More to Deadbeat Dads Than Just Not Paying

Is it believed that the decline in marriage, increase in the divorce rate, and the acceptance of out-of-wedlock births as reasons why many divorced fathers do not play a prominent role in their children’s lives. Former husbands, on the other hand, often blame the former wife’s anger, continued conflict over child support, maternal bias in courts, stepfathers usurping their role, remarriage and relocation of the custodial mothers for raising barriers to involvement with their children.

Nevertheless, “Deadbeat Dads”– fathers who do not pay child support – are marked as pariahs who remain deeply loathed by society — the fully-grown man, who, having had his fun, abandons his financial responsibilities for his child. The numbers of fathers who pay little or no child support has always been staggering. In most recent years approximately 60% of child support has been paid to the receiving spouse, most of which is paid by fathers.

A significant correlation exists between a fathers’ amount of contact with his children and the payment of child support. It is found that the more active a father is in the role of rearing his child post divorce, the more likely he will continue to support his child financially. The tough part is, the option or willingness, to participate in a child’s life. The emotional side of the divorce can overwhelm the opportunities to effectively co-parent after a divorce. Without successful co-parenting the hopes of child support being paid lessens. Unfortunately in many situations the loss of the companionship of a father is compounded by the loss of financial support, which is a double hit all divorced parents need to try to avoid.

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Why Mothers Can Lose Custody

Statistics show that many fathers have a 50-50 chance of being award child custody of their children in a divorce case.

Custody laws are supposed to be gender neutral and many courts a living up to the rules, and this means that when the facts of a given case are presented in the courtroom, a judge may determine that it is in the best interests of the child to live primarily with the father, not the mother. The court must remain focused on what is best for the children and all options are on the table.

In custody situations, more and more courts now favor equal consideration of both mother and father as the custodial parent.  This was not always the case. In decades past, it was a rebuttable presumption that mothers were the preferable custodial parent as they tended to be the primary caregivers. Yet even now, most times courts award physical custody to the mother even where legal custody is given equally to both parents. Legal custody simply means that both parents have input into the major issues surrounding their children including issues of school, medical care and religious upbringing.

Despite the lingering preference given to mothers, it is not uncommon for mothers to lose custody of their children. All states adhere to a standard of the best interest of the child. If a court determines that a mother’s custody impedes with this standard, custody may be taken away.

A mother can lose custody because of a history of drug or alcohol abuse; obstruction of visitation between the non-custodial father and the children of the marriage; disparagement of their father in front of the children (parental alienation); abandonment of the children and the home; and abuse that threatens the children; and involvement in an abusive relationship.

Once a mother loses custody, she may find it difficult to even gain visitation rights. In cases of custody lost due to alcohol or drug abuse, the mother must prove she has completed a treatment program before she can request a return of custody rights. At minimum, she may be granted supervised visitation until the judge determines that she is no longer a detriment to her children.

Professional women, whose marriages have failed, have had to leave their children and the family home. In each of these situations, courts have considered the children to be better off living with the full-time, stay-at-home father and receiving financial support from the breadwinner mother. And as the numbers of female breadwinners continue to grow, it seems likely this trend will continue.

Households with high-flying women and stay-at-home husbands are not considered differently than households with high-flying men and stay-at-home wives. In the landmark English case, White v White in 2000, it was made clear after all that there is no distinction in law, between the breadwinner and the homemaker.

Mothers who are the primary breadwinners, must understand that they have accepted a role in the family that may distract from their ability to be best suited as the custodial parent.

Being the primary-caretaker is also no longer the overarching determinant of custody decisions. Nevertheless, most divorce-related custody decisions are made without the intercession of the courts. Litigated custody decisions focus on “the best interests of the child,” which does not imply that there is only one fit parent. Indeed, the vast majority of mothers and fathers who do not have primary custody of their children have never been proven unfit. For example, both mom and dad might be good parents, but if mom’s new residence is outside the school district, the court might be resistant to having children change schools. Dad gets primary custody, but mom is not “unfit.”

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Prenuptial Agreements

A prenuptial agreement, antenuptial agreement, or premarital agreement, (commonly abbreviated to prenup) is a contract entered into prior to marriage, civil union or any other agreement prior to the main agreement of partners intending to marry. The content of a prenuptial agreement varies, but commonly includes provisions for division of property and spousal support in the event of divorce.

