Jennifer Winestone, Esq., LL.M. (ADR), is an attorney and mediator in Los Angeles, California, with a practice focusing on family legal issues. A former family law and estates litigator, Jennifer now devotes her practice entirely to conflict resolution, helping families in transition and/or crisis to resolve their legal conflicts and move forward with their lives.
Parents are more familiar with the mediation process than they may realize. In fact, parents often mediate disputes between their children – they just don’t know that is what they are doing. On the other hand, litigation – the default process in family proceedings – is more foreign in concept, as it relates to family dynamics. The following hypothetical is designed to illustrate the difference between litigation and mediation by applying both processes to a common parenting scenario.
WHAT’S YOURS IS YOURS VS. WHAT’S YOURS IS MINE
Jake and Emily are siblings. Jake is 8 years old and Emily is 7 years old. They are fighting over a toy plane that Emily got for her 7th birthday last week. Jake had a similar toy plane, but Emily broke it last month while playing a game of Flying Princesses with her friends. Unable to resolve the issue, the children look to you for guidance.
LITIGATION: WIN OR LOSE – YOU DECIDE.
You tell the children they will each get a chance to explain why they should have the toy and the other should not.
Jake calls up Taylor and asks her to help represent him. Taylor is in the 5th grade and class representative. She is a tough negotiator and successfully campaigned for a class trip to the chocolate factory in the Spring.
Emily retains Matt, her best frenemy. Matt is prone to bullying behaviors, but is a loyal supporter of younger siblings against tyrannical big brothers and sisters (Matt’s big brother Billy is in Middle School).
Taylor and Matt take turns pleading Jake and Emily’s respective cases. Taylor tells you of Emily’s selfish character and irresponsible behaviors that led to the breaking of the first toy plane. She notes Emily’s complete lack of remorse or attempt at retribution. Emily is hurt by the insults and turns her chair away from Jake.
Matt fashions a paper plane out of some newspaper from the recycling bin, throws it on the ground, then serendipitously stumbles over it, crushing the fragile flyer, before launching into a diatribe about harsh punishments for innocent acts of clumsiness. Emily bats her eyelashes and flashes an innocent smile. Jake rolls his eyes and mutters something about fairness and favoritism.
After hearing from each side, you render your decision and the toy is claimed by its declared rightful owner. Whatever your decision, one of your children will lose the toy. Both children will lose a valued playmate, and will be left with hurt feelings resulting from the other’s personal criticisms and attacks. When they play together again, it will be with a hesitant distrust of the other’s intentions.
MEDIATION: FACILITATED NEGOTIATION – THEY DECIDE.
You tell the children that the choice is theirs, but that you will help them figure out a solution that they can both live with. You give them each a chance to state their perspectives – why they each want the toy plane and what their intentions are in respect of it.
You find out that Jake had wanted to bring the toy to his history class the next day – Mr. Stern is giving a lesson on the Wright Brothers. You also discover that Emily has invited her friend Mason over for a playdate after school tomorrow and had bragged to him about her cool new airplane. Jake opens up about Emily’s apparent lack of concern for his playthings and lack of respect for his privacy (Emily apparently took the first plane out of his room without asking). Emily apologizes for not asking Jake’s permission before playing with his toy, but explains that she was holding it quite gently when the right wing fell off in her hand. She reminds him that he has, on occasion, acted without her permission as well.
With your help, the children generate a range of solutions and eventually settle on one that seems to accommodate both their needs. The children are empowered by their self-determined resolution and head off to play with some Legos.
OVERLY SIMPLISTIC SIMPLIFICATION – GUILTY!
Of course the scenarios above are overly simplistic and do not present a complete picture. In reality, there are times when a parent must make a decision in respect of their children’s disputes. Similarly, there are family cases – or particular issues in a case that may best be resolved in court by a judge. However, in the vast majority of cases, mediation is a preferred method of dispute resolution.
Separation is a difficult process. When parties have children, they will likely have a meaningful existence in each others lives for the rest of their lives – as parents, grandparents, great- grandparents – despite their decision to separate. Mediation can help by empowering individuals with authorship of their own destinies, creating a safe space for disagreement, and charting the course for mutual agreement and future cooperation.
