Divorce and Separation in the USA

A global perspective of the human effects of separation and divorce

Author: Michael Lang

Fairness Part IV: Inner (psychological) Satisfaction

When we are involved in a problem-solving process, our sense of satisfaction (fairness) is affected by whether we are able to participate fully, whether we are treated with dignity, whether our contributions are given respect. Satisfaction requires that we mattered.

Ask yourself these questions to judge whether the process was fair.

• In terms of the pace of the discussion and the rules about participation, did you feel welcome, included and comfortable?
• Were you satisfied with the format and the tempo of the discussions?
• Were you treated as a responsible, attentive and thoughtful person—not as someone who is wounded, unqualified or discouraged?
• Did you understand the goals and what would happen?
• Were you able to ask questions and get answers?
• Were you an active and full participant in all elements of the decision-making?
• Did you have the information you needed in order to participate fully and effectively? If not, were you able to obtain that information? Did you feel reassured as a result of receiving accurate and complete information?
• When you presented your ideas or questions, were you listened to?
• Did you sense that your questions deserved answers, that your concerns were genuine and that your ideas were worth considering?
• As a result of participating in this process, did you experience a relative decrease in stress and anxiety?
• Were you listened to by the professionals (not looked down on or treated like a victim). Did you sense that you counted?
• Overall, did you feel calm, composed, confident and hopeful?
• Did participation in the process reinforce your sense of self-worth—that your ideas, questions and concerns really mattered?

Hopefully you have a better idea of what it means when we say, “I just want what’s fair?”

Fairness includes the outcome—the solutions. But fairness also involves being in a process where the rules are clear and are evenly applied by an impartial person. And, fairness involves being able to participate fully and to be treated respectfully.

When you have all three, then you can truly feel it was “fair.”

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Fairness Part III: The Methods and Process

Something feels fair to us when the method we used to make important decisions is sensible, we feel respected, and we have a chance to participate actively in all parts of the decision-making.

Sometimes we want someone else to decide things for us—like a judge. In front of a judge, the process is formal. There are rules and procedures about who can say what and when. We can accept the outcome and feel satisfied if the trial is conducted in accordance with the stated procedures, if the judge acts in an impartial manner, if our point of view has been fully presented, and if the laws (the rules) are applied properly. Then, we can say, the process was fair.

At other times, however, we want to be more involved in how our views are presented. We want to be directly involved in speaking for ourselves and making decisions that we decide are best for us. Mediation provides that opportunity–where an impartial and unbiased mediator helps the parties in dispute to: talk about the conflict, identify and clarify the reasons for the conflict, listen to one another, create possible solutions, and find answers and solutions that are practical, reasonable and that completely resolve the dispute.

No matter what approach you choose, there are some questions you can ask to be sure the process was fair.

• Were you treated fairly by the judge or mediator?
• Was the process conducted in even-handed manner?
• If there were rules to govern the process, were they applied consistently and equally?
• Was the process managed in a dignified and professionally way?
• When you consider the costs (money, time, effort) and the benefits received (process and outcome), were you satisfied with your choice?
• Were you treated as adult and with respect? Did your ideas and concerns matter?
• Did you have a full and unimpeded opportunity to speak and be heard, to present and respond to ideas, information and proposals?
• Were all parties encouraged to listen attentively? Did the judge or mediator listen carefully?
• Was everyone given an opportunity to participate? Did everyone have a voice?
• Did the process encourage and support every one’s ability to engage honestly; to express ideas, proposals and emotions? Was there a chance to react and respond to other people’s ideas?
• Did you feel the process was inclusive; that those essential to the discussion were involved?
• Did the timing—the scheduling and pace of the process help you with thoughtful decision-making?
• Was the process organized and handled in an open and transparent manner? Did you understand what was happening at every moment? Were there unspoken rules or opaque procedures?

This is the third section of a four-part post. The next section deals with the importance of being able to participate fully in the choices that affect your future. This includes the opportunity to speak, to ask questions, and to be treated with dignity and respect.

