How to Help Kids Manage the Stress of Divorce

The following is a guest post by Erin Kassenbaum.

If stress burned calories, many of us would weigh 90 pounds, right? Work, family and the never-ending “to-do” list all create significant stress on our lives. Most of us adults can effectively manage our stress. But what about children, especially kids whose parents are going through a divorce?

Understandably, divorce causes a great deal of stress for children. They are full of fear over the changes they are experiencing, and often worry they are the reason their parents are getting divorced. One of my main goals when working with clients is helping them help their kids manage stress during and after divorce. Children generally respond to stress in one of the following three ways: positive, tolerable, or toxic.

Positive stress response is a healthy part of development where kids learn to cope. Children experience positive stress when getting a shot or starting school after summer vacation. Tolerable stress is more serious and longer lasting, but manageable. This is often the type of stress children experience when their parents get divorced. The good news is both types of stress can be negated by positive, loving relationships with parents and other caregivers who can help them adapt and cope with stress.

However, if parents are so high-conflict they are not able to develop a cooperative co-parenting or parallel-parenting relationship, kids are at risk for developing a toxic stress response. Toxic stress puts children in a constant state of fight-or-flight mode, affecting their brain development, suppressing their immune system and causing learning and memory problems. As adults, children who experience toxic stress are at risk of developing heart disease, substance abuse problems and depression. Obviously, we need to help kids manage stress so that it doesn’t become toxic.

This is one reason it’s so important for parents to focus on developing a manageable co-parenting or parallel-parenting relationship with one another. In addition, parents can help their kids manage stress by:

  • Understanding it’s normal for kids to be stressed during the divorce process. Don’t get stressed because the kids are stressed!
  • Validating the kids’ feelings about the divorce. Using phrases such as “I know you feel sad,” or, “I understand you miss seeing your mom everyday like you used to.” Kids need to hear that it’s okay to feel how they feel.
  • Encouraging honesty. It’s important kids know they can always be honest with both parents.
  • Asking the kids what they think would make them feel better. Sometimes the only answer may be that mom and dad get back together and that’s okay. Try to offer simple ideas like taking a walk, watching a movie together or calling the other parent.
  • Keeping a regular routine, especially for younger children. Routine and consistency give kids tremendous security and comfort.
  • Repeatedly reassuring them they are not the cause of the divorce and that both parents will always love them, no matter what.

How Divorcing Parents Can Reduce Conflict Over Children

Written by Erin Kassebaum/mediator

A while ago I was having a relaxing evening at home with my family when I received nasty a text message from a friend about a misunderstanding between us. I felt attacked, angry, and upset. I spent the next few hours sending messages back and forth with my friend. At the end of the night, after my kids were in bed, I realized that I had missed the entire evening with them because I was distracted by the fight with my friend.

Fortunately, I was able to work it out with my friend and we actually grew closer as a result of the misunderstanding between us. So I guess the evening wasn’t a total waste. But what if we hadn’t worked it out, and our conflict was still unresolved? Or, even worse, what if I was still spending a lot of time and energy trying to find a resolution, but never getting anywhere? I would be missing a lot of fun evenings with my kids, and spending much of my time feeling frustrated, angry and hurt. This describes the unfortunate reality for many divorced parents.

While most divorcing parents feel mutual anger, distrust, and hostility around the time of their divorce, their negative feelings typically diminish over time and they are able to develop a cooperative and flexible co-parenting relationship (Haddad, Phillips, & Bone, 2016). However, about 25% of divorced parents are considered high-conflict (Spillane-Grieco, 2000). High-conflict parents are typically well adjusted, caring parents individually, but their relationship with one another is obsessive and uncontrollable, resulting in frequent, severe, unresolved conflict between them (Spillane-Grieco, 2000).

The driving force between high-conflict parents is their perception that they have no control over their relationship with the other parent, and the other parent’s relationship with their children (Malcore, Windell, Seyuin, & Hill, 2010).

This perceived lack of control, combined with the intense love both parents feel for their children, is a perfect recipe for anxiety, fear, and constant conflict.

The truth is that this perceived lack of control over the other parent is more than perception It is reality. High-conflict parents really do not have control over the other parent, or the other parent’s relationship with their children. If one parent says black, the other parent automatically says white. It’s difficult, frustrating and crazy-making to share the people you love most with a person you have no control over. This is why high-conflict parents frequently end up in court or using a parenting consultant. This is expensive, both emotionally and financially.

The best thing high-conflict parents can do for themselves, and most importantly for their children, is accept that they can’t control the other parent, and do their best to forge a parallel parenting relationship. The parenting style of one parent may be dramatically different than the other parent’s style, but children are usually able to adapt to these differences fairly easily. The kids always win when both parents are focused on creating a healthy, positive relationship with them.

The Importance of Consulting Attorneys in Mediation for Asset Protection

Written by Jennifer Beckman, Beckman Steen & Lungstrom

There is quite a bit of truth to the saying “It’s cheaper to get married than it is to get divorced.”  The costs associated with divorce send many couples to mediation to help them negotiate the end of their marriage presumably at less cost than a litigated divorce.

