Don’t Divorce Alone: It Takes A Village

It takes a village to get through a divorce.

by Myra Chack Fleischer, CFL-S, Fleischer & Ravreby

As we start a new year, it is natural to take stock of your life and look for ways to improve your situation. Sometimes, this means facing the reality that a divorce is necessary for your emotional and sometimes financial health. January is the month with the most new divorce filings all year.

Attorney Myra Chack Fleischer, Fleischer & Ravreby, Carlsbad California

Attorney Myra Chack Fleischer, Fleischer & Ravreby, Carlsbad California

When a person makes the decision to get divorced, there are a lot of questions and concerns. Some are practical: Will the legal business be a nightmare? Will it cost me a fortune? Some are more personal: How will I ever get through it without breaking down?

Divorce is the most common legal matter that people try to handle by themselves, also referred to as “pro per.” A 2013 study found nearly three-quarters of all people getting divorced in the U.S. do so without an attorney.

Why does this happen? Many people think hiring a lawyer will be expensive, or stressful. They don’t anticipate any big arguments, and the paperwork looks simple enough. Just fill it out, pay the fee and you are done, right?

Not exactly. Often, people get started and discover a divorce involves a whole lot more than just legal paperwork. Court cutbacks in many states means less personnel to help you work your case through the system if anything is confusing or unclear. Mistakes can delay getting the divorce finalized for months while you are in limbo.

Divorce is never simple. It involves complex financial decisions that can affect you and your children for years to come. It involves emotional turmoil for most people: Anger. Grief. Fear. Anxiety. It makes the rest of every day life that much tougher.

Perhaps you think it’s self-serving for a family law attorney to advise people to hire a lawyer to handle your divorce. You should not stop there. For many divorces and any with children or significant financial assets, you need three key experts looking out for you.

First, find a family law attorney with expertise in divorce cases. Your attorney should hold family law specialty certification in your state. In California, look for the initials “CFL-S” for “Certified Family Law Specialist.”

After you have checked legal qualification, ask direct questions about his or her fees and how they work. You are entering a business agreement and you are hiring someone to work for you. Yes, it may get emotional, but this part should be handled as matter-of-factly as you can. Be honest and open about your finances. It will make things easier on everyone.

Attorneys aren’t quite as individual as snowflakes, but you may need to interview several before you find a good fit for your circumstances. Find out your attorney’s amount of experiences. Does your attorney tend to go to court or does he or she settle most cases outside of court? Some attorneys are better negotiators that litigators. Does the attorney represent mainly husbands or wives, or both equally? If you have a same sex marriage, find out how comfortable and experienced your attorney is with these new types of divorce cases. How much of your case will he or she handle personally? Meet any other professionals such as junior attorneys or paralegals and feel comfortable with them as well.

Next, it’s crucial to seek the services of a divorce financial planner. You may not be able to rely on your regular CPA or financial advisor. Find one specifically qualified to advise you on key aspects of the divorce process and how this will affect your assets. Look for a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) certification. This person will work with your attorney to oversee critical financial tasks outside a lawyer’s area of expertise. This individual will review the impact of your legal choices in the divorce on your financial and tax situation, especially in regard to a divorce settlement offer. This will strengthen your attorney’s ability to negotiate from a position of strength on your behalf.

Finally, don’t neglect your mental health needs. Long after the divorce is over from a legal and financial standpoint, you and your children will be feeling the effects of the emotional fallout. It is wise to bring in a mental health professional with training in family counseling. Divorce is an emotional experience unfolding in the midst of what is essentially a business deal. It can overwhelm you while you are struggling to focus on practical decisions about legal and financial issues. A therapist or divorce “coach” can help you cope with strong feelings while the divorce process unfolds and provide a safe place to express yourself. This allows you to avoid drama with your attorney and your financial planner.

It takes a village to get through a divorce.

It takes a village to get through a divorce.

What about the cost? It’s true hiring three professionals is more expensive than filing the paperwork on your own. But consider the risks you face on many levels. If you have any children or property, you can end up making mistakes or bad decisions that have a negative impact for the rest of your life. You could end up paying an attorney or other professionals down the road to fix the problems you created after the fact. Your kids could suffer emotional damage later that could seriously effect their future. Consider it an investment in yourself and your children for the long term. What is more important than this?

