Dignified Divorce Vancouver: Separation and Divorce Related Blog and Articles

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It's April already, good grief. My commitment to blogging is questionable. I am told that media savvy folks stay committed and make regular submissions. My lack of activity is due to laziness but for separating couples, dedication to activities that are meant to help your life, your business, can feel like an impossible chore. Motivation can disappear. "Why bother? It's only going to get worse. Nothing works anyway. I'm so angry. This separation is so hard, so lonely, so..." 

As a mediator for couples getting separated in the Greater Vancouver area, I've heard folks express deep sadness, anger, confusion, and some hope. I listen, reflect, restate "So I hear you saying..." and then listen some more. When I hear that expression of hope, even the tiniest bit, I grab on and redirect. "If things were better in 3 months, 6 months, what would that look like?" We are programmed to move on, to get to the next place, the next better place. It's hard to shake that inner optimism. Try staying down forever. Its hard work, takes concentration, dedication. And when the world looks gloomy, IS gloomy as it so often is in the midst of a separation, such morose dedication is in abundant supply. So the hard work of staying down gets done. But unless one suffers from depression, most people come out of it sooner rather than later, driven by that inner optimism. It's not a surprise we are programmed for optimism. After all, when staring fearfully from their cave thousands of years ago, it took not only courage and an empty stomach to induce that first couple to venture out, they had to have some optimism that something was better just beyond the hills.  Nature selected for the most successful optimists. 

I don't make light of that gloom. It's real and it can be debilitating. And if the process of separation and divorce goes on and on, as it can when contested and fuelled  by antagonism and anger where every asset seems worth spending more on legal fees than the item's actual value [how crazy it that?], then the outcome can be a dedication to depressiveness.  How unnecessary. 

The Captain who tormented Paul Newman's prison character in Cool Hand Luke said: "What we have here is a failure to communicate."  Now, good communication skills come in handy in life and most couples will swear that they have them and their spouse doesn't.  But both inevitably receive clear communication that settles their struggle. Everything eventually gets settled - either by a judge in a court room, or by exhaustion of emotional or financial capital, or by themselves through more gentle methods. Those gentler methods include collaborative divorce or mediation. Both are great inventions. My preference is of course mediation but I have tons of respect for collaborative practise. 

If you are facing separation or divorce or know someone who is, call a collaborative family lawyer or a family mediator. Mediate BC has a Family Roster with many good names to chose from. I am there as well. I hope I can help you or someone you know. 

April 26, 2018

Just a little bit more on That Gloom mentioned above: did you know that the Spring is associated with higher rates of divorce filings, and suicides? We have heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD and many people use light therapy to counter the affects of little sunlight in the Winter. But why such gloom in the sunny Spring time? There are lots of theories but little of definitive explanations. My point in bringing it up is this: Vancouver British Columbia is a beautiful place and this Spring seems to finally to be shining through. But if you are one of the unfortunate to be facing separation or divorce, as well suffering an inexplicably severe bout of depressiveness this Spring, get help. Getting separated or divorced or being depressed is NOT a character flaw and both can be 'treated'. If you know of anyone vulnerable to depression keep an even closer eye on them, and especially if those same people are considering separation, keep both eyes on them. 

Enough about The Gloom. Most folks take a deeper breath in the Spring and jump right in. I see more runners, walkers,  side walk cafe-sitters, bike riders, smiling kids in the park playing rugger, baseball, soccer. Lot's of tennis, golfing, even skiing. Sail boats will be out soon. These are the joys of Spring so grab them!

Can't believe it's been since late April that I last posted anything. It's June 7th already! At least you can't accuse me of over-communicating. 

There are changes coming to the Divorce Act.  From the CBC website, May 23, 2018:

Barry Fraser, a divorced father of two, says he applauds a federal bill tabled Tuesday that proposes the first major changes to Canada's divorce laws in more than 20 years.

"It would have saved me thousands in legal fees," he said from Guelph, Ont. 

Fraser had a rocky split from the mother of his children starting about six years ago, and said the amendments proposed by the federal Liberals in Bill C-78 could help people in situations like his avoid drawn-out and expensive court battles.

Now remarried and a stepfather of three, Fraser said he's glad to see the act redrawn to emphasize less adversarial processes and put the best interests of the children out front, even when one party seems bent on escalating matters.

"Especially knowing that the kids have a say in it will definitely make people stop in their tracks."

Bill C-78 is expected to become law soon. It will align itself with several Provincial laws, the B.C. Family Law Act of 2013 certainly comes to mind, where an emphasis on alternate dispute mechanisms such as mediation were encouraged. This is all music to a mediator's ears. As I tell clients, the average cost of contested separation agreement is $20k per person, and it can take years. No slam on the lawyers, they are doing their job of advocating for their clients. But the simple awfulness faced by those separating and divorcing needs a wider umbrella, a broader mandate than mere advocacy. There are harmful things going on and lives are being upended, nearly destroyed at times, by this adversarial approach. The terrible financial cost is matched by an even greater emotional and psychological cost. Enough is enough. My hope is that mediation will become the first step, not the second or third. 

