Divorce is Traumatic for Your Kids

There’s no question that divorce is traumatic for your kids. Everyone knows children suffer the most in a divorce, and have the least say about what happens. Experts advise different ways to tell your kids about divorce, and different methods for dealing with divorce. Ultimately, you probably know that divorce is traumatic for your kids, but do you begin to understand why? Here are a few of the most popular things that happen to kids in a divorce:

Kids think divorce is their fault.

First and foremost, many kids worry that divorce is their fault. Unless you take great pains to convince your kids that you and your spouse just don’t get along anymore, they are likely to have a secret, gnawing fear that they are the reason for your divorce. It’s your job as an adult to convince them otherwise, as much as possible. Kids may need therapy to deal with this fear, and they definitely need your reassurance and explanations as to why the marriage failed.

Kids worry that parents don’t love them.

Only slightly less worrisome to kids is the fear that their parents just don’t love them. This is tied up with the fear that kids are the reason for divorce, but it’s hard to process a parent leaving the household if said parent loves the kids. Therefore, it’s vital for you to tell your kids early and tell them often that you love them. But you have to do more than tell them; you have to show your kids that you love them, or they might not believe you. This is perhaps the most important thing to help kids survive through a divorce with as little trauma as possible.

Kids wonder what will become of their life.

Most kids have no concept of their way of life after divorce. For kids that have lived in one house with both parents their entire lives, it’s impossible to conceptualize anything else. Therefore, kids will wonder what will become of their life. You can help with this worry by providing as stable a household as possible. Try to continue normal routines, take kids to the same schools and establish that things are going to be similar even after the divorce. Be consistent, and reliable. Kids need stability, so try to confine moving to a minimum and be careful to explain things to kids along the way.

Kids are neglected while parents worry about divorce stuff.

Divorce is tough. You’re juggling a lot of balls while you’re dealing with divorce stuff. You’re dealing with finances, trying to get housing lined up, arranging childcare, talking to lawyers; the to-do list is endless. In the midst of it all, you can’t neglect your kids while you’re worrying about your grown-up concerns. Kids need quality time with parents perhaps more than ever during a divorce, so make it a point to spend that time with your kids. Time with your kids has therapeutic value for you, too, so it’s a win-win situation.

Be Realistic about Your Divorce Settlement

High-profile divorce settlements make the news all the time. People love to read about other people’s unhappiness; the juicy details of a failed marriage and an astronomical price tag make popular stories. However, if you’re going through a divorce, you must separate what you read in the news from your own situation. Be realistic about your divorce settlement; just because some celebrity got several million in a divorce doesn’t mean you’ll be set for life when you divorce your spouse.

Talk to a divorce lawyer about what you can expect.

Divorce lawyers know the law. They can look at your relationship, any documentation you might have signed like a pre-nup or a post-nup and weigh the factors to determine approximately what you can expect.

Don’t look for a lawyer to give you a hard number on an initial consultation; negotiating a settlement is exactly that – a negotiation. A divorce settlement depends on a number of factors that may not be clear in the beginning, so any information a divorce lawyer gives you about potential settlement amounts is purely speculation, and should not be used as a guideline.

You’ll need a clear financial picture to negotiate a divorce settlement.

Before you can truly negotiate a divorce settlement, you need a clear financial picture of the status of finances in the marriage. You’ll need documentation about your income, your spouse’s income, joint debts, joint assets – a complete financial breakdown of both parties.

If your spouse manages to hide assets, you may not be able to negotiate an equitable settlement based on the full value of the relationship. If you think your spouse is going to be resistant to an equitable settlement, you may want to begin gathering financial documentation early, before your spouse has a chance to begin moving things around.

Your way of life will change.

The point of an equitable settlement is to split assets fairly and evenly between you and your spouse. If you didn’t bring much to the marriage, you may not take much from the marriage. Don’t expect that just because your spouse had assets prior to the marriage, you’ll get to take any of that with you.