With the expertise of highly qualified, experienced legal, financial, and psychological professionals on your side, you will have all of the help you need to get through your divorce with a bright, secure future ahead of you and your family.

One way to find this kind of team to work with you is to consider the Collaborative Divorce method. Collaborative divorce is an alternative dispute resolution process to the typical adversarial divorce. A divorcing couple agrees that they will work together with family law attorneys, financial specialists, divorce coaches and child and family therapy specialists as a team outside the court system to resolve their differences. This team will help guide you through a divorce. These professionals often work together on a regular basis and can rely on each other’s specific expertise. You can still have significant disagreements with your spouse when you start this process, as long as you pledge to keep working and remain civil as much as you can until your situation is resolved.

The Collaborative Divorce process depends on the level of cooperation between the parties, their willingness and ability to commit to a healthy divorce, and the complexity (emotional and financial) of the case. It takes work. But it preserves the well-being, diginity and relationships of parents to children and even extended family. Collateral damage is minimized.

Copyright © 2014 by Fleischer & Ravreby, Attorneys at Law

Is Mediation or Litigation the Right Choice for My Divorce?

Julia Garwood, Family Law attorney and Certified Family Law Specialist, San Diego, Collaboartive Family Law Group of San Diego

by Julia Garwood, Attorney at Lawjulia-garwood-photo
Family Law, Mediation and Collaborative Divorce
Garwood Family Law and Mediation

When heading toward the end of a marriage, many people ask what the difference is between divorce mediation and litigation. And beyond that, which one is right for them. There are numerous differences between divorce mediation and litigation, however the primary three include cost, decision-making and privacy.

Cost

Mediation is often much less expensive. Litigation can cost as much as six times the amount as mediation.

Decision-Making

A judge makes all the decisions in the case of litigation. This includes decisions about your children, division of property, alimony and even pets. However, through mediation, you and your spouse make the decisions together.

Level of Privacy

Mediation occurs in a private conference room and details never have to be disclosed publicly. Because of the public nature of the courtroom, when your divorce is litigated, all information is public record. That means all the details, including your finances and “dirty laundry,” are available to the public.

In order to help you decide whether mediation or litigation is right for you and your personal situation, below is a list of frequent situations when mediation and litigation are used.

Mediation is often used when:

  • You and your spouse mutually have decided to get a divorce.
  • You and your spouse can have a rational conversation in the same room.
  • You both realize that divorce is happening and you’re able to rationally approach the outcome.
  • You’re both willing to try to agree on issues like alimony, child custody, division of assets and child support.
  • Cost is a factor and you and your spouse want to incur as few costs as possible.
  • You both want to be active decision makers regarding the details of your divorce and don’t want to leave the final decisions for a judge to make.

Litigation is often used when:

  • One or both of you aren’t open to mediation.
  • One or both of you have difficulty conducting reasonable conversations.
  • There is a history of domestic violence or child abuse during the marriage.
  • Either you or your spouse has a drug or alcohol problem, impeding rational thinking and decision-making.
  • One or both of you is stalling or gathering information on the other spouse and don’t have any intention to settle. Sometimes spouses agree to mediation to stall the process or to gather information for later use against the other spouse during litigation.

While we’ve included some basic guidelines above, every situation is different. Consulting with a divorce attorney who is trained in Collaborative Family Law and/or a Certified Family Law Specialist including members of professional associations such as the Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego, is the best avenue.

Six Tips for Separating Emotions from Economics in Divorce

Financial Infidelity and The Money Trap

by Ginita Wall, CPA, CFP®, CDFA 

They say that a bad marriage is like a game of cards. You start out with two hearts and a diamond – but end up wishing for a club and a spade. When those feelings surface during a divorce, it leads to unproductive conflict and often results in a less than optimal settlement.

In divorce it is important to focus on the real problems to come up with real solutions. If spouses are at war, they are likely to see each other as the problem and the divorce as the solution. But they won’t get to true resolution until they recognize that simply isn’t true. The real problem is how to divvy everything up in divorce, and divorcing spouses won’t arrive at the best solution for their family until they collaborate on resolving their issues by working together, not against each other.

