The holidays can be tough for so many, and after a divorce or separation, it can be very hard on children. So how can divorcing or divorced couples better manage the holiday season?
On Lawyer 2 Lawyer, host Craig Williams is joined by attorney Kelly Chang Rickert to discuss divorce and the holidays. They take a look at co-parenting, putting children first, and how to make your child’s holiday the best one yet.
Kelly Chang Rickert: Typically, an arrangement for Christmas would be alternating years. So one spouse would get odd years, the other we get even. Sometimes it went to situations where the couple parts amicably and they live relatively close to each other, they can still spend the holidays together. In the recent times, especially in mediation cases, a lot of couples do spend Christmas together because of their children.
Intro: Welcome to the award-winning podcast Lawyer 2 Lawyer with J. Craig Williams bringing you the latest legal news and observations with the leading experts in the legal profession. You’re listening to Legal Talk Network.
J. Craig Williams: Welcome to the Lawyer 2 Lawyer on the Legal Talk Network, I’m Craig Williams coming to you from Southern California. I write a blog called ‘May It Please the Court’. I have two books out titled ‘How to Get Sued’ and ‘The Sled’.
The holidays can be tough for so many and after a divorce or separation, it’s very hard on children. So how can divorcing or divorced couples better manage the holiday season? Today on Lawyer 2 Lawyer, we’re going to discuss ‘Divorce & the Holidays.’ We’re going to take a look at surviving those holidays, co-parenting, putting children first and how to make your child’s holiday, the best one yet because that’s what it’s all about.
And to do that, we’re joined once again by Kelly Chang Rickert, founder of the Law and Mediations of Kelly Chang, APLC, a law firm dedicated to family law. Kelly routinely appears as a family law expert on both television and radio. She has also written some books ‘Protecting Yourself from False Accusations’ and ‘Two Adventures with Mom and Dad’ which is a divorce book for children and both were Amazon number one bestsellers, not surprisingly.
Kelly’s latest release ‘Hope’s Broken Snow Globe’ with illustrator Tanya Campbell is here just in time for the holidays. Welcome back to the show, Kelly.
Kelly Chang Rickert: Thank you for having me back.
J. Craig Williams: Well, divorce is a tough thing to talk about around the holidays, but you see a lot of it?
Kelly Chang Rickert: Unfortunately, I do. It’s one of those situations where the holidays bring on a lot of misery, people react to it. So I’m quite used to a lot of acrimony during the holidays.
J. Craig Williams: Right. So when you get the inevitable phone call, Christmas eve, what’s your advice?
Kelly Chang Rickert: Well, I’m kind of far removed from that now because I’m partially retired, but back when I was taking those types of cases, I would answer and I would help. But nowadays, I don’t take those types of calls. My colleagues would.
J. Craig Williams: Given the added stress of the holidays, is divorced just an arrow that gets grabbed out of the quiver and wanting to get thrown at your spouse in anger or is it just a time when everybody’s stressed out beyond belief and this is just normal course?
Kelly Chang Rickert: I think it’s both. I do think that the holidays are very stressful for parents. And so, it brings along a lot of problems. And so, if you already have marriage discord, right now would be most pronounced.
J. Craig Williams: Great. Well, it has a big effect on children and then you’ve had some books that you’ve written about that. Tell us about how you think divorce affects children.
Kelly Chang Rickert: Oh, unfortunately divorce affects children in very negative ways. A few years ago, I had the pleasure of reading a book called ‘The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce.’ And basically, the premise is even if the divorce is peaceful and goes along swimmingly, it does leave lasting effects, conscious or subconscious that the children don’t even know about until years later. But the most difficult and awful cases leave the most profound negative impacts on children. And so, for me, I really advocate against behavior like that, especially during the holidays. The holidays are very special to children and that’s partially why I wrote a Christmas book for the children of divorced and separated homes, just empathy and just letting them know that they’re not alone.
J. Craig Williams: Right. So tell us about your book.
Kelly Chang Rickert: The ‘Hope’s Broken Snow Globe’ is about a little girl named Hope who is undergoing the first holiday without both her parents together. And as she’s decorating after Thanksgiving with her father, she discovers this broken snow globe that she accidentally broke last year. She thinks somehow that the breaking of the snow globe caused her parents to split up. And so, the book journeys with her to try to repair that snow globe because in this little girl’s hearts, she just wants her parents back together. So that’s the way the story goes and you’re going to have to buy the book to find out the ending. But basically children, I think somehow always think that they have some part and some responsibility and that they can somehow bring their parents together if they do A, B or C. And as adults, you know that that’s not true, but that’s part of the guilt that children feel during the holidays and the emptiness that goes on as they see Christmas trees and presents and intact families. So, the holidays are very very difficult for children.
