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.

What If We Can’t Agree? The Five Obstacles to Agreement 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.

In this article we look at how to deal with disagreement — from simple difference of opinion to active upset and anger — and some specific steps that will help you reach an agreement.

More than 90% of all cases are settled before trial. Unfortunately, too many are settled only after the spouses have spent their emotional energies on conflict and their financial resources on lawyers. The time and effort spent battling has impaired their ability to get on with their lives and may have caused serious psychic damage to themselves and their children. The spouses could have saved themselves all that simply by agreeing to settle earlier. Why didn’t they?

Okay, here you are, heading for a divorce; your spouse is going to be involved and you want to work out an agreement. What’s so hard about that? Why don’t you just do it? Easier to say than do, isn’t it? There are good reasons why it’s hard for spouses to work out an agreement — five, to be exact:

  • Emotional upset and conflict
  • Insecurity and fear
  • Ignorance and misinformation
  • The legal system and lawyers
  • And finally, the real disagreement

To get an agreement, in or out of the legal system, with or without an attorney, you have to overcome the five obstacles. Let’s look at them in a little more detail to see what you’re dealing with.

1. Emotional upset and conflict

This is about high levels of anger, hurt, blame, and guilt — a very normal part of divorce. If one or both spouses are upset, you can’t negotiate, have reasonable discussions or make sound decisions. Complex and volatile emotions become externalized and get attached to things or to the children.

When emotions are high, reason is at its lowest ebb and will not be very effective at that time. There are various causes of upset—from the divorce itself to the stress of major change to broken dreams. You may also fear the change that is happening and the unknown future. You may be at different stages of readiness to accept what is happening or willingness to proceed, which can be a hidden cause of conflict in many instances. You may also have a history of bad communication habits or conflict, and there may be particular events or circumstances such as a new lover or new debt that are fueling extreme emotions.

2. Insecurity, fear, lack of confidence and unequal bargaining power

You can’t negotiate if either spouse feels incompetent, afraid, or that the other spouse has some big advantage.

Divorce is tremendously undermining and tends to multiply any general lack of self-confidence and self-esteem. Also, there are often very real causes for insecurity, such as lack of skill and experience at dealing with business and negotiation, as well as lack of complete information and knowledge about the process and the marital affairs.

It doesn’t matter if insecurity is real or reasonable; it is real if it feels real. This is where our coaching and consultation services can really help. You can consult with one of our attorney mediators over the phone or in person to become better informed about the divorce process and what to expect, as well as getting answers to questions about issues such as asset division, child support or your other concerns.

3. Ignorance and misinformation

Ignorance about the legal system and how it works can make you feel uncertain, insecure and incompetent. You feel as if you don’t know what you are doing, and you are right.

Misinformation is when the things you think you know are not correct. Misinformation comes from friends, television, movies, even from lawyers who are not family law specialists. It can distort your expectations about your rights and what’s fair. It’s hard to negotiate with someone who has mistaken ideas about what the rules are.

Fortunately, both conditions can be easily fixed with reliable information. We encourage you to look through at our FAQ page, as well as the articles on our Blog. If you still have unanswered questions, give us a call or fill out our contact form and we’ll help you get the information you need.

4. The legal system and lawyers

The legal system does not help you overcome obstacles to agreement. In fact, it can be one of the major obstacles that you have to overcome. The traditional adversarial court-based divorce approach is not designed to support you in reaching a mutual agreement with your spouse. That’s why we believe so strongly in divorce mediation. It provides an alternative to a combative court-based divorce and can save you time, stress and expense.

5. The real disagreement

This involves the real issues that you want to deal with rationally and negotiate with your spouse.

Real disagreement is based on the fact that the spouses now have different needs and interests. After dealing with the first four obstacles, these real issues may turn out to be minor, but even if they are serious, at least they can be negotiated rationally.

The solution is in your hands, and all obstacles to your agreement are personal, between you and your spouse and between you and yourself.

Take care. Pay special attention to emotional upset and especially insecurity and fear. These are the forces that drive people into a lawyer’s office. You want to avoid doing anything that might increase the upset and fear of either spouse.

The upset person is saying, “I can’t stand this, I won’t take it anymore! I’m going to get a lawyer!” The insecure person is saying, “I can’t understand all this, I can’t deal with it, I can’t deal with my spouse. I want to be safe. I need someone to help me. I’m going to get a lawyer.”

And this is how cases get dragged into unnecessary legal conflict.

