Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Children As Messengers And Spies During Your Divorce – Don't Go There!

This came into my in box this morning and I thought it would be of interest to divorced or divorcing parents. The book is available on Amazon.com. I haven't read it and don't know the author but I pass it along as good information.

By Mike Mastracci

When there is ongoing custody conflict, children should rarely be asked to relay messages to their other parent. Asking a child to carry messages is yet another lose-lose proposition. By asking your child to be a messenger you do nothing to improve your parental communication skills with the other parent. Furthermore, you place your child directly in the middle of an area already ripe for a communication meltdown. Even a seemingly simple and benevolent message can lead to chaos.

Here's an example that may sound familiar: "Tell your father that we have plans on Friday night so he can pick you up on Saturday at 10 a.m. instead of Friday at 6 p.m."

In a case like this, Mom may be pretending, or even genuinely believing, that she is doing a good deed by giving Dad advance notice and avoiding any confrontation between the two of them over this issue. Either way, she is WRONG!

Let's look at the potential pitfalls in this one simple scenario:

  • The child forgets (or because of the desire to avoid conflict pretends to forget), and the result is that Dad shows up on Friday night and no one is home.

  • The child tells Dad, as instructed by Mom, and Dad blows a fuse. The result is a bad transition time for father and child.

  • Dad says, "When you go back to your Mother's, tell her that I will be there as scheduled," and the child forgets (or pretends to forget) to deliver the message to avoid any more conflict.

  • The child feels apprehensive, doesn't want to hurt Dad's feelings, and is upset with Mom for "causing" this dilemma.

  • Dad says, "Tell your Mom that you'd better be there on Friday night as planned or I'll (call the police, call my lawyer, file contempt proceedings...)." – You fill in the blank.

  • It's Friday night, Mom wants the child to go to the planned event, and the child is apprehensive about going because of the situation; the child is expecting Dad to show up and "cause a scene." They leave before Dad's scheduled time just in case. The next morning there is a bad exchange between the parents in front of the child.

  • When Dad arrives on Saturday the child may get the third degree about what plans were "so important." Dad bad-mouthing Mom then becomes more likely.

  • Questions like what, where, when, why, what time, and who was there, may potentially consume the transition time between homes.

  • What if Dad had special plans for Friday night that the child would have really enjoyed?

All of this headache and heartache can be avoided when parents act like grown-ups and do their own communicating. There is almost never a reason for your children to act as go-betweens. It can be avoided with a little effort and some creative maneuvering. When you allow yourself to use your children as messengers, you're really placing responsibility on them that belongs to you. Don't load your children down with your own burdens. Don't make life easier for yourself by making it more complicated for them.

If treating your children as messengers isn't bad enough, it is really inappropriate to use them as "spies". When children are told to report on the activities of the other parent, it places the children in a no-win situation. Even worse, using your children as spies has other negative consequences. It promotes lying and deceit. Encouraging spying promotes picking sides. It also creates loyalty conflicts for your children. As a result, children may clam up, become untruthful, or untrustworthy.

It can be difficult to break the habit of inappropriately questioning your children after they return from time spent with the other parent, but it must be done. A little child-focused thinking should get you there. Think about how it feels for your children to transition from one home to the other. When they return to you, they want to know you're happy to see them and that you're focused on them. Interrogation does not start your transition time off on a good note, and it makes children very uncomfortable whether they outwardly show it or not. Furthermore, if your children are worried that they'll have to "report" to you, transition time will be awkward for them. Instead of focusing on how your children have already spent their time, focus on how you’re going to spend your time with them.

Obviously, there are some common-sense exceptions. Real and legitimate safety or health issues fall into that category. But that's not what I'm talking about in this article, I'm talking about when you want to know whether Daddy's new girlfriend went to the zoo with them. Don't make a situation such as this even more complicated for your children. They'll tell you what they want to tell you, and they'll be a whole lot more likely to do so when you don't give them the third degree or send them to purposely spy.

