The Business of Divorce – Part 3: Separate Business from Personal Matters

Avoid Mixing Business and Personal Issues During Divorce

This is the third in a series of posts on dealing with the business aspects of your divorce. This material is adapted from the award-winning book by Ed Sherman, “Make any Divorce Better.” Ed Sherman is one of the founders of Divorce Helpline. His dedication to providing compassionate and cost-effective personalized legal support to those facing divorce resulted in the unique service model that distinguishes Divorce Helpline from other California divorce attorneys and divorce document services.

In your divorce, you have a lot of business to take care of, so one of the best things you can do for yourself is to decide to keep business and personal/emotional matters separate — or as separate as possible. This will make a big contribution toward reducing the level of conflict and confusion in your case, and in your own mind.

If you would like information and support to help you move forward with your divorce, while maintaining a healthy separation between your business and personal affairs, we can help you with consultation and coaching. Alternatively, you may want to talk to us to find out how divorce mediation can help you resolve the issues that you need to address with your spouse in order to reach an agreement.

As you focus on the best ways to separate your business and personal concerns, be sure to tell your spouse what you have decided to do and explain that it will help you both. You can benefit from taking this step unilaterally, but try to get your spouse to agree, too. Set a good precedent by starting off with an agreement. Here are some things you should decide to do:

• Be very businesslike when you and your spouse are doing business. Dress for business instead of casually and adopt a professional attitude and tone of voice.

• Try to see yourself as two separate people — a business professional and an emotional, feeling human being. Be the emotional person some other time. Postpone meetings if you can’t be relatively calm and thoroughly prepared.

• Discuss business at appointed times and places. Always be prepared with a written agenda of what you want to talk about and check off each item as it gets done. Bring copies of necessary documents. Take notes. Again, if you need help with this, consider using our divorce mediation services.

• If you meet in person, do not meet at the home of either spouse. It is too personal, it triggers emotions, and someone may feel at a disadvantage. You should be able to get up and leave if necessary. Meet instead at a coffee shop, in a library or school meeting room, at a park or a friend’s house if it feels good. Anywhere quiet, safe and neutral will do, but do not meet at a spouse’s home or office.

• Decline to discuss business and personal matters in the same conversation. Be consistent and firm about this. If something personal comes up when talking business, say “I’d be happy to discuss that with you later, but not now, please,” and offer to set a specific time. If your spouse persists, hold firm, repeat your request once more. You may need to quietly explain that you will leave or hang up if it happens again. If necessary, do so. Don’t get excited or emotional; be businesslike, but stick to your decision.

•Likewise, decline to talk money when you are discussing personal matters. Do not get into a business discussion spontaneously or impulsively. You need to get properly prepared and emotionally composed each time.

• If your spouse is being difficult in your emotional life, try not to let that infect your business relationship. Similarly, if your spouse is being bad in business negotiations, don’t let that affect you emotionally. Don’t get upset — it’s only business.

If you and your spouse frequently violate these rules and if it appears to be affecting your ability to move toward an agreement, you should seriously consider working with a good mediator.

If you have questions about any aspect of your divorce process, please give us a call at 1-800-359-7004. We’re here to help.

The Business of Divorce – Part 2: Common Financial Traps

Avoiding Financial Mistakes During Your Divorce

This is the second in a series of posts on dealing with the business aspects of your divorce. This material is adapted from the award-winning book by Ed Sherman, “Make any Divorce Better.” Ed Sherman is one of the founders of Divorce Helpline. His dedication to providing compassionate and cost-effective personalized legal support to those facing divorce resulted in the unique service model that distinguishes Divorce Helpline from other California divorce attorneys and divorce document services.

Over and over again, people make the same mistakes and lose serious money that could have been saved.

Ignorance is the most common trap in the business of divorce. Because your life is upside down, you may not want to deal with tedious financial details, but if you don’t take the trouble to understand what’s going on financially, and what you are entitled to, you might as well hang a big “victim” sign around your neck.

Ignorance increases your own sense of helplessness and leaves you vulnerable to the risk of being manipulated. You are also at risk of getting bad advice and a bad deal. You can seek advice and assistance from professionals, but you should never rely on anyone but yourself to take care of your business for you. Be sure to make the effort to organize and understand the business part of your life.

