Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Love After Divorce

When I walked in, I saw the back of his head: beautiful, blonde hair. Next I noticed his bag, saving the seat next to him, my seat. For a moment I realized that I could have turned around and walked out. I wanted to, but I didn't want to. So I smoothed my hair down with my hands, adjusted my top and made my way towards him. When he turned and looked at me, I felt immense relief. He looked like his picture, and all of the sudden, the man I had been exchanging texts with for weeks was utterly, entirely and very much real.

He didn't know I was divorced. But he did know that I loved to read an entire book in one evening. He didn't know that I had a son. But he did know that one of my most meaningful experiences was helping a student find herself through poetry. He didn't know that I was living alone for the first time in my life. But he knew that I often felt out of place on the East Coast and that I was still defining home.

The last time I dated I was 19. Let's be honest, I never really dated. I had a serious boyfriend in high school and I met my ex-husband my freshmen year of college in an English class. No one was meeting online. When my friends started online dating I was married and pregnant. Their stories weren't romantic, but horrifying. After my divorce I was hesitant to start dating, especially online. The idea of creating and looking at profiles felt like a twisted combination of voyeurism and online shopping. My mother and my friends encouraged me. You are only 31, they said. You have so much to offer. I remember looking at my mother and saying, "who is going to want to date a divorced woman in her early thirties with a child when there are plenty of beautiful, successful and baggage free women ready and available?
Her response, "if only you could see what I see."

Lesson 1: Listen to your mother.
So when I went online and started talking to the man who is now my boyfriend, I told him what book I was reading and he picked up a copy and read it so we could talk about it on our first date, and I knew that this man was worth not walking out on. Usually aggressive, talkative and confident, I had to cast away my fear of rejection and I made a quick decision: I was going to do it differently with him. I decided that I was going to show him who I was, for better or for worse. I wanted to be in a relationship where I could be me. I had no idea what to expect or what I was doing. All I knew was that my story needed more than a first chapter; I still believed in love, even though my divorce made me question everything I knew about it and shook me to the core.

I hadn't heard his voice. I hadn't seen his face. We hadn't met, but I had feelings for him. Lingering by the door, trying to calm my joy juxtaposed with terror, I remembered what my therapist told me. Love will happen again if you are open to it. Divorce isn't the end. Divorce is the beginning.

Lesson 2: Listen to your therapist.
Those few steps I took towards him are some of the most important steps I've ever taken. We started talking and the talking came easy. Then, he mentioned he had a nephew and I blurted out,
"I have a son and I am divorced,"
He paused, smiled and said, "me too."
First dates are supposed to be awkward and full of painful long silences and conversations that fall flat. This first date wasn't. He had the same circumstances, the same fears, the same baggage that I did.

Lesson 3: You are not the only divorced parent dating.
When people ask how we met, I used to be embarrassed to say online, but now I am coming to realize that if it weren't for online dating, I never would have crossed paths with him. In some weird, cosmic, modern day way, we found our way to each other at exactly the right time in exactly the right place. He has shown me what true love and partnership can be and there is nothing more romantic than that.
My experience has made me want to encourage divorced women (when you're ready) to be open to online dating. Even if you worry that you're damaged goods, smooth down your hair, adjust your top, sit down and stay a while.

Lesson 4: Easier said than done.
There is often an identity crisis that occurs after a divorce. You have made a life with someone. Everything is intertwined from your finances to your belongings to your friends. It is even more tangled when you have children together. You stay parents even after you split. The untangling is a slow process and during it you have to become willing to discover who you are on your own. Suddenly you realize that you have no idea how to change a tire and that the problems you blamed on your ex really weren't his fault because they are still there waiting for you to fix them. The routine you became so accustomed to, even if it made you utterly, entirely and very much miserable is gone. Despite this chaos, you still have to go to work, raise your children, pay the bills and deal with the broken washing machine. Sometimes you also have to go to court and deal with lawyers. Life doesn't stop just because your marriage did.

Once the papers are signed and the parenting plan is in place, it feels a little bit like being on a plane that is circulating. The pilot says he can't land yet and so you are in a holding pattern. You know the plane will land at some point, but you don't know when. So you stay in your seat and wait.

When I started online dating, I had to get off the plane. My boyfriend wasn't my first online dating experience. I had a few rough dates and a rebound relationship that could be described as nothing short of a disaster--trying to fit a square peg into a round hole: I was settling and I wasn't ready.
So what was different this time? On our third date, we mapped out our parenting plans to make sure we had a date night every week. Romantic? Maybe not, but for us it was. It was another moment of connection and shared circumstances. I have been shocked by how easy our relationship is, despite our divorces. Was it terrifying to be myself and to let myself be vulnerable? Yes. Was it hard to figure out how to navigate co-parenting and our ex's? Yes. Was it hard to feel myself coming back to life and being me for the first time in years? No.

If you asked my boyfriend what makes for a good relationship, he would say a strong foundation. Our foundation was built from weeks of texting and grew from there. There is immense patience, acceptance and understanding in our relationship, but most importantly, there is laughter, shared interests and a profound appreciation for the other. If you asked me what makes for a good relationship, I would say open communication, even through texts. I am grateful for the technology that brought us together. If it weren't for that, I may not believe in love after divorce.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Couple seeking to undo their divorce get turned down

Lynne Tuohy Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. – Should those irreconcilable differences suddenly become reconcilable, don’t go looking to get un-divorced in New Hampshire.

