How to Have An Amicable Divorce
AMICABLE DIVORCE: Sometimes the path of growth carries couples apart. If divorce is on the table, learning how to create an amicable divorce will lead to the best outcomes for everyone. This commitment to a collaborative divorce process will allow you to separate in the healthiest way possible. It's especially important to go about a divorce process thoughtfully if you will be co-parenting after divorce, or continuing to run a business as a divorced couple. Today's podcast will help you get clarity about how to achieve an amicable divorce that prioritizes the health of your continued relationship, even though you will no longer be married to each other.
Setting The Foundation For a Positive Relationship With Your Ex
Divorce is never anyone's first choice. Couples get married with the best of intentions, and premarital couples never anticipate getting a divorce when they tie the knot. While it's every couple's hope that they can productively work through their issues and go on to become stronger and happier than ever before, it's not always possible to repair a relationship — even with the very best evidence-based marriage counseling. Nevertheless, if both individuals are willing, it is possible to go through a divorce in a healthy way, and retain a positive relationship with each other on the other side.
In this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast, I am speaking with Denver family law attorney Stephanie Randall to get the inside scoop on how to have an amicable divorce. Stephanie is a family law attorney and the managing partner of Burnham Law, and has been guiding couples through the process of amicable divorce for years.
She shared so much invaluable information for anyone thinking of a divorce, and preemptively addressed the “divorce questions” that you might have. She shed light on some of the most common misconceptions about divorce. Most importantly she shared useful strategies for what types of things to do (and what to avoid) if you want to have an amicable divorce or collaborative divorce with your soon-to-be-ex.
If you've been considering getting divorced, or are in the midst of the divorce process, this interview with Stephanie is a must-listen.
In This Episode with Divorce Attorney Stephanie Randall
We're discussing how to:
- Arm yourself with a full understanding of all the pros and cons of divorce
- Learn the most important questions to ask a divorce lawyer
- Educate yourself about your options for divorce
- Know for sure whether it's possible to stop a divorce and save your marriage (and why you should always consider that, when possible)
- Intentionally use your divorce to create a growth-promoting experience for both partners
- Recognize the importance of transparency in divorce
- Learn about the types of divorce and stages of divorce
- Find out the difference between co-parenting and legal custody
- Learn what characteristics to look for in a mediator
- Discover the things people do that unintentionally create a highly conflictual divorce
- Realize how therapy in Denver (or high-quality online therapy) can make the divorce process easier for you
- Understand the role of attorneys in having a collaborative divorce
- Learn about the divorce recovery process, and the path of healing after divorce
Stephanie shared her honest perspective so generously. As I was recording this episode with her I thought, “This is probably the same thing she'd tell her best friend who was thinking about divorce.” While this podcast is in no way a substitute for getting legal advice around your specific situation, I have no doubt Stephanie's authentic and heartfelt recommendations will be just as helpful for you as it is for her Denver divorce clients.
To access this episode and all of Stephanie's wonderful divorce-advice, you can scroll to the bottom of this post (past the show notes) to access the podcast player, or listen to “How to Have An Amicable Divorce” on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.
How to Have An Amicable Divorce: Episode Highlights
On Having an Amicable Divorce…
No couple gets married, anticipating they would go through a divorce. As much as we can, we want to create and nurture long-lasting relationships. Great premarital counseling and couples therapy can help to set your marriage up for success, and support your journey of growth together. However, some relationships cannot work, and there is no other choice but to get a divorce. [Check out, “When to Call It Quits in a Relationship” for more on this topic.]
However, if you're getting divorced, it's important to make this as positive of an experience as possible for both of you, and to use this life experience as a launchpad for your growth. One of the most important aspects of the breakup recovery process is working through the hard feelings about divorce, including anger, grief, resentment, guilt, and regret. Good therapy or coaching can help you move through this process of healing after divorce.
On the other side of this important personal growth work (or perhaps before, depending on your perspective about the divorce itself) you can connect with a positive and affirming perspective about your divorce that can be very helpful for your mental and emotional wellbeing.
“New ideas” about your marriage and divorce may include reminding yourself that:
- Individuals in a relationship realize they are better friends than as spouses. They appreciate their relationship more as they keep the good and release the parts that were not working.
- They can collaborate to be good co-parents for a long time. The children will also appreciate this healthier set-up between their parents.
Working through difficult emotions can be a very important part of the amicable divorce process. Amicable, collaborative divorce requires you to have positive intentions for the divorce process. If you're feeling very angry, hurt, or anguished about your divorce it can be difficult for you to make the types of decisions that will increase the likelihood of an amicable resolution.
The Importance of Transparency in a Divorce
Divorcing couples have often bruised each other emotionally in the months (or years!) leading up to a divorce. Trust may already be damaged. However, it's important to have as much integrity and goodwill during a divorce as you are able to muster. If you're not careful and deliberate, the adversarial nature of the divorce process can easily violate the remaining trust you have for each other. And the best way to avoid this violation is for partners to be transparent.
Here are some things that can help you maintain as much trust and integrity as possible as the divorce process unfolds:
- You have already met with an attorney and are ready to file for divorce, consider telling your partner ahead of time. No one wants to be surprised by a process server with divorce documents from their spouse.
- If possible, talk openly and honestly with your spouse to help them understand why you want a divorce.
- Provide as much information as you can about what the divorce process is going to look like, for both of you.
In our conversation, Stephanie added that, “those couples [, who can be transparent,] are the most successful in co-parenting and in departing their marriage well.” She shares a number of strategies for how to have these kinds of “courageous conversations” with your spouse.
Co-parenting versus Legal Custody
In addition to sharing some great “big picture” strategies for how to use the emotional intelligence skills that will facilitate an amicable divorce, Stephanie also shared some tips for divorcing couples around “divorce do's and don'ts” that will help you stay in a positive place together.
Among them: “If you litigate the custody if you get into a battle, it's going to be three to five years before your co-parenting relationship recovers, ” Stephanie says. Divorce is a difficult decision because it affects you and your spouse and your children.
Here are some questions to help you reflect on a decision:
- Can you make compromises for co-parenting instead of fighting in court?
