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You can survive Disney. What about surviving Divorce?

I have just returned from a wonderful week at Disney World with my son, two couples and their children: 5 adults and 5 children in all[1].   Strangely enough, as I sat on a bench waiting for the afternoon Pixar parade to begin, and as I was listening to (ok eavesdropping on) the conversations of other park visitors, it struck me just how similar surviving Disney is to surviving divorce. So I thought in this blog post, I would provide some tips on how to do both.[2] Feel free to use whatever applies to your particular circumstances at the present time, whether it be separating or planning a Disney vacation. [3]

  1. Consult with/hire an expert

When considering a Disney vacation, speak to and meet with an expert. We met with a cousin of mine who worked at Epcot for a few years and who still visits Disney at least once a year. Nancy gave us invaluable “insider tips” on what to do when and how. Nancy knows the parks inside out, advised our group on what rides to do in what order and even shared secret spots from which to watch parades and fireworks. Combined with our own planning (see Tip #2), Nancy’s advice made our trip easier and more enjoyable.

When considering separation, speak to a family law specialist. This is (most likely) your first time at the dance. It shouldn’t be your lawyer’s too. Hire an expert who will provide you with specialized and up to the minute information. This individual will be well versed in the statutes and the case law. She will know what to do, when and how. Plus, someone who knows the ropes and has good relationships with other members of the bar will be better able to work with the other side to your advantage.

  1. Plan, but expect the unexpected

Before we left Toronto, each adult had taken a park and a day and sketched out a tentative itinerary for that day. We wanted to have an idea of what rides and shows would be more popular, what needed to be “hit” early in the day, what was a must see and what could be skipped. Some of us planned more generally and others of us scheduled the day in fifteen minute increments. Ultimately, we did rely on these plans to guide us when we got to the parks. But, regardless of how beautiful we all thought our schedules were, we were prepared to throw the schedule out the window – to expect the unexpected and go with the flow. It is impossible, for example, to co-ordinate pit stops for five children between the ages of 4 and 10, so we spent more time than expected in Disney bathrooms. We did not predict that Jane would leave her sunglasses at StarTours, thereby forcing us to circle back to the ride to look for (and, yes, hurray, find) the glasses. Lastly, steadfastly sticking to “the plan” would have prevented our group from experiencing such wonders as the butterfly garden or a movie set of New York City, complete with spraying fire hydrant, since none of these stops were on the schedule.

You and your lawyer will come up with a plan for your case. Lots of thought and effort will go into that plan. It will be a good one. There will be a schedule for what has to be done when, what documents must be served and filed and what meetings will be held. Regardless of the schedule, a good lawyer (and a good client) is always ready to seize the moment. Take an unforeseen settlement opportunity, even if it was not planned for. Accept a fortuitous turn of events. And a good lawyer will be able to help you navigate through any unpleasant surprises your case may bring, for example when you learn that the money Aunt Agnes willed to you and which you used to pay for home improvements will not be credited to you in any way. The joys of surviving divorce!

  1. Say “Yes” whenever possible

My wise friend Honey observed that, as parents, we say no a whole bunch. This is probably not a revelation to many readers. As parents of young children, we find ourselves saying no rather frequently. So, at Disney, we all made an effort to say yes more often. Yes, we can go on that ride again (well, you can go on that ride again. I will stay with the stroller while you ride around backwards in the dark at 100 kilometres an hour). Yes, you can be the one to unlock the hotel room door (even though it takes you ten minutes to put the key card in the lock and I am carrying two suitcases and a gym bag full of stuff). Yes, if you want to spend some of your money[4] on a five dollar light up noise-maker in the shape of Buzz Lightyear that will not even survive the day, forget about the flight home, yes, yes you can. We did say it was your choice and your money, after all. And maybe when Buzz breaks a half hour from now, it will be a teaching moment.

The same holds true for family law. If you can say yes, why not say it. If it really doesn’t matter to you, don’t pretend that it does. If you don’t care about the china, don’t insist on splitting it just because you can. You might get some goodwill from giving up the entire set. Often times, clients think saying no is a better opening position than simply agreeing right off, the “make it look like a concession” theory of negotiation. Although such positional negotiation might sometimes work, I find principled negotiation to be more effective. Be honest about what you want and what is important to you. If it makes no difference to you when the alternate weekend schedule starts, and you know your ex wants the first weekend, give it to her. As my Aunt Millie used to say, you get more flies with honey. Plus, then when you must say no, your refusal has meaning and your ex is more likely to take it seriously.

[1] The names have been changed to protect the innocent.

[2] For the remaining Disney/Divorce tips, please tune in for my post on April 10, 2012.

[3] And, no, I am not endorsed or sponsored by Disney. The same tips probably apply to Sea World, Universal Studios or even African Lion Safari. I just happen to have gone to Disney.

[4] The adults agreed to give each child $20.00 to purchase memento(s) from Disney. Some of the children chose better than others.

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