J. Craig Williams: How do parents notice this in their children and what should they do to fix it?
Kelly Chang Rickert: I always say that if you’re undergoing like litigious acrimonious divorce proceedings, just take a break through the holidays. Sometimes it’s so important to them and they’re like, “We need to go a next party. It’s a domestic violence restraining order.” I understand that there might be violence or some sort of emergency, but barring any sort of like physical violence I would just say, “Give it a break.” I know that emotional abuse is still abuse, but let’s just give it a break over the holidays. And especially if you have children, just let the children be children during the holidays. The courts are closed, anyway.
J. Craig Williams: Right. Well, a big part of your practice has become mediation. You find that to be helpful?
Kelly Chang Rickert: Yes. I think divorce mediation is amazing because it involves a little bit of therapy. So, I think the most difficult thing for individuals going through divorce it’s feeling that they’re not being heard. And so, they somehow, because of the movies and TV and stupid things like that, they think that going to court is somehow going to enable you to give the judge on your side. First of all, the judge doesn’t care. Judges aren’t working during the holidays. And second of all, you are one of a million cases before this judge. The judge does not care who’s at fault. He or she is just tasked with dividing up your estate and figuring out where the children were going to go. But I think unfortunately, because of the way modern day culture describes divorce proceedings, people think they’re going to win in court or something like that.
Anyways, mediation takes that stress off the table. What you do is you go in front of a very experienced mediator like in my instance, I’ve been doing this for 23 years. I’ve been going to court for 23 years, so I can tell you firsthand what’s going to happen. And generally, 99.99% a family law cases settle. So rather than go through all this aggravation, pain and going through all your bank accounts, why don’t we just start with mediation and see what happens? You still have the chance to litigate. But yes, I think mediation helps a lot if you’re going through it. Find somebody who’s experienced, sit down with them, no matter how acrimonious and try to get it worked out.
J. Craig Williams: In addition into the practical aspects and the emotional aspects of it, you also save money.
Kelly Chang Rickert: Definitely because you’re not paying two attorneys to jump over each other to try to get to the point. The point is this is an obstacle, let’s get through it. Two attorneys are just marking the waters and compounding your issues. They don’t help you and the courts don’t help you. A mediator who’s experienced in family law and also somewhat trained in handling conflict should be able to help you a thousand times more than the court system.
J. Craig Williams: Before I went to law school, I went to a small attorney in Iowa for some advice about going to law school and I remember that he told me “If you locate one of the small towns in Iowa, make sure there’s another attorney in town.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Well, because one attorney can’t make any money but two attorneys can.”
Kelly Chang Rickert: That’s exactly right. That goes along with the joke attorneys can find problems to any solution versus a mediator is just trying to find solutions to your problems. But the attorneys, in order to pad their hours, get their expenses paid, they will find problems to your solutions.
J. Craig Williams: I’ve heard it referred to as pots and pans litigation.
Kelly Chang Rickert: Yes, because we fight over pots and pans, any hearing aids, and garage door openers and anything that’s ridiculous.
J. Craig Williams: Just to inflict pain on the other side, emotional pain.
Kelly Chang Rickert: Yes, and sometimes to prolong the process because it’s easier than letting go.
J. Craig Williams: That is a difficult thing for people and I think that I’ve — there’s been a lot of violence I think is founded in that, especially some male violence that you see where the attitude is “If I can’t have you then no one else can have you” and there’re guns involved. What do women do to avoid that?
Kelly Chang Rickert: This is one of those age-old questions. Obviously, it would be good if you guys can see into the future and don’t marry a man that has violent tendencies, but barring that sometimes it’s impossible. I mean the best advice I can give for women is to be self-sufficient always because one of the main reasons that women continue to be trapped in abusive relationships is that they cannot leave because financially they cannot live. And so, I always advocate from the kindergarten level, every woman needs to be self-supporting even if you marry a rich guy because this rich man could turn out to be abusive. So, you need to, from the ground level, teach your daughters that they need to be educated and be self-supporting. So, if they are ever in a situation that somebody is abusive, they walk, they don’t come back, they walk.