Children are smarter than you think. Simple communication designed to surreptitiously interrogate the children is not going to work for long. They will try desperately to exercise their right to remain silent. The reason they will do this is because they know that anything they say can and will generally be used against them - in one way or another! Again, the key is to focus on the life you and your children live together and enjoy every moment of it.

This is just one article that is similar to the information you will find in my new book, "Stop Fighting Over the Kids: Resolving Day-to-Day Custody Conflict in Divorce Situations"

Available at Amazon.com

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What Effects of Economy Are You Seeing?

I generally keep this post to issues important to divorcing couples such as financial, parenting and promoting respectful, cooperative divorce. Lately, however, the economy is topic one. Certainly the current economic downturn has a tremendous impact on divorcing couples but it impacts almost everyone in some way. Here are some completely random observations. These observations come from stories I am hearing from my clients, other lawyers in the community and my network of business entrepreneurs.


I do not have any statistics but from what I am observing and hearing from my colleagues, people are holding off on getting divorced. I wouldn't put this in the category of good news because it is not a happy situation for these folks. In the last month I have had at least three couples postpone their divorce because they were experiencing financial problems and could not afford to live in separate households. I am concerned for children living in such a household and I feel sorry that the individuals can't move on with their lives.

Divorce among the affluent isn't any easier. Many of my high earner clients have seen bonuses and commissions greatly reduced. It is not unusual among these high earners to live on credit until the bonus comes in. Now without a bonus they are facing high credit card debt. That neighbor in the high priced house may not be doing as well as you see from the outside.

Other Random Effects

My colleagues who practice DUI defense tell me business is down. Are people drinking at home and not driving? That could be a good result. What I am told, however, is that drivers are going to court without representation and hoping for the best. Never a good idea. Not only is a defense lawyer important in court, a defense lawyer assists clients with Department of Licensing issues.

The wine wholesalers are still doing well. (Was that a segue or what?) Their orders from restaurants are way down but the orders from wine merchants are up. People are enjoying their wine at home.

I heard this morning that medical providers are doing a booming business because people are hurrying to get their health care issues taken care of before they lose their health insurance. Not exactly optimistic news and may lead to higher insurance premiums.

Who is doing well?

Ice cream! Traditionally vendors of premium ice cream do well in economic downturn because people can treat themselves to a luxury that doesn't break the budget.

Mental health counselors. This seems obvious, as long as people still have health insurance they are going to counselors to deal with stress issues. I'm guessing those folks delaying the divorce are seeing counselors also.

Massage Therapist

I hear that this is another form of self care people will indulge in to feel better.


A mixed bag. Some women have had to cut down on weekly manicures but some have added them in the low price luxury/self care category. I wonder how business is for hair dressers? I won't use my own experience here!

Anyone else?

I would love to see comments from others of their observations. Then let's all focus on the positive and know better times are coming.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Divorce or Stay Together - a Difficult Challenge for Parents

By Rosalind Sedacca, CCT

I try to provide relevant information for divorcing couples. Rosalind Sedacca has been a previous contributor and this information is valuable for couples with children. Rosalind Sedacca, CCT is a relationship seminar facilitator and author of the new ebook, How Do I Tell the Kids ... about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children -- with Love!. For free articles, her blog, valuable resources on child-centered divorce or to subscribe to her free ezine, go to: www.childcentereddivorce.com.

This is a tough and controversial subject. There are no right or wrong answers, nor are there any simplistic black and white solutions. I am sharing my own perspective, based on my own life experiences. I welcome you to contribute your own perspective as long as you are respectful of the rights of others to see the world in a different light.

I am the author of a new book about parenting and divorce. I also grew up in a family that stayed together for the sake of the kids, so I have a good perspective on both sides of this topic. Obviously neither option is one any family would choose - they both create pain and hurt.

However, I am opting in on the side of divorce as preferable to years of living in a home where parents fight, disrespect one another and children grow up surrounded by sadness and anger. That's the world I grew up in and the scars are still with me today, many decades later. Dr. Phil often says, "I'd rather come from a dysfunctional family than be in one." I firmly believe he's right.