The range of what can be in a prenuptial agreement is flexible and can accommodate most of the individual wants and desires that a marrying couple has. On the other hand, there are some strict rules about what cannot be in a prenuptial agreement.

Many people incorrectly believe that only wealthy people avail themselves of prenuptial agreements, for example, in the case of May-December, trophy wife marriages, where a business powerhouse with children from previous marriage(s) marries a much younger – and less wealthy – woman. Prenuptial agreements insure that the inheritances of adult children from earlier marriage(s) are protected, particularly when these May-December marriages capsize, as is so often the case.

Generally, a prenuptial agreement can deal with the division of property in a divorce, the identification of community property versus separate property, ownership of the marital residence, responsibility for premarital debts, distribution of property on death (this may require an update of estate planning documents to reflect his), alimony obligations (in some jurisdictions), and financial responsibilities during the marriage.

A prenup also identifies the jurisdiction controlling the prenup, which otherwise is the state of the divorce, and not the marriage, the resolution of disputes about the prenup (for example, through mediation or arbitration), and can provide for a sunset clause, which allows for their prenuptial agreement to become invalid if they are married for a certain number of years.

Judges have latitude in the enforcement of a prenuptial agreement when it is deemed illegal or “unconscionable” (unfair), or thought to encourage divorce. For example, although most states permit prenuptial agreements to deal with alimony, a court may invalidate the alimony provisions if the judge believes them to be unjust. This happens in long-term marriages if there is a great disparity between spouses’ incomes and there would be no or little alimony being paid according to the prenup.

Including items that deal with particular aspects of married life, such as the division of household responsibilities, may also increase the likelihood of a prenuptial agreement being invalidated.

Prenuptial agreements identify and distinguish between separate and marital property. Each jurisdiction has its own separate laws that govern separate property and marital property (often called “community property”). Without a prenuptial agreement upon separation by death or divorce, the court separates all of the marital property evenly. A prenup can be used in order to avoid a court deciding marital property attained during the marriage.

The prenuptial agreement protects one spouse from the other’s debts. Without a prenup, creditors can go after the marital property even though only one spouse is the debtor. To avoid this, spouses limit debt liability in a prenuptial agreement.

The prenuptial agreement protects children from previous relationships, and keeps family property in the family. A family heirloom, family business, even a future inheritance, or other piece of property can be kept within a birth family in a well-crafted prenup.

A prenuptial agreement is also part of ensuring that an estate plan is carried out as written, but it requires wills and living trusts. A prenup bypasses state law governing divorces because the spouses agree about who gets what.

On the other hand, some things cannot be included in a prenuptial agreement. State laws restrict what can and cannot be included in prenuptial agreements.

Every jurisdiction prohibits including anything illegal in a prenuptial agreement. In fact, doing so can put the whole prenuptial document or parts of it at risk of being set aside.

  • A prenup cannot include child support or child custody issues. The court has the final say in calculating child support. The court determines child support based on a “best interest of the child” standard, with several factors at play. No court would uphold a provision of a prenuptial agreement that dealt with child support, child custody, or visitation, because these are issues of public policy. The court retains the power to decide what is in the child’s best interest. It will not deny a child the right to financial support or the opportunity to have a relationship with a fit parent.
  • Waiving alimony is the provision most commonly struck down by courts. A few states strictly prohibit this. Other states look down on it and limit the waiving of alimony rights. Some states do allow alimony waivers.
  • Judges scrutinize prenuptial agreements for anything that offers a financial incentive for divorce. If a provision can be read to encourage divorce, the court overturns it. Courts used to view any provision detailing how property would be divided as encouraging divorce, because society has an interest against divorce.
  • Provisions that detail personal choices instead of financial matters (“We will spend all our holiday time with my parents”) may get thrown out. Courts often do not want to relegate domestic matters to a contract. These include who has what chores, whose name to use, details about child rearing, or what relationship to have with certain relatives. Prenuptial agreements are designed to address financially based issues. Judges grow uncomfortable when they see private domestic matters included in a contract; they will often view the document as frivolous, striking it down.
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Property and Debt in a Divorce

Liability for a spouse’s debts depends on whether the divorce happens in a community property or equitable distribution state. In the ten states with community property rules, both spouses are responsible for most debts incurred by one spouse during the marriage; in the other jurisdictions, the common law property states, debts incurred by one spouse are usually his or her debts alone, unless the obligation paid for a family necessity, such as food or shelter for the family or tuition for the kids.

