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Love, Divorce, and ‘Family’ Matters

200209831-001In the 21st century we like our families mixed. With the rise in divorce, it’s almost impossible for anyone to say they don’t have at least one step relation or acquaintance. This used to be a shameful topic because divorce used to be seen as a shameful act. But now marriage is seen as a romantic, heartfelt decision rather than a rational necessity, and there is (relatively) no shame in ending an unhappy marriage.

Yet after ending an unhappy marriage, you may be faced with the task of deciding who your family is. Does this signal the breakdown of the family as we know it, or the beginning of an evolved family structure?

21st Century Family

In 2010, the Pew Research Center uncovered that 42% of 2,691 surveyed adults had at least one step-relative in their family; of those 2,691, 30% had a step or half sibling, and 18% had a living stepparent. Welcome to the make up of almost every 21st century family, thanks to gender equality, changing morals, modernized divorce laws, and whatever else we can blame the high divorce rate on.

While 21st century families don’t quite look like The Jetsons, 21st century families do slightly resemble the Jetsons’ robot maid, Rosie. Like Rosie, 21st century families are made of different pieces fused together. In 21st century families, there are step-siblings, ex-stepparents, various “uncles” and “aunts” who aren’t related by blood or marriage, and ex-relations’ relations who need sentence-long introductions.

Yet somehow all these people can be easily defined as “family.” Family is usually defined as “a group of persons of common ancestry,” but there are many other definitions.

Are You My Family? includes groups who share the same home, share the same convictons and values, as well as various related organisms as part of the definition of “family.” This is because relationships and the semantics of those relationships are complicated. Once two people have become acquainted they cannot un-know each other. The result is one big, happy Frankenfamily.

Remember the old saying, “You can’t choose your family”? Well, consider that saying to be outdated. With in-laws and other “family” coming and going in and out of marriage, there is a choice. If you never really bonded, you can let an ex-in-law fall by the wayside; on the flip side, if you have a strong bond with a now-ex-in-law, you don’t necessarily have to let them go. Of course every family is different, and the decision to keep a certain “relative” around is up to the individual.

Is the Family Stronger?

The term “Frankenfamily” might not be very inspiring or reassuring, but it’s very possible the Frankenfamily is a much stronger unit than the family of old. The traditional perception of family chains a person to relationships with people they may not care for in the least. But the Frankenfamily is created upon much more stable ground since the person chooses and admits people into their family.

The Frankenfamily does not completely disband or destroy the traditional family, it just allows the family tree to be pruned. Who wants rotting branches on their family tree, anyway? Not I, that’s for sure.

Parenting Teens After Divorce, Step 2: Consistency

86540850Children are strange creatures that are made up of 50% you, 50% their other parent, and 100% themselves. They start out completely dependent on you for food, warmth, and comfort, and slowly begin moving farther and farther away. Then one day they magically turn into a teenager, on the cusp of autonomy but not quite there yet.

Teenagers may seem like an alien species, but parents just need to remember teenagers are still their children. Remember this throughout our discussion on parenting teens after divorce, because it will be your mental saving grace.

#2: You were, are, and will always be their parent.

Daddies and Mommies all over experience the day when their little angels no longer need them for survival. This day is seen as a blessing and curse because it means the parent can take a shower without worrying the child will find its own demise, but it also means the parent starts to question their role in the whole parent-child relationship.

Parents need to realize their role as parent will never change; it’s the parenting method that needs to change. For example, when your child was a toddler, parenting meant wiping their face and making sure they said please and thank you; now that your child is a teenager, parenting means guiding them to make good decisions and providing a stable environment.

Most people think a stable environment doesn’t really go in hand with a divorce, but can we please show you a few ways to make that a possibility?

How to Keep the Consistency

It’s true, divorce has a knack for uprooting a family. But ultimately it’s up to the parents to stabilize the family and structure the new family landscape. Divorce may physically change the family landscape, but the parents can level the ground so the children have a place to stand. Here’s how:

  • The rules your teen used to abide by during the marriage should be the rules your teen abides by after the marriage. Because your teen is a boundary tester (just like when they were in their terrible twos), it is your job to make them toe the line, because you are the parent. Married, divorced, separated, single, dating, alone and loving it, you are the parent.