Staying in a marriage only for the kids is a physical choice that doesn't touch upon the emotional and psychological pain children endure when their parents are a couple in name only. There is no positive role model of how marriage can and should be lived. Happiness, harmony, collaboration, respect and joy are all absent when parents are emotionally divorced while still living together. Children feel it, are confused by it, often blame themselves, are usually guilt-ridden and experience little peace in childhood.

That's why I chose the other route when my marriage was failing. However, I intuitively understood what not to do in divorce. I consciously created what I call a child-centered divorce, co-parented with my former husband, shared custody and maintained a positive relationship with my ex for the decade to follow. Most gratifying for me is the satisfaction of my now adult son writing the introduction to my new book, acknowledging the merits of my philosophy and behavior.

How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook(TM) Guide to Preparing Your Children - with Love! provides an innovative new way to have the dreaded "divorce" talk. What makes the book unique is that I don't just tell parents what to say. I say it for them! I use fill-in-the-blank age-appropriate templates to show parents how to create a storybook sharing family photos and history as a successful way to break the news to their children.

Therapists, attorneys, mediators, educators and other professionals from around the U.S. and beyond have been endorsing the book and the value of my novel approach to this subject. Six therapists contribute their expertise to the book, as well. My purpose is to raise the consciousness of divorcing couples so they will stop, talk and create a caring plan of action before having that first crucial conversation with their children. I provide six essential messages every child needs to hear and understand when divorce or separation are pending. I also advise parents, for the sake of their kids, to choose to create a "child-centered divorce" and highlight all the short- and long-term advantages in the months, years and decades to come.

If parents have the maturity and determination to re-connect, get professional assistance and stay together in a renewed commitment to marriage, that would absolutely be ideal. The entire family will benefit and the healing will be a blessing. However, if children are being raised in a war zone or in the silence and apathy of sleep-walking through a dead marriage, divorce may open the door to a healthier, happier future for all concerned. But only - and this is the key point -- only if parents consciously work on creating a harmonious, collaborative child-centered divorce that puts the children's emotional and psychological needs first!

* * *

Rosalind Sedacca 2007. All rights reserved.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Divore and Money -- another point of view

Rosemary Frank is a family law attorney in Florida. She has good information on her site: http://www.dollarsofdivorce.com/

Tell it to the Judge

Most of my divorce cases are cooperative and are not litigated but occasionally I take on a heavily litigated case. Usually these litigated cases serve as a reminder of why I am so passionate about trying to change the way people divorce. The contrast is striking between a litigated case and a collaborative case. This week I worked on two cases that provide great illustrations of that difference.

Case one had gone on for more that a year and was scheduled for trial March 9. A few days before trial we tried to resolve the matter through a mandatory settlement conference. These conferences are intense and emotionally draining but not nearly as much as trial can be. As is typical in these settlement conferences, the parties were in separate rooms with their respective attorneys as the mediator shuttled between rooms. The parties were wide apart and neither was willing to compromise. No settlement was reached and my opposing counsel took my client's deposition. Again my client endured four emotional hours during which irrelevant but potentially embarrassing questions came one after the other. These questions could never be asked at trial but an attorney has wide latitude during deposition. After the deposition I used my best negotiating skills to find resolution. Both parties remained intransigent. Somehow both parties believed they would prevail if they could just "tell it to the judge". So both attorneys prepared for trial.

Although trial date was March 9 we were on hold waiting for an available court. A divorce without children is lowest priority and we waited more than two weeks. Last Friday we received notice that trial would begin Monday morning on March 23. My client lives out of state and would have to find last minute plane tickets.

Both attorneys worked hard at coming to resolution. We know that trial would be very expensive and neither client would like the end result. We had been working at resolutions that would meet each of our clients priorities. Results of trial would "split the baby". We knew both parties were at risk of a property division that would not serve them well. So why would the parties continue to hold out for trial? They each believed that if they could just "tell it to the judge" the judge would realize how virtuous they each were and would find for them. My client had complaints about what her husband did for the last 20 years. Similarly her husband knew he would receive sympathy by relating his list of complaints. The truth is none of their complaints would even be heard by the judge.