Today is November 9, 2018. The Democrats won the House of Representatives, thank goodness. 

Stating my bias about DT makes me impartial when a mediator is supposed to be impartial. What gives? Well, I AM impartial when it comes to my mediation clients, even if they support DT. But why write about Donald Trump in my website blog?

DT makes life more stressful and separation more likely. He's bad for relationships. Couples in which one spouse supports Trump are experiencing strife. Politics have always been part of relationships but this time it's much more intense. 

The evidence for the toxic affect he is having on relationships is, so far, more anecdotal than empirical, but it's compelling, coming as it does from couples themselves, from family counsellors, and from mental health experts and practitioners.  And there has been an increase in  hate crimes and anti-semitic attacks and incidences. 

The good news for relationships is that separation and divorce are generally in decline. That's gratifying. To be sure, I recently had a couple that were about to engage my mediation service but who instead decided to try again. I applaud that decision. A few years ago I was interviewing a couple, but around 40, attractive, married for 20 years, 3 kids and who had recently gone a long trip after taking leave from their respective jobs, only to come home feeling their marriage was over. They sat in front of me in tears. I asked if they had tried counselling - No - "Would you consider trying it? - Yes. I sent them away to so just that. Never heard from them again. It seems they were more in a slump than a real marriage crisis. Perhaps I'm wrong but I like to think they survived the moment and are living together still, with a deeper appreciation of what they have and a sense of strength. 

January 21, 2018

Marriage as flight.

I once traveled to Toronto on the ‘red-eye’, real cheap, 4 am flight. Big rock concert to attend. My buddy and I were all of 20 years old and living the weekend hippie life. As we approached Toronto International, the Captain announced that the light indicating the landing gear was secured would not come on.  He said we couldn’t be sure if the wheels would hold once we landed. The procedures for an emergency crash landing were given: fasten seat belts, false teeth/ pens/ glasses away, cross you arms and lower your head to the pillow on your lap. A flight attendant told me she needed strong, young arms for something special. No problem of course. My job was to sit by the back emergency door and push it open in the event of a crash landing. People were crying, some praying. Myself? I thought I should be paying extra for the thrill of it all! We cruised over the tower several times while the controllers used binoculars to see if the big bolt securing the landing gear was in place. The tarmac was filled with fire trucks and ambulances. The landing went just fine. Apparently it was only a faulty light.

 Ah youth!  Those carefree pre marriage days before serious responsibility and commitment came knocking at our doors.

To my mind a marriage is much like an airline flight to a vacation destination.  In marriage first we get engaged and then plan the wedding much like deciding to go on a vacation and then booking the flight. Once on board, we find our seats and settle in.  In a marriage there is a period of settling in too – kids, careers, parenting.  There’s a bit of turbulence during those years for sure but a safe and soft landing at your dream destination is expected.

However on some flights the turbulence become so severe that the warning lights flash, the captain comes over the loudspeaker and asks passengers to fasten their seatbelts and emergency masks fall from the consul above.  In a marriage too there are signals that announce the pending failure of the marriage.

At this time in your marriage, as in your flight, your first instinct is to protect your children.  But take heed of this caution:

 “If the cabin loses pressure during flight, you will need to put on an oxygen mask or risk losing consciousness. Put on your own mask before assisting other passengers, such as a young child.  If you are incapacitated, you will be unable to assist anybody else.”

When travelling through a divorce it is essential that you take care of yourself emotionally and financially so that you are able to protect your children.  We at Dignified Divorce offer you that opportunity.

A common mistake of divorcing couples is to panic, to put that oxygen mask on their kids first, a mistake often facilitated by traditional divorce processes. The main issues in divorce are money and kids, and the best approach is in that order. Yes, the kids are your most precious asset, but get the money figured out first: what is everything worth, what is the total debt, how will we split it, how much and for how long will spousal support will be paid, what about child support? Once these issues are resolved, you’ll be able to breath and focus on the kids and your co-parenting plan.

Paul Sweatman


January 28, 2018

Are there really 50 ways to leave your lover?

If in 1975 there were 50 ways to leave your lover, then the number one way was suing for divorce; is this still the answer?
Paul Simon’s girlfriend told him there must be 50 ways to leave your lover, but she actually mentioned only five...

1. Slipping out the back - that was for a fellow named Jack.
2. Making a new plan – good advice for Stan.
3. Avoiding being coy – this gem for Roy.
4. Use of a bus – apparently best for Gus.
5. And for Lee, she advises little discussion and simply dropping off the key.

All these are strategies to be sure and all are intended to ‘get yourself free’.  In truth, she offered a sixth way, cryptically.  He was to sleep on it, remember?