- Is the outcome of fighting for legal custody worth your children's peace?
- Should both of you be present in your children's important life events?
Stephanie shared other questions and tips to help you create a functional agreement around parenting with your partner that will (hopefully) keep you out of court.
The Difference Between Mediation and Litigation
Stephanie talked about the difference between mediation and litigation, and why they're so important for divorcing couples to consider. A judge usually orders anyone filing for a divorce to see a mediator. And in some jurisdictions, you are required to get a mediator. Stephanie talked about how mediation is the best way to achieve an amicable divorce, if it's possible to do so.
Mediation is necessary to help both individuals see the bigger picture and arrive at a fair compromise. Below are some characteristics to look for in a mediator:
- Has a background in law or therapy.
- Knows the history of law in your state.
- Has experience and a good track record in settling cases.
- Does not only relay what you say but challenges your position.
Stephanie adds, “they say that a successful mediation is when everybody leaves unhappy. And that's because nobody got exactly what you wanted.“ Painful, but true!
Things People Have Trouble Compromising On Divorces
Stephanie talked about how the quickest way to a hostile, conflictual divorce is through rigidity. Awareness about the most difficult compromises can help you avoid getting into power struggles, and turning an amicable divorce into world war three.
First, people have trouble compromising their children's significant days, such as their birthdays or Christmas holidays. Atty. Stephanie shares some pointers on how to handle this situation better:
- It is okay to spend these significant days separately. Children do not mind spending them twice, and would even enjoy it.
- It is not as important to children as they are to parents. Parents should get past their emotional barriers and be prepared to take turns.
- Children want peaceful celebrations, where their parents treat each other with respect and not as enemies. Otherwise, children end up hating celebrating these days.
Next, people also get hung up on money. Stephanie advises people to connect with professionals, a CPA, or a financial planner, to avoid making fear-based decisions.
She also adds, “we want to be able to be empowered with the knowledge of this is how much money I need to take care of my family and, and to take care of myself.“
On Recovering Through the Stages of Divorce
Stephanie had much to share on the topic of divorce recovery. She said, “it's worse than death. It's the grieving of a thing that you thought was going to be forever. ” Anyone who chooses to go through a divorce must be ready for its adverse effects on their emotional well-being. However, divorce can also lead to enormous personal growth and positive change (with the right support).
Stephanie frequently advises her clients to get a good Denver therapist. (Or to pursue high quality online therapy, or divorce / breakup recovery coaching. Here are other reasons why she feels getting a therapist is helpful after a divorce:
- The court system is not made up to deal with feelings. The divorce process often feels unfair, which can also make you feel stressed or distrustful. It's vital you have a safe place to process all of these feelings, and develop coping strategies to deal with them.
- A therapist can help you work through feelings and develop healthy skills for addressing them productively. You do not want to end up lashing out at your co-parent! Being in a good place emotionally, and having an actionable plan to manage the big feelings that will arise is essential to having a positive relationship with your Ex, going forward.
- You will need a support system. Especially if you're a parent. One of the hardest realities of divorcing parents is that it's not just you that's going to be having a hard time. Your kiddos are going to need your emotional support, and you'll have to be mentally and emotionally well (enough) in order to support them. Friends, family, and acquaintances on social media are no substitute for professional, personalized support for your unique divorce situation.
On Dealing with Couple Reconciliations
Can you stop a divorce and save your marriage? Stephanie says yes. Some couples reach the beginning of the divorce process, which becomes their wake-up call. The types of authentic, courageous conversations that couples facing divorce have with each other can be long overdue. Sometimes, airing out all the issues can be a moment of clarity recognition that leads to reconciliation, and an on-ramp to marriage counseling.
On Distrusting Your Spouse's Parenting Style
Stephanie brings up an extremely important “selling point” for the importance of an amicable divorce for couples who share children: having a positive relationship with your Ex allows you to have a more collaborative co-parenting situation. Many couples struggle with having big feelings about their partner's parenting, and divorce often makes those worse.
In addition to her work as a family law attorney, Stephanie is a child and family investigator who specializes in children and family dynamics and reports to the courts about the best interests of children. In her experience, she shares how common it is for divorced couples to doubt each other's parenting styles. However, the court only deals with and restricts severe cases where there is evidence of children being endangered or neglected.
In these cases, she advises her clients to let go and accept the situation. If you have an excellent co-parenting set-up, you can gently bring up your doubts. But if you are on bad terms, consider working with a therapist to facilitate a healthy conversation. Else, your only hope is that they end up in a relationship with someone whose parents like you.
On Avoiding a Conflictual Divorce Process
Aside from the earlier mentioned importance of transparency, Stephanie lists other advice on how to have a collaborative divorce:
- Choose an attorney who can advocate for you. If your attorney is unprofessional or making the issues personal, it is time to get a different attorney.
- Do not give full control to your attorney. You should be the one who signs off on things filed in court. In the process, avoid personal attacks because presenting facts alone is enough for the court.
- Have a reasonable attorney who presents the whole picture to you. As an example, Atty. Stephanie shares a conversation with her client, “You want to fight about $50 a month in child support. it's gonna cost you $5,000 for me to litigate it. You tell me from now to the time that your child turns 19? Is that worth it? If it is, I'll file the motion.”
These episode highlights are only a tiny fraction of all the ideas, tips and strategies that Stephanie shared over the course of our conversation. I sincerely hope you listen to the full episode to get all of your amicable divorce questions answered.
Additionally, here are some other resources for you:
- Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to An Ex Love — For advice on handling breakups, and the breakup recovery process.
- Burnham Law — Check out Attorney Stephanie Randall’s Denver family law website to learn about her and her practice.
- Deep Bench Podcast — If you're interested in lawyerly things, check out Burnham Law’s podcast for more information on the life and times of attorneys.
- Growing Self Counseling and Coaching: Divorce Recover and Breakup Recovery Services — We have so many resources here for you. Access divorce recovery and breakup recovery podcasts and articles, or find an online divorce recovery therapist in Denver, Colorado if you'd like personalized support on this difficult journey.
