Children can become a point of contention and disagreement in even the most amicable of divorces. As a communications coach, I see these fights and wonder how two people who say they want the best for their children can have such vastly different ideas about what that “best” looks like. Co-parenting is hard. Every divorce is unique, but there are some common mistakes that I see parents make over and over. Can you catch yourself before you walk down the wrong path?
Mistake # 1: Treating your child as a weapon
Divorce is fraught with emotion, and there are times when parents with the best of intentions can use the child as a means of getting back at their partners. Some turn overly argumentative when the other parent requests a change in overnight stay plans. Others share emotional details of the divorce with the child to turn him or her against the other parent. The end goal, intentional or not, is to hurt the other parent. What most don’t realize is that the process hurts the child just as much.
Mistake # 2: Turning your child into a go-between
If divorcing couples were great at communicating through frustration, anger and disappointment, they would probably remain married. Unfortunately, old dysfunctional communication patterns persist through the divorce process. That includes turning children into messengers. I understand that there are times during the divorce when parents want nothing to do with each other. However, that is not a reason to put your child in the middle.
Mistake # 3: Not communicating with the other parent
Shut-down is a common side effect of participating in difficult discussions that don’t always go your way. Some of my clients experience it as an overwhelming desire to hole up and never speak to the other parent again. In reality, the only way to maintain a constructive co-parenting arrangement is to keep talking. There will be schedules to coordinate, medical appointment to make, sports and homework and shared expenses. Parents who stop talking to each other during the divorce have a difficult time picking it back up after the divorce is over.
How can you avoid these co-parenting mistakes?
First of all, know your triggers. It might be money, late arrival for pick-up or a disagreement over approach to discipline. Being aware about what sets you off can go a long ways towards being able to take a deep breath and manage your response.
Next, recruit a support team that will help you manage tough conversations and keep you accountable. Very few people are trained in keeping a calm mind and a focus on goals when discussions turn heated, so consider working with a communications or divorce coach to get you through this.
Finally, remember that no matter what you do, divorce will affect your kids. There are certain aspects of the divorce that parents cannot control. However, it is wise to take control where you can. It is up to you to manage the degree to which your separation hurts your children. A team of professionally trained divorce specialists can help. If you would like to explore what a collaborative divorce team can do for your family, reach out to Brazos Valley Collaborative Divorce Alliance. We are here to help you manage difficult conversations and create the foundation for what’s next for you and your children.
Here’s a conversation many Boomers (the generation born between 1946 and 1964) never thought they would have: sitting down over glasses of wine and milk with their grandkids to explain that Grandma and Grandpa won’t be living together any more. “But who will get the toys?” might be the next question from the curious little ones.
In a way, that is what any client facing grey divorce wants to know. Except in their case, the “toys” are a lifetime’s worth of accumulated assets and shared possessions. Untangling them takes experience, expertise and patience.
There are three sets of special circumstances in a grey divorce: money, health insurance and family. Although those factors are present when a couple of any age goes through a divorce, their intensity and impact shift as a couple matures.
An older couple would have typically accumulated more assets than a couple in their thirties. Boomers must consider real estate, pensions, and 401k savings. They must also face the reality that a divorce means a hit to their joint financial situation late in life with fewer working years to patch up the damage.
Health insurance is critical because as people age they tend to have more medical issues. The goal for any “grey divorce” client that I work with is “not a single day without medical coverage”.
Late-in-life divorce sends aftershocks through the extended family, affecting kids, grandkids, in-laws and family friends. It is critical to manage communications, set boundaries and focus on the relationships you want to nurture through this difficult time. After all, you will be seeing each other at graduations, weddings, funerals, and family holidays for years to come after the divorce papers are signed.
Because each of the three factors increases in importance as the couple ages, I have found that collaborative divorce can offer a path for managing the separation without burning the bridges and destroying the financial foundation that the couple has built over the years. A collaborative process offers an alternative with greater privacy, more control over the final outcomes and an opportunity to retain a civil relationship. For couples facing grey divorce, those factors matter. Brazos Valley Collaborative Divorce Alliance is there to help you choose the right professionals to support you though the process.
