Collaborative Practice Marin
Why, and When, Should We Create a Collaborative Pre-marital Agreement ("Pre-Nup")


               When couples marry in California, there are laws that automatically apply to their assets and income. For instance, income received as a result of either spouse’s labor, skill and efforts is community property and belongs to the marital partnership. Assets owned prior to marriage or received during marriage as a gift or inheritance is separate property unless it increases in value during the marriage due to either spouse’s efforts.

               These default rules can be changed in a premarital agreement. The process for creating such a contract is an important consideration. The relationship needs to be valued and the communication about financial topics facilitated to encourage open and heart felt discussions about the terms to be included. Instead of having a proposed premarital agreement prepared by one client’s attorney and delivered to the other client, in a collaborative process the couples and both attorneys work together to develop a Premarital Agreement. The process should be commenced well before the intended wedding date to assure the topics can be considered thoughtfully without any pressure related to timing.

               Collaborative practitioners begin the premarital agreement process with a meeting between the prospective spouses and drafting attorneys where we learn together about the clients’ personal and professional backgrounds, as well as their goals for their marriage as a couple and as individuals. Full disclosure of all assets, obligations and income is required regardless of process. During the meeting, we review each person’s financial information and ask questions to ensure understanding. A review of what California law provides is given so those rights and responsibilities are known. Then we identify topics to be included in the document and brainstorm options for solutions. After all possible options are identified, each is evaluated to determine viability and connection to the clients’ marital goals and interests. If consensus about the terms is reached, the attorneys will then prepare a draft agreement for review. If the couple needs time to further reflect on the options together, another meeting is scheduled to hear the results of this conversation. After the draft is read by all, there is a final discussion to confirm the document is understood and consistent with the couple’s intent.


Susan Stephens Coats is certified as a Specialist in Family Law by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization.  http://www.collaborativepracticemarin.org/members/Coats


Photo Credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.


How to Increase the Cost of Your Divorce


Many people recognize that if they “lawyer up” by hiring the most litigious attorneys that they are asking to have a very expensive adversarial divorce.  Saving money is one of the reasons (but hopefully not the only reason) people often choose to do a collaborative or mediated divorce.  Yet, even in these non-adversarial processes, the attitudes you adopt and the actions you take can make a modest-cost divorce into a much more expensive one.

Behaviors that increase costs:

  • Being impatient with the process - because impatience actually slows the process down
  • Trying to wrest control of the process from the professionals you have hired to help you
  • Procrastinating on getting your homework done
  • Cancelling appointments at the last minute
  • Showing up at meetings without the information and documents you were asked to bring
  • Refusing to get the emotional support you need, like using a divorce coach or therapist, to navigate this very emotional time in your life
  • Listening to “street talk” from your friends and family rather than relying on your divorce professionals
  • Breaking trust by taking unilateral action regarding your assets that will surprise and scare your spouse
  • Withholding information after requests to produce it

Attitudes that increase costs:

  • Focusing on the past and trying to even the score in your divorce
  • Trying to get paid back for your past compromises in the relationship
  • Diminishing and blaming your spouse repeatedly during the process
  • Needing to be seen as being and doing things all “right” and your spouse as all “wrong”
  • Refusing to acknowledge that you also contributed to the breakdown of the marriage
  • Seeking revenge and wanting to punish your spouse
  • Focusing on what you don’t want instead of getting clarity on what you do want
  • Engaging in tit-for-tat – going low when your spouse goes low
  • Refusing to see that your spouse has a legitimate perspective
  • Thinking that if you see your spouse’s perspective that you have to give up your own

You always have a choice about what actions you take and the mindset you adopt.  The choices you make will impact how long your divorce takes and the final cost.  If you are feeling very reactive and overwhelmed, then seek out a divorce coach or therapist to support you through the emotional currents of the divorce process. 

Nancy J. Foster, J.D. is an attorney-mediator, trainer and Exec. Director of the Northern California Mediation Center in San Rafael.   

Photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

Do I Need a Premarital Agreement?

 

            A very frequent question I am asked in my practice is do I need premarital (or sometimes referred to as a Prenuptial) Agreement.  A premarital agreement can be important to someone for a variety of different reasons.  The first important aspect of deciding whether you want or need a premarital agreement, is to understand what such an agreement can accomplish and address.  A premarital agreement can address things like:

 

•           how you are going to treat assets and debts that each of you bring into a marriage (examples include real property, retirement assets, inheritance, student loans, support you pay for a prior relationship); 

 

•           how you want to treat assets your earn or are gifted to you during the marriage (this can include compensation, bonuses, stock option grants, inheritance, etc.);

 

•           how you are going to pay your day to day bills;

 

•           do you want to pay each other spousal support (or do you want to limit it in some way);

 

•           do you want to provide for each other in your estate plans;

 

•           do you want to make gifts to each other;

 

            A premarital agreement can be a very positive experience for a couple when it is approached openly and collaboratively.  The objective of a premarital agreement, in my view, should be to address both parties needs and concerns going into their marriage in a way that allows a couple to (1) start their lives together with a solid foundation of being able to talk to each other about difficult topics and (2) find their own solutions.  Often, people's needs and concerns arise from their past experiences (fears that arise from their parents bad divorce, their own bad divorce, or pressure from their families). 

 

            My feeling is that a premarital agreement should be something that is created together, addressing your respective needs and concerns, and reflecting who you are as individuals as well as who you want to be as a couple starting your lives together.  Such an agreement can help a couple set their expectations going into their marriage and allow them each to express how they visualize their marital partnership.

 

            If you decide you do want a premarital agreement, your next step would be to meet with a family law professional to talk about how to best go about creating a premarital agreement and the different processes and professionals you can utilize to help you.


Lissa Rapoport is a family law attorney in San Francisco and Marin County.  lrapoport@lpslaw.com

Photo Credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.



A Brief Overview of Collaborative Law


Thank you to Brad Reid and the Huffington Post for this blog article.

Collaborate law is a variation of non-adversarial alternative dispute resolution. Specific collaborative law techniques have been discussed for about thirty years and fifteen or so states have enacted the Uniform Collaborative Law Act of 2009. While primarily focused on family law and divorce, collaborative law may be utilized in other disputes such as employment, insurance, mergers and acquisitions, or issues between family members in closely held businesses. Always consult an experienced attorney in specific situations.

In broadest overview, the parties voluntarily sign a collaborative participation agreement and are represented by attorneys whose representation ends if a traditional contested judicial proceeding begins. While participation cannot be court ordered, courts retain authority to issue emergency orders to protect health, safety, welfare, and financial interests. Attorneys must make a full disclosure of the advantages and disadvantages of collaboration in the specific situation so that a client may make an informed participation decision. There are limited institutional exceptions to the end of attorney representation when a free legal services clinic or governmental entity is involved in the collaborative representation. The parties agree to disclose all relevant and material information (although the agreement may limit the scope of disclosure) and promise to exercise good faith while negotiating. Disclosed information is deemed privileged and may not be utilized in subsequent litigation, subject to modification by the collaborative participation agreement. Exceptions to disclosure exist to prevent bodily harm or a crime, abuse or neglect of a child or adult, and to address professional misconduct or malpractice. The parties may engage appropriate professional experts to assist in the dispute resolution process. Courts may enforce an agreement that does not meet all of the formal requirements in the interest of justice when the parties intended to engage in the collaborative process.

