Rocking the Relationship Boat

With a month left to go before she graduated from the police academy in Florida, Kelly Rothwell, 35 was moving forward to a new chapter in her life.  Her plans included ending a volatile relationship with her dangerous boyfriend of over 3 years. The boyfriend controlled and monitored her cell phone and computer activity.  When she was out of his radar, the boyfriend stalked her.  Kelly’s training at the police academy would turn her fears and anxieties into strength.

On March 12, 2011, Kelly picked up her keys to her new residence then met with a friend for lunch before heading over to the boyfriends and announcing in person, the relationship was over.  Kelly Rothwell was never seen or heard from again.  Now she joins the thousands of other women who attempted to end the relationship without a solid plan of action.  Law enforcement has since named the boyfriend as a suspect in this case.  It is no surprise he was the last person to see Kelly.

Time and time again we read about women who were planning or have already ended their marriage or relationship, reported missing or discovered dead.  The abuser has a plan and so should you!  Prior to ending the relationship or rocking the boat in a court of law, follow the instructions provided in the book “Time’s Up A Guide on How to Leave and Survive Abusive and Stalking Relationships,” available here at the Institute or  at   And if you do nothing else, before you announce the ending of your relationship be sure to prepare the Evidentiary Abuse Affidavit and video located in the book.

Understanding the Benefits of Mediation in Divorce – Part II

A mediator does not represent either party. Rather, a mediator creates a cooperative environment when both you and your spouse can work together to reach an agreement on the terms of your divorce. Both you and your spouse have the right to also consult individually with an attorney during this process. Once the agreement is reached, the mediator will write up the agreement into a document where both you and your spouse will then be able to file the document with additional court papers to obtain a divorce.

This process only works if both you and your spouse are willing to make a full financial disclosure, and if you both are willing to make a good faith effort to reach an agreement.

The benefits of mediation are:

Lower cost because this process is less time consuming. The amount of time involved to reach an agreement varies based on the level of conflict, the number of issues and the complexity of both your finances. A typical mediation where both you and your spouse agree typically takes approximately 10 hours.

Less painful for your children because you avoid the long court process and litigation involved with ending your marriage.

Mediated settlements can be prepared by a lawyer or a certified divorce mediator.

The benefit to a mediator is when you and your spouse have reached an agreement on all issues, and you simply are looking for the most inexpensive and yet professional completing the necessary paperwork to finalize your divorce.

Hiring a Qualified Mediator:

  • Call your local County Clerk’s Office and ask for a list of mediators in your area.
  • Check the yellow pages under “Divorce Mediation”
  • Make sure whomever you choose has been mediating for at least 3 years.
  • Ask for a list of references.
  • Ask for a fee agreement in writing once you have selected someone.
  • Consult with a lawyer before an agreement is finalized to have them review and make any changes to the document.

Ending a Relationship is not an easy road to travel. It is survivable only when you are able to do the work necessary to move on with your life. You will make it.

Understanding the Benefits of Mediation in Divorce – Part I

It is the New Year and you are weighing your options to file for a divorce.  I suggest a less costly and time consuming alternative is to hire a mediator.

What is a mediator? It is a neutral person. They do not take sides and they are not there to be your marriage therapist. Their goal is to assist you by removing the drama and tension often associated with a long drawn out court battle. In fact, they are not even allowed to give you legal advice. The mediator begins, by meeting each party separately. You fill out questions and provide financial information. In addition, you list concerns over custody and parenting issues.

After the initial meeting, you will then meet with the mediator together and work out issues so that you can come up with an agreement that serves you both. That agreement is then submitted to the courts for final review usually by a judge. (States vary on this, so please check your local statues.)

The goal of mediation is to not place any blame in the marriage, but rather promote and plan for a healthy future for you, your spouse, and your children. You create the divorce agreement between the two of you with the assistance of the mediator not the courts.

Before you say, “I am not interested in doing that, I want to hire a lawyer,” you should seek consultation with a lawyer to understand your options. A lawyer can review the documents drawn up by a mediator and make changes and suggestions before it is submitted to the courts.
Have you ever sat in on a divorce trial? The answer most likely is no. Before you make that all important-life changing decision, why don’t you go your local courthouse to family court or domestic relations (whatever it may be called in your area) and sit through a morning or afternoon of court calls and/or hearings of others going through a divorce.