Some states have subtle variations about treating joint and separate debts. The rules also apply to same-sex marriages and to same-sex domestic partnerships and civil unions when these are the equivalent of marriage, but not in jurisdictions where the relationship does not confer all the rights of marriage.

Community Property States

In community property states, a couple’s income is shared as well. All income earned by either spouse during marriage, as well as property bought with that income, is community property, owned equally by husband and wife. Gifts and inheritances to one spouse, however, as well as separate property owned before marriage, remain the separate property of that spouse. All income or property acquired before or after a divorce or permanent separation is also separate.

The community property states are Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin, and Alaska, (where spouses can make assets and liabilities community property).

In community property states, most debts incurred by either spouse during the marriage are owed by the couple, which is the community, even if only one spouse signed for a debt. A debt incurred before marriage, such as a student loan, does not automatically become a joint debt. However, when a person signs on as a joint account holder after getting married, that party becomes responsible for the account.

After a legal separation or divorce, however, a debt is generally owed only by the spouse who incurred it unless it was incurred for family necessities, to maintain jointly owned assets (for example, to fix a leaking roof), or if the spouses maintain a joint account.

In a community property state, creditors of one spouse can go after the assets and income of the married couple to make good on joint debts because in these jurisdictions, most debts incurred during marriage are considered joint debts. Some states consider debt in more nuanced ways, analyzing who owes what debts, the purpose of the obligation, and when it was contracted.

Community property can have profound implications for debtor’s spouse. For example, when Susan’s cosmetics business capsizes, she owes $45,000 to suppliers. Because Susan and her husband Conrad live in a community property state, her creditors can sue both of them to collect the money she owes. Susan is unemployed and penniless, but Conrad’s powerhouse position pays nicely, so Susan’s creditors can garnish $3,000 of Conrad’s income per month until her debts are paid.

Property that has a title and was acquired during the marriage is at risk. Bill’s Dry Cleaner is going down the tubes. Bill’s name may not be on the title to his spouse’s boat, but in most community property states, the creditor can sue to take the boat, assuming the boat was purchased with community funds, not separate funds.

In a community property state, a creditor can go after only half of the community property to repay the debt one spouse’s separate debt, such as his child support obligation from a marriage, or a debt his name only where he hid the fact that he had been married.

Couples in community property states can agree with each other to have their debts and income treated separately by entering into a pre- or postnuptial agreement. These agreements make sense for a couple before one spouse goes into business. However, agreement now does not protect a spouse from liability for existing business debts, only from liability for future ones.

A party can enter into an agreement with a particular store, lender, or supplier, by which the creditor agrees to look solely his or her separate property for repayment of any debt, which removes a spouse’s liability for a debt.

In a community property state when one spouse files for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, all of the eligible community debts of both spouses are discharged.

Common Law Property States

By comparison with a community property state, in a common law property state, debts incurred by one spouse are his and her debts alone, and income earned by one party does not automatically become jointly owned.

Both spouses are responsible for a debt only if it benefits the marriage, for example, the debt for food, clothing, childcare, shelter, or necessary household items, or the debt was jointly undertaken. This means, for example, that both spouses signed a contract requiring them to make payments, that both spouses’ names were on an account or title, or that a creditor considered both spouses’ credit history before making the sale or loan. The same rules hold true after permanent separation but before divorce.

All other debts, such as a business debt from one spouse’s business or a car loan for a car whose title is in one spouse’s name, are considered a spouse’s separate debts.

In most common law states, income earned by one spouse and kept separate during the marriage belongs to that spouse alone. Property bought with separate income during the marriage is also separate property unless they jointly title it. In addition, gifts and inheritances received by one spouse, as well as property owned by one spouse before marriage and kept separate are the separate property of that spouse.

