t a cliff below us anymore.

I started reading When Reality Bites completely skeptical that denial could be a healthy emotion, but I’m a total convert now. Sometimes we all need to ignore what reality is telling us and forge ahead on our own paths, for better or worse. If you’re not sure about the redemptive power of denial, pick up a copy of When Reality Bites and see for yourself.


Sunday, 10 December 2017

How to Grieve After Divorce

Grief is a tricky thing. We understand the process during the death of a loved one but forget its role during divorce.

Not allowing yourself to grieve during divorce means not giving yourself the chance to heal. And not giving yourself the chance to heal means not giving yourself the chance to move on with your life. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Divorce is like death. It is okay to mourn your loss. It is completely normal to feel like your world has crashed into a million pieces and that you will never recover from divorce. When you think about it, you’re actually reeling from multiple deaths during divorce, which makes it really hard to move on if you do not grieve:

  • Death of your marriage.
  • Death of the life you thought you knew.
  • Death of your own identity as a partner and a member of a team.
That is a lot of loss to handle. Remember, you don’t have to just swallow your pain and act tough. Be okay with the fact that you went through something awful and traumatic that rocked the world and the life you though you knew. Unless you’re made of stone, you will feel like you have been hit by a freight train.

It is okay to be angry, in denial, scared, sometimes all within 10 minutes of each other. The trick comes in being kind enough in making peace with this loss, but motivated enough not to let it hold you prisoner, especially when there are so many beautiful things in this world, just waiting for you to discover them.

Turning that grief into insight
It is possible to process grief in a healthy manner. Remember to ask yourself powerful introspective questions that will help you move on. Some of these may include:
  • What emotions can I not get my head around that seem to be ruining my life right now?
  • How will I mindfully manage these emotions so they do not hold me prisoner?
  • I cannot change the past. Moving forward, what steps will I take to ensure that I will heal?
Learning from your own mistakes but not blaming yourself
The things we learn are only as valuable as our willingness and ability to put them into context, determine how we would handle the situation differently, and then make a proactive plan to handle things differently in the future. This approach takes much self-awareness but without it, it may be very hard to heal. Some questions to ask yourself on the road to healing may include:

  • What are some of the things that I blame myself for?
  • What are some of the regrets that you still harbor?
  • How can you change those feelings into something positive moving forward?
Getting support and holding yourself accountable
Regardless of whether the papers were signed years ago and you are still wondering how to make sense of it, or you are knee-deep in divorce drama right now, one of the strongest things you can do is reach out for support and remember that you do not have to grieve alone.

As a way of ensuring that you will reach out to someone, make the following pledges to yourself:

  • By the end of today, I will…
  • By the end of the week, I will…
  • By the end of the month, I will…
These accountability pledges can be as simple or as detailed as you want. The point is to set that intention to reach out for support and follow up on it.

Healing from divorce is a process. But if you remember to show yourself compassion, the journey to the next chapter of your life is possible.


Saturday, 9 December 2017

How to Let Go of Emotions During The Divorce Process

1. What Does "Letting Go" Mean?

According to Dr. Lawrence Wilson, "Letting go can be as simple as recycling or giving away old clothing. It can be as radical as leaving a long-standing marriage or friendship and changing one’s entire lifestyle. Whichever it is, it is always going to be somewhat painful. I mention this because the feeling of loss that accompanies any type of letting go is perfectly normal, and should not be confused. If one expects no pain, then when the pain of separation and letting go and abandonment hit, many people turn away rather than move forward boldly."

When in the throws of emotional pain, "letting go" can be an abstract concept that is hard to grasp. When going through my divorce I heard and read a lot about detachment and moving and all I read seemed fine and dandy. The only problem? No one bothered to tell me exactly how one "lets go" or "moves on" when suffering debilitating emotional pain.

This article is an attempt to give you what I so desperately needed during that time in my life. It is a guide of sorts that will help you get through the "letting go" process while also dealing with the negative emotions that accompany a divorce.

It is about building a new path for your life that is not influenced by the pain of a broken marriage or the anger and resentment toward a spouse who has left. Dreams, hopes and fears are led by beliefs. We marry with the belief that it is going to last forever. We build dreams for a future with another person based on our belief that, that person will not let us down.

Moving forward and detaching during the divorce process means we have to come to terms with the fact that the dreams and hopes we had are now based on self-defeating beliefs. I hear from a lot of clients such things as, "he should not have cheated" or, "she made a vow and promised to stay." These are thoughts or beliefs that keep us stuck in a situation we no longer have any control over.