No matter how much spouses despise each other, they often equally despise spending money on a divorce battle, so even though they are on the outs they may be willing to work together to settle matters and keep the costs down by staying out of court.

When you are going through a contentious divorce, the key is to avoid letting uncertainty whip either of you into an emotional tizzy. The more frenzied your emotions, the longer the proceedings and the more costly the divorce. Collaborative divorce can be a Godsend in reaching optimal resolution at a reasonable cost.  In collaborative divorce, you’ll have all the professionals at the same table, working with the same facts, and engage coaches to keep everyone on track. That keeps uncertainty and miscommunication down, which helps everyone focus on the issues that are most important.

The job of the professionals in collaborative divorce is to help clients figure out how to divvy up the assets and debts so that each spouse emerges from divorce with a fair share of the pot that will let them begin anew. Here are six tips the divorcing spouses can use to separate emotions from economics:

Don’t let guilt rule you. “Please release me, let me go,” pleads the country song, but don’t give up everything to buy your freedom. Your spouse will still be unhappy that the marriage is ending, and you’ll be unhappy when you find yourself impoverished by your foolish gesture. The needs of each person are important, and the goal is to reach the best agreement possible as you balance those needs.

Don’t give in just to get it over.  When going through divorce, carefully consider your current needs and your needs in the future. You can’t depend on your soon-to-be-ex have your best interests in mind, and you can’t depend on your attorney to know exactly what is best for you and your family. Don’t try to shortcut a divorce. The only way out is through, and it will take your conscious involvement to reach a resolution that will work for you.

Don’t make nice to get him or her back. It’s all right to hope against hope that your divorce will end in reconciliation, but don’t bend over backward to make it happen. Stand up for yourself and get your share. If you successfully reconcile, and some couples do, that’s wonderful, but if you don’t, you’ll still be able to take care of yourself financially.

Leave revenge at the door. Legally, it doesn’t matter who did who wrong. Revenge is costly, and funding a wild rampage by not giving an inch is bound to turn out badly. You won’t win every battle, no matter what, and if you stubbornly stick to your guns despite all reasonable offers to settle, who knows, you might even end up paying part of your spouse’s attorney fees.

Don’t succumb to threats, or threaten your spouse. Money and power are emotionally linked, but in divorce it isn’t smart to try to use money to control your spouse and get your way. If you launch a full-blown court battle and argue every financial issue, be assured that most of what you can’t agree on will end up being split between your attorneys, with a sizeable amount going to the financial professionals. That is money that could be used to fund your family’s future if you stay out of court.

Focus on problem-solving, not fighting. Don’t let meetings with your ex turn into posturing to show who is in control or how smart you are. Settling your divorce is the problem you confront, and it won’t get solved through fighting. You can’t get everything you want in divorce, so figure out what is most important to you and let the rest go. You’ll end up with a better agreement, a less tumultuous relationship, a happier family, and a healthier future.

Nine Tips for Deciding Fair Spousal Support

by Robin DeVito, Attorney at Law

One of the more difficult issues facing people getting divorced is the issue of spousal support. For both parties, questions generally focus on how much support will be, and how long is it paid.

There are three types of spousal support orders.

The first: Money is paid for spousal support for a period of time.

The second: Money is not being paid for support, but the recipient spouse may go into court to ask for support. This is commonly called the court reserve jurisdiction over the issue of spousal support.

Spousal support decisions during a divorceThe third: The right to ask for spousal support is terminated forever. This means that the spouse may never ask the court to order spousal support.

Through my experience as a family law attorney, I have created a list of nine tips that will help you navigate this tricky area of your divorce.

For the party requesting spousal support:

  1. Be realistic when listing your needs. Your needs are your monthly expenses. A financial specialist can assist in preparing a realistic list of expenses.
  2. Determine if there is anything you can do to increase your income instead of relying on help from support payments.
  3. Put together a plan for school or training to increase your income.
  4. Be realistic about the changes that will occur with both your household and that of your spouse.
  5. Remember that spousal support is not a number generated by a computer. While we have “rules of thumb” for the length of time support may be paid, there are a number of factors that come into play under the law to assist in the calculation of spousal support.