  • Emphasize that the divorce doesn’t mean your teen no longer has parents. Mom and dad ended their marriage, but it doesn’t mean their parenting years are over. Parents aren’t just married people, they are people with children. Your teen may not have this straight in their head, but staying consistent with your parenting will clear that up.

  • Here is the best advice for the parents who feel guilty about putting their child through a divorce: The divorce was between you and your spouse, and the divorce can remain between you and your spouse as long as you maintain your role as parent.

Have you noticed the theme here? You are and will always be the parent. Just because you are divorced doesn’t make you any less of a parent or any less of an authority figure.

Can NC Manufacture “Healthy” Marriages

82770193There are many laws and bill in the works that would make it more difficult to get a divorce in various states. The most recent state to make motions to impose stricter divorce laws on their citizens is North Carolina. Senator Austin Allran of Hickory, North Carolina, and Senator Warren Daniel of Morganton, North Carolina are the main supporters of House Bill 518. HB 518 is also known by the monicker of The Healthy Marriage Act, which lends itself to some interesting arguments against the “Healthy” Marriage Act.

HB 518

HB 518 is some very interesting legislation that seems to be working from the wrong side of a healthy marriage. This bill proposes to make a divorcing couple observe a 2 year waiting period before any action to divorce can be taken.

The spouse instigating the divorce must file an intent to divorce with the court, and notify their not-too-soon-to-be-ex of the beginning of their 2 year waiting period. HB 518 graciously makes no demand upon the couple to live separate and apart for the 2 years; and wouldn’t you know, the provision allowing couples to have “isolated incidents of sexual intercourse” in the current divorce law would remain intact in HB 518.

However, the couple must complete a few courses during the waiting period. Firstly, the couple must complete an improving communication skills course, and a conflict-resolution course. These courses have no requirement concerning time of completion, or length of course. Additionally, the couple may complete the courses separately.

If the divorcing couple has children, then there is one more stipulation. The couple must complete a course at least 4 hours long about the impact of divorce on children.

Fostering “Healthy” Marriages?

The “Healthy” Marriage Act basically describes laughable attempts at patching up a marriage. Senators Allran and Daniel could have really benefited from the counsel of the twins from the Parent Trap. But alas, HB 518 is not some hare-brained scheme from a family frolic film; HB 518 is a real piece of legislation officials are currently considering.

I’m sure the intentions behind HB 518 are pure and from the goodness of the Senator’s hearts, but a bill that extends the waiting period so long, and allows cohabitation and even sexual relations is just too much to be believed. If the Senators wanted to make a dent in the high divorce rate and foster healthy marriages, they should put their efforts into the other end of a marriage: the beginning.

No one wants to pose restrictions on love, ideologically. But lets be adults and face the fact that marriage is regulated through bureaucracy and legislation. If we wanted to give starry-eyed lovers the best chance at marriage, we would pass laws imposing things like marriage counseling and conflict resolution courses on prospective newlyweds.

The Reality of Divorce Realtors

divorce realtorThe world of divorce has seen many changes. Firstly, the word divorce does not raise eyebrows in the general public anymore. Secondly, the law is (slowly) changing to create balanced, fair rulings. And thirdly, divorce has become a kind of specialty group, a niche. There are shows dedicated to divorce (some reality, some dramatic, comedic, and more); major news sources have whole sections dedicated to divorce; divorce party planning has become a viable business venture; and now, divorce realty is thing.

Divorce realty is a specialty of a few, and a mystery to most. The New York Times recently uncovered this new sector of realty, and we are very excited and intrigued. Vicki Stout and Bob Bailey-Lemansky are real estate agents for Keller Williams Suburban Realty of New Jersey who are proclaimed divorce specialists. Other local real estate divorce specialists, like Frances Katzen, Michael Shapot, Elayne Reimer, and Victoria Vinokur, also shared their experiences.

