Mistress Dispelling: The New Way To Save Your Marriage

Do you have kids? Are you concerned about their future? Are you worried about how much college is going to cost? Are you worried you’re going to pay an arm and a leg and your sweet kid is going to be saddled with loans forever, all to get a degree that maybe won’t even mean anything? Are you afraid by the time your precious Johnny or Sally gets a degree, the job market will be so awful that they’ll move back in with you, and will be asking for “hundos” for their “randos” until you die?

Well do not fear! A new lucrative career path has opened up and as long as the Orange Menace doesn’t get us all nuked before the end of 2017, your kids might just have a future in mistress dispelling. Oh yes, that’s a thing. The Times recently reported on the growing fad of “mistress dispellers” in China. Turns out some entrepreneurs have found a new way to capitalize on crumbling marriages. They fix them! While that kind of business will cut into my kind of business, I salute their innovation and would probably opt in if they were on Shark Tank and I was a judge on Shark Tank. What is a mistress dispeller you ask?

Well, see if your spouse is cheating on you and you want to repair your marriage without, you know, confronting the cheating and working it out like adults, you can hire a mistress dispeller who will take a two pronged approach at fixing your marriage. First she will makeover the cheated-on spouse, in mind, body and actions to make her a better mate. Concurrently, she will ingratiate herself into the paramour’s life and convince her to hit the road. How so? The mistress dispeller does recon on the mistress’s life, categorizes her motives, then skillfully disassembles the affair from the inside. Pretty nuts right? Shockingly, this isn’t the plot of a Kate Hudson romantic comedy. It sure sounds like a movie, but I googled and googled and came up short, so if this exists, please let me know. And if it turns out there isn’t a movie like this already, call me Scott Rudin, I’ve got some ideas on casting.

What’s the price point for a person who is half life coach and half evil genius? Priceless! Or actually around $45,000 for about three months of work. It’s certainly not cheap, but the services carry an alleged 90% success rate, so $45k is a pittance if you get everlasting love, right? I wonder what the makeovers are like and what exactly the coaching entails, but I am much more intrigued by the mistress part. So much deception and sneaking around is involved. It sounds like the best job. It’s like being a spy except instead of stealing confidential documents, you’re trying to lure a person into friendship over lattes. Then you play puppet master for awhile. I’ve got some ideas for how to handle certain mistress stereotypes, so let's take a crack at it...

The Work Colleague

Research the past ten years of the company’s holiday party. Have they used the same caterers for the past three years? You bet. Apply and get hired by the catering company. Show up the night of the party ready to work. Nonchalantly find your target and offer Work Mistress one of many hors d’oeuvres options. Keep circling back. Make an offhanded comment on hating the gig but loving the shrimp puffs, opening the door for her to complain about her own job. You can always count on a person to hate their job, and love anything encased in puff pastry, that is the American way. Keep chatting. Explain how you’re just working these gigs to save up for a big trip for a couple of months to find yourself. Talk about how you always dreamed of seeing the world as a kid and you’re just sick of promising yourself a life you never follow through on. Wait to see if this piques her interest. It does.

She explains she, too, always wanted to travel but there was just no opportunity. Butt in and say, oh yeah, I know how it goes, settling down, buying a house, getting married, I get it. She explains she’s not really doing any of those things actually. Wait a beat. Then say, then what’s stopping you? She explains she can’t quit her job, she’s got tons of school loans, and she’s sort of seeing this guy but it’s a mess. You empathize and say oh man if only you could only find a more challenging job somewhere else and start over. Her eyes light up.

Shanghai, she exclaims! Shanghai! Ah yes, they’re opening a new branch of the office in good old Shanghai, but you already knew that because you are a very good mistress dispeller. The two of you talk some more and by the end of the night you are fired from the catering gig (seriously, you’re supposed to circulate with those trays, that’s your main job duty), and Work Mistress is dead set on moving, taking on a more challenging managerial role to open up the Shanghai office, and even already brought it up to her boss so she wouldn’t chicken out in the morning. Tzai jien, Work Mistress! Best of luck on all your future endeavors!

The Babysitter

Deep dive into her online presence. She’s an aspiring writer! Check out her Instagram geotags and look for patterns. Does she seem to get coffee at one place a lot? Start frequenting. Knock over her iced coffee at the pick up bar and offer to buy her another. Compliment her shoes. Bump into her the next morning and wave. After a few days of smiling acknowledgments just introduce yourself. Start chatting about the neighborhood and casually drop that you work in publishing (you obviously don’t, you’re a high powered mistress dispeller, but you do have a BA in English Lit). Because this world is all about connections, Babysitter explains she’s working on a novel but she’s stuck with writer’s block. Say you know it sounds crazy, but you wouldn’t mind giving her work a gander. She agrees!

You spend two months working tirelessly on this quite crappy novel, but it starts to take shape. You explain to Babysitter Mistress that the old adage “write what you know” is totally true, and that ordinary stories become excellent stories if you inject your own history into them. The novel’s big climax is a total bust because there’s no real emotion there. You tell her to tap into any romantic pain she’s been through and she says there’s not much there. You ask her about her current dating situation and she says it’s actually pretty interesting. She’s dating an old married guy. Oh really, you don’t say! You somehow over the course of a few days convince her to dump the married guy, because she needs to feel real pain to make her book better. This book is her baby and it deserves all her attention. The world cannot live without this book! Blah blah, she buys it all, hook, line and sinker. Tell a self-absorbed writer the world needs her story and she’ll basically do anything you say after that. She dumps the married guy, stops babysitting for the family, is wracked with feelings of regret over the decision, and she falls into a deep depression for about six months. She finally crawls out of it, finishes the book and sends it your way to pass along to editors at your publishing house. You don’t work in publishing, so you ghost her and move to a different city. Two years later, you see her book at an airport Hudson News. Guess it all worked out!

PS - I am assuming The Babysitter goes to college or grad school or is a freelance writer with a lot of time to spare, and is not a high school student. Because if she’s a high school student just call the cops, case closed.

The Internet Dating Site Rando

Figure out which book club she belongs to and join that book group. All Internet Dating Site Randos belong to book club, this is just a fact. Read whatever thriller or Oprah-approved book is that month’s pick and craft a very deliberate talking point about fathers, as you know she lost her father and you are a terrible person. Keep laying it on thick and philosophical until she cracks and runs off to the bathroom. Excuse yourself to go check on her. Apologize a lot through the locked door and convince her to come out explaining how sorry you are. Be extremely kind and comforting. Suggest hitting a diner after book club and offer to buy her a tuna melt to make up for making her cry. Bond over tuna melts. Talk about your lives and interests and explain you always wanted to take up running. What a coincidence, guess who runs?

Accept her invitation to join her running group. Over the course of 12 Sunday morning runs, get to know Rando better. Also get to know Isaac, the running group leader. Notice how well Rando and Isaac get along. Talk one up to the other. Buy a $100 Chili’s gift card and tell Isaac and Rando you got it as a gag gift, and mention how funny it would be to head over to Chili’s for some post-run eats. Go to Chili’s as a trio, fake an emergency phone call, apologize profusely, order some Lime SNO-JITOs for the table and leave the gift card. Hang out in the parking lot, spy through the windows, and wait for love to blossom like a Bloomin’ Onion. Pardon me, I mixed up my fast casual dining restaurant chains! Love blossoms alright, and Rando dumps the married guy and lives happily ever after with Isaac the runner.

The Childhood Sweetheart

This all started on Facebook so go straight to the source. Childhood Sweetheart runs a custom pet accessories business which happens to have a Facebook page. Like it. Inquire about several high priced personalized pet items. Order them all. Receive them, leave glowing reviews on the Facebook page. Repeat. Private message the business and explain how much these items have really brightened your days, and frankly, changed your life. Attach pictures of (borrowed) animals wearing the goods at a dog park you know she frequents. She will respond thanking you. She will also say, oh my gosh is that Liberty Dog Park!? She's there all the time and invites you to say hello if you ever see her. You're in. You see her, say hello and strike up a pretty good friendship. You take the dogs on hikes and meet up at the craft supply store to check out new rhinestone styles. You talk about life and the future and it turns out she wants kids pretty badly. She loves the dogs and all, but she always wanted kids and time’s ticking, you know? You ask about her relationships and she says she’s actually reconnected with her first love and things are going pretty good except, can you keep a secret, he’s married. You don’t say.

Ask her all about him and what he was like back in school, and how they first got together. A lot of these stories involve Tom, married guy’s best friend in seventh grade. Ask more about Tom. Tom sounds great, and seems a lot kinder and more interesting than married guy ever was. Mention this to her. A lot. Wait for it to dawn on Childhood Sweetheart that it was Tom she really loved all along. Encourage her to reconnect with Tom. She does. They hit it off. He’s got beautiful blue eyes that would look great on their babies. Tom is also married, but that is now some other mistress dispeller’s problem.

 

Dumping Trump: A Crash Course

We originally posted this one last year, but decided it needed to be reposted. You know, now that Trump has the Republican nomination. Take a moment to read and remind yourself: this is a mutually destructive relationship.

Respectfully,

James J. Sexton

_________

I can’t believe I’m actually saying this, but Donald Trump is currently a viable Republican candidate in the 2016 presidential race. You may define “viable” in any way you choose, but my personal definition is “in the debate this week.” My definition ends there.

His polling numbers are confusingly strong. There are people out there, people we know, people we’re related to, people in line behind us at the post office, people standing next to us right now in an elevator that want Trump to be president. Of our country. They want him in charge of the nuclear codes. They want him to have veto rights. They want him to command our armed forces. They want him to broker peace deals with ISIS. No seriously, the guy with the hair and the temper talking to ISIS is what they want.

While we remain inside this fever dream, we can look to those that have already dumped Trump to remind us there are good and rational people still left in America, and thankfully their votes count too. Way before Hispanics, veterans, GOP leaders, NBC, Macy’s and people with a good grasp on reality started distancing themselves from Trump, there were two women hightailing it out of Trump’s life — his ex-wives.

Eternally glamorous, bejewelled and be-accented (not a word) Ivana hit the bricks in 1992, with Marla Maples following suit in 1999. Trump and Ivana’s divorce hit the headlines recently due to alleged rape claims, or due to poor word choice, depending on who you believe. While that’s being hashed out by proper journalists, let us focus instead on the other less potentially criminal details. It was an ugly divorce and an excellent breeding ground for amazing one liners such as “Don’t get mad, get everything.”

Tabloids at the time said the split and ensuing money battle was better than anything Dynastychurned out. Most fascinating to me is, did you know a 1987 Mercedes was a big sticking point in their settlement? Odd they’d be fighting over a five year old car when either party could buy a Mercedes made out of sapphires and caviar. What a weird thing to squabble over. Most agree it was a power move by Ivana and in the end she got the car plus an estimated $25 million. I am assuming she had to sign a strict NDA barring her from ever speaking of any trade secrets. By trade secrets, I mean the architecture behind Trump’s haircut.

His first marriage disintegrated thanks in large part to his relationship with Marla Maples, his soon to be second wife. Maples recounted her life in the tabloids in a great New York Magazine piece. When news of the Trump/Ivana split hit the papers, Maples fled to Guatemala for a month to get away from reporters. She came back and they married, but it didn’t last. The Trump/Maples divorce was much less Dynasty than divorce number one. Maples explained the marriage’s demise had a lot to do with press pressure, lack of privacy and Trump’s dedication to his work. That’s quite polite of Maples seeing as we all know it probably mostly due to his insufferable personality.

