HARTFORD, CT - When there are problems in a marriage, children are often the glue that holds couples together. However, increasingly once the kids fly the coop, their parents undergo some life changes of their own, taking a closer look at divorce.
In fact, there is a growing trend of empty nesters going their separate ways. According to a March 2012 paper, "The Gray Divorce Revolution," by researchers at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, in 1990, fewer than 1 in 10 individuals who divorced were 50 or older. Almost 20 years later, that number jumped to more than 1 in 4. In 2009, more than 600,000 people ages 50 and over got divorced, reported the Wall Street Journal in July 2013.
Connecticut Collaborative Divorce Group (CCDG) is an organization that can serve as a guide through the divorce process for the entire family. CCDG is comprised of attorneys, financial and mental health professionals, who can help facilitate a divorce that minimizes financial, emotional trauma.
Many college-age children can still be traumatized by divorce, especially if parents are involved in nasty litigation. As a result of divorce, the collegiate may have to secure more student loans or even change educational plans. The stable home environment, so necessary for college-aged children, is gone. Where do they go for the Holidays; where are their bedrooms; where is their security as the divorce plays out?
“Some college students, as a result of the lack of stability at home just choose to disengage from the family as much as possible,” said Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Elaine Ducharme. “They go elsewhere for school breaks and/or become more involved with a boyfriend or girlfriend rather than their own family.”
Collaborative divorce allows parents to discuss what is really important for children and their various needs, including college. The key is to minimize the effect of children being caught in the middle of parent’s arguments and disagreements about issues such as college tuition.
On the flip side, sometimes divorce can be a relief to kids who have spent a lifetime enduring bitterness and battling. During the process it is essential not to confide in your child as a friend, even if the child is an adult.
“Let them be children and support them to the best of your ability. Help them understand that you know they may feel torn and you will not resent time spent with the other parent,” said Dr. Ducharme. “College kids can’t be court ordered to see parents as part of a custody plan. When kids see parents cooperating in a collaborative divorce process, they are far more likely to be able to maintain a good relationship with both parents.”
From a financial perspective, when divorcing older in life, pensions, 401k’s and other retirement accounts must be reviewed. For example, if one of the spouses “the participant spouse” has been employed by a government entity or corporation and has a substantial pension benefit, and the other spouse “the non- participant spouse” does not have substantial retirement assets, it is probable that an equitable portion of the pension benefit will be assigned to the other spouse. These assignments are made by Court orders usually referred to Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) or Domestic Relations Order (DRO).
“Many spouses now participate in defined contribution accounts such as 401ks and Traditional and Roth Individual Retirement Accounts (IRA’s),” said Attorney Pat Farrell. “These accounts can also be allocated between the parties. Careful consideration must be given to the tax ramifications and penalty provisions of these accounts. The spouse should be fully informed of these issues prior to a settlement agreement or court order.”
Alimony, also referred to as spousal support is another issue to be negotiated. The Court must consider a number of statutory criteria in determining how much alimony is equitable and in determining the length of alimony. These criteria include the length of marriage, the incomes of the parties as well as earning capacity, the source of the acquisition of marital assets; the ability to acquire assets in the future, the health of the parties, the ages of the parties and if substantially different how that impacts on future earnings, how many more years and the causes for the breakdown of the marriage.
“The Court has the discretion to weigh these considerations as the Court deems appropriate in making decisions regarding alimony and allocation of assets,” said Attorney Farrell. “Social Security is controlled by federal law. A spouse has a right to claim on a prior spouse’s social security earnings record if the parties were married for more than ten years.”
Under the present law in Connecticut, child support is paid until a child turns age 18, or graduates from high school, whichever event is later, but in no event later than a child’s 19th birthday. The law does provide for Post- Secondary Education Support, which addresses college expenses. Should an order be made now to decide how college will be paid? Or with younger children, the Court often retains jurisdiction to enter college orders in the years immediately before attending college, at which time there is more information about the children’s college preferences and costs, as well as the parents’ respective ability to pay.
Perhaps most important when children are concerned is the adjustment to life after divorce and maintaining an amicable relationship for all parties involved.
“It is far better if you take responsibility for your own “stuff” and not throw a lot of blame at your partner,” adds Dr. Ducharme. “This is yet another reason why collaborative divorce is an option well worth exploring.”
CCDG is a group of experienced divorce professionals, including divorce and family lawyers, financial and mental health professionals who have been specifically trained in the collaborative process. Each member of the group has made a commitment to the goals of collaborative practice in order to help people achieve fair and lasting settlements without using the court or even the threat of court. Additionally, each member attends regular meetings and training sessions designed to develop and enhance their collaborative divorce skills. For more information visit: www.ctcollaborativedivorce.com.