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To Divorce or Not to Divorce, that is the question?

What a loaded question filled with so many questions and uncertainties. But, many of us ask, should I get a divorce or not?

It may be a question you have been considering for years, or it may be a relatively new thought. Whatever your thought process has been, it is not one to be taken lightly. Many decisions have to be made and impacts to be considered, but my philosophy has always been, “A good divorce is better than a bad marriage.” I chose to divorce years ago, because it was the right decision for me and my family. However, it is a very personal decision that is very specific to each individual family and situation.

Your personal philosophy on divorce (or separation) is unique to you. You may be conflicted on the best thing to do, especially if you have children. Many people feel that to stay together for the children, no matter the state of the marriage, is the best thing to do. While others believe the opposite, that children will be better off if their parents choose to end an unhappy marriage. If there are no children in your marriage, you still must weigh the impact of divorce and separation. What are your religious beliefs? Social impacts? Financial consequences? Marriage and Divorce are processes that affect our family and loved ones, as well as those around us.

I cannot answer whether divorce or separation is right for you. You must decide that for yourself and decide in what environment you want to raise your children, look at what influences you (church, family, friends) and consider your options. Ask yourself how you can be happy, what is important to you  and be the best person/parent you can be.

Mediation helps couples who have answered the question to divorce or separate and are ready to begin the process, as well as helping couples who don’t know the answer and would like to try marital mediation to work on issues in their relationship. Mediation offers you options and a process that is private, confidential and effective.

Most people do not listen

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”—Stephen R. Covey

Think back to your recent conversations. How many times have you listened to your friend, co-worker or family member talk, all the while formulating your response?

As your good friend speaks about her latest frustration with her husband, are you readying an empathetic reply, all set to agree what a lousy thing her husband did? As your teen expresses anger over not being allowed to do something ‘everybody else’ does, are you rehearsing your defensive ‘we’ve got our own rules’ response? As your co-worker worries about an upcoming project deadline, have you already pro-actively thought of five ways she could improve her chances of meeting that deadline?

You may have the best of intentions when doing this, but you are cheating the person you are listening to at the same time. When people are speaking with you, the most validating thing you can do is to give them your full attention. Hold eye contact with them. Listen quietly without interrupting until they are finished. Don’t be afraid of not having an instant answer—did they even ask you a question? A few moments of silent reflection on their words is ok! It shows that you heard what they were saying, value their thoughts, and are open to what they need and want from you, if anything, beyond listening.

One way we can show that we were truly with them when they were speaking is to reflect back to them what they said. Restate what they said, using some of their own words: “So you felt that Dan was not following through on agreements you made to share the work of keeping the house clean.” Name the emotion they had as they spoke: “It sounds like you are feeling untrusted, and that makes you angry.” “Your deadline is next week, and you’re worried you won’t be ready.” Ask them if you understood them correctly.

Then gage whether or not they want your judgment, ideas or sympathy. If they do, this is a great time for that part of the conversation—when someone feels really heard by you, they are the most open for constructive dialogue.

 

 

Why is S/he Being So Unreasonable? It may be all in his/her brain…

Heart and BrainWhen people are in stressful situations, the body cannot distinguish between real and perceived threat. The greater the perception of threat, the stronger the biological response is likely to be. This is particularly true if the current threat is tied to a previously stressful or dangerous situation which triggers the memory center of the brain.

Under acute stress (also known as the fight-or-flight response) the body’s sympathetic nervous system is activated by the sudden release of hormones. This triggers what Goleman (1996) dubbed the “Amygdala Hijack” whereby the rational brain is literally shut down. An amygdala hijack exhibits three signs: strong emotional reaction, sudden onset, and post-episode realization if the reaction was inappropriate.

While it takes the body 20 to 60 minutes to recover from the fight or flight response, the brain recovers in as little as six seconds. However, the same response can be re-triggered, sometimes by the person thinking about the same situation. It is therefore important to break the cycle.

What to do?

Show Empathy: Empathy, unlike sympathy, is not saying “gee, I feel sorry for you.” It is demonstrating that you “get” how the other person feels because you can imagine yourself feeling the same way in a similar situation. You can powerfully demonstrate empathy by giving the person your undivided attention. Turn toward them and face them, match their energy level, and use appropriate facial expressions.

Reflect What You Hear: Because there is no way to access the reasoning part of the brain, don’t try. Instead mirror what the person is saying as closely as possible in their own words. Don’t paraphrase or take any ownership or exhibit any agreement. Simply state back way you are hearing starting with the words “So you…” or “You are feeling… because….” Eventually, the person will calm down and you can then start to talk tentatively about what you need to accomplish.

Work with a Mediator: It can be hard to try to do this on your own, which is why working with a mediator can be a great way to make progress. The mediator can manage the strong emotions and conflict so you can both get your needs met.

