Even though California is a community property state, not all assets owned by each spouse is marital property. If something is not marital property, then it is not included in the accounting done to determine the assets to be divided during a divorce. If a spouse owns the property before getting married, that that might not be considered a marital asset. Marital assets are any assets, or conversely, debt, accumulated during a marriage.
There are cases when property that is acquired during the marriage might fall outside of the realm of marital assets. Inherited property is generally considered to be wholly owned by the spouse that inherited it. Also, if a spouse acquires a property, the couple may sign an agreement to exclude the property as a marital asset.
You MAY notice the language used above. "MIGHT not be considered" and "MIGHT fall outside of the realm." Why do we use such unsure language? Well, it is because there are times when non-marital property could be argued to be a marital asset.
Let's look at two examples. The first example is real estate. When this couple gets married, the wife already owns a vacation home. It is not used as the couple's primary residence. After they marry, they buy another home together. The second example is a business owned by the husband. He started the business years before the marriage and is the sole owner and employee of the business.
At the start, they agree that the business belongs to the husband, and the vacation home belongs to the wife.
For the first few years of the marriage, the husband works the business, and the wife also holds a job, and everything is going along great. After a few years, the business starts to grow and outpaces the income of the wife. They decide that the wife will put her career on hold to have kids and help with the business since it is now more than the husband can handle on his own.
The wife now begins to help with writing proposals, making phone calls, keeping the books, and even meeting with clients when the husband is too busy. Thanks to the efforts of the wife, the business booms. They are now able to hire additional people to work at the business.
Thanks to the success of the business, the couple can start to use the vacation home. Well, the vacation home needs some work since it has not been used. The husband starts to make repairs and updates to the home. The husband hires contractors, paid for with the family's money, and makes decisions the vacation home. The home becomes a true second home to the growing family with a successful business.
As it happens, the marriage doesn't survive, and the couple opts for divorce. The original agreement between the couple is that the business belonged to the husband, and the vacation home belonged to the wife. But, as the years went on, did this remain true?
It could be argued that both the business and the vacation home should now be included as marital assets. The wife placed her career on hold to take care of the family and worked to improve the business. Without her help and input, the business would not have grown or succeeded as it had.
Due to the success of the business, the vacation home became an essential part of the family, and the husband used profits from the business to repair and upgrade the home, making decisions on the best way to proceed.
In both cases, even though the home and business started separate, each became intermingled with each other. Money brought in to the family through the business paid for updates to the home, and as they had the ability, they used the vacation home for several months of the year, where the husband would then run the business.
While the law says that separate property can be excluded from the marital assets, to keep them separate, they have to be truly separate. Once assets are intermingled with marital assents, arguments can be made that they are now marital assets despite what the couple might have verbally, or even contractually agreed upon years before when the marriage was brand new.
If you are getting divorced, and there are questions about what is or is not a marital asset, call the Law Office of Tracy Duell-Cazes, known as TDC Family Law, for a free 45-minute consultation. Free consultations are available to new potential clients, and there is no obligation.
Tracy Duell-Cazes is a certified family law specialist, as recognized by the Board of Legal Specialization of the State Bar of California. You can reach Tracy at 408-267-8484.
First, we must define what means to be a fiduciary. A fiduciary is a person who has a legal or ethical relationship of trust. All attorneys are fiduciaries and have a trust relationship with their clients. That means that an attorney always must act in the best interest of their clients in all cases. When a person hires an attorney to represent them in legal matters, they know that their lawyer is always working toward their best interest. While this is vital in all legal matters, one of the cornerstones of our society is that everyone is entitled to a defense. In criminal matters, if attorneys did not have a fiduciary relationship with their clients, the system would break down with accused individuals never sure if their lawyer is working for them or against them.
The process is complicated and in so many ways has to do with money and finances. To properly divide assets, there has to be a proper accounting of everything that each of the spouses own. There must be a determination regarding separate property, and if it is actually separate or if it has been commingled to the point that it is now marital property. There is also the matter of spousal support and, if applicable, child support.
To get a proper gauge of all the assets, each of the spouses have a fiduciary responsibility to be completely open and honest regarding assets, property, money, and other finances. There are several parts of the law that discuss this fiduciary relationship, but they mostly have to do with “full and accurate disclosure of all assets and debts and other liabilities “in which one of both parties may have an interest.”