Bad judgment is a real hazard when emotions are running high. Insecurity makes you doubt your own thinking and ability. Fear and anger make you grasp for too much or surrender too much.

Of course you should get what you are entitled to, but to demand more for emotional reasons is inviting a ruinous conflict that might leave you with less in the end. And giving up what you have a right to can leave you with a future full of regret if not hardship. So be careful and take precautions against your own emotionally affected judgment:

• Understand the emotional cycles that both you and your spouse are going through. Keep in mind that at any given time, emotions can strongly affect your judgment and decision-making ability.

• Keep business and emotional matters separate.

• Don’t jump to sudden conclusions or make impulsive agreements or decisions. Above all, unless you face a desperate emergency that can’t wait, don’t rush off to a lawyer until you have some information and get yourself prepared.

• Don’t sign anything you haven’t thought about or don’t understand.

• Use structured problem solving. Keep a journal and make entries in it regularly about your thoughts and feelings. Keep track of your evolving priorities, possible solutions to problems, and your goals. Review your journal regularly, especially before making any final decisions.

• Use the law as a guide. You are not required to follow the legal standards, but they have been worked out over millions of cases. If you are confused or in doubt about what you want to do, and if the laws are clear and predictable, use them as a guide.

• Seek advice from reliable, informed, experienced people.

Excessive spending is very common before, during and after a separation. Before breaking up, a couple may buy a new home or remodel their old one, buy a car, take a long vacation, have a baby — anything to bring them together in something. This is not usually consciously planned, it just works that way. During separation, spending is used as an anesthetic for emotional pain. After separation, the couple genuinely needs a lot of money to set up two separate households, added to which is neurotic spending driven by emotional upset.

Being aware of this trap may be of some help, but it is often difficult to see or control your own eccentricities. Control impulsive and compulsive buying the same way you would control neurotic eating habits. The best thing is to make yourself as open, centered and strong as possible. Deal directly with your emotional issues instead of reacting and running from them.

Money-hiding is not common but it is not rare, either. Sometimes, when it becomes clear that a divorce is coming, one spouse or the other will start putting money away in a private money stash. If this is done without cheating the community, it is actually a good idea because it gives that spouse a sense of security, independence and control. However, if marital assets that belong to both spouses are being secretly diverted into a separate account, this is a clear case of cheating.

In moderate amounts, it may not be worth fighting over, but it is something to watch out for, keep track of, and include in any future accounting. In extreme cases, you will want an attorney to take emergency measures to protect the marital estate and your interest in it.

Sometimes, the money manager will spend joint savings or take out a loan for living expenses while putting regular income into a separate account. A family business can be manipulated or run into the ground so income appears low later. Or bonuses and commissions can be postponed until after separation. The list is almost endless.

If a divorce is coming, take a careful look at plans to refinance your house or other kind of loan. Watch where income goes and watch your savings account withdrawals. After separation, take a close look at financial transactions during the previous year.

If you have questions about any aspect of your divorce process, please give us a call at 1-800-359-7004. We’re here to help.

Divorce Coaching for Pro Per Litigants on Using Expert Witnesses

In this earlier blog post, we discussed how our divorce litigation support services can include coaching someone on evidence rules when they are representing themselves in a litigated divorce. In this blog post, I’ll touch briefly on another aspect of divorce coaching. This involves working with expert witnesses and understanding how an expert can help support your case.

An expert witness is someone with expertise, including specialized training or education, in an area such as finance, taxes, child psychology, real estate, etc. An expert can serve in several capacities for someone who is representing themselves in a divorce proceeding. One of the things we do is to explain how an expert may help a client’s case, and what types of help they may want to seek from an expert.

In almost every case, it is good to get an expert involved early on. That way you can get a general opinion from them, as well as information on what they are relying on to formulate that opinion. That supporting material may be useful if you are going to be submitting evidence related to the expert’s opinion. In the event that records need to be subpoenaed for their review, an early introduction is also beneficial.

We can teach clients how to develop the experts—questioning them and using their expertise—to support a case. An expert can teach you what you should be asking them should they be called to testify or should you have to question another expert testifying on the same topic in your case. We can also help explain how to develop the expert evidence so that it will be accepted by the court.

