Since My Divorce | Easing The Pain & Stress Of Divorce
Mandy Walker is a divorce coach who went through a divorce of her own. Her blog provides advice about many facets of divorce, including emotional and legal challenges. She also has a great Story Catalog, which includes a large collection of stories about men, women, and children who experienced divorces. They offer unique perspectives that are not regularly found on other sites about divorce.
The divorce process brings out the worst in the best of us. It shakes your confidence, rocks your self-esteem and challenges you with self-doubt and fears of not being enough. However, loving yourself is the path to a happy life after divorce.
Listening to your inner critic or someone telling you you’re not enough – not good enough, not smart enough, not attractive enough, not capable enough … will hold you back from rebuilding your life and living life to your full potential.
Quietening the self-critic starts with self-love and compassion. Attorney turned life coach Sunny McMillan says that while the mainstream may see this as fluffy and self-indulgent, she believes these are the cornerstones to divorce recovery and coming out the other side whole.
McMillian is the author of Unhitched: Unlock Your Courage and Clarity and Stick Your Bad Marriage. Download your free copy of Sunny’s book at Unhitchedbook.com.
Listen in below or keep reading to learn why self-love is so important, why many of us don’t have this and how you can begin your practice.
What Is Self-Love?
McMillan confesses that as a practicing attorney she thought the concept of self-love was ridiculous and even when she began coaching she would always roll her eyes at self-love.
“But I’ve had to eat those words and healthy self-love is a component of my practice for sure now,” said McMillan.
McMillan sees three components to self-love. First is having an awareness of self. Next is honoring that self, what you know about yourself, your needs, your wants and what’s best for your well-being. And third, is a healthy amount of self-compassion.
Some clients respond asking how they will get anything done if they’re not hard on themselves. McMillan reassures them that there is now solid scientific evidence supporting the benefits of self-compassion and points to the work of Dr. Kristin Neff who has identified a significant stress response in the body when we are self-critical.
Why Don’t We Have Self-Love?
Many of us lack self-love because of our family of origin and certainly our society. McMillan shares that the idea of self-hatred doesn’t exist in all cultures, such as in Buddhism.
In our culture, we are not encouraged to be kind to ourselves and as a consequence of messages we receive we develop this very critical inner voice.
“It’s something we have to be aware of and it’s a consistent and persistent effort in my experience to be able to have a loving inner voice and to provide that compassion and self-soothing that perhaps we were not given as children for whatever reason,” said McMillan.
Don’t Dwell In The Past
As a coach, McMillan values knowing what happened in someone’s past and serving as a compassionate witness hearing as a client shares their trauma for the first time. It’s one of the initial steps to healing but then McMillan places the focus on how to reprogram the mind going forward.
While divorce can exacerbate or amplify these negative self-thoughts we carry, “it can be viewed as a catalyst to spur us to look at what are the self-limiting beliefs, what is the critical inner voice saying that perhaps is keeping us from moving forward in a healthy and constructive way,” said McMillan.
Notice Your Inner Critic
The first step to self-love is to start noticing how you speak to yourself and what your inner voice is like. Is it a harsh inner critic or is it a cheerleader, supporter? Just having an awareness will start to bring about change.
For example, instead of saying, ‘oh, you really messed that up,’ or ‘how could you do that’ or ‘you’re so stupid,’ start to say, ‘honey, you’re human’, or ‘you’re doing the best you can,’ or ‘sleep on it and let’s get up and try again tomorrow.’
Talking about the critical messages we receive from others, reminded me of the scene from The Help, where Octavia Spencer, playing the role of nanny and maid says to the four-year-old child
You is kind, you is smart, you is beautiful”
These are exactly the sort of messages we need to hear when we’re young but McMillan says based on what we know of brain development, even if your family was doing the best they could unless you received these constantly, you may have picked up other negative messages that lurk in your subconscious.
There are several suggestions for developing a practice of self-affirmation. McMillan likes the work of Louise Hay who advocates looking at yourself in a mirror and saying kind things to yourself. You can also write those positive messages on sticky notes and post them around your workspace, your bathroom, your closet …
Stop Apologizing For Yourself
Another technique is to stop apologizing for yourself and instead of saying you’re sorry for being late, or sorry you forgot something, express gratitude for the way the other person is responding. When I was hiking with my adult kids this past weekend instead of saying ‘I’m sorry I’m being slow’, I said, ‘ thank you for waiting up and slowing down so we can hike together.’
This shift in thinking is about you not seeing yourself as something less than (e.g. I’m too slow to hike) and rather accepting yourself as you are (e.g. we can still enjoy hiking together.)
Be Receptive To Compliments
Affirmations from others don’t work the same as self-affirmations. McMillan shares that with hindsight she thinks she ended up in her marriage because she was constantly looking for external validation. She thought if you had the right education, the right amount of money, if you looked a certain way, that people would love her more and that she would feel better. She describes herself as being blessed with a life that others would consider as having it all and yet inside she still felt crappy.
“All the external validation in the world could not be heard because there was nowhere to receive it, because I didn’t feel it for myself first,” said McMillan. “Anytime somebody gave me compliments, I would deflect it. I would turn it back on them.”
McMillan says once you have self-love, then you have the capacity to receive the love and support others are offering. When people give you compliments or try to support you, notice your response.
“If someone says ‘oh nice shot’ on the golf course or ‘oh, your clothes look nice’ instead of deferring or demurring or trying to turn the compliment back to them, just try to receive it,” says McMillan. “You can say, ‘thank you.'”
Your Divorce Is Your Business
With an institution as recognized around the world as marriage, you can expect that everyone will have an opinion and that opinion may be very different from yours and that’s OK. McMillan works with her clients to help them tap into their intuition and the inner wisdom that comes from that. This helps them to know their own business and to know what is right for them. When others do make remarks or share opinions such as ‘you shouldn’t be getting divorced,’ McMillan works with her clients to develop a system of inquiry so they can respond with integrity and help keep those people out of their business.
Recognize The Pain Of Others
Developing more compassion for yourself also helps you develop compassion for others. Think about the people who are really ugly and that bully other people. McMillan says the chances are that their inner critic voice is way worse than anything anyone else says to them.
“People who aren’t hurting on the inside don’t hurt other people,” said McMillan. “If people are hurting on the inside, it means they probably have a really loud self-critical voice and it was probably something that they adopted from their family of origin or upbringing. Think about how ugly they are to themselves behind closed doors or in their own mind.”
Self-Love Doesn’t Make A Narcissist
With all the media coverage of narcissism, I asked McMillan if there was a the line between healthy self-love and narcissism. She reassured me that there was no danger that developing self-love and compassion could lead to narcissism.
“Those people who have a healthy self-love also have a huge amount of empathy and awareness of the needs of the others,” said McMillan. “Narcissists, sociopaths and psychopaths do not. The more self-love you have when you are an empathetic, compassionate person, the more full your cup is and the more you can give to others and help them.”
Being A Happy Divorcee
McMillan, who describes herself as a happy divorcee, believes that happiness after divorce has little to do with who initiated the divorce and everything to do with what you make of the divorce and how you allow it to dictate your life.
