Division of Marital Assets in Divorce: Fairness and Respect

A recent Forbes Magazine article offers advice specifically to women about assets in a financial portfolio that they might overlook when working on the division of those assets in a divorce.

From a practical standpoint, it’s true that people don’t always clearly identify or think about all of their “assets” at the time of divorce. But those of us involved in the Collaborative Divorce approach believe the focus of a divorce should not be oDivorce and Fighting, Boxing Glovesn “stuff.”  Advocates of Collaborative Divorce focus on the process of making good decisions without alienating one partner from the other and coming out at the end with respect and with the relationships among members of a family preserved moving forward. Simply because two parents will no longer be married doesn’t mean family ties vanish.

It is also troublesome that there are still individuals addressing women in this way, reinforcing an unfortunate stereotype that we firmly reject. Collaborative Divorce is about fairness, cooperation, and equal treatment whether for men or women, whether in traditional or same-sex marriages.

If you’re considering divorce, consider the healthier alternative provided by a Collaborative Divorce. Contact one of our members to learn more about the Collaborative Divorce process and how it can benefit you and your family. A divorce doesn’t have to be a fight, and it doesn’t have to hurt.

 

 

The Emotional Impact of Divorce

Divorce is a life change and transition that challenges the emotional, interpersonal, and cognitive functioning of those experiencing it. These changes impact all members of the family–not only the parents and the children involved, but also members of the extended family.

Divorce is a life experience like no other. Divorce is not an event–it is a process that unfolds over a period of time. Learn about the distinct phases of divorce and how they progress in this article by CFLG San Diego members Justin A. Reckers, CFP, CDFA, AIF, director of financial planning at Pacific Wealth Management and managing director of Pacific Divorce Management, LLC in San Diego; and Robert A. Simon, Ph.D. , forensic psychologist, trial consultant, expert witness, and alternative dispute resolution specialist based in Del Mar, California.

Read the article here.

Top Nine Collaborative Divorce Tips for Success

By Shawn Weber, CA State Bar Certified Family Law Specialist
Past President, Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego
Board Member of Collaborative Practice California

My life as a family law attorney changed with my first Collaborative Practice case. I was moved by the idea of leaving the adversarial process that I found so harmful to families and children and engaging in the solutions-oriented, mutual and respectful collaborative model for families transitioning through the divorce process. I had seen too many situations in court where I felt we were doing more harm than good. While litigation is necessary for some, Collaborative Practice is a powerful tool to reduce the serious pain and collateral damage, from which families suffer in court.

In a collaborative divorce, both parties retain specially trained attorneys. Other professionals, including coaches, financial specialists, therapists and child specialists, are called upon to join the team and offer their unique expertise.

An important distinction of collaborative divorce is the agreement that the attorneys and other experts make to resign from the case if it veers toward litigation. This ensures that all who are involved are committed to a nonadversarial resolution of the case.  I love that it frees me, the attorney, from the temptation to posture and spin and moves me into a mode where I am working with the other professionals across varied disciplines to find solutions.

Since my first Collaborative Divorce case, I have learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t work.  Following are my top nine tips for success in a collaborative divorce.

Teamwork
1. Use a full team model.  It can seem daunting to think of adding multiple professionals to one’s divorce case. A full collaborative divorce team would be a coach for each party, two attorneys, a child specialist and a financial specialist. There is a temptation to think, “I don’t need all of these people.” Sometimes people fear that having a full team is cost prohibitive.

In reality, the different professionals bring efficiency through specialization. In other words, you aren’t paying an attorney at his higher rate to do mental health work that he is less qualified to do. Rather, you pay a mental health professional to provide coaching services with much greater skill. Use a qualified and well-trained accountant or financial planner for financial work. Specialization gives you a better product more efficiently obtained.

The shortcut of only using attorneys may seem cheaper or less complicated in the short-run. But in the long run costly mistakes can be made. The coaches and child specialists are excellent in helping parties and parents focus on the important things in the divorce process rather than on the “emotional noise” that is ever present in every family law case. Financial specialists are adept at watching for costly tax planning mistakes.  They do a tremendous job of making complex financial issues more accessible. Going into a collaborative case with only part of a team is like mountain climbing with only half of your gear. You might be able to get to the top of the mountain, but it will take longer and be a more miserable journey. You might not make it at all.  So, be sure to have all the tools available.

