Welcome to the Koenig|Dunne blog. We have three different blog series for you to find inspiration and encouragement as you go on this journey:
- Doing Divorce, A thoughtful discussion about divorce: Angela Dunne provides practical advice based on real examples of what she and her clients have faced through the transition of divorce.
- Divorce Made Simple: Our attorneys breakdown the divorce process in a way that is easy to understand.
- Money Matters: Patrick Patino provides a fresh, insightful approach to discussing everyday finances by delving into the financial topics of everyday life.
- NEXT: An Empowerment Series: Attorney and life coach Susan Koenig guides, supports, and inspires you on the journey of creating a life you love.
It took me nearly nine years to clean one closet. After John died and most of his clothes had made it to the men’s shelter like he’d asked, I attempted to clear it but mostly kept it crammed with everything from seldom worn jackets to supplies for making vision boards.
Unlike me, John delighted in getting rid of things. Because his journey from a terminal diagnosis to the day he left this earth spanned over a decade, I watched him part with everything from business receipts to a beloved acreage in the country. He had room for morning meditation, calling faraway friends, and playing cribbage.
Letting go has never been my strong suit. My son once opened my kitchen drawer and declared I had “a vegetable peeler problem.” Pausing long enough to decide whether 25 tubes of half used lip color are too many doesn’t seem like a priority when there is a party to attend or a pot of bean soup to be made.
Marie Kondo’s first bestselling book on transforming your life by getting rid of stuff came out the year John died. The advice to toss tons of paperwork didn’t resonate for the veteran lawyer in me. Still, I kept the book along with the few hundred others throughout my home. My joy is apparently sparked by a lot of subjects.
But it was time.
I pulled out his tuxedo tucked in the far back. Worn each December at the fundraiser held in memory of my late brother, its size surprised me as I pictured his rail thin body in the end. I let go of the books on blood type but kept the one from his favorite guru. I opened the box enclosing over a hundred cards of condolences, rereading each one.
The pandemic places loss before us each day. Our hearts are repeatedly opened and perpetually aching. What is the source of our solace? Where can we count on comfort? How can we keep breathing? How much capacity does one human have?
I make the stacks. Give away. Throw away. Put away. I do not rush.
I am a forever a student of seeking to see what no longer serves me. Of what is taking up space. Of what is possible if I would only make room.
When there is no going back to what once was, I keep asking the questions. I find solace in remembering. I find comfort in the order. Eventually I breathe a small sigh of relief.
I’ve made a start at making room for what will be.
Is it time for you to let go of something?
Where would you like to have more space in your life?
What might be possible if you had room for the new?
When recent results from the Covid-19 Impact Survey revealed that 6 out of 10 of us had felt anxious, depressed, lonely, or hopeless in the preceding 7 days, I was reminded of that which I have mostly had the luxury of merely observing.
I heard the buzzing open of two sets of locked doors that clang loudly behind you as you enter the hospital unit where your possessions are in a locked metal cabinet and the walls are bare of objects of interest to those skilled in suicide attempts.
I witnessed the weeping father who would not see his little boys on Christmas because his malfunctioning brain led him to beat them.
I stood in the darkened hallway in hushed conversation about how long our loved one should remain on the ventilator after the umpteenth suicide attempt appeared finally to be successful.
Because of a blessing of the genes that formed my brain and a life free of the horrors of trauma, I have only had a spoonful of the feelings of daily living with anxiety, depression, or a host of other states.
As a young lawyer I had a glimpse of obsessive thoughts that kept me up half the night, fearful I would fail a vulnerable child in a custody trial the next morning. As a widow I knew the feeling of wanting to stay in the dark under the bedcovers until eternity.
These were passing seasons of feelings others face for a lifetime.
May is Mental Health Month. 1 in 5 Americans experience mental illness each year. We know this year is like no other. 18% live with an anxiety disorder. That was pre-pandemic. The millions that make up these numbers don’t set apart the caretakers, whose challenges have grown exponentially. These numbers do include your family, your coworkers, your neighbors, and your friends.
If your struggle is chronic or temporary, know that you are not alone. If you are spared, be grateful. And in all cases, call forth your compassion. Whether you have a diagnosis or simply a bad day, we could all use more of that right now.
For more information or to download the Covid-19 Resource and Information Guide for answers to frequently asked questions on topics from managing anxiety and social isolation to accessing health care and medications, visit www.nami.org.
Excitement is building with news of states opening back up after the initial wave of COVID in our community. That old familiar feeling of what can only be explained as bubbles swirling in my stomach and heart on the precipice of bursting. I put pen to paper this week planning those first steps back into what we hope will be “back to normal life.” It is my responsibility to prepare the action plan for my team.
Sometimes I think this shouldn’t be my job. Patience has long been a virtue that I have failed time and time again to achieve. Add that to the headstrong and stubborn Taurus traits I have wielded my entire life and the core of me can be a disaster waiting to happen when “phasing-in” and steadiness are required.
I recall another slightly exhilarating but ultimately terrifying re-entry I was to make after my divorce decree was signed and entered. In that time, the prospect of new love, owning a home on my own, and caring for my children no longer with my partner both overwhelmed and excited me. It was trying on my old, but now new again, name.
My heightened nerves hesitated each time I went to dip my proverbial toe in the water. Sometimes the bravest days are those taken after the storm. The rebuilding in vulnerability is nothing short of frightening. Will it be wonderful in new ways, or will it be worse, thus realizing our most dreaded of fears?
