How to keep co-parenting congenial

It is inevitable as part of divorce with children that the once unified family household will now be separated in two. Each party to a divorce has their own feelings, opinions, and standards of living that will directly impact the children and, at times, impact the other parent. To successfully co-parent you are going to have to find ways to navigate and negotiate these differences without alienating your children.

There is one quintessential point that both parents should always keep in mind when navigating differences of opinion:  in virtually every disagreement, there is more harm by parents remaining in conflict than what you are likely fighting about.  The harm to children caused by a conflicted environment is severe; it includes a higher risk of depression, anxiety, PTSD, substance abuse, poor school performance, behavioral problems and many other serious negative outcomes

These are common co-parenting mistakes that parents often make:

  • Failing to address your child(ren)’s concerns about their future after parents separate. Try to see a shifting world through the eyes of your children, and make decisions that are focused around their needs.
  • Putting down the other parent in front the child(ren) or within ear shot of the child(ren). The sting of hearing the two people they love the most in the world saying vicious things about the other doesn’t quickly go away. Also remember that it is more than words that the children pick up on; it is tone and body language that helps them interpret how you feel about your co-parent.
  • Involving the child(ren) in disputes between parents whether directly or indirectly. This likely will lead to a sense that they are responsible for the dispute; or at the very least that they are an ongoing “stress” contributing to the hostilities.
  • Questioning child(ren) in an effort to gather information about the other parent. This type of interrogation fills a child with angst, and ultimately will lead them to feel guilty about getting a parent in trouble.
  • Failing to properly negotiate and mediate issues regarding the child(ren)’s care, safety, education, religion, holidays, vacations, etc. As stated before, remaining in conflict is so much more damaging than making reasonable decisions about these issues.
  • Rejecting your child(ren)’s affection for the other parent or failing to support the other parent’s role in the child(ren)’s lives. The biggest gift you can give your child is to encourage a positive and healthy relationship with your co-parenting partner.  Giving them permission to have a wonderful time with the other parent promotes emotional health for your child(ren).
  • Failing to support and maintain your child(ren)’s relationships with friends, family, school, community and activities. Seeing the effects of divorce on your child(ren) through their eyes, understanding the enormous impact that you and your co-parenting partner are having on their lives, should help you understand the need to support and encourage your child(ren)’s long-term healthy relationships.

Moving forward you’re going to need to find ways to navigate these new waters in a positive, respectful manner while understanding that you cannot control the other parent. Here are some suggestions for achieving this:

  • Have a conversation with your (child)ren, together with the other parent when appropriate, that creates a united and positive atmosphere about the upcoming changes and addresses your child(ren)’s questions.
  • Have a defined plan for holidays, activities, appointments and other scheduling issues.
  • Be flexible and open to occasional schedule changes when necessary and accommodate your co-parent’s request. Create a structure that gives your child(ren) have high quality time with each of you; not necessarily exactly equal time.
  • Have private weekly phone conversations with your co-parent to discuss the needs, schedules, and well-being of your child(ren), and be cordial and open to the other parent’s ideas and concerns.
  • Use a co-parenting website such as Our Family Wizard, Google calendar, and email or text to communicate scheduling or share information when appropriate.
  • Accept that at some point your co-parenting partner will move on with a new partner and that person may eventually become involved in your child(ren)’s lives. Giving your child(ren) permission to establish healthy relationships with that person will alleviate a sense of stress or guilt your child would otherwise feel.
  • Actively involve your co-parent in important events in your child(ren)’s lives whenever possible. Send pictures and communicate special moments so that you can share pride in your child(ren).
  • Try to maintain a united front when it comes to child(ren)’s behavioral issues and consequences
  • Develop the mindset that being the best parent possible for you child(ren) includes encouraging a healthy positive relationship with your co-parenting partner.

Discussing how to co-parent successfully is often a big part of the Collaborative Divorce process, and should be part of any divorce process.  If you are considering divorce and have children, consider Collaborative Divorce as an alternative to traditional divorce, as a way to develop and maintain a healthy co-parenting relationship.

