Surviving The Holidays After Divorce

The holiday season is always a tough time during a divorce and for the first few years after. It serves as a reminder of happier family times, and also puts enormous stress on divorcing parents who feel pressure to maintain the status quo while their whole world may be falling apart. While there is no magical solution to cure the holiday blues, here are some tips to make the season a little bit easier:

1. Take care of yourself. You are no good to anyone else, including your children, if you let yourself get run down. Take time for yourself doing things you enjoy so that you can recharge your own battery and be better able to cope with the additional stress brought on at this time of year.

2. Create new traditions and rituals. While holding onto some old traditions is fine, create some new ones with your children and friends to mark a positive new beginning. Seek your children’s input on devising new rituals so they feel included in the plans.

3. Reassure your children that while things may be different, the holidays are still a special family time. Take the time to brainstorm with your children some new ideas for family traditions and holiday activities. Listen and support them.

4. Seek help from supportive family and friends. Going through a divorce is stressful enough and the holiday season will add to the stress. Surround yourself with a good support network and let them assist you.

5. Be realistic. Things will not be perfect and that is ok. Be gentle with yourself and it will be much easier.

6. Put your children first. If their holiday time is going to be split between both parents, do your best to ensure that they will have a positive experience in both homes. If you are feeling lonely while they are with their other parent, reach out to your friends, and do not tell this to your children. They should not have to feel guilty about spending time with each parent.

The holidays will undoubtedly be difficult, but find joy where you can and share it.

Alternatives To A Divorce War

Divorce rates are high, but divorce should always be the last option.  There are a number of options available other than full on divorce warfare which often benefits no one.   Here are some alternatives to consider before considering fighting it out in court.

  1. Marriage Counselling:  If both parties have a willingness to try to save the marriage, marriage counselling may be a viable option that can improve the relationship enough that the couple decides to take the word divorce off of the table. Divorce should always be the last option and where children are affected, couples may feel that they owe it to their kids to at least try to work things out.
  2. Relationship Coaching:  This is an alternative to counselling where both parties work with a coach in a positive way to identify goals for the relationship, work on communication and discover paths to remove barriers that are causing problems.  It is client focused, and results oriented.  While counselling has more of a healing orientation,  coaching is more oriented towards action and moving forward.
  3. Mediation:  This involves the couple meeting with a neutral, third party mediator who assists with moving the negotiation forward .  Mediation can be used during a divorce in order to resolve the property, custody and support issues of the parties, or it can be used to resolve other disputes between the parties.  It is not binding, but it can be an effective, low cost alternative to going to court, particularly if the couple is not far apart on their respective position on the issues.
  4. Arbitration:  Another non-court alternative for couples who have decided they want to separate or divorce is to hire a neutral third party who essentially acts as a private judge to make a binding decision with respect to such issues as property, custody and support.  Arbitration is more costly than mediation, but less costly than going to court.

Divorce is a major life decision with far reaching implications affecting your children, where you live, your financial well-being and your emotional well-being. It is important to thoughtfully consider all of the alternatives.

As The Seasons Change, So Do Our Relationships: How To Weatherproof Your Relationship

Just like with the seasons, change is inevitable.  For any relationship to last long-term, partners need to be adaptable and committed to adjusting to life’s changing seasons.  With the holidays coming next month, and the increased opportunity for family time, November is a great time to reflect on our relationships, and make sure we are adjusting with the times to weather the future together as a team.

Here are some tips on weatherproofing your relationship with your partner:

  1. Communication:  This is the number one thing that partners need to do well in order to have a healthy relationship.  We need to communicate our needs so that our partner understands what we need from the relationship.  No one is a mind reader.  Uncommunicated needs lead to resentments which undermine healthy relationships.
  2. Quality and Quantity of Time:  It goes almost without saying that spending quality time together is important.  Date nights and intimacy are very important to a healthy relationship. Quantity of time matters though too.  Absence doesn’t really make the heart grow fonder, it makes it grow more distant.  Just spending time in the same room, even if one of you is reading and one of you is doing a hobby, can still help strengthen your connection. The best relationships are ones where partners know they can just be together and they don’t have to be talking, as the silence isn’t uncomfortable.
  3. Reciprocity:  Both partners need to be committed to working on the relationship and helping it grow with the times.  If only one person is putting in the effort, it won’t work.
  4. Agreement on key issues including money, parenting and sex:  If a couple has very divergent viewpoints on these three issues, there are going to be significant problems in the relationship.  There needs to be lots of communication on these topics and a commitment to always keeping the communication channels open as changes in life affect these three areas.
  5. Respect:  If there is mutual respect in a relationship, it has a much better chance of weathering the storms.

