April 22, 2020

Our Happy Divorce and a few Covid Survival CoParenting Tips

In this episode, we are Frankly Speaking with the co-authors of Our Happy Divorce, Nikki and Ben.  

Nikki knows how being supported by a strong, loving family can influence the way a person navigates life, love, marriage, and motherhood. Having grown up as a member of the iconic San Francisco 49ers football family, she was thrown into the limelight at a young age. The values her family instilled in her have helped shape who she is today, and she continues to live by them.coparents

Ben intimately understands the detriment divorce can cause in the lives of children. The example of his parents’ divorce instilled in him a deep commitment "to do" better by his own kids. Ben is an investor, board member, philanthropist, golfer, and sports enthusiast. But above all, he is a dedicated father and family man who understands the importance of putting his ego aside and his children first.

IT  WAS  NOT  PERFECT ...

Nikki and Ben define their own personal story with us and discuss what happy looks like today. Inspired by their son, they developed ways to co-parent, step-parent with an emphasis on putting the children first. As they say, “If we can do it, anyone can do it”.

As Catherine says, "DIVORCE does not mess your kids up, it is how both parents BEHAVE before, during, and after divorce that can mess your children up."

There is a different way to get Divorced. Let’s talk about it…

  • Getting to the “Happy” … We chat about cleaning up the wreckage of the past and forgiveness.
  • How can we stop pointing the finger at our spouse and get honest with ourselves?
  • Do not fool yourself, your children know what is going on.
  • Open discussions about financial settlements and joint custody.
  • Using the Divorce Process to redefine what your life, your finances, and relationship will be like post-divorce.
  • Co-Parenting and Step-parenting survival tips during the pandemic.

Want to learn more about Our Happy Divorce? Visit their website at OurHappyDivorce.com

Whether you are thinking of divorce/separation, are in the midst of a divorce, or embarking on your new life after divorce, this episode has something to help you.

If you have questions for us or a topic you’d like us to cover, contact us at hello@mydivorcesolution.com or visit MyDivorceSolution.com

Karen Chellew:

Welcome to We Chat Divorce. Hello, I'm Karen Chellew, legal liaison, here with Catherine Shanahan, CDFA. We're the co-founders of My Divorce Solution. We're a company whose mission is to change the way people get divorced by providing a different approach, financial clarity, and an online course to help couples develop a transparent plan that will optimize the outcome of their divorce.

Karen Chellew:

Each podcast we sit down with professionals who provide insight and frank discussion on real people, real situations, and real divorce. Today we welcome Nikki and Ben, co-authors of Our Happy Divorce: How Ending Our Marriage Brought Us Together. That's fantastic. Co-founders Ben Heldfond and Nikki DeBartolo understand that no divorce is ever easy, especially for those involved.

Karen Chellew:

After nearly a decade together the couple decided to split, and inspired by their son, Asher, to find ways to happily navigate a divorce. Ben and Nikki created Our Happy Divorce, a service empowering and inspiring people to think differently about divorce, co-parenting, stepparenting, and what it means to put kids first. Nikki and Ben describe themselves as ordinary people who have accomplished something extraordinary. They have sidestepped a lot of the booby traps that make most divorces acrimonious. Nikki and Ben say, "If we can do it, you can do it." Thank you.

Ben:

No truer words have ever been spoken.

Karen Chellew:

I love that. So first and foremost, I want to say thank you for the beautiful gift you sent of your book, your bookmark. It was awesome. Beautiful gift. And for people who receive that, it's just so inspiring just to open the box and feel the book, so you guys have done a great job.

Catherine Shanahan:

Aren't you supposed to send that over to me, Karen?

Karen Chellew:

What, the chocolate?

Catherine Shanahan:

Yeah. Where'd that go, Karen?

Karen Chellew:

Everything but the chocolate's on its way.

Ben:

Everything.

Catherine Shanahan:

I'll give you my address so I can get one of those.

Ben:

There you go. That's a deal. We'll get that off to you.

Karen Chellew:

Oh, that's good. So a service inspiring people to think a different way about divorce. How do you do that?

Ben:

Well, I think we do it through our story. All this book is is our experience. We're not lawyers, we're not therapists. We just happen to figure out a way to have an acrimonious divorce. We didn't have a roadmap. Collaborative divorce was sort of in the beginning stages, but you know, it was just the two of us. We say if we can do it, anybody can do it because we are two Type A personalities who somehow came to a point of putting the past behind us and not making anybody a villain, and putting our son first. And then everything sort of fell into place.

Nikki:

Right. It wasn't perfect in the beginning. I think people need to realize that, that we went through some rocky months.

Ben:

Right.

Catherine Shanahan:

Yeah, yeah. So that's a really good point, Nikki. Let's talk about that a little bit because if you read anything I write, or if you ever talk to me, or if anyone has gone through our process, they'll hear me say not once, but probably a thousand times because I am a stepmom. I have been divorced and I have raised five children in a blended family, so I am a firm believer that divorce does not mess your kids up. It's how the parents behave before divorce, during divorce, and after divorce that can mess your children up.

Catherine Shanahan:

However, you call your company or your book The Happy Divorce and I think everybody has to define happy. What is happy, and that can mean something different to everyone, and that's okay.

Nikki:

Right.

Catherine Shanahan:

So happy for somebody could be that... as a stepmom I can remember, happy for me sometimes was that my stepchildren went home on Sunday night, and that's okay.

Nikki:

That's okay.

Catherine Shanahan:

Because it's exhausting, right?

Ben:

Yeah, yeah.

Nikki:

That's totally normal.

Ben:

Yeah, and Nikki said it took time. I think if you had asked us 13 years ago what happy meant, what our definition of a happy divorce was, it would have been that we could just be in the same room together.

Catherine Shanahan:

Exactly.

Nikki:

Or at like an event together or a birthday party together.

