What is the Goal of a Mediated Divorce?

In a mediated divorce we are trying to make sure that everyone gets a fair share of all available resources, including  the assets and debts, the income, and time with the children.

But in a litigated divorce there’s an extra item to distribute: Blame. Unlike everything else on the list, there is usually more than enough blame (and its accompanying finger-wagging) to go around. Unlike everything else on the list, everyone wants to make sure to give each other as much blame as possible.

What are the assets, income, etc.?  Never enough to go around.  And, as much as there is barely enough to go around in an amicable divorce, there is even less available in a litigated divorce.  For two reasons – one is that more resources are legitimately being spent on lawyers, court costs, discovery expenses, and the like, depleting a family’s assets.  The second reason is that in a contested situation, people are more concerned that they are being cheated.  There is very little, if any, trust.  A simple example is that when two people trust each other, they can speak in a sort of short-hand:

“What’s the balance in our joint checking account?”

“$9675.”

“Oh, around $10,000?”

“Yes.”

… a few months of distrust and litigation later:

“Is there still $10,000 in the joint account?”

“No. There never was.  It is closer to $9500.”

“Where did you spend the other $500?”

So, you can see how even if finances remain constant – which they don’t – a little distrust in the mix makes everything feel tighter.

In a mediated divorce (also called cooperative divorce, collaborative divorce, or amicable divorce) the first thing we get rid of is the blame.  There is no room for it, no need for it, and all it does is gum up the works.

Then we look at the remaining resources of the parties.  These may include the standard asset/debt  list of real and personal property, savings and retirement accounts, vehicles, jewelry and other tangible goods.   But the resources might be a longer list if we include the intangibles of cooperation, good will, and trust.

$500 a week in alimony and child support goes further if you don’t have to spend much of it on child care because you and your ex-spouse can easily share childcare duties.  All parties benefit that way.  The kids still have two parents, the parents still have relationships with the children, and the limited money can be used for school supplies (or – vacations?!) instead of babysitters & daycares.

Having to purchase two sets of school clothes, sporting equipment, computers and electronics costs a lot more than the ability to work together and share responsibility for a kid’s belongings without worrying that things will “disappear” during an alternate weekend visitation.

Our goal when we mediate a divorce is to ignore what went wrong, and why, and focus instead on what can go well in the future.  Increasing the ability of each party to pitch in and take responsibility is easier after we have moved aside the questions of fault and blame.

What We Love:  Increasing the available resources by simply changing our focus.

No Pre-Trial Today — No Trial Next Week

I’m not appearing for a judicial pretrial this afternoon. And I am not spending hours preparing for a trial next week, either. Instead, I’ll be finishing up the agreement that my clients reached and preparing the forms that let the judge approve that agreement without the clients having to go to court.

The matter involved alcohol abuse, but we are not requiring supervised visitation because the clients were able to work out procedures that protect the kids and respect each other’s needs.

The husband got a job in a different state and relocated during the course of the divorce; but we are not having any choice-of-venue hearings to decide which state’s laws favor which party.

There is a marital residence that is not being liquidated for cash while the youngest child is still in high school. Instead, the parties are cooperating with each other to take out some equity now and wait to sell the house until it makes more sense for their situation.

The breakdown of the marriage may have been caused by infidelity (although that is frequently a chicken-or-egg question), but no one is sitting on a public witness stand crying through testimony about how she found out and how that felt. That work, and those emotions, are being reserved for the mental health professionals who are trained to process them.

This matter started out as a contested divorce. The wife’s attorney was a seasoned litigator, and I was representing the husband. After two or three zoom conferences amongst the four of us that seemed to lead nowhere, I received an email from my client. He told me that his wife had approached him asking if I would mediate their divorce.

I began by trying to salvage the relationship between the wife and her attorney, as a professional courtesy. But then she fired him and filed an appearance replacing him with herself. The next step of course was that everybody needed to sign waivers in order for me to change my representation.

Once all of that was done, the 3 of us were able to work together to craft an agreement that represents what they want for their future and their daughters’ futures. The agreement took a little while of back and forth, primarily because the husband has relocated out of the state.Nonetheless, when we got the notification from the court that we have a pretrial today and a trial scheduled for a week later I was so happy to be able to report to the court clerk that we are not going to trial on this matter.