I look in my worn and weathered toolbox for the tool to help me surmount my typical ways and to support my will. Perspective. That looks like the tool that is needed now.
I intuitively know that I need patience, perspective, and steadiness. I just wrote it out. I know well my antsy feelings and cravings for relief after chronic stress. I know these knee-jerk reactions have not served me well in the past with failed rebound relationships, failed housing transactions that led to 4 moves in the span of 45 days, and children getting a half-engaged mom due to the distractions of my rush for re-entry.
Perspective. Pacing. Breathing.
I need to allow the wisdom from my past rushing to guide me now for the best outcome. This has only been 60 days. 60 more with a steady and safe plan is doable. I write my intentions: To keep my team safe and healthy; To keep my team’s families safe and healthy; To care for my clients and meet their needs; To be patient, loving and thoughtful.
I can pace myself and plan to re-enter. I see the rush and can avoid it. I allow my prior life lessons guide me now. Slowing down, seeing with perspective, will serve me well in creating a new and safe space. Now that’s something to be excited about.
Sometime between the fading of the hot pink blooms of the redbud trees and the arrival of the purple striped tulips, I began my daily watch. Last week I drove by to see, but it was not yet time. Patience, I reminded myself.
But now it was a Monday morning after a week of biding my time.
I awake at six. I sharpen my clippers. I put on walking shoes and my garden gloves. I find the turquoise bucket that once belonged to my late friend Mary and fill it a third full of water.
I head out, softly singing a verse of Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’ , recalling it was less than a year ago we heard it sung on Broadway. I walk down the unpaved alley lined with weeds already a yard tall. I stop behind an industrial building whose business I’ve never discerned and whose people I’ve never seen.
A row of lush green bushes stretches some twenty feet long and ten feet high. I’ve arrived at my secret spot. It is the place I go once each spring to gather my gigantic bouquet of lilacs for the law office. Annually It fills the entire lobby with a fragrance so sweet it captures you the moment you step through the door.
I looked. I didn’t see a single bloom. I looked again. I saw only one. I walked around studying the branches and could see two more rather pathetic looking bits of lavender that were out of reach.
I searched for the sign of buds. Perhaps I’d not been patient enough. Maybe I just needed to come back in a few days? But there were to be no more.
I clip one lone barely flowering stem and place it gently in my bucket. I turn and walk home.
Perhaps the lilacs were on lockdown. Perhaps they thought there was no need to show up with their usual array of admirers working remotely. Or maybe they knew Megan at the front desk would be wearing a mask covering her nose. Whatever their reason, I felt the ruin of my little lilac ritual.
It was not a one time graduation gone away, a wedding waiting for another year, or a memorial service moved to a computer screen. Still, I was sad.
The suffering of others does not result in the escape of our own, no matter how small ours or how great theirs. We each have our losses.
While my tiny tradition was not to unfold as hoped, the world gave me plenty of other May morning gifts. The dawn’s fresh air, the memory of my friend Mary and a marvelous musical, and an appreciation of being alive to experience it all.
Have you acknowledged your little disappointments?
Can you call forth self-compassion for your losses both big and small?
Can you hold both sadness and gratitude?
As our state begins to re-open for business, we all have our own definition of what it means to have “survived” the past 2 months. For some, it meant being both a daycare provider and full-time employee working from home. For others, it meant losing their job and scrambling to make ends meet until their financial stimulus arrived. For most domestic violence victims, “survival” may have meant still being here to read this blog.
I urge the readers to not rely only on our friends, family, and others in our lives to reach out to us for help. Instead, here are some very basic, useful techniques you can employ to ensure that survivors are supported during this period of transition in our communities:
- STAY CONNECTED: Silence from a survivor in your life can be a very dangerous sign. Even though you may not be ready to physically connect again, reach out to them in any way you can. Using technology – Zoom, Skype, phone calls, text, e-mail, etc. – first check to ensure that it is safe and secure from their abuser. Once connected, think about coming up with a game or code word that would signify they or other family members are in danger. For example, maybe talking about the weather, or asking if they tried that new apple pie recipe is code for them telling them you they are in imminent jeopardy. First connect, and then stay connected during this transition period.
- USE EMPOWERING LANGUAGE: As my coach often reminds me, operate out of the “empowerment triangle” as much as possible, in your own life and when talking to others. After connecting to a survivor, empower them by reassuring them they are not alone. Maybe follow that up by asking what you can do to help. After some good active listening, focus the remainder of your conversation on problem-solving their immediate domestic violence problems or issues.
- HELP BRING IN THE REINFORCEMENTS: You likely will not have all the answers for a survivor during your conversation. Fortunately, in our local community we have agencies such as the Women’s Center for Advancement (WCA), Catholic Charities, and Heartland Family Services offering various domestic violence services. The WCA’s 24-hour hotline at 402-345-7273 has not stopped taking calls and engages in assistance such as helping survivors develop a safety plan and file for a protection order. Catholic Charities and Heartland Family Services offer other services, including shelters, for survivors and their immediate family.
You do not have to have “the” solution in order to offer “a” solution to a friend, family member or other in your life who needs a much-needed break from domestic violence. It is not too late to reach out to someone you have not heard from lately, especially if you know they live with domestic violence. Once connected, stay connected, and be just one of their solutions in helping them survive during this time.
Please tune in for part 3 of this blog series to see these practical tips in action.
