A Holistic Divorce

This past week I attended a two-day training on collaborative law that I would like to share because it is important to be informed of all your choices when considering a #divorce. Disclaimer – this is for #Ohio residents though there are about 18 states and about a dozen countries who practice collaborative law, so please check in your area to find out what applies to you.

If you are considering a divorce, there are four ways to go about this.

A. Collaborative Law

B. Litigation

C. Dissolution

D. Mediation

I’ll start with litigation which everyone knows about and this is your traditional way of going about getting a divorce. The judge may require mediation as a result of this and this is to try and cut down on court time.

Dissolution is where both parties agree on everything and they have an attorney write up their agreement and present to the court. A very inexpensive way to get a divorce however, as mentioned, both parties must agree. Usually this can happen when there are no children involved.

Mediation is where the couple hires a mediator to discuss what needs to happen and they present their agreement to their attorneys who files it in court. This can be done at the onset, you don’t have to wait for the judge to decide on this.

Then there is collaborative law which I call a #holistic divorce. This is where all parties (professionals and spouses) come to a table and discuss the business of getting a divorce. There is *no court involvement in Columbus, Ohio because the judge comes to the attorneys office to sign off on the divorce (*not the same with other major cities in Ohio, check with your state or country). If court involvement it would be once everything has been settled and then there is a filing of paperwork to approve the divorce.

Collaborative law includes two attorneys, a mental health coach or neutral (not in the capacity of a therapist, nor are they providing therapy but, the service is provided by a licensed therapist), a financial coach or neutral and in some cases other specialists are brought in, if need be, for consultation. All professionals meet with the spouse/spouses individually or as a couple upfront to explain the services and begin to assess the couple. Then all parties and professionals come to the table to begin a discussion of what is to take place. This can involve several sessions but there is no court involvement so the schedules are based on everyone at the table rather than dealing with court being in session. Therefore appointments can be more flexible.

What captivated me by this process is that a mental health coach is involved as well as a financial coach. This means two things. One, the mental health coach is there to help determine what is in the best interests of the children and the family. Someone who understands #psychology vs. a Guardian Ad Litem (aka GAL) who, most often, is not a therapist and does not understand mental health. The mental health coach is also doing an assessment to determine if the couple is going to be a good fit for the collaborative law process. In some instances, i.e., domestic violence, substance abuse and mental illness might not be a good fit for the collaborative law process. Two, the financial coach presents the facts of the figures. Then the parties say whose side of the page the items go on and talk about what they see. Eventually, how things will be divided up occurs with much discussion from the team.

In collaborative law, even the attorneys are in a relationship with one another that is not antagonistic as it would be in litigation. While they clearly will represent the spouse who has hired them, at the table they are not in a defensive position but in an empathic position for both parties. This means the spouse who hired them pays for them under the knowledge that their attorney will be listening and be prepared to be concerned for the opposite spouse as well. This is important because the process will not be about “winning” for their side but about the family gaining a supportive outcome.

The divorce process is an uncomfortable position for two people to be in. It is a major transition in someone’s life and how it is dealt with will determine the health and well-being of children involved (as well as the spouses) going forward. When the egos of two people can be mediated by a group of professionals who are helping them to see what is in the best interests of their family, it is more likely that a good outcome can be assured. This is not an inexpensive process yet compared to the time, energy and money that would be spent in litigation, it will most likely be less costly than litigation. The results will most assuredly be less costly on the emotional well-being of both parties and the children involved.

Please note this is NOT legal advice as I am not an attorney. This was presented merely for informational purposes. You should consult with your attorney to find out more information on these options. Also, please take a look at the links provided to gain more knowledge for  yourself. Thank you, Jeannine Vegh, M.A., I.M.F.T.


Why do Pre-Marital Counseling?

Watching this video is the most compelling reason for adding a psychotherapist to your wedding budget. Women are still being raised with their mothers speeding them down the aisle with visions of white dresses and doves flying through the air. We play with Barbies before we have hit puberty, already merging the dolls with Ken or GI Joe. We are focused on boys in high school, which often causes young girls (and boys) to do poorly in their subjects. Marriage is an investment not a fashion show and if you don’t want to be one of the 40-50% who goes through a divorce, then you need to treat this contract as an investment not a day to play Cinderella. The woman and man who plan consciously and patiently on the big day have better chances for success then the one’s who are only focused on looking good. Wouldn’t you rather be the couple who people gush over rather than taking bets to see how long you’ll last? Your family and friends will respect you more when they see the respect you have for each other. I highly recommend a psychotherapist trained in the Gottman method as they are teaching you communication skills and this includes how to argue without tearing each other apart.