For the party being asked to pay spousal support:

  1. Be realistic as to the time it will take your spouse to become self-sufficient.
  2. Remember that forcing a spouse into a low paying job is counter-productive.

For both parties:

  1. Each party must fully disclose their income from all sources. A financial specialist can assist in the identification of income.
  2. The goal of each party should be self-sufficiency within a reasonable period of time. If it means paying more up front to allow the party requesting support to complete training or education to increase his or her long-term income opportunities, think about it. It makes sense.

Couples who pursue a Collaborative Divorce work with a financial specialist as part of their divorce team. If you need to work through spousal support issues, you may want to consider the Collaborative Process for your divorce.

Contact the Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego to find out whether a Collaborative Divorce is right for you.

Collaborative Divorce Offers Alternatives to “Divorce Corp.” Documentary

January 20, 2014
Contact:
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR
619-997-2495 or gayle@falconvalleygroup.com

 

(SAN DIEGO) – The release of the new documentary film “Divorce Corp.” has generated renewed attention and focus on family law court proceedings involving divorce, child custody and child support issues across the United States.  While the film offers a critique of the way that divorce is commonly handled in the United States, it does not discuss a critical and viable alternative for many families: the Collaborative Divorce process.

The Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego (CFLG San Diego) is a non-profit group of legal, financial, and mental health professionals trained in the Collaborative Process offering  an alternative to litigated divorce.

Julie Mack, CFLS, attorney and President of CFLG San Diego, says the film presents the opportunity for fresh dialogue, which will allow couples, especially those with minor children, to learn more about Collaborative Divorce.  “Long before the film ‘Divorce Corp.,’ many couples, discouraged by the prospect of an expensive, adversarial divorce, started looking for an alternative way to address their family law issues that did not involve confrontation or handing over decision-making regarding their lives to family law courts. For many, the alternative is Collaborative Divorce.

“Thanks to the attention generated by this documentary, we have a new platform available to introduce the many benefits of the Collaborative Divorce process. When people learn that going to court is not inevitable, they eagerly embrace this positive, respectful approach to resolving issues in a way that avoids litigation, including the time and expense, to say nothing of the lasting emotional turmoil,” said Mack.

“The Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego is eager to let people know we offer them a range of choices for legal, financial, and mental health services all with the ultimate goal in mind of preserving the health and well-being of the family.  “We urge divorcing couples or parents wrestling with child custody or support issues to give the Collaborative Process a chance. Even if they are skeptics, they have nothing to lose by giving our alternative a try,” said Mack.

CFLG San Diego’s members work together to learn, practice, and promote collaborative processes for problem solving and the peaceful resolution of family law issues, with an eye toward preserving the emotional, as well as the financial, assets of the family. Its goal is to transform the resolution of family law issues through respectful, collaborative processes that protect the integrity and health of family relationships and eliminate the need for families to resort to litigation.

CFLG is online at www.collaborativefamilylawsandiego.com, and LinkedIn.

See the trailer for the documentary “Divorce Corp.” here.

Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego Featured on “San Diego Living”

Representatives of the Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego appeared on “San Diego Living” on Monday, December 30 on San Diego 6 (CW6/XETV). Family law attorney Nancy Taylor, financial specialist Cinda Jones and psychologist/coach Dr. Robert Simon were interviewed by host Marc Bailey, who asked them to explain the collaborative divorce model and answer common questions that people might ask about the collaborative process.

You can view the entire informative interview at this link. Please feel free to share with others who might benefit from the information, or post to your own online pages.

 

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.

 

College Debts Delaying Marriage For Graduates

There is a new and surprising reason not to take on too much college debt.

A survey by Harris Interactive conducted for the American Institute of CPAs found 15 percent of college graduates have postponed getting married due to their student loan payments.

This is a significant number. Almost 39 million U.S. adults had student loan debt at the end of 2012 – 70 percent more than in 2004, according to statistics from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Financial stress and difficulties remain a leading cause of divorce. CFLGSD member Myra Chack Fleischer of Fleischer & Associates wrote about the impact of these statistics from a family law attorney’s perspective in her regular column for Communities at Washington Times.

