Divorce When One Parent Comes Out
Disclaimer: The materials and content within this podcast are intended as general information only and are not to be considered a substitute for professional legal advice or a consultation with a lawyer.
1. Family Law Tip of the Week
If you and the other party need to divide a retirement plan by way of a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO), be sure to have that QDRO done at the same time you have the divorce finalized. Failing to do this and waiting until retirement happens opens both parties up to huge financial risk and future litigation.
2. Divorce When One Parent Comes Out
Jay Forte is the founder and CEO of The Greatness Zone, as well as an author, motivational speaker, and coach. In today’s episode of The Family Law Insider, Jay shares with us his experience with divorce when he came out to his ex-spouse and revealed he is gay.
The Family Rules
Jay was raised in a family that had a rule of how life was to be; being gay was not one of those rules. Being gay was not a possibility in Jay’s mind. He knew that he was different, but also knew what his family rules were. He went through life living with a formula that was instilled by his family and his family’s religion: Study hard, get a good job, get married, have kids, and be happy.
“That’s great. But what if you’re the gay kid?”
That doesn’t really work for you. But at the same time, how do you not break your parents’ heart? And how do you fit in to a world that says what you really are is not what you should be? When something is left unattended, it will surface and show up and need to be attended.
“I had everything that we should have.”
Life could not have been better for Jay. It was exactly what everybody said he should have. But it was the thing that brought him to the point where he said, “I can’t do this anymore.” He came out to his wife. During the very difficult conversation, Jay explained that the challenge wasn’t her, it was him. And, it was something that he had hoped to hide in his whole life. When she asked, “Now what do we do?” The only answer they could come up with was, “I don’t know.”
“It was just in my face and I wanted to get it out of my face.”
Jay and his wife didn’t succeed in getting help from a spiritual counselors. The church was much more convinced that he renounce his homosexuality, rather than deal with it.
It took Jay and his wife about a year and a half of counseling until they eventually decided they couldn’t stay together. It was too hard for Jay’s wife to think that he didn’t truly want to be in the relationship with her. It was also too hard for her, from a fait standpoint. In his wife’s mind, being gay was a right or wrong issue. It wasn’t a humanity issue, but a liturgical issue. It put his wife in a really difficult bind to possibly love someone so much, but also have this challenge to her faith.
Jay and his (now) ex-wife didn’t get upset with each other over the divorce. However, they didn’t know how to go through it because they still cared about each other. They didn’t know how not to hurt each other. But at the same time, they didn’t have information about how each could deal with it painlessly.
When the moment was right, Jay was responsible for telling the kids about the reason for the departure.The most difficult day for him, however, was the day he had to tell the kids that he was moving out.
The challenge that it created for Jay’s ex-wife and his kids was nothing he would have wished on them. So he and his ex worked hard to make sure that the kids were okay. Neither parent wanted them to feel weird and grow up as victims of battling parents in a divorce.
“Who do you blame on this one?”
No one wants anyone to be sad or hurt, and in many cases that’s what it is. Jay’s wife could have gotten mad at him for not telling her, but Jay didn’t intend to tell anybody. For it to be so large that he couldn’t deal with it was a call for help more than anything. When his ex understood that, the thing that helped Jay come into some peace, was when she said,
“I know how much you have to give up in order to do this.”
“If this is who you are and this is what’s going on, there are ways to do it well.”
Jay was committed to making sure that his family was safe, no matter what. He stepped boldly into being whoever he needed to be–for them. Jay and his ex-wife went out as loving parents who didn’t want their kids to look like they belonged on a reality show. Though they had this big change, he loves who his kids have become. The children have seen that people in conflict can work things out when they care.“If you’re gay and you’re about to come out to your family, find some resources that help you land on your feet to be sure about what it is that you want in your life, and then bring them in, in a caring, loving, way… Because this will change a lot of people.”
“Is it right or wrong to be gay?”
What do you think it is, for you? Find counselors who are skilled in helping people identify what’s true for you and who are sensitive to the issue of gay identity and being gay within a marriage. There’ll be complexities about how people feel and how you have to handle kids. A skilled guidance counselor, who knows how to deal with the LGBT community, can provide that.
“I have a right to be who I am…”
Jay and his ex-wife were in different minds about his homosexuality. That was not a good formula for helping their kids. But Jay found the right opportunity to come out with his kids.
It took one of the children 2 or 3 months to be okay with it. Sometimes life brings you things and says, “This one is yours.” Jay asked his daughter what they could do so it could be a good thing. They talked for a while and the conversation ended up with her coming to the realization that it was not a big deal after all.
Kids are resilient. It helps when the other relationship partner doesn’t create road blocks, too. There are some people who can look past the event and care more about the people who are affected by it.
“Don’t make your battles their battles.”
There is time for you to grieve and feel bad, and there are people who can help you with that… But it’s not your kids. Don’t dump that stuff on your kids.
The Right Time for a New Partner
There wasn’t somebody who showed up for Jay right away. While everyone was getting used to the new family dynamic, Jay and his ex-wife managed to go to their children’s events together. They gave the world a little time to process. Jay made sure he was aware of what his kids knew and who he would let them meet in his world.
“Involve them in the questioning part.”
Where are they? What kinds of things do they see on TV? What kinds of things are their friends involved in? What’s their perspective about that? How would they feel if somebody else started to join you? What would they think about it? What would they feel about it?
Jay thinks parents need to get a barometer about what their children might be feeling. The only way to do that is to sit down with them, clear all the technology out of the way, and just spend some true, one-on-one time together to feel for where they are. Saying “Hey, there’s somebody I want to introduce to you. Are you okay with that?” is really different from “What if you bring a couple of friends? How does that feel? Would you have a problem if I’ll be bringing a friend?”
If you give them a voice in the process, that means you’re listening to feedback. Parents may not agree with their kid’s perspective. But if that’s where the kids are, the parents need to meet them, and help them be okay.”
“Life is not for you to pretend.”
There are lot of people affected by a revelation such as when a parent comes out. That means you always have to watch how the rest of the world is doing as you try to watch yourself on how you are doing. This was utterly fatiguing for Jay.
For him, he couldn’t do work that he does now, had he not been through that epic event that said, “Stop pretending.” If you’re miserable, say something, do something, change it, ask about it, or talk to somebody. Because at the end, all that you’ll do is just hate it. It was going back and saying, “How do I show up big to what it is that I have?”
The moment that we set ourselves up for the ability to talk about things that we wouldn’t normally talk about, we realize we’re not the only person in the picture.
Show up big to the life that you’ve got
“Stop playing small.”
This is the one life you’re supposed to have. If you look for it, you’ll find some huge value. Jay spent his life afraid and cursed the “gay thing” his whole life until he realized that what it was trying to get him to do was be courageous and show up big. Though it was hard, life on the other side of a big decision like that is limitless. It’s not perfect, but it’s really remarkable to be on the other side of owning a really tough and big decision.
3. Thoughts From the Life Coach
In this week’s thoughts, James talks about not making things more complicated than they really are.