Divorce Fears

By Thea Cameron, Lawyer

Separation and Divorce: these words bring up feelings of pain, disappointment, fear, and uncertainty.   Are you worried about the way this will impact your children, and what the financial implications will be - How will my children cope? Can I afford to stay in the home?  This is normal.  You don’t want to be the next casualty of divorce.

I have seen firsthand many families destroyed by a messy divorce. It especially saddens me to see kids caught in the middle.

The good news is that there is a way for couples to “divorce with dignity”.   By using Collaborative Practice you will keep your personal life out of court.  How?  Simply put, everyone involved agrees to negotiate outside of court.  Family counsellors and financial specialists give you the tools to make lasting decisions unique to your family.  In this way, Collaborative Practice enables you to avoid the stress, expense, animosity and unpredictability of court.   The lawyers at Galbraith Family Law are trained in this process and are committed to helping you resolve your issues quickly, effectively and with the least amount of pain possible. We give you the information and support you need to find your way to a resolution.

Written by Thea Cameron, a lawyer at Galbraith Family Law. Here is Thea's profile. To book a consultation with Thea, please go to our website.


Reducing Family Conflict

 “We don’t agree on much, but we want to protect the kids”

By Toni Nieuwhof

Does this sound familiar?  Parental conflict in a family may be high whether you’re separating, living separate and apart under the same roof, or working through conflict as a married couple.  And it comes as no surprise to you that the emotional health and well-being of your children is affected by out-of-control conflict under any of the above scenarios. 

Depending on the personalities of you and your spouse, and the norms of the families you grew up in, it may be difficult to hold yourselves back from arguments- gone- bad – from mud-slinging, name-calling and other forms of verbal attack.  Both of you may have perfectly rational reasons for the positions you’re defending.  The problem is that as you battle it out, the children at are risk of being saddled with emotional harm that will impact their lives, now and even as adults.

How do you protect the kids when you’re in the middle of conflict with your spouse?  There is no one answer to this question, but you may find the following suggestions helpful;

1.  Make a mutual commitment to behavior change:

To make a commitment means that you both acknowledge the problem as being real.  No more denial or excuses.  You both commit to each other to protect the children.  As a sign of the level of your commitment to your kids, you may want to write out your agreement and your strategies, and date and sign it, to refer back to if and when the going gets tough.

2.  Get professional advice:

Often people resist the idea of having a marriage counsellor or other family professional involved in their personal affairs.  They see it as a sign of weakness or of mental health issues.  Let’s face it – human nature being what it is, and dysfunctional relationships surfacing in virtually every extended family – professionals who are trained to help people overcome emotional struggles and to diagnose unhealthy emotional responses and communication patterns can be extremely helpful.  The ability to seek help from someone who is specially trained, and to be teachable in the sense of applying what that professional teaches, is a life skill and an important strength.

3.  Agree to disagree – then get help:

There are some issues you may honestly disagree on, and in and of itself, having various viewpoints can be helpful.  When conflict leads us to refine a course of action and improve it, the conflict is proven to be positive. But the conflict process, if handled poorly, may be damaging to each other and the kids.  Perhaps you’ve reached an impasse on a financial matter or a behavior issue of a child.  If you cannot agree on the course of action and the conflict deteriorates into a yelling match, then recognize the issue.  It is okay to agree to disagree.  Focus on the ‘attacking’ the problem but not each other.  Seek out a third party whose opinion you both respect, and look for solutions with that person.   If you have to pay for an appointment with an advisor to help the two of you agree on a course of action, look at it as a wise investment.

4.  Physically separate the kids from the conflict:

If you find other measures haven’t worked to contain conflict and an argument is inevitable, at least be mindful of protecting the kids.  Mutually agree that you will keep your voices low (if you can manage this!) and go to another room.  Get a babysitter and take the dispute away from home. Go somewhere they cannot hear you.  Don’t assume kids are asleep when they are in bed.

5.  Continue to support each other in front of your kids

Research shows that children are better off with healthy relationships with, and respect for, both parents.  Anything you say that denigrates the other parent in front of your kids may negatively impact their relationship with that parent.  In extreme cases, it may cause the kids to turn against or reject the other parent. When you hurt the other parent, you are hurting your kids.  You have to ask yourself – do you want that?  If the answer is ‘yes’, then see number 2 above.