“Was what I just said really true?” I silently asked myself. I’d just claimed I felt sad that I would not be with my children on Mother’s Day. In the moment I did feel a little sad. While not an unusual thought for a mother to have, I questioned it.
My children moved to other cities many years ago. If pressed, I could not remember the last Mother’s Day I spent with them. I have long been at peace that this day is not celebrated around mushroom quiche and mimosa toasts to my mom awesomeness.
I have been greatly spared from the biggest separation sorrows that so many are experiencing. Still, week after week I do not see my remoting work family, my siblings who live in this same city, and countless in my community clan. There is no escaping that I cannot look closely into their eyes, hear their laughter live, or give an unspoken “How much I love you!” hug.
For me, the pandemic has been a paradox when it comes to being a parent. On the one hand, I am reminded of distance. On the other hand, I have never felt closer. Occasional phone calls have become more frequent video calls. And for the first time I am on the receiving end of my children’s deep concern for my well-being as they ask about my masks, my grocery shopping, and whether I’ve fully paused on my social life that often made theirs pale in comparison.
The truth is this Sunday will be a delightful day for me like most Sundays are. I will do a little yoga. I will read the local paper and the New York Times. I’ll listen to my favorite podcast (probably taking notes). I will enjoy leisurely chopping vegetables for a relaxing dinner. My beau will take me for a drive in the country. I’ll fall asleep happy.
I will also think a lot about my children. Benjamin, who—just as the pandemic broke out—took his prayers and his talents to a new job in hot spot Los Angeles. Jack, who elected to spend the months ahead fighting forest fires instead of being safely inside his Sacramento home. Could I be more proud? And then are my stepdaughters—two teachers and one entrepreneur beauty creative—each of whom enrich my life as I witness theirs with admiration.
On Sunday I will hear my children’s voices as I see their faces on my Mac, feel my pride, and feel their love. What more could a mother ask for?
What feelings come up for you on Mother’s Day?
How can you create meaningful days?
How might you connect despite the distance?
Exhaustion, tears, and tense lines across foreheads were daily revealing themselves to me as I checked in with my team. I studied them in Brady Bunch boxes on zoom. I could feel their frustrations, fears, and as we tally-marked our COVID way through March and now through April.
Our culture is built on principle of support and I felt I was failing in fully supporting my co-workers during this pandemic. What could I do for them? Deliver gifts, coffee, what?
I thought back to the last time I felt days comparable to these. Days fluctuating on a spectrum in loneliness, self-isolation, and sometime paralyzing fear. How did I cope during my divorce? What do I wish I had done more of? Less of?
Looking back to my divorce days I wish I had been more mindful that these were not normal days and I wish I had adjusted my expectations of myself accordingly. I just kept pushing and pushing myself harder. Mental health days and self-care were not part of my divorce vernacular. These words should have been.
Mandatory mental health days. This was the answer. I issued the mandate that every three weeks team members would rotate a day out during the week to attend to their mental health. As soon as I said it, happy tears appeared.
The week we started, my social media was filled with their pictures of outdoor hikes, relaxing poses with cute pair of slippers or a book for downtime. Their gratitude for the permission to take a day off overwhelmed me.
They just needed permission.
I wish someone had given me permission to indulge in mental health care during my divorce. I wish someone had forced me. Better yet, I wish I had known how important this was – how important it is during times of chronic stress to put our mental health on the map. I wish I knew then what I know now – which is I have the power to give myself permission.
May Day reminds me of how I’ve never been good the anonymous acts of kindness.
I do love to help. With three younger siblings there was always a child in need of shoe tied or a nose wiped. When I was old enough to babysit for other families, I delighted in sweeping the floors and doing the dishes to please the returning parents. By junior high, volunteering was vital in my life.
First as a lawyer, now as an executive coach, helping is my jam. An enneagram assessment affirms my identity as a Number Two—The Considerate Helper. Being kind is easy. Being anonymous not so much for me.
Unlike countless friends and family I could name (naming them would rob them of their incognito intention), I feel compelled to tell someone else about good things I’ve done. It’s quite unattractive.
I know people who’ve sacrificed vast quantities of time, money, and blood with most people in their life never knowing. For years they give and give without the need to mention it to a soul. The joy in their giving is enough.
When my children were growing up, we celebrated secret giving by making May Day deliveries. We fashioned little handled baskets with colored construction paper, filled them with candy and nuts, and hung them on the doors of neighbors. Ringing the bell and running away before anyone saw gave great delight to the giver.
For someone who is well loved by many, it both surprises and disappoints me to see how I seek assurance from the outside that I am a good person inside. Yet I make a boastful beg for the approval of others under the guise of simply sharing. In contrast to the joy in the giving, a sad dose of shame is delivered the instant I speak of the deed. While there are many out there inspiring good acts, I know myself too well to claim that’s my goal.
In this era of compulsory COVID adaptability, I now add staying silent more often to the list of useful skills to develop when the old ways of doing things no longer work.
Wanting to keep my neighbors safe, there will be no May Day baskets this year. I may do some other kind act, but I promise not to tell you if I do.
Happy May Day.
How does being kind bring you joy?
When is remaining silent the better choice for you?
What skills do you want to develop during this time?
I woke up with a jump-start. I showered, shaved, and slathered on my favorite smelling lotion. Despite day 41 of sheltering in place, I was determined. It was my birthday. I LOVE birthdays! I was going to make this day feel as pre-pandemic as possible – and the next day. My newly minted sixteen-year-old and I share back-to-back birthdays. For her milestone day with no driving to be done – I was on a magic making mission.
