The holidays can be a difficult time for people in the midst of custody and divorce matters—especially the first holiday season in transition. When children divide their holidays between two parents’ separate households, or when clients face the holidays without their spouses for the first time, the holidays may feel like a lonely time. Family law attorney Jennifer J. Riley recommends to her clients that they focus on developing new holiday traditions. “This way, rather than feeling the holidays from a position of loss, creating new holiday traditions can help our clients and their children feel excitement during the season,” she explains.
Aging with passion and purpose will often result in a re-evaluation of life, with a focus on making sure the future years are secure, healthy and, most importantly, happy. For an increasing number of older couples, this may mean a separation or divorce later in life.
In fact, divorce among older couples, or “Grey Divorce”, has become much more common. Family Law attorney Jennifer J. Riley explains that Grey Divorces require special attention and care because unique issues are often present. “The most common questions we answer for older clients involve the impact of a divorce on their retirement savings, or how divorce might impact their social security payments,” says Riley. “In a Grey Divorce, we need to safeguard health insurance and address long-term planning as part of the divorce process.”
Pennsylvania-area residents facing stressful family issues have an ally in the Law Offices of Jennifer J. Riley. With expertise in a variety of complex practice areas and a close connection to the BuxMont area, its team of attorneys is dedicated to providing high quality, compassionate legal services.
“Our clients are often going through periods of significant transition, and they are dealing with emotionally heavy issues, such as divorce and child custody. We support and educate them through every step of the process to make it as easy on them as possible,” says founder and Managing Attorney Jennifer J. Riley. The firm specializes in family law issues, including child custody, divorce, child support, alimony, prenuptial agreements, stepparent adoption, grandparents’ rights, postnuptial agreements and estate planning.
by Laura Favin
No matter how amicable, necessary or even desirable for a child’s well-being, a divorce rocks their world. Parents can help them navigate any unfamiliar terrain with a little planning.
The first day of school can hold a mix of excitement and dread. Children will have new teachers, classrooms and schedules. Finding a place on the playground or in the cafeteria may be fraught with anxiety.
It’s even more difficult for a child to navigate back-to-school jitters after a summertime separation or divorce. But there are steps parents can take to make a child’s transition easier.
Children whose parents are divorcing may feel scared, angry, insecure or depressed. They often try to hide negative feelings to avoid making the situation worse.
Younger children may feel embarrassed or afraid of crying if they talk about it. Older children may affect a nonchalance that belies the turmoil they feel, and act as if it’s no big deal.
Encourage children to talk about their feelings. Ask if they are nervous about seeing old friends, and if they’re afraid to tell them about Mom and Dad getting a divorce. Be sensitive to the physical and hormonal changes that may affect a teen’s volatility.
If the divorce resulted in a change of address, walk young children around the new neighborhood. Make a map together of the streets and include landmarks like the golden retriever’s house, the park and the mailbox painted red. Be sure to include a tour of their new school.
Help older children work out how to talk to their friends about the divorce. Robert Emery, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, suggests statements such as, “You know what really sucks? My parents are getting divorced,” and “Thanks for listening. I really need a friend right now.”
Let children know that one or both parents will continue to attend sports events, class plays and parent-teacher conferences.
Young adults may feel needed at home and consider putting off college and taking a job to contribute financially. Reassure them that they and the rest of the family will do just fine, and that what everyone needs most is for them to stay on the course they’d planned.
Apprise the school’s administrators, guidance counselors, social workers and coaches of the family’s situation. Informed adults can more readily recognize any need for specific support.
Commit to co-parenting by keeping routines as consistent as possible. Share apps such as Our Family Wizard or TeamSnap to track class schedules, homework assignments and after-school activities. Make every effort to attend school conferences together. Ask teachers to alert both parents to changes in a child’s behavior that may not be apparent at home.
The best predictors of a child’s successful re-entry to school after divorce are parents that are prepared to guide, monitor and support them.