6.  Clear space in your life for problem-solving and self-care

People are only designed to carry a day’s worth of problems at a time.  If you can identify several problems needing your attention, then you’ll need to look at your calendar going forward to ensure you have time to deal with them.  Be sure to build in time to care for yourself as well. Take care of the three basics – diet, sleep and exercise.  It’s important to build a little bit of ‘awesome’ into your day, especially when you’re dealing with tough, emotional issues.  Make sure you have a few friends or family members who you can share your experiences with as you work to resolve the conflict.

Written by Toni Nieuwhof, a lawyer at Galbraith Family Law. Here is Toni's profile. To book a consultation with Toni, please go to our website. 

The Story Of Your Divorce: Blue Valentine

If you are separating or divorcing, you have a story to tell. It's a story that starts with happiness and hopefulness and ends in sadness and separation. 

When I separated, I wanted to tell my story but, frankly, it seemed nobody wanted to hear it. My friends and family felt awkward and uncomfortable yet I needed to tell it - over and over and over again. Nobody wants to hear a broken record so I guess I can't blame them. My point is I felt all alone with my story. 

As a divorce lawyer, I hear stories from my clients every day. 

Do you have a story about your separation and divorce? Maybe you have friends and family who will listen. Another great way to tell your story is to journal it. Write it out as many times as you want.

Of course, you don't want to get stuck in your story. Eventually you need to let it go. I remember one person who told me the story of their divorce. They were very passionate, full of anger and visibly in pain. What was remarkable is that their divorce had occurred over ten years ago. Clearly, they were stuck in the past. They had not let go. 

Maybe you can try creating a time line of your life, highlighting the major events or turning points. Try to understand your mistakes, and your spouse's mistakes, and then forgive both your spouse and yourself.  When you are ready, shred or burn those stories so you can put them behind you. 

I suggest you find a Family Coach to help you. These kind people have training in therapy with a focus on the impact of divorce. They will listen to your story and help you move through it. 

I watched this movie over the weekend. It is all about the telling of the story of divorce. It's kind of sad but it also reminded me that we all have stories. It is worth watching. I hope you will somehow feel you are not alone. 

New Wife and Ex Wife: A Complicated Relationship

All relationships are trying at times but perhaps one of the more difficult ones is between a "new wife" and the "ex wife". (Probably this is true for the "new husband" and "ex husband" too.)

Donna Ferber (pictured on the left) offers another great blog in which she explores this challenging relationship.

Donna writes: 

Judged as guilty before even tried, these women are pitted against each other by circumstance. Stereotypes abound; the first wife was a “crazy nagging bitch” and the second one “a cheap slut”!

Unfortunately, these stereo types often eclipse the potential for a positive relationship; these women are preprogrammed not to like each other by societal misconceptions. In truth, had these women met under different circumstances they might have been friends. 

Donna has it right. 

There is a natural inclination to think poorly of the new spouse by the former spouse and vice versa. In most cases, the dislike is petty and without merit. But, alas, emotions are without logic. Emotional responses to other people can overwhelm our logical side. Intellectually, we may want to judge the other person on their merits but our emotional side won't let it happen. 

Donna explores various reasons why the "ex" and the "next" may have challenges making their relationship work. 

Here is a surprising story about a woman who was accepting of her ex husband's new life partner. 

I once represented a woman whose husband had discovered that he was gay and left her for man. This other man was involved in the lives of their children yet my client was not at all bothered his new role. I asked her how it was that she was so accepting of this new relationship and person. Her response was interesting. She said something like "I am a woman. I can't compete with a man. It's apples and oranges. Now had he left me for another woman, I would have hated the bitch and wanted to scratch her eyes out!" 

Who knew? 

Relationships are complicated, surprising and challenging. 

If you are an "ex" or the "next" know that you are not alone in your struggle to maintain a positive relationship with the other. It's a challenge. 

If you are the one in the middle, understand that the relationship of the "ex" and the "next" is not an easy one for anyone. Don't fuel the fire. Just be understanding.

This too shall pass... hopefully. 

Joint Parenting - A Blog by Two Parents

I just stumbled upon a wonderful new blog jointly authored by two parents sharing joint custody of their children. It is honest, heartfelt, insightful and engaging. The authors are New Yorkers Magda Pecsenye and Douglas French. 

Their blog is called "When the Flame Goes Up" . 

Here is an excerpt from a blog posting by the father, Doug French, talking about the state his relationship with his now ex-wife and co-parent (and co-author) Magda Pecsenye. 

... I’m not in love with her anymore, and that ship has sunk.

