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Posts Tagged ‘Divorce’

Last week saw the third, and perhaps the final, session of mediation in my collaborative divorce proceedings. This one – all about the money.

Assets, liabilities, pensions, RRSPs, monthly spendable-income, child support, spousal support, rules and guidelines and fairness and compromise. Whew!

We had, in the wake of our previous session, managed to sort out alot of the financial stuff on our own. We talked the basic assets, came to a general agreement on how to divide things, settled on my taking the house and buying her out. So this was really about getting that info to the mediator to go into the agreement, and getting information from him on how to deal with the more complicated divisions – pensions and RRSPs and the like – and guidelines for monthly support when people have wide gaps in income.

Child-support – a no-brainer, and entirely non-contentious. But spousal supports can be very high, even though there is no real law in place to determine what a judge would order with any certainty. Fortunately, our pattern of reasonable discussion carried on, and we pretty quickly reached agreement on what’s fair with regard to all the outstanding items.

Wow. Pretty much done. Three sessions. A grand total of $2000, including the drafting of the agreement. And we have everything in place for us each to get independent legal advice, sign documents, and move forward with the formal separation behind us.

Legal divorce, of course, is another story. That is another round of paperwork and will have to follow over the next while once this is taken care of. But the hard work is done, and on balance was done easily and done well.

I’m now officially an advocate of collaborative divorce wherever possible. A few quibbles here and there – the most notable being the insane idea of the mediator that I not pay child support at all because I’d get a tax break, an idea that just makes no fucking sense legally, and I’d suggest might actually be not only stupid but unethical to propose. But whatever. It was quick, it was easy, and we have some much-needed closure.

The topper to all this, is the house arrangement. My ex decided some months ago to move, and she’s found a place she likes not too far away and is already into the process of organizing that. So, I’ll have some work to do, with a few suite upgrades and then the process of finding renters. Nothing too daunting, though. All entirely manageable.

What a difference a year makes. A rough year on the home-front. Meeting Meg and renewing hope. A year of packing away the old and unpacking the new. A year, above all, of transition, with all the challenges and possibilities that entails.

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Another session with the mediator, and things are progressing very, very well.

Earlier this week my ex and I met to exchange financial information, ask questions etc. And that was a bit difficult – got intertwined with emotional stuff, different expectations in terms of how much detail we should bring, the process to follow etc. I mean, it all ended fine, but it was a bit fraught and tense. So going into today’s session with the mediator, I was anxious about how it would go.

Needlessly, thank god. A great experience, and left us in a position to do some more financial work on our own after he left – and to do so quickly, professionally, and with alot of common ground.

First on the agenda today – childcare. We wanted to start with this, hoping that our already-shared expectations on the issue would allow it to get handled pretty quickly, give us a success to build on, and provide momentum for the rest of the discussion. Worked very well on all those fronts. The mediator began laying out the various components of a successful deal around parenting:

guardianship – meaning the legal authority to make decisions for the child;

custody – meaning the day to day care of the child;

parenting agreement – meaning specific arrangements for parenting schedules, costs of raising a child, schooling, travel, proximity of both homes etc.

Pretty basic stuff. Guardianship is shared, obviously. We want more or less equally-shared custody, so that was simple. Parenting agreement? That could potentially be trickier – but we settled on some basics. Both agree to live in the GVRD, and if either intends to move outside that requires a period of notice and perhaps a renegotiation of our agreement. Both agree that extraordinary childcare costs are shared relative to income. Both agree that any changes in income, up or down, require that we sit down and make any necessary adjustments to our contributions. Both agree to meet once a week to discuss parenting issues, share information etc. The hows etc. are left to us to sort out, as are specific days doing parenting and so on. But the basic frame is laid out, and we feel pretty good.

We talked a little with the mediator about finances, especially as related to child-care. Y’know, legal principles around making sure the child has a relatively equal standard of living in each home. No specifics there, but he’ll go through the charts, take our incomes and come back with some ideas next time. And that was it for mediation-man, who was off to catch a ferry for a raquetball tournament on the Island. Great day, some success, we’ll build more on this next meeting and start to get into the larger financial questions – if you guys can sort any of those pieces out among yourselves, all the better,

Here’s where it really had worried me, cause the disclosure process had a few bumps, so I was expecting we might need alot of help with this part. But, feeling good with our progress, we decided we’d just review assets and liabilities, see what we could agree on and what needed help and then leave those parts til we had the facilitator back with us. And it was easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy.

Here’s personal debts – we’ll each take responsibility for those.

Here’s joint debts – yup, agreed on what those are.

Here’s pensions – OK, need some help with that, cause neither of us knows how to value these in such a process.

Now, the house – how do we value that? How bout this? Yeah, works for me. Bang, done. Add up the assets, subtract the debts, here’s the total amount, cut that in half. Yup, almost exactly what I guessed it would be at the beginning of this process.

Wow. It was that fucking easy. Pensions outstanding, but everything else pretty much agreed, at least in general terms. Momentum from the successful childcare discussions just carried us right through. I couldn’t fucking believe it, and am so so happy that we went this route.

