The Emotional End of Your Divorce


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You remember those parties that at the end of the night, when everyone has gone, and the lights are on, and there is just a mess lying everywhere, and you know you should go to bed, but instead you linger? Not quite cleaning up; done eating, drinking, and dancing.  Just sort of wandering through your home, righting a knocked picture, mopping up a spilled drink, and letting the sounds and sights of the night playback in your brain like a highlights reel?

Sometimes that is the exact sensation that slows down a divorce process.  When the couple has decided that they no longer want to be married; and they have already hashed-out the big ideas of their divorce, such as who will live where, who will pay whom how much, and when.  Really, all that is left to do is vacuum the spilled confetti, turn out the lights and call it a night.  But, yet, in a way this moment is the most difficult.  After the fighting has been largely resolved, and the conversations have become civil, almost tender, again, the true cost of what they have lost becomes more apparent.

Now, while we are NOT fighting, while we remember why we were friends in the first place, this is the time that we least want to turn out the lights and walk away.

And, so, ironically, it is when people frequently find ONE MORE THING to fight about!  “Oh, wait, I just remembered the bill he didn’t pay in October 2008 – I want recompense!”  Or, “Hey – did we decide who is keeping the cats? Who says the cats have to stay with the house?”  And, “My painting! He can keep it, but I want an appraisal and the he has to pay me half the value.”  Etc.  The last minute revelations can be endless.

Eli and Peyton

Matters that could be easily resolved by a quick telephone call, or a side conversation after the Agreements are signed and the divorce is finalized somehow work their way center stage and become an opportunity for people to fight again, or agree again, or acquiesce out of generosity again.  It can be way for the memories – and the good feelings – to linger a little longer. 

Unfortunately, it can also backfire.  If someone has held his or her breath, and played nicely, and done everything they needed to do to make this end, and then they are asked to give up just one more thing – a cat, a painting, an extra weekend of visitation with their kids – it can be the final straw.  The moment in which everyone realizes that this may never end!  “If I keep giving in, I may end up homeless with no clothes!  When does it stop??”

Just because your lawyer does not tell you to stop asking for things, and just because your spouse is still speaking nicely to you, does not necessarily mean that the party is still going on.  Smart people with happy post-divorce lives are people who stopped looking for more stuff, even when there could have been an extra party hat lying underneath a chair someplace; called it a night and went to bed.  There is always tomorrow.

What We Love:  That final moment of civility which, if treated carefully, can last the rest of your lives.

How Co-Parenting Could Work for Heidi Klum’s Family, and yours..

Heidi Klum and her Husband Seal Henry Samuel are announcing their intention to divorce, by publishing this statement:

“While we have enjoyed seven very loving, loyal and happy years of marriage, after much soul-searching we have decided to separate. We have had the deepest respect for one another throughout our relationship and continue to love each other very much, but we have grown apart. This is an amicable process and protecting the well-being of our children remains our top priority, especially during this time of transition.”

They are parents to 4 children together, two boys and two girls, ranging in age from 2 to 7 years old.  These children are used to two parents who literally travel the world separately and together on a seemingly non-stop basis.  There homes are inMexicoandLos Angeles.  His music recording and promotion work takes place all over the globe, but primarily in theUK.  They each have busy successful worldwide careers.

So, what is their plan for an amicable process that protects the well-being of their children?

My first recommendation (if they asked me) would be co-parenting.  Co-parenting is more than having joint legal custody (in which both parties consult with each other on major life decisions effecting the kids), or even shared physical custody (where the parents each spend about one-half of the time with their children.  Maybe they live with mom Sunday morning through Wednesday dinner, and then switch.)

Co-parenting is a deeper commitment to continuing to consult with each other on an ongoing basis on the details of each child’s life.  It involves lots of telephone calls and in person conversations, plenty of passed notes and emails – all focused on the status of the children.

Co-parents are interested in more than “I took Jimmy to the dentist last week, you owe me $10.”  Co-parents have a lot of the same conversation post divorce as they may have had during marriage.  They just skip the non-kid conversations.

Here are some examples of co-parenting conversations:

“He did okay on the math test, but look at questions number 3 this afternoon. See if you can figure out what went wrong there.”

“I picked up the tickets for the dance recital.  Our 4 seats are all down front, so your mom will be able to take as many photos as she wants.”

Chances are that the reason a couple divorces has very little to do with either party’s parenting skills.  I frequently hear clients say, “he’s a great Dad, he just didn’t know how to be a husband” (or vice versa).  Co-parenting can empower the parents, and more importantly the children, to enjoy all the benefits of two good parents doing their best without the interference of a bad marriage.

