Friday, May 30, 2008

What's On Your Mind?

I just got back from an out of town meeting and my brain hasn't quite kicked back into gear yet. As I sat down to write this blog post I realized that I wasn't yet ready to dig into one of the many things that are on my mind about divorce, parenting, conflict, mediation, parenting coordination, decision-making, or arbitration.

What I'd really like is to hear from you to find out what kind of post you would find most helpful. Please leave a comment and let me know what topics you'd like to see me address, or questions you'd like to have answered.

Let's make this space truly interactive. I want to hear from you!

© 2008, Mary Wollard, J.D., Family Solutions Center, www.cofamilysolutions.com

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Divorce - Your Anger Is Hurting You

The anger generated by the separation or divorce process can be so intense and destructive that it makes Hurricane Katrina look like a gentle breeze. The swath of devastation in the path of such anger is hard to fathom and even harder to recover from.

But I'm not talking about the damage to the other person caused by your anger; I'm talking about the damage your anger is causing you.

In the divorce proceedings, your anger can lead you to make decisions that actually cost you more. As you're lashing out in anger and trying to make decisions that will hurt your ex, you might not be thinking rationally enough to fully consider how they will affect you.

When you let your anger get the best of you in court, you can come across as combative, rude and unpleasant. You might even antagonize the judge to the point that he or she will decide against you.

In your other relationships, your once strong allies can become wary and less sympathetic, tired of hearing you go on and on about your latest plan to get even with your ex. Your anger may seep out at work, damaging your productivity and reputation and threatening your job security or capacity for promotion.

And on a much more personal level, uncontrollable anger can disrupt your sleep or your appetite, and can even lead to serious health problems and life-threatening heart disease.

I doubt if any of this is what you intended when you allowed your anger with your ex to linger long after the initial impact of the separation or divorce.

If you find that you are having a hard time letting go of your anger towards your ex, it's time to get a handle on it. Talk to a trusted friend or family member, research online or at the library, or talk to your doctor or therapist about the resources that are available.

© 2008, Mary Wollard, J.D., Family Solutions Center, www.cofamilysolutions.com

Friday, May 23, 2008

Whose Issue is it? How new partners affect the co-parenting process after a divorce

Once some time has passed, I am often asked to meet with parents and their new partners, to make changes to the parenting plan created during the original divorce proceedings. Some want to change the parenting schedule, and some want to increase or decrease the support payments.

It's not unusual for the new partner to have a great deal to say about the parenting plan and child support. Unfortunately, it's also not unusual for the actual parent to take a back seat and let their new partner drive the process.

In fact, after years of these meetings as a lawyer, I came to recognize that the actual parent was often not nearly as interested in the issue as the new partner. At some point, usually after the case was well underway, I would have occasion to meet privately with the actual parent and would learn that s/he did not really want parenting time or child support to be changed, but was requesting the modification to appease the new partner.

After seeing this pattern repeated so many times, I began to limit new partners' participation in such cases. I would not allow the new partner to be present at meetings with the actual parent and would direct all communications only to the actual parent. By meeting only with the parent, I found that fewer of these cases actually got filed and those that did went much more smoothly and settled much more quickly.

Now, as a mediator and parenting coordinator, I continue to see this pattern of the new partner being more invested in the parenting conflict than the actual parent. Even in parenting coordination, it is important to separate the new partner out of the conflict, at least initially.

Including the new partner later on, though, can provide information essential to understanding the on-going conflict. This new partnership is just one more layer of complexity that can prevent parents from putting their children's needs ahead of their own.

For your children's sake, take a step back and consider whose issue is really on the table, and if the changes you're proposing are really best for your children. The answer might surprise you.

© 2008, Mary Wollard, J.D., Family Solutions Center, www.cofamilysolutions.com

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Parenting After Divorce - Let Your Children Know You'll be Okay When They're Away

The children are going to be spending time with their other parent. How do you feel? You might expect or hope it will feel like a vacation, but it's more likely you'll experience feelings of loss, fear and sadness.

