If it seems that more couples announce divorce proceedings after the winter and summer holidays, a new study seems to bear that out. Associate sociology professor Julie Brines and doctoral candidate Brian Serafini, presenting research at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Seattle, found what is believed to be the first quantitative evidence of a seasonal, biannual pattern of filings for divorce. This is based on analyzed filings in Washington state between 2001 and 2015.
There seem to be multiple reasons for these patterns, the first and foremost being the preservation of the “cultural sacredness” of holidays when it comes to families. During this time, it is generally frowned upon by friends and outsiders to ruin this special family time by breaking up said family. Nobody with an ounce of sensitivity wants to be thought of as a monster by their loved ones. And struggling couples may see the holidays as an opportunity to mend relationships and start fresh. The idea being, we’ll have a happy Christmas together as a family or take the kids for a nice vacation and things will be better.
These heightened expectations can backfire when met with disappointing results. You are spending a concentrated amount of time with the partner that you are unhappy with, hoping against hope that things will be different, for a new beginning or at least something different. But holidays are emotionally charged and stressful for most couples and, for those struggling with marital problems, can expose fissures in a marriage. This consistent pattern in filings, the researchers believe, reflects the disillusionment unhappy spouses feel when the holidays fail to meet those expectations.
This also allows both parties to say that they gave it one last try before throwing in the towel. With the new year, resolutions for a new beginning lead spouses to get their lives in order-including health and finances. Consulting an attorney at this point becomes another step towards that end. Similarly, the onset of warmer, longer days and increased activity elevates mood enough to motivate people towards change. Brines wonders if similar forces are at play with divorce filings.
The pattern persisted even after accounting for other seasonal factors such as unemployment and the housing market. The researchers reasoned that if the pattern was tied to family holidays, other court actions involving families — such as guardianship rulings — should show a similar pattern, while claims less related to family structure wouldn’t. And they found exactly that: The timing of guardianship filings resembled that of divorce filings, but property claims, for example, did not.
It’s therefore reasonable to conclude that when the holidays fail to reinvigorate that happy family feeling, people may finally make those difficult decisions regarding the future of the family unit.
If nothing else, what Brines and Serafini have shown us with their collective data, is that summer vacations, tax time and the whole "New Year, New Me" trope are quantifiable calendar indicators that may affect when people entertain the notion of the legal dissolution of marriage. In addition to demonstrating which times of year are most convenient for such serious, life changing resolutions, they also reveal theoretical breaking points that lead to these conclusions.
The holidays are a normally stressful time, even if your family hasn’t just gone through a painful separation. In addition to all the typical stressors of the season, divorced parents are faced with a whole new set of complications and challenges: figuring out plans, blending traditions and deciding where festivities will be held.
It is always best to minimize the effects of these changes by first and foremost communicating with your ex and making every attempt to be on the same page. The holidays can lead to heightened conflict between divorced parents, but remember, your kids take their cues from you! If you appear to be stressed, angry, or upset, your kids will pick up on that and act accordingly—which is the last thing you want!
It is easier said than done even if your divorce was amicable. Remember the one thing you will always have in common is that you love your kids and want the best for them. Whether a parent has sole custody or shares decision making, the first set of holidays following the divorce will be the most difficult for all family members. You are still figuring out what works, dealing with the loss of those shared family customs, and scrambling to come up with new traditions. Even though parents may be dealing with their own sense of grief, the holidays are a time when it becomes more important than ever to attempt cordiality. Every commercial, movie, and TV program out during this time reinforces the cultural belief of togetherness and family during the holidays, and children are particularly sensitive to feeling lost or displaced because of drastic changes.
Sit down with your former spouse before the madness begins, away from the listening ears of curious offspring. Hammer out some sort of equality regarding gift giving, so that no one feels like they are “losing” at parenting. Maybe set a spending limit or agree on a joint gift to promote that equilibrium. Remember that if you make parenting a game where someone wins and someone loses, the only person that really loses is the child being bickered over.