A wedding day is meant to be a beautiful time in your life. Not the day you rue in the years to come. It is not his fault nor is it her fault; when you are a couple, you both have a responsibility to your self, your marriage, your future children and to your family as a whole.

Divorce – Don’t Punish the Children

There was an excellent article on Yahoo! Shine the other day entitled “10 Things Kids Wish Their  Divorced Parents Wouldn’t Do.” I am not adept at sharing articles, especially when there is no share button that specifically gives the WordPress logo. So I have to re-write them in here, to highlight the most important aspects of what they are saying. Below are the 10 things in bold – I am making my own comments to this, based on what I have heard from kids. Before you read this, there is one caveat. Obviously, if the other parent is abusive to you or the children, naturally it would be unsafe for that child to be with the parent. In these cases stick to the rules of the court and restraining orders but at the same time be careful how you talk about the other parent.  These are children not adults.

And before we begin, the comments below apply not just to parents but to Grandma, Grandpa, Aunts, Uncles, and any other adult who wants to make their opinions known to children.

1. Badmouthing the other parent – This one I can speak to from personal experience. My mother made horrible comments about my father, to both my sister and I. Since she left him when we were 2 and 4, it is really hard to comprehend why she thought we would have any understanding of what she meant. “He doesn’t pay child support?” What does a child know about child support? “He cheated on me with other women?” Again, what does a child know about loyalty and faithfulness? “He doesn’t care about you,” now this one we understood but it always confused me because when we spent time on visitations, he was very loving and caring. Children are NOT adults and do not have the intellect of an older person. As an adult, I do understand that my dad was irresponsible and why he hurt my mother. Growing up however, this emotional torment that my mother put my sister and I through caused us to have a hard time relating to men. It was hard for us to know who to trust, especially when we were being given mixed messages from adults in our lives. This is not unusual with my clients either.

According to a Morehouse University study, I read (circa 1990’s), children from single parent homes or those with a stepfather; boys are more likely to end up in juvenile hall and girls are more likely to end up pregnant.

2. Discouraging kids from talking about their other parent – This is really unfair to children. The other parent is their mommy or daddy. Someone whom they love very much. Yes, he/she may be a drug addict, alcoholic, womanizer, imbecile but to the child, he/she is still their parent. If you have concrete evidence of this parent bringing harm or neglect to your child (due to drugs, alcohol or even without) report this to social services and let them be the investigator.  Don’t try to do this or teach your children to do this. Don’t try to find out details of their visits as if you are the local sheriff. This will scare children and sometimes cause them to lie. I hear those lies in therapy and it causes emotional stress to the child. It causes them to feel as if they need to stand up for their parent and become the defense attorney. Again, these are children. If they come back from a visit and say “Oh we went to the park today,” Say “That sounds wonderful, I hope you had a good time.” Grit your teeth if you have to but think about if from their perspective. Kids like to go to the park, zoo, etc… They don’t need to hear, “What, he was supposed to take you to get a pair of shoes today, why didn’t you do that?” If you have an issue with their visits, discuss that privately with their parent, don’t make the child into your confessor.

3. Divulging the dirty details of the divorce – Really? This goes back to statement number 1. These are children not adults. They are not psychotherapists or attorneys or child welfare agencies. All the understand is this is my mommy or daddy and I love them very much. The divorce is none of their business. That is between two adults.

4. Keeping kids completely in the dark – On the contrary, if your child is a little older and mature enough to understand relationships, it is okay to answer the questions that your child has. What does your child want to know? If your divorce had to do with a lifestyle change such as coming out of the closet, finding God, or falling in love with another person, it is okay to tell this to your child but try to say it without your emotions coming through. Of course you are hurt and angry, naturally this would be the case but again, this is between you and the other spouse. It has nothing to do with the children.