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Fairness–Part II: The Results

When you think about fairness and satisfaction with the outcome of any decision-making, here are some guide posts:

• Are the terms of the settlement comprehensive and inclusive? This means that every detail, no matter how minor or large, was discussed, and then a clear agreement was reached.
• As you think about the next 6 months, or longer, does it seem likely that you can make the terms of the agreement work? Can you live with this?
• Are these plans and arrangements realistic and practical?
• Have you talked about what it will take to make this work? Can you do what’s necessary? Can the other person? Have you considered the trouble spots–the ways things could go wrong?
• Do the arrangements address everyone’s needs— including those who are not directly involved in the discussions such as your children, relatives, friends?
• Does the language make sense to you? Do you understand everything in the proposed agreement? Have all your questions been answered?
• Is the agreement complete and accurate? Are there any unresolved or unaddressed matters?
• Have your needs–and the needs of others involved–been fully addressed?
• When you look at the settlement terms, do they make sense? Can you see how they will work?
• Are your decisions based on complete and accurate information? If didn’t understand something were you able to ask questions and get helpful answers?
• Did you understand the standards or guidelines that were used to make decisions? Were these standards clearly identified and spelled out, did everyone agree to them?

This is the second section of a four-part post. The next section deals with our need for the process to be impartial, balanced—fair.

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I just want what’s fair!

I have been a mediator for 40 years, and before that I was a family lawyer. In all those years, there is one statement I have heard in every divorce: “I just want what’s fair.”

Wanting fairness is automatic, instinctive, it seems to be part of our humanity. We all want to know we have been treated fairly. What we mean is we don’t want someone playing favorites. We want the decisions to be consistent with standards or rules. And, if a judge, mediator or other person is involved, we want them to be impartial, fair-minded and unbiased.

When people are in conflict—such as in a divorce—each one expects the other to be “fair.” Each person thinks that she or he is being reasonable, decent and open-minded.” And, each thinks the other person is stubborn, closed-minded and unreasonable. That’s where the problem lies.

Because when we say the decisions were fair, it always means I got what I wanted. Even if that means the other person is disappointed or feels unfairly treated. We think the other person is just upset because what they wanted wasn’t fair. On the other hand, what I wanted was fair.

One of the difficult things in talking about fairness is that it has different meanings for each of us. For some, fairness means equality—50/50. For others, fairness means that the outcome makes sense, it fits their situation, and it’s workable. Fairness might also mean there was an open and honest discussion and there was an opportunity to present ideas and proposals, that they were listened to and given respect—no matter what the outcome might be. Still, for others fairness means they were able to make decisions for themselves without outside influence or coercion.

There are many more ways to think about fairness.

1. Fairness usually means we are satisfied with the results. Fairness can also mean that the results met our expectations. Or, that the outcome is similar to what others have experienced. It might even mean the outcome is consistent with “the law” as we understand it. In other words, when we talk about feeling satisfied with the outcome, we mean that the end results made sense, they were reasonable and they were consistent with how others have been treated.

2. There are times when we use the word fairness to mean we are satisfied with the method or system by which the results were determined. Whether in informal discussions, at a mediation session or through a trial, we feel a sense of satisfaction when everyone was treated the same, each person had the time and opportunity to tell their story, present their proposals and respond to the other person’s ideas, and when the mediator or judge was impartial and unbiased.

3. We might also feel treated fairly when we participated actively in every element of the decision-making. Satisfaction comes from feeling fully engaged and able to be part of the discussion, to present ideas, ask questions, be listened to and given a full opportunity to join in making decisions that affect us and our children. We experience satisfaction when feel composed, confident and hopeful.

This will be a 4-part post. I will talk about each of the three elements of satisfaction in more detail and with examples to illustrate when people feel a sense of satisfaction (fairness) or when it’s missing. The next section deals with fairness in terms of outcome, the results.

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What happens as parents…stays with parents

The phrase, “What happens in… stays in…” has become well known. It’s used in many situations to express the idea some things should be private.

The phrase applies really well for divorcing parents and their children. Conversations about some subjects should stay with parents and not be shared with the children.

Children need information about the changes in their lives and what will happen in the future. In divorce, the familiar is gone, replaced by uncertainty and anxiety. Children, just like their parents, need to get their bearings. They need information about things that directly affect their lives.

They need to know:
Is this for real? Are you seriously getting divorced?
When will this happen?
Where will I be living?
Can we stay in our home?
Where will the other parent be living?
Is there a schedule for being with the other parent?
Can I go to the same school?
Can I still take music lessons? Can I still be on the soccer team?
Are you going to make me see a counselor?
If we move, how will I see my friends?
Do Grandma and Grandpa know about this?
Can we still visit our cousins, grandparents, aunts, uncles and other relatives?