As with our criminal case example, if there is no fiduciary relationship, the courts would never be able to be sure that they are making decisions based on the most accurate information available, and the system breaks down.
The full scope and breadth of the fiduciary relationship is very complex and will be explained as we proceed through your divorce, though you should be aware prior to proceeding that you should be ready to disclose all of your finances. If there are any exceptions or separate property that should be excluded or you have a premarital agreement that excludes certain property from marital assets, that information should be brought to our attention as well.
If you have any questions about the fiduciary responsibility you have to your spouse, please call us for a free consultation.
The phrase “parenting time” is being used in place of “visitation” since it makes it sound like the non-custodial parent is a guest in their own child’s life. This is not the case. A parent is not a guest, they are a parent, and they are responsible for more than just hanging out with their kid and having a good time. They are responsible for parenting their children as well through good times and bad.
For many parents who only get to see their kids on the weekends or maybe a day or so during the week, even if they technically have shared custody, they don’t want to waste their parenting time if the child is not feeling well and they can’t enjoy the time. Parenting is not just about enjoying your time with your children. Parenting means that you must care for them when they are ill and discipline them when they are misbehaving and help them when they are in trouble.
If a child is very sick, like with the flu, then it is not fair to the child to tell them they have to go with their other parent since it is their parenting time now. The decision of whether or not a child can travel must be taken into account. However, for minor ailments, like a cold or a stomach bug, it may not be enough to deny the other parent their time. For most parents, they appreciate the time of being able to help their children when they are feeling bad, and for the children, they appreciate the fact they have two parents who can and are willing to care for them. It is a comforting feeling for kids who often feel that they are missing out on having two full-time parents.
For parents who only have limited time with their children, they often try to plan every minute to get as much out of their time as possible. In reality, sometimes parenting time is spent helping kids with their homework or bringing them to their extra-circular activities such as sports or scouting, or dance class. Parenting is hard work, even if you only get to do it a couple of days a week or even every other week.
What happens when a parent is sick?
Having a family means that all plans are tentative until they happen. How many times have you been getting ready for something when a wrench is thrown into the plans? You are about to walk out the door when all of a sudden, the dog throws up on the carpet. You are about to leave when you hear your kid yell, “Dad, there is water in the basement up to my knees.”
The worst one is when you are ready to leave, and you check in in your child, and they are laying in bed, and you hear the dreaded, “I don’t feel well,” and a temperature check tells you that you are now dealing with this, and your other plans are instantly canceled.
Sometimes it isn’t the child that is sick, but the parent and regardless of the parenting-time schedule, you get a call or a text that lets you know that you are now on-duty.
It is challenging to be a parent on a schedule. The parenting coordination plan might say your parenting time is officially every other weekend plus a couple of days during the week. Real-life has other plans for you, and you have to be flexible to meet the challenges associated with being a parent, in sickness, and in health.
Social distancing is causing a lot of stress for many across the state and country. Keeping yourself separated from people, even loved ones with whom you do not live with has been difficult for non-custodial parents. Many parents are missing scheduled time with their children. While some are stretching the rules of social distancing at the risk of extending the quarantine time, others are using video software or they are spending a few hours together outdoors to have some time together.
Many of the issues we are seeing are as temporary as the quarantine. You cannot easily fix some problems. We mentioned that there are many people who are quarantined with abusive spouses or parents. Issues of abuse started long before the quarantine. You can see our blog post here. If you are in an abusive relationship, there is help available.
For many couples, the quarantine has exposed issues that might not have otherwise been a problem. During regular times, people have work, time with friends, or they have their hobbies, such as going to the gym. Most of these things are not available to people, so they are at home all day and all night.
Add the heightened stress of knowing people who have been sick or have died, and the worry of possibly getting sick yourself, and things at home can get very difficult.
Right now, courts are still closed except for emergencies. No new filings are allowed at this point. The expectation is that once the courts start to open, there is going to be a flood of new cases across the whole system. It is expected that the new divorce cases are going to exceed the number that we would see through the course of ordinary events. The quarantine is going to force many couples to end their marriage. The stress of the quarantine is too much for some to handle.
For many, it is not too late, and there are things you can do to alleviate the stress of being cooped up at home with no real end in sight.
Have Date Night At Home
Even though everyone is at home, everyone is busy with work or school. Household chores seem like they never end. By the end of the day, people are exhausted from a busy day. They are also frustrated because they can't do something as simple as going out to get a coffee and a bagel from the corner store.