Collaborative law, unlike arbitration under which a third party makes a binding decision, leaves the decision to the parties themselves. “Coaches” may facilitate direct communications. Unlike much alternative dispute resolution, collaborative law is pre-litigation. Hence, it may be less emotionally draining and more relationship preserving. The most serious criticisms of collaborative law center on attorney disqualification. Critics are concerned with potential attorney withdrawal at the very moment (litigation) when attorney services are most needed. An additional criticism is that collaborative law adds another layer of time and expense to disputes that end in litigation. However, attorney codes of ethics uphold the attorney withdrawal provisions and advocates of collaborative law assert that litigation rarely results at the end of a collaborative process. It is additionally asserted that privacy, control of the process by the parties themselves, and the individualized situational based aspects of the process are significant benefits.

Psychological and sociological knowledge underlies collaborative law. The following several paragraphs provide a few of many basic concepts. Fear of the collaborative process is perhaps best overcome by trust that is created by individual self-awareness and mutual self-disclosure. However, creating trust is hard work and the personal relationships may already be so damaged that trust, hence collaborative law, is impossible.

Additionally, the parties themselves may be at various points in the familiar progression consisting of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. There may be non-party individuals that have a high degree of unrecognized influence over the parties. Controlling parents, new boyfriends or girlfriends, and friend confidants are examples.

Furthermore, one must distinguish an individual’s interests, positions, and goals. Interests are concerns or matters of importance that drive persons and they may be unrecognized emotions such as sadness, anger, or shame. Skilled advocates help their clients develop self-knowledge and understanding that leads to attainable goals. Inquiring about “what you assume will happen,” “what is your expectation,” and “precisely what will that look like to you,” are recognized techniques to get beneath the surface.

Individuals may engage in irrational, self-sabotaging behaviors due to projecting their problems on others so that they avoid changing their behavior, defensive habits, creating excitement or chaos to override depression by stimulating the body’s physical chemical responses, and to acquire status or approval from others. Sometimes deeper psychopathology may be present that creates real risks of physical harm to themselves or others.

The parties must have common ground rules for negotiation and the attorneys themselves must be self-confident centered persons who are able to manage their own stress as well as the unique stressors of the particular situation. Professionals must be prepared to address such expected problem areas as an individual’s resistance to disclosing needed information or delaying the process either consciously or unconsciously.

Professionals must be able to recognize “transference” and “countertransference” when feelings are unconsciously redirected from one person to another. Self-knowledge, relying on facts not opinions, and discouraging posturing and positions are all helpful professional techniques. Initial meetings and the collaborative participation agreement set the stage for everything that follows. Common courtesy, mutual respect and constructive negotiations are vital to success. Certainly, however, collaborative law is not possible or even best under all circumstances.

Thankfully, an individual professional need not know and be everything as a collaborative team is likely. Particularly in family law and divorce situations, a variety of financial, wealth management and tax experts may be involved. Ideally the transparency of the collaborative process will allow efficient data collection and the development of and commitment to mutually beneficial financial goals and commitments. However, non-financial professional assistance in the form of child and adult therapists, addiction specialists, as well as family, friends, and clergy may be of equally important. The expectation is that professional individuals will bring their best neutral professional judgment to the process.

In broad conclusion, collaborative law is advocated as cost effective and relationship oriented and has spread globally. There are a number of professional organizations and training associations. These organizations may overlap and cooperate with family advocacy and mental health groups. Courts have been creating both local and state-wide rules to govern the collaborate process. Minimum professional training before one may practice collaborate law is frequently required. Consult an experienced attorney to determine the status of collaborative law in a particular state.

Collaborative law aligns with a recognizable movement to make legal services and dispute resolution more accessible and cost effective. Standards for attorney and non-attorney professional specialization, for example, licensed legal technicians, are developing. The “unbundling” of legal services so that attorneys are not required to personally engage in every client encounter, much like the current activities of a physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner, are the contemporary trend. Additionally, a host of specialized courts that have non-traditional powers and may grant unique remedies or divert parties to extra-judicial entities are increasing. Individual just-in-time services provided in a multidisciplinary package are coming to law. Increasingly, it appears that in the long-term the Anglo-American adversarial system of justice, while not totally replaced, will be reserved for certain unique problem areas. Even criminal law, uniquely adversarial, is not immune from these developments.

This comment provides a brief and incomplete educational overview of a complex topic and is not intended to provide legal advice. Always consult an experienced attorney and other professionals in specific situations.

Brad ReidSenior Scholar, Dean Institute for Corporate Governance and Integrity, Lipscomb University
Photo Credit: David Buscho

Has Collaborative Divorce Resolution Reached the Tipping Point?


You are faced with an enormous initial decision when you face divorce.  Unless you choose otherwise, litigation is the default.  However, more and more couples are choosing to divorce without going to court, by mediating or collaborating.  Collaborative Law is rapidly becoming the norm, as Gary Direnfeld, LCSW, writes in his blog:

For years, family law litigators were the go to persons to facilitate the distribution of property, support obligations and the plan of care for children of the relationship between separating couples.

Mediation was always a distant alternative to the go to of family law litigators and hence the moniker, alternate dispute resolution.

Beginning the in the early 1990’s and gathering a head of steam into the new millennium and now an unstoppable force, Collaborative Law is biting the heels of mediation.

However, when looking at Google searches, Collaborative Law and Mediation combined as so called alternate dispute resolution solutions are closing in quickly on the family law litigators. As of Sunday, February 21, 2016, Google searches revealed:

Family law litigator: 35,600,000 hits.
Collaborative Law: 12,500,000 hits.
Family law mediation: 21,000,000 hits.

Given the head of steam rising from mediation and Collaborative Law, I would predict that they soon will surpass family law litigation, at least in terms of combined Google hits.

When Mediation and Collaborative Law surpasses family law litigation, which will then be deemed alternate and interestingly, Australia has long since deemed the so-called alternate dispute resolution solutions primary, at least since 1975.

This change in approach to dispute resolution is no minor thing. Given the rise of the so-called alternatives, people at the same time are becoming increasingly aware of the ravages of litigation particularly contrasted against the less costly and more peacemaking outcomes of mediation and Collaborative Law.

It may not just be a sea-change in terms of how people seek to resolve family conflict, but the sea change might also spell the death knell for litigation. Oh sure, there will always be those few who march towards court, but even there, couples are increasingly redirected to resolving matters in the hallowed halls outside the courtroom only returning to have their mediated agreements converted into orders for enforcement purposes. Many are realizing that they may as well begin where they are likely to end up – in mediation, even if going to court.

There’s a definite change a’coming. Indeed it’s here. The only question now is the depth of change and whether litigation will actually survive.

Are you looking to resolve a family dispute. Get with the times. Look at mediation and Collaborative Law.

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas and Georgina Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America. http://www.yoursocialworker.com

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

How Do We Divide Up Our Stuff in Our Divorce?

People often become paralyzed when it comes to dividing their personal property (household furniture, furnishings, sentimental items such as wedding gifts, photos, children's artwork, etc.).  It is certainly one of the harder issues to contend with for families that are separating their homes because often there is much emotion attached to items accumulated during the course of a relationship.    

            While there are many ways to divide these items, if it is possible and manageable for them, it may be in their best interest both emotionally and financially to try to find a way to divide these items themselves rather than pay their professionals to become involved.  I have seen many families navigate these issues constructively and thoughtfully when given a structure that works for them. 