Trump married for a third time in 2005 and so far that marriage is sticking. So dumping Trump was left to companies, ethnic groups, television conglomerates and people who understand how diplomacy works and what the job responsibilities of a president are.

I’m not sure how long it will take for Trump supporters to come back around to this place we call reality. It might be when Trump inevitably says something racist, illogical or just plain dumb in tonight’s debate. It might be on November 8, 2016. I truly hope it won’t have to be when he’s in power and decides to sell Alaska to Russia to pay for fence to keep us safe from Canadians and their un-American Canadian bacon. Or when he bolts giant gilded T R U M P letters onto the side of the White House. Or when he bankrupts the country just as he’s done to his businesses time and time again. Or when a large gust of wind comes along revealing underneath that yellow cotton candy there’s a “666” tattooed on his head.

Get your popcorn handy because Thursday’s debate is sure to be entertaining.


Respectfully,
James J. Sexton

 

Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Signs Your Partner is Manipulating You (and What to Do)

Everyone knows that sometimes marriages just go wrong. It’s nobody’s fault sometimes; two people just don’t mesh the way they once did, or things happen that make life difficult over time. Some ex-couples even stay friends.

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

About half the time, divorce comes about because someone is really, really pissed. And the general reason for that? Manipulation of some kind.

If you’re reading this, there’s at least a small chance that you clicked because you’re worried you’re being manipulated in some way. After years in the business of divorce, I have some experience in knowing what spousal manipulation looks like—and also how to deal with it. Basically, it boils down to some pretty obvious signs.

You consistently are made to feel guilty, whether you did anything wrong or not.
Everybody’s wrong sometimes, and everybody cries sometimes (so says R.E.M.). But if you’re in the wrong 100% of the time for years, and your spouse won’t or can’t take responsibility for any wrongdoing, chances are they’re full of it. It takes two, people.

Passive aggressiveness.
You know that thing people do where they say something nice, or helpful, but it makes you feel horrendous? It’s the classic move: pretend to be being helpful while actually being critical, in order to avoid direct confrontation—then deny you meant anything by it, and the other person is clearly overreacting. It’s a cheap way to get an unfair advantage, and it’s highly manipulative.

Gaslighting.
A close cousin of passive aggressiveness, gaslighting is when someone makes you feel crazy. You have an issue with their behavior? You must be crazy. You think they’re making bad choices? You’re clearly crazy. This is most damaging when it goes beyond just saying you’re crazy, to actually acting concerned about it. The secret weapon here: playing on your insecurities. Don’t buy it.

You often feel small.
Feel like your needs don’t matter? If your spouse routinely dismisses what you want or need, minimizes your concerns, and/or calls you “ridiculous,” you’re probably being manipulated.

They isolate you.
One of the more dangerous kinds of manipulation is when, usually in multiple ways, a partner or spouse methodically isolates you from other people. This can come in direct or indirect ways—for example, by demanding you stay away from your friends, or by pretending to be sick every time you want to go out—and is usually a control issue.

They twist your words.
Feel like your spouse is a master at twisting your words into something ugly when they weren’t intended that way? Standard tactic.

They have a pattern of forming relationships with vulnerable people.
Manipulative people like being in relationships where the power dynamic is skewed in their favor. Have you noticed that your spouse’s other relationships are skewed this way? An example is someone who can only have who are significantly less attractive than they are, or someone whose friends are all significantly younger/less experienced/less worldly. The key is that they have to have the advantage in every relationship.

They lie.
If you’ve consistently caught your partner in lies, particularly damaging lies, you can bet there are plenty of lies that you haven’t found out about. Big red flag.

They are distant or emotionally unavailable a lot of the time.
Everyone needs space sometimes, but if you feel like you are being pushed away for weeks or even months at a time, and your partner is unwilling to explain why, it can become a very destructive relationship for you. While there are sometimes extenuating circumstances, like depression, this is still something that needs addressing.

They “punish” you.
If you feel like you get punished when you confront your spouse or disagree with them, that’s not good. Even in the case of real wrongdoing in a marriage, there’s very little point in “punishing” your spouse. Either you deal with the issue, forgive and move on, or you choose not to forgive and move out—but what you shouldn’t do is remain in the relationship while lording the wrongdoing over the partner as a form of power. It’s understandable in some cases, I admit, but ultimately it’s not constructive, and only further damages the relationship.

******************

I do want to say that sometimes these things pop up in even quite happy relationships, and it doesn’t necessarily spell the end. It’s important to be able to have an open conversation about what’s going on: for at least one of you to have the courage to bring it up, and for both of you to talk about what’s going on and why that might be.

Of course, if you’re reading this post you’ve probably been there, done that, and it hasn’t worked—or else you can’t even communicate with your partner about it, because they won’t have it.

At that stage, therapy is an option, and it can help. However, both people have to be committed to improving the relationship, so you’re going to have to prepare for conversation in that case, too.

The final option when you’ve exhausted all others is to muster up the nerve to leave. While difficult, I see people do it every day, and have happier lives afterward; so while it’s perhaps the most difficult option in the short run, in the long run it may be the best decision for you.

Have something to ask, add, or a pithy story to tell? I’m all ears. Leave it in comments below, comment on Facebook, or tweet to me!

Respectfully,
James J. Sexton

 

8 Divorce Hacks that Will Save You Time and Money

Once you make the hard but important decision that you’re going to get a divorce, one of the first things you have to face is the inevitable cost. And I’m not talking in the more esoteric sense of the term “cost” (like the emotional cost or interpersonal cost) I’m talking about two important resources: time and money. The latter is renewable the former is not. At the outset I make it clear to clients that I would rather you put YOUR children through college than mine.

Contrary to the beliefs of some, divorce attorneys do exist for a reason: even with the best of intentions, people who are divorcing often aren’t fully aware of the ins and outs of the law, including what rights you have. Divorce isn’t just about dividing up “stuff”—it’s also about thinking through your own future (for example, retirement), ensuring your children are provided for, and creating fair divisions of assets that aren’t easily divided up.

The truth is, by the time you decide to divorce, often that decisions is directly related to an inability to negotiate productively within the marriage. If there’s an unequal distribution of power in the relationship, if there’s a lack of trust on either side, or if there’s simply an inability to understand one another or see eye to eye, the possibility of amicably and fairly disengaging from each other is usually slim to non-existant becomes almost impossible. Whether you like the idea of a divorce attorney or not, you might need one. (Luckily, a lot of us are actually nice people.)

On that note, here are my tips for keeping the legal aspects of your divorce as simple as possible, thus saving me time and you money.

Write down your goals.

Not only does writing down your goals help you figure out what you really want and need out of this process, it also is there as a reminder in case you lose your bearings. Everyone—and by that I mean everyone—gets emotional during a divorce, at some point. Having concrete goals helps you keep your s*** together. I tell clients all the time there are three things you should identify at the start of a divorce: what you need, what you want and what you’re entitled to. (It’s worth noting that that second thing is typically informed by that third thing).

Familiarize yourself with the family finances.

One of the biggest shocks for many people, male and female spouses alike, is how little we pay attention to the flow of incomings and outgoings. Spend a week or more using your spare time to go over your bank statements, bills, taxes, 401(k)s, insurance policies, and so on. Have all the documents on hand in case we need them, and make copies of the crucial stuff.  If you don’t have access to a copier use a handy app like Scannable or Evernote (I use both all the time in my personal and professional life).  

 

Review everything your spouse reports.

Even with the best of intentions, mistakes can be made (on either side). People also lie like crazy sometimes when they’re getting divorced. Review everything your spouse reports to make sure your reports line up.

Close joint accounts.

Any purchases made from joint accounts can create problems during the divorce, and you could end up paying for stuff you didn’t buy or spending tons of money in legal fees trying to “sort out” what was pre-divorce and what was post-divorce.  Keep it simple. Close the joint accounts. . The simplest thing is just to close them. Online accounts, too: chances are you’ve logged into your email account from your spouse’s phone, laptop or iPad, or vice versa; privacy is important now. Change passwords or close them down.  PLEASE NOTE, however, that you should either: (A) let your spouse know you’re doing this before you do it (so they don’t panic and think you’re raiding the piggy bank; or (B) take only HALF of the money in the account and let your spouse know that you’ve left the remaining half in there for his or her sole and separate use.

Figure out how much money you need.

“Need” is a subjective term, but let’s think about it this way: what is the amount of money that will allow you to live comfortably until and through your retirement, taking into account your lifestyle and your existing annual income? This is your goal going into the divorce.

Record all your expenses.

Collect all the records you have from the past year or two, and then keep a record of everything you spend from now until the divorce is finalized. This will help answer any questions that may come up about expenses.

Come to my office for legal advice—not personal advice.

I fully understand people seeking personal counsel during a divorce, because it’s a seriously tough time, but your divorce attorney is likely not the best person to be providing emotional support. Frankly, we’re not trained for it and we probably have a higher rate-per-hour than many people who ARE trained for it. If you need someone to talk to about the big stuff, there is zero shame in getting therapist – I can even give you a referral. Plus, it has the added benefit that you and I can focus on what we can do best together: win your divorce.

Don’t want to pay spousal support? Help your spouse get a job!

One of the most difficult positions to be in is that of a spouse who has sacrificed key career-building years to raising a family, to allow the other spouse to work, and then to face a divorce in which they are left without any professional skills to fall back on. I don’t condone putting anyone in that position, regardless of what spousal support can be provided; I have seen many people in this position, and it’s not a nice place to be. If you can hack it, commit some real effort, time and money into supporting your spouse in building skills and attaining a good professional situation.

It’s a common misconception that divorce attorneys want long, miserable, drawn-out divorces—because that means more money from that one client. In fact, we usually want the opposite. A single difficult divorce can take up a lot of time and resources, and keep us from serving other clients—so I want to handle your divorce with as much efficiency and as little conflict as possible, without sacrificing in results.

You also might not be aware that divorce attorneys are often trained in (or have offices that offer) mediation as well as litigation. My office offers mediation services, and it is for some couples a less expensive and more tolerable option. Feel free to get in touch with us about our mediation services.

Have a comment to make? Want to disagree vehemently with my views? I welcome a lively exchange! Feel free to leave a comment below, on my Facebook page, or tweet to me.

Going Public With Your Divorce: 10 Tips From a Seasoned Divorce Attorney

So you’ve decided to get a divorce, and you now have to daunting task of actually telling people…Or maybe you’ve been going through a divorce, and have learned a few hard lessons about what not to say about it to your friends, family, kids…

Either way, from the moment you tell the first person, the world becomes a bit of a minefield, for reasons personal and legal, when it comes to talking about your divorce during your divorce.

Here’s a list of what to say–and what NOT to say–while you’re getting divorced. This is the same advice I give my clients, taking into account how what you say out of court can affect what happens in court.

Have a Plan.
This is my life, and I live each and every day by this maxim, because it’s the key to successful divorces. Know what you’re going to do. Write it down. Put it on a timeline. Check things off as you go. In this case, the plan is about deciding who to talk to and how you’re going to do it. Seriously–don’t be too proud to write this stuff down.

Decide Who You’re Going to Tell & In What Order.
It’s important that your family doesn’t know you’ve filed for divorce before your spouse, or that your kids don’t find out from a neighbor. Starting with the people who will be most affected, plan who to tell and what language you’ll use (it obviously won’t be the same with everyone you tell).

Don’t feel the need to tell everyone, either. Stick to the people who are directly affected, and the people whose support you’re going to be calling on during the divorce.