The day started with a sweet delivery from my dear friend – literally a box full of treats from the best bakery in town. When I picked up my girls from their dad’s house they were infused with the enthusiasm that birthdays were about to bring. My mom, my sister and my best friend all individually called to serenade me with the birthday song.
My best intentions were soon laid bare. My sister told me my niece wanted to Facetime while I opened my birthday gifts. Oh. There are no gifts I replied. This did not make me sad as I understood that delayed deliveries were common and my feeling loved currency runs more in words than in physical gifts.
But a curious thing happened to me in that moment. I was instantaneously transported to an old wound from 16 years prior. It was one of those small injuries to the heart that occur for people on their path to divorce. It was another birthday I did not receive a gift.
I labored all day with my firstborn daughter on my 29th birthday. She was arriving early and I secretly crossed my fingers that she would wait until after the stroke of midnight so we could each have our separate birthdays. I went to work that day, contractions and all, to ensure order for my clients during my maternity leave.
When I arrived home that evening there was no birthday cake and not a single pretty package waiting to be opened. My spouse dryly said that he gave me the baby and that should be the best gift of all time. True. And I was so hurt. 16 years later that sting was just as sharp.
In our post-divorce lives we never know when these memories will sneak up and tap us on the shoulder. We never know when abruptly we will need to go lay down and take a nap to shake off our sadness. Yes, even 9 years after my divorce, the grief comes and goes.
A little-known fact about many of us divorcees: we tend to beat ourselves up long after the decree is signed for failing at marriage. We worry about any invisible damage done to our kids, about whether our hearts will ever love and be loved again, and even years later if we made the right decision.
In these moments, when a tiny memory of a relationship turning rocky surfaces, it brings both grief and a gift. It brings hurt, but after we rise from our thoughts (or our nap) we are reminded of the hardness we have overcome. We are reminded of the why our journey was formed. And we see yet clearer still the renewed versions of ourselves that have been born.
I rose from my bed with the afternoon sun shining down on me and went to the kitchen. My youngest was baking me a birthday cake and my oldest had laid out a handmade card full of all the words I needed to feel so very loved. I see the gift of my grit, the gifts of my girls, and my birthday spirit is renewed.
“Social Distancing,” “6-feet apart,” “remote learning.” By now, after barely a month since the world we came to know changed, such terms have become so widely used that they need no further explanation. And, in practicing them, we’ve all become a little more familiar with the concept of a “break.” A break for employees having to dress appropriately and go to the office every day. A break for students having to sit through another boring social studies class right after lunch period. A break for all of us having to fight a large crowd just to get into our favorite bar or restaurant on a Saturday night. These breaks are all consequences of the larger social goal that most of us can agree is a very good thing – slowing the scourge of COVID-19.
Unfortunately, many of the people that we no longer see in-person during our daily routines continue to suffer from another scourge – domestic violence. You probably didn’t even know these were domestic violence survivors when you saw them at the office, or when they taught your child at school, or when you shared a drink with them after work. Yet, there they were, well within 6 feet of you, most likely putting on a brave face and smile if, for no other reason, that in that moment they had a BREAK from what awaited them back home.
Now, most businesses are working remote, bars and restaurants are empty, the schools are closed, and the survivor’s breaks are gone. Just as important, the breaks for the children who were once in school, sports, or other activities during the day are gone as well. The social isolation that our local and national leaders tell us is so important to practice in combatting the spread of COVID-19, is the same isolation that an abuser now exploits against his victim in the name of public health and social consciousness.
In the midst of the world changing before our very eyes, society has taken a break from talking about almost anything else but the pandemic. Right now, it is necessary for all of us to prioritize slowing the spread as much as possible because COVID-19 is here, it is widespread, and it is killing our family and friends. We know this because nearly every news channel has a running ticker on the number of new cases and deaths. In fact, it is impossible to take a break from talking about COVID-19 with at least one other person every day.
As our social isolation continues, it will also become impossible to take any more breaks from addressing domestic violence as well. Why? Because the longer we are forced to take all of these breaks necessary in slowing the spread of COVID-19, the more domestic violence will continue to spread amongst our loved ones and friends, in the dark and behind closed doors. COVID-19 will not be the only scourge that needs to be slowed. Eventually, the survivors – our teachers, co-workers, friends, and family – will need their breaks again. To learn how you can give breaks to domestic violence survivors during this time, make sure to tune into part 2 of this series.
The speed with which it lodged in my throat took me by surprise. What had begun with the sharing of a lighthearted meme ended with me feeling like I might cry over two tiny words from Brian. Brothers can do that to you.
I grew up with five brothers, three older, two younger. I was six years old when my sixth brother, Howard, joined the family, marrying my older sister Diane. All save one always lived within a half hour drive of me.
I lost my brother Tim at 35 and my brother-in-law Howard after 46 years of marriage to my sis.
When Kevin and I started dating, I got my first glimpse of another brood of five brothers. They played Sunday golf with churchly dedication, never missed a birthday at Mama’s Pizza, and formed their own five man Chicago Bears fan club.
As one by one they quietly stepped across the living room to hand me their gift, my jaw dropped and my eyes filled. I hadn’t expected them to be my brothers on our very first Christmas.