            People often find the issue of how to value items challenging as well.  It is often very difficult to put an economic value on emotional attachments.  From a legal perspective, the value is generally thought to be what they could reasonably expect to get for an item at a garage sale or on Craig's List.  

            The first step for couples is often to create a comprehensive inventory of the items that need to be discussed and divided.  Sometimes these lists can be created together.  In the alternative, each person can create their own list.  If one person has been out of the family residence for a period to time, they may need to go into the residence to refresh their memory in order to create their inventory.  It is also helpful to identify items that either person may feel are their "separate property" (either owned prior to the relationship or gifted during the relationship).  Also, if each person can identity the items they wish to retain and the items they do not wish to retain, often this can reduce the items that require discussion.  

            As to any items that require discussion, if after thoughtful discussion an agreement cannot be reached, when all else fails, a tried and true method that people can utilize is alternating selection until all items have been allocated.  There are also creative ways to address some of the more emotional issues.  For example, parents can create a sharing agreement that allows them to retain certain sentimental items related to their children with an agreement that the items "belong" to the children and will be returned to the children at some point.  Photos, videos and artwork are also often a difficult issue.  Today there are many ways to copy such items so that each person can retain copies of these items.  At the end of the day your "stuff" is an important part of a separation or dissolution and should be treated thoughtfully.


Lissa Rapoport is a consensual dispute resolution attorney with offices in San Francisco and San Rafael.

Photo credit: Ann Buscho, PhD.


Why Can’t Our Therapist Be Our Collaborative Divorce Coach?


When couples begin a divorce process, they have many questions.  During this time of transition everyone needs support to navigate the process as it unfolds.  You need support while you are making temporary plans for your children and yourself. 

If you have a relationship with your own therapist you may wonder how a separate Coach can be needed or helpful.  After all, your therapist already knows you, and perhaps also your spouse.  Why hire and pay for another mental health professional?  Here are some reasons why it is not a good idea for your therapist to take on a dual role:

  1.  Your relationship with your therapist needs to be private to be effective.  Therapy provides a place for your personal discussions and reflections on your experience.  Thoughts and feelings arise and change in the course of therapy, and one benefit of a confidential relationship with your therapist is that you have the time to sort through your feelings with care, respect and in private.
  2. Divorce Coaching provides you with emotional support to help you function at your best while you are making decisions, temporary and permanent, about your family.  You will also be thinking through your hopes, goals, concerns, and fears.  Coaching is much more focused than therapy. 
  3. Collaborative divorce is transparent, and the professionals work together for the benefit of your entire family.  To be effective, you will give permission to your coach to speak and coordinate with your attorney, your spouse’s coach and attorney, as well as any other professionals on your team.  This is extremely helpful and makes the divorce process more efficient.  When the professionals understand more fully who you are and what is important to you, it will be easier to reach resolutions that respect your concerns as well as those of your spouse or children. 
  4. Since most divorcing couples have great difficulty with communication, your Divorce Coaches work with you and your spouse to prepare for meetings.  Coaching can help you find your “voice” to communicate more effectively what matters to you—even if you have not been able to do that before.
  5. One of the most important tasks in a divorce is creating a Parenting Plan.  Your coaches will help you and your spouse consider the various issues about which you will need to make important decisions, and they will draft your parenting plan as you and your spouse make agreements together.  They can also assist you and your spouse in creating a co-parenting agreement that will best benefit your children, reduce or eliminate conflict, and help your family move on into the next chapter of your family’s life.

Elizabeth Salin, MFT, is a family therapist, Divorce Coach and Child Specialist in Marin County.

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

My Wife Had an Affair—Do I Have to Pay Her Alimony When We Divorce?

Your feelings around your spouse’s infidelity are natural, understandable and important.  Feelings of hurt, anger, betrayal, shock, rage, and grief are to be expected when one’s partner has been unfaithful.  Your feelings around the affair, whatever they may be, are in the room while we are negotiating, and we have to acknowledge and deal with them if the negotiations are to go smoothly.   Your feelings are important to you—so if we ignore your feelings, you will feel like something vital to you is not being addressed.

At the same time, because California is a no-fault state, it is important to remember that it is not the purpose of legal solutions to remedy emotional wrongs.  When it comes to spousal support, also called alimony, the law is concerned with questions such as the recipient’s need and the payor’s ability to pay, not whether the recipient deserves support on account of his or her past behavior.  That is not to say that your feelings about the affair are not important.  Rather, it is a question of how and where to deal with those feelings.

Our approach to dispute resolution in a divorce provides you and your spouse a safe place in which you can voice your feelings and feel heard by the other.  By addressing your feelings directly, you and your spouse create the possibility of an emotional resolution—whether that is an explanation, an apology, forgiveness, or just being heard—something the law cannot provide.  In this way all of your concerns—legal, financial, and emotional can be meaningfully addressed.


Steve Sulmeyer, J.D., Ph.D. is a divorce coach and mediator in Marin County.  steve@stevesulmeyer.com


Photo Credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D. 

How Long Will My Divorce Take? (I want to get it done fast!)

How much time will your divorce take? By the time you reach the decision to divorce, or accept your spouse’s decision, you probably want to get it done and over with! Why prolong this difficult and overwhelming process?

Well, it’s a little complicated. There are a few answers to your question.

  1. Once you and your spouse file and respond to the divorce “petition” the “clock starts running.” Legally, the soonest you can terminate marital status (finalize your divorce) is six months plus one day. The reason is that sometimes a “cooling off” period helps people decide if the divorce is what they really want. So, if you could get all the other divorce-related tasks done, then you could be divorced in six months.
  2. The reality is that divorces often take longer than six months to complete. One reason might be that you could save money in taxes by finalizing your divorce this year or next year. A Certified Divorce Financial Analyst or your CPA can help you figure out the tax consequences of waiting or finishing up sooner. You will have to file and cause your petition and summons to be “served” by the end of June to finish up this year. You would then file as a single person or head of household this year.
  3. Another reason your divorce might take longer is that your situation might be complex financially. If you have assets, debts, a business, retirement savings, pension, income from various sources such as stock options, etc., your financial situation may not be as simple as you think. A financial professional may need to help you sort it out. The law requires that you and your spouse have a full and complete understanding of your finances, and often one or the other of you needs to be “brought up to speed.”
  4. You and your spouse will need to work out a parenting plan if you have children. This important task will help your family recover and heal when the divorce is over. You both love your children, but you may have different ideas about how you will co-parent when you are in two households. It can take some time to develop a plan that fits your children’s needs, your work schedules, your life style, and more. This is not a task you should rush through, as it is an investment in your children’s future mental health, success in school, social experience and life. A divorce coach and child specialist can help, support and educate you about your children’s specific needs and how to soften the impact of the divorce on them.
  5. Delays in the divorce process are often caused by emotional factors. Conflict, arguing, uncooperative behaviors, evasive or hostile tactics will cost dearly in both time and money. Grief, sadness, anger, depression, and other emotions get in the way of making good decisions during the divorce, and this is a time when you will need to think clearly and carefully about your decisions. In fact, emotions might be the most costly part of your divorce, and it is well worth your time to do the emotional work you need to do before you begin to negotiate your divorce. A therapist or divorce coach can help. Often people turn to attorneys first, but divorce is an emotional process, more than a legal one. Find the emotional support you need before you start.