It is not unusual for a client to come to us because their spouse is represented by an attorney, and they are representing themselves. While this may seem like a David vs. Goliath scenario, in fact, a well-prepared pro per litigant who has worked with an expert may find themselves with a very large boulder in their legal slingshot. Many times this boulder comes in the form of one or more expert witnesses.

The bottom line is that a little divorce coaching for a pro per litigant can go a long way. If you are looking for some practical advice and support in a litigated divorce, please contact us to see how we can help you. You don’t have to go it alone.

If you need help with your divorce, please give us a call at 1-800-359-7004. We’re here to help.

The Business of Divorce – Part 1

Managing the Financial Aspects of Your Divorce

This is the first in a series of posts on dealing with the business aspects of your divorce. This material is adapted from the award-winning book by Ed Sherman, “Make any Divorce Better.” Ed Sherman is one of the founders of Divorce Helpline. His dedication to providing compassionate and cost-effective personalized legal support to those facing divorce resulted in the unique service model that distinguishes Divorce Helpline from other California divorce attorneys and divorce document services.

Business and emotions don’t mix well. One of the best things you can do to ease your way along during your divorce process is to keep business and personal matters separate.

The business of divorce is about what you own and what you are going to live on in the future — your assets, debts, investments, cash flow, budgeting and taxes.

Divorce may be the most important financial event of your life. The choices and decisions you make now can influence your financial well-being for the rest of your days.

Divorce is a time when you have to learn to take care of yourself, and you really do have to take care of business. Try to spend at least as much time focused on business as you do on your emotional issues. Try very hard to keep business and emotional issues separate.

To take control of your life and make sound financial decisions, you have to know what you want. In order to negotiate you have to know what you want. And the only way to figure out what you want is to know the facts and understand them. Then you have to find out what both you and your spouse are entitled to by law. Only then can you make sound decisions about what you want.

Gathering your information, getting advice, thinking about it, and deciding what you want will take some time. That’s why we urge you to make temporary arrangements and stick to short-term solutions until things settle down and you have had time to think it over. Meanwhile, here’s what you do.

First, gather and organize your information. Once you have all your data together, if you still don’t understand your affairs, get help from an accountant, a credit counselor, a financial counselor or an attorney. Go over your facts with your advisor until it all makes sense.

Knowledge is power. With it, you have strength and control. Without it you are helpless, a victim. Often, one spouse has more information and therefore more negotiating power than the other. If there is an imbalance in bargaining power and strength between you and your spouse, the situation can be greatly improved with knowledge and information.

To get through your divorce, you will need to know all the facts and have all relevant documents in order, both for your own understanding and for your attorney, if you use one. If you get properly prepared ahead of time, you will have more peace of mind and you can save yourself thousands of dollars.

Your goals for the immediate future are to:

• Gather facts
• Organize and understand all the financial aspects of your joint lives,
• Understand your rights and obligations,
• Decide what you want, and
• Plan how to live on your new income in a changed lifestyle.

If you have questions about any aspect of your divorce process, please give us a call at 1-800-359-7004. We’re here to help.

Avoiding Psychological Traps That Can Happen During Divorce

This material is adapted from the award-winning book by Ed Sherman, “Make any Divorce Better.” Ed Sherman is one of the founders of Divorce Helpline. His dedication to providing compassionate and cost-effective personalized legal support to those facing divorce resulted in the unique service model that distinguishes Divorce Helpline from other California divorce attorneys and divorce document services.

Pain is natural and almost unavoidable when you break up, but people have many ways of unwittingly increasing their pain and prolonging it. A lot of your pain may be entirely unnecessary.

Most unnecessary pain is caused by a very bad habit — negative thinking. There are self-defeating thought patterns that keep you stuck in anger, anxiety or depression. Whether they are aware of it or not, people are almost continually describing the world to themselves. It’s that quiet, constant voice that forms your attitude — your predisposition to experience things negatively.

Don’t be too quick to decide that you don’t do this. It can be so habitual that you may not even be conscious of it. That’s what makes it hard to deal with.

Negative thinking causes you to paint your life in black with too broad a brush. The way you see things will be one-sided, overly simple and unbalanced. Negative thinking keeps you boxed in, limits your possibilities, keeps you from seeing solutions and prevents you from moving forward with your life.