We can’t stop change from happening, but with a little time and commitment, we can weatherproof our lives from the changing seasons.

5 Ways To Make Online Dating Work For You

Online dating has permanently changed how we find love in the modern world.  It has given rise to a buffet of potential matches, and all we have to do is keep returning to the buffet and sampling other dishes.  It has given rise to multi-dating, polyamorous love, and an ever increasing hook-up culture.  Some say it has destroyed romance,  and long-term relationships, and in many ways it has devalued all of the participants who are often viewed as nothing special and easily replaceable.   With all of these challenges it can be easy to become jaded and discouraged, however, with the right outlook and approach online dating can be a fantastic way to meet new people and potentially find exactly what you are looking for.

Here are 5 ways to make online dating work for you:

  1. Be open minded:  The best approach to online dating is to have little or no expectations.  Maybe you will make a new friend, maybe you will find true love, or maybe you will just have a funny story to laugh about with your friends.  Just be open to the idea of meeting new and interesting people, and you won’t feel disappointed if you didn’t make a love connection.
  2. Don’t take anything personally: Like anywhere, the online dating world has its share of rude, ill-mannered and weird people.  Don’t take it personally if someone from online is rude or insulting to you.  It is a reflection on them, not you, and in no way should you let someone else’s rude behaviour cause you to feel bad about yourself.  You need to have a thick skin to successfully online date as the process itself devalues us all.
  3. Be positive:  Rather than assuming the worst about potential online suitors, assume the best.  Assume that they are genuine, sincere and interested in you and you will give off a positive energy that will attract positive people.
  4. Listen to your instincts:  If your gut is telling you that something doesn’t seem right about someone, listen to it.  While I recommend viewing people positively, you also need to use common sense and be smart about who you meet, and where or how you meet them.  Being positive doesn’t mean that you take risks with your safety or waste your time with someone who your instincts tell you is being less than honest.
  5. Be open to the idea that your Prince or Princess Charming may come in a package that looks different than the one you envisioned:  One of the biggest shortcomings of online dating is that you can’t tell from a photo or profile whether you will feel any chemistry with someone.  Sometimes the person who seems less than stellar on paper or a computer screen, can be charismatic and have an outstanding personality that attracts you when you meet in person.  Don’t be so rigid with your checklist of qualities your prospective date must have that you miss out on the opportunity to meet someone fantastic.

Online dating is here to stay so if you are single you might as well use it to your advantage. This simple approach will ensure that you have fun with it whether you meet the love of your life or not.

Can You Truly Be Friends With Someone You Have Never Met In Person?

In our world of social media, insta-stories, snapchat and all of the other mediums available, it is easy to connect with people all over the world.  This means that we can develop relationships with people who we have never met in person.  We can directly message them, follow their lives on social media, and possibly even take it to the next level and talk to them on Skype or FaceTime.  Yet if we never actually meet in person, can we really consider these people our friends?

In my personal experience, I have been fortunate to have developed a group of followers on social media who I interact with regularly.  In some cases I look forward to their posts, they tell me they look forward to mine, we comment on each other’s musings, and we feel like we have some sense of each other’s daily lives.  I feel like I relate to them because of the things they post, and I feel like we have some sort of connection.  Often they inspire me to do better, cheer me up,  and remind me of what truly matters.

On my own social media, I often post about what is going on in my private life which recently included a broken finger. surgery, flooding and a new office location.  My followers congratulated me on the positive, cheered me up over the negative and sometimes even made me laugh.  They reminded me that they cared, even if we have never met in person, and I felt some sense of support reading their empathetic comments.  In contrast, I have friends who I have known for years, who are not on social media, and who I haven’t had much contact with in the last couple of months, who know of none of these significant developments in my life.  They didn’t have an opportunity to offer support or encouragement because they were unaware of the events going on in my life.  Ironically, the latter group are people I definitely consider friends, whereas the former group, I question what category to put them into since I have never met them in person.  Is one group more my friends than the other?

