New Year appears in the shadows of winter, nudging us along, motivating our gluttonous souls forward into the growing light of future months.

 Resolutions are made with intention and yet our resolutions often fall away, leaving behind a dimming glimmer of our hopes and dreams for ourselves, unmet and abandoned.

 Many resolutions are familiar to us as we have all made these resolutions- to become organized, to develop a skill or learn a language, to exercise or lose weight, to eat better. Some resolutions are less familiar to us but perhaps should be more embraced in our lives.

 January also brings resolutions of personal honesty and self-reflection. Mediation cases and inquiries accelerate in January. The metaphorical tinsel has been packed away and we are left with the clear and uncluttered truth. “Something has to change. I cannot avoid this any longer. I cannot live like this any longer.”

 This is especially true for separation and divorce. The process of divorce and separation is slow and arduous at times. Parties feel as though they are slogging through the sordid details of their lives- challenges and financials are laid bare to be examined and discussed by others. “Who is responsible for that mistake, why did you buy that, why didn’t you try harder?”

 Who would ever willingly subject themselves to such examination? No wonder couples delay initiating a separation and divorce. Tonight there will be a spouse sleeping on a mattress in the unfinished basement, no longer welcome in their own bedroom but not yet ready to move out. The desire to avoid what needs to be addressed and rectified is powerful.

 Mediation is an option to explore. Mediation is not about win/loss, right/wrong, accusation/defense but rather about what is the best settlement and resolution that leaves everyone as whole as possible, without shame or guilt.

The darkness of January will yield to the promise of more light and hope.


Sheila-Marie Untiedt

Rule 114 Qualified Mediator, Parenting Consultant PC

Early Neutral Elevator ENE

Clean Slate



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65 is the new 45

I have been noticing a trend with divorce mediation clients I have been working with that directly parallels a national trend. Many clients are seeking to separate and divorce after 30 or even 40 years of marriage. The term for this phenomenon is “Gray Divorce”.

I recently worked with a couple who were 60 and 62 years old. They had been married 36 years. Their children were married or moved out. The husband and wife were both still working, both physically healthy active people with lots of interests and activities.

They simply had drifted apart. Neither claimed the other was unfaithful, no addictive behavior, no staggering debt, no clear cause or root of the separation. Somewhere along their daily lives they stopped interacting with each other and stopped relying on each other. Careers, work travel and frankly social media and instant internet access steal away intimacy and energy from a marriage. Suddenly you are 63 and realize you have been living with a roommate instead of a spouse.

Friends and family will be surprised to hear they are separating, but not really. We all know people in that situation, maybe even ourselves. Al and Tipper Gore separated in their early 60s after 40 years of marriage. The presidential campaign and election apparently toppled an already weakened foundation.

Many 65 year olds live as though they are 35 or 45. They are planning for the future, launching new businesses, running half-marathons, pursuing interests, publishing, creating art, traveling. 65 used to be considered “senior citizens”. The term suggested early bird dinners, coupon clipping, Buicks and The Price is Right. That reality may be true for some people but not for the Gray Divorce clients I have been working with.

Sheila-Marie Untiedt

Rule 114 Qualified Mediator, Parenting Consultant PC and Early Neutral Elevator ENE

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Divorce can be a terrifying and confusing process. Everyone has an opinion as to what are the best options for you to pursue. Should you try to mediate first, retain an attorney immediately, move out, stay put together in the same house? Empty out joint bank accounts, take only half the funds? Everyone has a sister, a brother-in-law, a neighbor, a co-worker, someone with a horror story to share.

It appears to be a giant chess game of strategies and positions. Individuals can feel as though they truly are just a pawn in a winner-takes-all chess game.

Every situation is unique. Every couple has unique challenges and strengths. No two divorces are alike, as no two medical treatments are alike. Results may vary- the same disclaimer as every pharmaceutical commercial on television.

Let me share some reliable information to consider in two major elements of divorce- child support and spousal maintenance. Both issues are emotionally charged and fraught with well-meaning “advice”.

Child Support– Minnesota has a Child Support Calculator which is used to determine the court ordered amount of child support to be paid when minor children are involved. The calculator collects the same information from every divorcing couple- income- if any- of each spouse, number of children, percentage of time the children will spend with each parent, children from previous relationships and other sources of income. The calculator runs the provided numbers through a matrix model and calculates the amount of child support paid to be paid by a parent. The calculator is straight-forward and accepted by the courts. The challenges come when the percentage of parenting time is straddling a step up or down on the calculator, and when there are large swings in annual income or other unusual circumstances.