What you think turns into what you feel. If you expect the worst, that may be what you get. Here are some classic examples of negative thinking:

• Over-generalizing is when you think or say things like, “You always put me down,” or “I’ll never find another mate,” or “She only wants one thing from me.” You have picked on one negative feature and made it into your total understanding. Try to stop using words like all, always, every, never, only, and totally, and so on. Never use words like “never.

• Labeling would be, “He’s a selfish person,” or “She’s a bitch,” or “I’m a loser.” You pick on one negative quality and let that represent the whole person. This keeps you angry at others and disgusted with yourself.

• Blame of self and blame of others makes it seem as if the fault for your misfortune is all one-sided, but life is never like that and blame has unfortunate side effects. If you blame yourself, you are trapped in guilt. If you blame your spouse, you make yourself a victim, avoid your own responsibility, and prolong your anger. That’s all over now; the fact is that you each made your own choices and are responsible for your own actions. Now, get on with your life.

• Filtering happens when you see only the negative or threatening side of things. Focusing on your fears and losses will keep you in a state of anxiety or depression.

• Catastrophizing is when you exaggerate potential threats and stay focused on anticipated harm or disaster. “I’ll never be able to pay my bills.” “I can’t survive this pain and loneliness.” You expect the worst and don’t expect to cope.

To avoid the consequences of negative thinking, you have to become more aware of your inner voices and attitudes. Try to notice when you are scaring yourself or seeing things through an all-black filter. When you catch yourself at it, stop. When the negative thoughts start again (and they will), catch them again. Keep at it.

Don’t be self-critical and put yourself down; just observe and be patient. Give yourself a little reward each time you catch yourself — a cookie or a balloon. Don’t laugh, it works. So just do it. Make yourself think in a more constructive vein: concentrate on solutions instead of problems, think about past pleasures and fantasize about future ones.

Try to make yourself take a more balanced and rounded view of things. Stop and breathe. Take a walk. Go get some flowers; make your space nice. Keep your attention focused only on things you can see, touch or smell.

Travelling from grief to growth is very hard work and it can take some time. Don’t put yourself down if you don’t succeed overnight. You can get a lot of help with this job from a good counselor.

If you have questions about any aspect of your divorce process, please give us a call at 1-800-359-7004. We’re here to help.

Structured Problem-Solving Can Help You Get Through a Divorce

This material is adapted from the award-winning book by Ed Sherman, “Make any Divorce Better.” Ed Sherman is one of the founders of Divorce Helpline. His dedication to providing compassionate and cost-effective personalized legal support to those facing divorce resulted in the unique service model that distinguishes Divorce Helpline from other California divorce attorneys and divorce document services.

Going through major life changes — in other words, re-creating your life — is demanding, painful, hard work, but it may be the most important thing you can do during the time of divorce. Certainly, you should live your life in a way that seems right for you, but when you don’t know what else to do, there’s always this method to come back to.

Just do this. Organize your divorce into a list of problems. Keep rearranging your list in the order of issues that are the most immediate and important. From time to time, go over it and think up possible solutions and alternatives for each item, dealing with the most pressing problems first.

Even emotional and life problems can be organized and solved this way, but the legal and practical ones will be the easiest to pinpoint. Just structure that part and you’ll be way ahead. This method helps you to see exactly what you have to deal with. It makes the unknown take shape and become manageable.

First things get fixed first: The order in which you want to solve problems should follow the hierarchy described by psychologist Abraham Maslow. He said that people have to satisfy their needs in this order:

• Basic body needs: Hunger, thirst, fatigue

• Safety: Shelter, avoidance of pain and anxiety, general physical security

• Social: The need to belong and to feel loved; affection, intimacy, family and friends

• Esteem: The need for self-respect, a sense of competence

• Self-actualization: To be fully what you can be; to explore; knowledge, curiosity, and aesthetics.

When a lower need is unsatisfied, all behavior tends to be directed to fulfilling it. For example, if feeling safe is a recurring or continual problem, all the higher levels will fail to develop properly. You can use Maslow’s hierarchy to help guide the priority of items on your list of problems.

For example, when hurt, any dumb animal knows enough to crawl into a den or a nest and just lay still and heal. People are smarter than animals (we are told) but they don’t always know enough to hole up, to get very quiet and heal.

