Shawn Weber Takes California Collaborative Law Leadership Role

CFLGSD member Shawn Weber is the new president of Collaborative Practice California.

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

Weber installed as 2015-2016 President of Collaborative Practice California

(SAN DIEGO) – San Diego family law attorney Shawn Weber, CLS-F, member and past

CFLGSD member Shawn Weber is the new president of Collaborative Practice California.

CFLGSD member Shawn Weber is the new president of Collaborative Practice California.

president of the Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego, was installed as president of Collaborative Practice California (CP Cal), the statewide organization for Collaborative Practice groups, at its annual conference in Los Angeles, California on Saturday, April 25.

Individual members of the practice groups included Collaborative lawyers, mental health practitioners, financial specialists, and other professionals. The Collaborative Process is being used in divorce and family law, domestic partnerships, same sex marriages, employment law, probate law, construction and real property law, malpractice, and other civil law areas.

CP Cal’s mission is to unify, strengthen and support the Collaborative Practice community and to increase public awareness of the Collaborative Process throughout California.

“Divorce is a human experience, not just a legal process,” said Weber. “Collaborative Practice through CP Cal represents a significant shift in our approach toward resolving civil disputes including divorce. The litigation model doesn’t have to be the first choice. In a divorce, we help people resolve their issues without harming each other or their children. We help them arrive at options that preserve the long-term interest of the family.

“My goal during my term as CP Cal Board President is to foster communication about the many benefits of Collaborative Divorce and to encourage more legal, financial, and mental health professionals to embrace this philosophy as a possible solution for their clients,” said Weber.

For nearly 20 years, Weber has worked exclusively in the area of family law. In that time, he has proven to be a skilled advocate and attorney, as well as an adroit negotiator and mediator. He is especially skilled at resolving difficult divorce, alimony, child support, custody, and visitation issues in an unthreatening and confidential environment through mediation, with a success rate of 98 percent.

A dolphin instead of a shark, Weber specializes in helping clients reach agreements and avoid the heartache and stress of court. He uses his ingenuity, creativity, warmth and skill to craft better outcomes instead of threats or intimidation, in a process tailored to the client, not the legal system.

Weber started with the Solana Beach based law firm of Brave, Weber & Mack in 1999. Just a few years later, he became the firm’s managing attorney. In this role, he has grown the firm from a small solo practice to a full service firm. In 2006, he also became a Partner and CFO of the firm and is trusted with the firm’s day-to-day financial management.

Weber served on the Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego board from 2005 to 2013 and served as its President in 2009. He is also currently a member the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals. Weber has been a member of the San Diego County Bar Association, Family Law Section since 2001 and is currently a member of the San Diego Family Law Bar Association. He received his law degree at the University of San Diego School of Law, and earned his Bachelor of Arts Degree in Political Science and Germanic Studies at Indiana University. He is the father of five children and lives in El Cajon.

About the Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego

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 at http://bit.ly/LinkedIn-CFLGSanDiego

Collaborative law featured on ESPN 1700 Radio

Real Estate Radio on ESPN AM 1700 San Diego

Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego member attorney Shawn Weber, Certified Family Real Estate Radio on ESPN AM 1700 San DiegoLaw Specialist with Brave Weber Mack, discussed the Collaborative approach to divorce during a recent guest appearance on “The Real Estate Radio Hour” on ESPN Radio 1700 AM with host Ryan White.

Weber pointed out that recent budget cutbacks to California’s family law court system makes it much more difficult, time consuming, and expensive to pursue a divorce via litigation, making the Collaborative approach to divorce a better choice for many families.

Hear the entire interview with Shawn via the link below.

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.

Inaugural San Diego “Divorce Options” Workshop Offers Information, Choices

San Diego’s inaugural “Divorce Options” workshop on Oct. 22 brought the acclaimed program developed by Collaborative Practice California to individuals seeking information about their choices regarding divorce.

