Welcome. Thank you for joining Collaborative Divorce Ottawa’s presentation of the top 10 tips for an easier divorce. I’m Pat Simpson. I’m a lawyer in Ottawa practicing with Low Murchison Radnoff with a settlement focused type of practice. With me today is Christopher Arnold. Tell us about yourself, Chris.
Good morning, Pat, or good afternoon. Yeah, my name’s Chris Arnold. Like Pat, I practice family law here in Ottawa. Both of us are members of Collaborative Divorce Ottawa, which is a local group of collaborative practitioners . And that’s what brings us here today to present this webinar on top 10 tips to have an easier divorce.
So just a few administrative things, this presentation is being recorded for future use on our website. The chat has been disabled, but you can submit questions anonymously in the question and answer box and we will try to answer them. So these are just some ideas that Chris and I have that I think we would probably tell our friends if our friends were going through a divorce about what you can do to make it a little easier on yourself.
1. Be Kind During a Separation
So I’m going to start with number one, which is to be kind. This is probably the most stressful time of your life, the most stressful time of your spouse’s life and hopefully not, but possibly, the most stressful time of your kids lives. And so everything you thought you knew was up in the air and it’s scary. We tend not to be our best selves when we’re under that kind of stress.
So just be kind. Be kind to your kids. Studies have shown that kids can deal just fine with separation. It’s the conflict that is hard for them. So be kind to your kids by trying to shield them from the conflict between mom and dad. This can mean biting your tongue when you most don’t want to do it, presenting a united front with your spouse to your children and being mindful and deliberate about what you share with your kids. .
Be kind to your spouse. This is probably the hardest time in your life to be kind to this person. But try to remember that what your spouse is saying or doing is coming from them being probably at the bottom in a place of fear and stress. And if you can cut them some slack when he or she does something that’s not nice you’re going to have a smoother divorce.
We’re not condoning any kind of family violence: that’s a separate topic. But giving them the benefit of the doubt and remembering that they may be at a different stage in this process than you are. They may have processed a lot more of this than you have, or you may have processed a lot more of this than they have. Be kind to them, giving them a little more time or asking for more time if you need it.
Finally, be kind to yourself. This is one of the hardest stages of your life. Cut yourself some slack, eat well, exercise. Practice good sleep hygiene and consider your external supports. Chris is going to talk to you more about that.
Those are my ideas about being kind to all of the people involved in this process.
And excellent, Pat, that lovely breakdown of the general point of Be Kind. And it’s, some people in your circle will actually encourage you not to do, right? They’ll actually say, don’t be an idiot, don’t be a fool, don’t be a, don’t be a doormat, when actually this…
You know, I say this, you probably say some version of this, Pat, but I’ll say to clients, you know, this is your first divorce. It’s my 900th. Yeah. And my value add is that I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t work and being a burr doesn’t work. So you’re actually being kind to be strategic. You can disarm and disempower somebody’s power over you or their power to take you off of your path by being kind to them, kind to your kids, and kind to yourself. We don’t have, we could do a whole seminar on that, but we’re just doing, this is only 1 of 10.
2. Build and Work with a Support System
So we’ll move right along to the next one, which is Number two. Seek and build and work with a support system. So number one, be kind. Number two, build your support system. What does that mean? In the collaborative context, inside the collaborative model that Pat and I work with, which is a specific way to do a negotiation of your family law rights to settle your separation, we actually have three different professionals that speak to the three different parts that basically need attention. So I guess the way to think about it is you have a financial divorce, you have an emotional divorce, and you have a legal divorce. Those three things are happening at the same time, and getting specific help for your three divorce. Alll of you are going, “Oh my God, I thought I was having one divorce. I’m having three!?!” This it’s going to help sometimes to just break it into these compartments:
- your financial divorce, because your property, your wealth, your income, this is all in the mix;
- your emotional divorce: how do you redefine yourself outside of the lifelong or the multi year relationship you had with your spouse? How do I redefine myself as a co parent instead of part of a single parenting team?
- and then the legal divorce: what is my lawyer even saying to me about you know, what parenting responsibilities and child support and spousal support and all this stuff.
So getting specific help, building a support team to address the three different aspects of your divorce is very helpful.
