Graduating college. Buying a house. Getting married. Having a baby. All of these are not just significant life changes; they’re the typical timeline of how many young people expect their lives to play out. But what happens when the best laid plans go awry?
In a world where more than half of marriages end in divorce, that’s a reality all too often faced—and divorce affects everyone in different ways. It can cause different levels of stress and emotional issues for both parent and child—stress that becomes outward in a multitude of forms depending on the person, making just one thing certain: The family structure is forever changed.
“Divorce is probably among the fifth or sixth most significant things that can happen in your lifetime aside from health issues, marriage and baby,” says Christopher Musulin, of Musulin Law Firm. In addition to the financial burdens that come with litigation and separating households, divorce can have a lasting, emotional impact on everybody involved.
Know What’s Ahead
Adjustments such as establishing new households and schedules, changing friendships or relationships, and adapting to a new lifestyle can all be expected. In some situations, a parent who never worked before may have to find a job, and parents and kids need to get used to not seeing each other as much.
Explaining these changes to children up front is important, experts say, but first parents need to understand the changes themselves. A family law attorney should be able to explain the ramifications of divorce and connect clients with appropriate help, such as accountants to help handle the financial situations, Musulin says.
“After a while, you have to let go of the anger in order to move on,” says Sandy Mikus, a Marlton resident and single parent to two young boys. Six years separated, Sandy says she has finally begun to heal. “It may have taken me a while, but the boys and I are right where we are supposed to be.”
For parents like Mikus, it is important to have a family discussion with children about what’s going to happen; experts say even infants and toddlers know that something is amiss, so it’s important to address some of the changes—and without mudslinging or fighting.
Kayla S., 13, is a child of divorce and says it’s not easy, but she has a support system in her friends and family.
“We’ll talk about it and say what’s on our mind,” the Cherry Hill teen says. “If something’s bothering me, I can always go to my mom.”
Kayla says it can still be “pretty rough,” but her parents make it a point not to fight in front of her and her siblings. They keep open communication and that helps relieve the stress of the situation.
Some couples are able to reach an amicable resolution and others face a tougher battle. In either case, it is important to have some kind of support system, whether through professional counseling, friends and family, or just making time for yourself. There are ways to make the actual split a smoother process, too, depending on what road the family decides to take, says attorney Lynda Hinkle of the Law Offices of Lynda L. Hinkle, LLC in Marlton. It starts by thinking about the future.
“You [must] think with the brain you’ll have a year from now,” says Hinkle. “What is it I’m going to care about down the road?”
There are many factors to address while working through a divorce, such as financial issues, custody agreements and visitation rights, and South Jersey’s vast legal landscape offers many options for family law and divorce attorneys.
“You need some support, but it’s a personal decision on what kind it should be,” says Hinkle of the various legal methods available.
Settling a divorce in court may work for some couples and families, but others may find alternative dispute resolution may suit their needs better, whether in the form of mediation sessions, a “collaborative” divorce, or other methods outside of litigation. Mediation has become more common in recent years, providing a calm environment for people to sit down and hash things out rationally, with a neutral third party. The benefit of this newly popular method is twofold: Both parties are able to sort through issues without fighting in court, and the financial impact is greatly lessened. It takes the stress off the couple and can help the family work together to find common ground, Hinkle says.
Counseling can be a great way to help a family cope, whether on an individual basis or as a group. Having an outlet is important for not only adults, but for children as well. Children are affected by divorce just as much as the parents, but they are not yet equipped with the tools and emotional understanding needed to handle such a complex situation. It is the parents’ job to speak with their kids and let them know what is happening and reassure that they are there for them during this process.
“We are social animals and see ourselves belonging to a group and, when something falls apart, we don’t know where we belong,” says Susan Wolf, a psychologist based in Cherry Hill. “You have to redefine who you are.”
Following a divorce, children may act out or feel anger toward one or both parents. They may feel the need to choose sides or think they need to be a caregiver if they see a parent who is hurting. Parents may feel anger or sadness as well and can risk taking it out on the children. These are all issues that can be dealt with through counseling, Wolf says.
Overall, individual or family therapy can be a place where a parent and child feel they have a safe outlet to express their feelings and become a more functioning individual, explains Wolf. Though counseling has many advantages, there are other outlets to cope and relieve stress that may be beneficial, such as exploring new hobbies, enrichment through education or classes, or turning to a supportive group of friends. In order for the family to learn how to work together during this difficult time, they must also find a way to deal on their own. No matter what path a family decides to take, no one should feel embarrassed about how they seek help, she says.
“People have many feelings,” says Wolf. “It’s OK to feel sad and be angry, but you don’t sit around feeling sorry for yourself.”
Legal FAQ: You asked, they answered.
…Special Advertising Section from the pages of Suburban Family Magazine…
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How much will my divorce cost?
While this is a very valid question, it is also almost impossible to answer. There are four factors that ultimately play a part in what the client’s fees add up to be—the lawyer, the judge, the client’s goals, and the cooperation level between the parties. In New Jersey, attorneys are required to have clients sign a fee agreement that clearly states the parameters of the attorney client relationship, hourly rates, and other billable fees. I make sure that my clients understand our relationship and work with them to help them manage their case in the most cost-effective way possible. An attorney should never guarantee a client what their legal fees will ultimately be in a divorce matter.
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Yes, bankruptcy is still very much available. It was enacted under federal law and has provided debt relief to many. Depending on the facts of your situation, it may be able to help with the following: credit card debt, medical bills, bank account levies, lawsuits, wage garnishments, evictions, sheriff sales, foreclosures, restoration of driver’s license, income taxes, property taxes, removal of second mortgages, loan modifications and many other debt problems.
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What is the most common ground for divorce in New Jersey?
Most people utilize the cause of action known as (irreconcilable differences). This means that the parties have experienced irreconcilable differences which have caused the breakdown of the marriage for a period of six months and which make it appear that the marriage should be dissolved and that there is no reasonable prospect of reconciliation. If this cause of action is utilized, there is no need to prove that one party or the other was at fault.
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Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 3, Issue 2 (April, 2012).
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