The San Diego Divorce Options team (L to R): Shawn Weber, Meredith Lewis, Frann Setzer, Anna Janda, Anna Addleman." width="800" height="589" /></a> The San Diego "Divorce Options team (L to R): Shawn Weber, Meredith Lewis, Frann Setzer, Anna Janda, Anna Addleman.

The San Diego “Divorce Options team (L to R): Shawn Weber, Meredith Lewis, Frann Setzer, Anna Janda, Anna Addleman.

Led by Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego volunteers including attorney and Certified Family Law Specialist Shawn Weber, coach and Licensed Clinical Social Worker Anne Janda, and forensic accountant Anna M. Addleman, CPA, CDFA, CFF, CFE, the Divorce Options provided unbiased information about self-representation, mediation, collaborative divorce, and litigated divorce. The workshop addressed the legal, financial, family and personal issues of divorce in an informational and compassionate small group setting.

Also participating as panelists were attorney and Certified Family Law Specialist Frann Setzer, and attorney and Certified Divorce Financial Analyst Meredith Lewis.

The workshop reviewed the full range of choices couples have as they contemplate divorce, focusing on the non-adversarial, out-of-court options for attendees.

“We are so pleased members of the public were able to take advantage of this opportunity,” said Shawn Weber. “The truth is that the presenters learn just as much from the participants as they do from us. It’s helpful to hear what concerns them most, and what resources they are looking for whether from our organization or others in the community.”

Weber said the Divorce Options program is useful to anyone thinking about divorce or other relationship transitions including cohabiting couples with children or LGBT couples looking for a process aware and respectful of their unique needs. The next Divorce Options workshop is planned in January 2015.

Community groups and organizations can also inquire about bringing a free “Divorce Options” workshop to your location. Contact the Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego for more information at (858) 472-4022 or email at sandiegodivorceoptions@gmail.com

About the Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego

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.

Discover Your Divorce Options at Workshop Oct. 22

Lessen the stress of divorce by learning about your alternatives 


September 26, 2014
Media Contact: Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR
619-997-2495 or gayle@falconvalleygroup.com

(SAN DIEGO) – Divorce is difficult and stressful even under the best of circumstances. It can be especially hard if you have children or economic difficulties. Divorce affects people from all walks of life, and no two situations are alike.

It is possible despite challenges to preserve the emotional and financial resources of the family while respecting everyone’s needs during a divorce. Learn about your alternatives at “Divorce Options.” The first “Divorce Options” workshop in San Diego takes place on Wednesday, October 22, from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Hacienda Building, located at 12625 High Bluff Drive, Suite 111 in San Diego.

Divorce Options provides unbiased information about self-representation, mediation, collaborative divorce, and litigated divorce. The workshop deals with the legal, financial, family and personal issues of divorce in an informational and compassionate small group setting.

Led by volunteer attorneys, financial specialists, and mental health professionals who are members of the Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego, the workshop will cover the full range of choices couples have as they contemplate divorce, focusing on the non-adversarial, out-of-court options.

“Divorce Options presents a unique opportunity for the public to learn about resources they can draw on to plan an effective transition that respects the needs and interests of all family members,” said Shawn Weber, attorney and Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego member.  “It puts you in control of your own divorce instead of someone else who doesn’t know you or your family circumstances.”

Weber said the Divorce Options program is useful to anyone thinking about divorce or other relationship transitions including co-habitating couples with children or LGBT couples looking for a process aware and respectful of their unique needs.

Topics include:

  • Litigation, mediation and collaboration – the risks and the benefits of each process
  • Legal, financial, psychological and social issues of divorce
  • How to talk about divorce with your children
  • Guidance from divorce experts

By learning about divorce and the different process options available you can maximize your ability to make good decisions during the difficult and challenging time. Divorce Options is a workshop designed to help couples take the next step, no matter where they are in the process. It identifies strategies to help you stay out of court, and helps you identify the social, emotional, legal, and financial issues that are most pressing for you. There is no solicitation of business. The cost is $45 for materials. The materials fee is waived for mental health professionals to attend.