Choose a Headline.
The obvious one–“We’re getting divorced”–isn’t going to be enough for the people who are close to the fray, like your family and close friends. They’ll want to know more, and having invested in your marriage in various ways themselves, you might feel they deserve that. Decide exactly what you’re ready to say about a) your reasons for splitting, and b) what the future will hold. Use calm rather than emotional language.

Focus On the Positive. Within Reason.
Let’s face it, this isn’t a positive situation. But if you can take a positive–or even a neutral–tone regarding what you try to say about it, you’re likely to avoid ending up in an accidental rant, or bursting into tears in public. Not that this won’t happen anyway, it probably will. But having a positive message, however forced it might seem, will actually help you feel more in control, and be more in control. Eventually you’ll probably find that that positive message is something you sincerely feel.

Stay On Message.
A PR classic, it’s important to have your neutral or positive take on things in mind, and memorized, so that you will be able to remind yourself of what to say when people ask, which they will. This helps you keep from being goaded into talking about things you’re not ready to, to have conversations with your spouse that are counterproductive, or to have a meltdown in the grocery store (see #4). Know your message and stick to it.

Be Ready For Backlash.
Some people love hearing about divorce, because it feeds the rumor mill, and they’ll (subtly) grill you for details that they’ll then go repeating. This is inevitable, and you just have to be prepared to ignore it. Other people hate hearing about divorce because it means their marriage, too, is potentially fallible. They’ll be full of disapproval. Again, just ignore it. Or, have a response on-hand for when people are less than supportive, something that puts up a boundary without causing a confrontation, like “Well, we’re really trying to keep this as a family matter, but thank you for asking” or “I appreciate your input” followed by a quick change of subject.

Don’t Post Anything on Social Media. 
Anything you post on social media is effectively public, and can be used against you in court. Keep your privacy settings at maximum levels during your divorce, and you should refrain from mentioning anything related to your divorce at all–even rants, or rather, especially rants. (That’s what your divorce lawyer and therapist are for.) Here’s a useful infographic about what not to do on social media during your divorce.

Verbal, Not Written. 
On that note, be aware that anything you put in writing–like a private message on social media or an email–could end up out in the public domain. In divorce proceedings, sometimes these things unfortunately come up. If it’s not something you’re okay with the judge reading, don’t put it in writing.

Don’t Talk About Your Divorce at Work.
The exception here is if you have colleagues that you’re very close to, as in best friends. Otherwise, you’ll be wise to try to keep your divorce out of the workplace. On one hand, it can come across as unprofessional or airing your personal business in public; people have surprising attitudes about divorce sometimes.

On the other, talking about it could easily make you become angry or upset at work, which is unprofessional. There’s also the fact that if you let everyone know what’s happening in your personal life, it might affect how they interpret your professional work, regardless of whether it’s affecting your work or not. To be on the safe side, you’re better off keeping it relatively quiet until the divorce is final.

Keep the Kids Out of It.
When you’re talking to friends and family, be careful who might be listening (ie. your kids–I was amazing at listening through air vents as a kid). Be especially careful when speaking about your kids directly, for example what might happen to them regarding custody; this could get back to your kids and cause a lot of anxiety.

In an age-appropriate way, discuss issues that affect your kids with them directly, and make an agreement with your spouse not to say anything negative about each other or go into details about divorce proceedings while they’re around. It’s just unnecessary negativity and pain that they don’t deserve.

Respectfully,
James J. Sexton

National Wedding Month? Here are 15 Better Ways to Spend $26k

In case you didn’t know, February is National Weddings Month. Oh yeah, someone decided that was going to be a thing. I suppose they picked February because it’s ~love month~ what with Valentine’s Day and all. I also assume that they assume a lot of people get engaged on Valentine’s Day (which, according to these fancy restaurant professionals, is a *major* faux pas), because they really don’t think people are capable of doing anything interesting with their lives.

According to an internet source, the average wedding in America costs $26,444. Twenty-six thousand four hundred forty-four dollars, American. Actual American dollars. For four hours of crappy food, “crowd pleasing” music, a dress or cumberbund you can’t breathe in, worrying your racist aunt is going to go ahead and be very racist, watered down well drinks, a brain splitting migraine you picked up due to the stress, a half-thawed sugar cube masquerading as cake covered in a layer of sweetened silly putty called fondant, and um, a concrete declaration of everlasting love and commitment that, with a divorce rate over 50%, statistically, satisfies the tort standard as inherently negligent behavior.

You could throw a wedding to bring your families together and celebrate your most perfect union, or you could do about a million other things with $26,444 seeing as so many weddings are precursors to so many divorces. I’m not saying your beautiful, unique wedding, that’s totally not like anyone else’s even though you got most of your ideas from Pinterest and magazines that depict weddings that have already happened, will yield another marriage that ends in divorce. No siree. But, you do have my number right? Your marriage could totally be one of the lucky ones. You could have beaten the odds and found your one, true, forever and ever soul mate. Or you could have found an okay person you’re pretty sure isn’t a serial killer and that’s enough to spend the rest of your life with someone. They’re probably not a serial killer because serial killers are pretty rare. What do I know?

Well, I know $26,444 is a big chunk of change and if you want to spend it on a wedding, fair do’s to you. If you don’t, and would rather elope and save the cash for something else, here are some ideas.

2,647 Months of Netflix. Netflix costs $9.99 a month for the plan that allows you to watch on two screens at once. That’s 2,647 months of Netflix, or 220 years of Netflix, which is definitely longer than you’re going to live, all for the bargain basement price of one wedding. The two screen plan is key to keeping your relationship in tact. You’re going to want to entertain yourselves during the lulls in your marriage and you’re going to want to do it separately. Helen can enjoy Friday Night Lights in the tub for weeks on end while you comb House Hunters International for inaccuracies because that show is definitely not real. The cosmopolitan couple already purchased their international dream home! The other two choices are quite obviously decoys! We’re not dumb, HGTV!

37 Days of the Moon Juice Lady’s Diet. If you’ve been hanging out on the internet the past few weeks, you may have come across this Elle article about Moon Juice founder Amanda Chantal Bacon’s diet. The Frisky analyzed it and calculated that Amanda’s every day diet costs about $710. You can use your wedding budget to drink silver needle tea before your son Rohan wakes for a whopping thirty-seven days. Oh yeah, Amanda blows through a wedding budget nearly every month on her weird food. The smugness and self satisfaction come free as a bonus.

21,000 Rolls of Toilet Paper. I bought four rolls of toilet paper for $4.99 this morning and that was on sale. More than a buck per roll for a necessity doesn’t seem fair but if you channel wedding money directly into toilet paper, you’ve got yourself over 21,000 rolls. That seems like enough to last you a lifetime. You can also fashion a wedding dress out of a few rolls like they do at wedding showers, and wear that to your fiscally responsible courthouse wedding.

A Hypothetical Child’s College Tuition For Some Amount of Time. If you plan on having kids with your new beloved spouse, instead of blowing $26,444 on a wedding, you could sock it away in a college savings account for the future apple of your eye. In 20 years that wedding sum will be more. How much? I don’t know, it’s pretty complicated and there are a lot of investment options, so just know it will be more. And if Bernie Sanders ends up president, and public college ends up being free, you can use those college savings to redecorate your kid’s room when he leaves for state school, instead of on tuition. Personal gym, home office, meat locker, sex dungeon, whatever you want!

The Best Honeymoon Ever. Remember when you were young and free and didn’t really understand how taxes worked and your back didn’t ache in the morning? That dumb little idealist in the Smiths t-shirt also swore weddings were stupid and that any sane person would go on a kickass honeymoon instead. Well, that dummy got a lot about international relations wrong, but did get the international holiday idea right. You and your partner can book those “around the world” tickets and hit something like a dozen different places for only a couple of thousand dollars for each of you. Then you can spend the rest on accommodations, excursions and tiny Eiffel Tower souvenirs for everyone you would have invited to your wedding.

26 Mont Blanc Pens. Are you an award-winning writer? Have you won a Pulitzer? Are you a best selling author with a large legion of devoted fans? If the answers to the preceding questions are no, is it possible none of those things is true because you haven’t purchased a very fancy pen? How can you write the next great American novel about the outdated tradition of marriage on a MacBook? Mont Blanc pens run around a grand each and you’ll want to buy quite a few. You need one on your writing desk of course. One by your bed for any late night ideas. One in your bag. One in the car. One for your coat pocket. One for your other coat pocket. Just buy them in a bulk set of twenty-six to be sure that when there is an idea to be had, an exquisite pen is lurking nearby to jot it down. They say wedding photos last forever. You know what else lasts forever? The wikipedia page you will have after getting famous off your groundbreaking novel.

A House. Most lenders require a down payment of twenty percent of the home’s value. An average wedding budget will land you in a $130,000 house, which if you’re outside the tri-state area could be a really nice place to live. If you’re in the tri-state area, well, you’re well on your way to saving for a 20% down payment. You’re basically a quarter of the way there. Almost. It’s confusingly ridiculous to live here and I don’t know why we do it.

A Car. The average price for a new car in this country is conveniently just about the same price as an average American wedding. So you can spend a giant sum of money to feed the friends and family you don’t really like all that much in exchange for a juicer and china you will never use, or you can buy a vehicle and drive far, far away from them. If you want to get a fancy car I can tell you, from my own intensive research, that an average wedding budget would cover the down payment and first year of lease payments on a Tesla P90D (with the “ludicrous speed” upgrade so you can go 0-60 in 2.6 seconds!). But, hey, disregard all of this if you think that seeing your uncle and your college roommates belligerently drunk in ill fitting suits, yet again, is more exhilarating than smoking a Bugatti or Ferrari off the line.

A Heck of A Lot of Gas. You can get a gallon of gas for about $1.99 in New York right now. A wedding’s worth of gas can get you 13,288 gallons away from home. You got a Prius? Well look at you, Mr. Conscientious. In that Prius you can drive over 664,000 miles on a wedding budget. Side note: if you get that Tesla we talked about earlier you won’t even need gas!

6 Premium Adele Tickets. Currently, the most expensive tickets on StubHub for Adele’s September 19, 2016 Madison Square Garden performance are $4,445 a piece. The seats are located in “Pod A” and I don’t know what that means but it sounds fancy. You and almost five of your closest friends (one can be your fiance, it’s up to you) could live it up in Pod A, see Adele up close and weep together. That experience will garner more intimacy than any wedding ceremony could.

So Many Bagels. A sesame bagel from my favorite deli costs $0.70. They are heavenly pillows of magical gluten that I dream about. They bring me more happiness than any human being ever has, and I’m not even that ashamed of that statement. I could get nearly 38,000 bagels for the cost of one wedding, which is 38,000 bagels closer to eternal bliss.

Your Electric Bill for 20 Years. The average electric bill in New York is $106. You could run your blenders, cable boxes, modems and light the lamp by your side of the bed in order to read self help books on relationships for twenty years, all for the price of one average wedding. Twenty years under a 60 watt bulb with Dr. Phil’s Relationship Rescue? Where do I sign up!

5 Years of Groceries. The average family of two spends $450 on groceries every month. On that budget you can get nearly five years of groceries for the cost of a wedding. Five years of delicious pre-cut Whole Foods fruit instead of limp, gray salmon that 120 of your nearest and dearest will complain about until you or they die.

1.5 Million Cotton Balls. You can purchase 200 cotton balls for $3.49. You can buy over 1.5 million cotton balls for the cost of a wedding. With over 1.5 million cotton balls, you can build a cotton ball kingdom in your large attic, finally knowing exactly what it’s like to live on a cloud made of cotton balls and live out your life in a fluffy cotton ball cloud kingdom of dreams.