As Covid-19 brings continued separation from our families, everyone searches for reminders of who and what matters most. My brother Dave drives his wife from their quiet country home into the metropolitan medical center for chemo, leaving her at the door. My brother Tom ends his dream trip to Bali with my sister-in-law, returning with a sore throat and cough at age 71. My brother Mel keeps his monthly commitment to donate blood platelets like those once given to his wife in her final days.
Despite Howard’s death, he returns to me to bring a chuckle when I hear my nephew’s laugh that sounds just like his dad. My younger brother Tim visits regularly, reminding me to love my family well and that days on this earth are limited for all of us.
And with two simple words, “We’re here,” Brian reminds me that neither quarantine nor death can separate us from those we love. We’re here and so is the love.
I’m in no hurry to be reminded of this wisdom by the loss of a loved one. Stay at home advice is plenty.
Be safe, my brothers all.
What helps you to remember what’s most important?
Whose love can you feel despite the distance?
Who might you connect with who is longing to know you’re there?
Anthony Fauci and I go way back. His name became a household word to me not from his recent appearances as the expert at the daily briefings of the White House Corona Virus. We go back decades.
In the 1980s my brother Tim and his partner John bought a beautiful a two-story Victorian home in Atlanta. Together they ran a small café on Peach Street called Neon Peach. It was the start of the AIDS epidemic, and John was struck with the mysterious virus.
AIDS was a full-blown crisis when the first clinical trials for a vaccine started in 1987 at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland began in 1987. With no cure available, John agreed to participate. Anthony Fauci, who by then had already been at NIH a few years, was his doctor.
Tim became John’s caretaker. Despite John getting sicker, they repeatedly packed up their hope to make the ten hour drive each way between Atlanta and Bethesda for treatment. Dr. Fauci’s name became a household word along with the experimental drug name AZT and “T-cell count” which told us the rate at which HIV was killing cells and killing John.
John died. The Neon Peach closed. Tim, a skilled carpenter, lost the house he’d dedicated years restoring. In 1990 he moved back home to the Midwest.
Tim lived with HIV/AIDS, strongly stoic as our German parents had taught, until his death in 1994. Three years later, the FDA had approved the first of the “cocktail” combination of drugs that would result in people living long lives with HIV/AIDS.
Today when I watch Dr. Fauci on the podium giving reports on health and hope for our country in the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, I see someone who has dedicated his life to finding possibility and giving guidance when the world seems dark and the path unseen.
Dr. Fauci’s research could not save John, or my brother, or the 32 million people around the world who died from HIV/AIDS. But when I see his face, I see a friend. A friend who gives comfort. A friend who gives faith that while people will continue to die for a very long time, the dedicated people in health care who have always served us will continue to do so if we continue to support them.
Who is a friend you gives you comfort now?
Is there a health care worker who needs your support?
Are you willing to hold on to hope for the future?
I broke down in front of my girls. Now it was my turn to cry under the stress of it all. It was Easter. No family gathering. A pre-made rather than homemade meal was planned. The girls’ Easter baskets were empty for the first time in history because the gift I planned to give was on back-order due to high demand under the pandemic (it wasn’t toilet paper – it was a gaming system).
Then my girls were being playful and reciting what Easter would “normally” be like. Their grandparents and uncle would be over for dinner. Their aunt and cousins would be late and only come for dessert because they would spend time with the other side of their family. We would all get dressed up, set the table with china, and delight in our annual bunny cake. That is what it is normally like. We are normally a family filled with fun traditions around holidays.
On the way to Hy-Vee to pick up my pre-made meal, I started crying in the car. I didn’t want Easter to be now – like this. I wanted my family with me. I wanted there to be complaints about me ruining the mashed potatoes… again. I didn’t want to be crying on Easter in front of my daughter.
Anna sat in the car while I ran in to get the meal and compose myself. When I returned she sadly observed that it was like living in an end-of-the-world movie. No one was talking to each other. No one was smiling. People were distanced from each other.
I was raw and restless in the face of this reality. Hopelessness fell over me and weighed me down. I just wanted to claw my way out of this version of life.
But more than that, I want my freedom back. I miss sitting on the soccer fields for hours in the spring. I miss driving my girls around on the weekends and hearing their happy chatter and gossip about school. I miss having their best friends over every weekend they are with me for sleepovers – they have become our adopted family. I miss my actual family – so much. I just cannot do it anymore.
I have had these hard holidays before. Those holidays that first met me without my girls during the first year post-divorce. I recalled how I got through. I remembered. I chose to make the holidays special no matter the circumstances. No matter if that meant we had Thanksgiving on a Saturday instead of Thursday. No matter if that meant we moved birthday party days around within a week or two of the actual day. I knew how to do this.
We got home and I hopped in the shower. I instructed the girls to arrive for dinner in their Easter best. I soon heard them happy and giggling from the bathroom as they applied make-up and did their hair. I pulled out the china and candles for the table. I decorated my bunny cake with flare. I heated up our pre-made meal and transferred the contents to bright and colorful casserole dishes.
I shifted my focus from lack to love. I looked instead to the positive instead of to pity. Just like I have done so many times before as a divorced mom. I see that the hardness of my divorce has well prepared me for all of the hard moments to come. I chose to take that in as an Easter blessing.
Timing of Stimulus Checks
The IRS has just announced that a significant disbursement of CARES Act stimulus checks will be paid starting the week of April 12, 2020. This round of payments will include over 80 million Americans, including nearly all 2018 and 2019 tax filers who utilized direct deposit for refunds from the IRS. The online banking software for many financial institutions will reflect pending deposits for these stimulus checks starting a few days before they are deposited. Other individuals entitled to stimulus payments should receive physical checks within the next six to eight weeks.
