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Global Guide to Divorce

Jack Jack the Cat

Wendi Schuller

Obtaining a Passport for Your Child in divorce

There are subjects to bring up during the divorce proceedings to make life easier down the road. When  big issues, such as custody and division of property are looming in the forefront, it is easy to forget about smaller ones. If your child’s passport is up for renewal, or a new one needs to be issued, then have your spouse sign a notarized letter right then and there to give you permission to obtain one for minor children. There is a notary in every attorney’s office.

If you had an acrimonious divorce and now you want to take your child out of the country, this could be a touchy situation. If your child is 16 or older then she can get her own passport without both parents’ permission. If under 16, then both parents must go to the passport center together, with the necessary documents, such as a birth certificate. If this is not feassible, then one parent may give notarized permission for the other parent to obtain the passport for their child. If your child is close to 16 and her passport is expiring make sure that there is at least six months left on it. One family was turned away from getting into Argentina when their children had only a few months left on their passports.

If you have a judge involved in your child’s life then the US Passport Agency will allow a judge to send a statement giving permission for just one parent to obtain a passport for a minor. This could be the judge who presided over your divorce case. Your teenager can petition the court herself for the right to have just one parent obtain her passport. In one case a 15 year old had a judge for an unrelated issue. When his father refused to participate in his passport renewal, then that judge wrote a note on official court stationary to the US Passport Agency allowing the child to get a passport with just the mother. The mother had a notarized copy made and carried that with her when she left the country to avoid any complications with customs. When one parent takes a child out of the country, then notarized permission from the other one may be required by the airlines or customs. If you do not have contact with your ex-spouse, then e-mail the court designee (court moniter in my case) and carry their response that they notified the other parent. I took a copy of the court moniter’s e-mail and that worked well.

If you have your child’s passport in your possession and the other parent asks for it to plan a trip, be careful if you think that there could be a risk for kidnapping. Consult your lawyer if you are in this particular circumstance.

Buy from a tree farm and help preserve nature

  Think about preserving our open spaces for the wildlife and us to enjoy.  Buy your Christmas tree from a tree farm, particularly smaller family owned ones.  Some people think they are doing their part for the environment by purchasing factory made  Christmas trees and “going green.”  Well, think again.
  Near my house  growing up in the Midwest, was a small, locally owned tree farm.  I would strap on my cross country skis and glide amoung the  firs.  There was a higher concentration of wildlife in this small tree farm and I loved having this bit of nature in the suburbs. It was  in the late  1970’s and artificial trees were in vogue, especially the aluminum ones.  Well you guessed it.  People patronized big box stores instead of this neighborhood oasis of green.  The tree farm couldn’t make it financially without consumers’ support and it closed. It was traumatic seeing it paved over to make a parking lot and several buildings.
  My sons and  I are able to walk down our street and buy trees and wreathes brought in from a small family owned tree farm outside of our city.  The trees are so fresh, that I maybe sweep up 5 pine needles when I take out the live tree in January.  The city recycles these firs for needed  mulch.
  Do you want to support Chinese factories or local families making a living? It’s a no brainer for me.

Happiness and Meaning in Life

Viennese Viktor Frankl was sent to a concentration camp with some family members and he wrote about this ordeal in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning.” While imprisoned he discovered that others who had meaning in life were more apt to survive.  Frankl stated the Nazis could not take away one’s attitude, outlook on life.  He met several men who gave up and were waiting to die. Frankl delved into their lives and found out what was important to them, waiting on the outside.  For one it was a family member safely tucked away from harm, and the other had a special project that was left unfinished.  These two men then became determined to live.  The Center for Disease Control said that 4 out of 10 Americans  have not discovered their meaning in life and that negatively affects their health.

What is the difference between just having happiness or having meaning/purpose in life?  You are happy because you have money to buy expensive gadgets and goods.  If something took those away, then happiness fades.  Having meaning in life is more lasting, not the here and now of happiness without a purpose.  Meaning in life is more enduring, things may not be great now, but you are reaching out to others and enlarging your supportive social network. Frankl stated that the more one is focused outside of yourself  – reaching out to others – the more human you are. Most people that I interviewed, claimed that they got more out of volunteering, than the recipients did.

Since happiness is a more transient feeling there are ways to boost its level every day.  Spend your money on having experiences, rather than on more material goods.  Think about travel for example.  You open your eyes and mind to new cultures, sights and ideas which in turn can be life changing.  You can bond with your kids and have forever memories.

Make a list of what you enjoy doing and gives you pleasure.  Then schedule these on a weekly basis in your calendar.  It may be going out for lattes or margaritas with the girls or perhaps a stroll around a museum.  Pick some free activities, such as a picnic or hike in a leafy area.  Just thinking about what you were happy about that day can give you a more positive outlook in life.