Once a week, couples should devote at least a few hours to being alone with each other. Not alone in the way we have seen with the quarantine with every person in a different room. Be alone without the kids sharing a meal, a drink, or even a cup of tea and just enjoy each other's company. You can have a date night without the worry of a babysitter or who is going to take care of the dog.
Make it a regular thing. The best part is that since for most of us, at this point one day is just like the next, you don't have to wait until Friday or Saturday. Tuesday works just as well. Make it a regular thing. Don't talk about the kids, the bills, or the need to bring the dog to the vet.
Be available for each other and watch for signs of needing to connect
The ironic part of being stuck at home together is that while we are all together for unprecedented amounts of time, people are feeling more lonely than ever. They miss their friends, the office, the usual interactions of their day. People are stressed and afraid. Couples need to connect now more than ever. For many people, they are not likely to just come out and say they need support or a hug or even intimacy. Signs can be verbal or non-verbal. They can be as subtle as an expression, or a quick physical touch. A sign of needed support can be masked in your partner asking how you are feeling, or randomly starting a conversation. Sometimes a sign can be obvious and direct, such as saying that the news has them feeling very overwhelmed and scared.
In a time when we have more time together than ever before, make sure that some of that time is positive and high-quality.
Acknowledge each other's stress, depression, or anxiety
Before we get into this part, everyone feels depressed or anxious sometimes. However, depression and anxiety are mental health conditions that need to be diagnosed and treated by mental health professionals. Anyone who is suffering should seek medical attention.
When people are feeling high levels of stress, or you are suffering from depression or anxiety, it is difficult to focus on anything other than that stress, depression, or anxiety. Often people suffer from all three at the same time. These issues make it difficult even to get dressed or face the day. If one partner is prone to any of these issues, the other can take on additional responsibility and care for the spouse that is suffering. If both spouses are having the same problems, then things can be challenging.
When a person is depressed, they can't snap out of it just by putting a smile on their face. Anxiety doesn't subside by a simple force of will, which is not there anyway. With a constant flow of news and social media, information about the pandemic is a continuous source of stress.
For people who are suffering, they don't need tough love or be told to snap out of it. They need empathy. Many people who do not suffer from these conditions, they feel that empathy means they are enabling a behavior. Depression and anxiety are not behavior. They are mental illnesses, and by definition, they are irrational. When things get to be too much to handle, they might lash out. It is essential to know that while you might be the target of their yelling, they are not yelling AT you. They are venting pent up emotions. While it is difficult, stay calm and do not engage or respond with anger or more yelling.
A partner who is suffering should come to you rather than the children who will internalize everything and think they did something wrong when they didn't. Since they are directing their frustrations at you, they are most likely not mad at you. In actuality, it means that they trust you. It is important to return that trust with an empathetic ear and just let them get it out and do not respond to it. It might seem like the hardest thing in the world, but when they calm down, they will realize what you did for them, and they will appreciate it. Sometimes the best response is no response at all.
Go to bed at the same time
Going to bed at the same time is not an allusion for intimacy. The simple act of getting ready for bed and being in bed together is a special thing on its own. You could each be reading, watching TV, or writing in a journal. By being together, a conversation may arise, or you might cuddle while reading or watching TV. Being together shows support for each other and ends the day intimately and positively.
After a day of work and stress, ending the day on a positive note causes the next day to start right, and some of that built-up stress of being quarantined can begin to subside.
Many of the issues of the quarantine will subside when restrictions are lifted. For many, the problems are beyond being fixed by a date night and an empathetic ear. The marriage has run its course, and the quarantine was the pressure test that caused the final and irreversible break. If that is the case, then TDC Family Law is here to help you get through the difficult transition.
There are many sad realities that we are all dealing with during the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. At this point, most of us know someone or know of someone who had contracted the virus and lost the battle. The numbers of people getting sick and passing are frightening to many people.
The primary reason for social distancing and staying at home is not to overwhelm the hospitals and healthcare workers who have been working around the clock. These doctors, nurses, and everyone in the field are putting themselves in harms way to heal the sick and ease the suffering of those who have contracted the virus as well as those loved ones who cannot visit family members who have been hospitalized.
Many issues have been reported due to isolation
In recent posts, we have discussed other issues related to social distancing, such as the rise in spousal and child abuse, and the loss of parenting time for non-custodial parents.