17 Prenups. The internet claims the average American prenup costs about $2,500. As I have explained over and over and over again, the prenup is an engaged person’s best friend. Everyone should do it. People madly in love. People with a few doubts. People with a lot of doubts. People who turn oxygen into carbon dioxide through the process of breathing. Everyone. People are willing to shell out tens of thousands of dollars to dress up in doily covered dresses and rented tuxedos to dance to “We Are Family” in elk lodges around the country, but they scoff at shelling out a comparatively tiny sum to protect their future selves just in case John Lennon was wrong and you in fact do need more in this life than just love.

That’s bananas, people.

Save yourself the possible world of financial hurt that could await you. You can even do it seventeen times for the cost of one wedding, you know in case the first sixteen husbands aren’t the one, and number seventeen is the actual one.

Respectfully,

 

James J. Sexton

Woof! Dog Park Flirting 101

Believe it or not, the weather will start to warm up soon(ish), we will all emerge from our post-holidays winter I-hate-the-world haze, and you just might start to thinking about dating again. 

I’m all about easing into these things—spring AND starting to date—and if there’s one thing I know it’s that having a dog can make both infinitely easier. Why? Because your dog probably has spring fever too, and will be dragging you outside whether you plan to go out or not, which is always a great motivator.

As for dating, nobody makes a better wingman/wingwoman than a dog. And when it comes to dating, do you know where the best place is to let you dog do all the heavy lifting? The dog park! (Assuming you got custody of the pooch, of course.)

There are a few reasons for this. Because you have the dog to keep you company, it’s really difficult (though not impossible, trust me) to look like a pathetic loser at the dog park. If you’re looking to potentially go out on a date with someone, a dog park is a good place to find someone appropriate, if you’re a dog owner yourself. I mean, you’ll know right away that they like dogs, and for some people this is literally the biggest deal-breaker when dating someone new.

Also, it’s a seriously low-pressure environment for socializing and flirtation in general—if things get weird, just focus on the dogs. In fact, there’s a whole dog park-flirting language that, for those in the know, is better than Tinder for picking up new partners. This is because the whole human-dog dynamic is absolutely RICH with subtext.

To help you out, I’ve broken the major Dog Park Flirting tactics down into a few simple lines. These are good to know from the perspective of both the Flirter and the Flirtee—even if you’re not down for the flirting, you really need to know what you’re walking into when you walk into a dog park.

Just keep in mind that dog parks are sort of like gyms, in that you tend to run into the same people over and over again … so if things go badly, you might have to find a new dog park. Just saying.

BEST DOG PARK LINES: 

“What an exotic breed! Your dog is gorgeous.”

Subtext: You are exotic and gorgeous.

“Hey, our dogs like each other!”

Subtext: I bet we would also like each other.

“Want to play Frisbee with us?”

Subtext: Say yes, and this becomes our first almost-date. 

“Do you mind if I Instagram your dog? He’s so cute!”

Subtext: I’m about to ask you for your Instagram handle so I can tag you, launching a relationship of some kind. 

“Wow, your dog is so well-trained.”

Subtext: I could be that well-trained. Train me.

“You know, she really likes you—she doesn’t jump on everyone like that.”

Subtext: My dog and I are high maintenance and come on a little strong, but we’re good people.

“I have no idea which of these tennis balls is mine and which is yours…”

Subtext: It doesn’t matter, we’re going to be sharing everything soon. 

“Oh no, my dog just got mud all over you—here’s my number, let me pay your dry cleaning bill.”

Subtext: Here’s my number, let me take you to dinner.

“Oh, hey, did you lose your ball? Have one of mine.”

Subtext: I’ve got balls to spare.

“They really get along—I hope we run into you two again!”

Subtext: Let’s schedule an extracurricular play date. 

“She’s a rescue dog. It took a long time to get her to trust humans, but she’s doing great now.”

Subtext: I am marriage material. I will make an amazing parent.

And, my favorite: When the object-of-your-flirtation approaches you and says “Oh my God! SO CUTE!” you say“Thanks! I work out. I try to eat right. Oh…wait…you meant the dog. Sorry. Yeah. He’s okay I guess.” It’s like Colt 45. Works every time.

So there it is! You’re now a Dog Park Flirting expert. Use or refuse at your own risk.

For more tips and strategies for being a divorced person or just a regular person, follow me on Facebook, Twitter and/or Instagram—or, if you’re really dangerous, all three.

Just one last thing though: make sure everyone is dewormed and up to date on shots before you go romping further afield.

Respectfully,

James J. Sexton

A First Date Guide for the Newly Divorced

Okay, so I admit that photo is a little misleading, because having sex is actually not on my list of tips for what to do on your first date after divorce. But I got you to click on my article, so, you may as well read it. Logical? Yes. Clickbait? Yes. But you clicked.

Basically, nobody’s first date after divorce is good. It’s just one of those facts of life, like the first time you speak in public or the first time you ride a bike. In all of the above situations, you are going to be terrified, sweaty, self-conscious, and there’s a decent chance you may end up scraped and bruised or hiding under a table. It’s fine. You’re human, and now divorced. You’re a divorced human.

If you’re anything like this human, you might have been avoiding going on a date for exactly the reason I’m describing here: you know it’s going to be bad. You’re absolutely right. Maybe.

The thing is, you can’t avoid it forever.

Once you get through all the stages of grief following your divorce—and I’m not saying rush through that part, because it’s important stuff—but once you do get that part out of the way, going on a date is kind of just something you have to do. Maybe it will take you two months, maybe two decades; maybe you’ll end up in a relationship, maybe you’ll decide to stay single for the rest of your life. Everybody’s different. But you do have to face it one way or another.

When you finally get to this point, here is the crucial thing: just get all the awkward out of the way in one dateEmbrace the bad dateness, because that is most likely what it will be.

What follows are the steps to success on your first date after divorce.

1. Choose someone it’s probably not going to go anywhere with. The main thing is to get rid of hopes and expectations as much as possible; pick someone you don’t have a crush on if possible. I would also advise not to pick someone you have to see on a regular basis, like a co-worker. Once you have a willing date who you feel lukewarm about, proceed to Step 2.

2. Pick a place you don’t really like. Just in case you embarrass yourself, it’s best to choose a venue for your date that isn’t crucial to your weekly routine, in case you have to avoid the place for a little while after this. Low lighting and not many people would be ideal also.

3. Order something awkward to eat. For appetizers, order olives so you have to spit out the seeds on your plate and feel gauche, and/or bruschetta, so the tomatoes fall off your bread into your lap. Go into the date planning to leave with some kind of food stain on your clothing. For your main course, order spaghetti so that you have to slurp it, and/or ribs because ribs are awesome. Enjoy yourself–you might as well.

4. Drink. A Lot. Usually drinking more than one or maybe two drinks on a date is bad form. In this case, it’s necessary to have at least two drinks, probably more. It depends on how many it takes for you to lose emotional inhibitions, because you need to be free and easy for Step 4. (Note: Please don’t drink and drive; one-night stands are also not advised. #NoJudgement, though.)

5. Tell your date how much they remind you of your ex. It’s time to get real, and by real I mean embarrassing. Talk about your ex—you know you need to. Apologize profusely, but be honest. Dating reminds you of marriage and that reminds you of your ex, and you’re going to just name the white elephant because you’re DRUNK. You’re in a weird place. It’s okay. 

6. Give your date a list of the three big ways you failed as a partner. This will feel like a sort of confession and will make you feel better, lighter even. Then shift the conversation away from yourself, because you’re getting really boring.

7. Be entertaining! It’s the least you can do, since you’re probably a huge drag to be on a date with. Memorize a few jokes and compelling questions beforehand. When your date gets that glazed-over look that means they’re deciding whether to hate you, break out the jokes and compelling questions. Order them an extra dessert and proceed to Step 8.

8. Pay the whole bill. You owe this poor person a free dinner.

9. Thank them. You needed to have this date more than your date needed to be there for it, probably. This person did you a great service, and they should be made aware of that fact by the end of the evening.

10. Resign yourself to being someone’s “worst date ever” story. Own it. That’s where you’re at right now. Embrace it.  

Now you can really start to move forward.

Have something to add, ask, complain about? I love all of those things! Get in touch with me on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram.

What to Do if Your Spouse Goes AWOL (Inspired by Serial Season 2)

One of the big surprises of 2014 was the huge success of the Serial podcast, which is or was a spinoff of the relatively popular This American Life podcast put out by Chicago Public Radio. It was pretty much the first podcast to ever reach such a huge audience, with an average of 8 million people downloading every episode on iTunes alone.

The first season told the story of the murder of Hae Min Lee, a high school student, in 1999, for which her ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed has at the time of my writing been in prison for almost sixteen years. Producer Sarah Koenig interviewed witnesses, uncovered many inconsistencies in the case as presented to the courts, and opened up a proverbial can of worms that is still wide open.

I was one of the people listening avidly to the first season of Serial, so I’m pretty excited that the second season has started. Sarah Koenig promised “some time in 2015,” and she waited until just last week to debut her new story. In fact, Season Two, Episode Two premieres today!

This season’s podcast is going to pick apart the story of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was allegedly held captive by the Taliban for five years in Afghanistan—but again, this is a story with a lot of complexity, suggestive details, and inconsistencies. Well chosen, Sarah.

To prep you for Serial season 2, this post is going to mix some key background information with a bit of legal perspective on what to do if YOUR spouse goes AWOL—whether from your life, your marriage, or just from financial obligations. Enjoy!

Were there signs?

This is the age-old question that gets asked every time someone does something absolutely incomprehensible. The serial killer was “just a normal guy,” the rope bridge “looked pretty safe,” and your spouse never seemed like the kind of person to just pick up and take off.

According to other soldiers who knew Bowe Bergdahl, he was basically a normal guy before he disappeared—a disappearance that is now being looked at by many as a desertion of a very strange kind. “He was focused and well-behaved,” soldier Jason Fry has said.

But also, Bergdahl did say to Fry at one point, “If this deployment is lame, I’m just going to walk off into the mountains of Afghanistan.” So there’s that.

There was also the weird fact that, according to soldiers in his unit, on the morning he went missing, he stacked all his stuff up neatly, except for his compass, which went missing with him. Not enough for you? He also apparently mailed his computer and other possessions—inexplicably—to his parents prior to his disappearance. So … yeah. There were signs.

I think you can safely assume, if your spouse gets distant and starts mailing all of his or her possessions away, that there might be something fishy going on. What’s tougher to get a handle on are the psychological signs, and the emotional ones. Is your spouse going distant because they’re stressed about work, or because they want out?

When a spouse walks out on a marriage, it sometimes means walking out on the children of the marriage as well. Some states call this desertion and others call it abandonment. In either case it’s generally grounds for divorce.

The exact definition of abandonment varies, but usually it means the spouse has been gone for one to two years, has not made any financial contributions, and refuses to reconcile if they are in touch at all.

What should be done?

When Bergdahl went missing, a huge amount of military resource was put into trying to track him down, and there was a lot of controversy surrounding whether or not the US government should negotiate for his release (ie. “negotiate with terrorists”). For much of the time he was gone, he was the only US soldier being held as a prisoner by the Taliban, so it was fairly high-profile.

If you think your spouse is about to go AWOL (or worse, they already have), you probably lack the resources of the US military in trying to hold them accountable in your marriage. There are some things you can do, however.

If you have children, you can file for temporary custody, which is likely to turn into permanent custody once you finalize the divorce. You can also ask the court for a temporary order of child support. In extreme cases, you can ask the court to terminate parental rights of the deserting spouse, if they are seen to be an unfit parent.