The parties have worked together to come up with elegant solutions to the various thorny issues. Not only are they financially more sound because of their choices, but their children have learned first-hand that there are smarter ways out of a problem than just fighting their way through it. The parents have retained whatever amount of goodwill was left at the end of their marriage. And that goodwill should last them a long time. Now, the real healing begins.

It was brave for this woman to fire her attorney and hire her husband’s lawyer to get her through her divorce. But she saw within herself something that wasn’t being represented and she chose to honor that something within herself. She found her own way out of the trap she was in. Not only have the parents together taught their children how compassion works; she herself has taught her daughters what bravery looks like. I am enormously proud to be working with this family.

What We Love: She herself has taught her daughters what bravery looks like.

Stay Positive and Determine Your Own Happiness

😁

I recently spent the day with a friend I have known for decades.  She lives a few states away and I was unable to help in her divorce, other than to cheer her on from the sidelines.  The husband was ruthless and my dear friend is still reeling, and doing her best to keep a stiff upper lip and any sense of humor and dignity she can salvage from the whole mess.  I respect her ability to see the big picture, to create a new life; and to keep getting up in the morning, putting one foot in front of the other, and moving herself forward.  As resilient as she has always been, this is a rough time for her.  I know she will make it through and come out stronger for the experience.  I just wish there were some short cut I could help her take.

So, I invited her to come spend a little time with my family.  She has always gotten along well with my husband, and she is an angel with my kids.  I thought having a relaxing family dinner with us might do her some good.  And, it might have.  She definitely appreciated a home-cooked meal and the luxury of letting someone else do the work.

She was able to spend just the right amount of time with all of us, too. Long enough to watch my kids move from cooperating with each other and their new toy devolve into an extended game of “gimme’ that!”  Long enough to be amazed by my thoughtful husband cooking us all a healthy dinner; and then immediately disappear into the television as soon as he was done eating.

Too often, I find that people going through heart ache can’t stand the thought of being around their so-called “normal” friends.  Some of the natural happiness and affection strike close to home, and it can be painful to get too close.  I understand that feeling, and I believe that every adult has experienced it, for one reason or another, at some time in their lives.  We have all been keenly aware of our own recent disappointments while wanting to be truly thrilled for someone else going through a moment of achievement.   It is not always an easy feat.

My friend, to her huge credit, seems to bear no ill will at all to the world around her. Genuine, generous, and just pleased to be around us, she was, as always, a true joy.  When the two of us had a little time together without my family, my friend, in her desire to support me in my good fortune asked, “Are you happily married?”

I had to laugh!  As much as my marriage is built by two equal partners working out of love and respect to make sure we both accomplish our goals, the truth is it is a heck of a lot of work!  Either one of us can do or say the dumbest thing and get on each other’s last nerve at any given moment without warning.  No one said it would be easy to raise kids and hold down jobs and balance everyone’s social lives, and decidedly it is not.  There are more days that it’s all worth it than not.  But there are definitely days, for any of us, in which it is hard to see the maze for the rats.

I think life is that ongoing desire to balance the mundane against our aspirations.  For as long as we have a partner who is on that particular team with us, we are fortunate, definitely.  But,  “happy?”  as in “happily ever after,” and rainbows sprout out the top of our heads? I should think not!

So, I answered honestly, I told her that I think anyone who claims that they are “happily married,” as simple as that, is either lying or is just not paying attention.   Of course there is happiness, but if it were only that – without the challenges, dilemmas, frustrations and eventual resolutions – could it really be called happiness?

Divorce is not the end of happiness, any more than marriage is the end of aggravation.  The point, I think, is to find the path that leads to the most happiness and the least aggravation.  Whether that is alone or not seems largely irrelevant.

What We Love:  Neither marriage nor divorce is what determines your happiness – you are.

Opportunity for Personal Growth

Every divorce – not just a mediated one-is an opportunity for personal growth.