So much is changing, and some traditions will have to be scrapped all together. Many people choose to have an open conversation with children about which traditions are most important to them, and how to keep them up under these new circumstances, sometimes without one parent or the other. Maybe one parent does a gift on Christmas Eve and the other does the stockings… Families can also use the new arrangements as an opportunity to bond over establishing new traditions. The goal of the holiday time is to make happy memories for the children’s future.
The plan going forward should establish in detail where everyone is going to be, at what time, and with the needs of the children being the primary focus. Agreements with respect to parental communication, decision-making, accommodating changes, and spending time separately and together is crucial to avoiding crises during what is a special and sacred time for children and parents. Children will thrive when spending time with both parents and extended families, especially during the holidays.
If you were to just look at the numbers, you may say that there is definitely a bias toward the mother. After all, 75% of the time, the kids end up living with Mom. That number can be misleading since there is another number that you should know when it comes to deciding where the kids primarily live: 91%. In 91% of cases, the decision to have the kids live with Mom are decided outside of the court, either through mutual agreement, mediation, or another alternative dispute resolution method such as Parenting Coordination. In most cases where there is a bias accusation, these numbers are not taken into account.
In California, Family Code 3040 is very clear as to the order of preference when it comes to custody and at the top of the list is “To both parents jointly pursuant to Chapter 4 (commencing with Section 3080) or to either parent.”
In deciding about either parent, the code also clearly states that in deciding on which parent should have custody, the court and law look to “which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent and continuing contact with the noncustodial parent.”
The guiding principle when deciding who the children should be living with is based on the best interests of the child and from the wording of 3040, it is clear that California believes that a child is better off with consistent and continuing contact with both parents.
There are many other things a judge will take in account including:
When it comes to a father seeking custody, there are several things that need to be taken into account, with the biggest thing being time. Historically, in most families, the father works longer hours and earns more of the family income. Unfortunately, this usually means the father has less quality and bonding time with the children. Seeking custody, especially full custody would require much more of a time commitment and either parent would have to make some big decisions about their priorities. As every case is different with their own set of circumstances, you should never start with any assumptions. Call Tracy to discuss your specific case.
Most people think that there is absolutely nothing wrong with their own behavior. If there are problems, they all must be because of your spouse, partner, friend, or family member. The truth is that no one behaves perfectly in every situation all of the time. To quote the Bard, to err is human. Are you able to recognize your own behaviors that may be rubbing people the wrong way? There are several selfish behaviors that can be having a negative effect on your marriage. The hard part is that these behaviors can be happening without you even realizing it.
Listening to your spouse
Whether you are discussing your day or having an argument, most people are not listening to what their spouse is saying. They are already thinking about their response. The big problem here is that if you don’t listen and really hear what your spouse is saying, your response will not be based on anything that they have said. You are missing the main points of what your partner is saying. If you are discussing your day or even something minor, it will seem that you are not listening and are disinterested. If this happens in an argument, it is then nearly impossible to resolved the issue, because you are not hearing what your partner is saying. Communication has to be a 2-way process. A breakdown in communication is the number one issue leading to couples seeking counseling and eventually splitting.
Not being open and honest
If you do not talk to your partner about things that are bothering you, then you have no one to blame when things are not changed. You may be angry about something, but your spouse has absolutely no idea and cannot possibly fix the issue. You may think that your spouse should just know. No one can read someone else’s mind. If something is bothering you, voice your concern. This goes back to communication being 2-way. If you do not tell your partner something, chances are they do not know that a problem even exists.
Taking things personally
People get stressed. There are so many different things in our lives that can cause high levels of stress and anxiety and most people tend to internalize their stress. When people are stressed, they may not be the best version of themselves and people will display selfish behaviors or even be short and come across as angry. If you take these behaviors personally, and respond in kind, then things can get heated very quickly. Try not to take things personally. Once, again, communication is key. Talk to your partner and see what is going in. Instead of people a victim, you could even be the hero.
Consider your own quirks and mannerisms
Everyone has their own quirks, whether is it a movement, a word, or phrase, or a habit that they picked up along the way, like leaving the toilet seat up. People are really good at pointing out the things that others do that annoy them. However, most people are not self-aware enough to realize their own quirks and habits that may be annoying others.