And then the fourth part of your support system (legal, financial, and emotional): you of course will have people that aren’t professionals that are in your circle, the people that you’re leaning on, friends, family, co workers, these can be extremely helpful as a place to go and unpack and hear them and have them hear you out.
Just a small asterisk over that is sometimes their assistance can be counterproductive and be influenced by their personal experience with divorce, which could be as a child of divorce, or they’ve been through one or more of their own. Just understand that their experience level compared to, let’s say, your lawyer or a divorce professional will be completely different.
So when you get that advice, thank them for it. It’s coming from a place of love and concern. But you might want to filter it through your divorce professionals.
It’s kind of the same idea as who do you take clothes shopping with you, you know, different people are going to have a million different ideas about what you should buy and what looks good on you, but you have to be selective about who you take that advice from. Or just make sure you get a receipt so you can take it back later! Go out with your wild friend, you come home with lingerie and all sorts of crazy stuff. So moving right along that was number two, seek and build and work with a support system.
3. Looking Forward
So it’s really easy in this process to wonder what went wrong and try to deconstruct what went wrong, to be mad about what went wrong, to want to revisit what went wrong, to try to punish somebody for what went wrong, whether that’s yourself or your ex, and it’s not helpful to do any of that stuff.
You should be working to get to a robust and durable separation agreement that is going to be a platform and the proper foundation for you and the rest of your family moving forward with your lives. And to do that, you have to have a forward looking and a task oriented problem solving bent on, and if you’re focused in the past and trying to look to the past it’ going to make your separation more difficult.
I deal with a lot of people who, who get bogged down in, you know, “she didn’t do this or this or this or this in the relationship”. And “he did X, Y, and Z, which were just horrible”. And, and we’re in the negotiations and the discussions. It can be triggering because people often act very similarly in the negotiation as to how they did in the relationship.
So sometimes it’s one spouse that’s collecting a whole bunch of information that the divorce professionals need to help you move along and, and it can get really grating because you say, “I had to do all of this during the marriage and now I have to do it after the marriage!?!”. Yes. You’re looking forward.
You’re trying to get that agreement in place that is going to be the solid structural foundation for happy, healthy lives separate but connected probably in some ways, especially when you have children and looking forward is the best way to do that.
The image that popped for me as you were describing this piece, Pat, was: the Titanic sinks and you’re in a lifeboat, but unfortunately you’re in a lifeboat that has a bunch of holes in it. So you’re going to sit there and go “I can’t believe that boat sank. It’s so ridiculous. That damn captain who, why didn’t they see the iceberg?” as your lifeboat is sinking? Because it’s got holes in it. So task oriented, meaning what’s right in front of me.
My lawyer said something about getting them my tax returns? Maybe I’ll go look for my tax returns instead of ruminating. It doesn’t mean that your mental health care has to wait. It has to be balanced with getting some stuff done. And we’re going to get to another piece later about building the groundwork and taking those steps that you probably don’t want to right now.
And you may not be the best person with records and phoning the bank and asking for that statement. It’s not fun, but it’s a product. Really, you’re going to thank us. Remember, this is not 10 top tips that are super easy to give you a better divorce. This is the stuff you need to hear, whether you want to hear it or not.
4. Reality Check your Expectations
So, on we go to step four, or tip four, which is “Reality check your expectations”. Right!?! I like this slide. I’m going to put up this sign in my office. The easiest way to distill this is: sorry, here’s the bad news. It’s gonna take longer than you want, it’s going to be harder than you want, it will cost more than you want, and it will adjust your lifestyle and your life trajectory more than you want.
And the sooner that you come to grips and accept that…like, I am going through a divorce. It’s just like an automobile accident. Bang. It’s not even my fault, darn it. But guess what? You still have to call the insurance company. You still have to call the tow truck. You gotta figure out the car rental.
There’s some stuff, again, task oriented that just has to come. So, do you want to rage through all of that? Or do you say, “I’ve now accepted that I’ve been in an automobile accident”? Let’s get back to reality and not my little analogy. “I’m going to accept that my relationship is at an end.” Because guess what? Even though the promises made in the romantic vision of your relationship at the beginning…till death do us part…well actually, It is a relationship that both of you have to agree to stay in every day, and if someone says, “I’m stepping out, I’m not happy, I’ve got a different vision”, you can’t keep them in it.