IRS Portal Update
The IRS had originally announced plans for an online portal to allow tax filers to update and change their direct deposit information before their receipt of stimulus payments. This tool may have proved to be especially important between high conflict divorcing spouses or coparents. However, as of today (April 14, 2020), the IRS has updated its intentions surrounding the online portal to effectively prevent direct deposit changes for millions of Americans.
Currently, the ability to update direct deposit information is limited to only persons who did not file tax returns in both 2018 and 2019 and who do not receive Social Security benefits or Railroad Retirement benefits.
While the IRS has promised a “Get My Payment” tool for filers that will launch sometime over the coming weeks to allow stimulus recipients to track their stimulus payments and to update their direct deposit information, it is unclear whether this tool will be available before stimulus payments are paid. For more information, please visit: https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/economic-impact-payments
“It’s not the same.”
The Passover Seder. The Easter egg hunt. The annual spring garden tour. Missing is the uncle sitting beside us at the table, the pairs of little legs racing for the same egg hidden in the dewy grass, sharing the sweet smell of spring’s first hyacinth bloom.
Virtual can be beautiful. And it’s not the same.
My heart is sore from the small stabs of sorrows from the phrase I utter at every turn. Meeting with teammates: Not the same. Graduation celebration: Not the same. Fundraisers for my favorite causes: Not the same.
Despite gratitude that I could watch my nephew’s wedding —held in a neighboring state—on a screen, I longed to see the lace of the bride’s dress up close and to scoop up the flower girl in a hug.
Even as I recognize that it could be “Not at all” rather than “Not the same,” comparison with the past is my brain’s persistent companion.
Dozens of my “not the same” thoughts drain my enthusiasm as each day wears on. By late afternoon, I’ve worn myself out with my own words in my head. I’ve emptied all the energy I have at a time I’ve none to spare.
Having long proclaimed that “More than one thing can be true,” I cautiously commit to remembering not only what is not the same, but also what is. To tell the truth about what is right in front of me and real, not virtual.
My lungs have not been attacked by Covid-19. The air sacs and tiny blood vessels still miraculously pump … My breathing is the same. I take a breath.
My friends and family are all still in my life. My elderly aunts in care facilities. Jan and Janet both undergoing chemo. My children who have been living in hot spots. Our love is the same. I take it in.
Covid-19 has not taken away a single one of the five red bud trees in my life. Their eagerness as they are on the brink of their beautiful spring bloom is the same. I look forward.
This Easter will not be the same. But I will dye eggs and put out pastel napkins and seriously consider baking a bunny cake. I will see my children’s faces on my laptop and they will make me laugh. I will remember those who gave me happy holiday memories and left this earth long ago.
For all that is not the same, I hope to remember and to love what is.
Are your thoughts taking your energy?
What is real in your life that you might appreciate?
What remains the same that you could focus on?
Co-parenting and divorce are difficult issues for families to navigate, and they haven’t become any easier during the current economic times and COVID-19 pandemic. On March 27th, 2020, Congress passed, and the President signed into law, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. It is an immense law (247 pages in length) that provides financial help for parents and families by authorizing “stimulus” payments from the IRS. For co-parents and divorcing spouses, a number of questions can arise regarding the implementation of stimulus checks. Here are answers to five of those frequently asked questions:
- Do I qualify for a stimulus check?
All adult American citizens and residents with legal status, who are not claimed as tax dependents, are potentially eligible to receive stimulus checks so long as their incomes do not exceed certain thresholds. For individual or married filing separately tax filers, the maximum benefit income threshold is $75,000, under which a $1,200 check will be issued; $112,500 for head of household filers, under which a $1,200 check will still be issued; and $150,000 for married filing jointly filers, under which a $2,400 check will be issued. Income is defined as the adjusted gross income reported on a filer’s 2019/2018 federal tax returns, with 2019 having priority. A smaller stimulus check may be issued if a filer’s income exceeds these threshold amounts. For more information, here is a link to a stimulus check estimator provided by H&R Block: https://www.hrblock.com/coronavirus-tax-impact/calculator/.
2. My spouse and I are in the process of getting a divorce. Who will receive the stimulus check?
- If you and your spouse filed a joint 2019 federal tax return, then the IRS will automatically issue any eligible stimulus check to the refund deposit location provided on your 2019 return.
- If both you and your spouse filed separate marital returns for 2019, then the IRS will automatically issue separate stimulus checks.
- If you and your spouse have both yet to file your 2019 federal tax return(s), then the IRS will issue payment based on your 2018 return(s).
- If you and your spouse filed a joint return for 2018 and only one of you has filed a separate return for 2019, then it is unclear how the IRS will disperse stimulus checks in this situation.
3. Are stimulus checks marital property to be divided equitably between me and my soon-to-be ex-spouse?
There is no single answer to this question. Technically, all stimulus checks are advanced tax credits for the 2020 tax year (and to dispel a common misnomer, the stimulus checks will not otherwise reduce a person’s tax refund for 2020). But to complicate things further, the stimulus amount is based on either 2019 or 2018 federal tax filings. Thus, when the stimulus benefit was “accrued” is arguable, which matters to decide whether it is marital property. Under Nebraska law, a divorce court has discretion in defining when marital property stops accruing between spouses. And this date may not be the same for valuing all assets in a marriage, including tax benefits. Accordingly, if a divorce court decides that marital property stopped accruing prior to December 31, 2020, then there is a chance that all or some of the advanced stimulus credit may not be classified as marital property, and therefore not divided equitably.