Your divorce will inevitably be a stressful event, but you will get through it. You should take the time you need to complete the divorce, without rushing through the important decisions you will need to make. If you would like it to be an efficient and less costly divorce, you can control some of the costs and time by doing these things:

  1. Be prepared emotionally. Get the support you need and take care of yourself.
  2. Prioritize your children’s needs. Your child specialist can help you with this. Work with your divorce coaches to develop a realistic parenting plan.
  3. Find a way to reduce the conflict between you and your spouse. Turn to your divorce coaches for help. Working with a divorce coach will make your divorce go much more efficiently.
  4. Be prepared for meetings. Complete the various assigned tasks required, such as collecting financial records, disclosing all financial information, and contacting any necessary outside professionals (realtors, health insurance companies, etc.).

Doing your divorce quickly is less important than doing it well. A good divorce is one that leaves you, your spouse, and your family on the path to a new, healthy, and stable life. A good divorce means that you and your spouse can continue to communicate in a friendly way, and that reduces stress for your entire family. And a good divorce is one that is emotionally and financially efficient.

--Ann Buscho, Ph.D. is a Collaborative Divorce Coach and psychologist in Marin County. http://www.collaborativepracticemarin.org/members/Buscho

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

The Positive Outcomes of Divorce

For many, the word “divorce” conjures up negative thoughts and impressions. We gasp: “what about the kids? I thought they were happy? There go the holidays.” No one wants to be part of those statistics, but many of us are or will be. So, how do we surpass the social and psychological hurdles of this transition to realize the positive outcomes of a divorce?

The decision to end your relationship and get divorced is a difficult one. The process can be fraught with emotional stress and interpersonal conflict.  To make things worse, any positive attitudes one may have related to this change are often overshadowed and dismissed as inappropriate or unhealthy. However, cognitive behavioral therapy provides us a unique insight – balancing negative thoughts alongside positive thoughts is a sign of good mental health. 

If you are considering divorce or recently divorced, here is a glimpse of the bright side of your decision:

Positive Attribute #1: Positive modeling for your children

By choosing to end an unhappy relationship, you teach your children an important life lesson: people change. Although change can be difficult, it is an integral part of our natural and social world.  By being a positive model for change, you are teaching your children how to cope in tough situations and helping them understand the complex nature of relationships.

Positive Attribute #2: Your physical health will improve

Research shows that telomeres, small areas at the end of chromosome strings protecting your DNA molecules, shorten or die off as you age or when under stress. This shortening process is associated with premature aging, cancer and a higher risk of death. However, you can reverse this process and restore these vital cells through improved lifestyle changes and healthier relationship living,

Positive Attribute #3: You will learn about yourself

It is common for people to wonder “Why me?” when considering or going through a divorce. This process of self-reflection is a critical step in understanding your psychological make-up and to perhaps avoid the experience again. Entering counseling, talking to a trusted friend, or conducting your own soul searching are ways to truly connect with your deepest inner self and help you transition.

Positive Attribute #4: Your mood will fluctuate, but on your terms

Mood management is very hard for some and especially challenging if you are leaving a situation in which your mood was subject to the mood of another person. After a divorce, your mood may fluctuate – but at least it will be your mood yours to control, and yours only.

Positive Attribute #5: Self confidence

Divorce can be complicated, messy, and very emotionally taxing. Once you survive the transition, you will feel alive with the confidence that you made a decision to better your life. This esteem will lead to a sense of empowerment and deep self-knowledge that you are in control your happiness.

--Erika Boissiere, MFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist, specializing in couples, relationships and marriage therapy. She is the founder of The Relationship Institute of San Francisco, http://www.trisf.com


photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

Can a Divorce Team Save You Money?

You made the very serious personal decision to terminate your marriage. This decision necessarily takes you to the procedure known as divorce (AKA Dissoluiton of Marriage in the Court).

You found yourself an attorney who discusses the different processes with you that can be used to divide assets and debts, set a child sharing plan, and set support. You say, “We don’t want to go to court – we just want to settle.”

The Collaborative Family Law model provides the most complete and efficient process to meet your goal. The hallmarks of the Collaborative Law divorce process are an agreement from everyone at the outset to exclude all court proceedings, and engage the services of various professionals, known as “the team” to assist in the resolution of all issues.

Why is a “team” needed? Why do we need a team just to get a divorce? If you don’t have any assets, income or children, then you don’t need a team and you can stop reading. If you do have any of these, I encourage you to continue.

ALL parties in a divorce in California no matter what process is used are mandated by law to exchange Preliminary Declarations of Disclosure. It means each side must provide in writing to the other a disclosure of all assets and debts. There is considerable debate regarding the extent and specificity required, but the goal of the law of disclosure is to adequately inform both sides before decisions are made regarding dividing assets and liabilities.

The main advantage to having one neutral financial person as part of a Collaborative team is that you deal with just one individual working to provide fair and accurate information to both parties in a divorce. Both parties provide financial information to the single financial expert. He or she verifies and organizes it, and reports the information in an understandable form to both parties and their counsel. Everyone is on the same page.

In comparison, in many “litigated” cases, a joint expert is not retained at the outset of a case, and after a great deal of increased animosity, distrust and anxiety, not to mention expense, the parties either reach the point of a joint expert or continue to battle each other with their own expensive experts – two instead of one.

Many times even the most sophisticated party in a divorce may be surprised to learn some information in the exchange. For example, husbands and wives can be wrong about how title is held on a property, whether something is community property or not, or the true value of a given asset. Clear, organized information such as this is essential to the parties in a divorce to reach reasonable and informed solutions.

The independent financial specialist also assists in determining the true income of both parties and the relative expenses for separate households going forward. Compensation packages for W-2 earners as well as the self employed have become increasingly complex with the proliferation of compensation such as Restricted Stock/Units, Performance Restricted Stock, Stock Options, claw back provisions, insider trading rules, irregular bonus payouts, profit distributions, 401K and profit sharing plans. Employment benefits can impact both asset division as well as ongoing income available for support. Self employed individuals often have unrealistic opinions of their worth or income.

The parties and their respective counsel need accurate, efficient documents and information in order to adequately educate and advise the parties as to the best solution and informed decisions for their particular case.

Even more important than the financial considerations in a divorce is the attention needed to preserve the best interest of the children. A child specialist can be the most valuable person on the Collaborative team.

First, the children need to be assured early and often that the separation of the parents is not the fault of the child. The child may be in need of therapy that neither parent is able to recognize or facilitate because of his or her own emotional upheaval. The child needs a neutral place to discuss his or her input and even vent, without fear of recrimination from a parent. Children of different ages have different needs and concerns.

All of this can be discussed with the parents and the child specialist in a safe and calm situation in order to reach a suitable, workable family child sharing plan. Every mental health expert agrees that continued animosity and conflict between the parents in divorce renders harm to the children from which they never recover. The Collaborative team, with the help of the child specialist, has the best chance of avoiding this tragedy.

If parents are unable to agree regarding the sharing of the children in a litigated divorce case in court, the family frequently undergoes a costly custody evaluation process and may have their own “expert” to review the work of the expert conducting the evaluation. Once again, you have the potential for three experts instead of one, as well as counselors and therapists, coming in at a much later stage of the proceedings after further polarization of the parties and damage to the children. The structure of the Collaborative team and process can “put everyone in the same room” from the beginning of the process.

