By Scott Brook
In my continuing series of reducing the financial and emotional impact of divorce on families, this article addresses some effective ways of handling situations after a couple is divorced. As an attorney practicing in the area of matrimonial law for several years, I have found that many divorced parents with children have not made the transition to their new lives as cost-effectively as possible. One of the problems affected parties have is a failure to anticipate future issues with their ex-spouse. In all honesty, there are reasons that one chooses to divorce, which never go away. If you think your ex-spouse was a horrible communicator and completely irresponsible with finances, chances are excellent that your ex will still fail to speak with you in the manner you desire and won't change his/her financial habits. Many times people feel trapped because they are so "stuck" with their ex-spouse's way or "the highway."
The first step to address issues and take control is by starting today. This step is neither as simple nor as complex as it appears at first glance. Do not reiterate your past issues. Identify what are the issues at the moment you need addressed. If your ex -spouse is not living up to his child support obligations but is spending the agreed time with your children, don't focus on how he failed to do something else in the past. Instead, limit the issue to what is CURRENT. Now, ask yourself what you want to do about it?
Many years ago I created the following axiom: "We have whatever we want or we are in the process of getting it. We don't have whatever we don't want or we are in the process of getting rid of it." Can you think of something that contradicts that? The main point of the idiom is the control we have of our own lives. If there is something in your life that you say you want to eliminate but you can't acknowledge even being in the process of eliminating it, then you are simply not committed to it. The ultimate question is how can one eliminate conflict with an ex-spouse? Legally, of course!
No advice will consistently eliminate ex-spouse conflicts. However, hopefully the following suggestions will shed some light for you and empower you to take action to significantly limit conflict:
- Anticipate conflict with your ex-spouse, or at least anticipate considerable differences of opinion.
- When you are in the middle of the conflict, take a step back (don't impulsively say something that you may later regret).
- Focus on exactly what it is that you want.
- Express yourself clearly, concisely and respectfully.
- Anticipate a lack of agreement and make a plan to overcome it.
- Execute your plan.
- If you are still at issue with your spouse, consider the financial and emotional ramifications of staying there.
- Consider an alternative plan, possibly a compromise. Seek counsel from a friend or professional. ,
- Execute your alternative plan.
- If you have still not achieved the result you sought, consider litigation.
Some of you may bethinking that I've just proven an exception to my axiom. Actually, I have attempted to demonstrate a process that recognizes your commitment to getting rid of something you don't want. Realistically, conflict is unavoidable because we are all different. Yet, I do believe that we can minimize our conflicts and we always have the power to RESPOND to conflict in the way WE CHOOSE.
In regards to specifically communicating with your ex-spouse, I believe it helps to share gratitude, accentuate the positive and invite her/him to understanding your way of thinking. Using an attorney is an expensive, but sometimes necessary way of communicating. When seeking legal advice make sure to ask many questions of your prospective attorney in order to be assured your interests will be met. It also helps to be forgiving, NEVER PUT THE CHILDREN IN THE MIDDLE, and choose your battles. Taking some of these actions can likely place you or someone you know in a better financial and emotional state.
Originally published in Coconut Creek Life, May 2005.