Once the spouse has been gone from your marriage for two years, and one year in some states, you’re in a good position to file for divorce.

What really happened?

But getting a divorce doesn’t answer the biggest question that some spouses have after being deserted. The biggest question, of course, is “Why?” Why did the person just leave, instead of resolving the situation in some other way? How could they leave a life you created together, without a second thought? And so on.

In my experience, satisfying answers to this question are few and far between. Usually, the simple answer is “avoidance”—some people just can’t deal with having grownup conversations. In a few unfortunate scenarios, people had already started a new life with someone else. You might find out why your spouse went AWOL in time, or you might never get the answers you feel you deserve. And this can be infuriating.

In the case of Bowe Bergdahl, finding out what really happened is the whole point, or so it seems. Some people claim he left a note saying he was going to “start a new life,” but the note hasn’t been since produced. There are stories of his being kidnapped and tortured by Taliban captors, and as many stories that he walked away with them on his own free will. And there are apparently a LOT of strange little ins and outs of his story that just don’t add up.

For the Deserted

Sadly, abandonment is not that uncommon as a grounds for divorce, but luckily it’s fairly easy to resolve from a legal standpoint. Once your spouse has left you for a certain period, it’s hard for the courts to deny you a divorce—but you’ll want to have legal counsel to ensure that you get what you deserve out of the situation.

If your spouse has gone AWOL, feel free to contact me for advice on your specific situation. If you’re an abandoned military spouse, you might find this site helpful in understanding your options.

If you’re interested in listening to Serial, either the last amazing season or this coming one, you can download it here. If you’re interested and you’ve never downloaded a podcast before, here’s what to do.

Questions? Comments? Leave a comment, share on Facebook, or tweet it!

Respectfully,
James J. Sexton

Presents for Your Ex: A Gift Guide

Not everyone totally hates their ex-spouse. Shocking, I know! If you are in that (tiny) minority, you might be brainstorming holiday gifts right about now. You want your gift to be appropriate — not too extravagant or intimate, but also not too impersonal. The best way to strike that balance is of course through humor. I’ve rounded up a couple ideas if you’re stumped.

When you broke up, did your ex-wife’s personal anthem become Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together?” Why not commemorate that special time with this lyric art so she can look at it, chuckle, shake her head and say, “Too true, Taylor. Too true.”

Looking for more than just lyrics? Well here you go. Oh yeah, the Taylor Swift fan art community is expansive and it is emotional.

Not into Taylor? (Are you hearing impaired or something?) Fair enough. How about something to really jazz up the former love of your life’s cubical? Look no further than this world’s greatest ex-husband mug.

Do you guys have the kind of playful relationship where you can look back and laugh about all the never ending arguments and screaming matches you’ve had over the years? Then this tasteful candle flipping the bird might be the gift for you.

Did you read how Kaley Cuoco covered her wedding tattoo with a giant mothafter filing for divorce? Yes, a moth. Don’t give your ex a moth tattoo gift certificate. Instead, go with this nonpermanent happily divorced sticker. You’re not going to have to get a sticker lasered off your neck.

Worried your former ball and chain isn’t really working through his feelings? What better gift to help him get those cathartic tears flowing than Adele’s new album 25?

Speaking of British musicians, The Beatles said “all you need is love.” Boy did those billionaires get it wrong. Love fades. You know what doesn’t? Pizza. Express that wise sentiment with this love fades, pizza Is forever t-shirt.

I don’t know how to properly preface this one but here is a tiny coffin for your wedding rings. You can, I don’t know, bury it? Or display it? I’m not really sure what the endgame is for this gift, but it’s available for purchase if you want it.  There was a company, for many years, that would melt your wedding ring down and turn it into a working bullet (GodDammo was their name).  They went out of business a few years ago. I can’t imagine why.

Odds are, god willing, you’re no longer living together. To celebrate that, a great housewarming gift is some cleansing sage. Your ex can smudge and cleanse to their heart’s content and start with a fresh, clean slate in their new place, all thanks to you (I guess in more ways than one).

Finally, what better gift than a person to replace you? Splash out the big bucks and buy your ex a Match.com or eHarmony subscription. If you’re on good enough terms you can help your ex write his or her profile. Then maybe get one for yourself, because why not.  Just remember, I do prenups too.  

Respectfully,
James J. Sexton

8 New Holiday Traditions to Start This Year

One of the tough things about this time of year is that if you’ve been through any kind of personal upheaval involving family, the holidays are a big reminder of how much has changed. You’re in a different place now than you were when you were married … and while that can be depressing, it also can be great.

You may not be psyched to reinvent the past or relive old memories, and that’s totally fine. This is a great time of year to invent NEW traditions. After all, after divorce, values can shift. Maybe “what really matters” is something different to you now.

What I’d like to see are more holiday traditions that are calming, and non-commercial; that you can do on your own, or with a group, with a lot of value either way; that you can start doing regardless of whether you’re married, divorced, single, widowed, or what have you.

Here are my ideas.

Walk in the woods. Was is Thoreau who said, “An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day”? Appreciating a walk in the beauty of nature is a great thing to do on your own, and also a great gift to share. Better than a pair of socks, in my book.

Help someone in need. Make it a holiday tradition to give your time, support or resources to someone who needs them. In NYC, for example, we have theNeighborhood Coalition for Shelter who are always taking donations (especially) around the holidays.

Do a Winter ClearOut. The small break I take at holiday time is often partly spent going through the house, organizing things, and separating out what I don’t need to give to charity. This is satisfying on many levels.

Cook for strangers. What better time to make baked goods of the sweet OR savory variety—my specialty is cornbread casserole—and deliver to the deserving folks at the fire station, the 911 call center, your mailman?

Board Games. I have a feeling lots of people are doing this already, but go ahead—have a board game night. Invite people.

Talk. I don’t mean family gossip; I mean talk with people you care about, about life. Talk about the best memories of the year, and the worst ones. Be open. Be yourself. Talk.

Seek out an old friend. Even if it’s over the phone, set aside time to catch up with someone you haven’t seen in a long time, who probably doesn’t even know you’re thinking about them.

Give up electronics. Yeah, I know. This is almost impossible these days. But anybody can do it for 24 hours (even me). Shut everything off, unplug, and just hang out. Read, chat, hike, sing—all those things we used to do before the internet.

Have some ideas for holiday traditions you want to add to the list? Please do! Leave your thoughts in comments below, leave a comment on Facebook, or tweet to me!

Holiday Cookies and Cocktails to See You Through

If you’re not familiar with The Great British Baking Show on Netflix, I will wait for you to log in, binge watch and meet me back here. Go ahead.

… … …

That was great right? Relaxing while somehow still intense, no? It is the perfect show. Friendly competition among supportive, genuinely nice people, interesting challenges, and mountains and mountains of cake. GBBS has been a huge hit in the UK for six seasons, and while we wait patiently for Netflix to add more episodes (hint, hint Netflix), the good people at ABC have decided to give the concept a spin with The Great Holiday Baking Show which just premiered November 30th. Please, please let this be as good spirited as GBBS. Do not let this be another bullet point in the we Americans can’t have nice things list.

In the spirit of sugar and spice and everything nice, and the fact that you need to have cake around if you’re going to watch The Great Holiday Baking Show, I’ve rounded up some treats for you to try. Also alcohol, because holidays. I’ve given them a divorce spin, because I’m me. So swing by Costco or the closest bodega, get several tons of sugar, whip up some treats, invite all your your pals over and pig out.

 Credit: Modern Day Moms

Credit: Modern Day Moms

First up, how about some Eat Your Feelings Brownies. These brownies contain oreos and chocolate chip cookies, because if you are going to eat your feelings, you should be efficient.

More into nuts, as in your ex-husband was freaking nuts? Then how about some Passive Aggressive Pecan Sandies? You know who was nuts? The guy who divorced Martha Stewart.

Should you have frozen your eggs and waited for a better fella instead of marrying Mitch? Maybe? Who knows. Contemplate the answer over some Frozen Egg(s)nog.

Craving something sofisticato? How about some Alimony Amaretti? You’re going to want that alimony to pay for the pricey almond paste needed to make these.

Nothing says sweet victory like these Full Custody Custard Tarts. One taste of these babies and you’ll be planning a trip with the kids to their Portuguese birthplace. The kids really should see Europe, especially on your ex’s dime.

Celebrate your settlement with these I Got The Boat Banana Boats. These are great for parties because you can make a little fixings bar and everyone can go to town.

If you’re feeling artsy, flex your creative muscles with some Midlife Crisis Cutout Cookies. Any rollout dough will work, as the focus here is the visual. Freehand your cuts outs. Anything from flashy sports cars to motorcycles to 25-year-old tennis instructors will work. The devil is in the details. You really want to get that tennis instructor’s eyes the right color, so take the extra time to get the royal icing shades just right.

Nothing says the holidays like mulled wine. And nothing says getting over a breakup than being drunk on mulled wine. Make this seasonal Glogg which will make the house smell so good, and get tanked.

Finally, some Finally Home Alone Cookies. These classic Irish treats happen to contain nearly every ingredient of the sundae masterpiece created by Kevin inHome Alone. What’s that? Double pun referencing both the film and the satisfied sentiment of a finalized divorce? That’s right, yahtzee!

Ready, set, BAKE!

15 Tips to Avoid Holiday Depression

Tis the season for crippling depression! Ho ho ho? Holidays are rough in normal circumstances, but if this is your first holiday season as a divorcee, stress and loneliness can certainly compound. I’ve rounded up some tips to get you out of the dumps and into the metaphorical light, gallons of whiskey not even necessary.

Are you listening to too much Adele? You might actually be in a pretty good mood but you’ve had 25 on repeat since November, and thus you’ve succumbed to Adelitis. Adelitis’s symptoms include: uncontrollable crying, sassy hand motions, flawless eyeliner, and a cockney accent. Does this sound like you?Shut off the Adele. Instead, listen to this. Get up and dance to it, you know you want to.

Exercise. Endorphins are real, man. Jogging, yoga, hiking, ultra marathons, or whatever you’re into could really help bolster your mood. Plus it’s good for the rest of your body as well. And if you get started now, you can take advantage of your currently empty gym before it fills up with new year’s resolution-ers. If you want to add a release for pent up hostility (toward your ex, the Judge, or even your lawyer if you’ve hired someone other than me) consider kickboxing, boxing, karate or (my personal favorite) Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Have you tried meditating? It might feel silly at first, but the benefits are huge. There are lots of different practices to choose from, but I recommend Transcendental Meditation, and not just because David Lynch is the coolest. Do you need to spend a grand to get your TM mantra? No. Can you use this internet guide instead? Yes.

Are you a responsible person who is ready to make a life-long commitment to someone who cannot divorce you and is scientifically proven to be good for your heart? Well, I’ve got just the ticket. Adopt a shelter dog or cat. Welcoming dogs into my family has been one of the best decisions of my life. They’re cute, fiercely loyal, life affirming and destroy household items in ways I never knew possible. Pull up Petfinder and don’t stop scrolling until you find your new best friend.

Take yourself on a date, or as I like to call it, a Solo-Yolo. Indulge for an afternoon. Take yourself for a fancy lunch, a movie your friends refuse to sit through, or wander around a gallery at your own pace. Do whatever it is that makes you deep sigh with joy. If you’ve got the cash and time off from work, extend the solo-yolo into a full fledged vacation.