 

Source: Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Goleman, D. (1996), USA: Random House Publishing Group

NYSBA Task Force on Family Court Report

The New York State Bar Association Task Force on Family Court issued its January 2013 Final Report. Finding No. 5 of the Final Report sets forth the conclusion which many in the mediation field already believed to be true – the mediation programs in NYS Family Court “should be greatly strengthened, expanded and funded.” The Task Force noted the loss of many family court mediation programs due to budget cuts and recommended funding for mediation should not only be re-instituted but should also be increased in Family Courts. It concluded that mediation is very effective in dealing with a range of situations, such as child support and child custody cases. It is well worth the time to read the Final Report and the comments regarding mediation. It can be found at http://www.nysba.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Final_Report_9_21_2012.

What does the mediation process for separation or divorce look like?

The mediation process for separation or divorce answers all the same questions and resolves all the decisions that you would in a litigated divorce that goes to court.

A mediated separation or divorce takes less time, is less costly, is private and the decisions are made by you, the clients. Clients sit in a comfortable office with one mediator to make decisions 

The typical mediation process looks like this:

1)    A one hour initial consultation is set-up with one of our mediators. We answer all your questions and go over the process in detail. You decide if the process is a good fit for you and your situation.

2)    After the initial meeting, it typically takes 3-4, 1 ½ hour sessions to go over issues surrounding parenting plan, equitable distribution and support issues. Depending on your specific situation it may take more or less sessions to resolve all the issues.

3)    Once your decisions are made, the mediator writes a Memorandum of Understanding that summarizes all of your decisions. One last meeting with the mediator is required to review the Memorandum and make any changes.

4)    You, the client, take your Memorandum to an attorney of your choosing to review the document and make the appropriate filing.

The mediation process doesn’t necessarily involve attorneys until the end of the process, and keeps you out of court. The results are: more money stays in the pot for both households, you can set the pace of the process and not be at the mercy of the court system, you make the decisions that are best for your specific situation and communication is established between the parties that fosters cooperation in decision making. The emotional benefits of working cooperatively together are lasting.

Electronic communication and the challenge of co-parenting

After divorce, parents often are challenged on how to communicate effectively. Mastering such communication skills can be very difficult especially when lack of communication or hostile communication skills may have contributed to their divorce. Despite the difficulty, it is important to communicate since good communication can reduce the post-divorce conflict. It is a common assumption by many mediators that limiting post-divorce conflict between the parents will assist kids adjust. In addition, it seems logical that less conflict will reduce the stress in the lives of the parents, too. I as well as some of my colleagues in the mediation field were eager to have the communication process improved by the electronic age. We believed e-mail as well as cell phones for calling and texting, were going to be a fantastic resource for parents- Fortunately, there were folks willing to do scientific research on the subject.
At the University of Missouri a group of researchers studied the use of communication between divorced parents. The parents used electronic calendars, e-mails, and cell phones in their efforts to co-parent. Lawrence Ganong and Marilyn Coleman and their team discovered that despite the use of electronic communication, the parents reported a wide range of ratings about the level of their post-divorce conflict. The technological tools ranged from helpful to harmful. The parents with good co-parenting relationships used electronic communication in effective ways which improved their communication. Unfortunately, parents with poor co-parenting relationships sometimes used these tools to harass, control and mislead the other parent. It seems that while technology can be a useful tool it is does not cure or correct the underlying communication problem. If you want more information on this interesting study, check it out in the Family Relations Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied Family Studies. Volume 61, Issue 3, pages 397-409, July 2012 published by the National Council on Family Relations.

Why Are You Doing That to Me?

Sometimes as we go through our busy lives, we are negatively affected by the actions of those around us. The idiot who pulled out in front of us, the teenager playing their music too loud, the creep who pulled into the parking spot we were going to take.

I know how easy it can be to react in ‘justified’ anger: “I had the right of way”, “The sign says ‘Quiet’”,  “He saw me waiting for that spot”. How could that person be so selfish? You feel they have purposefully acted against you.

Maybe. But what if they didn’t? What if the person was just not very good at judging distances (because their eyesight isn’t what it used to be)? What if the teen didn’t realize how loud his music was (because he’s lost his hearing from playing his music too loud)? What if the creep was distracted by the baby in the back seat and really didn’t notice you waiting?

How differently would you feel if you knew that this person had simply made a mistake? We may be pointlessly putting ourselves in a bad mood, feeling put upon, or worse, starting a confrontation. To put things in perspective and to keep myself from reacting in situations like these, I have devised the following trick:

I pretend the bad driver is a friend of mine. I’m pretty sure she cuts people off daily. I imagine the teen is my son. Enough said. And I imagine the parking spot stealer is myself, because I have actually done this without realizing it until being told afterwards. Because I know that my family, friends and I are fully capable of making these mistakes, and I would hope that the person impacted by our actions would forgive me and those that I love, I do the same for them. And if I’m wrong, and the person IS just being a jerk, well, that’s his/her problem, and one that will do them a disservice in life. But, it doesn’t have to affect me.