What We Love:  In the midst of making one of the most difficult decisions of their lives; Heidi and Seal are prioritizing their children’s needs.  In doing so, they might make themselves happier also.

Read more:

The Advantages of a Long-Distance Divorce

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My client just left on a cruise.  Her kids are grown; her divorce is underway; and she does not want to sit here every day from now until the divorce date fighting over the nitty-gritty with her husband.  Nor should she.

She has empowered her financial advisor (who is a certified divorce mediator) to bargain on her behalf over the asset split.  She has retained a competent attorney (me) to make sure that the deal is fair and that the paperwork gets handled appropriately.  And she is “outie,” as they say.

Most of the costs people incur during the divorce process are by either one attorney or another (or both) spending countless hours analyzing every dollar and dime; every cause and effect; every coulda’ and shoulda’ and especially every woulda’ until both parties are angry and broke.

Now, I have a weekly email exchange with this woman, to let her know every thing is progressing as planned. If I have questions about any particular items, I send her the question. She contemplates it while she is staring out at a vast blue ocean, and gives me a well-thought-out reply. No ability to give knee-jerk reactions in this scenario.

Plus, she is not antagonizing her husband. He can be as angry (or sad, or happy) as he wants and she has no way of influencing it or being influenced by it.  The punishment motive has been stripped away from both of them, because there is no big emotional pay off.  Just a calm little email about where someone left a tax return form.

Not everyone is fortunate enough to have the time to take from work and cruise; or the resources to make sure any minor children are covered; or the money for a fancy cruise ship.  But, in a litigious divorce people take time from work for court hearings, attorney conferences, depositions, and sometimes just mental health days.  In a custody battle, people frequently lean on friends and relatives to pitch in and help out with the kids more often and more seriously than thy ever dreamed possible.  When a divorce goes to trial, 2 – or more – attorneys work for days and nights and weeks to prepare, billing the client the entire time. 

So, maybe when you tally both columns a cruise would end up using fewer resources than a litigated divorce.  And, which is even better, a cruise could result in two happier people at the end of the divorce. 

What We Love: Distance, time and perspective – three key elements to better decision making.

Custody, Visitation, Residency, and Child Support

Herman Munster
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I spoke with a young man today; we’ll call him “Herman.”  Herman is happily married with two pre-school age children from this marriage.  He also has a 14 year old son from a prior relationship.  We’ll call the son “Anthony,” and his mother “Tina.”

Tina and Herman were never married; I’m not even sure they ever lived together.  They were young, dating, got pregnant, had a baby, and decided that the baby would spend time with both of them.  By the time Anthony started kindergarten, Tina and Herman were done with each other.  They went to the child support enforcement bureau and got an order for $100 per week to be automatically deducted from Herman’s bank account and deposited into Tina’s.  And life went on.

There were no court orders about custody or visitation or anything else.  It was just two kids and a baby figuring it out as they went.  Tina doesn’t live in a great school district.  Herman does, so Anthony moved in with Herman & his wife and kids.  Since there were no court orders; nothing needed to be modified.

Where are we now?

Custody:  technically, Tina and Herman have “joint custody” of Anthony.  This means that neither one of them has final say on where Anthony lives or goes to school. They are both his active and involved parents and both have joint authority over him.  They must keep each other informed of his whereabouts and developments.

Primary Residence:  Right now, Anthony’s primary residence is with his father.  There is no court order instructing him to stay with either parent, so primary custody is with whichever parent happens to put him to bed each night.

Visitation:  If he sleeps every night at dad’s house, and goes to school in dad’s neighborhood, then any time he spends with his mother will be considered “visitation.”  Even of he spends a week at Tina’s house; because he has established Herman’s house as his current primary residence.

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Child Support:  That’s the money that goes out of Herman’s bank account and into Tina’s bank account every week.  Just because Anthony has switched his primary residence, the child support does not automatically end.  It can end either by order of the Court, or by filing with the support enforcement bureau.  If Herman wants to stop paying child support to Tina, he is going to have to go get it changed by a government agency with proper authority.

As long as Anthony, Tina, and Herman (plus Herman’s wife and kids) are happy; they really have no reason to involve the courts.  If approached, most jurisdictions would look to find out the truth of how the parties currently live and then make orders reflecting the status quo.  No court intends to rip apart a situation which works well for the minor child.

Would life have been easier if a court had entered orders about custody and visitation when the child support was ordered?  Maybe; but such orders would probably have lacked the real-world fluidity of Anthony’s needs

What We Love:  By working together for Anthony’s best interest, Tina and Herman have avoided court for most of his life.  Whatever money they do not spend on lawyers can be used for Anthony’s benefit.