However, income earned by one spouse put into a joint bank account becomes joint property, and when joint funds are used to buy property, the property is also owned jointly unless title is taken in the name of one spouse only. Jointly owned property can include equity in a jointly owned house, household goods, jointly owned vehicles, and jointly owned bank accounts, retirement plans, and stocks or mutual funds.

The party on the title owns property that has a title document, such as real estate and vehicles. For instance, if a car is in only one spouse’s name is that spouse’s separate property. If a house is in both spouses’ names, the house is joint property, even if one spouse doesn’t contribute anything toward the mortgage payments.

In a common law state, creditors of one spouse can go after the income or property of the other spouse or joint property only when the debt was incurred for joint purchases or for purchases that were made for family necessities. In some common law states, a creditor can also go after joint property to pay the separate debts of one spouse (even if the debt was not family-related), but in most states a creditor can take only half of the money in a joint account.

For example, Hector’s auto supply business fails owing $30,000 to suppliers and other creditors. Hector runs the business by himself, without the help wife, so the business debts are considered his separate debts. Because Hector lives in a state with common law property rules, the creditors cannot garnish his wife’s income or take her separate property, though they may be able to sue to take money from the joint bank account Hector maintains with his wife. Whether the creditors can go after other property held jointly by Hector and his wife, such as a jointly owned house, depends on the state they live in and how they hold title to the house.

In about half of the common law property states, a creditor cannot go after certain joint property to pay the separate debts of one spouse when a couple holds property in tenancy by the entirety. The creditor can go after the property to pay only joint debts, not separate debts of either spouse. And in some states, such as Florida, most joint property is automatically held in tenancy by the entirety and so is immune from being taken to pay one spouse’s separate debt.

For example, Maxwell Sharp rents supplies and construction equipment in   New York, but his business is struggling to stay above water. Maxwell’s wife Desdemona owns a beauty salon and makes a good living. When Max fails to pay his debts, the creditor threatens to sue the Sharps. Because the Sharps hold title to their house in tenancy by the entirety, a creditor cannot put a lien on the house and force its sale as long as Desdemona is alive. If Maxwell and Desdemona sell the house, however, the creditor could go after Max’s half of the proceeds.

Creditors of one spouse cannot legally reach the other spouse’s separate money, property, or wages to repay the first spouse’s separate debt.

Inheritance or gifts to one spouse are beyond the reach of creditors. Poindexter owes $53,000 to vendors and his office supply business just went under. Because Poindexter and his wife Gladys live in a state with common law property rules, these creditors can sue Poindexter, but cannot go after his wife’s inheritance. In some states, however, the creditors can go after a joint bank account.

A spouse should not guarantee his or her partner’s business debts.   In a common law state a party who owns business independently of his or her spouse does not want him or her to personally guarantee any   business debts. Unless a spouse cosigns a loan or personal guarantee, he or she is   not liable for a husband or wife’s business debts.

In a common law property state, if only one spouse files for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, only that’s spouse’s joint and separate debts would be discharged; the other spouse’s separate debts would not be discharged.


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Things to Remember – Make Yourself a Checklist

Divorce is never easy, quick or painless, but you can make your divorce easier, less lengthy and alleviate as much pain as possible by making sure you avoid very common mistakes.

If you are contemplating divorce, make a checklist, write down all your bills, credit card debt, mortgage, utilities, and all those little things you pay for that you might otherwise forget.  You need to make sure you have an idea of what your finances are, where you can maybe trim your spending, and make sure those bills you shouldn’t forget, aren’t forgotten.

Especially if you are not the one responsible for paying the bills, it is important to make sure you understand what finances are all about.  It is a good idea to get a copy of your credit report.  You will know where you start with your rating, and if there are any adverse accounts on your report, something you might not be aware of, but should be.  You should request a copy of your credit report at least once a year anyway just to keep up on who has been looking at your credit (yes there are companies that look at your credit – did you fill an online form about renting or buying a home).

If you and your spouse are living in the same home for financial reasons, but are filing for divorce, you might want to make sure your mail is kept confidential.  You can go to your post office and apply for a P.O. Box and have your mail go to your P.O. Box. This way your spouse doesn’t have access to your mail – confidential or not.