There is no such thing as a relationship that has no issues. People, as relationships, are also not perfect. People get together because there are things that they love about each other. Over time, there may be things they see that they may not love. Communication is a vital component to a successful relationship. Being self-aware is also extremely important. You can’t put everything on your partner.
Getting back into the dating scene after a divorce is a process. You may take some time to learn to be on your own again, or you may just not have the time now being a single parent. Some people don’t wait and jump right back into the game. The problem is that the game has changed pretty significantly over the last few years. If you were married for any length of time and are now dating for the first time in a long time, then things are going to seem really strange.
As with everything else in the world now, dating has gone online. While there had been online dating sites for a long time, it wasn’t something everyone did. Well, welcome to the future of dating. Fire up your cell phone, download one or several of any number of apps, set up your profile and jump right in.
Let’s take a step back. Before you jump in, the rules on dating have changed along with the technology and it is good to have a few guidelines for utilizing technology for getting out there.
Don’t pine for anyone.
Here is the first truth of online dating: the chances of someone you are interested in replying back to you is pretty low. There are a lot of people online and people are possibly getting multiple responses to their ads and profiles. It is unlikely and unnecessary for someone to respond back to everyone who reached out. Don’t sit by the computer trying to analyze what other people are thinking and doing when you have not even talked to them yet. Don’t cause yourself stress and anxiety trying to be a mind reader and absolutely do not read into anything or take anything personally.
Detach yourself from the outcome on first contact
Once you send someone a message or an email, let it go. You may or may not hear back from the person. Online dating is a numbers game. Do not latch on to the first person you see. Send out messages to people who you are interested in, but cast your net wide. The more people you contact the greater your return will be.
Do not invest in anyone too quickly
This applies to anyone regardless of how you meet: do not invest in anyone too soon. Get to know people. It is nearly impossible to get to know someone as you should in only a couple of dates. Don’t cut yourself off from other possibilities too soon. There is no rush here. It takes a while to get to know someone and even longer to trust someone. If you move too quickly you may find yourself in a place you do not want to be and, more importantly, you may miss out on the person you will really want to be with.
People’s social media profiles are their “highlight reels”. If you set your expectation on someone solely on their dating and social media profiles, it is almost guaranteed you are going to disappointed once you meet and get to know the person. Almost nothing is as it first appears. From a person’s looks to their attitude, sense of humor or their seeming never ending vacation of a life they present to the outside world. Do not presume or assume anything about a person. Don’t build someone up in your mind because that will only lead to the person never meeting your expectations and this not fair to you and it is not fair to the other person. Get to know the real person. Take profiles, pictures and descriptions with a grain of salt. Assume too much and you will be disappointed, but if you go in without expectations, you may be pleasantly surprised. Or you may want to run screaming.
Do your research into online dating and the sites you decide to use. These dating sites are a business. They are selling a product. That product is a dream. The dream of successful dating, the dream of getting remarried or dream of a fantasy. Keep your expectations realistic. There is research that shows that about a third of the people on the online dating sites never meet anyone. Be mindful of the world you are entering and keep your feet in the real world. The point of dating is to have fun. Don’t put too much stress on yourself. If the process is not fun, then maybe you are not ready for it.
Life, as time, moves forward regardless of what is going on in our lives. The process of divorce can be a long and drawn out process and in the end, there are a long list of changes and transitions that have to be taken care of. Through it all, the kids continue to have their lives which mostly revolve around school. Back-to-school time can be a very exciting time for kids. They are looking forward to seeing their friends after the summer break. It can also be a very stressful time for kids with not knowing how their new teachers will be or what the work will be like. It can also be a stressful and expensive time for the parent, especially newly divorced parents.
There are a few things you can do to prepare yourself and your kids for getting back to school after a divorce.
Tell the School
It is important to let the school know about this major change in life. Some school systems have programs for kids of divorced families that they may be able to take advantage of. School teachers and counselors are also a great resource for families and kids. They are also very often a great outlet for kids who often feel comfortable talking to teachers and counselors. It is also important for school officials to look out for any related behavioral issues that need to be brought to the attention of the parents. It is possible that kids who are frustrated at home may start to act out in school.