- How to Stop a Divorce — Tune in to this episode for tips on how to turn things around (fast) if divorce is on the table.
- Discernment Counseling — this is a special type of couples counseling that can help you decide if relationship repair is possible or not.
Attorney Stephanie Randall has generously shared with us her expertise on how to have an amicable divorce. How did your perspective on divorce change after this episode? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below this post.
Also, if you have a friend or family member considering divorce, I hope you share this episode with them so that they can make an informed decision about the best course of action. I hope that this information will help them, too.
Wishing you all the very best,
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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She's the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.
How to Have An Amicable Divorce: Podcast Transcript
Access Episode Transcript
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. And you're listening to the Love Happiness & Success Podcast.
That’s Mr. And Mrs. Smith with the song Degrees of Separation, because today we're talking about the hard stuff. We're talking about, when you have to take a relationship apart, how can you do it in the healthiest, happiest and most successful way possible under the circumstances? My guest today on the Love Happiness & Success Podcast is Attorney Stephanie Randall. Stephanie is the managing partner of Burnham law. She specializes in family law, and she even does parenting and custody evaluations. She has a lot of experience in working with couples and families that are navigating the narrow path of divorce. She's here to share her insight and wisdom with us today. Stephanie, thank you for being here.
Getting a Divorce? Questions To Ask a Divorce Lawyer
Atty. Stephanie Randall: Of course. Thank you, Dr. Bobby, for having me on your podcast. I really appreciate the opportunity.
Dr. Lisa: Well, it's my pleasure. This is a challenging topic. I wanted to reach out to you though and talk about it. Many times like at our practice here at Growing Self and and even on this podcast, really our focus is always on how do we help people repair their relationships and create healthy, enduring marriages and partnerships that last a lifetime. That's always priority number one of our work.
There are situations where for whatever reason, that isn't possible, or optimal, and there can be many variables going into that. Nobody wants that outcome. You know, no couples get married, anticipating that, but it does happen. I have also seen in my role as a marriage counselor, therapist, and coach that sometimes having that be the ultimate conclusion can actually lead to a lot of growth and, and ultimately, very positive things for both of the individuals in a relationship and also their children.
I have even personally witnessed couples who decide to divorce, come out the other side of it, saying, “We make so much better friends than we ever did spouses. There are so many things about our relationship that I can appreciate now. It's like we kept the good parts of us and just released the parts that weren't working.” Particularly in couples that have had children. For me, that's always the ideal outcome is that they're able to be friends and collaborative and good co-parents together, because you know, they're gonna be together for years into the future doing this.
As so often is the case, particularly through the process of divorce. Couples who were already not in a great state of each other emotionally, it seems like it becomes worse because of the divorce process. My hope is speaking with you today was to first of all, understand, like, what the divorce process even involves. First of all, and then also get some of your insights around things that couples who are considering divorce or going through divorce can be thinking about, or even anticipating that can help them just make small choices along the way that will increase the likelihood of having a collaborative relationship by the time all the dust has settled. That's the hope.
How to Have an Amicable Divorce
Atty Stephanie: It's adversarial, right? If you have two people that show up and say, “Hey, I—you know, this isn't working, you know, we're better as friends.” Just like you said. They are going to have to engage in an adversarial process. I think that can make it difficult because you're in a trust relationship in a marriage, right? When you decide to divorce, there's a violation of that trust even though you both make that decision together or you decide that that's what's best. Because of the adversarial nature of the divorce and having to seek counsel or or confide in someone about information that maybe you wouldn't be very transparent with your spouse about.
Dr. Lisa: Like an attorney.
Atty. Stephanie: Like an attorney, that there starts to be a snowball build of the violation of that trust, right? It's someone that you know, maybe they were your best friend, or maybe you've just been together a super long time, but you have these a basis, right? A foundation of trust. Each violation of that trust turns you away from the other person, right? What I warn people about is, look, when you're ready to file and you've made up your mind, the best way to stop that violation from starting is to be transparent. To say, look, “I met with an attorney, and I am ready to file for divorce. You know, I want to be fully transparent. I want to give you the information. I don't want it to be surprised, right?” Because no one wants to just get served by a process server and find out that they.. That's a surprise, right, that their spouse wants a divorce..
Dr. Lisa: A trauma. I mean, some kids are really blindsided.
Atty. Stephanie: Right. I think it's really important to be totally upfront and to say, “I, you know, this is what I need. Whatever the reasons are, let's move forward. If you've met with the attorney, and you've prepared the paperwork. it's time to file it. “I don't want to surprise you, let's go ahead and sit down, let's have dinner, let's have a glass of wine, or some coffee or something. And let's talk about what this is going to look like.”
Those couples are the most successful in co-parenting and in departing their marriage well. There's a statistic that that I like to make sure that my clients know, it's that if you have children together, and you're going to be co-parenting, if you litigate the custody, if you get into a battle, it's going to be three to five years before your co-parenting relationship recovers from that..
Dr. Lisa: Oh really?
Atty. Stephanie: Yeah. If you're after a year, you're having to file new things, whether it's you or whether it's the other, you know, the other party, every time you go to court, and every time you engage in this three to five years before your relationship can recover from it on average. That's
your kids, right? How many three to five years segments do you have before your children are out of your house? And how many of those segments Do you want them to experience? Before things are peaceful? Right? Do you want your kids to have both of you at their wedding? Do you want your kids that both of you at their games and their graduations and all that you have to think about that, and whether the annoyance and frustration of dealing with your co-parent is worth making those compromises versus getting out there and just saying, “I can't take it anymore.” A judge is going to have to decide in setting back your relationship those three to five years. It's really, really important. It's different when it's just adults, you know, that don't have children?
Dr. Lisa: Sure. Yeah. Like everybody just be free, doesn't matter if you never talk to each other. Well, now there are couples know that like run a business together have those kinds of things where you also have to think about the end game. Backing up a little bit. I don't know if your office does any of this. Just for the benefit of listeners who might be thinking about these things, and you know, pretty clear they're done, but trying to figure out what the next steps are.
Would you mind briefly explaining the difference between mediation versus getting attorneys involved? Like, what is the difference in terms of that process? And when might someone consider like one alternative way or the other?
