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Parenting Through Divorce Podcast

Erin recently appeared on the radio show, “Minding Your Health” on AM 950 to talk about parenting during the divorce process. She talks with the host, Roberta Fernandez, and family law attorney Anne Byrne about how parents can keep their children’s interests front and center during and after divorce. The trio also discusses how parents can avoid common parenting mistakes when experiencing the stress and chaos of divorce. You can listen to the program in full here.

5 Bitter Truths about the Divorce Process

Divorce, for lack of a better word, sucks. In fact, according to a ranking of stressful life events, divorce is more stressful than going to prison (Miller & Rahe, 1997). That’s pretty terrible, but maybe understandable considering divorce often makes people feel lost, victimized, and helpless. Sounds a little like prison. Couples can help minimize these feelings by having realistic expectations about their divorce. Following are five truths you should consider before you begin the process:

Forget the image of emerging from the courtroom feeling vindicated for the injustices you may have suffered throughout your marriage. For starters, fewer than five percent of divorces ever go to trial; the vast majority settle through mediation or other out-of-court dispute resolution processes. Secondly, you cannot “win” your divorce. Even if you get every dollar you are entitled to, that’s only (roughly) half of what you had during the marriage. No fault divorce laws means marital assets and debts will be split equitably, regardless of the behavior of either party.

When it’s all over, you will probably feel like you got screwed. Most people are pretty unhappy with their divorce settlement. A fellow mediator, Amber Serwat, recently talked about the importance of talking to our clients about how settlement feels. Settlement means you each have to give up a lot, causing you to wonder if you gave up too much. Even if you went back and did it all again, the details may differ slightly, but the overall settlement would look pretty much the same. It’s not your fault, it’s not your ex’s fault, it’s not your attorney’s fault; feeling like you got screwed is the inevitable reality of divorce.

Attorneys are advocates, not magicians. Your attorney can help you find realistic solutions to the problems divorce presents, but not wave a magic wand and make them all go away. Most of the solutions your attorney offers will involve some sacrifice on your part. This includes living on a budget, giving in to some of the other party’s demands, and spending less time with your kids. Be prepared to make significant life changes and sacrifices, no matter how “tough” your attorney might be.

The less cooperative the two of you are, the more time and money you will spend getting divorced.

It’s completely normal to want to say “black” to your ex’s “white” at every possible turn during divorce. Hurt, fear, and frustration are at an all-time high during the process. The best thing you can do for your bank account is put your emotions aside and be as cooperative as possible with your ex. If you can both agree to engage in mediation, you will save significant time and thousands of dollars. If you decide to litigate using attorneys, it’s best if the two attorneys can collaborate (or at least be civil) with one another. While you may think you want an attorney that berates and threatens the other side, this will only make the process take longer and cost you more money. Divorce is a business deal and business deals require effective communication that is focused on problem solving.

Your kids will be sad/hurt/angry/scared. Divorce is tough for children, which is painful for the parents who love them. Validate their feelings, protect them from the conflict, and constantly reassure them it’s not their fault and you both will always love them. You and your spouse both likely want what is best for your children but you may have different ideas what that means. While fighting for a few extra overnights a month may feel like it’s in your child’s best interest, it’s probably not. The longer and more conflicted your divorce process is, the more potential it has to damage your children (see my blog post http://www.resolutiondivorceservices.com/conflict-is-not-in-kids-best-interest/). Seek advice from a therapist or parenting coach on how to be the best parent to your kids during divorce. With your help, kids can adjust to the “new normal” and get back to being kids again.

Divorce sucks for these five reasons, and many more. Starting the process with realistic expectations will help you and your kids get through it so you can get started building your new life.

Erin Kassebaum provides mediation, coaching and parenting consulting services on a sliding fee scale. She is located in Bloomington. Please feel free to contact Erin with any comments or questions at 612.599.8366, or erin@resolutiondivorceservices.com. “Like” her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/erinkassebaumrds.

Miller, M. & Rahe, R. (1997). Life Changes Scaling for the 1990’s. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 43(3), 279-292.

Should You Hire an Aggressive Divorce Attorney?

I’ve encountered people who have done some pretty terrible things to one another since I began working in the family law world. A husband secretly racking up tens of thousands of dollars in debt to pay for prostitutes, a wife moving her boyfriend into the shared home while the husband was at work, and parents routinely using their children to hurt one another. If these things were happening to me, I’d want to hire the most aggressive divorce attorney I could find.