 

Collaborative Divorces Save Money

by Sandra Joan Morris
CA State Bar Certified Family Law Specialist
Past President, American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers

How expensive is the collaborative law process compared to other methods of resolving cases? As a family law trial attorney, I heard for years that the collaborative process is much more expensive because if it ends, the team members are off the case. However, my experience is that the collaborative process is usually quicker and less expensive in most cases, and much less expensive in complex cases, than other methods.

Even if fighting it out at the courthouse was a good way of resolving problems, at this time the lack of funds and important resources for the court system make litigation drawn-out, expensive and inadequate. In law cases, what takes time, costs money. For this reason alone, more and more litigants are looking for ways to resolve their cases without resorting to the court system.

Collaborative Divorce Saves Money

Collaborative divorce can save time, and time in money in legal proceedings

Any alternative to litigation could cost more if it fails, since you have to add its cost to the cost of going back to, or starting, litigation. Even if it succeeds, it could still cost more money if it took a lot of time to resolve. However, because both parties control the outcome, and in a far less acrimonious way, the benefits are immeasurable. Some judges say that if both parties go away upset, it was probably a good decision. The collaborative process strives to have the parties reach a resolution that is a win for both of them.

Mediation and settlement conferencing are the most common current alternatives to litigation. Both usually take place after all of the financial information has been provided (the “discovery” phase of the case,) and both often represent a last-ditch effort at resolution, frequently on the steps of the court house. Unfortunately, getting to this level of knowledge is usually the most expensive part of a family law case.

In a complex, high asset case where a lot is at stake and a lot is disputed, this phase can go on literally for years. This process is polarizing. By the time it is done, the parties are even angrier and more distrusting than when it began. Sometimes the lawyers are, too.

By contrast, the collaborative law process starts at the very beginning of the case. The  financial expert on the team gathers all financial information in an informal but thorough way. When you agree to the collaborative divorce method, you agree to cooperate by providing this information, and if needed, access to your personal financial advisors.

Within months, not years, the financial expert has all of the needed information, and can provide reports on matters such as how much income is available to pay support and what is the marital standard of living. The financial expert can promptly arrange for the appraisals of personal and real property.  The economic and time savings in the costs of discovery is enormous. You have saved time, and therefore saved money.

Even if the collaborative process ends before there is a settlement, the financial documents that the neutral financial expert got can still be used. All or portions of the reports of the financial expert also can be used if both parties agree, which can help to narrow the future issues.

Most litigated cases take at least two years to complete and get to trial or settlement.  Many take far longer. At that point the “back-end” (after discovery is complete) mediations or settlement conferences can take a few sessions, but I have had complex cases that have taken a year or more to resolve in mediation or settlement conferencing. On the other hand, my experience in collaborative cases is that they usually conclude in just over a year.

The collaborative teams include a mental health professional coach for each party, an attorney for each party, a neutral financial expert and, if needed, a neutral child specialist.  Litigated cases usually have an attorney for each party, a financial expert for each party as well as possibly a neutral expert, a custody mediator and perhaps a custody evaluator. Not only are there fewer professionals in the collaborative process, but they do not overlap their work and are united in being solution-oriented. The addition of the collaborative coaches is a very valuable component. Coaches help the parties to learn to communicate more effectively and productively, which allows them to focus on their settlement issues. The education they provide is invaluable both for the settlement process, and after the case is over.

Does a collaborative divorce cost more? Since it saves time, discovery expense, and emotional stress and exhaustion, my answer is “no.”

 

 

Collaborative Divorce Can Make Divorce Cheaper

divorcing coupleCFLGSD member Shawn Weber of Brave, Mack and Webers reports that collaborative divorce was recently featured as a good alternative to the expenses of going through the court system to get divorced.

Fox Business News recently interviewed attorney Randy Kessler, founding partner of law firm Kessler & Solomiany in Atlanta, Georgia, on tips for saving money on a divorce. Kessler recommends mediation or the collaborative process as the two cheapest ways to get a divorce.

See the entire report here.