They also create more conflict during a time when we need to be dealing with the "here and now" instead of our belief that the marriage should not be coming to an end. "Letting go" during the divorce process not only helps us focus on protecting our legal rights, it helps us rid ourselves of old dreams and hopes so we can start building new dreams and hopes for the future. We replace old beliefs with new beliefs!

2. Letting Go With Love

If you are the one who made the choice to leave the marriage it is important to remember the love you once felt for your spouse. Although you feel the marriage is over, no longer fulfills your needs you should strive to transition from married to single with compassion for the one you are leaving behind. Any transition is easier to make if it is done with compassion, kindness and love.

If you are the spouse who has been left, letting go with love will be more of a challenge. I'm not suggesting you not set boundaries with the bad behavior of the spouse who has left. I understand that it is hard to feel compassion for someone who has cheated on you. It is almost impossible to show love toward someone who is victimizing you through the Family Court System.

There will be times when you need to be assertive and set boundaries because you do have a right to be treated with respect. Whether you are the leaver or the one left behind, I suggest you always remember the old saying, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

The easiest path to "letting go with love" is to never do to someone else what you wouldn't want someone to do to you. Keeping this idea in mind throughout the emotional and legal process of divorce will lead to less conflict and in the end a higher sense of self-respect.

It is OK to be angry, it is not OK to stay anger. It is OK to feel resentment, it is not OK to stay resentful. If you need to set boundaries and exert your rights during the divorce process do so kindly and gently.

3. Letting Go of Toxic Anger

"Anger is a powerful and sometimes frightening emotion. It's also a beneficial one if it's not allowed to harden into resentment or used as a battering ram to punish or abuse people." Melody Beattie

The key to being able to use anger productively and in a beneficial way depends on how we react when feeling angry. The healthy way to react when angry is to become assertive. The unhealthy way to react is to become aggressive.

Being assertive when angry means you are able to express your needs and get those needs met without hurting others. I can hear you now, "wait a minute, my need is for him/her to stay in the marriage." And if that is what you are thinking then let me clear it up for you. When I talk of "needs" I am talking of those needs that are within your control. You don't have any control over whether or not your spouse chooses the marriage but you do have control over other issues and how you will be treated, how marital assets will be split and your co-parenting relationship with your ex.

Being assertive doesn't mean stomping your feet and digging in until you get your way. Your marriage is over, the need to keep your spouse in the marriage can lead to the unhealthy form of anger...aggression. Aggressive anger becomes pushy and demanding with no regard to what the other person feels they need or want.

Aggressive anger keeps you stuck, assertive anger helps you move forward with your life after divorce. If you are using your anger to get back at or punish your ex, you will be the one to pay in the end. If you are using your anger to make sure you are taken care of emotionally and legally during the process of divorce, you will reap the rewards of behaving in a healthy manner.

Whether it is divorce, the loss of a job, or the behaviors of a friend, things are going to happen in life that cause us anger. You have no control over the behaviors of others but you do have control over the way you respond to their behaviors. Controlling your anger and responding in an assertive way is the difference between your pain being short-term pain or long-term pain.

4. Letting Go of The Victim Role

I'll share a bit of personal information to make my point of how damaging it is to play the victim. My ex husband wanted a divorce, I didn't. I didn't fight him though because one of my long held beliefs about life has always been, "who wants to be with someone who doesn't want to be with them."

We got our divorce, I didn't ask for alimony or make any unreasonable demands legally. He was given liberal visitation rights with our children even though he rarely took advantage of what he was given. He also became angry, aggressively angry.

He had to be angry and point fingers at me and blame me for this, that and the other thing because he had been raised to believe that good men don't leave their families. So, instead of being able to say, "I no longer want to be married," he had to say to the world, "I had no choice, she was so bad I had to leave." That got him off the hook, when it came to being labeled a bad man BUT it also turned him into a victim and he hasn't played that role well. But have you ever known a victim who played it well?

My ex needed the approval of others and since he new leaving the marriage would get attention, he didn't want it to be attention that would reflect negatively upon him. He had to sell me out so that he could look good through and after the divorce process. He wasn't the victim though and neither was I, we were parties to a situation that was changing and nothing more.