Have you ever noticed that change excites some people and terrifies others? This is something that can be attributed to both our inherent personalities and our personal experiences. The human brain is surprisingly elastic and, as a result, if we’ve typically experienced change in a negative way, we’re significantly less likely to view it positively and vice versa. We’re all capable of feeling anxious, though; any one of us can become worried about the future and how our decisions will affect it, particularly when a major change, like the end of a marriage, is afoot. As normal as it is for a divorce to cause these negative feelings, though, my experience has taught me that they can be placated by asking yourself three simple questions:
1. Did you think your divorce through?
I’ve worked with divorcing couples for more than a decade now and I can confidently say that I can count on one hand the number of people that didn’t painstakingly consider their decision to end their marriages. Often, the couple will have attended counselling and/or therapy, engaged in multiple compromises, separated for trial periods and more. More often than not, when a couple decide to divorce, they’re making the right decision and, if a
couple can say that they’ve genuinely made an effort to try and save their marriage, they’re almost certainly doing the right thing.
2. How much will things change?
Surviving on one income; finding a new place to live; creating and adjusting shared-parenting plans – divorce can certainly have a substantial impact on how you live your life but, if you think about it, these changes are probably already in effect. When they get around to filing for a divorce, spouses have normally been living separate lives for several months if not years. This means that the relevant changes have already taken place, that those affected have adapted and are, more than likely, doing just fine. Such concerns nigh-on always stem from change-induced anxiety so taking a moment to think about how life has changed since separation is certain to allay them.
3. Can you put your differences to the side?
We’ve mentioned children before and, yes, you’re going to need to be flexible with your former
spouse if you’re both responsible for children. This often causes anxiety because people fear that their former partners will be unreasonable. This is understandable; people are frequently unreasonable, particularly when the matter at hand is emotive and, sadly, separated parents often fall out. Trust me, though, it’s not as bad as you think. These fallings out are usually minor and, provided you can recognise this, forgive your former spouse and move on, you’ll be absolutely fine. Remember, you’re both going to want what’s best for your children so you’ll have all the motivation you’ll need to make things work.
Even when couples have been living apart for some time, divorce can still be scary. We’re designed to find change, particularly big changes, stressful. This stems from a time when major alterations to our surroundings and arrangements often placed us in peril but, with this no longer being the case, anxiety can be tackled with rational thinking – and asking yourself the three questions above is a great place to start.
Jay Williams works as a case manager at Quickie Divorce, one of the largest providers of uncontested divorce solutions in England and Wales. He lives in Cardiff, Wales, with his wife and two-year- old daughter Eirys.
Elizabeth Winkler has graciously agreed to share one of her most viral blog posts to date with The Family Community. In her words: "My approach is warm, empathic, depth-oriented, and empowering to the client. I incorporate mindfulness and meditation to help accelerate my clients’ personal growth and expansion. I honor and respect every client’s boundaries and desire for what they want out of therapy. I find that the best work is achieved when the trust we have built together in therapy is strong. This allows your therapy to evolve as you do…"
When she wrote this post for It's Over Easy, the reaction from readers was overwhelming, and quickly became viral. This is the future of divorce.
What if we could create more love in the world through the process of breakups, separations, and divorce? This may sound strange, but it is entirely possibly for those who are willing to do the internal work. What I call mindful untethering. I have created 5 tenets to follow and come back to as guides for the internal "divorce" that is necessary for individuals to find peace, empowerment, and ultimately abundant love that lies within each one of us. Here are the 5 tenets.
Many people divorce externally on paper but they never divorce internally. People uncouple because they are unhappy, but that unhappiness will follow you if you don’t do the inner work of mindful untethering. The choice is yours to make this a growth experience or a tragic event that guides your life forever. So I like to start with, “Do you want to be happy?” Many clients will react with, “how can I be happy, I am getting a divorce?”
When we have all of these unhappy feelings inside, this can feel impossible. However, this is exactly why we need to untether ourselves internally from this pain so that we can let it go. If you don’t, you will never be divorced and never be truly happy. Give yourself the true freedom to be on a path of happiness. So if you said “Yes, I want to be happy” and you realize you have the power to choose this path inside, then we move to the next step, which tells you how to be there.