Mediation is an excellent alternative for couples who are able to communicate their position and civilly negotiate an agreement with a third-party.  Mediation works quite well for couples who are clear about what they want in their agreement and have already worked out how they want most of their assets divided.

Divorce agreements must be fair and equitable.

Complications can arise when one or both of the parties are in a rush to dissolve the marriage.  Either or both parties may assume that simply dividing the assets acquired in a marriage is the fairest way to divide them.  This is not always true.

Valuing assets is often challenging.  The true value of an asset is not always what it is worth at present.  Some assets, such as retirement plans, are designed to be an investment and are valued much differently than a car.  A mediator cannot value your assets.  An attorney can have your agreement reviewed and validate that your assets are properly valued to prevent future surprises.

It is recommended that each party have their agreement reviewed by their own attorney prior to filing.  A divorce agreement, whether mediated or litigated, should be solid and cover all anticipated challenges to avoid returning to court for modifications.  An attorney review of an agreement is recommended to insure this.

A mediated divorce agreement may be an acceptable document.  Having an attorney review your agreement will insure that you have a true fair and equitable document and that your marital assets have been fairly valued and divided.  Contact our office to review your agreement and protect your assets.

The Time You Spend With Your Kids Isn’t Important

Article by Erin Kassebaum, mediator, parenting consultant

“Hurry up, let’s go” is one of the things I say most often to my kids. Sometimes I get to the end of the day and realize the only time I actually spent with them was in the car, running between activities. Like many parents, I worry I don’t spend enough time with my kids.

In divorce, parents’ concerns about spending enough time with their children come out in full force. That’s understandable because divorce, by default, means each parent will have less time with their children. Thankfully the majority of parents are able to negotiate and follow a parenting time schedule that allows both of them to maintain a healthy relationship with their children, despite each having less time with them.

The good news is research proves that children are not negatively impacted when they spend less time with one parent or the other (Trinder, Kellet, & Smith, 2008). However, kids are impacted negatively when they don’t feel emotionally close to a parent (Trinder, et al, 2008). In other words, the quantity of parenting time is not nearly as important as the quality of parenting time when predicting a child’s adjustment and well-being.

Kids do best when parents focus on the quality of the time they spend with their children, as opposed to the quantity of time spent with them.

Despite this, a minority of divorcing parents find it necessary to account for every minute of time their kids spend with them vs. in the care of the other parent. While outwardly arguing over parenting time, these parents may be silently asking themselves: What if the other parent has a better relationship with my kids? Or more influence over them? What if my children have more fun with the other parent, or they like the other parent more? What if everyone thinks the other parent is a better parent than I am?

These questions fill parents with fear and insecurity, and cause them to think of parenting time as their entitlement, rather than their children’s lives. The result is a fierce competition over which parent gets more time with the kids. This competition does nothing to lessen the parents’ fear and insecurity and, even worse, may negatively impact their relationship with their children. Ironically, these parents often end up creating the very thing they fear most:  a weakened relationship with their children. The best thing parents can do to mitigate their fear and insecurity is focus on spending quality time with their children.

Parents who focus on fostering healthy, positive relationships with their children, as opposed to fighting over parenting time, are making the best choice for themselves, and for their kids. The children win because they receive love, attention and affection from their parents.  The parents win because they become more secure in their own relationship with their children and, by default, less fearful about the other parent’s relationship with them. This is a win-win solution to the parenting time competition.

Divorce Mediation – Do’s and Don’ts

Do have an open mind. The single most important thing to bring to divorce mediation is an open mind. The goal of mediation is to settle the case. Mediation is a collaborative effort between you, your spouse, your mediator, and your attorneys. Your mediator, as a third party neutral, will help you look at issues from different perspectives and generate objective solutions to resolve your case. It is important to be open to and seriously consider all possible solutions.

Do come prepared. Documentation is important because it helps your mediator understand the facts and reduces the issue of “he said vs. she said.” If you have concerns or grievances you want to discuss and you have documentation or specific examples which illustrate your concerns (such as emails, text messages, social media posts, school or health records, financial statements, journals, etc.), it is helpful to bring this documentation with you to mediation in case it is needed. It is also important to remember that mediators are not judges or decision makers and as a result, the documentation may or may not actually be necessary to reach an agreement.

Don’t withhold information from the mediator. It is important to be open and honest with the mediator. Mediation is a confidential process and as such, your mediator must keep settlement discussions private, so you can open and honest in mediation without fear that the information you share will be detrimental to your legal case. As needed, it is also possible to “caucus” or meet privately with your mediator and anything you tell the mediator in that one-on-one setting will be kept confidential from your spouse. This is the time to air all of your concerns and be honest about what you want so the mediator can best assist you with reaching a settlement that you can live with in the short and long-term.

Don’t bring family members or friends with you to divorce mediation. The divorce is between you and your spouse. Parents, siblings, and friends although well-intentioned, are biased by their love for you and do not have a stake in the outcomes. In trying to help and support you, their presence may actually have a detrimental effect on the mediation. Regardless of their age, your children should also not be involved in the mediation process unless you and your spouse have made arrangements for a “child-inclusive” mediation process. This is your life and your settlement will be unique to your situation, you need to make these important decisions for yourself.