About the blogger:

about-jeff-photoJeffrey S. Levy, LCSW, GAL, received his MSW from University of New England and BS from the University of Maine. Jeff has been operating his private therapy practice since 2001, and he has been serving the Maine courts as a Guardian ad Litem since 2006. Jeff is an adoption social worker, serving as the Director of the Maine branch for China Adoption With Love.  He is also an instructor for the Kid’s First Program, providing separating parents guidance in working collaboratively for their children’s best interest.  Additionally, he has developed a workshop instructing therapists on how to work with Highly Conflicted Separated Families and has taught it throughout Maine. Jeff received training as a Collaborative Divorce Coach in 2014 and is a founding member and Board Member of the Maine Collaborative Law Alliance.

What I like about Collaborative Divorce: an attorney’s perspective

As an Attorney who represents clients in both Traditional and Collaborative divorce cases, I am fully familiar with the many benefits of the Collaborative process.  Here are just some of the reasons why Collaborative Divorce appeals to me:

The parties start on equal footing.  In the Collaborative Divorce process, nothing is filed with the court until after the parties have come to an agreement on ALL issues. This process allows all parties to feel that they are heard and empowered.  There is no “plaintiff” or “defendant” opposing each other, often drawing out divorce unduly and making it more stressful, as there is with traditional divorce.

Open and transparent sharing of information.  In the Collaborative process, the parties agree to free exchange of information. This includes all financial information and negates the need for a formal, and often costly, discovery process.

More negotiations happen at the table between the parties.  Everyone wants and deserves to be heard during this highly emotional time. Negotiations in the Collaborative process are primarily done with all parties at the table, which means more creative and workable solutions. And often less negotiation is necessary between the attorneys  — and there’s no interference from the Judge pressuring the parties or attorneys between Collaborative sessions.

The parties are encouraged to fully discuss the topics that are important to them. Unencumbered by the Court’s rigid timeline and structure, the Collaborative process lets parties go at their own pace. If the parties feel they need more time to discuss custody issues or financial issues, the process allows and encourages the parties to take that time.

The parties begin with an AGREEMENT.  In my opinion, the most important advantage of Collaborative Divorce is that the parties start from a place of agreement, not conflict. They do that by signing a participation agreement committing themselves to proceed Collaboratively.

To learn more about Collaborative Divorce and how it can work for you, please look through our Collaborative Attorneys and contact one in your area .

About the Blogger:

Matthew Govan is a family law practitioner at Govan Law Office, PA, in Portland. He is the Chair of the Board and a founding member of the Maine Collaborative Law Alliance. To learn more about beginning a Collaborative Divorce or if you are a professional interested in becoming a MCLA member, please see MCLA’s locate a professional or become a member pages.

Collaboration over debate: the real way to win

60745163 - presidential candidates donald trump vs hillary clinton cartoon

Amid this particularly adversarial election season, it occurs to me that fighting, though great for TV ratings, rarely accomplishes anything. I’m thinking about the presidential debates, where the more the candidates assert their positions, the more defensive and polarized they become. Fighting to outdo your opponent makes sense in debate because the idea is to prove the validity of one viewpoint over another.  But when you bring that kind of aggressive, self-serving stance to personal human disagreements, you usually lose.

The secret to winning in the arena of human conflict is to appreciate that the best fixes come from synthesizing rather than isolating different perspectives.   Obama, speaking of politics, is known for solving complex problems by gathering several experts – scientist, economist, historian, etc. – around a table, hearing their varying ideas, and channeling the best of what they offer into a well-rounded solution more potent than what any one of those experts could have created on their own.  When you get beyond a “my way or the highway” mentality to embrace rather than reject other opinions, you release yourself from limitation and enter into an enormous playground of possibility.

This process of synthesizing differing approaches into a more powerful outlook is the heart of collaborative divorce. Instead of wasting time and money by bickering endlessly from their own hard-lined mindsets, husband and wife gather with a team of divorce specialists to craft a divorce agreement that is greater than the sum of its parts.  At best the couple comes up with creative solutions they never thought possible; at the very least they each end up with solutions they both – not just one of them – can live with.

It’s not exactly easy to put ego aside and consider the perspective of someone you may be angry with or feel betrayed by. The process is less challenging, though, when you throw out questions that work well for debating but get in the way of resolution, such as:

  • How can I beat my opponent?
  • How can I prove that I’m right?
  • How can I show everyone that I am smarter/more deserving/morally superior than my opponent?
  • How can I make this go my way?