Children of divorce move from a normal category of children to an at risk category. The #1 predictor that they will move back into the normal pool is linked to how well the parents get along. I have seen this piece of information magically move many couples from battling with lawyers to recognizing that with mediation and therapy they have the power to preserve and grow a healthy and happy long-term relationship for ALL parties. The focus is on the health of the whole family. Even though it is a family in two homes, you will forever be tied together through your children. Do you want to be happy given this reality? You have the opportunity to grow more happiness and love by letting go of your own agenda (ego) and focusing on the whole. Remembering that the parents enlightened decisions provide the path that the children will follow. The way in which you continue to deal with your ex-partner has the potential to be a positive or negative influence on how your children will manage relationships in their future. Enlightened decisions create an environment in both homes that will stabilize and protect the children that you both love.
IF YOU ARE WILLING TO LOOK AT ANOTHER PERSON’S BEHAVIOR TOWARD YOU AS A REFLECTION OF THE STATE OF THEIR RELATIONSHIP WITH THEMSELVES RATHER THAN A STATEMENT ABOUT YOU AS A PERSON, THEN YOU WILL, OVER A PERIOD OF TIME CEASE TO REACT AT ALL.
There are often many areas of “weaknesses” clients have identified in the other as well as within the self. Clients work with the weaknesses as things to let go of internally (often more pain to release), and see the blessing of physical distance to certain behaviors (e.g. cheating). Clients find it to be easier to not focus on the weaknesses because they are no longer cohabitating so it is less present in their life. The harder those challenging aspects of the ex are just direct the client back to more untethering of the relationship internally and more emotional releases. Finding that balance of each parent’s strength for the family and focusing on that helps to create a peaceful and centered family.
Through the use of these 5 tenets we can build a more compassionate world for children and families who will not look at divorce as a negative influence on their lives. Rather it can be seen as an evolution of their lives. I hope we can all work together to help create more love in the world.
Neither of us planned this. I never asked for my family to fall apart and for my Dad to move out. I never asked for a new woman in his life, someone who made peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches differently, who doesn’t know I don’t like the door all the way closed at night and for a different woman too hug and kiss my father. I didn’t ask for this but this is my new life. You married my father and you’ve started a new family. Now there is a whole and complete family that lives at your house…I mean, our house. Is it still my house if I only live there four days a month? Because when you decided my room was going to be the baby AND my room it made me feel like you didn’t actually want me there anymore. Having a new baby sister was my birthday wish for the last 10 years come true. Except for the part about how she’s really my Dad’s daughter and I’m just the daughter that comes and visits a couple times a month, at least that’s how you make me feel. The names “Mom” and “Dad” are now both echoed through the house even though they aren’t said by me. When it was just my brother and I, it felt like you both couldn’t wait for us to come visit…you made us feel that your life must literally stop when we left to go back to Mom’s. But now when we leave, it feels like nobody notices we are gone…you have your family still intact even if we aren’t there. You called my sister an only child to that friend you saw at the grocery store. Do you not think of me as her sister? The truth is, you didn’t choose me but we now belong to each other. We are family. I may not have been the daughter you dreamed of and my face may remind you of a woman who shared a previous life with your husband, but I am my father’s daughter and that can’t be undone.
I know this isn’t what you would have chosen. I know your dream-man and your fairytale future didn’t include two children from another woman. I know you didn’t ask for frustrating schedules, weekends of driving, co-parenting with a woman you wish didn’t exist and knowing a piece of your husband’s heart is always missing when his children are away. I know you wanted your daughter’s birth to be the first time both you AND your husband experienced such a miracle. That you wanted her first step, her first words, her first everything to be his firsts as a father too, and not the third. But is it fair to resent a 10 year old girl? Is it fair to make her feel the underlying tension? Are you going to make her feel like a guest in your house for the rest of your life? Did she ask for this? No, I didn’t. I realize you didn’t, but please remember I didn’t either.
When you sent out the Christmas card of your daughter and didn’t include my brother and I, it hurt more than words can even say. You put her name, your name and my father’s. But what about us? Are we not part of the family too? Did you know how much it would hurt when you mailed it to us at our mother’s? How every time I looked at my sister’s precious smile it made a part of me ache and that ache hasn’t stopped. I used to save and collect the holiday cards. But I never could bring myself to hoard those ones.
Years and years have passed. We are both grown women now. Sometimes I can’t even imagine how you could have treated that sad little girl in such a way. I try so hard to put myself in your shoes. To think how I would feel if I were you. I get it. I really do. But can we put this to rest? I have children now and they love you as a grandmother. I make sure they know you are my bonus mom - the extra mom I was lucky to get in my life. Are they not your grandchildren? They love you without conditions, will you love them unconditionally too? Because I’m so afraid to open them up to that hurt, I never want them to feel like you don’t want them to belong to you.