No one needs to play the victim role in life to get the love and attention we all crave. In fact, playing the victim role will get us less of the love we so fervently desiring. Bad things happen to good people. Good people make choices that may be viewed by others as a bad choice. Regardless of what happens to us or what mistakes we feel we make, owning our ability to stand on our own two feet regardless is the only way to get what we most need out of life, love and positive attention.

The most disturbing thing I've observed about my ex since our divorce is that he is someone who stands around and watches life happen around him. He is a very passive man who lives life by going with the flow. I can look back now and see that he was this way during our marriage and nothing has changed since the divorce.

And that is who the victim is, a person who doesn't take pro-active steps to make life happen for them. Life is something that happens to them. The victim doesn't make things happen, they wait until things happen to them.

Being the "victim" of your spouse's infidelity or desire to leave the marriage is a sure fire way of missing out on all of life's possibilities. Why not choose to be the victor instead of the victim and take control of the direction your life moves in?

5. Letting Go of The Need to Control

When in emotional pain one might struggle to remain in control of the situation in an attempt to lessen their pain. If we are busy trying to control what is happening to us, we are not able to see what could happen to us if we were more open.

I know a woman whose husband wanted a divorce. She fought him every step of the way during the legal process of the divorce. It was her belief that marriage was forever and she would do anything in her power to keep him from breaking up their family.

Many years later this woman is still trying to control the situation based on her belief that marriage is forever. In a perfect world marriages last, that was not her world though and she can't give over control to the fact that her marriage ended.

Her ex husband has a new wife and has moved on with his life. She is now putting most of her energy into changing state divorce laws to make harder to get a divorce. She and I share the belief that divorce laws are too lenient, the difference between she and I is that for her it has become an all consuming movement. She has shifted her need to control whether or not her marriage survived to controlling the laws that allowed her husband to divorce her.

I often wonder what she would be doing with her life if she had let go of her need to control whether her husband continued to love her. Or whether or not she had control over the legal system that allowed her husband to no longer love her.

Are you trying to control what course your marriage is taking? Are you bent and determined to control how another person responds to or behaves toward you? Stop and think about what you would be doing differently with your life if you only let go of your need to control that person.

When you wake up tomorrow, let go of your need to be in control. Choose to do something that will bring enjoyment to your life. At the end of the day you won't be able to deny that you've had a better day, so much better than those days when you are trying to control and influence others.

6. Letting Go of What You Want

This is a big one, probably the most difficult step you will take when dealing with negative emotions during the divorce process. Letting go of what you want entails changing your own mind about such an issue as whether or not your marriage remains intact. You will be called on, during the divorce process to let go of time with your children, marital assets and much more.

We can want something so desperately that it can feel like an actual need. It is easy to confuse our wants with our needs, especially during the demise of a marriage. You are going to be called on to negotiate and compromise on the issues above. If you can't let go of what you want (need) you won't be able to focus on what is in your best interest during divorce settlement negotiations.

A mother who has been left for another woman may cringe at the thought of giving up time with her children to a cheating husband. She will fight tooth and nail to keep him from gaining shared custody or even liberal visitation.

In her mind, her children are better off with her than a cheating scoundrel. She wants her children and dismisses the idea that even though he cheated on her, this father loves and wants his children also. This mother will put what she wants above what her children want...time with their father and that is when standing up for what you want does harm to not only you but others.

Think of it this way, we don't often get what we want but if we give up the struggle, we can get something better. You may still want your marriage but if you don't give up the struggle to get what you want, you will never know what else life has to offer in it's place.

You may resent paying child support and wish to retain that money for yourself but which is more important, getting what you want or showing your children their needs are important to you, important enough that you are willing to give up a want so they can have?

You are going to sit down with divorce lawyers or mediators and come to an agreement with your spouse about how life will be dealt with once the divorce is final. Coming to an agreement that benefits all concerned isn't going to happen if you are not able to let go of some of what you "want."


Friday, 8 December 2017

Divorce is never easy and your heart may be broken, but that doesn't mean your wallet needs to be too

From before the divorce to negotiations to post-split, follow these common sense tips for a split that is financially fair and fits your family situation

The average cost of an uncontested divorce is $1,845, but a contested divorce can cost anywhere from $6,145 to $87,974, with the average being $13,638, according to Canadian Lawyer’s 2015 legal fees survey. But this doesn’t factor in moving fees, new living expenses, the division of your assets and debts, and possibly child and spousal support.

No surprise then that to reduce money stress, nearly one quarter of divorced or separated millennials and Gen-Xers delayed their divorce because of unexpected costs, a recent TD survey found.