Spousal Maintenance– Spousal maintenance (alimony) is very different from child support calculations. There is not a calculator or a recognized guideline. Determination of spousal support is a best “squishy”. Spousal support is intended to help a spouse bridge time to return to the workforce, complete a degree or find childcare. A classic example would be a stay-at-home Mom to three kids 10, 8 and 5 years of age. They were married twelve years. She worked until the birth of their first child. She cannot return to work tomorrow and earn enough money to support herself to her previous standard of living. She will need spousal maintenance- how much, how long? Spousal support is the element of divorce where the negotiations really occur. A spouse can waive spousal maintenance; can reserve spousal maintenance in the future or even agree to not claim spousal maintenance in consideration for a more favorable property settlement. Your neighbor’s spousal maintenance settlement will vary from your cousin’s settlement. It is the nature of negotiations.

Every divorce is different. Mediation is a useful, safe and thoughtful opportunity to work though the possible scenarios and settlements. The two spouses understand their working dynamics, especially when children are involved. In mediation both parents work together to craft a settlement that is organic and sustainable because they helped to design and create the settlement.

Sheila-Marie Untiedt

Rule 114 Qualified Mediator, Parenting Consultant PC and Early Neutral Evaluator ENE

Clean Slate



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Scenes from the orthodontist’s office

I was waiting at the orthodontist’s office during my child’s appointment. I was seated next to the office door of the financial administer which was closed and I could only hear muffled conversation.

Someone opened the front door which caused the financial administrator’s door to pop open slightly. She did not realize the door had opened or she certainly would have closed it. Honestly, I should have closed it myself and in hindsight I would have. I was so saddened by what I heard.

I entered the conversation right after the phone rang;

“Yes, X has an appointment today at 2:30.”

“No, the bill has not been paid.”

“Yes, I understand this bill is your ex-husband’s responsibility.”

“Yes, I have made many attempts to contact him regarding the balance.”

“Yes, I understand it is not your responsibility.”

“No, I will not try to collect from you.”

“No, I do not know when he intends to pay the balance.”

“What? You want me to instruct the front desk to turn X away?”

“No, I would never refuse scheduled treatments to X.”

“Why not? X needs to have the braces adjusted in a progression. We would never delay or refuse treatment.”

“Well, I am sorry you feel that way.”

“Hello? Hello?”

The administrator was compassionate and caring. She was the lone voice of reason. Poor X, what must her interactions be like when her parents really need to cooperate and support her? I cannot imagine.

Sheila-Marie Untiedt

Rule 114 Qualified Mediator, Parenting Consultant PC and Early Neutral Elevator ENE

Clean Slate



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A Scene From the Recital Hall-

I recently attended a recital on a cloudy Sunday afternoon.  Let’s be honest, other than the recital student you attend to hear perform their recital piece, your mind begins to wander, at least mine does. I was seated to the back of the recital space which gave me a great view of the other guests. I often find myself attempting to puzzle together who these people belong with and a little about them and their stories and their relationships. Occupational hazard I guess.

Seated directly in front of me was a couple with their 10-year old son. The wife was sitting next to the boy and had her right arm around the boy’s shoulders. After a minute or two a gentlemen sitting on the other side of the boy reached out his left arm and draped it across the boy’s shoulders also. The woman turned her head and hesitated and began to remove her arm. The man whispered “I am sorry” and removed his arm.

The woman’s husband leaned over and whispered “Is everything ok?” and she quickly responded “Oh yes, just fine.”

I quickly realized the boy’s mother and father were seated on either side of him and his step-parents were seated next to each of his parents. The recital just got a bit more interesting.

After the recital during the obligatory juice and cookie reception I could not help but watch this family interact. The boy’s parents were talking with each other and with their son, the stepparents were standing to the side waiting quietly. The boy’s stepmother took numerous photos of the boy and his parents, then the boy and his Mom and step-father and handed her camera to the boy’s mother who took photos of the boy with his Dad and stepmother.

These four adults were stunning examples of successful co-parenting. They all put the boy first and behaved with grace and elegance. The boy clearly felt loved and supported at his recital, which is the point after all.