It is not a pretty site, especially if there is a lot of tension between the divorcing parties, the lawyers, and the judge. As you view the court process, try and picture yourself sitting there with your lawyer and your spouse sitting with their lawyer. Observe the fact that these two intelligent people have hired complete strangers to argue what can become “unimportant stuff” and a court reporter is taking down every word said for the court that will then become public record. Do you really want to participate in ending your marriage that way? Some of those people in court have been there for years or more and still are not divorced.

Keep the Turkey on the Table

It is the holidays and you were sure that your relationship would last until the end of time, but it did not sustain.  However, those emotions still tied to the person remain, and you are teetering after that warm and fuzzy holiday text message or phone call you just received.  You have all but wiped away the memory of the last time you were together. Perhaps you were blamed or hurt by a circumstance or a situation that you were made to feel was your fault.  Finally, you had enough and began moving forward with your life. You worked hard to untie those emotional strings and the memories you once shared.

Holiday or nor not, how many more times are you going to allow a person with whom you were in a relationship to make excuses for their outbursts? Either through yelling at you because the boss got on their back, or there is not enough money through the end of the month to buy groceries and somehow your partner is blaming you? The house is in shambles, the kids have been up all night with the flu and you are whacked across the face by your “loving partner” because things are not the way ” THEY” expect them. Your partner informs you, similar to placing you on notice, that you have had this conversation before.

On the phone that warm and fuzzy feeling returns as he speaks to you so tenderly and warm. Your knees buckle a bit as the familiar scent of a toxic tune plays in their voice. He reminds you of all the other holidays you shared and the importance of family, knowing what will pull you back into him with his toxic sweet talk.  He says “can’t we try again for the sake of what we had or the kids?”  And then he adds a pinch of “baby it’s the holidays,” and your response should be yes it is, “happy holidays to you” thank you for calling.

The turkey you prepare should be the only one in attendance this year at your holiday table, and not sitting in the chair next to you.

Remember don’t invite the pathological live turkey to show up at your door for the holidays.

Caution: Relationship Lane Changes – Part 2

Last month’s article ( ) began the story of Susan Powell, a married stockbroker and devoted mother to two young sons. Over time, Susan’s husband Josh became more and more controlling.  Their marriage deteriorated. At this point in a relationship, many abusers begin to formulate a plan born of anger and desperation.

This plan remains in the abuser’s mind until they notice subtle signs of movement. Perhaps Josh walked into the room as Susan whispered into the phone. When she realized he was in the room, she quickly changed her tone or ended the phone call. Perhaps he learned Susan set up a bank account, and decided she was hiding money so she and the kids could leave.

The signs of movement spark Josh, or any potential abuser, to think of the next level. They think to themselves, “OK, she is going to leave me. I will not let that happen”. He acts as though nothing is wrong. When she goes to sleep, however, Josh leaps into action.  He may:

  • rummage through her car looking for evidence of her plan–a bank receipt or an unusual transaction or charge
  • check her cell phone for any unusual numbers he does not recognize
  • search her computer, checking to see which websites she visited

He finds something. Inwardly his anger skyrockets and his heart races. Outwardly, he remains calm and says nothing to Susan. A smile comes to his face. He “caught her,” and he figures in the future, she will pay one way or another.

Susan begins to email a trusted circle of friends about Josh’s abuse and threats. Maybe she keeps a detailed log containing dates and times of the incidents.

Next, Josh does what I label the “smell change.” Susan acts strangely. Josh, like most abusers, literally senses, or “smells” when his environment has shifted. Perhaps Susan verbalizes her unhappiness more often. Maybe she stands up for herself during a fight, where months before she would have backed down and gone to her room without incident.

Most abused women have difficulty hiding that “spark of empowerment” from a clever abuser. The abuser smells the spark, like a fox scents prey as he enters a coop full of chickens.

On December 7, 2009, Susan Powell of Utah disappeared. Law enforcement personnel consider her husband Josh a person of interest.

Susan Powell’s case appears no different from millions of cases of intimate partner violence we never hear about, until women disappear and someone finds their bodies. Often no “official documentation” of the abuse exists because the terrified women did not contact police or obtain a court order of protection. Why? Better than anyone, the victims know the court order of protection would not help. The court order of protection would only escalate the level of danger.

A Special Note from Susan…

Before you announce your thoughts about how unhappy you are or that the relationship simply is not working for you any longer, have a solid plan in place. Women often fail to plan ahead in leaving, underestimating what the abuser can and actually ends up doing. The Institute offers exit planning strategies to prevent you from becoming an abuse statistic or the victim of Intimate Partner Homicide. If we can help you strategize to get ready for disconnection, please let us. Most of all, be safe.