Aggressive attorneys can, if directed by you, use terrifying threats, outrageous accusations, and complicated financial manipulations to get “revenge” for the wrongs you have suffered. Your ex will be scared, angry and frustrated. When you are feeling this way yourself, this understandably sounds like manna from heaven.

But wait, let’s fast forward a few months. Your ex has also hired an aggressive attorney and now you are both angry, scared, and frustrated. You have lost complete control of the divorce process, you are each spending a fortune on attorneys fees, and there is no light at the end of the tunnel. This is not what you anticipated when you hired your aggressive attorney.

The problem with seeking vindication through the divorce process is that it takes an incredible amount of time and money. Months, even years, of financial and emotional chaos are an inevitable part of a contentious divorce for both parties involved. This is especially problematic if you have children. It’s nearly impossible to go through a long, hatred-fueled, litigated divorce and be emotionally available for your children.

In the end, it’s best to get through the divorce process as quickly and economically as possible so you can move on with your life.

A settlement focused attorney, or a mediator, is best suited to help you through your divorce in a way that will work for you and your family. In the end, even when one party has behaved egregiously, it’s pretty difficult to get revenge through the divorce process. No fault divorce, by definition, means that neither party will be assigned blame. An aggressive attorney will probably be successful at making the process miserable and expensive for your ex, and you, but will be unlikely to get you a more favorable settlement in the end.

Before you hire an aggressive attorney, consider that divorce is happening to you and, unfortunately, to your children. Synonyms for aggressive include violent, hostile, destructive, and antagonistic. Is this the type of person you really want to hire to help you solve what is essentially a family problem?

Knowledgeable? For sure. Firm? Yes. Problem solving? Absolutely. Aggressive? NO WAY.

Erin Kassebaum provides mediation, coaching and parenting consulting services on a sliding fee scale. She is located in Bloomington. Please feel free to contact Erin with any comments or questions at 612.599.8366, or erin@resolutiondivorceservices.com. “Like” her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/erinkassebaumrds.

Right or Happy? Pick ONE.

I recently listened to an NPR story about a guy, Adam, who was nearly killed in a car accident. The driver of the car who hit Adam left the scene and, when found by police an hour later, was intoxicated. A few months later, Adam received a bill demanding he pay $12,000 to fix the car of the hit-and-run drunk driver. WHAT!?!?!? How can that be?!?!?!

Adam discovered the police mistakenly named him at fault for the accident. Understandably, Adam was furious and started down the long, difficult road of trying to straighten out the situation. Nobody would listen to him; the police would not admit the mistake, and no attorney wanted to take on his case. It’s no surprise Adam became obsessed, disillusioned, and depressed.

A year after the accident, Adam was out celebrating his wedding anniversary and began drawing the accident scene on his napkin, just as he had done a million times before. His wife said, “I am so glad you lived through the accident, but it seems life since then has become no life at all.” She meant, of course, that his life had become consumed with righting a wrong that was never going to happen. The next day Adam sent in a check for $12,000 and got on with his life.

If we substitute a drunk driver with a cheating spouse, this is a story we often see played out in divorce. The difficult truth is you will most likely have less money and less time with your kids after you are divorced, regardless of what happened during your marriage. While the desire for vindication is a normal and understandable part of ending a marriage, persistently pursuing it in the divorce process is costly, both financially and emotionally.

Divorce should be approached as a problem that can be solved, rather than a battle that can be won.

This is incredibly difficult to do, especially when there’s been infidelity, financial irresponsibility, or abusive behavior during the marriage. It’s understandably infuriating to realize you may have suffered injustices throughout your marriage, only to receive more injustice in your divorce settlement. Unfortunately, however, that’s the reality of “no fault” divorce.

This does not mean you should give up what you are entitled to in your divorce settlement, or agree to a custody arrangement you feel is unsafe for your children. It does mean, however, you need to have realistic expectations, and facts to support your positions.

Here’s a few ways you can help yourself get through the divorce process:

  • Focus on your future, not the past. Regardless of how you got here, you are here. Do your best to get the business of divorce taken care of so you can move on.
  • Have realistic expectations. As I stated earlier, the reality is you will probably end up with less money and less time with your children than you have now. Consult with an expert, such as a family law attorney, mediator or financial adviser to get a clear picture of what you can reasonably expect to receive (and give up) in your divorce.
  • Remain focused on settlement. Remember that designing a livable future, not winning, is the goal of the divorce process.