Just as you wouldn’t want to be kept in it if the other party decides that you can’t leave. Right. So respecting their decision, accepting that the separation has come upon you makes everything easier. So reality check your expectations.
Sometimes, Pat, I think you and I meet with people probably once a week that are, yes, I’m in a separation, but I really hope that they’re going to change their mind.
And I meet with them every week. And only maybe two out of every hundred and four, do they then get the call say, “We’ve put it back together”. Often, by the time lawyers are called or lawyers involved…this is not to say “give up hope”…but just, again, what are your expectations? You might need to reality check them.
So, other comments on that?
I also think “reality checks your expectations”…you might have one idea about what is fair and what the law would do with your situation, but when you consult your professionals, you might find out that actually the law would treat your situation very differently. And so you need to know what is possible to negotiate and what is probably not possible to negotiate. “What? They get part of my pension? I worked for it.” Yes.
5. DIY – but with Limits
Anyway so again, keeping things moving we’ll go on to point five, which is DIY, but with limits. It’s okay to do some stuff by yourself, but not everything. So Pat, take it away.
I think I had this haircut at one point.
You know what? So did I. This is kind of a unisex bad haircut.
I am a big do it yourselfer and you know,professional fees, legal fees are expensive. And it’s your life. You want to have control over what is happening to your life now and going forward. And so I completely understand the tendency to want to do it yourself.
There are a lot of really good reasons to do that. For those that are so inclined to do it themselves, this is my advice to them about how to do it yourself well.
I have clients that come in and say, “I’ve done some research online. I think that this is what I understand about the law. Am I correct?” And I say yes or no or yes, but reality check, reality check. And “I’ve had some good discussions with my spouse and this is how I can see this whole thing unfolding. Is it possible to make that happen?” Oftentimes it is, and we can set about doing the work to make sure that that will work for you, andwe can get that papered. That is a good form of do it yourself.
Another good form of do it yourself is “I hear you, I have organized all of the financial information that you have asked me to. Here it is in a super organized form so you and your staff don’t have to spend time trying to understand what’s going on in my life financially.” That’s another really good way to do it yourself.
But coming in and saying “My best friend’s brother has a separation agreement and we revised it with the help of some information that we found from Texas on the internet, you know and so this is my agreement. It’s 15 pages long. Can you just…the only problem I’m having with it is negotiating this section with my spouse…can you just take a look at this section and make sure it’s okay?” We can’t…like, that’s a really expensive and problematic way to do it yourself because we can’t take an agreement that was already drafted by some non professionals or by professionals for a completely different situation and economically make it into an agreement that will work for you.
So don’t do your own drafting of a separation agreement. Great advice. And truly, it’s interesting when you describe this notional person who comes in and they come in with questions. That’s someone who you will work well with as a professional, and you’ll end up getting where you want as efficiently as possible.
And can we underscore for a moment, where you want to get to is not just a piece of paper, right? I just need an agreement. Yes, but again, your first divorce, my 900th. I just got the piece of paper, and there’s no independent legal advice and we didn’t really know what we did with it, but it’s signed and the banker took it and gave me a mortgage so I could buy a house.
Yes. Good for you. Now, two weeks, two months, two years later, somebody goes, What? I’m entitled to what? Or your new partner goes, I think you got hosed back there. And then what? Unraveling that. In all of the uncertainty. The little silly haircut meme actually isn’t very good because that’ll grow back.
The analogy I used to use is, I could probably cut out my own appendix. It’s just a really bad idea. Justice. So long story short, your takeaway from this is it’s okay. And in fact, we’ll do our little collaborative flag waving. We actually say to people because they’ll get, you know, one spouse and the other gets the two lawyers involved and potentially other the financial and the, and then they’ll ask one of the professionals “is it okay for me to talk to my spouse in the background, and maybe work some things out?” The right response from any collaborative professional will be absolutely yes. First, as long as it’s safe and respectful. We don’t want to put people in a position where they’re, they’re not in a proper bargaining environment.
