Communication: The Big Divorce Challenge

This month, we share a blog post Communication: The Big Divorce Challenge, presented by FamilyKind associate and divorce coach, Rich Heller.

 

Men and women have different approaches to divorce, and one might say to life. Very often it’s these differences that drive the divorce, and make it go on and on and on… In order to have a less expensive divorce both financially and emotionally, these approaches need to somehow to be bridged.

Speaking in broad generalizations, men tend to be more goal-oriented in their divorce process, they want to know how to do it, what’s the best way to do it, how can they do it quickly, and how can they move on with their lives. Women tend to be more relationally-focused in their divorce. They want to move through their feelings and do it with the support of others who have been through it as well as their existing network of support. This is not to say that men don’t have feelings or relationships, or that women don’t have goals because that is certainly not the case. Men are loaded with feelings and women certainly use goals, it’s really just a matter of what they focus on more.

When we are dating, these tendencies tend to balance out more. We are getting to know each other, falling in love with one another, seeing each other’s strengths and weaknesses as well as who we can be, dream and create together. In the romance stage men tend to be more relational and women can lean towards goals more, there is a great deal of communication and a meeting of the minds. Then we get married and the game changes!

By definition marriage is a huge commitment and anytime an individual takes on a huge commitment it changes the individual and how they operate. Right from the get go, the relationship is altered! The relationship continues to change as the couple falls into a routine, and especially once they have children, which is the ultimate routine developer.

Slowly over time, we move from romance to routine, from the other person being the most important person in the world to them being another facet of our daily lives and often not on the top of the list. On the top of the list is making money to feed the family, the actual feeding and care of the family, maintenance and care of the household, and these often at the expense of personal care. Last on the list is the marriage itself. One day we wake up and don’t know who’s on the other side of the bed, it looks like the person we married but they act like a complete stranger. Suddenly we find themselves experiencing the marriage as if we are two people who are at best living parallel lives, and perhaps even on divergent ones. This is usually where we call the attorneys and begin the process of divorce. We look at this person who was to be our life partner and see an enemy. Some of us see our worst nightmare of an enemy, some of us see an enemy that we can negotiate with.

It is at this point that the different operating systems kick in, men want out quickly so they can move on with their lives, while women want to make sure that their children are secure and their own future is not in danger. These different orientations lead to warfare of one kind or another. The question is does it have to be this way?

At any point in the divorce process, it is possible to break through this impasse. Imagine being able to communicate with the mother or father of your children so that they hear you, or even understand you? Once this bridge of communication is built everything can get smoother. Once you understand one another you can make clear decisions about which direction you’re going to move. Worst case is that you get that they won’t change, so you know how best to mitigate their impact. At best, you may even achieve some commonality and agreement about what’s best for the children.

Once the focus becomes a shared higher good — like the children — it becomes easier to get on the same page and move forward. From this place there is less arguing, from this place expenses become lower, from this place the lawyers are less necessary in the decision-making process and simply articulate what you both want.

Getting to this place requires accepting that first, if your not already there, it’s unlikely that you’ll get there on your own. You’re probably going to need some help. Could be coaching, therapy, counseling, or maybe a pastor or rabbi — someone to help you both learn to listen to one another, speak each other’s language, understand one another, and identify common ground where you can work together instead of at odds with each other. You’re going to need to work with someone who not only has experience but also has a system.

What about the cost? How are you going to pay for the help? The fact is the upfront cost of the right help is so much less than the cost of not doing so. Not only are we talking about reduced legal fees, and less time working through the divorce process, but we’re talking about less emotional and psychological scarring to both of you and your children. We’re also talking about laying down the groundwork for working together as parents in the future once you’re divorced. Let’s get real. Once you’re divorced, you still need to work together if you have children in the picture. If you have this basis, you won’t be going back to court once the divorce is complete.

The first step is to reach out for help, if you don’t know the right person or if you’re not sure, call FamilyKind, that’s exactly what this organization was created for, to help people find their way through the divorce process in the least painful manner possible. FamilyKind works on a sliding scale to make the process affordable.