McMillan has seen people in her support group who share that it was their spouse who left but when they look back at their marriage, they acknowledge that things were not great, that perhaps it was over for long time before it actually was, and that what they have done with their life since then perhaps would not have happened if their spouse had not left. In leaving, their spouse allowed them to transform their lives in way that potentially would not have happened.
If you’re interested in exploring the origins of your self-doubt or self-hatred and understanding that your early caregivers likely were doing the best they could with the cards they were dealt, then talking with a licensed therapist or counselor, like the ones at BetterHelp may help.
Sunny McMillan is attorney-turned-life coach and author of Unhitched: Unlock Your Courage and Clarity and Stick Your Bad Marriage. Download your free copy of Sunny’s book at Unhitchedbook.com and read more about Sunny at GoldenOverSoul.com, @GoldenOverSoul and on Facebook.
Disclosure: I am an affiliate of BetterHelp which means that if you decide to use their service I may receive an affiliate commission at no additional cost to yourself.
Recently, Quickie Divorce polled 2,000 of our former customers, all of whom had been divorced for at least two years, to determine their current relationship statuses. Whilst our survey was designed to determine how likely people are to embark on new romantic relationships following their divorces, it turns out that this wasn’t the most valuable information we’d glean from it.
The survey revealed that more than 70 percent of respondents had had a romantic relationship that they considered to be serious following their divorces. We also discovered that 20 percent were also now cohabiting with a new partner. We also asked people what their present selves would, with the benefit of hindsight, have said to themselves whilst they were going through the divorce process – and some of the responses were truly profound.
Here are our favourite five pieces of advice, and why we think they’re relevant to divorcees around the world:
It’s OK To Feel How You Feel
Divorce is extremely testing and, as a result, those involved usually find themselves experiencing a wide array of varied and often negative emotions. This can be problematic as, when we feel angry, sad, hopeless etc. we have a tendency to try and suppress our feelings or worse yet, chastise ourselves for having them.
Remembering that divorce is emotionally testing, that it’s perfectly normal to feel negative emotions and allowing them to be is the best way to act here. Trying to fight feelings is absolutely exhausting and, as for beating yourself up, what good will that do? Be kind to yourself.
Patience Is A Blessing
Once you’ve started the process of ending your marriage, you’ll immediately crave the catharsis that many assume will come when their divorce has been finalised. The problem with this, however, is that you won’t feel better simply because you now possess a document that proves your marriage is legally over. In fact, nothing can expedite the healing process; you just need to be patient.
You Will Adapt
With divorce always being a life-changing event, it’s perfectly understandable that those affected by it often feel anxious about whether or not they’ll be able to adjust effectively. As one respondent pointed out, though “I realised how misplaced my anxieties were just four months after my divorce had been finalised. I’d adjusted my spending, altered my daily habits and made new friends. On reflection, I realised that I’d been through big changes previously and had adapted – I just wish I’d realised this sooner.”
The Children Are Actually Happier
As parents, we’re continuously told that children that grow up in a traditional two-parent nuclear family are more likely to be content and successful. This, though, is a reductive assessment – particularly if the parents are unhappy.
Children that see their parents fight or that grow up in an unhappy household are actually much less likely to enjoy meaningful and respectful relationships in their adult lives. Furthermore, it’s unlikely they’ll have happy childhoods. It may seem counterproductive, but divorcing your spouse genuinely can be in your children’s best interests; just remember that you and your spouse will need to make consistent and meaningful efforts to work as a team and provide effective and caring parenting post-divorce.
Get Mad, But Forget About Getting Even
With the need to divide your assets comes the potential for acrimony and with acrimony comes anger. This, in itself, is fine, provided you don’t allow it to cloud your judgement and seek revenge by trying to win a bigger piece of the pie or preventing your spouse from seeing the children. Ultimately, this is likely to do little more than prolong the divorce process and cost you more money.
What’s more, you and your former spouse are probably going to need to contact each other at some point in the future. If you’ve had children together, this is all but guaranteed so try and remain civil – it’ll make things much easier in the long run.
If divorce is confusing for adults then you know it’s even more confusing for kids. What you need is an age by age guide in helping children understand divorce.
0 to 5 Years
At this stage, a child is a baby or toddler. They have a major dependence on parents and caretakers for all of their needs, as they are not old enough to feed, clothe and take care of themselves. Children of this age can’t understand complex situations or anticipate future situations. They don’t really understand their own feelings at such a young age.
Some of your 0 to 5-year-old child’s greatest concerns will be which parent will they live with, who will take care of them and possibly where will Fluffy the cat live. These are about the only issues you need to cover with a young child and make sure that they realize you and your ex-spouse will live in different homes, but each will spend quality one-on-one time with the child and each parent still loves them.
Children at a preschool age are just beginning to develop some independence, although they are still highly dependent on parents and caretakers for their needs. At this age, they have a limited ability to understand things like cause and effect and still can’t think ahead to the future happenings. Preschoolers may have an understanding that the world revolves around them and the fine line between reality and fantasy can be blurred at times. They have some ability to think about their own feelings, but can’t usually communicate with you about them.
For example, preschool children may leave one parent’s house, go to the other parent’s house and ask immediately upon arrival if the other parent is home. They know they just left the other parent but can’t see far enough ahead to remember that for maybe a half hour or so drive. They will need lots of reminders with lots of love to get through this stressful time in their lives.
Signs of distress in preschoolers such as fear or anger may appear. These feelings can manifest themselves in the form of anxiety, whining, clinging or just being generally irritable. Preschoolers may experience problems sleeping all night as they did before.
Children of this age can develop many inaccurate ideas about divorce’s causes and effects. For example, if Dad is the one who leaves the family home, they often see if as Dad left them, not that Dad left Mom. They need to understand from both parents that they made the decision to live apart on purpose and it’s an adult decision.
Preschoolers need simple explanations such as who will live where, who they will live with, who will be the caretaker and how often they will see the other parent on a regular basis.
6 to 8 Years
At the age of 6 to 8 years, children have a bit more ability to think about their feelings and actually talk about them. This age group of children has a broader understanding of what is going on around them in their world but may not understand the complexities of divorce. At this age, children are forming friendships outside of the home as friends and schoolmates become an important part of their lives.
Children in this age group may think the parent is divorcing them and they will never see them again. They may also try to play matchmaker and want their parents to get back together, as it did work when they were younger.
9 to 11 Years
As children reach this age group, they have more ability to understand, think about and talk about their feelings on all aspects of divorce. Their circle of relationships outside the family dynamic includes friends, teachers and coaches and is more developed. These items lead to a larger factor in planning the child’s time and activities. Children 9 to 11 years of age may still tend to see things in black and white only and may assign blame to one parent for the split up.