Social distancing and shutting down all non-essential services have had many unintended consequences, such as people losing their jobs or being furloughed for the duration of the pandemic. People have lost their income, and in many cases, their health insurance.
For divorced parents, social distancing is also causing other issues, such as lost parenting time. For those that have lost their jobs, there are also issues with paying their child support.
Job Loss and Child Support
The issue is that even if you have lost your job, you still must pay your child support. It is a legal requirement that you cannot avoid. Even the legal process of bankruptcy does not remove the requirement of paying child support.
In normal times, if you lose a job or your financial situation changes, you can petition the courts for a modification to your payments so they are more in line with what your income levels are. We are currently living through times that are anything but normal, and we have no idea how much longer this is going to continue.
With the courts closed, except for emergencies, there is no guarantee that the courts will be able to act on your request for modification promptly. That does not mean that you should not file the proper court motion to modify your support to preserve the option of the Court to modify the support effectively on the date the motion is filed.
Document Everything You Do
If you have been laid off, you will need to show documentation that your loss of work was not voluntary, and that you are working to find new employment.
During this time, finding new employment can be challenging, so you should document everything you have been doing during this period, including things related to work, such as taking additional online training.
Working Out a Temporary Solution with Your Ex is a Possibility
If your circumstances have changed, you should inform your ex-spouse. You may also decide on a temporary agreement until this crisis is over, especially if you have been furloughed as opposed to laid-off. If your relationship with your ex is not such that you can have this discussion, your best bet is to call our office and discuss the issue with an experienced and certified family law specialist.
Remember that while you can work with your ex to come up with an agreeable support plan, the safety and well-being of the child cannot be compromised. Also, the new agreement would have to be accepted by a family court judge and made into a court order. Even though child support would then be an amount you have agreed to, it does become a legal requirement. Just because you negotiated the amount without the courts, it does not mean the payments are optional or can be stopped at any time.
Call TDC Family Law for a Consultation
If you have any questions about child support payments or any family law concerns during this uncertain time, call Tracy Duell-Cazes at TDC Family Law for a consultation.
Rise in Cases of Abuse
For many people, these last few weeks have been unprecedented. Many of us are working from home and our children are doing their schoolwork from home. Unfortunately, many people have lost their jobs, or the work has just stopped coming in. People are spending all their time at home with no ability to go out to lunch or the gym, or even to grab a cup of coffee.
We discussed how social distancing is creating many unintended issues for divorced couples with children. Visitation, or parenting time is being missed to maintain social distancing. Our last blog had some ideas of how to overcome these issues during this time.
Most people are taking the stay-at-home orders in stride. They are creating routines to get their work done and take care of their kids and make the situation bearable, and even fun. For some people, this is an extremely tough time and the stress of the situation is growing daily. For couples or families that have serious issues, being together all day and night can make matters worse. Instances of abuse are being reported and the longer we must maintain this level of social distancing, the harder it will be on some people.
Courts Still Open for Emergencies
While the courts are closed for non-emergency matters, serious issues are still being addressed by the courts. If you or your children are in danger due to being at home with an abusive spouse or parent, there are things that can be done. Abuse and neglect are never acceptable and should never be tolerated.
For many people and children, going to work or school is the only respite they have from domestic violence. Now that schools are closed and most people are working from home, that respite is now gone. The pandemic is also a new way for the abuser to gain even more control by scaring them from even going outside for a few minutes.
Resources are Available
It is important for people to know that there are resources out there for them, even while they are in isolation. There are organizations like the National Organization of Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE. This and other organizations like this can also be found online if a person is afraid to use a phone and be heard. The good thing about this organization’s website, is that there is an escape button that takes them away from the page and erases all clues, such as from history and cookies, that the website had ever been visited.
These organizations provide a safety plan for people to teach how to respond to different types of abuse and scare tactics and how to get to safety if they feel they are in physical danger.
An abuser is going to lie to control their victims. They might tell them there is not use in calling the police since they are busy dealing with the Coronavirus. They will say that there are no cops left to come to save them because they are all getting sick themselves. Most people may be at home, but essential workers are still out there. The police are still available, there are social workers and organizations that help abuse victims are still working. The courts are still dealing with criminal matters and in family court, emergency cases are still being dealt with.
There are ways out and ways to stay safe during this time. Stay strong, stay safe, and have a plan.
It is an unfortunate reality we live in right now with a Pandemic making its way across the country and around the world. As reports come in from places like Italy and Spain, as well as from the States of New York, California, and Washington, which are the hardest hit at this point, there are several things that we all need to keep in mind.