Over the years of working as a financial planner, I have seen enough to confirm one simple truth. Most couples are uncomfortable talking about money. We can chalk that up to societal norms that make money a taboo subject or to personality differences. There are also differences in knowledge and experience. It is not uncommon to see one spouse act as a financial guru in charge of money, while the other is a free spirit who has no idea if they even have a checkbook. In a divorce, that dynamic does not magically change for the better. Some of my cases would make great illustrations for a book on how NOT to handle money conversations in a divorce. Here are 4 common mistakes that I see clients make.
Emotions run hot during even the most amicable of divorces, but allowing anger to cloud your judgment is a sure path to messing up your financial future. Find a constructive way to process your anger in conversations with a therapist or a friend so that you can go into the money conversations with a cool head. Listen to your neutral financial planner. He or she is working to find the best outcome for both spouses. Use the technical knowledge and experience of your neutral planner to avoid stepping off a financial cliff.
Mistake # 3: Ask for the moon.
Hurt people hurt others. This becomes particularly obvious around a property division negotiation table. All too often, spouses use money as a weapon to make up for the hurt, betrayal, disappointment and lost time. In reality, money cannot right the wrongs. It can give you a solid foundation for whatever is next, but only if you begin from a place of reason. Asking for everything may feel good for a moment, but it won’t move you any closer to the resolution.
Mistake # 4: Be a victim.
Divorce is a roller-coaster. Like roller-coasters riders, the participants in a divorce commonly feel like they have lost control. Resist the temptation to see yourself as someone who has no influence over the final outcome of the divorce. In other words, don’t be a victim. Be an active participant in the money conversations, show up prepared and ask for what you need. Be ready to reassess what you need if the progress of the negotiation indicates that you will likely need to give up on one thing in order to get something else you want.
There is a right way to handle money conversations in a divorce.
Much has been written about the impact of divorce on young children – so much, in fact, that many parents choose to stay together for the sake of the kids. Times goes by, kids grow up, and by the time the parents are ready to call it quits the dynamic has shifted. In some of my cases, I see the adult children take charge – and that can get ugly.
Consider these two recent examples (all names have been changed).
“Jim (64) and Mary (60) are going through a divorce after 30 years of marriage. Their two kids, who are in their late 20’s, have taken Jim’s side and are determined to make sure he gets a “good deal”. Unfortunately, their good intentions backfire: they keep telling Dad what to do or not do. They interfere with attempts to find common ground, and generally make decisions twice as difficult and time consuming as they should be.”
“Stephanie (23) called me to ask for a divorce – for her mom! She explained that Mom has been miserable in her marriage for as long as Stephanie could remember, and now that Stephanie has graduated and got a good job, it’s time for her parents to face the facts and split. And no, she did not talk to Mom before making the call.”
Divorce with adult children in tow: tips for taking back the wheel
My formula for managing relationships with adult children as you are going through the divorce is simple: communication + boundaries.
Talk to your children about the divorce, but don’t share personal details. Just because your kids are over 21 does not mean that they need or want to hear the play-by-play of every disagreement between their parents. Talk through the impending divorce with your professional collaborative divorce team, your therapist, and your friends – all in the interest of keeping your kids out of it.
Make it clear that the divorce is between Mom and Dad, and that it is not your kids’ job or place to manage the process. If kids try to steer the divorce process, tell them that you appreciate their concern, then draw the boundary and don’t let them interfere.
Be sure that you are communicating with your spouse directly or through attorneys – without involving your kids as a go-between. If you are frustrated, disappointed, or confused, talk to the people who can drive a constructive resolution.
Resist badmouthing the other parent in front of your adult children, no matter how wrong, inappropriate, or unfair his or her actions are in your opinion. Complaining and venting can make your children feel like they need to step in, and tangling more people in sensitive conversations won’t make them any cleaner or more constructive.
Everyone understands the role of an attorney in a divorce process. However, if you are just beginning to explore the collaborative divorce process, you may be wondering about the role of the communications coach. You have been communicating your entire life; why do you need a coach now?
Why do you need a communications coach?
A divorce is more than just a lengthy and expensive legal process. Strong emotions color every decision, as the spouses try to navigate a highly stressful time. The choices they make will shape the rest of their lives, so the pressure is on. Add in the past history of misunderstandings, hurt feelings, oversights and mismanaged opportunities, and you begin to understand why every meeting is fraught with tension. If there is to be any hope of creating a constructive outcome, the couple must learn new ways to communicate and work together. That is where a communications coach comes in.
Let’s define the role.