Equally important to the team are the coaches for each of the adults. Divorce is one of the most emotional processes a person can go through in a lifetime. Everyone can use assistance from time to time for insight and balance while dealing with the inevitable feelings of loss, uncertainty, fear, anger and overall anxiety. Your attorney is not a psychologist. It is the duty of the attorney to maintain as much objectivity as possible in order to advise the client in the decision making process, and the individual coaches are a tremendous assistance in facilitating the parties to reach resolution.

With a professional Collaborative team in place from the outset of a divorce, you will be provided information, organization, support, advice and assistance for the entire family in the transition process for the best possible solutions. Otherwise, you may end up with a team or two anyway, but in a courtroom instead of a conference.

 

Win Heiskala is a family law attorney in San Diego. She graciously allowed CPM to repint her blog piece, and can be contacted at http://www.blsapc.com/ 

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

Why I Won’t Settle Disputes in Court

In the midst of parental separation feelings run high. If there are complicating factors such as violence, abuse and infidelity, those feelings typically run even higher. To add, if the decision to separate is more one-sided than mutual, the person being left can feel a sense of bewilderment if not abandonment. This too adds to the mix of bad feelings.

Parents in these circumstances are typically in a terrible place emotionally for determining the best parenting arrangement for their children. Knowingly or unknowingly, the children can become the battleground over which the parental score is settled.

As the parents unwittingly settle their score through the children, think one parent isn’t deserving of a relationship with the kids or think one cannot parent or will provide a negative influence and then seek to limit one’s relationship or time with them, the fight is on. The issues of the relationship which led to the separation worsen, further exposing the children to parental conflict. At the end of the day, parental conflict alone is the best predictor in terms of the outcome for children of separated parents. The greater the conflict the worse the outcome.

In a bid to win the day and determine an outcome, parents may turn to the court. In so doing each parent must convince the court that the other is the scoundrel. Each parent, reasonably defensive, must up their claim against the other to countermand the others claims. The court, thought of as an instrument for settling disputes and restoring peace becomes the very structure that creates further instability, chaos and hardening of bad feelings. Pity the children as the conflict inevitably intensifies.

Consider the following:

  • Court action to resolve family disputes typically inflames the conflict underlying parental disputes. Known as iatrogenic effects, this refers to the negative unintended consequences of a well intentioned act. In short, Court produces many iatrogenic effects where the unintended harm to parents and children is at times far worse than the benefit from the well intentioned outcome. Court decisions do not end conflict;
  • Family law lawyers with an emphasis on litigation, although likely well intentioned, are inherently in a conflict-of-interest as their income hinges on your degree of conflict. Generally, the greater your conflict, the greater their income. There is a lower risk for conflict-of-interest with settlement focused family law lawyers particularly those who do not practice litigation. If you use a family law lawyer, choose wisely and retain control of your case;
  • Those settlements reached between the parents themselves tend to last longer and are better followed than those outcomes imposed by a judge or arbitrator;
  • Less than 5% of all family court disputes go to trial, meaning almost all matters are settled along the way by alternative dispute resolution strategies. Given statistically your matter will likely settle in a process other than court, you may be better off to begin with that process from the start and if you have already started a court process, you can seek to divert it at anytime;
  • If you obtain a custody evaluation and go to trial, 80% of the time the Judge will order what has been recommended. In the remaining 20% of the time, it is not that the judge will reverse the recommendation of the assessor as that is a rare event; it is that the judge may make some modifications to the recommendations while keeping the intent intact. In other words, custody evaluations are quite determinative of the outcome of parenting disputes whether you like the evaluation or not. If you have an evaluation you don’t like, think twice about fighting that in court in lieu of negotiating your own final parenting plan with or without assistance – but likely with assistance;

The single best predictor in terms of the long term outcome for children of separated parents is the duration and intensity of ongoing conflict to which the children are exposed or privy. Court is not aimed at reducing conflict what-so-ever. Court is only aimed at making decisions which at times makes relationships and conflict worse;

Children are typically better served by parents willing to participate in dispute resolution processes that do not involve court and are clinically focused as opposed to legally (rights) focused;

Parenting conflicts are not legal matters. Parenting conflicts are reflections of personal and interpersonal problems which require personal and interpersonal solutions. While judges and lawyers are experts at law, they are not typically experts at parenting conflicts, child development, mental health, drug and/or alcohol concerns or domestic violence. Seek the expert with the appropriate expertise;

Court may only be really necessary to keep people safe from harm in the event of truly dangerous or abusive behavior or in situations where a parent is truly undermining a child’s relationship with the other parent with no hope of change. Not liking the other parent, having different values or preferences and challenges in communication are not addressed in court processes;

Concern about mental health, behavior and even drug/alcohol problems can be addressed in settlement focused clinical services outside of court.

In view of the above and with a desire to act in the best interest of children, seek services that are provided with a view to facilitating settlement. Approaches to facilitating co-parenting should have a clinical focus, meaning they are directed to the well being of the children through helping parents address issues that can lead to settlement. Children’s needs remain paramount. After all, we all want our children to grow up well.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW is a Social Worker and Collaborative professional in Ontario, Canada

www.yoursocialworker.coma href="http://www.yoursocialworker.com/">

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

Three Ways to Increase the Odds Your Divorce Process Will Feel Successful

Divorce is a painful time no matter whether you are the one to initiate the process or you are the one who is reluctantly dragged through the process.  You and your spouse together have the choice of how to go about ending your marriage and moving into a better space.  The following are three ways to feel you have control of the process and its outcome.

  1. Educate yourselves about your divorce process options.  One way to do that is to attend a Divorce Options Workshop put on monthly by Collaborative Practice groups in counties around the state.  Then decide which option will work best for you and your spouse.
  2. Interview attorneys and other professionals whom you expect to have help you make agreements for the finances and your children's care.  Ask about their commitment to out-of-court processes, such as Collaborative Practice, where the ultimate goal is to reach agreements that you can each honor.  No matter the process you choose, look for professionals who are qualified members of a Collaborative Practice group.  They have most likely committed to practice standards and ongoing training.  These professionals are also the most likely to follow a shared model for Collaborative representation and to have made the effort to become trained as effective Collaborative professionals.  Research has shown that one of the best predictors of a good divorce process and outcome is the selection by divorcing spouses of two attorneys who respect one another and have a good track record of settling cases together and working together effectively to help clients reach creative, respectful solutions.
  3. Do everything in your power to reduce conflict between you and your spouse.  Enlist a neutral financial professional to gather your financial information and supporting documentation, provide the results in understandable formats, educate both of you as needed on the finances, and help you understand the financial and tax consequences of your ideas for settlement.  Enlist divorce coaches to help you create a parenting plan that will carry you through the different stages of your children's development.  Divorce coaches can also help you deal specifically with the emotions connected to the divorce process and provide effective communication tools.  For more help, one or both of you might seek relief from your pain and disappointment from a licensed mental health professional.  If you select the Collaborative Divorce process, tell your friends and family that you know they love you and want the best for you and that you are getting the information and advice you need to sit down and have the difficult conversations with your spouse so that you can to create a good life for yourself.   This will empower you and make you feel successful.
Judith F. Sterling is a CPA, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, and Collaborative Financial Specialist practicing in Sonoma and Marin Counties.  