Even if you regard your spouse as a complete idiot with whom you have nothing in common, you can reach a mutually palatable divorce settlement by unlocking yourself from a single-minded position.   These questions will help you to move beyond guardedness and into the sort of productive, flexible discourse that attracts enlightened answers:

  • What solution is truly best for our children/our mental health?
  • How do I want to feel at the end of my marriage? (Victorious, unencumbered, confident?) Other than getting my own way today, how can I get to those feelings?
  • How would I want to describe my behavior during my divorce to my children/my boss/my students/my favorite mentor?
  • How do I want to remember this process five years from now?
  • How can I behave today to help this process go as smoothly as possible?
  • What might happen today if I let empathy for my spouse, rather than a desire to win/get revenge, guide my actions?
  • How might letting go of the outcome make this process easier/more productive?

The beauty of expansive inquiries like these is that they open up potential for equally expansive solutions.   And if you’re still not convinced that yielding is more likely to bring success than digging your heels in, you need ask just one final question:

What remedies might arise were Hillary and Donald to take their gloves off, highlight the strengths they both bring to the ring, and integrate – rather than argue – their brightest ideas into a plan for our country?

About the Blogger:

Amy Wood, Psy.D. MCLA Founding MemberPsychologist Amy Wood, Psy.D. helps adults to articulate and accomplish their own unique versions of success through psychotherapy, executive coaching, speaking, mediation, and collaborative law coaching.   A pragmatic optimist, she is known for her capacity to simplify complexity and see manageable solutions amid the overwhelm of modern life and work. Dr. Wood is the author of the award-winning book Life Your Way: Refresh Your Approach to Success and Breathe Easier in a Fast-paced World, a founding member of the Maine Collaborative Law Alliance, and a member of the Maine Association of Mediators.   She earned her doctorate from the Adler School of Professional Psychology, graduated from the College of Executive Coaching, and is a certified mediator.   Visit her website at




Considering divorce? Here’s how to make sure you’re sure

Susan came home one night and told her husband Tom she wanted a separation. He was shocked. 50408867_sSure, there had been some ‘issues’ in their marriage, but wasn’t that normal in a long-term relationship?

Tom approached Susan the next morning and suggested couples therapy, saying“don’t you think you owe it to me to at least try to fix the marriage?”

Tom’s request to dig a little deeper before calling it quits may seem perfectly reasonable — but couples therapy won’t be successful unless both partners are willing to do the work it requires. In fact, further frustration and stress can result if one partner feels pressured into therapy without genuinely believing it can help.

So what’s the solution here? What happens when one spouse is pretty sure they want out and the other wants to see if their marriage can be saved?

Fortunately there is a new option for not-on-the-same-page spouses like Susan and Tom: Discernment Counseling.

Discernment Counseling is a short-term (1 – 5 session) process intended to help a mixed-agenda couple where one person is ‘leaning out’ of the relationship thinking separation/divorce is their only option and the other is ‘leaning in’ and wants to rebuild the marriage. The beauty of this process is that it provides a much needed opportunity to slow down, take a deep breath, explore options, and arrive at a deliberated decision that works for both partners.

Who can benefit from Discernment Counseling?

Discernment Counseling is for couples in a situation where separation and divorce are being considered by one or both partners and there is uncertainty about whether divorce is the best choice for them and their family. It is not appropriate when one person has already made a final decision to leave.

How is Discernment Counseling structured?

The first session is two hours with subsequent sessions lasting ninety minutes. At the end of each session, the couple decides if they’d like to have another session, with a maximum of five sessions. Each in-person session starts and ends with both partners in the room with the counselor, and includes significant one-on-one time for each person alone with the counselor.

What is the difference between Discernment Counseling and couples therapy?

Unlike couples therapy, the goal of Discernment Counseling is not to solve your marital problems but rather to agree on one of three paths that would be best for you and your family.