A communications coach or divorce coach is a professional who has experience in the areas of separation and divorce. His or her end goal is to help the couple move through the separation and divorce process by combining an understanding of family dynamics, communication skills, and collaborative divorce. A communications coach may be a licensed therapist, but his or her support role in a collaborative divorce is not the same as therapy (which is a big subject for another blog post).
What should you expect?
I usually begin by meeting the spouses and gathering information to understand the couple, its pain points, and past communication break-downs. This past history will help me navigate difficult conversations and keep my clients focused on finding a solution, not rehashing old offenses.
I facilitate clear and effective communication between the spouses and their professional team during meetings and in written exchanges.
I help clients be empowered and take control over the outcomes of the divorce.
I help spouses develop co-parenting plans that create the best outcomes for their kids.
What won’t a communications coach do?
The list of things I won’t do in my role as a communications coach is straightforward. I won’t conduct therapy (that is the job for your therapist), give legal advice (best suited for your attorney), or offer financial advice (which is the domain of the neutral financial planner).
Can’t we just see how it goes, and decide on whether we need a communications coach later?
In theory, the idea of waiting to hire additional professionals seems like a great way to control the costs of the divorce. In reality, it can be a recipe for disaster. I compare it to having a toothache and waiting for a couple of month until you see a dentist. By then, you need a root canal and your dental bills are much higher than if you had gone in for a simple filling at the first twinge of discomfort.
If the communications coach steps in half way through the divorce process, he or she is likely to find the couple in a state of high stress: distraught, distrusting, and hurtful to the degree that may kill the possibility of using the collaborative process at all. When a collaborative process fails, the spouses must effectively “scrap” whatever progress may have been made, hire new attorneys, and begin the process anew. In an attempt to save a little money, the couple can spend much more on professional fees – and delay divorce resolution.
My advice is to choose the communications coach that will support you and your spouse through the divorce process from the beginning. If you are unsure where to start, reach out to our team at Brazos Valley Collaborative Divorce Alliance – we can connect you with the right professionals.
Some experiences are like riding a bike: if you have done it once, chances are you will be proficient at it the second time around. Unfortunately, that rule does not apply to second divorces. Just because you have been through one does not make the subsequent splits easier. My experience tells me that second and third divorces can be even more complex than the first one.
Why? Here is my formula that explains the difficulties with multiple divorces. More kids + more money + more property = complexity!
Let’s tackle relationship issues first.
Every subsequent marriage adds more people to the picture, and untangling it becomes increasingly more complicated. It’s not just about you and your spouse any more: many families have to navigate the web of step-siblings, step-parents, step-cousins and step-grandparents. How do you preserve the relationships? Who has a right to stay in contact?
Then, there are property issues.
Most people believe that having a prenuptial agreement guarantees a clean split. Unfortunately, that is far from reality. Even the best agreements aren’t created with a crystal ball, and family situations can be dynamic and complex.
The “cleanest” scenario is one where separate assets were kept in each spouse’s name, only community assets were used during the marriage, and the couple had a good prenup that addressed everything from property division to children’s arrangements. Real life situations are rarely this clear-cut, especially for couples that have lived together for many years.
What do you need to know when facing a second divorce?
First of all, work with a trusted attorney and financial planner. You should consider the impact of this divorce on your prior financial commitments and cash flows. Alimony, custody, child support – make a complete list and talk to professionals who can help you foresee consequences of decisions you make during this divorce. The complexities of untangling bank accounts, investments, real estate, and pensions mean that this is not the time for a DIY experiment.
Next, remember that a second of third divorce can benefit from using a collaborative approach, because it allows you more privacy and control over the outcomes of the separation.
Lastly, remember to create and update your wills and trusts! Every time your family and financial circumstances change, your estate planning documents should reflect it.
It is human to make mistakes. Unfortunately, if those mistakes are made on the living expense calculations that are considered in the terms of the divorce agreement, you can forget about financial stability. If you don’t want to compromise your money situation for years to come, here are 5 common mistakes to avoid.
Mistake # 1: Using rough estimates.
I will say this directly and plainly: using expense “estimates” for the divorce agreement is stupid. No matter how familiar you are with your family’s bills and financial needs, don’t trust your memory on this. Begin with bank and credit card statements over the past 3-6 months, categorize all expenses, and be sure to include cash outflows that happen infrequently (such as life insurance premiums paid quarterly or maintenance on your car).
Mistake # 2: Leaving out entire expense categories.