What did you like to do after school when you were little? Piano, ballet, drawing classes? Whatever hobby brought you joy as a youngin’ can bring you fun and fulfillment again. Check out local sports leagues, peruse Course Horse, or just ask around. You’ll end up meeting new people and expressing your creativity at the same time. If you’re not feeling social – consider jigsaw puzzles. There’s something almost hypnotic about doing puzzles as an adult and when you finish there’s a tremendous feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. Try it. You’ll see.

Take a walk, preferably in daylight. SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is real and there are lots of ways to combat it, but my favorite is the simple act of taking a brisk walk at lunchtime. The fresh air will do you good, as will the vitamin D.

Cook yourself something nice. Little else can make you feel more competent and successful than turning a bag of groceries into a meal. Find a recipe that interests you, turn on some 60s soul and get ready to turn your mood around. If possible make extra. The leftovers are often the best part.

Skip the holiday cards. There is no feeling more liberating than saying “oh, screw it” in the stationery aisle of Target. Odds are your friends and family won’t notice yours is missing in their giants stacks of glittered firs and chubby angels. If anyone calls you out, just cover. Blame the post office, everyone hates the post office, then you can bond over hating the post office and deftly steer the conversation elsewhere.

Chill the heck out, but go big or go home. I’m talking many, many scented candles, a bubble bath so foamy your bathroom looks like Ibiza, a bottle of wine with a price tag that makes you wince, and your favorite holiday movie queued up on a tablet perched on the edge of the tub.

Leave the party. Leave and don’t look back. Peel out of the driveway so fast you burn rubber. Life is too short to be someplace you don’t want to be (unless you’re getting paid for being there).

Get into the holiday spirit, but on your own terms. Does shattering a dozen ornaments sound more fun than decorating a tree? Go for it. Do you want to bypass strolling along the holiday window displays and go straight for the hot chocolate containing no less than 750 calories? Go for it. Do you want to skip the lines at the mall and watch Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit and eat Chinese food instead? Go for it.

Give back and help yourself by helping others. Volunteering is not only important for your community, it also gives you some perspective and can be a great place for meeting like-minded new friends. The sense of accomplishment and self worth that comes with helping others is immeasurable. Check out Volunteer Match to get started.

Let your support system in. You don’t have to trudge through this alone. Share your feelings with your friends or family or whomever it is you trust. Open up to them, be vulnerable and let them support you. You’ll repay the favor when the shoe’s on the other foot.

Therapy. An old classic for a reason. Talking about your feelings and working through your issues is an important part of life. If there’s a medical professional helping you through it, as opposed to your friend Todd who’s half listening, you’ve got a really good chance of getting somewhere. There’s no shame in getting help and you’ll probably kick yourself for not going earlier.

Listen, the holidays are hard. Getting out of a funk is one thing, but if the blues turn into something more, there are so many services that can help. There is nothing to be ashamed of and there are people who can help. Keep a note of these numbers, and share them around because you never know who may need them. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK (8255)) and the National Hopeline Network (1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)) are both toll-free and available 24 hours a day. Calls are free and confidential.

The sun will rise again, the ice will melt, the flowers will bloom. Just cool it on the Adele and be kind to yourself. Happy holidays!

Respectfully,
James J. Sexton

A Holiday Gift Guide for Your Recently Divorced Friends

As we enter into the hellish period leading up the December holidays in which the task of Shopping becomes an all-consuming force of urban life—can you tell I don’t like shopping?—I find that having knowledgeable people to advise me on gift choices becomes a serious time saver. I LOVE gift guides. I LOVE “Top Ten Gifts for Twelve-Year Olds this Holiday Season” and “Appropriate Gifts to Give Your Mailman/Tailor/Dentist.” These things help me function with some degree of grace in situation where I might otherwise falter.

So I wanted to put my own guide guide out there, related to a topic with which I have a lot of experience, both personally and professionally: what to get, and what NOT to get, your divorced friends. (Most of these can be applied for recently divorced family members and recently divorced coworkers, too.) And I’ll start with the more important category first:
 

What NOT to Get People:

  1. Self-help books. Okay, maybe buying your friend a copy of Keep Your Chin Up!: How to Make it Through Your Divorce and Come Out a Winner seems like it might be a good idea when you see it on the shelf at Barnes & Noble, but trust me, it’s not. These are the adult diapers of the book world: you don’t want anyone to know you own them, and you certainly don’t want to receive them as a gift. Just leave that book behind (they probably already have it on Kindle anyway).
  2. A sex doll. This might come across as a funny joke—no seriously, I have seen this given as a gift in more than one occasion—but for a recent divorcee, it’s probably not going to enrich your friendship or endear you to them. Just a general rule of thumb: a sex doll is never a good idea. For anyone. Ever.
  3. A man-shaped bed pillow. I don’t know if these were originally conceived as gag gifts or as actual things that people might secretly want, but I think it falls into the category of, “If I want one I’ll secretly buy it on Amazon and hide it in my closet when I have people over”—see number 1.
  4. A poster with inspirational quote. If you are the kind of person to buy someone a framed poster, door-hanger or other household item that includes an inspirational quote, I think you should probably just stick to buying your divorced friends alcoholic beverages for a while. No judgment, it’s just all that positivity can be a little much when you’re a freshly split unit.
  5. A plant. A plant probably seems harmless and thoughtful, but to a recent divorcee, it’s likely to be a potted reminder that they’re alone in the world, ie. “You have nobody, here’s a plant to be your friend.” Avoid gifting plants for 1 to 3 years post-divorce.

Better Gifts:

  1. Really nice wine. This never fails. It tastes good, it feels classy, and it gets you drunk. Even better: take them out for an evening of really nice wine-drinking, foot the bill, and pay for the taxi home. Now that’s a friend.
  2. Stuff to encourage their interests. Did your friend used to be really into photography, or yoga, or travel, and has now fallen out of the habit? Without being condescending, you can encourage them to pick up on old interests—and encourage their minds away from the divorce—by giving low-pressure gifts that help them get there (think a magazine subscription or a book, not an expensive piece of equipment or fitness club subscription).
  3. Really good coffee. Coffee is another one of those things where it’s hard to go wrong. Proper gourmet coffee is delicious, warm, comforting, and it’s something that most of us drink anyway, so once again—practical. Try a variety of coffees from interesting places or with interesting flavors, and go fair trade in case they worry about these things (lots of my friends do).
  4. A cool trip for friends. One of the nicest things you can do for a friend is to get them—nay, force them—out of their dark and horrible routine for a weekend of recalibration. It gives them a chance to relax, vent, possibly cry, and it solidifies your relationship to a degree so they feel less alone. Just make sure you plan around their schedule, ie. don’t surprise someone with a last-minute trip, which is thoughtful but stressful for busy people.
  5. A token of recognition for their achievements. Chances are, your friend is feeling like a grade A loser about now, even if they’re actually a very accomplished person. Gifts that nod gently to their achievements, like a set of posh pens, is a nice way to refocus on the good stuff.

Have something genius to add to the list? I’m always listening. Give me a shout via Twitter and Facebook or leave a comment below!

Respectfully,
James J. Sexton

 

Turkey Tips for Recent Divorcees

Thanksgiving is upon us, in case you hadn’t noticed and were wondering why that lady elbowed you in the ribs when you reached for the last can of pumpkin puree at the store. Holidays can be stressful at any stage of life, but they can be extra difficult if it’s your first one as a divorcee.

Being in a room full of people who know something so personal about you can be rough. When you’re related to those people it is extra rough because the politeness that comes from acquaintances and friends goes right out the window when you share a bloodline. Will cousin Nancy ask you incredibly invasive questions after her fourth glass of wine? You betcha. To cope, I’ve rounded up some tips to get you through the day.

Prep
Before you set out for your relative’s house, or open the door to your guests, get your story straight and mentally prepare. My handy guides can help get you started. Have some sound bites at the ready so you can answer the same four questions over and over again with each hug hello. There will be a lot of, “So how are you really doing [insert sympathetic head tilt]?” questions from family. And you might suspect some of them are secretly reveling in your pain. Your brother Brad has always been competitive with you and today is no different. Genuine or not just take a deep breath before answering. Remind yourself this is only a few hours out of your very long life, and you will get through it. Also, feel free to point out Brad’s thinning hairline.

Deflect and spin
You know how on holiday weekends internet dating services flood the airwaves with tons of commercials for free trials? They do it because they know you’re hanging out with your family and they’re all asking you questions like, so when are you going to start dating again? When these questions come, you are rubber and they are glue. Answer everything with “Oh, you know…” (deflect) and change the subject (spin). There is nothing people like more than talking about themselves. Ask about their job, upcoming vacations, hobbies, house renovations, weird looking kid. Anything. Just ask and ask and ask. Be the Charlie Rose of your holiday table. Also, feel free to use one of these nine short ‘n sweet responses before throwing them your Qs.

Take breaks
Are there woods behind your parents’ house where you used to get high as a teenager? Super, use those woods now. Or hang out by the garage. Or take a walk around the block. Is there a family dog? Great, volunteer to take him out. Do whatever you can to take a breather when you need one and get outside for some fresh air and a little quiet.

Carbs
Did Aunt Janice ask you an uncomfortable question about your ex-spouse cheating on you? It’s pretty rich Aunt Janice is so interested in your current failures seeing as she’s tethered to reality by a bit of dental floss. Shove a roll in your mouth and mumble, then get up and offer to open another bottle of wine. Wait for the conversation to change, then head back. Or don’t. The Adult Table is overrated anyway and your tablemates at the Kids Table don’t care about your divorce.

Got the kids this holiday?
Consider instituting a new tradition along with the old one. Maybe go out to the movies after dinner or do a holiday craft together (maybe make the center piece?). Whatever you decide, remember to be respectful of the other parent. Speak kindly about them and have empathy for them, as it’s has to be tough for them without the kids this year.

Don’t have the kids?
This could be touchy for both you and them. Consider doing something special before the holiday. Having a special day together can soften the blow of things being so different on Thanksgiving itself. Plus, it gives you all something to look forward to. On the day, maybe try to call or FaceTime before the festivities kick off, or afterwards so they can fill you in on the good day they had. While you’re away from your kids, treat yourself to the break. Revel in the you-ness that normally gets hidden under all the parenting responsibilities. Enjoy talking to grown-ups without worrying one kid is up to no good while the other is giving himself a sweet potato face mask. Swear all you like and get into political fights with your — let’s be honest, borderline fascist — grandpa after too much wine.

Be thankful.
Listen, I get it, I’ve been there. A lot of this is going to totally blow, but wallowing in self pity isn’t going to help. Try to see the good in life. Be thankful for what you have and where you are in life. Try to make this an opportunity to get out of your funk, surround yourself with good vibes and good food. Your family may be nuts and difficult, but they’re your difficult nuts.

Skip it.
If it all seems too much and you’re really dreading the whole thing. Get out of town. You’re a grown up! You can do whatever you want! Book yourself an all-inclusive getaway on some island whose economy is built on tiny paper umbrellas. When you get there, turn off your phone and sing “Kokomo” in its entirety to the concierge. Just be sure to tip him and say, “Thanks!”

Got a couple tips of your own? Sharing is caring! Do it below in the Comments, on Twitter, or Facebook!

Respectfully,
James J. Sexton

Cheer Up, Hallo-Weiner! Halloween for Divorcees

As a holiday, Halloween is one of the least depressing ones out there. I mean, this is a day that is designed to support people embracing alter egos, coming out of their shells, experimenting, letting the hair down—you get the picture.

Halloween is not a time for reflection (you’ve done enough of that) nor does it require a lot of awkward family time (if you’re in the middle of a divorce, you could use a break from that). Instead, Halloween is an opportunity to have some non-reflective fun, and probably get a little creative, drunk, or both. And what could be a better distraction from your crumbling marriage than a sugar high and a lot of weird costumes?! Here’s what you do.