The Benefits and Accountability of Divorce

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Until divorce was codified marriages were often brutal. Even today, we read stories about countries in which divorces are so difficult that women are murdered (sometimes by their mothers-in-law) because it is easier, and cheaper, than divorce. 

Without the possibility of divorce there is little, if any, accountability within a marriage. And while you might think that such freedom therefore runs both ways; that is seldom the case. There will always be people who do their best and give their best, no matter the circumstances. There will always be bullies. There will always be people who are just stupid or lazy, or both.

In my practice we very rarely see two people who have both simply outgrown each other and want to move on as friends. Although we almost always get to that point, divorce usually begins quite differently.

Most divorces begin with one partner who is completely blind-sided, confused, sometimes heart-broken (sometimes referred to as Defendant), and one who has suffered for years and cannot take it any longer (or, typically, Plaintiff).  Plaintiffs usually think they have tried every possible way of asking Defendants to change. Defendants have no idea what the Plaintiffs are talking about. 

Without safe, legal, affordable, accessible divorce, those Plaintiffs might well spend the rest of their lives suffering at the hands of a Defendant who cannot hear them.  Escaping the bounds of a marriage in which they parties cannot understand each other can be a very helpful and necessary change – for the Plaintiff, but also for the Defendant, and any children they share.   (Also helped by this emancipation are frequently all of the friend and family of the Plaintiff, who have suffered along for all of these years; and sometimes even the family & friends of Defendant.)

The Pennsylvania Alimony Chart (Or – Why to Hire a Good Attorney)

Attorney Jones and her client Mr. Bob walk into the conference room at Attorney Jones’ Connecticut law office. They are expecting to take Mrs. Bob’s deposition today; and they have hired a court stenographer to record the proceedings.  Mrs. Bob is sitting there, alone, with a manila folder of papers on the table in front of her.

Attorney Jones asks Mrs. Bob, “Where is your lawyer?”

Mrs. Bob has decided to represent her self.  She is angry and she is not putting up with any malarkey, she tells them.

Mrs. Bob does not wait to be sworn in, or for the deposition to begin, she just starts telling Attorney Jones what she wants to say.

It is a long rant.  He was never a good husband.  The house is not big enough; the cars are not new enough. She suspects him of an affair, although she has no evidence. There are no minor children, fortunately.  They have been married five years and have both had jobs the entire time.

Under Connecticut law, Mrs. Bob is probably not entitled to alimony, although she might be allotted some, depending on each party’s earning capacity.  There should be an equal asset split/debt split, depending on the circumstances.  Mrs. Bob doesn’t know any of this.  All she knows is she has a friend who gets a lot of alimony and child support every month, so she wants alimony.

Finally, Mrs. Bob gets to her point, “I want him to pay me $1000 per month in alimony for 5 years,” she says.

“What?!”  Attorney Jones and Mr. Bob both say in unison, shocked because they both know what the law in Connecticut recommends in this type of matter.

“I looked it up on the alimony chart,” Mrs. Bob says as she starts fumbling through her folder.  “Here,” she adds as she pulls out a complicated looking chart full of numbers.

Attorney Jones takes the chart and points out that it is a Pennsylvania Alimony chart – there is no such thing as an alimony chart in Connecticut – and that Mrs. Bob has read it wrong, anyway, since the numbers she used did not include her own salary.

They cancel the deposition.  Attorney Jones gives Mrs. Bob a list of attorneys she knows who are reasonable and fair in helping parties mediate an uncontested divorceThey decide to wait two weeks and try again once Mrs. Bob has a chance to get some good legal advice.

What We Love:  There is a real fear of attorneys in the world:  ravenous sharks who want nothing more than to increase the length of your divorce to line their own pockets.  And, yes, those sharks exist.  But, happily, they are only one species of attorney. Plenty of reasonable people graduated law school with the purpose of helping make the world a better place. Get an attorney – they know the law! Just find one who wants your divorce to be a small blip in your life; not a catastrophe.


(The Politics of) “Dad’s New Girlfriend”

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Is there ever a reason why you would encourage your child to be friendly with your spouse’s new “significant other?”

Maybe. Take this True or False Quiz to see if there ever is for you:

1.         My ex-husband is such a wimp that his new wife will be the one controlling their purse strings.

True – Might be worth making the woman like your kid (child support and alimony only get you so far – true generosity is limitless).