5. Skipping family events because your ex will be there – In this case, you can actually use the event to your advantage. Show up looking your best, smiling, be cordial to everyone (in other words mature). Again, if you have to grit your teeth under your tiara, do it for your children. On the same token, if you are going to show up and do not take my advice – please don’t make a fool out of yourself and start drinking or slinking around the corner with his best friend. Remember, your children are there and you are there for them not him/her.

6. Making the situation all about you – The Narcissist. This is actually the flip side of what I just mentioned in number 5. If you are spending your new-found freedom putting your energy into your anger toward your ex, then you aren’t living your life. You are just wasting away and spiraling downhill. Anger toward an ex-loved one means you are apt to make the same mistakes with the new one. Get some closure on this, visit your local therapist and find some resolution.

7. Making kids feel guilty for spending time with their other parent – If they are on the phone with the parent, this is their time. It is not your time to suddenly speak loudly or yell out orders to the other parent. When the child is off the phone it is not okay for you to grill them about what was said. The same goes with a visit or if you bump into them in public. Behave like an adult and this will teach your children how to cope with stress and disorder.

8. Justifying your bad behavior – “I have to protect my children to make sure he doesn’t hurt them, like he hurt me.” Your ex is not going to do to your children what they did to you. You were the spouse, they were the child. If your spouse really is an idiot, time will prove this to your children when they grow up and become adults. Often times however the adult they are living with, ends up looking like the bad guy and the absent parent shines like the knight on a white horse. Absent parents have limited time to spend with their kids. They try to make this time pleasant and fun. They want their children’s love and respect. They want to not be seen like the bad guy. Yes, the custodial parent has to set the rules, deal with the sickness, school calling, etc… Kids eventually understand this and empathize once they are adults and are old enough to realize what you did. However, if you are using the stress to set the other party up, stalk them, craft voodoo dolls, organize gossip parties with neighbors, you will be the one they resent, not the target of your abuse.

9. Putting your kids in the middle – “Tell your father I said he needs to…” and going back “Tell your mother I said…” If you two parents aren’t capable of having a conversation with one another, hire a mediator. Your child has not been certified to be a divorce attorney, arbitrator or mediator. The divorce was not their fault. Get help from licensed professional adults, let your kids be children.

10. Making everyone feel your unhappiness – The Histrionic. No one needs to hear your drama except your best friend, family member, spiritual leader or psychotherapist. Your best friend should be an adult not your child. Your male child is not your little man and your girl child is not your princess. Sexualizing your children with these titles is repulsive and sends confusing messages to children. 

The above ten pointers were a little redundant but I think sometimes it bares repeating the message. For over a decade I have worked with children who were abused, neglected, who have had addicts for parents, or quite simply went through a divorce (without the added bonus of social services being involved). I have dealt with adults going through a divorce and I have dealt with adult children who are survivors of the divorce they had to suffer through when they were children.

We all make mistakes. My mother made mistakes as a divorced woman raising children and as a result I did the same thing. My clients make mistakes and generally they are very similar to what their parents did. Many of us did not have the benefit of the Internet to teach us about psychology. We did not have a society that was open to psychotherapy. We dealt with life through the eyes of our social network that was live and in person, not in a chat room. Now you do have a chance. Young women today who have hundreds of types of birth control and no excuses as to why they should be pregnant with the vast amount of education and support to teach them. Young parents have plenty of resources online, support groups, therapists on every corner, religious leaders are more open-minded, parents are beginning to realize their mistakes, YouTube videos for how too’s, the opportunities for growth are endless.

Your spouse cheated you out of the relationship you wanted. “They” ruined “your” marriage, in your eyes – even though it takes two people to unite into one. I really do empathize that you are pissed and angry and want to make him/her pay. I’ve been there as a child and an adult and I know what it can be like. I don’t know your pain but I know pain. Unfortunately, you have children to be responsible for. Whether the other spouse is living up to their bargain or not is not relevant in your household. Don’t make the children pay for your beliefs. Don’t force them into battlefields and expect them to choose sides. Some children I have worked with in the inner city already have to pick between the reds and the blues, on the streets, every day that they walk out their door. At school our children across America are living in fear of gunmen walking in their class. They deal with gossip of other children; potential bullies. They have an education they are responsible for listening to and learning from. They have two households now to manage living at.

Children’s lives now are not the same as ours were.