You need to arrange things so both spouses are comfortable in managing the divorce without retaining an attorney. If you think your spouse may be upset or insecure, you have to be very careful and patient. If you are feeling incapable of dealing with your own divorce, know that there is plenty of help available through Divorce Helpline.

Going through major life changes — in other words, re-creating your life — is demanding, hard work, but it may be the most important thing you ever do. We can help you get through this life change and resolve your real disagreement so that you can take the steps you need to move forward. Contact us today and we can help you explore your options and remove the obstacles to reaching agreement.

How the Legal System Works Against You in a Divorce and What You Can Do About It

Exploring Options to a Court-Based Litigated 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.

The legal system and the way divorce lawyers work in it is a major cause of conflict, trouble and high cost during a divorce. However, there are steps you can take to overcome some of the inherent challenges.

Our system of justice is known as an “adversary system.” This is the nature of the beast. It began hundreds of years ago in the middle ages with “trial by combat,” where people with a disagreement would fight it out and whoever survived was “right.” Today, physical contact is no longer a recognized legal technique, but things are still set up as a fight. The parties are regarded as adversaries, enemies in combat. When a divorce is conducted in our legal system, the spouses and their attorneys are expected to struggle against one another and try to “win” the case, to “beat” the opposition.

In spite of the way things seem, lawyers are not always villains and not always to blame for stirring up conflict. But even for divorce lawyers who mean well, the tools they use and the system they work in will usually increase conflict.

Professional standards of practice dictate how a lawyer will conduct your case. For example, professional ethics forbid your lawyer to communicate directly with your spouse — the adversary. It is expected, instead, that your spouse will be represented by an attorney and your lawyer can only communicate through your spouse’s lawyer.

This means that your attorney can’t “talk sense” to your spouse, or explain to your spouse how you see things, or even help you talk to each other. It means your attorney will always have a one-sided view of your case and can never achieve an understanding any greater than your own. One way to avoid this one-sided scenario is through divorce mediation, where you and your spouse work together with a neutral third party attorney who can help you reach a settlement agreement that takes both of your viewpoints into consideration.

If you choose instead to each retain a lawyer individually, he or she will definitely take your case into the contested cycle of the legal system because that’s the only thing they can do. There are no other formal tools a lawyer can use.

So, if you and your spouse can work out your own arrangements and share all information openly, you’ll have no need for those incredibly expensive legal tools. You can keep your case out of lawyers’ offices and out of court.

Although you may feel a lot of emotion about your divorce, if you can consider approaching it not as a fight but as a process that you must go through in order to move on with your life, it may make it easier to consider all of your options.

Divorce Helpline offers a number of packages and services that can help those who don’t want to use the legal system to go around it and work out arrangements that can result in a divorce settlement agreement and a legal divorce, without having to engage in a courtroom battle. In addition to divorce mediation, we provide coaching and consultation, divorce packages, private judge services and more.

You are not at the mercy of a court-based divorce system—you have choices. Please contact us and let us help you understand all of the ways you may want to approach your divorce or legal separation.

From Grief to Growth: Stages of Recovery During Divorce – Part 3

Twelve Rules of the Road for Getting Yourself Through Tough Times

This is the third in series of posts on dealing with grief during divorce or legal separation and taking steps to move on emotionally. This post is adapted from material developed by Sharon Baker for use in her family counseling practice in Rancho Palos Verdes, California.

When you are going through a difficult time in your life such as a divorce or legal separation, it can be helpful to know some of the common feelings you may experience and how to deal with them as they arise.

You can expect to go through a cycle of:

Shock and denial
Anger and depression
Understanding and acceptance

Then it goes around and around, many times, between anger/depression and acceptance. After a time, acceptance becomes stronger and lasts longer.

Let your attention focus on your loss; it is a good way to understand your pain. There is a message in your pain that will lead to solutions. Pain can give you motivation and energy to bring about changes.

Seek quiet and rest. Take extra good care of yourself. Exercise, eat properly, keep life as simple as possible.

Acknowledge and express your feelings. Talk to someone who knows how to listen. Keep a journal.

Seek out support from friends, family, clergy, divorce or crisis support groups and counselors.

Stay aware. Do not try to alter or numb your feelings with substances, such as alcohol, drugs or overeating.

Be realistic in what you expect from yourself. It is normal to have mood changes, to feel confused, to have mixed feelings about your spouse.

Have faith in your beliefs and in yourself. Remember to be grateful for what you do have. Having life, you are a miracle of creation. You are alive, you can feel, you can learn, you can grow.