Ultimately what I think it comes down to is how one defines a friend.  For me, a friend is anyone who I feel a connection with who brings something positive to my life, and with whom I enjoy having contact.  The form of contact doesn’t matter.  It can be online, or in person, however, I must confess that I can only feel a really strong connection with someone who I have met in person.  There is something deeper when you can look someone in the eye, feel their energy, observe their body language, hear the tone in their voice and sense their aura.  The only form of contact where this type of connection can be made is in person.

This brings me to one of the dangers of online connections.  In my view they aren’t enough.  If someone isolates themselves from connecting with people offline and only has virtual connections, they will be missing something in their lives. Virtual friendships can compliment real life friendships, but they cannot replace them. So, can you truly be friends with someone you have never met in person?  My answer is yes, but a virtual friendship is different than a friendship in the real world.

 

Knowledge Is Power

All too often people stay in bad relationships out of fear of the alternative.  Fear of not having enough money to live.  Fear of never finding love again.  Fear of having less time with their children.  Fear of the unknown.

Fear based decisions are never good ones.  Knowledge is power and while we never have a crystal ball, relationship decisions can be made a lot easier if we take the steps to gain knowledge to empower ourselves. This can be as simple as setting up a consultation with a family law lawyer to find out about your rights.

Many family lawyers offer free 30 minute consultations, but even if you have to pay for the consultation, it can be money well spent.  A consultation can clarify for you what you are likely to gain and lose both financially and with respect to your children, if you walk away from a relationship.  Acquiring knowledge can better help you make a decision about what makes the most sense for you.  The consultation is confidential, so your partner doesn’t even need to know that you spoke to a lawyer unless you want him or her to know.  Most importantly, a consultation will help alleviate your fears, put to bed any misinformation you have heard, and if you ultimately plan to leave, it can provide you with a valuable plan or roadmap to put you in the best position possible after separation.  In addition, a consultation doesn’t obligate you to do anything.  You are empowered by having the knowledge of your rights, but you don’t have to make any changes unless you choose to do so.

Divorce is one of life’s most stressful events, and part of what contributes to the stress in uncertainty.  This is what keeps so may people trapped in unhealthy relationships.  While a family lawyer can’t tell you whether you will find love again, (and chances are you probably will), a lawyer can answer many of the other questions surrounding the uncertainty of divorce so that you can empower yourself and live your best life.

Why Shared Parenting Should Be The Norm After Divorce

What two factors determine how well children fare after divorce?   Mom and Dad.  It seems like it should be a no brainer that having a good relationship with BOTH parents is critical to children’s well being.  Yet many judges still favour mothers in cases where custody is being ordered by the court.

A recent study by Linda Nielsen, a Professor of Adolescent and Educational Psychology at Wake Forest University, found that the effects of conflict between divorcing parents may have been exaggerated and that minimizing conflict may be less important than other factors when it comes to custody.  High conflict does not necessarily mean poor outcomes for children.  What does matter most for positive outcomes for children according to Nielsen’s study?  The quality of the parent-child relationship, with both the father and the mother, trumped everything else.

This provides a strong argument that shared custody should be the norm unless it is a situation involving abuse or neglect.  The love and support of both Mom and Dad is much more important to children’s well being.

Here are some tips for parents that make a shared custody arrangement easier on everyone:

  1.  Don’t talk about the other parent negatively to your child.  If you need to vent, find a friend, write in a journal, call a family member.  Don’t vent to your child.
  2. Be willing to put your child’s interest first by accepting that for certain life events. your child needs both his or her parents there, and you can tolerate the presence of your ex for a few hours at a graduation, an important game, a wedding and other important events in your child’s life.
  3. If your child is having difficulty with something in the other parent’s home, encourage your child to talk about it with the other parent.  Don’t put yourself in the middle of something that shouldn’t involve you.
  4. Don’t sweat the small stuff.  Let little things go and don’t make a big deal out of something that your ex did that in the bigger picture really isn’t that important.