Remember your profile on Facebook, or your Tweet on Twitter, or that picture you took with your friends out at the bar you put up on Instagram?  First things first, change passwords on email accounts, or other social media, but if you are in the thick of divorce, you might want to make sure you are not putting anything up online that could be used against you – should your spouse get nasty.

If you have children, you want to sit down with your spouse and set out parenting time, schedules that work best for both of you, holiday schedule. Sometimes you can get software that helps you to keep track of schedules, who picks up, when, you can track the schedule, print reports, and even put in notes, doctors appointments, issues with pick up times.  It is great when both parents are working together to co-parent, but if things don’t always go smoothly, it is best to have a way to track any bumps in the road with custody, visitation, and parenting time.

Do you have, or will you lose medical benefits once you divorce?  If you have medical issues or ongoing medical issues, you may want to take care of any of these issues prior to the divorce.  You want to start looking for your own medical health insurance and what options are available to you once you are divorced.  You can find out from your spouse, if you are covered under his or her medical insurance what the requirements are to stay on the policy, if you can, or when you are removed (date of divorce, or is there a specific time you can still be on the insurance).

So now you are almost divorced, the paperwork is before the judge and you are waiting for the judge to sign the final paperwork.  What next?  Well did you settle retirement funds? Do you need to transfer retirement funds?  Need to value your pension?  Now you know what your pension is worth but you have to figure out how to transfer part of your retirement to your spouse.  The Qualified Domestic Relations Order commonly know as a QDRO is the document that actually tells the plan administrator to transfer the funds from one person to the other.

Did you update your Will or change your beneficiary?  These are things you need to remember to do once the divorce is final (if not before).  If you have a Will, you should update it, if you don’t, now would be a good time to make a Will.  Do you have life insurance, retirement or investment accounts – more than likely you designated a beneficiary on those accounts, now would be a good time to update the beneficiary designation.

Sometimes divorce isn’t as nice as a couple would like it go be. Feelings get hurts, lamps get broken.  If there is a time when things get a little heated, make sure the lamp that Great Aunt Bessie bequeath to you doesn’t find itself in the midst of a heated argument flying across the room.  Even if there are no arguments, make sure you remove your personal items as soon as the divorce is final or you have moved out.  When people move on, sometimes things get left behind, and if you move out, your spouse decides to have a yard sale, Great Aunt Bessie’s lamp gets put out for sale.

There is nothing wrong with making checklists to keep your affairs in order.  Financial and asset checklists could be the difference between a very organized divorce, or a very disorganized divorce.

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Foreclosure During Divorce

The couple going through a foreclosure at the same time they are going through a divorce should be aware of a number of issues that may arise. The divorcing spouses need to determine 1) who is responsible for the mortgage, 2) how will the debt be repaid and 3) which of them (if either) keeps the property.

First, they must determine whether the debt is the responsibility of one or both of them. Did one or both of them sign the mortgage documents? The documents include the deed, the mortgage and the promissory note.

Signing a promissory note and mortgage has significant and financial ramifications. The promissory note is an IOU between the borrow and the lender that contains the promise to repay the loan as well as the terms and conditions of repayment; it is the “ the promise to pay.” The mortgage provides security for the loan that is evidenced by a promissory note.

Foreclosure damages the credit rating of the spouse who signed the mortgage documents, but the other spouse’s credit score is not affected. Only the spouse who signed the documents is wholly responsible for repaying the mortgage loan. If there’s a deficiency after the foreclosure sale — and state law allows lenders to sue borrowers to recover the deficiency — the lender can seek payment from the spouse named in the promissory note. In most cases both spouses, the husband and the wife, co-sign the loan paperwork, and both own the family house as tenants by the entirety, so and both are liable for the mortgage debt.

One spouse sometimes can assume the mortgage when the couple part.

When the husband, for example, wants to keep the house after a divorce, he can assume the entire mortgage loan, even if the wife is the only signer on the mortgage or both he and she both co-signed on the mortgage, so long as there is no language in the mortgage that specifically forbids an assumption.

A prohibition of assumption requires a due-on-sale clause. While most home mortgages don’t specifically forbid borrowers from assigning their rights and obligations under the mortgage to a third party, most of them do include something called a “due-on-sale clause.” This type of clause states that if the property is sold or conveyed, then the entire loan balance will be accelerated (become due). Most mortgages contain a due on sale clause.

