1 December 10, What You Want It to Be (154) Welcome to Mom Enough. [Background Music] With your co-hosts, developmental psychologist, Dr. Marti Erickson and Erin Erickson, maternal child health specialist. Brought to you through a partnership with the Minnesota Department of Education and Working Family Resource Center. Content copyrighted my Marti and Erin Erickson, all rights reserved. Here's my grandma Marti and here's Erin my mom enough. Welcome to Mom Enough, I'm Marti Erickson here with my daughter Erin and we're so glad you tuned in. This is the second of a two-part series we're doing on options for when you're marriage is not what you want it to be. And certainly, many of us have been there. Very important to try to do what you can to save your marriage, to try to discern whether it is a relationship that you can save. Last week, we had Dr. Bill Doherty with us from the University of Minnesota who really focused on how to try to save your marriage and how to discern whether it's possible or not. Both of these shows are brought to you, thanks to the support of DivorceChoice.com which you can learn more about on Mom Enough website. Today, we're just thrilled to have with us a dear friend of ours, has been on this show before, someone I admire greatly from my on work in psychology. I've heard about Ron Ousky, not only here in the Twin Cities community, but really around the country from people who value his really impressive and extraordinary work on collaborative law and collaborative practices to divorce. Ron is a collaborative attorney and the mediator who has practiced almost exclusively in the area of family law since graduating from law school in He's cofounder of the Collaborative Alliance Executive Suites in Edina Minnesota and coauthor of the ground breaking book, "The Collaborative Way to Divorce: The revolutionary method that results in less stress, lower costs, and happier kids without going to court. That's a long titled, but it really sums it up. Ron lives with his wife Marlys and is the father of three adult children. So thanks so much for joining us Ron. Ron, I got to give a personal plug too. I've read the book and I actually worked with Ron Ousky when my ex-husband and I went through our divorce process. And I will say that I think that that process for us really made the difference as far as having a really positive co-parenting relationship and being able to maintain a family even after divorce. So I really am grateful to Ron's important work. And so, just to get started Ron, is it possible to put a divorce on hold or to hold off on divorce during reconciliation and still be protected? I think people going into divorce are facing challenges in their marriage, feel so much fear over, you know, their financial wellbeing and their general legal well-being I guess as well. So what are your thoughts on that? Yes, it absolutely is possible to do that and it--and there are lot of different ways that that can happen. And I often kind of compare a family crisis in conflict as being like a medical crisis. And like with a medical crisis, you simply just to need to stabilize things. And once you've stabilized
2 things, there is an opportunity to put things on hold and to really look at what this family's future is. We work primarily with divorces. We also work with people who are trying to reconcile or people that are just doing legal separations. And if we can stabilize things, the family can catch its breath and figure out what direction it wants to go, then I think that's the best opportunity to make the good choices. And when we talk about stabilizing things, of course first and foremost, stabilizing the parenting so that we have a stable parenting understanding, so that the children aren't caught in the middle. And then with goes hand in hand with that is stabilizing the finances so that everybody understands how bills are getting paid, making sure there are no change in insurance. And if we can stabilize those things, even if you're in the middle of a divorce or even if you're unsure about whether divorce is going to happen, it gives you--gives both the husband and wife the latitude to plan their future--my family's future and to make this important decisions, not so much how of fear, but after they've really thoroughly examined what the best choice is for them. You know, what I'm hearing in your comments Ron is that this is not an all-or-nothing situation. And I think so often when couples are in trouble in their relationship, it's very easy for them to fall in to thinking either or either we stay married or we get divorced, but understanding that this is process and that there are various ways you can change direction even through out the process with an emphasis on doing what's best both for the parents and certainly for the children. Absolutely, that's one of the strongest message to get out there. It is not a black and white, allor-nothing scenario. And as you would mentioned it, I think Erin mentioned earlier that there are so much fear that goes on that it's easy to start thinking black and white terms. We either have to divorce or we have to do this in truth or a lot of layers. And if you gather good people around you, get good professional support both in the mental