Bottom line: even in a best-case-scenario equitable settlement, your way of life will change. One income doesn’t go as far as two, and without being able to split the costs for housing, utilities, etc., you’ll be paying more than you expect to support yourself. Even if you get alimony, it may not be enough to maintain your current way of life, so you should resign yourself to that fact when the divorce begins and develop reasonable expectations about your divorce settlement.

Dealing with Anger About Divorce

Even in an amicable divorce, it’s hard to be Zen-like and not resent your spouse for tearing your world apart. In a divorce that catches one of the parties by surprise, or in which one party doesn’t want a divorce, it can be downright near-impossible. You’re dealing with a ton of negative emotions, and chief among them is anger.

If you’re angry about your divorce, you’re not alone. Many spouses find themselves struggling with anger over a divorce. Dealing with your anger effectively is one of the most challenging aspects of divorce, but especially if you have kids, you have to find a way to put on a happy face to protect your children.

Acknowledge your anger, and the reasons for it.

One of the first things you need to do in order to deal with your anger is to acknowledge it. Denial can be a powerful tool, but it can’t help you work through things; it only helps with avoidance. If you want to deal with your anger, you must look at it, acknowledge it for what it is and understand why you feel that way.

It’s ok to feel angry. Do you feel angry because your spouse took control out of your hands? Angry because you trusted your spouse, and you feel betrayed by a divorce? Angry because you feel like your marriage can be saved but your spouse doesn’t agree? Angry because of something particular your spouse said or did?

There are tons of reasons to feel angry about a divorce, and your anger is probably valid. Take a look at why; consider making a list or jotting down the reasons you feel angry. Acknowledging your anger is powerful, and can help take some of the potency out of it.

Keep your anger away from your kids.

If you’ve got kids, it’s absolutely vital to keep your anger away from your kids. It’s ok for you to feel angry. It’s not fair that you have to hide it, but for the sake of your kids, you must. Don’t badmouth your spouse to your kids. Try not to behave in a hostile manner when your kids are around. Divorce is never easy, but couples walk into marriage knowing that there’s a risk for divorce down the road. Kids have no say in the matter, and should not be exposed to the by-product of parental unhappiness, no matter how angry you are (and how valid the anger).

Consider going to counseling.

Counseling isn’t just for couples, and it doesn’t warrant the negative stigma that it sometimes receives. Counseling is a wonderful tool in helping you to identify your anger and find positive ways to deal with it. The purpose of counseling isn’t to deny your anger. When you undergo counseling, you’re allowed to be angry. You don’t have to pretend it’s not there or force it to go away. A counselor can simply help you identify the root of your anger, and work on positive ways to deal with it.

Should a Guardian be able to File a Divorce Proceeding?

Imagine a worse-case-scenario: your parents are in a car accident, and your mother becomes incapacitated. She’s no longer able to do many things for herself, and your father takes over the finances, dealing with important issues and running day-to-day life. Over time, your father tires of having a dependent spouse, and begins to move on.

Maybe he puts your mother in a care facility and begins dating, using her income to help finance his lifestyle with the new woman. Say the care facility isn’t the best in the world, and you feel he doesn’t have your mother’s best interests at heart. He starts spending more and more of her money on his lifestyle, perhaps dipping into her retirement account or other assets to buy himself a car or take an expensive vacation. What can you do?

Unfortunately, the laws on guardianship allow very little wiggle room for you to pursue matters on behalf of your mother. If your father is using the marriage to take advantage of your mother’s assets and resources, you may not be able to do anything about it.

If you’re lucky, you might be able to get yourself appointed as her guardian and make some decisions about her medical care. However, the law is quite clear in most states that you can’t file divorce proceedings as a guardian on behalf of the incompetent spouse, so there’s ultimately no way to protect your mother from your father’s deprivations.

The incompetent spouse and the competent spouse don’t have the same legal remedies.