Generally, the due-on-sale clause is the only tool lenders have to prohibit borrowers from transferring the mortgage or the property. If there is no due-on-sale clause in a mortgage, one spouse can legally transfer title to the property and the mortgage to the other spouse without the lender’s consent.

However, even if there is a due-on-sale clause in the mortgage, one spouse can still assign the property and the mortgage entirely to the other spouse without the lender’s consent because of a law called the 1982 Garn-St. Germain Act. Under this federal law, lenders may not enforce an otherwise valid due-on-sale clause if a mortgage or property is transferred as a result of a divorce decree, legal separation agreement, or a property settlement agreement. 12 U.S.C. § 1701j-3(d). The lender can’t require any new underwriting, nor can it prohibit the mortgage transfer just because the mortgage is in default.

The spouse who wants to keep the house and assume the mortgage after the divorce should contact the lender’s assumption department rather than the loss mitigation department. The lender may ask for a copy of the divorce decree or a quitclaim deed from one spouse to the other.

Once the parties to a divorce decide what to do with the house and mortgage—whether one spouse wants to become the sole owner or neither spouse wants to take ownership—there are a number of options available to avoid foreclosure. If neither spouse wants the house any longer, they can attempt a short sale or deed in lieu of foreclosure.

If one spouse will take over the property and the mortgage, that spouse can then apply on his or her own for a modification or refinance, either under the federal government’s Making Home Affordable program or directly with their lender.

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Mending a Marriage After an Affair

An affair doesn’t have to mean a marriage is over.

Few marital problems cause as much heartache and devastation as infidelity, which assaults the foundation of marriage itself. However, when both spouses commit to authentic healing, most marriages survive. Many marriages become stronger with deeper levels of intimacy.

To a certain extent, defining infidelity depends on the people and the circumstances. Many married women consider an emotional affair by their husband, where there is an emotional connection without physical intimacy, to be a much more threatening form of infidelity than one with sexual relations. Each person and couple needs to define for himself or herself what constitutes infidelity in the context of their marriage. When one spouse says that the contact is faithless, it is faithless.

Discovering an affair jolts the victim spouse and may trigger powerful emotions, such as anger, betrayal, shame, depression, guilt, fear,  or remorse. Thinking clearly enough to make long-term decisions becomes very difficult, and the moment of discovery is not a time for rash decisions.

The victim spouse should seek support. It can help to share the experience and feelings with trusted friends or loved ones who can offer support. Any friends or family who tend to be critical or judgmental of the situation should be avoided. Negative outside influence is almost always detrimental to the cause of saving ones marriage. 
 Setting up an appointment with an experienced marriage and family therapist is typically the first step in the repair process.

It is a good idea to go slowly. Even though the victim spouse might have a deep desire to understand what or why this has happened, he or she should avoid wanting to know all the details. A fixation on the details of the affair in the early stages of the repair process will make it next to impossible. One should focus more on solving the issues that caused it in the first place.

Fixing a broken marriage or relationship is one of the most daunting tasks in a person’s life because it involves a path that has been rarely traveled in the past. However, as a person rebuilds trust, admits guilt, learns how to forgive, and the strength is gained to love even more. The road to repair is long and hard, but the rewards can be overwhelmingly positive.

Divorce or reconciliation is not a decision to make at the height of an emotion typhoon. Before choosing to continue or end the marriage, the victim should take the time to heal and understand what was behind the affair. 
Professional help with a counselor who specializes in marital therapy can be invaluable.

The unfaithful spouse must be accountable. He or she must own-up to his or her actions and take responsibility for the affair.

Ending the affair is a must!

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Children of Divorce Parents

Marriage is a unique relationship. It is both an emotional commitment and a legal one, and the only intimate relationship of equals. These special characteristics make marriage so fulfilling and so scary at the same time.

All marriages face the same challenges. But how each marriage handles these challenges is as different as the two people in it.

The divorce statistics have fluctuated some but basically, they haven’t moved much in years. The rate of divorce for first marriages is close to 50%; for second marriages, it is close to 66%.