Honest answers help them adapt to the changes in their lives. They need to know you are looking out for them. They will be better able to adjust to the changes if they know what to expect.

However, there are some things children do NOT need to know, such as:
Why are you divorcing?
Whose fault is the divorce?
Did one of you have an affair?
Is this because you drink too much?
How much is child support and alimony?
Are you seeing a counselor?
What did your attorney tell you?
Do you plan to remarry?
Are you going to be OK?

Talking with your children about these things doesn’t help them. It does the opposite. It leaves them anxious. They can end up feeling responsible, as though they should be doing something. Your children have no responsibility for making or changing your choices.

But we all know, they have no influence or control over these decisions. They can’t change your mind or affect your choices. They may be too young or too scared to understand what is happening. They are children, not adults.

As parents live by this rule: “what happens between adults, stays between adults.”

Purchase Divorce and Separation: A Practical Guide to Making Smart Decisions (an ebook) on www.Amazon.com

Currently, we have published editions for Florida, Vermont and Oregon.

Versions for California and Massachusetts will be available later this year.

New editions will be published in 2019 for:
Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

You Have a Choice

Sometimes when couples are arguing bitterly, it’s hard for either of them to remember a time when they had been loving and kind to each other. The painful and deep tear in the fabric of their relationship has left them indifferent, or even hostile, to one another. This attitude stands in stark contrast to the wedding vows once shared, the romance that brought them together, and their hopes for their family’s future.

Marsha and Ken had been married for 20 years, with two daughters, ages 12 and 16. For months before they separated, the couple argued angrily, almost daily. Their arguments usually ended when one of them, too frustrated to continue, walked away. Nothing was ever resolved. Each blamed the other for being stubborn, unreasonable, unfair, and impossible to talk with.

It’s understandable that they would have such strong, angry feelings. The reasons could be that they are frightened of an uncertain future, or they may be furious at the other for infidelity, addiction or some other serious mistake that caused the divorce. It’s even possible they could be seeking revenge for mistreatment, current or in the past.

What would happen, if they stopped arguing and asked each other about a time when they treated each other well, when they actually got along? In the midst of a feud, no one wants to acknowledge the other person was ever lovable, decent and even-tempered. Neither wants to take a risk and be first to admit the person has those qualities.

Marsha and Ken, they married because they “fit.” Other couples may describe that feeling as love, infatuation, or romance. Ken and Marsha were convinced they could make a happy life together. And, that had been true for most of their marriage. Now loving feelings vanished. Instead they feel bitterness, sadness and anger.

When they stopped bickering and thought about times when treated each other well, Ken talked about when Marsha needed to return to work—after 7 years of being a full-time mom. She wanted to resume her career (nursing) and contribute to the family’s finances. As he talked, Marsha nodded and then she said, “I know it meant you would have to do more for the girls and to help with things around the house. And, you really did.”

It isn’t easy to remember moments when cooperation, kindness, and respect were the foundation of a relationship. Just because it’s difficult, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Many couples manage to hold onto a bit of compassion for one other, even during their most bitter arguments.

Talking about good moments, times when their relationship worked for Marsha and Ken. Even though they felt close and caring didn’t change their minds about being divorced. It just helped them find a way to talk with each other, rather than constantly bickering and blaming.

How do you manage to treat your spouse with decency when you just want to shout at them? Here are some tips:
1. Realize that it will hurt both of you if you use discussions about finances or children to get back at the other person for causing the divorce.
2. Keep arguments about what caused the divorce separate from discussions about children and finances.
3. Remember a time when you and your spouse were able to talk about and solve problems together. Ask yourself, how did we do that? What did it take?
4. If you can’t seem to let go of the anger and bitterness in order to deal with other issues, then consider (a) using a mediator who can help you make decisions together, or (b) seeing a therapist or clergyperson on your own

We always have a choice. We can choose to be furious and resentful, or we can choose to be responsible and cooperative. At some point in the midst of all the anger and bitterness, we can choose to focus on the issues, not the marriage. Not because we are soft but because we want to claim our future.

Don’t blame me. It’s not my fault.

First reactions to ending a relationship are shock, confusion and disbelief. How did this happen? Why didn’t I see it coming? What went wrong? This can’t be happening. How could she/he do this to me, to our family?

