Friday, 31 August 2018

7 Little-Known Financial Benefits of Divorce

Divorce is often devastating, but there are a few financial silver linings.

From the cost of the lawyer to the loss of a spouse’s income, divorce often comes at a high price. What’s more, spouses may walk away from the proceedings with significantly fewer assets and retirement savings. That’s not to mention the emotional toll of the process.

“At the end of the day, divorce is terrible,” says David Hays, president of Comprehensive Financial Consultants in Bloomington, Indiana.

However, that doesn’t mean the news is all bad. While not a reason to run out and get a divorce, here’s a look at seven financial benefits that could make a sad situation seem a little better.

1. Easier budgeting and greater control over money. The end of a marriage can mean the end of fights over money. There is no more struggle over which categories get priority in the budget; no more evenings spent cajoling or pleading with a spouse to rein in spending. “On the other side of divorce is some freedom,” says Elijah Kovar, a partner with Great Waters Financial in the Richfield suburb of Minneapolis.

Nancy Hetrick, a senior financial advisor with Better Money Decisions in Phoenix, can attest to that. In the six months after her divorce to a spendthrift husband, she accumulated $20,000 in savings, thanks to her ability to set her own budgeting priorities. Meanwhile, her ex racked up tens of thousands in debt over the same period. “Typically, it’s going to be positive for one person, not the other,” she says.

2. Early access to a retirement fund, penalty-free.
A divorce is one of the few times a person can pull money out of a retirement account early and not pay an early withdrawal penalty. When an agreement known as a qualified domestic relations order is reached as part of a divorce, it allows for an early withdrawal from the account. This money is exempt from the typical 10 percent penalty assessed to those younger than age 59 1/2, although income tax still needs to be paid if the money is not rolled into an IRA.

Cashing out part of a retirement account can be a risky move, but it gives the newly divorced some options they may not otherwise have. “You can really get someone in a much better cash-flow position,” Hetrick says of the smart use of that money.

Ric Edelman, founder of Edelman Financial Services, cautions people not to be too hasty about withdrawing money from an account. He notes that sometimes, in amicable divorces, people try to split the balance of a retirement fund without a qualified domestic relations order. That can be an expensive mistake. “Don’t make any decisions without the advice of an attorney and a financial planner,” he says.

Think of it as a financial decision, not an emotional one.

3. Potentially better investment returns. Divorce could mean better investment returns, at least for women, says Mela Garber, principal at accounting firm Anchin Block and Anchin in New York City. “Men usually take a more aggressive approach to investments and take more risks,” she says. Her observation is backed up by studies such as a 2017 analysis by Fidelity Investments that found women were less likely to fully invest in equities and earned marginally better gains than men. After a divorce, women have the opportunity to take over their own retirement planning, which could be a financial positive in the long run.

4. More college financial aid for the kids. Divorce can be difficult for children, but there is one place where they come out ahead: college financial aid. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid only requires financial information from the custodial parent rather than both parents. However, child support and alimony received from the non-custodial parent must be included on the FAFSA. “We’ve structured some really creative settlements to minimize the income of one parent,” Hetrick says. Additional financial aid is a little-known benefit of divorce, but one that is significant.

5. Social Security perks for older divorcees.
Divorced spouses may be eligible to file for Social Security spousal benefits at retirement. You’re entitled to these benefits if you were married to your spouse for at least 10 years. “The ex doesn’t even know you’re doing it,” Edelman says. “It doesn’t have an impact on the benefits the ex will receive.”

If you were 62 by Jan. 1, 2016, you can file a restricted application for Social Security spousal benefits once you hit full retirement age. No longer allowed for younger workers, this application will allow you to receive half your spouse’s benefit while you defer your own and let it grow until age 70. For married couples, this only works if a person’s spouse has already started his or her benefit. However, for divorced spouses, the rules are different. “When divorced, you don’t have to wait until your ex turns on Social Security,” Kovar says.

6. Opportunity to reset financial priorities. While people are sometimes resentful of lifestyle changes necessitated by divorce, finance experts say the opportunity to rethink priorities and start fresh can be a positive. Even major adjustments, like giving up a family home, can be beneficial in the long run. “Sometimes it’s financially better to have a smaller house or apartment,” Garber says.

7. A better bottom line. As Hetrick discovered, divorce doesn’t have to mean a depleted bank account. Even on a lower income, divorced people can build wealth by making smart use of their resources.

The reality is not everyone’s financial situation will improve with divorce, but some people are surprised to learn that it does. “One [client] said, I don’t know why I have so much money now,” Hays says.

Getting a divorce isn’t something to rush into, but if you find yourself in the midst of a crumbling marriage, don’t despair. You may still come out ahead thanks to these little-known financial benefits of divorce.


Thursday, 30 August 2018

Eight Tips for Co-parenting Through the School Year After Divorce

Now that the kids are back to school and you have read Back to School Tips for Divorcing Parents, it is time to co-parent during the school year. Through the years of representing parents in custody cases, I have seen many issues arise between parents and I have seen parents find practical solutions for those problems.

I highly encourage parents to find practical solutions when it comes to co-parenting during the school year. Otherwise, you will be in and out of court seeking piecemeal band-aid solutions from a third party and, in the meantime, your child will suffer. The goal is making school go smoothly for your child.

Here are my tips:

  1. Familiarize yourself with the electronic communication options with the school. Nowadays, many school districts have online portals with your child’s information. Request two separate logins. If only one login is permitted, share the password with the other parent so you both can receive the information directly. It is better to have equal access than to be responsible for communicating the information directly. This was the other parent is responsible for getting their own information and cannot accuse you of withholding information.
  2. Let the teacher know to use both parent’s email addresses when sending out announcements or emails about any concerns they have about your child. Copy the other parent on your communications back to the teacher. I am sure you would likewise want to be copied.
  3. Let the other parent know when your child is home sick and whether any make-up work needs to be coordinated.
  4. Try to attend parent-teacher conferences together. I understand that sometimes this is not possible because the parents cannot get along well enough to be in the same room and the conference will not be productive. However, if you can, attend the conference together so that both parents can be on the same page and can hear the teacher’s response to each of the parent’s concerns.
  5. Use a shared calendar. It can be a google calendar, through Our Family Wizard or any other calendar that works for you. Through the shared calendar you can share information about extracurricular activities and school project deadlines. If you do not have the same weekdays each week you can mark when sneakers are needed for gym class and what day their library book needs to be returned.
  6. Discuss school projects and who is going to take the lead on what part of the project. I hear all the time about the lack of coordination and the stress on the child. I recall a situation when a child was returned to her parent on Sunday night with a book report due on Monday. The parent dropped the child off without the book and with the report not done and told the other parent to go buy their own copy. The child suffered the most in this situation.
  7. Be proactive. If you see a slip in grades or any other changes in your child that you think may be associated with the situation at home, talk to the school guidance counselor and consider counseling for the child and/or co-parenting counseling for the parents.
  8. Take your ego out of it. This is not about you, it is about your child.

It is challenging enough to make sure your children is organized and ready for school when the family is intact. Divorce usually makes it harder. Communication mechanisms are key and hopefully these tips can help too.


Wednesday, 29 August 2018

How To Divide It All Up?

When my ex-husband and I split in 1994 we were both 26 years old.

I had just taken the CA Bar Exam and was waiting for my results. Despite a lovely (and expensive) wedding fourteen months earlier we thought that cutting our losses, going our separate ways and chalking the whole affair up to a “starter marriage” was likely the best option. Notwithstanding some necessary and sophisticated wedding gifts (which according to Emily Post need not have been returned as we had made it past the one year mark and had already sent literally hundreds of hand written thank you notes), a financed Jeep Wrangler, our Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Raul and a futon that had travelled with me from Berkeley after college, we did not have much in the way of assets to divide. In terms of debt we had some credit cards to pay off and we each took one and the airline mileage plan miles that came with it and called it a day.