There have been reports that classified COVID-19 as a low-risk virus. The vast majority of the people who are infected will recover with little or no professional medical intervention. That does not mean that there is no risk. For older individuals and those who have an autoimmune deficiency such as Rheumatoid Arthritis or Multiple Sclerosis are at a much higher risk of severe illness and even death. The same goes for people who have respiratory issues such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Also, a history of smoking or vaping puts a person at higher risk.
The two main reasons why social distancing or even sheltering in place is so necessary is 1) to not overwhelm the hospitals and the medical workers, and 2) so someone who has mild symptoms does not unintentionally infect someone who has a higher risk factor. Hospitals are planning to be inundated with virus cases. It is not as if the hospitals were empty before this. This Pandemic hit at the tail end of the seasonal flu season, which has also been taking its toll. Influenza, which is from a completely different family of virus is something that is a known entity and predictable. COVID-19, which is a coronavirus in the same classification as SARS, is a new strain that is neither known nor predictable.
It is this unpredictability that is causing most of the fear and anxiety.
Since most of the country is essentially locked down, there have been some unintended consequences. One of these consequences is that divorced couples who share custody of children, and even non-custodial parents who have visitation, or parenting time rights, are not able to keep to the schedule. Parents are missing out on parenting time and are getting rather angry and upset about it.
Issues that divorced parents must take into account include:
Parents who have been missing out on parenting time are understandably upset with the possibility of not being able to see their children for an extended period.
Even though the courts are closed to all non-emergency matters, it is essential to remember the guideline that courts use for determining how they rule in issues related to the children. They always consider what is best for the child and if the ruling puts an undue hardship on the custodial parent. It is also assumed that the parents will continue to live by the terms of the custody order absent following the custody plan puts the children’s health, safety, and welfare at risk – actual risk not a parent’s hypersensitivity to potential risk.
As a parent, it is essential to consider several things, even if it means that in-person parenting time is not possible. These things include:
The best way to make up for lost parenting time is for parents to work out an ad hoc parenting coordination plan. Several things can be done utilizing technology, imagination, and balancing the scales over time.
Mostly every company and school has been utilizing webcams through applications like Skype, Facetime, Whatsapp, or Zoom. Parents can have virtual time with their children. Time would be set aside, so the custodial parent would not interfere or even be privy to the conversation. Parents and children can spend time together, discuss their lives, and also help with homework and other responsibilities. Virtual time might not be as personal as being in the same room together, but with the technology, quality time can be had virtually.
There are circumstances where parents may have limited outdoor time with children. If there is no concern by either parent about issues of exposure, they can take advantage of the beautiful weather and go for a bike ride or walk around the neighborhood. As long as you make sure you do not interact with others, and you forego going out for lunch or dessert, spending time outdoors might be possible.
Parents can also agree that lost time can be banked for more time later. Lost time can be made up for over the summer, which is just a few months away. With children out of school, their schedules will be more flexible, and adding days of parenting time can be worked out.
The most important thing is that parents need to be patient with each other and take each other’s concerns seriously. The custodial parent needs to understand the emotional difficulty the other parent is going through by being separated from their children for an extended period. A divorce can be extremely contentious, and former spouses may not get along with each other. However, when it comes to the children, they must put aside their personal issues and realize that it is not only the spouse that is suffering, but the children are also separated from a parent for an extended period.
We are going through a difficult time that requires extraordinary measures. Sometimes that means swallowing your pride or even putting aside the strict letter of the law as dictated by the divorce decree or parenting plan. Sometimes a Plan B is required, even if it is not officially written out on paper.
As adults, we are having a hard time with lost work time, lost wages, and concerns of life and even death. Children have their concerns. They are missing their friends and missing school and extracurricular activities, along with the stress of not seeing a parent.
Let’s all work together to get through this challenging time and work out a plan to make up for lost parenting time when things get back to normal.
The holidays are behind us, the celebrations long gone and now that we are firmly entrenched in the new year, it is time to take stock in our primary relationship. Whether there are children involved or not, coming to the realization that your marriage isn’t working can be painful and is always life altering. The truth is that life is too short to remain in a relationship that can not be made to work. Ignoring the signs of your collapsing marriage can only lead to misery, or at the very least, complacent endurance.