J. Craig Williams: That’s the safest thing in their houses that women can go to for safety. Women can avoid these types of situations by going to those safe houses.
Kelly Chang Rickert: That is true, but safe houses cannot accommodate everybody. So the best way is to have your own money and to be self-sufficient and that in the event that you need to grab your children and run, you can and you’re not barred by checking account, lack of a checking account.
J. Craig Williams: Let’s talk about what happens with divorced parents, and I personally have a situation where my daughter’s in it. I have other friends that have daughters and even other friends that are in divorced situations. But some of them don’t have their children for the holidays, some don’t have them for Thanksgiving, some don’t have them for Christmas, some not even both holidays. What do you tell parents to do in those situations? How do you advise children or what do you do to help them?
Kelly Chang Rickert: Well, typically an arrangement for Christmas would be alternating years. So, one spouse would get odd years, the other would get even. Sometimes will run to situations where the couple parts amicably and they live relatively close to each other. They can still spend the holidays together. So, in the recent times, especially in my mediation cases, a lot of couples do spend Christmas together because of their children. And this is something that I — if it’s at all possible, I think it matters so much to the children. So, if you can just set aside your differences and go out for a family dinner, it means a lot to your kids.
J. Craig Williams: How do you deal with one’s parents to say he has to be in the house? You know, we want to have Christmas at home with the tree and the music and the fireplace and all the accoutrements that come along with toy train set, those kinds of things. There’s a lot of traditions in Christmas and for that matter, other holidays, you have menorah’s out and the fasting and appropriate expressions of every religion and holidays. How do people deal with all these differences?
Kelly Chang Rickert: That would run into the area of psychology as a lawyer, I didn’t — psychologists and therapists would tell you how to extricate from differences, but as far as the courts are concerned you get odd years or even years if you cannot agree, if you can agree you can try to spend every year together.
J. Craig Williams: And that’s the ideal way, of course. Well, we see other issues that come up in addition to custody issues, you talked about money, and how does a woman prepare for? What steps should she take to make sure that she has the money to live if she needs to or if a divorce comes along all of a sudden, she’s not splitting everything.
Kelly Chang Rickert: Well, I’m a big proponent of prenuptial agreements. Before you enter into a legal arrangement or even have a child with somebody, you should know what their finances are, and you should know what your finances are, and you should always make sure that you have your own banking accounts during the marriage, whether it’s a joint account, your name is on it, or you have a separate account in case he joins the joint account. There’re ways that you can control finances during a marriage, so you’re not left in abusive relationship. If worse comes to worst, you can take out cash and go hide it somewhere. It’s very important that you have your own money because it’s very important that you have a way out and you don’t return to these patterns of destructive behavior.
J. Craig Williams: We’ve been talking about some of the negative aspects of divorce and some of the bad things to avoid but what can parents do leading into the holidays and as we’re going through them to kind of keep things together, what are the positive steps they can take?
Kelly Chang Rickert: Well, I think a big positive step would be to anticipate that the holidays are coming up and have a discussion about how you’re going to spend it. If at all possible, if the children wanted to spend holidays all together, it would be a great idea if you can both put aside your differences, even if it involves going one person’s house or back to the family home, I think it’s a very good idea just for the holidays.
J. Craig Williams: It does provide a lot of stability for the children, doesn’t it?
Kelly Chang Rickert: It does. In fact, I think if you were to interview the children of divorced families, I think if you asked them, what would you like for Christmas? If they really sat down and think about a lot of them would say, “I would like my family back together for the holidays,” which is another reason I wrote my book because it’s a very common desire of children who are going through a new separation or divorce.
J. Craig Williams: How did your book come about? What was the impetus for it?
Kelly Chang Rickert: During quarantine, I just got the idea that I would finally write these children’s books that I always wanted to write for children of separation or divorce. So I started with ‘Two Adventures With Mom and Dad’ just explaining divorce to very young children. And then after that, I thought, “Why not do a Christmas book?” I’m Christian and Christmas has such a special place in my heart. And so, I just thought I would do that because these children also have a very special place in my heart. So, when I write, it’s like a passion project, so I just got to attack both birds with one stone.
And so, yeah, ‘Hope’s Broken Snow Globe’ has so far done very well. I had my first book signing ever last week at Barnes & Noble, so it’s been pretty good.
J. Craig Williams: Good. What’s been the reaction?
Kelly Chang Rickert: So far a lot of positive reviews.