Prior to moving out of our rented house in Laurel Canyon we each inventoried the items we wished to take with us to our new, smaller, rental residences. Having taken a community property course in law school and being the daughter of a divorce lawyer I knew a bit about the character of our belongings.

Anything one brings into the marriage (i.e.: my futon) is separate property and stays with the person who brought it.

The separate property characterization also attaches to anything which is given to you alone as a gift, an inheritance or earned after the parties separate but before the division of assets or divorce is final (for example, if parties separate and one party writes a song filled with sorrow, despondence and heartbreak about the breakup that song (melodramatic or not) is separate property and if it hits the Billboard charts the person who wrote it receives the spoils as opposed to the one who inspired it simply based on the timing of when pen was put to paper. In CA, community property is defined as anything produced or procured, during the marriage with funds earned during the period.

So back to the point, how to divvy it all up? In the case of my ex and I, for better or for worse, we didn’t have much. Our bank accounts were sparse and beyond the Jeep we were still paying off, we had no real assets of monetary value. Completion of the necessary court forms on which we listed the few assets we did have didn’t really take specific furniture, furnishings, appliances and personal property into account.

I knew he had his eye on our dining room table and six chairs. I wanted our bed and luxurious Frette sheet set (a wedding gift from one of his parents’ European friends and nothing I was likely to be splurging for on my own anytime in the next decade). We alternated taking turns with our stuff like picking teams for a game at recess. As we chose items we tagged them with post it notes, blue for him, yellow for me so that we could keep track and make it easier for the movers who would be there later that week. Each of us kept our own clothing and jewelry/watches. I kept my mother’s china (which I have still never used) as it fell into the separate property category and we had a minor setback in the amicable division when we came to the fancy espresso machine received as a wedding gift but never used. This was resolved by a coin flip (he won) and double item pick on the next turn by me.

The general rule is that each party receives property valued at the same amount.
List all of the items you are keeping on one side of a balance sheet and all of the items your spouse is keeping on the other (IOE provides our Community Property Balance Sheet as a part of the platform to make it easy) calculate the value of each party’s column and figure out how close to equally you have divided things up. If an adjustment needs to be made you can move an item or two, equalize by a cash payment or….here’s a novel idea…. let it go.
Important to note is that the value of an item is what you could get for it at a garage sale or on Craig’s List not what you paid for it.

I have seen couples take photo/video inventories of their household items, furniture, furnishings, appliances and art and resolve the division that way. Many insurance companies insist that you keep a list of your personal property so that is a good resource as well. Remember, it is just stuff and the vase or candle stick you are fighting for today will likely not bring you nearly as much joy as you think it will. Let it go and buy another, newer, all-your-own version to enjoy. Almost everything is replaceable and with the money you are saving by not having to pay expensive attorneys to write $100 letters regarding $75 dollar decorative pillows you will have more to buy new furnishings.

For one of a kind items like memorabilia, photos and what I call “kid-art” there are amazing replication sites and services where I have seen clients reproduce full photo albums and walls of elementary school art projects. There is no need to fight over these items when you can each have your own version of Madison’s 5th Grade Still Life of Pear, Baguette, Bird and Wine Bottle. Books, DVDs and vinyl – what can I say, do these even get divided anymore in the age of downloading and streaming? If so, same premise, be cool. If you guys do this well, you can always call up and ask to borrow the Metallica, Master of Puppets album later in life.


Tuesday, 28 August 2018

What Divorced Parents Can Do To Stay Healthy & Optimistic

Being divorced isn’t easy on anyone in the family. It’s likely heartbreaking for all involved and will leave a scar for a long time. This is why it’s so important that you care for yourself and don’t let your wellbeing suffer in the process.

You deserve happiness too and should start realizing this fact today. Give yourself a chance to get back on your feet and then get out there and start meeting your goals one by one. There’s nothing wrong with being apprehensive about what the future holds, but you shouldn’t let it stop you from trying to create a better outlook for yourself.

Find Time for you

Put yourself at the top of your priority list. Even though you have kids, you have to come first during this very difficult time in your life. It’s a huge transition, and you shouldn’t feel bad for being anxious about what the days ahead hold for you. Be sure to exercise daily, eat right and go out and find work that you love doing. You’ll be a better person and parent when you make more time for yourself.

Don’t be Afraid to Date Again

You shouldn’t be afraid to start looking and dating if you’re ready. Get excited about the idea of finding love again. If you’re a guy who has recently found a new girlfriend then check out the site fun attic for cute names to call your girlfriend that she’ll just love. It’s healthy to express your feelings for another person in words and to build a stronger connection with the one you’re dating. Take it slow and remember to protect your heart, but also be open to new possibilities.

Attend to your Mind

During and after a divorce, your mind is probably going nuts. There are so many thoughts and opinions you have on the matter that it’s hard to manage it all. This is why you need to find activities like yoga, meditation and hiking that allow you to attend to your racing thoughts and clear your head. It’s necessary that you spend time working through what’s on your mind and acknowledging your thoughts and feelings in a healthy way. If you’re anxious it’s likely because of what you’re thinking, so be smart about getting in front of the emotions before they take over.

Join A Support Group

There are a lot of divorced parents in the world. Don’t think for a second that you’re alone. You may feel like it at the time, but it’s not true. Join a divorce support group to prove yourself wrong and witness how many others are dealing with a similar situation as you. This group will give you a chance to express yourself and connect with others who can share in your pain and provide tips based on their own experience.


Don’t be ashamed if you’re a divorced parent. Look after yourself and get to a better place before you try to tackle other tasks. Practice behaviors that allow you to stay optimistic and see a brighter future for yourself.


Monday, 27 August 2018

You Are Divorced and Feeling Lost: 9 Tips for Self-Care

You’ve gone through divorce and it’s natural that you are feeling sad, disappointed, betrayed, or even hopeless. These are the times when everything you hoped for and believed in become lost. You don’t know what to do or what the future will bring. This is a difficult state of limbo that brings out many of our insecurities.

What matters now is that you start taking care of yourself. That may not be what you want to do, but it’s an essential step for your recovery after divorce. The following are basic steps that will help you get going when the going gets tough.

9 Basic Steps to Take While on the Road to Recovery After Divorce.

1. Get Enough Sleep

Sleep is essential for the healthy functioning of both your brain and body in general. All your organs get replenished during sleep, and your brain integrates experiences and learning. During these difficult times, you may have trouble sleeping or you may be inclined to sleep too long during the day. But, in either case, it’s essential to maintain sleep hygiene. In other words, continue going to sleep at the same time you always have and continue maintaining the same conditions in the room where you sleep. Proper sleep will help you heal faster, both emotionally and physically.

2. Get Moving

You can’t stay in the same space if you get moving. No pun intended. What I’m trying to say here is, start exercising. You can’t stay in a gloomy mood if you start exercising. Even if you start doing something physical for five to 10 minutes, it’ll make a difference. I know it’s hard to start something that you really don’t feel like doing. When you are depressed, you really don’t feel like exercising. But this doesn’t need to be a super vigorous workout. Just do something.

Bonus tip: do it outdoors, in the sun, if your health allows. Research shows that spending time outdoors and in the sun has very positive effects on our mood and health in general. Of course, you need to consult your physician if you are not sure if exercising is right for you.

3. Get Going with Routine Daily Activities

Maintaining a regular routine is essential for your recovery. It’s understandable that you may need to take some time off and recover if you feel the need, but continuing to take care of your duties can help you feel normalcy again as time goes by. Having too much time on your hands and not doing anything can lead to deeper depression and the potential for substance abuse or other unhealthy behaviors. Even if you are not working, you can engage in volunteering, hobbies, start your own business, etc.