Ben:

And not make everybody feel uncomfortable, but most importantly our son.

Catherine Shanahan:

Right.

Ben:

So even today, we know people who have happy divorces, they might not be to the extreme that Nikki and mine are, or they might be better, it's just that you put the kids first. You don't hand the kids the emotional bill to pay for something that they had absolutely no choice in.

Catherine Shanahan:

Exactly. I think your son said it so cute, and he is... Asher, right?

Nikki:

Yes.

Karen Chellew:

Adorable.

Catherine Shanahan:

Oh, my God. He is so cute. I watched your video clip and he said, "You know, I always wanted siblings. Well, maybe not so much."

Ben:

After it came, right, yeah.

Nikki:

And he was like, "Oh, can't they go back?" No.

Catherine Shanahan:

Yeah, yeah. I thought that was so cute, and it's so true. So his happy was, "I got them." Well, maybe today I don't want them.

Ben:

Right.

Catherine Shanahan:

You know, it was so cute, it kind of ties it all up. And so in divorce we say that with our couples when we're negotiating a settlement where we're going through their financial portrait with them, which it's kids and your finances. So what would your happy be? Is your happy keeping the house? Is your happy having the retirement monies? Is your happy having your children three days a week? Every other weekend so you can have your career? Define what your happy is. So I love the title of your book, and it's okay to define that, and to define your co-parenting, because your co-parenting is not the same as my co-parenting.

Nikki:

No. It's different for everybody.

Karen Chellew:

And it's okay.

Nikki:

Yeah.

Catherine Shanahan:

So how did you come to your happy, the two of you?

Nikki:

Well... I think it took less work on my part than it did on his.

Karen Chellew:

Oh, why is that?

Nikki:

I sort of set out thinking, "How am I going to do this?" My parents are still married after 52 years, so I kind of had the mindset of, "Okay, what am I going to do to make my son's life as close to the way I grew up as possible, but being divorced?" So that was always something that was in my head, and it was sort of ingrained to try to figure out a way to make him... have what I had growing up and not feel slighted.

Ben:

Yeah.

Nikki:

[crosstalk 00:07:40] not so much.

Ben:

And I on the other hand grew up in the complete opposite household of a family of parents who didn't have a happy divorce. So part of it was ingrained in me, being a child of the '80s, well, actually I was born in early '70s, but parents were divorced in the '80s. It was the way it was, right? People got divorced, and it wasn't, "How are we going to get along? How are we going to co-parent?" It's like, "We're going to go to war. I'm going to get my lawyer. You're going to get yours and it's going to be battle."

Ben:

I also was in a completely different place in my life emotionally. I wasn't a very happy person when I left our marriage. For me, that manifest itself at pointing the finger at Nikki. It was all her fault. It was all her... you know, if only she hadn't done this. If only she should have done... you know. And 'shoulding' all over myself. That's S-H-O-U-L-D, not the other one.

Ben:

But you know, and then what it took was a realization or clarity to find out what my part was in the relationship. So in order to get to happy, I had to, we had to clean up the wreckage of the past, and we had to get honest about what our part is and understand that it takes two to make a relationship, it takes two to ruin a relationship.

Ben:

And just like our happy divorce it works that way too. Now it takes four to make it, because we're both remarried. In our book, it doesn't go into what happened, who did what, who didn't do what, because at the end of the day, what we realize is all that stuff doesn't matter. What matters is that we both came to a place of forgiveness, but also admitted what we had done wrong.

Karen Chellew:

How did you come to a place of forgiveness? What started turning the tide from the anger and resentment, or whatever the negative emotions were? What happened on both of your parts to just start to turn that tide a little bit.

Ben:

Well, yeah, for me, again, Nikki wasn't as scorned I guess you could say, which is weird for her.

Nikki:

That's really weird for me.

Ben:

But you know, I left the house-

Nikki:

You [crosstalk 00:09:54] the one out for blood.

Ben:

Right, exactly. I left the house in a way that I look back and I almost cringe, a very dramatic way. I took off my ring. I put it on the bathroom counter with a picture of us torn out and I left.

Nikki:

Very dramatic.

Ben:

Very dramatic.

Nikki:

Like something I would have done.

Ben:

And I went and I did my research, and I looked for the best shark lawyer, the one who had all the biggest cases in Tampa. Definitely did my research. I called him and explained to him what I wanted, and I wanted to destroy Nikki, and I wanted to embarrass her, and I wanted to show our son what a fraud she was, at least how I saw her.

Ben:

So he took a very hefty retainer from me, and then he wrote up a manual on how we were going to go about doing what I wanted to accomplish. And I didn't read it for a little bit, and it was in my backpack that I carry everywhere, and I was on a plane back from LA to Tampa, and I pulled it out and I decided to read it. I got two pages into it, and this thing was like 30 pages long.

Nikki:

That's probably the same thing he gives everybody else.

Ben:

Right, just different boiler plate.

Nikki:

Names are just changed.

Ben:

Exactly. And then all of a sudden I had a moment of clarity, and I saw for the first time in a long time that if I went down this path, continuing to read this War and Peace destruction manual what it was going to lead to, because I knew where it was going to lead to, because I had been down that road. I had been part of my parents divorce down the road.

Ben:

Or I could try to find a different way and a different path. So I called Nikki when I landed and I said, "I need some time. I need some space." Because I knew I couldn't deal with the divorce in the head space I was in.

Karen Chellew:

Right.

Ben:

And probably Nikki too. We weren't ready to start talking about the end until we cleared up the past and found our part. So I called the lawyer and said, "I'm going to find a different way, if you could send back the balance of the retainer," and conveniently there wasn't much left. But it was the best money I ever spent. So then I started working with somebody that I knew, and just went through and found out what my in the relationship was, and my part in the ending of the relationship. And realized about halfway through that I wouldn't want to be married to me either at that time.