Divorce sucks. But it does not suck as much as investing years of your life and thousands of dollars seeking justice that may never come. It’s best for you, and especially for your children, to put your divorce behind you so you can move on with your life.

Erin Kassebaum provides mediation, coaching and parenting consulting services on a sliding fee scale. She is located in Bloomington. Please feel free to contact Erin with any comments or questions at 612.599.8366, or erin@resolutiondivorceservices.com. “Like” her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/erinkassebaumrds.

Run-in With a Jerk? Keep Calm and…

Keep CalmA few years ago I picked up a call from an acquaintance, “Jane,” expecting to resolve a minor issue between our kids. About three seconds into the call, I learned Jane did not believe the issue was minor at all. I was caught off guard and, throughout our brief screaming match, I vigorously defended myself. Jane hung up on me. I was dumbfounded and furious!

I spent the next several hours calling my husband, my mom, and anyone else who would listen to me rant. I’ll even admit I posted something passive aggressive on Facebook (yikes!). On the advice of my wise husband, I called Jane several hours later to try to smooth things over. My message, “let’s agree to disagree,” went over like a ton of bricks. Jane was not having it! I hung up the phone and decided that Jane was a total jerk. I was angry, frustrated, and had spent the better part of my day dealing with this drama.

So, why am I telling you about my bad behavior in this very public arena? I have since learned that people we commonly refer to as “jerks” have an actual clinical label: high conflict people, or HCPs. Most of us who work in the divorce field have all run into a few HCPs. According to Bill Eddy at the High Conflict Institute, characteristics of HCPs include:

  • Black-or-white thinking, inflexibility, inability to compromise, and unable to consider alternative points-of-view
  • Overreaction and intense emotional responses to minor problems or conflicts, and
  • Little insight into how their behavior affects people, a lack of accountability, and persistent blame of others.

If you are the parent of a teenager, these characteristics may sound familiar! The good news is they should grow out of it. However, about 15% never do and become adults with high-conflict personalities.

When we have a run-in with an HCP in our family, community, or workplace, many of us will do exactly what I did with Jane: defend ourselves, vent to everyone we know (on social media, gasp!), and try to get them to see the situation rationally. This is a perfect recipe for what not to do when confronted by an HCP.  The best strategies are:

  • Disengage when possible. These are not people you are going to “win” an argument with, no matter how good and rational your argument may be. Engaging will only pull you further into the drama and drive you crazy. By engaging you are giving the HCP exactly what they are looking for:  more conflict. If you really want make them mad and keep your inner peace, don’t respond!
  • Manage the relationship. If the HCP is a family member or employed at your workplace, disengagement may not be possible. If this is the case, do your best to manage the relationship and develop strong boundaries. Show the person respect by being courteous and maintaining civility. Keep interactions focused on tasks and avoid emotional involvement. If the HCP becomes combative, calmly communicate you will not be treated with disrespect and remove yourself from the situation.
  • Do your best not to gossip. The saying, “what we feed will grow” applies here. Talking to everyone you know about the HCP will only keep the conflict active and alive. Even worse, the gossip will probably get back to the HCP and then you will have to deal with him or her again. If you really need to vent, find one person you trust and who does not know the HCP. Give yourself 15 minutes to rant and then be done. Another great strategy is writing a letter to the HCP but not sending it. Whatever you do, avoid posting anything negative on social media. Not only does this make you look petty, a nasty public statement will only exacerbate the conflict.

The number of high conflict people in our world seems to be growing. Maybe it’s reality TV, maybe it’s helicopter parents, maybe it’s a general pervasiveness of self-centeredness in our society. Whatever the reason, we are likely to encounter them from time to time. When we do, remember to KEEP CALM AND DISENGAGE!

Erin Kassebaum provides mediation, coaching and parenting consulting services on a sliding fee scale.  She is located in Bloomington.  Please feel free to contact Erin with any comments or questions at 612.599.8366 or erin@resolutiondivorceservices.com. “Like” her on Facebook at: facebook.com/erinkassebaumrds.

Advice from a Horrible Salesperson

The worst job in the world, if you ask me, is selling anything. I see those guys demonstrating at the State Fair and I run past their booths, terrified of making eye contact. I’ve always equated salespeople with phony manipulators trying to get me to do what they want me to do, rather than what’s good for me. No, thank you!