At its core, divorce is a transition from one lifestyle to another. From marriage (and its accompanying perks and deficits) to a new life, whether it is as an individual person, a single parent, or someone on the brink of a new relationship. Transitions (the intersections of life) are always the right time to take stock and make informed decisions going forward. Or – to continue the analogy – a time to look both ways.

The greater one’s willingness to consider what within themselves can now grow or be excised, the more benefit they derive from the experience. Whether you decided to divorce, or you were surprised by the revelation, it is still an opportunity for you to see a greater potential in your own future and map the path to get there. This is why I advocate for my clients to consider working directly with qualified mental health professionals throughout the divorce process, whether litigated or mediated.

The choices you made to bring you to this moment, whichever moment you are in right now, contain important evidence and information that–when mined correctly–can provide you with the instruction manual you need to achieve your next successes. Employing the forensic tools of a therapist, psychologist, coach, or other appropriately trained professional can help you garner the most wisdom that your divorce is offering you.

Anyone who goes through a major life change, which divorce always is, is well advised to dig around within that moment and find all of the available information they will need to make the next chapter in their lives more fulfilling, more uplifting, more empowering, and more vital. With these tools we continue to lift ourselves up, over and over indefinitely, no matter how large or small the transition of any given phase.

Still the value of a mediated divorce or the amicable negotiations that often accompany it, is not the same as the growth opportunities presented in a typical litigated divorce. Working together with a co-mediation team of a mental health professional and an attorney brings an integrated approach.

Amicable divorce allows both parties to help each other see into their strengths and areas for development. Who knows us better than our own spouses? And when those areas for improvement can be used to our advantage, and not our disadvantage, then we grow together all the more quickly and effectively.

It is common for litigating spouses to exploit each other’s weaknesses. In fact, exploiting each other’s weaknesses may be what led to the divorce in the first place. It is transcendent, however, for divorcing spouses to use this opportunity to lift each other up.

Here are some sentences that emanate from such a relationship: “You will be better off now because I will no longer be your crutch,” “I will be stronger now as I take more responsibility for the choices I made in our marriage.”These words of healing and redemption resonate long past any divorce process. These moments of rejuvenation and insight help set a different standard for the children who will in turn pass thats trength to their children.

What We Love: Every transition is an opportunity for growth, within ourselves and within those we care about.

Holidays 2020: The Indelible Year


One of the things we will all remember about 2020 are the holidays. When we look back at all of the Mother’s Day celebrations we have had in our lives, it is not always easy to remember which one happened in 2006 versus 2010, for example. But whatever we did for Mother’s Day in 2020 will stand out as unique and memorable in our lives. Whatever else has been said about 2020, this is an indelible year.


When we were able to gather outside at social distances we did – BYO picnics to what used to be a family BBQ; or pre-plated s’mores-fixings at fire pits, instead of all those hands digging into one ripped bag. I live in the Northeast where Spring and Fall holidays are typically inside events. This year they were commemorated via Zoom, House Party, Power Point, webinar, You Tube, and good-old-fashioned cards sent via USPS.


As we near the end of this (hopefully?!) unique year, we are all performing mental calculations about what we are willing to sacrifice, what we must forego, and what we must preserve for the last round of holidays this year. Some of our annual traditions have been re-made: instead of going to a Chinese Restaurant for December 24th; we are starting to gather recipes for our favorite Chinese foods. Some are being postponed this year: the annual big sleepover at my cousins’ house. But some we will find a way to preserve, no matter what: annual pajama day, for one.


It was with these concerns in the background that I sat recently with a couple as they mediated their divorce agreement. Their children are 6-year-old twins. 10 months of lock-down is a much bigger percentage of those kids’ lives than it is of their 40+ year old parents. And, to their unending credit these parents have done everything in their power to give their kids a happy care-free year. Even as the father’s business was shut down for months and has had inconsistent information about reopening. The mother works in the healthcare industry and has had to test and quarantine and comfort families through unimaginable loss. The parties separated before the pandemic began and have had to coordinate with each other almost every day to make sure that the kids are getting their educational needs met. Oh, not to mention, plus just plain parenting. It has been an ongoing adventure.