Atty. Stephanie: Sure. At least in Colorado, which is where I practice, every case, pretty much gets ordered to mediation. Your question is basically what's the difference between mediation and then potentially, like arbitration or having a court decide?
Dr. Lisa: That's even great to know. That in Colorado, if anybody files for divorce, the first thing a judge says, like, go see the mediator, see what you can work out, like, That's good to know.
Atty. Stephanie: Yep. Sometimes more than once there's some jurisdictions where they want you to mediate before any hearing and the mediation process, you can get mediators involved before you hire attorneys. If you have a very, very basic case, where you don't really have any property, you don't really have any debt. You don't have children. You haven't been married very long. You probably don't need an attorney. I mean, I know that I'm, like signing us out of some business, but you probably don't get it. Go have a consult and make sure that that's the case for you.
You can hire an attorney and both of you can have attorneys and go to mediation. The mediator is a neutral person who sometimes they have a background in law. Maybe they're an attorney or a former judge, sometimes they are a therapist, and they just are good at helping people to see things outside of their own entrenched perspectives. Basically, you go sit down with this mediator, and they try to help you see a compromise position, something that both of you can live with, right? Because everybody has a scale of what I can agree to and what I absolutely can't live with.
The goal in mediation in a successful mediation is to find that middle ground for everybody. They say that a successful mediation is when everybody leaves unhappy. That's because nobody got exactly what you wanted. Live with it. Right, you can live with it. That's mediation and you, I, you know, I highly encourage mediation, and definitely have your mediation with a professional that has a good history of law in your state, who has experience and a good track record of settling cases, because that means that that person isn't just a courier going back and forth between the rooms, saying, “Well, this is what she says, or this is what he says, or this is what she says.” It's someone who's challenging you on your position and saying, “Hey, is it possible that maybe, if you could give a little on this, that, you know, the other party could give a little on this? Then we have a full agreement and you sign off on it? You can live with it, and everybody's done.” That's mediation.
Dr. Lisa: Oh, and I just had a curiosity. Briefly, what are some of the things that you have seen couples get hung up about where people have trouble compromising? Is it more around like custody things? Who has the kids on what days isn't financial? What? What tends to create the most angst?
Atty. Stephanie: Definitely children. And I think money, you mess with someone's money, or you mess with someone's children, that doesn't usually go over very well. Some of the smaller things that people get hung up on that I would highly encourage people to work past is significant days. Like if you're working on a holiday schedule, for example, people get really hung up about like the child's birthday, or Christmas or Thanksgiving.
The fact is that children adjust and they love having two Christmases, and you can say that to someone and they're like, “No, it's Christmas, we got to celebrate Christmas on Christmas Day. I got to be there with my kids when they wake up in the morning.” I understand that. Children if you just tell them “Look, you're celebrating Christmas with mommy on this day, and you're celebrating Christmas with Daddy, like we're gonna have another Christmas on this day.” They don't mind, they love it.
They get two Christmases, they get two days where they wake up and they're excited. You'll have people that will throw down and go to court over I have to have Christmas. Yeah. That's really not worth it. And same thing with the child's birthday. That's an important significant day, right? Even you know, even in the family's normal practice, you know, say little Susie's birthday falls on a Wednesday, you're probably celebrating it that weekend, right? You might have, you know, a cupcake or something on the actual day, but, or maybe you have dinner or something. You can find a way to celebrate and make that special for that child on a different day. There's no reason to make it a litigated issue.
That what I would say is those kinds of things. Those are emotional, and they're important to the parents, they're not as important to the child. I would just encourage people to get past that
emotional barrier and be prepared to take turns, or even let the other parent if they're just I, you know, sometimes you have people with different religions or, you know, whatever, they have reasons why maybe they want to do Christmas Eve mass. It's really important to them to have Christmas Eve night because the masses at midnight. Let them have it you don't you can have, you know, whatever other day, he says.
Dr. Lisa: Such good advice, though, just sort of reminding people to not get attached to specifics and sort of be looking at the big picture around… Also the fact that many kids are like, “Yes, I would be very happy to have a birthday week. Thank you very much.” As opposed to getting like super specific, and remembering that there's a relationship and if we get really granular about what has to happen and what it has to happen that that is a predictable path to having a very contentious situation that will probably create much more pain and suffering for a child with their parents cannot communicate or very same room.
Atty. Stephanie: You end up with children who hate celebrating the holidays. They're just like “Mom, dad, I, you know, I'm over it. I don't really care.” Because they don't. They just want it to be peaceful. Yeah, they want their parents to treat each other with respect. That's all. I do get to interview children, they get so sick of it. It's just it's the parents, they just get so hung up on perceived insults and things build up upon building upon building. It's, again, those violations of trust. They just keep snowballing and they don't ever go away, because you never have a, like a festivus where you were, you can deal with those because that person is now your sort of enemy or your, you know, your opposing party, that you have to, you have to get past looking at it that way.
The other thing that people get hung up on is money. Frequently, it's the person who's not the high dollar earner. I've had men and women be in the situation. I don't want to say this as frequently, women, but in a situation like that, I advise people to go meet with a CPA. Go meet with a financial planner, about what your circumstances are, and what you need. Based on your income and your situation, and your children to survive, because otherwise, you get people in mediation, or fighting all the way to court, because they don't really know what they need. They just feel like they need a lot.
Those fear based decisions are not where you want to be. We want to be able to be empowered with the knowledge of this is how much money I need to take care of my family and, and to take care of myself. This is how much retirement I need at this point in my life. When you're talking about giving divvying everything up, that way, you're not just going in saying, well, I need all of it, because I'm not sure, you know, you don't have to operate like that, you know, your financial planner, and your CPA can say, “Here's the deal, like you, you know, you need to be able to claim one child every other year or, you know, there's no point in you claiming more than one child because the current tax law”
Or, you know, whatever those things are, those are those are very important pieces that it's not just about your attorney. But you know, about knowing what you need, and then you can go into
equipped, right you can, you can make the decisions. You can make a compromise, and then you don't have to fight about, you know, I have to have, however much alimony or maintenance every year or every month, because I know exactly what I need. Then you know, where your stopping point is, right? And you can be equipped to make those decisions.