Work. Enjoy the benefits of a daily schedule and of accomplishment, especially in the small changes you are gradually adding to your life to make it better.

Be good to yourself.

Take time to be with adults and to enjoy social activities when you are ready.

Remember that healing is already in process. Time and nature are on your side. You will recover!

If Mediation Didn’t Work, Can You Still Help Us?

The attorneys at Divorce Helpline are skilled and experienced in helping people facing a divorce or legal separation at every stage, including when a couple’s first attempt at mediation fails. The help provided will depend on whether the couple wishes to try mediation again, or whether they think they are done with divorce mediation and feel it’s necessary to move to litigation.

For some couples, a first attempt at mediation may not provide a satisfying result, leading them to believe that hiring divorce lawyer or resorting to the courts is the only remaining option.  This can be an assumption that can cost you emotionally as well as financially.  I would recommend that you do not condemn the concept of mediation just because one attempt failed.

While there are instances where mediation, as a concept, is not appropriate, in most cases where mediation has failed, the problem was with the mediator, not with the parties or with mediation.  It’s important to keep in mind that no two mediators are alike. Every mediator brings a different style and personality to the mediating experience. Some are attorneys, some are not. Some have the appropriate sensitivity and fluidity of style to bring to the experience, while others have nothing to offer and have no business pretending to have any talent in dealing with the nuances of mediation.  That’s why it’s extremely important to interview a mediator before you select one.  Ask your Divorce Helpline attorney how to properly select the right mediator and how to speak to your spouse about trying mediation again.

If you ultimately decide that mediation is not worth trying again, it’s crucial that you choose your next step carefully. A miscalculation of your alternatives can be akin to hitting a thumbtack with a sledgehammer. A Divorce Helpline attorney can first help you decide what route you should take next and then prepare you for the alternative to mediation, whether that is negotiating by yourself, by representing yourself at court or selecting and hiring an attorney to represent you.

As you can see, there are lots of options and alternatives.  Know that you are not alone, and with the proper help and guidance, you will get through this difficult time.  A free confidential consultation can give you the information you need to determine if mediation is a viable option, even if the process stalled or was unsuccessful in the past. Call us today at 1-800-359-7004 and we can help you decide if mediation may still work for you.

From Grief to Growth: Stages of Recovery During Divorce – Part 2

This is the second in series of posts on dealing with grief during divorce or legal separation and taking steps to move on emotionally. This material is adapted 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 Part One of this series, we examined the stages of recovery as you move through grief during the divorce process. In this section, we’ll look at some of the major emotional components of the divorce cycle. These are the feelings you are undoubtedly going to experience during your divorce. Understanding that these feelings are normal and having tools to cope with them can make the experience more manageable and less overwhelming.

Pain: You have to recognize that pain is not only natural; it can be a helper and a good adviser. In the beginning, pain may only mean that you have been injured and are healing, as if you had broken your leg or suffered a serious wound. But at other times it can be a message that something is wrong, that you have to pay attention to something you have been ignoring.

The intensity of pain during divorce can be frightening, but you mustn’t run from it or try to block it out or avoid it. Instead, embrace it; let it happen. The pain is in your heart space and that is where the real “you” lives, so it is calling you home to your center and to your real self. Endure your suffering, accept your pain and listen to it. If you do, it will run its course and heal more quickly; it will lead you to your solutions; it will provide the energy for your changes and growth; it will make you stronger.

Fear: The major challenge in any divorce is to deal constructively with your fear. Fear of pain, fear of hurt, fear of the future, fear of your ability to take care of yourself and your children, fear of losing self-respect, fear of fear. There is a basic bewilderment of life when so much is happening that you feel you can’t possibly cope; you just don’t know what to do or how to live. Fear is the root source of anger. Anger is the flip side of fear. Anger turned inward is depression.

Anger: Learning how to use anger constructively is one of the most important lessons to be gained from your divorce. Anger is a potent source of energy and a very useful emotion if you know how to use it. Anger helps get you through the first and most painful stages of divorce by providing an outlet for inexpressible emotions. It helps break the bonds of affection and attachment.

For people who have never shown it, learning how to get angry is a huge step forward. Anger will help you to stop being dependent, stop being a victim. Anger and action are far better than making a career of being depressed and downtrodden. It is possible to be angry and constructive at the same time.

On the other hand, some people become addicted to anger and they misuse it badly. Anger soon becomes self-defeating and self-destructive; the cause of bad mistakes in judgment that will work against your own interests. Anger can drag you into an uncontrolled battle.