When the Mom first asked about Thanksgiving. They were each hesitant to say their next thought, but they both had the same idea: the 4 of them together in the family home. A quick discussion about logistics and then they rolled right into Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s. I just sat and witnessed what was likely how they have always functioned at their best. Brainstorming ideas to make the kids’ have a great holiday season. Juggling schedules, connecting on budgets, getting excited about decorations. For that moment they forgot the forces that are driving them apart and were able to have a truly heart-warming image of what two separated parents can do to preserve this Christmas for their kids.


We hear it and say it all the time. What makes these occasions special is not what we get, but how we spend the time.

Divorce or no divorce – I wish you all a peaceful end to this challenging year.

Making the Best of the Bird-Nest

I have 4 pending uncontested divorces right now that range in “amicable” between 1 and 3. 1 being “completely-kindred-spirits” and 3 being “on-the-verge-of-explosion.”

These are my suggestions for how to keep an uncontested dissolution closer to a 1 than a 3 during the covid-19 shutdown.

Divorce should be treated as both a legal and an emotional decision. We are living in a heightened emotional state as a world right now, and it plays an even bigger role than usual. Parties (jointly or separately) benefit from employing mental health professional(s) for the emotional aspects of the divorce. Clients who let their attorneys (or closest friends/relatives) inform their decision making tend to end up more polarized than the ones who process their emotions with a professional.

While we are in lock-down, more families are sharing parental responsibility through the bird-nesting model. Some do so by alternating “lead” and “support” parents within the household, if they have nowhere else to go. The parents who can do this successfully are the ones who stick to a written schedule and abide by it.

Some bird-nesting families are fortunate to have have an additional residence at their disposal. While one might intuit a benefit that having one party live in the second home and “visit” the kids in the marital residence, it is sometimes the opposite. The party living in the marital residence day in and day out may sometimes feel unfairly used by the “visiting” parent. This is an area where the home bound parent frequently projects onto the remote parent a sense of freedom and idleness. Both parties in this situation are well served to treat it more like a host-and-guest situation. Just as right now we do not drop by our friends’ houses unannounced, we should not be doing so on our spouses – no matter how much we miss our children. Also, we would never visit a friend’s house and leave dirty dishes in the sink, dirty laundry on the floor, or an empty mayo jar in the fridge. Neither should we be doing any of these things while bird-nesting.

Overall, whether during Covid-19 shut-downs, or any other time that I am mediating between parties, I always try to help them take a step back from their projected emotions and imagine that the exact opposite could also be true. If, for example, the husband tells me that his wife “is so excited for this divorce, she can’t wait to get away from me and just leave me holding the bag with these kids.” I ask him to imagine himself on the opposite side of the picture for a moment. “If you were the one who had just moved out of the marital residence and into a small apartment, leaving the kids behind with their mom – who is mad at you right now – would you be joyful? Or sad? Would you feel relief? Or fear?”

Whenever a mediation client of mine begins to think that the other party is somehow in a better position, I try to get them to really see what that position is, and recognize that it might feel just as bad as their own.

DECIDING WHETHER TO DIVORCE (OR NOT)

One of the reasons people are often upset with the divorce process is because they think it will change the spouse’s behavior. It does not. It frequently just exacerbates already frustrating situations. The questions one should be asking oneself when contemplating a divorce are not, “Am I happy in this marriage?” The questions need to prompt you to look further down the road: “What am I hoping to gain if I decide to divorce my spouse?”
We have all seen our friends divorce one “type” of man (or woman) and then turn right around and start dating/marrying another version of that exact same type. The divorce has not done much to improve our friend’s situation in those examples.
Here are some of my suggested questions for detemingin if a divorce is the right answer:
 – What is the part of my marriage (family, partnership) that I cannot live with out? (Child custody, relationship with in-laws, marital residence, 2-income life, beach house vacations, etc.)
 – If my divorce came down to giving up that one thing; would I be willing to do it? And, what would happen if that is what a judge ordered?)
 – When I am upset with my spouse, is the cause something that s/he can control?
– Is it something s/he is doing on purpose?
– Is it something that would likely upset any rational human being (such as lying/cheating/stealing)? Or am I being overly sensitive to it (such as table manners)?
– What role have I played in making things more difficult between us? Would I be willing/able to change my behavior? What might it change between us?
– Does the feeling of wanting to escape the marriage have any hidden opportunities to instead improve our marriage – whether through communication, therapy, becoming close or giving more space, practicing trust exercises, etc…?
– Do we both feel that we have tried everything and it is just time to move on, or am I alone in my conviction? 
These questions are worth exploring: alone, with a qualified therapist, maybe even with your spouse. And they do  lot more good before you begin a divorce process!