Questions? Call Divorce Options at (858) 472-4022 or email at sandiegodivorceoptions@gmail.com

About the Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego

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.

CFLGSD is online at www.collaborativefamilylawsandiego.com, and on LinkedIn.

Tips on How to Find the Best Family Law Attorney for You

Attorney Frann Setzer

by Frann Setzer, Esq.
MBA/Certified Family Law Specialist
Lewis, Warren & Setzer, LLP

Attorney Frann Setzer

Family law attorney Frann Setzer

It surprises me how many phone calls I receive from potential clients whose first question is, ‘what is your hourly rate?’  While I appreciate that legal help is not inexpensive, my experience is that receiving advice from a qualified professional is invaluable.

My tax professional charges a similar rate to an attorney. While she is not the least expensive accountant, she has saved me thousands of dollars.

Remember when you are speaking with a family law attorney for the first time, you are in fact interviewing each other to see if it is a good fit.  Money should not be the only criteria in your hiring decision.  Rather than start by asking an attorney’s hourly rate, you need the answers to the following questions first:

  1. Expertise.   Does the attorney you are interviewing have solid credentials?  Is he or she certified as a Specialist by the State Bar?  Does family law comprise 100 percent of his or her practice, or does he or she practice in several other areas of the law as well?  Does the attorney have other degrees, such an MBA, a master’s degree in taxation or a financial credential? While well-credentialed, experienced attorneys invariably charge more than those who are not, the quality of the advice received is often vastly different.  As with my tax accountant, paying for good advice can translate into thousands of dollars saved.  Don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish.
  2. Philosophy.  Attorneys are people too!  Some are more aggressive, some are more passive.  How often does the attorney you are speaking with litigate?  Is he or she trained in Mediation?  Is he or she trained in the Collaborative process?  When presented with a problem, would this attorney suggest filing a $5,000 motion with the court, or would he or she first pick up the phone and call opposing counsel or write a letter to try to solve the problem?  Certainly at times it is necessary to litigate, but litigation is usually the most contentious and expensive route to take to solve a problem.
  3. Chemistry.  Your family attorney is someone who you are going to be ‘living with’ for a period of time.  Do you communicate well with this person?  Does your attorney understand your concerns and suggest solutions with which you are comfortable?  Is your attorney able to explain the legal issues to you in plain English?  Having a certain amount of chemistry is necessary in order to create a feeling of trust that this person is acting in your best interest.
  4. Comparison Shop.  Quite a bit of information can be found on an attorney’s website.  Even more information can be gained through a personal interview.  While many attorneys charge for a consultation, it is money well spent.  You will gain a sense of who this person is, the type of office in which he or she works and most important, you will be able to assess whether the hourly rate quoted is a good value.  You should also receive an initial professional opinion about your case.  See at least two attorneys.  Remember that consulting with an attorney does not obligate you to hire that person.
  5. Billing Practices.  Should you decide to consult with an attorney, ask about his or her billing practices.  Exactly what does he or she charge for? Does staff complete some of the work? Staff work costs less money per hour than the lead attorney.  You should receive a retainer agreement from an attorney you are considering hiring.  Unless you have an emergency situation, take a day to read that agreement and be sure you understand the services provided and how they are charged.  If you do not, do not hesitate to ask questions. Attorneys vary more than you might think on how they charge for services and the services that they provide.

Selecting the right attorney to represent or consult with you can make all the difference in the experience you have during dissolution or other matters, the amount you spend in legal fees and in the outcome of your case.  Unless you have an emergency situation, take the time to make a well-considered hiring decision.

Your Brain on Collaborative Divorce

Your brain and Collaboraive Divorce

By Garrison “Bud” Klueck

Americans of a certain age likely recall a memorable TV commercial.  The TV image is that of someone breaking an egg.  The voice-over announcer says “This is your brain.”  It then cuts to a very hot frying pan sizzling.  The egg is dropped into the pan, where it rapidly fried.  The voiceover says “This is your brain on drugs. Get it?”  In other words, taking drugs fries your brain.