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.


What is all this about Community and Separate Property?

One of the tasks that must be solved by couples going through a divorce is how to divide their assets and debts. A marriage is viewed as a partnership where whatever either spouse earns or creates during the marriage belongs to both. Income, including bonuses, stock, and retirement contributions, and assets, real property, savings and investments, as well as financial obligations, that are acquired during the marriage as a result of either spouse’s labor, skill and efforts, ie employment or self-employment, are called community property, equally owned by both spouses. Assets or debts owned prior to marriage, or received during marriage as gifts or from an inheritance, are called separate property. If assets were purchased during marriage using community and separate funds, there would be a community and separate component interest in the asset. How title, if any, is held could affect the percentage. Should a spouse work during marriage to increase the value of separate property, a portion of the increased value might be viewed to be community property to compensate the marital partnership for that spouse’s time. After separation, income becomes separate property but is available for child and spousal support payments.

For couples who choose to use a litigation process to divide their assets and debts, their community property will be divided equally and separate property will be fully retained be the owning spouse. A court does not have the ability to take into consideration the interests and needs of the family or their specific financial circumstances which might warrant a different division. The advantages of using a consensual dispute resolution process, such as Collaborative Practice, is that a divorcing couple is not bound by this narrow formula. Instead, spouses work together to consider multiple possibilities for the division of their community and separate assets and debts. With the assistance of a neutral financial professional, the various options are tested for viability and determined if realistic. They then have the opportunity to select a settlement package that provides benefits for each spouse and their children. The goal would be to achieve a mutually acceptable durable solution.

Susan Stephens Coats is a collaborative family law attorney in Marin and San Francisco

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

How Can I Control the Costs of My Divorce?

Once the difficult decision has been made to get divorced, the next biggest concern is usually how much it will cost.  As you may already be reeling from the emotional costs of the loss of your marriage, the added stress and anxiety associated with the potential or real loss of financial stability may be close behind. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind as you navigate your divorce that directly impact the cost of your divorce.

  1. Mitigate Conflict. This is the first and most important way to keep your divorce costs down. While there has most likely been conflict in your marriage leading you to divorce, do your best to manage your emotions outside of the negotiation. A Divorce Coach can be instrumental in helping you navigate the emotional minefield of divorce and guide you to a safer space from which you can make better decisions for yourself. There is a direct correlation between agreement and divorce costs.
  2. Consider Alternative Dispute Resolution Models such as Mediation or Collaborative Divorce. Litigation, being the highest conflict process, is typically also the most expensive.
  3. Don’t be afraid to use Specialists. Their fees are generally lower than attorney fees, and each professional can do what he or she does best. Remember your Attorney specializes in the law. CDFA’s specialize in financial matters, and a Divorce Coach can help you communicate effectively in your negotiation, while managing your emotions.  Child Specialists can help you and your spouse get on the same page to make decisions involving the children. 
  4. Try to keep an open mind. Remember that your idea of “Fair” may not be the same as your spouse. If you are anchored to a particular outcome, it may take longer to come to a resolution, therefore more expensive. Time is Money.
  5. Understand your attorney’s billable hour and use their time wisely. A few phone calls can add up quickly. Email as much as possible to communicate with your attorney. This allows them to answer your questions when they are not distracted by other issues, minimizing their down time and your bill.
  6. Financial preparation is critical. A Certified Divorce Financial Analyst can help you gather and organize your assets and debts as well as your income and expenses. Accurate information expedites the process reducing costs. Again, in the Litigation model, formal discovery such as subpoenas and depositions are often the most lengthy and costly parts of a divorce.
  7. Remember the law of diminishing returns. Sometimes it just isn’t worth spending thousands of dollars in fees fighting over something small. Make sure the Benefit is worth the Cost.
  8. Finally, Mind your credit. Retail therapy is common after divorce. Don’t do it. If you have to, you should avoid putting charges on credit and make sure you pay all of your bills on time. You will need a good credit score to start fresh after the divorce.

Susannah Malek is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) in San Rafael. 

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

How Can a Divorce Coach Help You in Your Divorce?

A divorce coach works with you to safeguard the process of divorce, centered on minimizing the emotional trauma for you, your spouse and your children.  You might talk about painful feelings with your coach, but this isn’t therapy.  Your divorce coach will guide you through the process with the goals of minimizing conflict and building respect and trust as you navigate your divorce.

Your divorce coach will help you recognize and manage your and your spouse’s personal “faultlines,”  while providing a neutral buffer to calm, protect, and support you both.   An emotional “faultline” is where you may feel shaky or where you feel most hurt.  While it is normal to feel grief, guilt, anger, helplessness, or confusion,  when faultlines are triggered, you can’t take in information or make thoughtful decisions.   In private meetings, your coach will help you identify the faultlines that will be triggered, and develop a plan about how to handle the surge of emotions when you are in divorce meetings.  Unlike therapy, where you might unpack your “faultlines”,  coaching will give you the tools and resources to help you manage them during the course of your divorce.

Faultlines might include betrayals in the marriage, or conflicts about money or the children.  When discussing financial settlements or parenting plans, these faultlines can trigger a cascade of unhelpful emotions.  Your coach will help you develop strategies for managing your own faultlines, and respecting those of your spouse as well.

Your divorce coach will help you translate your emotions into being able to articulate what matters to you most.  Your coach will help you indentify your goals, needs and interests, without becoming adversarial or positional.  With the coaching, you will be able to voice these needs and interests in a more neutral way, without tripping your own or your spouse’s faultlines.  Your coach can also help you restructure your relationship with your spouse, so that you can co-parent with trust, honesty and respect.  Unlike in therapy, a coach will help you restructure your future role with your “ex” without “working through” all of the feelings you may experience in your divorce.

Your divorce coach could actually decrease the cost of the divorce.  In your divorce process, conflict and arguments in attorney meetings are not only hurtful, and pointless: they drag out the process and are expensive!  Your divorce coach will help you look at the process as a problem-solving effort, without pulling in the faultline issues, so that you can make rational decisions for yourself and your family.  As your coach helps you separate your emotional faultlines from what is most important to you, you will gain control over moving toward your new life, and the goals that you envision.

When you are flooded with intense feelings, this biologically limits your brain’s capacity to deal with the enormity of the divorce process.  Divorce coaching helps you maintain your integrity and dignity during a painful and stormy transition in your life.  As your coach helps  you and your spouse learn to communicate in new ways, you are able to keep your family’s wellbeing in focus, make the most well-thought-through decisions together, and begin to heal yourself. 

Avvy Mar, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist practicing in San Francisco and Marin County.

http://www.collaborativepracticemarin.org/members/mar

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

The Law--Is it the Elephant in the Room?

One of the first things people want to know when they are seriously thinking about a divorce is – what does the law say?  I often hear “I want to be fair, but I don’t know what fair is.”  People tend to think the law will determine what is fair.  However, when they hear what the law says, it often seems unfair to at least one if not both of them.   Even when people want to follow the law, it is not always clear. 

In a litigated divorce, when the law is “gray” rather than “black and white,” arguing about how it should be applied or interpreted can drive up costs.  In addition, many other variables come in to play, such as – who is the judge, who are the respective attorneys, what is the amount of money available to spend on arguing, etc.  Furthermore, issues and circumstances that are really important to people are often deemed irrelevant under the law, so they never get discussed nor argued.