What could a real estate agent possibly specialize in divorce, you might ask? Well, they specialize in selling the homes of divorcees, of course.

Separate, but Still Equal

Divorce realty is more than calling both homeowners about scheduling viewings. Stout and Bailey-Lemansky are the first real estate divorce specialists in New Jersey, and so far that includes being well-versed about how divorce affects property ownership, the divorce process, and how to handle clients who might have, say, restraining orders in place.

In this light, a divorce realtor is much more complex than the simple job of realtor; divorce realtors have to prepare for different scenarios, play therapist and legal counselor, and find a way to make two magnets meet in the middle to agree.

No Passion, No Dice

In a job where you are literally stuck in the middle of a divorce all the time requires one thing: passion. Without a passion for being the no-win middle man, you cannot do your job and do it well. But Stout, Bailey-Lemansky, and the other divorce realtors are thriving, thanks to a few hard-learned tricks for their divorce realtor tool belt.

Divorce Realty Trick #1: Keep the divorce hush hush. Keeping the divorce on the down low is not out of shame or fear of offending buyers, it is out of respect for the sellers. The divorce realtors have noticed prospective buyers operating under the assumption that divorcing sellers are desperate to make a sale. The result: buyers lowball sellers, and no one is happy.

Divorce Realty Trick #2: Fill the void. When a couple is going through a divorce, their house probably reflects that. One side of the closet is probably empty, there are probably a few bare nails on the walls, and missing appliances or furnishings. Luckily, divorce realtors expect and prepare for these things. Divorce realtor Michael Shapot, for example, borrows used clothing from friends and family members to make sure a client’s house doesn’t betray the white elephant in the room (or house).

Divorce Realty Trick #3: Make the best of it with the clients. A divorce realtor is composed, prepared, and ready for clients who are going through a traumatic time. As such, divorce realtors are more than willing to work with clients who need maybe a little extra time and patience. Reimer, one realtor from the NY Times article, recounted divorcing clients who divided their living quarters so strictly that when showing the house, Reimer had to show the husband’s half of the house and then reschedule to show the wife’s half. The only advice divorce realtor’s have is to have patience with the divorcees.

SPLIT: How Kids Really Feel About Divorce

dv1940064Divorce is an event, a lifestyle, a “thing,” a freak occurrence, and/or a game-changer. No one is exactly sure what divorce is, but there is one thing we do know: It affects families in unique, very personal ways. But the divorce rate stays its course at a cool 50%, and affects more children as the population rises.

One filmmaker decided it was high time the children affected by divorce had complete control of the floor. Ellen Bruno, a San Francisco filmmaker and former international relief worker, raised money on Kickstarter to fund her latest documentary, “Split”. The documentary is scheduled to be released on June 8th later this year, with the  SPLIT website already collecting orders for the DVD.

Kids Run the Show

The SPLIT website displays a startling statistic: “Almost half the children in the U.S. will experience their parent’s separation before the age of 16 — more than any other county in the western world.” This little known fact is possibly what caused Bruno to create a documentary about divorce and include interviews only from children.

The opinions, stories, information, and advice in “Split” comes from children between the ages of 6 years old and 12 years old. In an interview conducted by Vicki Larson, Bruno divulged that she originally scheduled filmed interviews with 18 children. But through the course of several the interviews, Bruno said “it was clear within minutes that it would not be helpful to them to have this conversation, so we stopped.”

And so Bruno’s documentary became the musings and outlet of 12 children between the ages of 6 and 12 who had gone through a divorce.

No Minor Status, No Service

Most (if not all) documentaries include footage of a professional to provide viewers a credible source to learn from. But “Split” is one documentary that is completely “professional” free.

“Kids are wise and intuitive, and when given the space to share their experiences, they speak truth that is clear and profound,” says Bruno. “And kids listen to other kids, often far more attentively than they listen to adults.”

This is a novel, yet completely understandable stance to take when creating a documentary about how divorce affects children. The children who have gone through a divorce may not be certified, and may not have a diploma hanging on the wall of an office, but they certainly are experts of their own familial situation.