A competent spouse has access to the full range of legal remedies if he should feel the need to use them. However, an incompetent spouse, through a guardian, doesn’t have access to the same legal remedies. If a guardian can’t file a divorce proceeding on behalf of an incompetent spouse, there’s ultimately very little that a guardian can do to protect the incompetent spouse from being taken advantage of. This is an unfair loophole in the law, because it leaves virtually no legal recourse for the incompetent spouse.

Some courts may be willing to grant a divorce proceeding if it was clear that the incompetent spouse was pursuing said proceeding before he or she became incompetent. I.e. if you can prove that your mother was unhappy in the marriage and planned to pursue a divorce, a judge may be willing to take that into consideration. However, many states won’t even allow that, so incompetent spouses don’t even have that small window of recourse.

Ultimately, the law isn’t particularly fair in this regard. The letter of the law has good intentions, in theory, by saying that a divorce proceeding is too personal a decision for a guardian to pursue. However, without granting other forms of legal recourse, the legal system provides no real remedies for exploitation and no way to dissolve a union that is no longer safe or in the best interests of the incompetent spouse.

What do you think? Should a guardian be able to file a divorce proceeding?

Canada Explores the Interests of Children versus Equal Parenting

The Canadian Justice Minister Rob Nicholson spoke on Monday about equal parenting and children’s interests in divorce cases. In theory, kids do best when both parents are equally present in their lives. In other words, kids need mom and dad for optimal development and happiness. However, Justice Minister Nicholson added that kids’ interests should be the deciding factor in whether or not equal parenting was granted.

This strikes me as a slippery slope. How is a judge to decide what’s in a kid’s best interests? A judge doesn’t know the kids, doesn’t know the parents and doesn’t know what each respective home life would be like. Deciding custody and parenting rights based on something as ephemeral as ‘the kids’ best interests’ looks like an easy way to get into a bidding war between mom and dad.

Unfortunately, kids are often caught in the middle of messy divorces. It’s not fair, but kids may be asked to choose with whom they wish to live, or to be shuttled back and forth from one parent to another like so much baggage. This isn’t an easy life, but is it better than establishing ‘best interests’ and awarding sole custody to one parent?

In an ideal world, everyone would be friends and could deal amicably with a divorce. However, reality isn’t ideal, and sometimes it isn’t always possible to be amicable with a spouse after a long, messy shared history. Should one spouse be penalized because relations are less than cordial? Unfortunately, if this sort of attitude came to the United States, it’d be far too easy to penalize a spouse.

Women are traditionally seen as the primary caregivers for children, and often tend to play a bigger role in kids’ lives post-divorce. Many fathers feel that this is unfair, and want to have a more active role in kids’ lives. How would fathers feel if mothers could take it upon themselves to prove that ‘it’s in the kids’ best interests’ that the mother has joint custody and doesn’t share parenting responsibilities? Unfortunately, if a woman were feeling vindictive, it’d be far too easy to press this point with a court and penalize the husband for things that have nothing to do with the kids.

Hopefully this Canadian guideline won’t make it to the United States. In a world where it’s already difficult enough to settle a divorce and sort out custody, the last thing parents need is to add another shade of gray to an already challenging process.

Enjoy the Little Moments

About a million clichés exist to describe the pain and unpleasantness that everyone deals with. “Into every life a little rain must fall,” or “beautiful light is born of darkness” are just a couple of examples of the things people say to minimize the unhappiness we all suffer from time to time. The thing about clichés is that they’re often true, which is why they stick around, even though they’re clichés.

The unhappiness you feel as you’re going through your divorce is fleeting, just like all happiness and unhappiness in life. In time, you’ll have other worries, and you’ll recover from your divorce. What you’re going through today will seem like distant history. That may not necessarily be a comfort, now, but it’s something to keep in the back of your head for when you’re feeling particularly down.

In the meantime, enjoy the little moments in life. Even while you’re going through a divorce, it’s ok to feel joy and take pleasure in small things. How do you reach those moments?

  • Go to a movie by yourself.

