Written exclusively for It's Over Easy by Elizabeth Esrey
Divorce is stressful. The way you navigate your divorce will impact you and your family’s future. Working with lawyers during the divorce process is often divisive, resulting in battles, winners, losers, “broken homes,” destruction, conflict, and failure. Sadly, the ‘enemy’ is the person you once loved with whom you have children. Yet, you need to work to get through the divorce. And, you control how much harm everyone suffers during this process. You can prevent further emotional damage by moving off the battleground and into the peace room. Your divorce is you and your soon-to-be-ex's to control.
Martin Luther King said, “Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that. And I say to you, I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to humankind’s problem." Here are ways to help you do the necessary work of divorce while protecting your privacy, your children and derailing costs and further emotional damage. Here is how you take control of your own destiny and manage your own divorce with dignity.
Reflect honestly on how you and your spouse handled conflict and made decisions in the past? Did you require more or less details? What did you quarrel most often about: money, the children, parenting, chores, etc.? These same issues will likely be the cornerstone in your divorce negotiations going forward. Helen Rowland said, “When two people decide to get a divorce, it isn't a sign that they 'don't understand' one another, but a sign that they have, at last, begun to.” Your history can help you anticipate the future (topics that may trigger you or your spouse, and how you or your spouse might behave when triggered). Learning new ways to communicate, negotiate, problem-solve, compromise, and resolve the inevitable difficult decisions that lie ahead will be well rewarded in time, money, and a future cooperative relationship. So please reflect on what you have and will need going forward.
If more details help you as a family then seek that going forward. If fewer details give you creative license and help co-parent best then embrace that. Be authentic. Know what works best for you covet that going forward. Reflect on what your particular needs are and secure them. As we hear on airplanes, adjust your own mask before attending to anyone else's. A stronger, calmer you, is better for your children so think about these broader terms before tackling the details of a parenting plan.
You cannot craft a parenting plan alone. You must work with your co-parent on the parenting plan. It might not be easy but it needs to happen and the more direct the conversations– the better. So, while the two of you craft this plan, pay attention to what is being said. Listen carefully to track what is needed going forward. Ask questions instead of making assumptions. Monitor your own tone of voice and body language. Rely on each other to help with the new norm. This is the time to be honest and straight forward with thoughts and emotions.
If the marriage was a strain – the divorce may be, too. Refrain from snarky, impulsive comments. For the sake of time, money and your kids – deal with the parenting plan details for the moment and to the best of your ability. Arguing is not only pointless and unhealthy, it can also be expensive if each of you are using attorneys instead of doing your divorce yourself online.
Professionals To Consider
Even if you and your spouse are able to navigate your own divorce and figure out the basics of your parenting plan, dividing assets and figuring out support can lead to difficult conversations. To help, you might consider hiring a mediator to assist you and your ex with some of the process. Mediators help to keep the discourse civil and keep parties on track. If the conversation regresses, the mediator will redirect you. Your mediator will help you discuss emotional and problematic issues in a safe environment. If finances are an issue and complicated, hire a forensic accountant. Forensic accountants work to solve one thing – uncovering and understanding the household finances. A forensic accountant works for both of you.
Parenting plans do not exist in perpetuity. As life changes, so does the parenting plan. When crafting a plan be journalistic. Ask who, what, when, why, where, and how? Make sure ANYONE who can read the parenting plan could enforce it. Generally speaking, however, more details are better than fewer at least early on in your co-parenting experience. Assume a sitter or last minute family fill-in will read this plan and need to act accordingly.
While details might need to be specific, embrace the beauty of different parenting styles. Don’t try to stymie individual approaches to similar situations unless those approaches have a negative impact. The beauty of two parents is having two perspectives and approaches.
Focus on details if that gives your comfort. If you are more of a big picture family than keep details vague. Let the mediator know what you want and work hard to get it. If you lean more toward a flexible parenting plan, then you really need to be able to embrace the individuality of your co-parents individual parenting style. Be honest with what you would like and what you feel is in the best interest of the child. Sometimes what you need clashes with what the child needs.
Think of all aspects of health: social, emotional, physical and intellectual. Try to parent on all these levels and anticipate needs going forward. Sometimes the most mundane parts of parenting cause the greatest anxiety. Diet, bed time, chores, and screen time may seem inconsequential but can have a huge impact on a child’s anxiety. Especially when the rules are inconsistent from one house to the next. Discuss simple rules and try to keep them somewhat similar if possible.
When times get tense – and they will - monitor yourself. If can’t control you anger, take a break and come back to the mediation table once you calm yourself and can focus on the task at hand. If you can’t, then try to reschedule the mediation so you can consult with others and calm yourself. Separate the person from the problem even if you see the person as the problem. You need to – for the sake of your children – focus on the details of the parenting plan.
Use your divorce as a way to restructure your family in a healthy way that will allow you and your soon-to-be ex to heal and move on.
About the Author
Elizabeth Esrey is a professional mediator who for over two decades has been convening dialogue for parties in conflict. As a certified court approved mediator and mediator trainer, Elizabeth has taught mediation to law and business school students, attorneys, judges, business executives, politicians, social workers and educators. Elizabeth is an approved civil, parent/child, domestic and Special Education mediator. She is sole proprietor of Esrey Mediation, LLC (www.esreymediation.com), which offers private conflict resolution services to businesses, communities, and families. Elizabeth’s writings on communication, mediation and conflict resolution have been published in The Huffington Post, Divorce Magazine and Your Teen Magazine. Elizabeth holds a Master’s degree in Special Education. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org