Divorce and Separation in the USA

A global perspective of the human effects of separation and divorce

Category: Children/Parenting in Separation and Divorce

Was this my Husband’s Child?

I am not sure how it happened but I know exactly how I felt. Numb, sick, my world shattered. How did this face of a little girl on my phone take my breath away? How did it get there? What were these words underneath? I stood in the park, still holding the handle of my buggy but not aware of my own children. Only aware of this face, these words and this new knowledge “Hello, I am Jane. I am your children’s half sister”.

The funny thing is that I believed her. Why did I believe her. This was out the blue. My husband didn’t have time to have another child. I would have known….she only looked 3 years old. We were married for 8 years with two children, 6 and 4. Both older that this one, Jane. That meant the unthinkable. I wasn’t thinking. I couldn’t think. Should I think? What did I do now?

Was this Divorce? My husband had this other child and there was a mother. A woman my husband was in a relationship with. She had my number. This photo was in my phone for a reason. A text sent by a woman I didn’t know who knew me and wanted me to know. Wanted my children not to be the only ones. My husband had three children. Not two. Two families not one.

I turned the buggy towards home. No feeding the ducks today. I had questions to ask and I hoped to god that there were answers other than the ones now swirling around my mind.

Valuing Our Children Through Divorce

A couple of years ago, “Lucy” contacted me for financial assistance with her divorce. She was questioning her attorney and seeking a second opinion. When Lucy came into my office, she brought the spreadsheet her attorney had created that outlined a proposed settlement scenario, and I could fairly easily tell that her legal and financial interests were well represented.

I answered her questions pertaining to spousal maintenance and property division, as well as questions about general financial concepts. But as the hour unfolded, it became evident that she was less interested in listening to me and more interested in having me help her find ways to achieve her notion of justice.

Lucy’s husband had cheated on her several times during the course of their marriage, and she was understandably angry and in a great deal of pain. Her desire was to make him feel pain by engaging in an adversarial process that would cost him a great deal of time, money and embarrassment. She wanted to use the court system as a public forum to air his marital indiscretions. I emphasized that it would cost her a great deal of time and money, probably thousands of dollars, for something that, in the end, would do little to solve her problems.

I told Lucy I thought her attorney was on the right track, and that I wouldn’t be able to help her. As we said goodbye, I suggested she settle amicably and use some of the money she would have spent on an adversarial process to take a trip around the world and start her life anew. I was grateful that this couple did not have minor children.

My interaction with Lucy got me thinking about the concepts of value (as in worth) and values (as in principles). Causing her husband embarrassment had a greater value to Lucy than the thousands of dollars she would potentially spend in achieving her goal. To me, the money I could earn helping Lucy achieve her goals could not compare to the cost to my conscience of doing so. Value and values, however, are personal to each of us.

My own divorce was non-adversarial. My ex-husband and I worked everything out ourselves with the help of a two-hour mediation session. Our co-parenting relationship has been amicable and our 18-year-old son, Liam, is thriving. One afternoon, when Liam was 13, we were driving home when he told me he had forgotten something at his father’s house and asked, somewhat apologetically, if we could go pick it up. I said, “No problem,” to which he responded, “You know, Mom, I don’t feel like I have two separate households.”

That heart-swelling moment clarified for me that nothing in this world holds a greater value than making it possible for my son to identify and achieve his goals and dreams in life. Not being “right,” not achieving a sense of “justice,” and certainly not whether I got my fair share of equity from the sale of the marital home. My ex and I have both had to, and continue to have to, do a lot of letting go of what we each want or what we think is right, in order for Liam to feel like he’s not pulled between two separate households. But, oh what a reward!

Of course, there will always be cases where the adversarial process is important, even necessary. After all, an amicable divorce requires two willing adults. It is, however, my fervent hope that, in divorce cases, particularly those involving children, people are provided with the tools, the roadmap, the opportunity and the encouragement to work through their issues as amicably as possible. Our kids deserve nothing less.

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.

Talking to Your Children About Your 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’s it Like for the Children

As mediators, we listen to parents discuss their children and encourage them to collaborate as parents. It is easy to  wonder what the children are like. What do they hope for? How do they see their future? Do they know how much their parents love them, despite of all that is going on? When parents each argue about who loves the kids more, or who understands them more, its easy to wonder what would the children’s take on this be?

Occasionally we mediators meet the children and it is always a pleasure. Invariably, children ask how their parents are. They want to know that they are all right. Is dad lonely? Is mummy going to be okay? Children may be in the middle of the hurt and anger of the divorce but they still love their parents. They want them both to be alright.

Kids want to get on with their lives. They want to be the subject of their own lives and not the objects of the divorce. They talk about school, their friends and what they like doing. They are funny and sad, busy and lively. All the things kids should be…..yet, their world is changing. Life will never be quite the same. They will be navigating between the two people they love most in the world.

So much of divorce is about the past, the end of the relationship, but when you meet the children you see the future. You see the best reason for finding a way forward.

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