In watching the sneak peek videos, there is no need for the camera to swivel to a therapist, sitting behind a desk, explaining what the child means when she says, “It’s like something that you really love, like, breaks, and you can’t put it back together, kind of.”


But “Split” is not about doom, gloom, and the end of the world. On the contrary, “Split” is about children showing other children that life can, and does, get better. Bruno wanted this documentary, which is by, from, and for children, to balance the children’s realities with their expectations. Essentially, she wanted the documentary to commiserate and unite the children of divorce while simultaneously showing them the light at the end of the tunnel.

Bruno’s other motivation behind creating this documentary was to provide parents, therapists, and others a raw look at how children process divorce. Certainly, it’s a strange and looming topic for children so small, but it’s not insurmountable.

Getting a Divorce in a Covenant Marriage |

covenant marriage divorce

If you’ve never heard of a covenant marriage, or if you know very little about covenant marriage, it’s probably because it is only offered in 3 states. Covenant marriages are offered in Arkansas, Arizona, and Louisiana, but the concept of the covenant marriage has been around for quite some time.

What is a Covenant Marriage?

A covenant marriage is different from a “regular” marriage because the couples in covenant marriages essentially waive their rights to a no-fault divorce. Covenant marriages are said to be more binding than regular marriages because they are based on covenants, not contracts.

A covenant is a solemn, usually religious, agreement, whereas a contract is a legal agreement. Proponents of covenant marriages believe “regular” marriages are contract-based marriages, which do not hold marriage as sacred and permanent an institution. Due to the deep religious affiliation covenant marriages have, covenant marriages have certain laws imposed upon them that make it difficult to divorce.

Guidelines of a Covenant Marriage

A covenant marriage requires couples to attend premarital counseling, and to fill out special covenant marriage paperwork. During the premarital counseling sessions, the couple is advised of the severity of committing to a lifelong marriage, the legal restrictions on divorce, and how to deal with marital issues.

The prospective spouses then must file an intent to enter into a covenant marriage. The intent (or declaration) involves a few documents that demonstrate both parties’ willingness to enter into a covenant of marriage. All this paperwork includes disclaimers about the stipulations of a covenant marriage, like the difficulties of divorcing out of a covenant marriage and more.

Divorce in Covenant Marriages

The first step in seeking a divorce in a covenant marriage is to seek marriage counseling. The covenant both parties agreed to when they wedded includes a clause about always seeking counseling should issues arise.

There are stringent divorce grounds in a covenant marriage; but since only three states offer the covenant marriage option, here are the specific grounds:

Arkansas: There are 4 grounds for divorce.

  1. Adultery

  2. Conviction of a felony or serious crime

  3. Physical or sexual abuse of one of your children

  4. Living separate and apart for at least 2 years; living separate and apart for 2 years and 6 months, if there are children; or living separate and apart for at least 1 year if there has been a form of abuse

Arizona: There are 8 grounds for divorce.

  1. Adultery

  2. Abandonment for 1 year or more

  3. Imprisonment or death sentence due to conviction of a felony

  4. Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse

  5. Living separate and apart for 2 consecutive years

  6. Being legally separated for 1 year

  7. Substance and/or alcohol abuse

  8. Both spouses agree to the divorce

Louisiana: There are 5 grounds for divorce.

  1. Adultery

  2. Imprisonment or death sentence due to conviction of a felony

  3. Abandonment for 1 year or more

  4. Physical or sexual abuse

  5. Living separate and apart for 2 years; under legal separation, living separate and apart for 1 year, or 1 year and 6 months if there are children.

Post-Divorce Kid-Friendly Moving Tips

Divorce might as well be a synonym of the word “change,” because life is the never the same after divorce enters the picture. Conversations with your spouse aren’t the same after divorce is discussed, family outings don’t have the same cheery feel, and the wedding ring on your finger feels just a little too cold. But those feelings are nothing compared to the changes your family will have to face in the months and years to come.