Your brain and Collaboraive DivorceThe services offered by the professionals in a Collaborative divorce team have the opposite effect on clients going through the divorce process.  Collaborative divorce “unfries your brain.”  The client’s “unfried brain” then has the capacity to make the important decisions that a divorcing person needs to make.

Brain science tells us that there are parts that are basically the source of all the emotions that we experience.  These brain parts are known by the term “amygdala.”

While emotions are important to living a full and satisfying life, almost everybody has experienced how our emotions can sometimes become overwhelming.  Modern brain scans tell us why. Those brain scans show that, when the emotional parts of the brain are activated, the higher-reasoning parts show little or no activity.

The divorce process generates intense emotions.  Meanwhile, those divorcing spouses have to make very important decisions by weighing the costs against the benefits of various options.  In other words, the usual way people get divorced demands that they make important life-affecting decisions at a time in their lives when their emotions make them least likely to make sound decisions.

As a Collaborative attorney, I have witnessed that the very valuable services rendered by our well-trained divorce coaches have the effect of “turning down the heat” of the emotions of our clients.  When you lessen the activation of the emotional centers of our brains, it lets the decision-making centers become activated; then the divorcing persons are freed to make the very important decisions that will affect their lives and their children’s lives for years to come.

Over my more than a quarter-century of family law practice, I have witnessed people in the traditional court-based divorce process make some very bad decisions which affected their future and their childrens’ future.  To protect against this almost inevitable problem, there must be some process to prevent those very powerful emotions of the moment affect long-term planning.  The involvement of mental health professionals to help divorcing people process their emotions not only lets those people feel somewhat better during the process, it empowers them to make the decisions they will need to make.

Your brain “on collaborative divorce” will not be a fried brain, like on drugs, but a healthy brain ready to make good choices for a healthy future for you and your family.

Author Garrison “Bud” Klueck has received training as both as an attorney and as a mental health professional.  As an attorney, Bud has been practicing law for over 27 years and is a certified legal specialist in family law.  He was among the first group of San Diego professionals to train in the collaborative process in 2001 and has, over the years, participated in many collaborative cases. As a mental health professional, Bud has a Master’s degree in counseling psychology (MACP) and has internship status with the California Board of Behavioral Science (BBS).

 

Hildy Fentin named President of Southern California Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers

Contact: Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, Falcon Valley Group
619-997-2495 / gayle@falconvalleygroup.com

(SAN DIEGO) – Family law attorney and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mediator and collaborator Hildy Fentin has been named President of the Southern California chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers for the 2014-2015 term. Fentin is the first attorney named to this leadership role whose practice is limited to Alternative Dispute Resolution. Fentin is Immediate Past President of CFLGSD and a valued member of the Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego.

Hildy Fentin, Collaborative Family Law Group of San DiegoThe AAML, founded in 1962, is recognized as the most prestigious national family law organization in the U.S. with more than 1,600 Fellows in the United States. Academy Fellows are highly skilled negotiators and litigators who represent individuals in all facets of family law. To be represented by an AAML Fellow is to be represented by a leading practitioner in the field of family law.

Fentin has extensive experience in various alternative dispute resolution methods, including mediation, Collaborative Divorce, and settlement conference judging. She is often brought into cases to facilitate settlement because of her history of success in finding creative solutions.

“This honor is meaningful to me because it represents a significant shift in thinking about how best to resolve family law disputes,” said Fentin. “It was not so long ago that the only accepted approach to divorce was the traditional litigation model. Now divorcing couples have the option to engage in a consensus-oriented, collaborative approach which is a more dignified and respectful process for everyone involved. It reduces emotional stress and keeps decision making in the hands of the parties, rather than handing their future over to the courts.”

The mission of the Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego 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. That is why Fentin has devoted significant time and effort to the growth and development of CFLGSD.