Washington is a no fault, community property state. That means the bad acts of a party are not relevant. All the property in this case is community. A court would merely divide all property equally. My opposing counsel and I were working on an equitable division that would divide property in a way that made sense to the individual parties. She needed cash and he wanted to keep his business. We had that resolution well worked out and knew our clients would not do better at trial.

Late Friday we thought we had a good resolution and had agreement in principle. Where were we stuck? The wine glasses! She wanted them and he, who was still living in the house, claimed he did not know where they were. Stalemate. Does anyone believe the battle was really over the wine glasses? Years of anger and disappointment were wrapped up in those goblets. Both were still convinced they would get the sympathetic ear of the judge. Both attorneys knew these emotional issues would not be addressed at trial and were frustrated about preparing for trial when the relevant issues were relatively simple to resolve and the emotional issues were not relevant and the rules of evidence would prevent introduction of most testimony the clients wanted to present.

Sanity prevailed at 10 p.m. Friday as my esteemed opposing counsel and I worked out the last of the logistics by cell phone and e mail. Both attorneys are satisfied and neither client is. We saved our clients thousands of dollars and forged what we know is as equitable result as we could have in this situation. We gave our all only to end up with dissatisfied clients.

Case two also has gone on for over a year. However the delay has been at the clients' request. They have endured several traumatic events recently and needed to pause the divorce discussions. The clients had already crafted interim agreements with the help of their attorneys, financial planner and mental health coaches. Both husband and wife were content with the interim agreements and were not prejudiced by the delay.

Last week we had a "team meeting" with husband and wife, their attorneys and the financial planner. A lot has changed since our last meeting. The home value has plunged, the retirement accounts are significantly reduced, wife has lost her job and husband's job is at risk. Rather than expressing bitterness, both husband and wife expressed understanding and empathy. Both were concerned about the well being of the other in the future. They still want to dissolve the marriage but want to do so with dignity and respect. They have adult children and want to maintain a family relationship. They are my poster illustrations of the ideal collaborative case. This couple could easily have been in the same position as the litigious couple but they made a different choice early on in the divorce process. And that choice has made all the difference.

My mission is to change the way people divorce. I recruit others to help me spread the word that there is a different way. I hope these two stories provide incentive to choose a different way.

Monday, March 16, 2009


In my practice I work with a variety of specialists in finance and real estate. Their professional advise is useful for folks contemplating divorce. The following was written by Thomas Tribble, a real estate professional who works with couples to explore alternatives when selling a house as part of a divorce.

Options on Dealing with the House
By Thomas Tribble

n better times, when a couple was contemplating a divorce, the main consideration about the house was who gets to keep it, or how are we going to divide the proceeds from the sale of the house? These days the discussion raises the questions of whether or not the house will even sell, will there be any proceeds from the sale, or who has to keep it and deal with trying to maintain it or sell it.

In spite of all the bleak perspective on the market that is being broadcast, houses can still be sold, especially if the owners are willing to do some untypical things to get it done.

The most common approach is to list the house with a realtor and wait for a pre-qualified buyer to come along and relieve the sellers of their responsibility. As long as there is no sense of urgency to sell, and as long as the house is priced to sell amidst the surrounding competition, this is can be a very acceptable approach. However if the sellers do not want to wait for several months to get a potential offer, and they are willing to consider some other options, they can move the process along much more quickly.

The options depend on some specific economic and personal considerations that, in combination, make the approach unique to each case and set of circumstances. Specifically the options revolve around whether or not there is equity in the house, and whether or not the owners are willing to accept terms that may require some time to get them that equity.