Sheila-Marie Untiedt


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53 Paper Bags

53 Paper Bags

In early January I received a call from a mediation client. She is an elderly woman who had been a participant in an elder care issue with her children. She left me a voicemail asking me to send her a copy of her mediation receipt as she could not locate it or had misplaced the receipt. I printed of a copy of her 2014 receipt and mailed it off to her. I called her to let her know it was on the way. She proudly explained to me that she keeps a paper grocery bag for each year’s receipts, warranties, tax records, bank statements. When all the records are collected for that year she seals the bag, writes the year on the side and puts the bag up in the attic. I thought to myself that is actually a pretty good record keeping system until she said “Yep, I have bags going all the way back to 1961 when I moved into this house.”

53 years of documents, receipts, checkbook registers, papers. 53 paper bags of slowly deteriorating- likely mouse eaten- papers cluttering her attic. 53 bags of now useless records that are probably a fire hazard. Granted, the last 7 years or so are valuable but not the rest of those bags.

I have been thinking a lot about those 53 paper bags and how every person brings their own concepts of what is valuable and correct in all our personal interactions. We all have differing ideas and expectations of what is right and appropriate. We all have been shaped by our own life experiences. When our own expectations and belief systems come into conflict with another person’s differing perspective we are at odds with each other. Conflict happens in business issues, personal marital relationships, neighbors, extended families, and governmental bodies. Conflict occurs easily, resolution is more elusive.

The woman firmly believes- or perceives- those 53 bags will be an aid to her children and a gift of excellent records. I suspect after she dies her children- who are already in conflict with each other- will curse those brittle paper bags as they bring them down one by one from the attic. One woman’s thoughtful act becomes another person’s dirty job.

It just depends who you ask.

Sheila-Marie Untiedt

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Why choose mediation?

I believe we have all had a similar experience, either with a friend or acquaintance or perhaps ourselves. If you were to ask a recently divorced individual the following questions, the answers are likely universal and firm-

-Did you feel honored and respected throughout the legal process?

-Do you believe the legal process helped you establish a “working relationship” with your ex for the years ahead?

-Did you feel you were a participant in your divorce process or did you feel more like an observer hoping for a favorable outcome?

-Do you feel your legal representation was a “good value” and good return on your investment of time, trust and money?

Usually, with few exceptions the answers to those four questions are No, No, Observer and No.

Our current legal system in the United States is predicated on a Win-Lose scenario. If one party “wins” or benefits than the other party must “lose” or give up something. The legal system has very specific criteria and systems when couples determine they want to terminate their marriage. When you hire an attorney to represent you in a divorce case you are hiring that attorney to represent and protect your interests, period. Attorneys do exactly what you have agreed to pay them to do; protect your financial and child custody/parenting interests utilizing the law and strategies to your advantage. Attorneys are often blamed and cited as out of control, running up their billings, creating additional tension and frankly not always seeing the larger view. I will defend attorneys on this point as they are doing exactly what clients ask them to do, and clients begrudgingly pay their attorneys very well to do it!

So, why would you choose mediation? Mediation focuses on the best possible outcome for everyone involved and asks how we can determine a settlement that is fair as it can be to everyone involved, especially when children are involved.
Mediation is very different from the traditional legal process. Mediation is not focused on who “wins and who “loses”. The formal definition of mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) that aims to assist disputants in reaching an agreement. Mediation, in real life, is your chance to actively participate and fashion an outcome you truly agree with and support instead of just accepting another party’s decision for you.
Mediation provides a setting to both accept and acknowledge the past and also to start fresh in creating a new and more positive future. The parties in mediation craft that outcome and plan through commonality and cooperation. Clients work together with the neutral mediator to come to a fair and workable agreement. Each party represents their own interests while the mediator represents the process and the final agreement. The mediator listens for agreement and commonalities and builds on each success. The mediator is always working toward a fair settlement both parties agree to.