According to Lesli Doares, a relationship coach (who wants people who say “I do” say “we can”), the National Opinion Research Council conducted a survey of adult children of divorce that spanned more than 20 years. Here’s what they found: In 1973, adult children of divorce were 172% more likely to get divorced than adult children from intact homes.

In 1999, adult children of divorce were only 50% more likely to get divorced than adult children from intact homes. This good news obscures the fact that the marriage rate is 26% lower rate among adult children of divorced parents.

The parents’ divorce has an impact on the child’s marriage. Children learn about love and marriage from their parents. They learn what it means to be a man, woman, husband, wife, mother and father from them. Children learn about trust and how to handle conflict and difficult times.

Children of divorce often experience expectations of failure, fear of loss or abandonment and fear of conflict throughout their lives. These anxieties are reflected in their romantic relationships by poor partner or behavior choices, giving up too quickly when problems arise or avoidance of any perceived level of commitment.

Faced with parental conflict growing up, an adult child of divorce may choose to 1) remaining single or 2) vow never to divorce.

Deciding to remain single does not mean celibacy; it just means withholding from a total commitment. A person goes through the motions, and may even have children, but holds back off from real connection of a marriage. When the relationship ends the person suffers, but he or she confirms a self-fulfilling prophecy that relationships fail.

Both parties intentionally make vowing never to divorce means a lifelong commitment to marriage — a commitment that may be kept at a high cost to them. The risk of putting up with unacceptable behavior from a partner to avoid the pain of divorce is real. This involves making concessions that are not in your best interest.  Insincere agreement and false consensus in order to avoid conflict or marital failure wears a person down. He or she may indeed avoid the dreaded divorce, but the marriage may be just as painful.

Either of these extreme relationship attitudes becomes problematic. The secret to not repeating a parents’ fate is to learn about relationships and what happened in the parents’ marriage specifically, particularly the issues of trust, honesty, respect and productive communication.

Experiences with marriage and divorce can create fears and anxieties, but understanding of what happened — and the child’s reaction to it — helps devise better strategies for relationship success.

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Child Informed Mediation

Divorce or separation annually buffets and bruises more than one million children in the United States, so many parents turn to interventions such as family mediation to mitigate the damage. Family mediation has been widely promoted as a better alternative to litigation.

Child Focused (CF) and Child Informed (CI) mediation routines appear to improve the benefits of mediation, but CI intervention appears to offer the most positive mediation outcomes, according a 2013 article in Psychology, Public Policy, and Law by five professors at Indiana University in Bloomington.

While some family dispute resolution practitioners adopt a CF approach in every mediation because they want to understand the unique needs of the children and encourage parents to stay focused on reaching agreements in the “best interests of the children,” in recent years practitioners have shifted from CF practice to CI regimes. CI provides a mechanism for children to have a voice in the mediation process, without needing to be present in the room and without having to make any decisions.

In Australia Dr. Jennifer McIntosh is a leading advocate of the CI practice. Dr. McIntosh describes the process as one where parents, with assistance, “focus clearly on their children’s needs amidst the emotional debris of the ongoing disputes.”

CI practice involves a child consultant spending time with the children in a separate session outside of the mediation. If more than one child is involved, the children can be seen together initially and then separately if they wish. This session is a confidential and supportive session, with a consultant or counselor or child practitioner.

In a CI regime, each child, who must be of school age, speaks with the child consultant independently and in neutral environment. The child consultant spends time drawing, playing and talking with the child who is never in a position of being pressured to answer any given question or to answer a question in a particular way. The child is not asked to make decisions or to experience the feeling of having to choose between his or her parents. He or she talks about and/or shows “what it’s like to be me, in my family, at this point in time.” Special care is taken to provide an environment that feels safe and welcoming.

The child shares his or her thoughts and feelings about the separation and living arrangements. Children generally don’t want to hurt one or both parents by sharing how they really feel, so the presence of a child consultant provides the space for them to speak openly. The child consultant reports back the child’s experience of the separation and conflict, and the child’s expressed wishes and unspoken developmental needs. The child specialist may even “shadow” the child as the youngster moves through some of his or her daily activities and interactions with parents and others. This permits useful empirical information to be gathered so that discussions about his or her best interests are tied to the child’s reality as opposed to the picture that one or both parents sometimes assume to be true. A fair report of the child’s journey enhances outcomes and softens parental reactivity and gives perspective that otherwise may be absent. The child consultant respects any concerns that the children have about reporting back sensitive matters.