False – Maybe only Dad’s love is necessary in this situation, and the new harpy can get in line.  (But, beware, there could always be a Last Will & Testament.)

2.         My ex-husband has a new baby with his second wife.

True – The bond between your child and that half-sibling may be one of the most important in either of those kids’ lives. It is an important time to mend old fences and just be present for the new baby.  In most states, the new baby will have no impact on pre-existing child support orders. (And, no matter how you may feel about the new Wife, that baby did not ask to be born into it – please keep the two separate in your mind and dealings.)

False – Never say never.  If they haven’t yet, they may soon.  Help your kid keep an open mind before it is too late.

3.         My ex-wife has a new baby with her second husband.

True –Your kid might suddenly be feeling like the third wheel, or an indentured servant.  Help your child’s situation by finding ways of making that new father grateful for

English: Newborn infant, 4 hours after birth D...
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you, and grateful to your kid.  It will go a long way to improving your own child’s ranking in his or her home.

False –  If she doesn’t yet, you may encourage her to try. Nothing will take her mind off your faults and failings as quickly as being totally consumed with a brand new infant.

4.         I was hoping we could reconcile, but my Wife has moved in with her new boyfriend before the divorce is even final.

True – Your Wife apparently is not interested in reconciling with you.  Her message seems clear.  Letting your kids blame “the new guy” might leave them with a misplaced sense of injustice.

False – If your wife has not moved on, and you really believe there is a chance of reconciliation, take advantage of the moment while you have it. Consider making reasonable and practical changes before it really is too late.

5.         That phony little secretary stole my husband right out from under me.  If I teach my kids to be accepting of her, how do I ever teach them a good set morals and values?

True – Maybe the values our kids need to learn are to always do what is right themselves; even when the other person has done wrong.  We are not suggesting that the phony little secretary needs to be everyone’s best friend.  But she might be the only link between the kids and their dad in his old age.

False – That secretary may only be a symptom of what went wrong, and not the underlying cause of the breakdown of your marriage.

* * * * *

Obviously, the older your children are, the more likely they are to make these choices without your input.  In general, adult children are less likely to be accepting of new relationships than younger children may be.  It is a great bonding opportunity for you to still be able to parent your adult children by modeling acceptance and graciousness even in the case of a new partner.

What we Love: The next new love on the scene might just be your own.  This is a chance to help your children learn that it is healthy and sane to move forward, not backward, in life.

Related articles

December Dilemmas

Sometimes it is difficult to separate the best interest of the minor child from our own best interests.  Here is a secret: they are very seldom the same thing.  While you are going through (or about to go through) a divorce or legal separation is a time to be extra cautious about keeping everyone’s interests clearly delineated.

If, for example, you would rather have your children with their dad on Christmas Eve – since that’s the night you happen to have a date – and with your family on Christmas day; that sounds fine. It sounds like the best interest of the kids, since they get part of the holiday with each of their parents.  But this is only true if it will result in the children feeling like the holiday is easy and fun.  If it turns out that Christmas Day with Dad is what would really work better, then that is the best interest of the children.  Whether or not you have already bought a new dress to wear on the 24th.

Similarly, and (perhaps) counter to all of your other instincts, this is NOT the time of year to suddenly “get religion.”  If you have never ever taken your kids to church for a Christmas mass before (or to synagogue for a menorah lighting) and you are in the process of getting divorced, this is probably NOT the year to decide to introduce them to the idea.  It will be misunderstood and mostly unwelcome, on all fronts.

If you really want to start teaching your children about the benefits of organized religion, wait until the first weekend in January; and start attending regularly for a while after that (maybe once a month for starters?), but not all at once.   That way, by next December everyone, on all sides, will be ready for them to attend religious services.

If you are in a mixed marriage, and have gone along with your spouse’s  religion (or no religion) until now, you may be in a position to take your kids to a new event this holiday season for the first time: carolling? dreideling?  But it might not be in the best interests of the children to do so.  Maybe this is not the year to begin new traditions.  Remember, there are holidays of all religions throughout the year.  You do not want to accidentally use this particular holiday season as provocation in an unsettled time. 

EXCEPTION:  If you and your spouse can look past the fact that you are divorcing and discuss the relative merits of a new religious experience this year — and reach consensus — then by all means bring some extra meaning into this frantic time of year.  But please do not act unilaterally.   No matter how  well-intentioned you may be, a rogue decision about your children’s religious upbringing will be perceived as an act of warfare.

What We Love:  Finding new and beneficial ways of connecting with your children during an unsettling time . . . just not at the expense of the overall peace you are establishing.