Simple Tools: The Financial Affidavit

Why, When and How to use your Finanical Affidavit.

The most important tool in your divorce is frequently the most over-looked, and avoided. Even its name is off-putting; but it is the key to understanding all of the other issues which arise. It is called (drumroll, please), “The Financial Affidavit” (yawn).

Frankly, most people should keep a current finanical affidavit available whether or not they are contemplating divorce. A financial affidavit is just a form that shows you how much you have in income, expenses, liabilities and assets. While these may sound like no-brainer questions, most people cannot accurately answer these questions off the top of their heads. Sometimes one member of a family knows all the answers and the other just relies on that person. Sometimes neither party can answer them. Rarely, but sometimes, both parties are very aware of all of the finances.

It is surprising to me how often a client – or an opposing party – resists using the simple form available on the Judicial Branch websites of most states. It can be a little complicated the first time you look at it (for example, in Connecticut, you have to divide every monthly amount by 4.3 weeks). But the value of this tool far outweighs its inconvenience.

Here is a link to the CT “Long Form” to give you a sense of the questions it poses. https://jud.ct.gov/webforms/forms/FM006-LONG.pdf

WHY: Look, I hate to be the one to tell you, but divorces frequently come down to a set of financial decisions. After the child-rearing and emotional issues have been resolved, it is similar to a business transaction. People want to know: How much child support will I have to pay or receive? How much alimony? What portion of the debts and assets will be assigned to me? The answer to these basic and all-important questions is not a secret magical formula. It is a direct function of the information contained in your own personal financial picture.

Simply put, better informed is better prepared. Building your own financial affidavit will likely compel you to ask questions and make some calculations that you never thought to ask. Questions like how much money do we spend on restaurants each week? How much equity is in our house right now? Do we have retirement accounts, and how much are they worth? Not only is this good information for the court. It is good information for you. If you are trying to imagine what a post-divorce future will look like, knowing your finanical picture can help define those scenarios. Picture knowing how much money you would have if you sold your house; how much disposable income you have right now; and what you are paying for health insurance each month. These are the questions people pay attorneys and financial consultants to help them figure out. And, ironically, you are the only one who can get them the information which unlocks these secrets!

WHEN: Early and often. If you bring a completed financial affidavit with you to your first meeting with your divorce attorney or mediator, you will save yourself time and money getting to the heart of what the case will entail. In most jurisdictions you will need to disclose the information within the first few weeks of any divorce action, and so will your spouse. So, why wait? Get the information to your attorney as soon as you can. The earlier your lawyer or mediator is informed about your case, the more accurate they can be in looking for an appropriate resolution.

FAQ: Why should I divulge my information to my spouse? Aren’t we going to be fighting about this? Shouldn’t I keep it a secret?

Answer: The court will compel you to share all information, anyway. Any knowledge which is not exchanged voluntarily is likely to come out on the witness stand – either in deposition or at trial – anyway. But, of course, voluntarily costs less time and money.

HOW: Despite the mysterious-sounding 4.3 weeks rule and all of the detail (weekly grooming costs!?), these forms are straightforward once you understand them. And, as with so many things, the internet has made the work easier than ever. Start by finding your most recent paystubs, tax returns, mortgage loan statement, and credit/debit card statements (these can be downloaded from your banking institution). These 4 sets of documents will provide you 80% of your necessary information. When you are ready to get started, set aside one hour of time. Supply yourself with one scratch copy of the form to work on and a blank copy to fill-in later, a sharpened pencil & eraser, a calculator, a note pad for jotting questions or doing calculations, and a tall glass of your favorite beverage. Preferably non-alcoholic, to cut down on mistakes. Then, start filling in the blanks. Any questions you still can’t answer, just make a note and move on.

