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EXIT Interview with Colleen O’Neil: Divorce is an Issue of Compromise

EXIT Interview with Colleen O’Neil: Divorce is an Issue of Compromise

On the Amicable Divorce Expert podcast with Judith M. Weigle we had Mediator, Therapist, Educator, and podcast host Colleen O’Neil back to share her experience getting divorced. It’s so interesting to listen to a divorced person who is a family law professional speak about their divorce and the challenges they faced in the process.

Colleen was married to a law enforcement professional, a sheriff, who was also an angry husband and father. They lived in Massachusetts. Like any of us, when we are upset, we can unfortunately use the tools of our profession to seemingly intimidate in order to make the divorce process harder. That’s because many of us don’t have the emotional language to use in place of intimidation. Why is that? Because we are not taught how to communicate when we are upset, or have mental health challenges that blind us from being able to compromise or see the other spouse’s point of view.

Colleen had a small child at the time of her divorce and this is where the compromise took place. Colleen agreed to drive her daughter to Massachusetts from Connecticut in order for her husband to be able to share co-parenting time. Colleen needed to move to Connecticut to live with her parents while regrouping to start a profession as a single parent with much-needed support from her family while going to school and working.

Compromise is part of every divorce settlement. Sometimes the price of compromise is huge, but so is the reward.  For Colleen, her reward was having family support while raising her daughter as a single mother and receiving the education needed to provide an excellent life for her child.  Colleen received the gold, the currency she found essential to moving forward and out of the marriage.

What are some compromises that you might have to make?

  1. FAMILY HOME:Sell the family residence in order to have money to set up your own household after divorce. Most mothers find it difficult to sell the family home if that is where they have raised their children. Even though qualifying for a refinance of the mortgage will take a few years, with no guarantee that the refinance can take place, women find it worth trying. But if the refinance cannot take place for a few years, that means that their spouse has to compromise and wait for their community payout of the home while remaining on the mortgage and possibly limiting their ability to buy a home post-divorce.
  2. CO-PARENTING SCHEDULE:When infants are involved, most mothers want the child to be with them 100% of the time, especially if they are breastfeeding.  The court, many times, has disagreed with this request, and in the best interests of the child has given the father some overnights while asking the mother to provide breast milk for the father to use. Where is the compromise? In mediation the mother can provide a step-up plan to keep the child 100% of the time for overnight stays, with a built-in transition time of one year before introducing overnight stays slowly. If this is written into the divorce settlement agreement most fathers have a comfort level to compromise.
  3. RETIREMENT ACCOUNTS:There are many professions that have as their reward a healthy pension upon which to retire.  Policemen and firemen are two of those professions. Coincidentally, they are both high-risk professions. Getting to retirement age is a feat because of the daily challenges they incur in the course of performing their jobs.  Many people who don’t want to divide their retirement accounts will give more than their share of another community asset, even though the result is uneven and not in their favor, it still provides the emotional reward of all of their hard-earned pensions going to them.
  4. DIVIDING HEIRLOOMS and ART OBJETS:When people are art and antique collectors it may be especially difficult to evenly divide those assets as community property.  That would involve taking everything to an art or antique dealer for current market value. What if some of those assets were gifted by one spouse to another and paid for with community property dollars during the marriage; or, if one spouse’s parent(s) gifted an asset to both spouses? If both spouses can be honest about their attachment to certain pieces, and put in priority order their most and least favorite pieces, it makes the task of compromising easier. I can almost guarantee that there will be some pieces that are not arguable to assign to each spouse, thereby creating a smaller list of pieces that must be negotiated. Out of those remaining pieces to be negotiated, the spouses can either take those remaining pieces to dealers for current pricing. Or, if one spouse is willing to give to the other spouse an item that is truly dear to them, that spouse can look for another asset to request in place of the heirlooms or antiques that are being relinquished to the other spouse.
  5. Spousal Support:One of the biggest compromises of all because monthly payments tie the spouses together for the length of time that spousal support is being provided.  Men, for the most part, are still the payors of spousal support (aka “alimony”). If possible, men offer lump sum one-time payments to their spouses to eliminate the monthly reminders of the marriage.  Lump sum payments are attractive because they eliminate the anxiety of the recipient each month when the payments are due; and, lump sum payments can be far more constructive and useful in wealth planning and investments.  They can also be used for down payments on real estate. It is so easy in a divorce that is raw and contentious for the recipient of spousal support to want to punish their spouse by refusing a lump sum payment in order to torture the payor with required monthly payments, but that’s really hurting the recipient more than the payor. Divorce is about moving forward and creating a new life.  Refusing an offer that can advance the financial life of the recipient may have the short-term gain of justice-seeking but will result in a long-term loss.

There are so many other areas in a divorce settlement in which compromise can take place so that the divorce can end sooner rather than later.  Regardless of the compromise areas, the goal behind compromise is to look at how a compromise will benefit one or both parties going forward. That requires that each spouse has to prioritize what’s important to them and share that with the other spouse. It’s that sharing of priorities, coupled with a willingness to let go of the anger and the ills that are part of a dissolution of a relationship that will be most beneficial because divorce, then, becomes a new beginning, a release of the old relationship with all its problems, and an embrace of a future that is a canvas waiting to come to life.

Listen to the Episode Here: https://judyweigle.podbean.com/e/exit-interview-with-colleen-o-neil/ 


Colleen O’Neil, MSW, M.Ed. brings remarkable credentials and impeccable skill sets in assisting others with creating exceptional agreements. She is a mediator, educator, therapist and life coach. She has been helping individuals, children, couples and families to create a space where each individual may feel heard and safe.

Colleen worked for the Cambridge, MA District Attorney’s office assisting victims of violence, homicide, rape and child abuse. She has trained law enforcement in victims services, empowering them with knowledge and skill sets necessary to help victims.

Colleen is a board member of Shared Parenting Council of Connecticut working to improve state laws and policies governing divorce, parenting and family court processes.

O’Neil’s work is focused extensively as a Relationship expert, Divorce Mediator and Life Coach. Her additional mediation training, and personal experience going through divorce, is what makes Colleen an accomplished, qualified and competent divorce professional to assist in creating balanced and tailored mediation agreements.

Colleen maintains a private mediation practice and divorce coaching practice in Westport, CT.



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