Ben:

I was not in a good place. I was not the father I thought I was, but more importantly I wasn't the husband I thought I was. So then I called Nikki to coffee, and she probably had no idea why I was calling her.

Nikki:

No. Because I kind of knew this was going on with him, so I mean-

Ben:

She knew. It was that black sedan that was following me everywhere.

Nikki:

And I knew that this was the mindset he was in. And I just knew I hadn't gotten to that place. I mean, yes, I was angry and I was sad and I was upset, but I wasn't in the place that he was at. Where I sort of was like, "Let's just get this over with. Let's just fix this... fix it to a point where it's just done." To me, I went at this a totally different way.

Nikki:

I did hire a lawyer, but it was kind of more like, "What do I do? Here's this divorce, what am I going to do with this?" So mine wasn't, "Let's attack him and let's kill him."

Ben:

Well, your hardest thing also was that you said it too, it was a, "Fix it." Nikki's a fixer. She wants to get in there and fix everything and not call her a control freak, but control freak.

Nikki:

I am a control freak. 100%

Catherine Shanahan:

Were you living together at the time or were you separated in different homes?

Nikki:

We were in different homes, but not really. At that time-

Ben:

Somewhere in between there... I was staying in a hotel for about six months, and then I'd come home and-

Nikki:

Did you really stay in a hotel for six months?

Ben:

Six months. The biggest most exciting time of my life during that time was when they released a new movie on the On Demand thing at the hotel.

Catherine Shanahan:

Oh yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Ben:

Because I'd watched them all. And then I eventually got a place. So we weren't officially divorced yet when I had my own place, but it was when we told our son. He forced our hand to tell him because... Why don't you tell the story about us thinking we were getting over on him.

Nikki:

Oh yeah. So Ben would come over every morning before Asher would go to school. And you know, he would make sure he was there before he woke up. One morning-

Catherine Shanahan:

How old was he at the time?

Ben:

Four?

Karen Chellew:

Yeah?

Ben:

Four. Yeah.

Nikki:

So he comes in my room. Ben is already there. And he looks at me and says, "Hey mom, where did Daddy sleep last night?" And I always thought I did a really good job of messing up the bed thinking like, "Oh, okay."

Ben:

Yeah.

Nikki:

And I was like, "What do you mean? Right here." And he's like, "Where did Daddy sleep last night?" And I was like, "Oh, boy. This kid is way smarter than we're giving him credit for, so we need to do something, and it's time for us to sit him down as best we can with someone that young and just say, "Hey, this is what's happening. We love you." That's probably the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life.

Ben:

Oh yeah. It was hard. But we framed it in a way and were open with him. If anything from our experience, again, not lawyers, not therapists, but through my experience with my parents, my experience with my son and our divorce is the idea that kids are resilient and they'll get over it, or they don't see things... is nonsense. It is absolute nonsense and I can say that from experience on both sides of it, right? "Oh, our kids will get over it. They're resilient. They don't know what's going on." Here a four-year-old who knew-

Nikki:

Exactly what was going on.

Ben:

Right. Playing Inspector Clouseau. Knew that I hadn't slept there because my bed wasn't made, my pillows weren't ruffled or whatever he did. So that's another message we try to get across is that, "Don't fool yourself." To me, and staying on my soapbox too much here, but to me, that's justification for behaviors."

Karen Chellew:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Nikki:

And too, to this day he still claims that he saw boxes, which we never let a box-

Ben:

At least we thought we didn't.

Nikki:

But he still says he saw boxes.

Catherine Shanahan:

You know, I think sometimes even if he didn't see boxes, he probably heard you talk about boxes.

Nikki:

Right. And in his head, he's like, "Oh yeah."

Catherine Shanahan:

You can probably remember talking about something in your childhood, but you don't really remember going to Disney World when you were two, but you remember seeing pictures that you went to Disney World when you were two.

Nikki:

Right.

Catherine Shanahan:

So you think you remember you were in Disney World when you were two, right?

Ben:

Yeah.

Nikki:

It's true.

Catherine Shanahan:

I'm sure he heard about that or saw that. So he's a smart kid. Like I said, I feel like I know him a little bit from watching the video.

Nikki:

Yes.

Ben:

Yeah, he wraps up the book too. He's got a chapter at the end of the book that just puts a bow on it perfectly, because our happy... Your answer, "How does your happy look?" We didn't know it was going to be happy at the time, but you know, I called her to coffee after I'd done this work on myself. The first thing I told her was I was sorry, that I'd done some work myself and I realized that it's no one's fault, it's not her fault, it's not my fault. We equal parts of this and I'm sorry for my part.

Ben:

I went through some of the things. I wasn't a very good husband. I ignored you, I didn't... blah, blah, blah, blah. I'm not going to apologize again, I already did that.

Karen Chellew:

Yeah.

Ben:

You're only getting it once.

Catherine Shanahan:

Yeah, she's sitting here smiling and she's like [crosstalk 00:17:45].

Ben:

She loves it. And so we went through it and then she apologized to me, which was-

Nikki:

Which was probably the first and only time I've ever apologized.

Catherine Shanahan:

And you're lucky because we have this recorded [crosstalk 00:17:59]-

Ben:

Yeah.

Catherine Shanahan:

You can both listen on repeat.

Nikki:

Yeah.

Ben:

And then from that moment on it didn't just all of a sudden become happy, but there was room to move, because then we both genuinely accept each other's apologies, and we told each other we loved each other, and that we committed at that meeting to putting our son first with every decision we made. So our happy looked like not what was in Nikki's bank account or Nikki's family's bank account or what I thought I deserved. Our happy was what was best for our son.

Nikki:

Right.

