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.

Divorce Coaching for Pro Per Litigants: Understanding Evidence Rules

One of our popular Divorce Litigation Support Services involves coaching people who are representing themselves in court in a litigated divorce. Coaching can come in a variety of forms depending on each individual’s circumstances and needs. One common way we help clients through coaching is to give them advice on some of the basic ways they can object to evidence presented by the opposing party during a divorce hearing.

What many pro per litigants don’t realize is that it is not the responsibility of the judge to help them understand family law legal procedures, including evidentiary procedures that govern what kind of evidence can or cannot be admitted. Judges are supposed to maintain “judicial neutrality” and not advocate or act as counsel for someone who is representing themselves in a courtroom.

As a result, many pro per litigants can be at a disadvantage when opposing counsel submits evidence—either through statements or documents—that may not be technically admissible. If the pro per litigant does not make an objection to the admissibility of the evidence, the right to object is waived. That means that evidence that should not technically be allowed under evidence rules may be admitted and used in the decision making process leading to a final judgment.

In some instances, a judge will make what is called a material objection and will not admit the evidence. But while California family law judges are given discretion in handling cases before them, the sheer volume of pro per litigants, and the differing viewpoints and styles of every judge means that you may end up in a court room where the judge will not take this action and the evidence will be admitted.

So, what kind of objections can be used to help you in a litigated divorce proceeding? There are more than two dozen, but there are three basic ones that I tend to focus on. They are: hearsay, lack of expert opinion and lack of foundation. These tend to pop up fairly frequently, and helping people understand how to identify what types of evidence falls into these categories, and then how to properly object to that evidence can give clients a huge leg up in the process.

It’s not uncommon in family law court for attorneys to make all kinds of statements about what someone has said outside of the courtroom (hearsay). Or, for an attorney to give an opinion on something that falls out of their realm of expertise (lack of expert opinion). Or, to introduce documents that have not been proven to be authentic or whose source has not been verified (lack of foundation).

Being forearmed with some basic legal knowledge and tools that can help a client navigate the courtroom has helped many of them represent themselves effectively and achieve a better outcome than they expected in their divorce proceedings. Representing yourself doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. If you would like to know more coaching and consulting services that can help you during a litigated divorce, please give us a call at 1-800-359-7004.

When Will My Divorce Be Over?

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 is one of the most frequently asked questions, but the true answer is not what you might think.

People constantly ask us, “When will my divorce be over?” And we always have to say, “Well, it depends on what you mean by ‘over.’ ”

In one unforgettable case, a woman came in asking for orders against her ex-husband. She was haggard with emotion, nervous and upset to the point that she seemed ill. Trembling, she related at length how bad her ex-husband was, how ever since their divorce he had been poisoning her son’s mind against her and was constantly interfering with their relationship.

She seemed a bit old to have a young child at home, so I interrupted and asked the age of her son. “He’s just turned 32,” she said. And then I asked how long it had been since her divorce. “About seventeen years,” she said. This wasn’t a divorce, it was a career! A way of life!

Getting a judgment doesn’t mean your divorce is over. Not having a judgment doesn’t mean it isn’t over emotionally. The real divorce is over when you have your self back. The real divorce is over when:

The pain, anger, hurt, blame and guilt are finished
Your spouse no longer has the power to push your buttons
You are comfortable in the middle of your own life

This can happen very soon, many years from now, or never. It’s up to you.

10 Steps to Overcoming Obstacles During 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.

Now that you’ve recognized the obstacles to agreement, you can do something practical about it.

These steps will help you deal with the obstacles so you can get down to negotiation. Use it as a checklist to make sure you’ve built a good foundation for your negotiations. If you run into trouble later, come back and double-check these steps.

1.  Make some “New Life” resolutions: Start thinking of yourself as a whole and separate person. You may feel wounded, but you are healing and becoming whole and complete. Keep that picture in mind. Pain and confusion is part of healing. Let go of old attachments, old dreams, old patterns that don’t work; this is your chance to build new ones. Decide you will not be a victim of your spouse or the system or yourself. You will not try to change or control your spouse — that’s all over now, it doesn’t work, it’s contrary to meaning of divorce. Concentrate on yourself, especially on your own actions. You can do something about what your spouse does by changing what you do. Concentrate on your physical health, your work, children, friends. Try to become quiet and calm. Keep your life as simple as possible.