Our Generous Sponsors

jadk;ag

How Divorced Parents Can Avoid Getting on Santa’s “Naughty List”

This holiday season, we share a podcast How Divorced Parents Can Avoid Getting on Santa’s “Naughty” List. This interview is presented by FamilyKind board member Stacy Francis, President and CEO of Francis Financial, and host of Financially Ever After.

Stacy is joined by our very own Shari Bornstein to discuss how to put bitterness aside and prioritize your children when celebrating the holidays.

Above: Shari Bornstein

• • •

Do you hate your ex-spouse more than you love your child? In this podcast, you will gain insight on:

  • How to prevent and prepare for possible conflict during the upcoming holidays (12:19)
  • Finding middle ground when it comes to differing parenting styles (15:01)
  • Scheduling your holiday sharing plan (15:47)
  • Parenting techniques, such as the pizza delivery technique, and using buzzwords to avoid bitterness and conflict in front of the kids (17:46)
  • How parents can avoid being “naughty” by coordinating traditions and not “out-gifting” each other (21:58)
  • Tips on how to make the holidays less stressful for your children (28:29)

Listen to the Podcast

Catherine Canadé, Collaborative Attorney, Divorce and Family Mediator

We continue our series of posts introducing FamilyKind Consultants. Our consultants are experienced and accomplished professionals providing education and support services to empower children, parents and couples before, during and after separation or divorce.

Above: Catherine Canadé (second from left) served as a participant in the panel discussion Divorce Professionals: When Personal History Intersects with Professional Experience.

• • •

FK: Describe the focus of your practice and the services you provide.

Catharine Canadé: I help couples separate and divorce outside of court through mediation and the collaborative process. I also draft prenups, postnups, cohabitation agreements, parenting plans, uncontested divorce papers and I serve as a consulting and review attorney for clients working in mediation. I work with many members of the LGBT community. I also teach the legal portion of FamilyKind’s parent education classes and train and mentor new mediators.

FK: How long have you been in private practice? What other related work experience have you had? Did you have a career prior to becoming a mediator?

CC: I was admitted to the bar in 1990 and after a few years at a large NYC law firm’s litigation department, spent many years in London and Singapore as an international trademark attorney, always working in family law pro bono. When I returned to the United States I refocused my practice on family and matrimonial law but reaffirmed the fact that I am not temperamentally suited for litigation. I dislike the “win/lose” aspect of litigation and the conduct of attorneys who take an “us vs them” stance. I feel that family members should not be position against each other but should work together to find a mutually beneficiary solution. I took my first mediation training at the New York Peace Institution in 2010 and that was it. I knew that this was the professional path I wanted to pursue. I took my collaborative law training thereafter and opened my own practice January 1, 2012. I continue to work pro bono and “low bono,” with FamilyKind, on the mediation panel of the NYC Family Court, and with the New York Peace Institute. I am the immediate past president of the Family & Divorce Mediation Counsel of Greater New York, am the co-founder and Assistant Director of the National Association of Divorce Professionals Brooklyn Chapter, and a founding member of the Long Island Collaborative Divorce Professionals.

FK: What has been the most satisfying FamilyKind case that you handled and why?

CC: Many of the FamilyKind cases are complicated and challenging, reflecting the realities of living and raising children in NYC and around the world. One case that stands out for me is a couple with 5 children: 1 lived with Dad in NYC and 4 lived with Mom in Europe. There were issues regarding spousal support for Mom and child support for the 5 children, which included reviewing complicated budgets, calculations of US sole proprietor income and European welfare and health care benefits, and modification and step downs that had to take into account a foreign exchange rate, and importantly, the parenting plan, which involved the costs of time differences in international travel, maintaining consistent and meaningful parent involvement, all with the backdrop of high emotion and conflict. The case had been filed in court two years before the couple found the FamilyKind mediation program and the litigation attorneys had gotten almost nowhere in terms of an agreement and had cost the clients a lot of money. Some of the sessions were conducted in person when Mom was in NYC, others took place via Skype. The mediation took almost two years and I got to know and care very much about the family. When the agreement was signed we hugged and talked about opening a bottle of champagne to celebrate.

FK: What are some new areas of challenge that parents today may face when they separate?

