Divorce and Separation in the USA

A global perspective of the human effects of separation and divorce

Parental Alienation and Mediation

Karen and Nick Woodall facilitated a workshop on their work with what they call alienated children and their families. Parental alienation is described as occuring when a parent consciously or unconsciously works towards permanently damaging the child’s relationship with the other parent. Nick Woodall describes it as ” The unjustified rejection of a once loving relationship with a parent, usually in the context of separation and divorce”. They argue that professionals working with separation and divorce need to understand parental alienationand how to treat it. Their work can be read about at: www.familyseparationclinic.co.uk.

There were a number of aspects of their work that gave rise to debate amongst the Family Mediators present and there was some unease at the mixed model they used to treat the families. The Woodalls seem to use a mix of Therapy, Mediation, Assessment and, once might say, Advocacy in their practice. The workshop would have to have had a more thorough study of how the boundaries were managed between those different processes to elicit a fuller understanding.

Some of the core questions for the mediators were as follows:

What’s the difference between parental alienation and high conflict? Maybe they are not mutually exclusive.

Can you assess the children without meeting them? The debate centred around the importance of the voice of the child and how much weight should be placed on this, over the perception of the parents.

Is it possible to mediate cases where parental alienation is happening? The general feeling was that you could, as mediators are not assessing but opening up channels of communication.

Three key questions that the Woodalls highlighted as part of assessing were:

1. What do we know?
2. What do we want to know?
3. What concerns have we got?

How do they play out if you are mediating and do not have an assessment role?

This area of work is very interesting and has resonance for those of us working in separation and divorce. However, there would need to be some work done on how one might integrate this understanding of parental alienation into mediation practice.


Tips for Managing Christmas

Managing the Christmas season

Note: This post uses Christmas as the focal point for talking about holiday stress.
These helpful hints relate to all holidays or important family gatherings.

“We wish you a Merry Christmas” is playing on the radio as you sit in your car at the local shopping centre, with your hazard lights flashing waiting for the next available parking space. Your mind is full of thoughts of what you have to do, you feel anxious and notice the start of a headache. You promise yourself next year it will be different. A picture of a sun filled beach comes to mind, yet here you are miserable, stressed and wishing you were anywhere else.

How do we get ourselves through this so very merry of a season, when we feel anything but?
Here are some tips that might help you in situations like this:

· Be aware of what causes you stress and look at ways to minimise it
· Consider what you could do differently to manage your stress better
· Do more of what you like to do and less of what you should do
· Place realistic expectations on yourself

Dealing with Family
Christmas conjures up picture perfect images of idyllic family scenes, but the reality may differ considerably. Christmas can be fraught with emotions and family tensions. If you anticipate some tension over the festive season consider:

· The need to be respectful of the rules of the house you are visiting
· Changing the script and not falling back into old familial roles
· Limiting the amount of time you will be under the same roof
· Taking time out if a heated situation develops

Alone at Christmas
If you know that you are going to be on your own for Christmas, take time to plan what you are going to do so you don’t feel lonely:

· Have a routine in your day, including any religious observance
· Plan what you are going to wear and what you would like to eat
· Get some exercise, take a walk to your favourite place if possible
· Organise some treats for yourself
· Ask a friend if he/she/others are available to share Christmas lunch
· Consider doing some volunteer work e.g. arrange a visit to a nearby nursing home to help with serving food or to chat with elderly people

Coping with Grief
Christmas can be lonely for those suffering the loss or death of a loved one. Everyone else may appear happy and there may be an expectation that you do the same. Your sadness may just be too great. However, try not to isolate yourself. While your pain cannot be taken away, things might be made a little easier by:

· Planning ahead in the knowledge that things will be different without the person
· Keeping it simple: do only what is really important and feasible for you
· Acknowledging the loss in whatever way you are comfortable with
· Accepting offers of help whether these are practical or emotional

Outside pressures and influences
At Christmas it is common to be surrounded by images of happy families, smiles all around and luxurious gifts. This may be, but it is not always the true picture of Christmas for all.
Advertising around Christmas is mainly associated with buying and gift giving. The effort of “keeping up with the Jones”, and the expectation placed on families to be able to provide all the newly launched products and toys can be very stressful. Often families feel obliged to spend more than they can afford which can result in financial problems.