Managing the Loss and Grief of Divorce

Experiencing a divorce can bring with it a profound sense of loss. Yet it can also represent an array of possibilities. It is important to manage your sense of loss, and honor the grieving process when you divorce so that you will be able to construct a healthy future for yourself, and your children if you have them.

Things you might consider when going through divorce include:

Working with a mental health professional. Even if only through the period of separation and divorce, many people find it helpful to have someone to talk with who is neutral and supportive.

Taking good care of yourself. We all know we should eat well, get plenty of rest and exercise, but during times of stress this is particularly important.

Giving yourself a break. The difficult process of uncoupling means that you might not always do the right thing. When you mess up, apologize, forgive yourself and resolve to do better.

Doing what brings you joy. Remember that you still have a right to be happy. Take time to read a new book, watch a favorite show, play a sport, work on an art project, catch a meal with a friend, go for hike, wear something special, pet your cat or dog–whatever it is that makes you happy.

Using mediation as your process for divorce can also help. The ability to keep communicating through this difficult time can help you construct a healthy future for all of those concerned. The mediator assists by providing information, facilitating the conversation, and helping manage conflict and strong emotions if they arise. With mediation, you have direct input and make the choices that you feel are in your best interest, rather than relying on someone else to tell you what to do. After all, you are the expert in your own life.

Contact one of our mediators today to learn more: 585-586-1830.

New York State – An Equitable Distribution State….What does that mean?

For about what it costs to have dinner at a nice restaurant, a couple in New York State can zip down to the court house, sign a piece of paper and get hitched. But, if a couple wants to divorce, the financial costs are much greater.

None of us that get married are thinking we will get divorced. When we get married, we’re all caught up in the romance, planning the wedding and looking forward to the honeymoon. We are working, buying a house and planning for children. The long term outcomes of the marriage itself are not even on the radar and “divorce” is something other people do.

So, fast forward fifteen years and you may have three kids, a goldfish and a golden retriever, a mortgage and a couple of car payments – and a spouse you can’t relate to anymore and have grown apart from. You love your children and the fish (the jury is still out on the dog), and you want a divorce.

New York State is an equitable distribution state, and although “equitable” doesn’t necessarily mean equal, it means you need to come up with a fair division of property. Marital property is defined as anything acquired during the marriage where marital funds were used. Cars, houses, motorcycles, sewing machines, guitars, retirement accounts, and yes, even the goldfish. Liabilities like loans and other debt are shared as well.

Property acquired prior to marriage may be considered separate property.  There are exceptions to be sure, and we look into all the specific situations during the mediation, but in general, everything that was accrued during the marriage may be considered joint property regardless of who earned it or who took out the loan and whose name it’s in. In mediation, everything is on the table for discussion to reach the best possible outcome for everyone.

Every family is unique and different. Mediation is sensitive to that by allowing for customization of agreements. Mediation helps couples decide how to divide marital assets and liabilities equitably and in a way that makes sense to the couple.  Mediation also keeps the couples costs down by using one mediator rather than two attorneys and the process can be much less lengthy than a court case, also keeping process costs down.

Although property is owned jointly, most couples in mediation find a good way to create a division that works best for both of them.

Renee LaPoint

Do you really need that?

I recently attended a conference on Nonviolent Communication. A statement at the top of the handout we received read: “All human actions are an attempt to get a need met.” Wow. Fascinating. And totally applicable to mediation.

In mediation, people often come in entrenched in their positions. All kinds of emotions come out as they defend those positions. We see it expressed in ways that run the gamut from disengaging to yelling. The premise of nonviolent communication is that the clients’ emotions express feelings that stem from a perceived need, and the actions people take (crying, speaking loudly, talking over someone else) are their attempts to get the need met.

The problem is, people may not even recognize they have a need, and only be in touch with the feelings invoked by not having that need met. Therefore, they can’t express the actual need. What they do instead is put forth a strategy they have developed to get their need met. This can be the cause of conflict with others. For instance, a neighbor may insist they need to put up a fence in their yard, when their actual need may be privacy, or to have the neighbor’s dog stay off their lawn. If putting up the fence is a problem for their neighbor, what other ways can the need be met that might be agreeable to both parties? Can the dog be kept on a lead when it is outside? Will a privacy hedge work?

In a divorcing couple, both might insist they need to stay in the marital residence. That may seem like an impasse, until you ask the question, what needs are they trying to meet? A need for stability? For the children to have continuity? For keeping up relationships with neighborhood friends? Obviously, they can’t both stay in the house, and sometimes for financial or other reasons neither can stay in the house, so how else can they get these needs met?

The next time you are in conflict with someone, ask yourself “What is my real need, separate and apart from my strategy of trying to get it met?” What is the other person’s need that is not being met by my deciding to meet my own need this way? If you separate the needs from the strategies, you will move the discussion from an emotional exchange where neither party can move from their positions, to a problem solving session. In that space, you can work together to create mutually acceptable solutions.

As the presenter put it: “Hold on tight to your needs, but be wide open to the possible strategies for getting those needs met.”