Unconscious uncoupling and cleaning up the mess

A friend of mine, Cheryl (not her real name), sent me this note:

Dear Jane,

I am feeling lonely in my relationship and am not sure what to do. My husband is not interested in doing anything with me. I am taking courses and connecting with friends and he is mostly at home on the computer or playing video games. I try to connect and share, and he listens but doesn’t connect around it.

Other than me feeling lonely in my marriage, I have nothing to complain about. We get along fine when we are doing chores around the house and eating meals and stuff like that. He is a nice guy and has a good job; he doesn’t drink or anything like that. Am I expecting too much?

I am interested in your advice, just in case I wake up one day and feel sick and tired of feeling so lonely all the time.

Cheryl’s message made me think of how many people do this “unconscious uncoupling” thing… without even thinking about it. It starts with leading separate lives, punctuated by a few shared moments. Then the confusion and the mess and an overwhelming decision of what to do next.

At least, that’s how it happened to me.

Years ago, all I remember was just trying to get through each day, especially when the kids were little. Those were the days when the kids needed so much: lunches packed, uniforms ironed, laundry two and three times a day, their baths, their strollers, their appointments…

…And the mess, all over the place, all the time. All that work before (sometimes during) and after my own work hours. Most weekends, I was all over the map. From music lessons, birthday parties and soccer clinics, I had to buy a car with a GPS. On some lucky weekends, I had a husband (aka my weekend co-worker) to share the dishwashing, diapering and the driving.

Then one day I woke up and realized that the kids were teenagers. All of a sudden, the craziness came to an abrupt end. My husband started doing stuff on his own and so did I.

Pretty soon…BAM! We were living like Cheryl and her husband. Alone. Separate. Uncoupled, unconsciously.

As a family law lawyer, I know what usually happens next. But in my own story, I was blind sighted. Many others who come to me are also blind sighted when their husbands (as mine did) disclose one day: “I met someone” (or, “This is not working”, or “I am moving out”, or “I can’t do this anymore”). Of course, it could’ve been me saying all of this, but the mess and confusion that follow are the same.

What did I do?

Because I am a Collaborative Lawyer, and I really truly believe in doing what’s best for everyone (me, him, the kids – OMG the kids), my response to him was: “Let’s do this collaboratively.”

My only mistake at the time was to also say: “Let’s just do this without lawyers, ok?” After all, I am a Collaborative family law Lawyer. I know this stuff.

In hindsight though, I could have really used a Collaborative Lawyer who:

A) guided me through the mess and confusion with a caring voice;
B) focused me on my next steps; and
C) helped me clean up the emotional mess, by way of A) and B).

Call me! I will help you with all your ABC’s. I’ve been there. I can become your Collaborative family Lawyer that I wish I had.

When you are in love…

Why would you need a lawyer when you are in love?

We all know our brains become a little atrophied when cupid’s arrow strikes. Not only does it feel like your love will never change, but you can’t imagine anything in your life changing.

I had a lovely woman (Lila) walk into my office asking me to review a cohabitation agreement. Not unusual since statistics show that between 2006 and 2011, common law couples (those who opt to cohabitate) rose nearly 14% in Canada (more than a 40% increase than in married couples). She was a very bright and ambitious woman, stylish too. She was also in love. Lila had a simple request: she wanted me to provide her with Independent Legal Advice about the agreement that her common law spouse (Alex) had asked her to sign.

Lila was a highly sought-after graphic artist. She told me she didn’t need Alex’s money, or his house (which he owned and they both lived in), or the shares of his business (of which he was the major shareholder) – which is why she wanted to sign an agreement that said so. Alex said that he would always take care of Lila even if she signed an agreement that said she would get nothing after a break-up. His word was good enough for Lila.

I asked Lila to imagine a world 10 years from now where she and Alex have 2 kids; the same house that they now call their family home has been lovingly decorated by her; and Alex does something unimaginable, unexpected…he leaves her and the kids. Could she really walk way from her life with no strings attached?

Lila became visibly flush with this visualization. I hated to do this, but I turned up the heat. What if, in this scenario, Lila decided not to work after the birth of their first beloved child? What if Lila continued to stay home after their second child? And what if Lila discovered that it became increasingly difficult for her to re-enter the workforce?

So, here is Lila with no job, no income, 2 kids and a house that she had no rights to. Meanwhile she has helped Alex build the business that is now a multibillion-dollar conglomerate by hosting dinner parties for his associates, taking care of the kids on her own and most of all, by being there for him.

Sound scary? It could be if you don’t think carefully and clearly about what you would like to do, now and later.

Yes, money is taboo and it might kill the mood for a while. But talking about it now is not nearly as scary as the scenario I’ve drawn for Lila. It might even turn out to be good for you and your partner to learn how to tackle difficult conversations. Think of it as a manual or a playbook for “just in case.” It’s so you’ll know what to do if you separate or, worse, if something should happen to your partner.

The process is not complicated. We look at the finances at stake. We look at how any assets might be divided, or how one person will support the other if necessary. We talk about the kinds of scenarios that put you at risk.

Lots to think about? Yes.

Talk to a lawyer? Yes, preferably between falling in love…and…signing a cohabitation agreement!