Starting my own divorce practice has put me in the untenable position of selling myself and the services I offer almost every day.  To make matters worse, I hate talking about myself, I’m uncomfortable being the center of attention, and I occasionally find myself in hot water for telling people what they need to hear, as opposed to what they want to hear.  All of these traits make me a great mediator and parenting consultant, and a horrible sales person.

Following are some of the valuable marketing lessons I’ve learned since starting my practice.

  • Authenticity is Key. Didn’t I just say that, in order to sell anything, you had to be a phony manipulator? Not true! I’ve learned the most important part of selling yourself is being yourself. Most people can see through insincerity so don’t bother using a phony sales pitch. Let your qualifications and skills speak for themselves.
  • Be more interestED than interestING. If you are meeting with a potential client or referral source, listen more than you speak. Be genuinely interested in what the other person has to say. Not only will you learn something about them, but they will feel good after meeting you.
  • State why you do what you do. People are generally aware of what you do so it’s not necessarily important to spend time talking about the specifics. Talking about why you do what you do is usually more impactful. For example, I started my divorce practice because I am passionate about helping kids. Parents in conflict often have kids who are hurting; the best way to help the kids is to help their parents. Telling potential clients and referral partners this makes a much stronger statement than getting into the details of the mediation and PC process.
  • Passion sells. Selling something you believe in is not actually selling, it’s inspiring. I truly believe the work I do benefits my clients so it’s easy to “sell” my work authentically.
  • Ask for what you need. Be clear about what you are looking for from your potential clients or referral sources. For example, when I meet with a family law attorney, I specifically ask for referrals for parenting consulting clients (assuming that’s what I’m looking for at the time). You won’t get what you need if you don’t ask for it.

Not only are these lessons valuable in marketing, they are valuable in life. All of them apply to how we develop and sustain relationships, as well as how we sell ourselves and our businesses. I’ve been able to naturally put these lessons into practice professionally and personally. They have allowed me to connect with others in authentic and meaningful ways. Watching my business grow as a result is just a bonus.

Erin Kassebaum provides mediation, coaching and parenting consulting services on a sliding fee scale. She is located in Bloomington. Please feel free to contact Erin with any comments or questions at 612.599.8366 or erin@resolutiondivorceservices.com. “Like” her on Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/erinkassebaumrds.

The Importance of Boundaries

Boundaries

In last month’s post, “Telling Clients What They Don’t Want to Hear,” I mentioned the importance of maintaining proper boundaries when working with clients during and after divorce. Boundaries not only help us serve our clients more effectively, they protect us from allowing clients to invade our life outside of work.

I recently read a book called Boundaries: When to Say Yes and When to Say No and Take Control of your Life by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. In this post I’m highlighting a few of the “Laws of Boundaries” outlined in the book that I find helpful in serving divorcing clients.

  • The Law of Power. The basic premise of this law is knowing what we control and what we don’t control. How many times have you told a client, “you can’t control the other person, you only control yourself.” Sometimes we need to listen to our own advice! We CAN control the advice we give our clients and how we deliver it, we CAN’T control whether or not they take it. We CAN control how we prepare how we prepare for a meeting or a trial but we CAN’T control the outcome.
  • The Law of Evaluation. This boundary pertains to setting and conveying your own boundaries to clients. Examples include whether or not you give out your cell phone number and your expected response time to “emergencies.” Setting and communicating your boundaries to clients, even if it makes them angry, is necessary to so they know what to expect from you.
  • The Law of Natural Consequences. As attorneys and therapists we naturally want to help our clients.  Helping is good; rescuing is harmful to ourselves and our clients.  This boundary clarifies the line between helping and rescuing. Here’s a summary:
Helpers Rescuers
Encourage independence Create dependency
Responsible only for yourself Feel responsible for other people
Don’t take things personally Feel badly when efforts not well received
Only help when asked Assume what other people need
Help without expectation Require appreciation and gratitude
Allow those who “commit the crime” to “do the time” Intervene and absorb the consequences for others’ behavior

I serve as a Guardian ad litem for Hennepin County and I have found these boundaries absolutely crucial in helping me do this important work. They also help in my work with clients in conflict during and after divorce. I hope you find them helpful in serving your clients as well.

Erin Kassebaum provides mediation, coaching and parenting consulting services.  She is located in Bloomington.  Please feel free to contact Erin with any comments or questions at 612.599.8366 or erin@resolutiondivorceservices.com.