Optimism and Health

Optimism can affect health and reduce stress, according to the Mayo Clinic.  A positive attitude is that “you approach the unpleasantness in a more positive and productive way.”  One is able to cope better in tense situations when optimistic.  The Mayo Clinic said positive thinking may increase the life span, decrease depression, and give one more resistance to colds.

A New York University study said that the brains of optimistic and pessimistic people light up differently when subjects thought about the future. They are striving to unravel how much is hereditary and much is due to other factors.

Researchers at the University of Penn. are not clear if optimistic people have especially good health because they take better care of themselves or that they have more extensive social contacts which “have been associated with longevity.”

Harvard school of Public Health studied optimism and heart disease.  They concluded that having a positive outlook could reduce heart disease risk by 50%.

Robert Grenfell, director of the Heart Foundation of Australia, said research indicates the link between “psychological well-being” and heart health.  People with social isolation have an increased risk for heart disease.

Different studies were unclear whether it is the pessimism or depression itself that has a negative impact on health, or is it more due to social ramifications such as a lack of a social network. Also it was mentioned that depressed people may not feel like doing preventative health care measures.

Strive to become more of a person who sees the world through rose colored glasses.  It may be beneficial to see a life coach or cognitive therapist, who help give concrete steps to achieve a more optimistic outlook on life. Others dive into self-help books for suggestions.

Fighting Sexual Harrassment in the Military and at Workplaces

Things are looking more promising for people fighting sexual discrimination or harassment in the military. There are more safeguards now in place for reporting these infractions. My friend was successful with her gender discrimination allegation on an Air Force base and is happy in her new department. One Air Force Region has Special Victim’s Counsel (SVC)  which has these important services:

Represents just the victim, providing confidential legal advice and assistance. Protects rights and advises on the investigation & prosecution.

Attends interviews, hearings and court-martials with the victim. The SVC does not work for anyone else on base and their chain of command is a separate office in Washington DC.

The actual report can remain restricted so others can’t see it.

In the Office or Job site:

If appropriate, speak to the perpetrator or have a co-worker do so on your behalf as in the following situation. The boss in one office was a sports coach outside of the work environment and gave his players mini massages to keep their shoulders and neck muscles relaxed during the game. His employees enjoyed these same quick massages when having a frenetic or stressful day and told him so.   A new woman joined this work team and felt like her personal boundary was being invaded and was uncomfortable with these massages. Telling her boss, or having a co-worker tell him that she did not want to be touched would have been more simple.  Instead, she went to the HR department and lodged a formal complaint.  The boss was reprimanded and had to attend a sexual harassment class.  He was banned from touching any employees.  The other employees were miffed about losing their mini massages that helped them be relaxed at work and were not happy with how the new employee handled this situation.

Tips for dealing with Sexual Harassment

Published February 3, 2013 | By Wendi Schuller
If you are dealing with  sexual harassment at work and want to nip it in the bud, here are some suggestions. 1.  Ask around, is it just directed at you, or are there other victims?  Go to the offender’s supervisor, or to HR, enmass.  There is more crediblity with a group complaint. 2.  If you think the offender is just plain stupid , then talk to him and let him know that the line has been crossed. Possibly just educating the clueless one will do the trick.  He may erroneously think that you are “one of the guys”. 3.  Keep meticulous  records with times and dates of what happened. 4.  Use a sense of humor to set the record straight. 5.  Consult an attorney, if all else fails. I read how an ingenius group of women, who worked in a factory, handled this issue.  The floor supervisor would come around and sexually proposition the female workers individually. They talked amoung themselves and realized that they were all his victims.  They decided to take matters in their own hands and stop the problem once and for all.  Their plan was when the supervisor would come around to talk to someone, all of them would shut off their machines to make it quieter.  The victim would yell, whatever the proposition was, like  ” you want to do what to me?”  They knew it would be especially difficult for the first couple of women.  Soon, the  men also turned off their machines when it happened and laughed whenever the supervisor tried his tricks.  After a short while, the supervisor gave up and mainly stayed in his office overlooking the factory floor. Try being creative to avoid a lengthy lawsuit.



Returning to the Workplace During Divorce

The April 11, 2013  New York Times newspaper’s magazine section had an article by Judith Warner that discussed returning to work after a long hiatus raising children. Some of the women were facing divorce and had to jump back into the workplace.  A question was raised, is it better to get a job during the divorce or wait until it has ended. A woman’s divorce attorney told her “Before you do anything, you get a job.  You have to look at the next 30 years of your life, and if you are in control of the situation, and you have a job that’s paying you money, he’s going to be far less powerful over you in the divorce.”