Many children in this age group place blame on one parent or the other and they can have outward displays of anger, fear, sadness or distress as they are missing one parent. The children in this group need the reassurance that they didn’t cause the divorce and that it was an adult decision, which they can’t influence. The older children in the 9 to 11 age group can discuss their feelings openly, but many choose to keep them bottled up and not to speak about their feelings at all. The best approach is to say something like “Some kids feel, angry, afraid or sad when their parents divorce,” instead of something like “Are you sad?” The first approach opens a window for them to talk to you and isn’t as direct, so you may get better results with it.
12 to 14 Years
Kids at this age have a better understanding of divorce as a whole and they can take part in discussions and ask pertinent questions to further their understanding of the events. They will desire more independence and start questioning parental authority as their relationships outside the family grow and become much more important to them.
Anger and irritability are common at this age and it can be directed at both parents or the one that moved out. Teenagers can be moody anyway, so it may be hard to gauge if it is indeed because of a divorce.
Solutions to Survive Divorce with Children of Any Age
Keep the lines of communication open with the children and answer any questions they may have on their level of understanding and often. Make sure they know that both parents love them and that they spend time with both parents. As the children get older, you can enlist them in more extracurricular activities to keep their minds busy and give them less time to ponder the situation. This aspect will also help with a child’s self-esteem and encourage them to reach out to others without withdrawing from the world.
If communicating with your ex about parenting time, your child’s schedule and shared expenses is challenging, Our Family Wizard can help. They have the tools and resources you need to organize your shared parenting.
If you’re in the midst of a divorce or newly single then a wedding might be the last event you want to attend but divorce coach Elise Pettus says go. There are ways to survive and enjoy wedding season after divorce.
Is there a time when you should say no to an invite?
Can you go solo, even if you and your spouse have not yet gone public with your divorce?
If you don’t want to go solo, who else can you take as a plus one?
How do your handle those awkward questions from extended family?
In this Conversation, I’m chatting with Elise Pettus, founder of Untied.net, an online magazine and real-life community based in New York for women going through divorce. Pettus has answers for all these questions and many more. Listen in below or keep reading …
Should You Say No?
You do always have the option of declining a wedding invitation and clearly, if you are in that emotional place where you can’t keep the tears out of any conversation, then may be it would best for you to stay home.
“It’s worth protecting yourself at whatever cost,” said Pettus. “I think that people are compassionate and understanding about real life crises as there are so many that strike all of us.”
If the invitation is from your STBX’s family, you might decide not to go because it would be too uncomfortable for both you and them. But realize that in sending you the invitation they are also sending a message.
“It may be that they invited you knowing that you might not come but because they really want you to know that they love you,” said Pettus.
As much as your gut is telling you not to go , skipping the event may not be the best option. As a newly-single or soon-to-be-single person, this next phase involves a lot of firsts and stepping out of your comfort zone. Going to the wedding and not the reception may also be an option however Pettus would advise against this. Be brave and go to the reception.
“Being in that early stage is really challenging but I don’t think it is a reason to skip it,” said Pettus. “There’s value in going out into the world and practicing as it were. You’re taking back your selfhood.”
Don’t Take A Date You Don’t Know
You might also consider going to the event and finding a date to go with you. You might be thinking that someone, just anyone would be better than going alone. Pettus advises against this. This is speaking to your discomfort of being solo and taking someone who you don’t know very well could just turn into a disaster and no fun.
“It obviously will invite more scrutiny and also you don’t want to be stuck with somebody you don’t really want to speak to and have to take care of all night long,” said Pettus.
So if you’re going to go to the wedding and you’re not going to take a date, you’ll be going solo and going solo to events after years of marriage may feel very strange but you can do it.
“When you divorce, there’s no question that you’re exercising muscles that you haven’t in a long while,” said Pettus. “Pat yourself on the back. Those are muscles you’re going to want to strengthen.”
Pettus suggests that you start strengthening those new muscles by gong to other less-demanding events such as activities at your child’s school.
What also helps with going solo is having a community of friends to support you while you’re going through divorce. That support will give you the confidence to go explore situations alone. Ending your marriage means having to make new connections and going to events solo is a way to jumpstart building or reworking your new network.
What About The STBX?
If you’re in the early stages of divorce and your breakup isn’t public knowledge, you’ll have to decide whether to attend the event together or just one of you go. When Pettus’s own marriage was ending she says she was too fearful to go to the first wedding alone so she made her STBX come with her and that was a mistake.
“It was miserable because my sister and brother knew what the reality was but the rest of my family didn’t,” said Pettus. “I didn’t feel I could dump the news on them at a wedding. That seemed like an unfair thing to do. It made it very stressful because I felt like we were putting on a really anemic show of happy coupledom. You could just feel the tension.”
If you do go with your STBX, you’ll want to consider transportation options so you can leave when you want, even on your own if necessary.
“You’re transitioning to separation so you’re going to protect your safety and your dignity,” said Pettus. “You want to be able to be your own agent.”
Leave When You’re Ready
One of the advantages of going solo is that you can leave when you’ve had enough. You don’t have to stay until the last dance. That does mean planning ahead and making sure you have transportation home.
Pettus recalls that first wedding when her marriage was ending. Having made her STBX go with her, he left early and she stayed. She struck up a conversation with a cousin she hadn’t seen in years who was having her own marital struggles. Her spouse was seriously ill and she was feeling isolated.
“We ended up leaving the wedding and going to a friend’s dance party and dancing all night,” said Pettus. “it was such a fun and freeing feeling just finally to be able to talk about what was really going on.”
Be Prepared To Talk Divorce
If you’re solo at an event and people know you as married, it’s inevitable that you’ll be asked about your spouse. If your divorce isn’t public knowledge yet, you can stick with the excuse that your spouse couldn’t make it. You certainly don’t want your children finding out through an inadvertent remark from one of their cousins.
Otherwise, Pettus suggests coming up with a line that is truthful but not oversharing and that you practice it. A response saying that it has been very painful and that you don’t want to talk about it might be taken a shutdown. Rather something like, ‘Jed and I are splitting up. It’s been a hard year but I think we both feel relieved to have clarity and to have some freedom to move forward’ creates an opening for more dialogue.
Some people are going to respond well to that and maybe engage in a meaningful conversation. For others, that will be a conversation-killer.
“You bring it up with people who don’t really know you and they’re married and they immediately drop their voice and look at you with this look of gravity like you’ve just contracted leprosy and they’ll say,’I’m so sorry,'” said Pettus.
That’s going to happen but not everybody is like that.
“The coolest people at these gatherings will find a way to connect with you,” said Pettus. “Suddenly you find yourself in a conversation about something that’s real and that matters and it’s not just about where you went to school or what a nice bag. I feel that you’re being there alone, you’re being willing to be open and frank about what’s happening is an invitation to people to have real conversation about real stuff.”
There’s another benefit to talking about your divorce. Pettus says it gives you the opportunity to explore the narrative of what happened. This is what occurs in therapy and in support groups. Sharing what happened to you with others gives them the chance to chime in with their perspective and that can make a big difference to how you see your own situation.