Catherine Shanahan:

Yeah. So you know we like to get real with everyone, and a lot of our viewers come from a wide range, and we deal with a lot of affluent people, but we also deal with people who aren't affluent, or they don't know that they're affluent.

Ben:

Right.

Catherine Shanahan:

We do a lot of budgeting and we hone in on financials with everyone. And as a CDFA, I sit down and Karen does a lot of the budgeting with our clients, pre-divorce and post-divorce. So we listen to your story and it sounds great. You afforded him the ability to go through the mucky waters of what he needed to figure out for himself, which is a luxury, because he had that time to do that.

Catherine Shanahan:

And you blamed her in the beginning and you had all that anger, and you went and hired the bulldog, which oh, my God, we hear so many times people go and hire the bulldog, and only 10% of divorce cases need whatever everybody wants to refer to as the bulldog, and Karen loves to jump in and really get the definition of what a bulldog actually means, because you don't really need a bulldog. But anyway, that's a whole other podcast.

Catherine Shanahan:

But what did you do with your finances, because a lot of people who have money there, they can't access it during that time. How do you stay in a hotel room if you can't get the money? Did you two have your separate bank accounts, because people can't be happy if they can't get their financials, right? So if somebody out there wants to have a happy divorce, they come to us.

Catherine Shanahan:

So for example, for us we start with your finances. So we can afford them that time to work through the financials so they don't run to attorneys. You don't need two attorneys gathering your financial data. It's the same data you're collecting. You're paying thousands and thousands... We save people hundreds of thousands of dollars because why are you paying them to gather the same information and go through the packet of information you were asked to gather.

Ben:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Nikki:

Right.

Catherine Shanahan:

Why would you both have to do that. So we do that so that they can work through their stuff, right?

Ben:

Yeah.

Catherine Shanahan:

So during that time-

Ben:

I think what's important at least is yes from my experience, and also from this process of writing this book with Nikki and talking with people, it doesn't matter if there are a thousand dollars in the bank or there's a hundred million dollars in the bank, you know for the most part, because what it comes down to is financial insecurity.

Ben:

And what I think the problem with divorce and why sometimes it goes sideways is because it deals with two of the biggest trigger buttons, I could use a different word, but trigger buttons of our human condition and that's romance and finance, and both those speak directly to ego, right?

Catherine Shanahan:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ben:

And so our financial settlement was the same as our custody agreement is that we try to as much as possible take ego out of it, and to try to put Asher first. So when it came time to discussing finances, it was, "Okay, what's best for Asher?" Nikki or myself had to make sacrifices, or give more or take less or whatever it was, but it was... Look, it wasn't simple, right? It was easier though when we looked at it through a pair of glasses of what's best for Asher, and you take the ego out of it as much as possible.

Nikki:

Right. I mean, I think too for him it was about his life.

Ben:

Right.

Nikki:

And the way we wanted him to be raised. We wanted him to be raised at both houses as basically as much the same-

Ben:

As possible.

Nikki:

Even with rules. With four parents, there's a lot of rules too.

Ben:

Right. Well, there's a lot of communication.

Nikki:

Right.

Ben:

The other thing we did, which... We both had lawyers, so I don't want to say that we did this willy nilly. But we did what's called collaborative and it wasn't-

Nikki:

We did through.

Ben:

We did.

Nikki:

We sort of brought it to our lawyers and said, "Hey, this is what we think we want to do."

Ben:

Right. So what we've tried, and agreed to try is, "Let's figure out what we can do on our own, and let's go through it with this pair of glasses that we now have of what's best for Asher, try to take ego out of it and see where we go."

Nikki:

And I think for us too, I mean, I guess couples... One of his biggest things with me was, "Do you have a problem with joint custody of our son?" And obviously if he was not a good guy or had some sort of issues that would be a different story, but I mean obviously I had no problem with that. So that was one of the first things that kind of softened him a little bit.

Ben:

That was the first question I asked was, "Do you have any problem with doing 50/50 everything with our son from the left shoe to the right shoe?"

Nikki:

Right.

Ben:

And she said, "Of course not. You're his dad." So I said with the other stuff we can work it out. And so then we started with that foundation, and then we were on the same page with that. Then we went to some other things like the businesses that we had together. Nikki had a jewelry company that she had started that I owned half of. I had a record label that I had started with her sister, which is kind of weird, but you know, so it wasn't necessarily about how much each one was worth at the time or the balance sheet of the jewelry company versus the record label.

Nikki:

It was things that he could have been like, "Oh, I'm going to get her because I want my half of that."

Ben:

Yeah, and I had no desire to be in the jewelry business. But if I was looking at it-

Nikki:

Why should you be?

Ben:

Yeah, right. Right, but if I'd been looking at it from a scorned ego standpoint, I was like, "I'm going to take the jewelry business because I know how much it means to her."

Nikki:

Right.

Catherine Shanahan:

Well I think it's really great that because you work through... Well, let me back up first. It's because I always say two people, you come together and you get married, it takes two people to get married, and it takes two people to get divorced, you know?

Ben:

Yup.

Catherine Shanahan:

And none of it has to do with your children. So you took the time to heal first, and then you made the important decision, so Karen, you know and you can pick up from this, the process that we developed because we're both divorced before we started... We saw how people got divorced, and when I went through my divorce eight years ago I just thought, "Hell, people have to get divorced different. This is just ridiculous."

Ben:

Yeah.

Catherine Shanahan:

The way we work is you do your financials first, and then you take your agreement, and we do a lot of negotiated agreements, and when we get to them take this to your attorney, pretty much what you're saying and have them draw up this agreement. You don't need them to talk to each other to tell you what you should do for yourselves, right?

Nikki:

Yup.

Ben:

Right.

Karen Chellew:

You just need to know what you want, and they don't necessarily spend a lot of time helping you figure that out.

Catherine Shanahan:

And you don't need a judge how to set up visitation for your lifestyle and your child.