I don’t say that lightly, because not being in love with the mother of my kids is a drag. Ever since I was a young adult, I had visualized a specific event in my head. It was to attend my youngest kid’s college graduation, look over at my wife, my life partner, plant a big kiss on her and say, “We did it.” We stayed together, we weathered the storms, and we did all we could to raise emotionally stable kids who can function in the adult world.

I spent a long time mourning what I perceived was the loss of that, but when you think about it, it’s still sort of partially possible. All that’s really missing is the kiss, the most expendable pigment in the painting.

Doug and Magda were interviewed by the Globe and Mail about their experience blogging together. It is worth a glance too. The comments are negative. I like the blog. I think it is helpful for someone who is trying to establish their own shared custody regime just to get a sense of the struggle; the ups and downs of co-parenting. 

I think the bottom line message from this couple is that when you go through a divorce and you have children, it's never completely over. You still have to parent together, so you might as well get on with it as best you can. I like it.

"It's Complicated" - An Interesting Divorce Movie

Meryl Streep, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin star in "It's Complicated". I thought it was a comedy but discovered it was much more.

Here is the trailer....


Meryl Streep's character is a middle-aged divorced woman who falls for her ex-husband, played by Alec Baldwin, ten years after having divorced him. She has three adult children who are caught in the middle, again. Steve Martin's character is recently divorced and pursues Meryl romantically. It sounds comical, and there were moments that made me laugh, but the profound moments outnumbered the giddy ones.

The lasting message I took from this movie is that sometimes you can't completely find closure after a divorce, even after ten years. Divorce is like a death in the family except you keep bumping into the other person, reminding you of the possibilities, the guilt and the consequences of the divorce on your kids. A negative feeling lingers on long after the dust has settled.

Although Alec Baldwin's character had an affair, Meryl Streep's character realized that she had made mistakes contributing to the end of their marriage too. Both characters regretted their mistakes, acknowledged their magnetic attraction to each other and their desire to make right those things that went wrong ten years earlier. It was poignant, thought provoking and interesting.

If you are looking for a laugh, don't watch this movie. If you are willing to look at the challenges of life after divorce with children, watch this movie. You will soon understand why it is called "It's Complicated."

Barrie Collaborative Lawyers Help Overcome Anger.

Anger. Have you ever felt so angry at your spouse you could just scream? I remember being so angry I just wantedAngry Women to kick the furniture or throw something at the wall. I was furious.

I bet everyone who has gone through a divorce has been overwhelmed by anger at one time or another. It's normal. Our heart pumps fast, our face turns red, and we just want to lash out.

If our email is open, we might just send an angry, spiteful email. I did it a few times, regretfully. It didn't help.

In a recent blog at Collaborative Practice Canada , R. G. Harvie makes reference to a recent presentation that explains the impact of anger on our choices.  He says:

At our recent IACP Conference, Dr. Jennifer Lerner has explained that anger has some interesting effects upon our decision making ability. According to Dr. Lerner:

"Anger has been shown to bias perceptions of risk, which can fundamentally shape leaders’ most critical decisions. In one early experiment, we found that individuals who felt angry tended to engage in riskier behaviors than did individuals in a neutral emotional state."

In other words, when we are angry, we tend to minimize the risks of our behavior than when we are not angry.

A therapist once told me that underlying anger is  "sadness" or "fear". If you are going through a divorce you probably feel sad or fear most of the time. It's no wonder you might express it through an angry outburst.

You might feel sad that your dreams of a Hollywood "happily-ever-after" marriage won't be a reality. Maybe you are fearful, not knowing how your divorce will affect your wallet or your relationship with your children. It's normal.

Have your children ever had a tantrum? I remember mine would become so outraged that they would throw their toys, growl like a dog and say the most unreasonable things. Well, as adults, we don't do much better when we are overwhelmed by our anger.

I had a client who had just been ordered to pay spousal support become so upset he said "Take me away, I will not pay! " He would rather have gone to jail than to give some money to his former wife. Boy, was he was angry.

Some traditional lawyers will ignore emotions. They tell their client to simply get over their anger or "park it". Others will take advantage of it. I heard a story of a California divorce lawyer who used to say to his scorned clients, "Don't worry. I will nail his lying lips to the wall!" Of course, his bill for trying to do so was many thousands of dollars and for what benefit? 

Collaborative lawyers neither ignore nor take advantage of their client's anger. We understand that strong emotions are normal and need to be understood.

The challenge is trying to drill down within ourselves to understand the core cause of our anger. That's almost impossible without professional help yet remarkably many folks refuse help.

Our car breaks down, we call the mechanic. Our light bulb won't turn on, we call an electrician. Yet, if our marriage ends resulting in an emotional melt down, many don't seek help.