CC: Working and living in New York City, the cost of housing is a major factor in coming up with a parenting plan. I have had many couples who must remain living together, with an “internal separation” plan, and some even after divorce, who continue to share a home. Another challenge is working out the value of a rent controlled apartment, which is unique to NYC. It is in fact a priceless commodity but in divorce we need to put a price on it. Many couples end up relocating out of the city because of high costs, so I handle a good number or relocation cases, which are complicated and fact specific but are much better handled in mediation or through a collaborative process than in a courtroom.

FK: How do you see children benefiting from services that you provide to their parents?

CC: I always emphasize to my clients that it is not the separation or divorce that harms the children, it is the conflict between the parents. So I keep my processes “child focused,” using a variety of tools and techniques to keep the children in mind throughout the process, including discussing with the parents that while their romantic relationship may have changed they will always be co-parents and, later on, maybe co-grandparents.

FK: Are you involved in any volunteer pursuits that you are passionate about?

CC: Mental health issues are important to me. I see so many clients where the parents or the children need mental health support, and sometimes they are not getting it because they cannot afford it. Mental Health America has a mission to improve and increase the availability of mental health services across the country no matter the clients’ financial situation, Through their advocacy network, I support national legislative efforts to bring mental health treatment to all of those in need, including the homeless, trans youth and others who are often seemingly invisible in our society.

Jennifer Safian, Tri-Lingual Divorce and Family Mediator

We continue our series of posts introducing FamilyKind Consultants. Our consultants are experienced and accomplished professionals providing education and support services to empower children, parents and couples before, during and after separation or divorce.

FK: Describe the focus of your practice and the services you provide.

Jennifer Safian: My mediation practice focused primarily on helping couples who are going through a separation or divorce. I also mediate prenuptial and postnuptial agreements, post-divorce conflicts between parents regarding their children, and other conflicts that may arise between different members of a family. I conduct mediations in English, French and Spanish.

FK: What other related work experience have you had?

JS: I have mediated many divorces and parenting conflicts in the family courts of New York City and Westchester.

FK: What has been the most satisfying FamilyKind case that you handled and why?

JS: I worked with one separating couple over two years. When I first met with them, the wife was extremely reluctant to a divorce, not only because she was emotionally devastated but because she felt that they could not financially afford to live in two separate homes. We took the process very slowly with many breaks between meetings, some meetings were even many months apart. Small steps, one step at a time, allowed the parties to adjust to each other’s needs. At the time of the signing of their divorce, they wrote me a very nice note to express their appreciation for my understanding and patience in their particular situation. I was happy that I was able to accompany them and support them through this very difficult time in their lives.

FK: What are some new areas of challenge that parents today may face when they separate?

JS: In my practice, I see many situations where one parent moves to a different state or even a different country for a variety of reasons. Keeping in touch and involved with one’s children when living apart requires much more effort on the part of the parents. I work with these parents to help them set up a structure which will allow them to be in touch with their children more consistently. I also have to help them be very creative so they can both spend real time with their children.

FK: How do you see children benefiting from services that you provide to their parents?

JS: When working with divorcing parents, my focus is directed mostly on the best interest of their children. It is of utmost importance to me to help parents with their communication and to help them create a structure where they will both continue to co-parent so that their children can flourish as best as possible despite their parents separation.

FK: Did you have a career prior to becoming a mediator?

JS: Yes. I was an art dealer for many years, serving clients who were looking to put together art collections that reflected best their needs and their own personal taste.

FK: Are you involved in any volunteer pursuits that you are passionate about?

JS: My volunteer work reflects very closely that of my practice. Helping families through conflict. My life as a mother and grandmother is also a big part of my life and daily concerns.

Link to view Jennifer’s video What is Divorce Mediation.

Helene Bernstein, Family Law Attorney and Mediator

This post is first in a series to introduce FamilyKind Consultants, team members who provide support services empowering children, parents and couples before, during and after separation or divorce.

FK: Describe the focus of your practice and the services you provide.

Helene Bernstein: I manage a litigation and mediation practice focusing on family and divorce law. I handle matters such as child custody, child and spousal support, family offense, and child protective matters in the Family and Appellate Courts. I offer my divorce and family law services as a mediator, collaborative attorney, and as a litigation attorney. Mediation is also a wonderful option for couples who are in need of a preuptial agreement or a separation agreement.