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When the Divorce Turned Ugly

 The minute she found out he has a girlfriend.

 Here is a phone call I had this week with a new client.  We’ll call him Burt.

Burt:  I need a new lawyer. The one I have been using ruined my divorce.

Me: That’s terrible!  What happened?

Burt: I have no idea.  My wife threw me out 6 months ago, but we were planning to have an amicable divorce. Minimal fighting, shared custody, lots of agreements.  Then, out of nowhere it is bitterly acrimonious. She doesn’t want me to see my kids, she keeps threatening to call the police if I call the house, it’s just a nightmare.

Me: How is it the lawyer’s fault?  What caused the change?

Burt: I can’t figure out what made it all go so bad. I haven’t changed, so it must be the way the lawyer is handling the case.  I even asked my girlfriend if she thought it was the lawyer’s fault.

Me:  Wait.  What girlfriend?

Burt:  Well, after my Wife threw me out, I met someone new.  Now, my Wife won’t even let the kids meet my girlfriend.  She doesn’t want them sleeping at my apartment anymore. It is just a mess.

Me:  Get rid of the girlfriend.

Burt: No.  That’s not what’s making problems. My wife had already kicked me out. She doesn’t care if I have a girlfriend.

ATTENTION: All divorcing men. New or old, girlfriends make your divorce cost more, take longer, and destroy any good will.  Honest. They do.  No matter what was wrong in the marriage, you just made it much worse by getting a girlfriend.

Things that can get worse:  Suddenly, she wants alimony, because it turns out that YOU are the only reason the marriage went wrong.    Visitation decreases, because she doesn’t want her kids hanging around with you and “that slut.”  With less visitation, she will want higher child support, because she suddenly feels even more like a single parent.  Legal fees increase exponentially as you try to fight all of this craziness.  And, worst of all – she has a mean story to tell everyone about how you had already moved on while she was still struggling to try and save your marriage. Everyone in this case likely includes your mutual friends, her family, your family, your boss, and especially your children.

ATTENTION:  All women dating divorcing (i.e. married) men – you are doing yourself a disservice.  His divorce, and therefore his life – your life together – will be negatively impacted by your relationship.

PLEASE let the divorce conclude quickly and amicably first.  Then begin your lifetime of new-found happiness.

I have absolutely no evidence that this works both ways. I can’t be sure if a divorcing woman’s new boyfriend has any impact at all on her divorce.  But I am certain that girlfriends ruin perfectly good divorces.  I have never seen it fail.

What We Love:  Love. Love will find you again when this mess is all over.  But men who rush into the next relationship frequently leave deep scars in the old one.

How (& Why!) to be Welcome at your ex’s Thanksgiving Table

Thanksgiving Dinner, Falmouth, Maine, USA 2008
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My friend, whom I will call Bill, is divorced with two teenaged sons. The boys live in the marital home with their mom.  Bill still lives in the same town and sees the boys as often as his work & visitation schedules will allow. He misses them a lot.  Unlike some of the families I am fortunate to know, Bill and his ex-wife are not friends.  They can barely stand each other, and after a pretty bitterly contested divorce, blame each other for a lot of what is wrong in each of their lives.

 I saw Bill just before Thanksgiving and was thinking that he probably has some schedule where the kids spend half of Thanksgiving with Mom & the other half with Dad, or someone has Thanksgiving on Thursday and then the other family has it on Friday.  And, in my experience, as bifurcated as Thanksgiving may be, Christmas would only be more so.

Imagine my happy surprise when Bill told me he would be eating Thanksgiving dinner with his children his ex-wife and his ex-mother-in-law all at the ex-mother-in-law’s house!  The secret to how he received this invitation floored me.  After what he has been through, and the money he has spent on lawyers, court hearings, alimony, child support, and maintenance on a house where he does not live; Bill said the last thing I ever expected to hear.

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He was paying for a full catered holiday meal to be sent over to the mother-in-law’s house, at his own offer, for the family.  He didn’t even do it in anticipation of an invitation (how could he have anticipated a gracious response?).  He just knew that it would make the women’s lives easier if they didn’t have to cook, so he offered to have it catered for them. 


No Judge ordered Bill to feed his angry ex-wife a feast. No court order makes the ex-wife graciously insist that Bill join them.  The truth is that Bill and his ex, as little else as they may have in common, both really want their sons to have a happy childhood.  So, they put their egos to one side for the annual family holidays and come up with creative solutions for reducing conflict and stress.

What We Love:  It is never too late to have a civilized divorce. Any one can still make decisions that reduce conflict and increase happiness.

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