Why?  Maybe they fear being labeled mentally unstable. The truth is that everyone who goes through a divorce goes through the same emotional stages. You aren't crazy and you could benefit from some help of a professional.

Divorce Coaches can help. They are specially trained therapists and counselors who understand the emotional stages of divorce and can help you understand the source of your anger. I encourage all my clients to work with a Divorce Coach so they can work through their anger outside of the negotiation process.

I want my clients to be at their best when they are negotiating. I want them to be able to find creative solutions that work for their whole family. I want them to work through their anger. I want them to work with a Divorce Coach.

I certainly don't want them throwing their toys and having a tantrum. They might damage my computer. So I get them a Divorce Coach.

Divorce Depression and Grief

I just read an amazing blog by "The Jolly Mama". It is an amazingly honest description of the emotional struggles of separation and divorce from someone going through it.

The title of her blog entry is "Kubler-Ross and My Life Lately" and here is a quote from it.

What does any of this have to do with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross? She is the psychologist who identified the seven stages of grief, and that is what I have been experiencing for the past year. I don't know if all of my emotions have necessarily been identical to the ones she classified. I've been so angry that I'm divorced. That I have to share my children, and I go days without them next to me. That I tried and tried and tried to be a cool wife and was always shut out. That what was lovely about me, my desire to be a helpmate, was rejected or looked upon with suspicion. So, this is not the life I wanted... but it is the life I have.

If you are struggling with depression or grieving the end of your marriage, take heart, you Depressed Blonde womanare not alone. Everyone who goes through a divorce experiences the same grief process. At Christmas and other special occasions, the pain of divorce can be worse.

I am a divorce lawyer yet when I went through my own divorce, it was devastating. I thought I would do okay being a divorce professional, yet I too went through the whole grieving process, just like everyone else. It was painful.

Pamela S. Wynn, a lawyer in Florida, writes a great blog  with useful advice on how to get through the depressive feelings divorcing people experience especially during the holiday season. She suggests (I'm summarizing) the following: 

  1. Be your own best friend.
  2. Focus on lifting the spirits of others.
  3. Integrate - don't isolate.
  4. Initiate new holiday traditions.  

I would add to Pamela's list.... "Find and work with a Divorce Coach".

They have special training on how to help you work through the emotional stages of divorce. In our area, we recommend Sue Cook or  Deborah Alton. They are both excellent divorce coaches.

Using a divorce coach does not mean you are suffering from a mental illness or that you are weak in some way. They will not engage you in therapy. They simply help you understand and move through the emotional stages of divorce more quickly. Time heals everything but who wants to wait around! Go see a divorce coach. I did.

Tearful Good-byes

IJustin and Helcin in Invermere shed a tear and held back a million of them. Have you ever had a moment like that?

Maybe it was when you dropped off your son or daughter to daycare for the first time... or said good-bye on the first day of school, trying your best to show a brave face... or the first weekend with your ex spouse....or maybe when you resisted giving them a kiss as they went off to the prom with a date...or when you said "good luck" as they boarded the airplane for an exchange or to head to university... or was it when they had their first sleep over at a friend's home... or went away to camp for the first time. I bet you've had more than a few of those moments.

It's a time of mixed emotions. Fear - that your little one will need you and you won't be there to help. Disappointment - knowing that they probably won't need you. Sadness - of the pending silence now that they won't be around. Pride - that you have done a good job and they are ready to be on their own.

I had one of those moments this past weekend when I dropped off my son and his girlfriend of five Justin as a baby. years at their newJustin as arbourist home thousands of miles away. My wife and I dropped them off at their new home near a ski resort in the Canadian Rockies where they will work and ski for the winter. He is 18 and she is 19 years old.

As you can see from these photos of him, he is no longer a baby.

On top of the normal feelings of a parent saying good-bye to their son, I had another layer of feelings because I am a divorced dad. I felt guilt that his mother wasn't there to say good-bye because we are now divorced. Guilt that he was the child of divorce. Guilt that I wasn't always with him when he was growing up because he was with his mother. I also felt pride that I spent every moment possible with him and his brothers since separation, making them my focus when they were in my care. I also felt good that I had provided him with an excellent role model as to a healthy, loving relationship with my new marriage. I felt happy that I had positively contributed to him becoming who he is today.

Frankly, I could not speak to my wife after we said good-bye to my son. The emotions were too overwhelming.