The attraction of anger is that it is cheap and easy — easier than actually solving your real problems, easier than taking responsibility for your life. And it is reliable; always there; you can count on it. For just a moment, it can give you a false sense of power and control; it lets off steam. But anger is a solution that solves nothing. It only distracts you from having to face your own pain, fear or guilt. If you abuse anger and become a habitual user, it will poison your life and turn you into an unhealthy, lonely, bitter person. You can count on it.

Hurt: It is a painful and terrible thing to be hurt by someone you depend on, someone you love and trust. In the early stages of divorce, you may need to heal from hurt that you have experienced, but you do not need to continue allowing yourself to be hurt. Someone can hurt you only if you give them the power to do so. Hurt then becomes something you do to yourself, something you permit to happen. Staying hurt long after the divorce is over keeps you stuck on your needs and weaknesses; it reinforces your picture of yourself as a victim.

The next post in this series offers rules of the road for getting through tough times, including divorce and legal separation.


Planes, Trains and Skype: How to Make Interstate Child Custody Work

Given the choice, most parents don’t want to move away from their children during or after a divorce. However, when an individual has to choose between relocating and losing a job or caring for an ill parent, a move may be unavoidable. In these instances, there are things you can do to help stay connected with your children if you are facing an interstate custody arrangement.

Ideally, you and your partner will both be focused on what’s best for your children, and you will work together to manage interstate custody or other situations where one of you is living far from a child.

Depending on the child’s age, you could set up a nanny cam in a young child’s room so that the out of area parent can visually check in on a child via a laptop. This is not to spy on what your ex is doing, but rather a way to feel more connected to your infant or toddler. This is an arrangement that can be negotiated during mediation or ordered by a judge in a litigated divorce.

With older children, it can be useful to schedule regular phone chats and/or video chats with Skype or FaceTime. You can also provide a child with a cell phone that has video chat capabilities. This can be very comforting for a child to know that you are accessible at the touch of a button. You may also want to consider setting up video chat with “white board” capabilities (a technology which allows you to write in real time on a virtual white board while chatting) so that you can help a child with homework or play games together.  Many age appropriate video games have multi-player capability, which, when coupled with a head-set, would allow a parent to play games with their child while chatting with them.

Video chat can also allow an out of state parent to participate in things like teacher conferences or other meetings/events concerning a child if it is not possible to arrange in-person meetings.

Another important aspect of interstate custody is face to face visits. Interstate visits are age-dependent. Young children can’t fly, so the out-of-area parent will need to come into town and stay with relatives or rent a place where they can visit with a child. For children, it can be helpful if this visiting location is kept consistent, but this is not always possible due to financial impacts.

Many couples opt to use summer vacations or school breaks to allow the out-of-state parent to spend a larger block of time with a child. In these cases, the “home” parent may wish to use video chats and other strategies outlined above to maintain their ongoing contact with their children.

Another issue which sometimes gets discussed in mediation is the idea of keeping up relationships with grandparents and other relatives of the out-of-state parent, who may live in proximity to the child. It can be very beneficial to the child to maintain contact with relatives on both sides of the family, and cooperation by the in-state parent may be necessary to make this happen post-divorce.

One final procedural point regarding interstate custody—if you are going this route, you will want to have some kind of document filed with the court outlining your agreement. Even if you and your partner are on good terms and want to handle things informally, it is important that this kind of custody arrangement be legally documented. The reason for this is that if the child ends up spending more than six months with an out-of-state parent prior to the filing of a divorce petition, then that state will have jurisdiction over the child as well as the authority to issue orders regarding custody.  For example, if a child spends seven months with her mother in Arkansas prior to the filing of a dissolution petition in California, then Arkansas will be the child’s “home state” and California will be unable to make custody orders.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding interstate child custody, please give us a call at 1-800-359-7004. We can help you review options and work out a strategy to make sure your interests, and the interests of your children are represented and protected during a divorce.

Dividing Property Fairly During Divorce

How to divide property (which includes any and all assets such as homes, retirement accounts, bank accounts, etc.,  as well as debts) during a divorce is a big concern, and many couples have questions about how this can be done “fairly.” It seems that everyone wants to be fair during a divorce, but individual opinions about what is fair can be diametrically opposed.  When not handled properly, differing opinions on a fair division can escalate what could have been an amicable divorce into an adversarial one.