Confusion becomes reluctant acceptance. Shock is replaced by accusations and blame. Disbelief frequently turns into an intense and burning anger. We did nothing wrong. The other person is at fault. She is betraying us. He is hurting the children, our friends and our families.

We know we didn’t cause this. “I did nothing wrong; it’s all your fault!”

We feel wounded; maybe even betrayed. We want to hurt the other person even more than we’ve been hurt. We want to punish them. We want justice.

These emotions are real and powerful. Our feelings can become the energy that pushes us forward. Or, we can become consumed with proving our spouse is to blame.

Connie had enough. She told Antonio to move out. He wasn’t home much anyway. He had little time for his family, with his job, fishing trips, and restoring his antique motorcycle. Connie worked 25 hours per week and took care of everything in the house, including their 7-year old son. Last year she gave Antonio an ultimatum: “Spend time with Joey and me, help around the house, or get out.” She no longer loved the man who had been her high-school sweetheart. He never mistreated her. He was an excellent provider. He just wasn’t part of her life-or Joey’s. She had grown used to being alone, to handling everything on her own (even plumbing repairs).

Some people hold onto emotions like a lifeline. They can’t let go of the belief that the other person deserves to be punished. And, what often follows are increasingly bitter feelings, meetings with lawyers, court appearances, and huge legal bills. Worst of all children are caught between their warring parents.

To be clear; some divorces are caused by infidelity or by addiction to gambling, alcohol or drugs. In some instances, physical or emotional abuse may be the reason. For many couples, divorces come about because they drifted apart, became strangers to one another, or just stopped loving their spouse/partner.

No matter what caused the end of the marriage/relationship, the reality is that it’s over. It’s time to think about the future. Holding onto bitterness, blame, anger and a desire for vengeance keeps us from moving into that future.

By the time Connie reached the breaking point, she had talked with a lawyer. She was ready to fight for custody and child support; and was advised to seek alimony. She told him this in an angry outburst as she “kicked him out.” Antonio did not go quietly, slamming doors and as he left he said, “I’ll be back in a couple days and then you’ll be packing your bags.”

Anger and bitterness are real. Denying our animosity or outrage isn’t healthy. But—and this is very important—there comes a time when we need to focus on our future. That doesn’t mean letting go of the past. It means we realize we need to rewrite our lives, make new plans, deal with the reality we face—whether we wanted it or not.

Connie’s brother, one of Antonio’s fishing buddies was the one who “talked some sense into both of them.” He got them to begin talking together about getting divorced. Their anger hadn’t gone away, but they put it aside for their son’s sake. They recognized that blaming each other wasn’t going to help them when it came to making smart decisions about their future. They had both talked with lawyers. They didn’t want a judge to decide things for them. So one afternoon they met at a restaurant and made a commitment to figure things out together.

It isn’t easy. It doesn’t matter whether you asked for the divorce, or whether your spouse/partner is to blame. This is your life. You either remain the object of your resentment or you become the subject of your new life with its new challenges and possibilities.

Talking it out—can we really do this ourselves?

There are some big decisions to make when it comes to making a parenting plan, dealing with the family home, working out child support and alimony, and figuring out how to handle assets and debts. Somehow you and your spouse need to find a way to work out solutions for all these issues. But, the person you need to talk with may also be the last person you want to talk to right now.

So, how do you work out whether you can handle this yourselves or if you need help?

You know these are important issues. You know you need to be smart about your decisions, but will bitterness between the two of you get in the way? You may worry that conversations will turn into arguments, and nothing will be decided. You may worry that the two of you won’t agree on anything, in which case why bother.

This is a deciding moment for you.

Do you try to work with your spouse, or do you involve an attorney who can advise, assist and even speak for you? Friends and family may urge you to “get a lawyer right away.” They don’t want you to be taken advantage of, or they want to be sure you get what you deserve. And, there are good reasons for talking with an attorney. Knowing the law and understanding what you can expect will help you determine what you want from the divorce. Having this knowledge can give you confidence and help focus on the decisions to be made. However, there are still choices as to how you talk about the issues that affect you both. Do you work out the solutions yourselves or use a mediator or ask an attorney to speak for you?

