Often times, when considering a divorce, you try to think about how to least impact your kids. Should we wait until they graduate? Is it better if I pull the plug while they are young? I don’t want my kids to grow up in a household without a healthy marriage, but I don’t want to ruin their lives by blowing up our family unit. Yes, all of this. Divorce is a very hard decision, and not one to take lightly. Tennessee actually requires a 60-day cooling off period for marriages without children and a 90-day cooling off period for couples with children to make sure it wasn’t a decision made in haste that a party now regrets.
We discuss the mom part of Attorney Lisa J. Gill’s divorce story as we wrap up her experience as a divorcing law student, who was working as a paralegal while living with her dad and stepmother while her son was in kindergarten.
Of all that we did poorly, or that I would change, we actually did a great job with our parenting plan. My ex-husband and I knew that we wanted to keep things as stable as possible for our son, so we made sure that he never went long without seeing one of his parents. As time went on, we edited portions of the plan in mutual agreement.
The state will require you to take a parenting class, and you can take it while in the midst of your divorce or shortly after. The court prefers you to take it before finalizing the divorce and contempt can be found if you fail to take the parenting class. So the court really places importance on completion of this class. At the time of my divorce, parenting plans were relatively new in the courts. We had the forethought to make sure that our son spent equal time with each of us, and any changes made by us were reduced to a formal written agreement. You don’t HAVE to go back to court every time you change your parenting plan if you both agree on the terms. The preferred method is to either agree and reduce that agreement to a formal writing or to go to mediation and have a mediator assist the parties in reaching an agreement.
We are so fortunate. Our son is incredibly well adjusted. I’m not sure what to credit that to, but we made the best effort to have his life mostly undisturbed. I also got therapists both for myself and my son. I recommend doing this right away, even if you aren’t sure you’re ready to divorce. I wish I’d started our counseling sooner. I didn’t start therapy until halfway through our divorce and it really gave me a better perspective overall.
Often times, the therapist is covered on your insurance plan, and you’ll want to make sure you do have a family therapist to address your child’s needs and your own. If not, you may want to ask that your spouse help pay or pay all the costs of this expense. The therapist can be your sounding board and is obligated to keep your secrets; you don’t have to censor yourself like you would with a friend or family member.
You also want your own therapist so that they can address what you’re going through personally. You can’t exactly let it all out how stressful it is raising a child on your own or how mad you are at your spouse during a session shared with your child or children. During my divorce, I always remember feeling a bit guilty about how thin my time was stretched and counseling seemed self-indulgent at the time, but, as my father said, “There’s a reason they tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before you put one on your child.” I’ll always remember that analogy because it is a very good one to help remind you that you have to take care of yourself to be able to properly take care of your children.
Once you start the divorce, and one of you moves out, tell your kids’ teachers and counselors at school. They may start to exhibit changes in behavior and you want to make sure their village is in the loop on how to best support them and show compassion. Kids feed off of our emotions, and they actually level out faster than we do in most cases.
When it comes to details of the separation and divorce and how to tell your kids, my colleague Jessica Shea recommends that you not go into the details with your kids like you would a friend or adult. Even if they come to you with details they’ve heard, don’t confirm or deny. Ask them how that makes them feel. Helping them to identify their emotions and acknowledging that it is ok to have those emotions is most helpful. They pick up on energy, and know when something is wrong. It’s a little selfish, but kids just want to know that they are safe and stable. They can tell when something is being hidden from them, and they want that reassurance. It’s ok to say, "Mommy is angry" or, "Mom is just sad today." You don’t have to go into why. In addition, you don’t want to degrade your ex to your kids or in ear shot of them. It causes them to feel bad about themselves because that is one-half of who they are.
Another thing I’d tell you to do once you start your divorce is to build your team of experts and your team of personal support right away. Whether that is family to help with kids or friends to help with meals and general support. It was an adjustment for me to let go and let my son’s dad “help” in ways that were his way and not how I would do it. I did a lot of letting go of control in that year of divorce. You’ll need to reach out to friends who have divorced and can empathize with your season of life.
You’ll also need your pro team: your attorney, financial advisor, and therapist. And while building that pro team, don’t be afraid to interview a few professionals before adding them to your roster. It’s ok to walk away if you get a weird vibe or just don’t mesh with someone’s style of practice.
It’s also ok to explore this entire process, go to counseling, and decide to work it out and stay. I have had several potential clients come in for a divorce, go to counseling, work on some conflict resolution, and work it out. If that’s the best for them and their family, I’m excited for them.
Even though divorce and family law is my business, I want to make sure my clients are making an informed decision that they are ready to make. The average divorce takes about a year. Some divorces take much longer than that. That is why it is so important to build a team that you trust and has the right strategy to pull you through this process to the other side of your crisis. There is hope on the other side of divorce, and a way for you to live the life meant for you and your family.
In Tennessee, most divorces are settled in mediation. They try to keep kids and families out of court rooms to reduce the trauma of divorce. Mediation may even take a couple of trips, but it is often the actual way divorces are settled. In addition to being an attorney, I am actually a Rule 31 Listed Mediator as well. I have a lot of experience as an attorney mediating these matters, and appreciate that I can help my clients in several ways to keep stability in their lives and the lives of their children as best we can.
I appreciate you all letting me share my story of divorce with you, and all that I learned in the last 20 years. I’d be honored to have you join us at Second Saturday™ if you ever find that your marriage is failing and you are considering divorce or you know someone who needs this information.
We’ve specially adapted our format to save you the time and effort of consulting or interviewing several experts when considering divorce. Our goal is to help answer most of your questions in one appointment.The next workshop will be held Saturday, April 10, from 9am to noon. The zoom format helps you to attend with anonymity from the comfort and privacy of the location of your choice.
You can easily register here.