I remind people with whom I work, whether as a mediator or as a coach, that “fair” is a subjective term. When explored, it often turns out that a person’s opinion of fairness evolves from their perspective and interpretation of how things have gone during their marriage.  But always keep in mind that it’s not for me or anyone other than the couple going through the divorce to define what is fair. Fairness is a concept that should be carefully explored, and with the help (not the opinion) of the properly experienced mediator, to come up with enough well thought out alternatives so that a fair solution, satisfactory to both parties, presents itself.

A fair solution may or may not be perfect.  For some couples, a fair solution means coming up with an agreement that you equally like or equally dislike, but one that addresses the main desires and goals of both parties. This is where a good mediator or coach can really help. There are all kinds of variables that can come into play when dividing assets, and people need to know all of their alternatives.

For example, I have worked with couples who didn’t know that they could continue to co-own real estate after a divorce, either indefinitely or for a defined period of time. They assumed that they had to sell the property or that one of them had to buy out the interest of the other.  Each person’s idea of fairness dictated that their position was the fair solution.  But with enough discussion and exploration of the “fair” result, a unique solution can be tailored. The same is true for things like business interests, time shares, etc.

Retirement accounts are also a big issue. For some individuals, their retirement account is something to which they are almost physically attached.  But not all retirement accounts need to be dealt with in the same manner during a divorce.  For example, some retirement accounts should be appraised, others don’t need to be – some should be divided, and others don’t have to be. The important thing is that both parties have an understanding of what they can and cannot do within the framework of California divorce law, and then consider how to find the unique division that will satisfy each individual’s desire for a fair division.

When a fair solution is discovered, your work is not done.  Once you come up with a scenario that is equally liked, or disliked, the next step is to draft an agreement so that both individual’s interests can be properly protected.

One of the huge problems with using templated divorce forms is that people assume that just because they have managed to cram their information into the template and it is accepted/filed by the court, that their interest is adequately protected. The reality is that in many cases, that is not the case.  The acceptance/filing of your agreement by the court only means that it satisfied the basic minimum requirements set forth by the court.  For the great majority of cases, when the paperwork is filed with the court, the court clerk looks it over and then it is passed to a judge for signature. This cursory review of what can be complicated issues may mean that your interest in your house or your retirement accounts or any other asset may not actually be protected. This is where having a well-drafted settlement agreement can save you thousands, tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars and a lot of unnecessary stress in the long run.

A true cost-benefit analysis of your assets can help determine what is fair in your situation and whether templated divorce documents will suffice. What is it that you are protecting through your agreement?  If it is a relatively inexpensive item, then there is not much to risk, then a template may suffice as you don’t have much to lose if it turns out that your interest was not adequately protected.  But if you are protecting an interest in something of value, a properly crafted settlement agreement will help secure your interests once you and your spouse have come to a decision about how to divide your property.

Whether you need help in determining how to fairly divide your property, or you need an agreement that adequately protects your interests, or you would like someone to review a previously-drafted agreement, we can help. Give us a call at 1-800-359-7004 to discuss how we can help you arrive at a fair and effective property distribution solution.

How Should I Prepare for My Divorce Mediation?

If you are planning to use the mediation process for your divorce, there are some basic preparation steps you should take to ready yourself for your mediation session. This upfront foot work can give you the knowledge and resources you need to effectively work toward a settlement with your spouse. It can also save you time and money.

The most important thing you can do to prepare for mediation is to choose a divorce mediator who is a good fit for you and your spouse. You will be relying on this individual to help guide you through unfamiliar terrain, and having someone you feel comfortable with will make the process much smoother. You may want to come up with a basic list of questions to learn more about a mediator’s background, knowledge about key issues involved in the divorce process, and how they view their role in mediation. Asking a few questions will give you information about their expertise in divorce mediation, as well as letting you get a sense of their personality and communication style.

At Divorce Helpline, we encourage clients to meet with our attorney mediators before scheduling a mediation session to make sure that there is a level of comfort and confidence necessary to support the best outcome. These meet and greets can be done in person or over the telephone.

Once the mediation session has been scheduled, you’ll want to gather as much information as possible related to your assets, debts and personal finances. This can include a list of any real property you own, your monthly mortgage or rent, your earnings, retirement plans, life insurance, loans, investments, etc. In general, you will want to know as much as possible about what you own, what you owe, your sources of income and the “cost of living” needs for you and your dependent children. You don’t need to spend money on professional appraisals at this point, but if you know what you paid for any major assets and what you still owe, include that on your list. We provide our clients with pre-mediation checklists to help with this information gathering.