The consultant gives the parents feedback, and the parents make informed decisions about parenting arrangements, communication styles, schooling and a whole range of other issues that may be brought to the table. In this regime, parents can stand down from their battle stations to listen and learn what they need to know to make informed decisions about parenting and co-parenting. The entire process shifts in productive and positive ways.

Children add a heightened level of emotional complexity to a separation or divorce. With CI in place, parents can make a transition from warring couples about their children’s future to two people who are able to be amicable for the sake of their children. The more they practice the easier, it becomes. In essence they fake it until they make it.

CI mediation can support parents’ efforts to actively consider the unique needs of each of their children, and it can facilitate a parenting agreement that preserves significant relationships and supports children’s psychological adjustment to the separation. Parents exit the dispute resolution forum on higher rather than diminished ground.

Parent can broach CI mediation with their children by explaining that Mom and Dad have been seeing a mediator to help make some decisions about the future, such as schooling, living arrangements and finances. Parents explain that they have chosen this path because each wants the best for the children and that working with the mediator helps make the best possible decisions for everyone in the family.

The parent can explain that when they talk with the child consultant they can let the consultant know if there is anything they are talking about that they want to be kept private. They can just enjoy playing games and chatting with the child consultant about whatever they are thinking.

This type of mediation ensures that the children really are a focal point for conflict resolution strategies. Parents accurately identify and focus upon kids needs, at what is also for them this most difficult of times, by maintaining their indirect presence in the mediation room. It allows the parties to actually test workable co-parenting solutions, and so to modify their conduct accordingly.

Separating couples with children should seek the assistance of a mediator because research shows the repercussions of ongoing conflict can sometimes last a lifetime, so resolving the situation as peacefully and quickly as possible is so important.

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Letting Go of A Marriage

In the midst of a divorce, the spouse who is left often feels powerless. He or she must work at letting go of a marriage while still bonded, sometimes very deeply, to a person who has caused more pain and suffering than imaginable. Letting go makes for a tough set of marching orders that can be unpredictable.

Paradoxically, letting go does not work by gravity. Letting go is work where the reward is an unwelcomed payoff, separation from a loved one. Letting go is an uphill climb, taking effort that often gets worse before it gets better.

Letting go may seem like an easy task, even neat and orderly, but it is not. And it cannot be rushed. Along the way, a caring friend is worth his or her weight in gold. Writing down reflections of a lost love and a failed marriage can make them clearer.

For the person who is left, letting go of a marriage means accepting that it’s ending and moving on. Absent a realistic chance of saving the marriage, it’s time to give it up “as gracefully and quickly as possible.” Here are considerations to hold in mind:

Just as the bride to be or the groom to be spread the word about a forthcoming marriage, the divorcing husband or a wife must spread the word when the marriage dies. “There’s no substitute for telling your friends, your family, and even yourself that you are getting a divorce. Not ‘we’re having a little trouble now’ or ‘I don’t know if he’s coming back’ but ‘we’re getting a divorce.’ ” Some people have a very difficult time just saying the words. Giving voice to the death of the marriage memorizes the end of that marriage.

There is no point in trying to hurt the spouse who left. Trying to get even means a person is still locked in a failed relationship, and the other spouse is still in control.

Both spouses must give up responsibility for each other. A divorce means that neither is responsible for the other.

Telling a spouse goodbye is the reciprocal of Paul Simon’s “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover.” A private and imaginary conversation can cover a lot of ground — how much the divorce hurts and acceptance of the end of the marriage.

Letting go means redefinition — asking the question “What kind of person do I want to be now that I’m going to be divorced?” This is a wonderful opportunity for reinvention, for a fresh start. Someone may want to be thinner, or funnier, or more spontaneous, or firmer. Letting go means setting goals — short-term, specific, and attainable.

Grieving the death of a marriage means celebrating it. It means celebrating the good things and accepting that it is over. Grieving hurts, of course, but mourning the death of a marriage is essential to dealing realistically with a divorce.

 

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