4. Between co-parents, who is entitled to our child’s stimulus check?
Again, there is no single answer to this question. Most parents of children 16 years old or younger for the 2020 tax year are eligible to receive an additional $500 stimulus credit, so long as they can claim the qualifying child on their 2020 federal tax return. A court order, such as a divorce decree, paternity decree, or temporary order, may expressly rule which co-parent is entitled to the tax benefits for a qualifying child in 2020. However, the IRS will likely advance the $500 stimulus credit to whichever parent claimed the child on his or her 2019 federal tax return (or 2018 federal tax return if neither parent has filed and claimed the child for 2019), regardless of whether this parent is ordered to receive the tax benefits for the child in 2020. If no court order has determined which parent should receive the child’s stimulus credit, then IRS rules state that the parent who has “[physical] custody for the greater portion of” 2020 should receive the stimulus credit. But in light of the uniqueness of this stimulus benefit, co-parents may, and perhaps should, agree to divide their child’s stimulus benefit equally.
5. I am afraid my spouse or co-parent will not cooperate in providing me with my portion of stimulus benefits. Is there a way to change where the IRS sends or deposits the stimulus checks?
Maybe. The IRS has promised a website portal where stimulus recipients can go to change where their stimulus benefits will be deposited. As of April 6, 2020, this portal has not yet been brought online, and the IRS has yet to state whether both spouses or co-parents must authorize changes in direct deposit information. Moreover, spouses and co-parents alike should be wary of potentially violating the terms of any court orders that may prohibit this type of action.
It should also be noted that a Nebraska court cannot directly order the IRS to pay these benefits to a specific spouse or co-parent. Instead, a Nebraska court has the authority to direct one spouse or a co-parent to pay these benefits to the other spouse or co-parent. This difference can be significant, as some spouses or co-parents delay or contemptuously refuse to follow court orders, causing delays to the other spouse or co-parent in receiving the benefit.
For more answers to questions on stimulus checks and the CARES Act, here is a nice resource published by the New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/article/coronavirus-stimulus-package-questions-answers.html.
Between co-parents and spouses, the implementation of stimulus benefits and the CARES Act is a complex legal issue. Our legal team at Koenig|Dunne has represented thousands of divorcing spouses and co-parents through tax issues and rapidly changing laws. Contact us today for more information.
It was January 21 when I made my first joke about the Covid-19. A follower of global news, so I’d heard the news from overseas. My buddy Tom’s go-to drink is a bottle of Corona with lime. I texted him:
Reports of a deadly coronavirus from China.
Be careful out there.
I ended it with a beer emoji.
For years Tom and I shared a friendship with Mary, a friendship with Mary, a tiny woman in her 80s who lived alone. Tom was her surrogate son of sorts. It was vodka for Mary, cabernet for me, and Corona for Tom until the end of life vigil kept during Mary’s final days.
After Mary’s death Tom and I talked about need for hospice care in our country. I had opinions a plenty based on months of care giving strangers in my home when my late husband was dying. Tom was always looking for the next place to help those in need.
Tom didn’t respond to my January beer joke. But later that day he did send me a link to a recent article on hospice and more people wanting to die at home.
When April Fool’s Day arrived this week I couldn’t bring myself to make any jokes. No trying to fool anyone with faux claims, hoping to evoke a good guffaw. Two months ago I saw Tom’s reply text as a non sequitur. On this first of April, everyone could believe anything and it all could be true.
I now link Covid-19 with the longing to have loved ones as close as I possibly can. I link it to the need for connection and comfort. I link it to death. None of it feels funny. Nonetheless, humor is my balm.
I laugh with my grown children doing a Sunday morning Pony Sweat video workout as we watch one another from four different cities. I laugh at just how long my list of reset passwords is getting. I laugh at the latest meme my clever coworker posts.
We don’t all have the same sense of humor about toilet paper or ventilators. We aren’t always in the same place to receive the jolliness of the well-intended jokester. But I’m counting on continued comedy to keep me carrying on.
We need everything we got to get us through.
Does humor ever help you?
Is there room to laugh in your life?
Who or what allows a little lightness in your day?
Backpack-bound and smiling, my girls pierced the silent serenity of my car talking over each other and fussing over who would sit shotgun as we pulled away from their dad’s house. They were instantly chattering about the topic of the day – the topic now of every day – coronavirus.
We hit the highlights: How was Susan’s son who lives in New York City? Are grandma and grandpa being safe when they go to the grocery store? Did I hear the annual Okoboji soccer tournament was canceled and Sophia would miss her last year? Has Traci (our ER nurse friend in South Carolina) had any patients die?
The impact in our tiny part of the world seemed so far-reaching in just a few minutes. Quiet descended into the space between us. I glanced over at Sophia in the front seat. Tears were streaming down her face. “Oh my goodness, what’s wrong?” I placed my hand on hers instantly realizing how stupid I sounded. Her big brown eyes looked at me and reached my soul with the pain I saw. I held her hand tight.
A few moments later I checked the backseat for Anna. She was turned into the window and I knew from her posture, that she too was suffering. “Anna?” She wiped her eyes before returning my gaze.