‘Sleeping on it’ is what most couples do, for years before choosing to slip out the back.  All surely will drop off the key eventually.  Paul Simon wrote that song in 1975, and indeed some of these casual approaches would have worked, at least for couples co-habitating.

Divorce changes things. The Canada Divorce Act was created in 1968.  It standardized the law of divorce across Canada and introduced the concept of no-fault marriage breakdown. Yes, you can still catch Gus on the bus with his new lover but you need not find fault to get yourself free. Just wait a year and you qualify.  So Jack, Stan, Roy, Gus, and Lee, if married, could indeed go ahead and find freedom in their chosen manner, although it wasn’t ever as easy as simply leaving.  Instead, they would follow what’s commonly referred to as Traditional or Adversarial Divorce.  Jack hires a lawyer, Jill hires her own and up the hill they climb, sometimes for years.  It is a so-called ‘position-based’ approach whereby you define and then protect your position if possible.  Sometimes one spouse takes a nearly indefensible position requiring a frontal legal attack by the other side. 

A lengthy and costly process Simon’s friends were probably not married.  They were probably cohabitating, and if they lived together for three years, by 2001 they were considered common-law partners.  In Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and BC, after June 30, 2004, they enjoyed the same right to property as their married friends.  But common-law relationships were and still are, much the minority.

If in 1975 there were 50 ways to leave your lover, then the number one way was suing for divorce.  That is still the case.  But the vast majority of divorces are settled before spending the thousands of dollars a day required when in court.  Contested divorces, court or no court, can cost $20,000 each in legal fees.  Most of us have heard of friends spending much more on their divorce, and that after years in the process: Statement of Claim, Statement of Defense, Affidavits, Motions, Case Conferences in front of a Judge, Briefs for Case Conferences, more affidavits, and finally, draft separation agreements followed by more drafts. But eventually, it’s done.

Us versus them. As a survivor, you will give your lawyer heartfelt thanks, and you’ll mean it.  Yes, you’ll have less money in your pocket but you’ll feel that s/he did a great job.  You’ll feel much less charitable towards your ex and his/her lawyer, however.  The ‘us versus them’ mentality takes over.

It need not be this way - life is too short to waste on such negative feelings.  While ending a marriage or common law relationship must meet certain legal standards, the participants need not feel as if they are under siege.  What other ways are there to ‘get yourself free’?  What might they look like?

On the path to freedom An oddity in the ways to leave your lover is to not leave.  About 6% of separated spouses remain living together.  Leaving your lover without actually leaving – is that really being separated?  The short answer is yes.  Being separated does not necessarily mean living apart, and the date of separation need not be when one of you moves out.  It can be the date when you both agree that the heart of the marriage stopped beating.  More on that later.  For now, what about those other, less devastating, ways to say good-bye?  They generally fall under the ‘play nice’ rule, and have been gaining in the area of lovers finding their new normal.  Next time: how to play nice…stay tuned.

Paul Sweatman

February 27, 2018

I've been preoccupied for a few weeks but am now happy to be back at my blog on separation and divorce in Vancouver, British Columbia. Not that separation and divorce makes me happy. They don't. But helping those facing it does. Having just completed a Mediated Separation Plan for a nice couple, I am gratified to see them move on with confidence that their separate lives will be free of past shared concerns.

Is Vancouver B.C. a more difficult place to stay happily married than other Canadian cities? Not according to the stats, but the stats are getting old [2005] and things in BC have arguably changed more dramatically than in most of the rest of Canada. Housing, for example, has created serious stressed for everyone, perhaps more so for couples. "We want to separate but how can we when neither of us can afford to buyout the other, and if we sell, that then?"

The above scenario is surely playing out in Toronto as well and elsewhere where the financial cost of separating is greater than the emotional cost of staying together. Notice that the scenario does not mention the kids. Children alone have long been the glue to many long unions. So perhaps the divorce rate in BC will actually fall, not because folks are happier, but because they can't afford the emotional and financial costs of separation or divorce. 

Having started my mediation practice in Winnipeg, Manitoba, I am struck with the cultural differences between Vancouver and the Peg. It seems a more closed society out here. People seem less trusting, less friendly than in little old Winnipeg. Maybe it's that simple - Winnipeg has a population of about 825,000, Vancouver is 3 times larger at nearly 2.5 million and it's a relatively newer population. Smaller, and older, communities may be more open. Even longterm and hard core Vancouver-ites have said to me that indeed, Vancouver is not a friendly city. But so what. As the cliche says, 'It is what it is. Suck it up butter cup.'

People are people. Beneath that hard game-face I see when braving the crowds downtown, lies the same needs, wants, fears, passions, joys and hope for a good life that we all share. I do hope the separation and divorce rates fall in Vancouver, not because folks can't afford to separate, but because beneath that hard exterior lies a growing tenacity to keep-on-keeping on fuelled by happy excitement to be sharing life in a great city.