Dr. Lisa: That's wonderful advice. Thinking about it, too, from like an emotional perspective, I could see and in my experience, when people are in the situation, exactly as you say, there's a lot of anger. There's a lot of fear, and to be connecting with professionals who can provide like reality-based information about this is how much you actually need, can help, I would think, get clarity about what those boundaries are, and just sort of help you make decisions that at a time when it's probably very difficult to make every decision
Atty. Stephanie: Really scary. Yeah. You don't want to make fear based decisions, right? Manic is what makes you miserable. You don't need to be waking up in the middle of the night. When you sign on the dotted line of your agreement, you know whether you made a decision that’s safe for you. That's very powerful. And oftentimes, when I first meet with a client, I say, “I need you to go meet with a financial planner, I need you to go talk to your CPA, I need you know what you have. This is how old you are, this is how much money you make.” If it's someone who hasn't been in the workforce, then they probably need to go talk to someone about what their skill set.
Dr. Lisa: A little plug for career coaching right here.
Atty. Stephanie: Yes, clear. Interviewing to create a resume, to get yourself out there right now, especially during COVID. I think it's a normal development in our culture, is to get yourself networking, virtually, and a lot of people aren't accustomed to that they're used to we have to go to coffee, meet and greets. That's not as much a thing anymore. Maybe you maybe your dream is to be a I don't know, like a designer? Great, what is, what practically how much school? Do you have to have? You're gonna have to go meet with the guidance counselor at your local college or wherever it is that you want to go find out how many semesters how much money does it take?
That way, you know, again, when you're going into the settlement discussions, how much money do you really have to have, and maybe you'll be able to scale back your maintenance or alimony after three years, because in three years, based on you know, your appropriate career track, you should be able to make whatever median amount that is, and you'll know what it is maybe you make zero now, but in three years, you're going to be making 65. Well, you can make a decision that maybe your ex can agree to because they don't feel like they're going to be paying a whole lot Forever for you not to work or those kinds of things.
Dr. Lisa: Gosh, just again, so much empathy for people really being pushed into a situation
where they're having to make really major life decisions about things like careers in the midst of such an emotionally tumultuous time, that's a lot. It's a lot of stress. Just I mean, but I hope that reflection provides empathy for people going through this is that it really is hard, and it's so many things up in the air, and there's really a period of time where most people do feel very discombobulated, it's like everything kind of blows apart. It takes a while before it all comes back together. There is a new normal and a new chapter. It's, it's a lot when you're going through it, particularly if, you know, there's also pain like that you didn't want the divorce sometimes, and it's having to grapple with that as well, so much,
Atty. Stephanie: It really is awful. I advise my clients very frequently, to get a therapist during the process, just to help them deal with the trauma of the process of divorce. Because there's just so much that feels unfair, especially in family law, the court system is not really made up to deal with feelings. It's not about principle, right? It feels like it is it feels like it's about fairness, especially if you've had a spouse that was unfaithful, or that spent a bunch of money and was, you know, not honest about it, or had an addiction or whatever it is, or maybe they have a personality disorder, mental illness. Those kinds of things, they just put people in really bad situations.
For example, if you have a military spouse who's been a primary stay at home with the children, they haven't had a career because it requires one of the spouses, right, the one that's not being deployed, to be at home, taking care of the children and managing the household. Well, suddenly, there's a divorce. That person is expected to somehow juggle all through things that they've been juggling plus have a career. That's not something that the couple decided, again, the violation of trust, right? The thing that you decided on is no longer of a thing. It's just it's a total, it's an upside down turn around. You've, it's not fun, and you know, your friends can only go so far as hearing what you're saying, and they might be incensed on your behalf.
At the end of the day, you know, it's better to be going to a professional that can help you work through those feelings and, you know, help you to function through them and give you the tools to deal with them. You're not just in this vicious cycle of vitriol and bitterness. YBecause that's not where you want to be with your co-parent. You know, they may have been injuring you over and over and over. That's not where you want to end up.
Stages of Divorce
Dr. Lisa: Yeah, I think thank you for bringing that up. Breakup recovery is a topic of great discussion on this podcast. I'm the author of a book called Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to an Ex Love that talks about exactly these topics. It is so difficult, but and you know, it's been, it's interesting, because I think sometimes people who are in earlier stages of a relationship and going through a breakup can feel emotionally very devastated on, like, you know, self esteem and kind of rejection level.
People who are going through a divorce will also have those feelings, but just the realities of life
that you have to contend with in a divorce situation, particularly if you have children and are having to juggle all of these things. There's like the emotional healing part of it, but also all of these material considerations, in addition to the very difficult feelings around anger and guilt, and you know, rejection and pain. It's so much so I'm glad that you advise your clients to get support around this because it's too much to go through.
Atty. Stephanie: I compare it to a death, but it's worse than a death because then we're so alive. It's worse than it is it's worse than a death. It's the grieving of a thing that you thought was going to be forever. I firmly believe there is nothing worse than then going through a divorce. There just is not it's so terribly painful. Whenever I meet with someone, and they're not really sure, I don't push them into it, because only that person knows when it's really time. I don't blame people for wanting the education and the information and you should get that information so you know about what decisions you need to make but it's just terrible.
When you have a co-parent, you're not only have the feelings of guilt and even just like when we had a wedding and all of our friends came, and it's very embarrassing, and that just things that you didn't plan for the, that's not how you imagined that your life was gonna be. Then you add children to it. You don't want them to be in a broken home situation, but you also don't want them to be seeing a toxic interaction between their parents, right? It's just, it's really, really terrible. It's you should get all the support, you can and certainly don't spread it all around on social networking, because that's not a good foundation for your co-parenting relationship. Definitely, you know, if you have really close friends, and don't share it with your family, either, because they, they can't ever get over it. You know, where your friend or your therapist, they don't have to run into your ex at social functions with your children in the future. Don't try, not to build those. Yeah,
Dr. Lisa: Poison poison the well. Yeah, totally.