The divorce mediation process relies on both spouses having complete and accurate facts about their assets and debts. If it turns out that there are undisclosed assets that are discovered once a divorce is finalized, you have the right to petition the court to modify your final judgment to properly divide the assets.

The next step is to create a list of all of the things that you and your spouse already agree upon. Occasionally, a couple will approach the mediation process without any mutual agreements, and every single item is up for discussion.  However, in most cases there are usually some “givens” between divorcing couples such as who will keep a particular vehicle or who will maintain the primary residence for the children. The more items you can take off the table, the more you can focus your mediation on  identifying and isolating the areas of uncertainty and disagreement.

If you feel like you need some help understanding the potential legal and financial issues concerning property, assets, debts or child custody, it may be useful to schedule a meeting with a consulting attorney and/or financial professional prior to your mediation. Getting a professional opinion about your potential range of options can help you prioritize your concerns and make informed decisions.

Finally, once you have organized your documents, it can be helpful to organize your thoughts about what your goals are for your mediation. I usually tell people to think about what the best case scenario would be for them in terms of results, and also what their bottom line is. Understanding this range of expectations –from the ideal to the acceptable to the non-negotiable—can offer a mental framework to help guide the decision-making process.  Entering into divorce mediation with wildly unrealistic expectations can lead to great disappointment and may derail the process entirely.

The goal of mediation is to help resolve any unresolved issues related to your divorce and help you and your spouse move forward with your respective lives. Advance preparation can help reduce the time spent in a mediation session and allow you to take the greatest advantage of the process.

We encourage you to give us a call to learn more about divorce mediation and how it can provide a peaceful and practical way to help you move on with your life.

Parenting Plans & Custody Agreements: Tips to Make Things Easier for You and Your Child

One of the biggest areas of concern (and often misunderstanding) during a divorce is child custody. We frequently work with couples to create parenting plans, and I have found that providing a basic understanding of these plans, also called custody and visitation agreements, can help ease anxiety for all parties involved.

If you and your spouse can agree on a parenting plan, you do not have to have a court order. The downside is that without a court order, you will not have legal recourse should one partner violate the agreement. The court can only intervene once the agreement is filed with the court and becomes a court order.

It’s important to know that from a legal aspect, custody and visitation orders are not set in stone. There is a common fear that you’ll be locked into whatever you agree to during your divorce. In fact, these orders are often modified over time. Things change as children get older, and it is quite likely that the arrangements that were made in the best interests of young children may not make sense when they are adolescents or teens.

I want to underscore that the main focus of any parenting plan should be what is in the best interests of the children. Understandably, when people are facing the end of a marriage or domestic partnership, they are likely to experience a range of tumultuous feelings, fears and new realities. In the midst of this whirlwind, it is important to not let what is happening between you and your partner overshadow the needs of your children. They are undoubtedly going through a similar upheaval and minimizing the impacts on them should be a priority of both parents.

It is important that any plan be developmentally appropriate based on the age of the children involved. In helping our clients create parenting plans, we will often defer to child developmental professionals such as psychologists to make age-appropriate recommendations. In general, younger children need to have extremely clear boundaries, especially at the beginning of the process. Unpredictability can cause anxiety, so we often find that the experts may advise that there be as little change as possible in the early stages of separation or divorce.

This suggestion requires both parents to make an honest assessment of their interaction time with their children. If through no fault of their own, one parent has typically spent less time with the children, suddenly changing that drastically in order to make things “fair” for the parents can cause stress for a child. It may be helpful to take a longer view of the situation and consider adding additional visitation time over a period of months or years in order to not disrupt regular routines for your child.

In some instances, couples opt for a nesting relationship during and after a divorce, where the children remain in the family home and the parents will alternate between living in the home and elsewhere.

While parenting plans can be as loose or as detailed as you wish, it is helpful to have clear boundaries spelled out. Keeping things too unstructured increases the possibility of conflict and miscommunication. Also, in the event that a parent violates the agreement, a clear plan (and court order) provides a pathway for procedural recourse. The non-violating parent can contact the police and ask them to contact the other party to enforce the agreement. (If the police are unwilling to get involved, you may need to go to the court for intervention help.)

Finally, it can be very helpful for both the parents and the children if the agreed-upon visitation schedule is set up in an online calendar that both parents can log into. This provides a clear understanding of who is responsible for a child at any given time, and can reduce the likelihood of misunderstanding or miscommunication.

If you would like more information on parenting plans and child custody agreements, please give us a call at 1-800-359-7004 or use our online contact form.