01 - Mindset and the Culture of Divorce, with Christina Vinters
In this introductory episode, Christina sets the stage for the upcoming series designed to assist families with navigating a healthy separation and divorce process.
Christina Vinters is a nationally designated Chartered Mediator on a mission to inspire and facilitate healthy family transitions. She is an “ex” Divorce Lawyer (Non-Practicing Member of the Bar), Author of Pathways to Amicable Divorce, and the DIY Divorce Manual, and Peacemaking Business Consultant.
Free download of Pathways to Amicable Divorce (no email required): https://www.modernseparations.com/separation
Christina's Other Podcast Interviews Referred to in this episode:
The Happy Lawyer Project Podcast, with Okeoma Moronu - Episode HLP029: On Launching a Solo Practice in Six Weeks with Christina Vinters, Modern Separations. Released April 11, 2017
Women Taking the Lead, with Jodi Flynn - Episode 232: Christina Vinters on What’s Possible When You Shed Self-Limiting Beliefs. Released September 11, 2017
Welcome to the Divorce Well Podcast. This is the first episode and I'm so happy that you're joining me. In this podcast series, I'll be diving into information that will help you deal with the various types of issues that arise upon the separation including emotional, legal, financial, and parenting. There will be a few episodes where I'm sharing information directly with you on specific topics, and the rest of the episodes will be me interviewing renowned experts from across North America about various aspects of the divorce process.
I'll start by briefly introducing myself. I'm Christina Vinters, I'm now a family mediator. I founded my mediation firm Modern Separations just over a year ago, after having practiced law as a divorce lawyer for several years. I've talked about my career transition in detail on the Happy Lawyer Project podcast, as well as on Women Taking the Lead. If you're interested in hearing my full story, check out those podcasts. In the last year and a half, I've also written and published two books, related to helping people go through the separation and divorce process more smoothly.
Today I'm gonna be talking about the culture of divorce – the assumptions that a lot of us bring to the divorce process, and the impact that our mindset has on the outcome of our process. If we look at some statistics, we'll see that separation among intimate couples is very, very common in North America. It is estimated that about 40% of marriages in Canada end in divorce, which is about 70,000 divorces per year. And this does not include the breakdown of common law relationships. So the actual percentage and number of families experiencing separation is even higher. In the United States, about 50% of first time cohabiting relationships end within 5 years; 20% of first marriages end within 5 years; and 33% end within 10 years. This is approximately 1 million divorces per year, plus separations of common law couples.
I'm not going to get into why this is happening but clearly this is a common phenomenon that families are dealing with. It is a mere certainty that you have relatives, friends, neighbors, and co-workers who've had experienced separation, and indeed you may have as well.
Divorce is often referred to as the second most traumatic event in a person's life, only after the death of a close family member. In my experience and from the research that I've done, the reason for this trauma is not the separation itself, but the extreme animosity that develops through the use of the adversarial legal system. Both Canada and the United States have adversarial legal systems, and this is a system in which one side is pitted against the other side as opposing parties. And they each advocate fiercely for their own position, trying to win the favor of the judge. It's specifically setup as a win-lose scenario. The theory is this is the best possible system to allow the judge to get at the truth of the situation and the fact is that it is well-suited to bringing transparency and justice to many types of cases. For example, when an injured person sues another driver after a car accident, or a patient who sues a doctor for malpractice. In these cases, those two parties don't ever have to deal with each other again, or maybe not even see each other again.
Family law is quite different. Couples without children may share a circle of friends and may have to continue seeing each other, on and off in the future. Of course couples who share children will have to be in each other's lives for the rest of their lives as their children grow and have their own children there will be weddings and grandchildren's birthday parties to attend. In the short term, they'll have to continue cooperating over financial and parenting matters. So the system in which one person tries to win by destroying the other person's case, is extremely destructive for families. In addition, litigation feels profoundly stressful and intensely personal, as much of the evidence goes to the core of who are they as people?. What kind of parent are you? What have you done with your life? How have you contributed to the marriage? Is your love for wine an indication some kind of a concerning problem? Do your life choices raise questions about whether you have your child's best interests at heart? These types of questions are sampling of the types of questions that can occur, with respective various different issues in family law. This is where those horror stories come from that you heard of. Each person attempts to portray a picture of himself or herself as being a model citizen, model spouse, model parent. Well at the same time, throwing the other party completely under the bus.
This process is reflected in our culture, and in various movies, various comics, various jokes. For example, the War of the Roses starring Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito is a “comedy” about a separating couple who viciously come after each other, to the point of attempted murder as they each try to win the house in their divorce. The great Robin Williams had a bit about divorce, which was repeated and circulated for years. He said, “Ah, divorce! From the Latin word meaning to rip a man's wallet out through his genitals.” And probably the most cited divorce joke is “Why are divorces so expensive? Because they're worth it!”. And this of course implies a long drawn out court battle and it implies a dreadful ex.
We've carried over that adversarial approach of destroying the other party into our culture and really gotten into the habit of assuming the worst villifying and dehumanizing the former partner. All of these incredibly negative associations and feelings embedded in our culture can't help but influence your perceptions, unless you're mindful to frame your understanding of your separation differently. It is possible to have a healthy divorce. It is possible to reach a fair financial settlement with going the court. It is possible to have a reasonable and functional relationship with your co-parent. Does it take work? Yes. Does it take cooperation from both of you? Yes it does. Do you have to be friends or like each other? No, definitely not. But what you do need is to recognize that it's the conflict around the separation which is harmful for both you and your children, not the separation itself.