health area and then financial area and the legal area, you can make sound decisions and you'll see that there are a lot of layers and lot of choices. Yeah, it's one of the reasons we talk a lot about divorce choice and other things is that people often don't recognize the number of choices that are out there. They might be of familiar divorce at all, they're familiar with the neighbor or a friend down the street, and often hearing some people's stories, it seems like a more narrow option than it really is, so. I want to just inject here too that we do have a number of resources from DivorceChoice. DivorceChoice.com is a supporting partner of Mom Enough. And we're really glad to link to that as a resource and to also have some kind of handouts and informational materials in the resource section on our website that can be very helpful to parents. I also want to mention that we're kind of just jumping in here and talking about things in the process of working with an attorney to go through a divorce or a legal separation. But we do have another interview that we did with you in the past Ron that we linked to. So people who want to kind of back up and get more of the basic definitions of what a collaborative divorce entails, what that process is all about, can listen to that as well. I would really encourage listeners to check that out whether you're in this situation or you know someone who is. Well, so if we separate while we're trying to reconcile, you know, let's say I'm going through a difficult time and I think my marriage is coming to an end but I'm not sure, maybe thinking working on things a little bit, will I be kind of setting a precedent as far as how things are going to go and will that make things more difficult for me in the future?
3 Well that's a great question. And reality is that you can't separate without setting up a bad precedent, but that's the question again often asked a lot. And if you're careful and you can plan the separation in a way that's healthy for the family, then you don't have to set an unfortunate precedent. Hopefully, the precedent you'll set is one that's child-focused and one that's financially stable. And so, that's usually the reason I recommend for people to perhaps consult with an attorney in an addition to a mental health professional even if it's not a divorce so that they can do the separation in a way that avoids surprises, stabilizes the parenting, and stabilizing the finances. If you do that, then you avoid the danger that a bad precedent will be set. So often, I hear the situation where for example the husband will say, "Well, I feel like we need to separate but if we separate, is that can we considered abandonment?" Well, there really isn't such a thing as abandonment in Minnesota law today and there is a lot of miss out there about that. You can separate without the person who leaves it being regarded as having abandoned his or her children. You can separate and have a financial agreement. One of the issues with separation is to whether to formalize it, should it be a written separation, a legal separation, or should we do it informally. And there are times for either one, but those are good intentional decisions to make so you can do it in a way that it doesn't set a bad precedent for anybody. So what does it mean to be legally separated? What's the definition of that term? And then also, I know you talk about collaborative separation, tell us what that is as well. Yes, thank you. A legal separation is essentially a legal process in which you can enter into a formal agreement that governs your separation. It can actually even be entered into as a court order if you want, although most people just use to make it a legal contract. Under Minnesota law, you can't--husband and wife can't have binding agreements with each other unless there are some kind of what they call an action pending. And so, by getting legal separation action pending which just means drawing up some papers for the most part, you can read your contract that govern things such as what the parenting schedule is going to look like, how support is going to get paid, how insurance is going to get handled. And so, a legal separation is primarily a separation which there is a document governing the separation. Now, when we talk about a collaborative separation, really referring to one in which you've had some help from attorneys, collaborative attorneys to guide you in finding a way to do your separation in an out of court way. And collaborative lawyers are people who specialize in working as out of court collaborative separations. It's having somebody guide you in an out of court way to do your separation. Most legal separations, almost all of them end in one of two ways. Either in reconciliation or they get converted in a divorce. Even though on theory, you could live legally separated the rest of your life, I don't know if anyone who's ever done that. But it--a legal separation creates a holding pattern for you to give you the time that you need to sort out whether this marriage can be reconciled and could be a good adjunct to the counseling and help you determine whether the marriage can be saved. So if someone separates, does it--do they have to have an agreement in writing?