J. Craig Williams: Excellent. Well, I looked at it as a little bit of acceptance of a new family arrangement and kind of a new differences and loving parents, how do you see hopes view of her family?
Kelly Chang Rickert: Well, in terms of metaphors, the snow globe is not just a snow globe. It’s her world. And so, when she accidentally broke it and subsequently, her parents got separated the brokenness of the snow globe symbolizes the brokenness of life for her temporarily. And so, she goes about trying to repair it and what happens, and at the end, did she get a new snow globe? Do they get back together? How does she feel? Is the resolution? You’re going to have to find out but it’s a book for little children to kind of explore that and go on the adventure with her, so they don’t feel as alone.
J. Craig Williams: Is it a good bedtime book for parents to read to their kids?
Kelly Chang Rickert: Yes, it is. It’s an absolutely great book to read for Christmas eve or even during the holidays, especially if it’s your first separation, and hopefully people can know if somebody going through it and maybe even gift it to them.
J. Craig Williams: Right and people get separated sometimes not out of divorce, but just because out of necessity for military families and situations like that. Was a book help in those kind of non-divorce cases?
Kelly Chang Rickert: Yeah, sure. I think, in any situation where the parents aren’t together, it’s a good book to read. And even if the parents are together, I think it’s a good book to read for children to develop empathy for their classmates, who are going through it.
J. Craig Williams: It kind of also sounds like it might apply if we had a parent die.
Kelly Chang Rickert: Yes, exactly. I think the modern day is about inclusion so I also wrote the book to include a segment of the population that I think is underrepresented.
J. Craig Williams: It sounds like a great book. I’m looking forward to gifting it to some of my friends and family that I think could use it.
Kelly Chang Rickert: Oh, thank you, Craig. I think you’ll like it.
J. Craig Williams: Oh, good. We’ve talked about the pots and pans style litigation and we’ve talked about the mediation and how much that benefits families. What advice do you give to the parents who are just dead set against both of those and want to fight just for the sake of fighting and to disprove the other and put them down and embarrass them and all those kinds of things that you see divorced just brings up a whole lot of ugliness in people sometimes.
Kelly Chang Rickert: Yeah. Sometimes you just — we live in a fallen world. And so I think a lot of times if you try to give advice to somebody that they don’t want to hear, or they don’t want to take whether it’s your client or a child, you lovingly have to just let them go. A lot of times people come to me, they consult with me and then they decide I want to litigate and I want to ugly litigate and I want to hire one of those firms. Blessings on you. Go ahead. You might have to drain 500, 600. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie or stuff, starting all over after 6 years of custody litigation. They’re still litigating and it might go on for another 6-8 years. If you want to spend 3-5 million dollars — there is no winner, not at all. And sometimes people need to go through that to realize that they’re wrong. And so, it’s out of our hands. You know what I mean?
People are going to do whatever they want to do to destroy themselves and there’s nothing that can be done. But in the end, I think good always wins. So if you want to stay in the darkness, it’s unwise but some people choose that but at the end, good nest wins, always.
J. Craig Williams: Yeah. I once had a therapist tell me something that really stuck with me and it sometimes people are comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Kelly Chang Rickert: Yes. The truth is out there. It’s very simple.
J. Craig Williams: Well, you’ve mentioned in the beginning that you’ve taken into a semiretirement has the quarantine and the pandemic played a part in that for you?
Kelly Chang Rickert: Yes, definitely. I’ve been practicing family law now for almost 25 years. Ever since I picked up mediation in 2015, I have decided I don’t want take litigation cases. I still do sometimes if a case piques my interest, I will take it, but I’m extremely selective about my clients right now because I have other projects. So I just do a lot of mediation and prenups, which I don’t consider work. It’s something I actually love doing and I don’t litigate because I don’t really need the money. Yeah, it’s great to be retired and write books and do content creation and do other things.
J. Craig Williams: Right. And I bet that’s helped your practice.
Kelly Chang Rickert: Yes, it has.
J. Craig Williams: And probably your marriage with Scott.
Kelly Chang Rickert: Well, Scott is still working. But yes, I’ve always held my own marriage with very high esteem because of the things that I witness. And so, our family is very protected.
J. Craig Williams: Tell me more about that, Kelly. What is it that you’ve seen that’s made you be so much more protective of your family?