If You Have the Kids

  • Trick-or-Treating. The classic Halloween activity, though it has become a bit worrisome in recent years as people are advised to be more and more careful. If you live in a safe area, you should have no qualms, surely, about taking your kids out begging for candy in the dark—but if there’s any doubt, perhaps stick to one of the alternatives.
  • Throw a Kids’ Party. Cupcake decorating, Halloween games, even create a haunted house with peeled grapes standing in for eyeballs—why not go the whole nine yards. After all, now that you’re divorced, you need to REALLY make an effort to make sure you’re the Fun Parent.
  • “Scary” movie marathon. Age-appropriate scary movies, of course—ie. no need to drag out Freddy Kruger if the kids are under five. No, in all seriousness, if you’re hosting your kids and possibly their friends for Halloween night, there’s almost nothing better than Nightmare before Christmas or a selection of Halloween Specials on Netflix, some candy, popcorn and fizzy apple juice—you get to chill out and everybody’s happy.
  • Scavenger hunt. If you have a bit of time to spare, putting together a scavenger hunt for candy or small prizes or whatever is pretty fun. Write out a sequence of clues, and place them in and around your house for the kids to find, accompanied by treats along the way—with the final treat being a giant pile of candy OR a giant pizza and Halloween movie. Total win.

If You Don’t Have the Kids (or if You Don’t Have Kids at All)

  • Make an amazing Halloween-themed dinner party. I once went to this dinner party where the hostess dressed up like Morticia and served six courses of things like Jack O’Lantern Soup and Poisoned Apple Pie – and it was all delicious and it was all really fun to eat and talk about. (I mean, the adult palate gets so neglected at Halloween time, seriously.) If I wasn’t so lazy I would do this.
  • Throw a Grownups’ Costume Party. Making your friends dress up can either make them love you or hate you, depending on your friends; you really have to make this call for yourself. One tip if you decide to do this: leave it pretty open as to what people can dress as. The worst thing is if you specify people should dress up as either pirates or monkeys, and then everyone comes as Sexy Donald Trump. Just let them go nuts.
  • Bar crawl (in costume of course). Feel like embarrassing yourself and/or your friends? Organize a bar crawl in costume, which demands that people actually be seen out in public in full Heidi/Edward Scissorhands/Sexy Donald Trump attire, a fact that just adds to the general fun.
  • Halloween cocktails. Just want to get drunk with your friends, and Halloween is a good excuse? No problem. There are actually a LOT of Halloween cocktails out there, like a Candy Corn Martini, a Smoking Zombie, or THIS super-weird, super great Glow-in-the-Dark Cocktail. Bottoms up!
  • Scary movie marathon. Okay, now you get to break out the REAL scary movies, and these days there are a lot to choose from. Just to help you out, here’s a list of the most popular horror movies released in 2015, and HERE’s a list (I actually recommend this one more) of the best horror films of all time.

Have something to add, ask, or some inconsistency to point out? I LOVE IT. I’m all ears. Leave a comment below or tweet to me.

Respectfully,
James J. Sexton

6 Awkward Post-Divorce Moments (and Tips for Handling Them)

There’s something about going through a divorce that makes you pretty much bulletproof—eventually. Eventually you don’t care when people ask really awkward questions, or when you’ve been walking around with toilet paper stuck to your leg for two hours. Eventually, after you’ve been through a tough divorce, nothing short of life-and-death could make you bat an eye.

But during a divorce? Not so much. Let’s be honest here: divorce is a fragile time for everybody. And it takes a while to get back on your feet. YOU WILL. But it takes some getting there.

Unfortunately, this is when the awkwardness creeps in. You’ve gone through and are still going through a huge transition, and suddenly you’re dealing with stuff like, your neighbor asking you whether your spouse is traveling a lot for work lately, or being invited to the birthday party of someone’s kid, as a family. It’s awkward. It’s even a little painful.

Here’s how to handle some of the more common moments you’ll run into—advice prepared with a hint of humor and a dash of pragmatism, as per usual.

Kid-Focused Events
If you’re doing the co-parenting thing, which most people these days are, this is one you’re sure to run into pretty regularly. This advice applies to your kids’ sports games, piano recitals, school plays, birthday parties, Girl Scout thingies and so on.

When it comes to your kids, you have to be there, and you have to be composed. The key thing to have in mind is: when in doubt, focus on the kids. Feel a wave of resentment coming on because your spouse is late? Focus on how cute your kid looks in that carrot costume. Another thing that works in these situations is to make a concerted effort to talk vivaciously to the other parents. Be the social butterfly, you’ll find you’re able to avoid talking to your ex or soon-to-be-ex, and you’ll be nice and distracted from thinking about them being there.

Running Into People Who Don’t Know.
I found that this was a real challenge at first. It takes about a year for everybody to catch on to the fact that you and your ex aren’t together anymore, and that’s through no fault of their own; yet I found myself getting impatient with having to explain, even vaguely, to yet another person that Yes, my marriage fell apart, and how are you?

A big, helpful crutch in this situation—which you’ll stop needing once you start feeling less, eh, vulnerable—is to have a statement prepared. Have a one- or two-sentence answer that you use, which is generally a nice combination of grateful-for-your-concern and no-further-questions-on-the-subject-please. Then go immediately to asking about them. People love to talk about themselves.

When People Ask Intrusive Questions
So how about when you’re at said event, and someone with no sense of boundaries whatsoever asks you, loudly, “So what happened between you and [insert spouse name here]?? You were such a great couple!!!” Yeah, stuff like that gets said. In such situations, a good thing to remember is that this person is the one who should be embarrassed—not you. And then refer to number 2.

Events with THAT Side of the Family
For a lot of us, divorcing our spouse doesn’t mean divorcing their family. I happen to get along great with lots of my ex-wife’s extended family, and particularly for the kids’ sake, you might find you want to keep the relationships strong. So showing up at family events is going to happen, and you’re going to have to be prepared.

A good rule of thumb is to have realistic expectations about how people are going to react, especially in the beginning. They’re likely to feel loyal to your ex, because they’re blood, but at the same time they want to be fair to you—so they’re going to feel awkward. Be understanding about that. Don’t say anything that puts pressure on them to choose (like complaining about your ex). And be ready with lots of conversation topics that don’t involve the divorce.

Parties of Mutual Friends
If you feel compelled to go to an event where you ex is likely to also be there, the best thing you can do is to have a plan, which you mentally agree with yourself before you get in the car to go, of a) what to say if you have to talk to them, and b) how you’ll make a graceful exit if such is required. As for a), the main goal is to be civil, bland, and brief.

For b), the main goal is to avoid making any kind of scene, such as arguing in public, crying, & etc.Depending on where you’re at and where your ex is at, this can be a real risk. So explain to the host, if it’s a friend, that you might have to make a quick exit—they’ll surely understand—and if you do, do. No biggie.

First Date
Didn’t expect this one, did you? This is the one that you don’t WANT to be awkward, but it just is. It’s also one of the game-changing moments post-divorce: you’re likely to see things a bit differently before this moment, than after it. So it’s important. But, yeah, it can be pretty awkward.

I think the best advice in this situation is more or less what your mom/dad/grandma told you about dating when you were sixteen: Be yourself. Be honest about the fact that you’re recently divorced—it’s only fair. And if you try to hide that kind of thing, you’re guaranteeing yourself a train wreck. If you’re not ready to tell the person across the table that you’re a divorcee, you’re probably not ready to date—and that’s no biggie, either.

Have something to tell me, want to vent, or need a hug? Leave a comment below or tweet to me.

Respectfully,
James J. Sexton

 

11 Tips for Talking to Your Kids about Divorce

One of the most stressful aspects of the divorce process for those of us with kids is dealing with the inevitability, and sadness, of having to explain the divorce to them. When I hit this moment myself, it didn’t matter that I had counseled plenty of parents through this already, nor that I knew it would pass and things would get easier; it was still an incredibly difficult moment.

Earlier this year I published a post on how to go public with your divorce, and it got a great response. Talking about divorce is difficult pretty much on every front. With that in mind, I’ve compiled the wisdom that I’ve gathered, both from experiencing it myself and from the insight of numerous parents who have come through my doors. Here are some tips for telling your kids that you’re getting a divorce: just take it step by step.

1. Wait until it’s for sure.

Most couples go through a few “should-we-shouldn’t-we” periods, and it’s important not to involve the children in your uncertainty during these times. Wait to tell them you’re getting a divorce until the process is actually started, legally, so as to avoid putting them through hell just to take it back three weeks later, and then potentially change your mind again a month after that.

2. Present a united front.

Although you might hate each other behind closed doors, in front of the kids, especially now, you need to communicate as a parental unit. Get together beforehand, and plan carefully what you’re going to say. You might think you can have this conversation spontaneously, but once you’re in the moment, emotions can derail you entirely, and the last thing you want is to end up in an argument.

3. Tell everyone at the same time.

If you have more than one child, it’s important that you tell everyone the news at the same time. Even if there’s a big age different between the kids, and you think the older ones can handle it—don’t ask them to. Nobody should have to keep that secret.

4. Tell the truth.

This is one of those times that sugar-coating is only going to make things worse. “It’s going to be hard” is more honest than “It’s not that bad…”, and will help prepare them for the reality they are about to face. Minimizing the negative is not going to work in this situation. You don’t need to go into the details of your broken relationship, but you should be honest about the future: be calm, but be honest.

5. Take mutual responsibility for the divorce.

Behind closed doors there is a lot of apportioning blame during a divorce. However, for the sake of your kids, when you tell them about it, don’t blame each other in any way: take the blame together: “We decided to do this”; “We are sorry.” Even if you agree that one parent is to blame versus the other, asking your children to bear that knowledge is not fair, and endangers their relationship with that parent. And if you don’t address this aspect—if nobody takes responsibility—it’s natural for a kid to blame themselves, and they almost certainly will. To help keep their lives, self-esteem and relationship with you as stable as possible, take the blame together.

6. Emphasize the fact that this doesn’t change how either of you feel about them.

Reassurance is one of the most crucial things to offer at this point, and for the foreseeable future. Make sure your kids know that no matter what the domestic situation becomes—who lives with who, for example—you both will continue to love them exactly as much as now.

7. Discuss changes and what to expect.

Uncertainty is going to be a source of anxiety for your kids right now. What you need to do is provide them with parameters and solid things they can count on, as soon as you have the information. The younger the child, the less of a frame of reference they’re going to have for what a divorce will mean, so start with the most basic, obvious things, and go from there.

8. Encourage them to express their feelings.

You’re probably doing most of the talking at this point. Open the conversation up to be, well, a conversation. They might have no idea what to say, or they might be angry, or they might cry—let them know this is fine. Give them space to do it.

9. Accept their feelings.

One of the most natural things to do is to try to make your kids feel better, and there a lot of constructive ways you can do that, over time. But in the moment, don’t try to tell them it’s not really that bad, or otherwise minimize what they’re dealing with. This is a big deal, and they deserve to feel however they feel about it.

10. Focus on things that matter to them.

One way you can calm the waters without covering up the truth is to focus on things that matter to your kids. Do they play sports? Make sure they know this isn’t going to change, and mom and dad will still both go to games (if that’s true). Do you have special traditions, like Ice Cream Fridays? Make sure they know you’ll keep doing that, even if you take turns. This will also help you set the pace for what will hopefully become a strong co-parenting situation.