Before my divorce, I was forced out of my job in our jointly owned business. My divorce attorney also insisted that I immediately find employment. Besides earning a little extra cash in this part-time position, it helped keep my sanity intact and gave me more power in my divorce proceedings.  Since it was far less income than co-owning a business, it may have given me more leverage in my alimony amount. One hurdle with determining alimony is that it can be calculated on what you can potentially earn, even if out of the workplace for many years.  It is a toss up  if quickly finding any old job during a divorce helps with increased alimony, but it can boost self-esteem.

The article discussed how women may be able to get back into the job market.  Schools are great places to network with well placed parents who have contacts in one’s field. One woman said that she did not even have to fill out a resume because these parents knew her talents and a job materialized. Warner stated “those who hadn’t been sufficiently strategic in their volunteering often struggled greatly.” Listing volunteer fund-raising efforts at schools and clubs can especially put one in the path of nonprofit organizations.

It would be interesting to hear what divorce attorneys around the country advise clients about getting a job during their divorce.



Financial Fasting a New Trend

Financial Fasting works much like diet fasting does when one reduces calories for a day of two a week.  This is particularly helpful for those just emerging from a life transition, such as divorce. Fasting may be short lived, such as when one wants to lose a few pounds before a special event. Or it can be long term, as some of my European friends do. Think of your finances in a similar vein. UK’s Women & Home magazine’s August 2013 issue has an article describing this latest trend.  Cut down on expenses for one or two days a week and spend your normal amounts on the other days. This will get you ahead of the financial game and put some extra cash in your bank account.

You may want to just have a designated time period for this financial fast, such as three months with an option to extend it.  For me, seeing a short-term goal makes it easier to do.  The article suggested the usual, bring your lunch and leave your credit cards at home on fasting days.

It also suggested viewing the financial fast as a trade.  You are giving up some extra frivolous expenditures for something that you would really enjoy, such as a facial.  You could have a special ongoing goal as my sons and I do. We have a vibrant pottery canister that is our “Travel Fund.”  We forgo extra clothes, gadgets, etc and put that money into the Travel Fund.  We fast financially, by going to coffee shops instead of expensive dinners.

Give this Financial Fast a go and see your dream reached a little quicker.

Family Dynamics Changing Post-divorce

Some family relationships may take a nose dive post-divorce and you may go through the grieving process for what is lost and will never be again. Take Naomi for example, she had written her step-mother regularly and sent cards for every occasion. She felt that they had a good long distance relationship. Her sons had told their step-grandmother about some abuse that they had suffered during the marriage and subsequent therapy post-divorce. The step-grandmother kept in contact with the ex, despite the boys’ wishes. Naomi wrote her step-mother saying that she and the boys would be in town for a short visit and gave two possible dates to get together. Imagine her shock when her step-sister wrote a scathing note back stating that her mother did not want to see them because the ex had a different story regarding his sons. The step-sister and Naomi only exchanged Christmas cards, so she was surprised at the intensity of the venom. The step-sister also was a friend of the ex on Facebook, although she had not seen him in over 15 years.

Sometimes you just have to let people go and realize that this is in your own and children’s best interest. If someone has an idea so entrenched in their brain, it may be better just not to respond. Or keep them at a distance and only exchange holiday cards, without a personal message.

Another issue in a situation like this, is how to gently explain something to your children. Part of the vitriol of that letter was specifically directed at her younger son. She told both boys that Grandma was unable to meet up with them for that visit. Naomi is going to show her other son (in his early 20s) that letter a bit later. You don’t want to harbor family secrets, but rather to discuss family issues in a therapeutic way. We can’t change toxic family members’ behavior, only our response (or lack of) to it. Talk this over with friends and if it still bothers you, possibly to a therapist or clergy.

Visitation When There Has Been Previous Abuse Pre-divorce

During the divorce process, there are two attorneys and possibly an interim child psychologist looking over the parents’ shoulders during visitation. They are checking to make sure that a parent is not trying to alienate the other one and that the children are having smooth transitions. In the majority of cases visitation goes well with children benefiting with the presence of both parents in their lives. When there has been some past abuse or the children feel threatened, or unsafe, then measures can be taken. These tips help children feel more comfortable.

Get a track phone for your child with an x amount of prepaid minutes. Some of these phones will let you program a few important numbers in them. I taped that track phone’s number and my son’s therapist one on the back for any emergency. Just carrying the phone discreetly in a pocket can help a youngster feel more secure. Bach Flower Rescue Remedy comes in a dose for children This is for an acute, stressful situation, if one should arise. I would only send this with an older child who understands how to correctly take this stress remedy.