“My goal in any legal matter is to educate and help guide parties to a fair resolution and avoid stressful, lengthy and expensive litigation,” said Fentin. “My reward is when they reach a comprehensive settlement in a peaceful and respectful manner.”

Fentin is a Certified Family Law Specialist by the State Bar of California; Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers; and immediate Past President of the Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego. Fentin is a recipient of the Judge Norbert Ehrenfreud Family Law Award (“Norby Award”) for dedicated and meritorious service to the Family Law Bench and Bar, awarded by Family Law Judicial Officers. She has extensive training and experience in negotiation, collaboration and mediation.

“My appointment to this AAML leadership role recognizes the significant impact of Alternative Dispute Resolution and its growing acceptance in the legal community.”

About the Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego

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.

 

Five Tips For Successfully Negotiating Your Divorce

by Michele Sacks Lowenstein, Attorney, California State Bar Certified Family Law Specialist, Lowenstein Brown, A.P.L.C.

Trying to negotiate a divorce in a conference room with either a mediator or two attorneys is hard work. However, the result can be worthwhile if you bear in mind that you are a parent forever and the story of your divorce will, ultimately, be your child’s story as well.

An important component of successful negotiation is the use of language during these negotiations. Words express how we think about and see life. The words we use are symbolic of our perspective on life. Some people may wonder why the use of language factors so heavily into these negotiations. In my experience most people going through a divorce don’t want to end up in court. They do, however, want to feel that they have been heard by the other person and efforts were made on both sides to address each party’s issues and concerns.

Consider that when people have filed for divorce they are already at a point where they are unable to communicate effectively and are probably unable to communicate effectively about anything. Participating in divorce negotiations requires people to do something they probably haven’t done in a long time; they must listen to each other in a new way where they no longer jump to conclusions about what the other person is saying.

It’s not easy. In fact, it is hard. However, it can be done. And, it can be done successfully so long as each party is aware that they can each frequently press the other’s “hot button” without even meaning to do so.

So, here are five tips for the successful discussion and negotiation of a divorce.

1.         Stay Away From Polarizing Language.

Using the terms “custody” and “visitation,” while accurate, tends to draw battle lines. Expressing the child sharing plan in terms of “I want to have custody and I want you to have visitation” will certainly cause the other parent to begin to focus on the terms “custody and visitation.” The focus, in fact, should be on a parenting plan that works for the child and not on the terms. Parents who focus on working out the times the child will be spending with each of them rather than arguing over the terms “custody and visitation” will be more successful in their negotiations. And, being more successful in the negotiating process means that these parents will ultimately be more successful in their co-parenting post divorce. Ultimately, the parents are more likely to stay out of court, which causes less stress to the children and to them. So, everyone comes out ahead.

2.         Frame the Issues in a Non-Combative Manner. 

I have been in a number of negotiations where we have reached an impasse on an issue and have decided to move onto another issue. Unfortunately, someone may say “We can fight about that later,” when the non-combative way of phrasing this is “We’ll put this on our list to discuss later.” It may seem small, but framing issues in terms of having to be fought out later rather than discussing them makes a huge difference in the mindset of the parties who are experiencing the divorce. People have already had their share of “fights” and don’t need to be gearing up for another one.

3.         Engage in Interest Based Negotiations Instead of Position Based Negotiations.

Positional based negotiations are adversarial as the “other side” or “opposing party” is seen as an opponent. (Again, labels play a large part here). Reluctantly, a concession will be given. Reluctance leads to resentment and this, of course, results in either the negotiations breaking down or the parties litigating issues in the future. Also telling someone that you are not going to change your position is not conducive to reaching resolution as it only causes each party to dig in their heels. Interest based negotiations seek to find an outcome that is mutually acceptable to both parties. Of course, neither party can generally meet all of their goals and objectives but it is important that each party work  with his or her professional team to set forth realistic goals and objectives and see if a solution can be fashioned which will benefit both parties.