4. Schedule Time to Wallow in Your Sorrows

This sounds ridiculous, right? Of course, it does. A licensed therapist tells you to indulge in your depressive moods. Well, it’s an effective intervention to help people feel in control of their symptoms. So, go ahead and schedule that time with yourself to just feel sad and sorry. Dwell until you feel bored. Don’t go more than 15 to 20 minutes.

This is very helpful when you feel teary during work for instance. In that moment, you can tell yourself that you have scheduled some time to “dwell.” Thus, you give yourself a chance to honor your grief while continuing with your daily activities, and you feel in charge of your emotions.

5. Schedule Time to Reflect on All the Great Things About Being Single

Every situation in life has the duality of positive vs. negative, grief vs. happiness, loss vs. gain. Being married had its advantages, but you also need to sacrifice for it. Similarly, being single can be seen as advantageous in so many ways. Now is the time when you can do all those things that you didn’t do because you wanted to maintain status quo in your relationship. It’s even possible that you neglected your health, appearance, or values in order to make the relationship work. Now is the time when you can focus on yourself and enjoy the life you couldn’t during your marriage. How about starting by going to a restaurant you didn’t go to because he didn’t like that kind of food. Or, going to museums or exhibits that he was never into? What else can you think of?

6. Reach Out to Your Old Friends

Yes, those ones who you somewhat neglected while you were lost in your relationship. We’ve all been there. We get married, life takes over, and friendships go on the back burner. Still, reach out to your good friends. If they were true friends, they will be there for you and they will understand your preoccupation with family and other obligations. Your friends will be there to bring you ice cream and warm socks if want to just stay in, or they may even drag you out against your will, and it’s going to be good for you.

7. Maintain a Healthy Diet

It’s natural that you will be tempted to reach out for comfort food, but if you give into it for too long, it can lead to negative health consequences. It’s also been shown that processed foods usually affect mood negatively. In order to avoid this, you can surround yourself with healthy options, such as fruits and vegetables. If you have enough fruit around, you can eat it instead of sugary treats. This will help you curb down cravings. It also provides you with the needed nutrients to help you heal and recover faster.

8. Sign Up for Something New

Riding class? Oh, my God! How amazing it is. In spite of the fear of falling, being able to maneuver a beautiful huge animal is so empowering. Even more than that, the connection of being with horses is very healing. They are able to fill you with love and joy.

Not a horse person? No worries. There are so many activities out there, and there are probably things you wanted to do, but never had a chance. This is your chance. Sign up for knitting or a sewing class. Go rock climbing or skydiving. Try meet-up groups. You can find meet-up groups for just about any activity under the sun.

Doing something new rewires your brain. You create new neural pathways, and this is very healing. An added bonus is that you can meet new people while doing these activities. You are starting a new life, and this will help you create new experiences.

9. Be Compassionate Towards Yourself

You are probably not used to it, but now is the time to start. Nurture self-compassion. Don’t beat yourself up for not being able to get over your ex quickly. Allow yourself to be in this limbo space and honor your tempo of the grieving process. It’s OK to acknowledge where you are and accept the fact that you are feeling sad, disappointed, betrayed, or hopeless. Only when you are mindful of where you are now can you move on to be where you want to be.


Sunday, 26 August 2018

The Pros and Cons of Prenups

Contemplating a prenuptial agreement? First, consider your assets and shared finances.

If you're getting ready to tie the knot, you may be wondering if getting a prenup – a legal document that determines how assets will be divided and protected in the event of a divorce – is a smart financial decision.

And you wouldn't be alone. According to a 2016 survey from the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, a rising number of prenups have been requested in the past three years. What's more, 51 percent of attorneys reported an increase in prenup requests from millennials. Why the recent uptick? As a rising number of couples are opting

to get married later in life, both the bride- and groom-to-be have more assets to protect.

If you're considering a prenup, here are the benefits and drawbacks to factor in first.

Pro: Entering a prenup can help you prepare for the worst. Meghan Freed, a divorce attorney with Freed Marcroft, a family law firm in Hartford, Connecticut, says millennials and those in second marriages often request prenuptial agreements.

"They've either seen their parents divorce or have close friends whose parents have divorced, and they accept not only that divorce can happen, but that it can be planned for, so that its consequences are less severe," Freed says.

Pro: A prenup can protect you from your spouse's accumulated debt. "Probably the most common reason for a prenup with first-time marriages right now is student debt. Everybody has it [and] no one wants to get divorced and add their ex's graduate school debt to their own," Freed says.

Pro: A prenup forces you to commit to full transparency when it comes to talking about your finances. If you openly talk about getting a prenup, chances are you'll become better as a couple at discussing details about your credit scores, debt and spending patterns, and during your conversations, you may learn some important things about your partner, says Louis Atlas, a divorce attorney in New York City. "It may reveal the debts of a person going into a marriage," Atlas says.

Pro: A prenuptial contract can protect valuable assets you want to stay in your family. "For example, [consider] a diamond ring that has been in a family for generations, which has acquired a personal significance and sentiment far beyond its market value," Atlas says. Family heirlooms aside, you might want to include a comic book collection or even a beloved pet that you wouldn't want to part with in the agreement.

Con: Your future spouse may be uncomfortable or feel insulted, particularly if he or she is a romantic. "A key thing to remember when considering a prenuptial agreement is that you're indirectly saying, 'I don't have faith in this marriage,'" says Jeff Fishman, a financial advisor based in Los Angeles. "There's no telling how the other party is going to react. I've seen several couples split before the wedding because of some perceived outlandishness over a prenup. They can open a marriage minefield."

On the other hand, if you know your partner well, chances are you'll already have a pretty good idea how he or she will react. If you think your future spouse will react negatively, you'll want to emphasize that you're trying to be realistic, proactive and to come up with a plan that benefits both of you in a worst-case scenario.

Con: The prenup may favor one spouse. "People can be blindsided by love at the beginning of the relationship, and as a result might agree to terms that are not in their best interest," Atlas says.

In other words, if your partner comes to you with a prenup, and you haven't been involved in the writing of this agreement, you'll want to bring in your own attorney. No matter what you decide to do, do not blindly agree to a contract. You'll want to make sure you're both happy with how you plan to separate your own property, shared property and, if applicable, alimony payments, in the event of a divorce.

As for how much hiring legal representation will cost, typically, it depends how many assets you have to protect. Many attorneys say to expect to spend at least $2,500 per person, although some online legal websites offer prenup planning for less. The legal services company LegalZoom offers prenup planning for $995 ($1,490 if the wedding is less than two weeks away).

Con: A prenup contract focuses on the future. This may be the biggest negative, says Arthur Ettinger, matrimonial and family law attorney with the firm Greenspoon Marder in New York City.

"You are contracting now for a future event that you hope will never occur. If it does occur, you have no idea when. And it is utterly impossible to predict your financial or other circumstances at the time of that eventual, unhoped-for divorce," Ettinger says.

In other words, you and your partner could have far more money, say, 10 years from now, and if the prenup is structured poorly, potentially one person could leave the marriage much wealthier than the other. Or it could go the other way. Your collective household may not have all that much money, and you could be contracted to pay your partner far more than you're able, Ettinger warns.

"That is the real con of a prenuptial agreement – if you are contracting around the law and circumstances change, you are in almost all cases stuck with the bargain you have made," he says.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't get a prenup. Generally, if you or your partner has a lot to lose in a possible divorce, you should consider getting a prenup. For instance, if you own a business, have a robust retirement account or you have assets you want to pass onto your children, you may be a good candidate for a prenup.