One of the biggest changes for children is the new living arrangement. Undoubtedly, someone is moving out of the family home, which is stressful for children. But when the entire family is moving out of the family home, and moving to different places, the children are left reeling.

Walk in Their Size 4′s

A study published by the University of Virginia looked into the relationship between the frequency at which a person moved during childhood and the person’s life satisfaction as an adult. In 1994, the researchers interviewed 7,108 Americans between the ages 20 and 75 years-old about their childhood moves,personality types, and life satisfaction.

The researchers found people who moved less during childhood reported having more extroverted personalities and a higher satisfaction in life. People who moved more during childhood reported being more introverted and feeling less satisfaction in life.

But let’s take a little reality check: This study did not observe the children during childhood moves, and only asked participants to vaguely describe their life satisfaction. Additionally, there is no reported information about the participant’s upbringing or other childhood experiences.

Now Guide Their Size 4′s

Here’s the point we want to make: Divorce and the task of moving can be disastrous for a child, but don’t despair that you child will become a delinquent just because the family is moving. Just like everything else in life, there are good ways to handle a situation and not so productive or positive ways to handle a situation.

Many a parent is probably throwing their arms up in indignation, yelling “What else am I doing wrong now?!” Just bear with us, we are not trying to tell you that moving will cause your child irreparable damage. We are just saying it might be prudent to check in with your child about their feelings about moving; and by “might be” we mean “it is.”

Make Their Moving Frown Upside-Down

Here are a few tips to make moving less of a traumatic incident and more of an exciting event.

#1: Keep the communication lines free and clear. Communication is the most important element in a healthy relationship, and it is the best way to make sure your child have everything they need to be happy and healthy.  Take time out of each day to talk to your child about their take on moving. Let them speak freely about the anger, fear, excitement, or anxiety they feel, and try to leave your stress out of this moment.

Moving for divorcing parents is more of a necessity, and maybe even a welcome change. Just recognize moving does not mean the same things to your child, and let them be able to confide that in you without scolding or pressure to change their feelings.

#2: Inclusion is better than dictation. The family dynamic has changed, and now the physical family make-up is changing. For your, child this is an apocalypse; so seize the moment to create a new and improved family dynamic and make-up.

If the family used to be run just by mom and pop, then make this the the beginning of the era of inclusion. Let the kids have a say in where they live, how their room looks, and how to decorate the new house. It will reassure them the family is still theirs to be a part of.

#3: Give them closure. The physical act of moving is as simple as putting things in boxes and trucks, and transporting them to the new house. But moving involves memories, sentimentality, and the disruption of normalcy. For your children, they are leaving everything they know in the world for a foreign land.

To make the move more conclusive, we suggest these 2 things: 1) Wait to move until the end of the school year. Not only would the mid-year move affect their grades, but getting to know a new neighborhood, teacher, friends, and life style would be too much to handle at once. 2) Have a little farewell party or tour. Take you child to visit their old favorite places and friends. This will give the child a positive end to the move, and maybe even excite them for the new places and people they’ll love.

Fuzz Therapy for Divorce Healing

Not that anyone really needs a reminder of how much divorce impacts children, but it does. A lot. Even if you and your spouse have done everything to make the divorce easier on your child, divorce will have an impact on them in some way for some time. Thankfully there are ways to make it less awful, namely something I like to call Fuzz Therapy (as coined by the immortal Calvin and Hobbes cartoon).

Rosalind Sedacca, a Huffington Post regular, recently published an article about the healing relationship animals and humans tend to have, and how that relationship can help children cope with divorce. As if we needed another reason to love animals.

More Reasons to Love Animals

Not that animals can replace parents or human interactions, but animals provide a strange emotional stability for humans, even (or especially?) for small humans. One of the most distressing things for a child during the divorce process is no longer sleeping in the house with both parents. When it was one family in one house, the home was an impenetrable fortress; now that it’s sort-of one family in two houses, the home(s) is(are) vulnerable to intruders and the elements.

In Sedacca’s article, she cited the following 6 benefits an animal provides to a grieving child: Unconditional love, a confidant, security, bridge to adults, stress reduction, and a best friend.