And number two, you know, I always say “write in pencil”. My spouse and I thought that we would do this. What do you think, lawyer, economic professional, financial family professional, and then we could say, absolutely, that’s great. In fact, now we need to draft it in a different way than you’ve written it on that napkin, but absolutely, that’s, that would be a good part of an entire separation agreement plan.
6. High Expectations
Anyway, again, so much to say here, but on we go to point Six: high expectations. I have another one for that but I don’t know why I put this one.
You should be ready to settle when you enter into a negotiation process. If you bring in a presumptive energy that this is not going to work, they’re never going to agree to anything reasonable…
Okay, Pat, how many times do you hear this: “They’re crazy.” I’m like, “Well, they married you.” “So, well, they weren’t crazy then. They’re crazy now.”
Okay. Well, fine. But that’s who we have to dance with. And believe it or not, there is a solution to your family law issues. If you guys can’t find one yourself, guess what? A judge will impose it on you. So it’s out there. That solution is out there. Do you want to be involved with it and have control over it or delegate it to a judge? So high expectations means come ready to make a deal. Have it in your mind that you can have success, that this will work. It’s kind of important, now we go back to reality checking your expectation… is a deal.
What should your really refined expectation be? There will be compromises along the way. If I knew how to use the whiteboard, I would draw four lines. 4, and at the bottom of each line would be a 0 and a 10. Everybody got that in their mind now? 0, 10. And if 0 is, these are the four main issues in family law. Parenting, child support, spousal support, and the division of property. Okay, those are the four. Zero is your worst outcome and ten is your best. How many tens do you think you’re going to walk away with from the table? “I’m going to get four tens, Chris. I want four tens. If I don’t get four tens, there’s no deal.”
Guess what? Hopefully there’s four fives or there’s the ten in what was really important to you. And there’s seven, three, and nine in the others. So, reality check your expectations, but understand that working together with professionals in a respectful way with your spouse will get you to that finish line. Pat?
I really like our collaborative process for that because I think that it is one of the best processes for making sure that if that you get your 10 or your 8 in that thing that is really important to you…you know, you may have to give up something that’s not as important to you on one of the other categories, but we have a good process for working through that kind of stuff, and you’ve got professionals at your elbow to help guide you efficiently through that process.
A great example. I bumped into this recently in a negotiation. I was …you know, what would a court do with Christmas? They split it in half. You get one Christmas, you get the other. Or we’re going to take Christmas and break it in half. You get the first part, and then December the 28th, they go to the other spouse. They’re going to make it equal and fair, quote unquote, as far as the law goes. I had a file where Christmas was a huge deal in one family and not a huge deal in the other. And we built something that looked unbalanced from the passive observer because this spouse seemed to get all of Christmas. That’s because the other spouse said, “This is important to you. I could push and get half of the Christmases, but you know what, the kids love how crazy your family is about Christmas. So go and have a great time.” And you know, you’re buying some good faith that you could spend somewhere else. I have a colleague, you may know her, Pat, Ellen Nightingale in Toronto has had this beautiful saying…” I love to set the table and create opportunities for generosity.” What a wonderful way to envision your role as a professional is that you’re going to set the stage for your client to go, “You know what, this is important to you. I’m just going to give it to you.” That energy in the space as a professional steering the settlement boat. You’re like, poof, we’re almost home for sure.
7. Laying the groundwork
So Chris talked a little bit about this before. The idea of I just need an agreement and here’s my quick and dirty separation agreement. And the problem with a quick and dirty separation agreement is it’s just a piece of paper. And it doesn’t really address what is important to the couple and the family moving forward.
I think sometimes we get in the trap of thinking the separation agreement is about closing the chapter on marriage. Really, the separation agreement is about opening the new chapter for two families living in separate houses.
And moving forward together. So, the more robust and durable that we can make that separation agreement, the happier in all senses of the words…you know, financially and emotionally…you and your ex and your children are going to be going forward. So what happens when people sign that quick and dirty separation agreement is they’re back consulting us or a different lawyer a year later or two years later, fighting back to square one, fighting about whether the agreement should continue to apply, trying to untangle things that were done in the agreement that are hard to untangle.