Remember the four questions regarding your friend’s traditional legal system divorce? In a mediated settlements the answers could be Yes, Yes, participant and yes.
-Did you feel honored and respected throughout the legal process?
Mediation utilizes discussion, listening, understanding and cooperation to negotiate a mutually acceptable decision or agreement. Sometimes the mediator is a referee, reminding the parties that fighting and old conversations will not help create a settlement. Honestly, many clients choose to work with a therapist after their personal issues have been teased apart and unwoven from the divorce agreement.
-Do you believe the legal process heaped you establish a “working relationship” with your ex for the years ahead?
Mediation provides a forum in which people in separation and divorce matters work proactively to create a workable and sustainable agreement. In almost all divorces the individuals still interact in the future. Mediation gives them the ability to sit together at graduation or attend the ex’s father funeral because they have not created additional issues, resentments and anger in the divorce wrangling of traditional legal system divorces.
-Did you feel you were a participant in your divorce process or did you feel more like an observer hoping for a favorable outcome?
Mediation is a voluntary process. Parties select mediation because simply stated their marriage is over and must be resolved and settled. They must divide their property, determine custody and parenting issue- if they have children- and plan a path to navigate their future interactions.
Every mediation case is different. Some couples use a mediator exclusively and file their own court papers, some use a mediator to create the settlement and then hire an attorney to file; some have been consulting with their attorney through out the process. There is no right or wrong way to mediate. You are in control of the process.
-Do you feel your legal representation was a “good value” and good return on your investment of time, trust and money?
Mediation is usually less costly and also usually a faster process than traditional legal representation and litigation. Mediation can work simultaneously with the legal system if parties already have attorney representation. Often clients will decide their own settlements in mediation and after the mediation process, and then they will have attorneys review the settlement. Those couples literally do the “homework” first, write the paper and only then do their turn in their “homework” for review.
Mediation clients might add “I really felt honored and respected during my divorce. The process made me feel as though my healing and journey to my new and different life had begun. I believe I had an active role in determining my life’s path. I was able to conserve my assets by limiting my legal fees and I can use my savings as I chart my new path.”
Sheila-Marie Untiedt

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My younger daughter and I volunteer at a food shelf as shoppers. We meet the clients and guide them through the shelves of the food shelf helping them make their selections and making certain they do not miss any categories. The broad spectrum of clients always amazes me; from young single mothers, to singles adults, elderly, physically challenged, large families, mentally challenged, your neighbor, my neighbor, the list is endless. We are to be friendly and helpful but we are not to ask personal questions or make the clients uncomfortable, for obvious reasons. Every once in a while we will have a client “type” we have helped before.

She is in her 50’s or 60’s, well dressed; her intake sheet indicates she is shopping for one adult, often plus a pet. Her eyes are downcast and she rarely makes eye contact. She is very quiet and polite but only answers our questions, never asks any of her own. She selects her items quickly and moves through the “store” as quickly as possible. She has an energy radiating from her of sadness and loss. She thanks us and leaves immediately.

I can only guess but I personally am certain she is separated and waiting for her divorce to be finalized. She has absolutely no available cash while the divorce drags on and on. She does not have money for gas, groceries, even the most fundamental needs. Her husband’s divorce team strategy is to “ice” his wife until she settles for less in the divorce settlement. Generally their kids- if they had children- are out of the house and only his wife is left to wait for the settlement. Sometimes this can last for months and months and months.

Thank heavens there are food shelves, friends, and neighbors to help her through. It all seems so cruel and sad. We all know or have known someone in this situation, or at least suspect it. I need to be clear; it can be a wife controlling money and the settlement too.

These women later, after their settlements and finalized divorce, often volunteer at the food shelf.

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This entry is reposted from an excellent article. It is worth reposting.

“10 Signs Your Kid Is Handling Divorce in a Positive Way by Rosalind Sedacca
Divorce and Parenting Coach, Author, Founder of Child-Centered Divorce Network

We all know divorce can take its toll on both parents and their children. However, that doesn’t have to be the case. Parents who focus their love and attention on safeguarding their children’s well-being, who provide security, make sound decisions and keep their children away from adult conflict and anxiety, have children that grow up happy and well-adjusted, despite the divorce. Parents who make serious divorce mistakes have children who pay the consequences through emotional pain and psychological wounds.

Here are ten ways to identify whether your children are coping well after divorce.

1. They look, behave and talk as they always have.

Divorce can be devastating for kids, often resulting in anxiety, fears, hurt, anger, guilt and other negative emotions. If your children are interacting with you and moving through their days pretty much as usual, that’s a good sign. Look for any noticeable changes in mood and behavior and address them early on.

2. They still smile, and react positively to time spent with you.

Angry kids find it hard to hide their emotions and try to avoid contact with their parents. They may get spiteful, aggressive and belligerent or withdraw into their own space and try to ignore you. Happy kids welcome your attention and enjoy being with you — as they were before the divorce.