Kelly Chang Rickert: Well after on almost 25 years of litigating, family law cases, where I see families chomping at the bits to destroy each other, you know the enemy is out there, but it is not your ex. So it’s definitely —
J. Craig Williams: It’s more than likely you, isn’t it?
Kelly Chang Rickert: Yes. It’s kind of hard for me to explain but as a believer there is a spiritual warfare out there. And so I have always practiced family law with Christian like principle. As far as I’m concerned, there is an incompatibility with divorce and the Bible, but I know there’s a necessity, but I’ve always practiced law knowing the truth and always giving my clients the truth and I’ve never bended or waived from that.
J. Craig Williams: How do you see your faith shaping your practice and your life from this point forward?
Kelly Chang Rickert: As it always has been, I strive to be the light in the world, and I strive to be the light in my clients’ lives. It’s very symbolical, if you look at my website, it’s just I took a picture of — in the mornings when I go talk to God, I take a picture and it’s when the sun rises. And a lot of times I envision myself as the light in the darkness that they’re temporarily going through. Inevitably light comes up every day, but you have to choose that. And I understand that a lot of clients may not be compatible with my style and they will go to the other types of firms, but I’ve always lived my life authentically and I think I’ve profited from that or maybe not profited, but it’s a choice that I make. And so right now, even though I’m still doing family law, I’m really content because I try to extract myself from the ugliness because I have a purpose, I have to shine a light on the darkness.
J. Craig Williams: Don’t keep it under a basket.
Kelly Chang Rickert: Yeah.
J. Craig Williams: Well, Kelly, it looks like we’ve just about reached the end of our program. So I’d like to take this opportunity to let you share your final thoughts, as well as your contact information and where we can find your new book, ‘Hope’s Broken Snow Globe,’ as well as your other books?
Kelly Chang Rickert: Absolutely, I’m active on social media and my handle is Lawyer Kelly on Instagram, twitter, TikTok, LinkedIn, youTube, everything is Lawyer Kelly. My books are everywhere. You can find them at Barnes & Noble, Amazon is probably the easiest, but I’ve also seen them carried at Target, Walmart, various libraries. So if you just google ‘Hope’s Broken Snow Globe’ or just my name Kelly Chang Rickert or Lawyer Kelly, my books will come up.
J. Craig Williams: So any parting advice for divorcing parents as we close out here? How would you tell parents to handle the holiday season going forward?
Kelly Chang Rickert: I would just say that the holidays, it’s not about you. It’s about your children. Also, if you are a believer, the holidays is about forgiveness and moving on. And so to any extent that you can get yourself past this traumatic and horrible place in your life. You have to do it. You have to do it or you can select the other part but just know what consequences that you’re going to go through.
J. Craig Williams: Right. Well, Kelly, thank you so much for being on our show today. It has been a pleasure having you back.
Kelly Chang Rickert: Absolutely. The pleasure was mine. Happy holidays.
J. Craig Williams: Happy holidays to you too. So divorce and the holidays just has to suck. I mean, of all the things that go through with all the emotions and all of the ups and downs that come with holidays, and the traditions, the memories and lost family members and COVID and all the other stresses that we’ve got right now, if you can avoid it, avoid getting divorced during the holidays. If you’re in it and you can’t avoid it, deal with the children, help them out, find places for them to be, make sure that they don’t think it’s their fault. Kelly has pointed out some of the very good reasons why that’s such a danger for them in the future. We don’t need our kids growing up, wanting to shoot up schools any more than they are already.
Holidays are supposed to be about family about tradition and as Kelly said forgiveness, so I think that’s the best way to look at it pots and pans litigation is absolutely the worst fighting, the evil demons on both sides is absolutely the worst I’ve seen, like Kelly seen it. It’s just ugliest sin and it shouldn’t be wished on anyone.
You spend more money in divorce court than you will anywhere else in your life, go see Kelly. There are a number of lawyers who mediate cases out there. I’m one of them and it’s a lot better off than going through the divorce, you’ll save money, you’ll save stress, you’ll have happier children, and you’ll end up happier and you might even have a relationship with your spouse afterward, which is ultimately the goal for them. May not get along with one another, but if you’ve decided to have children, you got to get along for them. That’s a crap of talking.
Anyway, if you like what you heard today, please rate us on Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcasting app. You can visit us legaltalknetwork.com, where you can sign up for our newsletter. I’m Craig Williams, thanks for listening and happy holidays to all. Join us next time for another great legal topic. Remember when you want legal, think Lawyer 2 Lawyer.
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Podcast transcription by Tech-Synergy.com