However, these 6 elements can actually be lumped into 3 more succinct elements.

3 Reasons to Bring in Animal Backup

#1: An animal provides unconditional love, which is an umbrella for the best friend and confidant elements of friendship. If you are skeptical of that statement, just observe a child and a person walking a dog interact on the street. The child is drawn to the dog and wants nothing more than to pet it and be bosom buddies; this is because the animals will always love, play, and pay attention to the child (it also helps that the dog can’t tattle on the child).

#2: Pets love routines, pet love seeing their owner come home everyday, and pets love to be pet for hours at a time. At the same time, this enthusiasm for routine and companionship is comforting and healing to people big and small. A pet, and the routine they inadvertently create, shapes the environment into a secure home. Petting an animal is also scientifically proven to reduce stress and anxiety (more on than later).

#3: We’re not exactly sure what “Bridge to adults” means, but here’s our best crack at it: Divorce wrenches the family structure, thus confusing and worrying the child about the future of their family. Introducing a pet into the family structure might act like glue, binding and bonding the family to something new, in spite of the divorce.

Fuzz Therapy, It’s a Real Thing

Animal therapy has been part of the medical practice for about 150 years, and can be attributed to Florence Nightingale‘s influence. However, in 1980, the medical community thought it was time to make it an official medical practice, with research to back it up.

Humans and animals make each other healthy and happy, as discussed in an NPR segment that aired on March 5, 2013. Heart attack patients who own a pet lived longer than those without a pet. Horse-riding lessons are helping an autistic 9-year-old boy further develop his speech, social, and listening skills. Many hospitals now have animal ambassador programs, like UCLA’s People-Animal Connection (PAC), which has been running since 1994.

The connection formed between animal and owner is healing, comforting, and inspiring. Also, interacting with an animal (like petting an animal) increases oxytocin (the hormone that makes people feel happy, relaxed, and trusting) and reduces stress.

We know owning a dog isn’t always feasible, but even for busy apartment-dwellers, you can always adopt a cat or buy a hamster. In case you were wondering, we’re on the child’s side when they beg, “Please, please, please can we get a pet?!” And we put up a good argument too.

Why Separation Can Be A Terrible Idea

Why separation can be a terrible ideaAs a do-it-yourself divorce service, we often see individuals consider separation prior to filing because they feel that with time apart, dissolution may be avoidable. However, more often than not, the marriage ends anyway and the separation causes additional turmoil that can add years to the recovery process. While nothing is foolproof, here are some reasons why you may wish not to go down this path.

All Financial Bets Are Off

It’s not exactly a given that you’ll be able to catch your spouse hiding assets when they live under the same roof, but you have a much better chance of finding out about it than if they’re living in a separate location. Women especially should be on their guard if they choose to legally separate because it is during this time that many assets “disappear” in favor of the husband.

Changes In Circumstance Can Mean A Raw Deal For You

If you should decide to legally separate and something happens to your spouse — he loses his job, he undergoes a major medical event, etc. — then you could end up on the short end of a settlement. As long as your marriage is still in place, many states bind you to the circumstances and the decisions of your spouse. Under this setup, each day that you don’t file for divorce is a major risk.

Your Spouse May Make Any Divorce Action More Complex Than It Should Be

A divorce proceeding — even a properly filed DIY divorce — can hold you both in place and expedite the outcome of the litigation. When you choose to separate, you delay this action and give your spouse the freedom to move out-of-state or even to another country. When that happens, it can stall the divorce process for months, if not years.

Separation Can Impede Your Ability To Move On With Life

Perhaps the best reason to think twice about separation — especially for an extended period of time — is that it can create obstacles between you and a happy life. It’s difficult to find new relationships or make major life decisions that could improve your life for the better when you’re still tied to a relationship that isn’t getting any better.

In Summary

If the thought of separation should come to mind, first consider getting professional help. It’s easier to salvage something when you can confront it directly. Separation more or less delays that confrontation, and it can put both of you at greater risk.