The state’s Supreme Court this month upheld a lower court ruling refusing to vacate a New Castle couple’s 2014 divorce after 24 years of marriage.

Terrie Harmon and her ex-husband, Thomas McCarron, argued on appeal that their divorce decree was erroneous because they mended fences and are a couple once more. But the justices, in a unanimous ruling issued Dec. 2, said the law allows them to grant divorces – not undo them.

Courts in some states – including Illinois, Nebraska, Mississippi, Arkansas, Maryland and Kentucky – will vacate divorces within a certain time frame or under certain circumstances, at the parties’ request. Others – including New York and South Dakota – maintain they, like New Hampshire, have no statutory authority to undo a divorce.

Attorney Joshua Gordon, appointed to defend the lower court’s ruling, said allowing the couple’s divorce to be undone could jeopardize the finality of all divorces.

“Divorce is a uniquely fraught area of litigation,” Gordon argued. “For divorced couples, it is often important to have the solace of knowing that their former spouse is indeed former.”

Harmon and McCarron were married in 1989 and filed for divorce in January 2014; the divorce decree was finalized in July that same year. In March, they filed a joint motion to vacate the decree.

New Hampshire law does allow for divorces to be set aside for reasons of fraud, accident, mistake or misfortune. Gordon said none of those circumstances happened in the Harmon-McCarron divorce and that any adverse financial consequences the couple claimed were “self-imposed.”

“I think it was partly sentimental, and partly that they had some business interests that a divorce and remarry would be more complicated than undoing the divorce,” Gordon said.

Harmon, a lawyer, argued in court papers that a couple shouldn’t have to show the decree was legally flawed if they reconcile. She said that test is “designed to balance the interests of adverse parties,” not those who want to get back together.

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Monday, January 4, 2016

Protect children in divorces

I REFER to the report “Aussie actress yet to hand over son to ex-partner, says lawyer” (The Star, Dec 29).
In a bitter divorce, the child’s welfare is often given less consideration while the feuding parties bicker over their rights trying to gain an advantage over the other.

The court hears testimonies from both parties but rarely gives much weight to what the child wants as reported in “Muslim conversion issues exclusively Syariah Court’s jurisdiction” (The Star, Dec 30).
Where the children are of a young age, the mother normally gains custody while the father has visitation rights. In view of the mother becoming a single parent after the annulment of the marriage, the father has the responsibility to provide the ex-wife alimony and child maintenance.

The situation becomes tense when the father washes his hands of all responsibilities over caring for the family by failing to adhere to the alimony payment and child maintenance and brainwashing the child on how bad the other parent is in order to exact revenge over the ex-spouse.

On the hand, the mother too can be faulted for child abuse if she adopts an attitude of “the winner takes it all” conduct by having full custody of the child, getting alimony and child maintenance and then denying the father visitation rights by putting obstacles to make it almost impossible for the father to meet the child.

Children who remain neutral are abused by being bombarded by repeated over-exaggerated untrue stories on how the other parent caused the failed marriage and is totally at fault when in reality, it is both parents failing to salvage the marriage.
Children need to have rights in a bitter divorce, including having a legal voice on what is demanded from each parent.

This should also include the right to be treated properly, the right to stop any parent from constantly telling repeated one-sided stories and the right to ensure both parents conduct and behave themselves properly toward the child.

The provisions of the Child Act need to be strengthened to include jail sentences for the delinquent parent who treats the child badly. This should apply to an adult child who still gets treated badly.
Some parents need to spend time in prison in order to realise and reflect upon their conduct over the child, where child abuse may not necessarily mean physical abuse but include mental abuse, where one parent constantly harasses the child to breaking point when the child does not totally agree with the abuser.

Such abuses must not have a statutory time limit, which means that a child wronged by one of the divorcing parents can still take action against the parent later in life for compensation.
Such child abuses can also happen when the child is already in adulthood, where the divorcing parent not getting custody in the earlier years or bitter over the divorce arrangements continue to mentally abuse the child through scolding, blaming and act detrimentally to the child’s well-being.

Some take advantage of the child’s generosity and forgiveness to gain monetary advantage while there are bad parents who implicate the child in the parent’s personal matters for personal gain.
For example, the divorcing father launching a malicious court case and police reports against other family members on unsubstantiated matters unrelated to the child, but then subjects the child to forced sub-judicial matters in bad faith and influencing the child to commit perjury with malicious intent to benefit the abusive parent, failing which dire consequences would fall upon the child.
Here the child is torn between filial piety and doing the right thing of not getting involved or even reporting criminal conduct to the proper authorities.

Another example is the abusive father not having custody of the child but pretending to have changed for the better, treating the child favourably to seek to temporarily stay at the premises of the child, who is now an adult, only to show his or her true colours once access has been granted.
Children need to be protected even when there is a lack of physical scars evident in a bitter divorce as mental abuse is just as devastating, especially when it continues during adulthood.

Protection such as compensation and jail time for the abusive parent is appropriate to ensure the child is protected in a bitter divorce and that the abusive parent behaves properly around the child.

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