Shared custody benefits children in many ways.  It’s about time it becomes the norm.

Is The Long-Term Monogamous Relationship Dead?

With high divorce rates, less people marrying and the easy access people have to meet others through the internet, one must wonder whether marriage and long-term monogamous relationships are becoming extinct. I sometimes wonder if by the time my children are 30 whether marrying or finding a life long partner will even be something that is considered important.

Let’s look at the reasons why people married historically. The biggest reason in the past was to create a family unit. Marriage meant a commitment which is something most people value in choosing someone with whom to have children. In 2017, however, many people don’t view marriage as necessary to show a commitment and the common law union has become more widespread. In addition, a small number of people believe that a commitment isn’t even necessary for the purposes of having children with someone. The high divorce rate, and the number of single parent households has also shown that a married couple is not necessary to raise happy, healthy children. Research has shown that children of divorce fare just fine if it is handled properly. For all of these reasons, marriage is no longer viewed as something necessary for the creation of a family unit.

Another reason for marriage in the past was for economic stability. In 2017, however, many two income households are struggling and marriage does not provide the same security it once did. Long-term marriages that break-up can be especially costly where spouses see their net worth cut in half after years of hard work and saving. More and more, people do not want to expose themselves to this risk so they don’t want to marry or re-marry in midlife. Some couples do stay together for financial reasons, often leading miserable lives, co-existing in the same home, but essentially leading separate lives.

Now let’s look at the modern day phenomena that work against marriage or a long-term monogamous relationships. With the invention of the internet and online dating, people have fast, discreet and easy access to a wide range of others looking for everything from marriage to a one night hook-up. Cheating has never been easier. Being a player, a serial dater, polyamorous or just simply content with casual relationships has also never been easier. It is easy to feel like you can always do better and are settling by just picking one person to spend the rest of your life with.

In 2017 we also live in a society that wants instant gratification. There isn’t value placed on working hard, paying dues, and putting others first in the me generation of today. Any long-term relationship is going to have its ups and downs. It will require some level of work to stand the test of time. People today want “good vibes only” and don’t want any negativity. They view relationships as something that should be easy and fun, and if this changes, they see it as time to move on. Commitment to someone isn’t valued the way that it once was.

Another factor working against long-term relationships is the rise of women in the workplace, earning their own money and not being financially dependent on a man. Many divorces these days are initiated by women who are unhappy in the marriage and know that they have the means to stand on their own feet. They don’t need to tolerate a bad marriage the way prior generations of women did because they are not financially dependent on their spouses.

There is no doubt that the decline of marriage and long-term unions has created problems and a cultural change. It isn’t all bad news though. In prior generations, many people led miserable lives feeling stuck in a marriage that brought them down and did not meet any of their needs. People also stayed in abusive or neglectful relationships too. Nowadays, most people realize they have options and choices to do what is best for them. Ultimately, we all deserve happiness, and there has never been a time of more options and choices. We must be careful though, as Margaret Atwood, put it, “We are a society dying…..of too much choice.”

5 Tips To Help You Refresh and Renew Your Relationship This Fall

September is a month of new beginnings and renewal. This feeling of a fresh start in September stems from our childhood days of heading back to school. While we are feeling committed to making positive changes in our life, what better time could there be to take a serious look at our relationship with our partner and to re-commit to making our relationship healthier and stronger?

In an era where over half of all marriages are ending in a divorce, it is time we look at what we can do to make a relationship work, rather than end. Here are some ideas to help you renew your relationship:

1.  Commit and Re-commit: A successful long-term relationship requires both parties to make it a priority, even when you have children. Be careful not to be so busy putting your children first all the time that you completely neglect your partner. It is easy to lose yourself in your role as a parent and forget what it is like to be a man or woman outside of being a parent. It is important to make time for each other without the children to connect emotionally, physically and spiritually.

2.  Take Ownership of Your Role in Things: In times of challenge or difficulty it is easy to resort to the blame game of blaming the other person and taking no ownership of your own role in things. This is never helpful. Instead, ask yourself, how am I contributing to this issue and what can I change in my behaviour that will facilitate a resolution of the problem? 

