Dealing with Divorce: Where Do You Turn For Support?

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RENO, Nev. Besides being known as the 'Biggest Little City', those who know Reno's history know the city by another nickname; the divorce capital of the world. The 'quickie divorce' reputation may have faded, but the many of the terms of divorce remain; including the six week residency period.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, thee divorce rate in Nevada fell between 2005 and 2011. But the divorce rate is still the highest in the nation- 5.6 per every 1000 people.

John Keuscher, a local divorce attorney in Reno and partner at Anderson & Keuscher Law, says the divorce rate in Washoe County is closely tied to the housing market. He says during the recession, many couples couldn't get rid of their homes. Now with the economy seemingly on the mend, his office is seeing the number of divorce inquiries rise.

In Nevada, there are two ways couples can get divorced.

"There's the joint petition process, which is the most cost effective, efficient way," Keuscher said. "Then there's the litigation route where one party files a complaint."

But getting a divorce can be expensive. Keuscher says the cost of a divorce could be the reason why the majority of couples in Washoe County navigate the process on their own.

"I think the latest numbers I heard were in the 70% range," he said. "It's an income issue. I don't think it's because they don't want a lawyer. They just can't afford it."

In May of 2011, Lori Archer's marriage had officially ended after she discovered her ex-husband had been living a double life. Though she started off the process with a lawyer, because of her ex-husbands actions, Archer couldn't afford to keep paying the fees.

"It was difficult because we were left with nothing," she said. "We had no assets. We had to rely on family and really good friends."

Fortunately for Archer, and other couples struggling financially, there are ways to navigate the divorce process on a budget.

"There's a self-help center in downtown at the in the Family Court building," Keuscher said. "They have certain forms people can fill out and they'll answer basic questions. "They can't give legal advice but that's one option for people who can't afford to retain an attorney. "

Archer says the self-help center was a valuable asset as she went through the divorce process.

"It's very difficult to navigate the legal system. The paper work is annoying to say the least, and there are a lot of hoops to jump through."

With the self-help center, and through her own research, Archer was able to represent herself successfully in court.

But Archer is quick to point out that she didn't do any of it on her own.

"You're not alone, even if you're navigating alone," she said. "Don't be afraid to ask questions, there's a lot of free help out there. "

Keuscher says there are other ways to save money during a divorce.

"They can use one attorney as a mediator, and that attorney wouldn't represent any side. That's a way to save cost."

His company offers a service to look over documents you completed yourself for a flat fee,

But Keuscher suggest when at all possible, get your own representation, because they will have your best interests in mind.

Especially when it comes to custody.

"A lot of people want to say, 'Oh we figured it out so just put it in there however you want' and that's not really a wise way to do it," Keuscher said. "Even if the parties are amicable with each other, you should have a structured custody agreement."

Keuscher sends out a strong warning to people considering divorce. Anything you say or do can be held against you. Though Nevada is a no fault state, your words and actions can be used against you when splitting up property, deciding alimony, or determining custody.

"A lot of people are very casual about their social media and we've seen that impact cases where child custody has been involved," Keuscher said. "If there's something in your court document that's inconsistent with your social media page, that can be used against you to show your credibility."

So that scathing comment you made about your spouse online, or the party pictures you posted from Friday night, could impact how often you get to see your children. Keuscher says your text messages could also be used to determine custody, so think before you hit send.

"It's because the judge has to decide what's best for the kids." He says the amount of people who still don't have privacy settings in place amazes him.

In light of how common divorces are, Keuscher says he sees more and more couples planning for the worst.

"In our society now, and I think it's been that way for a couple decades now, divorce is just something that happens in life and a lot of times it's out of your control, People are aware of it as a possibility and have to prepare themselves for that.

Which is why more people are signing pre-nups.

"We see those more and more. It use to be limited to an amount of sub cases where there was a significant difference in wealth, and I think they are becoming more common because they put minds at ease," Keuscher said.

TALKING TO KIDS ABOUT DIVORCE:

When Archer was going through her divorce, her daughter asked the question no parent wants to hear.

"She asked, 'Were you and daddy fighting over something I did?"

Doctor Jill Packman, a family therapist says in an ideal situation, no matter the tension between them, parents should sit down together and explain the divorce to kids.

"Really sit down with the child and say, 'This isn't about you. We still love you very much. This is really about us and our relationship.'"

Dr. Packman, says kids don't need to know the details of why parents are separating, and she would never recommend parents tell their kids about an affair.

"That's a grown up issue," she said. "If they want to ask questions give them the facts. My statement would be, 'Mommy or Daddy hurt me. They still love you very much, we just can't live together anymore.' They don't need to know the details."

For Archer, part of the healing process was letting her kids know they could talk to her and ask questions.

"I never found that I had to start the conversations," she said. "I actually tried not to. I always felt if there was something they wanted to talk about they would come to me and as long as I didn't push aside their questions, I think then they can explore it and open up."

Dr. Packman says if kids ask directly about an issue, like infidelity, she would suggest letting them talk to the parent who had the affair.

Archer says, though she kept the lines of communication open, she was careful to hide some of her ex's actions to protect the kids.

"Sometimes you have to create acts of omission, and not tell them about certain things. And I think the reason for that was because I was still hoping they could build a relationship with their dad and so I wanted them to still be positive when they went to see him."

Dr. Packman says be careful about tearing down the other parent in front of the child.

"The best thing a parent can do, as hard as it is, is just to remind the child that the [other] parent loves them," she said. Even though you're angry and you're hurt, and you keep saying, 'How could they do this to us?', it's important to tell the kids that it's not because of them.

Dr. Packman says both parents should be prepared for any anger their child may feel. While that anger may last for a while, she says the important thing is to keep reminding them that you love them.

"Children often get angry and upset with the parent they feel safest being angry and upset with," she said. "Let them know they can be angry at you, that you wish this weren't happening either."

For Archer, the most important part of healing with creating structure. She sacrificed trying to rebuild her social life to make sure they stayed in the same home and school.

"I wanted them to have consistency because they're dad moved around a lot," she said. "Just because one person in the family is gone, doesn't mean we're not a family anymore,"

MOVING ON:

Though it was her marriage that crumbled, Archer's focus for the next few years after the divorce was on her kids.

"My life has been my children," she said. "Putting aside my own needs because that wasn't what mattered."

What mattered in making sure the kids became comfortable in the new normal.

"I bought a trailer and we would go out camping," she said.

It was in those moments that the healing really began.

"I think what worked for us was finding time to have those discussions where we were really just us," she said. "It was taking us out of the elements, like not having the conversations at school or even at home."

Without life's distractions, the kids were able to talk about the feelings and begin to heal.

Now, about 3 years later, Archer has started focusing on her own healing.

"I'm a slow starter on this," she said. "It took a lot of time for me to restart my personal life. It's hard as a single parent, you've got to work, you've got to be there for them.

She says though the kids always come first, she is starting to take more time for herself.

"I started to enjoy my female friends. I'm now closer to my female friends than I ever had been in my life.

The biggest lesson Archer said she learned from this crisis, was though at times she felt alone, there were always people there to help and pull her up.

"You're going to make it," she said. "Don't be afraid to talk to people about what's going on. My parents and good friends were all there. I couldn't have done it without them and if I had kept it to myself, I wouldn't have known that I had them."


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