January may mean a fresh start with a new year, but it is also often referred to as “Divorce Month,” as the number of divorce filings surge more than any other month.
When we think of divorce, it is often associated with messy, complicated situations that have spouses fighting in court for months, even years. While that is still the case for some, new trends in divorce have made the process easier for all parties involved, but especially for the kids, whose needs are put front and center.
“Divorce is a series of choices from start to finish, and the choices that are being made by couples going through divorce have changed,” says Jennifer Mitchell, co-author of Stress Free Divorce and creator of the Oak Park-based Solace Divorce Mediation, a family law practice that uses mediation and life coaching. “In the past, the majority choose to litigate due to a belief that it was the only option … Now, there is more awareness surrounding the power of accountability, choice, self-care, self-love and the notion of living a powerful life existence, which has led couples to explore alternative options.”
Laura Wasser, divorce attorney to celebrities including Angelina Jolie, Kim Kardashian and Ashton Kutcher, says in general, people are cutting out the “middle man” – attorneys, accountants, child custody evaluators – in favor of ultimately settling their cases as opposed to litigating them.
She acknowledges no one wants to think about getting a divorce, but she sees the tide changing on how parents view divorce.
“It’s time for a change,” Wasser says of the old-school divorce. “No one is going to approach it with open arms, thinking it’s a fun, great time, but people are starting to approach it with more knowledge and from a place of acceptance and really, really putting children first and making it about children.”
When it comes to parting ways, here are the methods for conscious uncoupling that are changing modern-day associations of divorce.
Many soon-to-be ex-spouses are ditching attorneys and turning to a third-party mediator like Anne Levinstein of Libertyville to help come to a fair consensus and resolve their issues cost effectively. (Some mediation strategies may involve lawyers, which is called Lawyer Assisted Mediation.) The mediator won’t make decisions for the couple, but rather serves as a facilitator to help figure out what’s best.
Levinstein says the mediation process is productive because it leads to positive change.
“Once a couple finds one thing they agree on in mediation, they realize how good it feels to agree, and they want to agree on more things. It just snowballs, because conflict feels terrible,” she says.
In the same vein of mediation, a collaborative law approach to divorce, which is growing in popularity in the Midwest, is geared to those who want to settle their divorce outside of court. However, instead of a mediator, each party retains an attorney and signs a participation agreement pledging to resolve issues without litigation. This process may contain a full team of specialists, including a neutral financial professional, divorce coach and child specialist, all working towards a solution in a positive, results-focused setting.
“Collaborative divorce is the most supported way to go through divorce,” says Karen Covy, a Chicago-based collaborative divorce professional. “In collaborative divorce, people don’t focus on positions. Instead, the focus is on everyone’s underlying needs and interests.”
The Collaborative Law Institute of Illinois, a nonprofit aimed at advancing collaborative divorce in Illinois, recently launched its Modest Means Divorce Program, the first of its kind in the Chicago area for families with low or modest incomes.
“Getting divorced any way is expensive,” Covy says. “We wanted to make collaborative divorce more affordable because we believe it is a better, more holistic health process for people.”
Online Dispute Resolution
Online Dispute Resolution makes it possible to complete the process of obtaining a divorce online through teleconference without the assistance of an attorney. As long as you and your spouse have reached an agreement, this process is considered to be a straightforward dissolution of marriage.
It’s “the wave of the future in terms of legal tech,” says Wasser, who started It’s Over Easy, an online divorce platform that provides everything a person needs to fill out divorce papers online, plus a directory for movers, child therapists, chat rooms and even app suggestions to sell your wedding rings.
With more people shopping online, banking online and dating online, it makes sense, she says.
When it comes to custody, a few of the newer trends are becoming more common.
A relatively new concept, bird nesting, simply means that after the divorce, the family residence stays intact. Instead of shuffling kids from house to house, each parent moves out for a few days. The idea behind this concept is that there is less disruption for kids during an emotionally challenging time.
Wasser says she sees this is as a good transitional plan, for one to two years, as opposed to forever. But, she notes, she has seen it work long-term for families.
50/50 custody arrangements
With 50/50 custody arrangements, the two parents share joint custody, meaning both parents are actively involved in all decisions regarding the child’s welfare. Covy says 50/50 parenting is now becoming more of a standard, as both parents want to be more involved in their kids’ lives.
Emily Gevrekis, a divorcee from Palatine, shares 50/50 custody with her ex because she says she knew it was the right thing to do.
“We both ended our marriage on equal terms,” Gevrekis says. “We are both fit parents and hands-on with our children, and it works because our two kids get equal time with both of us.”
Vinessa Lullo, of Mount Prospect, who has been divorced for more than three years, says much to her surprise, she found the process of divorce to be “freeing.”
“In going through the divorce, we found ourselves as independent people and parents,” Lullo says. “We built a ‘new’ love for each other seeing each other in the parenting role. I can honestly say that my ex is one of my best friends and that our relationship is stronger now than it was when we were married.”
Tips for parents on the brink of divorce
In her 25 years, family law attorney Laura Wasser says she’s found the best outcome for kids is when the parents are OK. “When the parents are not OK and do these terrible, terrible things to each other, that’s when the kids are not OK.”
- Find therapy or counseling. It doesn’t have to be about reconciliation, but rather how to best navigate a separation. It helps to have an objective third person, preferably with a mental health background, to help define boundaries.
- Be a united front with your kids. “If they see two parents as a united front talking to them and lovingly explaining to them that they are still a family but that the living arrangement is going to be different, it is going to be so much easier for them to accept it.”
- Embrace tech. There are all kinds of apps available to help co-parenting such as Fayr, to coordinate schedules, communicate and split expenses easily. Find the one that works best for your family.
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This article originally published on Jan. 8, 2020. It also appeared in Chicago Parent’s January 2020 issue.