You can find more information on when and how to use professionals to assist in your divorce in our book, Divorce and Separation: A Practical Guide to Making Smart Decisions (http://www.divorcebookflorida.com)

Many people, even those in very intense situations, chose to work things out with their spouse. And, if you want to consider this approach, we suggest you follow these steps:
1. Be prepared. Gather all the information you might need; whether that’s financial or regarding the children. You can’t make good decisions without complete and accurate information.
2. Meet in a place where you will both be at ease. You don’t want the children around. There shouldn’t be any distractions.
3. Set a time limit. An hour is usually a good limit for a discussion. If you spend more time, there is a good chance the conversation could drift away from the issues and into topics such as who is to blame for the divorce. You want to stay on task, focused on the issues at hand.
4. If the discussion gets heated and seems it could spiral out of control, use SALT to see if you can bring the discussion back to the important decisions you and your spouse need to make.

SALT is a 4-step process:
Stop — Do either of us need to cool down? Take a break—might be as little as 5 minutes, or a couple of days. Step away from the table. Don’t do this in anger. State that things are getting out of hand, and you need a break. But, commit to returning to the table.
Ask — Use questions to understand the other person’s point of view—and in particular, their reasons. “What is happening?” “What’s wrong?” “What should we do?” Your spouse should do the same for you.
Listen — Don’t interrupt. Don’t be planning how you’ll respond. Just listen attentively.
Talk — Restart the problem-solving discussion. Use what you’ve learned from one another and see if you can look at the problem in a fresh way. Try to think of alternatives to what you want and what your spouse wants.

Divorce and Separation: A Practical Guide to Making Smart Decisions — BOOK LAUNCH

Michael Lang, Fiona McAuslan and Peter Nicholson have published Divorce and Separation: A Practical Guide to Making Smart Decisions

http://www.divorcebookflorida.com The site includes information about the book and the three authors, and most importantly a continually updated Tool Box—a list of resources, forms and web sites to help couples manage their separation and divorce.

Welcome to Divorce Book America – Why we started this blog

 

We have four simple goals for this blog:

1. Offer information about divorce and separation that can be read separately or along with our book, Divorce and Separation: A Practical Guide for Making Smart Decisions. Available as an ebook on Amazon.com.

2. Continually update references to helpful web sites and other resources we listed in our book.

3. Invite readers to ask questions. We will answer as many as possible.

4. Encourage conversations among those who are in the midst of divorce and separation, or who have completed that process.

Many books have been written about divorce. We think ours are unique. Our books help couples make smart and realistic decisions—about their families and their future. Our books offer practical information, not canned prescriptions or advice.

We want to help you to find workable solutions for your future.

Our books are based on these basic beliefs:
(1) You want information, not programmed solutions. What might work for one couple isn’t necessarily good for your family. You may need a guide to figure out what information you will need and to identify the issues you should consider. We assume you want to be in control of your own decisions.
(2) You don’t want answers that might be OK for other families. You know your family better than any one. You are the best person to decide what’s right.
(3) You are capable of gathering essential information, thinking about your choices, deciding when to seek professional advice, and making smart decisions. In fact, you are entitled to choose how you deal with their divorce.
(4) Decisions made together are better, longer lasting and more effective. Not every couple can cooperate and make decisions together. But, if you can, the results will be better for you and for your family. They will work.

Books are useful; they give information, we can pick them up whenever we have time, but reading them is a private activity. Sometimes we want or need a chance to talk with others about our ideas, frustrations, and concerns. And, it’s never possible to put every bit of information and advice into a single book. This blog is an opportunity for us to expand on ideas from our books, and it’s a chance to have a conversation that includes our readers.

We hope others will participate – both those who wish to share their experiences and lessons they learned, as well as professionals who work with divorcing couples.

The blog also allows us update material in our books, Divorce and Separation: A Practical Guide for Making Smart Decisions (US version) and Living with Separation and Divorce (Irish version).

What we will not do—and have made a point of avoiding in our books – is giving advice, telling people what they should do. Some have asked us, “You’re experts, why don’t you just give people the answers.”

Our response is simple. Every family is unique, every separation or divorce is different. We can and will give information, ask helpful questions, do some reality testing. In the end, you and your spouse created the marriage, and you are the best ones to figure out how to end it.

What this blog will include:
– Posts by Fiona McAuslan or Michael Lang, occasionally co-authored
– Comments from readers—questions, helpful hints, sources for information
– Posts by invited guests—non-professionals as well as divorce professionals
– Special posts from colleagues in countries other than the US and Ireland
– Comments from professionals

We hope you will read this blog, think about these ideas, and join the conversation.

Fiona and Michael

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