11. Set up a support system.

Once you’ve told your kids, let the other adults in their life know what’s going on—even if you don’t go into the details—and ask them to keep an eye out for any signs of distress, and to let you know. This probably includes teachers, coaches, babysitters, grandparents, etc. Doing this will help you identify any adjustment problems as they occur, but also it will ensure that there is plenty of support around your child during a time when they need it.

Have questions, or something to add? I’m listening! Leave a comment below or tweet to me.

Respectfully,
James J. Sexton

How Do You Make New Friends after Divorce?

The thing about major life changes, is that they always affect more than one aspect of your life—they usually affect pretty much every aspect of your life. Divorce, for many of us, means a big change in our social lives.

Of course there’s the initial “I don’t want to see anybody,” curled-up-in-a-ball phase. This is often followed by the “Don’t take pity on me / don’t-need-anybody-but-myself” phase, which can throw another wrench into the gears of your social world.

Eventually, when you crawl out from under your divorce rock, you might find that all of your previous social engagements have dried up, and/or you might realize that hanging out with your usual crowd is going to mean risking running into your ex. Or worse, it’s going to mean putting your friends in the awkward position of choosing between you, and the business of figuring out which friends are “yours” and which ones are “theirs.” 

Embracing your independence, this is quite possibly the perfect time to get out of your bubble and make some new friends.

Making friends as an adult is inevitably a heck of a lot harder than it was to do as a kid. I mean, as a kid, all you have to do is give somebody your Snack Pack and you’re in. With adults, you’re competing with their busy schedules, and with the fact that, to be frank, most adults aren’t looking for new friends.

So how do you do it?

Workout Buddies
Yeah, you probably need to get in shape anyway, right? There’s almost no better foundation for a healthy, motivating friendship than giving each other support, and holding each other accountable, for getting or staying in shape. You might not want to say “Hey, you should get in shape with me!” out of the blue—that could have the exact opposite effect you’re going for—but if someone mentions wanting to get out and be more active, for example, invite them to meet you for a hike or walk in the park.

Making a Friend At Work
Maybe you’re one of those people who initiates after-work beers … or maybe you’re one of those people who avoids those people. If the latter is true, burst through your antisocial tendencies and give it a chance at least a couple of times. Sometimes just saying Yes turns into a friendship.

Play Dates
Use your kids! The funny thing about playdates—and this is something all parents know and don’t talk about—is that sometimes your kids’ friends have parents you’d rather not hang out with, and sometimes they don’t get along with YOUR friends’ kids at all. And you just deal with it. And sometimes, randomly, you’ll find that golden equilibrium where everybody’s entertained—and these are the friends you should never let go. Playdates are also a unique opportunity where you’re achieving something and at the same time you have very little to do, much like being on an airplane. So it’s a great time to just chat and get to know the other parent anyway. It’s a fertile ground for friendship.

Get Back in Touch
We all have those old friends that we’ve just lost touch with, and feel a TAD guilty about losing touch, just enough to keep us from picking up the phone and giving them a call. This can go on for decades. Make a list of your old friends who you haven’t talked to in awhile (Facebook doesn’t count) and give them a call. Be the bigger person. They’ll almost certainly be very pleased that you called first.

Volunteer
If you’re one of those nice people who cares about things, find a cause and start volunteering! You’re sure to find like-minded, kind-hearted people like yourself. Just make sure to pick an activity that involves being with these other people, rather than off doing something on your own.

Professional Networking Events
If you’re a busy professional, going to networking events can be a nice way to kill two birds with one stone—work AND play. Conferences that last a few days are particularly good for making new friends, because they effectively take a bunch of busy people out of their normal routine, and this leaves space for new relationships to happen. Ever notice how people at conferences are more open to chatting? It’s because that’s why they’re there: to meet people.

Join a Group
Joining a group is one of those no-brainer things for adults who want to make friends, because they almost certainly guarantee it. Also, there are groups for everything—from antique appreciation societies to anime enthusiasts—so you are bound to find something that interests you. Groups that meet regularly are the best for friendmaking, because of the consistency, ie. you’re less likely to lose track of each other, because there’s pre-scheduled meeting every week or two. And you already have a basis for a friendship in that you share a common interest, so it’s a winner on all fronts.

Have something you want to add, complain about, share, demand? I’m all ears! Leave me a comment below or tweet to me!

Respectfully,
James J. Sexton

Divorce Jargon Cheat Sheet

Remember that Friends episode where Joey bought an encyclopedia volume because he couldn’t keep up a conversation with the other friends? He found himself nodding along hoping no one would catch on that he was completely clueless. Then he got volume V of an encyclopedia and was a regular Charlie Rose for a few seconds until the conversation moved onto something not V-related.

Don’t be Joey when it comes to your divorce. Use the handy guide below to demystify all the legalese heading your way. Also, don’t be Joey when it comes to the rest of your life either. Would it kill you to pick up a newspaper once in awhile?

Abandonment: When one spouse peaces out for at least one year without consent or justification. This concept used to have some legal relevance.  Now that New York is a “no fault” state nobody cares. You can tell how old this particular law is by the fact it includes the statement that the spouse must be absent for a period of twelve months “with no tidings.”  

Adultery: You probably know this one. It’s cheating. The cheat-cheat-cheating.

Alimony: The bucks. That sweet dough or financial support one spouse is required to provide the other after separation or divorce. Usually tax deductible by the individual paying it and taxable income to the person receiving it. In New York this term is no longer used and has been replaced by the term “Maintenance.”  It still costs the same.  

Attorney’s Fees: The cold hard cash you give me. Take some small comfort in the fact that I’m passing most of it along to my own ex-wife.  

Child Support: Money paid by one spouse to the other to cover a child’s expenses. Child support generally covers the “shelter expenses” of the child: food, clothing, contribution to housing. There can be additional funds awarded for things like unreimbursed medical expenses and educational expenses but “child support” covers most stuff so if Junior wants a new lacrosse stick or prom dress it’s covered under “child support” unless the person paying is feeling generous.   

Constructive Abandonment: When one spouse refuses to have sex with the other spouse for a period of at least a year, and without justification. That’s right folks: you are legally required, in New York State, to have sex with your spouse at least one time per year. Mark it on the calendar. Perhaps have it coincide with changing the clocks for Daylight Savings Time?  That way you can have sex, change the clocks and the battery in the fire detectors and, for at least one night, get an extra hour of sleep knowing that your marriage and home are both especially “Fireproof” for that night (Yes…that was a deliberate Kirk Cameron reference).

Cruel and Inhuman Treatment: Cruelty (physical or emotional) committed by the Defendant against the Plaintiff that makes living together unsafe or otherwise impossible. Forcing a spouse to watch James Franco’s Palo Alto is not considered cruel and inhuman treatment in any state, though it should be.

Defendant or Respondent: The person who has a divorce or Family Court action filed against them. I can usually see them coming as they walk into my office holding papers in their hand and saying “I meant to come see you sooner….”

Earning Capacity: A person’s ability to earn money. Things to consider: education, training, job experience, million dollar Hollywood smile, sick dance moves.

Emancipation: How teen stars divorce their momagers to get full control of their sitcom money. Also when a child under 21 marries, enlists in the military, or is financially self sufficient thereby making them no longer eligible for child support.

Equitable Distribution – How marital property is divided. Equitable doesn’t have to mean 50/50.

Family Court: Where you’ll be hanging out to get custody, child support and visitation ironed out. Ask around to find out where the good vending machines are. There’s always one good one and it’s never easy to find. Avoid the water fountains. Spring for the bottled water from the machines. Trust me on this one.  

Jurisdiction: The state where your divorce takes place. Usually residing someplace for six months or more gives that state jurisdiction over the divorce. Whether or not that state is the right “venue” is another question entirely.  

Legal Custody: The legal responsibility and right to make decisions for a child under 18. I’m not talking about where the child should have dinner tonight (your ex gets to make those decisions during his or her visitation/parenting time).  I’m talking about “major decisions” such as what religion will the child be, will they attend public or private school, can they have elective cosmetic surgery? Some of these decisions have financial ramifications.  

Marital Property: All cars, TVs, furniture, jazz shoes and any other stuff acquired by the couple from the date of marriage to the beginning of the divorce process. Debt can also be considered property so remember that gets whacked up too. Some things, such as an inheritance or proceeds from a personal injury award may not count as Marital Property and are considered Separate Property. Key point: the fact that something is in your “sole name” may not protect that asset from division.  

Mediation: A rap sesh between a couple and a mediator where the couple tries to hammer out their divorce issues and come to some sort of agreement. Sort of like couples therapy but the couple is not looking to work things out to stay together.

No Fault Divorce: Neither spouse has to prove the other did something wrong. No one has to give a reason for wanting the divorce. The couple just has to stand in front of a darkened mirror and chant “No Fault Divorce” three times and the judge appears in the mirror covered in blood wearing a yellowing bridal veil and okays it. Kidding about that last bit.

Order of Protection: An order from the court that demands a person stop harassing another person, or orders them to stay away from a certain place such as a home, school or office.  This can be obtained in Family Court or Justice Court (or both).  

Palimony: Like Alimony but for pals who weren’t legally married, but were living together in a marriage-like relationship. This no longer exists in New York State.  Please stop asking.

Parenting Time: The new term for visitation.  Also called “custodial access time” or “access time” the idea being that you don’t “visit” with your child. This is intended to make somebody feel better about only seeing their child on alternate Wednesdays.  

Plaintiff or Petitioner: The spouse who files for divorce. The individual who incepts the action.  The only real benefit to being the “first to file” is that you get to go first if the case goes to trial (this isn’t always a good thing) and you have to pay the filing fees (currently $385.00).

Physical Custody – You can reach out and pinch your cute kid’s cheeks because they are with you, in your physical custody. The child most likely lives with you and your home is considered the kid’s “primary residence.”  This is sometimes a very lucrative arrangement as having “primary physical custody” usually results in receiving child support.

Pro Se: Going solo and representing yourself sans lawyer. Also known as having little or no self preservative instincts. People ask me all the time (usually at a consultation) “Can’t I represent myself?” and the answer is “Yes.”  You can also do your own dental work. All you need is a drill, a high pain tolerance and an abundance of tenacity.  Good luck with that.  

Separate Property: Stuff that is out of bounds to split up, meaning it belongs solely to only one spouse. This could be premarital property that was never “commingled” with marital property.  This could be stuff you got after the filing of the divorce action.  

Separation Agreement: The written agreement that spells out all the specifics regarding your divorce and the arrangements the former couple has agreed to. This is how the overwhelming majority of cases end when people finally realize that Judges don’t possess any particular wisdom on any of these issues. If your lawyers divide your assets – they do it with a scalpel.  If a Judge does it – they do it with a chainsaw.  

Subpoena: Tricky to spell but easy to explain. It’s the court’s way of telling you (or a witness in your case) when and where to be to testify, or it’s way of asking to provide certain documents. If you get served with one please call me.  If your business partner gets served with one please call me on my cell phone as soon as possible.

Uncontested Divorce: First a magical alignment of planets, heavens and earth occurs. Then Glinda the Good Witch bubbles down from the sky with a red wagon full of golden retriever puppies. She confirms that both parties are totally cool with every divorce related issue including spousal support, custody and splitting property. The couple then pets the puppies and the divorce is officially granted and sealed with puppy kisses. Just kidding, planets don’t have to align and Glinda can take the day off. The puppies are optional, though strongly recommended.

Uncontested divorces are very common and totally doable, so keep the faith. This stuff isn’t rocket science but it does require a certain level of knowledge and experience.  Call me sooner rather than later. Trust me. I’ll be gentle.  

Respectfully,
James J. Sexton