As parents of high school seniors already know, January and February are the deadline months for many college applications. This can be a financially stressful time for any family. For families going through divorce, the stakes can be even higher.
As the end of the year ushers in another holiday season, many divorcing parents find themselves at odds. Finalizing parenting agreements can be challenging when it includes dividing holiday time. To make matters worse, the 2018 holiday season brings extra pressure for many divorcing couples. Those with alimony provisions need to finalize their divorce agreements by the end of the year to avoid big tax changes.
None of this is easy, but you can at least feel confident that if you and your spouse are negotiating a settlement in mediation, you have a good chance of staying on schedule. Read more
Recently we have been discussing different procedural options for resolving child custody disputes in New Jersey. We followed one family through litigation and another through mediation with a child-focused approach. Today we will look at a third option, child-inclusive mediation. Read more
Last month we discussed the predicament of Alan and Cherie, a couple who took their parenting dispute to court. Each of them hired a separate child custody evaluator, and while neither parent was dissatisfied with the ultimate result, both were highly dissatisfied with the level of conflict involved and with both the complexity and the high cost of the procedures. Today, we will look at another couple with a parenting dispute who have decided to take a different approach. Read more
In our last post, we discussed the documented benefits of child-focused mediation and child-inclusive mediation in divorce. In our next few posts, we will present the stories of three divorcing couples, each of whom decides to approach their parenting disputes in different ways. These families are fictional, but their stories are derived from various real life scenarios. One family will go through a court process, one will go through mediation with a child-focused approach, and the third will go through child-inclusive mediation. Read more
If you are a parent embroiled in a disagreement about post-divorce custody or parenting time, you may be wondering how to get out of the conflict loop. Perhaps an attorney has told you that it is important to take a child focused approach. You may also have learned that the law allows children to have some input into which parent they would rather live with, if the child is old enough and mature enough to reach an intelligent decision. But how much input? And how old is old enough? Read more
Many parents successfully launch a plan for sharing time with children after divorce, only to find that the plan blows up a few years later. Children grow older, parents may change jobs or careers, some remarry, some move away. Sometimes rifts that have been slowly expanding for months or years threaten to become full blown chasms around the holidays. This can put further stress on families who are already coping with increased pressure. Post-judgment mediation of parenting issues can help these families get back on track.
For many children of divorced parents, the holidays are less than calm and easy under the best of circumstances. Instead of two or three uninterrupted weeks baking cookies and drinking cocoa, they may have to split their time in a complicated schedule, or travel out-of-state to spend time with a parent they rarely see. Children with amicable parents may relish being able to spend some vacation time with each of them. Children with parents who are not able to let go of past hurts, on the other hand, often sense the tension. Such children may feel a responsibility to reassure each parent of their equal love. They might feel the need to perform perfectly, and to conform precisely to whatever schedule is in place, to avoid any chance of upsetting either parent. No child deserves this kind of burden.
A Smooth Start for a Reconstructed Family
Gina’s parents, Brianna and Joe, have always gotten along pretty well. When they divorced five years ago, they decided to continue living within a few miles of each other. At the time, Gina was barely five years old. She has little memory of the holidays before she began spending half her time at mom’s house and half at dad’s. Her normal routine was to celebrate Christmas eve with one parent before returning to the other parent’s house to wake up on Christmas morning. After presents and brunch, it was back to the first parent’s house for dinner. It may have been a little complicated, but it was all she knew, and it was a way for her to celebrate the holiday fully with both her families.
A New Development Threatens the Harmony
Then last Spring, Brianna found a much better job that was nearly two hours away. Reluctantly, she decided to move. Suddenly, Gina found herself spending every other weekend, plus spring break and summer vacation, in a new neighborhood. She doesn’t want to stop visiting her mom, in fact, she wants to see her more, but she also doesn’t want to change schools. At the end of the year, though, she will graduate from her K-5 school. Her mom wants her to start 6th grade in the new neighborhood. Her dad does not.
Gina doesn’t know what she wants. What she does know is that for the first time since their divorce, her parents have begun to argue. They rarely exchange harsh words in her presence, but she can sense a new coldness in her previously warm extended family—and she knows why. Her parents have talked to her about the two options open for next year. They have been careful not to reveal that they are fighting over the options, but Gina knows. She can feel it.
Now winter break has arrived. Last night, Gina was upstairs in bed at her dad’s house when she heard him yelling on the phone. She ran to her door and opened it a crack to listen. It was obvious what he was yelling about. “The usual plan won’t work anymore,” he said. “We need to start alternating holidays. No running back and forth with two hour drives in the freezing cold!”