"No one wants to lose their business along with their marriage," Freed says. She also points out that many couples get financial assistance from a parent when they buy a house. "No one wants the ex to pocket mom's down payment," Freed adds.

On the other hand, if neither of you have much to lose, you may not benefit from a prenup. "The simple answer is if you generally want what the law provides, you don't need a prenuptial agreement," Ettinger says. "That is, if you and your partner-to-be plan to have everything you earn or accumulate throughout your marriage be considered marital property, regardless of whose name it is held in and divided accordingly upon divorce – you probably do not need a prenuptial agreement."


Saturday, 25 August 2018

Health Consequences of Divorce: 5 Warning Signs It’s Time to Seek Help

Divorce has many observable consequences for all involved, such as the legal, financial, and emotional. What are not always visible or talked about are the health consequences, both in the short term and the long run.

A significant number of people who have gone through divorce are experiencing all kinds of emotions and stress. Even the person who may have initiated the divorce and is experiencing elation or relief from their daily experience of negativity, will have stress related to the inevitable changes in their lives. The stress of breaking up has often been compared to the stress of dealing with the death of a loved one. The losses that come with divorce and separation can show up in milder ways as depressed mood or anxiety about the future, to extreme emotional breakdowns.

Children in the family may experience many of the same feelings but exhibit them differently. As much as parents may be left with a loss of control about their future, the children may feel even more uncertain about their lives –leading to internalized stress or externalized behavioral problems.

Common Symptoms Experienced Following Separation

There are physiological consequences of stress, depression, and anxiety that follow the initial separation. Symptoms such as appetite and sleep changes, difficulty in digesting foods, changes in blood sugar and racing heart rates are not uncommon. Not surprisingly, studies have shown a higher prevalence of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and mobility problems in people who have experienced divorce. It appears that some of these consequences remain, for some, even after people get remarried. Each person reacts to difficult situations in unique ways and there is no clear timetable that fits all individuals.

There may be gender and age differences in the kinds of stress experienced by the family members experiencing the divorce. Statistically, most people experience a drop in financial standard of living as a consequence of divorce. This change is often felt more by women. 
Just when people are experiencing financial difficulties and feeling the health consequences, they may also find themselves with less-than-adequate health insurance benefits. The time when they may need the support of health and mental-health professionals the most, they may hold back from reaching out for help. The common wisdom is that it takes people a year or two to regain their sense of normality after divorce. However, for children, they may re-experience the consequences of divorce at different developmental stages.

It helps if parents are aware and actively working on self-care and being mindful of the stresses on their children, both in the early stages and even after the worst is over. It is especially important for them to know that staying angry and/or sad for a long time can cost them their health.

Warning Signs That Should Prompt You to Seek Help

  • You have experienced drastic changes in your appetite or sleep patterns.
  • You have a sense of panic most of the day.
  • You are unable to function normally at work.
  • You have no time for yourself anymore.
  • You are experiencing a change in the amount of headaches, heart palpitations, stomach aches, etc.

Being stressed when your life is being turned upside down is NORMAL; however, remaining at that level of stress for too long will affect your ability to function at work, make decisions, parent, and be healthy. Getting regular check-ups with your doctor and seeing a mental-health professional could help you. Also very important is to implement lifestyle changes.

Lifestyle Changes to Implement

  • Regular exercise
  • Healthful eating
  • Meditation
  • Connecting with friends and family
  • Making sure you include some fun and relaxation on a regular basis

Friday, 24 August 2018

5 Strategies to Stay Optimistic for a Healthy Divorce

"There can be no rainbow without a cloud and a storm." John H. Vincent

Negative emotions in a marriage, such as anxiety or anger, help us mobilize resources for a challenge. They are your brain’s short-term alarm system, telling you to pay attention because there is a problem, or perhaps opportunity for growth. In order to become our best selves, we must listen to our negative emotions and make a change - whether that’s individual or couples therapy, separation or divorce.

Divorce is incredibly painful. It touches every aspect of life - your children, where you will live, your financial situation, how you engage with your social circle and extended family, and of course your emotional well-being.

How can you stay optimistic during a divorce with all this turmoil? Optimism is the belief that things will eventually get better, even if now is bleak. A divorce is your personal commitment to doing the hard, painful work right now to create a happier, more authentic life for yourself in the future. Whether or not you chose to initiate the divorce, you are moving forward, believing that it will get better.

As you go through such a painful and complicated transition, it may seem impossible to maintain optimism and have a healthy divorce. Here are five strategies to remember and put to use when you are feeling stuck or low.

1. Take stock

Look at what areas of your life are going well and where you feel capable. Many people think that they are a total failure because of their divorce. However, your marriage was only one area of your life. What else is working? Where else do you feel successful? By identifying areas of your life in which you have success and mastery, you remember that this one event does not define all of you.

2. Find a balanced viewpoint

Yes, some things may be more challenging in the short term. You may have to still interact or co-parent with your former spouse. You may feel extremely sad and lonely for a little while. However, like many other journeys in life, there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel. By letting the marriage go you allow yourself the chance for calm and contentment. Remember past examples of when you persevered through a difficult time and came out stronger.

To stay optimistic during divorce, try to see this difficult time as a personal commitment to building a better life. -Ruth Feinblum, Therapist, Philadelphia

3. Create a calmer perspective

Blaming yourself or former partner can leave you feeling bitter and angry. Many people that divorce think they failed at their marriage and that leads to feelings of shame. Others feel intense anger at the spouse that couldn’t be there for them. However, it helps to find a calmer thought. If you choose to think that your former spouse is not a bad person that meant to hurt you but that they don’t work well with you anymore. This type of thinking tends to calm you down and allows you and your former spouse to interact more peacefully in the future.

4. Allow yourself relief

The marriage wasn’t working. Without bitterness or contempt (both of which just harm you) what are you relieved about as the marriage ends? People leave when problems outweigh connection and when they don’t like who they are in the marriage. What are the problems, challenges and arguments that are you are released from once the marriage is done? How will letting go of this set of problems lead you to a more contented life?

5. Figure out if there's something to learn

With curiosity and compassion, ask yourself; what do you want to be different next time? Perhaps your partner had different views on fidelity, did not share your values, or had a different approach to careers. If you can figure out what would work better in the next relationship, then the divorce becomes a learning experience. Learning experiences are often challenging, but invaluable to your personal growth.


Thursday, 23 August 2018

The Collateral Damage Of Divorce: You Might Lose Some Friends (And Family Too)

I feel like there’s a saying somewhere that goes something like, “Men come and go, but friendships are forever.” Maybe I’m delusional, maybe I’m naïve, but I swear this is a thing. Or was a thing.

Either way, there should be a gigantic, neon warning sign on the marriage certificate that states, “If this union shall end in divorce, one of you will keep the friends, and the other will suffer in isolation and misery.”

I made many of my most meaningful friendships during my marriage. They included his family and friends, but also people we collected together along the way. I became close to his friends’ significant others and seemed to form deep bonds with them — vacationing annually together, girls’ trips, visiting each other in the hospital during our babies’ births, raising our kids together, and sharing some of the most intimate parts of our hearts with one another over the years.

Until one day — poof – they were gone.

I truly wasn’t prepared to lose some of my best friends while going through a divorce. If there’s anything that can test one’s sanity and will to persevere, this is it. I’ve never felt so dark, so buried, in my entire life. Losing my spouse was one thing, one thing I chose to walk away from with the heaviest heart, so that we could all find happiness. But I didn’t choose to lose my support network, and I didn’t choose for people to ‘pick a team’. I never anticipated this part.