The holidays bring us all together. Please hear me when I say, despite it all, all the hurt, I love you. We didn’t choose each other, but you are the icing on the cake of my life who gave me an amazing little sister and brings my father love and happiness. No matter what happens, I always try again to make you love me. I always will. I hope one day you will love me the way I have always hoped you would.
Happy 2018! For the first post of the year, The Family Community is sharing a great new resource that is about to come on the scene - with your help. Single parents, together parents, stepparents, grandparents, anyone who has young children at home. Sara Morris and her husband Sam have cofounded a company called PopChart.Family. Sara and Sam are about to kick off a KickStarter campaign tomorrow! To tell you all about it, here is their short video:
I was 6 years old when my parents separated. I was 9 when they divorced. I’m 35 now and for all intents and purposes, I am over it. I had years of counseling, two amazing parents who made sure every emotional and physical need was met, and two wonderful step parents and sisters that sweetened the deal. My parents’ separation was the best thing for them, I can see that now as a married woman myself and a mother of two. Marriage is hard and children, while pure miracles in their own right, add another level of challenge to the delicate web of marriage. I can understand how pressures of work, finances, household responsibilities, and hopes for the future can directly impact the health of a marriage. My brain can logically understand all of that, quite simply actually. But the heart, oh the delicate heart of our soul and being that rests deeply inside, that isn’t motivated or ruled by logic, sense, and reason. It feels what it will and the older and wiser I get, I try less to dominate these emotional waves and instead lean into them. Feel them. We are supposed to. The disintegration of a family is sad and tragic and it’s anyone involved’s right to process, heal and move on in their own time. There are wounds that heal quickly with thick layers of scarring and new skin grows over it, perhaps even more beautiful than what was originally there, but other wounds, some may never fully heal.
I’m 35 years old but my parents are still my parents and always will be. I will forever be their child. It sounds silly to describe it out loud, but I’ve always felt in some way my brother and I were orphaned. How dramatic to say such a thing when we had two devoted parents and two beautiful new homes. But there was no longer the one home we all shared. We didn’t have both sets of parents sitting together at our school performances and basketball game. There weren’t two sets of kisses goodnights. Instead, there were two new homes, two new step parents and a new step-sister and half-sister and that nagging feeling of always missing the other parent we weren’t with. We were two new beautifully blended families, arguably more special than the original for there was more love and less fighting and healthier models of love. And yet, where was our one true home where we belonged all the time? The original unit of the four of us was gone forever, and in our case, with the long separation, it was a bit of a slow and painful death. Although we were both in it together, my brother and I have very different ways in which our parents’ divorce impacted our lives and story. I obsessively treasure photos, mementos such as my mother’s wedding dress and their wedding album, items from our original home - so treasured and special to me not just because they were in our family home, but because surely there must have been a story behind it. I’ve hunted for and found many photos of my parents in the early years, snuggled together on a couch, holding hands on a walk, laughing together and holding each other. There in those old photos no one wanted is the proof that once upon a time there was love there. There was so much love in fact that they married and chose to have children. The immeasurable comfort I get from seeing these photos is in knowing that I was created in love.
My mother and I have had long and frequent conversations over the years about what life was like back when we were simply a family of four. Sometimes I can hear it in her voice, things may still be raw or tinged with resentment. But I can also hear the love and how it was a huge chapter of her life and story. She will always share children with a man she no longer loves and I can’t imagine how that would feel. There are rare instances in which my father and I are able to talk about our past, it’s not his favorite topic and I’m not one to push. This summer was a rare exception. The asked me to go for a walk with him and told me to ask him anything I wanted to know about him and my mother and the divorce. As we walked the length of my favorite beach I couldn’t stop the tears from running down my face and the refrained sob in my throat. Why was I still so emotional? I really am ok in my life, why in the world was I so upset? I asked the scary questions that were still nagging deep in my heart and I wasn’t even sure I wanted the real answers for. Did having children ruin your marriage? Do you wish you could have done it differently? Did you ever truly love my mother? Were we not enough for you both to fight for? (Silly me, there are even tears running down my face as I type this. It just goes to show how raw these questions still are.) His answers were private and sacred between us and truly irrelevant to share here, but what is most important for me to express is how special it is for children to be able to talk to their parents, to ask them questions. As the children, it’s our history, our story too. Most of us were very young and saw things through the lens of children’s eyes, often thwarting truth and reality. New questions inevitably arise the older we get, as we too get married, have children, wade through our own strains in marriage. Having parents that acknowledge children may continue to have questions, sadness and concerns is truly a gift. I have friends who aren’t as fortunate as I am or as close to their parents that they feel comfortable asking questions and talking things through.