Pettus shares a story of a woman in one of her workshops whose husband had left her for a much younger woman and all the woman could see at first was that she had been abandoned for a younger, more attractive model. Then through the afternoon and discussions her view shifted. She started to see she was a successful screenwriter and producer, she was making the money while he was struggling. She was supporting him, paying for photography lessons and trying to help him launch his career. She started to see that their split was really about his own feelings of self-worth and insecurity.
“It’s about exploring your own narrative in a safe way,” said Pettus. “It allows you to be both honest but also to see a narrative that helps you feel stronger, that comes from a position of strength and perspective.”
My guest for this Conversation was Elise Pettus, founder of Untied.net, an online magazine and real-life community based in New York for women going through divorce.
It is easy as adults to take our everyday lives for granted. Starting in childhood, adults have been building support networks of friends, family, and loved ones they can rely on during the divorce for guidance, reassurance, and the ability to vent about frustrations that come up as the divorce enfolds. This support network is the result of years and years of creation and upkeep, and it is easy for many divorcing couples to forget that, at one point in our lives, the only support network they had was their parents. This fact may not be a problem for older children who have been in school long enough to make friends and start working on their own networks. But for younger children, it is generally much more difficult to comprehend what is going on, when the only life they had ever known is now being split in two.
The first step of easing children through a divorce is to communicate with them about the divorce itself. The best way for divorcing spouses to discuss divorce with their children is together. Divorce is, by its nature, adversarial, and it can be extremely difficult to look at your spouse in any way other than as an opponent. However, for children, seeing parents work against each other can often exacerbate the problems the children are having, because it’s hard enough for children to see their parents splitting up without having their parents antagonizing each other as well. While it may be difficult, parents who attempt to discuss the divorce together for the sake of the children can only benefit the children’s ability to cope with the divorce as it progresses.
Once the initial discussion of the divorce has happened, parents then need to redirect the focus of the ongoing discussion from themselves to the children. Remember that children rely heavily, if not exclusively, on their parents as a support network and so future conversations should keep that in mind. Each child responds to divorce differently, meaning that the conversations parents have with their children may vary widely. However, the topic should remain centered around the child and should avoid confusing legal language. Questions such as: How are you doing? What has been bothering you? What specifically is confusing to you? and What can I/We do to help? are good open-ended questions that start the discussion, but keep the topic focused on the child.
Keep in mind however, that this does not mean that parents shouldn’t fight for their own wellbeing in court. The divorce process is an important one, and what happens in court will ultimately determine how each spouse will start a new life. Because of this, a boundary between what happens in court and what happens at home is essential for children of every age. Children should never be aware of the information brought up in court. After all, remember that every child loves their parents equally. While a parent may no longer love their spouse in any meaningful way, parents should not extrapolate their own loss of feelings for their spouse to their children. Trying to sway a child to one side or the other is extremely unhealthy. In court, attorneys’ jobs are to sway the court in the direction of their client. As such, any discussion of allegations made in court can only be made for the purposes of swaying a child and should be strictly avoided.
The most important thing parents can do for their children during a divorce is to be available to their children throughout the entire event. That being said, parents should limit discussing their own feelings about the divorce to their own support networks, and parents should instead focus the discussion they have with their children to how the divorce is affecting the children specifically. Setting boundaries and being upfront, while also focusing the discussion around the children, are extremely beneficial concepts to use, and can do nothing but help the children get through the process without making them feel like they are caught in the middle.
This is a sponsored post on behalf of the Crouse law Group
Author Rachel O’Conner is a freelance content writer located in San Diego, California currently writing for Crouse Law Group. Over the course of her career, she has written a variety of health, parenting, and fitness articles. In her free time, she enjoys running along the beach with her two puppies and practicing yoga.
With Mother’s Day just finishing up, it’s time to turn your attention to Father’s Day. For those who are either single parents or recently divorced, these holidays can prove to be difficult.
Regardless of what your relationship with your ex may be, you’ve never wanted it to affect the upbringing of your child or how your child perceives their other parent. As such, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day can sometimes become tricky holidays where your child may feel pressured to show deference to one parent over the other. A lesson can be taught here to your child about relationships and how the aftermath of their ending can be handled in a way that benefits all those involved. This lesson can be taught through the connection that’s built when performing an art project together. This article will suggest a few art projects you can share with your child on Father’s Day to not only bring you closer together but to teach your child that the most important thing they can give someone they love is their time and attention.
Painting A Canvas
When you first think of art, your mind might immediately jump to paints and painting. Depending on the age of your child, this could be an extremely fun activity, especially if you choose to forgo brushes and instead opt for finger painting. Go wild with it and purchase a huge canvas that you can place either in a tarped down living room or tarped yard and break out the buckets of paint. Roll around, go crazy! Let the laughter fill the space as you work together to create the next Picasso masterpiece.
Or pick up a brush and smaller canvases and simply paint together. If your child is older, allow them to indulge in their creative side, and allow yourself to indulge in it, too. Whether you work together to paint a beautiful picture–or silly, it’s your art!–or you work separately while just talking to one another, it’s a bonding experience that you’ll both grow from.
Finish That Clubhouse
Every child wants a treehouse or clubhouse in the backyard growing up, and with busy schedules–especially as a single parent–sometimes it’s easy to let it fall by the wayside. Father’s Day is the perfect opportunity to set aside time to finish that project. This time, however, you can utilize your child’s energy and eagerness to help you finish it. While they should obviously be kept out of the potentially dangerous stuff like hammering nails and such, they could be put in charge of handing you tools or painting the finished clubhouse. Not only might they learn a thing or two about construction, but you’re also teaching them about hard work and the importance of working in a team.
By the time the clubhouse is done, you’ll have created a safe place for your child to play within. You’ll also have nurtured the bond between the two of you. Depending on how much you allowed your child to help you, they have a greater appreciation for the clubhouse as well, having helped build it. You may be quite tired after the long day of building, but have a few cups of coffee and get back out there to enjoy the clubhouse with your child. Allow their imagination to run wild with you.
Make A Small Village
If you have empty milk cartons laying about the place, you can actually use them to make a small village for you and your child to play pretend with over the years. All you need is some construction paper and markers. Cut out the paper according to the carton’s size and glue them on. Then just draw on doors and windows, perhaps a little sign to indicate what the building is, and then place it in the play area. You can potentially create an entire village from otherwise useless objects.
Not only will this inspire your child to see objects as potentially things that can be refurbished and reused, but it will also give them a whole new slew of toys that didn’t really cost you anything. They can also easily be packed away, so your child can bring them with them when they visit their mother, too. So, not only can both parents share in this project and create that bond with the child, but the child themselves are able to have the best of both worlds with each of their parents.
Again, with the small village you created together, you can come up with numerous stories. Make little people out of toothpicks and clay or any action figures or dolls your child may have and let them craft a story just for you.
Construct A Puppet Theatre
If your child has a flair for theatre and performances, then grab a few cardboard boxes and have them help you make a puppet theatre out of it. It can be as simple or elaborate as you and your child want to make it. Adding in a small chalkboard to write showtimes on is a cute little feature. If you don’t have any extra curtains laying around, you can just use blankets instead during the performances. With the theatre itself created, all that’s left are the puppets.