Once you have your team in place, make sure you use your team members. Use the coaches to help when things are emotional. Use the financial specialists to figure out the money. Use the child specialist to make sure that your kids are OK. Don’t set up the team and then not use it. It’s like filling up a tool box with a full socket set, but only using one wrench.

See “Collaborative Practice Saves Money” by attorney Sandra Joan Morris.

2. Make sure that you are working hard. Getting divorced is very hard work.  I advise my clients that they will work harder than they ever have at anything in their lives.  Divorce is complicated and extraordinarily emotional work. You will get a lot of homework to complete between collaborative meetings. This may involve producing financial records or learning how to work out parenting disagreements with the other parent. Just sitting in a room and trying to be constructive with a spouse you are divorcing can be exhausting both emotionally and physically.

I can predict failure in a collaborative process when I am working harder to settle the case than my client. There should be no illusions. A lot will be asked of you. Don’t expect your team of professionals (as capable as they are) to do all the work for you. Ask often what you can do to move the ball down the field.

Do your homework

3. Get your homework done on time (maybe even early). You will be given assignments between sessions like gathering financial data, preparing forms or working with your children. If the homework required for a scheduled meeting hasn’t been done, the meeting will be a waste. Your divorce will take longer. If you get your tasks completed on time, or even early, the meetings will go smoothly and your case will likely conclude on time.

4. Disclose Everything.  That we are trying to be more informal and friendly does not relieve you of the responsibility to be completely truthful and open. The legal requirements for disclosure remain whether the case is collaborative or litigated. That means you disclose everything. That’s EVERYTHING.

Trust is the great lubricant of settlement. Collaborative practice relies on mutual trust and consensual resolution making openness essential. Completing the financial disclosures on time enables better trust. Without trust and openness, you probably won’t be able to settle and you will end up in court. Besides, the law is very clear that disclosure is required. Suffice it to say that the California Courts have broad power to punish a non-disclosing party. (For a primer on California’s strict disclosure rules, click here.)

5. Be patient.  You will not solve every issue in your first meeting. The first several meetings often only set the stage for settlement later. There is a reason for this.  Information needs to be gathered. Emotions need to be controlled. Children’s concerns need to be addressed. Divorces are complicated with many legal issues and difficult emotions. If you are patient, stick to it and rely on your team, your chances of success increase.

6. Relax and don’t panic. Legal disputes are frightening. Legal disputes about your family are paralyzing. Sometimes individuals succumb to “fight or flight,” that tremendous adrenaline response that saved our ancestors from being eaten by the saber tooth tiger. That’s great when you are trying not to be eaten. It’s not so great when aiming for a peaceful settlement.

When things get difficult, it’s easy to panic and run to court. Instead, engage your team when things get difficult. A skilled collaborative team can help you find a solution to a difficulty much faster and more creatively than court ever could.

See “The Emotional Roller Coaster of Divorce” by Pauline H. Tesler, M.A., J.D., & Peggy Thompson, Ph.D.

7. Talk Less. Listen More. To find a settlement, it will be important to hear and understand what your spouse is saying and feeling. You should get your story out.  But don’t do it at the expense of missing your spouse’s point of view. Looking at the world from your spouse’s point of view will help you find a solution that works for both of you.

Importantly, don’t forget to listen to your professional team. They have been through a lot more divorces than you and will have suggestions that you may not think of on your own. Take time to hear and internalize what is being said.

Solutions

8. Don’t think win or lose. Focus on solutions.  The terms “justice” and “fairness” mean different things for different people. You don’t have to win everything. Divorce doesn’t need to be a competition. Rather, divorce presents problems for which there are solutions. The challenge is to find the solutions.

Instead of “fairness” or “winning,”  try to make good business decisions. Settling your case is its own victory. Taking the decision away from a judge and keeping it with the parties is empowering. Ending conflict is liberating.

9. Have an open mind.  It’s easy to get locked into preconceived notions. In all collaborative practice cases, time is spent brainstorming to find creative solutions.  In brain storming, there are no bad ideas. It’s a great way to find many possible and more creative options.