Do you think your children are too self-absorbed to notice how shared parenting visits affect you? Children are keen observers; they worry when their parents are unhappy and feel responsible to make them feel better. How you handle this situation will greatly influence how they deal with it.

Even though it might be very hard for you to send the kids off to spend time with their other parent, find ways to reassure them that you'll be okay while they are away.

Your natural inclination might be to get very clingy with the children before they go and tell them over and over how much you will miss them. Instead, talk to them about what you plan to do with the time they're with the other parent. Maybe you'll catch up on some reading, go to a movie with friends, take a class you've wanted to take, or get some extra work done.

This is one more new routine that you all need to get used to. One of the biggest gifts you can give your children before they spend time with their other parent is to show them you'll be ok. This puts them at ease and gives them the confidence to enjoy their time away without worrying about you.

© 2008, Mary Wollard, J.D., Family Solutions Center, www.cofamilysolutions.com

Friday, May 16, 2008

Make a Date to Mediate - Review Your Parenting Plan Regularly After a Divorce

Whether your parenting plan resulted from a court order after a hard-fought battle or an amicable agreement, creating the initial plan is only the first step. There's more work to come. Often, what seemed like a great idea when you were working on the initial parenting plan has proven to be unworkable in practice.

Perhaps you thought it would be more stable for the children to spend most of their time with one parent. But then you realized how unhappy the children were about their limited time with the other parent. Or you committed to a plan that gave you lots of time with the children, but now you find that it's too difficult for you to coordinate your scheduled visits with your work time. Maybe work or school schedules have changed, making the original plan impractical or impossible.

One thing is certain. All of your lives are different now than they were even six months or a year ago. The children have gotten older. The initial chaos of the divorce has resolved, to one degree or another, for all of you.

Situations change, people change, why not parenting plans? It's only reasonable to think that your parenting plan will need to be modified occasionally to adapt to changes in your lives.

The good news is that you can get together with a mediator any time to review your parenting plan and make any make any necessary adjustments. And you can do it outside of court.

But don't wait until there's a problem! Set up regular meetings – quarterly, every six months, once a year, or whatever works for you.

Make a date to mediate! Do it for yourselves; do it for your children.

© 2008, Mary Wollard, J.D., Family Solutions Center, www.cofamilysolutions.com

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Parenting Time Transitions - Prepare for the Ride

After a divorce, children will go from one parent's home to the other, according to the parenting plan you've agreed upon. Similar to when you plan a vacation, you have high expectations for how much fun you will have with the kids when you're together. You start looking forward to your parenting time well in advance of the schedule, and play out in your mind how wonderful it will be.

The kids also anticipate the parenting time, but often with mixed feelings. On the one hand, they will be spending time with you, which they love. On the other hand, they will be leaving familiar things, routines and their other parent behind.

It is not at all uncommon for you and the children to experience a period of awkwardness at the beginning of parenting time, regardless of how much you're looking forward to it. It's as if everyone has to get their bearings and become familiar with each other all over again.

For all of you, there might be some initial silence or grouchiness. I know it's hard, but try not to read too much into these early moods. It's often just a way of adjusting, even to something good. Depending on your parenting schedule and your relationship with the other parent, this transition can last from a few minutes to several hours.

As the parent, you can help in the transition by allowing the children some time to adjust from one home to the other before pushing them to join in with easy conversation and laughter. It's also important to allow yourself some time to adjust from the thought of having the children with you to actually having the children with you.

Be prepared, also, for another transition at the end of parenting time. Again, this can last from a few minutes to several hours. Everyone is feeling a little sad and let-down that your time together is almost over, and a natural protection against the coming sadness is to pull away a bit.

These transitions aren't unique to parenting after divorce. When my kids were in college and came home for vacations, there was some awkwardness at the beginning as we would get used to each other again. Then, soon after they arrived, I would start anticipating their having to leave, even if they were going to be home for several weeks. There was a part of me that didn't fully enjoy their time at home because I knew I would feel sad and lonesome when they left again. By the same token, I could sense them pulling back the closer it got to time for them to leave.