2.  Insulate and protect your children: Involving children will surely harm them and upset both parents as well. Keep them well away from the divorce. Tell them the truth in simple terms they can understand, but don’t discuss the divorce or your problems in front of them. Don’t pass messages through them. Don’t let them hear you argue or hear you criticize their other parent. Let your children know you both love them and will always be their parents, no matter what happens between you.

3.  Get safe, stable and secure, just for a while: Your first and most important job is to do whatever you must to arrange short-term safety, stability, and security for yourself, the children, and your spouse — in that order. This doesn’t mean forever, just for a month or a few months at a time. Don’t be concerned yet about the long-term or the final outcome. And we’re talking about minimum conditions here, not your old standard of living. Don’t even try to do anything else until minimum conditions are met. You can’t negotiate if you don’t know where you will live, how you will eat, if you are afraid for your safety, or if you think your house is about to be foreclosed or your car repossessed.

4.  Agree on temporary arrangements: If you can work out your own temporary arrangements, you won’t need an attorney to get temporary court orders. Start by agreeing that you want a fair result and that you will both act fairly. Agree to communicate before doing anything that will affect the other spouse or the estate or the children. The goal here is to avoid surprises and upset, especially including things like closing accounts or starting legal actions. It takes a long time for things to settle down and for the spouses to work out a final agreement. Meanwhile, you have to arrange for the support of two households on the same old income, the parenting of minor children, making payments on mortgages and debts, and so on. It will work better if your temporary arrangements are put in writing.

5.  Slow down, take some time: If you can make your situation safe and stable for a while, you don’t have to be in a hurry. Think of divorce as an illness or an accident; it really is a kind of injury, and it takes time to heal. You have to go slow and easy, be good to yourself. Some very important work goes on during this slowdown.

6.  Get information and advice: First, organize your facts, records and documents. You’ll want lists of assets, deeds, statements, account numbers, income and expense information, tax returns and wage stubs. Get information from your records and from your accountant, from recent tax returns and from your spouse. Spouses should have a full and open exchange of information: it helps to build trust and confidence. In California, it’s the law, so you might as well just go ahead and do it. If information is not exchanged freely outside of the legal system, you will probably end up in court with attorneys doing very expensive discovery work.

Next, learn the rules for divorce in your state as they apply to your case. You especially want to know how predictable the outcome would be if your facts were taken before a judge. Divorce Helpline can give you a wide range of legal and practical assistance. Contact us and we can point you in the right direction.

Your friends and relatives will be a fountain of free advice, but don’t take it — the price is too high if they’re wrong. They mean well, but probably don’t know what they’re talking about. Use your friends for emotional support, but take advice only from an attorney who specializes in divorce.

7.  Focus on needs and interests; don’t take positions yet: A position is a stand on a final outcome: “I want the house sold and the children every weekend.” In the beginning, there’s too much upset and too little information to decide what you want for an outcome. Taking a position is bad negotiating, and  it’s an invitation to an argument. The other side either agrees or they disagree and you’re in an argument rather than a discussion. It’s better to think and talk in terms of needs and interests. These are your basic concerns: “I need to know I’ll have enough to live on. I want a good relationship with my children. I want an end to argument and upset.” When put this way, these are subjects that you and your spouse can discuss together.

8.  Stick with short-term solutions: Concentrate on short-term solutions to immediate problems like keeping two separate households afloat for a few months; keeping mortgages paid and cars from being repossessed; keeping children protected, secure, stable and in contact with both parents. These are things you can try to work on together.

9.  Minimize legal activity: You want to avoid any legal activity unless it is necessary. Zero is best, or the minimum required to protect yourself or get your case started. Ideally, you will avoid retaining an attorney, and you won’t give your spouse any reason to do the same.

10.  Get help if you need it: Consider counseling for yourself or your children.

If you follow these steps, you’ll be well on the way to working out your agreement.

If at all possible, suggest to your spouse that they read this article too. And remember, you can always contact Divorce Helpline for advice and support to help you overcome obstacles that stand in the way of reaching a resolution with your spouse and moving on with your life.