Atty. Stephanie: Not a good idea. But I mean, that's..
Dr. Lisa: I mean, it's good to have you say, and some, you know, because I think, from my perspective, so many couples, they, they think about divorce, because they don't know how else to solve these relationship problems that feel bad to them. Again, there can be very appropriate circumstances for divorce, where it really is the best answer. Just like what you're saying, it creates all of these new problems that end and it is a very difficult experience. Not not to take it lightly. It sounds like you know, the first stop would be hopefully consulting with a very ethical attorney, such as yourself, who is able to provide some real world, okay, here's what you're looking at that might have hate to say, slow a person down, but give them reality based information to make sure that this is the right path.
Stop a Divorce
Atty. Stephanie: Well, and a lot of times, when we meet with someone, sometimes they decide
not to, sometimes they decide to reconcile, because they don't want to go through all the things that they go through. Maybe what they're about to face isn't as bad as turning to each other and saying, “We have some things to work on.” There's definitely like you said, there are situations where safety and sanctity demands that the relationship be parted. Then there's other times where, you know, those two people can decide to figure it out. That's powerful stuff.
Dr. Lisa: Have you seen that? It.. I mean, it did people get as far as your office and then say, “Wait a minute, maybe we can work on communication? Maybe I really do love you, after all.” What have you done? I'm curious.
Atty. Stephanie: I think it's very rare that you know, that a person sits in my office and says, “I don't love this person, I hate this person.” They might get there eventually. That's not usually where they're coming from. It's just usually, you know, we, we can't, either they're living a life that is a facade, and they just can't deal with that anymore. Or, you know, there's all of it.
There's all kinds of different reasons, there's religious reasons why people would stay together, there's, you know, moral reasons, or whatever it may be, but I have people regularly come in, and either do a consult, and I never hear from them again. They're not filing. I think that they just gathered the information and went back home and was like, “Well, I could take this out, but I'm not going to, and that's enough.” Or, and we do have people that will even file and engage in beginning the process. Then they that brings them together. That's sort of the low point. It's a wake up call, and they have a real conversation with each other about, “Do we want to go down this road? Or do we want to work on ourselves?”
It happens, and I'm always thrilled when someone says, “Hey, we've decided to reconcile. Can you file to dismiss my case?” Like, yes, absolutely. The only time I ever tried to talk someone out of that is when I've, in my interview process, when I've heard a lot of red flags about what I think is a danger to them. That's when we're talking about, like, domestic violence dynamics, and, and really abusive situations physically or emotionally. In those situations, it's still up to that person, but I like to talk to them about the risks and statistics of what's going on and how unsafe I think it may be and that they need to have a safety plan in place and those kinds of things.
Definitely reconciliations can happen and especially in domestic violence situations, I think this statistic is like six to 10 times that the person tries to leave before they. As a divorce attorney, you see people in those situations too and you feel scared sometimes for them about you know them walking back into their situation but but anytime there's none of that, and it's just a, “Hey, we've developed these differences or we've grown apart or whatever it may be,” that doesn't sound insurmountable to me. Like, can you not just work on that whether with a therapist or together and I don't know, I think it's worth it it is versus going through all these terrible things that we've been talking about.
Breakup Recovery Coaching
Dr. Lisa: That's wonderful. You bring up such a great reminder that there's, there's also different situations. While it can be such a beautiful thing for a couple to kind of like, walk up to the edge of the cliff, and then they like, “Maybe this is a growth opportunity, as opposed to jumping off.” There are other situations where really, the healthiest thing is actually to end and stop participating in a toxic relationship cycle. While we are on the subject, I hope it's okay for me to ask you this question. In addition to working as a family law attorney, you also serve as a custody evaluator, like a parenting evaluation specialist. I'm curious if you could talk just a little bit about what that is? When it happens? I'll ask you why.
Sometimes I talk to people usually in the context of individual therapy, who are really unhappy in a relationship and do not see a future with that person. They have children. They are afraid of what might happen to the children. If they are with the other parent, even part time they don't trust their parenting decisions. It's not usually like, you know, abuse or major addictive like, that's usually black and white enough to be able to, to deal with but more around like questionable parenting, questionable safety, like, emotionally abusive communication that the children might experience when with the other parent. Take us in a little bit to what a parenting or custody evaluator does, when it's appropriate and and when somebody might consider enlisting that kind of support if they're worried.
Atty. Stephanie: Sure. In Colorado, there's two types of child investigators. There's a child and family investigator and there's a parental responsibilities evaluator. I'm a child family investigator, we call it a CSI, a parental responsibilities evaluator, and this is different state by state, but I'm sure there are similar, you know, roles in each state. A parental responsibilities evaluator is a doctor there a psychiatrist or psychologist that can actually do mental health testing or addictions kind of testing.
A CSI, which is the role that I serve as someone who has specialized training and experience in children and family dynamics and best interests of children. They're trained to go into households and to interview children and to basically report to the court as an agent of the court to make recommendations. I would say that this what you're describing is very frequent. With parents who are like, you know, as long as I'm there to be a buffer, I'm not worried about this, but dad feeds them straight candy, and doesn't keep a bedtime and doesn't do their homework with them and doesn't get them to school on time. Or Mom, you know, I'm…
Dr. Lisa: Just yeah, sure.
Atty. Stephanie: Feed them fast food and doesn't get them to soccer practice and let them play on their iPad all day. I mean, it's just, it's very, very frequent, that those kinds of things happen, because, you know, like, you're talking about two parents who decided that they didn't want to be together anymore. Now they're separate. All of the things that that one person may have been effectuating in the parenting style at the house, it's no longer there to be a barrier. That's it
not only is that maddening as the parent who's trying to be like, “Look, you know, the kids should brush their teeth every day before they go to bed. “ When they're at the other parents house, they aren't even taking a bath. You know, like that's incredibly frustrating.
Sometimes you have medical issues from it, especially the little girls will get yeast infections or whatever. Those things are frustrating. The way that the court treats that is you had children with that person. I know that's very unsatisfying and unfair. Again, the court isn't really designed to deal with nuance and gray area, it's very black and white. If you have like you said the severe things like a major addiction, or a major mental illness, where the person is like debilitated from taking care of them.