These are some points to think about:
· Create realistic expectations
· Don’t be afraid to talk about these with family
· Remember every family celebrates Christmas in its own way with their own traditions and values
· Create new memories and traditions

Financial Matters
Christmas happens at the same time every year. Take time to prepare for it:
· Make a budget so you know what you have to spend
· Stick to your budget by planning what you want to buy before you go shopping
· Start early and look out for sales and discounts
· Avoid promising gifts beyond your budget
· Be creative

Eating and Drinking
For many people Christmas is a time of indulgence where we consume much more than we normally would. Adverts tempt us to give in to the excesses – until January when all that is marketed are weight loss solutions!

To enjoy the festivities within the limits of what you are happy with try:

· Retaining some structure in your regular diet and exercise routine
· Hosting a meal in your own home where you control menu and portion sizes
· Keeping a perspective – food and drink are just two of many pleasurable activities
· Not berating yourself if you cannot resist, there is always a next time

Reference :Tips for Managing the Christmas Season by the Irish Civil Service Employee Assistance Service (CSEAS)

Example of Parenting Mediation from Scotland

Mediating Divorce and Separating Cases

The mediators of the Family Mediation Service in Ireland primarily practice a comprehensive model of family mediation. This model covers all issues in divorce and demands that the mediator deals with a wide range of issues all within the one process.

This all issues model has been the back bone of the Fmaily Mediation Service in Ireland, which has also developed Court annexed services, single issue mediation processes and Mandatory Information Sessions.

This website will include blogs for mediators who are interested in looking in detail at the aspects of this work and discuss ideas pertenant to the mediation profession.

Separation: Whose right?

Working as a mediator means that we have the privelege of working with both parties going through separation. We experience the difficulties of both mum and dad, as they try and work out how to parent their children through a divorce, and we sit with the couple, as they jointly work out how to manage their money.

It is a unique position and gives us an insight into the realities of a what it is like to go through such a difficult time. So, what have we learnt over the years, as we work with couples negotiating their divorce:

It’s rare that one person is completely right and the other  wrong.  Both people go through separation in different ways. They have different experiences and worries, needs and interests. The divorce effects them in different ways. Each sees things  from their own point of view and can find it hard to listen to the other person. This is natural given the circumstances, but none the less something that impedes a good resolution of the divorce and encourages escalating conflict.

Mediators know that its only when a couple can see beyond this narrow right/wrong view and start to understand that both count, that a way forward can be found. If a couple carries on contending, hoping that each will win over the other, years can be wasted as the fight escalates, money is lost as the battle is waged and lives are diminished by the sheer ferocity of the fight.

The divorce agreement will not give either party 100% of what they want, regardless of whether it is settled in court of negotiated in mediation. So, what is the fight for?  How long does it carry on for? Mediators know that at some point the couple will have to start listeing to each other and finding a mutually agreed way forward. What is the alternative? Nobody wants to spend their life fighting.



It’s Their Fault. I Didn’t Ask For This.

When we walk down the aisle and vow to be faithful to one person for life, we also have a number of our own expectations of what our life will be like with thie person we love. Sometimes these expectations are presumed; we presume that the other person will look after us the way we need them to, we presume that they will always understand us and we presume that they will grow and change like us, staying familiar and easy with our thoughts and aspirations.

If this doesn’t happen and we find ourselves facing separation and divorce against our will, we can feel like the wounded victim. Our cries “I did nothing wrong”, “She wants this, not me.” “He left us” can be justified but they also prevent us from moving on.

Nobody else knows what happens in a relationship and it is for no one else to judge, however, it often becomes and issue for mediators and family law attorneys when they are faced with someone who is intent on revenge for what has been done to them, or unable to see a future without their partner.