“I have a friend who is in for $280,000 (in legal fees),” said Dean Bergsma, an Edmonton-based divorce mediator. “It’s been going on for four or five years and it’s a complex case … But divorce does not have to be expensive.”

It’s possible, he said, to have a split that is financially fair and that fits your family situation without having to go broke. Here are 13 tips to having a money smart divorce.


1. Educate yourself about your finances

“With so many people, their level of financial literacy is not very high. On top of that, they may not be involved in the family finances,” said Sharon Numerow, a certified divorce financial analyst at Alberta Divorce Finances. “The less you are in the know, the less you’re equipped to make decisions, and divorce demands permanent decision making.” Start by figuring out what you and your spouse have in terms of assets and debts. Print out your financial statements. If you’re lost, consider seeking guidance from a financial adviser.

2. Make yourself a budget

How much are each of you currently making and how is that spent? Now, if you leave, how much will you need to cover rent, living expenses, vehicle costs, child-care fees or possibly child support and maybe spousal support, etc.? “The biggest challenge for couples going through divorce is now we’re going to take the same pot of money and try and support two households rather than one,” Numerow said. “A couple would need 30-per-cent more income to enjoy a similar standard of living in two households as they did when they were in the same home.”

3. Check your emotions

“There are big problems when people decide they’re going to be real jerks,” said Wendy Olson-Brodeur, president of The Financial Divorce Specialist Inc. “You can find yourself a real hard-nosed litigation lawyer and fight for every drop of blood. That is going to cost a lot of money and you just don’t know what’s going to happen at the end of it.”

4. Don’t do stupid sh*t that you’ll pay for later

For example, don’t run out and max out your credit cards or spend all your money on a trip to Vegas with the boys because you’re assuming that half of it will be covered by your soon-to-be ex, Bergsma said. “Once you start into that vortex of conflict and everybody is out to get the other person, you can’t get off the train.”

5. Consider your options for the divorce process

In a divorce, people can self-represent; they can seek help from a mediator; or they can also choose a collaborative team that may include lawyers, mediators, counsellors, child specialists and a financial analyst. In Alberta, mediation can range from $300 to $700 per hour. The hourly rate for collaboration will likely be more, because you’re paying for multiple professionals. Meanwhile, certified divorce financial analysts may charge $150 to $300 an hour. “Spend a bit of money on the process in the beginning so you’re not spending a lot of money trying to fix it later on,” said Darren Gingras, chief executive of The Common Sense Divorce. (The average cost at The Common Sense divorce is $4,500 per person for the services of a team.) The Canadian Lawyer’s Legal Fees Survey estimates that a family trial of up to five days costs an average of $35,950.


6. Understand how much you may pay or receive in child support

Child support is mandated by the law and is based on custody. “The more time that a child is with one parent, the other parent is more responsible financially,” said Faisal Karmali, a certified divorce financial analyst at Popowich Karmali Advisory Group CIBC Wood Gundy. In the case of a full custody situation, an Ontario resident making $60,000, would pay $546 a month in child support for one child and $892 for two children. The final amount varies as determining income can become complicated if the calculation includes dividends, bonuses, corporate income, etc.

7. Be aware that spousal support is not a given

It is negotiable. For example, you may offer to give up an asset in lieu of spousal support payments, or agree to pay for a certain period of time. “If applicable, the amount and duration is negotiable. You may offer to pay a lump sum, make periodic payments — which can be reviewed at a future time — or pay a combination of both,” said Matthew Ball, president of Fairway Divorce Solutions, a dispute resolution company.

8. When you split up, you split everything, including debt

“I’m dealing with a young gal who’d been married maybe four years and found out that her spouse has an addiction problem with gambling. The debt keeps going up and up,” Olson-Brodeur said. “The problem is that the law doesn’t necessarily protect us. She will likely be responsible, from a legal perspective, for paying half of that debt back.”

9. Be mindful when choosing your half of the pie

Half today isn’t always half tomorrow. “Let’s say I’ve got a car worth $50,000 and a pension worth $50,000,” Olson-Brodeur said. “I agree to take the car while my spouse gets the pension. Guess who’s ahead in the long run? The pension as an asset grows over time while the car keeps devaluing.” Your assets may also have tax implications, such as taxes owing when you sell profitable equities.