Or there's black and white evidence of, of the children being endangered or neglected. Great, I mean, you, you can get a restriction and you can limit the person's parenting time or have it supervised. When it's gray area kind of stuff, like what I'm talking about, in my mind, as a parent, those are terrible things like I would not want that to be happening to my child In the courts eyes that's not restriction kind of material.
What I encourage for that kind of situation is, you have to recognize that you no longer have control at the other household, you have to let go of it. You have to let go of it. You have to understand that you can only effectuate control with the children on those things when the children are with you. It doesn't necessarily make the other person a bad parent. Those are individual parenting decisions, which objectively I think most parents could say like that those aren't great things. It's not killing them. It certainly doesn't rise to the level of abuse, like at the state level. If you have a good co parenting relationship with your co parent, you can work with them gently on some of those things.
If you have a terrible relationship, they'll just be like, you know, “Stop trying to control me, I don't want to hear from you.” There are therapists who specialize in high conflict, co parenting, and coaching. I always encourage people, when they're in a situation like that, to work with a therapist who can help them word, their messages, well, so that they aren't triggering the other person into just being, you know, oppositional. Especially if the person you know, that you're dealing, if your co parent is narcissistic, or has borderline personality disorder, those are especially difficult because if the person can't control you in the relationship anymore, they use the children to control you, or they use finances to control you by perpetuating litigation, and causing you to have to hire an attorney constantly.
You have to work with someone in the field in the mental health field to help you learn how to take the meat out of those fights for the other person so that they become bored with you. You can kind of like, parallel parent and apparently around them. I know it's not a very satisfying answer. The bottom line, you just have to learn to accept that when that child is with the other parent, that those things may happen. Hope and pray that they may get in a relationship with someone who parents more similarly to you. Then you can make friends with that person and try to ensure..
Dr. Lisa: A perfect world.
Atty. Stephanie: Yes, and sometimes they'll meet the right person, and it sort of writes their ship. It's good, because that person is, you know, manages the household. Well, it deals with the children the way that you would hope and but I would say that that's the most maddening part of going through one of these processes. As an evaluator, when I'm looking at those things, I have to discount them, because I know that the court, again, like as an objective parent, I have concerns about them. I know that the courts’ going to be concerned about things that are actually endangering to the children, you know, and getting a cavity is not even though you know, that's not great, and nine out the way that you want to do it. You can't, you could if it's possible, you know, you can use that to say, “Hey, maybe I do need to work this out and figure out how to make this relationship work so that I can still be there with them.”
I think like to the extreme side of it, when you have a domestic violence situation, it's the same thing only worse, because you have a parent who says “I'm there to be the buffer. I'm there to receive the angst and the anger. If I'm not there, I'm afraid it's going to turn to the children.” That's very difficult and terrifying, because there's no evidence that it is going to happen. There's no way to make sure it's not happening when the parents not there to be the buffer. That's, you know, like, if you look at the scale of these things, like Little Timmy not getting his teeth brushed versus, you know, an abusive parent potentially turning on a child. Those are much smaller things that you have to learn how to let go of. Oh, I know. It's terrible.
Dr. Lisa: No, it really is. I'm so glad that we're having this very open and honest conversation, from your perspective, because, you know, I think that it can be very easy for people to idealize certain aspects of divorce. Like I'll finally be free and I won't have anybody criticizing me about the way I unload the dishwasher. I'll be able to, you know, whatever. Whereas I mean, the realities are enormous and I totally agree with you hands down the hardest part of these situations is, is the parent who no longer has control over the way that their children are cared for, or treated in their absence and needing to figure out a way to cope with that.
What you're also saying is that through when possible, and it isn't always, but when possible, achieving an amicable collaborative divorce, there is more opportunity to have a cooperative parenting relationship where you still, I think what I heard you say is, there's still a decent word influence, but like the opportunity to say, “I know, you've been so busy, should I go ahead and just make these dentists appointments, I know, it's like my day, but you know…” Whatever. To have that be received well, as opposed to like, somebody interpreting it as you being controlling and, you know, rejecting. Thank you for talking about this. Going back, and I know we're coming up on time here, but when it comes to that as being the goal. I mean in light of all of the possible pitfalls we've been discussing.
I heard you share a couple of really concrete things at the beginning of our conversation about how to achieve that. First of all, being really transparent about how you're feeling like thinking
this might be the best path for us and scheduling a time to go talk with Stephanie Randall of Burnham Law about our options. Just wanted to let you know, that's happening. Don't sneak up on anybody.
Also be willing to consider the risks and consequences of divorce and being open to the possibility of doing things to improve your relationship prior to getting to that point. Then I heard you say that the first stage, at least in Colorado, hopefully other states will be to speak with a mediator. When you have the opportunity to go into mediation, be really willing to kind of let go the small things to compromise to not like go to war over Christmas morning or anything like that.
I heard you say be getting like reality-based information about things like money about how your kids actually feel versus how you're imagining them, that they might feel all for the purpose of you being able to be more flexible. Let go with some things.
In the event, that for whatever reason, that doesn't work the way we hoped.T here is a sticking point there of some kind, then the next step of that would be for each person to get an attorney and begin litigating, I guess. Without how the things are going to be hashed out. When it gets to that point, are there still things that couples can do to decrease the likelihood of it becoming as acrimonious and conflictual as it could? Or by the time people start getting attorneys involved and toggling with each other? Is it? Is it difficult at that point to salvage?
Atty. Stephanie: There's a couple of things that you can do. One of them is to be careful about who your attorney is. That's really, really important because your attorney is your advocate, and they should be speaking for you in the way that you want them to. If your attorney is conducting themselves unprofessionally, or making the issues personal to themselves, or attacking the other party personally, that those might be signs to you that it's time to get a different attorney.
Those things exacerbate emotions and feelings and keep violating that trust. It's talking about so that, you know, when you have an attorney that's like, on the attack like that, it warrants the defense, right? Then a counter attack, because you're at some point, the other person's like, “I'm not just gonna sit here and take it, I'm gonna attack too.” That becomes what I like to call the pile of caterpillars.