Here are just a few signs that the marriage is well and truly over:
1. You are angry/sad/apathetic most of every day.
If the sight of your spouse’s face inspires ANY of these emotions whenever you see them, you need to seriously consider getting away from that person, and not just for your own sake, but for theirs and any kids involved. Momentary pique can be disguised, but long running negative emotions directed towards one person are impossible to hide. You begin to grouse and to gripe…to say little things to let that other person know they are not what you want. In the long run, it takes you away from the person you want to be, and makes the other person feel like trash. You can’t possible be happy or even content ALL the time, but you shouldn’t have to contemplate spending most of your waking hours unhappy.
2. One of you cheats and the marriage is unable to recover.
Many couples can get over infidelity, but it takes commitment, honesty, and a lot time for each party to come to terms with an act that many consider the ultimate betrayal. Naturally, it helps if husband and wife still love each other as it allows for the desire to seek and grant forgiveness between a couple that can at least agree there are parts of the marriage worth preserving. However, sometimes the act of forgiveness is beyond the wronged party, or the unfaithful spouse cheated simply as a way out of their marriage.
3. Sex is not sexy.
Many couples consider the waning of sex after marriage to be an acceptable side effect of the institution. If a couple goes from intimacy twice a week, to once a week, or a few times a month, that can be attributed to changing schedules and increased responsibilities. But if you look upon sex with your partner with dread or anxiety, but you still want sex to be a part of your life, either seek a licensed therapist (if you feel the rest or your marriage works), or if you feel this is part of a larger disconnection between you and the thought of seeking titillation outside the marriage is MORE appealing, its better to make a clean break without involving others if you want to minimize bitterness between you and your soon to be ex.
4. You can’t agree on anything (also known as fighting about EVERYTHING)
If you can’t solve simple day-to-day problems or find common ground from which to negotiate for important matters like child-rearing or religion, then the relationship may be beyond saving. To be clear, everyone argues, but most people in working relationship can attempt to see the other person’s point of view and/or acknowledge validity to different arguments, but once a relationship has soured to the point that you can only consider your spouse as an enemy, to be annihilated at all costs, there is really no point in that person even being in that relationship. Do yourself a favor and end it before you accuse them of illogical and untrue motivations-or before you are the one being accused.
5. Nobody says, or shows, the love.
According to the famous 1992 book, The Five Languages of Love: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate by Gary Chapman, different people express their devotion in different ways, and how you demonstrate your love for your spouse becomes the accepted language by which to do so. These languages are : words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, or physical touch. By this logic, it may not be unusual for your spouse not to say I love you often, but to stop and get you your favorite coffee every morning or to warm up your car during the winter is how they show you their affection. If these actions suddenly stop, in conjunction with other signs of waning interest, your spouse may be showing you how they feel (or don’t feel) in the language of love that has been established by the history of your relationship. They may not even notice, but once you do it can be devastating.
These are just a few examples of signs your marriage may be beyond help. At the very least, they are warning signals that something is deeply wrong, and help is needed to get back on track.
As you are probably aware, the all-consuming “Holiday Season” is upon us, and for those of us struggling on the precipice of divorce, the pressure can be on to put on a happy face for the sake of the kids during what is supposed to be a time of joy. If all else fails, and divorce is an inevitability, is faking it for the holidays really the right way to go in order to preserve some sense of security for your soon to be broken home? Or is it better to be honest with your kids about the state of affairs, so that they can begin the new year with realistic idea about the future? The truth is there are no easy answers when it comes to the breakdown of familial relationships, and whether the news becomes before or after the holiday season, the kids are going to feel it the most. HOW you choose to break the news can be far more important than when you choose to do it.
First of all, give your kids some credit. Unless your children are very young, or otherwise impaired, they probably know something is up. If they have gone to a friend’s house where the parents are happy, they will know the difference between that situation and the relationship of their own parents. Also, if they have any friends at all that have experienced divorce, the idea is already floating around in their consciousness, because kids talk to each other. If mom and dad fight, or if one or both parents are seen trying to hide tears or signs of unhappiness, they wonder if divorce is being considered.
In these situations, it does the child no good to see their parents swallowing their unhappiness in favor of keeping the peace. This gives the negative impressions about marriage, relationships, and conflict resolution. Many experts agree that there are major psychological risks for children exposed to environments laden with anger, frustration, and pain. They see their parents making these poor relationship decisions and can be conditioned to repeat those choices in their own relationship dealings.