A related mistake is forgetting to include certain categories of expenses – whether because they seem immaterial, or because you are overly focused elsewhere. For example, I had a client who “estimated” a budget for herself and her teenaged daughter and completely left out clothing expenses. In retrospect, it happened because she was worried about her medical expenses. All of her energy and effort went into detailing prescriptions and copays, and she overlooked the need to buy shoes and clothes. If you want to avoid this mistake, use actual expenses and don’t leave out anything, no matter how trivial. Small expenses do add up!
Mistake # 3: Ignoring long-term consequences of property division.
The emotional appeal of keeping the family home has a way of getting smart people to wear rosy glasses. Monthly maintenance expenses, property taxes, and the likelihood of having to replace the roof in 5-7 years – none of those seem to matter in the heat of the moment, but they can effectively take away your hope for financial stability. I know that keeping an emotional distance during property division is difficult. My advice is to listen to your financial planner, look carefully at cash flow projections, and keep an open mind.
Mistake # 4: Forgetting about taxes.
Husband and Wife may disagree on a variety of issues, but when it comes to divorce settlement, the IRS is their common enemy. I cannot over-emphasize that every single decision in a divorce must be viewed through the tax lens. Certain choices, like splitting investment accounts 50/50, might look like a good idea initially – but you don’t know whether an offer is a good deal until you have determined the tax impact of what you intend to do with the portfolio as well as the tax basis of the investments. Although fees and other costs are not the same as taxes, you also want to educate yourself on what, if any, of those you will incur related to the portfolio.
Mistake # 5: Leaving out inflation.
Inflation has a way of creeping in slowly. It may not make much of a difference for your projected expenses a year from today – but it matters a whole lot when you are planning for your children’s education expenses 10-15 years from now. The same idea applies when you are planning for retirement. Be sure to include inflation into your expense projections, so that you are prepared for the true costs when they happen.
The awful truth about living expenses
A key take-away for my clients (and anyone who is going through a divorce) is that every settlement offer and scenario must get a complete evaluation. Sometimes, that means looking at projections of 3-5 (or even more) years into the future. You should consider incomes, assets, living expenses adjusted for inflation, taxes, retirement plan contributions, medical expenses, health insurance, and education expenses – and each of those components should be as accurate as possible.
If that sounds complex and technical, you are right – it is. That’s why I encourage my clients to work with a financial planner who has experience handling property division in a divorce. An agreement grounded in reality, combined with sound budgeting and financial planning, can make a difference in finding financial stability in the years after the divorce.
In my years of practice as a family attorney, clients have expressed all kinds of frustration over their spouses’ decisions, behaviors, and habits. That is to be expected: after all, if Husband and Wife generally agreed on key matters like lifestyle, money management, and child rearing, there would be no need to get a divorce in the first place! Occasionally, their complaints and concerns go beyond “standard” annoyances into the territory of mental health. From anxiety and depression to substance abuse, these claims can have an impact on the divorce process.
What should you do if you are concerned about the mental health of your spouse?
I recommend you begin by having a conversation with your attorney. He or she will probably ask you for specific examples that give you cause for concern. Be as precise and honest as possible. Describe what actually happened without trying to read into your spouse’s motivations or thought process.
In my experience, concerns vary from issues with alcohol and drug addiction, to gambling and bipolar disorder. You have the option of requesting therapy, parenting assessments to psychological exams, and/or custody evaluations for your spouse. Just be prepared to submit to the same. It is important to weigh the necessity of those options v. the long-term impact of the request. Sometimes therapy, assessments and exams are necessary; other times, open, honest communication can go a long way. The collaborative process helps facilitate relationships past your divorce.
In cases that involve co-parenting or custody decisions, the ultimate question is the spouses’ ability to be fit parents. Unless your situation is clear-cut (for example, your spouse has a history of physical abuse or drunk driving), proving a mental disorder in court can be an expensive and tough challenge. Get advice before you step on that path to ensure the best outcome for you and your family.
Not every divorce is an all-out brawl. In my practice, I have seen plenty of couples where Husband and Wife are able to put their differences aside, have civilized conversations about their separation, and show willingness to work together to create an outcome that everyone can live with. Can that be a recipe for disaster? Yes, if the couple decides to skip important steps in the divorce process.
