Divorce: A Professional’s Personal Story

Divorce doesn't have to difficult. Learn more at the next San Diego Divorce Options workshop on Saturday, November 4.

Divorce doesn’t have to difficult. Alternative Dispute Resolution methods such as Collaborative Divorce can make a painful process easier for anyone.

by Mark C. Hill, Certified Financial Planner, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst
Managing Director, Pacific Divorce Management

It is not unusual for professionals who work in the divorce field to have been motivated in their choice of career by personal experience of divorce. Sometimes it is the memory of how their parents’ divorce was handled in childhood, while other times it is the experience of their own divorce that drove them to work in the field.

In my own case, it was the experience of my second divorce in the 1990s together with watching others struggle with the process that was the motivation. At first glance, this divorce should have been simple since we had no children and it was a short marriage lasting less than four years. However, it went all the way to an all-day trial that resulted in me saying these words to my attorney at its conclusion: “I feel violated by this process.”

Ironically, a conversation with my ex-wife years later had me learn that she felt exactly the same way that day — despite the fact that we both had very experienced, competent and caring attorneys working on our behalf. Additionally, as a financial advisor since the early 1980s, I had watched clients go through the traditional litigated approach with devastating financial consequences and yet still feeling compelled to share their stories of being disappointed, frustrated and angry at the outcomes.

As the years have passed, on many occasions I have thought back on my court experience and compared and contrasted it with the very different way my first wife and I chose to end our marriage. This was in the early 1980s and our financial and personal situation was very different from my second divorce. Our finances consisted mainly of debt, but we had a child, then a toddler, who we both loved dearly and were determined to be involved in raising.

At the time the concept of alternative dispute resolution when it came to divorce hardly existed in San Diego. But my wife and I both refused to go through the adversarial process. After a conversation with a non-family lawyer friend, I learned there was nothing inappropriate in a couple negotiating their own settlement if they both had full command of the issues involved.

The problem was that initially I could not find a family lawyer willing to work with us and prepare the agreement. Meetings with four lawyers resulted in the same pushback: “I must represent either you or your wife,” they would tell me. Despite this, I kept looking and eventually found a lawyer who did not say “no” fast enough! As a result, we were able to resolve all issues between the two of us and then, after signing disclosures for the attorney saying that she did not represent either one of us, have the Marital Settlement Agreement filed with the court.

Time passed, and by the time my son was attending college I was actively working in the divorce field and felt that the time was right to ask him “How was it growing up for you?” After getting this first comment off his chest, “You and mom are so different, I can’t imagine you guys ever being together!” he said “The good thing was that I never heard either one of you say a bad word about the other and I knew that you both loved me.”

So, despite the fact that his mother and I had challenging times, especially when both of us remarried, we were able to keep his needs above our fray. I doubt that we would have been able to co-parent so successfully if we had been through an adversarial divorce. I feel great relief that there were no children involved in my second divorce as the ending was so toxic that I cannot imagine it not having a negative impact on children.

Divorce is intrinsically difficult because very few marriages end unless trust has been broken, and it will always represents a loss of some kind. Usually we experience this as the loss of personal relationships and of financial resources. I believe that the underlying negative backdrop this provides is more often than not exacerbated by the traditional litigated approach.

Please know I understand there will be cases where avoiding this is impossible, and our court system is critical in attaining resolution. However, where both spouses show a willingness to try to work together, taking the alternative dispute resolution approach will usually result in more durable and better outcomes with less residual bitterness. Additionally, today couples have access to trained professionals in the legal, financial and mental health fields to offer support throughout the process that did not exist for my first wife and me.

As my own experience shows, this can result in better outcomes for our children. Isn’t that really what is most important?

San Diego Osteopathic Physicians Learn About Collaborative Divorce

Cinda Jones (left) and Myra Fleischer address the San Diego Osteopathic Medical Association about Collaborative Divorce as an alternative to traditional litigated divorce.
Cinda Jones (left) and Myra Fleischer address the San Diego Osteopathic Medical Association about Collaborative Divorce as an alternative to traditional litigated divorce.

Cinda Jones (left) and Myra Fleischer address the San Diego Osteopathic Medical Association about Collaborative Divorce as an alternative to traditional litigated divorce.

Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego incoming 2016 president, attorney Myra Chack Fleischer, CFL-S, and board member Cinda Jones, CFP, CDFA, joined members of the San Diego Osteopathic Medical Association spoke at the group’s November meeting for a presentation on Collaborative Practice as an alternative to traditional litigated divorce.

The presentation provided an overview of the process, introduced the members of the divorce team and how they work together with the couple, and the advantages of Collaborative Divorce as a more holistic approach, including privacy protection and the emotional well-being of the family.

The Collaborative Family Law Group thanks all of the members who attended for their time, attention, and questions about the Collaborative Divorce process.

If you would like a presentation to your business, service, or social organization about Collaborative Divorce, please contact Gayle Falkenthal at gayle@falconvalleygroup.com or call 619-997-2495 to schedule. We look forward to speaking with you.

Why a Collaborative Divorce Makes Financial Sense

Collaborative Divorce offers many advantages to divorcing couples, particularly financial. Courtesy US News & World Report

Collaborative Divorce offers many advantages to divorcing couples, particularly financial. Courtesy US News & World Report

For couples ready to part ways, a Collaborative Divorce can often prevent the angry, destructive results of many divorce proceedings. As reported in U.S. News & World Report, Collaborative Divorce embraces the concept that a couple once considered themselves partners during their marriage, and should be able to end it together as well, deciding how to split assets and how the co-parenting should work out in a way in which neither party feels too disappointed when it comes time to sign the divorce papers.

The Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego is encouraged by media coverage in publications like U.S. News, helping spread the message about the option offered to couples by the Collaborative approach.

Read the entire article at this link.

 

 

Ten Must-Dos After Your Divorce

What are the first steps to take if you're thinking about divorce? Get answers at our free workshop December 3. RSVP 858-472-2022 San Diego

Divorce must-do list by Nancy Stassinopoulos, Certified Family Law Specialist
Nancy Stassinopoulos, APC

Many couples think their case is over on the date they sign their Marital Settlement San Diego divorce attorney Nancy StassinopoulosAgreement. This is a momentous occasion, especially in a collaborative case where the entire team usually meets in a conference room to review and sign the final documents. Emotions can run high, ranging from tears to smiles of happiness that a divorce has been concluded with dignity and respect.

But wait, before you break out the champagne to celebrate with your friends, there’s more to be done. Here are ten important reminders:

  • Finish your QDROs. If your Marital Settlement Agreement provides for retirement accounts and pension plans to be divided by a Qualified Domestic Relations Order, you should start working with the QDRO attorney or QDRO preparation service recommended by your collaborative attorney. In fact, most collaborative attorneys recommend that the couple start the QDRO drafting process before the Marital Settlement Agreement is signed, so that the QDROs can be signed and submitted to the court with the Judgment. Then, you need to make sure that the QDRO is served on the Plan.
  • Divide Your IRAs. The division of Individual Retirement Accounts is usually spelled out in the Marital Settlement Agreement, either as a formula (one-half to each spouse) or a dollar amount to one spouse. The division of IRAs does not require a QDRO. However, you need to contact the custodian of the IRA to request forms for the transfer of the funds, which can be rolled over into the transferee’s IRA without tax consequences. Your Collaborative Attorney or Financial Specialist will assist you if you need help.
  • Change your estate plan. You should make an appointment with an estate planning attorney. If you and your spouse had an estate plan, such as a family trust or wills, be aware that the divorce will automatically revoke any wills or trusts that were in existence on the date of the divorce. Thus, you will need to make a new estate plan. If you fail to do so, and then pass away, the laws of the State of California will decide how to distribute your assets. Also, probate fees for those who die “intestate” (without a will) are costly.   You can leave more money to your heirs with a good estate plan.
  • Check your life insurance. You should review and change the beneficiaries on your life insurance policies, to conform to the Marital Settlement Agreement. Remember, life insurance is not controlled by a will or trust. All beneficiary changes must be made in writing.
  • Change retirement plan beneficiaries. You will need to change the beneficiaries on your Individual Retirement Accounts, 401(k) Plans, and pension plans, to conform to the Marital Settlement Agreement. If these accounts will be divided between you and your spouse, you will need to get that done before you can change the beneficiaries. All beneficiary changes must be made in writing, usually on a form provided by the company.
  • Change your powers of attorney. During marriage, you might have given your spouse a financial power of attorney, or a power of attorney for health care. Be sure to revoke those documents and create new ones. Your estate planning attorney can assist you.
  • Close all joint credit card accounts. Remember, on a true joint credit account, both you and your spouse remain liable for any future charges, even after your divorce is final. If you are not sure whether an account is a true joint account, as opposed to one on which your spouse is an authorized user, call the card issuer and ask.
  • Close all joint bank and financial accounts. Most banks and financial institutions will require both account holders to authorize the account closure.
  • Copy your family photos and videos. Usually the Marital Settlement Agreement will provide that family photos and videos will be copied, with the expense to be shared. Be sure to make these arrangements as soon as possible.
  • Change the passwords on all accounts. If your spouse had access to your online financial or credit card accounts, you will have to change your passwords. Remember, your ex-spouse may be able to answer security questions such as your mother’s maiden name, and obtain access to your accounts after the divorce.