Studies have shown that high conflict between parents during and after separation can be traumatic for children and can actually result in poor development and behavioral outcomes for them. Some of the concerning effects on children of a high conflict separation may include experiencing impaired relationships with peers, depression, anxiety, and developing negative attention seeking behaviors, just to name a few. And what do I mean when I say high conflict? High conflict may involve yelling, it may also involve just refusing to speak to each other. It could involve name calling, or bad mouthing the other parents to the child or in front of the child, failing to cooperate about the parenting schedule – it can encompass all sorts of small and large transgressions. Children feel very deeply and they perceive more than parents realize.
My belief is that the statistically-predictable restructuring of families through separation shouldn't be routinely managed in ways that routinely traumatize both parents and children. Separating couples need information about and access to non-adversarial dispute resolution mechanisms. In this podcast series, I'll be providing information about a number of different types of supports that parents can access, to help them shift their mindset rather than fear-based mindset. Non-adversarial options including mediation, which is what I do. Mediation is where a neutral mediator meets with both parties to help facilitate the discussion, provide family law information, and help them come up with solutions to that will meet both of their needs and the needs of the children, if there are any. For people who need a greater level of support, there's collaborative law, which is also a non-adversarial process. In this process, each party retains a collaboratively trained lawyer, but the lawyers and the clients all work together as a team to come up with solutions that are appropriate for the whole family.
Make sure you're subscribed to the podcast so that you're notified when each of these new interviews is released. I'll be interviewing experts on all of these different areas, and we'll be diving into lots of detail on each individual topic.
One of the challenges people have is that the stories they hear from friends and family about their separation and divorce often involves court. The court process, which in North America is the adversarial system, is the default process. It's the process that people have been using for decades for family law, and so this is what's brings to mind of people first. If you have not yet started down that process, I strongly recommend that you talk to either a mediator or a collaborative lawyer to get information about your next steps. People find it very difficult to start down that court process in which they're putting each other down, to then shift into a cooperative process, listening to each other and coming to a solution that meets both of their needs. Once that trust is broken, it's very difficult to go back.
So for those of you at the beginning of your process, please know that separation does not have to be nasty and ridiculously expensive. Shift how you think about divorce, if you do have those negative assumptions that are rampant in our culture rather than thinking of divorce as a combat – as a battle at the cost of the family. Try to think about divorce as a respectful restructuring for the benefit of the family. You're moving from a one-home family to a two-home family. De-escalating conflict must be the priority in order to try to do no harm to yourself, your partner, or your children.
I believe that having an amicable divorce involves both of you agreeing to participate in a non-adversarial process. It involves disagreeing, it certainly might. But it involves disagreeing without being disagreeable. And I think that it must involve a fair outcome. I think that if one person is just completely bending to the demands of the other, so as to avoid a conflict, it would be hard to call that amicable. An agreement should take into account your history, your circumstances, both past and present. Families are so different – the context of your particular family is going to determine what is fair in your particular circumstance. So you really can't compare to what happened to your sister, what happened to your neighbor – it needs to be an individualized approach.
We're hearing more and more positive stories though these days. Example of co-parents purchasing houses next door to each other so that their children could go freely go back and forth. Or co-parents having a family dinner night once per month, to help the children feel a sense of continuity of the family, even though it's been restructured. Some of these types of stories may strike you as strange or comfortable. But I encourage you to look at your assumptions. The assumptions you're bringing to these opinions and why it is that these images of positive co-parenting relationship are causing cognitive dissonance.
If you're still listening, I'm going to assume that it's important for you to be able to achieve a smooth and respectful separation. And that you believe that that will be to your benefit and if you have children that that will be to their benefit as well. So I'm going to encourage you to stay focused on your values of achieving an amicable divorce. This is a commitment that you're going to need to make and you're going to need to make it over and over again. What I mean by that is that there are countless situations in day to day life where you can either choose to take the high road or not. I see people frequently making decisions with respect to their separation that slowly chips away at the trust between them and their partner. They let their anger, impatience, jealously, grief take over their better judgment and take actions which slowly corrode their ability to communicate effectively with each other. Snarky comments are made, emails go unanswered, personal properties are taken without consent, maybe children are dropped off a little later than agreed. Each of these is perhaps small and meaningless on its own. But when these types of transgressions continue to happen, they chip away at any remaining trust and goodwill in the relationship. They breed fear, suspicion, and anxiety, making an amicable divorce less and less likely over time. With each poor decision, you move further away from your target of having a respectful and efficient divorce.
We all have bad days. The good news is, that you can make a concerted effort though to get back on track. You can be polite, you can be proactive. You can be respectful, honest, cooperative, going forward. No matter what you've chosen to do in the past, and no matter how the other person is treating you, you are always in control of how you respond. So I want to provide you the hope that you can make a decision about how you want to treat your spouse. The tone in which you wish to have communications together, and the level of respect that you bring to the relationship. Good behavior by one person will often create a feeling of goodwill, and the wish to reciprocate by the other person.
I suggest that you share this podcast with your spouse. There will be lots of great information in the upcoming episodes about different types of processes and different types of experts who can help you through your separation, and help you achieve the smooth, efficient, respectful separation that you wish to see. Essentially, to help you Divorce Well.