There comes a point in time when a future needs to be rewritten. The vows that were made no longer apply and life becomes more about the unexpected. It is not easy but, whether you asked for it or not, it is the way it is. You either remain the object of your separation or you become the subject of your new life with its new challenges and aspirations.

I Just want to be Fair…..really?

“I just want to be fair” is a great statement. We trot it out in most negotiations at some point and the value of fairness is the judgement we measure most agreements by. “It seems fair to me” or “Well, it is only fair” often seals a deal. In short, fairness matters.

But what about these statements? “Its only fair the kids live with me full time” or ” “If we were being really fair about this, I would keep my inheritance”. Are they really about fairness? Its hard to tell without knowing more but we can’t rely on these being statements of fairplay. Do you find yourself in situation where in the name of “fairness” you are being asked accept something that is actually downright unfair?

We don’t always use the slide rule of fairness properly. A lot of the time we like to seem fair while actually not being so. Worse still, we use fairness as a weapon to get our own way. Wrapping our own needs is a parcel of “fairplay”. “Its only fair that…..” can be the start of a demand to get our own way.

It can be hard to argue against, even when we know we are being presented with something that is really one sided. We seem to be on the back foot at the meer notion of arguing against a sense of fairness. It is a bit like a trump card this argument for fairplay, regardless of the terms of the actual proposal.

Fairness comes up a lot in mediation. Mediators like to find a fair and equitable agreement. It is one of our favourite aims. So, what do we do when we come across an unfair view being dressed up as fairplay?

1. Look closely at the actual issues under discussion. What are the details? What will both parties be left with? How does it meet the needs of all family members?

2.”If this is such a fair deal, would you be willing to do what you are asking me to do?”

3. Use the 70% rule. If everyone is 70% happy, then the agreement is probably pretty fair for all parties. Nobody will ever be 100% happy.

4. Talk about fairness and what it means to both of you.

Nobody has a monopoly on what fairness is. we each have a version of what we think will be fair. So in any agreement the understanding of what is fair has to be worked out together

Children of Same Sex Parents

When Ireland voted for marriage equality to be recognised in its Constitution, it also by default voted in same sex divorce.
Are the issues the same? Are there any differences in how parents of same sex relationships parent and at the time of separation, what needs to be sorted out?

The last two posts have addressed how parents should talk to their children and how they should protect their kids from the worst of the marital fight. This is exactly the same for all types of relationships. Perhaps the area of added challenge for same sex couples is that it is inevitable that one parent is not the blood relative of their child. This is by no means unique to same sex relationships but it is one of the issues that has driven the debate for marriage equality, as the marriage contract itself gives automatic parental rights within its framework.

None the less, at the time of divorce the parent who is not the blood parent of the child(ren) may find that they do not have the automatic legal parental rights and responsibilities they presumed. This varies from country to country and, with more countries recognising full marriage equality, this area is improving all the time. However, in the heat of a dissolving relationship, the parent with less parental rights may find themselves on the back foot, fighting to keep their full parental relationship with the children.

So, what do the children want and need? Quite simply both parents fully in their lives. How can you ensure this?

1. When you first become parents ensure that both of you have full guardianship. Don’t wait until things get difficult, or there is a problem.

2. Stay child focused, even in marrital disputes. You need the other parent to be fully recognised legally and engaged with your children.

3. Make a will with full legal provision for your children in the event of your passing.

Good advice for both opposite and same sex parents. At the heart of this advice is the acceptance of both of you that parenthood is immutable. Children need their parenting relationship with each of you to be healthy and strong, regardless of what has happened.


Talking to your children about divorce

At some point during separation and divorce, your feelings can boil over. You may be feel a sense of betrayal—that your spouse failed you in some deep and important ways. You might feel, a deep sadness at the loss of a partner or at the loss of a future you had envisioned. You might be anxious even fearful about the future, trying to living arrangements, finances, and parenting plans. Often, when these feelings well up, you simply can’t hold them back. You might shout at your spouse, cry to yourself, talk with friends or family members, seek counseling.