 In client-centered processes, like Collaborative divorce or mediation, the law only has as much power as the people choose to give it.  Clients get to decide what role the law will play in their divorce.  They are free to use it for some purposes and to ignore it for others.  Whenever the law is introduced, however, it can feel very powerful and can easily take over. The law can be like an elephant in the room - taking up all the space and sucking up all the air.  So, in Collaborative divorce, we take care to work with the clients about when and how the law will be introduced in the process.  Clients may find the law useful to understand the reasoning underlying the law, the standards of society expressed in the law, and to compare their potential agreements against what they could expect in the legal marketplace.  Knowing all this often helps the clients to make their own customized agreements.  

What else, apart from the law, can people look to for help in making decisions in their divorce?  They may want to consider:  1) agreements they may have made with each other during their marriage, either verbally or in writing, that they want to honor,  2) their individual needs and interests that are important to them, 3)  the needs and interests of other people, such as their children, other family members, friends and colleagues, 4) basic financial realities: what the law provides may not fit their situation, 5)  something that happened in their relationship they may want to honor or account for, and 6) any other factor that is important to one or the other.  Thus, the law is only one of seven reference points for making decisions in a Collaborative divorce. 

The goal for most clients in a Collaborative divorce is to reach a mutually acceptable durable resolution.  An agreement is not durable, or lasting, if a person realizes some years later that they never would have made such an agreement if they had known then what the law provided.  So, Collaborative attorneys want to educate the clients about the law at some point in the process, but will take guidance from the clients as to how and when to introduce it.  Instead of the law being “elephant-size,” we want to “people-size” it.  Then, clients can customize their decisions to fit their particular situation, needs, and interests. 

Nancy J. Foster, J.D. is a mediator, Collaborative divorce attorney, trainer and Executive Director of the Northern California Mediation Center in San Rafael, CA. See more at www.ncmc-mediate.org.

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

The Benefits of a Neutral Vocational Consultant

A neutral vocational consultant can be a huge benefit to those going through a Collaborative Divorce.  Oftentimes one spouse has stayed home to raise the children or for any number of reasons has been out of the labor market for an extended period of time.  It may be financially or emotionally necessary for that spouse to return to employment at some point in the future.

A neutral vocational consultant can evaluate the stay-at-home spouse's transferable skills, interests, medical issues (if any), education, and formal training.  The vocational consultant can then offer advice related to the current labor market and the necessary steps to be taken to position oneself to return to satisfying employment.

Sometimes, all that an unemployed or underemployed spouse may need is a revamp of a resume or open-ended vocational counseling.  Perhaps one might need assistance with informational interviewing.

In other instances, verifiable labor market research can be conducted by the consultant by contacting employers, recruiters, schools, and identifying available job openings in the spouse's area of interest.  It may be that experience can be obtained through an internship or short-term temporary positions.  The end result of the consultant's work is a roadmap for the unemployed or underemployed spouse to determine what is needed to update skills for a particular vocational goal.  The consultant can provide the costs and timelines.

There are other vocational resources in the community, such as Career One Stop Centers, which provide job seeking skills workshops and job club programs free of charge.  The federal government funds these centers.  There is also a site known as GFClearnfree.org, where one can study various computer tutorials at no charge.

In conclusion, a neutral vocational consultant is a valuable resource for any number of services that an individual may need to enter or reenter the workforce.

Ms. Rachel Hawk, CRC, ABVE has a Master's Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling. She has worked in her field for over thirty years and has an office at The Collaborative Practice Center in Santa Rosa, CA. http://www.vocationalexperts.com

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

The Real Difference Between Understanding and Agreement

People often ask how the Collaborative team is able to support divorcing couples to work through their conflict.  As a divorce coach, working with trained collaborative attorneys and other professionals, I believe that one of the keys is helping people understand the power of understanding (and often empathy), as an alternative to the power of coercion.

It’s hard to come to a divorce conversation, with attorneys at the table, and listen to your spouse with whom you disagree.  How easy it is to become defensive, how tempting to criticize, or simply ignore what your spouse is saying.  You may fear that if you understand your spouse, your own position will be weakened, or your own sense of the strength of your own view will be diminished. 

So we work to help you make the distinction between understanding and agreeing.  We often say you can understand someone fully without having to accept the validity of anything that they are saying.  You don’t need to agree with the other, but you can understand what he or she is saying to you.  This actually is a giant and liberating step forward to be able to move through a disagreement.  It runs counter to the way in which we generally think about our conflicts.  It can feel like a big shift to recognize that two views can simultaneously exist, and that they do not cancel each other out.  Instead there is the possibility of an expansion of understanding, especially if both of you are willing to do this for each other.  And that mutual understanding paves the way for a respectful dialog about the decisions that you will be making during your divorce.

This sounds simple, but it really isn’t.  It takes a strong intention, and the commitment to the effort.  When you really step into someone else’s shoes, you may feel quite vulnerable, especially if you are in conflict.   When you are able to express and demonstrate to your spouse that you understand their view (even if you don’t agree with it), you may feel even more vulnerable.  It can feel like the act of understanding and the demonstration of that understanding to your spouse is risking giving up your position or that it might result in your spouse believing that even though you haven’t said it, that you agree he or she is right.

Another problem is that we believe that our own view is so accurate that if your spouse were to actually understand it, that it would be inevitable that she or he will conclude that their own view is wrong.  “If the other person just really heard and understood me, of course they would agree with me.”  It is hard to accept that a different perspective doesn’t necessarily mean that you are wrong.  This black and white thinking causes conversations to fall into a win-lose battle. 

So let’s imagine that you and your spouse commit to listen for understanding, not necessarily agreement.  It can be disappointing to feel that your spouse now has conveyed his understanding, but has not taken the obvious next step to surrender his or her view or agree that you are right.  Right and wrong has a huge hold over all of us, especially when we are in a conflict.  Holding two conflicting views simultaneously is not only intellectually challenging, but emotionally is even harder because we are so conditioned to believe that there is one right and one wrong in almost every conflict. 

So how do we help?  We know that it takes courage for you to authentically attempt to listen carefully in a new way, to step into your spouse’s shoes to understand, and to express your understanding without necessarily agreeing.  We know it also takes strength to listen to your spouse’s understanding of what you may say, without assuming that he or she is now convinced that you are right, and he is wrong.  We appreciate how hard it is to make this effort without knowing where it will lead.  We may encourage you to push beyond your comfort zone, but we respect your ability to know what is possible for you.  If you have been someone who always gives in, or accommodates, we will encourage you to strengthen your voice to speak your truth.  At the same time, we will honor the realities of both you and your spouse to keep the lines of communication open.  We may help you explore your version of “The Truth” as well as your spouse’s.  Our goal is to keep the process moving forward in a balanced way, to reach your agreements with mutual understanding.  Imagine, when your divorce is over, being able to understand your former spouse’s perspective, without feeling that you have to give up your own.  This is one step toward a healing in your post-divorce relationship that will pay dividends for years to come.

Collaboratively written by Ann Buscho,  Catherine Conner, and Gary Friedman

What Happens to Social Security Benefits When You Divorce?