All over? No, obviously not. Next session we’ll report to the mediator on our agreement on existing assets. We’ll have to pass the pension question on to him and deal with that. We’ll need to get down to the nitty gritty of ongoing costs – i.e. my extra contributions to childcare costs and anything else that’s fair. Then, of course, we’ll each need to get independent legal advice on the whole agreement before signing off.

Really, though, that’s a hell of alot of progress for two sessions. And more importantly, it has given us both a real boost in communication and trust to have things that seemed so daunting work so well through a little cooperation and a third party to help get us started.

I’m a man feeling a whole lot better about this process than I was a couple of weeks ago, I’m a man feeling pretty damn good about our chances to get this all sorted our in a way that’s fair, quick, and easy on Mica. And I’m remembering that, when we drop the bullshit and get down to basics, me and my ex really are pretty good at reaching common ground, at least as far as practicalities are concerned. Emotional stuff? That’s a fuck of a lot harder, no question. But on this end of things, we’re doing all right.

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The past several months I’ve been having a very difficult relationship with my ex. We share a house together – her up, me down, our daughter bouncing between – and initially hoped we would be able to interact pretty well most of the time, and even build some ongoing family time together into our routines.

Hasn’t entirely worked out that way. It never really did, even from the start, but the real challenges emerged as Meg and I moved forward with our own relationship. It’s long and drawn-out, as you can imagine. But not a situation that either of us just wants to walk away from in anger, because we do have a long history as friends and because we need to parent our child together as best we can.

Anyway. After some very bad months, things finally hit bottom a while back, and since then each of us has reacted in different ways. I’ve become more determined to maintain strict boundaries and move the legal/ financial agreements forward, and she’s been more committed to establishing some calm between us, and recognizing that Meg is here for the long haul and that she has a huge role to play in making that as easy as possible on our daughter, Mica. In other words, for her, hitting bottom meant it was time to pull together emotionally and try to salvage what we can. For me, hitting bottom meant giving up on salvaging too much and just moving on. So, we find outselves again at odds in terms of how we proceed – though I must admit our differences now are discussed in more manageable and civil ways than they have been, and that’s a tremendous relief.

So, today we went off to meet with a mediator/ lawyer who does collaborative divorce stuff. Didn’t get into the details, but just reviewed process, talked about how to proceed etc. And it has left me, at least, feeling much much better. One, things are starting to move now, and we are into a process that will resolve the legal/ financial things one way or other, which is pretty critical to me at this point. Two, we may in fact be able to do so collaboratively, which is fucking awesome, and might provide the basis for us to interact differently with one another – never hurts to have a success to build on, after all. Three, we actually walked out of that meeting and had the first normal conversation we’ve had in a long-time – about work and books and what’s happening in our lives.

So, I’m hopeful today. Still with my reservations, still waiting to see what happens when we get into the details – cause that’s always where things break down – but hopeful. And that’s a good place to be right now. She plans on moving in the next few months, finding a place of her own. Probably a good thing for all of us at this point. But I am particularly heartened to feel we might get legal agreements around money, child custody and the like largely sorted out before that happens, and heartened, too, at the possibility of her move happening from a place that is more resolved and less fraught. Less fraught, not completely un-fraght, I am well aware.

Pollyanna? Perhaps. But I’ll take that, today. As I mentioned a couple of days ago, it’s hard for me to recognize the difference between setting boundaries and just being an asshole sometimes. And today I left that meeting pretty clear that there is a difference, that I can see it, and that I can make it work. Not on my own, obviously. But she’s doing better, articulating the emotional stuff when that’s necessary, but owning it herself and recognizing where things have been really inappropriate and unacceptable in the past. And I’m doing better on saying what I need without being harsh and dismissive, which only further fucks with her emotional safety.

Small improvements perhaps, But steps forward. And that’s good for her. And that’s good for me. And that’s good for Mica.

And – Pollyanna or not – that’s hopeful.

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Doldrums

It’s been a few days since I’ve posted here. A combination of finding little I’m keen to share and a few days out of town.

Summer planning and parenting/ separation logistics are taking alot of energy these days, and weighing heavily on me even when I’m not actively thinking about them. Scheduling is always a nightmare in my life, and that much harder because my ex is not a scheduling person like I am – she tends to want to see what happens, keep time open and flexible, and she at times reacts poorly to my need to get things nailed down. That’s been an issue for us for a long time. But it’s only that much more pronounced now, as I need to be able to take Meg’s schedule into account and make commitments with her as well.

In terms of the separation stuff, I’m trying to find that place of balance between being clear and focused on my boundaries and my desire to be generous. My ex feels like her life has been turned upside down by my decisions. And indeed it has been. She is starting to accept my relationship with Meg, and really has made a pretty strong effort the last few weeks to keep things calm and courteous. But I’m into the “move things along on the legal front” stage, pushing for that to happen, and feeling a real need to get those kinds of formalities cleared away.