4.         Don’t Refer to Your Soon to Ex in the Third Person.

Sometimes a person will refer to his or her spouse as “he” or “she” rather than using the other person’s name. While it is understandable that doing this is part of venting anger and frustration, referring to someone in the third person as if they aren’t even the room only serves to create additional conflict because that person will feel they are being diminished. People who feel their feelings are being diminished are not likely to be able to act in a constructive fashion to resolve issues.

This  applies especially to lawyers who tend do this or, even worse, refer to the parties possessively as in “your client” or “my client.” This is very de-personalizing.

5.         Don’t Curse, Please.

It should be evident that using four letter words during a business meeting is unprofessional and disrespectful. However, it is amazing how many people actually do swear during negotiations. Using curse words will not bring resolution to any issues but will only serve to cause people to focus on the fact that “them is fightin’ words.” Learning how to express oneself not only allows for improved communication but also provides for a better understanding of one’s own feelings.

As Margaret Thatcher once said: “Watch your thoughts for they become words. Watch your words for they become actions. Watch your actions for they become habits. Watch your habits for they become your character. And watch your character for it becomes your destiny. What we think, we become.” Good advice for everyone.

 

Broken Trust: Advice About Estate Planning During A Divorce

by Meredith L. Brown, Esq.
Brown & Brown

Many couples prepare Wills and Trusts in connection with a happy life event, such as the birth of a child. Frequently these documents are placed in a safe deposit box, never to be updated or even thought about again.

When the unfortunate life event of divorce happens, couples often opt to defer consideration of their old estate planning. No one wants to think about their mortality on a good day, much less when divorce is on their mind. This decision is understandable, but it is probably unwise and potentially costly.

First, a note of caution: if a Petition to dissolve the marriage has already been filed, the law requires that specific steps be taken before changes are made to Wills and Trusts. Similarly, there is an automatic restraint against making changes to beneficiary designations on any insurance. Couples must be sure to comply with these rules.

Family law does not place restrictions on changes to your Advance Health Care Directive after you have filed for divorce. Most couples designate their spouse as their legal voice when it comes to treatment and end of life decisions. Even in divorce situations where couples are amicable, it may not be appropriate for a soon-to-be ex spouse to make these decisions in the midst of a divorce.

How do you decide whether to change your existing estate plan?

The first (and obvious) step is to read and understand your documents. Most couples prepare documents that leave the estate to the survivor between them. Then, ultimately, the estate goes to their children. But this is not always the case, particularly in second marriages.

If you acquired assets after your Trust was created (for example a new home), determine whether title was taken in the name of your Trust. If you hold assets outside of your Trust, you could have the cost of a probate proceeding.

Even if you haven’t done any estate planning but own real estate or other titled assets with your spouse, be sure to check the deed or other title documents. Certain forms of title such as joint tenancy carry with them an automatic right of survivorship. You should consider whether you wish to change the form of title to one without survivorship rights. But before you make any changes, be sure to comply with the notice requirements mandated by law.

Second, ask yourself:  if you were hit by the proverbial truck before your divorce is final, would you want your spouse to receive your share of the estate? If you have children, do you trust that your former spouse will preserve your share of the estate so that your children ultimately receive everything? Would you feel differently if your former spouse sold the marital residence? What if he or she remarried?

Keep in mind that even if you decide to change your estate planning by preparing new Wills and Trusts, your former spouse may still have control over assets you leave to your children, if they are still under age 18. If you do not wish for this to happen, you will need to designate someone else as the guardian of the estate of your children.

As you may guess, determining how your assets are distributed upon your death can be complicated like many other aspects of your life when you file for divorce.  But this is something you need to address for the well-being of yourself and your children. You don’t have to go it alone.  Investing in the advice of an attorney with expertise in estate planning as well as a skilled financial specialist is an investment well worth making.

If you pursue a Collaborative Divorce, a financial specialist is part of your divorce team.  This can be extremely helpful if you are also working through a complex estate plan. It’s another smart reason to consider the Collaborative Process for your divorce.