School administrators, teachers and counselors should know some of the details of the divorce, including any custody issues or concerns they have about the kids. In the event that the divorce was contentious and there are ongoing custody issues, the school should know if they are able to release the child to the non-custodial parent.
Create a routine
When there is one parent at home, getting the kids to school and getting them home from school can be extremely difficult when that one parent has to work. Often, morning and afternoon routines vary from day to day based on work schedules and who will be responsible for the kids before and after school. This can create chaos and confusion for everyone involved. The more chaotic things become, the more important it is to have a routine for things. Make a calendar that clearly states what the plan is for each day of the week. This way everyone knows what is going to happen every day and be prepared for it in advance.
It is important to keep an open line of communication with your ex. Both parents may be part of the ballet of getting kids to school and getting them home. There are also things like homework, school functions, sports, after school activities, and parent/teacher meetings that both of you need to be a part of. If there is no proper communication, there will be issues and miscommunication. This can lead to being late for school, a missed pickup, or missing other activities which would cause the children to feel stress and anxiety. Whether you choose to directly communicate or use email or text, make sure the conversation is ongoing. Most importantly, even if you have issues with your ex, unless there are underlying issues of safety related to an ex, there is no reason for the children to be exposed to those issues.
Talk to your kids and listen to them
It is always important to talk to your kids. Even the smallest things can be a major part of their lives. During a major transition like a divorce, it is vital to talk to your kids and listen to what they say. You also have to listen to what they are not saying. They may not know how to communicate what they are feeling and it may come out in different ways, such as acting out or showing signs of stress. Talk to your kids. Also know when you may be over your head and consider the possibility that your kids may need to talk to a therapist. Most importantly, let the kids know they are loved and that they are not the reason for the divorce.
Parents often learn quite a lot about how their children are coping with divorce simply from letting them speak their minds. This will also give divorced parents a better idea for how to mentally, physically and emotionally prepare their children for changes in and out of school.
Over the last 20 years, the area of Family Law has gone through some major changes in the way conflicts between spouses are resolved. Families are taking the cases out of the courts and into their own hands with procedures that are called Alternative Dispute Resolutions. We have discussed Divorce Mediation, which is one of these alternative procedures. A major benefit of mediation is that the couple has more control over the details of the divorce having worked through all of the steps with the guidance of a mediator. Couples that utilize Divorce Mediation have a greater chance of an amicable break since the terms of the divorce were directly negotiated by the couple as opposed to the details being dictated by the courts. Oftentimes, the terms dictated by the courts can lead to animosity and bitter feelings by either spouse who feels the decisions did not go in their favor.
Alternative Dispute Resolution procedures can easily be utilized in cases where there are not high levels of conflict. However, these procedures can, likewise, be utilized in many cases even where there is high levels of conflict and even anger. Of course, there will always be cases where the terms of the divorce will require the backing of a judge and court order, such as cases where abuse is present.
Another alternative procedure is called Parenting Coordination. When it comes to parenting, custody, visitation, and anything related to the children, the level of conflict can become very high. In an effort to remove the burden of making parenting decisions for the family, which may not be in the parents’ or child’s best interest, the parents may agree to use a Parenting Coordinator, which the court will then make a court order. This is a process that is focused on the children. A professionally trained and experienced mental health or legal professional, called a Parenting Coordinator, would work with parents to resolve conflicts with the parenting plan that would be in the best interest of the child and take each of the parents wants and concerns into account. Since the Parenting Coordinator is usually working under a court order with guidelines, they can only make very minor changes to any court orders related to items such as custody or visitation. The Court will still have the final say if the parents cannot resolve the issue themselves or with the input of the Parenting Coordinator.
In some jurisdictions, the main function of the Parenting Coordinator is to create appropriate parenting plans, to build functional, enduring co-parenting relationships; and to resolve ongoing co-parenting disputes. In other jurisdictions, the main function is to help the parents resolve conflicts, enforce the custody orders, or help the parties clarify the implementation of order. Much like mediation, the goal is to take the details of an agreement out of the hands of the courts and give the responsibility to the parents. Even in high-conflict cases, the long-term relationship has less animosity since the terms of the agreement were directly negotiated and agreed upon.