The other side effect of trying to preserve family unity for the sake of the children is that parents are often so consumed with their own inner turmoil that the very reason to do so is avoided and neglected, by which we mean those kids you love so much. If you are incapable of dealing with your soon to be ex in a way that is civil and/or respectful, your natural inclination will be to avoid situations where you will interact. If you are both avoiding those circumstances, who is addressing the physical and emotional needs of your children? Certainly not both of you at once, and maybe not either of you since you can’t communicate in a meaningful way. To your kids, this either indicates a problem with your relationship, or they will naturally infer that the problem is with THEM. That is one of the most common obstacles that impede healing and happiness for children after the divorce is final-their propensity to blame themselves for the breakdown of the primary adult relationships. Therefore, you must control the narrative by communicating ahead of time.
Get ahead of their inner dialogue, their doubts, and self-blame. Have that difficult conversation alone with your spouse in which hopefully you can agree that you want to make the separation as easy as possible on the children. Discuss what is appropriate to tell them and come up with some bullet points that you can agree on, such as that the kids are still loved, not at fault, and that both parents will still be a part of their lives. It is very important that you agree to these points before you meet with the kids, because they will look to you to make things ok. The more positive you are (or at least can sound), the better they will be able to handle the change.
When you finally do sit the kids down and tell them the news, make it as much in advance of the actual holidays as humanly possible, so as to disassociate that day from the memory of them finding out that their world is going to change forever. Be frank, be concise, be loving-stick to the talking points that were agreed upon by both of you, and if they ask a question you don’t feel comfortable answering honestly, be honest about the fact that you can’t answer because you too are sad…after all, you are losing the family you are accustomed to as well, and you are entitled to your own grief. This can give your children the message that it is ok to be sad, but that you are ALL feeling that way, and you will all weather the storm together.
One of the negative “side effects” of wanting to have a good holiday season is the pressure we put on ourselves to make those days live up to the idealized version we carry around in our heads from the past. Keeping a few things in mind when planning the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s can ensure a better holiday for you and for any loved ones you may be responsible for.
We all want to bake the cookies, decorate the house, buy the perfect gifts, wrap them, meet your friends for Yuletide cheer, and prepare that magazine worthy holiday meal while hosting the entire family in a fashionable outfit. Even with the usual amount of time between the holidays, this can be an impossible goal, but this year has almost a whole week less time to do it all! Something has to give, and the sooner you accept this fact, the sooner you can come to grips with what needs to be done.
Think about what your demeanor is like when you stress about making these times perfect. Can you possibly have fun or enjoy your time with loved ones if you are mentally calculating all the tasks you still must do before the clock runs out? How much do you really need to put those lights up on the outside of your house, if you already have a lit and decorated tree inside to enjoy while snuggling with your family? Honestly, if you think the kids would rather have the lights up than watch a holiday movie together with you, maybe you should pose the question directly to them! Chances are pretty good that family time-where you are present and in the moment with them- is far preferable to impressing neighbors and passersby with your yearly inflatable snow globe on the front lawn.
The fact of the matter is the holidays (no matter which you celebrate) are about spending quality time with loved ones. The cookies and eggnog are great, but they are just trappings of the season. If you truly want to make the best memories for you and your loved ones, don’t put so much pressure on yourself and all those seemingly important tasks. Instead of making ten different kinds of cookies because you always have before, pick a couple that are fun to make and decorate while listening to music of the season.
Better yet, buy those premade logs to slice and bake while doing something else fun with your spouse or the kids or mom and dad! Instead of wrapping everything the night before and making yourself (and everyone around you nuts), invite some friends over for a wine and wrapping party! This will fit in those drinks you have been meaning to have with people you might not have time to see during this shortened season and get a necessary holiday task tackled in the most fun way possible. In doing so, you get to relieve some tension, catch up, provide a venue for all invited to perform said task, and pool resources so you all aren’t forced to use the same old wrapping supplies for another year while not having to break the bank buying new stuff.
The holidays have a reputation for being stressful and exhausting for a reason, but they really don’t have to be either if you keep one goal in mind -- enjoy yourself and the people you love. Be present. Don’t sweat the small stuff and don’t feel you need to prove anything to anyone. The people that know and love you want you to be happy for Christmas, and while it is always nice to receive elegantly wrapped gifts or have a fancy meal prepared for you, gifts bags and take-out may allow you to take it a bit easier and give everyone what they want, including you.