Laura Favin, LCSW, is a parenting-mediator for the Alpha Center for Divorce Mediation, headquartered in Doylestown, with offices in the five-county southeastern Pennsylvania area, New Jersey and Colorado. Favin earned her MSW through NYU and her MA in psychoanalysis through the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. For more information, call 800-310-9085, email AlphaCares@Alpha-Divorce.com, or visit Alpha-Divorce.com and AlphaResourceCenter.com. August 2016
by Sarah Grey
Of all of life’s great transitions —parenthood, marriage, retirement—one of the most difficult is divorce. Divorce requires a great deal of compassion that too often is missing. That’s why Natural Awakenings sat down with Keila Gilbert of Alpha Center, an attorney mediator who specializes in guiding couples through the divorce process with compassion.
How did you become a divorce mediator? I went through my own divorce about 20 years ago, and it was extremely painful. Instead of focusing on that pain and anger, though, I found a different way to channel my energy. I became a divorce attorney mediator in the hope of giving other couples a better experience than I had.
Twenty years later, you’re a pioneer in the field of divorce mediation. Can you tell us about how Alpha Center works? The biggest decision couples face is whether to divorce, but the second- biggest decision is how to divorce. When we hear the word “divorce” we think of two attorneys battling to the death in court. So many people don’t even realize that there are other options. We offer couples a seven-step program to guide them through the divorce transition in constructive ways that help them move forward emotionally, financially and legally.
Is mediation for everyone? Some divorces do need to go through the court system, such as when physical abuse is involved. In general, though, mediation is a more cooperative and compassionate choice for many couples. The Alpha Center also works to make it more affordable by charging a flat fee, so that couples are not racking up huge attorneys’ fees. We want this better alternative to be accessible to everyone.
What does it mean to offer a compassionate divorce process? Most divorcing couples go into the process with lots of emotions and very little knowledge. So our program is highly structured in a way that focuses on the future, not the past. We’re happy to refer them to therapists, but we try to step away from the emotions here so that both parties can put their energy into moving forward into O
the next stage of their lives.
Divorce can be financially devastating, so we have financial and tax experts who work with our mediators to help couples increase their cash flow and avoid financial conflict. Also, when children are involved, a parenting mediator, who is a qualified therapist, works with the couple to negotiate a co-parenting agreement that minimizes the impact on children.
We also do a lot of referrals to related services. On our website, we have a large directory of therapists, financial advisors, support groups and more, which we’ve vetted for quality.
What do you think is behind the epidemic of divorce? How did the divorce rate get to be so high? There are social, cultural and personal reasons for this trend. Women now have a greater level of freedom, education and opportunity than they had in the past. Prior to gaining these strengths, they were much more inclined to remain in an economically and socially dependent marriage due to lack of other options. Social mores have also changed, from stigmatizing divorced individuals to accepting them.
When looking at the individual causes, you see people entering marriage too blindly and then failing to understand that good marriages take hard work. I’d love it if my services were needed less often. That’s why we also offer resources on our site about how to strengthen or save a marriage. We want to interrupt what I call the “marriage-go-round cycle”, which is when people divorce one partner only to date, marry, separate and divorce again. While 85 percent of our clients do complete the divorce mediation program, of the 15 percent who don’t, quite a few reconcile. Sometimes you see the light bulb go on when people realize they really can work together to save the marriage.
Fifty percent of first marriages, 60 percent of second marriages and 70 percent of third marriages end in divorce. The lesson there is that people often do not learn from their mistakes, but rather blame their partner for the problems, and therefore continue to repeat their past behaviors. Also, subsequent marriages carry the added challenges of blended families.
Do you offer resources for recently divorced people? Yes. On our website we offer resources and ideas for people moving on after divorce. We help them understand what they need to make good decisions about life’s most important relationship. We’re also committed to helping newly single people find quality financial advice.
To that end, can you tell me more about the educational programs you offer? Education is such a powerful factor in making important life decisions. It’s an important part of what we do. We offer workshops for couples as well as for professionals. Recently we did a community workshop focused on “Mended, Blended and Extended Families”. We also offered one for professional couples counselors called “Marital Stress Management”.
It must be very energetically draining to be with people who are in conflict around the ending of a marriage. What do you do to fortify yourself spiritually and emotionally? There is no doubt that you can get “compassion fatigue” when you place yourself in the center of the strife of over 5,000 divorcing individuals over the course of 20 years, as I have. However, it is extremely rewarding to know how much you have changed the trajectory of their lives and their children’s lives, as compared to those who follow the unhealthy path of years of emotionally and financially draining litigation.