This is another art project you can do with your child. Whether you both work on the same puppet or separate ones, you can work on stories as you create the characters. This is something the child’s mother can get in on, too, by adding her own puppets to the mix when the child spends time with her.
With the puppets made, you can sit back and watch the performance your child has compiled just for you. Remember, every performer loves riotous applause!
Anyone can make a blanket fort, but try taking it up a level this Father’s Day. Instead of just making a fort that can be torn down in a few seconds, why not make something a bit more permanent in the playroom? Have your child help you place blankets or old sheets that are no longer used in areas and secure them. Pull in some old furniture that you would have otherwise thrown out to furnish the fort. Finish it off with Christmas lights or night lifts that can make the area seem safe and cozy. You can have your very own sleepovers in the fort with your child. However, be forewarned, they may just never want to leave it.
Time Is Everything
When it comes down to the nit and gritty of these holidays, the most important aspect you can impart to your child isn’t how much they can spend on a parent to show them how much they appreciate them. That’s a confusing message for the child and can add a great deal of stress into their lives. Instead, you can show them that the only thing that matters–and that the only thing they ever need to do–is spending time with those whom they love. Especially in today’s day and age, time has become extremely limited. Giving it to someone else expresses ultimate love.
If communicating with your ex about parenting time, your child’s schedule and shared expenses is challenging, Our Family Wizard can help. They have the tools and resources you need to organize your shared parenting.
Kayla Clough is the email specialist at OurStart. Kayla is a recent graduate of Eastern University in PA where she majored in Marketing and Human Resources. Kayla loves all things fashion, her golden retriever Max, and coffee. When she is not working, you can find her binge-watching Sex in the City and baking her latest find on Pinterest. OurStart on Facebook.OurStart’s blog.
Disclosure: SinceMyDivorce is an affiliate of Our Family Wizard which means that if you make a purchase or use their service, I will receive an affiliate commission at no additional cost to you.
No matter where you are in the divorce process it’s unavoidable: divorce anxiety and stress.
You know the feeling all too well. The fear of the unknown. The loss of control of the life we thought we knew. It’s normal to panic, but that doesn’t mean you have to go through your days worried that you’re doing something wrong in your divorce, or that you’re going to screw something up.
You deserve better than that.
See, here’s the thing that cripples us during divorce. When we’re going through something new and unfamiliar, we think that for some reason we won’t be good at it, and that we’ll completely fail at it. The same irrational thinking is applicable to the divorce process. Most of the time we’re panicking because we have no idea what the heck is going to happen from one day to the next.
“Is my ex going to change their mind on the settlement?”
We don’t know the answers to these questions or the myriad of others invading our thoughts at all hours of the day, and those unanswered questions are what make us anxious. Anxiety preys on our insecurities about what we don’t know. And for some reason, we have been conditioned to think that THE UNKNOWN= SOMETHING COMPLETELY HORRIBLE, which is just crazy.
We fear the unknown, without really fully grasping that the UNKNOWN can actually hold a ton of amazing things for us. Our anxiety paralyzes us because it has hijacked our not knowing the future, the UNKNOWN, and has put dibs on it saying, “Oh, because you are unsure of what will happen, that means it must automatically be something horrible.”
And you know what, Anxiety? That’s just BS. Just because we don’t have a crystal ball to see into the future doesn’t mean we’re going to be held hostage anymore, lying awake at night, worried sick about what the future has in store for us.
We’re going to do things differently. You already have all the tools you need to kick your anxiety to the curb. And with the exercise below, you’ll learn how to do just that.
Kick Anxiety to the Curb Exercise
This exercise is actually really easy, and a lot of fun. Chances are in your life, you have been through other stressful situations. And I know for a fact that you were able to get through those situations, plan them out, and navigate with grace.
You can do the same thing with your divorce anxiety in a few easy steps.
1. Take a few minutes and think about some of the past stressful situations in your life.
2. Write down how you dealt with those situations. What did you do, exactly? What fears did you have that you were able to work through? What steps did you take?
Example: I was laid off unexpectedly last year. I totally didn’t see it coming and I wasn’t prepared to look for another job.
After initially freaking out, I knew that I had to get to get busy and that I didn’t have time to sit and be upset. I updated my resume. I subscribed to job alerts on several job sites. I started attending as many career fairs as I could find. I started reaching out to former colleagues to see if they knew of any openings. I also applied for unemployment compensation and re-tooled my budget because I knew things would be tight until I found new work
3. After you are finished doing this with a few events in your life, list the things in your divorce that are causing you anxiety. Be honest and thorough. You’ll find that getting it all off your chest will make you feel better.
4. Now for the big leap: How can you apply some the things that you did in other stressful situations of your life to your current divorce anxiety? The connections are there, and they are strong.
A. Example: I am anxious about the divorce because I don’t know what to do. But I remember feeling that way when I was laid off.
B. Plan: Much like when I was laid off, the only way I can make any changes in the way I feel is if I take action. I feel anxious because I feel unsure, but I won’t feel unsure if I start to plan. So, I am going to start to research. I am going to list everything I actually can do, and then take action to do them. If I am worried about money, I will look at my budget and see if I really need to worry. If I do, I will research other income sources or speak with a financial advisor. If I need help trying to figure this all out, I will reach out for further guidance.
Repeat this step with all the things that are giving you anxiety and stress, and you’ll start to realize that there is actually so much you can control. This is your life. You own it. And the anxiety that holds you hostage is something you can kick to the curb.
If your anxiety or fears are stopping you from your daily activities then talking with a licensed therapist or counselor, like the ones at BetterHelp may help.
Martha Bodyfelt is a divorce recovery coach whose website “Surviving Your Split”shows readers how to get their confidence back and move on with their lives. For your Free Divorce Goddess Survival Kit, stop by Surviving Your Split today!
Disclosure: I am an affiliate of BetterHelp which means that if you use their service I will receive a small affiliate commission at no additional cost to you.
Regardless of how civil or amicable you want your divorce to be, disagreements are inevitable. Knowing how to calm anger in divorce could be your key to resolving these disagreements and staying out of the courtroom.
When you’re negotiating over the division of assets and how to parent together, and the hurt and pain are fresh and raw, it’s hard to approach this simply as a business negotiation. It’s easy to let all the past history bubble up into angry outbursts.
Those angry exchanges can continue long after the divorce is final when you’re parenting together.
Are there things you can do to calm your SBTX’s anger?
If you’re uncomfortable around anger, is it possible to stop yourself from walking away, withdrawing?
What if it’s you who’s angry? Is it healthy to get angry? How can you stop yourself from directing your anger at other people?
Joining me to explore this Conversation is attorney, mediator and peacemaker Douglas Noll. Noll coaches people as diverse as Fortune 500 company executives and inmates in maximum security prisons. He is the author of De-Escalate: How To Calm An Angry Person in 90 Seconds or Less. Listen in below or keep reading ….