The three paths are:

  1. Status quo – the marriage as it has been.
  2. Separation/divorce
  3. Couples therapy for six months with an all-out effort to repair the relationship, with divorce temporarily off the table, followed by a decision about the-long term direction of the marriage.Through the Discernment Counseling sessions, clarity is achieved in a non-adversarial, respectful manner. The process removes the stress and momentum people sometimes find themselves swept up in when there is confusion about marital issues and whether or not they are solvable. The goal is for you to gain clarity, based on a deeper understanding of your relationship and its possibilities for the future. Discernment Counseling also allows you to learn more about yourself and your partner and how each of you may contribute to the problems and possible solutions surrounding the marriage.To learn more about Discernment Counseling, please go to or contact me at (207) 797-6540, email:, website:

About the blogger:

Sara's Professional Photo JPEGSara F. Levite, MS, LCPC has been in private practice for over 25 years working with individuals, couples and groups. When working with couples her goal is to help them each feel heard and understood without judgment in an effort to assist each member to communicate with confidence and clarity. In addition to her private practice work, she has been a social worker and Guardian Ad Litem in Massachusetts, has worked as a counselor for the Department of Corrections in Maine,  and has extensive experience leading workshops and trainings in Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Florida.

What to look for in a financial neutral

11193761_sThe Financial Neutral works as part of a collaborative team to support the divorcing couple in all areas regarding finances.   Investments, debts, budgets, retirement concerns, insurance, spousal support, present value calculations of pensions, and other more esoteric areas may all be addressed.

As part of the collaborative team, the financial neutral is charged with assisting the divorcing partners in the framing, discussion, and decisions around money issues.  The financial neutral does not make decisions for the couple but rather provides education and counsel to help the parties understand the key issues facing them and possible solutions to those issues.   As the issues and solutions become clear to both sides, the financial neutral candidly and objectively discusses the pros and cons of the various solutions with each party, the collaborative team, and both parties together.

The ability to keep the goals and concerns of each spouse foremost in the discussions with that spouse, while at the same time recognizing and honoring the goals and concerns of the other party, is central to the skill set of a good financial neutral.  Being able to empathetically connect with parties on opposite sides of a discussion allows an experienced financial neutral to counsel, educate,  and support both parties as they move toward a collaborative divorce agreement. When guided by a competent financial neutral, both parties can leave their marriage with the understanding that they have been fair and honest with themselves and each other around the often tricky and emotionally scary areas of post-divorce money issues.

Beyond having the professional training needed to function as a financial neutral, it is very important that the financial neutral know when to bring in outside experts in areas that are outside of her or his skill set.  The goal is always to provide the divorcing couple with accurate, unbiased, and thorough advice to allow them to make the best financial decisions possible as they end their marriage.

About the Blogger:

JAL photo 2 05292012John, principal and cofounder of Anton LeMieux Financial Group, has been guiding clients through the complex world of financial planning and investing since 1993. He left Merrill Lynch in 2009 with his partner Eric Anton to start the group with the specific vision that their clients would be better served in a more holistic practice focused directly on client needs and advocacy. John’s experiences as an entrepreneur, a financial planner, and investment advisor, as well as a college basketball coach, have combined to give him insight into the needs of the individuals, families, family-owned businesses, and nonprofit organizations that he serves.

He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM professional, a Certified Investment Management AnalystTM and a Certified Divorce Financial AnalystTM; but it is his willingness to address the emotional side of his clients’ financial lives that distinguishes him. John believes that to assist clients with complex financial decision making he must address the multifaceted realities of life that underscores the financial facts. In the process of working to address these realities, alongside the specific goals of each client, he endeavors to add value and build a vision for their personal financial needs. It is his view that each client has their own needs and wants in life and that a unique financial plan is needed to adequately address each client’s situation.

John is a founding member of the Maine Collaborative Law Alliance and as a financial neutral has played a lead role in the development of collaborative divorce in Maine.


Lies we tell ourselves to stay in a bad marriage

The human mind is amazingly enabling. We can use it to justify our behavior, to49191110_s avoid the pain of facing that we’re not doing what we know we should be doing to improve our lives. We’re not perfect and so we don’t have sufficient courage to always act on what we know deep down is good for us.  When we don’t want to face inconvenient truths, we camouflage the nagging pain of not listening to our inner wisdom by overpowering it with superficially convincing rationalizations.

