Ask Divorce Coach is Women’s Divorce Coach’s divorce advice column. Have a question? Send it to Cindy here. It’s anonymous!
Dear Divorce Coach,
My partner and I are considering a collaborative divorce but I’m not sure it’s really the best choice for me. I like the idea of it and not spending tons of time and money fighting about all the little things but I worry that my voice and concerns may get lost if I don’t have my own attorney. I tend to be the more passive one in our marriage and make far less money. Additionally, we have two kids and want them to fare okay in this process. In your experience do you think someone in my position is suited for a collaborative divorce?
– Collaborative Divorce?
Dear Collaborative Divorce,
Collaborative divorce is one of several different paths for divorcing and it can be a great option for some couples. While I cannot tell you if it’s the right choice for you, I can give you some things to consider. First, in most cases, you do not have to choose to use one collaborative attorney between the two of you. You can each have your own collaborative attorney. While this would cost you more upfront, it may protect you better long term. In my experience, the collaborative divorce process works great when there are two divorcing individuals who are communicative and committed to the process. It also works better when there is lower conflict, both partners feel comfortable voicing their concerns and there is a feeling of equality and respect. If you know that there are going to be major issues to resolve and conflict over them (child custody, division of assets, etc.) you may want to explore the traditional route to divorce as well.
Often in collaborative divorce, you get access to a whole team of collaborative individuals – attorneys, financial specialists, child counselors, and coaches. While collaborative divorce may not be less expensive than a traditional divorce (you are paying for each of the meetings that you have with the professionals and the meetings they have with each other), it can pave a path for a more respectful relationship between the divorcing partners in the future. The process invites the couple to be honest, transparent, and respectful. However, if collaborative divorce is not best for you, don’t feel guilty – it is certainly not right for everyone, and at the end of the day, you need to do what’s best for you.
Dear Divorce Coach,
I really don’t want to get a divorce but I’m at my wit’s end. I can’t get my wife to go to counseling and she has stopped communicating with me in a rational manner. Whenever I try to take care of our baby she steps in a takes him away from me. We had a great relationship before our son was born – she was fun, cooperative, and sweet. Now all she does is complain about what I do (and don’t do) and threatens to leave with our son and never come back. I would be devastated if she actually followed through on this threat. Should I contact a lawyer? What should I do?
– Feeling Threatened
Dear Feeling Threatened,
While having a child can be very rewarding, it can certainly change the dynamics in a relationship and put stress on a marriage. Counseling certainly might be a great option but if she is unwilling to go, I can see why you feel stuck there. I can also understand how terrifying it would feel to have the threat of your son being taken away over your head.
To deal with the issue of your troubled communication, I encourage you to think about the communication pattern that presents when there is a conflict between the two of you. While you can’t control her reaction, you can modify the way you approach and respond. What clues has she given you about how she is feeling? If you were in her shoes, what would your main complaint be? How are you feeling? When we are in conflict with another person, it can be hard to understand their position but it is often the key to their softening when we express an understanding of it. I am also guessing that like most people, you may respond with anger when threatened? What might be a better way for your wife to get how hard this is on you? Sometimes showing a little vulnerability is the best way to get the other person feeling comfortable to let down their guard. If you can get your communication back on track, I hope that you will be able to avoid further talks of divorce. Such threats (taking your son, leaving forever, etc.) are extremely damaging for your relationship and break down trust. I would encourage both of you if you can get into a better space to have ground rules about where that line is in the future.
Dear Divorce Coach,
My husband and I are divorcing. He thinks it’s fair for us to each take one kid (me take my son, he take my daughter). I think this is ridiculous and there is no way I will give up custody of either of my children. I would literally rather give him all of our belongings – house, money, cars, etc. than agree to this. He is barely involved in the day-to-day stuff now (I’m a stay-at-home mom) and he travels a lot for work. He doesn’t even know what they like to eat, their friends, their teachers, anything! I feel so angry and upset, I can’t sleep, I can’t eat. Please help, I feel like I’m going crazy!
– Splitting the Kids
Dear Splitting the Kids,
I hear how much this is upsetting and worrying you. The first thing I would encourage you to do is get centered in your body. Take a deep breath, go for a walk, meditate, take a bath, anything that will ground you. When we get into a state when we are no longer functioning well or are in fight-or-flight mode, we can’t make rational choices. Our anxiety and worry will consume us. Spend a few days if possible on self-care before you consider the rest of this advice.
If you can hire a divorce coach, I highly encourage you to explore what the triggers or hot buttons are for you in this conversation. Most people’s hot buttons include the following areas: status or identity, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, or fairness. A useful exercise may be for you and your coach to role play (you can play your husband) this conversation both the way the conversation usually goes and then how it might go if you take a different approach. This will make you feel more empowered and less emotional when you are ready to have a conversation again with your husband. With a new approach which includes validating his concerns, not getting defensive, and listening, you may have the chance to relay your concerns. For starters, how you think this might hurt his son to not have time with him, how it would affect the sibling’s relationship and how difficult it would be for him to continue to travel.
Besides a conversation with your husband, it might make you feel better to talk to an attorney about typical child custody arrangements in your state. If talking to your husband doesn’t work, you will, at the very least, be armed with this knowledge.