You blame your spouse for everything you’re going through. If he or she had been more loving, responsible, truthful, then…. If your spouse had spent more time with you and with the children….If she or he hadn’t gambled away the family’s money…. If weren’t for the drinking, there would still be enough money… If he or she hadn’t had affairs and betrayed you… It’s all her/his fault.

Divorce brings up all these messy, angry, bitter feelings and you need to talk to someone about what happened, the impact on you, and your concern for the future. At these times, good friends and family members can provide a sounding board, listening to you and offering advice. As adults, they can hear your troubles without taking on responsibility for fixing them.

But, your children can’t do that. They have no power to influence what you and your spouse do any more than they had the power to influence your behavior during the marriage. Telling your children that their other parent is horrible person creates a terrible dilemma for your kids. They desperately want to make things better—for themselves and for you. They may want to do something, show you how much they care. But, what can they really do? They certainly can’t change the past, and they can’t affect the decisions that you and your spouse will make. Putting them in this position by sharing your feelings about your spouse, their mother or father, is confusing, scary and can make them feel anxious or stressed.

And, to show loyalty to you means they have to reject their other parent. You are asking them to take sides. You are asking them to limit or even abandon their relationship with the other parent. You are asking them to do this because you are bitter, anxious, frustrated and angry.

Your feelings for the other parent have no place in a conversation with your children. You should NEVER tell them why you and your spouse are divorcing—that’s got nothing to do with them. They were not involved, and they sure can’t fix anything. So, talking with them about conflict with your spouse is just selfish. And, it’s hurting your kids.

This is what your children need to hear:
– We are not happy together anymore and have decided to live apart.
– The separation is permanent.
– We are still your mom and dad and will take care of you.
– What happened between us is not your fault.
– Nothing will ever change the fact that we both love you.
– We are still your parents and will decide a future plan for our family.
– You can tell us what you think and make suggestions, but your dad/mom and I will make the decisions about the future for our family.

What happens as adults…stays with adults

By now, we all know the phrase “What happens in….stays in…” It’s become a regular part of conversations, used in many ways to express the idea of separating what we do and whether others should know about it.

The phrase applies really well for divorcing parents and their children. “What happens as adults…stays with adults.” Conversations about some subjects should stay adult and not be shared with the children.

In the midst of and then following separation and divorce, children have a need for information about the changes in their lives and what will happen in the future. The familiar is gone, replaced by uncertainty, confusion and anxiety. The things they could count on—where they lived, the people in their lives—all that has been upended. Children, just like their parents, need to get their bearings. They need figure out how things will work now that so much has changed. Will they go to the same schools, have the same friends, see both their parents, spend time with their relatives? What will they have to give up? What will change for them?

Their curiosity, their anxiety and their confusion are understandable, as is their need for clearly presented explanations. They do need to know things such as:
Where will the other parent be living?
Will they be able to go there, spend nights, weekends and other times?
Have the parents agreed on a schedule for time sharing?
Will they stay in their home?
Will they go to the same schools?
Can they still see their friends?
Will they continue to see cousins, grandparents, aunts, uncles and other relatives?

Giving them honest answers about their future helps them adapt to the changes in their lives, and gives them a sense that their parents are looking out for them. They will adjust if they know what to expect. They will remain anxious and stressed if there is no stability in their lives.

However, there are some things children do not need to know, such as:
Why are you divorcing?
Whose fault is the divorce?
How much is child support and alimony?
Will you have enough money?
Have you seen, or do you plan to see, a therapist?
What had your attorney told you?
What have other people advised you to do.
Feelings about the other parent.
Anxiety about managing finances, being alone, starting over.

Talking about any of these topics with your children actually does the opposite of what they need. Instead of easing their anxiety by providing them stability and predictability, you are increasing their anxiety. These are things over which they have no influence or control. Your children may get the sense that everything is up in the air, there is no security for them. And, being presented with this kind information, without the capacity to do anything, only makes them more confused and anxious.

So, follow this simple rule: What happens between parents, stays between parents.

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