3,  Show Appreciation Regularly: We all like to be appreciated and all too often we feel taken for granted. Do your best to consistently acknowledge how much you appreciate your partner and what he or she does.

4.  Be Creative: Schedule date nights no matter how busy you are and come up with creative ways to be spontaneous and spend time together. Absence does not make the heart grow fonder, connection does.

5.  Communication: No relationship is successful without good communication. If this has been lacking in your relationship, re-commit to sharing your feelings with your partner more regularly. No one is a mind reader, and many misunderstandings occur when we expect our partner to do or say things and they don’t.

Relationships aren’t always easy and there is no magic solution to staying together. Regularly practising these ideas won’t save a bad relationship, but they will help a mediocre one improve.

 

Love And Money: Are You A Gold-Digger If You Say Money Matters?

As a family lawyer, the two biggest concerns most clients have is whether they will have enough money and whether they will ever find love again.  Love and money are at the core of so much of our lives.  When couples divorce, money is often a major issue.  It is also at the centre of many fights in a marriage.  If money is such an important matter in marriage and divorce, one wonders whether it is also important when couples are only in the dating stage.  My answer to this question, is YES money does matter when you are dating.

In an ideal world money wouldn’t matter at all. If we didn’t need money or there was lots of it to go around, dating, marriage, and divorce would be very different.  Realistically though money is a scarce resource, some people have more, some people want more, and some people will do just about anything to get their hands on it.

Money definitely complicates relationships. In modern dating who pays for the date has become much more complex than it used to be in the old days where the man always paid.  Now who pays is a complicated affair that can result in resentment, bad impressions and the end of a potential romance. I have female friends who still expect the man to always pay, and if he doesn’t it’s a deal breaker.  Conversely, I have male friends who think it should be 50/50, and if the woman feels differently, it is a deal breaker for him.  There are no clear cut rules on this and everyone has an opinion.

Who pays for the first date may not be as big an issue as who pays for multiple dates, activities and potentially holidays as a couple moves into the relationship stage.  If both parties have similar incomes or a similar net worth it may be more straightforward,  If one party earns substantially more than the other or has a much higher net worth, should this person pay more often? Does it matter if this person is male or female? If the party with more money likes to enjoy a higher lifestyle, does he or she have to forego dining at fine restaurants and going on luxurious vacations with the other party unless he or she is willing to pay the full tab?  When you are in your twenties and haven’t accumulated much wealth yet, these questions aren’t as much of an issue.  However, when you are in midlife or older, they can be very real issues which is why I say that money DOES matter in a relationship.

There are some people, though, that place too much emphasis on money.  We are all aware of gold-diggers whose main requirement in a relationship is that their partner has money and will financially take care of him or her.  There are many people out there who are willing to settle into a bad or loveless relationship just because the other person has money.  If someone is wealthy, it is amazing how often they are deemed more attractive despite how they look, act or treat their partner.  As a woman, I loathe to say this, but the reality is that women are more often guilty of doing this than men.  I have been advised countless times to give a wealthy man a chance even if I am not attracted to him.  While I think money is a realistic factor in a relationship, it is definitely not the most important or decisive factor.  I think that men or women who place too much importance on money will inevitably end up in an unhappy relationship.

The rise of the gold-digger has also given rise to marriage and cohabitation agreements. As a family lawyer, I recommend these to clients who have assets to protect, but it certainly can take the romance out of a relationship to be discussing what should happen if the relationship ends.  It can also give rise to resentment and power imbalances. As a society though, we have reached a point where people are more willing to risk their heart being broken than they are willing to risk losing money if a relationship goes bad.

With the importance placed on money and protecting our assets, I can’t help but feel that we are losing out on romance. 

As relationships and marriage take on more of a business-like approach, we are losing some of our connection with our partner by keeping a wall in place to protect ourselves. I know these are strange words coming from a lawyer.  It is a reflection of the modern world which leads me back to the question asked in the title to this blog: are you a gold-digger if you say money matters?  My answer:  NO!

If you would like some legal advice on how to protect yourself financially, contact me at leanne@leannetownsend.ca for a consultation.