Terrific Resource about Divorce

Recently I was sent a copy of Julian Block’s Tax Tips for Marriage and Divorce. I highly recommend this book! It contains information your attorney or mediator may not know and helps you navigate all of the complicated tax issues surrounding property settlements, alimony, how to file taxes (jointly, separately, etc), whether legal fees are deductible, taxes on sale of your home, taxes on Social Security, dependency exemptions, and much more. For example, if you obtain an annulment, you need to go back and amend all tax returns from your marriage because an annulment makes it legally as if the marriage never happened, thus you were never entitled to file jointly. I’ve never heard an attorney apprise a client of this fact.

Block is a well-respected tax attorney and his advice is clear, easy to understand, and on point. This is a book everyone who is dealing with divorce needs.

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Divorce and Gen X

A recent story in the Wall Street Post analyzes divorce for Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1980). This is the generation that grew up with divorce–they were raised when divorce rates were sky rocketing (I am a Gen Xer, but my parents did not divorce). I found the piece interesting because the author’s point of view was shock and surprise about divorce for this group. She grew up in a divorced home and knew how hard it was and so never wanted that for her own children. While I understand her feelings, I think she fails to consider what studies show us about children of divorce. Children from divorced parents tend to have double the rate of divorce as other children. Divorce begets divorce. Unfortunately it seems that if you do not have the model of a healthy marriage when you are a child, it makes it much harder for you to have a healthy marriage yourself.

That being said, I do not agree with parents who stay together just for the children. Yes, it works in some instances, but if you have a volatile marriage that is filled with anger, violence, emotional abuse, and other behavior that children observe, living in such a home is also damaging. Having represented children of divorce as a Law Guardian, I firmly believe it is better for a child to have two safe, secure, emotionally healthy homes than one severely dysfuctional and emotionally dangerous one.

To get back to the question at hand then, how do we help children of divorce learn what a healthy marriage is? If they can’t learn in their own homes, how do we teach them? I think it’s essential for children of divorce to get some therapy to help them deal with the home situation. If children can eventually come to terms with their home situation, they may not seek to have those needs filled elsewhere, which can lead to unhealthy relationships. I also think it is imperative for parents to talk about what a healthy relationship is like (assuming they can!). Expose your kids to people in long-term marriages and ask them to talk to your kids about how to make it work. Pre-marital counseling is very useful for couples who have divorced parents, but often unhealthy patterns have developed by the time you get to counseling.

Divorce need not be inevitable for kids of divorced parents and Gen X needs to think about how they can keep divorce from spreading to the next generation.

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Keeping Summer Vacation Fun in a Divorced Family

photo courtesy of federico stevanin

Kids wait all year for summer vacation.  But when parents are divorced or separated, summer vacation becomes more complicated.  Kids look forward to long days with their friends doing nothing.  When they have a parenting schedule to live with, summer loses some of its fun.  Your child needs to spend time with both parents – that’s a given.  So how do you keep the parenting schedule from messing up your child’s summer dreams?

Plan around it. If you and your child dream of lazy days at the beach or crazy afternoons at an amusement park, plan your family’s schedule around the parenting schedule.  Try to work, clean the house, or do volunteer work while your child is with the other parent.  Save the big events for days when your child is with you.  If you have children and step children with conflicting schedules, talk with both sets of parents and look for a way to make adjustments so that you can all have family time together once in a while.

Welcome friends. One of the biggest concerns kids have about schedule is not being able to see their friends.  Make it clear friends are welcome at your home anytime.  If you’re the non-custodial parent, go the extra step and offer to drive the friends (who probably live near your child’s other home) to your home.

Make other plans. Whether you’re the custodial or non-custodial parent, it’s impossible to be with your child the entire time he or she is at your house.  Look for alternatives that will keep your child happy and occupied while you’re busy.  Look for a class or day camp that ties into his or her interests – zoo camp, art camp, soccer camp – the choices are huge.  Planning this activity will give your child something to do and will ease any guilt you might feel (you shouldn’t!) about not being completely available.