It’s Not As Difficult As You Think
Based on what I have observed and experienced, when you’re the target of someone’s anger, it’s not easy to calm them down. What is easy is for yourself to feel triggered, to become defensive and from there, the discussion becomes a fight and goes nowhere. In fact, the fight can easily make matters worse.
Noll says, with his technique, it doesn’t have to be this way. He says it’s not difficult to calm the other person down if you are the target.
“It is extremely easy to do so if you are willing to do exactly the steps you have to do to deescalate and if you are willing to suspend everything you think you know about communication,” said Noll.
Noll further asserts that his approach is easy for anyone to learn: you do not need to shut yourself away to meditate for 30 years and become incredibly self-aware.
“You have to be willing to listen,” said Noll. “And you have to suspend your own anxiety around social conventions.”
Know When To Walk Away
Just because it is easy to calm an angry person, doesn’t mean you should always try.
“The rule is if there is incipient violence, walk away,” said Noll. “You do whatever you have to do to make sure you’re safe.”
If you’re safe, then you have to ask yourself if you want to deescalate the person and then do you have the emotional capacity at that moment in time to do so. If the answer to all three of these is yes then Noll says you ready to proceed with deescalating the problem.
A common misstep even for trained mediators, is to start problem-solving when faced with someone who’s emotional and Noll believes this is completely the wrong action to take.
“We’ve all learned to do this because it soothes our own anxiety,” said Noll. “You cannot solve any kind of emotional problem with logical reasoning or rationality. You have to confront the problem on the emotional level.”
Let The Emotions Flow
We’ve all heard that the legal divorce process is not going to compensate for wrong-doings of a marriage and that settlement discussions need to be approached as a business negotiation. That often gets interpreted to mean that there’s no place for the emotions. Noll vehemently disagrees with this.
“The beauty of mediation is that you can deal with the anger, you can deal with the upset, you can deal with the pain,” said Noll. “That doesn’t mean people are going to reconcile.”
Noll contends that by ignoring the emotions, the negotiations become more difficult. “If we don’t pay attention to the emotions, we are not paying attention to the human being and no amount of negotiation, no amount of trying to be reasonable is going to work.”
Ignore The Words
Let’s say you and your STBX are having a very heated debate about spousal support. They say they’re not going to pay a penny because you don’t deserve it. It’s very tempting to respond to that with all the ways you’ve contributed to the marriage and why you aren’t earning as much as your STBX.
Noll’s technique is actually to ignore the words that are being spoken. It’s counter-intuitive because we’ve been taught that to listen to someone, it means absorbing the words. However, when you ignore the words the first thing that happens is that you are far less likely to be triggered by what is being said.
When you are listening to the words and processing them, you become reactive: you’re already trying to construct a counter-argument. That means you’re actually not fully listening.
“That’s what makes this process so simple and yet so hard,” said Noll. “Every single step of the process is absolutely counter-intuitive to everything we have ever learned about communication.”
Read The Emotions
If you’re not paying attention to the words, what are you doing?
Noll explains that we have emotions that we are experiencing in every moment of consciousness. Those emotions shift in intensity, quality and duration. We project these emotions like a radar transmitting a beam and they are being transmitted by everything we do: by our eyes, tonality, body posture.
If you’ve ever sensed that your partner or child is angry or upset the moment they arrive home and before they’ve said a word, you’ve experienced this.
Our brain is processing these beams and determining one thing: are we safe?
If you’re brain, thinks you’re safe then you feel comfortable approaching the other person. If your brain thinks the other person is dangerous, then you don’t feel safe and you move into defensive mode.
“The fundamental unconscious judgement is always a question of safety or danger,” said Noll. “Obviously, when you see anger or upset or anxiety, it’s almost always indicating a lack of safety. That person is perceiving danger.”
Learning to read these emotions is not difficult. Noll says it’s what we are hard wired to do but it we do have to practice it.
What does make this hard is that as a society we have placed an emphasis on rational thought over emotions and Noll has traced this back to the early Greek philosopher Plato. Emotions have been seen as dangerous, as something we need to learn to control, something that makes us more like animals. Noll, whose work is based in science, believes this approach to be fundamentally wrong and harmful to us.
Noll says the key is to recognize that emotions come in layers. He’s identified six layers:
Dignitary emotions, such as not being listened to, not being heard, being treated unfairly, being disrespected
Fear and anxiety
Guilty, shame, humiliation and embarassment
Sadness and grief
Fear of abandonment and being unloved
Reflect The Emotions
Once you’ve detected the emotions, the next step is to reflect them back to the person.
Since you’re ignoring the words, you’re letting the unconscious part of your brain figure out the emotions.
“If you sit in silence for a moment, ideas will start to bubble up,” said Noll. “All you do is figure out what matches what you’re seeing and it doesn’t matter whether you’re right or wrong.”
The reason why it doesn’t matter if the emotion you name is wrong, is because the other person will correct you. And that’s the beauty of Noll’s approach.
“That’s the other thing that’s really counter-intuitive. You can be dead wrong on your guess and it’s still going to work,” said Noll.
Forget “I” Statements
Perhaps you’ve learned the technique of using “I” statements such as, “I’m sensing that you are angry.” Noll says that doesn’t help to calm an angry person. What he advocates is a very direct and simple statement:
You’re really angry. You’re pissed off. You’re really frustrated. You don’t feel like you’re being listened to. You feel completely unsupported. You’re feeling a lot of sadness and grief.
“The reason people use “I” statements is because it’s self soothing,” said Noll. “But the moment you start using an “I” statement, you’re no longer listening. You’re talking about yourself and you’re on your own agenda.”
The only time to use an “I” statement is when you are asserting your own truth.
Watch For A Response
Once you’ve reflected back the emotions you’ve detected, watch for an involuntary, unconscious response. The primary response you’re looking for is a nod of the head, a movement up and down, that would confirm the emotions you’ve named.
Next, you’re looking for some kind of verbal explanation such as, “You’re dam right that’s what I’m feeling.” You could also get a response denying the emotion you’ve named. The person’s either going to tell you exactly what they are feeling or you have the opportunity to offer another emotion.
Then what usually follows is a dropping of the shoulders and a deep sigh both of which are signs that the tension has been released. In intense emotional situations, there’ll also be tears.
Saying Calm Down Doesn’t Work
How often have you said or been told, “Calm down!” Has it ever worked? I’ve rarely seen it work and more often, it only makes the situation worse.
Noll explains that this is “emotional invalidation” which he regards as a form of abuse. The response is rooted again in the value our society has placed on being rational and regarding emotions as dangerous or valueless. We learn to invalidate the emotions of others because it is self-soothing.
“When you see somebody who’s emotionally upset, you start to feel anxious,” said Noll. “Until you become more emotionally intelligent you will feel anxiety. Anxiety is one thing human beings cannot tolerate. Human beings will do anything to get out of anxiety.”
So when you feel yourself about to say “Calm down!” move instead to the first step of Noll’s process: ignore the words that are being spoken and feel the emotions.