The two sides of the story never match perfectly and of course, they wouldn’t as we all have our own truths. But those photographic pictures, those sacred images of a time when your parents were hopelessly in love and devoted to each other, those are the relics that are more treasured and should always be saved. Even though the love faded, a family dissolved, homes were sold and new families were born, to know that the start of YOUR story did, in fact, begin with love, that's the most important piece of it all.
Britt Emmons Ricardo lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with her husband and two young children. She graduated from Bates College with a degree in English and obtained an Elementary Education Teaching License from University of North Carolina, Charlotte. She currently works as a toddler preschool teacher.
Right now in the United States, 54% of children under the age 18 have divorced parents. That number shakes out to about 40 Million kids. No matter the age of the children, divorce is an extremely emotional time. They are figuring out a whole new routine, navigating new parenting relationships, and trying to manage their own emotions. Some children going through a divorce or separation appreciate coming to school to ‘get away’ from it all. Keep this in mind when deciding if, when, and how to reach out to a child. Let them know that it’s ok to talk or want help but that it’s not required. Sometimes school is a refreshing change from the stress of home.
6 tips for teachers
Guest Post by Shoshy Starr Collins, who is a professor of education at Wheelock College, education consultant, and former elementary school teacher.
More tips? Let us know in the comments!
If you're like us, and look forward to the summer months to dive into some new "must read" lists, you may already be familiar with this top-selling memoir by Jen Waites. If not, go out and get this book right now. For a preview of the story behind the memoir, read the blog Jen wrote for The Family Community last year here.
"What do you do when you discover that the person you've built your life around never existed? When "it could never happen to me" does happen to you? These are the questions facing Jen Waite when she begins to realize that her loving husband - the father of her infant daughter, her best friend, the love of her life - fits the textbook definition of a psychopath. In a raw, first-person account, Waite recounts each heartbreaking discovery, every life-destroying lie, and reveals what happens once the dust finally settles on her demolished marriage.
After a disturbing email sparks Waite's suspicion that her husband is having an affair, she tries to uncover the truth and rebuild trust in her marriage. Instead she finds more lies, infidelity, and betrayal than she could have imagined. Waite obsessively analyzes her relationship, trying to find a single moment from the last five years that isn't part of the long con of lies and manipulation. With a dual time line narrative structure, we see Waite's romance bud, bloom, and wither simultaneously, making the heartbreak and disbelief even more affecting."
The American Association of Matrimonial Lawyers has published an outstanding book entitled: “Child Centered Residential Guidelines”. You can find it, view a copy online, and order a copy here.
I don’t say things like this lightly: in 20 years of working with families who are separating or divorcing, this is the best 50-page summary of kid’s issues, and especially age-appropriate contact schedules, that I have ever seen. The primary author, Dr. Robin M. Deutsch, Ph.D. is a nationally recognized expert on children, adolescents and divorce, and her experience shines through the pages of this book.
There are detailed model contact schedules with explanations for children in the following age groups:
24 months – 3 years
Pre-schoolers; 3 to 6 years
Early school-aged children; 6 to 9 years
Later school-aged children; 10 to 12 years
Early Adolescents, 13 to 15 years
Late Adolescents, 16 to 18 years
But, that’s not all. There are other topics that relate to parents’ actions around their kids’ contact, for example:
Additionally, a variety of special conditions that often arise are also discussed, including, Special Needs; Visitation Resistance; Never Married Parents; Domestic Violence; Substance Abuse/Mental Illness; Incarcerated Parents, Same Sex Parenting and Military Parenting.
If you are divorced, or going through a separation, you need to read this book!
Senior Policy Advisor
In a marriage things get tangled up: there's one house, one name (if you are traditional), 'your' stuff becomes 'our' stuff, 'I' becomes 'we'. You become a unit.
As things unravel during a divorce, not only do you have to figure out how to separate your assets, you also have to figure out how to untangle your identities.
Personally, prior to my separation, I had spent my entire adult life with my ex-husband. Therefore, when it came to untangling our identities, there was a lot to figure out.