I guess when those on the outside don’t understand why you walked away, judgment takes hold, and sometimes, like in my case, you’re kicked to the curb. And it’s devastating. It’s a pain so sharp, it has knocked the air out of my lungs over and over again. I didn’t know I could hurt this much. I didn’t know making a decision, a decision that I believe to be the best for my family, would cost me everything.

But it has.

And it really sucks.

The most hurtful days fell on the week of the Fourth of July. My ex-husband and I agreed that he would have the kids for the second half of the day, and I would have them for the morning. My ex was scheduled to pick them up at noon, so we had plenty of time to grab brunch and hit up the park.

But then he called me and asked if he could come get them early because all of their friends and cousins were already gathered, and wanted to see them. Without hesitating, I agreed because I wanted my kids to be happy, and I knew this would make their day.
I was fully prepared to let my kids go and enjoy their holiday, but I wasn’t prepared for what it would do to me.

I spent the rest of that day torturing myself as I scrolled through social media watching my kids, my ex, and all of our his friends frolic on the beach, barbecue, and watch fireworks as the sun went down.

It’s like I had died and was watching my old life through my phone screen. No one invited me, no one called me, and I felt as low as one could feel. The self-deprecating thoughts began: Maybe this is what I deserve since I walked away, maybe I’m unlovable, maybe no one ever cared for me the way I thought they did. I sunk into my couch and went to sleep as the fireworks popped off in the distance. I felt like I was stranded on an island, and no one was going to send a search party.

Divorce sucks.

Losing pieces of your old life sucks.

And losing friends really really sucks.

So, yes, I’m having a bit of a heartbreak, but not everyone has ghosted me. Going through a divorce is like planning for a wedding or preparing for a baby, you find out who those ride-or-die friends really are, and it makes you cry rivers of joy knowing people like that exist in your life.

I can count on one hand who has stuck by my side — not chosen my side, but supported me without judgment or expectation. So many people feel as though you owe them an explanation when going through a divorce. They want to know, and they often want to pick a side. But unless you’ve been through it, no one quite understands the overwhelming emotional undertaking that is a divorce. Especially when children are involved.

Whether you’re the one walking away from the marriage or not, you take on your emotions, your spouse’s emotions, your kids’ emotions, and then everyone else who feels you owe them an explanation. It’s a lot. It’s too much. And I don’t care how strong we are, we need friends who will just listen without judgment. And I thank God for the few I have.

These are the friends who don’t give a shit if you haven’t answered their calls in two weeks — they still call or text you every day to say, “I love you. I’m here for you when you are ready. You can do this.” They are the friends who leave cards on your doorstep that are filled with words of support and encouragement. They bring Chinese food and wine over unannounced and don’t leave until you’ve stopped crying. They offer to take your kids off your hands for an afternoon while you attend your weekly therapy appointment.

They don’t leave. They don’t go silent. They don’t take the divorce personally. They don’t pry. They don’t make it about them. They are diamonds in the rough, and I hope they know just how much I truly appreciate them during this difficult time.

There’s no two ways about it: Divorce fucking sucks. But when your true friends and family rise to the occasion and put you back together over and over and over again? That’s the silver lining. That’s the light in all of the darkness. Quality over quantity.


Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Bad-mouthing the other parent has a worse effect on the child

In a co-parenting situation, speaking badly of the other parent in your child's presence can be detrimental to your son or daughter. Counselling psychologist Andreas Mphunga weighs in

Regardless of how badly a relationship may have ended, bad-mouthing the mother or father of your child is one of the worst things a parent can do. While this may cause the other person reputational harm, it could also negatively affect your child.

Andreas Mphunga says that much of the information that the denigrating parent is passing on to their son or daughter often isn’t factual and will stay with the child for a long time.
“The danger of bad-mouthing is that eventually the truth will come out, which could cause the child to resent you,” Mphunga says.

“It’s important to remember that the child has relationships with extended family members of the parent you’re speaking badly of. And these could be the people who correct everything the child has heard about their other parent, and so expose your agenda.”

Mphunga says the child will feel stuck in the middle because while one parent is feeding them certain information, the other is saying something different. This means the child is forced to pick sides.

“Eventually the child’s relationship with both parents will be compromised because they might refrain from investing too much of themselves in the parent who’s being bad-mouthed. Later on, when they discover the truth, the relationship they have with the parent who had been spoken ill of will be compromised,” Mphunga explains.

“Then it might be difficult for the child to build a stronger relationship with that parent and essentially it’s the child that’s left alone in the middle.”

The youngster will also internalise guilt and shame as a result of the situation. “As the child grows up and starts thinking more deeply about the situation, he or she might feel a sense of guilt and shame, wondering whether they were unfair to one parent and whether they gave one more of a chance, forgetting they’d been dictated to and influenced,” Mphunga explains.

Your child might also end up internalising your “hate” – they may take everything you say about their mother or father as something you’re saying about them, because there are elements of the child’s identity that are linked to the parent being belittled.

“The child is likely to think that, ‘Because I am an offspring of my other parent, and judging from what I’ve heard about them, I myself am impure,'” Mphunga says.

He stresses that parents need to understand that belittling the other parent is more detrimental to the child.

“Parents need to stop pushing their agendas onto their children. It’s important to let the child experience each parent organically and to draw his or her own conclusions, with no outside negative influence.”


Tuesday, 21 August 2018

3 Key Steps to Gaining Emotional Freedom After Divorce

Despite finalizing your divorce, feelings of anger, sadness, and resentment may stay with you. Follow these three steps to achieving an Emotional Divorce, which will ultimately help you realize emotional freedom.

You have a piece of paper that says you are divorced. Finances, property, kids have all been hammered out. You are now free to live your own life.
However, for some reason it still feels like you’re emotionally tied to your former spouse. The fighting, frustrations, disappointments have continued. It’s the same old same old. You thought that getting divorced would stop all this, and now you see it hasn’t. What is going on?

Simple: you have not achieved the Emotional Divorce… yet. I say yet because although challenging and painful to do, it can be accomplished. The main requirement is to look within. This is where the Emotional Divorce is accomplished.

After my divorce, I was still angry, frustrated, and resentful. The same problems I had in the marriage were still happening in my post-divorce life. I felt captive, not free. It was when I decided to look inward that the seeds of the Emotional Divorce were planted, and then my emotional freedom began to grow.

All I can say is, it was hard and painful. Sometimes I really did not like what I saw about myself, which was the most difficult to undertake. However, I made a commitment, dialed up my courage, and kept on going.

Here are three key steps you can take to start the process of achieving an Emotional Divorce:

3 Steps to Take to Achieve an Emotional Divorce

1. Reflection

Reflecting is looking back, not going back into your past. There is a distinct difference between these two ways. Reflecting is firmly rooted in today as an observer, reviewing your past. Reflecting is not thinking about your past and reliving it. Reflecting is to stand back from the emotions, feelings, and judgments in order to discern or recognize the facts in order to develop a new perspective. To reflect is to look for the truth and acknowledge things about yourself or others that are difficult to admit. Reflection brings clarity, understanding, and balance. It also involves an element of inner resolution in order to step forward in your life.

While reflecting back on my marriage, I played a movie in my head, pretending I was sitting in a theater seat. I saw on the big screen two needy people, one who was silent (my ex) and one who was vocal in anger (me). It became clear how we each reacted and acted through the lens of our neediness, creating an unhappy marriage.

2. Accountability

If you are thinking I am to blame, belittling, or being defensive in any way, that is not it. It is not punishment. Accountability is all about taking ownership of your thinking, feelings, and actions. It a nonjudgmental look at how you internally operate and then making a choice to do something about it. You come with your belief systems, experiences, and viewpoint. You created your viewpoint, your triggers, basically your reality. Accountability is you see it, you own it, you choose, you act.