FK: How long have you been in private practice? What other related work experience have you had?

HB: I have been practicing law for over twenty-five years. I became a mediator close to ten years ago after feeling that many families were not being served properly in the court system. I began my career as a lawyer representing the Administration for Children’s Services prosecuting child abuse and neglect cases. I also continue to represent children in contested custody matters.

FK: What has been the most satisfying FamilyKind case that you handled and why?

HB: The most rewarding case I mediated as a FamilyKind consultant involved a Brooklyn couple who divorced and effectively managed to co-parent and financially support their children after full disclosure of their income, assets and liabilities. The couple learned to communicate their own needs more effectively, and to focus on the needs of their children in a more productive way.

FK: What are some new areas of challenge that parents today may face when they separate?

HB: Parents separating today in NYC face greater financial challenges as the costs of living in NYC continue to skyrocket. In mediation we encourage the parents to be realistic about their budgets and the basic needs of the family. Many times the residential parent requests to relocate with the children out of NYC for financial reasons, which may have an impact on the parental access of the nonresidential parent.

FK: How do you see children benefiting from services that you provide to their parents?

HB: Children benefit when parents learn to effectively communicate with one another and not place their children in the middle of their disputes. I often recommend to clients that they participate separately in a parent education class, which helps them realize the enormous impact their ongoing conflict places on their children’s emotional wellbeing.

FK: Did you have a career prior to becoming a mediator?

HB: I went to Brooklyn Law School directly after college at SUNY-Binghamton, where I earned a B.A. in Political Science. My interests and pursuits always leaned toward working with children and I worked as a camp counselor, babysitter, and as a library aide in the children’s section of my local library.

FK: Are you involved in any volunteer pursuits that you are passionate about?

HB: My volunteer pursuits for many years involved strengthening the parent special education group in my children’s school district. Both my twin boys were diagnosed with learning differences at a young age. As a result of my advocacy and support from parents, teachers, and administrators, my boys and many other wonderful children have grown up to be self reliant and successful young people who are pursing college careers.

Summertime Transitions for Children of Divorce and Separation

Summer brings about many transitions for families. Families move from a nine-month school-based schedule to a variety of summer activities for children and parents. Some parents use this time of year to transition from an intact family to a new configuration without the pressures of the academic year. Often children of divorce or separation leave their home for camp or to enjoy extended time with their other parent. For newly configured families, uninterrupted vacation time provides children with new experiences and fond memories.

Not all transitions are easy, but with a positive view and support, they can lead to an improved quality of life for the family.

FamilyKind understands transitions as well. Collaboration with Kids of Summer Sports created an opportunity to provide support for children experiencing transitions during and post family re-configuration. We are excited to offer two brand new children’s programs for those of divorced or separated parents.

Children in grades 3 to 5 participate in the fun and interactive program Good Talk for Children, based on many of the same skills and principles parents learn in FamilyKind’s certified parent education classes, but at a level they can understand.

Youth in grades 6 to 8 participating in Good Photography for Children learn how to use photography to understand and express themselves. Who doesn’t know a teen that’s constantly taking and posting selfies, food, friends and places? With guided prompts and valuable discussions, they’ll broaden their views and feelings about their world.

Tell me more you ask? Here’s some quick information.

What: “Good Talk for Children” is also known as GT4. “Good Photography for Children” is also known as GP4. More information is available at http://familykind.org/index.php/goodtalk4children or http://familykind.org/index.php/goodphotography4children.

When: Both programs are offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4 to 5:30 (after typical camp hours) for 3 weeks. GT4’s first 3-week cycle is from July 10 to July 26 and it’s second 3-week cycle is between July 31 and August 16. Children take either the first or second session. GP4 will run for one 3-week cycle from July 31 to August 16. (Keep an eye out for the fall schedule of programs.)

Where: Both programs will be conducted in AIR CONDITIONED classrooms at PS 75 on West End Avenue and 95th Street, NYC, conveniently located near the 1, 2 and 3 trains at 96th Street. Snacks will be served.