Such as:

I can’t exercise because I’m too busy.

I can’t eat healthfully because it’s too expensive.

I can’t go back to school because I’m too old.

Nobody likes their job; that’s why they call it work.

And so on.

The more a prospective change requires of us, the more likely we are to make excuses to keep that change at bay. And so it makes perfect sense that people in bad marriages find all sorts of reasons to avoid the daunting work of divorce.

Here are some of the most common excuses people give for staying in a bad marriage, along with reasons why it’s easier in the long run to stop making them:

I can’t leave my marriage because it’s not the right time.   Being sensitive to your spouse when you’re planning to divorce is the decent thing to do.  Only an insensitive jerk demands a divorce on their spouse’s birthday, on a momentous holiday or anniversary, or just before their spouse takes a major exam.  The mature thing to do is make your announcement when nothing big is happening.  Because divorce is never fun, there is never a perfect time to bring it up, and you can spend the rest of your life finding reasons why you need to wait.    Eventually, if you want your anxiety to go away, you have to settle on a relatively neutral D-day, take a deep breath, and bite the bullet.

I can’t leave my spouse because they need me.   Ending a marriage is particularly challenging when you perceive your spouse as overly dependent on you – because, after all, what nice person wants to reject someone vulnerable? Two important things to remember here:  1.  You’re actually not being nice by staying with someone out of pity or obligation.  To the contrary, you’re preventing your spouse from moving on, growing, and hopefully meeting the right partner someday.  2.  Staying with someone because they supposedly need you is a handy way of making yourself look strong and thoughtful when you may actually be the needier partner; presenting this façade takes a tremendous amount of energy that could be better spent on facing that your marriage is over and learning to find your own way.

This is just what marriage is like.    When you’re unfulfilled in your marriage and reluctant to go through the pain of divorce, it’s tempting to believe that all marriages are miserable and so there’s no point in going to the trouble of ending it.  You can tell yourself that all couples have terrible problems and act disrespectfully toward each other behind closed doors, and only those too weak to accept that reality get divorced.    You can keep on presenting yourself as tough and devoted by broadcasting your capacity to stay committed to your spouse no matter how awful your marriage gets.  Again, though, it takes lots of  energy to cast yourself as a high and mighty martyr.   Accepting that your unhappy marriage is not the norm and ending it will free you up to find marital harmony in your future.

I’m staying married for my kids.   If you’re a parent, keeping your kids at the forefront when making major life changes is the right thing to do.   But make sure you’re not using supposed parental responsibility as a way to dodge decisions you are afraid to make.   Yes it’s certainly true that children are better off growing up with their biological parents in the same house, but only when those parents are in a thriving partnership.   Kids see right through parents pretending to be happy, and that experience can cause them long-term emotional damage.  If you and your spouse move through divorce in a way that protects your children from antagonism, they are very likely to be stable and secure being co-parented by the two of you in separate homes.

When you get down to it, pretty much every excuse in the book to not get divorced (when you’ve tried everything to save your marriage and you know divorce is the answer) just creates greater turmoil for everyone involved. The longer you sidestep what you know needs to happen, the more you are preventing you and your spouse and kids from having the life opportunities you all deserve.

So be honest with yourself:  are you putting off divorce because you’re not psychologically prepared to handle it?  If so, summon the courage to take action – and you’ll soon find that the anticipation of divorce causes way more dread than getting on with it.

About the Blogger:

Amy Wood, Psy.D. MCLA Founding MemberPsychologist Amy Wood, Psy.D. helps adults to articulate and accomplish their own unique versions of success through psychotherapy, executive coaching, speaking, mediation, and collaborative law coaching.   A pragmatic optimist, she is known for her capacity to simplify complexity and see manageable solutions amid the overwhelm of modern life and work. Dr. Wood is the author of the award-winning book Life Your Way: Refresh Your Approach to Success and Breathe Easier in a Fast-paced World, a founding member of the Maine Collaborative Law Alliance, and a member of the Maine Association of Mediators Board of Directors.   She earned her doctorate from the Adler School of Professional Psychology, graduated from the College of Executive Coaching, and is a certified mediator.   Visit her website at