The holidays are right around the corner, and by this point it should be clear whether you are excited to get together with loved ones or dreading it. If it is the latter, don’t ignore the signs of distress and your procrastination to make plans or buy gifts, this will only make the situation worse. Instead, try to be honest (at the very least with yourself) and figure out either a coping strategy or an exit plan.
If you are not sure whether your relationship will last beyond 2022, this is the perfect time to start gathering some information and weighing your options. Do you need to break a lease or list a home for sale? What is the best way to safely and gracefully extricate yourself from your current situation? Perhaps you should seek the advice of a divorce coach or attorney, and definitely get some feedback from your financial advisor to avoid committing financial suicide.
For over 20 years, I have helped my divorce clients develop a plan to get through the holidays, whether it’s one last time together or first time around flying solo. We all need help in those first years breaking with past traditions and/or creating new ones, and the reality is that there is no one formula to follow to get it right. Each family and the needs of the individuals involved are all different, which definitely makes my job interesting, and also incredibly challenging.
At this point, I have lived through quite a few variations of how to celebrate the holidays. Growing up with immigrant parents, we hosted what I refer to as orphan holiday parties. When I was married, I enjoyed celebrating the holidays with just close family at my in-laws. After my divorce, I developed some new traditions with my son, and on years that we were not together, I learned to plan ahead– either because I was going to have to travel alone, or sometimes I just opted to spend a quiet evening alone with all my favorite holiday menu items, some good tunes or a few movies that would put me in the holiday spirit. This year, however, as an empty nester whose family isn’t getting together for a variety of reasons, I will be cooking and spending the holidays with my partner and his family for the first time. They will be the calm before my perfect storm.
Sadly, most unhappy couples will call it quits soon after the holidays, which is why January is often referred to as “divorce month’ in my industry. I wish we could rebrand it as something more positive, because despite the fact that a marriage is ending, it’s also the start of a new beginning. Divorce gives both people a chance to cut their losses and reset the clock while there’s still time to find redefine your happily ever after with someone that warms your heart and makes you laugh like you did when you were a kid. Although the journey isn’t quick or easy, I can tell you it is totally worth it.
Doing the hard work upfront includes developing a joint message that you will provide to family and friends, who will inevitably want to know whether you are gearing up for World War III or if you believe you can civilly and collaboratively part ways with minimal disruption to all those involved. If you can’t stomach being at the epicenter of a potential storm, now is the time to develop alternate plans that will keep you safe and sane.
If you have minor children, get some expert help to work on your Parenting Plan, which at a minimum lays out a regular time-sharing schedule, holidays, and a mechanism for making major decisions. Experienced family mediators, mental health professionals or parent coaches know how to assist couples develop a thoughtful contract that addresses everyone’s needs, with the child’s best interest being the top priority.
With respect to money issues, unfortunately the current market situation isn’t going to make this exercise easy. The assets are what they are now, not what they were last year or even last month. The reality is excluding those families in the top 10% income bracket, the finances for most couples are not that complicated. Gather the information related to all your income, assets and liabilities, and try to find a way to fairly distribute what you accumulated during the marriage. Again, if you need help with this, reach out to a financial professional, family mediator or matrimonial attorney that can assist you with finding a solution.
Typically, the thorniest issue is monthly support. Child support calculators are very helpful, but many jurisdictions, like DC and MD don’t have calculators for spousal support/alimony claims– instead we try to take a balanced approach looking at one person’s reasonable needs and the other’s ability to pay. Sadly, given the current economic situation everyone’s expenses have increased making it more challenging for separated families to successfully run two households on a balanced budget.
Now more than ever, couples separating will need assistance developing creative and compassionate solutions. Those of us that have been through the process personally do bring a refreshing perspective that others simply can’t, including a profound sense of compassion that you will appreciate most when you hit all those speed bumps along the way until things truly settle down (which I would estimate is about a year after you initiate the separation.)
Hopefully, you too will find a way to make the best of this holiday season, but if you are struggling, take solace in the fact that you are not alone and you are certainly not going where no man (or woman) has ever gone before. Together with your closest friends and trusted team of experts, you will get through 2022 and create a path for a happier and healthier new year.
By Regina A. DeMeo