Ben:

Control your own destiny.

Nikki:

I do all our calendar, well, because I'm that person.

Catherine Shanahan:

Yeah.

Ben:

Literally, she prints out... We used to-

Nikki:

I still use paper.

Ben:

In the beginning we used to meet at the same coffee shop, the same table, with Nikki's calendars, which are legendary, you know, not an iPhone calendar, not a computer, like the actual calendar printed out and we'd go through the month and you know, "What days are you traveling?" And I'd tell her-

Catherine Shanahan:

I love that.

Ben:

And we would do the schedule. And then over time this is sort of how the evolution of our divorce happened. Then now, she just does it. I entrust in her, not that I didn't entrust in her before, well maybe not.

Catherine Shanahan:

But it works.

Ben:

But it works. But now she does it, and it's in our shared calendar with Asher.

Nikki:

He knows where he is. He knows where to go.

Ben:

And it's 15 days, and if-

Nikki:

Sports is on there. Anything. Everything's on that calendar. Dinners, everybody can see it.

Ben:

But the thing that we went to too is again, we tried to see where we agreed or what we could do by ourselves and ended up doing the whole thing, and hashing out the whole settlement over many coffee meetings. It didn't just happen at that one coffee, but same table, same coffee shop, and then we handed it to the lawyers.

Catherine Shanahan:

I love that.

Ben:

We said, "Add your 'whereas' and run on sentences and you can get it as [crosstalk 00:27:06] as possible, so you can get paid $450 an hour for somebody to then reread it to try to find a way out of that run-on." Anyways... no offense.

Karen Chellew:

So I'm going to observe here that during all of those coffee shop meetings and all of those different interactions that the end result that you redefined your relationship as parents of Asher, and as your future. So I think that is fantastic, and I think that's what we try to help our client understand that use the divorce the process, and use that time to redefine what you're going to be like post-divorce, because your kids need to be able to depend on that and rely on that.

Karen Chellew:

And it's a very important time, and the time you spend fighting and arguing with each other, the less time you spend on creating that new relationship. So I think that's key what you did.

Ben:

Nobody's ever been happy or survived feeding their kids poison hoping the other one dies.

Karen Chellew:

Right.

Ben:

I think that happens a lot in divorces is that... And again, one beautiful thing about this process is when I left that house I was angry, I was going to go to war, I was going to go down the same path as my parents had gone done. But now I realize my parents didn't sit around the table when they got divorced and premeditate how they were going to not get along and how they were going to get us in the middle of that and all that awkwardness, it was just they were so blinded by the things we talked about earlier, the romance, the finance, and egos were hurt so they were blind to it.

Ben:

I was blind to it. When I left that house and I hired the lawyer and I wasn't talking to Nikki, I wasn't purposely sitting there going, "Hm, how am I going to screw up my kid?" But it's hard. It's hard on them. It was hard on me growing up.

Catherine Shanahan:

Yeah, well you know, nobody gets married thinking they're going to get divorced.

Nikki:

No.

Ben:

No.

Catherine Shanahan:

And you know, truth be told, myself included, there are times that you sit back and you say you wish your kid didn't have to go between one home and the other.

Ben:

And he does too.

Catherine Shanahan:

Nobody wants their child to do that or spend half their Christmas. Then you have more children and you don't want them to have to leave their siblings and all of that. It's not an easy process, and you can't be normal and wonder, "Is my child okay?" Even though they're happy and healthy. We know they are. I mean, my children are thriving, and I'm happy for them. They're doing so well.

Catherine Shanahan:

I'm remarried. I got married in June. I feel like I have the love of my life and I'm so blessed, and my children love him, so all of that, but we do wonder sometimes. But I think that's okay, and I think that's part of just being healthy human beings. But sometimes, you know, we deal with so many people's emotions they can't see past that.

Catherine Shanahan:

I think what your son has learned most importantly is the respect, and the reason why you let Nikki take over this whole calendar issue is because you respect her, and she respects you and that's why she does it. For your son to learn how a couple can respect each other is probably the best gift, because that's the best love you can give a partner.

Ben:

Yeah.

Catherine Shanahan:

Because you can't fully love someone if you don't respect them.

Ben:

And you brought up just a good point about co-parents too. And our spouses currently are... Just the other thing, I'm sure you see clients and people who are divorced miserable, but remarried and happy, and yet they still have this hatred towards the other one, and it's just like if you could just take a step back and realize that if you hadn't gotten divorced, and you hadn't gone down that, you wouldn't have met the other person.

Ben:

And our spouses, Chad and Nadia, there's no question who we were meant to be with. Nikki and Chad, I still... I'm like, "She never looked at me that way. She never grabbed my hand like that." It's like I never think, "What if." And then on the flip side, Nadia-

Nikki:

It's the same way though. I tell her too. I look at her sometimes and I'm like, "I couldn't be married to him," but she just smiles and loves him.

Ben:

She loves me, the unconditional love, which means you love the good and the bad just as much. And then Asher gets to see this, and he gets to see healthy relationships, and he gets to see that even though his parents are divorced, and this is the most sobering part about it. A couple years ago we were on a fishing trip and out of nowhere he said, "This divorce is hard on me." And this is like three years ago.

Ben:

I felt like saying, "You little SOB. You have no idea what a bad divorce is or how hard divorce is." And then it hit me. Even as good as Nikki and I have it, and I don't think... Maybe it could get better if we lived together, but besides that-

Nikki:

No, it would definitely not get better if we lived together.

Karen Chellew:

He doesn't know that. He doesn't know that.

Ben:

So but just the idea of being displaced every couple days, and even though we live seven houses down, I've seen him go, "Oh, I forgot my math book at Mom's. I've got to go down and get it."