And so doing the work to identify what it is we need to talk about and to collect the information and disclose the information that we need to have those discussions is very advisable and the best way to get to that durable and robust agreement. So when, your lawyer or your financial professional sends you a list of…you know…I need the last three years tax returns, I need the last three years of notices of assessment, I need all of your bank statements for these specific dates…Collect it and, and get it together. When we have it in an organized fashion, we can deal with it and move on and begin advising you efficiently. When we don’t have it, we waste time and your money spinning our wheels trying to understand what the financial picture is in order to be able to try to get to that agreement for you.
So, do the groundwork. And really this is, if we focus this point really down to the financial, the documentary, when you enter the process and someone says, I need these 600 things…yeah, it sucks. But if you don’t give it to us, if you don’t give it to the financial professional or the legal team, we will be wasting time and money and we will be preparing a lower quality product.
So try to put in that effort as best as you can. It will pay massive dividends.
8. Be Flexible
So, and this meme is showing, in visual form what parenting truly is, right? It’s a, it’s each of you contributing to this whole and healthy individual: your child. You’re not working against one another. You’re not, hopefully you’re not fighting for, like the gentleman in this picture, fighting for more white hexagons. Anyway, the idea here is the final deal, when we get to Settlement Island on our little collaborative boat…what is going to be there will be an amalgam of what you want, what your spouse wants, what your children need, what sets the stage properly for you for the future.
I’m still wowed by what you just said Pat. That’s still washing over me. On the whole, we’re not just closing a chapter, we’re really figuring out what the new book looks like and that book is called Our Divorce and Our Post Separation Life. And how are we going to write that chapter by chapter going forward?
Because this is not a static event, your divorce. It’s an event that then changes everything after it. It’s a dynamic thing that your professionals will, if we’re doing it right, we’re holding this space for you to figure all this stuff out if we’re doing it right.
At this point, be flexible, understand that it’s a dance between what you want, what you need, what is possible, and what the law provides. We are going to tell you, in a collaborative process, the legal team, your lawyer and the other spouse’s lawyer, will be telling you what the law would do with your family in this event, for this issue. You’re going to get that very clearly defined, as clearly as the lawyers can tell you.
There’s no guarantees, but they will say, you know, child support looks like this. Spousal support looks like this. Your division of property looks like this, and this is what parenting might come out if we put it all into the law machine and turn the handle so you’ll know what the law provides for you.
And you then bargain with that information. So you may decide I want exactly what the law provides for me, and that we do that all the time. Right, Pat? People will say, “Well, that’s what the law provides. That must be the right answer.” But then there’s, but maybe 30, 40% of the time, maybe 30%, I don’t want to overstate it, 30% of the time, we give them the legal answer, and they’ll go, “You know what, that really doesn’t work for me. It doesn’t feel fair. It doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t acknowledge X, Y, or Z” And then we enter into a discussion that sometimes yields a different result. Okay, we’ll leave the legal matrix and we’ll build this solution, which for our family feels like the right way to land it. So, being flexible, being open to hearing what the law says, sometimes it’s not what you want to hear, but it’s what the law is.
And then being flexible inside that negotiation space to get something that is mutually acceptable. Because that’s our meeting point. Is it acceptable to you? Is it exactly what you want? Might be, might not be. Can you accept it?
And here’s the last little nugget. Can you accept it as part of a whole that works for you? We can never talk about the entire separation agreement as a whole. We have to talk about this resolution and this. Imagine it as 10 decisions and each one of them, decision four, you may not be happy about, but decision one through 10 accepting for you really does work for you.
So being flexible. No, I think, I think you said, said it right. And the only thing I, the only other thing I would add about being flexible is listen to your professionals, the neutral professionals, your spouse’s lawyer and your spouse in the brainstorming part of the process. Is there a different way to do this that would get you what you need. That might not be your first idea about how to get what you need, but it’s a different way to get what you need, and it’ll work for you. So another way to be flexible.