I fortify myself by focusing on a healthy lifestyle and a strong meditation practice, and I rely on the support of my coworkers. I am especially blessed with my loving husband, children, extended family and friends. Also, I often retreat through my love of travel, reading, music and the many gifts of nature.
This is your life’s work. What has kept you in it, and what do you see for divorce in the future? It is my life’s work—but also my life’s passion. My original mission was to create an effective divorce mediation program and bring it to as many people as possible. That’s still true, but my work is now focused on training other attorneys to provide our program to divorcing couples throughout the nation. There are now 15 Alpha locations nationwide.
As for the future of divorce, I do believe it will stabilize as a result of three factors. First, people are now delaying marriage to later years, so they are a bit wiser; second, they are entering marriage with more mutual respect and equal footing; third, there are many more resources available to support and encourage healthy marriages. There is one other factor that may continue to decrease divorce, and that is a trend to live together rather than marry, which is a much more prevalent norm in Europe.
How does your commitment to compassion play out in your everyday work at Alpha? I have deliberately surrounded myself with good people who share my passion and commitment to serving our clients during this very vulnerable time of their lives. Though I remain a perfectly imperfect person, I feel that our work has left positive imprints on the lives of the many adults and children that we have been blessed to serve.
Alpha Center for Divorce Mediation is headquartered in Doylestown and offers its divorce mediation program in multiple locations and online. For more information, call 800-310-9085, email AlphaCares@Alpha-Divorce.com or visit Alpha-Divorce.com and AlphaResourceCenter.com.
Sarah Grey is a writer and editor whose work has been published in Saveur, Best Food Writing 2015and many more. To read her writing, visit SarahGreyWrites.com; to learn about her editorial services, visit GreyEditing.com.
Creating a Future of Possibility
by Barbara Mainhart
Sustainable energy, sustainable agriculture, sustainable development—all are designed to ensure the health and well-being of future generations. Just like a slash-and-burn mentality demolishes human and animal habitats and devastates economies, an adversarial divorce, with its “scorched Earth” attitude, can hold a family’s future hostage.
Consider the various “resources” at risk during divorce proceedings: time, money, energy, goodwill, equanimity and sometimes even health. All of these are vital to sustaining quality of life after divorce. As opposed to the “do-it-yourself” or “my-lawyer-versus-your-lawyer” models, an interdisciplinary, team-mediated approach to the divorce process can provide a blueprint for moving ahead that reduces stress in the now and conserves those resources that are critical to a healthy, imagined future.
How a couple divorces affects how they and their children move on. What if, instead of trying to get as much as they can for the present, they worked toward preserving as much as they could for their futures? What would that look like?
Sustainable Wellness: Reduce tension and stress. The most skilled attorney-mediators have years of experience in remaining neutral to assure that the needs and wants of both parties are carefully considered. They are trained in effective techniques for bringing about a settlement even when divorcing couples are highly conflicted and distrustful of each other.
Sustainable Relationships: Build bridges. A parenting mediator, who is a certified therapist, helps the couple create a healthy co-parenting agreement. This agreement gives them a guide for the transition process, including living arrangements, school situations and vacation schedules, so that both parents and children can move forward with their new lives.
Sustainable Finances: Preserve resources and maintain separate, affordable lifestyles. With accountant mediators and financial consultants as part of the mediation process, a couple’s income and expenses, tax strategies and detailed budgets are carefully studied to ensure that each person can reasonably meet their current financial obligations, as well as have a well-balanced financial structure in the future to cover their housing needs, cash reserves and retirement plans.
Most importantly, the choice to put a family’s future welfare above the individual’s present advantage will sustain peace of mind for all concerned for years to come.
Barbara Mainhart is outreach coordinator for the Alpha Center for Divorce Mediation, headquartered in Doylestown and offering its divorce mediation program in multiple locations and online. For more information, call 800-310-9085, email AlphaCares@Alpha-Divorce.com, or visit Alpha-Divorce.com and AlphaResourceCenter.com. See ad, page 47.