Questions abound about Social Security benefits when there is a divorce.  Social Security benefits are Federal benefits and are not subject to division in state courts.  That being said, under current Federal law unmarried lower earning spouses who had been married for 10 or more years before divorcing and are at least 62 years of age are entitled to ½ of the higher earning spouse's benefits under what is known as a derivative benefit or 100% of their own benefits - whichever is higher even if the higher earning spouse has remarried.  In order to receive the full ½ derivative benefit, the lower earning spouse must be at his or her full retirement age and the higher earning spouse must be of minimum retirement age or age 62.  If the higher earning spouse begins collecting Social Security benefits before full retirement age, the amount of the lower earning spouse's derivative benefit will be reduced by a percentage based on the number of months before the higher earning spouse reaches full retirement age.  One earns a maximum of four credits per year.  In 2013, one could earn one credit for every quarter one earned at least $1,160.

These derivative benefits for lower earning spouses have no affect on the benefits of higher earning spouses, their current spouses, or other family members.

If you are the lower earning spouse and are curious about whether your ex-spouse's benefits are more than 50% higher than your benefits, contact the Social Security Administration who will provide you with the benefit amounts to which you may be entitled after first verifying your relationship to your ex-spouse.  Privacy laws prohibit the Social Security Administration from providing the ex-spouse's actual Social Security Statement.

Should the higher earning spouse pass before the lower earning spouse and be fully insured (meaning having 40 credits), the lower earning spouse may be eligible to receive 100% of the higher earning spouse's benefits.  These benefits are called survivor benefits.  The survivor spouse must be at least age 60 or at least age 50, if disabled.  The survivor spouse must have been married to the ex-spouse for at least 10 years and be unmarried unless married after age 60 or after age 50 and at the time of remarriage were entitled to Social Security disability benefits. 

If at the time of divorce one legally changes his or her name, it will be important to notify the Social Security Administration.  For most people this would mean obtaining a certified copy of the divorce decree showing request for name change from the county Superior Court; providing either an original US issued driver's license, state ID card, or US passport; completing an application for a Social Security card; and delivering all items to the local Social Security office or Social Security Card Center.  The Social Security Administration notes that if mailing, original documents and certified copies will be returned with receipt.

For more information on Social Security benefits visit http://www.ssa.gov.  Or contact the Social Security Administration directly for answers to your specific situation.

Judith F. Sterling is a CPA, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, and Collaborative Financial Specialist practicing in Sonoma and Marin Counties.  

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

Divorce and Special Needs Children

Parents facing divorce usually worry about how their children will deal with the emotional repercussions of a divorce.   Parents of a special needs child may worry even more.  Studies suggest that the divorce rate for parents of disabled children is about 80%.  This may be due to the additional stresses the family experiences, and it highlights the increased need for effective co-parenting and protection for the children.  We at Collaborative Practice Marin believe that Collaborative Divorce is the best way to develop a plan for special needs children during and after divorce.   This article, written by a Collaborative family law attorney in Virginia, describes the collaborative approach to divorce in families with special needs children.  http://kaleslaw.com/blog/?p=447

Jonathan Kales is a Collaborative family law attorney at Kales & Kales, in Virginia.

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

Divorce as Temporary "Diminished Capacity"

You don’t need to be a lawyer or a psychologist to know that going through a divorce is one of life’s roughest passages. It can cause a myriad of emotional responses that can at times feel overwhelming and limit your ability to think clearly or make good choices. Unfortunately, this occurs at the very time you are called upon to make some of the most important decisions of your life.

For many people, the ending of a marriage is a time of temporary “diminished capacity.” By diminished capacity, we mean a period during which the person you thought you were on your best days—competent, thoughtful, considerate, reasonable, fair-minded, resilient—disappears for days or weeks at a time. The person you generally know yourself to be gets replaced temporarily by an unfamiliar and frightening self who can hardly summon up enough energy to get out of bed, wallows in fear, confusion or anger, or jumps to hasty conclusions in order to end the conflicting impulses about what to do and how to behave.

Recovering from the shock of a failed marriage involves moving through that initial period of diminished capacity, until gradually, more and more of the time, your pre-divorce “best-self” is back at the helm. Most people can expect to feel something like their old, pre-divorce selves in eighteen to twenty-four months from the time of the divorce decree, though it happens more quickly for some and more slowly for many. During that recovery period, it is quite common for people to veer suddenly and dramatically from day to day, or even hour to hour, between optimism and darkest pessimism, between cooperative good humor and frightening rage.

You may be experiencing such intense emotions as you come to terms with the possible—or actual—ending of your marriage. Most people do, at least some of the time. Keeping the focus on best intentions and good decision making in light of that reality is what collaborative divorce is all about.   

Thinking clearly about what kind of divorce you want and how you’ll get there may be an unfamiliar concept to you. Most people are surprised to learn that the choices made right at the start of the divorce process have great impact on what kind of a divorce experience they will have. Even when people do understand the high stakes of those early choices, thinking clearly and making intelligent choices at that time can be very challenging, because divorce is an emotional wild ride like no other. Even very reasonable and civilized people can find unexpected, hard-to-manage emotions popping up at the most inconvenient times, particularly during the early months of a separation and divorce—exactly the time when you will be making decisions that determine what kind of divorce you are likely to get, and how your divorce will affect the rest of your life.

When you choose collaborative divorce, a team of professional helpers from the fields of law, psychology, and finance will provide coordinated support and guidance to help you and your partner slow down, reflect, focus on values, aspire to high goals, make good choices, work together constructively while avoiding court, plan for the future, and reach deep resolution. In our experience, this kind of coordinated professional help isn’t available anywhere else but in collaborative divorce. If you choose it, you and your spouse can count on professional advice and counsel that will:

  • encourage both of you to remember your goal: the best divorce the two of you are capable of achieving
  • educate and remind you about the divorce grief and recovery process so that you can choose to operate from your hopes rather than your fears
  • help you focus on the future rather than the past, and on your deepest personal values and goals for the future rather than what the local judge is permitted to order
  • make it possible for your financial advice to come from a financial expert, and your parenting advice to come from a child specialist, so that your lawyer is freed to do what lawyers do best: help you reach well-considered resolution
  • keep you and your spouse focused on how your children are really doing, and how the two of you can help them move through the divorce with the least possible pain and “collateral damage”
  • teach both of you new understanding and skills that will help you be more effective co-parents after the divorce than you may be capable of right now as your marriage ends
  • make sure you and your spouse have all the information you’ll need to make wise decisions—not just information about the law, but also about finance, child development, grief and recovery, family systems, negotiating techniques, and anything else that will help you devise creative lasting solutions
  • emphasize consensus and real resolution, not horse-trading and quick fixes
  • help you maintain maximum privacy, creativity, and self-determination in your divorce.

Divorce is never easy, but making the collaborative choice helps you to move through a challenging life passage with dignity, intelligence, and respect.

[Excerpted and adapted from Introduction and Chapter One of Collaborative Divorce: The Revolutionary New Way to Restructure Your Family, Resolve Legal Issues, and Move on with Your Life, by Pauline H. Tesler, J.D., and Peggy Thompson, Ph.D.]

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.


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About Collaborative Practice Marin

CPM is a community of legal, mental health and financial professionals working together to create client-centered processes for resolving conflict.  We are located in Marin County, California. 

Why Collaborative Divorce?

“Divorce is never easy but the collaborative process made mine bearable.  I had more control and therefore less stress and anxiety because I had an active role.”

~JF

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