4 They're not required to. In fact most people who separate probably do not. And that's one of the things we cover when people say, "Well, do you think it's necessary to have an agreement in writing?" And sometimes, it depends on how long people intend to separate. I mean most people don't know at the time if you're going to be separated for six months or a year or longer. Probably makes sense to get it written out. Most people who separate think it's going to be two or three or four months and then a decision will be made. So it depends on that, but it also depends on, to some degree, the trust level or the fear. If there is a fear that somebody is not going to return the children at the designated time, or somebody is not going to pay a bill on time, or just they feel like they have some security of knowing you've got a written document, then a written agreement is a good idea. It also is--comes in handy. Sometimes if--during a separation, there is a concern that one party might incur a lot of debt and the other party might be saving. If you want to preserve things so that there are rules about how that debt gets covered, then a written agreement is necessary in order to do that. So those are the things I recommend for people to go through with their collaborative attorney and say, "Well, is this really necessary to have it writing?" Sometimes it is. Sometimes it isn't. What about the children Ron? You write a lot about the idea of putting the children in the center not in the middle. And I think that's a really interesting distinction. If there is a legal separation or a possible divorce, how can a couple keep the children in the center and not put them in the middle of the disputes? Yeah, thank you. And that's a phrase I learned from our own mutual friends Deb Clemmensen who's a tremendous child specialist who really help us do that. And that's one of the ways that whether you're in a separation or divorce, getting a good professional help including somebody who's a specialist with children to help get counseling and guidance in that area is maybe the number one piece. But then beyond that and again that's the one of the reasons for working in a collaborative environment so that hard decisions can be made in a respectful way. I mean, these are difficult times. Sometimes fear can run away with things. And if--you see, if we sit people down and talk about what their primary goals are, primary interest, almost every client will tell me at first that their children, keeping their children out of the middle is a primary thing and they both would want the children to have a good relation with their mom and their dad, they want to really get through this okay. And even being able to have a conversation about how they both care about common things with the children will take it out of a win-lose environment and more into a win-win environment. The hardest thing for the children is that if he gets [inaudible] in a situation where mom or dad feel like they have to get the edge on the other and-- so they either fighting for percentage of time and getting in disputes and sometimes in front of the children, that really can damaging to them long term. And so, if they can get good counseling both legal counseling and mental health counseling about how not to do that, that's the greatest benefit I think the children can get. Well, in all the research on the effects of divorce, both the short term and long term effects on children's development, really supports the idea that if parents can work together in keeping the children's best interests at heart, those children are going to do just fine. Doesn't mean they're not going to feel the pain of their parents going through the divorce. It doesn't mean that there are no effects. But in terms of measurable outcomes, children actually thrive quite well if their parents are able to kind of rise above their differences and really parent together in an effective
5 way. I know that's easier said than done, but really a worthy thing to aspire to for the sake of the children. Well, and it really is true. And people hear all the horror stories about what can happen to children when it goes wrong and they need to hear those as well. But there are so many great success stories out there. People who are post-divorce who have raised children we would all be proud to have, whose children have obtained all the goals that they have for their children. And so, divorce is never easy, separation is never easy, but parents do not need to think that this is a sense on their children that there is no way for them to raise the children that they like, 'cause there are so many numerous examples of people that do that well and I admire parents who can do that. And it's a matter of getting the resources to help them raise the children the way they want to. Well, I'd say Erin and her ex-husband and his current wife have done a really remarkable job of parenting well together. And we're so grateful--as whole family, we're grateful for that because the kids are, you know, they are normal kids and they have their ups and downs, but I think that's a good example right in own family. And the grandparents and I really appreciate that too. We've remain close. I cherish that from my own sake and for the kids. Well, I cherish that too. [Laughter] I know you do. I mean, no one wants--i think that's one of the big challenges when you're going through a divorce or you're considering that as an option is that sense of the collateral lost. And I think that the kind of more--kind of combative way of divorce really does manage to push people apart and it's damaging to relationships not just between couple and the couple's children but their extended family and friends. And I think when you get into that negative cycle, that's really where so much of the damage occurs. But maintaining positive interactions which I think is a lot easier with a collaborative process really does help protect and save a lot of those relationships. I'll speak to that. I went to England this past summer with Erin's ex-mother-in-law [laughs], the mother of her former husband, and we took a little Clara [phonetic] for her 8th birthday on this amazing trip. And, you know, that was just a peak experience for both the other grandmother and for me and, hopefully, really a memorable experience for Clara. And I hope that as she gets older and reflects back on that that her two grandmothers did that really big thing for her, but that we did it in spite of the fact that my daughter and the other grandmother's son are divorced. And so, I just hope that's an example to others that, you know, you can really rise above the stereotype of how the families fall apart around a divorce. That's such an amazing story and it just gives me chills hearing that and hearing more and more of those kinds of stories. And that's what is so great. I mean, there is no question that divorce is about to some loss. There is a loss that's occurring. We don't want to accept that. Yeah, absolutely.