The first thing you should do — and the most important thing — is to create temporary physical safety and security for you and any children in your custody. You need a place where, for a while, you can feel safe and a period of time to be relatively quiet, and relatively free of pressure and distraction. The next thing is to help your spouse, if you can, to create some safety and stability.

What you are after are short-term solutions. Think in terms of weeks or a few months, not years. Do not try to solve all of your problems at once or try to create solutions that will last forever. Just take care of immediate needs, create a space for healing, and put off the rest of your concerns until things settle down and you have had some time to heal. Most of your problems will wait until you are ready to face them.

When you feel relatively clear and ready to start dealing with your life, make a list of problems that you have to solve.  Do it like this:

• Write down your thoughts on index cards. Rework your list as your understanding improves. Turn it into a diary or journal if you like.

• For each problem item, make notes on additional information you need to get and people you can talk to or resources you can use to help you solve it.

• As you work with your list, keep arranging and rearranging the items in order of priority. Put your most urgent and most important problems at the top.

• Write down your ideas for possible solutions. Talk to your friends and family, check out local family services and divorce support groups, or seek advice from professionals.

Especially in the early stages, don’t try for a final resolution of problems that can wait. Seek short-term and temporary solutions whenever possible. Don’t do any long-term planning until your life settles down and you begin to see more clearly and calmly. Be sure to take frequent vacations from problem-solving so you can relax.

Now for the most important part: Be sure to balance your list of problems with a similar list of resources you can use and things you have to be grateful for. Write down your material and personal resources: assets, friends and family, health, job, and so on. Concentrate on your strengths: curiosity, love of life and people and your desire to grow and improve.

If you do things this way, you will begin to see what you have to deal with. The whole confusing mess will have turned itself into a relatively short list of problems and each will have a variety of possible solutions. You may not be able to solve all of your problems immediately — few people can — but all you can ask of yourself is that you do your best with what you’ve got.

If you have questions about any aspect of your divorce process, please give us a call at 1-800-359-7004. We’re here to help. 

10 Ways to Divide Your Property During a Divorce Without a Fight

How to Minimize Conflict When Splitting Assets

This material is adapted from the award-winning book by Ed Sherman, “Make any Divorce Better.” Ed Sherman is one of the founders of Divorce Helpline. His dedication to providing compassionate and cost-effective personalized legal support to those facing divorce resulted in the unique service model that distinguishes Divorce Helpline from other California divorce attorneys and divorce document services.

This list was originally developed by California Judge Robert K. Garth of Riverside, as an aid to spouses having trouble reaching agreement about the division of their property.

  1. Barter: Each party takes certain items of property in exchange for other items. For instance, the car and furniture in exchange for the truck and tools.
  2. Choose items alternately: The spouses take turns selecting items from a list of all the marital property, without regard for the value of items selected.
  3. One spouse divides, the other chooses: One spouse divides all the marital property into two parts and the other spouse gets the choice of parts.
  4. One spouse values, the other chooses: One spouse places a value on each item of marital property and the other spouse gets the choice of items up to an agreed share of the total value.
  5. Appraisal and alternate selection: A third person (such as an appraiser) agreed upon by the parties places a value on contested items of marital property and the parties choose alternately until one spouse has chosen items worth his or her share of the marital property.
  6. Sale: Some or all of the marital property is sold and the proceeds divided.
  7. Secret bids: The spouses place secret bids on each item of marital property and the one who bids highest for an item gets it. Where one receives items that exceed his or her share of the total value, there will be an equalization payment to the other spouse.
  8. Private auction: The spouses openly bid against each other on each item of marital property. If one spouse gets more than their share, an equalization payment can be made.
  9. Arbitration: The spouses select an arbitrator who will decide the matter of valuation and division after hearing from both spouses and considering all evidence.
  10. Mediation: The spouses select a mediator who works to help them reach an agreement on the matters of valuation and division.

If you have questions about any aspect of your divorce process, please give us a call at 1-800-359-7004. We’re here to help.

How to Start Your Divorce on the Right Foot

This material is adapted from the award-winning book by Ed Sherman, “Make any Divorce Better.” Ed Sherman is one of the founders of Divorce Helpline. His dedication to providing compassionate and cost-effective personalized legal support to those facing divorce resulted in the unique service model that distinguishes Divorce Helpline from other California divorce attorneys and divorce document services.