It's an Aesop's fable about this Caterpillar that walks by, and he sees this pile of caterpillars. He says, “Well, there must be something great at the top. I'm going to climb up to the top.” He works all day to try to climb up to the top. There's nothing at the top except more caterpillars, that's what this kind of litigation is like. You can be fighting and fighting and fighting. Both of you like making big issues out of things. Then at the end of the day, you still have the exact same issues that you started with. All you've done is spend a bunch of money and hate each other. You know, that's all.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah. This is so good. I mean, you're thinking It's so important that your attorney is actually representing you. If you connect with somebody who's like a really aggressive Bulldog-y, like super highly conflictual thing. They are your emissary in this. It will create a dynamic where people start fighting with each other over what turns out to be ultimately nothing but has destroyed your relationship and drained your bank account in the process.
Atty. Stephanie: Totally. There's that. Then there's also you are the one that signs off on your things that are filed with the court at the end of the day, right, your attorney signs, it makes it whatever, you read it, and you make sure that it is factually correct, and that it is not personally attacking the other person. Right, because that's just injurious. If you factually have to tell the court, “Look, this is what's happening, I need you to know what it is.” You don't have to call the other parent names. You can present that on the basis of fact alone. Try to keep it to just the facts. That helps. It still hurts because you know that other person's throwing things out there. It's less hurtful than, you know, saying someone's lazy, because they're not working or, you know, or getting into, you know, they're just a dangerous and terrible parent, you know?
Dr. Lisa: You have to defend yourself.
Atty. Stephanie: Right. Don't don't get into the hyperbole. Judges appreciate that too. Like they don't, I think it makes it. It's disingenuous, because nobody's thrilled with each other, you're in a divorce. Focus on the things that the court really needs to know. Pull the leash back on your attorney, right? Because you're the one that's in control. You know, you have people that throw up their hands. Well, whatever my attorney says is what I think that I should be doing. That's not that's not right, you, you're driving the bus.
Yeah, no, your attorneys just has the knowledge and ability to effectuate where you're wanting to go. You have to focus on reeling those things in. Then you know, when you have to go to court over it, hopefully, you've been able to narrow the scope to the things that you just couldn't work out. Both of you can acknowledge that and say,”Hey, we just had to have someone in a black robe decide, okay, it's not personal.” You can get past that, right. If you've, if you've used hyperbole and been attacking one another, and allowing your attorney to drive up litigation, that's hard to get over. Right? If you've spent $50,000, on your divorce, instead of putting it into the kids college funds, that's hard to get over, you know, that's decades of not getting over.
Dr. Lisa: Oh, I know it I mean, people always say marriage counseling is expensive, like you have no idea how many zeros can be on the end of a divorce situation. You bring up so many good suggestions. Also, I think you're alluding to this, but probably too kind to say it, that I have also seen couples separate or divorce and one of them has connected with I mean, probably a less ethical or less scrupulous attorney. It is very much in that attorneys best interests in order to have all kinds of suits and counter-suits and litigation and ongoing things because those are billable hours at the end of the day.
When you sort of relinquish control and your good judgment about what is the best path to an attorney without being very cautious about who you're working with, that can really create unintended consequences for you and your family far, far into the future. I'm so glad that you're talking about these kinds of ethical issues. Strategies that people can use to empower themselves through this process, as opposed to just handing the reins over to someone who may not care if they can both be at their kid's birthday party five years from now.
Atty. Stephanie: Like these is our jobs. The reason I became an attorney was because I wanted to help people. That's not why everyone's in this business. Especially in family law, there's a lot of attorneys who do domestic practice that hate family law. That's, that's probably not who you want representing you. You want someone that has some kind of if you have children, you want them to have some kind of education and knowledge about child development and psychology because you want that knowledge to be advising you about what your parenting plan should look like, for example. If for some reason they don't have that you need someone in your life that can help you make that decision.
It's just, you know, it does happen, that it's up to me, like as a professional, it's pretty transparent when it starts happening, that every single little thing is raised and there's motions filed all the time and you know, just things that you're constantly dealing with that don't really amount to a hill of beans, or a hill of caterpillars, and it that's a waste of money. When I have a client that comes to me and says look like you know we've been on we're just reactive here I want to be I want to be you know, I want to start loving some blows. I asked them if you do a cost benefit analysis.
You want to fight about $50 a month in child support. It's gonna cost you $5,000 for me to litigate it. You tell me from now to the time that your child turns 19? Is that worth it? It's gonna be three to five years before your co parenting relationship recovers, tell me if it's worth it. If it is, I'll file the motion. Like a good attorney is going to make you sit back and think about whether you really want to take the action that you're asking, and to make you look at the other side and play devil's advocate, if you will, you know. I've even had I actually have a negative review from a client who was like, well, they were, “Stephanie was, you know, like, advocating for the other side.” I was not. I was just saying, look at it from the courts perspective, and look at it from this other person's perspective. If you want me to file it, I will.
That's a good attorneys job is to try to help you sit back on your heels and, and, you know, sleep on it, think about it, and make a good, thoughtful decision before you just pop off because of principle, and I promise like principles, not where you want to be in domestic relations, because that's not the place that you find. I don't know, like real fairness, or you don't, there's no payback, you know, I mean, and, you know, like, even if your attorney’s successful and you win your case, like did your co-parenting relationship win? You just have to think about all of those aspects.
Dr. Lisa: Well, Stephanie, your clients are so incredibly lucky to have you to shepherd them through all this. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and perspective with my listeners today. This has been a wonderful conversation. If you're listening to this and would like to speak with Stephanie Randall about your situation you can learn more about her and her practice at burnhamlaw.com I believe they have a number of offices in Colorado. And again, Stephanie, thank you. This has been a wonderful.
Atty. Stephanie: Thank you for having me.
Dr. Lisa: Also Stephanie's practice hosts their own podcast called the Deep Bench podcast and I believe they talk about a variety of topics but it might be worth a listen if you'd like to continue educating yourself around the process and practice of law so thank you again. Thanks for your time.
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