Nikki:

But he even says too, sometimes he'll look at me and go, "You and Dad get along so well. Sometimes I don't understand why you're not married anymore." And I'm like, "We get along really well right now. We were meant to be best friends. We weren't meant to be husband and wife." I go, "You were meant to be here, so that's why we..." 100%.

Karen Chellew:

That's beautiful.

Ben:

Yeah, so a lot of kids read Dr. Seuss books as a kid, he was always an animal junkie, so we would read him animal encyclopedias, and he knew every single animal, where they came from, where they lived. And we always knew that we wanted to take him to Africa on a safari. But with the shots and everything... So if anything was going to send our divorce south, and it was if one of the other ones had taken Asher to Africa without the other one.

Ben:

So this past summer, Nikki and Asher and I went to Africa, just the three of us together on a safari.

Nikki:

I didn't feed him to any animals.

Ben:

And I didn't die. There were no lion accidents.

Nikki:

No accidents.

Ben:

But it was a great opportunity for our son.

Nikki:

Yes.

Ben:

Our spouses, when we told them-

Nikki:

I mean, we asked them if they wanted.

Ben:

Right.

Nikki:

It was this open invitation trip.

Ben:

But her husband just has this small responsibility of being a sheriff of Hillsborough County, and my wife was raising our two sons and starting a practice of her own, so it just wasn't possible.

Nikki:

Raising your what?

Ben:

What?

Nikki:

Your two sons.

Ben:

Oh, no, two kids. Well, two sons and daughter. But she has two young kids at home, it just wasn't possible for them to go, but the response, and this is where it really just comes full circle, wasn't, "Are you crazy that you think it's okay for you to go to Africa in the middle of the bush with your ex-wife? Are you nuts?" It was, "Asher will love that. What a great opportunity he has to go to Africa with his parents, and have that experience."

Nikki:

And day two of our trip he looked at me and he said, "Thank you so much. This is the best trip I could have ever gone on."

Karen Chellew:

That's awesome. That's awesome.

Catherine Shanahan:

That's really rare. There's not very many... I don't know anyone... That's really rare and really special.

Ben:

Yeah, and again-

Nikki:

And I mean, there are people that still think we're crazy.

Ben:

Right. And it didn't happen overnight.

Nikki:

Our families thought we were crazy in the beginning.

Ben:

I still think they might.

Nikki:

I think they might too.

Ben:

But the important thing is, I think we started this conversation with this, and that it didn't happen overnight.

Nikki:

Right.

Ben:

And a small example of that is when Nikki married Chad, Nikki called me and said, "I don't think that I feel comfortable with inviting you to the wedding. It's because I don't want people to worry about how Ben's feeling, take away from 'this is my day.'" And I was, "Completely understandable." It wasn't ready. It wasn't the right time. It wasn't about me. It was about Nikki and her day and her second day, her and Chad.

Ben:

And she's right, all the guests saying, "Oh, the ex-husband's here? This is weird." But again, fast forward about three or four years later, I get married and Nikki and Chad and her whole family are at my wedding, and not like, "Gotcha," like, "Hey, you didn't invite me to yours, I'm going to show everybody I'm a bigger person." Sorry-

Nikki:

There's something in my ear.

Ben:

My phone is... So that she came to my wedding. So it's been progress, not perfection.

Nikki:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ben:

But it's been progress and it's getting there, and it didn't happen overnight. We've been doing this for 13 years.

Catherine Shanahan:

That's awesome.

Karen Chellew:

Yeah.

Ben:

It's just become more natural.

Catherine Shanahan:

Yeah, that's really good.

Karen Chellew:

That is great. So let's pivot to the topic of the day because I think a lot of people will benefit from your perspective on the pandemic and COVID and parenting children through... or co-parenting children who are traveling back and forth, and a lot of what we're hearing is, "I don't know if my son or my daughter or my children are safe at the other parent's house because they're not sheltering in place and they're not making sure everything's taken care of." So we're hearing a lot of that.

Karen Chellew:

And everybody's just cooped up together, so what can you offer the parents and the kids going through this right now to offer some kind of support?

Nikki:

I think for us, I mean, obviously we have it a little differently than most divorced couples, but I think in the beginning we sort of sat down and had a conversation, an open conversation. We weren't going to keep anything from Asher. We wanted him to know what was going on in the world, but we were on the same page about what Asher was... You know, in the beginning it was kind of a little bit slower process, "Oh, they can do this. They can do this. They can't do this." Then all of a sudden it was like, "No, you can't do anything."

Nikki:

So I think it took both of us to try to explain to him too in the beginning like, "Listen, you really can't leave the house. You're not going anywhere. You can get in your car and you can go for a drive, but you can't stop anywhere. You can't talk to your friends. You can't see your friends. You can't do anything." And I think the same went for the two of us. We kind of said, "Listen, what's going on at your house? Where are you going to go? Where am I going?" We kind of got on the same page where we were like, "You have to shut it down."

Nikki:

I mean, other than the fact that my husband has to go to work, he even tries to shut it down where he goes into work, goes in his office, he sees all of about two people when he goes into work, and that's it, because he doesn't have a choice.

Ben:

Right.

Nikki:

But we just decided in the beginning, "Let's shut this down." And so Asher's obviously homeschooled now, or whatever that's called, virtual school, whatever.

Ben:

It's the new homeschool, yeah.

Nikki:

That kind of even made a decision too that the days Asher is at Ben and Nadia's house, he comes over to our house by 9:30 in the morning to start school, unless he's got a Zoom class that starts before that, and he does all of his schoolwork at our house until he's done, because-

Ben:

Otherwise it'd be mayhem with the two young... his brothers and sisters going into-

Nikki:

Them trying to do their school, and then him trying, you know, conflicts. All they want to do, when he's there they just want to be with him.

Ben:

Right.

Catherine Shanahan:

What's the age different?

Ben:

Four and seven, so-

Nikki:

And Asher's 16.