10. Don’t anchor yourself to your home at all costs

“Divorce the house before you divorce the spouse,” Karmali said. “I’ve seen many people, primarily woman, who’ve stayed in a house they can’t afford … They may be giving up on other cash, retirement savings, education savings and, all of a sudden, they’re left with the expenses of taking care of a home and other expenses.”

11. Consult an expert about legal and financial issues

“Don’t make assumptions about the settlement before you have your facts,” Bergsma said. “The Internet is a wonderful place to look at picture of cute kittens. It’s a lousy place to get your legal information.” For example, you may assume that you will receive half your wife’s inheritance in a divorce, but it may be excluded from the division of property if it’s been kept in her name. Or you may be surprised when an Alberta judge uses the current date to determine the value of your assets. (Ontario courts use the date of separation.) Imagine having your day in court four years after you’ve separated and finding out that half of your savings from the last few years is going to pay for the debt that your soon-to-be-ex has since accumulated.


12. Be aware and live within your means

“Many people (think): ‘I’m 40-years-old. I’m pressing the reset button. I refuse to move into a condo. I refuse to not have my Audi,’” Bergsma said. “People make poor choices because they’re emotionally hurt and they’re doing retail therapy, just with bigger numbers.” You also want to be prepared for the unexpected: for example, what if your ex injures himself, can no longer work and therefore does not have income to pay spousal support?

13. Don’t be afraid to revisit the agreement terms

Hopefully, this is done amicably if circumstances change. Some contracts are non-negotiable, others have time provisions written in so couples can revisit terms such as spousal support. “Right from the beginning, set up roads of negotiation because then after the agreement is done, if things need to be addressed, you’ve already got a process in place,” Gingras said. “Choosing a process that is amicable is better for the kids, better for your finances and, ultimately, better for you.”


Thursday, 7 December 2017

3 Steps to Surviving Christmas for the Newly Separated or Divorced

Let’s face it. For folks newly separated or divorced, the holidays can really suck. Every year people separate and divorce and have to figure out how to negotiate Christmas from a different place. It can be immensely painful and sad, but it can also be a time of new experiences and traditions. How it goes is all up to you and will be the result of the three steps outlined in this article. Keeping reading.

My former husband and I separated in early November. That first year, I had the kids for Thanksgiving, and he had them the first part of their Christmas vacation. I thought I would be okay with that. Boy was I wrong. I was so totally not prepared for that day.

For me, I really thought I would be just fine. I remember thinking I would sleep in, get up and take a nice run, and just enjoy the morning. What I found, though, was that waking up on Christmas morning alone in my house that first year has gone down as one of the absolute worse days of my life. And even as I write about that day many years later, I can still feel the depth of emotions of that experience. I thought I could treat it as just another day, but that didn’t work for me at all. I was an emotional wreck the entire day, which was not what I had wanted for my kids or for myself.

As a family law attorney, I now use this personal experience to warn my clients about the need for deliberate planning around the holidays. Hopefully I can help them avoid the common pitfalls I experienced.

What I learned the hard way is to think a
head, plan ahead, and be very deliberate and intentional about the holidays. Even if you think you will be okay and that it’s no big deal, it is. Whether you have children or not, everything is different. Trust me. It will help you and your children if you prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for this time of year.
What can you do? Here are the three steps for surviving Christmas:

  1. Make a plan. Definitely do this. I am big fan of journaling and writing things down, so get out some paper and write down your plan. Where will you be? Who will you be with? What will you do? What will you think about? What will you not let yourself think about? These last two questions are critically important. If you want to go down that melancholy road and feel sorry for yourself and cry all day, you can do that. And likely that is what will happen if you do not heed this advice and plan ahead. When you do plan ahead and follow your plan, you will be pleasantly surprised at the outcome.
  2. Surround yourself with family and friends. If you get through the above journaling exercise and realize you don’t know where you’ll be or who you’ll be with, then get busy making some plans. Surround yourself with people, any people. Get busy cooking for others or going to the movies or doing anything that will require your attention with other people involved.
  3. Begin new traditions. Everything in your life is changing right now, including your holiday traditions. What can you do this year that is new and different and fun? What can you do that will keep your mind occupied and that you can enjoy with your children? My children and I now go to a movie every year on Christmas Day. That is our new tradition and we plan our day around it. What ideas do you have that will help you get through this day in a way that you can feel good about when it’s done?

Taking these three steps will help you get through the holidays with less angst and with a great feeling of accomplishment for being able to get a grip during a tough time. Do yourself and your children a favor. Get out your journal and start writing your plan now.