Another helpful hint is letting the child take a small object that helps her feel more powerful. It may be a saint’s medal or a special natural stone with certain perceived protective properties. My younger son got a Chinese character with a specific meaning from a compassionate shopkeeper. He still wears it around his neck for ongoing protection. My older son also included a smooth gemstone in his pocket that he fingered when upset. Maybe a small toy would be comforting for a young child.

If the older child drops out of visitation when she turns 18 and the younger one refuses to go alone, then supervised visitation is an option. The length of visitation or the type of activity might have to be adjusted. Your divorce attorney or child’s therapist can help with setting up supervised visitation. The age where a child can petition the court for modifying or ceasing visitation varies by state.

Do not ask how visitation went or what your child and the other parent did. If you suspect that any abuse is reoccurring , document any physical signs (photos of bruises) and discuss this with your lawyer. Children’s Protective Services may have to be notified. Again, most visitations go well with children feeling loved and cherished by both parents.

Joint, Physical, Sole and Legal Custody

Joint, Physical, Sole and Legal Custody have distinct differences and it is important to understand these during divorce negotiations.

Sole Custody can be granted to one parent when the other or the partner is abusive or impared.  The courts across the country are moving away from granting this type of custody and are giving Legal Custody to both parents. In sole custody, the  one parent has complete say in the child’s decisions and does not have to consult the other one.  If one parent is completely out of the picture, then this is when sole custody is more likely to be awarded.

Legal Custody is usually granted to both parents and this allows them to make decisions regarding the child’s medical, educational, religious and schooling even if one parent is in jail.  The incarcerated parent can still have imput on the child’s upbringing. When a parent has alcohol or drug abuse, then visitation may be supervised, but legal custody can still be awarded.  If a parent makes important changes, such as a school, the other parent can take that parent to court if he was not consulted in this decision.  Although my children had visitation, I was reprimanded for not informing my son’s father that our child had gotten a job during our divorce. If the other parent is abusive, Legal Custody can still be awarded, with a court mediator being appointed.  Then all communication between parents would go through this person.

Physical Custody is granted to the parent where the child completely or mainly resides. This may be that the child lives with his mother during the week and stays at his father’s house on the weekends.  It also is awarded to a parent when there is no overnight visits or in cases where visitation is supervised.

Joint Custody is when the child spends part of the week at each parent’s house or alternates every other week.  It is close to 50/50 and often the parents live nearby to make it easier for the child schooling.

Instances of where  family members, other than parents, are awarded custody are becoming more common.  This is particularly  the case when both parents are impaired or incarcerated.  Then grandparents, aunts or uncles may be granted custody. I personally am seeing this more and more in the public schools. I am having to call a grandparent to pick up a sick child or  ask an aunt to obtain permission to give a medication.



Collaborative Divorce – A New Team Member

There is a new member on the Collaborative divorce team.  A career coach is becoming an invaluable asset in collabortive divorce negotioations. Quite a few women have put aside their work aspirations to raise a family and have been out of the job market for awhile.  A career coach may be brought in to help these women determine their strengths and weaknesses and develop a plan of action. An intial assessment of skills and interest is performed and then the woman and career coach investigate potential jobs and career paths. It may be that the woman has developed different interest areas and accomplishments from her previous jobs and requires some vocational guidence during and post-divorce.  The career coach can assist with concrete tasks, such as helping to write a resume and check job wanted ads. Another function is to provide  reassurance and support for the spouse who is now hunting for a job.

An additional reason that a career coach is brought onboard is to help determine alimony and child support during collaborative divorce negotiations. These are determined by the earning potential of both spouses.  If one spouse has to go back to school or training to update her skills or license, then the career coach can point this out for a fairer  alimony/child support settlement.

In an acrimonious divorce, the career coach is a neutral person who can help set alimony/child support in an impartial manner.


Bobbi Brown’s tips for life

In Bobbi Brown’s new book,” Beauty Rules”, she has nuggets of wisdom which apply to all of us.

She states to “be nice” and that “you must be kind to others”. Also to “tell the truth”. She said “to take risks”, giving the example of going to NYC, without contacts and making cold calls to people in the beauty industry  .Bobbi  Brown said ” never give up”, even working for free on a trial basis to show your skills.

“Be on time” and “be open” to whatever may be coming your way. Feel your passion and to “care about something”, whether it’s animals, the environment or whatever. She suggests “giving back” by finding a cause and that is special to you. Bobbi Brown advocates “working hard” even if this means starting from the very bottom and working your way up the corporate ladder. “Look people in the eyes” to show your confidence, even if you aren’t feeling it at the moment. Bobbi Brown learned that looking and feeling pretty matters to one’s self esteem.

I am helped by reading of successful people’s struggles and the wisdom that they learned along the way. So many people have nuggets of wisdom that we can incorporate into our own lives, whether they are celebrities or a valued elderly neighbor.