Eventually, I said to myself "I have a choice. I can focus on the negative emotions or the positive ones." I chose the positive ones. I chose to think about what a great guy my son had become.

Justin is...Justin and Helcin at wedding

1. Caring and sensitive. Justin feels everything deeply. He is the peace-maker in the family always striving to find a just solution and to bring his family and friends together. He has maintained a loving relationship with his girlfriend for over five years in spite of him being only 18 years old because he is so caring, understanding and sensitive. He has many great  male friends too because he is a great friend to them.

Justin is...spork

2. Resourceful. Let me share a story. On a week-long canoe camping trip , I forgot the cutlery. Justin was not discouraged. He simply got out his knife and whittled a spork (spoon fork) from wood for himself. He made the most out of with what he had around him. This is typical of Justin.

Justin is...

Justin violin3. Courageous. Whether mountain biking or snowboarding, Justin is always ready to push himself to great heights without being crazy or reckless. He was never afraid of challenges. He has played the violin since he was 5 years of age and never hesitated to perform for an audience. In fact, he played the violin at my wedding ceremony and at the open house of my new office. There is no fear in that boy.

Justin is... well.... he is all grown up now and I am so proud of him.

After focusing on the positives, I realized that Justin had turned out to be a great young man in spite of, or maybe, partly perhaps because of my divorce. Hmmmm.

If you are going through a divorce, remember to focus on the positive. Don't let the little voice of negativity get you down. Choose to be positive.Justin head skiing

I only shed a couple of tears when I said good-bye and I held back a million. Then I realized that this was a new beginning for my son and, frankly, a new beginning for me. It was a good thing. He will be fine... and so will I.

Is Your Divorce Driving You Crazy?

Are you going through a divorce? Do you sometimes feeling like you are losing your mind? Maybe you can't concentrate or you are constantly feeling like you are about to cry? Maybe you are drinking too much? Or working too hard? Or shopping too much? Maybe you have been willing to try anything to cope and now you worry you might have a problem... maybe even an addiction.

I remember when I went through my own divorce I felt all alone and  my whole world had been turned upside down. I was scared and sad and I am a divorce lawyer! I remember meeting with clients and struggling to keep myself from exploding in tears. To say the least, it was a tremendously stressful time. I thought I was going crazy.

It is normal to resort to unhealthy coping techniques when going through a divorce. Almost everyone does it at least once so don't beat yourself up. When you drink too much or shop too much or do some other behavior, it distracts you from the pain of your divorce. Nobody can blame you for slipping off the wagon once in a while. When it becomes an addiction, you have a bigger problem though. Either way, you need help and you need to develop healthy coping techniques.

If you fear that you have a addiction problem, Robert L. Mues has put together a list of links to 26 different assessment tools in his recent blog. Check it out! He lists assessment tools for depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, compulsive shopping and 22 other issues. They are all available on the internet and are a good start to dealing with any issues you might have in your life. Get professional help if you feel you may have an addiction. You can't deal with it alone. Start with your family doctor. You can't conquer addictions alone. Alcoholics Anonymous is classic example. They use peer support (meetings) and the buddy system to support those who want to kick their addiction. 

Maybe you don't have an addiction and you just are struggling through the normal emotions of your divorce. It's a difficult time for anyone.  We recommend to all of our clients they work with a Divorce Coach. It is normal to grieve the end of your marriage and a Divorce Coach will help you work through the normal emotions inherent to your divorce faster, so you can get on with your life.

Lawyers are not trained to help you work through the emotional journey. We want you to get the support you need so you can get through the emotional journey more quickly and efficiently. 

Your Divorce Coach will help you find healthy coping techniques that will work for you. Maybe it's getting exercise, eating good food, searching out support from friends and family, reading inspiring books, journaling or some other technique. Your Divorce Coach will give you ideas, homework and help you move though the emotional stages of divorce so you can get on with your life faster.

A Divorce Coach is not just if you are suffering from mental illness. That's a therapist. A Divorce
Coach is for anyone going through a divorce who is human and experiences emotions. Hmmmm Does that fit you? 

From a lawyer's point of view, I want all my clients to work with a Divorce Coach so that the emotions inherent to your divorce won't sidetrack the negotiations. I want you to have the best chance of negotiating an excellent settlement.

Your Divorce Coach will teach you the stages of divorce, ways to close the door on the past, how to cope with the transition, ways of communicating effectively with your spouse and help you look forward to a new life.

The bottom line: I have never had a client say they regret the money or time they spent with their Divorce Coach. Everyone has thanked me for the recommendation. Now, just take a deep breath and do it.