Caution: Relationship Lane Changes – Part 1

Susan Powell was a stockbroker, a devoted mother to two young sons, married to Josh. As a stockbroker, she brought home a larger paycheck than her husband.  As time passed in their marriage, Josh reportedly turned controlling. He insisted Susan tell him what she was doing when not under his radar. Josh probably demanded she tell him how much she spent—on herself and for household goods and services. In this type of scenario, as the tension mounts, the disagreements build up. The arguments escalate from yelling to shoving; bedroom doors are slammed with greater frequency, and the couple drifts apart.  It’s like they are racing cars in parallel lanes—each accelerating, abruptly changing lanes, ducking emotional traffic and fearing a collision.

Women sometimes hope having children will change an abusive mate’s behavior. They hope the abuser will turn his/her life around for the sake of the children, resulting in a happy home life.

For Susan Powell, that didn’t happen. Pregnant, perhaps under circumstances beyond her control (she could have been forced as some are in marriage), Susan brought her second child into the world three years after her first.  By that time, anger and violent outbursts had become commonplace in her marriage. Susan likely announced “The marriage is over.”

In the majority of abusive marriages such as this one, making statements such as, “we need to divorce” or “this is not fair to the children and I can no longer go on living this way” can be potentially lethal.  For the safety of both the woman and her children, it is vital to have a plan in place before making such an announcement.

There is a stage for women, abused or not, when they verbally announce they are taking steps to end their marriage. This action lays the foundation for a scorned and angry abuser to consider their own course of action. At this stage, women begin confiding in coworkers or close friends. As I later learned from her friends and coworkers, this is exactly what Susan did.

To understand more about how alleged offenders think, I will use Josh Powell as an example. He began formulating a plan no different from the plans of other violent persons—one born of anger and desperation:

  • Anger because the person is leaving and ending the relationship.
  • Desperation over what he (the abuser) will be forced to carry out if he cannot persuade his partner to remain in the relationship.

Part 2 will appear next month…

A Special Note from Susan…

Before you announce your thoughts about how unhappy you are or that the relationship simply is not working for you any longer, have a solid plan in place. Women often fail to plan ahead in leaving; the underestimate what the abuser can and actually does ends up doing. The Institute offers exit planning strategies to prevent you from becoming an abuse statistic or the victim of Intimate Partner Homicide. If we can help you strategize to get ready for disconnection,* please let us. Most of all, be safe.

* You can learn more about this service here.

When a Divorce is Unexpected

You are now in a position where all your decisions will most assuredly impact your future.  You must think logically and strategically while going through this period.  If you feel you don’t know which way to turn and need advice, you may want to consult a relationship strategist or divorce planning expert before you take the first steps and consult an attorney.  Be sure that the professional is someone who has your best interests at the forefront and represents you well.  They should be able to advise you on a number of things, especially how to choose the right attorney and how to prepare yourself for your first consultation.

Follow these steps to keep on track:

  • Consult a lawyer immediately (consultation for the first half hour or so is usually free).
  • Bring with you to the lawyer a list of prepared questions to ask.
  • Try not to spend that free time crying or talking about your marriage. A lawyer is not there to be your therapist. Stick to only the facts as it pertains to children, finances and property. You are there to interview and possibly hire them.
  • Copy or scan all documents including wills, car titles, etc., and anything you find on the computer.
  • If you have an iPod, video camera or camera, take two pictures of everything including appliances, cars, artwork, antiques, jewelry, furniture etc.
  • Whatever you do, do not pack up and move out until the divorce is final (consult a lawyer first).
  • If you have never had a credit card in your own name, start applying now to establish a credit history of your own.
  • Try to remain as calm as possible when you tell the children. Do not speak negatively of or badmouth the other parent.
  • Do not use your children as a confidant. Do not involve your children in divorce preparation.
  • Try to keep the kid’s regularly scheduled activities and routines as normal as possible.

Consulting with a legal professional before you are served with divorce papers will better prepare you in the days and months that follow. A good attorney will be able to provide you with a clear understanding of your legal rights.

For more information refer to “Moving Out, Moving On.” You can order the e-book version here. You can also book a session with me to strategize your exit and future here.

Important Note:  If you have been in an abusive marriage you should inquire as to the lawyer’s expertise as it relates to domestic violence, orders of protection, stalking, and whether or not he has represented women who have been abused.