Going to a movie by yourself is a great way to get away and create some quiet space for yourself. Sitting in the dark, all alone, losing yourself in the story is a great way to forget about the thousands of little details and unhappiness you’re dealing with as you go through a divorce. It’s only a temporary relief, but your troubles may feel less troublesome when you emerge into the light, and you know you can always go back to the movies if things get tough again.

  • Treat yourself to a cup of coffee at a café.

Sitting quietly in a café, drinking a cup of coffee and watching the world go by can be a relaxing pastime. You could bring a book to read, or a newspaper. Or you could just sit and watch the people walk by through the windows. One day, you’ll be one of those people, walking by on your way to work, no worries about a divorce looming over your head. All you have to do is bide your time.

  • Go for a walk in the rain.

As kids, we have a joy and appreciation for the simple things in life that we seem to lose as adults. The next time you get a cool rain on a warm summer day, go for a walk. Yes, your clothes will get wet. But they’re just clothes – you can throw them in the dryer when you get home. Enjoy this impulsive way to connect with the world and just be in a moment.

  • Sit on your porch and sip iced tea on a warm summer day.

Few things are nicer than a cool drink on a warm summer day. Just sitting and being contemplative on your porch can be a good way to relax and reconnect with the world around you. Look at the grass. Appreciate the flowers. Wave to your neighbors. Enjoy the cool drink and the warm sunshine, and then get back to your hectic day.

  • Find a moment or an hour to escape and just be.

Regardless of your particular pleasure, it’s vital to escape from your worries every now and then and just be. You don’t even have to enjoy yourself, although an escape from worries may be enjoyment enough. Just take a break from worrying and stressing, and stop and smell the roses. You’ll find your divorce a lot more tolerable, and in time, all the stress will fade.

Making Tough Decisions about Your Living Arrangements

Divorce changes lives. I read an article in the Washington Post the other day about a woman “Squeaking by on $300,000”. The Post meant the article to be ironic, and most of us would have a difficult time sympathizing with a woman whose income is $300,000 a year, but her story is just a divorce story on a bigger scale.

Housing. Housing is one of the biggest adjustments that most couples have to make post-divorce. First of all, even if you keep the house, only one spouse can live in it. The other spouse automatically has to find someplace else to live. Woe be it to you if you’re the unlucky spouse. Or is it such a bad thing?

Even if you are the lucky party that gets to keep the house, you might not be as lucky as you think. Most couples buy houses based on a two-income family. After a divorce, you’ve got one income, and you’ll find that income doesn’t stretch as far as it used to. With a single income, your house may be a struggle or even impossible to maintain.

Take a realistic look at your living situation. How much is your mortgage? How much are your utilities? Even if you think you can squeak by in your home, you need to make sure you build room into your budget for things like unexpected repairs and expenses. And you need to make sure you’re still contributing to retirement savings, savings for college for the kids – savings is one of the first things to go in a single-income family trying to maintain an expensive way of life.

It’s a hard decision to make, but if you’re living too close to the financial edge in your house, you should be prepared to downgrade. There’s nothing wrong with finding a smaller place to live, or temporarily renting an apartment while you get settled into newly divorced life. Smaller spaces require less in the way of utilities, and don’t seem quite so lonely to the newly-divorced.

Don’t “squeak” by on your newly-divorced income. Find a living situation in which you can live a comfortable existence – even thrive. Change is difficult, but it can also be liberating. Don’t hang onto something you can’t afford – be ready to move on when the opportunity arises.

Divorce Hurts Everyone.

I just came across this surprising article about actor Bill Murray . I will always remember Bill Murray as the bumbling, hapless groundskeeper in Caddy Shack. Mr. Murray, however, has come a long way. Bill Murray received critical acclaim for his acting skills in movies like “Lost in Translation,” “Broken Flowers,” and “Groundhog Day.” The financial success, of course, accompanied his rising star. Plus, he was married to a wife he loved for 11 years, quite an accomplishment in Hollywood.