After I got divorced, I looked to my former husband to step in and help with picking up the kids after work. He was closer, I was farther away. He rarely came through when we were married, and yet I kept thinking and expecting it to change. I experienced the same feelings of anger and resent. I finally stopped blaming my ex and took ownership of my part in it. I was the one with all those unrealistic expectations, beliefs, anger, resentment — I owned that. I chose to accept that I needed to change, not him. I felt freer for the first time in a long time.

3. Action

This is all about steps or movement, better known as doing something. An action is the result of your thinking and feeling. You think, you feel, you act. Taking the same external action step when something isn’t working and expecting a different outcome is self-sabotage at its best. New and different action is required to get the result that you desire. Consider new action as a way of solidifying your new and different perspective, which paves the way to your Emotional Divorce.

After I took ownership of my thinking, I took different external action steps with my former husband. I stopped asking him to pick up the kids from day care and asked other people instead. New action. I decided to put an end to waiting to be reimbursed for his portion of day care, gymnastics, karate, etc. I informed all those places to set up separate billing for each of us. LOTS of new action. The feeling of freedom began to soar.

An Emotional Divorce is an important piece of the entire divorce process. It gives you emotional freedom from your emotional pain and problems. Basically, they don’t change, you change. It is the springboard in creating the new and happy you.


Monday, 20 August 2018

10 Reasons to stay positive after a divorce

Life during and after a divorce can be crippling, but there are many reasons to stay positive. Psychologist Michael Jolkovski posed the question to me: Why should there be any trouble holding one's head up after a divorce? 'Shame is a big part of why divorce is always more painful and disruptive than anyone anticipates,' Jolkovski points out. 'At some level, a divorce feels like a giant failure in one of the biggest projects in life.' It takes a lot of emotional work to get through these feelings and to feel better again. But, we believe in you. You can do it. Read 10 reasons why you should stay positive after a divorce -- they may help you along the way...

10 . What is Marriage, Anyway?

"I would encourage your readers to reflect on how they built up their understanding of what a marriage is. This begins very early in childhood, in play with dolls and drawings and make-believe with friends, which often center on some notion of family," Jolkovski explains. "These notions are running quietly in the background in adults as unconscious assumptions, which can have a brutal collision with adult reality. This reality includes facts of life such as that people come to marriage with wildly differing understandings of what it is all about; that we cannot make anyone love us, no matter how wonderful we try to be, and that none of us has that much control over the way life plays out." Instead of focusing on the failed marriage, Jolkovski suggests to realize your resilience and flexibility.

9. You Did Something for You

Peggie Arvidson has been divorced twice, and she admits it's not easy. "I guess the best reason for holding your head up, though, is knowing that you did something for you. Not in the selfish, 'It's all about me' way or in the way of making him a bad guy and you look like the victim, but rather I could hold my head up knowing that I had done a lot of inner work to make a decision that was harder than most people think and I was going to honor me," she explains. Arvidson also points out that in the process, you'll come to trust yourself more, realize that you're strong enough to take a stand, and understand that you learned something along the way.

8. Your License to Reinvent

Faith McKinney, who's been divorced twice and has been remarried now for seven years, thinks the new start is a positive change. "The great thing about divorce is that it is a license to reinvent yourself without your ex-husband's input or criticism," she explains. "I learned to trust myself and that it's OK to enjoy myself." McKinney began to make mistakes without fear of reprisal or retaliation. "Even though it is very difficult emotionally, financially and socially, I survived. Twice."

7. Anything is Possible

For Emma, blogger of, the divorce gave her a sense of invincibility. "You'll have good days and atrociously bad days, but on the good days, you'll see that anything is possible," she explains. "People are, for the most part, gracious. You will have fun again as soon as you give yourself permission to let go."

6. Here's to Good Family and Friends

Don't forget about the people on your team! "Your friends and family will be there to help you pick up the pieces -- let them," Emma advises. The love will have your head up in no time. You just have to stop and smell the roses (and by "smell the roses," we mean recognize the people that love you).

5. Looking Good

For those getting divorced, a transformation is inevitable -- that's something to look forward to, according to Andrea Gross, lifestyle coach who's writing a book called, When You're Ready. She's happily divorced and has never been happier. "There were days and even weeks and months that I could barely function. Now, only one year later, I look and feel better than I did 10 years ago." People ask Gross what her secrets are, and that is the reason she started her practice. The secret? "I have found inner happiness and strength -- I am my authentic, sexy, confident self again."

4. Letting Go

It's grand -- it really is. "If you gave it your best shot, and you know it's over, don't waste time in resentment and anger -- it's self-destructive. Let go," says Tina Tessina, a.k.a. "Dr. Romance" and a licensed psychotherapist. "Do your grieving, cry, write in your journal and talk about it alone or with a trusted friend." You can even have a fun "letting go" ceremony with close friends, and say goodbye to your married life, she suggests.

3. Relief

For Ron Thomson, who has been divorced twice with no animosity, fighting or children, believes one reason to keep your head up is because of relief. Although both of his ex-wives were the ones who initiated the breakup and wanted the divorce, Thomson did keep his head up. "Whatever problems we were experiencing are now over," he recalls. "It hits you later that your family is gone and you are alone." At either case, you get to start over again, Thomson points out. "To me the women lost out on a good man. That's a good reason to hold your head up," he adds.

2. When You Put Your Kids First

Sometimes taking the higher road is another way to keep your head up. Don't be negative -- think of the transition for the kids. "You can keep your head up if you manage to put your own needs aside for the kids. I don't mean stay married, but, during divorce and beyond, put the kids first," says Lauren Whitman, author of Austin's Best Idea Ever. "When my (now) husband and I were first together, he missed his daughter terribly. I encouraged him to stay in touch with his daughter daily and to tell her that he loved her often. I think he felt supported in keeping that connection strong since I took that position."

1. Look to the Future

Alicia Rinaldi, a family attorney who has also had to mediate in a multitude of family law matters, reminds us not to forget about what's to come. "I'm not a trained therapist or social worker, but I try to encourage my clients to see past the present so that together we can get them to a better place in the future," she says. "While the stress of experiencing a divorce or strife in your family life is certainly great, keeping an eye towards the future helps put things in perspective so that setbacks don't derail the case."

The transition of divorce can be extremely rewarding -- being in a toxic relationship can stifle a person's dreams and expressions, but separation from it can also be a stepping stone to teach you what you need out of a partner, and what you want out of life.


Saturday, 18 August 2018

This Is What It Feels Like When Your Marriage Is Ending

My husband and I have had years to get (somewhat) comfortable with the fact our marriage is ending. It’s been a long road, and we have dealt with the denial, the hurt, the pain, and the mourning. And we did it our way and kept it between us for a really long time. And now we are living apart, and are in the process of getting a divorce and dealing with our new normal, day by day.

To people on the outside looking in, they have said they see two people who look happy and are going to be okay, but that is because we decided early on to respect the other’s privacy during our nightmare. We both had very close friends to talk to over the years, but our neighbors didn’t know. Our parents didn’t know. Our extended family didn’t know. The guy who owns the corner store didn’t know. Our kids knew something was going on — they always do — but they didn’t really know.

As hard as we tried to stuff our feelings, it was impossible. The charade was exhausting. Trying to convince the ones you love the most you are happily swimming along, when in reality you can’t even tread water, is too heavy to carry.

Since we have started talking openly about our breakup, I’ve been asked the same question by women I know, and women I don’t: “What is it like?”

Maybe what they really want to say is “Give me hope. Tell me what to do.”

Some of them mention they want to do the same thing, and they simply need to know they aren’t alone. I often think they are reaching out to someone who has been there, because they are wondering if they were to end their marriage, would they be okay? Would they make it through to the other side?