Who: Youth in grades 3 to 5 and 6 to 8 who are or have experienced their parents’ divorce or separation are welcome, whether or not they are attending camp. To find out if these programs are right for your child(ren) or to REGISTER, contact Ellen Taner at 212 213 3530 or etaner@familykind.org. Ellen Taner will lead GT4 and Ellen Denuto will lead GP4. Both programs will have two additional staff.

How: After completing the registration process, parents will be invoiced $300 for one child or $550 for two (siblings or friends registering at the same time).

Why: Families deserve and need high-quality support as they transition through divorce and separation, and FamilyKind is here to help!

• • •

Ellen Taner is a parenting and family education practitioner.

Finding Joy in Transitions

Tis the season for graduations. Children will soon move from one grade level to another. College graduates will head into the “real world” from the safety of all-inclusive dorm life to paying rent, electric and cable bills and budgeting for discretionary spending.

Other life transitions are more dramatic. Whatever the cause, perhaps there is a career change to a different employer or a larger pivot to a new title. Transitions can cause anxiety, even good ones. How do we turn these transitions into positive experiences?

Elle Pendry, from 1LifeCoaching shared advice that she uses with her clients to help with major life transitions. “Take time to explore guiding principles.” Asking clients to honor their own values is a way for them to channel their path forward into unchartered territory.

Elle speaks from her own experience. She started her professional career as a lawyer. Despite years of education and investment of time, she knew early on that walking the legal path for thirty years was not how she envisioned her future. She was no longer satisfied with the competitive environment of the practice of law and lack of creativity billing clients in six-minute intervals. Like most, she was brought up to do the “sensible thing” and follow through with the career she launched for herself. Elle keenly felt the pressure to consider what everyone would think if she abandoned such a prestigious profession.

To assuage her discontent, she took baby steps by teaching entertainment and corporate law to post-graduate students. Even with this pivot, Elle knew there was something else she was destined to do. She engaged in therapy to learn what triggered the panic attacks she experienced. In this work, Elle began to focus on behaviors and feelings. She discovered that she yearned to learn more to help others heal from the fallout of choices that no longer brought joy. She explored her own set of values and what really mattered. She selected life coaching as her focus for transformation. “Coaching isn’t about fixing people” she explained. “It’s about bringing people into alignment and helping them find joy.”

Deciding to separate or divorce is no less a crucial life transition. Many people remain trapped in unhealthy relationships because they feel shame or fear what others will say. Elle worked with a recently divorced client. The client was experiencing anxiety about doing the “right thing” for her children. What about herself? The key piece that was missing was the client’s recognition of her own value and accepting that she was entitled to joy. The client learned to honor her own set of values. Providing permission to open ourselves to lightness gives space for joy to step in.

Transitioning from coupledom to singledom is a huge emotional undertaking even if the breakdown of the relationship is mutual. It seems an impossible task to discover joy in the cyclone of emotions that swirls during this time. Elle’s advice is to attack each transition and demand joy based on your own set of values. Shed the weight of what people will think. Every transition is as an opportunity to honor your own values and experience personal growth. While separation or divorce is a serious transition, it can be a time to reward yourself with the joy that you deserve.

• • •

Shari Bornstein is an attorney and mediator.

Transitioning to Middle School: Guidelines for Your Child’s Social Life

Question: My daughter will be starting middle school next year. How can I help her adjust to the big social changes without being too intrusive?

Response: The transition into middle school can be a difficult time. At times you and your child will be excited and sometimes, afraid of this big transition academically, socially, and physically. Children tend to rely more heavily on the opinions and attitudes of peers and begin to pull away from their parents. However, it doesn’t mean you will no longer have a significant influence over your child’s movement towards independence.

Meeting new kids from several different schools whose families are unfamiliar to you may feel unsettling for you and your child. However, it may also be a wonderful time to explore new interests. Encourage your child to join sports teams, clubs or other extracurricular activities. Explore their interests and passions and find activities that are a good fit for them, ones they will enjoy and stick with even during difficult challenges. However, ease any loneliness in the beginning months by encouraging your child to arrange dates with grade school or other familiar friends.

These middle school years are often referred to as the “drama years”. Your child is experiencing physical changes (possibly beginning puberty) which only adds to the unease and insecurity that a new social environment can provide. Mood swings become rampant, “popularity” and “coolness” become more paramount. Their body image and clothing start to take precedence over many other things. Kids like to be part of a group and being perceived as different can be a devastating feeling.