So before you agree to two- or three-day visits in your parenting plan, consider that with these transition periods at the beginning and the end of parenting time, each of which can last several hours, your three or four days together is effectively reduced to one or two days of quality time. You may want to think about longer visits, so you can maximize the quality time in between transitions.

You can make the most of any parenting time by accepting and preparing for these up's and down's, and making the most of the time that you do have together.

© 2008, Mary Wollard, J.D., Family Solutions Center, www.cofamilysolutions.com

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Family Dinners after Divorce

Divorce can be such a difficult time for everyone, especially children. It's confusing for children to transition from having easy access to both parents to rarely seeing them in the same place at the same time.

Scheduling family dinners on a regular basis after the separation or divorce can ease the confusion for children. My ex and I did this when we got divorced over 20 years ago and the kids have actually thanked us many times since for making the effort.

We actually started the family dinners as a way to ease the kids (and maybe us) into the separation, but they continued long after we had moved on and into new relationships. Every Thursday, my ex would pick up groceries and come over after work for dinner. Even as the kids got older and more involved socially, they rarely skipped the Thursday family dinners.

The great thing about the family dinners was that they allowed the kids to feel connected as a family even though we were no longer living together. They also diminished the conflict they felt when their dad and I moved into new relationships. They could see that we were okay with the new situation so they felt more comfortable with it. They knew that there was no need for them to guard what they said to each of us because they could see that we were open with each other.

In addition to the weekly family dinners, we also spent holidays, the children's birthdays, and special occasions together (along with our new significant others).

Parental team work is especially important as children move through their teenage years. When our children were teens, their dad and I drew on the good working relationship that we maintained through our family dinners and special occasions. We were able to present a united front for the children and guide them through challenging issues as they arose.

My children are now grown, with families of their own. The interesting thing is that I've recently learned that those family dinners so many years ago were not only good for our children, but made a positive impression on their friends, some of whom are now facing their own divorces. Having seen the family dinner work so well for our family, they want to follow a similar path.

Try it in your family!

© 2008, Mary Wollard, J.D., Family Solutions Center, www.cofamilysolutions.com

Friday, May 2, 2008

Fathers, Don't Wait Until Divorce to Get Involved With Your Children

Recently, I heard a similar comment from two different fathers. One dad was talking about issues that have come up with his children since his divorce a few years ago; the other was talking about parenting issues with his pending divorce.

Both of these fathers saw divorce as an opportunity to spend more time with their children, not less. After all of my years working with families during and after divorce, this didn't surprise me one bit, though I'd never heard a father actually say it.

What these two fathers were talking about was quality time. Because even though the actual number of hours and minutes in the same house with the children was less than before separation, it meant much, much more.

After reflecting on the idea that separation and divorce could actually enhance a father's relationship with the children, I began to realize how many fathers feel unequipped to parent.

It's only natural; Moms tend to spend lots more time caring for the children when they are babies. In addition, Mom often stays home with the children, even if it's just maternity leave from her job, while Dad goes back to work after just a few days.

I think everybody just gets in the habit of Mom being the caretaker and Dad being more of an observer than a participant. The habit, then, is reinforced when Mom won't say she needs or wants help. When Dad does try to do some of the child-rearing, his initial attempts can be clumsy and unwelcome by Mom.

Consequently, many mothers complain about fathers who are totally uninterested in doing anything with the children. At the same time, fathers often feel like they are prevented from fully participating in their children's care because Mom does it all or doesn't like the way they do it.

Unfortunately, by the time the family faces divorce, fathers often end up with less parenting time based upon their lack of involvement with the children during the marriage.

It's no wonder that some fathers feel they are actually spending more time with their children after separation than they were before. The time they now have with the children is unhampered by Mom's tendency to do everything. Instead of feeling like they're in the way, dads can use their parenting time to become fully involved and present with their children.

Dads, don't wait to be asked! Get involved in your children's care now. Moms, if you see Dad trying to help, let him. While it might be tricky at first to work out the differences between your styles, the whole family will benefit.

© 2008, Mary Wollard, J.D., Family Solutions Center, www.cofamilysolutions.com