Part two of all that is the co-parenting question. Co-parenting means one thing when both are single, and the definition of family stays constant whatever the living arrangements. But what happens now, as I begin to plan a life with Meg? Increasingly, I need to sort out decisions about my daughter with her, not with my ex. And that is a hard shift to make, and an even harder one to articulate without being hurtful. It’s never easy to say, “I want our co-parenting relationship to change, and you will not be consulted so much anymore”. It’s harder still when the person you say it to has been really hurting, has been struggling herself, and has asked for sensitivity to her fears around this stuff.

Fucking hard. Really fucking hard.

One thing I clearly inherited from my father is a tendency to avoid conflict in personal relationships, a tendency to appeasement strategies. Well, these don’t always work. They often only delay problems from getting resolved, cause resentments on all sides, and make things more confusing and more conflictive in the long run. I know this. I am trying to break those old habits. But it ain’t always easy, and I’m realizing that I sometimes can’t tell the difference between setting boundaries and being an asshole.

So, I try to be clear, I spend alot of time bouncing scenarios around in my head, I try to be flexible where I can and firm where I cannot. And I’ll keep trying, and I’m sure it’ll get better as I become more comfortable and new ways of interacting become more established. But it’s hard to break old patterns, and it’s hard to silence the voices that say, “Being kind means doing what the other person wants.” It’s a voice that I want to be rid of, but a voice I’m also afraid to be rid off – afraid that will make me harder, more closed, less kind.

Oi. It’s a rough few weeks. And I’m not out of the woods yet. In fact, there are certainly days I feel completely lost among the trees. On the other hand, though, there are also patches of clearing, bits of path, and I think now there are more days I do see a way out than days I don’t.  And that’s progress. As long as there are more days of light, less of darkness, I gotta believe I’m on the right track.

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One year ago today, as I sat down for my birthday dinner in a Mexican fusion place that was all style and no flavour, I was aware with every bite and every word that something needed to change. We’d been in theapy for a long time, and the last several months of that had been spent processing the conflict and struggles around separation versus sticking it out. But I was done. I knew it, I had known it for some time, and while I’d often said it the follow-up actions hadn’t been taken. But with that dinner, it couldn’t wait anymore. The relationship was not only bad and getting worse, but I was not happy with the person I was becoming, all bottled-rage and withdrawal. I needed out.

I moved into a separate room, we began talking to our daughter about it, we met with the real estate agent about what to do with the house, and we focused our sessions with the counselor on the single question – how to make shared parenting as easy as possible? Could we renovate our home to make two self-contained units? Too expensive, and life amidst such extensive renovations was simply not an option on top of the separation. Condos close to one another? None in the neighbourhood of our daughter’s school, and as I don’t drive that was a major concern of mine. Could we buy a place with two suites? Could we co-parent together, with some provision for family dinners once a week?

Well, we could sure as hell try. Would be hard, we figured, but we had done well as friends and parents in our previous separation, so we had something to go on. The therapist told us about many people who tried this, and suggested for most it didn’t work beyond a six-to-twelve month transition. But if anybody can do it, he said encouragingly, it’s the two of you.

And I wanted desperately to believe that.

The year since has been a struggle. Into a new place, trying to establish co-parenting and something resembling friendship while setting physical and emotional boundaries. It has not gone well, particularly after I started seeing Meg – the finality that represents to the previous relationship, the fact that I establish intimacy with someone else, the reality of something new and important in my life and my insistence that it be acknowledged and considered. It’s been damn hard, it has tested us in many different ways, and neither me nor my ex has always managed those tests well.

So it’s a year later, and alot has changed, though some of the same challenges remain as my ex plans to move out in the fall and we plan the formalization of our divorce in documents and law.

But as much as I know there is still a hell of alot to sort out on that front, this is a year I begin with an eagerness and excitement. I see a future open up with Meg, a future of music and laughter and food and sharing and community and struggle and supporting one another. A future that is bound to have its rocky patches, but which looks like going-to somewhere rather than just leaving-from. A future in which two people with their share of loneliness and fear – but also lots of strength and love and commitment to give – can step forward together, knowing that in this crazy-making world we can provide one another places of refuge, where parties and political actions and blogs and road trips and lazy Sundays in bed are all pieces of the same big love.

This birthday day I have no idea what’s in store. I’ll lunch with Meg, get my kid from school, do the piano lessons and after-school chit-chat, and see what comes of it. But this birthday, too, feels like New Year for me, like a fresh start with a lover who feels both brand-new and like she’s always been there.

Not one for New Years’ resolutions, but somehow today it feels like those make sense, as I know exactly what my priorities need to be, where I feel I’m on track, and where I need to go. And it seems that articulating that, and sending it out into the world, is an important first step.

Three priorities.

to protect my kid, and make sure that through the turmoil of family and pre-teen transitions she never for a moment doubts that she is loved;

to set my boundaries clearly and with all the kindness I can;

to walk with Meg further along this path from lovers to partners.

I got a start on all those this past year. But I can do better on all three counts, too. And that’s not a reproachful ‘I should do better’, either. It’s a confident one, a certainty that I’m in a place where better can be made every day.

 

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