This list may seem overwhelming. It is a lot of work to address these important details. But think about how much work you have already done, to get to this point in the divorce process. Don’t let it all unravel because an important detail was not addressed.

Here’s a tip: Start with the tasks you can accomplish quickly. Tackle the tasks one at a time, check them off as you complete them, and move on to the next one. You will have all this work done in no time. Then you’ll be able to relax, knowing that your future, and your family’s future, will be secure.

 

Stock Options and Restricted Stock In Divorce

by Thea Glazer, CFP®, CDFA™, MS Accounting
Glazer Financial Advisors

When dividing property in a divorce settlement, stock options and restricted stock may be thea-glazer-photopart of the marital estate. This brief overview provides a basic understanding of the factors you need to take into consideration. It does not go into all the many tax and technical issues that are aspects of equity compensation. Seeking professional guidance for your specific circumstances is always a good idea.

Many companies grant their employees equity compensation in addition to their salaries, commissions and cash bonuses. Equity compensation is non-cash compensation representing a form of ownership interest in a company. Among the most common are employee stock options and restricted stock or restricted stock units. In divorce, stock options and restricted stock are property to be divided. The employee’s separate shares are often also considered as income in the calculations of support.

Employee Stock Options (ESOs)

An employee stock option is the right given to an employee to purchase a specified number of shares of the employer’s stock for a specified price and for a specified time. There are two types of ESOs, Incentive Stock Options (ISOs) and Nonqualified Stock Options (NQs). The primary difference is that ISOs have an advantageous tax treatment explained below.

Stock options have a Grant Date, Exercise Price, Vesting Schedule and Expiration date. Example: Company ABC grants John Smith 3,000 nonqualified options on January 4, 2015 at a grant price of $10.50, a four-year annual vesting schedule and an expiration date of January 4, 2025. That means that John can exercise (buy) the 750 shares of stock annually on January 4 from 2016 through 2019. He does not have to exercise any shares until January 3, 2025. If he doesn’t exercise by the date of expiration, they will expire and be worthless.

Taxation of stock options

Nonqualified stock options are taxed at the time of exercise as ordinary income. The amount taxed is the difference between the grant price and the fair market price. Most companies sell enough shares to cover the withholding tax and release the net shares or proceeds if the shares were simultaneously sold. If the shares are held once exercised and sold later, there may be capital gains tax as well. Unless shares are about to expire, most people exercise and sell simultaneously.

Incentive stock options are not taxed when they are exercised. If the shares are held for at least one year from exercise and two years from grant date, the gain is taxed at the advantageous long term capital gains rate.

Restricted Stock (RS) and Restricted Stock Units (RSUs)

Unlike stock options, restricted stock and restricted stock units are actual stock. There is usually no purchase price and, if there is, it is very, very nominal (one cent). Holders of restricted stock have voting rights while holders of restricted stock units do not. Restricted stock units cannot be “underwater” which happens to options when the grant price exceeds the fair market price so they are much less risky. Grants of restricted stock usually have about one-third as many shares as do options. Restricted stock grants have a grant date and vesting schedule. There is no expiration date and usually no grant price.