It Takes Practice
While we might all have an innate ability to recognize the emotions of others, it is going to take practice to develop the skills. As with any new skill, the more you practice, the more skilled you’ll become. So when you’re having your own emotional experience, you’ll be able to immediately “affect-label” your own experience.
“When you do that, you’re automatically building your own emotional intelligence,” said Noll. “Practice listening to others and you will grow yourself.”
My guest for this Conversation was attorney, mediator and peacemaker Douglas Noll. Doug coaches people as diverse as Fortune 500 company executives and inmates in maximum security prisons. He is the author of De-Escalate: How To Calm An Angry Person in 90 Seconds or Less.
It’s easy to feel distressed when your marriage is in trouble, but there are 10 things you can do to try and save your relationship.
Can you remember the last time you were happy with your spouse? If the answer is no, you’re probably worried that you and your partner are heading down the road to divorce. But don’t be discouraged, it’s easy to feel hopeless when you’re experiencing marriage troubles, but there are practical ways to restore your connection and avoid becoming one of the 50% of couples who head for divorce.
Research shows that the most common reasons for divorce often include infidelity, substance abuse, arguing and conflict, and growing apart. If you or your spouse can relate, you are both in need of divorce advice.
Here are the best tips for avoiding separation and reconnecting with your partner to save your marriage.
Since infidelity plays such a large role in marriage troubles, it’s important that you and your partner stay faithful to one another.
Cheating affects every single person involved. From the “other” man/woman getting their feelings entangled in a marriage, the unfaithful partner dealing with guilt and shame, and the betrayed spouse feeling hopeless and disrespected. There is never a good reason to cheat, no matter what is going on in your marriage.
Infidelity breaks marriages. It shatters trust and makes it extremely difficult to restore. Gaining back the trust of a partner who has betrayed you can take years to fully recover from. If you are already in an affair, break it off for good.
Choose to stay faithful to your spouse, through good times and bad.
Build Physical Intimacy
If you are seeking divorce advice then your relationship is likely not in a good spot either emotionally or sexually. It can be difficult to want to share your body with someone you aren’t happy with but reconnecting on a sexual level is wildly beneficial for your marriage.
Sex connects couples on an emotional level and makes couples feel closer and more trusting of one another. Some research also suggests oxytocin may be one of the hormones responsible for monogamy.
Studies show that pleasurable behaviors reduce stress and boost the feel-good hormones released by the reward center of the brain.
Physical intimacy is more than just getting together in the bedroom. Oxytocin works similarly with skin-to-skin contact, such as hugging and holding hands. When is the last time you cuddled? Those who are experiencing marriage trouble do well to make time for physical intimacy.
This is the biggest piece of divorce advice you will ever read: if you want to save your marriage, you need to learn how to communicate.
Honest communication will keep your relationship alive. Tell your spouse your wants, needs, and desires. Tell them about your day, about something that made you laugh, or talk about your dreams.
Remember that in order to truly please one another you must first know what is wrong, and you can’t do that if you don’t talk to each other.
Forgive and Forget
A slip of the tongue, a betrayal, a cutting argument. When a couple is married for a long time, feelings of hurt are inevitable, and forgiveness is difficult, especially if you’ve been hurt deeply by your spouse.
So long as they are taking positive steps to correct the wrongdoing, try focusing on gratitude, look for the good in your partner, and work on reconnecting as a couple.
When couples forgive one another, it means they’ve put the issue behind them, not that they squirreled the memory away for future use. You cannot lord a mistake over your spouse’s head at an opportune time and expect to have a healthy marriage.
If you truly want to move past it, you will need to learn to forgive and forget for good.
When couples experience marriage trouble they often cite not feeling appreciated as a contributing factor to their unhappiness. Research shows that a lack of respect is another common reason why couples get divorced.
Show your spouse respect by consulting one another before making decisions, communicating regularly, never badmouthing one another to friends or family, and by expressing your respect verbally.
Make Time for Each Other
Don’t let work or parenthood get in the way of having a healthy, happy marriage. Couples benefit from regular weekly date nights. The more romance and excitement is in your marriage, the better.
Spending time together as though you have just started dating will help rekindle sexual chemistry and rebuild your emotional connection.
Sometimes the smallest things are the most important in marriage: a kiss goodbye, a thank you, a quick expression of gratitude.
Don’t let this be the case in your relationship. Give your spouse the respect they deserve each day by showing appreciation for one another, being considerate of the other’s feelings, and looking for ways to be kind.
Have Fun Together
One piece of divorce advice for avoiding separation is to start having fun together. When you were first dating, likely your whole relationship was about having fun. You couldn’t wait to see each other after school or work, because that’s what made you the happiest.
Go back to how things used to be and start making more time for laughter and fun recreational activities.
Go to Therapy
Some couples aren’t eager to share their deepest problems with a complete stranger, but marriage counseling can be therapeutic for those in marriage trouble.
A counselor can give you an unbiased look at your marriage and help you pinpoint troubled areas in your relationship. They will also help you learn how to resolve conflict in a way that is healthy and beneficial
Your counselor can also offer divorce advice, communication and trust activities, and will help you look toward the future of your relationship instead of living in the past.
Make Goals Together
When you and your spouse were first dating, you likely had a mountain of goals you wanted to achieve. Perhaps the goals of getting married, buying a house, or starting a family were important to you both. Pursuing your dream jobs, learning a language, getting fit, or traveling to a different country each year are also great goals to have as a couple.
Now that you’re married, why not set new goals? Whether it’s the goal of being more honest with one another, having a regular date night each week, or scaling a mountain, having something to strive towards means that you’ll always be growing. More importantly, you’ll be growing together as a couple.
If you’re looking for divorce advice about keeping your marriage alive, you need to work on re-establishing your friendship and your emotional and physical connection to one another.
Stay faithful, have fun together, show empathy, and always make time for each other. By using these 10 strategies you will have a chance to prevent a divorce in your marriage.
Author Bio: Rachael Pace is a relationship expert with years of experience in training and helping couples. She has helped countless individuals and organizations around the world, offering effective and efficient solutions for healthy and successful relationships. She is a featured writer for Marriage.com, a reliable resource to support healthy happy marriages. Rachel on Twitter; Rachel on LinkedIn.
There are ten things you need to know about divorce and financial aid and these ten things could help you to significantly reduce the cost of your child’s college education.
Yet, based on my experience, many couples don’t discuss their child’s college education as part of the divorce negotiations and those that do, focus on who’ll pay for what but overlook financial aid. That’s a mistake.
In my latest Conversation About Divorce, I’m chatting with Paula Bishop who is an expert in financial aid and often talks about Paying For College Without Going Broke. Listen in to our Conversation below or keep reading for a synopsis.
Talk About Paying For Your Child’s College Education
One reason many couples do not talk about paying for their child’s college education is that the court’s don’t require it. There is no law that requires parents to pay for post-secondary school education – that’s a good thing from my perspective, but it means rather than creating a side agreement that is separate from the divorce agreement, people just don’t have the discussion.