Friendships change, often weekly, with tears or fights. It’s tough to let them experience being at the receiving end of a social conflict without stepping in. You can, however, let your child know you are interested in what’s going on, that you want to hear about their day. If you are patient, are a good listener and don’t try to be too corrective, chances are they’ll be more apt to share their experiences with you. Invite your child into the conversation by asking what they think they can do, what is their opinion of why this is happening, and just listen. Too many questions or advice may make them want to back off from talking altogether. Some kids will naturally want to share, while others may not want to discuss these matters with you. It can be a delicate balance at this age.

Experiment with different times or activities that encourage conversation such as during meal preparation together, bedtime, taking a walk, driving, or other activity. If your child still needs to be encouraged to open up, schedule a weekly “sharing time” for the entire family to talk about a highlight, and a low point of the week. To make it fun, have a household object such as a pillow, or an old stuffed animal that is held by the speaker until they are done sharing. Keep the time to five minutes per person to start. Privately with your child, come back to anything you heard that you want to explore further. It’s always helpful to share your own problem solving strategies you used to handle your low point, as well as what you did when there was a highlight.

Be open to using resources that are available at school, in the community, or FamilyKind. Consider taking a parenting class with other families with adolescents to learn effective communication and family management skills that will help minimize the “drama” and increase the maturity you want for your child.

Middle school is a time of developmental and social change for your child. Be ready to accept the rollercoaster of emotions and social fluctuations with patience and understanding and with time you’ll be witness to their newfound growth and independence.

• • •

Jane Romeo is a Parent Education Consultant, Coach, and Workshop Facilitator.

Traveling the Road to a Successful Transition as a Step-Parent


 

As I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, I came across a birthday post on a friend’s wall written by her step-daughter. I’ll refer to the step-daughter as Sally. Sally thanked my FB friend, whom I’ll call Michelle, for having a heart of gold and for being part of her life. She wished her step-mother a joyous day and wrote that she loved her. A montage of lovely family pictures accompanied the post.

I was so touched by the sentiment that Sally posted on her step-mother’s wall, I had to ask more questions about their relationship. How did Michelle transition so successfully to her role as step-mother? What did Michelle do to evoke such warm feelings from her step-daughter, who was older when Michelle began a relationship with Sally’s dad?

I called Michelle for answers to my questions about a transition that can be infected with conflict and competition. Michelle reflected that her transition to step-parenthood was relatively easy. I did NOT expect that word to describe relationships that historically are portrayed with the word “cruel” (Think Cinderella). Michelle shared that her husband still has significant conflict with Sally’s mother, almost two decades after their divorce. Their children are adults now, but sadly, the bitterness has not subsided. For her part, Michelle tries to ignore the bad feelings between her husband and his former spouse. “Out of sight; out of mind” she said.

Perhaps Michelle’s transition was easier because she comes from a close-knit family and she still treasures family time. Growing up, holidays were important to Michelle. Though her parents are now deceased, she sought to recreate warm memories for her step-children, complete with playing games over which to bond. If Michelle and her husband rented a summer cottage, the children were always invited to join the festivities in the sand.

Her role as step-mother sometimes still requires Michelle to serve as a buffer for the kids between her husband and their mother in the continued conflict. Undeterred, she respects boundaries and makes it a point to let the kids know that they can reach out to her if they need anything. The FB post was evidence of Sally’s appreciation. The kids recognize that she tries hard to make family gatherings special for them. They feel warm and welcome in Michelle’s company.

Life has become more complicated now that the kids are adults and have their own lives to enjoy. Scheduling family time has become challenging, so Michelle took to planning a family dinner on a set day and time each month. “Whoever can come, comes” she said. No pressure on anyone. The door remains open.

The road to a successful transition to step-mother? Avoid the common pot holes. The takeaway: honor boundaries, avoid criticism and anticipate some curves in the road. Michelle provides a respite for her step-children amid their parents’ ongoing conflict. She relied on her own warm family memories to create a comfortable setting for the children. It worked, given the love expressed by her step-daughter in a public FB post for all to see

• • •

Shari Bornstein is an attorney and mediator.