Then, the bottom fell out of his life. His wife, Jennifer, unexpectedly filed for divorce in May. She accused him of abuse and addiction. You would think that someone who had so much going for him could handle a divorce.

Not so.

Mr. Murray said “I was dead. Broken.”

“It’s like your faith in people is destroyed because the person you trusted the most you can no longer trust at all.”

No one, and I mean no one who is human, has an easy time going through a divorce. It will hurt. You will lose sleep. You may feel “dead, broken.”

To help lessen the pain, you must first admit that it’s there. Don’t run from the pain – admit it’s there and accept that it will be there for a while. Then, find others who are also hurting like you are and talk to them. And remember, as the Bible says, “This too shall pass.”

Proper Planning Helps in a Divorce

It’s a fact: deciding to divorce is an emotional process. While you can’t help the way you feel, you can control the way you act. So when considering a divorce, use proper financial planning to help ease the pain.

A recent MSN article discussed proper financial planning for a divorce. The article quoted a statistic that I found scary – most women will see their standard of living drop by 27% after a divorce. That’s a really big adjustment, and I have seen this in my practice as well.

The best way to counter this drop is to plan for the divorce before you file. You may not want to. Maybe you found the scumbag cheating and you just want out. Well, I don’t blame you, but objectively speaking, you need to go slowly and plan your exit.

The advice may seem obvious after the fact, but it’s sometimes hard to think straight with all the conflicting emotions rolling around in you.

  1. Don’t Blab – especially if you are a non-working spouse. The fact that you don’t work will give your spouse leverage over you in a divorce. Your planning is not to hurt your spouse, it’s to even the playing field. If you blab about seeing an attorney or filing for divorce, your spouse may take action to keep that leverage over you.
  2. Get a lawyer – it is truly almost impossible to do a divorce on your own. You will need help. Legal Aid may help with some issues, but they won’t do everything. I have seen people come in who paid $100 for an online Divorce Kit only to learn that it didn’t work. For just a little more, the client could have receive advice from a person, not a website.
  3. Consider a Separate Account – I almost hate to say this one, but I have to. It sounds slimy. The thing to understand is that you are not “stealing” from your spouse (assuming you have community property). You are going to tell your spouse about this during the divorce and this money will be considered when the property is settled. But you need to make sure you have control of enough cash to make it if your spouse refuses to help pay the bills.
  4. Copy Documents – copy everything that describes what you own: bank statements, car notes, property descriptions, everything. This will save you time and money when you do file for divorce.
  5. Get Ready to Work – if you haven’t been working, you should prepare to reenter the workforce unless you have very young children.

As always, different states have different laws, so hire an attorney before you start moving money around to be sure you can do so.

How NOT to Handle Your Divorce

There is a right way and a wrong way to go through a divorce. I prefer the “Divorce Done Right” way. That’s what we practice here at the Gallagher Law Firm. But some people just don’t get it. The following is an article I recently sent to my email list. It’s a good example of what NOT to do in your divorce.

It seems a Broadway mogul and his wife were going through a bitter divorce. Then his wife decided to go on YouTube and post a video where she reveals intimate details about their personal life. These details, of course, were not flattering to the mogul or his family.

The problem is the wife was trying to get a Judge to throw out a prenup agreement she had signed. And, of course, the mogul found out about the YouTube video. When the Judge learned about the video, he honored the prenup and the wife received a pittance.

There are two lessons here. The basic lesson is the same thing we teach our kids: if you post something online, it will become public. There is NO ANNONIMITY, so watch what you do online.

The deeper lesson is one I hope I teach my clients: being nastyrarely gets you what you want. Divorce is a painful, expensive process to get through as quickly and cheaply as possible. Divorce is not a weapon to use to hurt someone you hate.

I am sure the wife felt a sense of revenge when she made and posted the video. Now she has been publicly embarrassed on CNN and lostmillions of dollars on top of that. Not a good trade if you ask me.

I hope this email helps you with your divorce, and helps you do it The Right Way.

Ricky Gallagher


P.S. If you want to read the whole article, go to