If you love your children, you owe it to them to be the best parent you can be. This means that if you are having problems in your relationships, you need to ask for help. If you have been through a divorce (or left your babies parent) it is time to learn from this experience. It is time to evolve and become a stronger and wiser person. Show your children maturity and they will grow into brilliant, healthy and responsible people. Show your children chaos, anger, maliciousness and they will become victims who will have a hard time growing up.

Parental Visitation is a Right not a Priviledge

A child should be able to visit their parent, as per court order.  There should only be an exception if abuse is involved – real abuse, not that cooked up by the angry spouse with custody.  It is unfortunate that some parents will make up abuse stories and this ruins a child’s emotional stability.

If a child is naughty, this is not a reason to hold them back from the parent either – out of spite.  The opposite parent, whether they are setting consequences properly or not has a responsibility to the child just as the one with custody does.  Having custody of a child does not mean you are the owner.  It means you have the most responsibility.  The other parent has the same when they are with the child, though if they only see the child on occasion it is generally fun time not a time for setting consequences.

**Grandparents have rights to see the child as well (from the side that does not have custody).  It is not fair to rob a child of their ancestry just because you don’t like your spouse.  The grandparents are not at fault (I am sure there are exceptions), for you and your spouse or partner ending.  Even if they are at fault, if they did not abuse the child they have a right to see the child.

What should you do? 

If you are upset with the opposite spouse, that is between you and them.  It is not the child’s fault.  The child needs to deal with the divorce or the split of the relationship with both of you, not just one parent.  The child has a right to know their grandparents and aunts and uncles too.  The person with the custody is supposed to be the more mature and wiser parent who was granted full custody because the judge thought you could be trusted.  There are also circumstances in which the opposite parent may not have the ability to accept full custody.  Most likely you and your lawyer made sure this happened.  Thus being the wiser and more mature parent, it is important to put your differences aside and think only of your child and their right to know their parent and extended family.

What happens if you don’t?

An emotionally healthy child will turn against you when they are out on their own and go out in search of the other parent and their family.  You will have some really hard teen years before they turn 18 though.  An emotionally unhealthy child will be angry and take out their frustrations on themselves.  Studies show that girls are more likely to end up pregnant and boys are more likely to end up in juvenile hall. There are also cases of kids who engage in cutting, suicidal ideations, addictions and other forms of self-harm.

It will be difficult for both types of children to be in relationships that are satisfying.  How can they have healthy relationships when their role models have been keeping them away from their families and they have not had a chance to learn more about themselves through their identity phase of adolescence?

What happens to you?

To quote an old cliche “You get to be right, not loved or anything else nice just right.”   When you put a lot of energy on your anger toward the opposite spouse, you bring in a lot of negativity and turmoil in your life.

Turning this around:

Talk to the other parent.  If they are not capable of having a mature conversation, talk to a mediator, family therapist or even lawyer if need be.  If you weren’t successful at being married (or in a relationship), chances are it will be even harder for you to be divorced or separated.  Professionals are a good choice to deal with this.  Don’t use the children to punish the opposite parent. Don’t use the children to have conversations with the opposite parent. Don’t punish the children for tattling on you to the other parent.  They are kids.

If you have evidence that abuse is involved – contact social services in your state. Let them do the investigation.  If you have concrete evidence e.g., marks, they will find it or the doctors will examine them. If you have knowledge that the other person is using while being with your children – contact social services and let them do an investigation.

When you end a relationship with someone and there are children involved, you are going to continue having them in your life for the rest of your life and the lives of your children. It is best to try and realize that now it is about your children, not whether or not you like your spouse (or partner).  It is not easy but the children must come first.

Infidelity – Not about Sex – Unless it Is

When a man or woman chooses to step outside the marriage, it is not for sex – unless the person is a sex addict.   That being said, I am choosing to write about regular cheating or infidelity as there are plenty of articles on the web about pornography, cyber sex, and prostitution.

Infidelity means a few things 1. No communication in marriage, 2. Bored with relationship, 3. Bad marriage overall or 4. We are both getting old and I want someone younger, so I can feel young again.  None of these have anything to do with wanting better sex.  Since the 60’s we have done the trial and error thing prior to marriage, so we do know what we are getting when we say “I Do.”  I am sure there are cases where one partner isn’t interested in sex any more and one is.  I’ve also seen movies about “My wife is dying of cancer” which leads to sex with another too.  Lots of reasons why we become intimate with someone outside the marriage. Even these last two reasons aren’t really about sex but emotional connection.  Someone who helps them feel alive once again.