They come to me, asking for the truth, all of it. I understand — I wanted to know too. I was searching for some kind of validation. I needed to know I could rewrite my story and still stand up in my next chapter. I had to be absolutely positive my family (including my husband) would be okay if we did this for real.

I don’t know what the answers are for anyone else. Relationships are not one-size-fits-all. They bend, they wear, they rust, their shape changes. Sometimes they become more beautiful with time, and other times, they become so warped and unrecognizable, you don’t want them any more. What is enough for one couple might not work for another.

So all I can say when people say to me, “I am thinking of doing this too. We are in the same place. Are you okay?” is yes and no. We seem happy because we already put our time and misery in before we shared it with anyone. We waited until we made a final decision to talk openly about it. No one has to do it this way; this is what we chose, but it’s the end of a chapter nonetheless and the beginning of a new life. The pain ebbs and flows, and you have no choice but to feel it, to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Honestly, I am living a life I never thought I’d be living, and sometimes, it can feel like I am using all my energy to climb out of hell. This usually comes two minutes after I have a moment of peaceful clarity. Your marriage ending can be an asshole like that, even if it’s what both people want. One minute, you’re feeling happy, content, and free. The next? Your heart is breaking all over again, and you can’t hold back the sobs.

What you are seeing when you look at us is the undoing of a relationship that wasn’t working. We wanted to become two people who held each other’s hands and promised we would dig deep and try our best to go our separate ways while helping the other through it. 
And thankfully, we are.

We still have an unbreakable partnership because we made three amazing humans together. Nothing will change that. We vowed we would make this as bearable as we could for all involved, and sometimes it comes easy, and sometimes it feels like the universe is giving us the middle finger, but we are still standing.

I have days when it feels like I am living a double life. I have moments when I wonder what the fuck we’ve done, only to walk upstairs to try to find my daughter’s shoes, catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, and have a feeling of absolute confidence and certainty wash over me. And when the next blow comes, I am somehow more ready to take it because I know I’m doing what is best for me, my kids, and my ex-husband too.

I cry a lot, like the day I took off my engagement ring and wedding band. I wanted to wear them longer, but the weekend my husband moved out I developed the most painful sensation under them — something I’d never felt. I lifted up the platinum bands to see my skin literally peeling off underneath. It felt like 100 bee stings. I took them off and watched them swirl around on the vanity. I knew I’d never put those rings back on as I sat on the toilet and cried into a gray bath towel. It hurt like hell.

And then I felt good, really good, and I stared at my newly naked hand just as much as I did when the ring was slid on my finger for the first time. I held it up to the light, but instead of catching the glare from the diamond, this time it was bare, the light catching only the indentation where those rings sat for so long.
It feels like freedom and sorrow. It is freeing to let go of a relationship that is no longer serving you. You can be sorry and miss someone without wanting your old relationship back, and that is confusing as hell. You don’t believe it, until you’re living it.
Some days, I float along in a trance, trying to get through. Some days, I want to go out and conquer the world.
There are days when the sun hurts my eyes, and my marriage ending feels like wanting to curl up under a down comforter and have someone hold me. I don’t even want to talk because I can’t even get my thoughts in order. I am so unbelievably tired. I didn’t know an exhaustion like this was possible.

It feels like shame. It feels like failing. It feels unnatural.
It feels like someone is peeling back my layers. I am raw and fresh and ready to move forward, but I am more petrified than I have ever been. Then I remember I am the one doing the peeling, and suddenly I know what to do — just move forward, one step at a time. And I do.

Until I forget again. Divorce is a bitch like that.

I am a mixed bag of emotions. I want to be the best mom and tell myself I will never make any more mistakes, ever. Then I call myself out on my own bullshit and give myself a break and drop the “I need to be all the things to make up for being unable to be married to their father anymore.” I can’t carry that, and I would never want him to carry that.

One thing I’ve learned through this is that when you want to make a life-changing decision, you usually do it. You move toward it even if you are scared shitless, even on the days you question yourself.

If you are moving toward staying in your marriage, that is what you want.

If you are moving away from it, then that is what you want.

And of course, you may flip-flop between both extremes before truly figuring out your next step.

Ending your marriage is not black and white. The experience is different for everyone, but it does mean you are shedding an old version of yourself. And before you start feeling better, you will probably feel worse. You will struggle, you will second-guess, you will feel like you are broken in two and the only thing holding you together is pure grit.

But deep down, you will know. You will keep moving through the pain, peeling back the layers, heading toward your truth. No one else’s, just yours. You’ve got this.


Friday, 17 August 2018

Navigating the challenges of blended families

Parenting can be even more of a challenge when you have a blended family. Life coach and author Thandi Vellem offers tips on how to tackle the difficulties of forming a new family unit

Blended families are more widespread than ever, and come with unique challenges. Building a harmonious home may be difficult at first but it can be done. Life coach Thandi Vellem tells you how to best approach bringing your families together.

Communication is key

There needs to be an existing relationship among all parties before blending families. Vellem advises against throwing children into such a set-up, and instead encourages talking to them before they live with you and your partner.

“Be cognisant of the fact that everything to do with children is always compounded, so it’s easy for them to feel unloved or compare themselves to the other siblings,” she says.

“Depending on the age, children don’t have the emotional capacity to properly dissect and understand that they are in fact loved, so parents need to make them understand what exactly is happening.”

Also, if the child isn’t emotionally ready, they may see your partner as a form of competition which could create bigger problems.

Ease the children into the new set-up

After introducing your child or children to your new partner, make sure they spend time together so the transition to living together is easier.

“Children magnify everything, so to be thrown into that space without a transition phase can be emotionally devastaing for the child,” she says.

Ensure your partner accepts the child

Vellem maintains that it’s important to have a partner that accepts your child. “Sometimes people think they just need to accept the child and not the biological mother or father. In order for the relationship to work, the partner needs to also accept the co-parenting relationship that still needs to exist between you and your ex,” she says.

Make sure there are boundaries in place
It’s easy to create an insecure space if boundaries aren’t in place between the co-parents.
“Sometimes the people that walk into our lives, who we ultimately call step-parents, walk in knowing there’s a mess in terms of not being able to put boundaries in place or that we aren’t emotionally well, and that there’s still acrimony,” she says. “So they find themselves caught up in the bitterness, and the child falls through the cracks.”

Create a family

Once the parenting house is in order, create a warm, loving home. Acknowledge the challenge that comes with a blended family but don’t separate the kids.

Vellem says she finds that parents tend to “measure” the kids, the thinking being: “This child I got in the marriage; this one I got out, which plays a part in how the child is treated,” she says.

Also remember, before your children join the new family, if they’re old enough they may have questions as to why they haven’t been with you all along. Vellem therefore advises counselling for the whole family.

“Be careful of feelings of unworthiness or ‘I don’t belong here’ from a stepchild. Because there are already family rituals in place, the child may feel out of place because they still need to learn them. It’s important for parents to focus their attention on incorporating the child into this new family,” she says.

It’s important that the other children are made aware of the child that is joining the family because they might “be protective of their space” Vellem says.

Agree on the disciplining strategy

Disciplining the children is probably the most difficult part of blended families. What works for your kids, may not work for your stepchild. Establish ground rules with your partner.


Thursday, 16 August 2018

What 3 divorced moms want you to know about co-parenting after a breakup

Great advice about how to put your children first despite the pain and challenges of being divorced.

Although we try to avoid divorce at all costs, if it does happen, it doesn’t necessarily have to lead to the complete breakup of the family. In the past, we worked under the assumption that ex-partners were considered adversaries, with any contact being antagonistic and hostile: “The dissolution of a couple was synonymous with the dissolution of the family,” explains Helena Afonso, author of the French book Two Households, One family: the relationship between parents after a conjugal separation. Yet, with experience and time, couples have become more aware that in any separation, the role of the parent should never change.