If you are contemplating a divorce, the best thing you can do is to start off in a way that will minimize conflict.

Typically, one spouse is ready to act long before the other has accepted the idea of a divorce. Moving too fast can cause a lot of problems. Among other things, you don’t want to frighten or anger your spouse into running to an attorney and taking the case into conflict. Take some time to prepare your spouse and let your spouse get used to the idea that a divorce is really happening.

Don’t make any sudden moves that will affect your spouse without telling him or her about it first. Give your spouse plenty of time to adjust, to get used to the idea, to make other plans. This includes closing accounts, taking things out of the house, withdrawing funds or filing papers. Lawyers are notoriously bad letter-writers and generally tend to upset people even without meaning to; so if your lawyer plans to write to your spouse, make sure you smooth the way first.

If you file for a divorce, tell your spouse ahead of time that papers are coming. Explain that there’s lots of time to talk before a Response is necessary. Put it in writing. Send a letter saying that you filed papers to get the case on record, but you very much want an agreement, and you promise not to go further without giving 30 days written notice. If you have a lawyer, get your lawyer to send such a letter before papers are served.

Consider filing the Petition so it requires a Marital Settlement Agreement. Make it so you can’t go forward without either an agreement or an amended Petition. These steps let your spouse know there’s no need to respond in a hurry, that there’s time to talk. You can also refer him or her to this website for more information. Our FAQ page is a good place to start.

Whether or not your spouse gets into the case, keep working on an agreement — that’s the only sensible option for any case. If you get stuck, get advice. In California, call Divorce Helpline at 1-800-359-7004, and we can help you figure out how to move forward.

If You Want Your Divorce to be Final in 2014, You Need to Take Action Now

The minimum time it takes for a divorce to be finalized in California is six months from the date that the Petition is served on the Respondent. Serving the Petition gives formal legal notice to your spouse that you have filed papers with the court. That means if you wish to be divorced by the end of this year, you will need to have completed this step by June 30.

You will also have to have met the residency requirements, which require one of you to have lived in California for at least six months. You also need to have lived for at least three months in the county where you are filing for divorce.

So why is the June 30th deadline important? For many people, the answer is taxes. Your tax filing status is determined primarily by your marital status on the last day of the tax year, December 31. Being able to file as “single” or “head of household” may save you money in state or federal taxes. You can learn more about tax implications of your marital status in this article.

In other instances, the divorce process may have stalled, and having a deadline with concrete implications may provide the impetus to move forward.

If you hope to finalize your divorce by the end of the year, and you have not yet filed and served your Petition on your spouse, we urge you to contact us immediately. We can help you understand the steps you need to take in order to meet the June 30 deadline. Call Divorce Helpline at 1-800-359-7004.

Children and Divorce: 10 Ways to Help a Child Through a Tough Time

Adapted from material developed by Sharon Baker for use in her family counseling practice in Rancho Palos Verdes, California.

1. Tell children the truth in simple terms with simple explanations. Tell them where their other parent has gone.

2. Reassure them that they will continue to be taken care of and that they will be safe and secure.

3. Your children will see that parents can stop loving each other. Reassure them that a parent’s love for a child is a special kind that never stops.

4. Spend time with each child individually. Whether you have custody or visitation, the most important thing to the child is your individual relationship with that child. Build the best relationship you can in your circumstances. The future is built of many tiny moments.

5. Children may feel responsible for causing the divorce. Reassure them that they are not to blame. They may also feel that it is their responsibility to bring their parents back together. Let them know that your decision is final and will have to be accepted.

6. Often divorcing parents feel guilty and become overindulgent. Give your child love, but also give limits.

7. Your child is still a child and can’t become the man of the house or a little mother. Continue to be a parent to your child. Seek other adults to fill your own need for companionship.

8. Avoid situations that place a child in the impossible position of choosing between parents:

- Don’t use your child as a way to get back at your spouse. Children can be terribly wounded when caught in a crossfire.
- Don’t say anything bad about the other parent in earshot of a child.
- Don’t say or do anything that might discourage the child from spending time with the other parent.
- Don’t encourage a child to take sides.

9. You and your former spouse will continue to be the parents of your children for life. Pledge to cooperate responsibly toward the growth and development of your children as an expression of your mutual love for them.

10. Be patient and understanding with your children. Be patient and understanding with yourself.