Another reason is that when the kids are young, trying to thrash out an agreement about who’s going to pay for what college related expenses seems impossible. Parents have no idea if their child will even go to college or what going to college is going to entail in ten or 15 years’ time. Nor do they have any idea where their own finances will be then.
The reality is also, when a couple is fighting over a lamp, adding in discussions about paying for college is likely to drag out the negotiations or even stall the whole process which isn’t going to benefit anyone.
Bishop says this is a mistake.
“When I finally meet with one of the parents they are beside themselves not knowing how it’s going to work ,” said Bishop. “They assume they’re going to get stuck paying the bill because there’s nothing in the divorce decree that says the other side is going to help.”
Bishops believes that if you want your kids to go to college, then at the very least include a statement in your divorce agreement that you’ll go to mediation to discuss the college finances a year before your child goes to college.
You Have To Fill Out FAFSA
Financial aid begins with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. Based on this information, a college will calculate how much they think a family can afford for college for one student for one year. It is also through this application that colleges give away government money like Pell grants, subsidized student loans and work study.
“All colleges like to give away somebody else’s money first before their own,” said Bishop.
If you don’t fill out FAFSA, you are automatically excluding your child from these funding opportunities.
In a family of divorce, FAFSA only needs to be completed by the custodial parent and this is where it gets interesting.
The custodial parent for FAFSA purposes has nothing to do with who claims the kids on the tax return or what the parenting agreement says. It’s the parent with whom the child lived for more than half the year.
“That’s maybe why God put 365 days in a year so it’s got to be one parent or the other,” said Bishop.
Even if the difference is only one day, that’s all that counts but it doesn’t mean you have to have kept an actual record.
“FAFSA doesn’t have a little cart to follow you around the year before college to find out where the kid slept,” said Bishop.
“If the income between the two parents is very different, I would try to aim for having the lower income family be the custodial parent,” said Bishop.
This doesn’t mean that the lower income parent is going to be the one who pays for college. It just means for FAFSA, the financial aid is going to be based on the finances of the lower-income parent and that often means more aid which lowers the out-of-pocket expense for the family.
This is one situation where insisting that 50/50 parenting means exactly equal – 182.5 days per year doesn’t make sense and it’s important to set aside any emotional or psychological concerns to focus on the big picture.
That being said, who the custodial parent is has to make sense. If one parent lives in Arizona and one in Colorado and the child is in Arizona for vacations and summers, claiming that the Arizona parent is the custodial parent doesn’t add up.
For kids who are already in college when their parents divorce, if the child is not living at home while attending college, custodial parent means where the child goes home on vacation.
“I’ve never seen them in 20 years really question custodial parent too much and they allow changes,” said Bishop. “One parent can be the custodial parent one year and the next year, they’re not. That could happen.”
What Counts As Income?
Your income for FAFSA is not just what you receive from an employer. Both spousal support and child support are also included. Child support is included as untaxed income to the parent receiving it and is not deductible to the parent paying it.
For spousal support, if it’s tax deductible (typically for agreements that were ordered prior to December 31, 2018), then the support is deductible to the payor and included in come for the recipient. With the recent tax law changes, alimony agreements made after December 31, 2018 will no longer be tax deductible and Bishop believes that these payments will be handled similar to how child support is currently handled.
Most colleges that use the CSS Profile form require income information from the non-custodial parent.
Which Tax Returns?
If you were filling out FAFSA now for the 2018-2019 academic year, you would be using the 2016 tax returns. There is an option when you are filling out the FAFSA to connect to the IRS and upload your tax data from there. If however, that tax return status was as married, that’s not the data you need because it will include both your income and your now former spouse’s income.
What Bishop recommends is requesting a “tax transcript” from the IRS which usually takes a week. The transcript shows you all the individual data lines for your return and from this you can compute what your adjusted gross income was apart from that of your former spouse. You can then input these numbers to FAFSA and submit the transcript to the college if requested.
Don’t Get Remarried!
If you are the custodial parent, when you get remarried, your spouse’s income now has to be disclosed on FAFSA. As Bishop explains it, if you’re applying for the 2018-2019 academic year and are now remarried, FAFSA is going to want your 2016 tax returns and you are required to included your new spouse’s income for that year even though you filed as single in 2016 and weren’t married. This applies regardless of any pre-nuptial agreement you have.
Since we know that more income means less aid, Bishop recommends not getting remarried until your child graduates college.
Who Completes FAFSA?
The FAFSA may be worded directed at the student rather than the parent, but expecting your child to complete it is unrealistic.
“I don’t want a kid anywhere near it,” said Bishop. “How many kids know what adjusted gross income means or what a parent’s income is or untaxed income or contributions to a retirement plan? They don’t know any of that stuff. Kids only mess it up.”
I’ll confess. I have two kids. They’re both college graduates now and neither of them ever completed the FAFSA. I did it. Eight times and it is not straight forward so I’m with Bishop.
According to Bishop, FAFSA is redesigning the application so there is a section for the child and section for the parents. In the meantime, one parent and probably the FAFSA custodial parent needs to drive the process.
“I review hundreds of thousands of profiles,” said Bishop. “I make the parents fill it out. They know what it involves but I review their taxes and profiles before they submit them and in 20 years I’ve had one FAFSA that was right and no profiles over the years.”
What If A Parent Won’t Complete Financial Aid?
Bishop says in about one in ten cases, she has a parent who will not cooperate in applying for financial aid and it’s often a way for them to retaliate for the divorce.
In this situation, Bishop recommends applying to colleges that will only require the FAFSA form and not the colleges that use the CSS Profile form or look for colleges that don’t require the information from both parents. If the uncooperative parent is the lower income earner then it’s unfortunate because you could be forgoing helpful financial aid.
A word of caution. FAFSA does have exemptions and accommodations for situations where there are restraining orders when one party doesn’t want their address shared with the other party. If this applies to you, contact FAFSA before submitting the application to know how to protect yourself.
What About 529 Plans?
529 Plans are a vehicle for saving for college and while one child has to be designated as the beneficiary, there’s a custodial owner such as a parent or grandparent.
If you are the custodial parent and you’re completing FAFSA, then the 529 Plans on which you are the custodial owner have to be included in your investments.
If your former spouse has a 529 Plan and is making withdrawals to support your child’s college expenses, those withdrawals would be considered as untaxed income for your child and need to be disclosed.
Bishop says to avoid this it’s better for the non-custodial parent to shift portions of the 529 Plan year by year to the custodial parent and for the custodial parent to make the tuition payments to the school so that when completing FAFSA the value of the non-custodial account is zero and doesn’t impact the assets for the next year’s financial aid. The timing is a little tricky but it can be done without any negative impact on the child.
Don’t Wait To Get Divorced
People often wait till their child or children have graduated high school before getting divorced. From a pure financial standpoint, Bishop says this is not the best strategy, especially if you’re waiting for your youngest child because your FAFSA will be based on your combined incomes.
Getting divorced prior to your child going to college means their financial aid will be based on the income of only one parent. If your incomes are very different, then you can make the lower-income parent be the FAFSA custodial parent and by now, you know that means more aid.