Psychologist Gérard Poussin, a professor in clinical psychology and author of The Children of Divorce, a French-language title, introduces the notion of co-parenting. He speaks of a relationship “based on mutual support and cooperation.” He encourages parents to discuss school grades and warn each other about medical appointments, and especially support each other in difficult situations. “Children need a certain level of consistency to grow up normally. Imagine that a 5-year-old goes to bed at 8 p.m. when he’s with mom, but at dad’s he’s allowed to stay up until 10 p.m. watching TV,” explains Poussin. The divorce process doesn’t always make this easy. Over time, the separating couple needs to establish what level and type of contact is necessary to maintain effective co-parenting.

The longer good quality co-parenting continues, the better it is for everyone; it will have a more positive impact on the whole family, in particular the children. Key to its success is the relationship between the ex-spouses: the degree to which the parents have managed to get over feelings of resentment and anger towards each other, “but also their ability to separate the problems and conflicts of their ex-couple status from the questions linked to the education of their children,” points out Afonso. Ex-spouses, especially fathers, have a habit of getting more involved in their parental role if they receive approval and support from their ex.

So how do you set the right limits in this new relationship? “Have brief but regular contact, pick conversation topics that relate to the kids or that don’t interfere too much with parenting skills, avoid subjects that could lead to conflict, and don’t constantly bring up contentious issues, such as vacations,” emphasizes Afonso. It is not necessary to be good friends to be a good parental couple. All it takes is a bit of cordiality and respect.

We spoke to three divorced moms to learn from their experiences on how to continue being successful parents through separation.

Julie, a journalist, aged 41, divorced for 8 years, with an 11-year-old child

Her best advice: Make peace

“My ex-husband and I didn’t actually speak to each other for a year. As soon as the phone started ringing we would jump on it and hang up straight away. He hadn’t taken our break-up very well. The only viable way we could communicate with each other about our 3-year-old son was through text messages. ‘What time are you picking him up?’; ‘He’s sick so make sure he takes his medicine’; ‘Check his hair for lice’… I found it very annoying; he didn’t know how to cope with himself, let alone our son. He began to torment me with little threats, such as: ‘If you arrive 5 minutes late, I’ll keep your son.’ This reached the point that one day he threatened me with legal proceedings to gain custody over our son. Supposedly I worked too much and didn’t look after him enough. I got scared. I brought up the subject with my lawyer, who reassured me I had a solid case. She opened my eyes to the fact that my husband’s reaction was that of someone who’d been hurt; in this story, I had gained everything, and he — on top of being unemployed —had lost his wife and son. She showed me that we needed to stop our war for the good of our son.

“Supported by prayer, I decided to put my pride to one side and make peace, even if I felt I was facing a brick wall. I gave in to everything. Concerning finances, I wrote off the idea of receiving any alimony, and custody arrangements, well, I became more flexible. My ex preferred to get our son on Friday night, rather than Saturday morning; it wasn’t a problem. One day, he said to me, ‘We made the most beautiful thing together: Max.’ This one phrase really touched me, and still does today. Little by little, I felt he was taking on his role of father once more, becoming more responsible — someone I could rely on. I got him involved once more in the education of our son. Two years ago, I accepted equal joint custody. I remember our first post-divorce dinner together, all three of us, at a restaurant in a neutral location. Max was so proud! That’s when I realized the importance for him that we remain, above all, his parents.

“Today, we are truly forming one unit: we go to piano auditions together, school trips, school meetings … We make any schooling decisions together, consulting each other all the time, and I’ve even found myself saying to my son: ‘You’re behaving badly, I’ll call your dad.’ Last week, he had his first tween party, and his dad called me to give me the lowdown. We’ve even managed to dine together, all three of us, at his home. I was pleasantly surprised to see my son clear the table and get himself off to bed. For the first time I stayed to chat with my ex, putting the world to rights. I realized that we were complementary. He’s a father who emphasizes self-management, whereas I’m a mother hen, watching over homework, teeth brushing … I’m delighted he’s the father of my son.”

Corinne, a 44-year-old photographer, divorced for 7 years, two children ages 10 and 14

Her best advice: Don’t stir up the past

“During the first year, I forced myself to accept many things for the good of my kids: equal joint custody, parents’ evenings where I remained ramrod straight, his permanent reflections like: ‘The children are badly dressed,’ ‘You’re not making them work hard enough,’ ‘They sleep too late when they’re with you’ … Yet he was the one who left me! I let it go because I knew his aggression was just a reaction based on his guilt. I think he also realized what it meant to be a father, a role he hadn’t really invested in before. The work I went through with a spiritual counselor over a long period of time really helped me to receive his criticisms without reacting. Then, it became impossible to speak with my ex; we communicated through the nanny, who went from one house to another.

“One day, I cracked. I wrote to him saying that I couldn’t cope with any more of his criticisms, I didn’t want to stir up the past, I didn’t regret our history, and that he would remain the father of my children, and that I would always tell them he is a good father. After he received the letter he just said: ‘I don’t have any words in response to what you’ve said, just thank you.’ Our relationship then became calmer. Today, we manage to coordinate with each other. We telephone each other once or twice a week. When we hand over the kids, we give a summary of the week. Sometimes we meet up, always outside for a coffee, to speak of more specific issues. Most recently, we spoke about our eldest, who is going to high school. What school should we choose? How will he get there? What options should he consider? We speak purely of our children, never about us. I avoid all contentious issues — especially anything to do with his new partner. My children can’t bear her at all, to the point that my eldest wanted to live full-time with me last year. I encouraged him to change his mind, for his benefit. He needs his father as much as me. Starting this summer, our relationship has developed into a parental friendship. We send each other photos of our kids on vacation, we go to Mass together, we’ve even gotten into fits of laughter, as was the case at our last teacher-parent meeting. I’d almost forgotten that we’d separated! I’ve turned the page, and the pain has passed. We remain parents for the rest of our lives.”

Agathe, stay-at-home mom, aged 40, divorced for two years, three children ages 8, 11 and 12

Her best advice: Be united parents

“Since our separation four years ago, our children have been our main concern. We were a separated couple, but still parents united in the love of God. To communicate as smoothly as possible, and update whoever was picking up the kids, we followed the advice of a child psychiatrist who suggested a correspondence notebook. This was warmer and less impersonal than an email, and it could assure some continuity from one week to the next: ‘John’s math grades need watching,’ ‘Lucas needs more confidence,’ and ‘Mason needs to feel valued,’ etc. At the end of a trimester, I ended up using email as it was just quicker to write. As our divorce progressed, the emails got shorter. I wanted to get straight to the point, as if our relationship had ended.

“Today we use text messages to remind each other of the essentials: ‘Don’t forget the dentist appointment,’ ‘Have you paid for the soccer lessons?’… I remain courteous, even when I’m annoyed. I always say ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye.’ Even for more crucial issues we start an exchange by text and swap to email if more detail is necessary. Lately he wrote: ‘Cris is unbearable, I want to send her to boarding school’ to which I replied ‘no’ by text. I would like to see him at the end of each year, just to summarize what the children have been up to, their behavior, their extra-curricular activities … but he avoids any contact; he thinks the way we are doing things is fine. No doubt, he worries that I’ll end up on more sensitive issues, such as the alimony, which the judge has not yet determined. I think that our relationship will become more serene once our divorce has been settled. But overall, the assessment is pretty positive: we have managed to stay united as parents for our children. They haven’t had to take one side over another. We make sure we communicate what is necessary concerning the children, we set boundaries, and we reassure them; all three are flourishing.”