One old parable involves two women fighting over an orange. Foolishly, the two women simply cut the orange in half to settle their dispute without considering what each wanted from the orange. This was a poor solution as it failed to address each woman’s real interests. One woman wanted to use the zest while the other wanted the pulp for juicing. Had they sought a solution that truly addressed their needs rather than taking the most obvious option, they would have found a better way.

Collaborative Practice takes openness, hard work and a good team. Collaborative Practice helps people move forward with dignity. The strategies listed above can help you to successfully settle in a respectful and dignified process. Here are some links with more information about collaborative practice:

Why I absolutely love Collaborative Divorce

Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego

Collaborative Practice California (CPCAL)

 

 

 

What You Can Do to Reduce Attorney Fees and Costs and Finish Your Divorce Sooner

by Susan Rapp, CLS-F, Family Law Attorney

There are a number of ways to resolve parenting, property, debt, and support issues in a divorce.  These methods include Collaborative Divorce, hiring an attorney and attempting to settle issues outside of court, going to court and litigating unresolved issues, and working with an impartial mediator, with or without attorney involvement.

I have been a family law attorney for over 25 years.   No matter which approach you take,  there are several thingSusan Rapp, CLS-F, Family Law Attorneys you can do to reduce attorney fees and costs, minimize feelings of a loss of control over your life and the divorce process, and reduce the amount of time it takes to complete the divorce.

Here are some of the things I have found will help you achieve these goals:

(1) Determine at the beginning of your case, what income, asset, and debt documentation will be needed. If you are working with an attorney or mediator, ask for a list. Whenever possible, pull together and organize the documents yourself.  Otherwise, you are going to pay your attorney’s office to do it. You will likely be asked for documentation of earned and unearned income for you and your spouse, your last two years of income tax returns, and documentation of assets owned and debts owed by you and/or your spouse, as of the date you separated.  Nearly all banks, financial institutions, and credit card companies make several months or years of statements available on line. When real property is involved, locate and copy your most recent deed, as well as a recent mortgage statement. If you or your spouse have retirement interests or investment accounts, obtain recent account statements.  Organize your information and documentation chronologically, and by account or debt.  Keep an identical copy of whatever you give your attorney, spouse, or mediator so you can readily access the information if there are follow-up questions.

(2) E-mail communications to your attorney and her or his staff are usually more cost efficient than phone calls.  Some divorces take several months or longer to complete.  Keep your e-mails to and from your attorney.  If you aren’t sure that you already asked a particular question or got an answer, review your e-mails before contacting your attorney’s office. You might find the answer in an earlier communication you’ve forgotten due to the passage of time.

(3) Unless you believe the matter is truly time-sensitive or an emergency, review, finalize, and transmit written communications to your attorney a day or more after you draft the communication.  In the interim one or more issues may resolve without attorney involvement, or you may find the answer to questions some other way. If you end up not contacting your attorney, you don’t get billed. When you review your drafts a day or so later, you may find a better or clearer way to communicate the information or ask the question. (This is also a good suggestion for attorneys).

(4) Have a written list of everything you want to ask or go over when you speak to your attorney or staff. Prepare a follow-up e-mail, or a memo to yourself confirming the important points of what you discussed.

(5) Buy and learn how to use an all-in-one printer, scanner, and fax machine. Scanned documents that are either e-mailed or “burned” onto a CD disk and sent or delivered to the attorney’s office are generally preferred. Preparing and transmitting documents this way will save you time and money.

(6) Request a periodic update from your attorney.  Determine what still needs to be done, and approximately how long will it take. Ask what you can do to keep things moving.

(7) Be open to settlement. Arrange a phone or office conference with your attorney a week or more before any settlement conference with your spouse and his or her attorney.  Verbalize your settlement preferences, and ask your attorney to identify the pros and cons of various settlement options.  Meeting with your attorney a week or so in advance of the settlement conference will give you time to think about settlement options and clarify your position on disputed issues.

(8) Last but not least, have a good outside support system.  If that’s friends or family, be sure they are objective.  Go to a therapist, even if you don’t think you need to go.  If there’s ever a time a therapist is needed, it’s when you’re getting divorced.

If you follow these suggestions, I predict you will achieve the goals identified.