6 But it's also about preserving and the ability to preserve opportunities like that, to hear if our child going trips with their grandparents, or for the children to get the best out of their mom and dad. And so, if we can shift people seeking whether to separate or divorce, okay, what's going to be preserve? We know for sure that we're going to be parents and grandparents of these children for the rest of our lives. So what can we preserve within that relationship is going to matter this children, even if they are going to be in separate homes and it's great to see more and more people and more and more examples of people doing that well. Well, and I think it's reassuring, hopefully, for people who are considering divorce or in that process whether coming from that place of fear and that they might hear, "Oh you know, things don't have to be all horrible [laughs], terrible with this kind of circumstance." So I'm thinking about someone again who's in the process of kind of figuring out where they are with their marriage. Maybe they're considering separation. Do they need to file for divorce to protect themselves? I mean, I think there is that sense of wanting to protect yourself from all the things that you imagine might happen down the road. And so, what are your thoughts on that? In my experience, the overwhelming majority of the time, they do not need to. And of course, there are separate situations they won't be able to get in here about where there is abuse or a crisis or an emergency. Certainly, there are situation where filling becomes necessarily. Somebody's in crises or in danger of abuse. That's a whole separate area. But in most cases, filling isn't necessary at the beginning of the case. And it is possible to get protection and have things stabilize just through an agreement. And I think the important thing for people because another one of the black and white thinking is it goes "soon as we get lawyers involved, it's off to the races, we got to file, we have to serve, we have to be in front of a judge." Where if we shift our thinking away from layers as gladiators and think of lawyers as consultant, where they're collaborative or otherwise, these are people that work for you and these are people who can consult with you and create plan and they can outline ways to protect you with written agreements, with good skills that avoid having to seek protection into more adverse certain ways. Because the old way of doing things which is to file papers and to file motions right away is kind of like the bowl in the Chinese shop. I mean, sometimes it gets you some of the protection but usually the price financially and emotionally are so great that people come away disappointed. So can you talk to your divorce lawyer about reconciliation? [Laughs] Or, you know, I'm just thinking about the typical relationship between a client and an attorney. You know, is that going to make the attorney thing, "Whoops, [laughs] this is not going to--this is not going to go forward. I'm not going to make us much money or"-- Yeah, that's a great question. And the answer is yeah. I think really most attorneys I know who do family law, collaborative or otherwise, really do care about families. And even though he has to make more money when people fight, but people wouldn't be in this business if they didn't care about families. And generally, a good law attorney is really happy to see a family they can try to reconcile. I mean that's one of the things when you're selecting an attorney to sit down and make sure it's someone who really has the interest of your family at heart. But if they do, and again, by enlarge, most do, then absolutely talking about reconciliation either at the beginning or even in the middle of a divorce is important. And it's important--i think what happen sometimes is lawyers--you need to find a lawyer who's kind of create in that regard 'cause
7 sometimes lawyers aren't--will say, "Well, I can't really talk to you about that 'cause I don't know. It's not my area of expertise." And clearly it isn't, but they can be a resource to help you stabilize things while you go meet with the counselor and meet reconciliation people. And most good family law attorneys should be experts at least setting stage for reconciliation just as much as they should be experts in helping you through your divorce. Well, so I'm thinking about, you know, there is so much misinformation out there and I think people don't really understand all the options as we've talking about today. And so, I have kind of a two-part question here. So, you know, when someone's starts a divorce, is it ever too late to turn back and