While there is not a lot of data to declare Parenting Coordination a success, there are some numbers that do show its usefulness. Born out of the need to alleviate the pressure on the courts by parents who came back to court multiple times, Parenting Coordination was designed to give the parents a way to resolve their issues even before they come major. In one year prior to the appointment of a Parenting Coordinator in California, 166 cases accounted for 993 court appearances. That is an average of just about 6 trips back to court for each case. Not only does that put pressure on the courts, but each time, the parents had to disrupt their day, miss work, pay the lawyer, find babysitters.. it gets expensive. For these same 166 cases, after the Parenting Coordinators were appointed, there were only 37 court appearances. (1) Another survey found that on average, the level of conflict and stress of dealing with the other parent was decreased and a majority of cases were satisfied with the coordinator and the resulting agreement (2).
As with mediation, Parenting Coordination is not for everyone. It is up to the judge presiding over the case to decide if Parenting Coordination is a good fit.
(1). Johnston, T. Outcome study on special master cases in Santa Clara County, (unpublished study) (1994).
(2). Vick, M. H., and Backerman, R. (1996). Mediation/arbitration: Surveys of professionals and clients, paper presented at the Boulder, Colorado Interdisciplinary Committee on Child Custody
We have discussed mediation in a previous blog post, but there are so many questions about Divorce Mediation that we thought it would be good to revisit the subject. As we previously discussed, mediation is a voluntary process in which both parties hire a mediator to walk them through the process of finalizing the terms of their divorce. The process ends with a full legal divorce and you do not have to step foot into a courtroom at all.
With mediation, there are no attorneys present, however, you are still entitled to hire a mediation coach to ensure you are prepared to go into the mediation sessions on our own. Tracy Duell-Cazes provides mediation coaching through her Family Law practice. You can call our offices to talk to Tracy about the mediation process as it pertains to your specific situation.
In general, there are lot of questions that people have about mediation, so we want to go through some of them here.
As we said, the process does lead to a legally binding divorce. The difference is that the terms of the divorce are fully what you have negotiated. There are no preset formulas or judges unfamiliar with your situation making decisions for you. Mediation is a non-confrontational process, so there are usually no attorneys during the process. That doesn’t mean there will be no disagreements, there are bound to be quite a few. The job of the mediator is to get past the arguments and have both parties come to a place where everyone is somewhat satisfied, or at least where everyone can live with the decision.
We are mediating our divorce, but does that also include child custody and visitation?
Absolutely. This is one of the most important areas of the process. Anything dealing with the kids are sensitive issues. It is also where most of the animosity comes from through a courtroom hearing. Instead of custody and visitation being dictated by the court, it is agreed upon by the parents. This makes it much more likely that the settlement will be fair and amicable for both of you leading to less problems down the road. When it comes to kids, you are still going to be associated with your ex for a number of years, not to mention getting together for major life events. It works out better for the parents and the kids when the custody issues are resolved by the parents rather than a stranger.
Our situation is much too complicated for mediation.
Actually no, it may not be. Every divorce has its own unique complications. There are assets to divide, there may be investments and businesses involves as well. Mediation can even resolve issues about taxes and issues arising if one spouse decides they want to move out of the area.
So, mediation can be used for everyone?
No. Mediation is not for everyone. If one or even both spouses are unable to come to the table to discuss issues in a productive way, then mediation will not work. There are also cases where the divorce is being initiated due to an abusive relationship. In cases like that, it may take the force and even threats of a court order to implement the orders and protect the person being abused.
At TDC Family Law, our focus is the family. We do not look at every case as one where we have to go to court. We look for ways to resolve issues in a way that protects our clients, our clients kids and other interests and we try to do so without deepening the rift between the spouses. We realize that in so many cases the ex-spouses’ lives are still intertwined even after the divorce is final, whether due to kids, investments, or a family business. Mediation is a great process for achieving the end of a marriage that is not working while working to maintain an amicable relationship so everyone can move on without being angry or bitter.
After a divorce or a breakup, there are still going to be awkward interactions with your ex. After being together, you share friends and therefore, you will continue to have some social groups in common. As much as you may want to, you won’t be able to completely control the situation, especially at social gatherings. However, this doesn’t mean that you have to face these moments without a plan. Here are some steps you can take to make these interactions as smooth as possible.