Ben:

Yeah, so [crosstalk 00:39:14]. The other thing is that I think that the way we handle this pandemic and sort of a microcosm of how we handle life in our divorce. We had a conversation. We both agreed upon the rules at both houses that we were going to social distance, we were going to be responsible, we were going to shelter in place. We were going to do all the same things at both houses. And once we did that, all of a sudden, now our sphere of quarantine has widened.

Ben:

That's why Nikki and I are sitting next to each other right now and not because-

Nikki:

Because we quarantined together. I see the kids almost every day.

Ben:

Right. We can go down to her house because Asher's been going back and forth, being the outbreak monkey, so if it was going to be in one house, it was going to be in the other house anyway.

Nikki:

We're all getting it. If it's in one house, we're all getting it.

Catherine Shanahan:

What do you do, Ben, if Nadia doesn't agree with Nikki?

Ben:

About...

Catherine Shanahan:

Parenting, rules, or where you go?

Ben:

I think one of the greatest things about Nadia and Chad is we all co-parent together. Nadia's a therapist specializing in kids, so she brings a different perspective. She doesn't try to step on Nikki's shoes. She disagrees with some things we do with Asher, but she says it, and I'm sure Chad does too. She says it, and they say it, but at the end of the day, we're his parents. At the end of the day, we're going to make the ultimate decision, but for the most part, since it's evolved, the four of us usually sit down on the big ticket items.

Ben:

Nikki and I have different parenting styles. Nadia and I have different parenting styles.

Nikki:

Chad and I have different parenting styles.

Ben:

Right, and Nikki and I would have different parenting styles whether we were married or divorced. So it's just about finding the-

Nikki:

Some sort of common ground with all of us.

Ben:

Picking your battles. I learned to pick my battles with her. It's not worth the...

Catherine Shanahan:

Yeah.

Ben:

So the COVID thing, we ran out of paper towels for just a small example, but you know, I called Nikki, I knew that she probably had 25 cases, and even if she didn't I knew that she would give us one.

Nikki:

I did give you some.

Ben:

That's just the way-

Catherine Shanahan:

Are you hoarding?

Ben:

She's always been. There is no difference. She's-

Nikki:

I do not hoard toilet paper. I don't understand the toilet paper thing. I barely have enough toilet paper in the house.

Ben:

She's been preparing for this thing for what, 45 years?

Karen Chellew:

So you didn't say, "Asher, when you're at mom's house, just grab toilet paper, throw it in your bag and just run out"?

Ben:

No, and I go over there and I got caught robbing her pantry.

Nikki:

Yes, for snacks. And then if you notice my hair is pink. It is not normally pink. This has been a quarantine thing. And his daughter is convinced that her hair is going to be pink too, so I tried once, her hair's darker than mine, so didn't work. So now I've just instead of asking for permission, I'm like, "Okay, well I'm dyeing your daughter's hair pink."

Ben:

Yeah, I found out after I got home from work yesterday. This is, again, what our life is like today. It truly is. You talk about the byline on the book, but it's also the other one we talk about is finding a different kind of love. That's what we've done over the past 14 years, or however long it's been. I love this woman. I've always loved this woman. I think we kind of got confused with being in love and love. But luckily enough we never lost... We might have lost it for a little bit there, but we got back to it.

Ben:

Then it's evolved into this thing, you know, that is beyond us, beyond our wildest imagination. Again, if we can do it, and this might sound like French or Latin to some of your listeners right now, it's real, but it was a process.

Karen Chellew:

That's awesome.

Ben:

You know, if you're starting out, I don't know what you tell your clients, but take small steps, and that's what we had to do in the beginning is get the small wins, get the softball game where there wasn't an awkward feeling or event at your kid's school where you didn't walk away feeling awkward. That's a win.

Nikki:

Yup.

Ben:

That's a small win, and then the wins start piling up. Before you know it you're in Africa and no one's dying.

Catherine Shanahan:

I love that. We tell our clients you know, "You do not have to tell your children that their mom's an alcoholic, or their dad's an idiot. If they're an idiot or an alcoholic they'll see it for themselves."

Ben:

Right.

Nikki:

They will.

Catherine Shanahan:

Just be the dad or the mom that you want to be because that's what they're going [crosstalk 00:44:09].

Ben:

Love that.

Catherine Shanahan:

Like I said it brings tears to my eyes. Literally I had chills when I watched your video because, you know, I do what I do and Karen can speak for herself, but I know that she does it also, but we do what we do because we're advocates for the children of the parents that we helped, and we've helped over 400 couples already. One day I'm hoping that the children of the parents will stand up and say, "Those women helped my parents divorce a better way," you know?

Catherine Shanahan:

We don't need attorneys fighting for parents to set a parenting schedule or to help divide assets. That's what you have professionals to do. So we're doing what we're doing to help people divorce a better way. We just need the attorneys to tie it up and put the 'as is' or 'as set forth' or whatever those words are. We don't really care. We just want them to have financial clarity and to help them to set up a co-parenting plan that works for their family.

Catherine Shanahan:

I'm like Nikki, I like to write paper agendas and put stickers on everything and all that stuff.

Nikki:

Me too. I love it.

Catherine Shanahan:

That's how I like it too.

Nikki:

I just won't get rid of it.

Catherine Shanahan:

I love hearing your story because I think that's how it should be.

Ben:

Yeah.

Catherine Shanahan:

I hope you can come to our Mrs2Me Summit and maybe speak and talk to our attendees.

Ben:

Oh, we'd love to because that's why we wrote the book. It's not... This is truly an altruism. Nobody wants to spill their... And in the book we talk about our shortcomings. We talk about our failures. We're imperfect, but what we have is real and just for it to be inspirational. We're so happy to do this thing, and then run into people like you guys and others who...