Taxation of restricted stock

Once a share of restricted stock vests, it is released. Upon release, the fair market value less any purchase price is taxed as ordinary income. Most companies sell enough shares to cover the withholding taxes and release the net shares. There is no decision making needed by the employee like there is regarding when to exercise options. Once restricted stock vests, it is automatically released. Many employees continue to hold the net shares until a time they need the cash, feel the stock has reached a good selling price or want to diversify their portfolios.

Transferability of stock options and restricted stock

Some plans allow NQs to be transferred to the former spouse of the employee, but the majority do not. It is very rare to see ISOs transferable. If they are transferred, they may lose their status as ISOs and fall under the tax rules for NQs.

RS and RSUs are not transferable.

For non-transferable shares of options or restricted stock, the employee holds the shares on behalf of the nonemployee spouse and exercises on his/her behalf or transfers released shares. There are IRS acceptable ways to allocate the taxation so the nonemployee spouse is taxed at his/her rate rather than that of the employee.

Division of equity compensation in divorce

Both stock options and restricted stock shares are divided by formulas. The most commonly used ones are Nelson and Hug.

The Nelson formula is Date of grant to date of separation ÷ Date of grant to date of exercise or release

The Hug formula is Date of hire to date of separation ÷ Date of hire to date of exercise or release

The reason the grants were awarded determines which formula is applicable.

Valuation of stock options and restricted stock

It is rare to value the options rather than to divide the shares. That is because the value is constantly changing so it is imprecise at best. In order to correctly value the options, the following factors are the elements of a complex formula, the Black-Scholes formula:

  • Grant price
  • Grant date
  • Date of expiration
  • Vesting schedule
  • Current stock price
  • Volatility of the stock price

Sometimes valuing the options is the only way to effectuate the property division by offsetting another asset. However, dividing the shares divides both the risk and reward to both spouses. I believe it is preferable when possible.

Collaborative Divorce Offers Flexibility

In collaborative or mediated cases, there is far more flexibility in dividing assets. Unequal divisions are also acceptable if the parties agree and have reasons to do so. In court, such flexibility is not nearly as possible. This is another great reason to consider alternative dispute resolution such as collaborative divorce to allow you to make the best decision possible for your circumstances, rather than a decision forced upon you by a judge.

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.

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.

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.

Collaborative Divorce Method Mirrors Reality, Replacing Fear With Relief

by Meredith G. Lewis, Esq
Certified Legal Specialist-Family Law
Certified Divorce Financial Analyst
Lewis, Warren & Setzer, LLP

For the first several years of my family law practice, I represented clients who were looking to the judicial system to make decisions regarding their children, finances and property.  These clients felt it appropriate to provide a judge who didn’t personally know anything about them with complete control over their future and that of their family.

A release of such control never seemed natural to me.

As I slowly transitioned my practice to only Alternate Dispute Resolution (“ADR”), I saw a much higher rate of satisfaction with the dissolution process among my clients.  Until 2013 my ADR practice focused mostly on mediation. At the suggestion of my friend and colleague  Shawn Weber, CFLS, I took the Collaborative training.

The training showed me that the Collaborative process and its outcome better reflected reality.  In the artificial environment of a courtroom, a judge is limited in his or her decisions by the Family Code and case law.  However, these code sections and court opinions often do not allow a judge to mirror reality.

I instantly realized during my first Collaborative case that it is a process which understands the needs of the parties.  The key moment of this realization was during the meeting addressing the issue of spousal support. Instead of plugging in numbers into a computer program to come up with an artificial support payment, we reviewed in detail each individual’s monthly budget, and allocated the combined net income appropriately.

This process insured each spouse’s necessary expenses were met, and even allowed some discretionary expenses to be covered.  The spousal support number was based on reality, and each person walked away from the meeting feeling confident he or she could financially survive post dissolution.

Best of all, their fear about the future was replaced by a sense of relief, which resulted in having control over how their lives would progress.

The team approach of the Collaborative dissolution was an invaluable tool for working with this family. As in any case, each had their own attorney for legal advice, but both also had the benefit of a financial expert providing knowledge and insight, and a mental health professional to address their emotions during the process. These are two key components which are often missing from the traditional divorce process.

The ultimate agreement and outcome of the case was one that in fact mirrored reality, allowing each individual to have control of his or her future – control that was never handed over to the impersonal judicial system.