Pro tip: On your first time through the form, use the figures as you find them. If your mortgage is a monthly amount; write it that way. If you spent a total of $5,000 on vacations last year; write it that way. Get your figures all in one place; convert it to weekly later.

Once your first draft is complete you have a choice – you can stop there and give the draft and your supporting documentation to a professional to complete for you. You have already saved yourself hours of professional fees by making a solid first draft. Or, you can go for it and convert the figures to weekly on your own. It is not so hard. Any monthly amount gets divided by 4.3. Any annual amount gets divided by 52. So, if you spent $5000 on vacations last year, you would put $96 as your weekly vacation budget. If your monthly mortgage loan payment is $2000, that’s $465 per week.

And now – here’s the icing on the cake… you have created your own financial snap shot! If you are not getting a divorce, you have a realistic budget to use when you plan for future events. If you are going through a divorce you now know what each of you should have when the smoke clears. Even if its not much, at least you know what it is!

What We Love: Divorce is an opportunity for growth. Taking charge of your life begins with understanding your finances and leads to your own empowerment.

My YouTube Debut

I want to introduce you to a great divorce video series and website called “Single Process, the process of going from a we to a me.”

https://www.singleprocess.me/

Barbara Hazelton and Jo Briggs are empowering women through their own investigation into all of the questions surrounding divorce: legal, finanical, personal, parenting, dating, and many more.

They do their homework, interview experts, and help people navigate their way through what can be a daunting process.

My episode just aired and it is about preparing for your divorce before you even meet your lawyer.

https://www.singleprocess.me/prep

Don’t just watch me, though. See what topics apply to you and watch as much as you need. I am proud to be a small part of this important work.

 

10 Reasons to be Grateful you are Divorced this Holiday Season

While we look around at all of the people rushing to spend this holiday with loved ones, those families who are in transition – going through divorces or separations right now, or living with the decisions to do or not to do either of those things – might feel a little less grateful for their particular lot in life this week.  No need!  Divorce is an important time to count your blessings.

Here are 10 reasons to be grateful if you are divorced or separated this Thanksgiving:

  1. You never have to eat your mother-in-law’s greasy mashed potatoes again.
  2. If this is the year you do not have the kids, you have a day to yourself to finally watch the entire series of Breaking Bad in your bathrobe.
  3. If this is the year you do have the kids, you can start making unconventional choices for the menu – rainbow marshmallows on the sweet potatoes, anyone?
  4. No one insinuating you look fat by asking, “Is that what you are going to wear?”
  5. No more worrying that your spouse is going to get drunk and embarrass you in front of your parents.
  6. No more worrying that if you get drunk and say what is on your mind you’ll hear about how it affected your in-laws.
  7. Whether it is true in India or not, in America we do not light our daughters-in-law on fire when they ask for a divorce.
  8. Whether it is true in Iran or not, in America being divorced does not automatically mean you are also homeless, bankrupt, and un-marriageable.
  9. Even if you just moved into the smallest apartment in town, you have a roof over your head; and you get to choose who does and does not walk in the front door.
  10. If the whole idea of being divorced during Thanksgiving just turns your stomach – maybe you’ll lose a few pounds and be in “market-ready” condition at all the coming holiday parties! It is never too early to shop for a New Years’ outfit.

If you are not yet divorced or separated, but know in your heart-of-hearts that you need to get out of this relationship, use this holiday season as your internal farewell tour.  Catalogue what you do not like, be it the menu, the guests, the smells, the  pressure to buy expensive gifts, the complete disregard for the expensive gifts you bought, or anything else, and remind yourself – I will never have to do *this* again.

If you are healthy and safe and making choices for your own life, then you are more fortunate than 90% of the people who live on this planet today.  Take a moment to stop and count your blessings. . . Then, please pass the greasy mashed potatoes.

What We Love:  I have never actually tried rainbow marshmallows; but I do love the idea of them.

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