Mentally prepare yourself before you go. Remind yourself why you aren’t together anymore. Seeing your ex in a situation where they are on their best behavior may remind you why you loved them. However, these rose-colored glasses are not going to help you. So when you find the world taking on a rosy tint, take a minute to shake it off and keep enjoying yourself. And it’s okay to feel sad about your former relationship, so you shouldn’t feel bad if you need to take a minute to step away and collect yourself before you head back out.
In the moment, don’t panic and ignore them or look like you’re trying too hard. Now is not the time for a miniskirt, nor is it the time for pretending to be blind to an ex’s existence. These actions will simply make you seem immature and childish. Also, don’t bring a date in hopes of making your ex jealous. This will only leave you feeling awkward with a date you may not even enjoy. Remember, you once loved your ex. Respect them now and act maturely and they’ll probably do the same. You don’t need to completely avoid your ex, just keep it short, simple, and civil when you do need to interact with them.
Take a wingman (or wingwoman) with you. Going alone leaves you without a buffer to make small talk. They can also help by steering you towards the dessert table instead of accidentally towards your ex. There’s something very comforting about having a close friend by your side in an awkward moment, especially someone who understands the situation and won’t leave you alone to flounder while they gab.
Finally, don’t let your ex being there ruin the day for you. Remember, you came to this event because you wanted to see friends and celebrate them. Try not to dwell on their presence or focus on your ex at all. Relax and have a good time knowing that while you can’t control everything, you’re prepared for most of it.
When going through a divorce, one person may be eligible for spousal support from their partner. This can be temporary support whereby one spouse makes payments to the other for them to maintain the status quo during the divorce proceedings and before everything is finalized. Then there is “permanent” spousal support, or alimony (these terms are interchangeable) this is meant to help maintain the marital standard of living for the supported spouse during the duration of the support order. The supported spouse will also need to be making all good faith efforts to be self-supporting during this time. Often during a divorce, one spouse has been out of the workforce and they cannot quickly reintegrate and find employment, and maintain their lifestyle. Therefore, spousal support laws aim to prevent one spouse from suffering a decrease in the marital standard of living.
Not all cases require or include a party to pay either temporary or permanent spousal support. If it is a part of a divorce it can immediately become one of the biggest expenses incurred. Spousal support can last for years, so every adjustment can mean a difference of thousands of dollars. To calculate spousal support, you can settle out of court or pursue litigation. Temporary spousal support in California is calculated by a formula, while “permanent” support is not. “Permanent” spousal support is determined by the weighing of several factors, so while settling out of court may save you legal fees in the short term, the long-term effects of a spousal support agreement that does not include the analysis of the factors or is not litigated could cause you to lose money in the long run. By pursuing litigation, the terms of support will be much firmer. Spousal earning capacity can be established by the testimony of a licensed vocational counselor, arrangements for making modifications or termination of support in the case of a change in income for either party, and the paying spouse will be able to hash out their payment in accordance with all aspects of their income.
There are numerous factors to consider in determining spousal support. Things like the final division of the assets and debts, the marital standard of living, upcoming retirement, remarriage, and self-employment can affect spousal support amounts while something like a prospective raise cannot. Similarly, since California is a no-fault state, any affairs your partner may have had are not taken into consideration when deciding support unless they are cohabitating with another partner, which may merit a decrease their need for support.
In addition to the amount per month that is paid, the duration of spousal support payments also needs to be determined. A general rule of thumb is that payments will last for half the length of a marriage that lasted less than ten years. If the marriage lasted longer than ten years the court can not set a time limit for spousal support absent an agreement by the parties. In this case, the burden to prove that spousal support is no longer necessary will fall on the party who pays support.
In total, spousal support is something that can weigh heavily on divorce proceedings. For the paying spouse, it can be a large expense on top of divorce proceedings that needs to be realized and for the unemployed spouse, it can save them a large financial burden in the long run. If you find yourself in a position where you may need to receive or pay spousal support, taking the proceedings for support to court may seem like a hassle in the short-term, but the long-term effects of such a significant part of a divorce can make the extra court proceedings worth it.
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