Gina crept back to bed, but she couldn’t sleep. Why couldn’t they just figure out how to fix this? She didn’t want either of them to be lonely on Christmas, but she was only one person. She couldn’t be in two places at a time.
Brianna and Joe Go to Parenting Mediation
Brianna and Joe are understandably going through a difficult time with their co-parenting arrangement, but they are losing sight of what is most important—their child’s emotional stability and happiness. They realize that they need to stop the arguing, not only for Gina’s sake, but also to minimize their own emotional stress. Brianna, not knowing where else to turn, decides to consult with a family law attorney, who listens to her story and immediately recommends parenting mediation.
Mediation, the attorney explained, isn’t just for setting up parenting plans when parents first separate or divorce. Like many parents, Joe and Brianna didn’t have any trouble with their initial plan. They reached a settlement agreement easily and filed it in court. As they have learned, however, things can change. Mediation can help parents decide how to address such changes with a minimum of conflict.
Joe agreed with Brianna that mediation sounded like a good idea. They chose a mediator together, and scheduled a session right away.
A Few Tips from the Mediator
Before delving into specifics, their mediator, Ms. Schumann, gave Brianna and Joe a few tips for how to change their approach. “I’m not on either parent’s side,” she stressed, “and I don’t give legal advice. These are just a few general suggestions that other people have found helpful.”:
- First and foremost, step back, stay calm, and stop yelling at each other. If you can’t keep your cool, then put things in writing instead of talking face to face. If you need to vent, see a therapist.
- For the short term, focus on the giving spirit of the holidays, instead of on the competition for Gina’s time.
- Think about establishing your own separate traditions, regardless of exactly what day in the calendar they may fall on. The winter holiday season in this country is long. Be creative.
- If you can get back to being friends, consider spending part of the holidays together—nothing too stressful, but maybe a low-key afternoon outing of some kind. This kind of interaction wouldn’t work for many families, but it seems like it might work for yours. If you decide to try it though, make it only about Gina, and agree to table any difficult discussions for the time-being. The purpose is to alleviate her anxiety about the increasing hostility between you.
- For the longer term, remember that whatever school schedule you decide to adopt for Gina, you must keep her best interests at the forefront.
Moving Forward in Peace
After their first mediation session, Joe and Brianna made a pact to table all discussions about next year until after January 1st. They scheduled another mediation session to broach this topic in late January. In the meantime, they would concentrate only on making the holidays as happy and stress-free as possible for Gina.
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of parents working together to support their children. This importance can become starkly obvious during holidays and long school breaks. Don’t let your kids feel responsible for keeping the peace in the family. That’s not their job; it’s yours.
Whether your holiday schedule is in tatters or simply needs a tune-up, don’t hesitate to contact a mediator for help. The family law mediators at the Weinberger Mediation Center wish you peace and joy this holiday season and all year long.
Today we are continuing to follow Eric and Eva as they focus on using divorce mediation to address parenting issues. As we learned in our introductory post, 40-year-old Eric and 43-year-old Eva have been married for 15 years. They have two children, Chris, who is 10, and Laura, who is 12. For the time being, Eva is remaining in the family home, while Eric is moving into a nearby rented townhouse. Read more
In our last few posts we have been following three couples attempting to tailor divorce mediation to their own specific needs. Today we are looking at Eric and Eva, a couple in their early forties who have been married for 15 years and have two young children, ages 10 and 12.
In our introductory post, we learned that Eva blames Eric for the breakdown of the marriage. She describes him as a “workaholic” who has long been disconnected from the family. Eric does not contradict this, but says he now wants things to change. He is seeking not just joint legal custody of the children, but also 50/50 shared physical custody. This makes little sense to Eva, who observes that by his own admission, he has never spent much time with the children. She thinks joint legal custody is fair, but does not see shared physical custody as a realistic option. Eric, however, is adamant about this. Read more
Parenting Mediation for Custody and Visitation Disputes
For many parents, making decisions about child custody and parenting can be the toughest part of a separation or divorce. Some divorcing parents also have to deal with multiple financial issues, such as spousal support or division of marital property. Others can resolve such matters fairly simply. Parents who have never been married generally have the easiest time separating financially. Regardless of these differences, however, the emotional aspects of physically dividing a family into two can be devastating. Parenting mediation can be a great forum for parents to air concerns and resolve anxieties while working together to build a successful post-relationship parenting plan. Read more