Think of yourself. Be sure to plan some adult fun for the days your child is away.  You’re supposed to enjoy the summer too and those days on your own are the perfect times to explore new places, meet people, and expand your own horizons.

Remember what it’s like to be a kid. There were plenty of times when your idea of a good time was sleeping till noon, spending 4 hours in front of the tv, or plugging yourself into a video game.  The same probably holds true for your child.  Let him or her have time to just veg.  You don’t need to plan excursions and events every time your child is at your home.  Let there be time for just being a kid.

Relax. Stop pressuring yourself to create the perfect summer for your child.  If you look back you probably will find that your favorite summer memories are of small, everyday things.  You’re not a cruise director; you’re a parent.  There’s a lot to be said for quiet dinners on the porch, picnics in the backyard, ice cream cones on a hot night, and fun in the sprinkler together.

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The Seven-Year Itch Really Does End Marriages

A new report from the Census department shows that while divorces are actually declining in the U.S. at long last, people who reach the 7th year of marriage have a 50/50 chance that this will be the year that ends their marriage. People tend to separate at this milestone and divorce a year later.  Marriages that make it through this time period tend to last.

That ties into what I saw when I was practicing matrimonial law. Nearly all of my clients had been married less than 8 or 9 years.

The report also said that the decline in the divorce is linked to the fact that people are waiting longer to get married. Many couples cohabitate first and the average age at first marriage is increasing. People are finishing their educations, getting jobs, and testing out the relationship waters before taking the plunge into marriage, and it’s working.

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Divorce and the Adopted Child

As if divorce isn’t hard enough, it can be even more complicated when you are trying to work out custody of an adopted child. Adoption often makes the situation emotionally more difficult for the child, and may make you concerned about what your rights are.

Legal Rights

If you and your spouse adopted your child together, or if one of you did a step-parent adoption, you may be wondering how the adoption impacts custody. Technically, it doesn’t. If you are both legal parents, you both have equal rights in the eyes of the court. If one of you is also a biological parent though, there’s a good chance the court will take that fact into consideration when making a decision. It’s unlikely a court would award custody to a step-dad who recently adopted the child over her bio mom, however it is possible because the decision is always made based on what is in the best interests of the child. If the bio mom is shown to be a poor parent, custody could certainly be given to the adoptive father.

Attachment Issues and Divorce

If your child is one of the many adopted children who has dealt with attachment issues, you may find divorce to be a very difficult time for him. He may have spent years coming to grips with the adoption itself and the loss of his biological family. Now he has to deal with another loss.

Having his family split up can cause an adopted child to regress and re-experience the feelings of loss and grief that were related to the adoption. The upset of the divorce may cause him to act out in ways you have not seen in years. Keep in mind that ALL children of divorce deal with anger, loss, sadness, and confusion. Your child’s reaction may be compounded by attachment issues, but his reaction is likely not outside normal boundaries.

Therapy is almost always a good idea for children who are going through a divorce, and this is even more the case for adopted children in a divorce. A good therapist can help your child work through his emotions and find coping strategies for the situations he experiences.

Reassuring Your Child

If you and your spouse can talk to your child together about the divorce, you will be able to set the tone for her. Tell her how much you both love her and explain that the divorce cannot change that. Talk about how you are going to work together and still be her parents. Yes, you will live in separate homes, but you will still always be a family. Make it very clear to her that the parent moving out is not deserting her or moving out of her life. Adopted children often carry a deep fear that their adoptive parents will one day give them up just as their biological parents did. Help her understand that that will never happen.

Advice for Bio Moms

The best thing you can do for your child is to work together cooperatively as parenting partners. It does not matter if you are the bio mom and your spouse adopted her – in your child’s eyes you are both her parents and she needs you both. It can be hard as the bio mom to make room in your child’s life after divorce for a man whom you see as having hurt you. You might think you and your child are just better off without him. However, when you agreed to the adoption, you made him your child’s parent forever. Divorce does not change that. You asked your child to accept him as a parent. To try to change that for your child now would be very confusing and unfair.

You have to put aside your personal feelings for the other parent and find a way to work together so that your child can have two parents who are active, cooperative, and relatively pleasant to each other when it counts.

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