Why not just leave the partner first and then chase another?  It doesn’t work that way.  In most circumstances the relationship has grown into a state of affairs that is beyond repair (or is it?).  Meanwhile, you are used to what you have.  So the person in the relationship isn’t considering therapy but they don’t feel like leaving either.  Its not easy to walk away from a daily routine that feels comfortable even though it is exhausting. Lets just say this is a stage of denial.  We will pretend it isn’t happening as we get further and further apart.

One partner takes a mild flirtation at the office to the next level.  It is fun and takes your mind off of stress at work and home.  There is something exotic about this and no one will know anyway.  Or you are hanging out with friends and get a little drunk and the next thing you know you are gyrating with some stranger on the dance floor.  Its Vegas anyway, so who will know?  There are so many stories that I could share.  Whether the affair is a one night stand a few nights, or several years takes on different meanings about your relationship.

What to do once you have?  Good question.  Someone who is very perceptive and trusts their instincts is going to figure out something has shifted in the house.  Often women are more on top of this then men, but not always.  Then comes the jealousy and questions but this is not necessary.  Unless you have proof, no partner is going to spill their guts on an affair.  If you begin rifling through drawers and cabinets, pockets and shirt collars, you will go insane. Consider therapy – for yourself for starters (either the one who has cheated or the one who suspects).  Whoever is bothered by the situation at hand needs to talk to someone.  Ask your partner if they would be willing to talk to a therapist, begin to unravel what has already become a big mess before it gets worse.

“I can’t talk to my partner.”  Why not? So every single day you spend with your spouse, you are unable to say a word?  I doubt that.  If you are afraid to talk to the other, than definitely this is a relationship that needs to be dissolved.  If not, and you are just being stubborn about not standing up for what you want, then here is a phrase you can use at the dinner table – or text them if it is really that bad.  “I am feeling like we have lost our relationship and I want to get it back.  Would you be willing to go to a couples counselor so we can get back on board?”  If they say no, then you really have to be willing to prepare to separate and start a new life.  If someone is that antagonist about getting support in a marriage, it is beyond repair.  If they say yes, take the initiative and start reviewing couples counselors online. Find three that you really like and then have your partner decide which one they like the most.  That is the first step in working together and rebuilding.  A joint decision.

Now you have been in therapy and have begun to communicate what is going on within.  It has been hard to hear what you already knew about yourself but didn’t want to deal with.  It has been fun though to finally get out of your system what you wanted to say about your partner.  It is also nice to have a mediator who is helping to navigate and coach you back to some sense of peace between the two of you.

Then out of nowhere comes “I had an affair.” Yikes! Here you thought it was all coming back to a nice comfortable place rather than a detached abnormal space and then this arrives in the room.  What are you supposed to do with it?

Most people cannot handle infidelity because it means there is no trust in the relationship anymore.  It is important to consider the circumstances involved though and take a mature approach to this – if you can.  Has it been going on for a considerable time period or is this a night in Vegas type thing that someone couldn’t bare to sit on any longer?  You have to be the judge of what you can tolerate and what you cannot.  The shorter the marriage the less strength it will have.  The longer the marriage the more of an investment and emotional commitment is there.  Though it could have grown stale and it is time to move on as well.

Everyone’s situation is different and only you and your partner know what is best for you.  Consider this however.  Before ending the partnership, and if possible before things get really bad between you two, talk to a therapist.  No marriage (unless abuse or other significant factor is involved) should ever consult with an attorney until they have had some closure with a therapist.  On the contrary, thinking divorce as the only answer, is probably the best way to go though.  If this is foremost in your mind then it is inevitable anyway.  If this is not what you are thinking but you know there are problems afoot, then don’t sit around procrastinating any longer. The more you wait to contact a therapist, the obstacle only grows. The potential for an affair is on the horizon.

You owe it to yourself and to your partner – who you have chosen to stay with, to do the work.  Marriage isn’t easy.  Both sides bring problems to the union and each is at fault for letting things continue as they are.