seek reconciliation? And also, what do you think are kind of the toughness that going to make people feel like they have to just go ahead into the divorce prematurely? Oh great question again. And first of all, and the first one is it is absolutely never too late to stop. And I've seen people in every stage of the divorce process side to put it on hold and do a reconciliation. And sometimes, they put it on hold for a while and move ahead with divorce. Sometimes they put it on hold forever and we kept the divorce paper and they rework on their marriage and they start it over. Sometimes in the course of, you said, of a collaborative divorce which focuses a lot on communication with people. People learn how to communicate better and they say, "Boy, now that we learn how to communicate better within our divorce, I wonder if we shouldn't take another shot at marriage counseling?" And it's always wonderful to see that 'cause so much of marriage is communication. And ironically, so much of healthy divorce is communication. So it is okay to stop things and say, "Can at least do communications skills that we've learned help us reconcile our marriage?" As to myth, and there are plenty of them out there, I think part of it is that sort of black and white thinking, either have file or not file, that either I have to go to court, people aren't aware of mediation and collaborative, they need to get information about that. But there is also just a general feeling of--and this is mostly base on to fear and sometimes anger that in order to protect myself and my children, I have to get tough, I have to really go out and flex my muscles. And, you know, there are times where that's true, but far less than what I think. I mean, we think and I think generally, if you push too hard right away and file papers too quickly, it's going to require your spouse to simply push back and it doesn't usually lead to the outcome that people want. A lot of times, there is--you know, one of the other myths with that is the idea of "if I don't file first, if I don't get them first, I don't move the money around and move this account around, I'll be at a disadvantage." That kind of divorce planing, that collaborative divorce strategy I think almost always backfires. And it's something that sometimes lawyer's advice people doing, it seems like sort of collaborative advice, but almost never works 'cause usually if you're in front of a judge, they'll all undo that anyhow. Plus, you created back into adversarial process that nobody ever really wanted to. Even something as simple as serving papers which divorce lawyers used to do automatically, which to most clients, if we listen to our clients, it's a very offensive thing to do if you don't have to do it. Imagine getting papers at your workplace of a divorce you weren't expecting. That's usually unnecessary. Most times, people can start a divorce in an amicable way. And I think the way your divorce starts is a big predictor of the kind of divorce you're going to having and probably the kind of life your family is going to have afterwards.
8 Really important advice and backing up to some of the things we talked about last week with Bill Doherty, I think there are also our myths about what marriage is over the long haul. And as someone who's coming up on my 43rd wedding anniversary, I will speak to the reality of marriage in both joys and the challenges along the way. And I do worry that in our society and kind of the media images, the shallow and, you know, overly romanticized the images sometimes really work against us, I think. And there is and should be a lot of romance in marriage. But there is a lot of friendship and a lot of handwork and all sorts of other things that are just part of the deals. So I really appreciate having a chance to talk about that and the things that Bill Doherty discussed in the first part of this series brought to you by DivorceChoice.com, and really appreciate what you had to share with us Ron Ousky and the better way to proceed with the separation or divorce if it comes to that. Well, thank you for having me on the show. I really appreciate it. Well, and thank you for tuning in to this edition of Mom Enough with Marti and Erin. We hope you'll stay tuned [background music] for next week's show. If you have concerns about your child's growth and development, please talk to your child's health care provider or call GROW. That's to talk to a professional and find out ways in which you can get connected to various resources in Minnesota. Do you think I'll have a show called Kid Enough someday? [ Music ]
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