In order to determine whether or not there is equity, a comparison has to be made between what is owed on the house and at what price the house can be sold quickly. The first part is straight forward and simply a matter of looking at statements from the first mortgage, second mortgage, and any other lien holders. This will total up all that is owed against the house. The sale price needs to be determined from looking at comparable properties that have recently sold, from comparable properties that are currently for sale, and the amount of time that those properties were on the market before they sold, and how long the current listings have been on the market. In the real estate industry this is called a Comparative Market Analysis. The accuracy of that analysis is critical and needs to include the costs associated with selling. Obviously, the price that is determined will govern which direction the sellers will need to go to achieve their goals.

Whether or not there is equity in the house, one selling partner may want to issue a Quit Claim deed to the other just relieve them self of any concern about the house. While this does not relieve the Quit Claiming partner from their obligation under any mortgage notes they have signed, it does allow the other partner to proceed with the house as they see fit. While I am not an attorney, nor do I play one on TV, the ramifications of issuing a Quit Claim Deed should be discussed fully with your attorney before you do this.

When there is equity in the house, the sellers must determine how much of that equity they can relinquish to sell the house quickly, if that is their goal, which is the next important decision: How quickly does the house need to be sold?

When the house needs to be sold quickly, often a real estate wholesaler is the fastest way to sell. The real estate wholesaler will purchase the house and engineer a deal that is tailored to the circumstances of the divorcing couple. One such transaction is for him to take over the payments on the existing first mortgage, and then issue a note to each individual for their portion of the equity. Both notes are recorded, and both notes receive payments. When the notes are paid off, each person receives their portion without any need for further discussion. This is a very appealing scenario to many couples. Conditions do have to be met with the first mortgage, but this is usually done fairly simply.

When there is no equity in the house, about the only option to relieve the couple from the title is to do a short sale. This is not a quick option, since negotiations have to be opened with the lender(s), and there is a lot of cooperation needed between the buyer, the sellers, and the lenders. However, the process is more quickly handled by a real estate wholesaler than waiting for a retail buyer to come in through a real estate agent.

So, what is the best option? It all depends on the individual circumstances. It depends on the couple. It depends on the condition of the house. It depends on the financing attached to the house. But there are more options available than just to list the house for sale and wait for the market to get around to you. If your goal is to be separated, and the house is one of the obstacles to that, much can be done for the motivated couple that protects the interests of the individuals.


Is the current economic crisis reducing the divorce rate and keeping couples together? According to current news reports couples are choosing to remain married because they don't think they can afford a divorce. My divorce attorney colleagues verify that business is down dramatically. What's the real story here? Is diversity bringing couples closer together? From my perspective, No. Money troubles create a strain on the marriage and exacerbate problems that may have existed in good times.

Some couples are trying to "tough it out" by living in the same house as if they were roommates. This is hardly a satisfactory solution and certainly does not improve their mental health. If they have children, this creates even more confusion and turmoil for the children than if the parents were to move to separate homes. As their morale lowers, the financial difficulties become worse and the endless cycle continues.

Some couples search the internet for ways to get a "quick, cheap" divorce. Naturally I have a bias against this approach. I have found people who spent several hundred dollars and a lot of time and frustration and still were not divorced. I have had calls from people who were totally misinformed and sadly, I have had calls from people who let their spouse do all the work and now have serious regrets about what they gave up. Just the other day a young woman asked me if she could have her divorce settlement revised after five years! Filing in an unknown county across the state has many pitfalls, some of which don't appear until years later. If you have children, own real estate or either party has retirement accounts, you should at least have a conversation with a lawyer.

What can be done?

First of all, not all lawyers are scary. Some of us are quite easy to talk to and might even offer a cup of coffee along with a conversation. I explore alternatives with clients in keeping with their main interests. What are the alternatives for a house that has no equity or won't sell? What would it take to live in separate residences? How can you save on legal fees? I also point out ways to preserve privacy. Legal costs are a big concern and I, as well as many of my colleagues, am willing to discuss cost cutting measures.

Often after I have a conversation with prospective clients they find that I really do earn my keep. I can help them simplify the process and at the same time make sure all issues have been addressed.

I am available for questions either by e mail or phone. I would also like to share some stories about how other folks have handled a divorce in tough economic times.