One of those steps is the creation of a co-parenting plan. I sometimes hear Husband and Wife make the argument that they get along well enough to just work out the child care arrangements without enlisting professional help or getting it all documented. Some are driven by a desire to save money on professional fees. Others genuinely believe that they can create a better result on their own. In reality, both of those motivations are misguided.
A good co-parenting plan takes more than an afternoon around a table and a dash of goodwill. No matter what age the kids are, providing for their well-being through high school graduation and beyond requires considerable logistics. You must consider each of the following points to start.
Where will the kids live? If the parents will split their time with the kids, what will be the schedule?
Which will be the primary home to be used for school enrollment?
How will the parents make decisions regarding the children’s schedule during school vacations?
What is the process for making medical and travel decisions for the kids?
What about choosing (and paying for) after-school activities?
What is the process for resolving disputes in the event one parent wants to take the kids to Italy for Spring Break (or get them enrolled in football) and the other parent is against it?
How will the couple handle holidays and birthdays?
Whose responsibility will it be to purchase clothes, and how will the couple determine the appropriate amount to spend? What about gifts for friends’ birthday parties?
In the event family worship is important, will the parents worship together with the child, or is another set of arrangements necessary?
In the case of a step-family separation, what is the plan for ongoing contact with the step-parent?
Who will determine and implement discipline consequences for the kids who break the rules? Is the biological parent the only one allowed to discipline the child, or will a future step-parent be allowed to do so?
As you can see, the list of questions to consider is lengthy and varied based on the circumstances of each family. While Husband and Wife might get through the initial process without professional help, chances are they won’t be happy in the end. My recommendation is to get a collaborative team involved when it comes to the co-parenting plan, even if the couple gets along well. Every decision made during the divorce will affect the couple’s ability to co-parent effectively, and most people simply don’t have the experience and the knowledge to set this up well on their own. If you are unsure where to begin, reach out to the Brazos Valley Collaborative Divorce Alliance. Our attorneys, financial planners, and communication coaches will connect you with the right professionals to create the best long-term outcomes for your family.
A divorce process is never fun – but each couple’s experience lands in a different spot on the “pain scale”. Some divorces are relatively smooth and quick. Others seem to drag on, costing Husband and Wife a small fortune, and destroying what little goodwill and humanity is left in the relationship. If you are facing a divorce, you are probably wondering what you can do to minimize the damage, the pain and the expense to get to the other side. Here are 5 bits of advice to help your divorce process go smoother.
If you have kids, focus on their interests first.
Husband and Wife may not see eye to eye on every parenting issue, but most couples I have worked with are genuinely concerned about the impact of the divorce on their kids. Mud-slinging and ugly courtroom scenes are incredibly destructive to the children. Focus on creating the outcome that will be best for them in the long run – however you define that.
Divorce can feel like a wild roller-coaster that affords you very little control over what happens next. Do your best to identify the decisions you can control and exert some influence over. Even if the divorce was unexpected and feels like something that is happening “to you”, remember that you are an active participant with an ability to change the outcome. Take a breath, look for where you can have impact, and continue to shape the conversation.
Every divorce is made up of a hundred decisions. Some are relatively small (who keeps the couch?) while others are critical (how do we divide the investments?) A mistake I see often is a spouse who latches on to a relatively small detail – and then charges into battle over it, no matter the cost or the effort. Decide ahead of time which issues are worth the fight. If you pick the right ones, your list will be short. Then keep that list front and center to remind you to stay focused on what matters most.
Let go of what’s wrong.
This point can be a challenge for many couples – after all, if everything was right they would not be facing a divorce! The list of wrongdoings is long, and some clients approach the process with the idea that they want to get their day in court. After all, once the judge hears their side of the story, he will surely know who’s in the right! People have a romantic idea of what happens in the courtroom based on TV shows and movies. I can tell you from experience that real divorce court is nothing like what you see on TV.
The reality of walking into the courtroom is that you are giving control to a third party who will only be exposed to a small fraction of your story. The decision will affect the rest of your life, and the rules around property division, alimony, child visitation and child support are rigid.
If you are looking to retain control over the outcome of the divorce, and want to make the process as smooth as possible, consider collaborative divorce. In addition to an attorney who represents you, you will be able to rely on the expertise of neutral professionals to sort out tough financial and emotional aspects of the separation. Brazos Valley Collaborative Divorce Alliance can recommend attorneys and neutral professionals in your area who are trained and experienced in helping people like you find solid ground after the divorce. Give us a call to get connected to the right support team!