3. They ask questions about the divorce and changes ahead.

It’s okay for your kids to be concerned about what’s ahead, how their other parent is doing and other issues during and after divorce. Encourage conversations with your children and answer their questions honestly — but in an age-appropriate manner. Never bad-mouth their other parent no matter how justified you may feel.

4. They feel comfortable talking about experiences with both parents.

Well-adjusted kids are not intimidated or afraid to share stories about time spent with either parent. That’s because their parents keep communication open, don’t compete for their attention and never fill them with guilt or shame about loving their other parent.

5. They maintain momentum at school.

Dropping grades or school aggression are signs of problems that may not be apparent otherwise. Talk to your child’s teachers and school counselors. Also talk to your children directly to find out what’s going on with them and how they feel about the changes in their lives. Listen and let them vent so you learn how you can help.

6. They maintain healthy relationships with their friends.

When children lose close friendships after a divorce it’s often due to feelings of embarrassment, shame, guilt, anger or confusion. They feel helpless at home and express their frustrations with friends who may not be able to understand and support them when they need it most. A child therapist can be a big asset for them.

7. They continue with sports, classes or other activities.

Happy children enjoy their after-school classes, clubs, sports and other programs. If they drop out of activities they used to love, that’s a red flag that they aren’t coping well with challenges at home. Time to check with a counselor and/or support group for assistance.

8. They show empathy and compassion for others.

Well-adjusted kids express caring emotions when others are hurting. Disturbed children will act out with siblings, friends, pets and others showing little concern about their feelings. Kids upset about divorce lose their ability to be caring and compassionate, a warning sign that they may be in distress.

9. They talk about the future.

Children who are excited about events ahead: birthday celebrations, holidays, vacations, future school activities and learning new skills are in a positive mind-set about their world. If they’ve lost their enthusiasm for life, that’s a sign of depression and something to look into immediately.

10. They welcome signs of affection from their parents.

Well-adjusted kids are happy to give and receive hugs, kisses, words of encouragement and other signs of affection from their parents. If they avoid contact and don’t respond to your words and expressions of love, they’re sending a distressed message you need to address.

When parents have a healthy attitude about life after divorce their children are more likely to move ahead in a positive way. If you’re having issues that are affecting your children, seek professional assistance as soon as possible. Attending to their needs early on can make the difference between short-term snags and long-term problems that impact your children emotionally and psychologically for decades to come.

Rosalind Sedacca, CCT, is a Divorce and Parenting Coach and author of How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children — with Love! For her free book on Post-Divorce Parenting, her free weekly ezine, coaching services and other valuable resources about divorce and parenting issues visit

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Recently I was speaking with a new client to schedule an initial mediation session for a divorce. She does not work on Fridays and her husband usually can leave work early on Friday afternoons. We were looking for Friday appointment times. “How about Friday February 14th?” I suggested. “Hmmm, no, that is just too sad.” she responded. It took me a moment to realize I had suggested they begin divorce mediation on Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day is fraught with peril for many individuals, especially the recently divorced or separated. For many their divorce feels like a failure of their marriage and they are ashamed the marriage did not last. Failure is a harsh word but it is the word I often hear used by clients. A Valentine’s Day newly alone can be very lonely and isolating.

As humans we naturally focus on the one bad event or experience and instead we forget the all the other good events or experiences. After a mediation session I often think of what I should have said or a better question to have asked instead of the discussions that went well or the progress that was made.

The same tendency to view events as negative applies to divorce. Obviously divorce creates challenges and consequences no one ever anticipated when they were planning their wedding. Divorce also though creates new opportunities and chances for change and growth that were not possible in the spiral of a deteriorating marriage.

After a separation and divorce both parties have a chance to challenge themselves and explore new opportunities. Some clients find solace in support groups, others mentor new divorcees, some focus on their work, some on their children if they have children and others take up new hobbies and sports. Money can be tight after a divorce but so many options have no or very little cost. A cup of coffee and a conversation with a supportive friend at a coffee shop is affordable. Some people begin to date and many eventually enter a serious relationship.

All of these new and positive possibilities exist precisely because of their divorce. New possibilities and positives to focus on exist because they did get divorced.

And no, I will not being mediating a divorce on Valentine’s Day.

Sheila-Marie Untiedt

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