No one spoke for the remainder of the ride. When we got home, I formed a hug huddle with them. “Come here. We are going to get through this. I know you are scared. I am scared. I know you are disappointed. I am disappointed. We are a family.” The gushiness brought them back to life and they pulled away groaning at how cheesy I am.
Anxiety, inconsistency, and uncertainty abound – all around, all day. Their mom is strictly quarantining and has moved all of her employees except the bare minimum to remote work. Their dad goes into his medium-sized law office every day, fully staffed, and with no changes to his daily routine. They are not allowed to go to their friends’ houses and cannot understand the social media snaps of other friends hanging out with each other. Their grades don’t count, yet they have to continue doing schoolwork.
How am I supposed to parent through this? How am I supposed to provide calmness, stability, and structure when my own mind is constantly racing about doing everything I can to keep my firm literally alive and well, when I cry in frustration about my seventy-something aged parents not being bubble wrapped until this is over, and when I am telling my best friend he needs to sing Kenny Roger’s “Lady” at my celebration of life – just in case.
The answer? I just have to. I have to remember gratitude and remind them. I have to hold the space for their pain and not ignore my own. I have to take it minute by minute. One tiny step at a time as we navigate this and seek sense in it all.
An unspoken judgment wafted through the rear corridors of my mind every time I heard the word. People kept talking about seeking “distractions”. Meanwhile, I tried to avoid them.
I’ve long seen distractions as something that derail me from my path. The phone call that turns the broiling garlic bread to black char. The rabbit hole of the web as I procrastinate starting this week’s blog. The half package of Girl Scout Thin Mints that takes me away from a good cry.
Distractions can interfere with our goals, the precious present moment, and from what we don’t want to see. Too often in a rush, distractions only seemed to slow me down. I didn’t need distractions, I thought. Until I did.
Like most in the Midwest, many hours each day in the month of March were focused on the virus. Every day has been filled with checking in with loved ones, tackling technology challenges, and navigating self-quarantine while staying informed about the constantly changing coronavirus climate.
Who wouldn’t want a distraction?
Distraction is a useful tool for temporarily taking one’s attention away from extreme anxiety. We all have our own worries. My son in hot spot Brooklyn in the close quarters of a co-living space. My stepdaughter in an intensive care unit with an infection. My 70-year-old brother returning from international flights with a cough and fever.
Distraction gives time for the worry to subside. Distraction gives us a break. But distraction is temporary. Eventually, I have to face that which I am seeking to be distracted from.
I may need a break from technology tensions, yet I still need to take time to get those passwords reset. I may listen to my favorite playlist to ease my mind, and I still need to plan my budget.
Even our diversions need not take us away from our intentions but rather move us toward them:
I rejuvenate by researching healthy recipes…to be physically well
I meditate…to be spiritually developing
I play backgammon…to be a loving partner
Deciding my distractions in advance definitely makes it easier. Having them in writing means I can pick the one that’s right for the moment. Distractions action me closer to my most deeply held intentions rather than away from them.
When my focus is failing or my energy is dropping, I can appreciate my distractions. It’s time for setting aside our old beliefs and for using every tool we’ve got.
What intentions are guiding you right now?
What are your best distractions?
Do you have a judgment or belief it’s time to set aside?
“I don’t want to go to Dad’s. I have all of my school stuff here and I don’t want to pack it up.” I knew it would come. Last week was “I can’t wait to go” and this week it was bemoaning the same fact. Co-parenting during COVID-19 continues.
This week in my lawyer role, we saw the good, bad, and the ugly in co-parenting surface. I used to say that divorce sometimes brings out the worst in parents. Now I know better. Divorcing during a pandemic beats that by a mile.
For the most part, parents continue to follow their parenting schedules without incident. Life for these families is going on as normal. Fundamentally, these co-parents are doing a great job of not upsetting their child’s normal parenting routine/schedules when all of their other schedules have fallen by the wayside. And if these parents are anything like me, they are probably relieved when transition time comes after homeschooling their kids for any amount of time.
Then we move to those parents who parent differently and refuse to communicate with one another about their needs (for themselves and their children). Everything is transmitted in bits and pieces through their children. A parent finds out the other parent isn’t staying at home (like they are) by hearing about trips to Walmart or visits to the park to play with friends. There is no consistency between households and as a result, children are met with mixed messages.
The worst calls we received this week were those of parents in distress because the other parent was withholding the children for an exchange under the excuse of COVID-19. Children are already saddened and stressed about not seeing teachers, classmates, and coaches. Add to this that now they believe they will not see their parent for an indefinite amount of time.
For co-parents, communication is critical during these days. There is nothing in the state-issued mandates that prevents parents from exchanging their children, nor will there be even if we move to a shelter in place scenario.
As always, it means putting the love of your children above any negative feelings you have about your former partner. For some I realize that is a Herculean task, but persist. Your children need consistency, love, and connection with both parents during this overwhelming and scary time.
If you are need of additional co-parenting support during this time, please call Koenig Dunne (402) 346-1132 for legal advice with one of our lawyers. In addition, I am happy to offer Co-Parenting Coaching. I can do this via web chat, phone conference or email.
This blog is made available to the reader by Koenig|Dunne for educational purposes only, to provide general information and understanding of the law, and not to provide specific legal advice. By reading this blog, no attorney-client relationship is developed between the law firm and the reader. This blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state. The content of this blog is not an advertisement for legal services.