Ben:

We kind of kept our head down. As silly as it sounds, when we got divorced there was no Facebook or Instagram. There's Myspace, but not a lot of divorced, co-parenting-

Catherine Shanahan:

Myspace, is that even around?

Karen Chellew:

I don't remember that.

Ben:

Right, so we didn't have support groups online to go to. Then even writing the book, it took us four years to write this book because we'd get in a fight, this was my idea and I was-

Nikki:

[crosstalk 00:46:16] say, "No, I'm not doing your book."

Ben:

I'm not doing your effing book, blah, blah, blah.

Nikki:

Yeah.

Ben:

So then all of a sudden we get the book out and we're starting to do some research, and we see this huge community online. It's not like, "Oh, no, we just launched a book and there's so many other..." It was like, "This is great."

Nikki:

Like, "This is awesome."

Catherine Shanahan:

Yeah.

Ben:

Because these people have the same goal as us and it's to let people know-

Nikki:

There's a different way.

Ben:

There's a different way going into it. Not even after they're divorced and it's yucky and all that, but I think I went into it thinking if I get divorced, it's War of the Roses. It's on. This is the only way to go.

Nikki:

That's the only kind of divorce I ever knew though.

Catherine Shanahan:

I tell people, "No." They come to us sometimes when they've been the process and we're like, "Oh, my gosh, I wish you would have came here first because you just wait..." I mean, they spent 20, 40,000, and they come with bags of papers. They don't even know what they have. I look at Karen, because the legal process to me is such a crock sometimes. It's not logical thinking, and as a financial I'm like, "What?" So she's like, "It's the process. This is the process." Look at her, she's laughing because I get so annoyed that people spend money for that.

Catherine Shanahan:

So we're digital. We work nationally, so I just crack up at the process. So I just wish people come here first because it would save them so much angst. It starts couples fighting when they don't even have to fight.

Ben:

Right.

Catherine Shanahan:

I said, "Oh, my God," because they get served this nasty language and they say, "Oh, my God, he's going after this," or, "She's going after this." And the couple will say, "I didn't mean that. I didn't mean to do that." So now a war began where the person didn't even mean it.

Catherine Shanahan:

So when you said you got to work out your stuff first, I was like, "Thank God he came to his senses," because he didn't really want to attack you, but that's how it would have started because like you said, Nikki said, "Yeah, he probably sends that to everybody." That's exactly what that attorney does. And unfortunately they have to send it like that because that's the process. I'm glad you [crosstalk 00:48:28].

Ben:

For us, at least for me it was really thin ice. I think that that's the thing is one misstep... I don't know if you guys saw The Marriage Story, but that is a perfect example of one... If she just maybe read that letter in that first meeting, it might have turned out the way it seemed like the movie had ended. And for me, if I hadn't just had that moment of clarity right then or pull it out at the particular time, whatever it was and whenever it happened, who knows, but it's in the beginning, it's just so... It's a powder keg.

Ben:

To go to people who are aligned with a better outcome will help you, guide you down that path of the right way. We didn't have that, but luckily we got there.

Karen Chellew:

Kudos.

Ben:

Someone tell that woman, Scarlet Johansson, "Read the letter."

Nikki:

Yeah.

Catherine Shanahan:

Yes, yes.

Karen Chellew:

Well you guys are great, and I think one of my takeaways from today is first and foremost have the conversation. Try to have as many conversations as you can as rugged as they are, but also what I've noticed from hearing you today is whenever something happens today or yesterday that kind of is a trigger, I see that you assign it to that person, not to your relationship that broke apart years ago. And I think a lot of couples haven't developed the ability to do that whenever the other person does something that's irritating or that creates that trigger, "That's why I divorced him. I hate him. He's a terrible person blah, blah, blah."

Karen Chellew:

But I see you just saying, "That's Ben." or, "That's Nikki." And we're different and you move on. I think that's key in the ongoing relationship.

Nikki:

Give it a day [crosstalk 00:50:23] we'll come back to that.

Ben:

Yeah, I mean, I think Nikki [crosstalk 00:50:26] the same thing is that some of the same buttons that I pushed when we married, I still pushes. She still pushes the same. Like you said about parenting, our parenting skills would be different, our styles would be different if we were divorced or married, same as the personality.

Nikki:

Right.

Ben:

But it's a lot easier to accept Nikki today being her best friend than it is being her husband. But it's still, I'll also give it a day when she tells me she's not doing the effing book. I'll let her Italian hot head cool off a little bit.

Nikki:

Cool off for a minute.

Ben:

Then I'll come back.

Catherine Shanahan:

I'll take your roll of paper towels and I'll go home and talk to her tomorrow.

Ben:

Exactly.

Karen Chellew:

I love that. Well, thank you both for being with us today and to our listeners, the book is Our Happy Divorce. And your website is ourhappydivorce.com. You're on Instagram. You're on Facebook I believe as well.

Ben:

Facebook, Twitter, everything @ourhappydivorce. Yeah.

Karen Chellew:

All right. We're happy to meet you.

Nikki:

Nice to meet you.

Karen Chellew:

And we hope to see you soon at Mrs2Me. We'll talk with you a little bit more about that.

Nikki:

Thank you.

Karen Chellew:

Thank you again. Have a nice and safe and healthy day.

Ben:

Yeah, thank you. And thank you for everything you guys do. Thank you.

Karen Chellew:

Thank you. Have a great day. Bye.

Ben:

All right, thank you guys so much, and let us know about that whatever... the summit or whatever-

Karen Chellew:

Yeah, we will. We'll reach out to you.

Ben:

However you want to use us to help spread the message because it sounds like we're very much aligned.

Karen Chellew:

Great. Yeah, we'll stay in touch.

Ben:

Okay. Thank you guys.

Karen Chellew:

Bye.

Catherine Shanahan:

Be well. Bye.

 

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