9. Own It.
Again, now this is like bad news version six, but sometimes taking responsibility…I get a lot of people that come in, and they are so frustrated because they felt like they were giving, giving, giving, giving during the marriage. And you know, one example of this is a spouse who comes in and says, you know, I wanted us both to go to work and I wanted us to co-parent. And instead I went to work and the other party stayed home and looked after the children. And then the children went to school and my ex could have gone back to work at that point, but did they know? They didn’t. And now you’re telling me all of these things about how we’re going to divide our property, what child support is going to look like, what spousal support is going to look like and that’s not fair. I bent over backwards during the marriage. Why do I have to bend over backwards now?
You can’t go back and revisit what happened in the marriage, is sort of the short answer. That’s what I mean, that’s what I think of by owning it. But I don’t know what your idea of owning it is.
This is a subtle or somewhat nuanced point. But it’s about optimizing the individual that we’re talking to in this seminar, right? Which is someone who is experiencing or experienced or considering a divorce, right? And here we are. November 2022. And you made decisions in November 2010. Let’s go with your example, Pat. Okay, the kids are launched. They’re all off to school now. You’ve got the whole day to yourself, honey. And that honey could be male or female, right? And so now it’s time to go back to work. You know what? I’m going to upgrade my skills. I’m going to go take a course at Algonquin, you know? And so, those wheels could spin for a decade. And they do. For two decades. And so now the person is like, I can’t believe that that person didn’t go back to work and they’re raging at us. And you’re like, well, they didn’t. And now they’re here in 2022 with a terrible resume, with stepping into a job market with no current skills.
That’s who you’re divorcing. That’s the person that you’re divorcing. And by, by “own it”, you have to own that you stayed in that relationship. This is the hard part for people to hear. You stayed in that relationship for those 20 years, complaining about this person who was, you know, lazier than you wish they were, but you stayed. And we can’t do anything about that. It’s, And kind of the hard cheese to nibble on is the court doesn’t say, “Oh, that person is a bad person for being that lazy. And now we’re going to punish them. They should have been entitled to this much. But I think they’d made some bad decisions. So they’re going to get this much.” They’re dealing with the spouse here in 2022, just as you have to accept that’s who you’re, that’s who you’re separating and divorcing from. So owning that you made decisions during your relationship and they all washed up on the shore of the divorce and you kind of have to own it and deal with the negotiation as you’re presented it.
The good news is you get to write that next chapter, right? Right. The next spouse, you know, will work just as hard as you, or harder. And you can be the one sitting at home. What’s the classic thing that people say? You know, well it’s maybe this is out of date, but you know, watching Oprah and eating bonbons. That’s what the lazy spouse does. Watch Oprah and eat bonbons. I guess now would they be watching Netflix and eating, I don’t know. Something healthier. Something healthy. Kale.
10. Choose the collaborative process.
Anyway, folks, that brings us to number 10, which is where we put in a shameless plug for collaborative practice. It really truly is our 10th and most important tip for choosing the right process. As part of your divorce journey it can be a watershed event. It can be a very important thing. So before you choose a process, don’t just run off to court and start a court action.
No, no, don’t do that. Hopefully, you and your spouse look at all of your options mediation and negotiation and collaborative in court. And I hope you give Collaborative a fair shake, which is, you know, this process, Pat and I love doing it because It actually produces what I’ll say in a very biased way, what I see as optimal results.
So, if that’s where you’re trying to get to, as efficiently and in a peaceful, respectful way that preserves everybody’s dignity, get in the collaborative boat. Pat?
Nope, I couldn’t have said it better.
Well, as you notice from Pat’s window here, she’s actually changed her name to Collaborative Divorce. That’s how, that’s how passionate she is about this process. Anyway, thank you, Pat, for doing this with me. It was, it’s been a real pleasure. We hope that the people hope that the people that have tuned in or that might be watching this recorded have gotten some value from it. I could also share this other screen just in case people want to fire down here. We’ll share this screen. Can you see that now, Pat? Yes. Okay, so in case you want to screencap what we, what we went through, you know, be kind, seek help, seek and build a support system, looking forward, reality checking, do it yourself, but be careful. Meaning, you know, you can be empowered to do your own work but do it within a structure where your work might get checked. Don’t take out your own appendix. Right. Bring high expectations to the table. Do the work. It will require, it will pay you great dividends, being flexible, owning what your relationship was and the decisions that you made in it, and then choosing collaborative. Oh, I mean, choosing the right process for you.
Thank you very much.